Next Step: Straight To Video
Mathias asks why the Operative has come, and the Operative takes him through it slowly: "Because the situation is even less simple than you think. Do you know what your sin is, Doctor? It's pride." He runs back to the conversation with Simon, Dr. Mathias explaining, "Key members of Parliament have personally observed this subject. I was told that the Alliance's support..." The Operative looks at him coldly, standing completely still. "'Key members of Parliament.' Key. The minds behind every military, diplomatic, and covert operation in the galaxy, and you put them in a room...with a psychic." River stares out at us, from the image. And yeah, that's quite the boner, but the feedback on a redundant bureaucracy is like that, so it's not out of the question. She's a weapon of mass delirium; she's her own Valerie Plame, interrogating herself, reporting on herself, hunted down by a terrified government caught with its pants down and the kill order still in its hand like a copy of Mandate. "If there was some classified information that she...she never spoke of it. I don't know what it is." Neither does the Operative, but... "Judging by her deteriorating mental state, I'd say we're both better off. Secrets are not my concern. Keeping them is." Dr. Mathias starts getting nervous. It's a great performance, this ongoing ass-covering and self-justification. "Whatever secrets she might have accidentally gleaned, it's probable she doesn't even know she knows them. That they're buried beneath layers of psychosis."
The Operative gives him a history lesson: "In certain older, civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords." My emphasis, for now, but he'll explain himself way better later on. Suffice it to say that if the Alliance and the fringes are two ends of one road, the Operative and the Captain of Serenity, who we're about to meet, are two sides of a coin in the middle of it, about to get run over. One mimics the control of the Alliance with an existential understanding that his deeds are irredeemable, the other mimics the madness of the outer planets with a value-free nihilism born of disappointment in every part of the system. The Operative reacts to the disorder in his society with a counterintuitively rigorous system of belief, Captain Reynolds reacts by denying belief of any kind. Dr. Mathias is too dumb to do the work, so he just gets snotty: "Well, unfortunately, I forgot to bring a sword." The Operative helpfully pulls one out, schwing, and smiles at it, turning slowly. Mathias has no idea that that was the worst possible thing he could say -- followed, of course, by: "I would put that down right now, if I were you."