Simon: "You have the Alliance on you; criminals and savages. Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself ... and you're harboring known fugitives."
Mal: "We're still flying."
Simon: "That's not much."
Mal: "It's enough."
Firefly is a Science Fiction Space Western that ran for four months on the FOX Network in 2002. It was canceled after 14 episodes were produced; only 11 were aired, partly in thanks to a severe case of Executive Meddling. Its quick cancellation helped give rise to The Firefly Effect. A DVD boxed set was released in December 2003 and has sold briskly ever since. A feature-Film continuation, Serenity, was released in October 2005 to critical acclaim. Unfortunately the film's box-office performance was mediocre, barely covering its costs, which probably dooms the idea of further movies.
In the future, humanity has spread across the stars, terraforming planets for colonisation 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 universe has only tightened following a successful military victory against the rebellious Browncoats of the frontier planets.
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 ilk 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 sentient beings, and in fact no non-Earth-based life at all.
Firefly's life story is an interesting one: it went from (canceled) television show, to runaway cult hit DVD series, to comic-book Sequel, to major motion picture, to a book having show-related pics and a few new stories to a currently unfinished, but soon-to-be-launched MMORPG, titled Firefly Universe Online. Firefly is noted for being one of the few canceled television series to be spun off into a major motion picture. The Universal Film was titled Serenity because FOX still owned the rights to the name Firefly. There are also a few comics, with plans for more. There's even a Tabletop Roleplaying game. 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, even if Dollhouse only lasted until December of 2009.
The cast included:
- Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds, disillusioned owner and captain of the Firefly-class transport Serenity.
- Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne, his second-in-command, gun-slinging Badass and Deadpan Snarker among snarkers. She is Happily Married to...
- Alan Tudyk as Hoban "Wash" Washburne, the pilot. Something of a geek.
- Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, the mercenary. A man with less subtlety than a sledgehammer, and even fewer brains. Allegedly. Maybe.
- Jewel Staite as Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye, the mechanic. Her default mode is very happy. Famous enough to be referenced in World of Warcraft. According to Joss Whedon, when Kaylee smiles, everything suddenly becomes shiny.
- Sean Maher as Simon Tam, a doctor turned fugitive, and...
- Summer Glau as River Tam, the mentally traumatized sister he rescued from government experimentation who is a little whimsical in the brainpan and a tiny bit dangerous.
- Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book, a preacher with a Mysterious Past, dark, and troubled past.
- Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra, a companion, or high-class courtesan. Or, as Mal calls her, a "whore."
This page has a recap page here.
Hulu has all 14 episodes of the series available for streaming. (NOTE: Does not play outside of the US) It is also all up for instant stream on Netflix and Hulu Plus. Starting March 6th 2011, the show also began playing, in the correct order, on the Science Channel and in glorious HD.
See also Serenity.
There's talk, now that Netflix is beginning to introduce original content, of Firefly being revived as a Netflix-original.
- Big Damn Heroes
- Big Damn Movie, by proxy.
- Earth That Used to Be Better, also by proxy
- The Firefly Effect
- Girl in a Box
- I Call It Vera
- I'll Be in My Bunk
- In That Order
- No Place for Me There
- Train Job
- Absent Aliens
- Accidental Aiming Skills: "The Train Job" -- "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 any other direction.
- Accidental Hero: "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.
- Accidental Innuendo: In-universe; when Badger is describing how to get into the party in "Shindig" he mentions that you "couldn't buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but I got my hands on a couple." Mal and Jayne immediately begin sniggering, and it takes Badger a few seconds to catch on.
- Also, right after Jayne quips he'll be in his bunk after seeing the ambassador, the next line is "Jayne, grab your gun."
- 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.
- Action Girl: Zoe. Played with with River, who can shoot people with her eyes closed but has gone insane because of it.
- Nandi is this as well.
- Actually, That's My Assistant: 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.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: Subverted in the episode "The Message". 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.
- Afraid of Needles:
- Jayne, the big baby. Played for Laughs.
- River. Decidedly not played for laughs.
- 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 "Ought-1" (Serenity is an "Ought-3") Firefly long before Kaylee 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 was "You bought this? On purpose?"
- Discussed in one episode, 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.
- 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."
- Exclusively Evil: Reavers.
- Always Save the Girl
- Amazing Freaking Grace: At the end of "Heart of Gold."
- Ambadassador: Inara is sometimes referred to as the ship's ambassador, mostly in the pilot.
- 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.
- Anti-Hero: Jayne Cobb, naturally. Most of the crew qualifies for this as well.
- Anywhere but Their Lips: Jayne's policy, which he explains after Mal experiences the Goodnight Kiss.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Actually provides the page quote for the page.
Wash: Psychic though? That sounds like something out of science-fiction.
Zoe: You live in a spaceship, dear.
- Arc Words: "Two by two, hands of blue..." Also, the Blue Sun corporation crops up a lot in logos, advertisements and billboards in the background; 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:
- Book's "special hell," for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.
- Simon detailing what River is gifted at, Math, Theoretical Physics, and.....Dance...
- Ate His Gun:
- The Atoner: Throughout the series, Book is implied to have a checkered and unsavory past. Confirmed by the comic "A Shepherd's Tale."
- 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.
- Awesomeness By Analysis: River is so quick with math, she only needed to glance at Niska's men for a second before killing all three of them while firing only three shots with her eyes closed. Kaylee remarks that she just "did the math."
- Ax Crazy: River, though she has a reason for it.
- Bad Guys Play Pool: One episode starts with slavers chatting over a game of holographic billiards.
- Badass: The entire cast.
- Badass Boast
- Bad Boss: Adelai Niska.
- Bad Dreams: River has lots of them.
- Bait and Switch Comparison: Wash's reaction to the preserved mutant cow fetus. (Simon is standing nearby.)
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.
- Bare Your Midriff: Inara, on occasion.
- Batman Gambit:
- 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.
- Being Good Sucks
- 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 it resulted in the unfortunate victim trying to become a pseudo-Reaver himself as a coping mechanism.
- Beleaguered Childhood Friend: Nandi is this for Inara.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Mal and Inara, Mal and Saffron, and River and Jayne.
- 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.
- Do not do anything to put River in danger, or Simon will kick your ass. Hard.
- Do not threaten any of Mal's crew. Even if you happen to be a member of it.
- 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'.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 suggest 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 pretty much everyone has this for Kaylee.
- 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: Trope Namer.
Mal: Looks like we got here just in the nick of time. And what does that make us?
Zoe: Big Damn Heroes, sir!
Mal: Ain't we just.
- 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 always accurate Mandarin Chinese, but the actors' pronunciation was often so poor as to be incomprehensible.
- Possible Fridge Brilliance: Languages change to some degree over time (it's doubtful Mandarin sounded exactly the same back in the 1500's as it does nowadays). Between that, the fact that none of the crew really being of Chinese descent, and that it's being used solely for foul language, the crew's verbal imperfections are perfectly understandable.
- Bi the Way: Inara. And, if Jewel Staite's reaction during that scene is anything to go by, possibly Kaylee, too. "I'll be in my bunk."
- Black Market Produce: Shown in the pilot episode, with Kaylee enjoying a strawberry and the crew getting excited about fresh vegetables and herbs.
- Blah Blah Blah: "Jabber, jabber, jabber."
- Blessed with Suck: River.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Jayne Cobb. Also, Monty.
- 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.
- 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, of course, does this to 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 and later to Jubal Early.
- Part of The Operative's MO. Mal gives him a reasonable response.
- 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 outfits 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."
- Bury Your Gays: In the climactic showdown of "Heart of Gold," the first person on the defenders side to be shot is one of the few "boy whores," whom both Kaylee and Nandi imply only service men.
- Buy Them Off
- Calvin Ball:
- 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.
- 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.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Simon is seemingly 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 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.
- 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.
- The Caretaker: Simon, for River.
- The Cast Showoff: In case you did not know beforehand, "Safe" shows you that Summer Glau is a damn good dancer. Adam Baldwin also plays guitar.
- Casual Interplanetary Travel: The Verse is confirmed to take place in five star systems that are relatively close together.
- Catch Phrase: A few:
- Jubal Early: "Does that seem right to you?"
- Jayne: "I'll be in my bunk."
- Mal: "...Huh."
- Chain Pain: Mentioned in the show
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.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- In "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Jayne shows off Vera, then uses it at the end of the episode to disable an electricity net.
- The port compression coil. Mentioned back in episode one. Becomes very important in episode 8.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cloudcuckoolander: River Tam as a result of her psychosis.
- Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Simon
- Jubal Early. Full stop.
- 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 (obviousl) brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart.
- Combat Medic: Simon, when pressed.
- 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. 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?
Bloke: 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.
- Zoe pistol whips the guy*
- Command Roster:
- Companion Cube: "I call it Vera."
- 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 Coherent Thoughts: Played with in "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."
"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, who therefore refuses to allow a Dedicated Sourcebox in 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.
- Crap Saccharine 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.
- 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.
- "Some people juggle geese!"
- Creepy Child: River, one of the rare heroic examples.
- The Crime Job: "The Train Job."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. On the DVD commentary Joss states it was due to the influence of playing a PlayStation another cast member gave him.
- Dark Reprise: "Jaynestown" ends with a redux of "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb".
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Plenty of sneaky references.
Mal: "It's been a while- a long, damn while- since anybody but me took ahold of my plow"
Kaylee: "Goin' on a year now I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!"
- Dead Man Writing: Played with in "The Message." Also, Mr. Universe's Sex Bot.
- Deadly Euphemism: A clever one in "Heart of Gold".
- Deadly Nosebleed: And eye and ear 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 by Sex: Nandi in "Heart of Gold".
- Death Glare
- Zoe to Niska in "War Stories." Zoe to Mal in "Shindig." Zoe to Wash... frequently. Hell, just Zoe.
- 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 your's, 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.
- 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.
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 Operative crosses when he learns the Alliance made the Reavers.
- 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.
- Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach or being tortured to death 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 -- is going to keep him from protecting and caring for his baby sister.
- Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach or being tortured to death 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.
- Deus Ex Machina: At the end of the Big Damn Movie, but a well-done type four.
- Differently-Powered Individual: Psychics are informally referred to as "readers."
- 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.
- Disturbing Statistic:
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, secondary defence 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 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.
- Also 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.
- Drugged Lipstick: Saffron.
- Duel of Seduction: Saffron and Inara. Inara wins (at least, she recognizes the game).
- Dumb Struck: A girl in the village of the people that kidnap Simon and River.
- Dying Alone: The first quote on this trope's page is from "Out of Gas."
- Dynamic Entry: "Serenity" (pilot episode): "Anyone so much as moves--" *headshot*
- 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: 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.
- Environmental Symbolism
- Epic Hail: The button in "Out of Gas." Subverted in that it was never actually used.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Jayne's "cunning" hat (and the letter accompanying it, revealing that he sends money to his family).
- 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.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Wash's toys which he is seen playing with in the pilot.
- Erotic Eating: Kaylee with the strawberries. Particularly in the unaired pilot version.
- Evil Brit: The only characters with British accents are London Gangster Badger and Jerkass Atherton Wing.
- 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 Stegasaurus.
- Evil Redhead: Saffron, again.
- 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's saying she gets why she should not have the gun from a logic standpoint, but does not get why it is important.
- Executive Meddling / Screwed by the Network: FOX insisted that Firefly have a "space hooker" and required Joss Whedon to write a second pilot because they wanted more action and less drama. They also threatened to pan-and-scan crop, no matter how it was shot, necessitating re-shoots. Then they aired the episodes out of order and preempted a bunch of them for baseball. The series didn't even get to finish its first season.
- Expanded Universe: The Movie, the comics, online clips and games.
- Extreme Melee 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: 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.
- Fake Brit: River's mimicry of Badger's accent in "Shindig".
- Fan Service: Unsurprisingly large amounts of it, too....
- Farm Boy: Mal is arguably this, having been raised by his mother and 40 hands on a ranch back on his homeworld, Shadow.
- Farmer's Daughter: Saffron, at first...
- 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 isn't a death threat.
- Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In a deleted scene for "Our Mrs. Reynolds", River tries to convince Sheppard Book to marry her and Simon.
- Faux Affably Evil: Jubal Early. Also, Adelai Niska.
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, both were put under by the same drug.
- 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 one episode, Mal goes to a party full of aristocrats and winds up fighting one of them in an old-fashioned sword duel.
- Filk Song: Mal's Song, by Michelle Dockrey, incorporates the series theme song as the chorus.
- Finagle's Law: In the Serenity RPG, the name of the complication is "Things Don't go Smooth." The description is basically this trope. As should be obvious, Mal canonically has the Major version of this complication listed on his character sheet.
"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 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 "you ain't weak."
- Saffron observes that Mal and Monty may have this in their past.
- First Blood: "Out of Gas."
- 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. "Ariel" is pretty much one prolonged Crowning Moment of Awesome for him because of this.
- Five-Man Band: The crew of Serenity was this before the pilot:
- Floating Continents: The estates on Bellerophon.
- 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" episode.
- Foot Focus: River's feet are often referred to as the 11th character.
- 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: "Why didn't you 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 Cloudcuckoolander 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 in a giant Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- 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.
- Friday Night Death Slot: Friday at 8 PM was not a good idea for a show that features the hero shooting first, kicking people into engines, and flirt-bickering with a well-educated, beautiful, classy... prostitute.
- A Friend in Need
- Fumbling the Gauntlet: Mal to Atherton Wing in Shindig.
- Funny Afro: Book lets his hair out once. Once. Could also be considered a Scary Afro. And not just if you happen to be named River. Even Zoe is freaked out for a moment.
- Fun T-Shirt: Jayne has loads of them.
- Future Food Is Artificial: The processed protein which the crew largely subsists on fits this trope.
- Future Slang
- 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, while in an advanced state of inebriation, reveals that Kaylee is pretty especially when she's covered in engine oil.
- Gender Blender Name: Because "The Hero of Canton, the man they call Fred" just would not have the same zing.
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.
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.
- Genre Savvy: Abso-gorram-lutely everyone.
Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live in a spaceship, dear.
- Gentleman Snarker: Simon.
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.'
- George Lucas Throwback: to westerns and space operas, at the same time.
- Get It Over With: Atherton and the spectators after Mal wins the duel in "Shindig."
- Ghost Ship: "Bushwhacked"
- Girl in a Box: River, which is often mistaken by many to be a Shout-Out to Outlaw Star, though Whedon has denied this. Specifically called "a girl in a box" in one of the trailers.
- Girl-On-Girl Is Hot: Five words: "I'll be in my bunk."
- Give Me a Sword
- Give Me Back My Wallet: Near the beginning of the episode "The Message."
- Good Feels Good: Jayne learns this due to his 100% Heroism Rating in Canton. However, it doesn't end well.
- 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 and Atherton Wing 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 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.
Inara: (Holding Saffron at gunpoint) "What, you didn't see that coming?"
- Good-Looking Privates: "Because we are so very pretty."
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Subverted, in that every time Mal goes up against a competent enemy, he loses. Except the swordfight, but he was not using fisticuffs, he was using whatever he could.
- Good People Have Good Sex
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."
- Good Shepherd: Who will shoot you in the kneecaps and chop off your killer robots' heads with a giant curved machete.
- The Government: Alliance.
- Government Conspiracy: Blue Hands -- 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.
- The Great Repair: "Out of Gas".
- Guns Akimbo: Zoe and Jayne in "War Stories."
- Gunship Rescue: Repeatedly.
- Hacker Cave: Mister Universe's home.
- Happily Married: Zoe and Wash.
- Hearing Voices: River.
- 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.
- Also, the 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.
- 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 also the first one to join Book in saying grace.
- Similarly, you would not count on Simon being a criminal mastermind,
- Book a Badass Preacher,
- Mal having read a poem, or being able to dance, for that matter.
- According to supplemental material, he was the son of a wealthy rancher and his mother insisted on him having a classical education.
- 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.
- 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, to name one. "Heart of Gold" is also the name of an actual whorehouse, in an episode featuring said whorehouse and its owner, Nandi, who is a madame with a heart of gold.
- Hot Amazon: "Have you ever been with a warrior woman?"
- Hot Mom: As of recent comics, Zoe.
- 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: Simon hugs River:
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 in "The Message".
- Human Shield: Bluntly subverted by Mal.
- 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 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.
- I Call It Vera: Trope Namer.
- I Can't Dance: Just barely averted 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 choreogaphy 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.
- 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!
- I Have Many Names: YoSaffBridge.
- 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.
- Ill Girl: River, of course. And Jayne faithfully sends money home to treat his ill brother Mattie's damp lung disease. Also, Inara.
- I'm a Humanitarian: One of the things the Reavers do to their victims. If you are very, very lucky, they will wait until after they rape you to death.
- I'm Going to Hell For This: This is what Shepherd promises will happen to Mal if he takes advantage of his accidental wife, Saffron.
Shepherd: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.
- Hilariously subverted in "War Stories". When the gang invades Niska's sky complex to rescue Mal and not a single one of them gets hit (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: Did Zoe just shoot a man's gun out of his hand... from a hundred meters off... from the hip??
- Did Zoe just hit two mooks on horses while diving sideways into a river?
- Did River just peek around the corner and then kill three guys perfectly without looking??
- Did Mal just stroll into the ship while pulling a perfect headshot -- on someone with a hostage?!
- Improbable Piloting Skills: 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.
- 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).
- Indy Ploy
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 giving the kiss of life to Mal, unaware that the drug that rendered him unconscious was on his lips.
- 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 occured 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:
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.
- Ironic Echo : 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."
- I Will Find You: Simon finding River.
- Jittercam: Including CGI scenes. Zoic, who did the CGI scenes, would go on to use the same techniques in Battlestar Galactica.
- And also put Serenity herself in BSG.
- It Always Rains At Funerals: At the end of "The Message" Tracy's funeral occurs while it's snowing.
- It Meant Something to Me: Subtle version. 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 the next episode, as he's trying to convince himself their relationship doesn't mean anything.
- Karma Houdini: Adelai Niska, who was apparently spared after torturing Wash and Mal for hours, actually killing and then resurrecting Mal to continute to torture him.
- 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, 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 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
nearlyirreconcilably different options.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Mal does this to Dobson.
- 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 colateral damage, which throws off Mal and Jayne several times when they try to use them to blast open doors.
- Klingon Promotion: Technically the reason why Mal ended up commanding over 5000 men at the Battle of Serenity Valley, he originally had just lead a small unit, but then most of the superior officers were wiped out by the Alliance.
- Kneecapping: Book does it during the Firefly episode "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 her feature episode.
- Lampshade Hanging/ Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
Wash: "Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction!"
Zoe: "We live on a spaceship, dear."
- La Résistance: The Browncoats
- The Last Thing You Ever See: Very, very subverted. Magnificently so.
- Layman's Terms: "I need that in Captain Dummy Talk, Kaylee."
Mal: "When I want medical jargon I'll talk to a doctor."
Simon: "...You are talking to a doctor."
- Leave No Witnesses: 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.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: Mal and his crew choose to live hand-to-mouth as far from The Empire 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.
- Mal repeatedly acts the part of an older brother to Kaylee, particularly apparent in "Shindig". He later invokes Brain Bleach when Kaylee mentions having to rely on batteries for a year, in the movie. Though, to be fair, almost everyone treats Kaylee like a little sister, but it's usually more Mal and, to an extent, Inara.
- 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.
- Living Legend: Jaaaaayne. The man they call Jaaaaayne.
Jayne: Eggs! The Living Legend needs eggs!
- London Gangster: Badger, an east-end gangster In Space!!
- 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.
- Machine Empathy: Kaylee can instinctively know just by looking, hearing or feeling what Serenity is doing and what is wrong with her.
- Kaylee also noticably acts incredibly lost and helpless when Serenity suffers a breakdown in "Out Of Gas".
- Made From Real Girl Scouts: A fast food stand in the intended-pilot 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.
- Mama Bear: Zoe for Kaylee. River for Simon. Kaylee for Serenity.
- Manchurian Agent: River.
- Manipulative Bastard: Jubal Early.
- Meaningful Background Event: At the beginning of "The Message," when Tracy sits down to eat the beans you see the Alliance soldier sneaking up. Earlier, in "Safe" while Kaylee and Simon are arguing in the store, you can see River silently sneaking away.
- 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."
- Mercy Kill: Mal suggests this for a "survivor" of a Reaver raid.
- 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.
- Mind Rape: Whatever the Academy did to River, she did not turn out very well.
- The sole survivor of a Reaver attack inevitably goes insane as a result of what they 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 the last episode, Joss yells at Book for interrupting their Almost Kiss.
- Mood Dissonance: 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. "He's 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.
- Morality Pet: Kaylee to Mal and Jayne.
- The Movie: Serenity, the Big Damn Movie.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Mal. He's a fan of all seven.
- Mutant Enemy: "Grr. Arrgh."
- My Fist Forgives You: Zoe to Saffron.
- 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 serves an Establishing Character Moment for 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
- Nay Theist: Mal, after the events of Serenity Valley completely shattered his faith in God.
- Neck Snap: Jayne does this to a Fed in "Ariel." Mal does it to the Reaver victim in "Bushwhacked."
- Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon and Kaylee.
- Nice Hat: These are very popular in the show.
- Jayne gets several of these, lampshaded both by the characters in story and the production team in the commentary.
Wash: A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.
- And Badger's "very fine hat".
- Also inverted with Two-Fry in the pilot, though he does get the comment from Mal -- which was Jayne's cue to blow his brains out. Though it was a nice hat.
Mal: "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you."
- Noble Fugitive: Simon and River
- Nobody Poops: Averted. Mal is shown having a toilet in his cabin.
- No Except Yes:
Mal: We're not thieves... but we are thieves. The point is we're not taking what's his.
- No Gravity for You: One villain with fantastic combat skills is defeated when River tricks him into coming outside of the spaceship, where Mal promptly punches him into the infinity of space.
- 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 about spending six weeks on a moon where the idea of recreation was juggling baby geese.
- Mal and Zoe mention several war stories in... well "War Stories".
- Jubal Early 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?
Simon: The midget.
Early: Arson. Little man loved fire.
- Not So Different: Simon and Mal often have surprisingly similar traits despite their differences. Most notable is their sense of loyalty and intense protectiveness, because if you turn on Mal's crew or Simon's sister you turn on them. And if you turn on both at once you are dead.
- No Woman's Land: Saffron tells a not-very-kind story of her upbringing and future prospects on Triumph.
- 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":
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.
- 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. She is also the most educated, classy, graceful and well-dressed member of the crew.
- Oh Crap: Mal fails to understand that he has just challenged a man to a duel or what kind of duel it will be.
"Use of his sw-what?"
- 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 turn 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.
- 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-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 played straight and subverted in "War Stories": Mal is able to fight Niska and his Mooks even after being severely tortured and losing an ear, but can't finish them off and gets help from Zoe.
- The Ophelia: River, of course. "Two by two, hands of blue..."
- Orgasmically Delicious: Kaylee really likes strawberries.
- The Other Marty: Rebecca Gayhart as Inara, who was recast after filming a few scenes of the pilot. Joss Whedon does not fault her performance itself, but he apparently forsaw a problem since he shot most of her scenes in single-person profile so he would not need to bring in other actors in the event that he had reshoot her scenes.
- Our Founder: The statue of Jayne Cobb. 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.
- Out of Order: Numerous episodes were aired out of order, most glaringly the double-length Pilot, which was aired last. While the chronological last episode did air, three episodes before it are only available on DVD and this necessitated reshooting a scene in the final episode, since it made explicit reference to events that had never been aired. The effect of malicious Executive Meddling.
- Papa Wolf: Mal for the entire crew. Simon for River.
- Parrot Expowhat: 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.
- Inara, also in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" who says "You stupid son of a--" as she passes out.
- 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.
- Photographic Memory: River in general but especially at the end of "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.
- Playing with a Trope
- Playing with Syringes: River at the academy.
- 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 is the most obvious case, although there are others that arguably have shades of this.
- The Power of Legacy: 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.
- Precision F-Strike:
- "...son of a bitch!"
- A more subtle one with Book. 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.
- The President's Daughter: The Alliance, Blue Sun, and Bounty Hunters all want to catch River.
- Princess for a Day: "Shindig." Kaylee was doing this from the beginning, and Mal went along once he saw Inara was there.
- 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.
- 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.
- Psycho for Hire: Jubal Early.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- Quote Overdosed: It is very quotable. You can not stop with just one.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
- 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.
- 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 Subtext: While filming the funeral scene for "The Message," the crew was informed that the show had just been canceled. The sadness you see on their faces is real.
- Red Herring: 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: 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.
- Refuge in Audacity: Mal's idea of a joke tends to be "Let's see how far I can push this without getting punched/shot at/arrested."
- The Remnant: The Dust Devils in the comic book.
- Resurrection Sickness
- Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70's Western" feel.
- Retired Badass: Its repeatedly implied, and downright stated in the graphic novel, that Shepherd Book, born Henry Evans, a high ranking spy for the Alliance before he defected, was this.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Simon is this once or twice.
- Rock Beats Laser: Though laser weapons exist, simple projectile weapons 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 "Bushwacked" 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 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 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.
- Jayne in "Jaynestown":
"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 end, and you -- well, you took it. And that's -- Well, I guess that's somethin'."
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. Book is black and startles River with his hair down, 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. At least one planet, under the sway of Rance Burgess, is being purposefully suppressed; Rance has the resouces 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
- Screwed by the Network: Raped to death, had its flesh eaten and its skin sewn into clothing by the network, and not in that order either.
- 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."
- Secret Test of Character:
- 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 throught 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 Xiang 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 volcanos edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man."
- 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.
- Selective Obliviousness: "Our Mrs. Reynolds" -- "I knew you let her kiss you."
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, with all her mechanic talk.
- Setting as a Character: Played with in the final episode 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.)
- Sex as Rite-Of-Passage: Explored in "Jaynestown" and significant in "Our Mrs. Reynolds."
- 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.
- 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, 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.
- Shell Shocked Senior: Mal.
- 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 "The Message."
- According to Word of God in 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.
- In a deleted scene from "Our Mrs. Reynolds," River wants to marry Simon.
- Shipper on Deck: Most of the crew is gunning for Simon and Kaylee to get together. Especially Mal and Inara.
- Shirtless Scene:
- Simon in "Objects in Space."
- Mal has a shirt-pants-shoes-and-sockless scene in "Trash".
- Jayne gets shirtless at the beginning of "Jaynestown."
- Shower Scene: Inara's sponge bath in the pilot episode "Serenity."
- Shown Their Work:
- The show averts Space Is Noisy.
- One notable exception is using 'Vera' inside a spacesuit in order to be able to fire it in space. In reality, firearms work just as well in space since the gunpowder contains its own oxidizer and does not require air. Also, after the first shot, all the air would have escaped anyway.
- 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.
- Shrouded in Myth: Reavers
- 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!
- 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.
- The Siege: "Heart of Gold"
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Space Is Cold: Played completely straight.
- 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.
- Spaceship Girl: subverted by River in "Objects in Space".
- Space Pirates
- Space Western
- Space Cossacks: "Take me out to the black, tell 'em I ain't comin' back"
- 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:
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.
- 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.
- The Spartan Way: Jubal suggests surgeons shouldn't be allowed to practice until they themselves have first been cut on.
- Staring Kid: Jayne gets his own personal one in "Jaynestown."
- The Starscream: Jayne definitely shows Starscream-like tendencies.
Mal: "You wanna run this ship?!"
Mal: [flustered] "Well... you can't!"
- Stealth Hi Bye: River. Simon once or twice. Also Mal. 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: "A man walks down the street in that hat..."
- '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!'
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: Mal and his brown coat.
- Storming the Castle: The assault on Niska's skyplex in "War Stories."
- Strange Girl: River, obviously.
- The Strategist: Simon in "Ariel", River in "Objects in Space".
River: 'I can kill you with my brain.' (And in "Objects in Space", she proved just that.)
- Mal demonstrates this as well, successfully knocking capturing an enemy gun turret and shooting down a skiff during the Battle of Serenity, 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.
- Subspace Ansible: Not made explicit, but there are repeated examples of instantaneous real-time communication across long distances.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: "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 mediaeval 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.
- 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: Played with. 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.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Subverted by the Combat Pragmatist Mal. He blows a lawman's head off mid-speech in the pilot, and shoots The Operative mid-speech in the movie right after The Operative admits to being unarmed.
- Talk to the Fist: In the pilot.
Mal: "You don't want to go down this road with me, boy."
Simon: "Oh, you're not afraid of 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'."
- Tap on the Head: At the end of "Ariel," Mal delivers one to Jayne. With a wrench.
- Technical Pacifist: Book
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 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 Wasn't a Request:
- 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 that it wasn't a suggestion.
- This exchange:
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'?
- Thememobile: The good ship Serenity.
- Thicker Than Water: Behold, the Power of Brotherhood.
- You Are Too Late: 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.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Subverted hilariously.
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]
- Those Two Bad Guys: The Hands of Blue.
- Through His Stomach: "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, 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.
- 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.
- 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 Trope Namer.
- Treasure Chest Cavity: In "The Message".
- Trigger Happy: Jayne.
- Trigger Phrase: River, and how.
- 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 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.
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Not that you need to try very hard.
- Turbine Blender: To one of Niska's goons in "The Train Job".
- Tyke Bomb: River
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Uptight Loves Wild: Simon and Kaylee.
- Inara and Mal are a milder example.
- Used Future: Justified
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The Alliance's goal.
- The Vamp: Saffron.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Zoe and Inara, and apparently Saffron as well.
- Villainous Breakdown: Saffron has a spectacular one near the end of "Trash."
- 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.
- Flying the Space: ... "It's enough."
- Warrior Poet: Multiple characters discuss the fictional Shan Yu, who fancied himself quite the warrior poet.
- We Have to Get the Bullet Out: A couple of occasions sees someone working to remove a bullet from a wound, most notably in "Objects in Space"
- We Will Meet Again: So very subverted.
- 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
- What a Piece of Junk!: "She don't look like much." "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. 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.
- When It All Began: The revolution, at least for Mal and Zoe.
- The White Prince: Simon, who struggles to fit in with the crew for this reason. It's also the reason Kaylee struggles to understand him.
- When She Smiles: River. Those rare smiles light up the 'Verse. See 13:13.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wrap It Up
- Wrench Wench: Kaylee.
- 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.
- 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 Have to Have Jews: Amnon, the postal worker from "The Message," is seen wearing a kippah (traditional skullcap) and tzitzit (traditional white undergarment, the fringes of which hang out from under his shirt). In addition, Amnon is a biblical Jewish name. The commentary refers to him as "The only Jew in space," since he is the only character in the main series to display any such characteristics. Mr. Universe in the movie is all but outright stated to be Jewish as well, and is played by a Jewish actor.
- You Might Remember Me From: Ron Glass, who plays Shepherd Book, is probably best known as Detective Harris on Barney Miller.
- You Must Be Cold: Monkeywrenched in the pilot.
- You Rebel Scum: From most Alliance officials.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: The series devotes an entire episode to repeatedly demonstrating that Zoe is not, nor has she ever been, attracted to Mal. Or Jayne.
- Explosions in Space: As seen in "Bushwhacked", any explosions are strictly those of the warhead. Damaged ships simply break up, with broken parts floating in the trajectory of the ship.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: According to various supplementals and Joss Whedon, the giant ships that shepherded humanity from Earth to the new solar system took several generations to arrive, and Serenity also does not exceed light speed. Instead, she combines a fusion reactor core and grav screening to reduce her inertia in transit through frictionless space. Hard burn or full burn is another way of saying she has the equivalent of a turbocharger (improve engine output by burning more fuel at a higher rate). She's still quick enough to make travel from edge to edge of the part of space where the series takes place (about 315 AU) take days as opposed to years.
- Infinite Supplies
- Instant Emergency Response: In "Trash", it takes about ten minutes for the police to arrive after Haymer triggers his panic alarm when he first sees Saffron.
- 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.
- The Metric System Is Here to Stay: When units are given for distances, they're in miles ("War Stories"). When given for weight, they're in pounds (the movie and the RPG).
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity are still major religions. And they're not the only ones according to the RPG.
- 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).
- Space Is Noisy: Instead, it is Mickey Moused.
- 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.
- Unproblematic Prostitution
- And, of course, any and all Alien Tropes. The closest thing you get to an alien in this series is an upside-down cow fetus in a jar. Well, that and maybe Jayne. Lampshaded in the abovementioned jar episode -- alien conspiracy theorists still exist.