Summer Glau as River Tam
|First appearance||"Serenity" (Firefly episode)|
|Created by||Joss Whedon|
|Portrayed by||Summer Glau|
|Occupation||Crew member of Serenity|
River is portrayed by actress Summer Glau in the 2002 TV series Firefly and the 2005 film Serenity. The nature of the character and her role in the franchise has garnered both praise and criticism from various reviewers. In 2005, Summer Glau won the SFX Magazine award for Best Actress for her role as River in Serenity. Glau later won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress, again for her role as River in Serenity in May 2006. Glau was also runner up for Best Actress/Movie in the SyFy Genre Awards for 2006.
Joss Whedon selected Summer Glau for the role after having previously worked with her on another of his shows, Angel. River Tam was Glau's first major role. Glau's inexperience assisted her in playing the character: she likened River's emotional withdrawal to her own initial apprehension on the set.
During River's early childhood, she grew up alongside her brother, Simon, part of the wealthy Tam family on the "core" planet of Osiris. She was extremely gifted intellectually from a very young age and also very graceful. She has been portrayed and described consistently as having always had both a strong thirst for knowledge and a love for and intuitive grasp of dance. By the time she was 14 years old, she had grown “bored” with her studies and was already in the graduate program for physics.
It was at this point that she was sent to a government learning facility known as "The Academy". While her parents and Simon believed the Academy was a private school meant to nurture the gifts of talented children, it was in fact a cover for a government experiment in creating assassins. While in the hands of the Alliance doctors and scientists, River was secretly and extensively experimented on, including surgery that damaged her amygdala. According to Simon, the Alliance attempted to isolate River from her family, though she managed to send a call for help by putting a coded message in a letter to her brother. Simon decoded the message and set out to rescue his then 16-year-old sister, despite his parents' insistence that he was being paranoid. Simon exhausted his personal fortune and sacrificed a promising career in medicine, but eventually located and freed River with the help of anti-governmental groups.
The R. Tam sessions depict her descent into insanity, and also portray hints of her psychic abilities. She references the "G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate", which would later be a plot point in the film Serenity, and mentions the Academy's first subject “dying on the table”, something she could not have learned through conventional means. The first session clip indicates she has strong “intuitive” abilities and can easily understand complex subjects.
River is mostly barefoot throughout the series. When not barefoot, she tends to favour heavy steel toe capped boots that appear incongruous with the dresses she wears.
In 2005, Summer Glau won the SFX Magazine award for Best Actress for her role as River in Serenity. Glau later won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress, again for her role as River in Serenity in May 2006. Glau was also runner up for Best Actress/Movie in the SyFy Genre Awards for 2006.
The nature of the character and her role in the franchise has garnered both praise and criticism from various reviewers. Some have positively likened the character's erratic behavior to autism. Dr. Karin Beeler of the University of Northern British Columbia compared and contrasted River to Buffy Summers, protagonist of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise (also created by Joss Whedon), in her book Seers, Witches and Psychics on Screen: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film. Beeler labeled the character an anti-heroine, in comparison to the more heroic role of Buffy Summers. Film critic and horror author Michael Marano also compared the character to Buffy, citing the two characters' combat prowess as similarities and describing River as the apotheosis of Joss Whedon's strong female characters.
- "Why I hate River Tam". Threatquality.com. 2011-12-09. Retrieved 2006-07-16.
- "Better living through Firefly's River Tam". Cliqueclack.com. 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2006-07-16.
- "SFX Awards". Retrieved 2006-10-08.
- "The 32nd Annual Saturn Awards Honors Genre Entertainment". Retrieved 2006-07-11.
- "SyfyPortal Awards". Retrieved 2006-10-08.
- Clark, Nolene (May 3, 2011). "'Firefly': Summer Glau reflects on Joss Whedon, sci-fi women and River's edge". Los Angeles Times. Eddy Hartenstein.
- Murray, Rebecca. "Summer Glau Talks About "Serenity"". About.com. Archived from the original on 2016-04-05.
- "Ariel (Firefly episode)"
- Bernardin, Marc. "Taking a moment for National Autism Awareness Day". Entertainment Weekly. Time.
- Beeler, Karin. "Transformation of River Tam - Psychic Warrior, Female Prodigy and Anti-Hero in Firefly and Serenity". Seers, Witches and Psychics on Screen: An Analysis of Women Visionary Characters in Recent Television and Film. University of Northern British Columbia.
- Marano, Michael. "River Tam and the Weaponized Women of the Whedonverse". Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe. BenBella Books.