Doctor Simon Tam is a studious young boy (Zac Efron in his first role), correcting his textbooks between daydreams and encouraged by his father (William Converse-Roberts) to be a great doctor. His sister River (Skylar Roberge) is sent to an elite academy. For a while, Simon does not hear from her, and then there is a puzzling letter, which he thinks is a cry for help. The parents doubt this, and when Simon tries to rescue her, the father bails him out only once.
In the present day, onboard Serenity, Simon (Sean Maher) is still trying to diagnose River’s (Summer Glau) condition. Arriving in the backwater colony of Jiangyin, Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), helps Mal (Jason Fillion) and Jayne (Adam Baldwin) to unload their cattle cargo and meet with their clients, the disreputable Grange Brothers (Andy Rolfes and Mathew Ferreira). The local authorities show up, there is a gunfight, and Book is wounded.
Simon and River join Inara (Morena Baccarin) and Kaylee (Jewel Staite) in town. Kaylee is still a bit smitten with the Doctor and wants to buy him something nice, but he unwittingly insults her, and the Tams end up on their own. River wanders off to join a maypole dance, and Simon watches her dancing. She stumbles when Book is shot across town. Simon and River are kidnapped.
Mal and Zoe (Gina Torres) get Book back to Serenity. When Wash (Alan Tudyk) is unable to find the Doctor, Mal thinks the siblings have been taken by local Hill Folk, whose business is kidnapping. He decides he must abandon the Tams to get medical help for Book. Inara insists they dock with the Alliance cruiser Magellan. The Alliance Captain refuses to help until he sees Book’s ID card and suddenly nothing is too good for Book, which puzzles the crew.
The Hill Folk welcome Simon and River. There is much sickness in the village and the Doctor helps. Doralee (Erica Tazel), the teacher who runs the closest thing to an infirmary, suggests that Tam is where he needs to be. Simon and River share a childhood memory and River regrets how she has ruined his life. River senses the cause of a young mute girl’s silence. Doralee realizes she has powers and can only be a witch. She must be burned at the stake. It doesn’t help that she reads the judge’s past crimes.
Simon appeals to the villagers and then decides to join her at the stake. Serenity swoops in, Jayne holding a BFG, Mal and Zoe striding in to save the Tams. As they leave, Simon asks Mal why he came back for them. Mal says because they are his crew. But you don’t even like me. You’re my crew; why are we still talking about this?
This episode was directed by Michael Grossman of Pretty Little Liars fame. One of Nathan Fillion’s favorite memories is of sitting down with the cast to film a dinner scene with real steaks, which they promptly ate for lunch.