Captain Mal Reynolds and angelic killing-machine River Tam are dynamic characters in the movie Serenity. I do not think it is possible to look at these two characters separately, because each exists to repair the damage of the other. He struggles to live outside the reach of the oppressive government he fought against in a failed rebellion. It is a difficult task because his crew makes a living smuggling between planets and harbors two fugitives. His disenchantment with rebellion cannot hide the anger seething beneath, or the good in his heart.
The girl, River, is a child genius on the run from government experiments that gave her physical strength and psychic abilities. She is unable to control many of her disturbing behaviors because of the torture and the government secret that is tearing apart her psyche. When she reveals it, Mal must choose between keeping his head low and risking his crew and his ship to broadcast the truth. He initially decides to take his crew into hiding, until the enemy systematically slaughters everyone they could depend on. Left without an alternative, Mal finally lets his sense of justice meet his rage, and he leads his crew on their bloody mission. The experience is cleansing for River’s mind, redemptive for Mal, and the movie ends on a tentatively positive note.