Original air date: October 16, 1989
The Federation has set up a secret observation station on a primitive Vulcan-like planet named Mintaka III to observe the inhabitants without their knowledge. The Enterprise is delivering supplies when its reactor breaks down, and it becomes briefly visible to the outside world. Two of the Mintakans see it within that window of time, and one of them, Liko (Ray Wise), is injured while trying to investigate. Doctor Crusher decides to beam him up to the Enterprise to tend to his injuries. Picard is unhappy with her decision, but allows it on the condition that she erase his memories afterwards, as Doctor Pulaski did to Sargenka in "Pen Pals." Crusher warns him that the operation might not be successful, but agrees.
Liko awakens and sees Picard standing over him in Sickbay, being treated like a boss by everyone around him, and comes to the conclusion that Picard is some kind of god that raised him from the dead. Unaware that Crusher's memory wipe didnt take, they send him back to where they found him and assume that the problem's solved. But they still have another problem: One of the workers from the station, Palmer, is missing, and the sensors can't pick him up. To find him, Riker and Troi beam down disguised as Mintakans.
The first thing they see is Liko recounting his tale of the mighty Picard to his friends and neighbors. The others are skeptical, especially a woman known as Nuria, but when the villagers find the unconscious Palmer, who is clearly not of their world, even she is convinced. Riker warns Picard that their interference is quickly becoming a new religion, and Picard tells them to get Palmer out of there immediately. Troi creates a distraction while Riker grabs Palmer and beams away, but the Mintakans see him before he escapes and capture Troi as his accomplice. Liko immediately says Troi should be punished to appease the Picard. Nuria says they have no reason to hurt anyone just yet, but they might if they cant find Palmer.
The leader of the research station tells Picard that, with the damage to the Prime Directive already done, the only way to minimize the chaos is to appear before the Mintakans as a god and give them guidelines for their new religion to follow. Picard refuses to push the Mintakans back into a belief in superstition and the supernatural. Instead, he selects Nuria as a voice of reason and beams her onto the ship to show her that he is simply a man with advanced technology rather than a god. Nuria comes to understand Picard's message but is still in awe over his technological powers. She begs him to raise several of her recently deceased villagers from the dead. Picard allows her to watch a patient die in Sickbay to show her that he and his kind are just as mortal as she is.
Nuria and Picard return to the village just in time to prevent Liko from killing Troi as a sacrifice. Liko requires some more convincing, however, and attempts to prove that Picard is immortal by aiming a bow at him. Though the others try to stop Liko, Picard prepares to sacrifice his life to convince the Mintakans of his mortality. Liko's daughter throws off his aim, and he hits Picard in the shoulder. The sight of red blood convinces Liko, and of course thanks to Dr. Crusher, the injury is merely an annoyance to Picard.
The Enterprise crew dismantles the observation station as Picard explains to the Mintakens what happened. He tells them that it's forbidden for him to teach them anything that would interfere with their natural development, but they thank him for showing them what they might achieve in time. Picard promises them that he will never forget them.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Absentee Actor: Wesley doesn't appear.
- Artistic License History: The Mintakans are apparently a Bronze Age society, and their most advanced piece of technology is the bow. It's considerably more advanced than anything else they have, as the bows shown are clearly late 20th Century sporting bows, made of composite plastics rather than wood, and with a dedicated arrow rest on the left which makes them unsuitable for hunting or warfare.
- Broken-System Dogmatist: Liko. Subverted in that this belief system was broken before it even hit the ground: Liko is injured when he is electrocuted by an electrified wall at the outpost and seriously injured and knocked unconscious by falling off a ledge. When Dr. Crusher, by instinct, brings him aboard the Enterprise to save his life, Picard does not take well to this. While being treated in sickbay, Liko awakens in a daze, automatically assuming from the shapely lighting and sleek aesthetic that he has been taken to the afterlife, and seeing Picard as a pristine god. Crusher attempts to erase his memory, unsuccesfully, and roots of a new religious movement begin to sprout in the village. Later, When Liko becomes fanatical during a strong freak thunderstorm on the surfacenote , he is unconvinced about Picard's lack of godly power when he beams down, instead genuflecting before him and claiming that he can bring back the dead. Liko then shoots Picard with an arrow to prove his godhood, but Oji pushes him before he can aim properly, hitting his shoulder instead. It's not until Nuria shows him Picard's blood on her fingers that he snaps out of it.
- Nuria: Picard speaks the truth. I have visited his people. I have seen how they live and how they die. When death takes one of their loved ones, they are as helpless as we are!
Liko: Then,... how was I brought back to life?!
Nuria: Liko, you were not dead. Picard's people have a knowledge that we lack. They're able to heal wounds that we cannot.
Liko: NO! No... He can bring back the dead! Show them, Picard! You can bring back... ...my wife to me.
Picard: I cannot.
Liko: Why? Why won't you do this for me? Have I failed you in some way? Are you angry with me?
Picard: I'm not angry with you.
Liko: Well, then I beg you! Bring her back to me! [kneels in front of Picard] I will... give you my life in exchange! Please! Take back what you gave me! Give it to her! Let her live!
Picard: [exasperated] It is beyond my power!
Liko: Nothing is beyond your power! You are the Overseer! I will prove it! [goes to prepare his bow and arrow]
- Clarke's Third Law: Invoked by Picard to explain to the Mintakans why he would appear god-like to them. To a Mintakan caveperson, Nuria's ability to hunt from a distance with a bow would be strange and frightening.
- Continuity Nod: When Picard asks that Crusher wipe Liko's memory, Crusher notes that she understands Dr. Pulaski's methods, which we last saw in "Pen Pals." This is one of the very few moments where Pulaski's existence is acknowledged after Season 2.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Troi explains that in Mintakan society, "men walk behind their wives," who will negotiate with other women to use their "services." In their society itself, though, the men don't seem have any less power than women, so Mintaka III isn't quite a Lady Land.
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: The implanted "subcutaneous communicators" make another appearance in this episode, before being forgotten again in later episodes.
- Foreshadowing: It comes up in Picard's and Crusher's conversation in Sick Bay early on that she's not entirely sure the mind-wipe will work with the Mintakans brain chemistry. Turns out she had every right to worry.
- Hand Wave: The Mintakans' body chemistry makes it impossible to erase their memories, allowing the rest of the episode to happen.
- Literary Allusion Title: Translated from "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" It's a quote from Roman poet Juvenal's Satires.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: Riker and Troi are altered to pass for Mintakans so they can handle the away mission rather than, say, some Vulcans who could pass for Mintakans without surgery. Presumably the job was too important to assign to some Red Shirt.
- Mistaken for Superpowered: An injured man from a primitive alien race is beamed onto the Enterprise for treatment, with the plan being to wipe his memory of being on the ship after he has been treated. To the chagrin of the crew they discover after returning the man to his planet that the mind wipe didn't take, and the man, who saw Captain Picard giving orders to others during his time aboard the ship, has become convinced that Picard is a god who raised him from the dead, and begins preaching about Picard after being returned to his planet.
- Only Sane Man: Nuria is identified as the most rational and influential Mintakan, so she is chosen to receive Picard's pitch. She beams back to try to talk the others down from their superstitious fervor.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Picard states that belief in superstition and the supernatural were achievements that both the Federation and the Mintakans made centuries ago. He takes it very poorly that the Mintakans are building a false religion out of belief in him. Indeed, very quickly they start suggesting blood sacrifices to be made to appease him. Previous episodes suggest that Picard has no problem with people having personal, philosophical beliefs about the unknowable, such as the afterlife; it's heavily implied that Picard's issue is that the Mintakans are worshiping him, specifically.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Beverly beams Liko to Sickbay after he's shocked by the malfunctioning duck blind and angrily rebuffs Picard's assertion that she should have let him die to prevent cultural contamination.
- Spell My Name with a "The": The Mintakans refer to Picard as "The Picard."
- Stop Worshipping Me: With little alternative to clean up the awful mess they've made, Picard goes through a lengthy sequence of this with Nuria.
- Unwanted False Faith: Picard to the primitive species on the planet below. The only way he can convince them he is not a god is by proving that he can't raise the dead and by taking an arrow to the shoulder.