An Alliance Operative reviews Simon and River Tam’s escape from the experimental facility where River was modified. He highlights a particular comment by the lead scientist – that several members of the Alliance Parliament had seen River to observe her progress. Given River’s psychic ability, that means that she could possess vital secrets without even realizing it. This is a grave threat, and must be dealt with. For starters, the Operative kills the scientist. Then, he turns his attention to finding River.
On Serenity, Mal, Zoe, and Jayne prepare to take River out for a payroll-robbery job over Simon’s objections. Mal is in no mood to hear them; he reminds Simon that their increased need to avoid the Alliance has resulted in the crew passing up jobs, and work is hard to come by. Serenity is barely holding together and the crew needs to be paid. Now they have a job, River might be useful, and so she’s going. Mal turns out to be more right than he knows when River detects the Reavers coming early enough that the crew can complete the job, get a few people to safety in a bank vault, and barely make their own escape. But the potential danger is the last straw for Simon; once they collect their share of the bounty for the job, he and River will leave Serenity, just as Inara did months before.
Things don’t go nearly that smoothly, however. At the meeting to hand over the stolen payroll, River watches a broadcast that suddenly triggers some of her programming; she begins attacking everyone in the bar and does a stunning amount of damage. Simon is able to knock her out thanks to a programmed safe word, and Mal takes both of them back aboard Serenity. They learn from Mr. Universe, one of their communications contacts, that the broadcast had subliminal transmissions encoded in it. The Alliance deliberately went to a lot of trouble to trigger that outburst from River in order to find out where she was. And thanks to the security video from the bar, they do.
The Operative visits Inara at her temple and forces her to contact Mal and invite him to visit. It’s clear to Mal that the situation is a trap, but he decides to go anyway in order to assess the situation. Before he does, he gets some advice from Shepherd Book, who’s now living in a community called Haven. Once again, Book’s counsel – and former experience, whatever it may be – prove useful. Mal is barely able to escape, along with Inara, from the Operative, and Serenity manages to get away from the Alliance pursuit ships. But when they return to Haven, they find the place has been leveled and Book is dying. In fact, the Alliance has destroyed every place that Serenity has sought refuge, in an effort to keep them from disappearing. The Operative once again asks Mal to turn over River.
Instead, the captain is determined to find answers. Their only clue is Miranda, a word that River spoke right before her attack in the bar. She uses the ship computers to identify it as a planet on the outer edge of the solar system, one thought to be uninhabitable. The only way to get there is through Reaver space, so Mal orders the crew to disguise Serenity as a Reaver vessel, no matter how distasteful that may be. The crew reluctantly complies. When they arrive, they find a stable environment and multiple cities with advanced technology – and nothing but corpses that appear to have died peacefully. A weak signal beacon leads them to a recording made by an Alliance officer. She explains that most everyone on the planet died as a result of exposure to an experimental substance designed to make human beings less aggressive, more passive. On most of the population, it worked too well – they became so passive they simply stopped doing anything, including eating and breathing. But a small minority had their aggression hyped up to the maximum and began preying on everyone else – the Reavers. They were not settlers made mad by the edge of space. They were driven there by the Alliance.
Mal is determined to release the recording to the public, to let people know what the Alliance has been up to and weaken their hold. He sets out for Mr. Universe, hoping to broadcast to everyone in one fell swoop. Anticipating another trap laid by the Operative, Mal lures the Reavers to follow him, initiating a massive conflict between the Reavers and the Alliance. Wash manages to bring a severely-damaged Serenity to rest on the planet right before a Reaver attack impales him. The survivors plan a last stand to buy enough time for Mal to reach Mr. Universe and make the broadcast. But the Operative has already killed the broadcaster and destroyed his main facility. Mal’s last hope is a hidden backup facility . . . but he’ll need to survive one more face to face confrontation with the Operative while his crew survives an onslaught of Reavers and Alliance soldiers.
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon
music by David Newman
Cast: Nathon Fillion (Mal Reynolds), Gina Torres (Zoe), Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Summer Glau (River Tam), Sean Maher (Simon Tam), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative)
Notes: Mal mentions that River and Simon have been aboard Serenity for eight months.
LogBook entry by Dave Thomer