The name of Mal's ship: Serenity. As in, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." After the Browncoats lost the war, they had to come to terms with the fact that the Alliance wasn't going anywhere and they couldn't change that. Mal, meanwhile, is bitter about losing the war, even though he has built a new life for himself with his crew on Serenity. Mal doesn't notice that he is living on a metaphorical silver lining and continues to harbor resentment about the war, even though he has been given all the serenity he needs, if he would just accept that he can't change the power of the Alliance and focus on the bright side.
The opening sequence of "Objects in Space":
River walks around the ship listening to the thoughts of everyone in the crew. However, Kaylee is the one person on the crew whose mind she doesn't read. She walks past Kaylee but doesn't hear any thoughts. Then, a few minutes later, River picks up a gun, and the entire crew surrounds her and tries to calm her down. While this is happening, River calls out "Kaylee." It's almost as if she's saying "Kaylee, what's going on? Why didn't you let me listen to your thoughts a few minutes ago?"
In addition to that, this is soon after the episode where Kaylee saw River shoot without looking, telekinetically precisely hitting all those soldiers. So River is also saying "Kaylee, defend me. Tell them what you saw. Tell them that I can handle a gun."
Alternately, she did read Kaylee's thoughts, but Kaylee tends to speak her mind, and doesn't have any dark secrets or old shames to speak of, so what she says is what she is thinking.
Alternately again, perhaps she read Kaylee's thoughts and Kaylee was thinking about the situation with River and the gun, which prompted River to go to it again to show her she wasn't going to hurt her.
Think about the parallels between the townspeople needing Jayne to be a hero and Book's explanation of religious faith. That's not just the episode's theme, it's also the final joke - comparing dumb, thuggish Jayne to God.
This episode has a subtle feminist subtext. While it's macho badass Jayne that gets the big hero's welcome and fanfare as the Mudder's hero, it's Inara who lands with him completely unnoticed and unheralded and spends her time there instilling a new confidence in the corrupt Magistrate's considerably more intelligent, sensitive son, to the point that at episode's end he's standing up to his father and freeing Serenity from its land lock, saving the whole crew. Life will be also considerably better for the Mudders & working people under a man like that, and that's how you really change the world(s).
During his speech to the Mudders at the end Jayne tells them "You think someones just going to drop money on ya', money they can use." This takes on new meaning if you consider what we learn of Jayne in Messages. We find out he has a mother and a sick brother who he sends money to regularly, so his motives for his money-grubbing aren't entirely selfish.
Of course, the later revelation can make this line heartbreaking on a rewatch: Jayne isn't willing to voluntarily share that money with the Mudders, because his own family is suffering and needs it. It's not necessarily that he wouldn't want to be a Robin Hood hero, it's that he feels he can't without hurting his family.
River's breakdown in "War Stories". Her comment on how much she hates being able to think clearly because she knows it'll go away meant that she's fully aware of what was done to her and she knows, deep down, that she cannot ever be fully healed. It made an already heartwrenching scene a hundred times more agonizing to watch.
"Objects In Space." When River is threatening Early, she casually comments about "all these buttons" while inside his ship. Except she's not only referring to the buttons in Early's ship - she's also referring to the "buttons" in Early's head she's been pushing during the entire conversation. Brilliant.
Something immensely subtle in "Ariel": When Simon, River, and Jayne have been captured by the Feds and the Feds are starting to move them, check River's wrists. She's trying to slip out of the handcuffs. Even before Simon begins treating her and well before the Big Damn Movie, River is already showing signs of her impending ninjaosity. It's also worth noting that this occurs right when Simon starts squaring off with the officer transporting them. River's reaction at this point is essentially, "Simon's in danger. Have to help."
One would not think all the planets in the 'Verse would be of a desert/prairie biome. Except that most, if not all of them are, because the terraforming procedure was such a long and probably expensive process, that the Alliance didn't want to spend money that they didn't need to. Thus, they stopped at the bare minimum of habitability, which is why all the planets seem to be hot or cold deserts. This doesn't apply as much to the Core Planets; but consider the fact that that's where both the government and the rich people live.
There's also the possibility that the semi-terraformed planets were the cause of political waffling. One administration wants to fully terraform the planets, but an opposing party comes into power, declares the whole thing a waste, and shuts down the project when its only half-way done. Thus theyve spend billions, yet wind up with barely habitable rocks.
They might have spent all the big bucks on getting the Core Worlds comfortable (even if all those arboreal gardens were each indoors), then did what they could to make the Border worlds merely livable. What with the Border Worlds being HoovervillesInSpace!, that is.
The terraforming process isn't completely foolproof: in the movie, Miranda is referred to as a 'black rock'; i.e., an uninhabitable planet where terraforming failed. Of course, that's not the case. So apparently terraforming fails often enough that a slang term to describe the result is in use. The Border Worlds being only marginally habitable may be a result of a limitation in technology, funding, or both.
The teachings of Xiang Yu are dismissed as an excuse to be evil. However, we were given a practical demonstration of them applying to the main characters in the previous episode when Mal was about to space Jayne but stopped short because he met the real Jayne. Likewise, when Mal (temporarily) incapacitates Niska's Torture Technician and attacks Niska directly, the man is crawling away. For half the series, Niska is built up as a ruthless and powerful crime lord with great reach and resources. He's cold, sadistic, and seemingly untouchable. Yet we see his true self when he's alone and unarmed, faced with a very wrathful Mal: Niska is a coward, an old man with nothing but his precious "reputation" for a shield. In comparison, Jayne is hiding what he may also consider weakness, which is a generally decent side to his personality that is only seen in the face of imminent death.
The name Firefly itself. This meaning was never intended by anyone, but think about it. The light of a firefly shines brightly for a moment and then flickers out of existence but that light, that memory of the firefly is fondly remembered. Catching fireflies on a warm summer night... that is the feeling you get when watching Firefly, especially in the more heartwarming scenes. A Firefly can also symbolize the soul, or that it ferries souls from the land of the living. On a more upbeat note, a firefly encircling people symbolizes affections and attachments that bring them together.
Ariel, River and Jayne:
River wasn't just randomly attacking Jayne, she was defacing his Blue Sun shirt. River even says right after, "He looks better in red." You think she's being 'morbid and creepifying,' going on about blood being 'pretty' or some such, but what she means is she doesn't want to see him in Blue! Not only that, but she's psychic! She already knew of his betrayal! Not only would that cause a homicidal bloodlust in most, but combine that with training that most likely said to kill traitors, and you have an easy way to get her trying to kill you. Remember, when she wakes up her words are: "Copper for a kiss?"
Later, with the Holo-Imager: "Your feet are in the sand." Could either mean, Jayne saw himself on the beach or that sand makes for some unstable footing. Jayne himself gives us another clue of whats coming up: "Nothing buys bygones quicker than cash." It could also refer to concrete sand mix. As in, cement shoes - fiction's favourite for criminal gang punishments or, as Mal later discusses: keel-hauling.
It's subtle, but in "Trash", when Saffron is presenting her plan, Wash asks the question - "What is she doing on the ship?!". This is a very relevant question - hilarious, but relevant. Sitting next to him, Kaylee cracks up. It's a bit out of character for Kaylee, but the crew already knew Saffron was on board, and it was all a big con. Kaylee's not as shocked or scared as she should have been because of that, and so she found Wash's comment funny. So at first glance the scene might be taken as Jewel Staite corpsing, but instead it's her character corpsing. That's part of what Inara was talking about when "Some of the crew's performances weren't as nuanced" as she'd've liked.
River always seemed awfully calm while she was about to be burned at the stake. Heck, she didn't even really fight back against the settlers as they were tying her to the stake. But in order for the events to have happened as they did during the Big Damn Heroes moment, Mal and Zoe had to have arrived at the village several minutes before Serenity swooped in overhead - and River knew they were there, because she's psychic. No wonder she was so calm.
For that matter, the timing of the Big Damn Heroes moment makes more sense when you realize Mal and Zoe were probably prowling around the outskirts of the village for quite awhile, maybe half an hour or more, trying to figure out where Simon and River were and how to get them out of there quietly. Then the commotion in the village square, which would be when they called in Serenity, realizing that "quietly" was now off the table.
It's also why she said, "Time to go" around the time the Big Damn Heroes moment happened. She knew the exact time that Mal and Zoe would come.
When she said: "Daddy will come get us", most of the audience made the same mistake as Simon, thinking she was talking about Gabriel Tam. But Mal is very much the Team Dadshe knew he'd come and get them.
In Out Of Gas, during the first flashback, Zoe and Mal avoid a thing on the floor. Dying, present Mal is exactly at that spot.
Out of Gas
The title doesn't refer to the crew being becalmed in space, but to Oxygen, which they were quickly running out of.
The reason Mal was able to complete repairs was the burst of oxygen let in when the other ship docked.
In "Ariel" River is terrified of being put into a coma, talking about how she doesn't want to "go to that place." Sounds like standard metaphorical talk about how she doesn't want to die, right? Except that going to sleep due to chemical treatment is exactly what happened to everyone on Miranda. She remembers how everyone fell asleep there and died, and in her not-all-there state of mind, she's terrified that the same thing will happen to her. The "I don't want to go to that place" line is River saying she doesn't want to go to Miranda. In the movie Serenity, the scientist said that "Most of our best work is done when they are asleep." She didn't want to sleep because that's when they used to torture her.
Kaylee likes her snacks. In the pilot Book offers fresh produce in lieu of cash payment (and real food seems to be worth its weight in gold) and she savors a strawberry. In "Shindig" she goes straight for the buffet table and is snacking away while impressing the men around her discussing engineering. At the end of the episode while she's in her room enjoying another tin of snacks, Mal comments on her home-brew strawberry wine. If a single strawberry is precious, where did Kaylee get enough to ferment/flavor a large volume of drink? She cleaned off the buffet table at the ball.
The concept of Companions being high-class actually makes an insanely large amount of sense when you consider an entire generation of humanity lived and died en route the new Solar System after leaving Earth. Social taboos would probably have been put aside to prevent people from going stir-crazy and getting cabin fever. It also makes sense in light of the many human cultures in history which have had similar traditions, of which the most well known is probably that of the ancient Greek hetairae.
It also fits in with the Wild West theme of the series - in Real Life, prostitutes played a significant part in settling the frontiers and could even gain significant influence in their communities - see here.
The weapons that the Blue Hands use in "Ariel" don't make sense at first. Why use something that causes so much pain and kills so slowly? Would fast-dissipating nerve gas work better? But think about it: The weapon causes bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, suggesting extreme hemorrhaging in the brain. What if technology exists that can restore memories from dead brains? Or, hell, few methods of execution have a 100% success rate, even shooting someone in the head. What if someone survives? And they seem concerned that no one hears what River says, in case she spills the beans on anything she picked up from the brass's heads. Those sonic weapons disintegrate brain matter rather than just cause blood vessels to burst, to ensure that there is no way whatsoever for anyone to tell what she's said to them. They're not just killing witnesses, they're destroying evidence. The weapon does more than that, as demonstrated in Those Left Behind. At full power it can liquefy a human body's internal organs in seconds, leaving them as nothing but a tattered husk of skin in a pool of blood.
You wouldn't think that a Men in Black organization would have any place in a Space Opera, but (stay with me here) we can infer that they are covering up for Blue Sun/ the Academy (however they're connected) and their affairs, including psychic phenomena and the Reavers, who, as far as anyone else knows, might as well be aliens. Classic MIB behavior.
Except, in 'Serenity' Reavers are revealed to be an unforeseen consequence of use of 'the Pax'.
Either Lieutenant Baker was smart, or the Independents as a whole were by the Battle of Serenity. Witness that Baker's Authorization Code was evidently printed on the inside of one of his patches, and Mal knew where to look for it without hesitation.
"Objects in Space" had a scenery-based one. As Early and Simon walk through the cargo bay, just before Simon snarks for River to come out of hiding, they walk past the storage unit the spacesuits are kept in. One of them is wide open. The scenery was showing us clues that River had quickly accessed it for a suit to get outside to Early's ship.
Kaylee in "Objects in Space." Rape is about power, not sex. Early's casual question was designed solely to give him power over her - he was telling the truth about not caring one way or another about her body. He just wanted her to be imprisoned, not by physical bonds, but by mental ones. But taking power like that away from a person isn't as easy to fix as simply removing physical restraints. It lingers with a person for a long time and often the healing process involves a woman taking back the power that was stolen from her. We know that Joss Whedon understands that because an early episode of Angel addressed it when Kate explains to Angel that his client (who has been stalked by a neurosurgeon for a long time) has to be able to take back the power he's stolen if she's ever to stand a chance of recovery. Enter River - it wasn't simply that Kaylee was the only person free to unlock Mal's room, River - who would understand the mental hold Early had gained over her - was actually giving Kaylee the chance to fight back and take back the power that Early had stolen from her.
In "Bushwacked", while we can see that Simon is struggling with what may have ended up being revealed as a full-blown phobia, River is absolutely elated at being outside the ship, gazing off to the stars in delight and wonder. Perhaps her comfort stemmed from her mental abilities. Out there, in the vastness of space, this girl who we know can no longer switch off her emotions (or anyone else's) is actually finding a kind of respite - there's nothing but her and the black and a chance, for at least a moment, to be free of so many minds. It's probably no wonder she loves Serenity so much - with so few people on board, and their identities unchanging, she would stand a better chance of finding peace than in a crowded room or city or (as Miranda implied) planet... and we see in "Objects in Space" that, having already sensed Early's arrival ("We're all just floating"), there's one extra mind on board, hence her "it's getting very, very crowded" - she was reacting to the intruder even then. In short, the reason River enjoys being in space so much is that it's the only place she can be to take a break from reading minds - because there are so few minds around to read.
Pay close attention when Dobson bumps into Simon while getting his bags out of the cargo bay. He keeps glancing to the display on the side of the cryo box River is in, which is the same display Simon keeps checking. He's checking over Simon's head, being just as interested in making sure River is fine.
Or possibly checking that the box is truly a cryo box and therefore probably contains River.
Jayne being responsible for "public relations" seems like a one-off bit of sarcasm from Mal, but considering how the "public" that the crew interacts with are commonly criminals, thugs, murderers, pirates, and other assorted lowlifes, Jayne's methods of relating to these folks seem highly appropriate.
When Dobson draws his gun on Mal and Simon in the cargo bay, pay close attention to where Book came from when stepping onto the scene. He was already in the cargo bay when Mal confronted Simon, likely shadowing Dobson, giving further, subtle hints as to his dark and shadowy past.
When Simon is getting ready to drop down on Dobson, River is pulling away from him, giving Simon a perfect target. She likely knew that Simon was up there thanks to her Psychic Powers, and knew what he was planning, so she pulled away from Dobson to give Simon a clear target.
When Mal told Simon Kaylee was dead he wasn't just playing a cruel joke: Simon's reaction would tell him if he threatened to let Kaylee die because he cared so little about her or because he cared so much about River.
Jayne may be such a money-grubbing bastard because if he gets enough money, he might be able to buy a treatment for Mattie that will completely cure his/her disease. The best part about this idea is that it makes Jayne and Simon, who are by all outward appearances the too most different characters on the ship, Not So Different. Note that the only time Jayne ever actually compliments Simon is in the movie when he says "I think it's noble as a grape the way you look to River, but she ain't my sister." Jayne appreciates taking care of your own, he just doesn't consider Simon and River to be part of his crew.
Another Objects in Space one: When River reads Shepherd Book's mind (or whatever it is she did there), he says/thinks, "I don't give half a hump whether you're innocent or not. So where does that leave you?" in a rather menacing, cold way. At first it made him sound like an uncaring psychopath. It seemed like a very out-of-character thing for Book to say and it seems like it was an allusion to his shadowy past. And while it certainly was that, it's also something else: It's not just not out-of-character for Book, it's Book's defining character trait. He really doesn't care whether others are innocent or not and he never has. But by the time of the series, that's because he will treat you with decency and compassion, whether you're innocent or not. This is especially meaningful since he was in the middle of a conversation with Jayne at the time. Specifically, whether or not Jayne had it in him to become a preacher.
One of the apparent inconsistencies in the series is how the Reavers were able to take the derelict ship in "Bushwhacked" without leaving any signs of a struggle despite being brutal berserkers. Then along comes "Our Mrs. Reynolds", where a group of Salvage Pirates are getting ready to capture the ship, and Book notes that once they're caught the pirates will just cut off oxygen or gas the occupants. That's exactly what the Reavers did. They jumped the ship, gassed or cut off oxygen until the crew fell unconscious, and boarded without a fight. They're a hell of a lot smarter than everyone gives them credit for.
In "War Stories," when Niska offers Zoe a choice between taking back Mal or Wash. She chooses Wash before he even finishes speaking, thus resolving the Love TriangleRed Herring they'd been playing up the whole episode and establishing that she loves Wash, no question. The Fridge Brilliance comes in when you realize it was also the correct tactical choice. Mal, being the stubborn bastard he is, could take a lot more torture than Wash before breaking. In fact, that was the whole point of their Casual Danger Dialogue - Mal's reserves of Heroic Willpower were so great that he was keeping Wash from breaking by deliberately antagonizing him.
Zoe also needs Wash to pilot the ship.
In the episode "Objects in Space", River's mind-reading of various characters refers to key moments in their lives and changes or hidden elements in their characters.
Simon's comment refers to his hidden bitterness about having to give up everything for River. Despite his overpowering love for her, he is a human being and however he may push those emotions back, they are still there.
Simon: I would be there right now.
Shepherd Book's quote probably refers to something he said in his shady and dangerous past, which he has tried to leave behind, but which still haunts him and hides behind his kind and gentle face. Another analysis of this can be found above.
Book: I don't give half a hump if you're innocent or not. So where does that put you?
Jayne's quote is the only one we've actually seen, from an earlier episode where he betrayed Simon and River (and by extension, Mal) for money. This is one of his biggest weaknesses - his lack of loyalty in favor of self-interest - which he realized in this episode.
Jayne: I got stupid. The money was too good.
As Joss Whedon has admitted, Inara is suffering from a terminal disease. Her comment is likely a quote from the moment when she spoke to a doctor about her condition and demanded that he tell her the truth. The fear of her illness is an important element of her, though one that we only see shades of throughout the series.
Inara: I'm a big girl. Just tell me.
Finally, there's Mal. His words are clearly an echo of his reaction to the crushing loss at Serenity Valley that cost the Browncoats the war and his subsequent crossing of the Despair Event Horizon.
Mal: None of it means a damn thing.
Out of Gas has two relating to common space tropes:
The ship being "dead in the water". The blast at the beginning of the episode burst out of the cargo bay door... which is located under the cockpit. The burst of air and explodey-ness necessarily took away some of their motion, and if the gravitic drive was completely nonfunctional after the original blast, it could have taken away all of the remaining motion. A better word would have been "floundering", but if gravitic drives fail closed, they could have been dead in the water.
Similarly, the ship being "cold". Normally, space is a good insulator, as radiating heat is an inefficient way to release heat, so everyone getting progressively colder doesn't seem to make sense. Except for the fact that the ship is carrying an enormous, heat-generating engine. One of the biggest problems with spacecraft is that they have to vent their heat buildup constantly lest the ship overheat. So Serenity is almost certainly built to radiate away all the heat produced by its engine and crew and other systems. Without a running engine to provide heat, the ship will be radiating a lot of current heat without any more being added... and the interior of the ship will get cold, quick.
In Objects in Space, when Mal gets the gun away from River at the beginning of the episode, he says "No touching guns!" Later, when River is directing everyone via the intercom, Zoe grabs her shotgun and River says "No touching guns!" in the exact same way. Clearly River did understand. More than that: Early is a wary, swift, and skilled opponent wearing body armor everywhere except for his face. In a shootout with him in the tight confines of the ship, one or more of the crew will likely get killed or seriously hurt. River knows this. Furthermore, the episode has another subtle hint to River's psychic abilities: she knows he's wearing armor, when she never once actually sees him in the flesh until the end of the episode. There's no way she'd know he was wearing armor unless she had psychic abilities.
Why does River contact Mal, Zoe, Kaylee, etc. to fight Early, but disregards Jayne and his Wall of Weapons? Because Jayne doesn't trust her and is a hard-to-control element. Mal, Zoe, and Kaylee she knows she can trust to do what she says, particularly because the former two are ex-military.
Relating to the above with Early's armor and "No touching guns!", River knew Jayne would be hard pressed to not leave his guns.
In "Ariel", Simon reveals that River's amygdala has been stripped. There are a lot of theories you could form around that if you knew a bit about how the amygdala works, but one is in-show: Simon's statement that "She feels everything, she can't not". Assuming that the Alliance were trying to somehow unlock her Psychic Powers, they were trying to remove her ability to filter out other people's emotions.
In "War Stories", River says "Can't look, can't look." before shooting Niska's Mooks, and Kaylee later mentions that it looked like River just thought it was a game. Given her assassin training back at the Academy, situations like this probably were games. As soon as she saw Kaylee, who she associates with play, it became "Oh, Kaylee's here. It must be a game." She didn't look because the object was to use her visual memory and mathematics skills to hit them, and looking would be cheating. Which is why she's smiling and repeating Kaylee's "No power in the 'verse can stop me." She won the game this time around.
I took her "can't look" to mean she can't see them die. They say when you kill someone it haunts you, especially if you see it up close. River may have been employing that logic to protect herself, she shot, she saw them dead afterwards, but she never saw them die.
Rewatching both "Ariel" and "Objects In Space" subtly highlights Jayne's Obfuscating Stupidity. In "Ariel" he clearly picks up that River somehow knows about his betrayal (evidenced from his insistence that she shuts up while she's babbling metaphors for him being captured along with the rest of them), and yet in "Objects in Space" he responds to the River-is-psychic theory with pretty much "Huh? Psychic? What's that?".
However, he may just not know the word but know the concept. This is pretty common, you may not know what "biped" means, but you can surely point out that something has two legs.
"Safe" has Jayne, suspended by rope from Serenity, appear at the last minute to save Simon and River. Mal then off-handedly compares the wrath of Jayne to that of God. If you were to look up the original definition of a Deus Ex Machina, you'd find it was originally the deployment of God or an angel suspended by rope above the stage of a Greek play to lend divine intervention at a crucial moment.
Kaylee's Little Black Dress; Worn in her hiring flashback from "Out of Gas" and when she's flirting with Simon at the beginning of "The Message." This was probably 'clothing reserved for church' that had gotten a little too ratty for church or she stopped going. Historically, the church dress would be appropriate attire for a bride at her wedding.
In the scene of "Objects In Space" where River offers to go freely with Early, she was testing her crew. She knew all of them could hear what she was saying, and she could feel their reactions. If they had actually wanted her gone, she would have known that, and she probably would have gone with him. But when push came to shove, they wanted her around, and so she stayed.
Firefly ships are generally considered to be low quality, but they have the advantage of lasting insane amounts of time with the right mechanic. The show Firefly is considered to be very, very good, but only lasted a tiny amount of time.
Miranda may just be the cause of the 'Verse's civil war. Consider Miranda is an outer rim planet (judging that it exists in Reaver territory and Reavers mostly raid in the boarder planets). Consider that it is also unlike all other boarder planets seen. It is not a desert, there is a lot of infrastructure and development and it's quite clean ...except for the dead and the Reavers, but yeah, it looks like a great place to live. So this suggests that the Federal government invests a lot of resources terraforming and building infrastructure on border planets such as Miranda. So how come the boarder planets are all deserty? Because after the Miranda incident which created Reavers, investing in outer worlds would then be too difficult with the Reaver threat (why invest when your investment would be burned by Reavers anyway?). This lack of investment in outer worlds contrast with rich investment in core worlds created a contrast, which lay the background geopolitical tensions building up to the civil war.
Throughout the entire TV series, Jayne never refers to River by name. He only calls her River once, in the movie: "I think it's noble as a grape, the way you take care of River and all " Finally, he accepts her as a person.
It doesn't really make sense why Inara would join the crew of Serenity. She's a popular and sought out high-class companion, so she isn't really wanting for clients and there is no real reason why she'd join a ship like Serenity. However, the cast and crew have said in interviews Inara is suffering from a terminal illness. Knowing she has a limited time left to live she probably wants to see as much of the 'verse as possible.
While we don't know the range or limits of River's sensitivity, it's probably not a coincidence that the most lucid we see and hear her act is while she's off Serenity and on-board Jubal Early's ship, alone.
Simon is teased as being a horrible actor, but careful observation shows that he simply needs to have prepared himself. Something true of most people. In the movie, we see just how good he can be when he has a plan and knows the rules to follow. We actually see this from the very beginning when he books passage on Serenity. He pretends to be a reserved and aloof Alliance surgeon and carefully navigates conversations so that he can monitor River's crate without raising suspicion. The only reason it fails is because Dobson already knew who he was.
Also, in Ariel, when he infiltrates the hospital, deals with a crisis without flinching and continues the job. When he's in his element, playing a part he understands, he can perform admirably. When thrust into a situation he doesn't really understand, he's left flustered and stammering. That actually says a lot about his life on Serenity.
Wash's trademark Hawaiian shirts seem a little ironic given they're associated with tropical climates, which most planets the crew visit definitely do not have. Authentic artifacts from Earth-That-Was are highly prized and probably not something he could afford to wear on a daily basis, so someone out there in the 'verse is still making imitation shirts with those patterns, most likely to appeal to nostalgia, or for the same reason you'd see someone selling fake brand name purses or what have you. Wash might have liked wearing them because as many places as he'd been in his career as a pilot, he'd never seen those kinds of lush, beautiful landscapes... Or he just found them cool and exotic looking.
River definitely has PTSD from her time at the academy. However, most of her meltdowns are perfectly sane reactions to threats that the rest of the crew isn't yet aware of.
Why does Mal consider mocking Inara different than mocking her job? Because unlike most prostitutes in the 'verse, she is clearly wealthy and educated enough that she chose her job (or chooses to stay in it). It's not an inherent part of her identity or lifestyle she has no control over.
River notes that Mal's name means "Bad" in Latin. Of course, Malcolm isn't a Latin name, but a Scottish Gaelic one, and actually translates as "Devotee of Saint Columbia" (a reference to a missionary famous for spreading Christianity in Scotland), making it a very ironic name for Mal given his views on the Almighty. Shortening his name could be seen as a Meaningful Rename.
In "Shindig", Lord Warrick seems pretty confident in his decision to be Mal's second, given that he has to fight Atherton if Mal dips out. Either he's confident that Mal won't leave him hanging, that he can handle Atherton in a duel, or that Atherton would drop the matter in such an event rather than fight a duel with Warrick over a matter involving someone else.
While the Reavers already sound bad, it takes a moment to realize how bad. The "rape you to death, eat your flesh and sew your skin into their clothing" thing is dismissed as an old wives' tale at one point, but in The Movie, they see a recording which ends with a Reaver attack on the person. Jayne demands for them to turn it off, and the last we see is them taking her to the ground. Which means it's true. It makes them go from "Space Zombies" to "Semi-Intelligent Rapist Space Zombies with Knitting Skills".
Another disturbing fact: The Reavers are still coherent enough to pilot ships, complete repairs and, according to the Serenity Role-Playing Game, build weapons and torture implements. While they seem to go into some sort of rage in battle, they must be at least somewhat methodical and practical otherwise. Imagine what they could do with an Operating Table.
Apparently, Reavers know how to train more Reavers. Except instead of "train" it's more like "horrifically traumatize until the victim is mentally broken and left with only one option to deal with it." If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. Now, think hard about where all those stories about Reavers came, and the fact they turned out to be true. There might be survivors of Reaver attacks out there. Except they're not survivors. They're ''recruits."
The most horrifying thing about this is that it's based on real life. Comanche raids involved oodles of rape, torture-killing of a calibre that would impress modern serial killers, and literally wearing scalps. Occasionally they'd take a traumatized child with them — who had likely just seen their settlement turn into something out of Dante — and raise them as a member of the tribe. Whenever these few happened to be captured, they fought tooth and nail to return to the Comanche. More: http://squid314.livejournal.com/340809.html
With all that raping, there have to be some Reaver kids out there. Imagine growing up in that lovely household.
Also, in Serenity, it is revealed that the Reavers were created when the Alliance tried using a chemical to control the people of an entire planet. Instead, it made most of the population too apathetic to even move, and the rest were turned into savage, blood-thirsty killers... Think about that for a minute.
Another bit from ''Serenity'': When the Serenity crew first discovers the recording of the Reaver attack, Jayne tells Mal to turn it off. In the climax of the movie, Mal plays the recording for the entire Verse, but just walks away after starting it... how long did that recording play for and how much of it did the unsuspecting people viewing the feed see?
There's a scene where Harken is interrogating Mal, who says that the Reavers were the ones who butchered those people. Harken dismisses the claim and says he can't imagine the number of times that men in his position hear the "Reavers did it" excuse. Reavers have been attacking ships for ten years. The Alliance, despite knowing about the Reavers, has been punishing innocent people for the Reavers' actions for the last decade. Even worse, they've been deliberately lying to their own military about the threats in the outer edges of the systems. Alliance ships being deliberately misinformed about the dangers meant that otherwise-good soldiers and crewmen could have ended up facing an enemy they were completely unprepared to fight.
There's also the R. Tam Sessions, which end with River stabbing her "counselor" in the throat with a pen. On the one hand, one could argue that this is River being ordered to kill him - horrific and chilling in its own right. But the alternate interpretation is that she killed him because she could, and it was her only way of striking back at what they did to her. This is especially chilling in light of how she was acting at the beginning of the sessions - imagine what kind of horrors it would take to turn such a cheerful, happy and innocent girl into a killer who would stab a man in the throat with a pen because he was part of the institution that was tormenting her.
Jubal Early's dialogue with River becomes a thousand times creepier when you remember he seemed perfectly willing to rape Kaylee if Simon didn't go along with him, and River's unspoken implications of what he did to his neighbors' dog. Especially the extremely satisfied look on his face as he's getting ready to get back into his ship where he thinks River is waiting for him. Also, keep in mind River's rather squicky statement that Early is "crawling inside me uninvited." If you think the Psycho for Hire was bad before, reading between the lines and seeing his Sub Text makes him just plain horrifying.
In Ariel, Simon reveals that the Alliance cut out River's amygdala, meaning she can no longer repress emotions such as fear or sadness. Combined with her psychic powers, that means she could be feeling the emotions of everyone around her at the same time and ''can't do anything about it'.
River in the Academy and the exact details of what happen to her are bad enough, but she was rescued by her loving big brother trying his best to help her get better. But there were others in the Academy, others still suffering with no one to save them. The "Leaves on the Wind" comic reveals that the Alliance finished their work, and the girls are now fully-operational operatives.
Jayne is horrified of Reavers. Reavers like weapons and killing and fighting and deceiving and cutting things, they hate thinking really hard or abstraction of any kind. Maybe this just hits a little close to home for the Token Evil Teammate.
In the Pilot, Inara's client says that her clock is rigged up to cheat them out of their fun. Morena Baccarin revealed that Inara is dying of a terminal illness. Warp your mind around that.
This bit from "Trash". It's One Dialogue, Two Conversations. River is referring to Jayne with feminine pronouns, because Jayne is a girl's name, but Jayne thinks River is talking about Saffron, the initial subject whom Jayne brought up to the Tams.
Both episodes centering on Saffron ("Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Trash") have The Power of Trust as a major theme. Mal trusts his crew, while Saffron trusts nobody. In fact, the one thing Mal can trust Saffron to do is to try and betray him, allowing him to plan accordingly the second time they meet.
In Serenity, The Operative massacres anyone the crew might have gone to for help. Wait... so does that include Badger? Monty? The girls at Heart of Gold? The people that helped Simon rescue River?
River's Mind Rape by the Alliance has a lot of components (torturous training, mental conditioning, Playing with Syringes), but there's one that's easily missed: her Psychic Powers were always on in a facility full of other people being subjected to the same. She's quite the Determinator to have held out for as long as she did.
After seeing Serenity, it's obvious what actually happened in Bushwhacked. River reacted to the static on the monitor because the Reavers broadcast the signal to he vessels they attack. Honestly, it's quite an effective way to get new recruits.