I know that FOX deserves some if not most of the blame for the lameness of this episode. For whatever reasons, the network elected not to air "Serenity" and instead made Joss & Tim write a different pilot. Give us bigger than life villains! they said. Make the main characters snuggable, little bunnies! they said. And while you're at it, give us 37 minutes of exposition! they said. OK, maybe they didn't say that last part, but that's what they got.
Perhaps Joss & Tim didn't have a choice but to include all of the background information presented in "Serenity" in their reworking, but I don't think they really needed to. Pilots should demonstrate the interpersonal dynamics between the main characters, but they do not necessarily have to reveal all the characters' histories. Why Simon and River are fugitives, for example, could have been addressed in a subsequent episode, which would have reduced the exposition by about 40%.
Mal and his merry band of thieves are supposed to be our morally ambiguous but relatable antiheroes; however, FOX really isn't comfortable with that "anti-" part. So Joss & Tim brought in Nishka of the fake accent and Crow of the intimidating face tattoo so that the audience knows who the real bad guys are. The crew of Serenity may steal things, but they don't cotton to torture. And they aren't foreigners or have unsightly body art. They're also touched by the hardships of others and would never steal medicine from thems that need it...except when they do that a few episodes later in "Ariel." As well as providing the one surprise in a terribly predictable plot, Mal shoving Crow into the turbine offers the only evidence that the captain might actually have some bite.
You know, Mal invites Simon and River to stay aboard if Simon earns his keep, treating wounds and the like, but Book just stays on the ship and no one says a word. I really doubt that Book has the money to pay for being shuttled around everywhere they go, he doesn't really do anything as a crew member on a regular basis, and Mal doesn't particularly seem to like having a shepherd on his boat. So why does no one question Book's continued presence on the ship?
A doped up Jayne is the only somewhat enjoyable bit of this episode. "What? What do you mean back? I waited for you guys!"
Also, in my quest for HoYay! I note that when Inara is brushing her hair, Kaylee asks if Inara ever brushes her clients' hair, which suggests Kaylee thinks of hairbrushing as something that's done between people who sleep together. Heh heh heh. And Mal goes to the infirmary to wash his cuts from the fight. He could have done in his quarters, so I think he just wanted to see Simon.