"There is the theory of the Möbius. A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop."
A Federation shuttlecraft is found floating in space, far from any other Federation starship. The mystery is cleared up soon enough as the Enterprise picks it up and identifies it, but this only raises a much bigger mystery: the shuttlecraft is from the Enterprise itself and, even more astounding, its sole occupant is another Captain Picard. This second Picard is unconscious, and Doctor Pulaski is puzzled by him – his vitals are OK, but all of his readings are “out of phase”, whatever that means. She carries him off to Sickbay while Counselor Troi, true to form, says she can’t sense anything in particular from him.Picard orders Data to check the shuttlecraft’s logs, but it’s drained of power and the power from the Enterprise seems to be incompatible with its systems for some reason. Data and Geordi cook up some fancy engineering to get it started, and discover that the shuttlecraft’s onboard clock reads six hours into the future. They retrieve the final visual log from the shuttlecraft, which shows it taking off shortly before the Enterprise is destroyed by some sort of Negative Space Wedgie. Geordi suggests stopping or changing course to avoid encountering whatever it is, but the others say it’s no good trying to fight fate and decide to soldier on until whatever is meant to happen happens (although that doesn’t really make sense; they’ve just committed to the one course of action that couldn’t possibly solve the problem).Meanwhile Pulaski has successfully revived Picard Two, but he’s completely out of it and can’t communicate. Pulaski theorizes that as time catches up to the moment he was sent back, he’ll become more aware, until the final moment when he’ll be fully himself again. The fact that he can’t answer any questions frustrates Picard One to the point of obsession, but no matter which way he looks at the problem he can’t figure any of it out on his own. Before long, it’s too late, and the energy vortex appears without warning. It starts pulling the Enterprise in, and some sort of consciousness inside of it begins scanning them. As Picard tries to figure a way out, the vortex starts singling him and his double out and hitting them with energy beams.His first instinct is to leave the ship to draw the vortex’s attention away and give everyone else a chance to escape, but then he realizes that’s exactly what Picard Two tried to do. So instead he heads to Sickbay and orders Pulaski to let Picard Two out. Picard Two has become vaguely aware of his surroundings, but can only focus on trying to leave the Enterprise. Picard One follows his double to the Shuttle Bay, trying to get him to think of another option. All Picard Two says is that the other way “would never work” because “going forward would destroy the Enterprise.” Picard One understands what he means, and breaks the time loop by killing his double with a phaser before he can leave the ship again. He then returns to the bridge and orders the Enterprise to head directly into the vortex. This does the trick, and the vortex disappears, along with the duplicate shuttlecraft and Picard. As the ship get back on its way, Picard retreats to his ready room to ponder what it all means, confiding in Riker, “They say if you travel far enough you will eventually meet yourself… having experienced that, Number One, it’s not something I would care to repeat.”
- Call-Back: Picard refers to the Traveler and Dr. Mannheim's experiments when trying to make sense of the Timey-Wimey Ball that they're dealing with.
- Crazy Enough to Work: The Enterprise is being pulled into an energy vortex that tightens its grip every time they try to boost power to the engines to escape. Picard realises at the very end that the only way to escape is to fly at warp speed directly into the maw of the vortex and collide with the energy source in the center.
- Early Installment Weirdness: This is one of 24th-century Star Trek's first major time travel stories, and the idea that future versions of a person are disoriented upon going to the past until the moment of divergence is never referenced again.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Picard is thrown back six hours in time and his body clock is completely out of whack to the point where his mind barely functions. The present Picard spends much of the episode trying to get answers out of him.
- Foreshadowing: Riker mentioning his father is a precursor to the next episode, "The Icarus Factor".
- Future Me Scares Me: Picard's double from six hours in the future disgusts him because the double apparently abandoned ship and left the crew to die, something Picard would gladly rather die than do.Picard: Except for his features, there is nothing about him that I find familiar!
- Lethal Chef: Riker proves to be one, though he blames the weird eggs he picked up at Starbase. Only Worf likes the dish.
- Negative Space Wedgie: The vortex which the Enterprise crew encounters and must escape.
- Railroading: Picard lampshades the possible hopelessness of their situation.Picard: We may be on a road that has no turns.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Crew members wonder if trying to avoid the disaster will actually lead to it happening.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Picard spends the whole episode racking his brain trying to find a way to save the ship.
- Take a Third Option: "What was the other choice? We can't fight, we cant escape, we can't go forward..."
- Temporal Paradox: The crew try to avoid the object loop kind, with Picard potentially being the object.
- Temporal Sickness: Picard's future double suffers from it bigtime.