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.
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.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Simply being put in a room with Key Members Of Parliament was enough to drive River completely monkey-shit. It is expanded on in the Novelization - she was writing coherent secret messages to Simon right up until that point, upon which they immediately degraded to hash.
- A Simple Plan: Mal has these a lot. And they go wrong with alarming regularity
- Abandon Ship: Two separate cases in the film's climax.
- Absent Aliens
- Aesoptinum: The Pax.
- Affably Evil: The Operative, who praises his enemies, apologizes for his evil deeds, is perfectly willing to negotiate, and spares and helps the crew once he believes killing them would not serve any useful purpose.
"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.
- Bad Dreams / Daydream Surprise: The schoolhouse.
- Badass Crew:
"I aim to misbehave."
- Badass Driver: Wash.
"I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar."
"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."
- Crouching Crazy Hidden Badass: River.
- Just plain Badass: Jayne, Zoe.
"Let's be bad guys."
You want to leave this room.
- Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions.
- Bar Brawl: Started by River, actually.
- And ended by her. Very, very quickly.
- 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.
- Big Damn Villains: the Reavers coming in behind Serenity against The Operative's fleet.
- Bittersweet Ending: Book, Wash, and a couple of tons of innocent people all die, but word gets out about Miranda. And Simon and Kaylee are together. So... take it how you will.
- The movie's existence itself could be considered one. Yes, it exists, but its low box office turnout makes it unlikely we'll ever see our Big Damn Heroes on the silver screen (or on the air) again.
- 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!
- Break the Cutie: In this case, comes conveniently pre-broken. There are the R. Tam Sessions, and enough flashbacks to see her being broken.
- Break the Haughty: Mal does a perfect hatchet job on The Operative, systematically destroying every belief he's based his horrific actions on.
- Brick Joke: Jayne's grenades. See Chekhov's Gun below.
- Bring News Back / Epic Hail: the plot from Miranda onwards.
- Buffy-Speak: ...well, it is a Joss Whedon movie.
- Bulletproof Vest: The Operative is not a moron.
- Cannibal Clan: The Reavers are based on the legendary Sawney Bean clan.
- Hovering Transport Cart and Personnel Vehicle Fu
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Mr. Universe records his last words:
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."
- The Operative: "Do you know what your sin is?"
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."
- Ceiling Cling: River Tam while in the Alliance laboratory. And just about everywhere else.
- Chekhov's Gun: Mr Universe's love doll of all things.
- Also Jayne's grenades.
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?
- River also does this in the deleted scenes.
Simon: What will Miranda show us?
Simon:' Whose death?
- 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 into Mr. Universe's complex after being disabled by an EMP weapon.
- Command Roster:
- The Captain: Mal.
- Number Two: Zoe.
- The Big Guy: Jayne.
- Wrench Wench: Kaylee.
- Ace Pilot & Communications Officer: Wash.
- The Medic: Simon.
- Ace Pilot: River, she shows a skill for it in Serenity.
- It's stated in the show that she's naturally talented at literally EVERYTHING, so she probably can fit every one of these.
- The Heart: Book.
- 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:
- 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).
- Crowning Moment of Awesome: Mal sparing The Operative, Wash's "leaf on the wind" landing, River's You Shall Not Pass moment.
- Crowning Moment of Funny: Just about anything with Wash, excepting the bit with the harpoon. Also, at the very end when a panel flies off Serenity.
- Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: A whole string of them at the end, from the funeral right on through to takeoff.
- 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.
- 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"?
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.
- Deadpan Snarker: Wash, for one.
- Wash: This landing is gonna get pretty interesting. Mal: Define "interesting." Wash: Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die?
- 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 for Serenity, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach get in the way; The Operative for the Alliance.
- 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."
- Driving Into a Truck: The Mule escapes the Reavers by driving up the ramp into Serenity.
- Drop Pod: The Alliance escape pods, and possible others.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Wash.
- Dual-Wielding: River uses a sword and axe taken off the Reavers during the big showdown.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It says something when movie's ending is one of the more positive ones Joss Whedon wrote.
- Earth-That-Was: Trope Namer.
- Environmental Symbolism
- Epic Tracking Shot: After 10 minutes of schizophrenic, Smash Cut-ridden intro, we get the title card, and then a 4-minute-long Oner that brings us home to the ship and her crew. (Movie Magic Tidbit: the sets for Serenity are divided between top and bottom levels. The cut was disguised with a whip pan on one of the stairwells so that it looks like a single take.)
- Establishing Character Moment: The Operative gets a fantastic one.
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: Three instances.
- When Simon approaches River laying on top of the catwalk, the first thing the camera pans by is her bare feet.
- During the heist the camera follows her bare feet as she's sensing the thoughts of citizens.
- River has a brief hallucination regarding Miranda. She's dressed in the outfit the Blue Sun groups put her in, no shoes. The camera again follows her feet a little.
- 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 Right: The Pax, in 99.9% of cases.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The Pax, in 0.1% of cases.
- 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.
- 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, "??? ????? ??????", 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.
- 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:
I will turn this spaceship around! Do you want to fly? Fuckin' fly! I'll be in my bunk!
- Hold the Line: the defense in Mr. Universe's complex against the Reavers.
- Honor Among Thieves: The crew of Serenity. Notably Mal of course.
- Honor Before Reason: Especially Mal. Jayne calls him out on it when he gets fed up, but brings it up himself later.
"Shepherd Book always said, 'If you can't do somethin' smart, do somethin' right.'"
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Inara, to name one.
- Humans Are Flawed: Joss states in the commentary that the point he wanted to make with this film is that while the Seven Deadly Sins are bad, they're also inseparable from human nature. This is demonstrated with Miranda, a world where everyone is either dead or completely inhuman.
- Humans Are White: For a universe which is heavily Asian inspired and merged completely with Chinese culture, none of the main cast members even have Asian features; Tam is likely a Chinese surname, but Simon and River don't look at all Chinese.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: "Put a bullet to me. Bullet in the brain pan. Squish."
- I Did What I Had to Do: The Operative.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: River.
- I'm a Humanitarian: One of three things the Reavers do to their victims. And if you're very, very lucky, they kill you first. Of course, from the Mercy Kill scene, it's clear they prefer their dinners alive and screaming.
- Identical Twin ID Tags: Parodied. Mal can tell them apart because "Fanty's prettier", but there is no easy to spot distinction between them.
- Ill Girl: River, of course.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Wash.
- In the Back
- Indy Ploy
- Insane Equals Violent: The Reavers.
- Inspector Javert : The Operative
- Instant Sedation: Averted when Kaylee is shot with three tranquilizer darts.
- Instant Win Condition: The Operative's mission is to eliminate River Tam before any of the big state secrets she has in her mind can be let out. He's willing to kill huge amounts of people, the protagonists included, to pursue this mission. Once the broadcast of Miranda goes out, that mission is a failure, so he has his men stand down, as the damage is done, and killing Mal and the others is no longer "necessary" to him.
- Intro Dump: For viewers who haven't seen Firefly, the intro has explain that Earth has been abandoned and humanity now occupies another star system, the Backstory elements of the Alliance/Independents war, River's treatment at the Academy and Simon's rescue, and introduce us to the Serenity and nine characters who already know each other. All done in ten minutes with admirable deftness.
- Ironic Echo: When Mal shows the Miranda recording to the Operative, he forces the latter to eat his words about how he was building "a world without sin" by showing him what such a world would actually look like.
- It Got Worse: The Operative's "tracking". And how.
- Jumped At the Call: Simon's rescue of River.
- Karmic Thief: Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a private security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his crew's cut to the poor.
- Kick the Dog: After the Serenity crew prevent the Operative from tracking them down twice - he takes it out on Haven and every other settlement that's harbored Serenity in the past.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: It's safe to say that there was no sympathy for Dr. Mathias when the Operative killed him at the beginning.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Wash, after it looks like everything's going to be okay.
- Knight Errant: Mal.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Also Mal.
- Knight Templar: The Operative.
- Lens Flare: Intentionally on Whedon's part.
- Let's Get Dangerous: The Alliance had no idea what they set loose when they triggered River's implanted Waif Fu.
- Living Emotional Crutch: Simon to River, and do not mortally wound Simon when River is around.
- Lodged Blade Recycling:
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.
- Make It Look Like a Struggle: Mal has an exchange with a guard early in the film about doing this so it doesn't look like the guard just rolled over and let them take the cash.
- Manchurian Agent: River's activation at the Maidenhead.
- Maybe Ever After: Mal and Inara seem to end on this vaguely good note.
- Meaningful Name: Combined with a Bilingual Bonus, The Pax.
- Mercy Kill: For anyone taken by the Reavers:
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!
- Mind Rape: Whatever the Academy did to River, she didn't turn out very well.
- Misfit Mobilization Moment: "No more running. I aim to misbehave."
- Mr. Vice Guy: Mal.
- Mutant Enemy: "Grr. Arg."
- My Fist Forgives You: Simon slugs Mal for (What else?) putting River in danger. Interestingly he is the only one of the crew that ever dared do that-- it's a Call Back to the series, where Mal punched Simon (twice!) in the "real" pilot for putting his ship in danger.
- Mysterious Past: Book, and to a lesser extent River.
- Mysterious Waif: River.
- Nay Theist: Mal. More specifically, he is a maltheist. He equates belief to God, giving Book two of his better lines:
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.
- Necessarily Evil: The Operative views his crusade this way. He abandons this notion after finding out the truth about Miranda.
- Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon and Kaylee.
- Neutral Female: Subverted.
Inara: And that's not incense. [flashbang grenade detonates]]
- Nice Job Breaking It, Villains: In order: the Academy directors saw fit to put their heads of state in a room with a crazy psychic; The Operative's broadwave attempts to trigger River prevented Mal from turning the Tams off Serenity; The Operative's assault on Haven and the other safeholds just makes Mal more determined to figure out what Miranda holds. So... yeah.
- No One Could Survive That: River's Heroic Sacrifice. Except... she does.
- No Place for Me There: The Operative is the Trope Namer.
- 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.
- 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."
- Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Not a villain, but where did Mr. Universe find the money for that complex?
- 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..."
- Only a Flesh Wound: When Mal gets stabbed during his fight with the Operative, though having Alliance medical care available soon after may make it somewhat less applicable. In all other cases, averted.
- Organ Dodge: The Operative's Pressure Point technique targets a nerve cluster Mal had moved due to an old war wound. The Operative is led to believe that it actually worked before a devastating surprise counterattack.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Mal's big plan to slip past the Reavers is to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship - it's just rundown enough to pass for one too.
- Also when Mal slips into Inara's rooms dressed as another Companion.
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.
- Pass the Popcorn: When Inara calls Mal.
- Perfect Pacifist People: The Alliance tried to create a world like this artificially, and ended up creating the Reavers.
- Playful Hacker: Mr. Universe. He even has a lovebot.
- Playing with Syringes: River at the academy.
- Pow Zap Wham Cam: Used when River "scans" the occupants of the trader outpost in The Movie.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: "My turn."
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: "Yes, she always did love to dance," for Simon. "Do you know what your sin is?" for The Operative. "...right now I'll go with Wrath", for Mal.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sex Bot: Turns out to be useful for other things, too, like messages.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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."
- Sword Pointing: The Operative does this to Captain Mal when he first draws his sword during their fight in Mr. Universe's complex.
- Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: Wash, as per the above.
- Talkative Loon: River.
- Tear Jerker: The second landing at Haven, when Wash died, and those ten minutes when nobody believes River could possibly survive.
- The Caretaker: Simon to River.
- The Chains of Commanding: "Just... tell me when we get there."
- The Champion: Simon to River. Indirectly everyone else to River.
- The Cutie: Kaylee and River.
- The Dreaded: The Reavers.
- The Government: The Alliance.
- The Horde : The Reavers
- The Kirk: Mal.
- The Big Damn Movie
- The Power of Love: The core of Simon and River's relationship. Simon's love for River is practically the only thing holding her fractured psyche together. As a result, this is the force that allows her to pull herself together at the end of the film and save everyone.
- The President's Daughter: River.
- Theme Music Withholding: The "Ballad of Serenity" only appears in the end credits, and only as an instrumental.
- Thememobile: The good ship Serenity.
- There Are No Therapists: Not that there's any out there that could help much in River's case, not the very least because she's a fugitive who the Alliance and the Academy want back very badly.
- Thicker Than Water: Behold, the Power of Brotherhood.
- This Is Reality: The Operative.
"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."
- Throw the Dog a Bone: River, in particular, is the one getting the bone.
- Tired of Running: "I aim to misbehave."
- Token Evil Teammate: Jayne Cobb (or at least more amoral than the rest of them anyway).
- Took a Level in Badass: River. Boy did she ever.
- Touch of Death: The Operator has one of these, though it's not precisely the touch itself which is deadly.
- Tranquil Fury: Zoe and River both get this when their respective loved ones are hurt (or in Zoe's case, killed).
- Tranquillizer Dart: Kaylee gets three darts to the neck during the final battle, but never does completely lose consciousness.
- Trigger Happy: Jayne. Mal against the Operative.
- Trigger Phrase: River, and how.
- Trojan Horse: How Serenity runs the gauntlet through the Reaver ships.
- 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.
- Tyke Bomb: River.
- Undying Loyalty: "Love...something far more dangerous".
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Mal and Inara.
- 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's the UST trying to explode your television/computer.
- Unstoppable Rage: River falls into a very calm rage when Simon gets shot.
- Unusual Euphemism: Between the Mildly Mandarin swearing, the use of archaic words like "quim", and various other slang such as "gorram" and "shiny", It's hard to find examples of usual euphemisms on this show.
- Used Future: Justified.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The Operative and the Alliance's goal.
- Villainous Breakdown: Happens to the Operative when he sees the Reaver ships following Serenity.
- Voice of the Resistance: the broadwave of the Miranda recording might qualify.
- Voice with an Internet Connection: the appropriately-named Mr Universe.
- Waif Fu: River, again. Those poor Reavers.
- Waif Prophet: River.
- Watching Troy Burn: Haven.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Operative. The Alliance.
- What a Piece of Junk!: Serenity, but never tell Kaylee.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Zoe points out that Mal could have saved a man's life simply by dumping the loot from a heist.
- What You Are in the Dark: Nobody but Simon would have known if he had abandoned River. Not even River herself.
- World of Cardboard Speech: River gets one.
- Worth Living For: Played for laughs when Simon spits it out.
- Wrap It Up
- Wrench Wench: Kaylee.
- You Are Already Dead: A variant, the Operative uses a nerve strike, that while not deadly in and of itself, does leave them paralyzed so he can stab them with his sword.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Mal, Simon, and River.
- You Have Failed Me...
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.
- You Have to Have Jews: David Krumholtz as Mr Universe, who is even shown stamping his foot on something during his... "wedding".
- You Might Remember Me From: Ron Glass, who plays Shepherd Book, is probably best known as Detective Harris on Barney Miller.
- You Rebel Scum: From most Alliance officials.
- You Shall Not Pass: River's Turn, when the only thing standing between the badly injured and exhausted crew and the oncoming Reaver hordes are some broken blast doors.
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.
- Pax is Latin for Peace.