On the Operative's ship, he reads Mal's file, smiling as he sees descriptions of his various crimes, and his history as a Browncoat volunteer. Seeing the outcome of the Serenity Valley battle, knowing he was there, the Operative puts it together slowly, learning piece by piece the kind of man Mal really is.
On Serenity, Mal shackles River to the floor inside the kitchen pantry. Outside, Simon's worried for her, but Mal's worried full stop. "I believe you've got some storytelling to do. What in the hell happened back there?" Wash laughs, begging him to start with the part where Jayne got knocked out by a 90-pound girl. They all agree that it's likely people died in the fight: "I know she meant to kill me before the Doc put her out," says Jayne. Simon explains the phrase he shouted: "It's a safe word. The people who helped me break River out had intel that River and the other subjects were being embedded with behavioral conditioning. They taught me a safe word in case something happened." Kaylee asks for clarification, and Simon obliges: "It's a phrase that makes her fall asleep. If I speak the words..." Jayne jumps up. "Don't say it!" Zoe rolls her eyes. "It only works on her, Jayne." I love how they don't even think twice about compensating for what an idiot he is.
"In case something happened," shouts Mal. "You feel to elaborate on what that 'something' might be?" Simon says they never explained, and Mal, upset about the fact that he never asked, grabs him. "Eight months. Eight months, you had her on my boat knowing full well she could go monkeyshit at the wrong word. You never said a thing." Simon tries to equivocate: "I brought her out here so they couldn't get to her! I don't even know what they..." But Mal's been smacked in the point yet again: "My ship! My crew! You had a gorramn time bomb living with us!" She wakes in the pantry as his tirade continues. "Who we gonna find in there when she wakes up? The girl? Or the weapon?" Simon's sheepish. "I thought she was getting better," he says, and Jayne is back on the horse: "...And I thought they was getting off! Didn't we have an intricate plan how they was gonna be not here anymore?" Kaylee responds that they can't carry through on that now, and Jayne snots, "No, now that she's a killer woman we ought be bringing her tea and dumplings." Mal doesn't respond to questions about why he followed his impulse to bring her back onboard himself, but he does look at Zoe. I like Zoe-as-conscience, because it's a realistic role for her to play, given the fact that she's the only person he actually trusts.
Mal, stricken, steps aside to let Simon investigate her. Outside, Jayne submits that if she "goes woolly again, we're gonna have to put a bullet to her." Split-screen Mal and River, both speaking the line: "It's crossed my mind." There's a significance to the Watcher/Slayer relationship here that brings the Gollum stuff back in, which is basically that she serves as an anima projection that carries the shadow. I promise that I won't bring up the Jung stuff after this, but it's another angle on the central conflict of the movie, which is that the violence of Mal's anger at the shackles of the Alliance is expressed wildly through the outward violence she implies, the "meddling" that she, and her brother Reavers, embody. Like Giles, he exists at cross-purposes to the prosperous governing body, the wizards, who only want to send her out like Ariel, lion of God, to do their bidding -- but he doesn't agree with that either. So what do you do with a tool you're bound to protect, if you can't use it the way you're supposed to? From the First Slayer on, it's the girl -- the super-powered girl -- that carries the demon, so that the Watcher doesn't have to. But if she becomes a danger to the society she exists to create/patrol, where does that leave the Watcher? He can't kill her -- she's part of his soul. She's the psyche, the butterfly. This is a story about how they're inextricably bound, and about how Mal has to protect her, without controlling her. To hold the butterfly in his hand without crushing it. Not because he hates the Alliance, but because he loves her. If he can make that work, he'll know salvation, but if he ever figures out that balance within himself, he will know grace.