It’s ESPN 8 (“The Ocho”) and some sort of space basketball! You would definitely want Jayne on your team, what with him being 9 feet tall and everything. River is avidly watching the game (trying to figure out the rules, I think) as Inara and Simon chat about how River is doing. A proximity alert sounds. “We’re all doomed … who’s flying this thing? Oh, that would be me,” exclaims Wash. He goes up to the bridge to find Serenity approaching a derelict ship; a dead body is floating out in space and bounced off the window gruesomely. Everyone wonders what the ship is. River murmurs: “It’s a ghost.”
Actually, the ship is a converted cargo hauler, retrofitted to carry passengers to the outer planets. Book wonders if they should report the incident and when the crew is reluctant to get involved, he brings up the Good Samaritan story. Mal reconsiders, thinking there might be available salvage. Jayne: “Uh, yeah, someone might be hurt.” Have I mentioned lately that I love Jayne? Unseen underneath, CGI tentacles attach to Serenity from the derelict. That can't be good. At first, Simon offers to join the away team but he rethinks things when he sees Mal and Zoë getting into their spacesuits. Jayne notices his discomfort and is more than happy to fan its flames. Mal and Zoë explore the other ship: the emergency power is on; full plates were left in the kitchen as though folks got up in the middle of their meal; all the computers were left on; there is no sign of struggle. “They’re just gone.”
River wakes up in her room from a nightmare, sobbing. When Simon tends to her, she says she can’t sleep, there’s too much screaming [in her head]. Jayne stops by to tell Simon to get suited up and meet him over on the other ship. With great trepidation – and his helmet on crooked! – Simon enters the derelict, panting with fear. He finds the crew already there, sans suits, as there is plenty of life support available. Jayne laughs as Simon calls him a sadist; they all split up to gather salvage and Kaylee kindly tells Simon that he had fastened his helmet incorrectly. Ha. Kaylee wonders what happened to all the people: she can find nothing mechanically wrong with this ship. Mal and Zoë find the cargo hold and unhappily note that all the settlers’ supplies are still onboard – no one would abandoned this ship without their supplies. Zoë reasons, “Sir, even if they’d escaped on a lifeboat, they would have had room for some of this stuff.” Mal says grimly, “Nobody escaped,” as they point their flashlights at the ceiling and find all the settlers strung up there, dead. Jayne, pillaging the galley, is attacked from behind. He reports that his attacker was “Big tho’, strong. I think I might have hit him.” “You did,” says Mal, following a trail of blood to where a small and frightened man is hiding in a crawl space. “Ah yes,” snarks Simon, “He’s a real beast. It’s a wonder you’re still alive.” “Looked bigger when I couldn’t see him,” replies Jayne reasonably.
Back on Serenity, the crew discusses the survivor. Jayne thinks he’s the one who killed the other settlers. Zoë says that the captain wouldn’t have brought him onboard were that the case. The survivor is ranting, “no mercy, cattle for the slaughter, open them up, see what’s inside,” so Mal tells Simon to dope him, although he posits it would be better to just shoot him and put him out of his misery. That upsets everyone. Mal states that after what this guy’s seen, there’s no hope for him: his ship was hit by Reavers. Everyone is very much more upset about this.
Mal goes on: “Don’t matter we took him off that boat, it’s a place he’s going to live forever.” Book spouts some platitudes about hope and faith [hey! That’s nearly a BTVS episode!]; Mal says the Reavers might take issue with that philosophy, if they have time for philosophy while they're gnawing at your insides. Jayne wants to get gone post-haste but Mal says there’s work still to be done on the derelict boat. When Jayne says he’s not going back over there with those mutilated bodies, Simon volunteers to go help cut them down. Book says he’ll help put them to rest: “How we treat our dead is what makes us different from those who did the slaughtering.” Mal okays this plan, sending a reluctant Jayne with them. As the funeral detail heads off, he brings Kaylee, Wash and Zoë up to speed with the booby trap tentacles that have latched onto Serenity. Mal wants to know if “little Kaylee” can fix it; Kaylee says yes … and if she can’t, it’s not as if he’ll be able to yell at her. That’s the spirit! Next is a brief montage of Jayne, Book and Simon cutting down the bodies, Kaylee fiddling with the workings of the ship while Mal, Zoë and Wash look on, the survivor waking up in the infirmary and River shrieking. Kaylee takes care of the booby trap; the away team returns with the last of the salvage; and uh oh! an Alliance cruiser has cornered Serenity and ordered them to prepare to be boarded.
On the Alliance cruiser, Matt Fielding from Melrose Place is not only looking for the stolen salvage from the derelict, but also recognizes that Serenity has been flagged for possibly harboring the fugitive Tam siblings. On Serenity, Simon is wigging out as Mal tells him to fetch River, thinking they’re about to be turned in; Book admonishes him, “Don’t be a fool, son.” When the feds board Serenity, the crew (and Book) is waiting for them in the hold; the Alliance soldiers discover the survivor in the infirmary. Matt suspects that Mal is hiding the Tams and takes the crew back to the cruiser for interrogation; Kaylee takes great offense when Matt calls Serenity a “junker.” Matt questions each crewmember separately – it’s largely hilarious. He notes that Zoë fought with Mal in the war. Zoë: “Fought with a lot of people in the war.” Matt: “And your husband?” Zoë: “Sometimes fight with him too.” When he asks her why she is reluctant to talk about her marriage, she puts him off with a “we’re very private people.” Cut immediately to Wash chuckling: “The legs, definitely the legs, you can put that down … and right where her legs meet her back. Actually, that whole area. And right above it.” Kaylee defends Serenity with a torrent of mechanical gibberish; Jayne just stares menacingly without speaking. The soldiers continue to tear the ship apart looking for the Tams [under the placemats?!]; the camera pulls back to show Simon and River, wearing spacesuits and clinging to the outside of the ship. Simon is terrified but his sister is joyfully gazing at the star-filled ‘verse above them.
I notice that during Matt’s interrogation of Mal, the hand-held camera is extra shaky. I’m not sure why Joss chose to do this … or if it’s perhaps the effect of the tasty rum and tonic I’ve just finished. No matter. Matt observes that Mal fought on the “wrong side” of the Unification War; Mal corrects him, saying, “maybe it was the losing side, but I’m not convinced it was the wrong side.” Matt then arrests Mal and the crew for allegedly slaughtering all the settlers on the ship. When Mal suggests he ask the sole survivor what really happened, Matt says the survivor won’t be able to talk with his tongue split in two. Mal swears softly, horror and realization creeping over his face. Cut to an Alliance operating room with the survivor on the table: his hand reaches out, grabbing a surgical tool. Blood splashes in a great arc across the wall.
Mal insists to Matt that Reavers killed those people and that the survivor was made to watch. “A man comes up against that kind of will has no choice but to become it.” Mal predicts that the “poor bastard” will first cut on himself, making himself look like a Reaver, and then he’ll start to act like one. Yeesh. Simon and River let themselves back into Serenity to hunker down until the coast is clear. The “survivor,” a/k/a the Reaver-in-training, escapes from the Alliance cruiser and also goes back to Serenity; Mal, Matt and some soldiers track him, following the trail of dead bodies. River is acting squirrelly. Just as the feds are about to come upon the Tam siblings, the wannabe-Reaver jumps out, killing a soldier and attacking Matt. The wannabe has cut his face and generally looks as though he’s taken a correspondence course in facial piercing ... with the lights off. Yuck-o. Mal manages to get his handcuffs around the guy’s neck, snapping it and saving Matt’s life. Perhaps gratefully, Matt releases Serenity and her crew, but not before he confiscates the cargo they’ve salvaged. “Couldn’t let us profit,” grumbles Mal.
4 hours ago