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Series / Firefly

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From left: Jayne, Kaylee, Book, Simon, Inara, Mal, Zoe, Wash, and River. Inside her boots: River's feet. In the background: Serenity.

Inara: You're lost in the woods. We all are. Even the captain. The only difference is, he likes it that way.
Mal: No, the difference is, the woods are the only place I can see a clear path.
— "Serenity"

If you're looking for actual fireflies, see Lighting Bug.

Firefly is a Science Fiction Space Western that ran on the FOX Network in the 2002-03 season. It was canceled after 14 episodes were produced, three of which didn't air until after the show's cancellation. Its quick cancellation helped give rise to The Firefly Effect. A DVD box set was released in December 2003 and has sold briskly ever since.

In the future, humanity has spread across the stars, terraforming planets for colonization and creating a new frontier reminiscent of the old Wild West. The dominant power in this time is the monolithic Alliance, whose iron grip on the 'verse has tightened after a failed rebellion by a group known as 'Independents' or 'Browncoats' (the latter having become the demonym for the franchise's fandom).

Malcolm Reynolds is a former Browncoat who now captains a run-down tramp freighter called Serenity. Working as an amoral jack-of-all-trades, he tries to eke out a life for himself and his crew away from the reach of the Alliance. However, things change when he inadvertently lets a deadly Alliance secret board his ship: a Mysterious Waif who was subject to horrific experimentation aiming to turn her into a living weapon.

The show was created by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear (Mutant Enemy Productions), and combined science-fictional concepts (interplanetary travel, spaceships, terraforming) with a Western setting (poor agricultural colonies where people ride horses, cattle ranching, cowboy slang). The Firefly universe contains no non-human sapient beings, and in fact no non-Earth-based life at all.

The cast included:

Hulu has all 14 episodes of the series available for streaming if you're in the US. It is also all up for instant stream on Amazon Prime (if you buy the series). Starting March 6th 2011, the show also began playing, in the correct order, on the Science Channel and in glorious HD. The show has a recap page here.

Firefly's life story is an interesting one: despite its early cancellation, it became a runaway cult hit, the DVD series spawning media including a feature film titled Serenity and various comics and books. A full list of media can be found on the Franchise page.

There are also constant rumors about a second television series (Whedon and many of the principals have constantly said they would be willing to pick up the show, with Fillion going so far as to say he'd be willing to buy the rights from Fox), and the cult status the series has attained after its premature cancellation may have saved a later Whedon work from a similar fate.

In November 2012, the Science Channel aired a Firefly 10th anniversary special, titled "Browncoats Unite". It featured two of the main writers of the show, Jose Molina and Tim Minear, along with most of the cast, including Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk and Sean Maher, where they did a sort of retrospective of the show's history and its cult-classic status over the past ten years. In addition, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres and Morena Baccarin were interviewed separately and added their own comments on their involvement with the show. The forty-minute special culminated in the writers and actors taking the stage at their Comic-Con panel, which included Joss Whedon himself as well.

In 2019, the rights to the franchise passed to Disney with their purchase of 20th Century Fox, and in early 2021 rumors began circulating that Disney was developing a reboot of the series for its Disney+ streaming service.

These rumors are at present not solidly confirmed.

This series provides examples of:

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    Tropes A-D 
  • Absent Aliens: Although conspiracy theories still abound, and a fake alien (really a cow fetus) hangs in a civilian space station, purported to be a sign of alien life by a busker.
  • Abusive Parents: The Tams seem to have a pair. Although they were never physically abusive (that we know of), they tended to favor Simon, shipped River to the Academy and then didn't follow up on her well being even when her messages made less and less sense, threatened Simon with disownment if he attempted to aid River (and followed through on this threat), and have seemingly done little to aid their 'fugitive' children. Parents of the year, right there.
  • Accidental Aiming Skills: In "The Train Job", Jayne shoots an enemy right in the kneecap while still woozy from anesthetic. When complimented on it, he barely manages to slur "I was aimin' for his head." Made rather worrying by the fact that there were two or three people he could have hit if he had missed by that far in another direction.
  • Accidental Hero: In "Jaynestown", Jayne tells of how he was forced to dump a ton of money to escape from a job-gone-wrong. The money landed in a poverty-stricken village and the villagers convinced themselves he did it Robin-Hood-esque. In fact to underscore how Jayne is not a hero, he actually threw his partner out first; this man survived the fall and comes looking for Jayne with a shotgun in hand. Eventually the man reveals Jayne's dirty secret to the whole town and levels his shotgun at Jayne, but then a bystander jumps in front of him and takes the blast, saving Jayne's life. This event deeply affects even him.
  • Accidental Marriage: "Our Mrs. Reynolds". After a successful mission, Mal celebrates a little too much and does not realize his part in a bizarre wedding ritual. Hilarity Ensues. Or not, if you're Mal. (This is also a possible aversion since it turns out the naive country waif is really a cold blooded hijacker who deliberately invoked the Accidental Marriage trope as part of an elaborate con to have the entire crew mercilessly killed so their ship can be seized by scavengers.)
  • Action Duo: From the start, there is a lot of tension and distrust between Mal and Simon. Despite the distrust, when Simon is about to let himself be killed for his sister in "Safe" Mal comes in leading the team in a rescue party, demanding they let the two go. When Mal is in danger in "War Stories" Simon's aim is too poor to be of any help but he still manages to survive.
  • Action Girl:
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: In "War Stories", Mal assumes that the bodyguard of one of Inara's clients is "The Councillor." Neither he, nor any of the others, was expecting a woman.
  • Admiring the Abomination: The novel Generations basically makes this the reason the Alliance never killed the out-of-control Silas, the first test subject of the program that gave River her psychic abilities; while Silas proved impossible to control, he was so exceptional that nobody could bring themselves to kill him.
  • Aerial Canyon Chase: Subverted in the episode "The Message", when Wash tries to lose a pursuing ship by flying into a canyon. When this trope is attempted by Serenity, the pursuing ship simply flies above the canyon, keeping the ship in view. And when the heroes try to hide, the pursuers flush them out with saturation bombing.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Wash’s “Lambie toes” for Zoe and Simon’s “mei mei” (Mandarin for little sister” to River. Mal occasionally calls Inara “Nara”.
  • Afraid of Needles:
    • Jayne, the big baby. Played for Laughs.
    • River. Decidedly not played for laughs. She suffered horribly in the labs of the Alliance. Some of her flashbacks are really dreadful and scary.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: In the (out of order) pilot, Kaylee gets shot in the stomach, forcing the crew to afford newcomer Simon enough trust to perform surgery on her as he's the only doctor for millions of miles.
  • All Amazons Want Hercules: Averted. The series devotes an entire episode to repeatedly demonstrating that Zoe is not, nor has she ever been, attracted to Mal. Or Jayne (as if that needed saying).
  • The Alleged Car:
    • Serenity, who was already old and sitting derelict (and planet-bound) in a junkyard when Mal bought her.
      Alliance Captain:: Firefly? They still make those?
    • Book tells Kaylee that he once travelled in an "Aught-1" (Serenity is an "Aught-3") Firefly long before she was even crawling, implying that the class was old even when he was young.
    • The movie later points out that bits frequently fall off the ship.
    • Zoe's first reaction upon being shown the ship in a flashback in "Out of Gas" was "You bought this? On purpose?"
    Mal: I tell you, Zoe, we get a mechanic, get her up and running again, hire a good pilot, maybe a cook - Live like real people. A small crew - Them as feel the need to be free. Take jobs as they come. They never have to be under the heel of nobody ever again. No matter how long the arm of the Alliance might get... we'll just get ourselves a little further.
    Zoe: "Get her running again?"
    Mal: That's right.
    Zoe: So not running now?
    Mal: Not so much.
    • Discussed in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", in which some scavengers are discussing Serenity. One observes that it is just a hunk of junk, and the other observes that put together, all that junk makes a Firefly, which will keep flying practically forever with even a halfway competent mechanic to keep it going.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Justified, as all visited planets and moons have explicitly been Terraformed to one degree or another. It should be noted that the core planets, where the wealthy and powerful live and where the Alliance is concentrated, enjoy much more extensive terraforming than the outer worlds where the poorer folk live.
  • Almost Kiss: Simon and Kaylee in "Objects in Space".
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: One of the several problems Mal has to solve in "Out of Gas".
  • The Alternet: The Cortex spans the star system in which the franchise takes place. It's used for both video chat and browsing information in the series. RPG materials explain that access is cloud-based and pay-by-the-minute for private citizens unless they can afford a dedicated source box.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Reavers. Introduced by Zoe in the pilot:
    Zoe: If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it ...In That Order.
  • Always Save the Girl
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: At the end of "Heart of Gold" when there is a funeral held for those who did not survive the fight.
  • Amazon Chaser: Wash in "Bushwhacked": "Have you ever been with a warrior woman?"
  • Ambadassador: Inara is sometimes referred to as the ship's ambassador, mostly in the pilot.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Kaylee is in love with Simon, but looks just as ecstatic as Jayne does when learning that Inara is bisexual.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Dobson's escape in the pilot. He offers Jayne a small fortune as a reward if he turns on Mal and helps him out, but we don't see Jayne's response. Jayne never openly betrays Mal in the episode, but how did Dobson get the shiv that he cut his bonds with? Slipping it to him would be a cunning Xanatos Gambit on Jayne's part. If Dobson escapes, Jayne possibly gets a reward for helping him, while if he fails and is caught, Jayne maintains plausible deniability (as when Mal questions him later). But we never find out for sure.
  • Anachronic Order: The episode "Out of Gas," which starts In Medias Res and flashes back to both How We Got Here and Everyone Meets Everyone. This was inadvertently done to the series as a whole, as the episodes were aired out of order during their original run on FOX.
  • Angry Collar Grab: Mal to Wash, when Wash won’t leave the injured Zoe in “Out of Gas”. Mal understands Wash is scared for his wife, but he knows she’s got a good doctor treating her and he needs Wash as the pilot to help find the cause of the explosion and power loss before they all die.
  • Anti-Hero: The crew of Serenity are all criminals (except for Inara, who is a high-class prostitute, making her the most respectable member of the crew) and Mal and Zoe can be fairly ruthless. Jayne, a mercenary of minimal morality, zero delicacy, and inconsistent loyalties, takes this trope the furthest.
  • Anywhere but Their Lips: Jayne's policy, which he explains (to general horror) after Mal experiences the Goodnight Kiss in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
  • Arbitrary Skepticism:
    Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
    Zoe: You live in a spaceship, dear.
    Wash: So?
  • Arc Words:
    • "Two by two, hands of blue..."
    • The Blue Sun corporation crops up a lot in logos, advertisements and billboards in the background, as well as one of Jayne's t-shirts; Whedon has said the show was cancelled before this could be explored.
  • Armies Are Evil: Alliance officers believe that they are genuinely trying to protect people and improve The 'Verse, whether that is actually true or not.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Book mentions a "special hell" reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.
    • Simon detailing what River is gifted at in the pilot episode "Serenity": math, theoretical physics, and... dance. (The character of River is played by actress Summer Glau who is, in fact, a trained dancer.)
  • Asians Eat Pets: There is a solar system settled by an alliance of the Anglosphere and China. In "Serenity", a street food vendor is briefly shown with cuts of meat on a grill, with a sign above it reading "Good Dogs" in English and Mandarin.
  • Ate His Gun: From "The Train Job":
    Sheriff: It's funny your uncle never went to mentioning the Bowden's problem. Or that Joey Bloggs ate his own gun, about eight months back.
    Mal: Did he?
    Sheriff: Yep. Blew the back of his head right off.
    Mal: So... would his job be open?
  • The Atoner: Throughout the series, Book is implied to have a checkered and unsavory past. Confirmed by the comic "A Shepherd's Tale".
  • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: Mal makes this very clear when Jayne sells out the Tams in “Ariel”. Jayne is lucky to be alive.
  • Author Tract: 80% of "Objects In Space" is Jubal Early echoing Joss Whedon's existentialist views with Simon at gunpoint. The other 20%? Summer Glau's bare feet, and Sean Maher's bare torso. Joss goes into even greater detail in the solo commentary which accompanies the episode.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: It is a space western... with T-Shirts, corporate logos, the occasional mongol raider-style hat and space hookers. Of course everyone looks awesome!
    • Even when wearing Cunning' hats.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: River is so quick with math, that in "War Stories", she only needed to glance at Niska's men for a second before killing all three of them in one shot each with her eyes closed. Kaylee remarks in "Objects in Space" that she just "did the math."
  • Ax-Crazy: River, though she has a reason for it.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool: "Shindig" starts with slavers chatting over a game of holographic billiards.
  • Badass Adorable: River.
  • Badass Bookworm: Simon.
    • River qualifies as well since she's supposed to have been even smarter than Simon before the Alliance's horrific experiments. Not that the experiments have stopped her from having moments of clarity, revealing said intellect in the process.
  • Badass Crew: The crew of Serenity consists of two war veterans from the losing side of a civil war, a mercenary with a Wall of Weapons, a preacher with a Mysterious Past, a Hooker with a Heart of Gold who is also a Lady of War, a mechanic with an innate understanding of machinery who can fix problems by analysis, an Ace Pilot, a Badass Bookworm doctor with shades of The Strategist in him, and a Waif-Fu Opehlia with Improbable Aiming Skills.
  • Badass Driver: Wash. He's an ace of a pilot and can pull off several very dangerous maneuvers.
  • Badass Longcoat: Mal and Zoe in their browncoats look this way.
  • Badass Preacher: Book. Unsurprising given his implied past as an independent Mole in the Alliance. He proves a capable fighter in one episode.
  • Badass Boast
    Mal: Now you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
    • Mal is good for these, but one of the best actually comes from Non-Action Guy Wash:
      Wash: (referring to Mal) Niska's gonna kill him.
      Zoe: He's gonna want to make it last as long as he can. Days if possible.
      Wash: (pushes himself to his feet, a look of grim determination on his face) Bastard's not gonna get days.
    • Inverted when Simon is introducing himself. He speaks at length about how smart and gifted he is...only to reveal that he only did so to emphasize how far above him River is.
      • Simon later gets to play it straight with Jayne when the latter is temporarily paralyzed to prevent him aggravating a bad bruise to his spine. Simon points out the many ways it would be comically easy for him, as the ship's doctor, to kill Jayne and get away with it, only to end with saying that he simply doesn't want to do that and hopes Jayne will just leave him alone. Jayne listens to all of this in comically appalled horror.
  • Bad Boss: Adelai Niska, who regularly tortures people for minor, minor details. Like talking at a wedding.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Skillfully done in the pilot. Simon is introduced with ominous music, Scary Shiny Glasses and an unsmiling, formal demeanor, seemingly marking him as a villain. Dobson, meanwhile, is in the background of almost every scene and is treated like an extra. This makes The Reveal that Dobson is The Mole as much a surprise to the audience as to the characters.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: Wash's reaction to the preserved mutant cow fetus in "The Message". (Simon is standing nearby, just after having angered Kaylee... again.)
    Wash: Oh my god, it's grotesque! Oh, and there's something in a jar.
  • Ballad of X:
    • "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb"
    • "The Ballad of Serenity"
  • Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions.
  • Bar Brawl: A constant among Serenity's crew.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • River in "Objects in Space". Though she probably should have known what the reaction of Simon, who gave up everything to keep her from the Alliance, was going to be, with a plan that involves her saying she was going to give herself up.
    • The whole crew in "Trash". This one also counts as a Xanatos Gambit, since the crew would have gotten away with it whether YoSaff Bridge had turned on Mal or not.
  • Beautiful Condemned Building: Mal has this immediate reaction to Serenity.
  • Behind the Black: An absolutely hilarious example in "Objects in Space" where Jubal Early steps out into an empty hallway and looks one direction; he then turns to look the other way as the camera pans to show a very confused Mal staring blankly at the intruder.
    • There's also the end of Shindig where Mal and Inara are talking in the cargo bay, and then the camera moves back a few dozen feet to show a herd of cows, all mooing noisily the moment the audience can see them
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: One of the Reavers' most sadistic tricks. Sometimes, when they take a ship, they leave one person alive and make them watch. The one time we saw this in-series ("Bushwhacked") it resulted in the unfortunate victim trying to become a pseudo-Reaver himself as a coping mechanism.
  • Beleaguered Childhood Friend: Featured in "Heart of Gold", Nandi is this for Inara.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Mal and Inara, and Mal and Saffron to a degree. Done deliberately with Jayne and Simon.
  • Berserk Button: A handy list of things that will make you want to leave this room:
    • Do not insult Serenity in front of Kaylee. Just don't. She's her mechanic and doesn't take it well.
    • River has her own almost literal Berserk Button, but she can't control it and it's made her insane. Until the end of Serenity, at least.
    • Jubal Early does not like it when you visit his intentions.
    • From the pilot, do not imply you believe that Mal is anything like the Alliance. Simon got decked for it.
    Jayne: Saw that comin'.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In "The Message", Tracy does make it to his homeworld for a proper funeral, as requested by him in his fake - later real - will.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Basically applies in Life Signs; despite Zoe knowing that Ornery Annie was trying to kill her for her deception, she lets Annie live because she recognises that some part of Annie wants to be better than the criminal who was sent to Atata.
  • Becoming the Mask: Joss Whedon let it slip in an interview that Derrial Book was not Shepherd's real name, but rather he had taken the identity of a man he had killed. They go into detail in the comic.
  • The Beforetimes: People in the 'verse often have fond memories of Earth That Was, back when things like fruit and other real food was readily available.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Saffron briefly pretends to be one of these at the end of "Our Mrs Reynolds" — it does not work. Tries again in "Trash", for about 30 seconds — also doesn't work.
  • Beware the Nice Ones
    • River: No power in the 'verse can stop her. Also, she can kill you with her brain.
    • Simon has also shown the capability of fucking you up... politely.
    • Mal qualifies, as generally he's affable, decent, and polite. It takes a lot to push him over the edge, but once he's there, there's pretty much nothing he won't do, or do to you, to get revenge.
  • The Bible: River tries to "fix" Book's copy in "Jaynestown".
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Alliance, at least on the Core Worlds, has a widespread surveillance system, which is why Zoe is reluctant to leave the ship while on Core Worlds. Dialogue between Simon and his father in a flashback in "Safe" suggests that the Alliance keeps a record of certain places you have been; when Simon's father walked into a jail to pick him up, it was apparently recorded on his permanent profile.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Simon has this for River, and everyone has this for Kaylee.
  • Big Brother Worship: As a result of the above, River adores her brother.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The first episode shows the tail-end of the Serenity Valley battle, while "The Message" explores one small part of an earlier campaign.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The trope name comes from dialogue near the end of the episode "Safe". The awesomeness is emphasized further by Zoe and Mal having to shout over the engine noise of Serenity hovering above them.
    Mal: Well, look at this! Seems like we got here just in the nick of time. And what does that make us?
    Zoe: Big Damn Heroes, sir!
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Chinese curses, which according to the show's Wikiquotes page mean things like "frog-humping son-of-a-bitch" and "holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews." The phrases themselves are (mostly) accurate Mandarin Chinese, but the actors' pronunciation was often so poor as to be incomprehensible.
  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: An erstwhile Alliance officer made his fortune using biological weapons to depopulate communities, then he looted their untouched valuables. Maybe. The only evidence comes from a pathological liar.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Atherton of "Shindig", who loves Inara in his own sick, twisted, possessive, misogynistic, cruel way. At first, he's a well-mannered gentleman, but at the slightest hint of Mal trying to help Inara, he's throwing her off him and attempting to kill Mal.
    • Tracy of "The Message", who tricks his old war buddies to both take the fall for, and avoid, dirty business he got into in the first place, nearly getting them killed, and when confronted over it, takes Kaylee hostage and gloats about tricking said war buddies, calling them "saps", saying he specifically chose them because he knew they'd get all emotional and willing to help out an "old friend". When he's mortally wounded by Mal, he realizes just how far he's fallen.
    • Saffron's M.O.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Distant Finale: The short story "Take the Sky" included in the Firefly: Still Flying companion book. Set 20 years after Serenity, whether it leans towards bitter or sweet depends on which character you focus on. Of course, there is always the chance that it all takes place in Mal's head in a split second before he faces the Operative for the final time, but it is ambiguous enough to speculate on. And there might be foreshadowing.
  • Black Market Produce: Shown in the pilot episode, with Kaylee enjoying a strawberry and the crew getting excited about fresh vegetables and herbs.
  • Black-Tie Infiltration: In "Shindig", Mal and Kaylee infiltrate a ball on Persephone, with Kaylee—correction, Miss Kaywinnit Lee Frye—playing the role of a debutante so that Mal can get in touch with an aristocratic contact for a smuggling job.
    Kaylee: These girls have the most beautiful dresses. (gestures at her dress) And so do I! How about that?
    Mal: Yeah, well, just be careful. We cheated Badger out of good money to buy that frippery, and you're supposed to make me look respectable.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: Mal's "jabber, jabber, jabber".
  • Blatant Lies: Inara in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" trying to cover up why she was knocked out.
  • Blessed with Suck: River.
  • Blood from Every Orifice: The Hands of Blue kill people using a small pen-shaped ultrasonic weapon that causes bleeding from he eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and even the finger nails. It looks extremely painful.
  • Boisterous Bruiser:
    • Jayne Cobb.
    • Monty from "Trash".
  • Boom, Headshot!: Goodbye, Dobson. He survives in the comics, though. Not that it helps him any when Mal pulls this off a second time, with much more fatal results... and then shoots him again just to make sure.
  • Born Unlucky: Mal. This and A Simple Plan have forced him to become a master of the Indy Ploy.
  • Bounty Hunter: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space." Very much the evil sadist version.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • In this case, comes conveniently pre-broken. There are the R. Tam Sessions that were released as a lead-in to the movie, and several flashbacks to see her being broken.
    • Jubal is breaking Kaylee in "Objects in Space". River helps fix her.
    • Wash in the episode "War Stories", for a bit.
  • Break Them by Talking: Inverted, when River gives one to Badger in "Shindig" and later to Jubal Early in "Objects in Space".
  • Brick Joke: Combined with Precision F-Strike in "Jaynestown". At the start of the episode, Kaylee and Simon are arguing about whether or not Simon uses swear words. Simon says he swears "when it's appropriate." After arriving on Higgins' Moon and discovering a statue of Jayne in the town square, Simon lets out a dumbfounded "Son of a bitch!"
  • Buffy Speak: ...well, it is a Joss Whedon show.
  • Building Is Welding: Kaylee is welding the Ambulance in "Ariel."
  • Bulletproof Vest:
    • Zoe's is dented in the pilot.
    • Jubal Early is seen wearing what is referred to as 'armor' in "Objects in Space". Given the outfit's resemblance to that of the Operative and the Operative's armor's resemblance to the vests worn by Alliance federals and soldiers, this might indicate a consistent design in 26th century armor.
    • Wash also very cheerfully suggests a subversion:
    Wash: What about his face? Is his face wearing armor?
  • Burn the Witch!: River almost has this done to her in "Safe."
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: "The Message."
  • Buy Them Off: In "War Stories", Zoe tries this to get Mal and Wash back from Niska. When Niska only consents to let one of them go and tries to give Zoe a Sadistic Choice, she doesn't hesitate to choose her husband. Of course, Niska then says it also buys a piece of Mal...namely his ear.
  • Calvinball:
    • Tall Card, the card game played during "Shindig." The actors insisted that the writer create actual rules for the game, which she dutifully did, so that they would have proper motivation. It is still incomprehensible to the audience.
      • This was later (in 2015) made into a real game.
    • The "hoop-ball" game they play at the start of "Bushwhacked," which even Simon says is not being played according to any rules that he can discern. It may be called "Spaceball," based on a soundtrack title.
  • Cannibal Clan: The Reavers, inspired by the legendary Sawney Bean clan.
  • Cannibal Larder: In "Bushwhacked", the Reavers left one of those in a spaceship they, well, bushwhacked.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: In "Out of Gas", Simon is apparently bad at telling funny stories about working at hospitals, not that Jayne gives him much of a chance. "Objects In Space" either shows that he can if he is given a chance, or else he just got better. When he tries to make a wry observation to Kaylee in "The Message," it goes very badly.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Played straight with Mal and Inara. Subverted, with Simon and Kaylee. He tells her she's pretty, even -- ''especially'' -- when she's covered in engine grease and later tells her his politeness (stiffness, in her book) is just his way of showing her he likes her. Of course, he still bungles the flirting after that pretty badly anyway.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': Invoked in the novel Life Signs; when Simon has to join others in infiltrating a prison planet, Mal observes that Simon is too clearly not the type of person who would normally commit a crime serious enough to be sent to this planet, so Simon's story is that he was framed for embezzlement.
  • The Caper: "The Train Job," "Ariel," and "Trash." Also, the beginning of the Big Damn Movie.
  • Caper Crew: Usually Mal as the Master Mind, Zoe as the Partner In Crime, both of them as the Burglars, Jayne as the Muscle, Wash as the Driver, Kaylee as the Gadget Girl and Coordinator.
  • Car Fu: The Mule, done by Wash in "The Train Job", and later used in "War Stories" as well.
  • The Caretaker: Simon, for River.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When Mal and Wash are being tortured by Niska, they argue about whether Mal ever slept with Zoe. Mal is doing this deliberately to keep Wash's mind active so he doesn't succumb to the torture. Later, after Wash is somewhat recovered, he realizes what Mal was doing with obvious gratitude.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: The 'Verse is confirmed to take place in a massive five-star system: one giant star in the center and four smaller stars orbiting it, with each star having its own sub-system of planets and moons and even a couple dwarf stars. (Seen here.)
  • Cathartic Exhalation: Wash and Mal share in some heavy breathing after the Reavers don't attack them.
  • Ceiling Corpse: In episode Bushwacked,(nearly) the whole crew of a derelict cargo vessel strung upside down on the ceiling awaiting discovery by River long after the others had entered and explored the rest of the ship looking for them.
  • Chain Pain: Mentioned in the show; from "The Train Job":
    Jayne: You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with 'til ya understand who's in ruttin' command here.
  • The Chains of Commanding: "Just... tell me when we get there."
  • The Champion: Simon to River.
  • Chance Meeting Between Antagonists: The episode "Trash" has Mal run into Saffron his ex-wife, who tried to get him and his crew killed on some backwater moon. As soon as they see each other they draw guns on each other.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The port compression coil. Mentioned back in episode one ("Serenity"). Becomes very important in episode 8 ("Out of Gas").
    • Chronologically speaking, Kaylee telling Mal how the coil fits in the drive is a Chekhov's Gun, given that he remembers it after he is shot in the stomach and manages to install the coil even as he is bleeding. The same part then shows up at the dump on Ariel, only to be tossed aside by Wash. You'd think he'd want to keep a spare after what happened. Though Wash probably didn't know what it was; we see Kaylee find one in the Reaver wreckage and keep it.
    • In "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Jayne shows off Vera, then uses it at the end of the episode to disable an electricity net.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Fess Higgins in "Jaynestown", who seems to be in an unimportant C plot with Inara...until he releases his father's land-lock on Serenity.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used throughout the series, most often on the actual ship but also in other locations—for example, Badger's den on Persephone, and any of the border planets at night.
  • Child Abuse Is a Special Kind of Evil: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Book mentions a "special hell" reserved for child molesters (and people who talk in the theater).
  • China Takes Over the World: Or more accurately, China takes over half the world (and shares power with the United States).
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Mal suffers a vicious case of it.
  • Cloning Body Parts: Possible but illegal because, according to Simon, "the technology's not ready yet." Nevertheless, in "The Message" Mal and Zoe's war buddy Tracy is being used to smuggle cloned organs.
  • Closest Thing We Got: In the novel Life Signs, news of Inara's terminal illness, Khiel's Myeloma, prompt Book and Simon to recall Esau Weng, a doctor who was working on an experimental treatment to deal with diseases like Inara's. While both of them make it clear that Weng never officially published anything on his work and his progress is unknown, the crew all recognise that this is their best chance to save Inara's life.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: River Tam as a result of her psychosis.
    • Jubal Early. Full stop.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Simon.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: The Alliance, which started out as an alliance between the United States and China. Unproduced scripts name it the "Anglo-Sino Alliance," but "Ariel" titles it the "Union of Allied Planets."
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Mal and Wash are tortured by Niska in "War Stories."
    • For extra brutality, Niska tortures Mal to death, then resuscitates him so he can torture him to death a second time.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Alliance wears primarily blue and grey to match all their shiny tech. A slur for them is "purple-belly," which refers to the purple-tinged armor seen on the footsoldiers. The Browncoats wear (obviously) brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart. The black-and-grey uniforms of anyone shown manning an Alliance ship are also pleasantly reminiscent of the crew (not the soldiers) of the Death Star, whose uniforms were, themselves, based of those of the Nazis.
  • Combat Medic: Simon, when pressed. Zoe also has some experience with this, as seen briefly in "Safe"; although she has some trouble removing a bullet from Simon's leg at the end of "Objects in Space".
  • Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters — particularly Mal — are willing to fight dirty. The only instance of anyone fighting clean on the show was Mal's duel with Atherton Wing in "Shindig". It started clean but, Atherton being a Jerkass and Mal being Mal, did not stay that way.
    • Best exemplified in "The Train Job":
    Mal: Say that to my face?
    Bar fly: I said you were a coward... and a pisspot. Now what are you going to do about it?
    Mal: Nothing. I just wanted you to face me so she could get behind you.
    Whereupon the bar fly turns, just in time for his jaw to meet Zoe's shotgun butt.
  • Command Roster:
  • Companion Cube: "I call it Vera."
  • Company Town: Canton, the ceramics workers' town on Higgins' Moon in the episode "Jaynestown", is explicitly called one by Jayne. Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get rich, the place is a mess, and the workers are mostly indentured so they can't quit. The RPG rulebook notes, however, that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode. It is also implied that not just Canton, but the entire moon that the episode is set on, is owned by Higgins, going by the fact that the moon is named after him, or at least his family.
  • Conspicuous in the Crowd: In the episode "Jaynestown", this happens twice in a short span of time.
    • The crew go into a local dive bar for the dirt poor workers of the Company Town, where they plan to meet their smuggling contact Kessler. Kessler doesn't show up, however, and instead Mal spots a suspiciously well-dressed man walking around and looking very out of place. Soon after the man approaches them and reveals that he was Kessler's boss, but the local "magistrate" learned that Kessler was part of a smuggling operation and had Kessler killed for it.
    • Shortly afterwards, when the local musician starts playing The Ballad of Jayne, the camera twice briefly lingers on a handsome local man who is a bit cleaner and better dressed than most of the other workers. He turns out to be a Mauve Shirt for the episode and in the climax, he ends up Taking the Bullet for Jayne.
  • Continuity Nod: Starting in the pilot, every time Kaylee has occasion to talk to Mal about the engine, she's likely to bring up the port compression coil. Guess what blows in "Out of Gas"... and, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Chekhov's Gun that shows up again after it's been fired, Wash finds and chucks a port compression coil in the junkyard in "Ariel."
  • Conveniently Close Planet: The planets in the setting are all located within a five-star system, allowing for them to be reached without faster than light travel. note  However, this can be subverted by unscrupulous types trying to stay off the radar, thus why blowing up in "Out of Gas" becomes so dire: There isn't likely to be another ship for days.
  • Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: "Objects In Space." When River is shown reading the minds of the rest of the crew, their thoughts come in the form of clear sentences. However, in most cases they are non-sequiturs or irrelevant to the current situation or conversation. Except for the thoughts River gets when Zoe and Wash are making out; those actually come in the form of crashing ocean waves and other sensations that cause River to sway and stumble.
  • Cool Old Guy: Book.
    • One rescues Kaylee from the Alpha Bitch in "Shindig." His name, only mentioned in the credits, is Murphy.
    "What a vision you are in your fine dress — it must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that getup. 'Course, your daddy tells me it takes the space of a schoolboy's wink to get you out of it again..."
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority
  • Cool Starship:
    • Serenity is one of the "rustbucket" variety.
    • The gigantic flying wrecks of the Reaver ships are also... quite a sight to behold.
    • Nothing says hubris like the Alliance's "flying city block" design.
    • Several of Wash's old ships in the Float Out one-off comic count, as do the Reaver ship — with other ships welded to it for added coolness — and the shiny new Firefly-class.
  • Corralled Cosmos: Enforced by Reaver territory.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Blue Sun is hinted at being behind the Academy. The fandom's view of Fox actively invokes this, as well.
  • The Cortex Is For Porn: According to Simon and River's father in "Safe", who therefore refuses to allow a Dedicated Sourcebox in his house. But, his wife already ordered one for Simon, so he might as well give up the fantasy that this is his house.
  • Covert Pervert: Both Kaylee and River like to watch. River even participates, after a fashion. At the end of the movie, she DOES watch... Kaylee and her brother, which spawned at least two fanfics.
  • Crapsaccharine World: On the surface, the Alliance is a highly advanced democratic civilization. Start digging deeper and you have oppression and abuse perpetrated in the name of making them all Better Worlds. Such abuse includes kidnapping a teenage girl and screwing with her brain to make her into a weapon and a behavioral modification experiment that results in the unintentional extermination of an entire population and the creation of the Reavers. Throughout the series, we see that life is good if you're rich - but heaven help you if you're on one of the worlds subject to half-assed terraforming, needing a vital medicine that's being withheld to up the profits of the manufacturers, or an indebted slave collecting mud for rich owners. Hell, they don't even get folk heroes swooping down to save them... there ain't people like that.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: In the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Mal accidentally gets married because what he thought were general celebrations on some backwater planet actually included a wedding ritual. Thankfully for Mal's romantic life, Saffron's actual plans include stealing his ship, and preclude any long-term relationship.
    Wash: Some people juggle geese!
  • Creepy Child: River, one of the rare heroic examples.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Reavers take people's skins as trophies, cover their spaceships with blood and they tie whole corpses to the front of their ships.
  • The Crime Job: "The Train Job".
  • Crouching Crazy, Hidden Badass: River.
  • Crusading Widow: Maude Reynolds, Mal's mom. She got mad at the Alliance stealing stuff from her, then her husband died and her ranch was burned. She's intent on sticking it to the Alliance whether Mal joins her or not.
  • Culture Chop Suey: Due to its backstory of America and China being the two first superpowers to colonize space, the Verse is a mishmash of Western and Eastern cultures.
    • In "Ariel", Mal says that Book is probably contemplating a rock garden while visiting an abbey. Rock gardens are more characteristic of Eastern religions, especially Zen Buddhism. Mal may have simply been making a joke, but this suggests the Christianity that Book follows has incorporated some elements of Buddhism as well.
    • The funeral at the end of "Heart of Gold" suggests a Christian/Buddhist fusion, including both a cross and Eastern-style incense bowls.
  • Cultured Badass: Inara.
  • Curse of The Ancients: All the swearing that is not done in "Mandarin"(-ish) has an Old West feel to it. Gorramit.
  • The Cutie: Kaylee and River.
  • Cyborg: Boss Moon is shown to be one in the comics and there are hints about the operatives being cyborgs as well.
  • Damsel in Distress: River, constantly, as well as Kaylee. Joss Whedon was once heard to say that whenever they felt they needed to up the drama, they would just have someone hold the cute engineer at gunpoint.

  • Danger Deadpan: Wash is a completely different character when flying the ship: normally he is loud and panicky, but at the helm, he is completely calm and collected, no matter what imminent doom might be following him. Well, it started out this way, he got a bit more excitable while flying later on in the series, particularly in "The Message". On the DVD commentary Joss states it was due to the influence of playing an Xbox another cast member gave him.
  • Dangerous Phlebotinum Interaction: In "Ariel" an undercover Simon Tam saves a patient from cardiac arrest, then tears the patient's doctor a new one for causing it. The doctor had made the mistake of giving his patient a painkiller that, when combined with a standard prep drug used for the patient's procedure, reacts to form a vasoconstrictor.
  • Dark Action Girl: Saffron. She's introduced in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" as an innocent girl from a backwater No Woman's Land planet who was sold into marriage with Mal as payment for a job. In reality, she's actually an incredibly skilled con artist with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, typically seducing men (and women, if Inara's any indication) and then stealing from them and leaving them for dead. Both of her appearances show she is plenty capable of kicking ass as well, especially in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Dark Reprise: "Jaynestown" ends with a redux of "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb".
  • Dashingly Dapper Derby/Dastardly Dapper Derby: Badger's "very fine hat".
  • Data Pad: A deleted scene from the pilot has Simon looking up the origin of the ship's name on a voice-activated tablet. A brief scene from the movie also has Mal looking at what appears to be a video postcard of Inara moving out of her shuttle. Badger's "paper" with the headline of the heist is also one of these.
  • Dead Man Writing:
    • Mr. Universe's Sex Bot in the movie.
  • Deadly Euphemism: A clever one in "Heart of Gold".
    Mal: Where's he at now?
    Nandi: Let's just say he ain't playin' the dulcimer anymore either.
  • Deadly Environment Prison: In the novel Life Signs, the crew have to infiltrate the prison planet Atata, an ice world where terraforming didn't take properly and the prisoners basically have to work to sustain themselves because the Alliance couldn't be bothered actually stationing guards on the planet (although it is patrolled by at least four ships from space).
  • Deadly Nosebleed: And eyes, ears and fingernails bleed. This is the first indication that the implement held by the Blue Hands is deadly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone. Yes, even Jayne. Everyone also has at least one moment of Snark Fail, often just as funny.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Shepherd Book.
    • Invoked in the Pilot when Mal rips the authorization code off a fallen comrade and then tells one of his squaddies "You're Lieutenant Baker" so they can order air support.
  • Death Glare
    • Hell, Zoe does it a lot. Zoe to Niska in "War Stories". Zoe to Mal in "Shindig". Zoe to Wash... frequently.
    • Mal's glare can probably blow up a Reaver ship.
    • Jayne during the interrogation scene in "Bushwacked". Played for laughs.
    • Simon does not need to look formidable. His eyes are scary enough.
    • From the movie:
      Simon: This isn't fear, this is anger.
      Mal: Face like yours, it's hard to tell.
      Simon: I imagine if it was fear, my eyes would be wider.
  • Death Ray: The Hands of Blue's creepy ultrasonic weapon.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: The episode "Trash" is a notable deconstruction of The Vamp (in the person of "YoSaffBridge"), showing how depressing and dehumanizing it can really be to be one, and how psychologically messed up someone would have to be to want to be one. Saff has completely mastered the art of seduction, but at the cost of any chance of ever having a meaningful relationship with another human being. After years of getting ahead through lying and manipulation, she's left a trail of abandoned identities behind her—to the point that even she barely knows who she is anymore—and a long line of men that she abandoned soon after marrying them for profit. At the end of the episode, Mal outright dismantles her whole M.O. in a well-timed "The Reason You Suck" Speech, where he points out that people like him will always trump people like her—because unlike her, he has a devoted crew of True Companions that will always have his back. In a pinch, well-earned loyalty always trumps cheap manipulation.
  • Defeat as Backstory: Mal, Zoe, and other Browncoats fought on the losing side in a war that ended six years before the series takes place. Their ship, Serenity, is named after the last battle in that war.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Jayne in “Out of Gas”
    Jayne: Not as deceiving as a low down dirty... deceiver!
  • Derelict Graveyard: The Reaver ships around Miranda, as well as the ruined ships in the first comic series.
  • Description Porn: Jayne gets this way about Vera, his favorite gun, in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
    Jayne: Six men came to kill me one time; the best of 'em carried this. It's a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge... it is my very favorite gun.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Mal crosses this at the battle of Serenity Valley, not even blinking when his comrade is blown away beside him when he realizes that the Independents have lost. River's dialogue indicates that she crossed it at some point during her time at the Academy.
    • The Battle of Serenity Valley is also the moment Mal loses his faith. If you look carefully, you'll notice he's wearing a crucifix during that scene. From that point on, he's openly antagonistic to any display of religion.
    • While never mentioned in-series, it was likely compounded by the fact that during the same timeframe, the Alliance orbitally bombarded Mal's homeworld of Shadow so intensely that it was rendered uninhabitable afterwards.
  • Determinator
    • Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach ("Shindig") or being tortured to death ("War Stories") get in the way. This, combined with his Combat Pragmatism, is why he wins fights with opponents much more skilled and better-equipped. If he's breathing, he is never, ever beaten.
      • And even if he's not breathing. After the aforementioned torturers kill him, they shock him back to life. And then he proceeds to lay a beatdown on them both. The man is practically Made of Iron.
      • The RPG gives a continuity nod to this sequence, describing it as an "Incredible" Discipline skill check. For reference, that's 6/8 possible difficulty levels, and they don't necessarily scale linearly.
    • Simon has more than a little of this in him. Nothing — not even a bullet in the leg ("Objects in Space") — is going to keep him from protecting and caring for his baby sister.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Psychics are informally referred to as "readers".
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Mal himself is described as being raised by his mother and "about forty hands". No mention of a father til the comics, which showed that he was killed during fights between the Alliance and farmers over a terraforming failure buyout attempt.
    • Averted in the case of Jayne; even though he sends money back to his mother and ailing sibling, Mr. Cobb is mentioned in Mom's letters as having been laid off again, but, she says, since "nobody welds like a Cobb" he'll soon be back on his feet.
    • Emma Washburne has this as well now that her father has passed on.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In Life Signs, the crew learn that Doctor Esau Weng had to escape from local 'ruler' Mr O'Bannon simply because he legitimately couldn't cure the man's pancreatic cancer.
  • Disrupting the Theater: In the "Our Mrs. Reynolds" episode, Shepherd Book has the following to say about Mal's wife from an Accidental Marriage:
    Shepherd Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of Hell. A level they reserve for child molesters... and people who talk at the theater.
  • Dissimile:
    • From "The Train Job":
    Mal: We're not thieves... but we are thieves. The point is we're not taking what's his.
    • From "Jaynestown":
    Simon: (to Jayne) You're like a trained ape! Without the training!
  • Dissonant Laughter: The thoroughly evil and worldly Jubal Early is thoroughly creeped out by River giggling while "possessing" Serenity.
  • Disturbing Statistic: From "Safe":
    River: The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given adequate vacuuming systems.
    Mal: See, morbid and creepifying I don't have a problem with. Long as she does it quiet-like.
  • Don't Think, Feel: When the crew invades a skyplex to rescue The Captain in "War Stories", secondary defense of the ship relies on a shepherd, a doctor, a mechanic and a mentally traumatised young girl. At the time, Book is the only with known combat training. Although Simon does try hard to help, Book ends up having to advise him that he's thinking too much and should just go with the shot. In the end, it doesn't help. Simon still can't hit the broad side of a barn. His sister, on the other hand... ''does'' feel it.
    • When Kaylee asks how a client is chosen, Inara tries to explain that it's a process of feeling out a client through compatibility of spirit rather than actually thinking logically and carefully about it. Mal doesn't believe a word of it.
  • Doomed Defeatist: The opening scene for the series is a flashback to the Unification War. Mal Reynolds is leading a group that's holding ground against a numerically larger opponent. One of his soldiers, Private Bendis, says they're going to die. Mal tells him reinforcements on on their way and they'll be okay. Instead it's the enemy that gets reinforced and Bendis is killed while standing next to Mal.
  • Doomed Hometown: Mal's homeworld was "Shadow", a major Browncoat holdout from Unification, which the Alliance orbitally bombarded so much that the whole moon was rendered uninhabitable afterwards.
  • Double Caper: "The Train Job".
  • Dramatic Space Drifting:
    • During the episode "Objects in Space", in which Jubal Early is spaced and left to die. Played for comedic value at the end of the episode, where even Jubal recognizes he is performing some excellent Dramatic Space Drifting. "Well... here I am."
    • In "Bushwhacked", when Serenity encounters a derelict ship and then a dead body smacks into the cockpit windshield, startling Wash (and the audience).
  • The Dreaded: The Reavers.
  • Dream Walker: River in “Ghost Machine” as she tries to wake everyone up before the ship crashes. She fails with everyone but Mal, who she stabs with a knife to finally wake him. Everyone else wakes when Mal destroys the titular machine.
  • Drugged Lipstick: Saffron.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Simon Tam saves a man's life from his incompetent doctor while breaking into an Alliance hospital to check on his sister's condition.
  • Duel of Seduction: Saffron and Inara. Inara wins (at least, she recognizes the game).
  • Dull Surprise: Mal reacts this way at times. In the pilot episode "Serenity", he reacts to opening Simon's box and seeing River with a dazed stare and simply muttering, "Huh." Happens again in "War Stories" when he meets Inara's guest the Councillor, who is revealed to be a woman and not the male assistant who first entered Serenity.
  • Dumb Struck: A girl in the village of the people that kidnap Simon and River.
  • The Dung Ages: Some of the outer planets are... backwards in terms of technology and cleanliness. A particular example is Higgin's Moon, where the filthy, impoverished slaves are constantly covered in dirt and mud because they literally are farming mud (or rather, the materials used to make high-quality ceramics).
  • Dutch Angle / Hitler Cam: How the power members are often shot when they're being Big Damn Heroes.
  • Dying Alone: From "Out of Gas".
    Inara: Mal, you don't have to die alone.
    Mal: Everybody dies alone.
  • Dynamic Entry: "Serenity" (pilot episode): "Anyone so much as moves—" [headshot] Bonus points to Mal for pulling this off against a man holding a hostage without so much as breaking his stride: the unholstering and execution happen as casually as breathing.

    Tropes E-H 
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the pilot episode Inara is referred to as "the ambassador" by several characters in multiple situations, which Mal explains is because her status as a Companion often helps them gain access to worlds they would normally be barred from. Though they continue to exploit her high society contacts throughout the series, her nickname never appears after the first episode. On a more fundamental level, Wash's character evolved over the series as he progressed from a very reserved pilot when in danger in the first episode to an excitable and loud pilot in "The Message".
    • Also, Book shows some nervousness in the pilot when he's around Inara, although this may be lingering embarrassment on his part that the "Ambassador" nickname led him to believe she was a state official before Mal tells him her real profession.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It says something when this series' ending is one of the more positive ones Joss Whedon wrote.
  • Earth That Was: The Trope Namer.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Although (according to the DVD) a translator worked hard to get Chinese slang correct, and the actors studied recordings, it was still mangled in pronunciation.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: In episode "Jaynestown", Jayne explains that he once pulled a heist on Higgins' Moon, but then had to dump the cargo to stay airborne after he got hit by anti-aircraft fire, and the strongbox inadvertently landed in the indentured workers' Company Town causing Jayne to become a local hero. He neglects to mention he pushed his partner Stitch Hessian out first, and Magistrate Higgins sends the vengeful Stitch after him.
  • Enemy Mine: In Generations, Simon briefly convinces the Hands of Blue to spare him by offering to help them find the just-released Silas.
  • Enigmatic Institute: River decided to go to a government sponsored academy that had a challenging course program that was suited to her extremely high intelligence. Unfortunately, it's a front for some kind of project that resulted in her being experimented on, specifically her brain, in a top-secret lab somewhere.
  • Environmental Symbolism
  • Epic Hail:
    • The button in "Out of Gas". Subverted in that it was never actually used.
    • In the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite", Alan Tudyk recalls sending the button from this episode to Joss Whedon with a note quoting his line (paraphrased): "When your miracle gets here, just push this button to call us back." It turned out that this happened while Joss was fighting for Serenity to get the green light.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Jayne's "cunning" hat (and the letter accompanying it, revealing that he sends money to his family).
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Depends on the extent to which Jayne can be considered "evil", but while he doesn't get along with the Tams to the point he tries to sell them back to the Alliance, even he is visibly shocked to hear the extent to which the Academy screwed with River's brain. So much so that he tries to get them out as fast as possible, so as to escape the Alliance guards he called. In the movie, he lists out various things that he'll kill a man for, but eating people alive? Where's that get fun?
    • Niska demonstrates an interesting sense of pragmatism in the spin-off novel The Ghost Machine. At the start of the novel, Niska has paid Badger to acquire the titular machine for him when he hears reports that it basically traps those exposed to it in a hallucination of their best lives, but Niska later learns that the 'dreams' generated by the Machine can become nightmares which either kill the subject or leave them in a rage after waking up. Reasoning that the risk of the machine backfiring is too great, Niska contacts Badger to inform him that he has changed his mind about wanting the machine, but allows Badger to keep the money he already paid as he reasons that Badger hasn't failed him and in fact kept up his end of the deal.
  • Everyone Can See It: Mal and Inara are fooling exactly no one. Inara gets away with it a little more than Mal (even her friend Nandi initially doesn't realize Inara has feelings for him, though she does eventually), but Shepherd Book figures it out within a day of being on the ship.
  • Erotic Eating: Kaylee with the strawberries. Particularly in the unaired pilot version.
  • Everyone's Baby Sister: Though nearly all of the main characters were gravely injured in one way or another over the course of the series, Kaylee's injury was made, by far, the most personal for the rest of the characters, to the point where Mal was ready to throw Simon out of the airlock.
  • Evil Brit: The only characters with British accents are London Gangster Badger and Jerkass Atherton Wing, who both appear in the episode "Shindig". And, of course, the Operative in The Movie.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In Generations Silas is incapable of understanding River's bond with the crew of Serenity, believing that she should favour him over these others who cannot understand her true potential.
  • Evil Laugh: In the pilot episode "Serenity" Wash, while playing with toy dinosaurs, proclaims that the Allosaurus has "an evil laugh" when it betrays the Stegosaurus.
  • Evil Redhead: Saffron.
  • Exact Words: Point of interest, seems 'understand', according to Merriam Webster, means "To grasp the meaning/reasonableness of", whereas 'comprehend' means "to grasp the nature/significance of". Take this into consideration as you rewatch "Objects In Space," River was trying to explain to Mal that she understands that guns are bad, but that she wasn't perceiving what she was holding to be a gun at all (the audience could see she thought she was holding a tree branch).
  • Expanded Universe: The Movie, the novels, comics, online clips and games.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Episode 10, "War Stories". Mal is captured by the elderly and sadistic Niska, is brutally tortured via electric shock, has his ear cut off, and is then killed painfully only to be resuscitated for further torture. When Mal's crew stages a rescue, Mal overcomes the guard and gives Niska a huge beatdown.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Dobson, in Those Left Behind.
  • Eye Scream:
    • River Tam had this happen to her with needles at one point during her time at the Academy, though we only see flashes of this from a nightmare in "The Train Job". Later in "Safe", she rails at Simon during one of her crazy fits that "You can't just stick needles in my eyes and ask me what I see!"
    • "Jaynestown": Jayne's former partner Stitch who was imprisoned in the town lost an eye in the (in)famous incident when Jayne threw him out of their plane. When Stitch comes into town looking for Jayne to get his revenge, he finds Simon in the local pub. Simon is not as cooperative as Stitch would like him to be, and threatens that it will cost him his eyeball. With a really big knife in his hand.
    • In the comics, Book has an eye surgically removed and replaced with a camera before the war. This allows his Independent superiors to keep an eye on him while he infiltrates the Alliance military.
    • In the comics, Dobson from the pilot episode appears again. He did not die and he holds a grudge about our intrepid crew because he lost his eye in his encounter with them.
  • Fake Brit: Invoked Trope. River's mimicry of Badger's accent in "Shindig".
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: According to Joss Whedon the setting was partially inspired by journals of Confederate soldiers on the frontier from The American Civil War, and the Unification War and aftermath has its similarities (Alliance occupation troops in the series' present = Union occupation troops during Reconstruction, for instance). However the comparison isn't perfect, as the Independent Faction started out independent instead of trying to secede and failing.
  • Fantastic Ship Prefix: Alliance ship names are preceded by I.A.V. (possibly Interstellar/Interplanetary Alliance Vessel).
  • Farm Boy: Mal is a Farm Boy, having been raised by his mother and forty hands on a ranch back on his homeworld, Shadow. He spoke about it only once.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Averted; Joss Whedon mentioned there is no faster than light travel in the Firefly-verse and supplemental materials indicate ships in the verse only get up to about 1/3 of light speed through inertial screening and gravity manipulation.
  • Fate Worse than Death: There's a reason Jubal's threat to Kaylee in "Objects in Space" isn't a death threat.
  • Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In a deleted scene for "Our Mrs. Reynolds", River tries to convince Shepherd Book to marry her and Simon, although this can be easily interpreted as her unstable mental condition.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Jubal Early from "Objects in Space".
    • Adelai Niska, as seen in his introduction in "The Train Job".
      Niska: You do not like I kill this man?
      Mal: No, I'm sure he was a... very bad person.
      Niska: My wife's nephew. (waves dismissively) At dinner I am getting earful.
  • Faux Death:
    • River and Simon in "Ariel".
    • Tracy in "The Message". In fact, he was put under by the same drug as the Tam siblings.
  • Favouritism Flip-Flop: In "Heart of Gold":
    Jayne: Don't know these folks, don't much care to.
    Mal: They're whores.
    Jayne: I'm in.
  • Fetal Position Rebirth: River.
  • Feudal Future: There are a few Feudal Lords (barons, dukes, etc.) on different planets in Firefly.
    • In "Shindig", Mal goes to a party full of aristocrats and winds up fighting one of them in an old-fashioned sword duel.
    • "Jaynestown" features a moon ruled by (and named after) an aristocrat.
  • Finagle's Law: In the Serenity RPG, the name of the complication is "Things Don't go Smooth", taken from a line in "Safe". The description is basically this trope. As should be obvious, Mal canonically has the Major version of this complication listed on his character sheet.
    Mal: It never goes smooth. Why don't it ever go smooth?
  • Fire-Forged Friends:
    • Mal and Zoe, to a Platonic Life-Partners level. We don't see the exact moment of forging; rather, the war they were in together seems to have been a protracted forging process.
    • In the pilot episode Mal and Simon start off as rivals because of the clash of their respective Papa Wolf instincts. At the end of the Pilot they learn to respect each other; Mal can think of many unkind things to say about Simon, but he recognizes he ain't weak.
    • In "Trash", Saffron observes that Mal and Monty may have this in their past.
  • First Blood: "Out of Gas".
  • The First Superheroes: River Tam is most likely the first really powerful psychic in the Verse, since she's a unique prototype Super-Soldier who escaped from a top secret lab. Too bad that the technology for training Psychic Powers is still very crude and involves brain surgery and other cruel and invasive experimentation resulting in madness.
  • Fish out of Water: Simon is nervous and uncomfortable and damned near useless most of the time, so it is surprising when he has a complete personality flip and is suddenly the person with all the knowledge and confidence whenever there is a medical emergency.
  • Floating Continents: The estates on Bellerophon, seen in "Trash".
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The two most dangerous crew members of Serenity are named Jayne and River.
  • Flying Cutlery Spaceship: The Reaver ships in both the series and the film are covered in jagged metal spikes, looking like they were slapped together from scrap metal. The Reavers also enjoy splattering blood like paint on their hulls and stringing half-eaten corpses to their bows.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: In "Safe", Simon does this to three men while trying to protect River from being burned at the stake. He ultimately fails to save River, but it's still an impressive attempt.
  • Food Pills: The ration bars from the "Serenity" pilot episode.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: The best description of Jayne's fate in Carnival; he accompanies River and Wash to a casino, but after River wins sixty-five thousand in platinum, Mal gives most of it away to help the local sheriff deal with the corruption in his department, only letting Jayne keep a thousand of it.
  • The Four Gods: The five suns of the verse have both English and Chinese names: Blue Sun/Qing Long, Red Sun/Zhu Qe, White Sun/Bai Hu, Georgia/Huang Long and Kalidasa/Xuan Wu.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: The Mangled Mandarin swearing.
  • Foreshadowing: In the pilot:
    Mal: How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?
    Jayne: Money wasn't good enough.
    Mal: What happens when it is?
    Jayne: Well, that'll be an interestin' day.
    • A very subtle one in "Our Mrs. Reynolds": the music that plays while Mal is unknowingly getting married follows the famous chord structure of Pachelbel's Canon, a very popular wedding song.
    • Kaylee mentions in the first episode that they need a new compression coil, or else the ship will not work. Unfortunately, Mal does not listen and that is exactly what causes the problem in "Out of Gas".
    • A good one in "Trash" when Simon confronts Jayne about his betrayal on Ariel. After Simon leaves, River, in a seemingly funny and Cloud Cuckoo Lander statement, says "Also, I can kill you with my brain". The significance of this statement is revealed in "Objects in Space" where River's intelligence, creativity and strategising comes together to defeat Jubal.
    • A major example when the crew encounters Reavers in the pilot, which becomes important in the movie when they need some 'backup' against the Alliance fleet:
    Mal: If we run, they have to chase us. It's their way.
    • The first thing we see of Wash is him playing with toy dinosaurs, acting out a scenario where one suddenly but inevitably betrays the other, who responds by cursing him and trying to kill him. Later on, Jayne betrays Simon and River, and by extension Mal. Mal nearly kills him over it.
    • The novels love it. The Magnificent Nine novel, with Zoe saying Wash is her anchor and she doesn’t know what she’d do without him. Way to smack us with foreshadowing and/or irony, author. Another has Wash thinking he hopes he goes first because he couldn’t live without Zoe.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Book. He eventually became a preacher, but he started out as a petty teenage criminal then became a spy during the war.
  • Freudian Trio
  • A Friend in Need: Mal dislikes Simon, pretty much from the get-go because of the heat he brings down on the ship, and because he lied about his fugitive status until he was already on board. However, by the time things really get bad, Simon has agreed to be the ship's doctor, making him an official part of the crew. Mal and company help keep Simon and River hidden from the Alliance until the coast is clear, leading Simon to wonder out loud why Mal would help him if he doesn't even like him. Mal's answer is simply, "You're on my crew." This attitude is present in pretty much everyone on the ship (except maybe Jayne...) to the point where they more resemble a family than a crew on a ship, and frequently risk their own safety for each other when necessary.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Both Mal and Zoe were soldiers for the Independents who have since turned to being somewhat minor criminals. Their past as soldiers does come in handy during confrontations and fights, however, as they and the crew often overcome better armed foes who have numbers on their side.
  • From the Latin "Intro Ducere": In "The Train Job", River comments on Mal's name, saying: "Mal. Bad. In the Latin."
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Tracey in "The Message". He's unaware at the time, but after:
    Tracey: Sarge?
    Mal: What?
    Tracey: I think I'm nekkid.
  • Fumbling the Gauntlet: Mal to Atherton Wing in "Shindig".
  • Fun T-Shirt: Jayne has loads of them.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: The processed protein which the crew largely subsists on fits this trope. Averted by Shepherd, who gives the crew strawberries, tomatoes and other fresh food when he first boards Serenity.
  • Future Slang: Many of the characters curse in Chinese, the explanation being that China was one of the biggest contributors to the colonization of the galaxy, and therefore many people speak at least a little bit of the language because of that influence.
  • Gang of Bullies: Kaylee experiences some harassment at an upper-class party from a quartet of female attendees in "Shindig".
  • Geeky Turn-On:
    • Kaylee in "Shindig", managing to woo several gentlemen with her tech savvy.
    • Kaylee's introduction in "Out of Gas", which reveals that engines make her hot.
    • Simon in "Jaynestown", while in an advanced state of inebriation, reveals that he finds Kaylee especially pretty when she's covered in engine grease.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Because "The Hero of Canton, the man they call Fred" just would not have the same zing.
    • River comments on this in "Trash":
    Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girl-folk ain't to be trusted.
    River: Jayne is a girl's name.
    Jayne: Well, Jayne ain't a girl! If she starts in on that girl's name thing, I'll show her good and all I got man parts. (shoves his hand in his pants for emphasis)
    Simon: I'm trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just... It's not coming.
  • Generican Empire: "Union of Allied Planets" often shortened to just "The Alliance". Unproduced scripts actually named it the "Anglo-Sino Alliance," reflecting its nature as a merger between the United States and China prior to the final abandonment of Earth That Was, but this never made it into the final production.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Simon. From a flashback in "Safe":
    Simon: I'm sorry, Dad. I would never have tried to save River's life if I had known there was a dinner party at risk.
    • Also, the elderly gentleman who rescued Kaylee from the Alpha Bitch in "Shindig".
    Gentleman: 'Why, Banning Miller! What a vision you are in your fine dress. It must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days just to get you into that get-up. 'Course, your daddy tells me it takes the space of a school-boy's wink to get you out of it again.'
  • Genre Throwback: To westerns and space operas, at the same time.
  • Get into Jail Free: In Life Signs, Mal, Zoe, Jayne and Simon are smuggled onto the prison planet Atata to find a doctor who may be able to treat Inara's terminal illness.
  • Get It Over With: Atherton and the spectators after Mal wins the duel in "Shindig".
  • Ghost Ship: "Bushwhacked".
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot:
    • Five words: "I'll be in my bunk." Inara and the ambassador turned Jayne on.
    • Mal (incorrectly) guesses that Inara kissed Saffron in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", which knocked her out, as did Mal, by way of a poisoned kiss. He giddily grins at Inara's "affirmation" and walks off, leaving behind a very confused and very annoyed Inara.
  • Give Me a Sword
  • Give Me Back My Wallet: Near the beginning of the episode "The Message".
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: It's not remarked upon in the series, but in the comic miniseries Better Days, it's mentioned that the sunglasses Simon is wearing in the pilot hide his eyes from retina scanners.
  • Good Feels Good: Jayne learns this due to his 100% Heroism Rating in Canton. However, it doesn't end well.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: In the episode "Trash," Saffron assumes Mal is an idiot because he is being kind and compassionate to her. Then she walks headlong into his Xanatos Gambit when it turns out he expected her sudden but inevitable betrayal, and Inara beats her to the drop point.
  • Good is Not Nice: Mal and most of the rest of the crew of Serenity are generally altruistic. That does not make them nice guys, however, as fellows like Crow ("The Train Job") and Atherton Wing ("Shindig") would attest.
    Mal: Mercy is the mark of a great man. [stabs Atherton] Guess I'm just a good man. [stabs Atherton again] Well, I'm alright.
  • Good Is Not Soft: In "The Train Job", the juxtaposition between Mal and Crow is really good at demonstrating the page quote for good an evil men. Crow gloats, and Mal just says 'Darn.' Mal then kicks Crow into Serenity's engine air intake.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Subverted, in that every time Mal goes up against a competent enemy, he loses. Except the swordfight in "Shindig", but he was not using fisticuffs, he was using whatever he could.
    • Said swordfight was also a match he lost, at first.
  • Good Shepherd: Who will shoot you in the kneecaps and chop off your killer robots' heads with a giant curved machete.
  • Government Conspiracy: Hands of Blue — possibly a private sector conspiracy by Blue Sun, but with definite government involvement.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Mandarin-ish phrases scattered through the dialogue, often as family-friendly swearwords. Doubles as a Bilingual Bonus. As the DVD set shows, they used actual Mandarin phrases, and some of them are absolutely hilarious in English.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Unification War, except for the final battle and a few flashbacks.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In "War Stories", Wash and Zoe are having a lover's spat, as Wash is very suspicious of Mal always, always bringing Zoe along on missions and laughing it up with old war stories. He finally demands that he go so that Zoe is away from Mal, and so he can do something fun and exciting, and as the mission drags on, accuses Mal of being in love with Zoe. The mission nearly gets them both killed, traumatizes Wash, and leads to Mal and Zoe pranking Wash at the end of the episode by mockingly attempting to consummate their "relationship". Mal actually invokes it to keep Wash alive and focused during the torture.
    • Atherton, towards... well, anyone near Inara.
  • The Great Repair: "Out of Gas".
  • Guns Akimbo: Zoe and Jayne in "War Stories".
  • Gunship Rescue: Repeatedly.
    • Subverted: Serenity doesn't have any guns. Although on one occasion ("Safe"), she did have a big scary man with a gun hanging out of her.
    • At the beginning of "The Train Job" Wash helps Mal, Zoe and Jayne escape from a bar brawl by threatening to start shooting. When everyone is onboard he laughs. "Transport ships don't have guns."
    Wash: (speaking from inside Serenity) Every man there, go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon.
    Jayne: (after the three of them have boarded) Damn yokels can't even tell transport ships don't have no guns on it! "Blow a new crater in this moon..." (laughs)
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: In "War Stories" after the torturer is shot, repeatedly, he falls onto some machinery, and gets cut in half.
  • Hand Cannon:
    • Mal's trusty service pistol fires .303 rifle rounds.
    • Zoe favors a hogleg (a.k.a. mare's leg), a cut-down 1892 Winchester carbine worn in a hip holster.
    • Jayne's better known for Vera, but he's hardly lacking in the handgun department. His main sidearm is a LeMat, a nine-chamber revolver with a second barrel for buckshot. That's right, tropers: a pistol and a shotgun.
    • There's also a bunch of one-shot characters with large handguns. One is reminded of one of Dobson's semiautomatics in "Serenity", and Stitch Hessian's sawed-off shotgun in "Jaynestown".
  • Handicapped Badass: The novel Coup de Grace features Annie Roberts, a teenager who lost one arm as a child but is a deadly enough shot that Mal initially assumed her targets had been shot by Zoe rather than Annie.
  • Harmful to Minors: River had been recruited by a prestigious school because she was gifted. Why? So she could be abused, tortured, and experimented on. It gets worse... she was regularly sending back perfectly innocent and happy letters in her own handwriting so all this happens without you ever suspecting a thing.
  • Helping Another Save Face: "Shindig", when a wealthy Rich Bitch demeans Kaylee, one of the older gentleman there turns it back on her.
    What a vision you are in your fine dress ? it must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that getup. 'Course, your daddy tells me it takes the space of a schoolboy's wink to get you out of it again.
  • Helpless with Laughter: In "Trash", everyone has a different reaction to Mal strutting onto Serenity naked. Wash's is to laugh so hard he can't talk.
  • Heroic BSoD: A good number, including River throughout most of the series, and Mal is still recovering from the one at the end of the battle for Serenity Valley. On a lighter note, however, is the absolutely hilarious look of shock on his face right before the title sequence in "Our Mrs. Reynolds," after Saffron explains the situation to him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Played straight with Simon in what amounts to a lingering Heroic Sacrifice through the entire series and movie when he gives up status and fortune and lives with outlaws, so he can rescue and comfort his sister.
  • Heroism Incentive: Mal and Zoe offer Jayne better pay and his own quarters in exchange for dumping a weaksauce crew that gave him little money and no respect. The fact that this deal also kept him from killing them was an added bonus.
    Jayne: Don't know these folks, don't much care to.
    Mal: They're whores.
    Jayne: I'm in.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Jayne Cobb, who is just about the last person on Serenity's crew that you would expect to play guitar or send money to his momma. He's visibly affected when one of the Jaynetown villagers takes a shot intended for him. He's also the first one to join Book in saying grace. In the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite", Adam Baldwin confirms that he portrayed Jayne as being a man of God.
    • Similarly, you would not count on Simon being a criminal mastermind ("Ariel"),
    • Book a badass preacher,
    • Mal having read a poem (the movie), or being able to dance ("Shindig"), for that matter.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Inara.
  • Holier Than Thou: Shepherd Book was deliberately designed as a subversion of this trope.
  • Honor Among Thieves: Amongst Mal's crew, anyway. Many of the other criminals in the series do not share this trait.
  • Honor Before Reason: The show practically runs on this, although Jayne often plays a Sancho Panza role, sometimes to an extreme degree.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Inara is a subversion. She does have a heart of gold, but she doesn't actually want to be rescued from her career. Mal and Kaylee seem to think that she's better than what she does and should want to be rescued.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: In a flashback in "Out of Gas", Zoe says of one of the possible candidates for the pilot of Serenity, a moustachioed, laid-back, strange little geek with a fondness for Hawaiian shirts: "I don't like him." Said geek is Wash. The man, y'know, she ended up marrying.
  • Hospital Surprise: In the episode Out of Gas, Mal passes out from blood loss and oxygen deprivation just as he restarts the engine, but before he can give the signal for his crew to return to Serenity. He wakes up in the medical facility, with the rest of his crew around him, being treated by Simon. It turns out that Zoe, who had last been seen unconscious and severely injured from an explosion, ordered the crew to go back for Mal, without waiting for his signal.
  • How We Got Here: "Out of Gas" on two levels: one showing how Mal came to be the captain of Serenity, and the other showing how the ship got, well, out of gas. The R. Tam Sessions show several of the steps in River's descent into madness, and "Trash" is often referred to as "How Mal Got Naked".
  • Hug and Comment: In a touching scene in "War Stories", Simon hugs River:
    River: (sobbing) Bits... fluids... What am I?
    Simon: You are my beautiful sister.
    River: I threw up on your bed.
    Simon: (Beat) Yep. Definitely my sister.
  • Human Mail: Tracey mails himself to Mal and Zoe in "The Message".
  • Human Shield: Bluntly subverted by Mal in the pilot episode.
  • Humans Are Flawed
  • Humans Are White: In a heavily East Asian influenced universe, supposedly resulting from a merger of the United States and China on Earth That Was, where non-Chinese people scatter Mandarin phrases in their English conversation, none of the main cast members is Asian. The only Asian actors to get any lines in the entire series play bit parts: a prostitute and a Shadow Play presenter in "Heart Of Gold", a crime boss in "War Stories" and a bridge officer in "the Train Job". The Author's Saving Throw from the DVD commentary is that character names like Tam and Wing suggest some Asian ancestry, and according to Word of God, the part of Kaylee was originally written to be an actress of Asian descent, but Joss and company were impressed enough with Jewel Staite's audition that she got the part instead.
  • Hypocrite: In Life Signs, Meadowlarke Deane is confronted with the fact that she's basically this, as she claims that she only kills liars and deceivers but Zoe points out that she lies all the time.

    Tropes I-L 
  • I Call It "Vera": A funny scene with Jayne and Mal in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" is the Trope Namer, where Jayne attempts to trade his favorite gun "Vera" for Mal's accidental wife Saffron.
  • I Can't Dance: Just barely averted in the episode "Shindig" because Real Life Writes the Plot. The actors spent so much time rehearsing the "Mal can't dance" scene that Nathan Fillion actually learned to perform the choreography very well, so after recording the scene they had to dub in a line where Mal remarks that this is one dance he actually knows.
  • Iconic Outfit: Jayne's knitted hat.
  • If I Do Not Return: Subverted in The Big Damn Movie:
    Mal: Zoe, ship is yours. Remember, if anything happens to me, or if you don't hear from me within the hour, you take this ship... and you come rescue me.
    Zoe: What? And risk my ship?
    Mal: I mean it! It's cold out there, and I don't wanna get left!
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: In some Casual Danger Dialogue in "The Train Job":
    Mal: I'd do this job for free!
    Zoe: Does that mean I get your share?
    Mal: No.
    Zoe: If you die do I get your share?
    Mal: Yes.
    • In "Safe" Jayne doesn't even bother to call dibs. As soon as Simon and River get unintentionally marooned, he goes to Simon's cabin and starts looting the place.
    Jayne (checking one of Simon's shirts to see if it would fit): Amazing we kept 'em this long.
  • I Have Many Names: YoSaffBridge, "Saffron"'s nickname during "Trash", as a result of her using many, many names whenever she's seducing men - be it Saffron, Yolanda, or Bridget.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Kaylee getting shot by Dobson in the pilot.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: River.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: For team heists.
  • I'll Be in My Bunk: The trope name comes from a line spoken by Jayne in "War Stories" which becomes a bit of a Running Gag on and off screen.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: One of the things the Reavers do to their victims, according to Zoe in the pilot. If you are very, very lucky, they will wait until after they rape you to death.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Subverted, where Kaylee says something like this after being shot, but she recovers without complication. She says it not because of impending death, but because she's going in to shock from the traumatic injury.
  • I'm Going to Hell for This: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", this is what Shepherd Book promises will happen to Mal if he takes advantage of his accidental wife, Saffron.
    Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
    • She then tries to seduce him:
      Mal: Oh, I'm going to the special hell.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Depending on the episode, mooks can be hilariously incompetent or amazingly adept. For example, in the pilot's final shoot-out, Mal and Zoe are standing in the open, with no cover, against a numerically superior enemy force. Zoe gets hit dead center in the chest as a signal the fight has started, but for the rest of the fight, no-one can do anything but clip Mal, even though he's standing only a dozen yards away and only moving slowly. Zoe, on the other hand, brings down one of the bad guys, without even getting back up off the floor. Though to be fair, Jayne was listening in from a sniper's nest, and possibly took out the only mook acknowledged to have any skill gunslinging.
    • Subverted in "War Stories". When the gang invades Niska's sky complex to rescue Mal and get through largely unscathed (even when Zoe stops bothering to use cover), it looks like a straight example of this trope. However, after it's all over, the ensuing conversation reveals it wasn't just the bad guys who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn... Simon couldn't either.
    Mal: So, I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there... how you faring with that, doctor?
    Simon: I don’t know... I... er... yeah, I never shot anyone before.
    Book: I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone yet.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: "Serenity" (pilot episode): Did Mal just stroll into the ship while pulling a perfect headshot — on someone with a hostage?! Earlier in the same episode: Did Zoe just shoot a man off a moving horse... while still lying down from getting shot?
    • "Safe": Did Zoe just shoot a man's gun out of his hand... from a hundred meters off... from the hip??
    • "Our Mrs. Reynolds": Did Zoe just hit two mooks on horses while diving sideways into a river?
    • "War Stories": Did River just peek around the corner and then kill three guys perfectly without looking??
      • Of course, it's Justified with River.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: "War Stories": Did Wash just perfectly hit a skyplex docking seal with a powered down Firefly from 6000 miles away? Yes, I believe that's exactly what he just did.
    Zoe: It's like throwing a dart, Jayne... and hitting a bulls-eye 6000 miles away. That's my man.
  • Inconvenient Hippocratic Oath: Simon, in "Ariel", responding to a Code Blue that occurs right in front of him, despite his fugitive status, and therefore giving us a rare moment of seeing him as he truly is rather than the Fish out of Water he often is when on Serenity. It also reinforces the strong suggestion in the pilot that he was only bluffing when he claimed he would let Kaylee die if they didn't run from the Alliance (a bluff that was revealed at the time because as soon as Mal gave the order, Simon helped Kaylee — reacting faster to Mal's words than even Zoe did, which means he didn't bother waiting to see if Mal was bluffing or if any of the crew would actually carry out the order).
  • Indentured Servitude: Present as part of the setting's massive Schizo Tech.
    • In "The Train Job" Inara extricates Mal and Zoe from the local sheriff by claiming he's a runaway indentured man whom she located after he embezzled money from her accounts.
    • On Higgins' Moon ("Jaynestown") most of the ceramics workforce is indentured, which allows the magistrate owning their contracts to get filthy rich by keeping conditions in the Company Town as cheap and crappy as possible and paying them as little as possible. The RPG says his son has been working to improve things since the episode, though.
  • Industrial World: The show never got time to say so, but supplemental material stated that the planet Wash was from was heavily industrialized and so polluted that it was impossible to see the sky.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When the Alliance boards Serenity in the episode "Bushwhacked" after finding them engaged in illegal salvaging, the officer in charge mentions having received an alert about a fugitive "brother and sister" escaping on a ship matching their description. Mal inverts the trope by pretending to assume he means a pair of children. The officer seems annoyed to have to correct him that they are interested in a pair of adult siblings but quickly lets the subject drop.
    • Invoked in "Trash", when Mal finds out Yo Saff Bridge has married his old friend Monty and they draw down on each other. After Mal tells Monty what happened with "Saffron" on his ship, she says "You're a liar, Malcolm Reynolds." Monty then notes that he never told her his name.
  • I Never Told You My Name: In "Trash," Mal is introduced to an old war buddy's new wife- who is a con artist that Mal has previously had a rather severe run-in with. They commence fighting, Mal shouts accusations at her, to which she responds "You're a liar, Malcolm Reynolds!" His friend had never told her Mal's full name.
  • In Medias Res: The pilot episode begins right at the end of the Battle of Serenity Valley, one of the key turning points in the Unification War. "Out of Gas" begins towards the climax of that episode's story. "Trash" begins with Mal sitting naked in the desert, then goes on to explain how this came about.
  • Innocent Innuendo: From "Shindig":
    Wash: I like our party better. The dress code is easier, and I know all the steps!
    Zoe: [contented sigh] I'd say you do at that.
  • Insane Equals Violent: The Reavers. River averts it, though the crew thinks this is the case when she slashes Jayne (really going after the Blue Sun logo on his T-shirt). Her sudden assassin-ness in the bar in Serenity is due to her government conditioning, not her insanity.
  • Insistent Terminology: Inara's repeated claim that she "hit her head" after she was knocked out from kissing Mal, unaware that the drug that rendered him unconscious was on his lips.
    • In a more straight-up and realistic application of this trope, in "Bushwhacked", Inara corrects an interrogation officer who calls the ship "the Serenity". It should be simply referred to as Serenity.
  • Instant Sedation: The Goodnight Kiss does this, as Mal discovers. It takes a bit longer to work on Inara - several seconds instead of just one or two.
    • In "The Train Job", it takes several minutes for the drug to knock out Jayne, but it still occurred faster than it would in real life and Simon indicated it acted on Jayne slower than it would normally affect most other people.
  • Insult to Rocks: From "Shindig":
    Sir Warrick: I know [Badger], and I think he's a psychotic lowlife.
    Mal: And I think calling him that is an insult to the psychotic lowlife community.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Mal and his crew have elements of this, though profit seems hard to come by.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Played straight throughout most of the series, but averted in the Bar Brawl that opens "The Train Job". After the fight, which was solidly composed of Good Old Fisticuffs, Mal goes to the infirmary to mend his split knuckles and even admits to Simon that you are never supposed to hit somebody in the head with a closed fist because of the damage you will do to your own hand.
    Mal: You know they tell ya, never hit a man with a closed fist, but it is, on occasion, hilarious.
  • Ironic Echo : In the episode "War Stories", Kaylee to River, after playfully wrestling an apple from her, and then River to Kaylee after killing three men:
    "No power in the 'verse can stop me."
    • Also in the same episode, when he's about to torture Mal, Niska apparently wants to meet "the real [Mal]". Once Mal incapacitates his torturer and sees Niska scurrying helplessly away, Mal angrily shouts, "You wanna meet the real me?"
    • Tracy's message in, well, "The Message" is repeated after he's actually dead. Tracy himself even lampshades it a little as he's dying.
  • ISO Standard Human Spaceship: While most ships in the 'verse seem to follow this trope, the Alliance cruisers strongly avert it, appearing as a series of pyramidal towers of varying sizes attached by sky-bridges and sharing a common base.
  • I Will Find You: Simon finding River.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: At the end of "The Message" Tracy's funeral occurs while it's snowing. Then again, the way he specifically states he wants to take his family somewhere warmer would suggest that it just snows a lot on that planet.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: It was shear serendipity that Simon, River and Book got on Serenity. The rest of the series descends from that one choice by people with no prior connection to each other whatsoever.
  • It Meant Something to Me:
    • Subtle version in "Heart of Gold". Mal and Inara dress up and pretend to be a couple to go stake out the villain of the week together at a theater. No big deal is made of this. Mal agrees to help a friend of Inara fight against the villain, one thing leads to another, Inara finds out.
    • Mal gets some of this in "Objects in Space", as when River reads his thoughts, he's trying to convince himself their relationship doesn't mean anything.
  • It Only Works Once: At the end of Life Signs, Simon has been provided with a small sample of Doctor Esau Weng's medical nanites, but there's so little of them that he knows he'll only be able to cure Inara of her illness with them and that would exhaust everything they have. Even then, Simon had to spend the better part of a week working with River in a highly advanced medical laboratory to assure himself that they were programmed correctly to treat Inara's illness.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Simon accusing Mal of being willing to sell him and River to the Alliance. Out of line? Not when you remember that Mal's first words to Dobson after The Reveal were "Say, is there a reward?"
    • Jayne also has a tendency to invoke this trope, particularly when clashing with Mal on Simon and River. Mal seems to realize it, too.
  • Jittercam: Including CGI scenes. Zoic, who did the CGI scenes, would go on to use the same techniques in Battlestar Galactica.
  • Karma Houdini: Adelai Niska from "War Stories", who was apparently spared after torturing Wash and Mal for hours, actually killing and then resurrecting Mal to continue to torture him. Probably would have been averted had the series not ended so abruptly.
  • Karmic Thief: The crew of Serenity participates in several heists, but they are only willing to steal from the rich, and corrupt, especially those associate with the Alliance. After one heist ("The Train Job"), they end up returning the stolen goods when they find out that ordinary people have been put in danger by their theft.
  • Kick the Dog: Jayne delivers a truly epic one in "Bushwhacked" to Simon after finding out he's scared of getting into spacesuits. He claims that Mal needs him to go over to the derelict ship, so he nervously suits up and does so... and then finds they already had life support working. But what makes it a truly Kick the Dog moment is that as the laughter dies down, Kaylee realizes Simon had the suit on wrong... meaning that if Jayne had been serious, Simon would have died.
  • The Kirk: Mal, who often ended up having to choose between nearly irreconcilably different options.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Mal does this to Dobson in the pilot.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better:
    • Handheld lasers exist, but are very expensive and only in use by the Alliance and extremely wealthy private citizens.
    • In the case of Rance Burgess in "Heart of Gold", his laser pistol gets off at least 3 shots before it displays a "Check Battery" warning light.
    • Alliance guards use sonic disruptors which are quite effective, but deal absolutely no collateral damage, which throws off Mal and Jayne several times when they try to use them to blast open doors.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: In "Jaynestown", Simon and Kaylee get very drunk, which drops Simon's inhibitions enough for him to actively hit on her. They stay at the bar and in the morning are found wrapped in each others arms, with Kaylee sprawled across Simon's chest. Simon insists to Mal that absolutely nothing untoward happened between them and that he wouldn't dream of behaving in a disrespectful manner where Kaylee is concerned... although she doesn't find his attempt to protect her honour quite so flattering. Later on, when the pair of them are alone together, it's confirmed that nothing happened between them... much to her obvious frustration.
    Kaylee: Well, you confound me some, is all. I mean, you like me well enough, and we get along. And then you go all stiff.
    Simon: I... I'm not, um... I didn't...
    Kaylee: See? You're doing it right now! What's so damn important about being proper? It don't mean nothing out here in the black.
    Simon: It means more out here. It's all I have. I mean, my way of being polite, or however, it's... Well, it's the only way I have of showing you that I like you. [Kaylee smiles slightly] I'm showing respect.
    Kaylee: So when we made love last night...
    Simon: When we what!?
    Kaylee: [laughs] You really are such an easy mark.
  • Knee-capping: Book does it in "War Stories", leading to this exchange:
    Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'?
    Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
  • Knight Errant: Mal.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Also Mal.
  • Lady of War: Inara, in the movie. And Nandi in "Heart of Gold".
  • Lampshade Hanging/Leaning on the Fourth Wall: From "Objects in Space":
    Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction!
    Zoe: We live on a spaceship, dear.
    Wash: So?
  • La Résistance: The Browncoats.
  • Large Ham: Niska + scenery = nom nom nom...
  • The Last Thing You Ever See: Very, very subverted in "The Train Job". Magnificently so. "Darn."
  • Lawman Gone Bad: The novel Carnival features a Companion version of this, when the crew discover that a Guild house on the planet Bethel is actually run by a former Companion who was sacked from the Guild over a decade ago. Her House is designed like a standard Guild house, but she recruits underage girls through drugs and other methods that would never be used by true Companions. Fortunately, the sheriff of this town proves to be a good man who was only unable to take action because the House Mistress was too connected for him to stop her by himself.
  • Layman's Terms: From "Out of Gas":
    Mal: I need that in Captain Dummy Talk, Kaylee.
    • From "Objects in Space", when Simon attempts to explain why River's condition doesn't seem to have improved much since Ariel:
    Mal: When I want medical jargon I'll talk to a doctor.
    Simon: ...You are talking to a doctor.
  • Leave No Witnesses: As seen in "Ariel", the blue-hand agents are disconcerted to hear that Alliance police spoke to River Tam. Well, they can fix that.
  • Lens Flare: Intentionally on Whedon's part.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: River in particular, but others have their moments, too.
  • Libertarians IN SPACE!: Only in a vague, romantic sense. The outer frontier worlds, as versus the more crowded Alliance core worlds where the Alliance had a firmer grip on the populace. The rebellion of the Browncoats against the Alliance in the backstory was about defending independence in the frontier against the oppressive Alliance government, from the Browncoat point of view - the Independents fought for Independence. Note that many of the horrors in the series are the result of a for-profit, free-market, dog-eat-dog, Wild West society.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: Mal and his crew choose to live hand-to-mouth as far from the People's Republic of Tyranny as they can get to avoid the government after having lost the war.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Zoe and Mal. Would be Platonic Life-Partners, but Zoe definitively chooses her relationship with Wash over Mal in "War Stories". Although it's worth noting that she specifically needed Wash's piloting skills to pull off a rescue plan; her choice was pragmatic as well as emotional.
    • Mal repeatedly acts the part of an older brother to Kaylee, particularly apparent in "Shindig". In the movie, he invokes Brain Bleach when Kaylee mentions having to rely on batteries to get her needs met for a year. Though, to be fair, almost everyone treats Kaylee like a little sister, but it's usually more Mal and, to an extent, Inara.
    Mal: Oh GOD, I can't know that!
    Jayne: I could stand to hear more.
    • Significantly, Mal calls Kaylee "Mei-mei", Mandarin for "little sister", just as Simon calls River and Nandi calls Inara.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Simon to River is the obvious example.
    • When listening to how Joss Whedon envisaged this show, Mal is also this for River, especially in the film.
    • Every person on Serenity to Mal. They each represent some emotional aspect or part of his life he's become dissociated from. This idea is somewhat validated by Nathan Fillion in the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite".
    Nathan Fillion: The reason Captain Malcolm keeps these people so close is because they all are an aspect of himself that he's lost. In Wash, a sense of humor. In Jayne, a selfishness—
    Adam Baldwin: Brawn.
    Nathan: Whoa! (laughs) That's fair, that's fair. In Gina's character, Zoe, there's a capacity for love. In Book, he had his faith. Just things that he lost within himself that he can still have around him in his life, so it became very, very important to him.
  • Living Legend: From the episode "Jaynestown": Jaaaaayne. The man they call Jaaaaayne.
    Jayne: Eggs! The Living Legend needs eggs!
  • Lobotomy: River Tam had parts of her brain removed, though it was not her frontal lobe they messed up with. The operation removed her ability to suppress her emotions.
  • London Gangster: Badger, an east-end gangster IN SPACE!!!
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The novel Ghost Machine sees the titular machine trap Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Kaylee, Wash and Simon in their perfect worlds (Book and Inara are not presently on board and River's abilities let her resist the machine), with the unfortunate twist that it will corrupt those dreams into nightmares and drive them to heart failure if they don't regain consciousness in time. Depicted fantasies include;
    • Mal and Inara are married with two children, before their home is attacked by Reavers.
    • The Independents won the war and Zoe is working as a bounty hunter tracking Alliance war criminals, but is betrayed by Mal to 'the Butcher of Bixley', a version of Book who abandoned any notion of goodness.
    • Jayne has returned to the family ranch and his little brother has recovered from the 'damplung', but the range is attacked by a vast crew of cattle-rustlers who start to cut his brother up before he wakes up.
    • Kaylee is working in her father's engineering shop, but when she befriends a rich client, she learns that he smuggles in people from distant planets to harness their organs for transplants, which her father knew because he had a heart transplant because of the man's work.
    • Wash is married to Zoe and is the head of a major shipping company, but learns that Zoe is actually an agent of Blue Sun who has been manipulating him just to put Blue Sun in a position to take a third of his company's profits.
    • Simon is still working in the hospital with a sane River and involved with Kaylee, but his class-fixated family try to force him to kill Kaylee so that he will adhere to their preconceptions of what his life should be like.
  • Loveable Rogue: Mal qualifies for this or Anti-Hero, though he certainly has traits of both. Ultimately, it is probably his code of honor that pushes him into the Loveable Rogue territory. Jayne's more of a Wild Card, though he grows more loyal to the crew as the series goes on. By the time of the movie he comes to accept Simon and River enough that he even shares a drink with Simon during Mal's "I aim to misbehave" speech as a show of solidarity.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: [[An episode has Mal being (unintentionally) married to a young woman for a reward. But she turns out to be a con artist, intent on killing the crew (by leaving them to die) and selling their ship. Her appearance in a later episode reveals this to be her standard operating procedure: seduce, steal, leave 'em for dead, repeat...]]

    Tropes M-P 
  • Machine Empathy:
    • Kaylee can instinctively know just by looking, hearing or feeling what Serenity is doing and what is wrong with her. Kaylee also noticeably acts incredibly lost and helpless when Serenity suffers a breakdown in "Out Of Gas".
    • River's psychic abilities give her a more general empathy toward the ship and the crew, to the point where Simon notes that she considers it her first real "home". She can also pick out some issues with machinery even before they happen, such as the engine explosion in "Out of Gas."
  • Made from Real Girl Scouts: A fast food stand in the intended-pilot "Serenity" is selling "good dogs" — they are not pork sausages in a finger roll with optional onions and mustard.
  • Madness Mantra: "Two by two, hands of blue..."
  • The Mafiya: Niska.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: The Firefly crew finish up one of these plans at the beginning of "Our Mrs. Reynolds", and does it as the focus of the episode in "Heart of Gold".
  • Make Room for the New Plot: In the first episode (the last one actually aired), the overriding conflict of "what do we do with the captured lawman" is abruptly solved via a bullet through the eyes when the Reavers, a substantially more dangerous issue, arise.
  • Manchurian Agent: River.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Jubal Early in "Objects in Space".
  • Marrying the Mark: This is con artist and spaceship thief Saffron's modus operandi; at least twice during the show, she and Mal encounter her ex-"husbands".
  • Meaningful Background Event: In "Safe" while Kaylee and Simon are arguing in the store, you can see River silently sneaking away.
    • At the beginning of "The Message," when Tracy sits down to eat the beans you see the Alliance soldier sneaking up. Also in "The Message", just after Tracy regains consciousness and Kaylee enters the infirmary. The focus is on Tracy in the foreground as his eyes meet Kaylee's. However, Simon's still in the background monitoring his heart. As a result, the entire room can hear his heart speed up in response to Kaylee... and the camera angle on Tracy makes sure Simon's reaction to this is visible in the background. Ouch.
  • Meaningful Name: Everybody calls Malcolm Reynolds "Mal". River points out that in The Latin, Mal means "Bad."
  • Men In Black: The Blue Hands have this going.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Mal suggests this for a "survivor" of a Reaver raid in "Bushwhacked". And plays this trope straight with one of the hapless victims of a raid in the movie, whom he shoots before the Reavers can do anything, and after which they let the body go.
    • Life Signs ends with Mr O'Bannon being killed by his former second, Ornery Annie, as she recognises that his death of pancreatic cancer is now inevitable and this way she gets to more cleanly take over his operation and keep the prison under control.
  • Mexican Standoff: A regular feature. The pilot alone has multiple examples... including several in the same scene.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: River has some bad problems with hearing everyone's thoughts, more explicitly in "Objects in Space".
  • Mind Rape: Whatever the Academy did to River, she did not turn out very well.
    • The sole survivor of a Reaver attack in "Bushwhacked" inevitably goes insane as a result of what he witnessed.
  • Mission Control: Wash and Kaylee as well as River in "Objects in Space".
  • Moment Killer: Simon and Kaylee suffer from this repeatedly. Sometimes Simon accidentally does it himself.
    • In the commentary for "Objects in Space", Joss yells at Book for interrupting their Almost Kiss.
  • Mood Dissonance: In "War Stories", Mal and Wash have an enormous row about shipboard relationships and Zoe, while being tortured. Wash later realizes this is deliberate on Mal's part, to keep Wash from breaking.
  • Mood Lighting: "Out of Gas" flashbacks.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the pilot. "That man is psychotic!"
    • In "Heart of Gold", we go from Mal trying to make excuses when Inara catches him coming out of Nandi's room, to Jayne sleeping next to one of the prostitutes, to Inara crying.
  • Mook–Face Turn: How Jayne was recruited, as seen in "Out of Gas".
  • Morality Pet: Kaylee to Mal and Jayne.
  • Morton's Fork: Discussed in Life Signs when the crew have to track down a missing doctor who may have done work on a means of curing the rare cancer that is currently killing Inara. While finding his lab and trying to access his research is an option, since the doctor apparently destroyed his work before he was arrested there is no guarantee that such an approach would be successful, but the alternative is to break into a prison planet where the population is left in a frozen wasteland and there's no guarantee that the doctor's still alive there. The crew ultimately choose to investigate the planet as even if they could find the doctor's work Simon estimates it would take him months to understand it and they don't have that kind of time, whereas if they can find the doctor he may be able to share the data with them directly.
  • The Movie: Serenity, the Big Damn Movie.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Mal. According to him in the movie, he's "a fan of all seven".
  • Mundane Dogmatic No FTL? Check. No aliens? Check. No Alternate Universe? Check. No Functional Magic? Check, unless you count River's Psychic Powers. No Time Travel? Check. No teleporters? Check. No instances of Artistic License – Space? Check. Just goes to show you don't need all those fancy trappings to make a good Sci-Fi show.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Zoe and Wash have a spat over having a baby in "Heart of Gold", as one of the prostitutes is pregnant (and the primary reason why the whorehouse is soon to be assaulted by angry men). Zoe wants it for this reason, while Wash is hesitant. Oddly it’s flip-flopped in the comic “The Sting” with a whole subplot where Zoe is reluctant. No explanation for the flip has been given. Wash is killed in the movie, and comics set later reveal that Zoe is in fact carrying his child.
  • My Fist Forgives You: Zoe to Saffron in "Trash".
  • My Greatest Failure: Before "A Shepherd's Tale" came out, Joss hinted that Book was known for his greatest failure. The comic shows that this might actually be his greatest success, depending on how you look at it.
  • Mysterious Mercenary Pursuers: The Hands of Blue.
  • Mysterious Waif: River.
  • Mysterious Past: Book, and to a lesser extent River.
  • Naked on Arrival: River, in the pilot.
  • Naked People Are Funny: One hilarious scene in "Trash" with Mal - Serenity comes to pick him up after YoSaffBridge double-crosses him and leaves him naked in the middle of nowhere. Not embarrassed in the least, he banters with Inara, struts on board, barks a few orders, and stands there admiring the view before saying, "Good day!"
  • The Napoleon: Badger
  • Nasal Trauma:
    • Wash's nose is broken courtesy of a gun butt to the face in the book “Generations”. He says it’s been broken before, too.
    • Mal does it to the Reaver victim in "Bushwhacked."
    • Jayne does this to a Fed in "Ariel".
  • Nay-Theist: Mal, after the events of Serenity Valley completely shattered his faith in God. More precisely, he didn't lose his belief in God's existence, but in God's goodness.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon and Kaylee.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: One of the early ads for the show tried to play up the comedy aspect. While there certainly is some to be found, that really isn't the main point of the show.
  • No Gravity for You: One villain with fantastic combat skills (Jubal Early from "Objects in Space") is defeated when River tricks him into coming outside of the spaceship, where Mal promptly punches him into the infinity of space.
  • No Help Is Coming: In the prologue, Mal has a newly-minted lieutenant call for help, and they seemingly arrive. He soon realizes that the descending ships are actually the enemy, and his high command has surrendered.
  • Noble Fugitive: Simon and River.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Mal is shown having a toilet in his cabin.
  • Nominal Hero: Jayne.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: A truly epic one from Jayne in "The Train Job".
    Jayne: Now we're finishing this deal, and then maybe, maybe we'll come back for those morons... got themselves caught... and you can't change that by getting all... bendy.
    Wash: All what?
    Jayne: You got the light... from the console to keep you... lifting you up... they shine like... (starts grabbing at the air) little angels...
    Wash: Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Wash's story in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" about spending six weeks on a moon where the idea of recreation was juggling baby geese.
    • A lot of incompletely told stories come up in the dinner scene in "Out of Gas" before the engine malfunction.
    • Mal and Zoe mention several war stories in... well "War Stories".
    • Jubal Early in "Objects in Space" gives us this gem:
    Early: You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I've ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome.
    Simon: What did he do?
    Early: Who?
    Simon: The midget.
    Early: Arson. Little man loved fire.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Holy shit yes the Reavers. This is taken up to eleven in "Bushwhacked" which relies explicitly on the horror of the aftermath of a Reaver-attack.
  • No Woman's Land: Saffron tells a not-very-kind story of her upbringing and future prospects on Triumph in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
    • The planet Nandi's brothel is located on
  • No Yay: In-Universe example. At the end of War Stories, Mal and Zoe "flirt" in an astoundingly deadpan manner just to mess with Wash. Jayne happens by just as they're about to "kiss":
    Zoe: (in a deadpan tone) Take me, sir. Take me hard.
    Jayne: Now, somethin' 'bout that is just downright unsettlin'.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Simon to Jayne at the end of "Ariel," to the extent that it borders on hero-worship - not knowing that Jayne had betrayed him and River to the feds.
  • Odd Friendship: Between Jayne, the Token Evil Teammate, and Book, the Good Shepherd.
  • Offhand Backhand: River, in the comic.
  • The Ojou: Inara. While prostitutes are looked down on in our culture, in The 'Verse a Companion is socially high-status, to the point where her presence grants the crew some respectability. Her training taught her to be graceful, controlled, and untouchable — most times, at least, but less so much with her friends. It's explained in some of the info accompanying the comics that the tradition of Companions started during the flight from Earth, which was several generations long. People needed a way to relieve pent-up stress...
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In "Shindig", Mal fails to understand that he has just challenged a man to a duel or what kind of duel it will be.
    Mal: Use of his sw-what?
    • Wash in the pilot during the dinosaur scene when he sees the Alliance cruiser. This happens just after the stegosaurus's "oh crap" after the sudden yet inevitable betrayal.
    • The whole crew gets one in the pilot when Mal announces that a Reaver ship is passing nearby. And Wash gets another when he sees that the Reavers followed them.
    • Done subtly in "Ariel" when River is having her scan in the background. Her brain-scan turns red and the information around it starts flashing rapidly. It's the first sign the Hands of Blue are arriving on the station (she then points this out to Jayne, but no-one understands her).
    • Niska gets one when he meets the real Mal in "War Stories". And with reason.
    • In "Trash", YoSaffBridge has one, when Monty points out that she referred to Mal by name, when he hadn't introduced them yet.
  • Old Friend: Mal's pal Monty in "Trash", Inara's Companion companion Nandi in "Heart Of Gold".
  • Once an Episode: A crew member getting either shot or stabbed. Mostly shot.
  • One Big Lie: The spaceships and terraformed moons have artificial gravity. Also, Psychic Powers.
  • One-Woman Wail: A vaguely Indian version, at the beginning of "Our Mrs Reynolds" and "Heart of Gold". The one at the start of Heart of Gold is this one. It's actually in Punjabi.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Generally averted.
    • Notably in "War Stories": Mal is able to fight Niska and one of his mooks even after being severely tortured and losing an ear, but while he deals with Niska easily, Niska's a villainous Non-Action Guy who borders on Sissy Villain, while after jumping the mook, Mal ends up getting tossed around fairly easily and eventually needs Zoe, Wash, and Jayne to help.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: You know Reavers are very very bad news when Jayne starts freaking out.
  • The Ophelia: River, of course. "Two by two, hands of blue..."
  • Orgasmically Delicious: As seen in the pilot episode "Serenity", Kaylee really likes strawberries.
  • Our Founder: The statue of Jayne Cobb in the episode "Jaynestown". Not quite the actual founder, but similar in spirit.
  • Out-Gambitted: YoSaffBridge, in "Trash".
    • Jayne in "Ariel".
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The episode "Ariel" features a brief switch to medical drama, and is itself The Caper rather than a Space Western.
  • Papa Wolf: Mal for the entire crew. Simon for River.
    • The novel Carnival shows that Mal will be this for others if required; when he learns that fourteen-year-old Ava was nearly sold into sexual slavery by her uncle (her aunt had died and her uncle didn't want to be bothered with a child he wasn't biologically related to), once the main crisis has been resolved, Mal flies over to Ava's old home and shoots her uncle dead.
  • Parrot Expo-WHAT?: In "Shindig".
    Gentleman: Any of these gentlemen can lend you use of a sword.
    Mal: Use of a sw-what?
  • Parting-from-Consciousness Words: Jayne has an amusing moment when he's drugged during the "The Train Job". It starts off as this trope and finally ends in a Non Sequitur, *Thud*.
    • Mal in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" who says "Son of a—" as he passes out from Saffron's Goodnight Kiss. And later, Inara, who says "You stupid son of a—" as she passes out from kissing Mal on his lips.
  • Patchwork Map: Madcap, nicknamed "the crazy moon", in the spin-off comic Float Out. Wash uses this as a weapon.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: From the R. Tam Sessions: "I'll have to write it down..."
  • The Perfect Crime: "Ariel" and "Trash." They get away with it both times, despite complications in both.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Lampshaded in the second comic miniseries ("Better Days").
  • Pet the Dog: Jayne has these moments, and while Mal starts off as a mean bastard in the pilot, by the end he is shown to be somewhat softer than he lets on.
    Simon: Are you always this sentimental?
    Mal: I had a good day.
  • Photographic Memory: River in general but especially in "War Stories."
  • Pimped-Out Dress: "Shindig" had plenty, including Kaylee's dress. Inara's was a more subdued and realistic fancy dress, but a lot of her outfits otherwise fit this trope.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Zoe seems to favor rifle-whipping. Mal reverses his grip on his pistol while doing his whipping.
  • Planet Baron: The villain of "Heart of Gold" is a wealthy rancher who uses his considerable wealth to control his local planet ("backwater moon") and appoints himself the local law enforcement, executing anyone he finds unsavory. As the leader of the group standing up to him points out, he could use his wealth and position to invest in the colony and improve the lives of everyone there (and make himself richer), but he'd rather keep it small and poor so he can "play cowboy".
  • Playful Pursuit: In the opening of the episode "War Stories", Kaylee chases River after the latter steals an apple from her. Considering that they had a whole shipment of apples to choose from, and yet River chooses to steal Kaylee's apple specifically, and Kaylee decides to try and get that specific apple back rather than simply getting another one, one might infer that there was some flirtation in their chase, especially when contrasted with a later scene where River violently kills Niska's men to protect Kaylee.
  • Please Keep Your Hat On: It's more like "please keep your hair tie on," but River gets very frightened when Shepherd Book lets out his Compressed Hair in "Jaynestown". Even Zoe admits that it's alarming.
  • The Plot Reaper: In "Heart of Gold," Mal makes Inara jealous by having sex with Nandi, but it is okay because the very next day Nandi gets shot in the chest and dies.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Rance Burgess from "Heart of Gold" is the most obvious case, although there are others that arguably have shades of this.
  • Poor Communication Kills: While Mal does listen to input from his crew, when he gives an order he expects it to be followed without hesitation or question. As such, his refusal to explain his decisions sometimes causes problems.
    • When Serenity is seized by an Alliance capital ship, he tells the crew to put all the cargo out in the open so as to avoid smuggling charges, then tells Simon to go and get his sister. Simon naturally assumes Mal wants to turn her over to the Alliance, and shouts, "They are not taking her and you are NOT giving her to them!" Mal doesn't explain himself, instead giving Simon a Death Glare, and Book just says, "Don't be a fool, son. Do as the man says."
    • While the above example turned out alright, another one does not. Tracy walks in on Mal discussing the plan to land and let Womack board, he assumes they're going to turn him over. If Mal had simply explained the plan (to tell Womack where to stuff it, since he was out of his jurisdiction), the situation could have been de-escalated, but instead Tracy threatens Wash, Mal shoots him, he takes Kaylee hostage, pissing off the whole crew, and he gets killed.
  • The Power of Friendship: Mal discusses it in his Shut Up, Hannibal! to Saffron.
    "You've got all this fancy training and made me look the fool without trying, but I still got you at gunpoint. That's 'cause I got people with me. People that do for each other, and ain't always lookin' for the advantage."
  • The Power of Legacy: At the end of "Ariel", Jayne begs Mal to use this trope, asking him not to tell that the reason Mal is launching Jayne into space is because Jayne sold out Simon and River to the Alliance. Mal chooses to spare him.
  • The Power of Love: The core of Simon and River's relationship. Simon's love for River is essentially the fuel that gives him the reserves of strength required to sustain his lingering Heroic Sacrifice through the course of the series.
  • Power Outage Plot: The episode "Out of Gas" sees Mal struggling to get Serenity up and running again after an explosion wipes out most of the ship's fuel supply.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Simon in "Jaynestown", after seeing the statue of Jayne: "...son of a bitch!"
    • A more subtle one with Book in "War Stories". Book never curses in Chinese like the rest of the crew does, except when he see's Mal's severed ear, and he goes off in a nasty-sounding tirade.
  • Princess for a Day: "Shindig." Kaylee was doing this from the beginning, and Mal went along once he saw Inara was there.
  • Prison Rape: In "The Message", a corrupt Alliance lawman intimidates a post official who is one of Mal's friends into betraying him by graphic threats of what he's going to face in prison.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Joss Whedon has stated that the Alliance comes off as so domineering and oppressive because Mal is the star of the show and we are seeing the world from his perspective. He has a personal grudge against the government and, because he is a career criminal, only interacts with it when it is actively working against him; as such, Joss as has said he was not trying to put an anti-government message into the show, but that it emerged because of the characterizations of the cast. Had the show focused on a different individual, say someone living comfortably in the Core, there would have been a much heavier focus on the benevolent and beneficial aspects of government, like law and order and public works.
  • Psychic Powers: River. It takes a while for anybody to catch on, since - as far as anybody knows - she's the first.
  • Psychic Radar: River, natch. "Bushwhacked" sees her sensing the presence of the last surviving crew member on the Reaver-raided hulk Serenity finds floating past. Later, during "Ariel" she can clearly sense the closing presence of the Alliance's dubious hirelings. The movie has her going along with Mal on a bank robbery so she can point out anyone about to make a move on them.
  • Psycho for Hire: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space".
  • Public Execution: "Safe" has one of these of a Burn the Witch! style. It's interrupted due to the Trope-Naming Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "WHERE! IS MY! SPACESHIP!"
    • Also a slightly more subtle one in the aforementioned Big Damn Heroes moment, from Mal: "Ain't. We. Just?"
  • Punishment Box: in "Jaynestown", Jayne's former partner is kept prisoner in solitary confinement, in a small (looks to be maybe 5 foot by 5 foot) box on stilts in the middle of a swamp.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Awesomely subverted in the pilot episode "Serenity".
  • Putting on the Reich: An Alliance trooper present in a flashback in "The Message" appears to a helmet identical to those worn by German soldiers in World War II.
    • Alliance naval uniforms also qualify.
    • Lt. Womack wears a leather black trenchcoat and a shoulder harness similar to those used by SS officers. Appropriately enough, he's part of the "Allied Enforcement" police force.

    Tropes Q-T 
  • Quote Overdosed: It is very quotable. You can not stop with just one.
  • Radar Is Useless: Played with in Objects in Space. Jubal Early manages to board Serenity and immobilize most of the crew unnoticed, but Wash did detect his ship coming: he just didn't realize it, because Early hid in a sensor blind spot so all Wash got was "a weird heat bounce off our wake" which he chalked up to a glitch.
  • Ramming Always Works: Features twice in Life Signs; not only does Serenity escape the Alliance ship Constant Vigilance by grazing against it, but River later tricks Constant Vigilance into crashing into its fellow ship, Freedom to Choose, when both are pursuing Serenity.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: In "Heart of Gold", Burgess is standing in front of a large crowd of men, making an angry speech about how women need to know their place, with the hooker, Chari, standing by him. He tells the crowd "Let us all remember, right here and now, what a woman is, to a man." Then he turns to Chari, says "Get on your knees," and the camera fades away as she starts kneeling.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Reavers. Not necessarily in that order, either.
  • Rationalizing the Overkill: In "Shindig", Mal stabs Atherton Wing a couple times after disarming him. Wing had previously insulted Inara and injured Mal quite badly in the ensuing duel.
    Sir Warwick Harrow: You didn't have to wound that man.
    Malcolm Reynolds: Yeah, I know, it was just funny.
  • Reactionless Drive: In the sequence showing Serenity going to full burn, it does spew a little bit of exhaust, but this exhaust is extremely rarefied and appears static against the backdrop of interplanetary space. Given the spacecraft's lack of internal space for storing propellant, the exhaust may merely be the (unaccelerated) fuel expended to power the Reactionless Drive.
    • The jet turbines used for atmospheric operation, however, are clearly reaction drives.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: "Our Mrs. Reynolds."
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Happens when various Chinese curses are spoken, and you can tell that they're curses from the context.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Mal is not the slightest bit uncomfortable about dressing as a woman to pose as bait for bandits.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Sheriff in "The Train Job". When he catches Mal and Zoe trying to return the stolen medicine, he orders his men to take the medicine and let them go.
    Sheriff: You were truthful back in town; these are tough times. A man can get a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours... well, then he has a choice.
    Mal: I don't believe he does.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Badger gives Mal a villainous one when he backs out of a deal and leaves Mal holding the bag.
      Badger: What were you in the war, eh? That big war you failed to win. You were a sergeant, yeah? Balls and Bayonets Brigade. Big. Tough. Veteran. Now you got yourself a ship and you're a captain. Only I think you're still a sergeant, see? Still a soldier. Man of honor in a den of thieves. Well this is my gorram den, and I don't like the way you look down on me. I'm above you. Better than. Businessman, see? Roots in the community. You're just a scavenger.
    • In a later episode, River gives one back to Badger:
      Badger: Why ain't she talking? She got a secret?
      River: [mimicking his Cockney accent] Sure, I got a secret. More 'n one. Don't seem likely I'd tell 'em to you now, do it? Anyone off Dyton Colony knows better 'n to talk to strangers. You're talking loud enough for the both of us though, ain'tcha? I've known a dozen like you. Skipped off-home early, running graft jobs here and there. Spent some time in the lockdown, but less than you claim. Now you're what? Petty thief with delusions of standing? Sad little king of a sad little hill.
  • Recruited from the Gutter: Jayne Cobb met Mal and Zoe at gunpoint while robbing them. When Mal offers him a spot on his own team, a better salary, and his own bunk, Jayne immediately turns on his partners and joins the crew. Possibly a subversion, as the crew of Serenity spends most of the series in Perpetual Poverty themselves and Jayne is never the most stalwart ally.
  • Red Herring Mole: When first introduced to Simon, the "bad guy"-chord comes in as he's hovering menacingly around a large crate wearing scary glasses. He acts suspiciously by asking many questions, leading Mal to suspect that Simon is the mole that is giving the Alliance their location. Book steps in and says that Simon isn't the mole — giving one the assumption that the mole might be him, until they turn to find the real culprit.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: As seen in a flashback in "Out of Gas", Mal recruited Jayne while the guy was trying to rob him.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Joss Whedon loves playing with this trope and stretching the boundaries of it as far as they can go, sometimes with mind-bending results as the show will explore one such dynamic and then suddenly turn it on its head. This trope exists in the show, but it's explored in different ways even between the same characters, let alone between different characters.
  • Religious Bruiser:
  • The Remnant: The Dust Devils in the comic book.
  • Resurrection Sickness: Happens to Simon and River in "Ariel" after they fake their deaths to get inside an Alliance hospital. Also happens to Tracey in "The Message", who used the same drug to fake his own death as well.
  • Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70's Western" feel.
  • Retired Badass: It's repeatedly implied, and downright stated in the graphic novel, that Shepherd Book, born Henry Evans and who became a double agent working both the Alliance and the Independents, was this.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:
    • In the movie, Mal asks Jayne "Do you want to run this ship?" Jayne simply says he does and it throws Mal completely off.
    • In the show proper:
      Tracy: Do you think I'm stupid?
      Mal: In every way possible.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Simon is this once or twice.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Not in a direct-opposition sense, but in terms of reliability, affordability and logistics. Laser and stun weapons exist, but bullets are generally preferred for practical reasons.
  • Romantic False Lead: There are a couple of these littered through the series, mostly sympathetically portrayed but not always.
    • Atherton Wing in "Shindig", one of Inara's clients. Mal disrespects Inara's job, but not Inara. Upon realising that it's Inara, rather than the job, that Atherton disrespects, Mal steps up to the plate. Cue the main tension of the episode.
    • Tracey in "The Message" with Simon playing a rare, non-jealous role, in what amounts to a subtle comparison between Tracey's behaviour now and Simon's in "Bushwhacked" and the pilot. When expected to blindly trust Mal into letting his enemies onto the ship, Simon calms down and obeys whereas Tracey cracks and becomes violent. Tracey's threat of harm is real (he shoots and grazes Wash) whereas Simon's in the pilot was a bluff (he doesn't wait to confirm if Mal's order to run is a bluff or real, he acts to help Kaylee before Zoe has even responded to Mal). The episode ends with sense that Kaylee may not get pretty words from Simon, but he's solid, reliable and always there for her.
    • Nandi in "Heart of Gold", paired with Mal as a foil for Inara. Like Simon, Inara tries not to interfere and attempts to keep her feelings to herself as much as possible.
  • Roundhouse Kick: Some antagonists do this. Jubal in "Objects in Space" even does one in the same move as recovering from a punch.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Mal does these sometimes, when he doesn't fumble them or crack a joke and completely ruin the effect.
    • "Jaynestown" offers an incredibly weak one - but it's played straight, not as a subversion:
    Jayne: "Far as I see it, you people been given the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-heel 'verse. But you took that stick, and you — well, you took it. And that's — Well, I guess that's somethin'."
  • Running Gag:
    • Jayne being in his bunk and double entrendes to masturbation for much of War Stories.
    • Simon fumbling words with Kaylee during heart-to-heart conversations, who promptly leaves in an angry huff.
  • Sadistic Choice: Niska presents Zoe with one of these in War Stories. However, Zoe chooses Wash before he can even finish, ruining the moment for him.
    Zoe: (pointing at Wash) Him. (Off Niska's expression) I'm sorry. You were going to ask me to choose, right? Did you want to finish?
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Jayne, Zoe.
  • Salvage Pirates: In the episode "Out of Gas", Serenity suffers a Phlebotinum Breakdown and is left drifting in space with no power or life support. The crew of the salvage ship that seems to arrive in the nick of time decides there is more profit in shooting Mal and stealing his ship than in trading for the one part needed to fix the ship. In a couple of other episodes, notably "Bushwhacked", the crew of Serenity is accused of trying to pull this on other ships, but the crew never actually abandons anyone and does try to save the only survivor they find.
  • Scary Black Man: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space". Book is black and startles River with his hair down in "Jaynestown", but is otherwise not scary during the show. In "Shepherd's Tale" comic confirms that Book was scarier in his youth, when he was an interrogator for the Alliance during the war.
  • Scenery Censor: The ending to "Trash" with Mal strutting about naked in the cargo hold, along with Inara's sponge bath and River's emergence from the cryo box in the pilot.
  • Schizo Tech: Justified; the just-settled Outer Planets have no infrastructures or industries built yet, forcing them to rely on horse-and-hatchet technology until roads can be paved and machinery imported. In "Heart of Gold", one planet, under the sway of Rance Burgess, is being purposefully suppressed; Rance has the resources to build a real city, but deliberately keeps the tech level down so that he can "play cowboy" and be the man with the best and biggest toys around.
  • School for Scheming: The Academy.
  • School of Seduction: The Companion temples.
  • Science Fiction: It has spaceships and interplanetary travel and fuses it with Westerns.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Space is really big and empty, as noted on a number of occasions (most notably "Out of Gas", where it's a plot point). On the other hand, Serenity just happens to run into other ships quite frequently.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: In the episode "The Train Job," the crew of Serenity are hired by Adelei Niska to steal from a train. However, when they discover that the items in question that they were hired to steal was in fact badly needed medicine for a degenerative disease, they promptly turn on Niska, return the money, and transport said medicine to its intended location.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Simon will do anything to save his sister. Even if "there is a dinner party at risk."
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: Invoked in Life Signs; when infiltrating a prison planet, Mal uses the alias of 'Captain Ray Malcolm'.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: In Generations, the crew discover the last of the generation ships that brought humanity to this system from Earth, which is also being used as a 'prison' for Silas, the first test subject of the Academy program, locked up because he was impossible to control.
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • Mal does this to Simon in the pilot. He claims Kaylee died from her bullet wound to see if Simon would have really let her die.
    • The end of "Ariel," when Mal threatens to throw Jayne out the airlock. The test was so secret it was even a surprise to Mal, who had every intention of going through with it. The reason for this is helpfully explained by Book at the beginning of the next episode, when quoting the words of Warrior Poet Xian Yu:
      Book: Live with a man for forty years. Share his meals, and speak with him on every subject. Then, tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Wash resists Saffron's advances due to this. Saffron eventually has to give up and go to her backup plan - a One-Hit KO. Zoe is suitably impressed and pleased.
    Wash: Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung,trans. do I wish I was somebody else right now. Somebody not... married, not madly in love with a beautiful woman who can kill me with her pinkie!
  • See No Evil, Hear No Evil: At the end of "Shindig", Mal and Inara are sitting on the edge of the gangway over the main cargo area, seemingly alone. It is only when the camera shot changes to a view of the whole deck, that we see the cargo of cows, who are audibly mooing.
  • Selective Obliviousness: "Our Mrs. Reynolds" — "I knew you let her kiss you."
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: The greedy thug Jayne is hostile toward the classy doctor Simon. Their contrasting personalities are best seen in Jaynestown where Jayne feel comfortable in the rough, poor world and Simon clings to being proper. Their rivalry is best seen in Ariel when Jayne demands that Simon be left on the core planet after being stabbed by Simon's sister. Mal then deals with Jayne's defensiveness and Simon's concern for his sister.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, with all her mechanic talk.
  • Setting as a Character: In "Objects in Space" when River tricks the bounty hunter Jubal Early into believing that Serenity, the ship which is constantly anthropomorphised throughout the series, is actually alive, and that she has become a part of it.
    • Played straight inasmuch as Serenity is often referred to as the 10th star of the show. (The 11th being River's feet.)
  • Settling the Frontier: The basic backstory, from the beginning of the movie: "Earth-that-Was got all used up, so we found a new solar system. Dozens of planets, hundreds of moons." Numerous examples of frontier planets appear in the show.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Explored in "Jaynestown", where the town's greedy mayor fully believes in this trope, but his son does not. Neither does Inara, who he hired to have sex with his son. After the deed, said son says he doesn't feel any different, and Inara tells him that sex in itself doesn't automatically make him a man. In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", as Saffron says that she must bed with her newly-wedded husband to fully become a woman. That is, of course, bullshit to get Mal to lower his defenses.
  • Sex by Proxy: Thanks to River's powers, she can feel it when people nearby are making out.
  • Shameful Strip: In "Trash", YoSaffBridge forces Mal to strip before she abandons him in the desert. Subverted in that Mal isn't the least bit bothered by it.
  • Shaped Like Itself: From "Shindig:"
    Badger: You think you're better than other people.
    Mal: Only the ones I'm better than.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Simon Tam. Also see Waistcoat of Style. He does start wearing looser, more relaxed shirts later in the series though.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Kaylee in "Shindig," not that she was not plenty nice before that. Heck, in "Jaynestown", Simon thought she dirtied up nicely, mentioning that she was at her most attractive when covered in engine grease.
  • She Knows Too Much: The reason the Alliance is after River and Simon, and why the Hands of Blue kill anyone who knows about them - even Alliance personnel.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Mal.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Simon, who struggles to fit in with the crew for this reason. It's also the reason Kaylee struggles to understand him.
  • Shipper on Deck: Most of the crew is gunning for Simon and Kaylee to get together. Especially Mal and Inara, who themselves get shipped by damn near everyone else in turn.
  • Ship Tease:
    • In "Bushwacked" an Alliance officer interrogating Inara says "Do you love him?" Then the shot cuts away to reveal he was actually talking to Zoe and referring to Wash.
    • In "Ariel," when River wakes up behind Jayne, her first words are "Copper for a kiss?" There's a bunch of other little things in the series too, like Jayne calling River "cute" in the pilot, and the "man parts" commentary in "Trash".
    • According to the Serenity commentary, Jayne has no long-term love interests aside from a "lingering crush" on Kaylee. It explains some of his hostility and slight jealousy towards Simon.
    • After Inara runs into Mal after he had slept with Nandi, she breaks down in tears in private, and Nandi confronts Mal over it - which would have been resolved, had the villain's goons not start their assault then.
  • Shirtless Scene:
    • Jayne gets shirtless at the beginning of "Jaynestown."
    • Mal has a shirt-pants-shoes-and-sockless scene in "Trash". He's also shirtless in one scene in the movie, which acts as a stealth Continuity Nod: you can see the scars from all the wounds he'd gotten during the show.
    • Simon in "Objects in Space."
  • Shock Party: For poor Simon, in "Out Of Gas."
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Subverted in "Ariel," when Jayne tries to use the Alliance-issue stun rifle to try to blow out the lock to get himself and the Tams away from the Hands of Blue. It isn't designed for this kind of thing, though Mal's shotgun does a much better job.
    Jayne: Se-niou high-tech Alliance crap!
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: An Alliance lawman takes River hostage at gunpoint and gets out about half a sentence of demands before Mal storms in and shoots him in the face.
  • Shoot the Rope: Jayne, saving Mal from being hanged in the novel “Big Damn Hero”. He completely misses and has to fire again to hit it.
  • Shot to the Heart: Done twice in the episode "Out Of Gas." Simon administers one to Zoe after she's injured in an explosion, and later Mal does it to himself to stay conscious after he is gut-shot.
  • Shout-Out: See here.
  • Shower Scene: Inara's sponge bath in the pilot episode "Serenity."
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The show averts Space Is Noisy.
    • The "official" astronomical name for the 'Verse's star system is "34 Tauri"; that name is available because it was incorrectly applied to what turned out to be the planet Uranus by astronomer John Flamsteed in 1690, ninety-one years before it was recognized as a planet.
    • A rather obscure example: Serenity is rarely referred to as "the Serenity", and when this occurs in "Bushwhacked" the character who says it is immediately corrected. In English, at least, it is actually incorrect to use "the" when stating a ships's name, as a ship's name is supposed to be treated as if it were a person's (the exception being if some other description is used when identifying the vessel. IE: "the Firefly-class transport Serenity" would be considered proper usage).
  • Shrouded in Myth: Reavers until the movie.
  • The Siege: "Heart of Gold", against the goons of the local villainous magnate.
  • Signature Headgear: Jayne and his “cunning” knit hat with ear flaps from his mom. It was only in one episode, but it’s still an iconic part of the character.
  • A Simple Plan: Mal has these a lot. And they go wrong with alarming regularity.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Zoe and Kaylee for Wash and Simon respectively.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: "Out of Gas".
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: The episodes can pretty much stand on their own in a mostly arbitrary order, though this may largely be because it never got the chance to go anywhere with the hinted Myth Arc.
  • Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: Police in the series run the gamut from honest to corrupt to incompetent to dangerously savvy.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Core worlds are very shiny, while outer worlds are very gritty.
  • Slut-Shaming: Mal frequently calls Inara a "whore" for being a Companion. However, he himself has sex with Nandi, an "independent" sex worker, in "Heart of Gold". It's implied that he doesn't object to sex work, just the Companion Guild's affiliation with the Alliance.
  • Smart Gun: The technology for automatic target adjustments exists, it's just not as practical as a old fashioned firearm.
  • Snarking Thanks: After a bar brawl, Mal and Zoe have this exchange after having been pushed back to the edge of a nearby cliff and are still facing numerous angry brawlers:
    Mal: Whoa! There's just an acre of you fellas, ain't there? [to Zoe] This is why we lost [the war], you know. Superior numbers.
    Zoe: [very sarcastically] Thanks for the reenactment, sir.
  • Sniff Sniff Nom: Jubal Early in "Objects in Space" on Serenity.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: As shown in one of the comics, Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
  • Sonic Stunner: Seen in "Ariel" and "Trash".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The shootout/dancing scene in "Safe".
  • Sociopathic Hero: Jayne Cobb, who will gladly backstab his own for more cash. It's hinted at that he actually regrets this mindset when it gets him into trouble, though.
  • Space Cossacks: The Serenity's crew is a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits trying to eke out a life for themselves by delivering both honest and smuggled cargo through the space, with planetary backwaters being their preferred routes. All of them seek cut ties with the Alliance for one reason or another, including having previously been abused by it or having belonged to the Browncoats that opposes it. To complement it all, the setting has tints of Space Western as well. The opening theme even lampshades their nomadic, rebellious living style.
    "...take me out to the Black, tell them I ain't coming back. Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me"
  • Space Fighter: The official term is ASREVnote , but everyone calls them "gunships". According to the RPG sourcebook, they're atypical for this trope in that instead of being fighter jet-sized, they're roughly the same size as regional passenger jet (83 feet long). They carry a crew of up to four and often double as police squad cars IN SPACE!
  • Space Is Cold: Played straight, at least on the face of it: characters tend to talk about space as being cold, e.g. Book saying "As I understand it, it's awful cold outside" in the pilot. "Out of Gas" is where it gets less clear: River remarks that even with Serenity's life support dead, they won't suffocate because they'll freeze to death first. She might be right: assuming that ship architecture in the 'verse is anything like ours, Serenity would be designed to radiate all her waste heat and make herself livable with internal heaters (reference Apollo 13 in real life).
  • Space Is Noisy: Averted; any action outside the ships is totally quiet, with quick cuts to the inside of the receiving ship to show the result and get the noise. There are exceptions, but they only occur when there is enough of some kind of atmosphere (be it planetary or nebular) to reasonably carry sound.
  • Space Isolation Horror: Played straight in the episode Out of Gas. The titular gas is oxygen, and running low (with a ship that is dead in the water) means sitting around waiting for a slow and painful death or, in a degree of scary that is hard to argue whether is lesser or higher, risking whoever finds you decides murdering you is more profitable (or more fun) than saving your life.
  • Space Pirates
  • Space Police: The Federal Marshals ("Feds") and the Interplanetary Police ("Interpol"). The RPG sourcebook goes into more detail than the show had time to. Interpol concentrates on tracking suspects and investigating crimes (e.g. the Alliance cruiser Dortmunder alerts them to Serenity's illegal salvage operation in the pilot), while the Feds enforce Alliance national laws and pursue criminals across interplanetary borders (they're the cops hunting Simon and River).
  • Spaceship Girl: Subverted by River in "Objects in Space".
  • Space Western: Complete with saloons, saloon fights, showdowns at high noon (albeit with swords), and horses.
  • The Spartan Way: Jubal in "Objects in Space" suggests surgeons shouldn't be allowed to practice until they themselves have first been cut on. Also a Brick Joke when he shoots Simon in the leg later and says, "Now you know what it's like."
  • Spice of Life: Justified with actual spices (particularly in the RPG). The food that independent spacers (like the crew of Serenity) stock the most of is packaged protein, because it's cheap and it keeps forever. It also doesn't taste like much of anything, making fresh produce, herbs and spices a welcome treat. Shepherd Book said it best in the pilot ("Serenity"):
    Book: The important thing is the spices. A man can live on packaged food from here 'til Judgment Day if he's got enough rosemary.
  • Spit Shine: Jayne does this with a knife, combining this with Licking the Blade. This...disconcerts the rest of the crew.
    Simon: Could you not do that while we're... ever?
  • Staring Kid: Jayne gets his own personal one in "Jaynestown."
  • The Starscream: Jayne definitely shows Starscream-like tendencies. Best exemplified by this quote from the movie:
    Mal: You wanna run this ship?!
    Jayne: Yes!
    Mal: [flustered] Well... you can't!
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: River.
    • Simon once or twice.
    • Also Mal in "Objects in Space". Mr. Early looks to the right of a corridor. No one there. He looks to the left. No one there. He turns back to the right. Mal is there. Made hilarious in that Mal and Early have the exact same "Oh shit where did you come from?!" expression on their faces when they see each other.
  • Stealth Insult: Wash, on describing Jayne with his hat on in "The Message": "A man walks down the street in that hat..."
    • Simon, after his father bails him out of prison in "Safe": "I'm sorry, Dad. I never would have tried to save River's life if I had known there was a dinner party at stake!"
  • Stealth Pun/Visual Pun: In "Safe", River dances.
  • Steampunk: While not strictly steampunk, the series does contain a lot of steampunk themes (mixing 19th century aesthetics with sci-fi elements and storylines) as well as steampunk character types such as the Wrench Wench, and went a long way toward popularizing the genre.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Browncoats were soldiers who fought for the Independents, who lost to the Alliance in the Unification War. They were named after the simple, brown leather trench coats they wore as uniforms. After the war's end, clothiers made good money dyeing brown coats blue or gray as folks wanted to forget the past and let the past forget them. Those that still 'wear the brown' do it on purpose, and are making a very pointed socio-political statement by doing so. Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Zoë Alleyne wear the signature brown coat. Even the fanbase calls itself "browncoats".
  • Storming the Castle: The assault on Niska's skyplex in "War Stories."
  • The Strategist:
    • Simon in "Ariel", River in "Objects in Space".
      River: I can kill you with my brain.
    • Mal demonstrates this as well, successfully capturing an enemy gun turret and shooting down a skiff during the Battle of Serenity Valley, and figuring out ahead of time how Patience would betray him. His expertise seems to be in short-term planning, since anything he plans from beginning to end tends to go awry - as expressed in the movie:
      Mal: Jayne, how many weapons you plan on bringing? You only got the two arms.
      Jayne: I just get excitable as to choice... like to have my options open.
      Mal: I don't plan on any shooting taking place during this job.
      Jayne: Well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar.
  • Strawman Political: It is a credit to the writing on the show and the development of the universe that varying camps of fans can make convincing cases for The Alliance being a government of liberal or conservative Well Intentioned Extremists. There's also some debate as to whether or not the whole show is a Deconstruction of Libertarian philosophy, with an idealized Libertarian Warrior Poet (Captain Mal) having to deal with the reality of a wild frontier with no strong government influence where corporate corruption, criminal activity and slavery are the rule. It actually fairly demonstrates both sides of the arguement. The Core Worlds are peaceful and prosperous, but the government can do damn near anything they want to their citizens as long as they can justify it — such as cut up little girls' brains or dose entire planets with mind control drugs. The Rim Worlds are anarchic and destitute, but you can always look your accuser in the eye and settle it one way or another — or even round up a posse of fellow victims and exact some frontier justice. The argument seems to be that a healthy civilization needs both and any attempt to "rid the world of sin" will do nothing but harm in the long run.
  • Sub-Lightspeed Setting: Serenity and subsequent media clarify that the setting is a single multi-star system with dozens of terraformed planets, meaning that FTL travel is not necessary.
  • Subspace Ansible: Either that or whenever they're conferencing with someone over the cortex, they're close enough that there's no noticeable delay. The pilot episode does indicate that there's a range limit for communications.
  • Super-Soldier: Implied with River, especially in "War Stories" and "Objects In Space." Confirmed like Hell in the Big Damn Movie, although it's more Super Assassin-Spy-Soldier than just Super Soldier.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Mal, to Inara when he apparently figures out how she passed out after Saffron takes over Serenity in "Our Mrs. Reynolds": "I knew you let her kiss you!"
  • Surgeons Can Do Autopsies If They Want: Simon's a trauma surgeon, but he is also apparently trained to handle autopsies to some degree, mentioning in "Bushwhacked" that he is familiar with handling corpses. This makes him the logical choice to handle the autopsy in "The Message."
    • Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that, as a med student, Simon was operating on cadavers, so is better trained than the crew at handling dead bodies.
  • Take a Third Option: In "Trash", Simon finally learns the truth about "Ariel". The two options would seem to be either he bottles up the knowledge and keeps it to himself or he goes medieval on Jayne for the betrayal. He does neither. Instead he corners Jayne for a calm, rational discussion about the subject where he reveals that, as Jayne's medic, he'll never hurt Jayne and that he's freely going to put his trust in Jayne to do the right thing in future. It terrifies and confuses Jayne. River playing the bad cop to Simon's good cop doesn't hurt, either.
  • Takes a Level in Badass: Petaline at the end of "Heart of Gold"
    Petaline: "Rance, this is Jonah. Jonah, say hi to your Daddy."
    (calmly puts a bullet through Rance's head)
    Petaline: "Say goodbye to Daddy, Jonah."
  • Taking the Bullet: One of the mudders does this for Jayne in "Jaynestown".
  • Tasty Gold: In the pilot episode "Serenity". What the audience thinks is gold is actually food in a gold wrapper, so biting into it to confirm its authenticity makes perfect sense.
  • Talkative Loon: River. Jubal Early from "Objects in Space" fits the trope as well.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Subverted by the Combat Pragmatist Mal. He blows a lawman's head off mid-speech in the pilot. Subverted again in the movie.
  • Talk to the Fist:
    • In the pilot, Simon and Mal's argument ends with Mal punching Simon for accusing him of being an Alliance sell-out.
      Mal: You don't want to go down this road with me, boy.
      Simon: Oh, you're not afraid of them [the Alliance]? I already know you'd sell me out to them for a pat on the head. Hell, you should probably be working for them. You certainly fit the prof—! *clobber*
      Jayne: Saw that comin'.
    • When Mal walks into a hostage situation in Serenity, he doesn't bother listening to the man's demands and just shoots him before he has a chance to react.
  • Tap on the Head: At the end of "Ariel," Mal delivers one to Jayne. With a wrench.
  • The Team: The series maintained an ensemble cast that portrayed the nine crew members of the ship, Serenity. The crew is driven by the need to secure enough income to keep their ship operational, set against their need to keep a low profile to avoid their adversaries.
  • Technical Pacifist: Book. From "War Stories":
    Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killing?
    Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
  • Telepathy: River. There's a hint that Jubal Early from "Objects in Space" may have at least a very rudimentary level, although not to River's degree.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: In "Bushwhacked," the crew is placed under arrest and subjected to interrogation. The resulting montage alternates between the serious (Mal, Book, Zoe, Inara) and the hilarious (Jayne, Kaylee, Wash).
  • That Came Out Wrong: When Badger is describing how to get into the party in "Shindig" he mentions that people couldn't buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but he had got his hands on a couple. Mal and Jayne immediately begin sniggering, and it takes Badger a few seconds to catch on.
    • In "War Stories", right after Jayne says that he'll be in his bunk after seeing the ambassador, the next line is: "Jayne, grab your weapon."
    • In "Our Mrs. Reynolds" when Jayne tries to trade Vera for Saffron, Mal tells him to "go play with your rainstick" (to clarify, Jayne had earlier mentioned that he had picked up a rainstick (a type of hollow stick with beads that sounds like rain if you turn it upside down) at the same festival that Mal picked up Saffron).
  • That Wasn't a Request:
    • When Mal's team meets up with Badger in "Shindig", Badger says he thinks they might have a bit of a sit-down. When Mal tells him to piss off, Badger makes it clear it wasn't a request.
      Badger: I thought we might have a bit of a sit-down.
      Mal: I'd prefer a bit of a piss off.
      Badger: I'm very sorry, did I give you the impression I was askin'?
    • In "Safe", Mal tells Simon to take his sister for a walk away from the ship while he does business and Simon comments that he doesn't think that's such a wise suggestion. Mal points out that it wasn't a suggestion.
    • A more serious case occurs in "Out of Gas" when Mal orders Wash to check Serenity after an engine malfunction, while Zoe is unconscious from getting knocked out by the blast from the engine.
  • Thememobile: The good ship Serenity.
  • Thicker Than Water: Behold, the Power of Brotherhood.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Subverted hilariously at the end of "War Stories". Zoe tells Jayne and Wash not to shoot a man Mal is fighting, only for Mal, who is desperately trying not to be strangled, to quickly inform them that this is not the case, at which point they blow the guy away.
    Zoe: (stops Jayne from shooting Niska's goon, who is engaged in a fistfight with Mal) This is something the captain has to do for himself.
    Mal: NO!! NO IT'S NOT!!
    Zoe: (surprised) Oh.
    (Zoe, Jayne, and Wash unload more ammo than is really necessary into said goon)
  • This Page Will Self-Destruct: In Life Signs, Doctor Esau Weng destroyed his laboratory and all his research notes to prevent the Blue Sun Corporation getting access to his work when they revealed their plans to use it for military purposes.
  • Through His Stomach: At the end of "War Stories": "Wife soup!" (Made by, not of...) Especially touching in this case, because Zoe previously expressed utter contempt for the idea of cooking for her husband.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Jayne almost suffers this fate in "Ariel."
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: It leads to some problems in the next episode ("War Stories"), but in "Ariel" the crew finally does pull off a complicated job and make out like bandits, pulling in quite a bit of money.
  • To the Pain: Inverted. In "Trash", Simon explains that he will never hurt Jayne. He just happens to say it in a tone usually reserved for death threats. River's addendum is a more straight-up version, said in a more casual tone: "Also? I can kill you with my brain."
  • Token Evil Teammate: Jayne Cobb. Jayne may not be actually "evil," though he is particularly greedy, violent, and self-serving, even considering he is on a crew of thieves and criminals, and attempts to sell River and Simon to the Alliance for money.
  • Tragic Robot: Wash bot borderlines it. Meant as a trap bait for Zoe, it acted as Wash would since it was programmed with his personality and some memories. It protected her instead of getting her caught, taking damage in the process. Emma took a liking to it too. Now it’s just trying to find a place in the verse and Zoe doesn’t have any romantic feelings for it but she did tell it to stay alive because losing it would be too much like losing Wash again.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The contents of Simon Tam's mysterious box in the pilot, which is also revealed in the opening credits for that episode, as well as the actual trailers. That opening also informs the audience that Simon and River are going to be permanent cast members.
    • Of course, the credits also reveal that Book is a main cast member, which should make the identity of the real Alliance mole pretty obvious.
  • Train Job: The crew is hired to steal some Alliance cargo from a moving train. They're later horrified to realize that the cargo was badly needed medicine headed for a poor mining town suffering from the spread of a degenerative disease. Despite the possibly lethal consequences, they go back on their deal with the man who hired them and return the medicine.
  • Treasure Chest Cavity: In "The Message". But it turns out it's not gold: it's specifically grown organs for transplants.
  • Trigger-Happy: Jayne.
  • Trigger Phrase: As seen in the movie, River, and how. To be more specific, a phrase makes her fall asleep. What turns her into an unstoppable killer, on the other hand, is a subliminal code embedded in an innocuous advertisement.
  • Trojan Prisoner: "The Train Job."
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: According to some illustrations in Still Flying, young Jayne. In that at ten years old he was shooting spaceport varmints for the bounties, and using the money he earned to bet on homeless gladiator blood sports and buy beer.
  • True Companions: Serenity's crew. Mal will protect everyone on his ship and will punish anyone on his ship for harming anyone else.
  • Turbine Blender: To one of Niska's goons in "The Train Job".
  • Tyke Bomb: River - all the candidates of the program that created her were children.

    Tropes U-Z 
  • Underground Railroad: Simon mentions in passing that such an organization helped him get River away from the Academy. Mal and his crew effectively fulfill this trope in practice, helping the Tams stay on the move to avoid capture.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Although he did sign up for the crew of Serenity, Wash is also a Non-Action Guy who often finds the situations the ship gets into utterly confusing.
  • Unhappy Medium: River.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Or unlimited t-shirts.
    • Subverted with most of the rest of the cast, who tend to wear the same clothes in multiple episodes. Zoe's leather vest, any of Mal's clothing... Kaylee even wears the same dress at one point that she was seen wearing in the flashback in "Out of Gas."
    • Even Simon wears the same vest at least twice before playing the trope fairly straight with a different sweater for each episode after "Ariel".
  • Unkempt Beauty: River Tam, natch. And Kaylee. Especially covered in engine grease.
  • Unknown Rival: A weapons designer in "Better Days," whom Mal humiliated by stealing the high-tech attack drone the designer was demonstrating to buyers. He swears revenge against Reynolds — even before the product's failure gets him fired — and attacks the crew out of nowhere later in the miniseries, without ever announcing why. After he's dead, Mal lampshades this with, "I guess we'll never know what his problem was."
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: While downplayed, the main reason why Inara did court Atherton was not have to keep traveling (and living on a squalid ship with someone who frustrates her to no end). It's stated in "Heart of Gold" that being a Companion requires a lot of skills, and, of course, there's the matter of the accidental pregnancy bringing the wrath of the local baron on Nandi's whorehouse. The Companions Guild is in practice something like a Weird Trade Union for High Class Call Girls. It's very powerful in the core worlds and in high society on the border and outer planets, but it doesn't protect lower-class sex workers.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: No, it is not your imagination that whenever Mal and Inara get within a foot of each other, electricity shoots out of your screen. It is the UST trying to explode your television/computer. It's also present between Kaylee and Simon, who don't become an Official Couple until the movie, mostly because Simon is too focused on protecting River to respond to Kaylee's advances.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted/inverted in "Ariel". Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are given responses to three stock questions they will probably be asked when bringing Simon and River's "corpses" to the morgue. Instead of what you might expect (a question they had not planned for pops up), the woman who would have asked just waves them past. Jayne, who had struggled with the line he was given, refuses to let his hard work go to waste and just gives it anyway.
    Jayne: We applied the cortical electrodes, but were unable to get a neural response from either patient!
  • Unstoppable Rage: Jayne briefly has one in "Jaynestown" when the mudder takes a bullet for him.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Between the Mildly Mandarin swearing, the use of archaic words like "quim", and various other slang such as "gorram" and "shiny", it is hard to find examples of usual euphemisms on this show.
    • Lest we forget "sly," the Verse slang for homosexual men (and possibly women as well).
  • Upgrade vs. Prototype Fight: The novel Generations basically features this when River discovers Silas, the first test subject of the Academy program River was subjected to, Silas possessing a wider range of abilities than River does but so dangerous that it made him uncontrollable.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Simon and Kaylee.
    • Inara and Mal are a milder example.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Alliance's goal.
  • The Vamp: Introduced in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Saffron.
  • Vehicle-Based Characterization: The ship Serenity is battered and has seen better days, just like Mal, her broken-down ex-soldier captain.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Zoe and Inara, and apparently Saffron as well.
  • Victory Sex: Wash's piloting skill and Kaylee's mechanical know-how allow the crew to evade a Reaver ship. Zoe is suitably impressed by her husband's abilities.
    Zoe: (to Mal) Sir, can you take the helm, please? I need this man to tear all my clothes off.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Saffron has a spectacular one near the end of "Trash."
  • Virgin-Shaming: Zigzagged. The magistrate in "Jaynestown" believes this so he hires Inara to take his son's virginity. During their time together, Inara explains to the magistrate's son that this is not true. But after losing his virginity to Inara, the son defies his father, saying that his time with Inara did in fact help him grow up. It may have been the sex, or it may have been because Inara gives really good pep talks, or it may have been both.
    Fess: You're the one who wanted me to become a man, Father. I guess it worked.
  • Wagon Train to the Stars: A quite literal example.
  • Waif-Fu: River.
  • Waif Prophet: River, who often spouts supposedly meaningless koans.
  • Waistcoat of Style: Simon in the early episodes.
  • Wall of Weapons: Jayne's bunk.
  • Walking the Earth: Or in this case, Flying the Space ... "It's enough."
  • The War Just Before: The Unification War, which ended in an Alliance victory only six years before the series begins. The two cast members who fought for the Independent Faction, Mal and Zoe, are still bitter about it, and the movie Serenity and Expanded Universe material such as Serenity: Leaves on the Wind indicate that things may be building up to a revolution.
  • Wardrobe Flaw of Characterization: In "Shindig," Kaylee's idea of fancy dress is a store-bought, ultra-frilly Pimped-Out Dress. She is mocked for her lack of class by the Rich Bitches at the titular party, who favor custom-made and clearly expensive Simple, yet Opulent attire.
  • Warrior Poet: In "War Stories", multiple characters discuss the fictional Shan Yu, who fancied himself quite the warrior poet.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: Several occasions ("Serenity", "Safe" and "Objects in Space", to name a few) see someone working to remove a bullet from a wound.
  • Weld the Lock: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Saffron uses some sort of heating strip thing to weld shut the door to the cockpit.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Mal and Inara trade roles in this frequently, sometimes ("Trash") even simultaneously.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Alliance. Word of God is that for the most part they are operating out of a genuine, if misguided or poorly executed sense of goodwill, when they're not staffed by greedy monsters or psychopaths.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: Well, not everyone. On Ariel, or even Persephone, there are plenty of flying vehicles of all types weaving among the "crystal spires", including flying ambulances and flying police cars. On Bellerophon rich people have entire floating islands. (Floating in mid-air, that is.) On the outer moons, not so much. (Rance Burgess does have a hovercraft; everyone else on his crappy moon is stuck with horses, or walking.)
  • We Will Meet Again: So very subverted.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The central planets do, anyway. Credits are primarily electronic currency (easy to track, hard to counterfeit), established by the RPG as having a 1:25 exchange rate with US dollars. The lower-tech outer planets favor precious metal coinage that has to be changed for credits to do (legitimate) business in the core.
  • Wham Line: Many of them related to River, the resident Broken Bird.
    • "No power in the 'Verse can stop me!" It's less the line, but more the delivery, as it's not even clear that River registers on an emotional level what she's just done.
    • "I'm not on the ship. I'm in the ship. I am the ship."
    • Followed soon after by: "You're not in my mind. You're on my gorram ship!"
  • What a Piece of Junk: Kaylee's Berserk Button is people referring to Serenity as this. Even out of her earshot, a lot of other characters look down on Serenity as well.
    Shepherd: She don't look like much.
    Kaylee: Oh, she'll fool ya.
  • What Did I Do Last Night??: "Our Mrs. Reynolds" has a version of this. When Mal's accused of being married, he asks Jayne how drunk he got the night before. Jayne, however, had passed out so didn't know.
    • Initially looks like it's averted in "Jaynestown" when Mal finds Simon and Kaylee fast asleep in a compromising position. Simon insists to Mal that nothing untoward happened between them, much to Kaylee's annoyance when he fumbles his words and says, "I would never... not with her". However, at the end of the episode, it would appear his memory of events is more shaky than he was letting on: Kaylee starts talking about them making love that night resulting in a startled "When we what...?!" exclamation from him... and then he realizes Kaylee's teasing him.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Nobody but Simon would have known if he had abandoned River. Not even River herself.
    • River can suss out who people are in the dark. Her brother, Simon, resents her for making him throw away his comfortable life and everyone he'd ever known to go on the run. Jayne is genuinely sorry for trying to sell her and Simon out to the Alliance. Inara just wants to be treated like a regular woman by Mal.
  • When It All Began: The revolution, at least for Mal and Zoe.
  • Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: Subverted in "The Train Job". The crew mention they need to send someone respectable, and everyone looks at Simon, who seems nervous about it... cut to Inara, the ambassador of the ship, putting the plan into action.
  • Widescreen Shot: The whole series was filmed in widescreen.
  • World of Snark: In fine tradition for a Joss Whedon series.
  • Worrying for the Wrong Reason: When Serenity's engine breaks down, shutting down life-support, the crew worries that they'll suffocate. River informs them that they don't have to worry about that; they'll freeze to death long before the air runs out.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Downplayed. The Serenity tabletop RPG establishes that while gold and silver aren't worthless in the 'Verse, they aren't worth a whole lot, either. Platinum is the currency of real business; gold and silver are pocket change.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Mal knocks Saffron unconscious at the end of "Our Mrs. Reynolds." On meeting at the beginning of "Trash," they get into a knock-down-drag-out.
    • Jayne knocks River down when she slashes his chest in Ariel, but since this is a clear-cut case of self-defense and he visibly doesn't use deadlier means that were available to him, no one holds it against him. He may be reluctant to do this in less lethal circumstances, since he tries to restrain her with a bear hug instead when she goes berserk in the Maidenhead Bar in the movie.
  • Wrap It Up
  • Wrench Wench: Kaylee.
  • Wrench Whack: Mal does this to Jayne toward the end of "Ariel".
  • Wretched Hive: Persephone is a more subtle one than most, but it is a planet where heavily-armed thugs can stick up a man in broad daylight and everyone will just move along a little faster. In the prequel comics, Serenity's crew also has a shoot-out with Badger's thugs while at the docks, inside the cargo bay of their ship, with an open door behind them, and no one says anything.
  • "Yes"/"No" Answer Interpretation: In "Shindig" one of Inara's rich clients offers her an opportunity to stay with him as his personal Companion.
    Inara: You're a generous man.
    Atherton Wing: That is not a "yes".
    Inara: It's not a "no", either.
  • You Are Too Late: In "Trash", Saffron tells the gun's owner that he should have called the Feds the moment she showed up with Mal. Then he shows her the panic button built into a ring he's wearing, which he did, in fact, push when he saw her.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Simon and River are wanted fugitives, and the RPG sourcebook reveals that Mal's homeworld Shadow suffered total planetary extinction during the Unification War.
  • You Have Failed Me: Niska likes to do this.
  • You Must Be Cold: Monkeywrenched in the pilot.
  • You Rebel Scum!: From most Alliance officials.

There's no place I can be
Since I found serenity
You can't take the sky from me...


Video Example(s):


Mal vs. torturer

Zoe stops Jayne from interfering in the fight at first, believing that Mal needs to handle it himself. Mal, it turns out, has zero interest in that.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThisIsSomethingHesGotToDoHimself

Media sources: