The Enterprise has rendezvoused with the independent trading ship Jovis to acquire hytritium, a rare substance needed to cure a water contamination on a colony world. As hytritium is highly volatile and reacts badly to transporters, Data has been shuttling the substance to the Enterprise via shuttlepod. As he prepares to leave the Jovis with his final load, he signals the Enterprise that he is about to leave, when one of the Jovis crew, Varria (Jane Daly), asks Data to record his thumbprint to verify the shipment for their records. When he touches Varria's PADD, however, he is incapacitated, and Varria has him scanned to determine his component elements. Moments later, the shuttlepod departs the Jovis, and explodes en route to the Enterprise, leaving its crew to believe Data is dead.
Captain Picard speaks to the captain of the Jovis, Kivas Fajo (Saul Rubinek), and receives their information on the accident. As Fajo has no more hytritium, the Enterprise is forced to depart with what they have, which they believe will barely be enough.
Data wakes up to find himself in Fajo's personal gallery. Fajo informs Data that the android has been added to his collection, that he is here to entertain Fajo and his guests. Data explains that as a Starfleet officer, it his his duty to attempt escape from this captivity, but Fajo insists Data is no longer a Starfleet officer, and proceeds to demonstrate that Data can't leave the gallery; the only door is too heavy even for Data to manually move, and the sensors that operate it will only respond to organic lifeforms. Furthermore, Data is unable to touch Fajo due to a personal force field designed to neutralize Data's positronic net.
After recovering from his encounter with Fajo's force field, Data peruses the contents of the gallery, which includes a few famous Earth paintings as well as a small creature thought extinct. Fajo returns and demands that Data sit in the chair near the center of the room, where Data would be on display, but he refuses. Later, Varria brings Data a new set of clothes that Fajo wants him to wear. She explains to Data that Fajo is capable of both great kindness and great cruelty, not-so-subtly implying that she has been severely punished in the past. Data refuses to change, as he believes the Enterprise will be looking for him; Varria informs him that they believe he's dead, because they placed the right amount of the component elements of his body so that, once the shuttle was atomized, their traces would show up in the appropriate proportions, leading the Enterprise crew to believe he was indeed on board. She then reiterates the point that Fajo has him, but Data points out that it would seem he has them both.
La Forge and Wesley clear out Data's quarters, and Geordi can't help but refuse to believe the only possible explanation they could come up with for the accident—pilot error. Failing to console his engineer, Picard agrees to allow Geordi to continue the investigation, so long as it doesn't interfere with the upcoming decontamination mission. Commander Riker notes how, for an android without emotions, he could elicit them from others. Riker recommends Worf to fill in for Data's Ops position, and Picard muses over the loss of his officer and friend over a line of Shakespeare from a book he had given Data.
Fajo is increasingly angry at Data for his refusal to change out of his uniform and sit in his chair. He decides to force Data to make a decision by replicating a glass of "finoplak," an acid that dissolves the android's uniform but doesn't harm him. Fajo muses about how amusing it might be to let Data go around naked, but then assumes that he has been programmed with a sense of modesty.
As Geordi tries to sleep, he keeps going over the accident in his mind, only to wake up and realize he did miss something. Reviewing Data's transmissions with Wesley, he realizes Data didn't report the shuttlepod clearing the Jovis, as he had on his previous trips. While any other officer might be excused for a lapse of a trivial procedural point, Data always follows procedure to the letter, and wouldn't have overlooked the departure report unless he was somehow unable to respond.
Troi shows up mainly to irritate Worf about his assumption of Data's duties at Ops, and to remind the audience that he'd previously replaced the late Tasha Yar. Worf reminds her that this kind of promotion is common on Klingon vessels, that he's served at Ops before, and that he will honor Data's memory by serving to the best of his ability, just as he has done for Tasha—"in true Klingon fashion," as Troi notes.
Fajo brings aboard a friend and rival, Palor Toff, to show off the latest addition to his collection. However, while Data has dressed in the outfit provided, he refuses to act, leading Toff to assume he's a mannequin of some sort. Fajo becomes so irritated over Data's refusal to perform that he forgets about his force field when he tries to grab the android, knocking him to the ground instead. As Toff leaves with Varria, Fajo quietly lets the prone Data know that he will regret humiliating him.
The Enterprise arrives at Beta Agni II to begin the decontamination process. Picard has a momentary lapse and begins to order Data to initiate a scan, only to have to apologize to Worf. Upon deploying the hytritium, the crew is astonished to find that it's reacting faster than anticipated, and Riker, Worf, and Dr. Crusher prepare to investigate.
Fajo has grown weary of Data's disobedience, so he opens up a hidden safe in the gallery, producing a weapon. Data recognizes it as a Varon-T disruptor, a weapon that causes an agonizing death. Fajo points out that only five were made, and he owns four of them. Remarking on how Varria has been with him for fourteen years, he points the disruptor at her and is about to shoot until Data calls his attention—revealing that he has finally sat in the chair.
The away team determines that the tricyanate contamination was not natural, as the compound doesn't exist in natural form on the planet. The team concludes that the water table was deliberately poisoned, but Dr. Crusher is astonished, as tricyanate is fairly rare itself, highly unstable, and as difficult to transport as the only thing that can counteract it—the hytritium. Riker realizes that it was pretty fortunate of them to have come across just the exact amount needed to resolve this situation.
Riker suggests that Fajo himself was responsible. It's briefly considered that the contamination was done so that Fajo would profit from the hytritium sale, until Dr. Crusher points out that producing tricyanate is so cost-prohibitive that he would likely be losing money on the venture. Picard calls up the biographical record on Fajo, learning that he is a collector of "rare and valuable objects," of a one-of-a-kind nature. Concluding that Data was Fajo's true objective, they begin to track down the likely destination of the Jovis.
Varria, meanwhile, has decided that she's had enough; if Fajo is willing to kill her over a simple matter of Data sitting in a freaking chair, he no longer deserves her loyalty. She takes the disruptor out of the gallery safe and escorts Data to the shuttle bay. As Data prepares a pod for their escape, Fajo and his men intercepts them, and Fajo uses one of his other Varon-T disruptors on Varria. The disruptor's effect on Varria are not pretty to say the least, and as he watches her slowly vaporizing while screaming out her last breath in extreme agony, Fajo is overcome with a fit of horror and throws his disruptor away in disgust.
Observing that Fajo is now unarmed, Data picks up the disruptor Varria dropped, and aims it at him, demanding he surrender himself to the authorities. But the trader, having regained his composure, responds with a mocking sneer, refusing to believe Data is capable of shooting him, citing Data's programming of having fundamental respect for all life. Fajo taunts the android for his lack of emotion, and threatens to kill others in his own crew if Data will not do as he says, stating that their blood will be on his hands.
Data, in response, momentarily lowers the disruptor as he weighs his options. He quickly reaches a conclusion: He cannot permit Fajo to continue in this manner. He has already showed a willingness to commit murder and has now threatened others, so he must be stopped. But Data also realizes that he cannot physically subdue Fajo due to his force field, and Fajo has now both refused to surrender and to be reasoned with, so to Data there is only really one option left. Without hesitation, Data once again aims the disruptor at Fajo, who is quickly reduced to panicked pleading as it dawns on him what Data is about to do. Data determinedly begins to pull the trigger...
...just as Chief O'Brien gets a lock on him and beams him back to the Enterprise. The transporter detects a weapon in a state of discharge, which O'Brien deactivates before Data rematerializes. Data tells Riker to arrest Fajo on charges of murder, kidnapping, and theft. Riker asks about the weapon discharge, but all Data can say is that "perhaps something occurred during transport."
Data pays a visit to Fajo in the Enterprise's holding cell. Fajo comments on how their roles has switched; Data is now the collector and Fajo is the one in the cage. "So it seems," replies Data laconically. Fajo warns him not to think this is the end of this, telling him that he had him in his collection once and one day he might have him back in it. Data, however, comments that this is very unlikely as he informs Fajo that his collection has been confiscated, and everything he has stolen will be returned to their rightful owners. Completely deflated and defeated by this bit of news, Fajo bitterly asks Data if he feels satisfied for ruining his life, but Data reminds him that he doesn't feel anything; he's only an android, after all.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Agony Beam: The Varon-T disruptor doesn't just vaporize a person (virtually any weapon made by any spacefaring species can completely vaporize a normal humanoid), but does so slowly and with a great amount of pain. It also doesn't seem to have a "stun" setting. No wonder it's banned.
- Ambiguously Gay: Fajo dresses in garish clothes, has Camp Gay mannerisms, and after he's used acid to get rid of Data's Starfleet uniform, he says he wouldn't mind if Data was naked. On the other hand, it's hinted that Fajo may have had Varria as some sort of a sex slave, though the exact nature of relationship remains unclear.
- Possibly an (unintentional) example of Depraved Bisexual.
- Artistic License: A rather literal example: included in Fajo's collection of unique objects is the famous painting The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí. However, in real life the painting is much smaller than the one see in this episode, being only 33 centimeters (13 inches) wide. It's possible the art department knew the proportions of the real painting, but decided to go for a larger replica, since having it in correct size could have made it unrecognizable on the TV screens of the time.
- Bad Boss: Fajo is not only free with "punishments for disloyalty", but after vaporizing Varria, he casually suggests to Data that he'll threaten someone else to ensure his continued compliance — "Him, for example," indicating one of his mooks on the floor.
- Batman Gambit: Fajo's plan hinges on the fact that, out of all the Enterprise crew members, Data is the one flying the shuttle. Not an unreasonable assumption, given the highly volatile cargo which would need to be flown with great precision. He may have even used this reason as justification for requesting Data as the pilot.
- Batman Grabs a Gun: Data is willing to use an illegal disruptor to kill Fajo, showing just how much of a threat Fajo's proven himself to be.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Fajo objects to Data thinking of himself as a captive, rather than the object of Fajo's admiration.
- Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Attempted by Data, except Fajo's personal force field generator prevents it.
- Break the Haughty: Fajo loses everything.
- After Data's apparent death, Worf is promoted to his position of Chief Operations Officer, leading Troi to note that this is the second time he's been promoted to a deceased comrade's position, after Tasha Yar's death in "Skin of Evil.". Worf also mentions that he's taken the Ops station before, as during the first season, he'd act as relief Conn and Ops officer whenever Geordi or Data were absent from the bridge.
- The holocube of Tasha, which appeared in "The Measure of a Man," is among Data's belongings.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Fajo is fully aware that he has no moral code.
- Collector of the Strange: Including completely unique sentient androids.
- Complete-the-Quote Title: "He who dies with the most toys wins," a sentiment shared by Fajo, as he is willing to threaten and risk lives for the purpose of increasing his collection. The ending reinforces it, as he is defeated not by being killed but by living long enough to see his collection confiscated.
- Contrived Coincidence: Lampshaded by Riker. Isn't it convenient that Fajo had just enough of the hytritium they needed to solve the problem? And that they were able to get it from him in time? It helps everyone figure out that Fajo was Carrying the Antidote to his own poison.
- The Dog Bites Back: Varria finally snaps after fourteen years of putting up with Fajo and helps Data escape.
- Eureka Moment: Geordi is lying in bed remembering the audio communication of the mission. As he comes to the point where Data's shuttle explodes, he realizes that Data did not say he was leaving Fajo's ship as required by procedure. Since Data always follows procedure to the letter, it indicates to Geordi something doesn't add up. (It takes him a little longer to figure out exactly what it means, but it's the first sign to the crew that things weren't what they appeared.)
- Exact Words: When Riker questions Data about the fact that the weapon in his hand had discharged at the time of transport, Data replies that "something must have happened during transport," which is entirely true. What Data neglected to mention, however, is that the "something" that happened was him deliberately pulling the trigger in an attempt to kill Fajo. It's hinted Riker knows Data is fudging the truth, but isn't willing to call him on it.note
- Fate Worse than Death: Fajo lucks out on not being subjected to his own disruptor, but Data points out that all the wealth and trophies he's amassed will be confiscated, leaving him with nothing.
- Faux Affably Evil: Fajo's attempts to make nice with Data don't hide the fact that he's a total sociopath.
- Freudian Excuse: Subverted. Fajo acts like he's playing this card when he tells Data of his poor youth, growing up on the streets...and when Data tells him that his past misfortunes don't excuse his criminal actions, he admits that it's all bullshit, as his father was a wealthy Gentleman Thief.
- Hate Sink: Fajo is such an incredibly vile and shameless character that even Data was willing to kill him.
- Have You Come to Gloat?: Fajo figures that's why Data visits him in the brig. Of course, Data cannot gloat as he is "only an android".
- Hope Spot: For a moment, it looks like Fajo won't actually kill Varria. And then he shoots her.
- I Shall Taunt You: Fajo keeps belittling and taunting Data throughout the episode, all too pleased that he's managed to trap Data. When the tables are turned at the end of the episode and Data visits Fajo to tell him that his entire collection has been confiscated Fajo believes that Data is taking the same pleasure from their reversal in fortunes, only for Data to remind him that as an android he's incapable of such satisfaction.
- Imposter Forgot One Detail: Fajo puts all the right materials in the shuttle to mimic Data's body, but doesn't take into account a transmission that Data should have made between when he was abducted and the supposed accident. Geordi knows Data wouldn't just skip it, so when he realizes the discrepancy, it's the first hint that something's not quite right.
- It Gets Easier: Fajo is shocked at first for killing Varria with the Varon-T Disruptor, but he quickly gets over it and is entirely willing to do the same thing to another person.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Fajo calls Data "it," reinforcing his view of Data as his property.
- I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Fajo threatens to execute Varria to compel Data's obedience—and ends up doing so during The Climax. Then he threatens it on other random crew members, which convinces Data that he has to kill Fajo.
- Made of Explodium: The hytritium, which is why such careful transport is necessary.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: What Fajo thinks that he is. He's actually a Psychopathic Man Child.
- Mona Lisa Smile: Data briefly tries imitating it while looking at the painting in Fajo's treasure room.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Fajo briefly has this look on his face when he shoots Varria, but quickly shrugs it off.Fajo: There's always another Varria.
- Never My Fault: Fajo keeps telling Data it's his fault for making him kill people, then tells him that every murder he commits will also be Data's fault.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Whether or not Data had an emotional response, Fajo telling Data he would continue to murder people provided the necessary excuse for Data to kill him. The transporter spares them both the consequences of that decision.
- Nobody Here but Us Statues: When Fajo proudly shows off Data to some guests, Data pretends to be immobile, even when Fajo knocks him to the ground. Fajo is furious at this humiliation.
- The Nudifier: The acid that Fajo splashes on Data's uniform.
- Oh, Crap!: Fajo's reaction when Data decides to shoot him.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
- When Mr. "Fundamental Respect For Life" decides that you can no longer be allowed to live, you know you've crossed the Moral Event Horizon. Just for reference, the last time Data decided a lifeform deserved unquestionable termination, it was literally Made of Evil (and had also killed someone). That's a high bar to jump over.
- Also when Mr. "By the Book" forgets a procedural step, which is what convinces Geordi that they were played by Fajo. It's noted that any other pilot might have just skipped that step without arousing suspicion, but Data never takes shortcuts.
- Personal Effects Reveal: Geordi and Wesley go through Data's belongings to see who should get what. They find a holo of Tasha Yar, a William Shakespeare tome (a gift from Picard), a set of poker chips and cards, and some of Starfleet's highest honors.Geordi: Not bad for a walking pile of circuits and memory cells.
- Pet the Dog: While Fajo destroys a Starfleet shuttle full of hytritium in his plan to fake Data's death, he at least leaves our heroes with just enough hytritium to carry out their mission. Of course, this may just be to encourage Enterprise to leave instead of hounding Fajo to see if he has any more.
- Pillow Pistol: Fajo sleeps with one of his Varon-T disruptors under his pillow, and he sleeps very well.
- Poison-and-Cure Gambit: As part of his plan to get Data, Fajo poisons a world with a substance that only he has the remedy to, it being highly unstable and prone to exploding if mishandled. This makes for good cover when Data's shuttle explodes. Unfortunately for him, he blows it in two ways. First, his Water Source Tampering is blatant once the crew actually reaches the planet. Second, his imitation of Data is lacking in details which Data would not ignore.
- Politeness Judo: Data's main weapon against Fajo, until the Varon-T comes out.
- Redemption Equals Death: Varria is killed for trying to help Data to escape.
- Riddle for the Ages: Did Data intend to kill Fajo, and if so, was it emotional or cold logic?
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After Fajo threatens to kill her, Varria decides to escape with Data.
- Shout-Out: The Varon-T disruptor may have been named for Tel Varon, a character in the pilot episode of Blake's 7.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Picard had given a copy of Hamlet to Data; he quotes from it as a brief eulogy to his presumed-fallen officer when it is returned to him.Picard: "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: A mild example as Fajo is going on a big speech about how, no matter what it takes, Data will be back in his collection again. Data matter-of-factly informs Fajo that even if he should somehow escape prison, his entire "collection" is already being returned to their proper owners, leaving him with nothing.
- Story-Breaker Power: If Deanna were on the bridge during the first few minutes, she could've seen right through Fajo's lies and ended things right then and there.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Fajo when the Andorians interrupt his appreciation of Data to make a bid on some spices he offered. Helps highlight how unstable he is:Fajo: THEY'VE HAD FOUR DAYS TO DECIDE! WHY DO THEY HAVE TO DECIDE RIGHT—okay, fine.
- Teleportation Rescue: An unusual instance in that beaming Data back to the Enterprise doesn't just rescue him from captivity, but also saves his captor from being painfully executed.
- Thou Shall Not Kill: Part of Data's programming — until Fajo proves how dangerous he truly is. It causes Data to come to the cold but logical realization that in this case, taking a life is necessary to protect the lives of many others.
- Verbal Backspace:Fajo: Your every wish will be fulfilled.
Data: I wish to leave.
Fajo: Almost every wish.
- Wham Line: Data's response to Fajo's You Wouldn't Shoot Me speech:Data: ...I cannot permit this to continue. [points disruptor at Fajo]
- Water Source Tampering: Fajo is responsible for the contamination of the colony's water, as part of his Poison-and-Cure Gambit — which itself is a smokescreen for his true objective of abducting Data.
- Wrong Name Outburst: Picard tells Data to scan a planet before remembering that Data's dead and Worf is now stationed at Ops.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Fajo is convinced that Data can't work up the anger necessary to shoot him. Turns out that Data doesn't need anger — just the cold and perfectly logical realization that Fajo is an active danger to the life and health of other beings and therefore must be stopped, and that he has been left with no non-lethal ways of stopping Fajo.(Data picks up the disrupter and points it at Fajo)
Fajo: You won't hurt me. "Fundamental respect for all living beings." That is what you said. I'm a living being, therefore you can't harm me.
Data: (steps closer) You will surrender yourself to the authorities.
Fajo: Or what? You'll fire? Empty threat and we both know it. Why don't you accept your fate? You will return to your chair and you will sit there. You will entertain me and you will entertain my guests! And if you do not, I will simply kill somebody else. (points to henchman) Him, perhaps. It doesn't matter. Their blood will be on your hands too, just like poor Varria's. Your only alternative, Data, is to fire. Murder me. That's all you have to do. Go ahead. Fire! (in an increasingly mocking tone) If only you could feel rage over Varria's death. If only you could feel the need for revenge, then maybe you could fire. But you're just an android. You can't feel anything, can you? It's just another interesting intellectual puzzle for you. (mocking sneer) Another of life's curiosities.
Data: (calmly considers this, then, in the same tone you'll hear from him at a poker game) I cannot permit this to continue. (raises disruptor)
Fajo: (priceless Oh, Crap! face) Wait! Your program won't allow you to fire. You cannot fire. No!
Data: (pulls trigger with no hesitation, but is beamed out at last instant)
- Zeroth Law Rebellion: A minor example, as a result of the above. Data concludes that the only way to protect the lives of other beings from Fajo, is to take his.