Once again, the Enterprise is set to work investigating an unexplored planet way out in the back woods of the galaxy, where the Klingons have reported seeing the remains of a vessel floating around. After Picard and Riker ramble a bit about Fermat's Last Theorem and how it has still never been proved (whoops...), they beam over a piece of the debris from the planets atmosphere, to find that it is puzzlingly marked with the NASA emblem from the mid-21st century.
In another crazy twist, even though the planet is basically an ice cube covered by poison gas, Wesley locates a building on the surface surrounded by breathable air. Having nowhere else to look for clues, Riker, Worf, and Data beam down to it to see if they can figure out just what the hell is going on. They find nothing but a revolving door in the middle of nowhere, and (since they dont have any movies in the 24th century to show them why this might be a bad idea) walk through it to find themselves suddenly inside a glitzy hotel casino. The people around them dont show any life signs and they act as though theyre in some cheesy gangster novel. Worf quickly makes the reasonable guess that theyre simulations, but Data says thats not it. And finally, of course, they find that they cant get back out again now that theyre inside.
Eventually they find the long-decayed remains of one of the astronauts from the ship they found in one of the hotel rooms, and in his bedside table they find a novel titled Hotel Royale as well as a journal with only one entry. The journal explains that the astronauts' ship encountered an alien life form which accidentally contaminated the ship and killed his shipmates and then, in an attempt to make amends, built a place for him to live based on the book hed had with him. He laments that the book was awful enough that his being trapped in it makes him pray for death.
Armed with these revelations, Riker figures out that people can leave the hotel when the book says theyre supposed to, and comes up with the idea of playing along with the story. He, Worf, and Data take the roles of the foreign investors who buy the hotel at the end of the novel, and have a go at the craps table to raise the necessary funds (but thats really just an excuse to let Data break character and have a little fun acting like a high roller). The scheme proves successful and the team is beamed safely back aboard the Enterprise. As the episode closes out, Riker points out that none of what just happened made any sense whatsoever, and Picard tells him that like Fermats Last Theorem, its a puzzle that might never be solved. (See, about that...)
- Alan Smithee: The episode was originally pitched and written by Tracey Tormé. Maurice Hurley did a major rewrite on it, which Tormé felt hurt the episode so much that he used "Keith Mills" as a pseudonym. This would not be the last time that Tormé would object in such a way to a Hurley rewrite.
- Artistic License Physics: The planet is stated to have an average surface temperature of −291°C. This is colder than Absolute Zero (−273°C), which is physically impossible especially since Pluto can only reach temperatures of minus 369 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Casino Episode: Takes place at an alien casino.
- Cliché Storm: The novel, In-Universe.
- Dewey Defeats Truman: Picard says that Fermat's Last Theorem has gone unproven for 800 years. IRL, Princeton mathematician Andrew Wiles came out with his own proof five years after the episode aired, leading the franchise to Retcon this in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Facets", when Dax says one of her previous hosts had the best approach to proving it since Wiles.
- The '80s: The hotel appears to be from this era, probably because that's when this episode was filmed.
- Fixing the Game: Data uses his strength to "reload" the dice at the craps table in their favor.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: The aliens needed a place that the human they found could live in, so they created an environment based on a book he had. Too bad it was terrible.
- The Gambling Addict: Texas, though even he bets against Data on the final roll of the dice.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The aliens honestly wanted to give the poor guy a place where he'd live out his life happily, and it's just bad luck that all they had to go on was a hack novel.
- Idiot Ball:
- This is essentially a Holodeck Malfunction episode, which makes Riker, Data and Worf's confusion about their environment a little surprising. Since this kind of LARP is a popular form of entertainment in their time, it's odd that it took them so long to figure out what was going on. Or rather, trying to figure out not ''what'' it is, but ''why'' it's there (which they don't learn until later).
- Plus a couple you can blame on production issuesnote : the team's attempt to go back outside is done by simply having the actors make a complete circle in the revolving door, making it look like they just can't figure out where to get off, when their reactions + context imply it's because the hotel won't let them leave, not until the 'story' is concluded. And Data states the astronaut's body is still in good condition when the props department delivered a skeleton, though he did state that in meaning of the lack of 'more advanced' decomposition, rather than 'good in general'.
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The opening line of the novel, as Picard is dismayed to learn.
- Looks Worth Killing For: Mickey D namechecks the trope after killing a lovestruck bellboy.Mickey D: You shoulda listened to me, kid. No woman's worth dying for. Killing for. Not dying for.
- Off-the-Shelf FX: The patch for the Charybdis mission is an unaltered Apollo 17 patch. The remastered version changed the text to something more appropriate.
- Railroading: The away team can't leave the hotel by normal means, and their phasers do nothing to the walls. Picard skips to the end of the book and reads that the casino is eventually bought out by "foreign investors", which means the only way for Riker, Data and Worf to escape is to win enough money to "break the bank".
- Stylistic Suck: Justified. The acting and dialogue of the denizens of The Royale is pretty hack and clichéd, but then, they live inside a hacky, clichéd novel.
- What Year Is This?: A variation. The crew identify the debris of the Charybdis as coming from between 2033 and 2079, as it bears an American flag with 52 stars.
- Win to Exit: In order to leave the hotel, the team has to finish the novel by winning enough money to buy the place.