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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

(0:00-41:51 of the Serenity movie DVD)

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon


River gets “activated” by a subliminal message planted in a TV commercial.


(This episode begins with young River's class at school and ends with Mr. Universe asking Mal, "Do you all know what it is you're carrying?")


Read the full movie summary at the Firefly and Serenity Database


Didja Know?


This study covers the first 42 minutes of the two-hour theatrical film Serenity. I've divided the movie into three ~42-minute episodes, each with a unique title as well.


Though the TV series was produced and aired by the Fox television network, series creator Joss Whedon signed with Universal for the movie.


Twentieth Century Fox owns the rights to the name Firefly but creator Joss Whedon owns the rights to the franchise itself, so he changed the franchise name to Serenity in order to make the movie and produce/license stories (and other products) in other mediums such as comic books.


Didja Notice?


The opening Universal logo of the Earth changes into Earth-That-Was for the lesson in young River's class. 


At 0:53 on the DVD, one of the buildings seen in the unnamed futuristic city is based on the Emirates Towers in the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Cityscape Emirates Towers


At 1:15 on the DVD, what at first appears to be a large building on one of the outer worlds is actually a landed spaceship, partly buried in the desert sand.


Behind the teacher at 1:37 on the DVD, the screen lists the names of several of the planets of the Verse.


It sounds like the voice of young River in the class setting is provided by the adult actress of River, Summer Glau, rather than the young actress seen.


The doctor who is presiding over experimentation on River when Simon breaks her out of the facility is Dr. Mathias. He was previously mentioned in "The R. Tam Sessions".


The background and planning of Simon's rescue attempt here is seen in more detail in "River Run".


At 4:55 on the DVD, a cabinet labeled Pyxis SupplyStation can be seen in the background. The Pyxis SupplyStation is a real world product for storing and documentation of medical supplies, made by CareFusion.


At 6:42 on the DVD, notice that an image of a winged, hooded figure is visible on the shimmering force field door of the records room. This symbol is seen at the beginnings of the videos which make up "The R. Tam Sessions", suggesting it is a logo of The Academy.


Dr. Mathias describes the character known as the Operative more fully as "an operative of the Parliament".


The Operative remarks to Dr. Mathias that, like the doctor's facility, "I don't exist."


Notice that Dr. Mathias' tie has "straps" holding it against his shirt. Possibly the straps are to keep the tie from flapping into an experiment or procedure as he works. Or maybe it's just 26th Century fashion, their version of a tie clip.


The Operative suggests that Simon spent his entire fortune developing the contacts to infiltrate the secret facility from which he rescued River.


Notice that the prelude of the film (0:00-9:31) is made up of three scenes that are formed from a dream within a hologram within a flashback.


There are a number of minor differences in the look of Serenity in this movie as compared to her look in the TV series. The digital model of Serenity and the ship's sets had to be reconstructed for the film, essentially from scratch. Apparently Joss chose to update some aspects of the ship's appearance to accommodate the higher definition of the big screen. Some fans choose to believe that Mal finally managed to sell the Lassiter (the extremely valuable antique laser gun the crew stole in "Trash" and were later said to be having trouble unloading in "The Message") and used his share of the money to have an overhaul and other modifications made on Serenity (as well buying the hover-mule to replace the ground-based ATV seen in the TV series, which was heavily damaged in "War Stories"). Some of Serenity's differences are listed below: 


  • The ship's name is painted differently.
TV Movie
  • The "wing" supports appear a bit different, being more detailed, and now hold the retractable landing gear (which were previously seen in the bottom of the cargo hold portion of the ship in the TV episodes).
  • There are a number of differences on the bridge such as: consoles looking generally a bit more sophisticated; the lockers are now gone, replaced by computer banks; Wash's steering control is different.
  • The lounge area off the kitchen is larger, with more seats.
  • The gravity drive and engine room look different.
  • The passengers' lounge in front of the infirmary has been redesigned a bit and has different furniture.
  • The infirmary has also been redesigned a bit and has new equipment and a new diagnostic chair.
  • The cargo bay has a more metallic sheen to it, previously a rusty-brown.
  • A much larger set of retractable landing gear is seen at 15:02 on the DVD.


At 11:40 on the DVD, it looks as if the crew were just about to sit down to a meal, as the dining room table is loaded with dishes of food as the captain walks past it. But half the crew immediately jumps aboard the hover mule to pull the heist, not stopping for food first. So, why is the meal spread out there at that time in the first place?


At 13:10 on the DVD, there appears to be a mechanical model of a solar system sitting on one of the tables in the passengers' lounge.


Simon reveals that River is 17 years old at this time.


During the rockety landing sequence, Mal and Simon make their way to the infirmary, where Simon gives the captain a shot. This was an inoculation against planetside diseases; note that about a minute earlier at 12:22 on the DVD, Mal said to him, "Guess I need to get innocked 'fore we hit planetside."


Mal is wearing more "space-age" looking suspenders in this film than the ones he wore in the TV series.


Besides the Chinese, some Hindi and Arabic words are seen as labels on equipment and ships throughout the movie, especially the words for "danger".


Apparently they still have Sundays in the days of the week in the Verse, because Zoe remarks, as their bandit party climbs into the mule, they should hit town during Sunday worship. Tuesday was mentioned in "Trash".


Mal comments that "Fanty and Mingo" have set the crew on to this particular payroll heist. Later, we meet the two scoundrels, who are identical twins. The novelization reveals their full names are Mingojerrie and Fantastic Rample, with Mingojerrie being a misremembering of Mungojerrie from T.S. Eliot's 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. However, the names Fanty and Mingo were originally derived by Whedon from gangster characters played by Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman in the 1955 film The Big Combo.


The security monitor at 17:08 on the DVD displays what seems to be the brand name in the top left corner, Comvue. This appears to be a fictional company.


A sign behind Mal at 17:27 on the DVD reads Galactic Post, presumably a post office, judging from the post-office-box-like slots on the wall behind it.


The tower at the center of town seen at 19:59 on the DVD appears to be a spiral ziggurat, probably a mosque.


At 21:13 on the DVD, the hover-mule takes out a fruit stand and yellow awning as it races out of town. But it's all back in place just seconds later when the Reaver ship chases them!


At 22:43 on the DVD, the mule passes what appears to be a transparent welcome sign to the town as they depart (we see it from behind).


The Reavers as seen here remind me of the possessed Martian miners in the 2001 film Ghosts of Mars, what with the self-mutilation, ragged hair and clothing, and hyperactive destructive natures.


Wash refers to the maneuver in which he pilots Serenity to scoop up the moving hover-mule as a "barn swallow", probably a reference to the bird found around the world on Earth-That-Was, which would swoop low over a body of water in order to scoop up a drink in its beak.


After escaping from the Reavers after the heist on Lilac, Zoe reports up to a worried Wash that there were no casualties. But the term "casualties" includes injured, and Jayne was injured by a Reaver harpoon spear in his leg.


At 27:41 on the DVD, a large, cylindrical container is seen behind the seated River which says REUSABLE CONTAINER, DO NOT DESTROY.


As Serenity is grabbed by the giant robot hand and docked at the port on Beaumonde, notice at 31:42 on the DVD that the computer green screen at the dock is forming a schematic of a Firefly-class ship as it identifies the type of vessel.


Beaumonde was mentioned, but not seen, in "Our Mrs. Reynolds"


The security cam footage in the Maidenhead bar at 30:51 on the DVD shows Mal and Jayne joining Fanty and Mingo at their table before they've even arrived!


At 34:07 on the DVD, it looks like Mal is wearing a small earpiece, but it was not there in previous or following scenes.


Wash mostly wears more professional-looking attire here than in the TV series, where he wore mostly brightly-colored shirts. He does wear a Hawaiian-style shirt on Beaumonde though.


At the Maidenhead bar, Jayne is wearing a shirt that appears to be from a security uniform. The shoulder patch looks like the same logo used by the security company at the vault where the crew pulled their recent heist on Lilac.


When River is triggered by the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial and the tussle begins, notice that at about 38:38 on the DVD an alarm begins to sound in the bar and protective barriers slide into place over the bar and kitchen windows. 


Watch the full Fruity Oaty Bars Commercial below. Not mandatory. (Attention viewers: PopApostle is not responsible for freak-outs or loss of minds).
"Fruity Oaty Bars
Make a man out of a mouse
Fruity Oaty Bars
Make you bust out of your blouse
Eat 'em all the time
Let 'em blow your mind
Blow your little mind
Fruity Oaty Bars
Fruity Oaty Bars"

(Asian man in the middle of the jingle says, "Wuo hun diou lyen. Wuo may yo chr Fruity Oaty Bar." Translation: "I am very ashamed. I didn't eat a Fruity Oaty Bar.")


Among the lyrics of the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial is "Let 'em blow your mind". Ironically, River's mind is blown by the subliminal in the commercial!


At various points in the bar scene, the maidenhead (i.e. of a sailing ship) of the Maidenhead can be seen hanging above the bar counter.


The code phrase Simon uses that makes River fall asleep during her fit of violence is "Eto kuram na smekh." This is Russian for "even chickens will laugh at that", which is a Russian idiom meaning "that's absurd". This phrase was also used on her by an Academy doctor in "River Run".


At 36:22 on the DVD, notice that another ship follows the Operative's in the distance.


As the Operative reviews Mal's record at 36:31 on the DVD, Mal's full first name is spelled wrong, "Malcom". At 36:35, the record shows that he was a captain in the Independent Army; he has always been described as a sergeant in previous stories.


   As the Operative reviews Mal's record at 36:38 on the DVD, we see his birth date listed as 9/20/2468. Since the film is believed to take place in 2518 (see discussion within the Firefly Timeline at The Signal website), this would make Mal 39-40 years old in this story.

   Mal's date of birth is probably also a reference to the premiere date of Firefly on television, 9/20/2002. 


Mal's record also shows he was born on the planet Shadow (as he previously told Saffron in "Our Mrs. Reynolds"). His Social Control number is 099.836.5.4112 (presumably this is analogous, though more creepy sounding, to the Social Security number assigned to citizens of the United States in the real world).


Mal claims it's been 8 months that River has been on Serenity. That seems a short amount of time to cover the entire TV series and other licensed stories...but possible. However, The Shepherd's Tale states that Shepherd Book was aboard Serenity for two years before his death (in "A Better World"). Book first boarded Serenity in the pilot episode of Firefly (see "Serenity").


At 39:25 on the DVD, River mouths Mal's words as he sullenly remarks that it has crossed his mind they may have to put a bullet in her.


Mr. Universe mentions that his lovebot wife is named Lenore.


Wash uses the term "newswave" the way we would use newscast and Mal uses the term "broadwave" to describe something similar to what we would call broadcast. 


At 40:11 on the DVD, one of the images on Mr. Universe's many video monitors appears to be that of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless in three Flash Gordon serials from 1936-1940. Other images on the screens I've not been able to identify.
One of Mr. Universe's monitors Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1936)


In the video clip of Mr. Universe's wedding ceremony, we see that he is wearing a yarmulke and stomping on glass wrapped in cloth. This tends to indicate he is Jewish, as the yarmulke is a cloth head cap worn by Jewish men, either all the time or during prayer or religious ceremonies. The breaking of glass is a part of the Jewish wedding ceremony whose origins are lost in history, but may be a memorial of the destruction of the Holy Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 


Notes from the Deleted Scenes on the DVD


The deleted scene titled "Operative Tracks Mal" reveals that Mal, when he was a Sergeant for the Browncoats in the war, was a member of the 57th Overlanders, Balls and Bayonets Brigade.


The same scene above reveals Zoe's birth date as 2/15/2484.  Since the film is believed to take place in 2518 (see discussion within the Firefly Timeline at The Signal website), this would make Zoe about 34 years old in this story.


Zoe's record also reveals she was born vesselside, most likely meaning she was born on a ship in space. Her Social Control number is 129.426.3.1523. Her last name at the time of the war (presumably her maiden name) was Alleyne.


Chinese translations
(Thanks to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary for the translations)
Time on DVD Chinese English
1:37 Chinese characters on holoscreen. Unknown.
1:56 The teacher says, "Bao-tuo, an-jing-eedyen!" "We will enjoy your silence now!"
2:03 Chinese writing on River's desktop screen and notepad. Unknown.
12:08 Chinese word "Ninjing" behind the Serenity designation painted on the hull of Serenity. Serenity
14:17 First visible in the cargo bay, but later seen in other places around the ship, are red-and-gold labels with Chinese characters spelling "jing", presumably an abbreviation of "ninjing", Serenity. Serenity
14:22 Mal says to Simon, "Dong-luh-mah? Ni cho lyen, yo may yo?" "Are we clear here? Do you have a worried face?"
16:13 Chinese characters on the mule spell out "wan lin". (These also appear near Serenity's cargo bay doors.) According to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary, the words are essentially gibberish, meaning "pill" and "at the time of". The site speculates it is meant to mean "danger" since they often appear next to the Hindi and Arabic words.
17:35 The Chinese word in the middle of the security monitor screen is "dingxiang" (there are also a number of unidentified Chinese words and the Arabic word for...) Lilac (the name of the moon on which the crew is pulling its heist)
18:01 Chinese words on the guard's security badge. Unknown.
22:21 Wash says, "Ai-yah. Tyen-ah..." "Merciless hell..."
24:02 Chinese characters on steel compartments in cargo bay. Unknown.
24:51 Zoe says, "Da jee-ah tzwo sha!" "Everybody sit down!"
27:01 Mal says, "Nee tzao ss-ma? Nee-yow wuh-kai chang?" "You wanna bullet? You wanna bullet right through your throat?"
29:49 Jayne's t-shirt says "Ci shan Fu wu Tuan ti" Philanthropic Service Organization
31:59 Several Chinese words on signs throughout the shot of the city. Unknown.
33:27 Chinese words on Maidenhead security camera view Unknown.
33:41 Chinese words on screen during the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial: Hao chi; Tian Tasty; Sweet
36:04 Simon speaks a Russian code phrase to put River to sleep, "Eta Kooram Nah Smech!" "That's ridiculous!" (See explanation of idiomatic and literal translations at the Pinyinary.)
36:31 Various Chinese words appear on the monitor screen as the Operative views security cam footage from the Maidenhead and reviews Mal's record. Unknown.


Memorable Dialog


living weapon.wav

forgot to bring a sword.wav

where are you hiding.wav

this landing is gonna get pretty interesting.wav

we may experience some slight turbulence.wav

how many weapons you plannin' on takin'.wav

this isn't fear.wav

your fine example.wav

it's ok to leave them to die.wav

authorization password.wav

sure would be nice if we had some grenades.wav

I swallowed a bug.wav

cap'n'll drive us all off one by one.wav

I could stand to hear a little more.wav

tell that to Inara.wav

my muscular buttocks.wav


Jayne gets knocked out by a 90-pound girl.wav

it's crossed my mind.wav

is this the wrong crowd?.wav

I think we need to talk to Mr. Universe.wav

the very best violence.wav

you sultry minx.wav


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