Original air date: November 28, 1988
The Enterprise is underway. Captain Picard is worried about Worf and Riker, who seem to be stranded in a mysterious jungle. The pair are attacked by monstrous humanoids and must fight back. After defeating their foes, Worf gets caught up in battle fever and nearly turns on Riker, who sharply stands him down. It turns out that they're in the holodeck, doing what Worf describes as rather light "calisthenics."
The Enterprise encounters a patch of space that is completely black, with no stars visible. After it swallows two probes without a trace, Worf is reminded of an old Klingon legend about a space monster that devours ships. Suddenly the Enterprise is engulfed in the blackness. When they try to leave, they discover that they simply loop back around to where they started. Then a Romulan Warbird appears and fires upon them but is immediately felled with one photon torpedo, leaving no debris. Things get weirder when the Enterprise's sister ship, USS Yamato, arrives with no life signs aboard. Riker and Worf beam aboard to find that nothing in the ghost ship is where it's supposed to be. As reality seems to loop in on itself, Worf starts to become unhinged, but the Enterprise beams them back aboard before anything can get worse.
Once the away team is back onboard, Picard orders the ship to make for a small opening in the blackness that suddenly opens up, but once they start heading toward it, it closes. This happens several more times before Picard decides that he's had enough of being toyed with and orders a full stop. Other crewmembers, including Dr. Pulaski, agree that they're being experimented on. Troi also begins to detect an intelligence that was previously beyond her understanding.
Suddenly they're confronted by an entity calling itself "Nagilum." It studies the bridge crew, inquires about sexual procreation, and comments on the fact that humanoids die. It kills the redshirted pilot on the spot to observe the concept. Then it announces that it will conduct a test on "all kinds" of death on up to half of the Enterprise's crew. Picard decides to set the ship to autodestruct to thwart Nagilum's plans.
While the autodestruct counts down, Troi and Data go to Picard's quarters. Troi tells Picard that she has sensed that Nagilum will not be dissuaded from his intentions by the autodestruct, but Picard is unmoved. Data asks Picard to define death, and Picard explains several common theories as well as his own thoughts. Troi and Data then join together to request that Picard cancel the self destruct, saying that it is unfair for him to make the choice to die for them. Picard realizes that neither of them should be acting this way and gets the computer to confirm that Data is actually on the bridge, whereupon they both vanish. Picard says, "Nice try, Nagilum."
Nagilum finally acquiesces and backs out on its desire to conduct its experiments. Picard cancels the autodestruct, and Nagilum remarks that humans and its species are too different to associate. Picard says, "We do have one thing in common: curiosity." Nagilum says, "The point is well taken, Captain!" and chuckles. The episode ends with Picard saying, "We will meet again, but next time, it will be out here, among the stars."
Tropes in this episode:
- As You Know...: When the Yamato appears on the view screen, Riker helpfully announces, "It's a Federation ship... NCC one three zero five dash E. It's the Yamato, our sister ship." At just a glance, its obviously a Galaxy-class Federation ship, and there's only one of those besides the one everyone's sitting in.
- Batman Cold Open: The episode opens with Riker and Worf doing some combat training in the holodeck, which does not directly link to the plot of the rest of the episode, though does establish an uneasy relationship between Riker and Worf over the latter's excitability.
- Bizarrchitecture: As Riker and Worf investigate the phantom Yamato ship inside the void, the rooms themselves change around them and do not obey the laws of physics.
- Black Dude Dies First: Wesley inexplicably leaves his station early in the episode and is replaced by Ensign Haskell, a black Red Shirt. Guess who's the first person Nagilum kills. Downplayed slightly in that Haskell is one of two black guys on the bridge at the time, but given that the other is Geordi, who is a main character and thus has Plot Armor, the result is inevitable.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Nagilum has literally no concept of human morality or ethics and sees nothing wrong with killing half the Enterprise crew to observe how they die to satisfy its own curiosity.
- Bottle Episode: Most of the episode takes place on the bridge, and the Yamato uses the same sets as the Enterprise to good and creepy effect. The only "new" set is the holodeck, and even that is a redress of an existing set. The major difficulty for the crew was keeping the bridge looking interesting for the whole episode, and to that end the actors were instructed to move around more than usual, and many new camera angles were experimented with.
- Captain Obvious: Riker, when he is beamed into a hallway on the Yamato instead of on the bridge: "This isn't the bridge." Although given the situation, it's not an inane observation, since the phantom ship seems to obey Alien Geometries.
- Cessation of Existence: Discussed by Picard when Data (actually Nagilum) asks him what happens when you die. Picard rejects both this view and Heaven, stating he thinks the afterlife is beyond our comprehension.
- Characterization Marches On: Worf is more bestial in the early episodes, none more so than in this episode, where he practically turns into a rampaging baboon after a single fistfight. Later episodes would establish that Worf is a highly disciplined officer who keeps a tight lid on his Klingon urges.
- Complete Immortality: Nagilum does not age and cannot die, which is why the concept of death applying to other creatures fascinates it so. He then decides to sacrifice a large part of the Enterprise crew to satisfy his curiosity, and only Picard planning to blow up the ship in defiance manages to dissuade him.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Picard talking to (illusion) Data about what happens to people when they die.
- Cooldown Hug: Not a hug, but twice in the episode Riker has to calm an enraged Worf. "AT EASE, LIEUTENANT!"
- Danger Room Cold Open: Riker and Worf's apparent "away mission" prior to the opening credits, complete with a fight against a pair of aliens, turns out to merely be a session of "Klingon calisthenics" on the holodeck.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Later in season 2, the USS Yamato would show up for real in "Contagion" and drive the plot of that episode.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Kirk and crew encountered a similar void in space 97 years earlier, despite the fact that Data claims such an area had never been encountered before. This probably has to do with Gene Roddenberry's attitude that the only things he really considered in canon at this point were the movies (like the lack of familiarity with Kirk and usage of the movie-era Enterprise image in "The Naked Now").
- The registry number of the Yamato is given as NCC-1305-E, as the episode was written before it was firmly established that — during this timeframe at least — only starships called Enterprise were given the honor of using the NCC-(number)-(letter) format, due to the legendary reputation of the NCC-1701. When the Yamato reappeared later in the season, its registry was instead given as NCC-71807, which is considered its canonical number.
- Chief O'Brien is referred to as a Lieutenant, and wears the rank pips to match. His apparent rank is in flux throughout his early appearances; his name isn't even given in this episode, but once his character is established he holds the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, a senior non-commissioned rank, not a rank that one can get either promoted or demoted to from Lieutenant, a commissioned rank.
- Eldritch Abomination: Nagilum practically is one, especially in Klingon myth.
- Eldritch Location: The void is a "hole" in space with no discernible physical proportions (dimensions, volume, etc.). When the Enterprise is trapped inside it, any attempt to escape it gets them nowhere, as they simply circle back to the same point despite flying dead-ahead. Then phantom ships start showing up with similar impossibilities to them, and the void turns out to be the home of a sentient, eternal, and amoral space being called Nagilum.
- Face Death with Dignity: Picard prepares for the end by listening to "Gymnopédie No. 1" by Erik Satie.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: Nagilum is proud of the fact that it's taken a form that "looks just like" the Federation crew. It actually looks like a floating face of a fish-baby.
- Here There Be Dragons: While the Enterprise explores an unexplained spatial anomaly, Picard and Riker comment on the superstitions of ancient sailors on Earth during or before the Dark Ages. Picard mentions that "Beyond this place, there be dragons."
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Nagilum's speech at the end is pretty much dismissing humanity in negative terms, though he concedes that they share one thing: curiosity. Of course, it does come across as somewhat hypocritical for an entity that casually murders a member of the crew and threatens the rest with worse simply because it could.Nagilum: You seem to find no tranquility in anything. You struggle against the inevitable. You thrive on conflict. You are rash, quick to judge, slow to change. It's amazing you've survived. As a species, we have no common ground. You are too aggressive. Too hostile. Too militant".
- Knuckle Cracking: The skull-faced holodeck monster cracks its neck intimidatingly before attacking Worf.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Dr. Pulaski refers to Data as "it," then catches herself and apologizes, saying that she's not used to working with nonliving crew members, then catches herself again and admits that the Federation has classified Data as a life form.
- Non Sequitur Environment: While Riker and Worf are exploring the fake Yamato, they step from a hallway directly onto the ship's bridge, which should actually be several decks above them. When they try to go back, the door they came through now opens to another bridge.
- Obvious Stunt Double: Riker's fight with the holodeck monster includes a brief shot of his stunt double with his face in full view of the camera. The trope is easier to spot in high resolution than it would have been on a small, standard-def TV in 1989.
- Out-of-Character Alert: Picard already finds the questions that Nagilum's illusory versions of Troi and Data ask him to be a little suspicious, but what confirms them to be imposters is them both referring to him as "Jean-Luc", something that Troi probably wouldn't do, and Data definitely wouldn't do.
- Purple Is the New Black: The "hole in space", from which supposedly no light or other sensor readings can escape, is mostly a cloudy dark blue rather than pure black as would be expected.
- Rage Quit: Picard's reaction to Nagilum threatening to kill up to half his crew is to set the self-destruct on his ship, potentially killing everyone. In the end, Data and Wesley wonder if it was a bluff.
- Redshirt: It sure was lucky that Wesley wasn't sitting at his usual station when Nagilum decided to kill the crew member stationed there.
- Skull for a Head: One of the monsters that Worf fights in his holodeck adventure has a very skull-like head.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: As the quote under the above image indicates, Nagilum has many qualities in common with Q.
- Unnaturally Looping Location: Trying to exit The Bridge on the faux Yamato leads Riker and Worf back to the bridge.
- Unwitting Test Subject: The Enterprise is investigating a "hole" in space when it's suddenly swallowed by said hole. Subsequent attempts to navigate away from it end up getting them nowhere, before they're beset by phantom ships with Alien Geometries. After exits start randomly popping up and disappearing, they realize that some sort of intelligence is testing their reactions to stimuli, which turns out to be an amoral Cosmic Entity calling itself "Nagilum", who intends to kill off a large part of the crew to investigate death.
- The Worf Effect: Worf suffers an example in a scene that is supposed to establish him as a badass. The first holodeck monster beats him up, establishing the monsters as dangerous and forcing Riker to come to his rescue. Worf ends up defeating a second monster, though he has more difficulty with his than Riker does.