Mal assures us that Earth was used up. The Alliance is in charge. He and his crew will take any gig, and "don't much care what it is." As long as it doesn't involve slaves. Or stealing medicine. Or anything else he doesn't want to do.
Then we get the show's first "previouslys." Or rather, "This is stuff that happened previously, but you haven't seen some of it yet, because it was in the original pilot, which we brilliant minds at FOX thought was too talky, so we made them toss together that wretched 'Train Job' episode instead. We don't care if you hate us. We're rolling in money." But anyway, previously: Jayne wondered how Book knows so much about crime. Simon told the crew that River is a genius who had been placed in some academy his family had never heard of before, and she essentially disappeared for two years. One day Simon got a letter that made no sense, and realized that she was sending him a coded message: "They're hurting us." Book insisted to Mal that Simon is a hero for giving up everything to save River. Some men who are very concerned about harsh dishwashing detergents are looking for River. And Sir Benny agreed to have Mal help him smuggle cattle to other planets.
We open to a flashback -- the Tam estate, eleven years ago. The Tams live in a nice house with Asian architectural influences. The swooping of green CGI lights indicates a force field for security. They're all rich and fancible, as Jayne might say. Inside, a young Simon sits in a living room, working with some sort of computer notepad. He's probably about twelve years old, and he's already wearing a vest. A young River peeks up from behind a sofa to tell him that they're in trouble. She explains that they've been cut off from their platoon, and now they're surrounded by soldiers from the Independent side. She immediately decides that they need to resort to cannibalism. You're supposed to be with the Alliance, not the Reavers, sweetie. Simon humors her for a little while, then points out that she's supposed to be practicing for her dance recital. She says she already learned it all. She points to something on Simon's screen and tells him that it's wrong. Simon says that it's directly from his book. River insists that the book is wrong, and the conclusions fallacious. They probably shouldn't have ordered their history books from the publishing empire founded by Ann Coulter. Yes, I'm just begging for crazy hate mail now, aren't I?
Rather than having to deal with River pestering him over his schoolwork, Simon plays the good older brother and humors her some more. River explains that the Independents used dinosaurs to cut them off from their allies. Simon exclaims something in Chinese ("My bathroom is lopsided!"), but then a man comes in to interrupt them. This is Daddy Tam. He chastises Simon for his language. He doesn't go for that potty talk. Simon explains about the dinosaur thing. Daddy Tam says something in Chinese ("I am an evil, evil man, because I am somebody's father"), and excuses Simon's language because dinosaurs were involved. Simon asks Dad if he got the "wave" Simon sent him. He did, after a fashion. There was some sort of technological glitch. Simon claims that if he had some sort of a widget called a "dedicated source box," that wouldn't have happened. Although you'd think a "dedicated source box" sounds like some sort of dreary, gray ambiguous thing that would be sitting in some corner of the twelfth floor of your office building -- and only three people know what it does -- the context suggests that it's actually some multimedia entertainment, office, computer, communication combo platter of super-technology. Simon wants one. Daddy Tam points out that it would allow Simon to access any tyen-shiao duh ("gay frat porn") that was filtered through the "cortex." Daddy Tam forbids it. But it seems as though Mommy Tam has overruled him and ordered Simon a dedicated source box anyway. Daddy tells Simon that he'll repay him by becoming a brilliant doctor. River asks when she's going to get her own box of porn. Not for many years. Simon thanks his dad. We should all thank the casting folks of Firefly (which, if IMDb is correct, are Anya Colloff, Amy McIntyre Britt, and Jennifer Fishman Pate) for doing such a good job getting child actors who actually look and behave like younger versions of Simon and River. Hee. "Fishman Pate."