Serenity is a 2005 space western film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is a continuation of the short-lived 2002 Fox science fiction television series Firefly, taking place after the events of the final episode. Set in 2518, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of a cargo ship. The captain and first mate are veterans of the Unification War, having fought on the losing side. Their lives of petty crime are interrupted by a psychic passenger who harbors a dangerous secret.
In 2518, humanity has moved to another star system. The inner planets are controlled by the Alliance with frontier justice among the outer planets. A young girl, River Tam, is being mentally and physically conditioned by Alliance scientists. She is rescued from them by her brother, Simon and the two seek refuge aboard the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity captained by Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. An Alliance agent, the Operative, is tasked with eliminating River as she has been observed by Alliance politicians and may have learned certain secrets due to her psychic abilities.
Aboard Serenity, Mal brings River on a bank raid against her brother’s wishes. They are attacked by Reavers, animalistic humans who savagely mutilate, rape, and murder their victims. They escape, but Simon decides to leave Serenity at the next port. While Mal meets fences Fanty and Mingo, River becomes entranced by a TV commercial and begins attacking everyone. Before she can attack Mal, Simon arrives and shouts a “safe word” which causes her to fall asleep. Mal then picks River up and carries her back to Serenity. The crew contacts a reclusive hacker known as Mr. Universe who analyzes the commercial and discovers a subliminal message being broadcast across the Alliance designed to trigger River. He notes that River whispered the name “Miranda” before attacking.
Mal receives a call from Inara, a former passenger. Suspecting a trap but realizing that she is in danger, Mal visits Inara and is confronted by the Operative. The Operative offers to let Mal go free if he turns River over, but thanks to Inara’s quick thinking she and Mal escape. After another of River’s outbursts, the crew learns about Miranda, an outer rim planet thought to have been rendered uninhabitable as the result of a terraforming accident. Serenity travels to Haven, a mining colony and home of Shepherd Book, a former passenger and friend of the crew. They discover the outpost has been destroyed by Alliance forces. The Operative has ordered the deaths of all of Mal’s contacts to deny him a safe haven and promises that he will continue to pursue them until River is turned over.
Mal orders Serenity modified to resemble a Reaver ship so they can reach Miranda. After sailing through a fleet of Reaver vessels, the crew discovers a normal planet, with its cities empty and laden with corpses. They discover a log recorded by an Alliance survey team explaining that the Alliance administered a chemical designed to suppress aggression, which killed off the populace. However, one tenth of the population instead became hyper-aggressive and unstable. The Alliance is responsible for the creation of the Reavers.
Mal contacts Mr. Universe’s transmitter to arrange to have the log transmitted throughout the verse, but the Operative is already there. Serenity departs Miranda, but as they leave Reaver territory, they open fire on one of the ships. The Reavers pursue Serenity to Mr. Universe’s planet where they engage the waiting Alliance fleet. The Operative’s ship is destroyed but he survives in an escape pod. In the confusion, Serenity manages to crash land, but pilot Wash is killed by a pursuing Reaver ship. Finding Mr. Universe dead, Mal learns from a recorded message of a second transmitter. The crew sets up a last stand against the pursuing Reavers, buying Mal the time he needs to send the message. The crew find themselves overwhelmed by the Reavers and retreat behind a set of blast doors, but find they will not close. Zoe and Kaylee are injured, but Simon discovers he has left his medical kit at their prior position. As he rises to retrieve it, he is shot. He apologizes to River for failing her, but she announces that it is her turn to take care of Simon. She charges through the blast doors, triggering the closing mechanism and throws the medical kit to Simon before being dragged away by Reavers.
Mal finds the transmitter, but The Operative reveals himself and the two begin fighting. Mal disables The Operative and restrains him next to a railing, forcing him to watch the recording from Miranda. Mal returns to his crew finding them safe. The blast doors open to reveal River has single-handedly defeated the Reavers. The wall behind her explodes and they are surrounded by Alliance troops. The Operative, realizing he has been lied to by the government, gives the order for Alliance operatives to stand down from executing the Serenity crew.
After the crew buries their dead friends on Haven, they patch up Serenity in a repair yard on Persephone. Kaylee and Simon consummate their relationship. The Operative tells Mal that the Alliance has been weakened and that Mal and his crew are safe for the moment. Serenity returns to space with Mal at the helm and River acting as copilot.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film: