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02 July 2010 @ 02:09 pm
The Tropes of River Tam  
A picspam of the tropes of Firefly's River Tam for picspammy's challenge 20.

River has so many tropes that I've just picked out a few otherwise I'd have been there forever.
This is image heavy and contains spoilers if you haven't seen all episodes and the movie

Fetal Position Rebirth
[A character is seen in the fetal position before or after going through some kind of "rebirth": legs replied against the body, head close to the knees and arms crossed in front of the legs.]

Serenity (Pilot)
Dobson: You think this is just a smuggling rap? The package that boy is carrying --
Jayne: It's a girl. She's cute, too, but I don't think she's all there, y'know?

River's first appearance on the show was in the fetal position. Mal discovers her naked and in a frozen sleep, curled in the box her brother has brought on board. The symbolic 'rebirth' is River having been rescued from the Academy and returning to the real world, even if this is not quite the life she left and she is not quite the same girl who left it.

Cute Witch
[The original Magical Girl archetype]

1x05 Safe
Patron: That girl is a witch.
Mal: Yeah, but she's our witch. So cut her the hell down.

While River is not actually a witch she does frequently get called one by other characters who are freaked out by her psychic abilities (more on that later). Notably, in Safe, the villagers go so far as to try to burn her at the stake, leading to Mal himself calling her a witch as he and the crew rescue her.

The Cutie
[The Cutie can be either a full-grown woman or a teenager, but insists on dressing, speaking and acting like a child]

1x14 Objects In Space
Wash: Little River just gets more colorful by the moment. What'll she do next?
Zoe: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It's a toss-up.

River does not strictly insist on dressing, speaking or acting like a child, but the things which the Alliance have done to her brain seem to have left her acting almost constantly like a child. Although she's in her late teens, River still does things such as run away and hide after seeing Book without his hair tied back (admittedly a frightening experience) and uses her dress as a container to collect hodgeberries. Of course she doesn't act like this all the time, at any moment she may start informing the crew that they will freeze to death or displaying some of the more dangerous side effects her treatment caused her, but at times something as simple as eating an ice planet will lead to her acting and sounding exactly like a child.

Foot Focus
[For this trope to be in effect, there has to be a close-up or focus on the feet. Simply not wearing shoes is not this trope.]

1x10 War Stories
River: The sun came out, and… I walked on my feet, and… heard with my ears.</b>

River spends the majority of the series barefoot and the camera angles are frequently used to remind the viewer of this. Interestingly she actually spends the majority of the movie wearing combat boots, but even in the short time she spends barefoot there are still several shots emphasising this fact. The focus on her feet happens so often that Joss Whedon even refers to River's feet as the eleventh character of the series.

Psychic Powers/The Empath
[Psychic Powers on television generally come in three flavors. You can shoot mindbullets and toss cars by thinking hard at them. You can see poorly shot and edited clips from the past or future. Or you can read minds.]

1x03 Bushwhacked
River: No, I can't sleep. There's too much screaming.
Simon: River, there is... there is no screaming.
River: There was.

River's psychic/empathic abilites are hinted at throughout the series although they're only really explicitly stated during the final episode. By then, however, River has reacted many times to events that are happening in another part of the ship to herself, events which happened in the past and even hinted at being able to see the future. In some cases this is useful as she manages to be aware of danger and so avoid it, or find the right way out of a difficult situation, in others she's just a screaming mess. It's only in the movie that the crew start to put River's abilities to work, Mal uses her to identify which of the hostages might try to fight back and her ability to sense the Reaver attack coming saves everyone's lives. Unfortunately it's also her abilities that have caused the Alliance to come after her, seems if you put a psychic in the same room as someone who knows a few very big secrets there is a good chance she'll discover it...

Ax Crazy
[An "ax crazy" character is someone who is psychologically unstable and presents a clear danger to others.]

1x14 Objects In Space
Jayne: Anybody remember her comin' at me with
a butcher's knife?

River is by no means an 'ax crazy' character all the time, but she's certainly had her moments. Her actions in the Maidenhead Bar and during the Reaver Fight (more of both of those later) are both examples, but perhaps the most memorable is when she attacks Jayne with a knife. Two important factors here are River's psychic abilities and that Jayne will later betray her and her brother, however the rest of the crew don't know this and River is not capable of explaining it. Certainly an "ax crazy" moment as far as they're concerned. Another incident involves her picking up a gun, although she harms nobody the fact that she seems unaware of what she has picked up and the damage it can cause is enough to cause some concern amongst the crew.

Improbable Aiming Skills
[While villainous Mooks are terrible at aiming, heroes are inversely superb at it]

1x14 Objects In Space
Kaylee: I got pinned down and there were three guys, and I couldn't... And then River comes up. She looks out, sees 'em all. And they was spread out, you know, had some cover? She... she didn't only looked for a second, and took my gun, closed her eyes... killed 'em.
Simon: She shot them?
Kaylee: All three. Dead in an instant. With her eyes still closed.

River's psychic powers certainly give her some advantages when it comes to combat. With herself and Kaylee pinned down and completely trapped by two gunmen, River demonstrates her 'Improbable Aiming Skills' and saves the day. After only one brief glance she manages to take out both of the gunmen while facing in the other direction. She only turns to look again after she's finished firing.

Action Girl
[a female character who is spunky, agile, and can take you down with an array of kicks, punches, or diverse Weapons Of Choice]

Serenity (Big Damn Movie)
Fanty: Do you know that girl?
Mal: I really don't.

We saw hints of River's skills before this, as in Improbable Aiming Skills above, but the movie confirmed it once and for all. Her training triggered by a subliminal message, River takes out an entire bar full of people single handedly and is stopped only by her brother knowing a safe word which will put her to sleep. She uses any and every weapon that comes to hand, only picking up a gun in the very last moments of the fight.

You Shall Not Pass
[In order to allow the other heroes to escape/reach their destination/Bring News Back, this character singlehandedly holds back the enemy horde]

Serenity (Big Damn Movie)
River: You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. My turn.

River plays little part in the battle to hold back the Reavers as Mal attempts to broadcast the tape showing what the Alliance has done on Miranda, that is until Simon is shot. With Zoe, Jayne and Kaylee all injured already to one degree or another things are looking bad for the crew. This time, unlike previously, there is no trigger to set her off, River fights because she chooses too. She retrieves the medical bag for her injured brother and friends, throwing herself straight into the hands of the Reavers. While the others are left hidden and protected, River single-handedly holds off an entire army of Reavers and is ready to take on an army of Alliance soldiers too. Whether she would have succeeded we will never know since The Operative stepped in and called them off, but considering the pile of dead Reavers around her feat the soldiers probably had a lucky escape.

-Screencaps from Leave Me The White
-Please do not repost/hotlink graphics
(Deleted comment)
_stolendreams_ on July 2nd, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
I love River, absolutely favourite character on the show.
"I can kill you with my brain" will always be my favourite threat ever! Always makes people stop for a moment
Julie: Joss Whedon - Firefly > River dancingjulie_izumi on July 2nd, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
River is so awesome! And she will always remain one of my fav characters ever!!! This show was so good!
I have to say the 'no power in the verse can stop me' always gives me chills!
Awesome picspam! <3
nocturnesmidnight_27 on July 2nd, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Nicely done - I adore River!
jesssoapygirl on July 15th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Some reviewer pointed out that as a former ballet dancer Summer could probably express things through her feet better than most people would with their hands or face.

I think the combat boots were one way to show how she was becoming tougher thanks to her life on serenity. RIver is something of a mimic, given her scene with Badger matching his accent and back story and scene at the dance in Safe where she learns it in about 10 seconds.

And for some reason I like to think River's improbable aiming skills had to do with her doing the really quick math about the trajectory of each bullet vs being psychic. I don't know why. I just do.