Firefly vs. Serenity: different universes?

Firefly vs. Serenity

(why I think they're set in slightly different universes)

The movie Serenity is based on the TV series Firefly--of that there is no doubt. Same general premise, same basic characters, etc. Many people assume the movie (often called the Big Damn Movie, or BDM) is actually another "episode" of the series... something that happened in a way that is consistent and logical with everything that went on in the series. However, other people (like myself) have noticed discrepancies between the series and the movie that make that assumption seem questionable.

It seems each time I watch the series (FF) or the BDM, I see more of these little things that seem, well, not quite right. So I decided to make this page to document some of them. DISCLAIMER: I have heard that some of the items mentioned below are addressed in the comics... I have not read any of those, except for "The Shepherd's Tale."

1. Simon's Backstory

The most obvious discrepancy is the story of how Simon rescues his sister from the Alliance.

In FF, he explains to the crew that he didn't see River until he gave money to some men, who snuck her out in a cryo box and delivered it to him on Persephone. He brought this box with him when he boarded Serenity, and this is where we first see her in (pic at left).

In the BDM, we see Simon himself rescuing River from the Alliance facility (pic at right). We don't see any sign of a cryo box anywhere.


People who want to make the stories compatible claim Simon was lying in his story to the crew, that he omitted his involvement so he would seem less criminal and hence gain more sympathy from the crew. They also say Simon put River in the cryo box himself, after they escaped, to hide her and avoid her being recognized.


The lying just doesn't seem in character for Simon. He seemed very sincere when he was telling his story to the crew. If he was lying, he was doing a VERY good of of it. And if he were that good at lying, he should've done a much better job posing as a buyer in the "Jaynestown" episode.

A cryo box seems a poor way to hide something, mainly because it's a VERY large box which is itself impossible to hide. I don't think traveling with a box like that would be a good choice if you want to fly under the radar. I'd think it would be far easier to just disguise River, perhaps by something as simple as putting a burka on her, like this one seen in "The Train Job" . And if the concern is about her acting up, that's what drugs are for.

Also, consider that, in the pilot episode of FF, River says to Simon, "I didn't think you'd come for me." That comment only makes sense when it is, basically, the first time she gets to talk to Simon. In the BDM scenario, that would've been when he first rescued her, before she got put into cryo, not after.

There's also the issue that, in the BDM, Simon actually sees and hears what the Alliance is doing to River. If that is true, why would he have gone through so much of the series trying to figure out what they did to her? And why would he not tell the crew about that part? Wouldn't he get lots of sympathy from them if he told them the Alliance cut into her brain?

2. Timeline

In the BDM, after River's fight that was triggered by the Fruity Oaty Bars ad, Mal gets angry at Simon and says, "Eight months. Eight months you had her on my boat knowing full well she might go monkeyshit at the wrong word..."

This means that the BDM takes place just about 8 months after the FF pilot. Which means that the whole 14 episodes of FF had to take place in less than 8 months. A fair amount less, since both Inara and Shepherd Book left the ship after the end of FF and before the start of the BDM. And it's apparently been a while since they've been gone. Let's say it's just a month (although that's probably unreasonably brief; in fact, I know I read somewhere that the BDM supposedly happened 6 months after the end of FF, but since I don't recall the source, I'm discounting it). So that means that all of FF had to take place within 7 months.


14 episodes, 7 months: that's about 2 weeks per episode. Each individual episode usually only covers a couple of days. It could work.


There are a couple of ways we could check this.

Estimation: Let's figure the travel time between planets. In "Safe" they mention that the cows that became cargo at the end of "Shindig" had been in transit for 3 weeks. I think it's reasonable to assume the crew took the most efficient route they could, since I'm sure they didn't want to carry those cows in the cargo bay any longer than they had to. In "Our Mrs. Reynolds" we hear that it's about 6 days after they leave Triumph to their next destination, Beaumonde. There are a couple of places where they go somewhere that's only a couple of days away (e.g. St. Albans in "The Message") but they tend to already be in space when the statement is made.

So it seems reasonable to assume an "average" trip takes at least a week. A typical job probably requires at least 2 trips: one to pick up the goods, and one to deliver them. So 2 weeks for a typical job. So if each of the 14 eps represent one job, you got just about 7 months. OK so far.

There are a couple problems with this... there are several times in the series where they talk about how long it's been since their last job (e.g. in "Ariel"). Also, there are a number of jobs that are talked about but never explicitly shown in the series, such as the bobble-headed dolls caper mentioned in "Trash" and the sales of the medicine from "Ariel". Also, no doubt, some jobs would require extra travel to coordinate with the person requesting the job (e.g. Badger). So it's seeming less and less likely you could actually squeeze everything into the requisite amount of time. Especially considering we've been making all our time estimates on the low side already.

Scripts: There are lines in some episodes that indicate specific passages of time. Here are some that are especially helpful for that purpose:

  1. "The Train Job": Inara tells Book that she's been on the ship for 8 months.
  2. "Bushwhacked": In Inara's interrogation, she states that "in a few weeks it will be a year" that she's on Serenity. Since she's referring to weeks, not months, I believe she must be in month 11 or 12, which means it has been at LEAST 2 months, and probably more, since "The Train Job".
  3. "Shindig" - "Safe": It's stated that the cows were in the hold for 3 weeks. Total MINIMUM time thus far: 2 months+3 weeks.
  4. "Our Mrs. Reynolds" - "Trash": In the latter, Mal says he married Saffron "'bout 6 months back". Even if we assume he's overestimating and it's closer to 5 months, we still have a MINIMUM elapsed time so far of 8 months.

Then consider there are still 3 more episodes after "Trash" which we haven't allowed for yet, not to mention any additional time during and between episodes that wasn't specified above. Plus, we've been underestimating significantly. So the timeframes are just incompatible between the series and the BDM.

3. Characterizations

Pretty much all the characters in the BDM seem, well, harsher: sadder, angrier, more intense.

For example, the pic at left shows Kaylee, in the BDM, arguing with the Captain about Simon and River being forced to leave. She actually frowns when she says "Tell that to Inara." This is quite a change from the "I love my captain" Kaylee in FF, the one about whom the Captain said, "I don't believe there's a power in the 'verse can stop Kaylee from bein' cheerful."

The difference in character also quite apparent in the relationship between Simon and Mal. In the FF episode "Safe," when Simon asks why the ship returned to rescue him and River, Mal answers, "You're on my crew. Why're are we still talking about this?" In the BDM, Mal calls Simon his "guest", and says being considered crew "... don't include you 'less I conjure it does." In FF, Simon is always a gentleman--polite, proper, wary of violence. In BDM, he's in the captain's face arguing about River (as in the pic under Timeline, above), and actually punches Mal out at one point.

It's interesting to compare promo photos for the same character in FF and the BDM. For example, check out Kaylee in FF (left) and the BDM (right). They hardly look like they're supposed to be the same person. Kaylee's not the only example of this. Check out Wash, for another, in the Costumes section below.


Some people (including Joss, in the BDM commentary) suggest that the changes in character are a result of the loss of Inara and Shepherd Book from the ship. They represented the principles of diplomacy, peace, love, decency, etc. Without them on board to serve as good examples, the remaining members of the crew tended to get, well, a mite twitchy. As Kaylee said in "Jaynestown": "What's so damn important about bein' proper? Don't mean nothin' out here in the black."


Such a dramatic change in personalities wouldn't happen quickly... It had to take quite a while... which makes the problems with the Timeline even worse.

4. Costumes

Looking at the promo photos for FF and the BDM, as suggested in Characterizations, above, also makes several costuming changes very apparent.

Wash: For example, look on either side here at Wash. On the right is him from the BDM. Does this look anything like the Wash we know and love from FF (at left)? No, it doesn't. It looks like the BDM was trying to make something that looked more "sci-fi." (Personally, I think it looks more like something from Spectrum (from Con Man).)
Mal: Now check out the captain. As usual, FF on the left, BDM on the right. The color of the shirts is similar, but that's irrelevant since Mal wore several different color shirts over the course of FF. In fact, there was another promo pic I would have preferred to use, where he was wearing a blue shirt, but this one showed the overall costume elements better.

But notice the differences... the fancy texture of the shirt fabric in the BDM. The cut of the shirt... it's a pullover in BDM. The cut of the pants... BDM has this odd side-button waistline, which seems rather impractical. Doesn't that make it kinda tricky to go to the bathroom?

But the most notable thing is the suspenders... they look like they're made out of plastic, and clip on instead of buttoning. Again, it appears BDM is trying to look more "sci-fi."

Simon: We typically think of the good doctor wearing a vest, as in the FF pic on the left. But check out what he's wearing in the BDM pic on the right. This doesn't look like any kind of regular attire he ever wore in FF. Personally, I think it looks more like something Dr. McCoy might have worn in Star Trek:TOS. Again, going for more of a "sci-fi" look rather than a "Western" look.

Kaylee: We looked at Kaylee's promo pics previously. But I wanted to point out something else that was not so apparent there, and that is her shirt choice. In FF, she wore a variety of shirts, but they were pretty much all pretty, feminine prints... florals, etc. often in shades of pink. (Refer to the FF pic of her in the Characterizations section for an example.)

At right is the shirt she wore most of the time in the BDM. This is more of a highly graphical, wild, bold print... I really wouldn't call it "feminine". This doesn't really look like a shirt that would be chosen by the same woman who loved the layer-cake dress in "Shindig."


Styles change, people change clothes. After selling the Lassiter, they all had lots of money to get whole new wardrobes.


Pretty much the same as stated in the Characterizations section, above. Styles don't change THAT quickly, so it adds to the Timeline problems.

5. Mal's Scars

In the BDM, we see Mal shirtless, and he has visible scars on his body (pic at left). However, the scars are not visible in FF. The pic below, from the end of "Trash," probably shows it best, but there are a couple of other occasions where we get to see Mal's scar-less chest as well.


Rather than see this as an incompatibility between the BDM and the series, some people consider this a lovely example of the connection between the two. They can tell you which incidents in FF caused each scar, in which episode (see pic at right). So it could be interpreted as a good example of continuity, not a bad one.


The big problem is, we do NOT see the scars in FF. If it was only the one episode pictured here, one might say that that episode had a continuity error, but that is not the case. There are, as I mentioned, other episodes that show Mal without the scars.

So, are we to assume ALL of FF has a continuity error? Just in principle, I think this is a bad idea... we need to take something as canon, and FF is where we start. But does it make sense that we see Mal get injured, even see him get stitched up afterward, but then don't see any scars?

I don't see a problem with that. Remember, this all takes place 500 years in the future. It seems reasonable to assume they'd have advanced medical technology. Combine that with Simon's excellent medical skills, and you probably get almost no scarring.

On the other hand, the Simon in the BDM seemed almost a different person, as discussed in the Characterizations section above. Perhaps that Simon was a bit sloppier with his stitching...

6. The Mule

In FF, they have a vehicle they call the Mule that they use for land excursions. It's a yellow, wheeled ATV-like thing, shown in the pic at left.

In the BDM, they also have a Mule, used for the same purposes, but it's a completely different vehicle. That one (pic below) is a hovercraft:


The original Mule was destroyed when the crew mounted their attack on Niska's skyplex in "War Stories." They bought the new one with money they made from selling the Lassiter.


Yes, the old Mule was damaged, but why would they choose a hovering one to replace it? Such devices must be really expensive. Hovering things are used elsewhere in FF to indicate wealth distinctions: the hovering chandelier in "Shindig," Rance Burgess' hovercraft in "Heart of Gold," for example. Seems to me there'd be better things for the crew to spend that money on. And again, this adds to the afterstory, which adds to the Timeline problems.

7. The Ship

The ship, Serenity, is different between the series and the movie. Although I'd heard about that issue quite a while ago, I felt a need to get some pictorial evidence before posting here. And here it is, pics taken from the books for each:

from the series

from the movie

The most obvious differences are probably that the "wings" are wider and the "neck" is slimmer in the BDM. But as you look more closely, you start to notice a lot of other little details that are different also. I understand there are differences on the inside of the ship as well, but I don't have photo comparisons there (yet).


I haven't heard a specific counterargument to this one. I suppose one could claim the changes are the result of various repairs done to the ship.


Some of the changes seem way out of scale, or out of place, to be a result of repairs. They'd be more suggestive of a whole new ship, but there is nothing in any of the storylines to support this. And repairs of this scale add even more to the Timeline problems.

Additional Musings

There are a few more points that don't quite fit into the format with counterargument and rebuttals.


The real reason for all the discrepancies above is that FF and the BDM are, indeed, in two different universes: the universe of TV and the universe of movies. Those two universes operate with different underlying rules: different time constraints, different budgets, and (most importantly) different storytelling requirements. Really, everything described above gets explained in terms of those differences.

However, I like to believe that FF and the BDM also exist in different universes as the terminology is normally used in the sci-fi world. They're just slightly different... but different enough that I can believe that in the FF universe, Wash is still alive. And that makes me happy.

--- Sherry Reardon, Sept. 2015, March 2017

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