River Tam

(played by Summer Glau)

River is surrounded by an intrigue which supported a key theme of the series as well as the basis for the full length, Firefly-based film Serenity. As a child prodigy, River was sent to a boarding school simply titled “The Academy”, which supposedly helped develop highly gifted teenagers (“River Tam (Firefly Character)”). However, coded messages from River to her brother Simon alluded to the fact that the school was less than beneficial, and after her rescue her changed character proved this to be true. As the plot unfolds throughout the series, it is revealed that River was the subject of extensive, torturous research which heavily affected her brain. Time shows that her empathy and perhaps physic abilities, combat skills, and social interaction have been severally affected by the experiments. The film especially alludes to the fact that River was being developed by the Alliance to be the perfect assassin.

When River is not tormented by her damaged brain, though, she is a calm, slightly mischievous, and quiet teenager. She can be seen resting with Simon, playing Jacks with Kaylee (“Objects in Space (Firefly Episode)”), or dancing freely and passionately to music in “Safe” (“Safe (Firefly Episode)”). River does not seem to feel the necessity of observing societal rules or norms, so oftentimes says awkwardly honest comments. For example, when Jayne is paralyzed for surgery in “Trash”, River calmly tells him “I can kill you with my brain” (“Trash (Firefly Episode)”).


Summer Glau

Summer Glau is a twenty-five year old actress and classical dancer. She has been a professional ballerina since the age of twelve and has appeared in commercials and on episodes of several television shows including Alias, Cold Case, and CSI: Miami. Also, she starred in the science fiction films Mammoth. Even though Glau has only had a short acting career, she was voted Best Actress of 2005 by readers of SFX magazine for her portrayal of River Tam in Serenity and was nominated for a Saturn Award for “Best Supporting Actress” for Serenity in 2006 (“Summer Glau”).







General Plot Summary



Thematic Content

Structure and Significance

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Last Modified 24 April 2006

Created by Julie Rooney
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