Simon: That's not much.
Mal: It's enough.
Six years after a bloody and protracted war forced Alliance rule on all colonized planets, veteran Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds is still devastated over the defeat of his cause. Too embittered and strong-minded to be a compliant Alliance citizen, he buys a spaceship—a Firefly-class transport he names Serenity, after the last important battle of the war—and carves out a life on the fringes of civilization: a difficult and often complicated existence, but a free one. With him is Zoe, the only surviving member of his original platoon, now his first mate; her husband, Wash, who pilots the ship; cheerful mechanic Kaylee; and rough-hewn mercenary Jayne.
After illegally salvaging cargo from a derelict spaceship, Serenity's crew heads for the planet Persephone. There they pick up a courtesan, Companion Inara Serra, who rents one of Serenity's shuttles; and, in a last-ditch effort to make some money, take on passengers. On board for the trip to Whitefall, a remote frontier moon: gentle Shepherd (Reverend) Book, cool and aloof Dr. Simon Tam, and bumbling smiler Lawrence Dobson.
But Dobson is actually an Alliance police officer sent to arrest Simon, apparently for the theft of the large crate he's brought with him. When Mal pries it open, though, the crate proves to contain a young woman, whom Simon identifies as his sister, River Tam, astonishingly brilliant but now psychologically damaged by years of unspecified medical
torture experimentation research. Simon was able to get her away from the Academy, the Alliance-sponsored facility that was holding her, but does not know how—or even if—he can help his sister heal.
Serenity heads for Whitefall, a frontier moon, to try to sell the salvaged cargo. Mal and Zoe survive an attempted double-cross by their buyer, and get back to the ship having successfully completed the transaction despite themselves. As they'd successfully evicted the Fed at Whitefall, Mal offers Simon and River a place aboard Serenity.
Tropes in this episode:
- Ace Pilot: Wash.
- Adorkable: Wash. What else would you call an Ace Pilot who plays with toy dinosaurs?
- A Friend in Need: Simon to River, Mal to both Tams, the unnamed "underground movement" that helps Simon find River.
- Always Someone Better: River to Simon, growing up.Simon: I am very smart. [...] Gifted is the term. So when I tell you that my little sister makes me look like an idiot child, I want you to understand my full meaning.
- Badass Boast: Mal is trying to pump up his troops during the Battle of Serenity Valley.Mal: We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty!
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Dobson; a lot of bad and a lot of incompetence.
- Bad Liar: Dobson can't even fool Jayne.Jayne: Don't they teach you how to resist interrogation? Can't even tell a damn lie!
- Bait-and-Switch: The episode's first half does all it can to play up the idea that Simon is the mole (which actually works even better if you've seen the actor as Don John in Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing first). Of course, it's all for naught if you were paying close enough attention to the credits.
- Blatant Lies: Jayne makes a crude remark about Kaylee, which Mal calls him on. Jayne protests that Mal "don't pay [him] to talk pretty." After Mal sends him away from the table:Simon: What do you pay him for?Mal: What?Simon: I was just wondering what his job is. On the ship.Mal: [beat] Public relations.
- Boom, Headshot!: Dobson holds River hostage. He gets about halfway through his "nobody move or I kill her" rant when Mal, without even so much as breaking stride on his way back onto the ship, whips his revolver out and and puts one right in Dobson's eye socket. The supplemental comic books reveal that Dobson somehow survives this, and gets tasked by the Hands of Blue with retrieving River, giving him a shot at revenge. He fails, and gets shot in the other eye by Mal, along with a few more just to make sure he stays dead this time.
- The Caretaker: Simon to both River and Kaylee.
- Cutting the Knot: Mal defuses a hostage situation which he just walked into by shooting the captor in the head without even breaking stride.
- Dare to Be Badass: Simon had already done this when he first arrives.
- Death Glare:
- Between Simon and Mal a couple of times.
- Jayne gives Kaylee one when she tells him that it will be simple to rewire something and he sees nothing BUT wires.
- Derelict Graveyard: Where they pick up the cargo in the beginning.
- Dirty Business: Simon threatens to let Kaylee bleed to death; it was probably a bluff, but it indicates that he has a trace of Knight Templar Big Brother that he seldom shows elsewhere, or at least that he values his sister over Kaylee.
- The Dreaded: The Reavers.
- Do a Barrel Roll: Wash and Kaylee get the ship to perform a Crazy Ivan to escape the Reavers.
- Dumb Muscle: Jayne, starting off as he means to go on. It nearly gets him, Zoe, and Mal killed by Badger's goons.
- Easily Forgiven: Simon, by Kaylee. "He wasn't going to let me die..."
- Establishing Character Moment:
- The first glimpse the audience gets of Wash is a scene of him playing with plastic dinosaurs while he's supposed to be piloting the ship. That's all we needed to know.
- When Jayne humiliates Kaylee at dinner over her obvious crush on Simon, Mal displays how protective he is of his crew (and Kaylee in particular) by calling him out on it then ordering him to leave the table.
- Mal's warning to Simon sets up what kind of man he is:You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me, and you'll be armed.
- The episode also pulls a fake example with Simon: the first shot of him is all sinister, including Scary Shiny Glasses, setting him up as the number one suspect to be the Alliance agent aboard ship. Needless to say, he isn't, though the cold, "almost reptilian" behavior would indicate his drive to protect his sister.
- His real ECM comes later, along with his sister's.
- Eye Scream: Mal shoots Dobson right through the eye.
- Fire-Forged Friends:
- Simon and Mal, who begin as rivals and learn to respect each other.Mal: You ain't weak, and that's something.
- Book and Inara, as well; the fire here is Mal trying to make the preacher uncomfortable while tweaking the respectable whore's nose.
- Simon and Mal, who begin as rivals and learn to respect each other.
- Flat "What": Mal's reaction when Dobson places Simon under arrest.
- Food Pills: The cargo they are carrying is salvaged protein bars.
- When discussing Mal's phony claim that Serenity is delivering medicines for the Alliance, Simon is notably startled.
- And again during the dinner scene, Simon's still nervous about the Alliance. And when Mal states governments meddle, it's Dobson (The Mole) who defends the Alliance.
- The faulty compression coil gets its first mention.
- Zoe's deference to Mal is brought up as a point of contention between her and Wash.
- Book might be in despair over "beating a lawman senseless," but he's oddly good at it for a preacher.
- Get Out!: "Walk away from this table, Jayne."
- Girl in a Box: The Trope Namer, which is actually a quote from promos shown before the episode aired.
- Heroic Resolve: Simon jumps on Dobson from a catwalk to rescue River.
- Holier Than Thou: Badger accuses Mal of thinking he is this. But then, it is not hard to be holier than Badger.
- The Horde: The Reavers get their first mention early on, having killed someone Mal's worked for. And then there's Jayne's nervous reaction to just talking about them.
- Hope Spot: At the climax of the Battle of Serenity Valley, after taking down an Alliance gunship with a captured AA gun, Mal hears jet engines and cheers that the Independents' air force has come to save them. But then the soldiers look up and see hundreds of Alliance troop transports and fighters swarming their position.
- Hostage Situation: Subverted; when Dobson grabs River, Mal just shoots him. Without breaking stride.
- I Owe You My Life: River, to Simon. "I didn't think you'd come for me."
- I Lied: Patience tries to backstab Mal and steal the food bars.
- Intrepid Merchant: Serenity: you don't have to be lucky to be intrepid.
- Invulnerable Horses: Very much averted, as Patience uses her horse for cover and Mal shoots it dead. It falls over onto her, trapping her under it and ending the battle.
- Ironic Echo Cut: After Mal tells Simon that Kaylee's dead, he rushes to the infirmary... where he finds Kaylee very much alive. His response? "The man's psychotic." Cut to the bridge, where we see the rest of the crew laughing their asses off after Mal told them what he just did, with Wash saying, "You are psychotic!"
- I Will Find You: Simon has already done this for River.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Jayne is all set to do this to Dobson, but he cracks almost immediately.Mal: [to Jayne] Now, you've only got to scare him.Jayne: Pain is scary.
- Love at First Sight: Kaylee; a bit difficult as the doctor is awkward, and busy with important matters.
- McGuffin: The highly valuable cargo the Serenity crew steals from the derelict in the opening. It's not until the end of the episode we find out it's not gold, drugs or weapons but high-density ration bars.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Of a sort. The only person who seems not to care too much about the fact that the the last time Mal met with Patience, she shot him is Mal himself.
- The Mole: Dobson. At first Mal thinks it's Simon.
- My Fist Forgives You: Mal to Simon. Twice. Simon suffers no permanent damage to his face because after all female viewers might be disappointed and therefore he cannot have a broken nose or missing teeth, even when hit by Mal.
- Neutral Female: River has been captured by Dobson and Simon comes to save her. Once he intervenes, she stumbles out of the way and hides behind a stack of crates while they face off. Justified in that River just woke up from cryogenic storage a few hours previously, has been unconscious for most of the episode, and is completely confused, disoriented, and still recovering from three years of having her brain cut up. It doesn't help that she's a psychic who can't filter her perceptions and is surrounded by people who are scared or outright hostile.
- Nice Hat: Badger. And one of Patience's men; Mal even compliments him on it by saying the trope name—right before Jayne shoots the guy in the head, knocking it off.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Mal was willing to help Dobson arrest Simon, until Dobson tells him that he and the rest of the crew are in trouble for both (unknowingly) transporting River and smuggling. That changes Mal's disposition quickly.
- Noodle Incident: Mal's previous negotiation with Patience.Wash: Didn't she shoot you one time?
Mal: Everyone's makin' a fuss.
- Papa Wolf: Mal, for his crew; Simon, for River.
- Plato Is a Moron: Inverted. Simon takes a moment to list his own accomplishments (top 3% of his class at medical school, internship finished in eight months) just to emphasise that he's still not even in River's league.
- Playing with Syringes: The explanation for how River got where she is.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Lawrence tries to portray himself as one, but it doesn't do him much good.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Dobson tries this. Mal puts a bullet in his eyenote without breaking stride.
- Reality Ensues:
- Dobson takes River hostage and starts making demands. Malcolm just shoots him.
- In a follow-up comic, he turns out to be alive but blinded in the eye where the bullet hit. He concocts a plan to capture and kill the crew of Serenity. This time, Mal finishes the job.
- Red Herring: Simon is introduced with the strong hint that he's working with the Alliance. He's reserved, a bit standoffish, he asks lots of prying questions, he's occasionally spotted wandering around restricted areas of the Serenity, and he comes aboard the ship with a mysterious, ominous-looking metal crate. So when it turns out that there's a mole on the ship, all eyes naturally turn to him. The Alliance mole is actually another passenger, a bumbling young man named "Dobson"—Simon is a fugitive from the Alliance trying to smuggle his captive sister to freedom.
- Running Gag; Combined with Noodle Incident: Everyone keeps bringing up how the last time Mal and Patience worked together, she shot him. He doesn't see what the big deal is.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: River's rescue is because Simon was willing to do this, with a liberal application of money to grease the wheels.
- Shoot the Hostage Taker: Dobson takes River hostage at gunpoint and gets out about half a sentence of demands before Mal storms in and shoots him in the face. Without even breaking stride.
- Shout-Out: An Imperial Lambda-class shuttle can be seen taking off from Persephone spaceport.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Dobson is holding a gun to River's head, and starts in on what he's going to do if anyone moves. Mal, who is just heading aboard the ship, ends the speech by shooting him in the head. Without even breaking stride.
- Space Navy: The Alliance Navy.
- Team Chef: Book prepares dinner for everyone, and it's apparently pretty fabulous. (Though considering the crew's usual fare, fresh-grown produce probably is.)
- Think Nothing of ItRiver: I didn't think you'd come for me.
Simon: Well, you're a dummy.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Mal threatens to do this to Simon if he fails to save Kaylee, who is laid up with a nasty gunshot wound after being accidentally shot by the Fed trying to bring Simon in, since Simon had refused to treat her unless Mal got them away from the Feds:
- Simon: What about us?Mal: Kaylee comes through, you and your sister get off at Whitefall.Simon: If she doesn't come through?Mal: Well, then you're gettin' off a mite sooner.
- Walking the Earth: It is Book's intention at the start of the episode to go wandering, having spent some time cooped up in an abbey.
- The War of Earthly Aggression: Alliance vs Outer Planets. It ended decidedly in the Alliance's favour, and Mal hasn't gotten over it.
- Welcome Episode: For Book and the Tams.
- Weaponized Exhaust: Wash and Kaylee arrange for the Reavers to fly into a patch of this.
- You Can Run, but You Can't Hide:Dobson: There's nowhere you can take her that the law won't find her.
- You Rebel Scum!: The Alliance captain is contemptuous of Serenity 's illegal salvage ops. To be fair, technically speaking they are stealing from the dead. (Mal's morality, which he'll explain more in a future episode, is rather more pragmatic; if the dead have something that they don't need and the living do, [in this case food] why shouldn't it got to those who need it? With some much needed profit for the crew of Serenity along the way.)