Serenity

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Half of writing history is hiding the truth.
I aim to misbehave.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds

After Firefly was cancelled partway through its first season, a massive letter writing campaign was launched to bring it back. Years later, The Movie was released to provide closure to some of the unanswered questions of the show and accompany the comic series and other Expanded Universe materials.

Shortly after the end of the series, the crew of the Firefly-class ship Serenity is still getting into trouble. The presence of Ill Girl and government experiment River Tam has brought the fist of The Alliance down on her, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, River's brother Simon, Kaylee, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Shepherd Book, and even Inara.

More details are brought to light about the experiments that were done on River by the government and the Alliance conspiracy that she learned by accident through her powers, driving her insane. Pursued by a ruthless and devoted Government Operative, the crew seek to solve the mystery surrounding River Tam and the Alliance that has caused them so much misery, and perhaps use it to get out from under the thumb of the Alliance once and for all.

Tropes used in Serenity include:

"This is a good death. There is no shame in this."

  • Air Vent Passageway: Played straight with Mal, played for laughs later with River.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Justified, as all available planets and moons have been Terraformed.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: In the Big Damn Movie, the crew is left with no ground to go to.
  • Almost-Dead Guy: Mr. Universe survives long enough to leave a message. Also, Shepherd Book, who lives long enough to give an inspiring speech.
  • Anti-Hero: Jayne Cobb, naturally. Most of the crew qualifies for this as well.
  • Anyone Can Die: Book and Wash.
    • According to the commentary, this is precisely why those two died, to heighten tension and make that final fight scene, in which nearly everyone else is hurt all the more scary. Well, thanks.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Given by the scientist on Miranda.
  • Apologetic Attacker: River beats up Simon to get to the bridge. Afterward, she explains that she didn't know if he was going to make her sleep, whereupon Simon wryly says, "you could have asked." Simon of course, always forgives his dear little sister.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: Miranda. To drive it home, everyone there is either dead or went crazy.
  • Asshole Victim: The Operative's first kill in the movie was a scientist who vivisected and abused children without either their consent or that of their parents, and without the knowledge of the latter, to turn them into human weapons.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: River.
  • Ax Crazy: River, though it turns out she has a reason for it. She absorbed a number of the Alliance's dirtiest secrets, including Miranda. Knowing that your benevolent government was behind the Reavers would be enough to drive anyone crazy, let alone reliving the events leading up to it.
  • Badass Crew:

"I aim to misbehave."

"I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar."

    • Badass Preacher: Book. He is not going to tell you who or what he was before he was a Shepherd. But they did release a comic, "A Shepherd's Tale", that did just that.
    • Cultured Badass: Inara.

"And that's not incense."

      • The movie antagonist, the Operative.

"I want to resolve this like civilized men. I'm not threatening you. I'm unarmed. [Mal shoots him, but he gets back up and jumps Mal] I am, of course, wearing full body armor. I am not a moron."

"My turn."

    • Just plain Badass: Jayne, Zoe.

"Let's be bad guys."
"You want to leave this room."

  • Bad Dreams / Daydream Surprise: The schoolhouse.
  • Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions.
  • Bar Brawl: Started by River, actually.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mal and Inara.
  • Berserk Button: A handy list of things that will make you want to leave this room:
    • Do not do anything to put River in danger, or Simon will get very upset.
    • A very very bad idea to mention the battle of Serenity Valley with any negative connotation in front of Zoe or Mal.
    • Do not hurt Simon in front of River. You will regret it.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed:
    • Mal, Jayne and Zoe share this view. When a bystander is captured, Mal shoots him dead before the Reavers can cut into him, an act later described by Zoe as "a piece of mercy". When Jayne looks like he is going to be captured, he asks Mal to do the same to him.
    • Cruelly subverted with the Miranda recording, in which the scientist tries to shoot herself after it becomes clear that she is not going to escape the Reavers. She does not do it quickly enough.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Alliance Fleet. Reaver army. 'Nuff said.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The rescue of River. Simon generally.
  • The Big Damn Movie
  • Black Dude Dies First: Shepherd Book, if we're talking just about the main cast. Otherwise, we've got whole settlements wiped out before him.
  • Black Screen of Death: During the fight between River Tam and the Reavers.
  • Blessed with Suck: River.
  • Blind Idiot Translation: Although (according to the DVD) a translator worked hard to get Chinese slang correct, and the actors studied tape recorders, apparently it was still mangled in the pronunciation.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Jayne Cobb.
  • Book Ends: *crunch* "What was that?"
  • Brain Bleach:

Kaylee: It's been going on a year now I ain't had nothin' betwixt my nethers that weren't run on batteries!
Mal: Oh god! I CAN'T KNOW THAT!

Guy killed me, Mal. Killed me with a sword. How weird is that?

  • Catch Phrase: Lots of these, including:
    • The Operative: "Do you know what your sin is?"
      • "This is a good death."
    • Wash: "I'm a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar."
    • Mr. Universe: "Can't stop the signal."

Mr. Universe: "From here to the eyes and the ears of the 'Verse, that's my motto. Or, it would be, if I started having a motto."

Mal: No grenades.
(Later) Jayne: Boy, sure would be nice if we had some GRENADES, don'tchya think?
(Final Stand) Mal: Tell me you brought 'em this time.

Mal: Did you see us fight?
Others: No.
Mal: TRAP!!!

    • River also does this in the deleted scenes.

Simon: What will Miranda show us?
River: Death.
Simon: Whose death?
River: EVERYBODY'S!!!!!!

  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Mal suffers a vicious case of it. It's mostly under control at the start of the film, then has a flare-up about half-way after it's been irritated by exposure to the truth about Miranda.
  • Close-Knit Community: Haven.
  • Cold Open: The movie opens with a narration that turns out to be a school lesson that turns out to be a hallucination; then River is rescued, which turns out to be security footage being played back, then we fade into the title sequence and Serenity.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: The Alliance wears primarily blue and grey to match all their shiny tech. The Browncoats wear, um, brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart. The Reavers wear... red. Lots and lots of red. And what isn't red, is, well... skin tone.
  • Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters are willing to fight dirty.
    • Mal shoots not one, not two, but three unarmed men over the course of the two hour film. Take that, Boba Fett.
    • And other characters, like the Operative, who are not morons.

Jayne: Hell, I'll kill a man in a fair fight -- or if I think he's going to start a fair fight....

  • Coming in Hot: Serenity crash-landing after being disabled by an EMP weapon.
  • Command Roster:
  • Continuity Nod: During Mal's Shirtless Scene, you can see the scar where he got stabbed in The Train Job, and another from Niska's torture device in War Stories. Speaking of which, the "Mule II" hovercar is the official replacement for the "Mule" ATV that was destroyed in that episode.
    • Further, the barrels ejected from Serenity as they escape the Training House look and function just like the pilot's "Crybaby".
    • The second Reaver ship to appear in the climax is the one from the pilot episode.
  • Cool Starship:
    • Serenity is one of the "rustbucket" variety.
    • The gigantic flying wrecks of the Reaver ships are also ...quite a sight to behold.
    • The Alliance warships are more in line with your typical shiny futuristic Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Blue Sun is hinted at being behind the Academy.
  • Covert Pervert: Both Kaylee and River like to watch.
  • 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 planetary population and the creation of the Reavers.
  • Crazy Prepared: The Operative informs Mal that his ship has locked onto Serenity's pulse beacon and will fire with a single command. Mal responds by handing him said pulse beacon. He also preps six decoys for nav sat tracking, (Serenity being signal #7).
  • Cruel Mercy: Mal does this to the Operative near the end.

Mal: Hell, I'm gonna grant your greatest wish. I'm gonna show you a world without sin.

  • Cultured Badass: The Operative.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: River, completely, totally, utterly obliterating the Reavers by herself.
  • Curse of the Ancients: All the swearing that isn't 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's loud and panicky, but at the helm, he is completely calm and collected, no matter what imminent doom might be following him.

Wash: This landing is gonna get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define "interesting."
Wash: [deadpan] "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die"?

Kaylee: We're on a year now, and I ain't had nothin' 'twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!
Mal: Oh, God! I can't know that!
Jayne: I could stand to hear a little more.

Mr Universe: "Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that?"

  • Deadpan Snarker: Many eminently quotable characters throughout.
    • Shepherd Book has some good lines, even as he’s dying in great pain.

Mal: Shouldn’t’ve been you. Alliance shoulda hit us. Shoulda hit me.
Book: That crossed my mind.

  • Death Glare:
    • Zoe to Jayne: "You want to leave this room."
  • Derelict Graveyard: Reaver Territory... Including the Reaver ships.
  • Despair Event Horizon: 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 R. Tam Sessions used to promote the movie sees the entire Break the Cutie process in action. Poor River...
  • Determinator: Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach get in the way.
  • Deus Ex Machina: A well-done type four.
  • Diegetic Switch: An inverse example: when the crew lands on Haven, a mellow, earthy tune is playing. As the scene changes to everyone sitting around the campfire, the music morphs into Jayne playing on his guitar.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: A rare heroic example when Mr. Universe broadcasts the Miranda file and everyone in the universe finds out the truth about the Alliance and the Reavers.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Audience and Mal know what the Reavers are, but The Operative does not, and boy is he in for a surprise...

The Operative: "There are a lot of innocent people in the air being killed right now."
Mal: "You don't know how true that is."

The Operative: In older, more...civilized cultures, when a man failed as utterly as you have, he would throw himself upon his sword.
Director: [sarcastically] Well, unfortunately I don't have a-
[the Operative pulls out a sword]

  • Evil Versus Evil: The Alliance vs the Reavers.
  • Exclusively Evil: Reavers, explained.
  • Fake in the Hole: Seen in the deleted scenes, when Mal and Inara escape from the Operative. Mal throws a real, but not armed, grenade, making the Feds near his shuttle dive off for cover...then Mal picks the grenade back up and goes on his way.
  • Fan Service: Unsurprisingly large amounts of it, too....
  • Finagle's Law: Count on it every time.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: By the end of the film, Jayne has a measure of respect for Dr. Tam. Even offers a drink.
  • Flirting Under Fire: Simon and Kaylee during the climactic fight scene.
  • Fly At the Camera Ending: A chunk of Serenity breaks off and flies at the camera.
  • Foot Focus: The 11th character.
  • Forced to Watch: The Operative was definitely wowed by the recording on the PAX. Better worlds, indeed.
  • Future Slang
  • Get Out!: "You wanna leave this room."
  • Ghost Planet: Miranda.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong/Gone Horribly Right: What happened on Miranda.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The Operative is a trained and skilled martial artists, Mal just hits things.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Sarah Paulson's recording ends with her being attacked by the Reavers. She's moved out of the frame, but the sound leaves no doubt about her fate.
  • The Government: The Alliance.
  • Government Conspiracy: Possibly a private sector conspiracy by Blue Sun, but with definite government involvement.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: The G-23 Paxilon hydrochlorate introduced into the air processors of Miranda, to keep the populace quiet and non-violent. It ended up causing apathy and lethargy so extreme that the majority of people just laid down and died and caused the remainder to become the hyper-aggressive Reavers.
  • Graceful Loser: The Operative.
  • Grand Finale: The film is pretty much this for the series.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Mandarin-ish and Cantonese-oid 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, although as mentioned above, the pronunciation is so atrocious that even native speakers will have trouble deciphering them, and some of them are absolutely hilarious in English.
    • The trigger phrase that Simon uses to put River to sleep after she clears out the bar is Russian, "Это курам насмех", meaning literally "This is hilarious to chickens", an old Russian saying used to denote something ridiculous.
    • Another Bilingual Bonus for the name of the chemical used on Miranda. Pax is Latin for "Peace".
  • Groin Attack: When River is triggered in the bar on Beaumonde, in the middle of trashing the place and beating the crap out of everyone within reach, she grabs Jayne's package and squeezes. Hard. Jayne is icing it down in the next scene.
  • Hand Signals: While the crew is exploring the planet Miranda Zoe takes the point position and uses gestures to guide the movements of the rest of the team.
  • Hard Work Montage: At the very end.
  • Hate Plague: A small portion of Miranda's population had an extremely violent reaction to the Pax, becoming the first Reavers.
  • Heel Realization: The Operative upon seeing the evidence of what happened on Miranda.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Inara's reaction to the suggestion that she had a torrid affair with a pirate. Also, he's not a pirate, he's a smuggler, and VERY annoying.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted by River; see the main page for details. 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.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Zoe.
  • Hidden Depths: You wouldn't count on Mal having read a poem, or River being a death machine. The Alliance didn't expect Simon to be a criminal mastermind.
    • Shepherd Book knows an awful lot about Operatives for some reason he flatly refuses to elaborate on.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Inara.
  • Hilarious Outtakes:

"TRAPPPP!"
"I will turn this spaceship around! Do you want to fly? Fuckin' fly! I'll be in my bunk!"

"Shepherd Book always said, 'If you can't do somethin' smart, do somethin' right.'"

Operative: (stabs Mal) Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
Mal: Aw hell, I'm a fan of all seven. (pulls sword back out) But right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath.

Jayne: I won't get et! You shoot me if they take me!
Mal: [aims pistol at Jayne]
Jayne: Well, don't shoot me first!

Book: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?
Book: It doesn't matter what you believe in. As long as you believe.

Inara: And that's not incense. [flashbang grenade detonates]]

  • No-Holds-Barred Contest: The final fight between Mal and the Operative is a brutal beat down on both sides.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Played with between River and Mal.
  • Noble Fugitive: Simon and River.
  • No Place for Me There: The Operative is the Trope Namer.
  • Nose Art: The ship's name is painted in a stylized seal on the bow of the ship, in both English and Chinese.
    • The crew later invokes this trope by disguising their ship as a Reaver vessel, complete with lots of red paint and human corpses lashed to the hull.
  • Now Let Me Carry You: "My turn."
  • Oh Crap: "Target the Reavers! Target the Reavers! Target everyone! SOMEBODY FIRE!"
    • When Inara meets the Operative. She's very good at reading and controlling body language, so the way her smile fades before he even said anything speaks volumes.
    • The head scientist gets an understated one when Simon says, "She always did love to dance." He has just enough time to realize that this isn't a government official he's been escorting into Top Secret research areas before he is knocked out by the stun grenade.
  • One Waif Army: River.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Sarah Paulson's monologue (which gets played twice) is chill-inducing brilliant:

"These are just a few of the images we've recorded, and as you can see... it isn't what we thought..."

The Operative: "I'm impressed that you would come for her yourself. And that you would make it this far in that outfit."
Mal: I can be very graceful when I need to.

"She always did love to dance..."
"You know what your sin is..."
"Ah, hell. I'm a fan of all seven... But right now... I'm going to go with WRATH."

  • Precision F-Strike: "Eight months. Eight months you had her on my boat knowing full well she could go monkeyshit at the wrong word and you never said a thing." It's easy to miss it, but this is a cuss word they couldn't drop on Fox, but could in a Big Damn Movie.
    • In the movie's novelization by Keith R.A. DeCandido, a version of the scene on Haven where Mal announces his plan to use the corpses of the murdered settlers as part of a disguise for Serenity to cross Reaver space is featured where Mal drops the F-bomb to emphasize his point. Pretty sure the same scene is featured in the early draft of the film's script floating around the 'Net, the version where Wash and Book don't die.
  • The President's Daughter: River.
  • Pressure Point: Used by the Operative.
    • And brutally subverted by Mal in his final fight with The Operative when he pretends to fall victim to this technique. In truth that particular pressure point was rendered invalid from a war wound, and he just played along so he could catch The Operative off-guard.
  • Psychic Powers: River.
  • Public Secret Message: The code that makes River flip out is hidden in an ad spot for Fruity Oaty Bars.
  • Quick Nip: Jayne.
  • Quote Overdosed: It's very quotable. You can't stop with just one.
  • Radial Ass-Kicking: River fights off Reavers coming at her from all sides.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Serenity's crew.
  • Rebuilt Set: Serenity looks a tiny bit different from the version seen in the show.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mal predominantly wears red clothes while the Operative wears Blue.
  • Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70's Western" feel.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Mr. Universe sells out Mal, The Operative instead kills him with a sword. How weird is that?
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Averted. Simon's time on the ship has stripped this element from him, replacing it with a tired bitterness behind much of his actions.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Book and Wash.
  • Schizo-Tech: The just-settled Outer Planets have no infrastructures or industries built yet, and the Alliance considers anything past terraforming a low priority.
  • School for Scheming: The Academy.
  • Science Fiction
  • Send in the Search Team: Miranda.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, via mechanic talk.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: What the Operative seems to be obsessed with. Given that they think they can "make mankind better", the Alliance's chief sin seems to be Pride.
    • Mal is also a fan of all seven, but right now he's going with wrath.
  • Shirtless Scene: Both Mal and Simon get this. Joss Whedon actually apologizes in the commentary for shooting shirtless!Mal at such a close angle and not allowing a full look at his physique.
  • Shoot the Rope: Mal needs several shots to sever the mini-harpoon from Jayne's leg. While he's hanging from the back of Mule II at full tilt.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Reavers, at least until their origin is revealed.
  • A Simple Plan: Mal has these a lot. And they go wrong with alarming regularity
  • Single Tear: The Operative, when he sees the footage from Miranda.
  • 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
  • Someone to Remember Him By: At the end of Serenity: Float Out, it is revealed that Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
  • Something They Would Never Say: Inverted: a character doesn't say something they normally would, which tips Mal off.

Mal: Did you see us fight?
Kaylee: No.
Mal: Trap.

  • Sonic Stunner: Simon apparently found one that only works at head level, then uses it to rescue River by setting it off and ducking (she's conveniently seated at the time).
    • Inara's flashbang-incense is a very crude version.
  • Sorry That I'm Dying
    • Book to Mal.
    • Simon to River.
  • Space Clouds: The ion cloud around Mr. Universe's planet. Joss Whedon admitted that he knew exactly how unscientific this was, but he needed it there for Rule of Cool in the battle scene.
  • Space Is Cold
  • Space Pirates: Reavers.
  • Space Western
  • Stealth Hi Bye: River. Simon once or twice.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Captain Mal does this by getting the Reavers to attack the Alliance.
  • Survival Mantra: "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar." Savagely subverted when Wash dies in the middle of saying it.
    • Yes, but he's not flying any more. Flying is his super power. His milieu.
  • Swallowed a Fly: After a horrific encounter with the Reavers, the crew barely makes it back, and crashes the runabout back onto Serenity. Simon (who stayed behind) is frantic over River, who is oddly calm:

River: "I swallowed a bug."

"Nothing here is what it seems. He is not the plucky hero. The Alliance is not an evil empire. This is not the grand arena."

Operative: In certain older civilized cultures it was customary for one who had failed as completely as you have to throw themselves on their swords.


And notably avoided:

  • Evil Army: Alliance officers believe that they are genuinely trying to protect people and improve the Verse, whether that's actually true or not.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: According to the manual.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Buddhism and Christianity are still dominant religions. Also, Mr. Universe appears to be Jewish.
  • Space Is Noisy: Instead, it is Mickey Moused. Justified in the big space battle scene since commentary says they technically are in atmosphere.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Despite the Reavers originating on Miranda, none of the locals were attacked by them in any way - they didn't live long enough.
    • Some of the locals were - the science team who deployed the Pax and left the report for the crew to find.
  1. Pax is Latin for Peace.