Original airdate: November 8, 2002
Arriving at a planet with a load of cattle for sale, Mal tells Simon and River to walk into town during the negotiations because "She makes things not be smooth." Simon becomes temporarily separated from River, but is relieved to find her enjoying herself for once, dancing a reel with the townsfolk. At the end of the jig, the two are captured and hauled off by settlers from another town, desiring to shanghai Simon as their doctor.
In the meantime, the negotiations are disturbed by a group of lawmen come to arrest the cattle buyers. A gunfight breaks out in which Book is wounded severely. Unable to find the Tams, Serenity takes off without them to find help for Book. The only advanced medical facility within days of travel is an Alliance vessel; they are at first refused, but Book's ID card suddenly changes the military's mind, and he is rushed into care.
In the meantime, River reveals knowledge about the life of a mute child that she should not have, thus getting her accused of witchcraft and hauled out to be burned at the stake. She adds to this imprudence when the villagers are gathered by very strongly implying that the headman had murdered the previous headman. Simon tries to shame and even fight off the mob, but finally believing there is no hope, he chooses to die with River. Just as he says "light it," Serenity arrives to rescue them.
This episode shows the close relationship between Simon and River. It's also the first big hint dropped about Book's murky past.
Tropes in this episode:
- Accidental Truth: The headman states that River can read minds, long before the crew of Serenity learn this is true.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Is believing in witches all that more odd than believing in mind-readers?
- Armour-Piercing Question: Simon is arguing with the schoolmarm about the village's recruiting methods (kidnapping), while she tries to make the case that he and River could be happy there. "If home isn't here, then where is it?"
- Belief Makes You Stupid: Simon sure holds this view. Needless to say, it doesn't go down well with the angry mob.
- Berserk Button: Simon, in a hurricane of angry snark, insults Serenity. In front of Kaylee.
- Big Brother Instinct: Simon sacrificing everything to save River, even if his parents won't bother helping him.
- Big Damn Heroes: Trope Namer. Ain't they just?
- Burn the Witch!: Once the locals become convinced River's a witch. The local leader is initially skeptical, but decides to go along with the idea once he realizes that River's mindreading ability threatens his dirty secrets.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Simon snarking at his father in a Flashback, for caring more about a dinner party than the fact that his daughter's being tortured.
- The Caretaker: Simon. River tries to return this just a little with the hodgeberries.
- Cattle Drive: A cattle drive in space, no less.
- Cheerful Child: Hints are shown that River has traces of this still left in her, despite her suffering. One can see why someone might be willing to die for her.
- Cute Mute: Ruby, the little girl whose "voice was scared away" by her mother's desperation-driven murder of her sister, attempted murder of Ruby herself, and subsequent suicide.
- Dances and Balls: The folk dance that River joins.
- Declaration of Protection: Mal, for River. Sure, she might be a witch, but she's their witch. And she and Simon are on his crew. He even seems confused when Simon asks why he saved them.
- Description Cut: We go from Simon yelling at his kidnappers about his sister, to Mrs. Tam telling Simon his sister's fine.
- Determinator: Simon. Because he is such an awesome Papa Wolf.
- Determined Homesteaders: But rather strange ones to be sure.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: Not even that much. River realises that the crew have come to save them. Cue Big Damn Heroes.
- Flashback: Simon has several of these showing the Tams before they set out into the Black, including the time when Simon began to be concerned about River's safety.
- Foe-Tossing Charge: Simon attempts this unsuccessfully but very awesomely.
- Gallows Humor: River giggling at the absurdity of being tied to a post so she can be burned at the stake on the same day as she learns what a "post-holer, for digging holes for posts" looks like.
- Gentleman Snarker: Simon has a tendency to snark at anyone who interferes with his caring for River.Simon: [to his father] I would never have tried to save River's life if I had thought there was a dinner party at risk.
Simon: [to Mal] Right... I'm very sorry if she tipped off anyone about your cunningly concealed herd of cows.
- Gunship Rescue: Serenity itself isn't armed, but Jayne is.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Nearly, but averted by Mal and Zoe's Big Damn Heroes moment. "Light it."
- Hypocrite: The schoolmarm. When Simon accuses her town of engaging in kidnapping (which they do), she invokes the Lord's command to "judge not". When she learns about River's apparent telepathy, she immediately condemns her as a witch and summons the townsfolk to burn her at the stake.
- I Have No Son!: Simon's father threatens to disown him in flashback, saying he will refuse to bail Simon out if his son's efforts to help River land him in jail again. The implication is that he went through with it later.
- Indy Ploy: Lampshaded by Zoe when she and Kaylee are worrying about Book after he's been shot:Zoe: Captain will come up with a plan.
Kaylee: Well, that's good...right?
Zoe: Possible you're not recalling some of his previous plans.
- Insane Troll Logic: The schoolmarm tries to justify Simon and River being forced to join their village by arguing that because they are travelers they have no reason to object to where they end up. It's touchy enough without the fact that she also completely refuses to engage the ethical issue of using kidnappers to "recruit" tradesmen for the community.
- I Owe You My Life: In a rare moment of lucidity, River tells Simon that she's perfectly aware he gave up everything to go and find her. She breaks down in tears over it.
- I Will Find You: Simon's search for River as glimpsed in the Flashbacks.
- Irony: The schoolmarm tells Simon that the town is "quiet and safe" for him and River. She's the one who gets the townfolk whipped up into an angry mob.
- It Has Been an Honor: "Postholer... digging holes for posts." Also Ironic Echo.
- It's Probably Nothing: The Tams dismiss Simon's worries about River's health as a game.
- Jerkass: The minute Simon and River go missing, Jayne raids Simon's stuff. He hurriedly returns what he took after Simon and River are saved.Jayne: [looking through Simon's journal] Dear diary, today I was pompous and my sister was crazy. [turns page] Today we were kidnapped by hill people, never to be seen again. It was the best day ever.
- Kick the Dog: The Alliance commander seems perfectly happy with sending Serenity packing and letting Book die. He only decides to help after running Book's ID card.
- Kidnapped Doctor: Simon is kidnapped by a village on a rural planet to tend their people and live there forever. He isn't very happy about it.Hoban Washburne: I went by the sheriff's office. Seems if we had checked the posted alerts for this rock, we might've known it. Settlers in the hills take people sometimes. Usually tradesmen and the like.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: And now they got themselves a doctor. And we don't.
- Mysterious Past: Where did Book get that card?
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Alliance captain, though he changes his tune right quick once he sees Book's ID.
- Oh, Crap!:
- When Shepard is shot, we get Mal and River's reaction, followed shortly after by everyone else's.
- Simon, when he sees Serenity taking off without him and River.
- Papa Wolf: Both Simon and Mal. Both subverted and played straight in the Flashback scenes. The actual papa is a Dirty Coward (or worse), so big brother has to be the Papa Wolf without any help.
- Police State: Shades of the Alliance being this are alluded to in a flashback. Simon's dad is upset not just that his son got arrested for being out after curfew with undesirables, but because it meant he had to go to the police station to pick Simon up. Apparently, just walking through the doors of a police station goes on your permanent record.
- Poor Communication Kills: Simon would likely have helped the locals if they'd just asked for help, and does so anyway, making their kidnapping really, really stupid.
- Rage Breaking Point: In a sense, Simon's frustration at his and River's situation all gets unleashed on Kaylee in the store.
- Reading the Enemy's Mail: Inverted. River's attempt at getting mail through without the Academy reading it is shown in a Flashback.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The headman is this, trying to calm the situation down... at least until River starts revealing his own dirty secret, at which point he rolls with it.
- Road Apples: Simon steps in a cow patty on his way out of the ship. Later, Mal mutters as he is stepping around the cow patties, "This is the last time... last time with cows..."
- Saying Too Much: River can't help but read the mind of the man trying to calm the mob down. And then she can't help but talk out loud about it.
- Schoolmarm: The lady who accuses River of witchcraft is this. Simon is understandably skeptical of her qualifications.
- Shaming the Mob: Subverted. The mob remains notably unashamed. One villager even says that Simon's attempted Heroic Sacrifice "isn't going to stop [them]" from burning River.
- The Sheriff: Appears after the gunfight at the beginning. Simon is also shown passing his office nervously.
- Sickbed Slaying: Implied to be the fate of the previous patron. He was sick, but he was getting better, and then suddenly he was dead after his successor was alone in a room with him.
- A Simple Plan: All Mal had to do was sell the cattle to the people who had arranged to buy it. Instead, lawmen come to arrest the buyers, and there's a shootout Mal, Jayne, Zoe and Book get caught up in. Lampshaded by Mal; "It never goes smooth. How come it never goes smooth?"
- Spotting the Thread: Simon already mention spotting messages from River in her mail. Here we see his immediate reaction, trying to warn his parents.
- Take Me Instead: Simon proposes the sacrifice himself to save his sister but the inquisitor refuses.
- Telepathy: Deliberately kept ambiguous, but somehow River knows things only one other person knows...
- Think Nothing of It: Simon's response to River's I Owe You My Life speech.Simon: Mei-Mei, everything I have is right here.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The town that kidnaps Simon and River and tries to burn them.
- Undying Loyalty: Simon, for River.
- Ungrateful Townsfolk: Simon and River are kidnapped by a town in need of a doctor. He hates being kidnapped and calls the townsfolk on it, but grows to like being able to help the townsfolk and having a stable place to house River. However, they become convinced she's a "witch," and plan to burn her at the stake. Nothing Simon says will stop them, so he gets up on the stake too. And they were getting ready to burn them both! The same people who went to great lengths to get a doctor were perfectly willing to go back to their high mortality rates if it meant burning a mentally damaged girl.
- Upper-Class Twit: Simon, out of culture shock and homesickness, hurts Kaylee's feelings with a bit of Upper-Class Twittery.
- Wasteland Elder: The headman or "patron." This is a villainous example.
- Would Hit a Girl: The headman slaps River when she nearly reveals he may have murdered his predecessor, then orders her burnt alive.