The Enterprise is about to study a new pulsar cluster, but first it has to drop Wesley off at Starbase 515 to take a Starfleet exam. Meanwhile, Dr. Pulaski urges Picard to have an operation he's been neglecting, but he doesn't want it performed on the ship for fear that his invincible aura among the crew will be shattered. In spite of his desire to see the pulsars, he decides to accompany Wesley to the starbase and have the operation off-ship. The pair board a shuttlecraft and settle in for a 13-hour flight at impulse power.
As the Enterprise heads on without them, they receive a distress signal from a stranded ship. The ship is full of Pakleds, an apparently dim-witted species who have no idea how their own technology works. Although Worf is leery of the situation, Riker decides to beam Geordi over to their ship to make their repairs for them. Just after he leaves, Troi bursts onto the bridge warning Riker that the Pakleds are not as harmless as they seem. When Geordi finishes his repairs, the Pakleds are impressed by his intelligence and take him hostage.
As this is happening, Picard and Wesley are stuck together in a small space and share an awkward conversation. Picard admits that he has an artificial heart that needs to be swapped out. Wesley bombards Picard with questions about his life choices, and Picard relates how he was once a brash, impetuous and ambitious young officer, which is to blame for his medical condition. He once picked a fight with a trio of Nausicaans and got impaled through the heart. We'll actually get to see this in "Tapestry." Wesley is astounded by the story, and the pair become more friendly.
Back on the Enterprise, Riker starts to realize that the Pakleds were never as stupid or helpless as they seemed. Their ship was specifically designed to look damaged. The Pakleds are, in fact, greedy opportunists who will do anything to acquire new technology and power before their culture is ready for it. The Pakleds replicate Geordi's phaser and stun him repeatedly, demanding the entire contents of the Enterprise's computer in exchange for his return. While he's around, they force him to make improvements to their weapon systems so that they will be "strong." Unable to comply with such a breach of Federation security, the bridge staff pass a coded message to Geordi, hoping that he'll pick up the clues and be ready to spring a trap of his own on the Pakleds.
Meanwhile, Picard and Wesley arrive at Starbase 515. Picard's operation starts to go unexpectedly sideways, and the surgeon states that unless they get a specialist involved, Picard will die. The Enterprise receives word that Picard is on the brink of death, and they are needed at the starbase. But first, Riker and Geordi need to spring their trap. Riker announces that he's going to destroy the Pakled ship with Geordi aboard. Geordi assures the Pakleds that he's on their side now and delivers a stream of Techno Babble to justify some new adjustments he's making to their weapon systems. The Enterprise showers the Pakleds with harmless hydrogen exhaust, and Geordi exclaims that the "crimson force field" has deactivated the Pakleds' weapons. Deciding that they have lost, the Pakleds drop their purloined shields and allow Geordi to escape. The ship high-tails it to Starbase 515.
Picard awakens on the hospital bed fully healed and is shocked to discover that Dr. Pulaski is there, having saved his life. He realizes that the whole ship must now know of his infirmity, but the doctor assures him that no one cares. When he arrives on the bridge, he congratulates Wesley on passing his exam and announces, "Any rumors of my brush with death are greatly exaggerated." And with that, we're on to the next adventure!
This episode contains examples of:
- Aborted Arc: This is the second and final appearance of Ensign Gomez, Geordi's would-be sidekick and love interest.
- Artistic License Medicine: Early on, Wesley calls Picard's replacement heart "parthenogenetic," which suggests an organic heart grown from Picard's DNA. This would be more in line with the Federation's tech level than the plastic 20th-century-looking mechanical heart seen in the operation.
- Cryptic Conversation: How the crew tell Geordi about the ruse.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Wesley asks Picard if the incident with the Nausicaans happened "before the Klingons joined the Federation", to which the Captain answers yes. It's later clarified that the Klingon Empire is still a galactic power of their own, and while allies with the Federation, they're not a member species by any means. Also, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country established that the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons took place in 2293, more than three decades before Picard's brawl as a cadet.
- Finagle's Law: Picard estimates that the chances of his heart operation having a complication are around 2.4%. Guess what happens?
- Flaw Exploitation: Riker uses this to trick the Pakleds by using a dazzling light-show and Geordi's sabotage to make them think they were hit with a secret defensive countermeasure.
- Foreshadowing: While the whole ordeal involving the incident that led to Picard getting his artificial heart would be further explained in "Tapestry", the trope is in effect due to what Picard did after getting stabbed:Picard: I had this one Nausicaan down in this somewhat devious joint-lock when, unbeknownst to me, one of his chums drew his weapon and impaled me through the back. Curious sensation, actually. Not much pain. Shock, certainly, at the sight of serrated metal sticking through my chest. A certain giddy warmth. In fact I do actually remember that I laughed out loud.
- Former Teen Rebel: Picard during his cadet days, which considering the dignified, reserved persona he gives off now seems almost impossible to believe.
- Hostage Situation: The Pakleds take Geordi hostage, demanding the contents of the Enterprise's computer for his return. While he's around, they demand that he augment their technology.
- Idiot Ball: Riker takes a very firm grip of it in order for him to be fooled by the Pakleds despite Worf, Data and Troi telling him they can't be trusted.
- Ignored Expert: Worf's natural call for caution is ignored, as usual. Troi is conveniently absent from bridge when Riker makes his decision to send Geordi. Once she arrives and warns Riker of their untrustworthy nature, he allows Geordi to continue making repairs because they still seem harmless to him.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Picard recounts this—he got into a Bar Brawl with three Nausicaans and held his own until one stabbed him in the back and through his heart.
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Pakleds clearly have no clue how their ship (or ships in general) works. Whether this is true of the entire species, or whether these three bozos just stole a ship, is never made clear.
- Karma Houdini: The Pakleds ultimately gain nothing from their ruse, but are not punished for it either. The ship is in too much of a hurry to bring them to space-justice.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Once Geordi tells the Pakleds that their weapons are useless, they decide "We are not strong" and drop their shields to allow Geordi to leave.
- Low Culture, High Tech: The Pakleds opt to steal advanced technology from other ships since their society has only basic spacefaring technology and underdeveloped linguistic abilities.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: Lampshaded when Worf questions why Riker wants to beam over the ship's Chief of Engineering himself to perform basic repairs on an unknown alien vessel.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: As the name of the episode implies, the ship tries to be a Good Samaritan, but fall victim to a Wounded Gazelle Gambit.
- Noodle Incident: Geordi says that some of the Pakled's stolen technology is Klingon and Romulan. How these idiots managed to con Klingons (much less Romulans) into giving them high tech without being blasted into atoms is a question which has stumped fans for years.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Played straight and then subverted with the Pakleds, who on the one hand are clever enough to use subterfuge to lure Geordi in, but on the other turn out to actually be that stupid, genuinely having no idea how their ship works and being easily dazzled by Geordi's bunk Technobabble.
- Planet of Dunce Caps: The Pakleds are a dim-witted species, though not quite as dim-witted as they first appear.
- Pride: Picard's flaw. He was a hot-shot young cadet, which got him slapped with an artificial heart. Even after all these years, he's too prideful to brook the idea of his crew knowing that he's not invincible.
- Prime Directive: A subtle example of what happens when a species uses unearned tech.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Pakleds are a rotund species with upturned eyebrows, wrinkled eyes, and projecting lower lips, giving them the appearance of crying babies.
- Stock Footage: The matte painting depicting Starbase 515 is a reuse of the matte painting from "Angel One".
- Techno Babble: Geordi makes some up to pretend that he's helping the Pakleds fight the Enterprise, but really he's sabotaging their ship and making them believe that they're helples.
- Tempting Fate: The lead starbase doctor assures everyone that he foresees no impending difficulties with the operation. Things go south quickly.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: The Pakleds fake being stranded to lure the Enterprise into helping them, setting it up for a trap. The episode's title, "The Samaritan Snare," refers to this.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Wesley reacts in alarm when he learns he's going to be spending his 13-hour shuttle trip with Picard, although he rallies hastily.
- Your Mom: As Picard tells it, the way Ensign Picard spoke to the Nausicaans.Picard: I stood toe-to-toe with the worst of the three and I told him what I thought of him, his pals, his planet, and I possibly made some passing reference to his questionable parentage.
- You No Take Candle: The Pakleds' speech is barely above this level; they use correct but very simple grammar and repeat themselves often.