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Serenity returns to Persephone, the world they stopped by in the first episode ("Serenity", part 1). Inara has several days' employment by Atherton Wing, a very wealthy, high-society man; she will be attending a large party with him.
Badger, the criminal we also met in "Serenity", part 1, has a potential job for Mal, but it requires Mal managing to get close to a wealthy noble and convincing him to hire him. Mal decides the best way to do this is to attend the big party, so he buys Kaylee the fancy dress she wanted and goes to the party as her escort. Kaylee's awe at the fanciness of the party is very cute, and we get annoyed by the petty young women there who insult her. However, she is rescued by a gallant older gentleman and proceeds to charm a wide circle of men with her shop talk about spaceships.
Inara is there with Atherton, of course. Atherton has asked her to stay on Persephone as his private Companion, and she seems to be considering it. She is less than thrilled to meet up with Mal at the party - Mal disliked Atherton before they even met, and Atherton's feelings are mutual. Atherton becomes jealous of Inara and Mal's friendship, and lets slip his true feelings about Inara's profession and Inara herself. Mal punches Atherton, who assumes Mal is challenging him to a duel - with swords, the next morning.
Mal has no idea what he started, but Sir Harrow (the noble Mal was trying to meet) explains the situation and volunteers to be Mal's second. Conveniently, tradition dictates that Mal will be kept under guard until the duel so that he can't skip town. Inara and Kaylee fear the worst, since Mal has no idea how to fight with a sword.
In the meantime on Serenity, the rest of the crew has been enjoying some time off. Zoe and Wash have locked themselves in their cabin for some intimate time. Simon, Book, and Jayne have started a card game that seems to involve betting; amusingly, the stakes are ship chores, such as washing dishes. They have no idea what Mal has gotten into until Kaylee returns. Badger has also come - he doesn't want them to get any ideas about whisking Mal away because that would ruin Badger's reputation. Badger's men keep everyone under guard until the duel is over. The crew talks about plans to escape and help Mal, but never get anything done.
Inara sneaks into Mal's luxurious quarters and gives him a few sword-fighting pointers. Mal tries to convince her not to accept Atherton's invitation to stay on Persephone. Inara is obviously very frustrated by Mal and his attitude toward her - he seems to think he's the only one who can insult her. Mal does try to make the distinction that he only insults her profession, not her, but frankly I think that's a fine line.
The next day, a small crowd gathers for the duel. Initially Atherton lets Mal get in a few attacks, but then it quickly becomes clear that Mal is very overmatched. Atherton gets Mal in a very bad situation, and Inara pleads with Atherton to spare Mal's life, saying she'll stay. Atherton is distracted, and Mal manages to get in a few unorthodox moves and put his sword at Atherton's throat. Lord Harrow tells Mal that he is obligated by tradition to kill Atherton, but Mal refuses and just pokes him a few times. Inara is fed up with Atherton's attitude in the whole situation and tells him to get lost. She and Harrow help Mal off the field. Harrow tells Mal that he gets the job.
On Serenity, Badger and his men leave. Mal gets patched up. We find out that Lord Harrow's cargo that needs to be shipped discreetly is cattle.
This episode gave us a look at the part of the series' society that we don't normally get to see: the wealthy. We see that they are in general as petty and demanding as the stereotype of wealthy people today. Are there middle class people in Firefly? It was amusing that the secret cargo was cattle - yet another indication that basic supplies like food (and fresh food) are very valuable.
Overall, as I said earlier, this episode is just frustrating to me because Mal acts so stupidly most of the time. First, he's just plain insulting to Inara (and Kaylee incidentally), and then he goes into super-gallant mode defending Inara. We know that this swing in attitude is because of his true feelings about Inara, but it's just not that much fun to watch.
Otherwise, there wasn't much to this episode. The scenes on the ship, both before and after Badger arrived, were amusing. The slangy dialog between the characters is definitely one of the high points of this series.
At least the crew finally got a job; after all their setbacks in prior episodes, it's good to see they should finally make a little money and won't starve.