The Enterprise gets orders to transport a mediator named Riva to Solais V to bring an end to a bitter war. Upon meeting him, the crew learns that he is deaf, and speaks through three interpreters that communicate with him telepathically. Riva immediately finds himself taken with Counselor Troi and bonds with her over dinner.
Upon reaching Solais V, Riva beams down to settle the dispute with only Riker and Worf as security, reasoning that bringing anyone else will only increase tensions. But only moments after arriving (before they even have the table set up) one of the natives becomes angry and fires at Riva, somehow killing all three of his interpreters with one shot when Riker pulls him out of the way. After beaming out, Riva becomes despondent and loses faith in his ability to mediate a peace. Even after Data learns his sign language he insists that he cannot be an effective mediator without his interpreters.
Counselor Troi tells Riva that she will handle the negotiations herself and asks his advice. He tells her that he didnt have a secret trick to negotiating, he merely found something in common between the two sides and worked from there. He also says that he liked to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Troi asks why he cant do that now, and it gives him an idea. He beams down to the planet again to renew the negotiations. When Riker asks him how the natives will understand him without his interpreters, he explains that he intends to begin the negotiations by teaching the natives his sign language. As they learn to communicate with him, they will learn to communicate with each other, giving them common ground to start from. He gives the Enterprise permission to leave him behind, stating that the peace talks will be a long process, but he believes they will be successful.
This episode provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: One scene features Dr. Pulaski offering to grow new human eyes for Geordi, who leaves saying he'll think about it. This is never brought up again. No reason; they just needed to pad the episode a bit.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When Troi asks Riva why he can't do what he does in his negotiations with himself - turn a disadvantage into an advantage.
- Bilingual Bonus: Riva's signing is all genuine ASL. This unfortunately causes some issues during the scenes of Data's translating, as the differences in sentence structure mean he occasionally says a word before Riva makes the sign for it.
- Break the Haughty: Okay, it's not like Riva was a dick or anything, but he was pretty overconfident in his abilities to diffuse a war (especially considering the warring factions in question had been at it for fifteen centuries). Either way, once his entire chorus gets wiped out right in front of him, his confidence and cool veneer is completely shattered.
- The Charmer: Riva turns on the ol' charm immediately upon seeing Troi.
- Despair Event Horizon: Riva is horrified after his chorus gets killed, pacing around the briefing room like a madman. Troi and Picard try desperately to calm him, but of course, that's not happening.
- Disability Superpower: Riva, who's deaf, is also telepathic. This is apparently a trait of his family, and possibly linked to their deafness (both are hereditary among them).
- Fee Fi Faux Pas: When meeting Riva, Picard attempts to address the chorus instead of Riva, offending him. He later explains to Riker to treat the chorus as interpreters and thus address Riva directly.
- Get Ahold Of Yourself Man: Picard to Riva, by grabbing his head so Riva can read his lips and tell him he's not alone, after Riva's chorus is killed. With a bit of Translation by Volume with Picard shouting "LISTEN TO ME!!" to a deaf guy.
- Hive Mind: Consisting of only four people. Riva's chorus represent his Ego, Superego and Id, with each speaking Riva's thoughts that most closely correspond to those aspects of his mind. It can also be turned off and on at will—Riva brings only the Id voice to his dinner date with Troi, then dismisses him to communicate alone.
- It's All My Fault: Riva blames himself for his chorus' untimely deaths.
- It's Personal: Riva tells the Enterprise crew not to even bother investigating the reasons for the war provided in the background they've been given. It'll say that it's about some piece of land, or wealth, or something, but it doesn't matter. After fifteen centuries of fighting, nobody really cares about the original reason anymore. It's just personal now.
- Mood Whiplash: The episode takes a deliberately slow pace in the first half, in order to build up the mystique around Riva and his chorus. The result is that the tragedy that happens in the first negotiation attempt becomes that much more of a shock.
- Ray of Hope Ending: Riva isn't the same after his chorus is gone, but he does decide to give the peace negotiations one more try - by teaching the two factions sign language. The theory is, while they learn to speak to him, they'll learn to speak to each other. It's clearly going to be a process, but that's fine with Riva.
- Reading Lips: Riva certainly has no problem with this.
- Renegade Splinter Faction: The representative that shoots at Riva to try and prevent peace is apparently from one of these. He is immediately shot dead as a traitor by the other representative of his supposed faction.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Riva's refusal to return to the negotiations.
- The Speechless: Riva's deafness is hereditary, and having grown up with his chorus, he doesn't speak. In the script it's said he doesn't even know how to read or write either.
- Super-Speed Reading: Basically how Data learns all known sign language for Riva.
- Voice for the Voiceless: Riva's chorus telepathically conveys his thoughts. It's a hereditary position for them, corresponding to the equally hereditary condition of Riva's family.