We see Serenity landing, like a downy feather, and Mal's always cagey around River: "Hey, little one. Understand your part in all this?" She stalks around him madly, not looking in his face. "Do you?" He smiles. "This is what I do, darlin'." But he thinks, and is nervous, because if the Alliance really is getting tighter -- and it's not just more of his dissociation and retreat into his own bitterness that's apparently been going down since the series end six months prior -- he's not exaggerating when he says the stakes are upped. He repeats to himself: "This is what I do." He blusters over to Kaylee, his favorite stress-reducer, and she smiles and tells him to have some faith. "Not today," he says, which is a nice line of dialogue, because it's a joke about how they're going to be landing during Sunday services, but also because faith is a thing he doesn't understand by that name anymore. "If Fanty and Mingo are right about the payroll this could look to be a sunny day for us." In much the same way that the Operative is like a less-interesting Jubal Early with a totally different agenda, Fanty and Mingo are twins, a pair of less-interesting Badgers with the same agenda as everybody else on the outer planets. Simon reaches up to the side of the Mule as they're all packing in: "River, stay behind the others. If there's fighting, drop to the floor or run away. It's okay to leave them to die." Hee! Since Mal can't handle anybody having a better line than him, he jumps in. "Doctor, I'm taking your sister under my protection here. If anything happens to her, anything at all, I swear to you I will get very choked up. Honestly. There could be tears." Which is a very Joss line, but not as funny as what Simon said.
Kaylee and Simon watch the Mule exit and cross the desert: "Don't mind the Captain none, Simon. I know he'll look out for her. They'll be back before you can spit." He ignores her and walks off. Her huge smile follows after: "Well, not that you spit." Her smile turns to yearning, and then to sadness. I forgot how good she was in these scenes with Simon, the way she takes the non-energy of his obliviousness and returns it in a signal without a feedback loop, just loving forever, into space like a microwave. It's painful. You know, I was always impressed with the way the pilot (also called Serenity, linked above) managed to introduce so many characters without seeming blocky or aggressive -- it's nice to watch it play out here as well.
On the prairie, Jayne crudely requests some exposition: "What are we hoping to find here that equals the worth of a turd?" And Mal obliges: "Security payroll. Alliance don't have the manpower to 'enforce the peace' on every outer-rim planet. They hire out to the private firms, who will not work for credit. They get paid in cashy money, which once a month rests here." While Jayne wonders how that doesn't mean they're stealing directly from the Alliance, and thus asking to be blown up, but Zoe's on it: "No private firm would ever report the theft of their own payroll. They'd appear weak, might lose their contract." Mal explains that, thusly, this is a low-pressure job: "We're as ghosts in this. Won't but rattle the floor." Jayne's pleased: "Shiny. Let's be bad guys."