"Serenity" was originally intended to be the two-hour pilot of Firefly, but the brain trust at FOX wasn't happy with the pace of the episode, and convinced series creator Joss Whedon to air it later in the series' run. By the time the pilot aired (as a 2-part episode on December 20, 2002), FOX had canceled the promising show. The episode opens at the turning point of the Independents' unsuccessful revolt against the Alliance, as Mal (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe (Gina Torres) survive a losing battle and see their base eradicated. Flash forward six years, and they are onboard Serenity, engaged in an illegal salvage mission, outwitting an Alliance cruiser to make their escape. When their fence on Persephone, Badger (Mark Sheppard), refuses to buy their goods as promised, they are forced to travel to the border worlds to try to sell to Patience (Bonnie Bartlett), who shot Mal the last time she dealt with him. Before leaving Persephone, Serenity picks up three paying passengers: Book (Ron Glass), a shepherd (or priest); Simon (Sean Maher), a wealthy doctor; and Dobson (Carlos Jacott), who turns out to be an undercover Alliance fed. After Dobson's treachery is discovered, the crew learns that he's after Simon, who has rescued his younger sister, River (Summer Glau), from a mysteriously malevolent Alliance academy. While Jayne (Adam Baldwin) contemplates turning on Mal for the reward money, Mal tries to make a dangerous transaction with Patience, who plans to ambush him. Meanwhile, a ship carrying the dreaded Reavers, vicious marauders who have abandoned their humanity, has targeted Serenity. "If they take the ship," Zoe tells Simon, "they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky," she adds, "they'll do it in that order."
by Josh Ralske synopsis