The episode opens with River wandering in a daze through the ship. She perceives the crew in their various activities. Zoe and Wash making out, Book and Jayne talking. Simon telling amusing frat party anecdotes to Kaylee. She also perceives for a moment Simon wishing he was back home as well as Book and Jayne talking about clerical rules; and Wash and Zoe exchanging affections. Then she imagines herself strolling through some leaves. She stoops to pick up what she thinks is a twig. It turns out to be a gun. Mal disarms her and finds out the gun is loaded. Then River runs away in tears.
After this the crew holds a council. Kaylee reveals that it is not the first time but that River had handled a gun at the assault on Niska's stronghold.
With disturbing effectiveness. It is speculated also that she had mind-reading powers. The combination of all that power in someone unable to control herself disturbs the crew even though Simon tries to defend her, doting big brother that he is. No conclusion is reached and the council breaks up. Simon and Kaylee walk off by themselves, Kaylee pleading with Simon not to be angry. Simon also starts to feel homesick. Simon catches a glimpse of River and struggles to remind himself that it was not River's fault he was in exile, but the fault of her tormentors.
In the meantime the bounty hunter Jubal Early, who had apparently been following them, slips aboard. He knocks out Mal and Book separately. He also goes to Kaylee and threatens to rape her if she does not reveal where River's room is. When he heads toward it River is not there but Simon is having heard a noise. When they meet, Jubal threatens to rape Kaylee, so Simon agrees to temporarily cooperate or pretend to do so.
During the search Simon and Jubal verbally spar with each other, Jubal spouting off impressive sounding but irrelevant bits of personal philosophy, and Simon returning with ironic witticisms. They search Inara's shuttle but Inara is the only one there. When she tries to plead with Jubal he strikes her. Then they go off to search elsewhere. They arrive on the bridge whereupon Jubal threatens to kill Simon if River does not show herself. River talks back over the intercom and tells Jubal in an eerie fashion that as she was no longer wanted she had simply melted into the ship.
While Simon still continues his witticisms, River starts to manipulate Jubal's emotions with an extensive knowledge of his past. At the same time she calls to the other crew members asking Kaylee to unlock the other rooms, telling Zoe to hold off resisting and telling Mal of her own plan. River continues to manipulate Jubal until Jubal realizes that she is acting. Then River compares her loneliness with his, and offers to save the crew trouble by going with him. This of course hits Simon's Berserk Button
as he is unaware of River's plan and he tries to tackle Jubal(who is twice his size and wearing body armor) actually knocking him down but getting shot in the process. He tries again even with a bullet in his leg. Despite Simon's Heroic Spirit
, Jubal manages to subdue Simon. Then he walks out to the ship thinking to secure River. Mal however is waiting in ambush and grabs Jubal and hurls him into space. Then the crew settles down to pleasant displays of normalcy while Jubal floats off to die and saying, "Well, here I am."
This episode is River's episode
and it shows just how powerful she really is.
Tropes seen in this episode include:
- Author Tract: Everything philosophical out of Early's mouth is pretty much Whedon's Existentialist views.
- Might count as a Take That Me since Early is presented as severely messed-up and decidedly wrong.
- Brother-Sister Team: Simon and River; this time River is taking the lead.
- Break the Cutie: What Early threatens to do to Kaylee and is trying to do to River; as it happens Kaylee escaped and Early was broken by the other cutie.
- Call Back: Kaylee slowly backing away from a gun-wielding River, referencing the scene in "War Stories" where River shot Niska's men. She tells the crew the story later.
- Can't Spit It Out: what River "reads" when she gets into Mal and Inara's argument.
- Catch Phrase: Jubal: "Does that seem right to you?"
- Creepy Child: River. A "good" variant on Creepy Child but certainly creepy.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Kind of; they knew River was this, they just didn't realize how much of one she was.
- Dissonant Serenity:
- Heh. River as "Serenity" is rather even-keeled for having a dangerous man holding her brother at gunpoint. It's all part of her plan to screw with Early.
- Early's (presumably) last words drifting in space are a calm "Well... here I am."
- Distressed Damsel: Kaylee
- Does Not Like Shoes: River is barefoot the entire episode.
- Failed a Spot Check:
- Audio version. Early manages to misunderstand several clearly-stated sentences in bizarre and non-sequitury ways.
- He somehow fails to notice Mal right behind him when he heard Simon move half a step behind him earlier. Possibly justified by lack of sound outside in space.
- Less excusable is Jayne's failure to recognize the fistfight going on right outside his quarters.
- Gentleman Snarker: Simon. "Come on out River, the nice man wants to kidnap you."
- Heroic Resolve: A 140-pound doctor knocking down Early twice out of sheer Heroic Spirit certainly qualifies even if it is unsuccessful, and unnecessary as it turns out. He might even have got up a third time and tried again if River hadn't reassured him.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted; River is only pretending. However the communications breakdown pushes Simon's Berserk Button.
- Honor Before Reason: Only partially:
Simon: I'd rather die standing.
Early: The intention is not for you to die, Doctor.
- Hypocritical Humor: River.
River: [Simon] takes so much looking after...
River: You're not right, Early. You're not righteous. You got issues.
- Insane Equals Violent: Early's definitely violent but his not-quite-right-ness manifests in other weird behaviors like randomly licking surfaces.
- Kick the Dog: Executed literally, as young Jubal's Start of Darkness.
- Let's Get Dangerous:
- Simon's attack on Jubal.
- Humorously subverted with Jayne. He angrily wakes up during the ruckus, looks up at the fighting with a scowl, takes the blanket off his weapon cache, heroic music plays... and he goes back to sleep with it as another blanket.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: River is terrified by her ability to hear what people are really thinking (including how they actually feel about her).
- Noodle Incident:
- Early makes a vague reference to one of his previous bounties: a midget arsonist.
You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I've ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you? Simon:
What'd he do? Early:
The midget. Early:
Arson. Little man looooved fire.
- During River's mind-reading of the crew, she comes across Book having a very un-preacher-like moment.
- It's never made clear how that gun got there.
- Papa Wolf: Simon and Mal.
- Psycho for Hire: Early is bugfuck crazy.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: River gives one to Early. Through her telepathy we see his mental armor crack a bit.
- Sadistic Choice:
- Simon. Help Early find his sister or get shot and let unspeakable things happen to Kaylee. He chooses the former to stall for time.
- Early does this to Kaylee as well: surrender without warning her shipmates, or get raped to death.
- Your Mom: River begins screwing with Early with this. He claims he's not fazed but of course she knows better.
- Worthy Opponent: A little. Early seems to respect Simon. Simon only regards Early as a threat to Kaylee and River. River states clearly she does not respect Early.