The Enterprise visits a world in which the otherwise very human-like (they aren't even Rubber-Forehead Aliens) inhabitants have reversed some human patterns of sex-based physical differences. The females are generally taller, stronger, and more physically imposing than the (to us) effeminate and waifish males. In addition, all the leadership roles in this society are filled by women and the men are subservient. The Enterprise's purpose is to rescue survivors of a downed freighter, but everyone on the Enterprise gets sick.
We open with the Enterprise having investigated a seven-year overdue ship, the Odin, showing just how much the Federation cares for its citizens note . The wreck contained no life signs, but had several missing escape pods, suggesting there are survivors. The nearest planet is Angel One, a pre-warp society which is a matriarchy. Women are the dominant gender, while men are subservient. Naturally, Picard gives the responsibility of contacting them to Troi, the only person on the bridge who isn't wearing a uniform and has no diplomatic training whatsoever. The women of Angel One agree to help them, with Picard noting that Starfleet is hoping this world will become part of the Federation (again, they are a pre-warp society).
Riker, Troi, Data, and Tasha beam down to Angel One, where we see just how desperate casting was to find women over six feet tall with acting ability. In addition, the men are wearing tight-fitting clothes exposing a great deal of chest, an attempt to provide commentary, and yet Troi is doing the exact same thing (another reason why Troi wearing a uniform would be better). The women of Angel One are distrustful of the Enterprise crew, but permit them to stay for the meantime. Aboard the Enterprise, Wesley Crusher has contracted a virus, continuing the Season 1 trend of Wesley helping destroy the ship. Picard is relieved of duty by Dr. Crusher, even though he seems no worse off than getting the flu, and leaves Geordi in command.
Meanwhile, the away team decides to find the missing crew by isolating something unique to them that doesn't exist on Angel One. Rather than looking for human biosigns, they look for platinum. Riker is invited to a private audience with Beata, the elected leader of Angel One, complete with the tight-fitting attire of the native men, while the others look for the survivors. Sure enough, they find Ramsey, the leader of the surviving freighter crew. Unfortunately, he has no intention of leaving. The crew has settled in, taken wives, and even have children. However, due to how men are treated on this planet, they're in hiding. Nevertheless, they refuse to leave.
As Ramsey and his men are not members of Starfleet bound by the Prime Directive, the away team has no power to force them to comply. After the team foolishly reports back to Riker in front of Beata, she sentences Ramsey and his followers to death for their subversive views, and easily captures them. Riker offers to take them and their families off-planet to avoid execution, but they still choose to stay even in the face of death. Meanwhile, the virus has spread to so many crew members that Dr. Crusher declares the ship quarantined, meaning Riker can't beam them away even by force.
As the scheduled execution approaches, Riker makes a last-ditch appeal to Beata, pointing out that Ramsey's men are not the cause of the revolutionary views spreading across Angel One, but merely a symbol, and executing them would make them into martyrs and worsen the situation. After some thought, Beata agrees, and sentences the Odin survivors and their families to exile instead.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Artistic License Biology: A virus that spreads by smell. Definitely one of the stranger xeno-diseases that the Enterprise encounters.
- Boldly Coming: One of the more notable cases in the series. Riker not only rationalizes going off to score with Beata as being part of the diplomatic nature of their mission, but he even dresses up in native male attire, which bares his chest, specifically to appeal to her. Deanna and Tasha find it hilarious.
- Camp Straight: The native males of Angel One are distinctly effeminate as compared to men from the Federation.
- Dull Surprise: When casting is tasked with finding a bunch of women over six feet tall, they're naturally not going to be too picky about acting ability.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Angel One is established to be a world in a mid-20th Century age of development, meaning the Prime Directive should have forbidden Picard from making contact with them. Possibly an in-universe example of the Grandfather Clause, as dialogue implies that first contact with them occurred back around the Star Trek: The Original Series era, when the Prime Directive was much more loosely applied.
- Lady Land: More like Lady Planet.
- Lost Aesop: At the time of this episode's writing and for years afterwards, it was heavily insisted that the society on Angel One was an allegory for apartheid in South Africa. Although Angel One does depict a segregated society, there is far more evidence of a cautionary tale against certain radical feminist movements whose ideology is often interpreted as an intention to replace the alleged patriarchy with a matriarchy. It is worth noting that many female Star Trek fans self identify as feminists, though not neccesarily as the extreme type of feminist. It is possible that the writers insist on the apartheid allegory to avoid alienating part of the fanbase, and/or the credited writer, Patrick Barry genuinely did intend for it to be a commentary on apartheid, but the message was lost during Gene Roddenberry's rewrites.
- Ludicrous Precision:Riker: To travel the distance we did in two days at warp one would have taken the Odin escape pod five months.Data: Five months, six days, eleven hours, two minutes...Riker: Thank you, Data.Data: ...And 57 seconds.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: Dr. Crusher dramatically tells Picard that he's no longer capable of effectively commanding the ship, even though he looks like he has a mild case of the flu.
- Modern Stasis: Angel One is described as having roughly a 20th Century level of technology. Yet this is not their first contact with the Federation. They had been contacted more than 60 years prior, raising the question of whether they had either been very primitive at the time of first contact or else made very little technological progress.SF Debris: I'm sure you're on great terms considering you haven't spoken with them in 62 years! That's not long at all! I mean, that was 1950 compared to today! Sure, back then, a black guy could get arrested for drinking from the wrong water fountain, whereas today, we've elected a black guy president. Twice. But that's basically the same thing! I remember hearing about it on the radio after I rung up Mildred the operator and asked her to connect me to someone with one of them fancy new television sets!
- Moral Dissonance: Despite the above-mentioned low-tech nature of the civilization on Angel One, not only is the Prime Directive being ignored with regards to them, but the opening exposition outright states that this mission is diplomatically sensitive because the Federation hopes to induct Angel One as a member! Apparently this is due to their strategic proximity to the Romulan Neutral Zone.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: Riker tries his hand at one."When you spoke of the prisoners, you used the term revolutionary. Indeed, death has been known to stop revolutions. But I suspect it's not a revolution that Angel One is hoping to stop. It's evolution. Mister Ramsey and the Odin survivors did not initiate the waves of dissent that are rippling through your planet. Their presence here merely reinforced the change in attitudes between men and women that was already well under way. They became symbols around whom others who shared their views could gather. You may eliminate the symbols, but that does not mean death to the issues which those symbols represent. No power in the universe can hope to stop the force of evolution. Be warned. The execution of Mister Ramsey and his followers may elevate them to the status of martyrs. Martyrs cannot be silenced."
- Race Against the Clock: The Enterprise can't linger too long, as there is increased Romulan activity at an outpost near the Neutral Zone.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Or a minor part of the plot, at least. Originally, the Race Against the Clock was supposed to be Ferengi ships threatening an outpost. Due to negative reactions to the Ferengi from fans and production personnel alike, this was changed to a Romulan threat instead.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The episode was meant to be a commentary on Apartheid.
- Shirtless Scene: Picard while in bed.
- Straw Feminist: The defining trait of Angel One.
- Take a Third Option: Instead of executing the freighter's survivors, or letting the Enterprise take them away, Beata chooses to exile them to a remote portion of the planet.
- Too Dumb to Live: Ariel, a member of the ruling council, had married one of the survivors, presumably for quite some time, and somehow it is only now that she is caught.
- You Are in Command Now: Picard puts Geordi in command upon being relieved by Dr. Crusher. When Geordi is incapacitated, Riker orders Data back to the ship to take command, as he is immune to the virus.