The Enterprise and crew are visiting Angosia, a candidate planet for entry into The Federation. Picard and Riker are praising Angosia's society for its rapid recovery from a recent war, when the Angosian authorities request some assistance. A prisoner has escaped from a penal colony on the moon of Lunar V, and they need the Enterprise's help in apprehending him.
After a quick bit of searching, the Enterprise locates his stolen shuttle. But the prisoner loses them by ducking behind an asteroid, the drive section of his ship being the only part emerging from behind it. Detecting wreckage on the asteroid, and no life signs in the drive section, the Enterprise assumes he has perished. Until they emerge from the asteroid's shadow, and find the supposedly empty drive section has disappeared. The prisoner has given them the slip.
But not for long. Riker concludes that the prisoner is using the planet's magnetic poles to evade the ship's sensors. Sure enough, upon moving to the pole, they find the drive section—which proceeds on a collision course with them. The Deflector Shields easily repel the drive, but that's just a diversion. Data detects a small Escape Pod heading away from the shuttle. The prisoner doesn't get far, as Picard has O'Brien beam him aboard the ship.
Riker and Worf head for the transporter room to meet the escaped convict. And he's not happy. Or easy to take down. He whoops the two guards, shakes off several phaser blasts, and manages to injure O'Brien in the process. Riker and Worf manage to subdue him, but there is a mystery: even aboard the ship, he is emitting no life signs on the sensors.
The mysterious prisoner is identified as Roga Danar. Troi goes to the holding cells to meet him, and notices for such a violent man, he exhibits very little feelings of rage or anger. She asks if he and his fellow prisoners are mistreated or abused on Lunar V. But it's just the opposite. Their every need is catered to. Which raises the question of why he wanted to escape.
With a little research into the Angosian files, Troi and Data find something odd. Roga has no criminal record whatsoever—but he does have a military record, and an exemplary one at that. And as it happens, Lunar V is a military prison. Turns out Roga and his fellow prisoners were normal citizens, who enlisted in the military. He was turned into a Super Soldier, having his psychological and biochemical makeup altered to turn him into the perfect warrior.
Problem is, he can't turn it off. His enhanced skills kick in whenever he's in danger, which makes him a danger to those around him. Angosia arranges for him to be transported back to Lunar V, and tells the Enterprise to keep their noses out of the secretive abuses Roga says he has suffered.
When the Enterprise attempts to beam him to the Angosian shuttle, Roga does the impossible. He breaks out of the transport beam. The resulting explosion disables the holding cell, and the nearby crew, enabling Roga to make his escape. And since the sensors can't detect him, he's that much harder to track down.
After kicking ass through the halls of the ship, he slips into a Jeffries tube, and arrives in the cargo bay. He beams aboard the Angosian transport vessel. Before the Enterprise can do anything, a surprise in one of the tubes makes itself known—a phaser set on overload, which explodes and disables the Enterprise's sensors. With them out of the way, Roga steers the transport vessel to Lunar V, leading an attack to release his fellow soldiers.
Hearing of an attack on the Angosian government, Picard, Troi, Data, and Worf beam down to the planet, just in time to witness Roga's assault on the capital. Roga and his crew have no fight with Picard. Their fight is with the government, who turned them into killers, and locked them away when they became too dangerous.
The Angosians, in a rather stunning example of hypocrisy, beg the Enterprise to help them. Picard refuses and simply notes that he has seen enough for his report, which will obviously tell the Federation of the flagrant and systematic sentient rights violations he has discovered on the applying planet. The soldiers' only instinct is to survive. And the government is the reason for that. Picard backs away, assuring them Roga and his men aren't programmed to kill people who don't resist them. Picard tells the Angosians they have a decision to make about how they treat these veterans. Danar is just happy to finally be acknowledged.
With that, the Enterprise leaves Angosia, Picard opining that if the Angosian government survives the night, they may reapply for Federation membership some day.
Tropes featured in this episode:
- Anti-Villain: Danar. He is what his people made him to be. Applies to his engineered cohorts as well.
- Arc Words: "Survival," and the choice or compulsion to do so, comes up many times. It is the idea that made Angosians create the soldiers in the past, a word that ironically damns those soldiers in every respect of the word in the present, and what to Danar is simply not enough for the future. Picard's closing words on the subject highlight this as its turned on the Argosian government - the government might not survive this crisis, but he suspects in the end that they will choose to.
- Battle of Wits: Danar and Data fight it out this way. Danar is impressed with Data for figuring out his plan.
- Blessed with Suck: One of Roga Danar's enhancements is an improved memory. He can remember everything in perfect detail. This includes the faces of the people he killed in the war. All eighty-four of them.
- Call-Back: Riker figures out that Danar is hiding his ship over Angosia's magnetic pole; back in "Peak Performance," it was mentioned in Riker's file that he had once performed the same trick.
- Combat Pragmatist: Roga Danar again. During his fight with Worf, he realizes the Klingon is too tough to go down like ordinary humans, so he knocks down some nearby metal blocks onto Worf's head, knocking him out.
- Cursed with Awesome: Danar and his engineered comrades have extraordinary abilities, but when their society no longer needs those abilities, they become pariahs.
- Damn You, Muscle Memory!: The key problem the vets have. They can't turn their Super Soldier instincts off. They could easily kill someone by mistake if their survival instinct is triggered.
- "Die Hard" on the Enterprise: The episode's fourth act sees Roga sneaking his way through the corridors of the Enterprise, knocking out guards and stealing phasers, then MacGyvering them into bombs and power sources so he can bypass the security measures, until finally he reaches a transporter that allows him to hijack the Angosian shuttle.
- Do with Him as You Will: Played with. Picard decides to leave the Angosians with their outcast creations, except not for violent retribution, but negotiations.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Jeffries tube in this episode is a corridor, instead of the cramped crawlways of future Trek stories.
- Empty Elevator: Save for an overloading phaser that Danar left.
- Exact Words: Picard tells the Prime Minister that he'll send an away team. He never says that it's a security team, or that they'll actually intervene. Picard employs this again when the PM says "Picard, you have to do something." Picard agrees... and beams back up to the ship.
- Fast-Roping: One of Danar's men does this during the climax.
- Fate Worse than Death: How Danar feels about returning to Lunar V.
- Freudian Excuse: Danar pokes fun at Troi, coming up with different reasons for why he turned out so violent.
- Gilded Cage: The Lunar V colony, according to Picard."Even the most comfortable prison is still a prison."
- Gone Horribly Right: The Super Soldier conditioning wound up working too well, leading to their creations becoming uncontrollable.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- The Angosian leadership learns to its horror that when they refused to cooperate with Captain Picard when he inquired about the matter of their super soldiers because it was a matter of internal security, they gave the disgusted Starfleet captain the perfect excuse to abandon them when the powerful rebels are about to overwhelm the government.
- In addition, the fact that the super soldiers have turned on their creators.
- Holding Your Shoulder Means Injury: O'Brien, after being shot in the shoulder.
- Human Aliens: The Angosians don't even have face markings to distinguish them from Earth natives.
- Ironic Echo: When Picard complains about how Danar and his comrades are treated, Nayrok tells him that it's an internal matter and none of Starfleet's business. During the climax, when Nayrok is pissed at Picard for leaving the government at the mercy of the soldiers, Picard reminds him that it's an internal matter and none of Starfleet's business.
- The Juggernaut: Danar, of course. Nothing stops this guy when he's on the move, and it's kind of amazing they were able to get him in a holding cell in the first place. Worf is the only one able to take him on in a straight-up fight, forcing Danar to dump a bunch of crates on him and quickly escape.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Danar's ability to tank the transporter beam comes out of nowhere, assuming you don't assign it simply to his engineered survival instincts being that strong.
- No-Sell: Phaser fire has no effect on Danar. Hell, he no-sold the transporter beam. Who does that??
- Not So Different: Data mentions that he and Danar have much in common because both of them have been programmed.
- Outside-Context Problem: Danar comes across as this. Nobody on the Enterprise expected to deal with someone who could block his own life signs, or escape a transporter beam.
- Proud Scholar Race Guy: The Angosians, which is why they turned Danar and others like him into super soldiers. And then it turns out that their peaceful society is No Place for a Warrior, especially one who can't stop being a warrior.
- Ramming Always Works: An odd variation. Danar starts what Geordi calls "a suicide run" against the Enterprise, which doesn't come close to damaging her thanks to her Deflector Shields—and then it turns out that it was just a distraction while Danar jumps into an Escape Pod.
- Recycled In SPACE: This episode is First Blood, the first Rambo film, in space.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Roga and his fellows capture the leaders who have been insisting that Picard has no right to interfere in their internal affairs, he takes the opportunity to throw their words back in their faces and then leaves them to their uncertain fate.
- Super Soldier: What Roga and his fellow citizens were turned into. Thoroughly Deconstructed, as this leaves them unable to function in normal society and leads to them becoming outcasts who are only useful in war.
- The Worf Effect: Worf vs. Super Soldier Roga Danar. The first time it's averted somewhat, as Worf is able to pin Danar down with Riker's help after Danar had already fought a half dozen guys and been shot with a phaser a couple of times. The second time it's Played Straight; when it's just Worf and Danar he takes Worf out and beams away, though he does have to use heavy containers to do so; in hand-to-hand combat, Worf takes his blows easily enough, and is able to dish them out equally until Roga shoves the crates onto him.
- Worthy Opponent:
- How Worf views Danar: "You are cunning. You must have Klingon blood."
- Danar also seems to view the Enterprise crew as this. Especially Data, as indicated when they have a reasonably amicable chat in the brig.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Danar vs the Enterprise crew twice. Our heroes get him the first time, but the second time he escapes.