During the Reaver scene in the pilot episode, Inara pulls a syringe full of something, that she seems to be willing to use on herself. What was in that syringe?
This question was answered by Joss and Morena Baccarin (Inara) together once and for all in the broadcast "Browncoats Unite" on the Science Channel on Nov 11, 2012.
"This is what I loved about the show is it wasn't just all exposition, explaining everything about what was going on. She had this sort of magic syringe. She would take this drug. And if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death."
Basically, the drug would kill anyone who had sex with her. Essentially, all of the reavers would have died as a result as they "Rape you to death, eat your flesh, and sew your skin into their clothing. And if you are very lucky, they do it in that order". So it means that Inara would have most likely survived, and the reavers would not have.
Exactly what was in the syringe was never fully revealed. There are lots of theories, but Joss Whedon apparently shot down the suicide theory (which I, like many others, had initially assumed).
Morena Baccarin confirmed that Inara was dying of a terminal illness during a panel at the 2008 DragonCon. The syringe could have been a plant to lead in to that later story line.
In the DVD commentary Joss Whedon explicitly says that the syringe is not a suicide device.
Everyone assumes a suicide kit, and actually I had something a little more interesting in mind for it, but I can't really speak about it here. It would take too long ... It's one of those things I was laying in for later.
The two leading theories are:
- Inara was terminally ill (c.f. Morena Baccarin's comment at DragonCon) and it was going to lead into that storyline in some way.
- It was a drug that when taken would kill anyone that had sex with her (suggested by Tim Minear at a writers conference) and there was going to be a later episode where Inara was attacked and raped by Reavers.
She had this magic syringe. She would take this drug. And if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death. The story was that she gets kidnapped by Reavers and when Mal finally got to the ship to save her from the Reavers, he gets on the Reaver ship and all the Reavers are dead. Which would suggest a kind of really bad assault. At the end of the episode, he comes in after she’s been horribly brutalized, and he comes in and he gets down on his knee, and he takes her hand. And he treats her like a lady. And that’s the kind of stuff that we wanted to do. It was very dark. And this was actually the first story that Joss pitched to me when he asked me to come work on the show. He said, ‘These are the kind of stories we’re going to do.’
I assume it was some kind of poison she'd use in case the Reavers boarded.