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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

TV episode
("Serenity" hour 1)
0:00-43:17 on the DVD

Written and directed by Joss Whedon


The crew of the smuggling ship Serenity take on some passengers, not knowing the people may be even more hazardous to carry than their standard cargo.


Read the full episode summary at the Firefly and Serenity Database


Didja Know?


This study covers hour 1 of the two-hour premiere episode "Serenity" of the Firefly TV series. I have chosen to retain the title "Serenity" for hour 1 of this episode, with hour 2 falling under the title "Government Goods" in a separate study (as I prefer to keep a 1-hour episodic TV series in 1-hour chunks). It seems to me that all the "Serenity" titles in this franchise could get confusing; there's the premiere 2-hour (now 2-part) episode "Serenity", the movie Serenity, and the re-branding of the franchise as Serenity (since Fox still owned the rights to the name Firefly but creator Joss Whedon owned the rights to the franchise itself). So I've tried to pare them down, keeping just this first of hour of the premiere as "Serenity" and the re-branded franchise name of Serenity (I've divided the movie Serenity into three ~42-minute episodes, each with a unique title as well, beginning with "Triggered").


The TV show's theme song "The Ballad of Serenity" was written by series creator Joss Whedon and performed by blues singer Sonny Rhodes.

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me

Take me out to the black
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me

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


Actress Rebecca Gayheart was originally cast as Inara, but during filming of this episode, Joss felt the fit wasn't right and Morena Baccarin was brought in for the role instead.


The stories presented thus far in the Serenity universe all take place in a single, rather large, star system containing dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, many of which have been terraformed to support human life, often referred to as "the Verse". (Several brown dwarf stars in the Verse have also been helioformed into proto-stars to enable their orbiting worlds to support to human life.) According to The Verse in Numbers, the Verse is a system within the constellation Taurs, specifically 34Tauri(2020), discovered by an astronomer of Earth in July of 2020. "Earth-that-was" is never seen, but occasionally mentioned as no longer being capable of supporting the large numbers of humans that had lived and bred there, so the species fled to this newly-discovered system (now long ago in the timeline of the series). The TV series takes place in the year 2517. As the series progresses, we learn that the United States and China had become a merged culture and ruling government of Earth, and now of the new star system, a government called the Alliance.


The populated worlds of the Verse and their suns are listed in the Map of the Verse, a double-sided poster available from Qmx. The image below is one side of the poster, from the book Firefly: Still Flying, a tribute to the TV series. The site also has a ridiculously detailed history of the Verse to justify how they arrived at the Map: The Verse in Numbers. Notice also that one of the stars is referred to as the Blue Sun; presumably, this system is the home of the Blue Sun Corporation.


Through the course of the series, it seems to me that the setting of the Firefly/Serenity universe is Joss Whedon's version of the original trilogy of Star Wars films, on a smaller scale. Note the similarities to the Imperial government of Star Wars and the Alliance one here; even the uniforms are similar (though the costumes were actually originally used in the 1997 film Starship Troopers), and the large military ships are another commonality (Joss has borrowed the "Alliance" name of the rebellion of Star Wars and given it to the "evil" government instead). The Browncoats (otherwise known as the Independent Faction) are the "Republic", which lost the war. Mal is Han Solo and Serenity his Millennium Falcon. Inara is Princess Leia (ok, a hooker Princess Leia). Shepherd Book is, essentially, a lost Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi (spiritual, but more than able to defend himself and others in a physical battle). River is the new hope, like Luke Skywalker; capable of great things if she can adapt and learn about herself in time, all the while evading the clutches of the government that wants to use her for its own ends. The "outlying worlds" of the system are analogous to the Outer Rim worlds of the Star Wars galaxy. I'll be pointing out other similarities as we go through the individual studies.


In addition to the Star Wars analogies above, the concept of a single solar system with a fairly large number of human-inhabited worlds is reminiscent of the star system of the Twelve Colonies of Man in Battlestar Galactica.


IMDB states, "Some of the weapons used in the series were contemporary with the time of production and chosen based on their somewhat futuristic look. No modifications were made by the prop department to either disguise them or make them look more futuristic. Alliance soldiers are seen carrying British SA80 rifles and Heckler & Koch MP5s, both in variant models. The Browncoats are seen using Heckler & Koch G36 rifles."


Didja Notice?


The Prelude of this episode depicts the final volleys of the Battle of Serenity Valley during the Unification War in 2511, six years prior to when our saga proper begins.


During the Battle of Serenity Valley in the prelude, Mal tells the corporal they need some gorram air support. This is Verse-speak for "god damn".


At 1:37 on the DVD, Mal refers to the enemy as "those arrogant Khangs". Possibly "Khangs" is a reference to Du-Khang, the site of a protracted battle between the Alliance and the Independents as suggested in the later episode "The Message".


At 1:47 on the DVD, notice that Mal pulls a crucifix pendant from under his shirt collar and seems to make a quick, silent prayer before kissing it and rushing off once again into the battle. This is in stark contrast to his disdain for God and religion as captain of the Serenity six years later. It would seem that he feels it was a betrayal by God that the Alliance won the war for control of the system. The novel Big Damn Hero later reveals that he keeps the crucifix as a reminder of an old flame, Jinny Adare, who was killed in an Alliance attack on Shadow about a week before Mal was called up to fight for the Independents. The book states that the day Jinny died was pretty much the day he lost whatever religious faith he'd had.


At 1:55 on the DVD, we see several metallic drums in the trenches of the battle. One of them seems to be labeled "CREAPURE". To my knowledge, Creapure is a brand of creatine monohydrate, often used as a food supplement capable of building muscle mass and also increasing cognitive ability (see Creapure's website here). Perhaps the Independent Faction was feeding this to their troops to keep them strong and sharp in battle? 


At 2:51 on the DVD, the symbol at the top of the targeting screen of the Alliance anti-aircraft gun commandeered by Mal is the logo of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from the Alien franchise of films! Since one of Weyland-Yutani's areas of business is the terraforming of worlds in the Alien films, perhaps they were heavily involved in the terraforming of the worlds of the Verse. (It's also an in-joke to the fact that Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay of the fourth film of the Alien franchise, 1997's Alien Resurrection.)
Alliance Anti-aircraft gun Weyland-Yutani logo as seen in the Alien films


The Chinese characters on the gun sight above represent: Power Consumption; Meters; Apex; Meters; Angle; "Ping" sound; "Ping" sound. (Source: Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary)


Obviously, Mal would later go on to name his Firefly-class transport ship Serenity after this battle in which his side all but lost the war.


At 5:15 on the DVD, we can see the explosive goo is already in place around the airlock control even though we won't see Mal apply it until 23 seconds later.


Both Jayne and Zoe use the word "humped" here in place of "fucked", as in upon detecting an approaching Alliance cruiser, "If they find us at all, we're humped."


Notice that at 7:45 on the DVD, the vertical pylon of the Alliance ship seen on screen has the ship's name, Dortmunder, painted on it. Possibly the Dortmunder is a reference to the fictional character John Dortmunder, a somewhat light-hearted thief (not unlike our Firefly protagonists) in a series of novels and stories by Donald E. Westlake.


As they activate the decoy called the cry baby, Mal says "Cry, baby, cry," to which Wash responds, "Make your mother sigh." These are lines from the 1968 Beatles song "Cry Baby Cry."


Notice that the cry baby canister is made from a can of Blue Sun Coffee.


Throughout the series, notice that in space no one can hear you scream. Or shoot. Or fire your engines. Firefly is the rare (only?) science-fiction television series that actually obeys the physical law that sound does not travel in a vacuum.


The commander of the Dortmunder orders a bulletin put out on the cortex about the Firefly freighter with possible stolen goods. The cortex is later revealed to be the future equivalent of the internet, on an interplanetary scale. He also orders Interpol to be flagged on the incident. In the real world, Interpol is the shorthand name of the International Criminal Police Organization. Possibly here it has simply been expanded to be the Interplanetary Criminal Police Organization.


Having escaped the Dortmunder, Wash tells Mal, "We look shiny, Captain." In the Verse, "shiny" means "good" or "valuable".


At 12:08 on the DVD, the bar Mal holds up from the Alliance crate has Chinese characters imprinted on it. (According to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary, this same symbol appears on the Dortmunder captain's metal chest pin and is Tong meng, Chinese for "Alliance".) Although they at first appear to be some kind of metal bars, "Government Goods" reveals them to be nutrition/immunization bars.


Notice the door in the Serenity corridor at 13:32 on the DVD. This is the entrance to ever-cheerful Kaylee's quarters and it has Christmas lights strung up around it.


The Eavesdown Docks are located on the planet Persephone. According to the Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book, Persephone is the most Earth-like of all the worlds in the Verse.


A number of erotic figurines are seen in Inara's shuttle at 14:47 on the DVD.


According to the audio commentary by Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion on the DVD, the Chinese symbol yu on the hourglass in Inara's shuttle would be translated as "short interval". The hourglass may represent the amount of time the customer is permitted to spend with the companion (Inara); "short interval" may also be a joking reference to the amount of time the typical patron is able to prevent climax during sexual intercourse with her.


During her after-sex conversation with her customer, Inara talks about the planet Sihnon. This is one of the major core worlds, with an Eastern influence. Inara was born there, and it is also where most Companions receive their training, suggesting the Companion occupation has a geisha influence.


Notice that, as Inara's customer leaves, he is wearing an Alliance uniform, indicating he is a member of the Alliance military.

At 16:47 on the DVD, as Inara's shuttle lifts off from a city on Persephone, a pillar is labeled as "SOUSA". It may be a corporate name, though, as far as I know, it does not have a significant impact in the Firefly/Serenity storyline. (Maybe it means "so USA"? Although there appears to be a lot of Asian influence in the Eavesdown Docks of this world.)


Kaylee tells Mal the compression coil on the Serenity's engines may need to be replaced soon, but he prohibits her from purchasing a replacement while they are on Persephone, possibly leading to the malfunction that puts the ship and crew in trouble later in "Out of Gas", when the catalyzer on the port compression coil blows out.


At 17:52 on the DVD, a figure (presumably a production crewmember) can be seen moving to screen right to hide as Wash drives the Mule down the cargo ramp. At 18:00, a production crewmember's hand can be seen grabbing the front bumper of the Mule, presumably to pull the vehicle forward.


At 18:11 on the DVD, the food vendor at Eavesdown Docks advertises "Good dogs!" Rather than "hot dogs", this appears to refer to the barbequed meat of actual dogs as evidenced by the live dogs held in cages in the background and the ragged chunks of meat shown cooking on the barbie. Some Asian countries, including China, are known to consume dog meat.


At 18:35 on the DVD, a ship-hand tries to tempt Shepherd Book into booking his travel on the Brutus. The side of the Brutus shows that it is (or was) part of the Orion Cruise Line.


Mal walks past a sign that says TG Freight at 19:00 on the DVD. TG Freight is the front company of the criminal on Persephone known as Badger.


At 19:07 on the DVD, notice that Badger's desk appears to be made out of two crates for support and (at 19:27) grilled plating as the desk top. Also notice some kind of old-style phone on the left-hand side of screen.


Anyone able to identify the artist of this Good Girl Art in Badger's office at 19:22 on the DVD? Email me at the address at the top of the page or post on our Facebook page. Is it the work of Alberto Vargas (1896-1982)? (Since the time this was originally posted on PopApostle, reader Joe Heiland got in touch with Firefly set decorator David Koneff, who said it was not a Vargas print, just an item from an old 20th Century Fox prop house which was probably studio painted in the 1940s or '50s for a movie.)


At 19:25 on the DVD, a man appears to be acting as stenographer during the meeting between Mal and Badger.


Looking at the items on his desk, around his office, and his way of dressing, Badger appears to have an affinity for old-timey stuff.


Mal uses the term "tetchy" in reference to Badger. In the Verse, this means "sensitive" or "complaining"; possibly a twist on "touchy". 


At 22:07 on the DVD we can see the name of Serenity painted in both English and Chinese (Pingjing) on the hull of the ship.


At 22:28 on the DVD, the shipping container behind Shepherd Book appears to have a sign labeling it "Super Food".


There's a large Blue Sun corporate sign behind Book and Kaylee at 22:58 on the DVD. The Chinese characters on it also say Blue Sun, Qing Ri.


Book reveals that he was a shepherd at Southdown Abbey (presumably on Persephone). It's not revealed why he chose to leave the abbey, other than he wants to walk the world for a while.


The duel with wooden swords seen at 23:41 on the DVD may be an example of street kabuki. In traditional Japanese kabuki theater, heavily made-up and costumed performers present dramas which may include staged duels such as seen here.


At 24:15 on the DVD, Jayne says, "No ruttin' way." Since "rutting" is the mating of ruminant mammals on Earth, Jayne is essentially saying, "No fuckin' way."


The glasses Simon wears at 25:37 on the DVD when we first meet him are later revealed in "Better Days" Part 1 to be special ones that prevent his retinas from being scanned by sensors in the environment. Obviously he wears them here to prevent his identification as a fugitive from Alliance law.


When Inara docks her shuttle with Serenity at Eavesdown docks at 26:58 on the DVD, a Lambda-class Imperial Shuttle (from the Star Wars films) can be seen taking off in the background.


Notice that the dining table in the kitchen area of Serenity appears to be a common wood table, though with metal supports. The chairs are a mismatch of various types; individual chairs seem to come and go over the course of the episodes.


During the dining sequence, Mal and Kaylee use chopsticks to eat, while the rest use forks and spoons.


At 35:01 on the DVD, there is what appears to be a hookah in Inara's shuttle on the right-hand side of the screen. It is seen in later episodes as well.


At 36:18, notice that Mal has apparently just finished urinating into a fold-down toilet in his quarters!


Dobson holds a Vektor CP1 pistol on River and Simon. This is a real world weapon.


When Simon is being arrested by Dobson, Mal refers to the young, rich doctor as Lord Fauntleroy. "Lord Fauntleroy" is a term of derision used by English speakers to refer to a young, pampered brat of a boy. The name is derived from the 1886 children's novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, though in the book, the young Lord is quite humble and compassionate.


When Mal tries to pick up his discarded gun again, Dobson tells him to get away from it, saying, "Do you think I'm a complete back-birth?" In the Verse, "backbirth" is a reference to someone dumb or born on one of the backwater worlds.


At 41:47 on the DVD, we see that Kaylee has a puffy teddy bear patch sewed onto her pants leg.


Chinese translations
(Thanks to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary for the translations)
Time on DVD Chinese English
7:16 Mal says, "Ta ma de." "Dammit."
7:25 Mal says, "Bizui." "Shut up."
7:33 Kaylee says, "Shi" "Affirmative."
8:49 Wash says, "Aiya! Huaile." Essentially, "Something's wrong."
12:11 Mal says to Wash, "Bizui." "Shut up."
17:19 Chinese tattoo on the woman's face shou bu gan jia jia=the hand dares not hike the price
17:56 Wash tells Zoe, "Zhen ta ma yao ming. Zhu yi." "This is pretty damned dangerous. Watch your back."
19:00 Chinese writing on the TG Freight sign Tai kong=Outer Space
34:51 Inara says, "Qing jin," when Book knocks on her door. "Come in."
36:30 The Chinese wall-hanging in Mal's quarters is partially obscured, but seems to symbolize... "marital bliss, longevity, wealth" (The "marital bliss" part seems odd for Mal to have hanging in his quarters; is a loving, marital relationship something he actually longs for?)
36:52 Mal grumbles some Chinese when Wash informs him there must be an Alliance mole on board, "Ni ta ma de. Tianxia suoyoude ren. Dou gaisi." "Everyone under the heavens ought to die."
39:26 The white pipe on the ceiling visible above the wounded Kaylee has Chinese writing. Wei, Dian, Fen=Danger, Electricity, Vapor
39:44 As Inara tries to comfort Kaylee after she's been shot, she says, "xiao meimei." "little sister"


Notes from the book Firefly: Still Flying, a retrospective of the series


The small keyboards that appear on walls throughout Serenity's rooms and hallways are actual Motorola KDT480 keyboards, originally used for the mobile police computer terminals found in squad cars.


Notes from Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book


The Central Planets of the Verse (in the White Sun System) have a popluation of almost 50 billion people.


The White Sun system is encirceld by an asteroid belt called "The Halo".


The Alliance cruiser Dortmunder is a Tohuku-class cruiser.


Mal's sidearm is referred to as the Liberty Hammer, a Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model 8 handgun.


Zoe's sidearm is referred to as a Mare's Leg, a Winchester Model 1892 carbine. The weapon design was first named in the 1958-1961 Steve McQueen TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive. The gun used on Firefly is a prop that was originally used by a character played by Sheena Easton on the 1993-94 TV series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..


The Road Runner-class Independent Blockade Runner ship was manufactured by Weyland-Yutani for the Independents during the Unification War.


Other ship types not seen in the TV series are Arbitrator-class Alliance Patrol Boat, Justice-class Alliance Gunship, Lieshou-class Alliance Destroyer, and Orion-class Alliance Enforcement Craft.


The RPG adventure titled "What's Yours is Mine" features a female character called Marion Morrison. "Marion Morrison" is the real of the iconic American western movie star, John Wayne (1907-1979). The villain of the piece is Etienne du Bujac, the real name of actor Bruce Cabot (1904-1972), who often worked with Wayne in films. The sheriff of the small mining town of Hannibal in this adventure is Izzy Demsky, the real name of actor Kirk Douglas. 


Memorable Dialog


we are just too pretty.wav

we will rule over all this land.wav

I love my captain.wav

something ain't right.wav

I'm just the husband.wav

your mouth is talking.wav

even if they were looking for it.wav

if anyone gets nosy.wav

the term is Companion.wav

do you mind if I say grace?.wav

walk away from this table.wav

if you'd prefer a lecture.wav

is there a reward?.wav 


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