The episode opens outside the Heart of Gold bordello, a solar foil-covered building in the middle of barren desert. A hovercraft and party of horses ride up to the bordello, led by Rance Burgess. Burgess is a local rancher, the richest man on the planet, who likes to play kingpin with his wealth rather than use it to improve the community. While Nandi, the madame of the house, tries to kick him out, he instead forcefully takes DNA from the unborn child of Petaline (one of the prostitutes) in the hopes of proving that the baby is his. As Burgess and his men leave, the women agree that they need to try and find someone to get rid of him.Aboard Serenity, Malcolm is cleaning and playing with his guns at the kitchen table when Inara surprises him. As she questions the wisdom of taking over the whole table for his armory, Wash arrives and tells Mal that a distress call came in—for Inara. Aboard her shuttle, she takes the call from Nandi and it's revealed that the madame of the bordello is a former Companion who was a friend of Inara's years ago; upon leaving the order, Inara was meant to shun her. After Inara hangs up, Mal comes out from where he was obviously eavesdropping and agrees immediately to help the Heart of Gold out with no payment necessary (though Inara still insists on making sure he's paid). Jayne immediately agrees to the job upon finding out that they're helping a whorehouse.At the Heart of Gold, the group divides up to interact with the women: Jayne grabs one to bed, Book gives religious services, and Simon goes to examine Petaline. Mal, Inara, and Nandi discuss Rance Burgess and the way he controls the planet; Mal decides that he wants to meet Rance and talk to him before fighting him, and he convinces Inara to pose as his lady as they go to the theater Burgess is attending. As they pose as a wealthy couple, Burgess and Mal size each other up during conversation and Burgess shows off his customized laser pistol. After leaving, Burgess takes a call and discovers to his excitement that Petaline's child is indeed his.At the Heart of Gold, Mal describes his plan: leave. He realizes that Burgess is to zealous to be scared off or reasoned with (calling him "a monster who thinks he's right with God"), and too powerful to easily fight. He would much rather pack up all of the members of the Heart of Gold and transport them to a safer planet. Nandi refuses to abandon the land, as she spent years building her business and is willing to die to protect it. Unable to convince her otherwise, Mal agrees to get the crew to train the hookers and prepare for a siege.The crew of Serenity begins their preparations: Book builds fortifications, Zoe and Wash construct traps in the desert sand, Jayne prepares the weapons, and both Jayne and Zoe teach the whores how to shoot. Petaline goes into labor, forcing Simon to care for her despite having never been the primary deliverer before. While Mal admires Nandi's engraved handguns, they discuss why she left Sihnon and the Companions. As they drink, Mal eventually goes in to kiss Nandi and it evolves until they have sex. Back in town, Burgess gathers up a mob; he's received information from Chari, a turncoat Heart of Gold girl, whom he forces to service him in front of the men.As dawn comes, Mal leaves Nandi's room while still half-dressed and bumps into Inara in the hallway. While she doesn't betray her emotions to Mal, she later collapses and sobs in the corner alone.The whole group gets into their defensive positions and waits for the attack, and Nandi speaks to Inara and realizes that she was in love with Mal and is feeling betrayed. While she tries to confront Mal about Inara, Burgess appears on the horizon in his hovercraft (now with a mounted machine gun), with a group of horsemen. The attack begins, with both sides exchanging heavy fire and taking casualties. Wash and Kaylee return to Serenity, planning to fly low over Burgess's mob to burn them with the engines, but several of the townsmen have already boarded the ship, and they find themselves in a gun battle. Burgess sets part of the building on fire with his laser, but Book uses a water cannon to put it out and later as a weapon against the horsemen.Burgess uses the confusion to dismount his hovercraft, with Chari leading him into the building. Just as Petaline gives birth, Burgess bursts into the room and takes the baby boy. While Inara takes Burgess captive with a knife and forces him to hand the infant over, he frees himself and kills Nandi before fleeing. While Burgess attempts to escape on his hovercraft, Mal steals a horse and gives pursuit. Burgess runs out of power for his laser, giving Mal an opportunity to knock him off the hovercraft. They tussle briefly before Mal gets Burgess at gunpoint; Mal is sorely tempted to kill Burgess when he insults Nandi, but Pistol Whips him instead.Back at the Heart of Gold, the survivors of the mob (including the ones Wash and Kaylee trapped aboard Serenity) have been tied up, and Burgess is dropped with them. Petaline comes out of the building holding her baby (which she's named Jonah), and coldly shoots Burgess in the head with Nandi's favorite pistol before sending Chari and the captured townsmen back to the town. The girls give a funeral for their dead, and Serenity takes off.Aboard the ship, Mal and Inara meet in the cargo bay. Mal appears ready to talk to Inara seriously about their relationship, only for her to reveal that she's leaving Serenity and walk away.
Tropes used in this episode include:
- Accidental Pun: Sneaking up on a man handling his weapon.
- All Men Are Perverts: Jayne doesn't want to do the job at first:Mal: They're whores.
Jayne: I'm in.
- Amazing Freaking Grace: Sung at Nandi's funeral.
- Army of Thieves and Whores: Literally.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: When Mal comes out of Nandi's room half-dressed, the sex-positive Inara reassures him that she's happy they were able to give each other comfort before the battle. Mal seeks to confirm that Inara is not upset:Inara: I wouldn't say I'm entirely okay. I'm a little appalled at her taste.
- Blatant Lies:
- Mal insisting that he wasn't startled.
- Inara telling Mal she isn't angry with the captain for sleeping with Inara's best friend. The next scene is of Inara crying her eyes out.
- Boom, Headshot: Petaline, to Rance, summarily ending the discussion about what to do with him.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: The shooting script features this little gem:Mal: I'll never understand rich folk. All that money, this is what they do with it.
Inara: It's art.
Mal: It's puppets.
Inara: It's puppet art.
- Brutal Honesty:Jayne: Can I start getting sexed already!
- Chaste Hero: Subverted. Nandi comments that, despite being in a brothel, only Jayne shows any interest in the girls who work there. But the real reason is that Wash is married, Simon's too straitlaced for that, and Mal is too focused on... the job. Only Book really counts as chaste, and even he seems to be trying really hard to distract himself with work when the girls are around.
- Chivalrous Pervert: "Chivalrous" might be the wrong word, but Jayne dresses in his Sunday best to visit the brothel, and is cheerful and friendly (if a bit boisterous) while dealing with the girls. Clearly a good customer. This is a stark contrast to the abusive behavior of Rance Burgess and his men.
- Combat Pragmatist: When laying out his battle plan, Mal cautions everyone to avoid shooting enemy horses, but not out of kindness: a live, panicking horse on the battlefield is a useful distraction. A dead horse is nothing but cover for an enemy shooter.
- Continuity Nod: Mal starts kissing a woman then stops for a moment, waiting to see if he passes out or not.
- Daddy DNA Test: A pivotal part of the plot. Burgess doesn't even wait for the kid to be born, instead forcibly taking a sample of amniotic fluid. If the baby turns out to be Burgess's then he'll take it from its mother, killing everyone in his way to get to it. And, of course, it is.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Rance Burgess, who couldn't get why anyone would defend a house full of sex workers, nor why Mal would come after him after he had killed Nandi.Rance: "She was just a whore!"
- Geeky Turn-On: Mal fanboys out a bit over Nandi's collection of antique weaponry. Then, several drinks later ...Nandi: Oh, Mal, I've been waiting for you to kiss me ever since I showed you my guns.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: A whole brothel of them, both male and female, with one exception.
- It Can't Be Helped: Mal and Nandi agree that complications are undesirable, but often unavoidable. "Such is life."
- The Mole: Chari, one of Nandi's whores.
- Non-Violent Initial Confrontation: Mal attends a theater to meet Rance and size him up as an adversary. Mal is so shaken up by Rance's convictions that he decides to run instead of fight, although he changes his mind later.
- Not in This for Your Revolution: Jayne doesn't give a crap about the whores and their problems, he just wants sex.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Burgess is a real nasty piece of work, to put it mildly. And among other moral failings, he doesn't acknowledge his wife's presence when Mal offers her a compliment, instead thinking Mal's talking about his fancy gun.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Rance, this is Jonah. Jonah, say hi to your daddy."
- Bond One-Liner: "Say goodbye to your daddy, Jonah."
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves:
- Non-lethal, but Chari gets sexually abused in public by Burgess after she tells him about the siege preparation.
- She also gets found out by the end of the siege, and for a moment it looks like she'll be executed for it. Instead she's just made to leave with what's left of Burgess' men.
- Shout-Out: A group of people harassed by the bad guys hire mercenaries to protect them. Wait, is this Firefly or Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven?
- The Siege: Burgess wants his kid pretty bad, and is willing to lay siege to a brothel to get it.
- Smart Gun: Rance Burgess brags to Mal about his custom and apparently highly illegal laser pistol, which among other things features an automatic target adjust (something not even Alliance-issue guns have). Unfortunately for Burgess, the gun runs out of power after only a few shots.
- Three-Month-Old Newborn
- Unproblematic Prostitution: Averted. Nandi runs a decrepit brothel where the girls are explicitly not Companions. Their harsh lives make a big contrast against the good companion life. Nandi also remarks that it used to be much worse, with many of the girls being abused drug addicts, until she killed the brothel's previous owner and seized control.