River Tam

Written by. Brittney Laufer

River Tam of the Firefly[1] (2002) television series and the movie Serenity[2] (2005) is a character that encompasses the paradigms of the Female Hero, Berserker, and Monster-Fighter. With a distinct space cowboy theme, the television series and movie take place in the distant future after humans have traveled to a new solar system to live in. River is a child prodigy who is kidnapped by the tyrannical government, the Alliance. They perform mysterious tests that leave her traumatized and unstable; however, her brother, Simon Tam, sacrifices a prestigious career as a surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance.

As an after-effect of the tests performed on her, River, in the movie, succumbs to a trance after watching an animated cartoon that transmits the codeword, “Miranda.” This word activates River, and she proceeds to fight anyone who comes near her, or is in the vicinity. She doesn’t hesitate, and nor does she discriminate who she attacks. This instance typifies the Berserker because River essentially goes into a battle rage. She later learns how to control that state of herself, but, when she fights again in one of the final scenes of the movie, River’s fighting skill is still enhanced, which is characteristic of the Berserker; furthermore, her skilled fighting and gender brands her as a modern day, action-oriented Female Hero. In the final scene, however, River battles people that are called Reavers. They are once-human creatures that live on the fringes of the solar system and eat and rape other human beings. River’s last fight includes slaughtering dozens of Reavers that threaten her brother and their friends, and it solidifies her role in the Monster-Fighter paradigm.

[1] Firefly. Created by Joss Whedon. Fox: Mutant Enemy Productions, 2002. DVD.

[2]   Fillion, Nathan. Serenity. Directed by Joss Whedon. Universal City: Universal Pictures, 2005.