- "I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin."
- ―The Operative
The Operative was an agent of the Union of Allied Planets government. Similar to a black ops agent, the Operative's work was not acknowledged by the government. He didn't officially exist; he gave up his name upon becoming an operative, and he did not hold an official rank in the Alliance.
His status as an operative could get him access to most (possibly all) Alliance facilities as well as respect from those who knew what an operative was. He had been highly trained in close armed and unarmed combat. Until he had his faith broken, he was unswervingly devoted to his cause.
After Hands of Blue failed to secure River Tam, the Operative was called in to hunt her down. He first visited the facility where River was held before her brother Simon broke her out, reviewing a holographic recording of the escape. When Dr. Mathias found him and asked to see his security clearance, the Operative showed his position. Though the Operative understood that Simon was acting out of love for his sister, he was more concerned about keeping whatever secrets River gleaned from the minds of key members of Alliance Parliament during her training, which Mathias mentioned to Simon on record. For this, the Operative killed Mathias' bodyguards with his sword before paralyzing Mathias with a nerve jab, letting Mathias fall on the Operative's upturned sword.
To locate River, the Operative began broadcasting subliminal messages in advertisements all over the Alliance. Eventually, he found her on Beaumonde, having gone on a rampage through a bar, the Maidenhead, before her brother subdued her with a Russian safe word. Noticing on camera another man picking River up, the Operative ran a search and identified the man as Malcolm Reynolds, a former Browncoat and captain of Serenity. Tracing leads to any of Mal's associates, the Operative located Inara Serra and used her to lure Mal into a trap. He tried convincing Mal that River would "rain destruction upon [him and his] ship" and would be better off returned to the Alliance. His threats to fire on Serenity via its pulse beacon proved futile, as Mal had already removed it and continued to insult the Operative, who proved resistant to his taunts. Mal then shot the Operative in the chest, unaware that he was wearing body armor, enabling him to gain the element of surprise when Mal's back was turned. Once the Operative had Mal beaten, he was thrown back by a flash bomb prepared by Inara, enabling the two to escape. Once he regained his senses, he called his ship in orbit to track Serenity via NAVSAT, but his quarry had deployed several decoys.
The Operative soon ordered simultaneous attacks on any ports that once harbored Serenity, including Haven, to give his quarry no place to hide. He then contacted Mal, promising more of the same until River was handed over. In response, Mal had his ship modified to look like a Reaver vessel to bypass Reaver lines blockading the planet Miranda, where they attempted to locate whatever secret the Alliance was hiding. The Operative suspected that Mal would try and broadcast this secret to the Verse and tracked down Mr. Universe, the reclusive hacker who had a transmitter capable of overriding all Cortex channels. Once he forced Mr. Universe into luring Serenity into a trap, the Operative killed him, destroyed his transmitter and called in an entire fleet to intercept Serenity.
The Operative failed to anticipate Serenity luring an entire Reaver fleet to Mr. Universe's planet, forcing him to order his fleet to focus fire on the Reavers. During the battle, a large Reaver ship rammed into the Operative's, splitting it in half. Grabbing a stun gun from a fallen soldier, the Operative took an escape pod and followed Serenity to the surface. Making his way back into Mr. Universe's complex, the Operative came across Mr. Universe's love-bot, Lenore, who had left a message for Mal, directing him to a secondary transmitter he missed. Confronting Mal, who smugly noted that he had finally made him angry, the Operative reminded him that he was responsible the deaths of innocent people in bringing the Reavers. Mal stated that he didn't know how true that was and that he knew the secret the Alliance was intent on keeping hidden and planned to expose it. He then outdrew the Operative, shooting the gun out of his hand and forcing him to take cover. The Operative chased Mal to the transmitter before fighting him, only to be defeated when his traditional nerve cluster strike failed due to an old war wound's having caused the cluster to be moved. Mal punched the Operative's throat, leaving him gasping for air, before dislocating his arms. Instead of finishing him off, Mal decided to show the Operative his "world without sin" and forced him to watch a report by another Alliance officer, Caron, revealing that it was the Alliance itself that had been responsible for accidentally creating the Reavers during their attempt to calm the population of Miranda. His faith in the Union of Allied Planets shattered, the Operative ordered his troops, poised to kill River, to stand down.
The Operative soon arranged for repairs to Serenity on Persephone and called off the search for the Tams. He then faced Mal one last time, telling him that exposing the truth about Miranda might have weakened the Alliance regime, but he couldn't guarantee that they wouldn't come after him. As for himself, the Operative confessed that he would leave the Alliance. Mal threatened to kill the Operative if he saw him again, which the Operative assured him would not happen.
Serenity: Leaves on the Wind
At some point, the Operative exiled himself to a snowy planet, where his cabin was later visited by Mal. The Operative assumed the former Browncoat was going to kill him, but Mal explained that he needed his help, which the former was willing to do.
He aided the crew of Serenity in travelling to the Academy in order to rescue the other girls being experimented on there, as River was. The Operative fended off an operative named Denon, whom he killed by slicing his head. When Kalista, the squad leader of the Disciples, arrived, he warned Bea to drop her weapons, claiming that by doing so they both "might still live". He narrowly avoided execution when members of the New Resistance forced the Alliance operatives to leave.
The Operative was dropped off on Theophrastus, telling Mal he expected the Alliance to keep their distance from the crew of Serenity, for the time being at least. He was soon accosted by Zoë, seeking vengeance for her husband who had died while escaping from him. The Operative agreed that she had the right to do so and it is implied from his comment "I will defend myself", that the Operative was killed by Zoë.
Working directly for the Alliance Parliament, the Operative single-mindedly hunted down River Tam because he believed that his actions "make the world a better place". He was shown to have little problem with killing as part of his job, ruthlessly murdering several people with his sword, and also ordering the attacks that were responsible for the death of, among others, Derrial Book.
Book said that people like the Operative never used a direct attack. Instead they smiled and "come at you sideways", using the target's blind spot to gain the element of suprise.
While the Operative may have found the killing of innocents wrong, he believed that he was serving a greater good in the end, and thus the killings were necessary. He dreamed of "a world without sin," and the only way to attain that world was by doing whatever the Alliance asked him to do. Despite this, The Operative clearly understood that his actions were, in his own words, "evil", and he thought of himself as a "monster". He frequently expressed the preferred option in detail, even as he carried out what he deemed necessary, demonstrated when he addressed the approaching Mal, whom he had brought a fleet to destroy, with the words, "We should have done this as men. Not with fire". In addition to his weapon and hand-to-hand combat training, the Operative was dangerous due to his resolve, that he would stop at nothing to accomplish his mission, even though that meant killing innocent people. He truly believed that what he was doing was ultimately for the greater good, and yet he had no delusions about the evils of his actions in his own lifetime. He admitted to Malcolm Reynolds that he was a monster and could never live in the ideal world he was helping to create.
The Operative's weapon of choice was a sword. He saw it as being a more civilized and classic method of killing than firearms, though during the Universe battle he took a laser pistol from a dead soldier as a last resort. His preferred method of killing his primary targets was to paralyze them by attacking a nerve cluster near their waist, and then having them fall forward on to his sword, much like disgraced Roman generals used to do (falling on your sword). Another comparision is the tradition of Seppuku.
The Operative was courteous and soft-spoken in manner and had an ethical code of sorts. He had a strong, albeit obviously flawed, sense of justice and only sought to do things in order to create a better world for people to live in. He usually tried to negotiate with people, rather than resorting to force despite his formidable skills in combat, preferring to get his way without shedding blood if he can help it. When necessary, he tried to give his opponents an honorable, shameless death.
The Operative and Malcolm Reynolds showed polar opposites in their beliefs. The Operative believed in a world without sin, but was forced to realize that flawless perfection is a delusion. Reynolds believed that sin is a reality and must be accepted for society to function. This was the source of the conflict between the Independent Planets and the Union of Allied Planets in the Unification War as stated by Reynolds in the novelization.
Skills and abilities
The Operative was highly skilled in martial arts; he was a proficient swordsman, an expert at hand-to-hand fighting, and demonstrated some proficiency with firearms. Using his sword, the Operative easily defeated two armed guards in a secure alliance facility before murdering Dr. Mathias. Through deception and surprise, he was able to lure Mal into a meeting with him, and was more than a match for him and Inara at once in unarmed combat; the two only survived the fight due to a prescient precautionary measure by the Companion before the fight. On the second encounter between the Operative and Mal, a recently stunned Captain Reynolds proved to be a faster draw, shooting the Operative's sidearm from his hand. Fast reflexes and bullet-resistant body armor saved the Operative's life, and he maintained the upper hand in hand-to-hand and armed fighting with the combat-hardened captain. Reynold's life was only spared by the fortunate coincidence of a war injury nullifying Operative's attempt to paralyze him, allowing the Captain to temporarily incapacitate him.
An intelligent and meticulous investigator, the Operative used his unrestricted access to Alliance records to identify Mal and trace his connections to Inara, Haven, Mr. Universe, and many of the Captain's other underworld associates. The Operative had also been granted unrestricted command access to the vast Alliance fleet that was forced to take part in the Universe battle.
The Operative had only one known weakness. Though it was not mentioned in the film, it is noted in the novelization and discussed in the commentary that because his combat skills are so high, it is rare for him to meet an opponent that can fight him on an equal level, and thus he is completely unaccustomed to being struck, and has a rather low tolerance to pain. Put simply, he has no idea how to take a hit, putting him at a severe disadvantage on the few occasions that he faces an enemy that can land a strike.
He had two other possible weaknesses stated in the novelization. He sometimes overlooked connections while memorizing the details. He did not expect Inara Serra to be capable of hand-to-hand combat despite researching her Companion's Guild training. He overlooked the fact that Reynolds' war wound had removed the nerve strike weakness despite having read Reynolds' war record. Also, once his loyalty to the Union of Allied Planets was broken, he instantly stopped believing in their cause.
Behind the scenes
The Operative was portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
In one of the deleted scenes from the film, the Operative puts on a pair of eyeglasses. The character was originally intended to wear them regularly.
In another deleted scene of the film at the end, the Operative remarks on Serenity's name and asks Mal how he moved on after the Battle of Serenity Valley. Mal tells him to figure that out for himself and mutters, "What a whiner."
An early script had him named Jude.
- Serenity: Those Left Behind (First appearance)
- Serenity (novelization)
- Serenity: Leaves on the Wind