We open on a medieval encampment in the holodeck, where Data and a pair of holographic soldiers reenact a scene from Henry V in which King Henry goes incognito among his men. Picard is on-hand to provide guidance to Data on using Shakespeare to better understand the human condition.
A Romulan scout ship is spotted in the Neutral Zone. The ship hails the Enterprise, requesting assistance as it is being pursued. When the scout ship enters Federation territory, the Enterprise extends its shields to protect it, only to find that the pursuing warbird is perfectly willing to turn around and head home without a fight. They beam aboard the occupant of the scout ship, who introduces himself as Setal and demands to see the captain immediately. He claims to be a defector and warns Picard of Romulan plans to attack the Federation. He reveals that the Romulans have already established a base on Nelvana III, inside the Neutral Zone, which the Federations sensors have evidently failed to find. He advises Picard that if he destroys that base now, it will end the war before it even begins.
After Setal is excused, the crew discuss whether they should give any credence to his story. Some suspect him of being a plant sent to draw them into the Neutral Zone to justify a retaliatory attack. They plan to take full advantage of the situation, though, by investigating the ship Setal arrived in, but it self-destructs before they have a chance. Setal tells them that he came to stop a war, not give the Federation an advantage over the Romulans. The crew grow increasingly distrustful of Setal, who responds with equal derision toward them. After Riker escorts the Romulan to his new quarters, Setal retrieves a small disc hidden in his boot with an ambiguous expression.
Picard asks Data for his analysis of the ship's crew as they grapple with the possibility of war. Data wonders why Picard doesn't already know himself, and Picard notes that, unlike Henry V, he cannot disguise himself to mingle with the crew.
A further round of interrogations bears little fruit, as Setal is clearly holding something back. Geordi tells Data that in spite of everything, he believes Setal because his gut tells him that he's telling the truth. Data finds this intriguing and begins to observe the Romulan to see if his "gut" can tell him anything. Setal begins to reminisce about Romulus and expresses his sadness at never being able to return, so Data takes him to the holodeck to create a simulation of Romulus. Setal tells him to turn it off, saying, "I dont live here anymore." He then has Data tell Captain Picard that "Admiral Jarok" wants to see him.
Setal admits that he is actually Admiral Jarok, a Romulan war hero with a particularly infamous reputation within the Federation. Picard urges him to spill his guts and convince him that he's honest. Jarok refuses to betray his people, but Picard tells him that he is already a traitor and must fully commit. Jarok says that he's only doing this as a last resort to stop a war and protect his family, but he gives in and provides some technical details to Picard to back up his claims.
A message comes in from a Klingon captain, which Picard enigmatically has Worf handle off the bridge. Meanwhile, Picard orders a sensor fired into the Nelvana system, which uncovers unnatural potential evidence of Romulan technology in the otherwise uninhabited world. With Jarok's words and these findings, Picard finally orders the Enterprise into the neutral zone to investigate Nelvana III.
When they arrive, they find no base and no sign of any activity. Jarok is genuinely shocked and realizes he had been given false information as a test of loyalty. The Enterprise makes to leave, but two Romulan warbirds uncloak in front of them. One of them is captained by none other than Commander Tomalak, whom you might recall from "The Enemy." Tomalak demands an unconditional surrender, but Picard states firmly that he'll die fighting if necessary. As the Romulans prepare to attack, Picard gives a signal to Worf. Three Klingon Birds-of-Prey uncloak, surrounding the Romulan ships, and Tomalak yields.
Jarok realizes that his sacrifice was all for nothing and takes his own life with the Felodesine chip he'd hidden in his boot. He leaves behind a letter to his family, which Data protests is impossible to deliver, but Picard says that if there are others with Jaroks courage, there may come a day of peace when they can deliver it.
This episode contains examples of:
- Absentee Actor: Wesley doesn't appear.
- All for Nothing: Jarok is devastated when he realizes that he's sacrificed everything he has to no purpose whatsoever.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Enterprise avoids a Romulan conflict, but Jarok, upset that his defection was in vain, kills himself.
- Call-Back: Several references are made to the events of "The Enemy," the last time the ship tangled with Romulans. Tomalak is back and notes that this time it's the Enterprise who violated the Neutral Zone. Dr. Crusher also recalls how she gained some familiarity with Romulan anatomy after the events of that episode.
- Chekhov's Gun: Jarok pulls out a small chip from his boot early in the episode, before it's clear whether or not he's a spy. It turns out to be a Cyanide Pill, which he uses in the final act.
- Cyanide Pill: Jarok keeps a Felodesine chip just in case.
- Dead Guy on Display: Discussed, as Tomalak tells Picard, "After we dissect your Enterprise for every precious bit of information, I intend to display its broken hull in the center of the Romulan capitol as a symbol of our victory. It will inspire our armies for generations to come, and serve as a warning to any other traitor who would create ripples of disloyalty."
- Don't Make Me Destroy You:Tomalak: I urge you, Captain Picard, surrender. Consider the men and women you would lead into a lost cause.
Picard: If the cause is just and honourable, they are prepared to give their lives. Are you prepared to die today, Tomalak?
Tomalak: I expected more from you than an idle threat, Picard.
Picard: Then you shall have it.
- Driven to Suicide: Despondent that his defection was in vain, Jarok kills himself with his Felodesine chip.
- Engineered Public Confession: Picard effectively gets one of these out of Tomalak, who has a few choice things to say to Picard and Jarok before he learns that there is a squadron of cloaked Klingon ships moving into attack position on him.
- Famous, Famous, Fictional: Data names off two past and two future actors he plans to study to improve his grasp of Shakespeare. Picard tells him that while there's no better way to study the human condition, he'll have better results by creating his own interpretation of the text, instead of imitating others.
- Data's performance of Henry V hints at Setal's true identity.
- A few lines during the episode set up the Klingons' Big Damn Heroes moment.
- During the standoff with the Romulans in the film's climax, the soundtrack teases a few riffs of the Klingon battle theme a few minutes before the cloaked Klingons reveal themselves.
- Friendship Moment: Riker telling off Jarok for insulting Worf, whom Riker shares a healthy rivalry with throughout the show.
- Graceful Loser: Realizing he's been Out-Gambitted, Tomalak tells Picard, "I look forward to our next meeting."
- It's Quiet Too Quiet: Riker is disturbed by how easy their approach to Nelvana III is, having expected to encounter at least some opposition.
- King Incognito: A recurring theme of the episode. After performing Henry V, Data wonders if a king should be wasting his time incognito instead of leading his people. Later on Picard laments that he could not pull it off since he's so well known. Then Jarok reveals that he's not a logistics officer, but an admiral.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Tomalak backs down when his two-to-one advantage against Enterprise suddenly becomes two-to-one against when three Klingon Birds-of-Prey decloak in flanking positions around his ship. Though he has Enterprise dead to rights, his ships would also be destroyed.
- Leitmotif: When the Klingon Birds-of-Prey decloak, Ron Jones throws in a musical riff that vaguely resembles Jerry Goldsmith's "Klingon Theme" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
- Mexican Standoff: Starship edition. Two Romulan warbirds have the Enterprise in their sights when they're suddenly surrounded by three Klingon Birds-of-Prey.Picard: What shall it be, Tomalak?
Tomalak: You will still not survive our assault.
Picard: And you will not survive ours. Shall we die together?
Tomalak: (Beat) I look forward to our next meeting, Captain.
- Not So Different: Jarok says that he understands Worf, though he also says it is men like Worf that will likely get them all killed.
- Oh, Crap!: Tomalak's face after the three Klingon ships decloak.
- Out-Gambitted: Tomalak at the end. Two Romulan warbirds are more than a match for the Enterprise—which is why Picard brought along three cloaked Klingon Birds-of-Prey as backup, ensuring a Mutual Kill if they should come to blows.
- Pardon My Klingon: Jarok uses Klingon insults in front of Worf just to piss him off. Riker responds with a choice Romulan word:Jarok: How do you allow a Klingon petaQ to walk around in a Starfleet uniform?
Worf: You are lucky this is not a Klingon ship. We know how to deal with spies.
Jarok: Remove this tohzah from my sight!
Riker: Your knowledge of Klingon curses is impressive, but as a Romulan might say, only a veruul would use such language in public.
- Pretext for War: Jarok was tricked into leading Enterprise into the Neutral Zone so the Romulans would have an excuse to capture or destroy it.
- Properly Paranoid: Riker and Data suspect that Jarok/Setal is merely a plant trying to lure Starfleet to the Neutral Zone. They're right, though Jarok himself doesn't even know it.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Despite baiting him into it, the Romulans see Jarok as a traitor for defecting, and want him handed back to be executed. The Enterprise gets out of the trap and Jarok kills himself instead.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: The Enterprise crew is worried about being lured into the neutral zone, suspecting Jarok is trying to mislead them. As it turns out, they are being lured in, but not by Jarok - he himself was misled by his superiors, and sincerely believed what he was telling the Federation.
- Screw Your Ultimatum!: When the Enterprise gets trapped by Tomalak.Tomalak: First, Captain, you will return the traitor Jarok. Then you and your crew will surrender as prisoners of war.
Picard: Do you seriously expect me to accept those terms?
Tomalak: No, Captain Picard, I expect you won'tnote . You have thirty seconds to decide.
Picard: I do not require one, Tomalak.
- Secret Test of Character: The Romulans fed false information to Jarok implying a massive buildup to an attack on the Federation, to see if he would remain loyal to the Empire.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: Jarok destroys his own ship so that Starfleet can't study its Romulan technology.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Jarok defects from the Romulan Empire to prevent a war between his people and the Federation so that his daughter may grow up in peace, only to find out he's been fed false information and has permanently cut himself off from his family for no reason. The revelation leads Jarok to commit suicide.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The episode starts with Data performing Henry V. Picard (naturally) commends his performance. Patrick Stewart also plays Michael Williams opposite Data, under heavy makeup. Henry V is alluded to during the rest of the episode, and Picard quotes Williams while considering whether to lead his crew into harm's way.Picard: "Now if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it."
- Smug Snake: Tomalak spends almost all his screen time smirking, and it costs him visible effort to wipe the smug grin off his face long enough to deliver his threats credibly.
- Trap Is the Only Option: Picard and his crew know that they're likely being Lured into a Trap at Nelvana III, but they go in anyway - with some Klingon backup for when things go south.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Jarok is a prick to the crew of the Enterprise, even though he's seeking asylum on their ship.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: At one point, Picard calls Worf to his ready room, but their meeting is not shown. Later, he sends Worf off the bridge to deal with a message from a Klingon ship. These are the only hints shown that Picard has called in the Klingons for backup, since there are no other Federation ships close enough to help. The sight of three Birds-of-Prey decloaking is enough to get Tomalak to back down.
- Unwitting Pawn: Jarok was duped into thinking the Romulans were staging an invasion, as they already suspected he was disloyal and decided to use him as a Pretext for War.
- Worthy Opponent: It's hinted that Tomalak sees Picard this way; after Picard reveals the Klingon ships waiting to ambush the Romulas, Tomalak gives him a nod of respect.