Original air date: February 11, 1991
The Enterprise is between assignments, allowing the crew some extra leisure time as they perform some routine exploration. Picard has invited Guinan to enjoy a Dixon Hill story with him on the holodeck, but just as the mystery is starting to unfold, Data calls in to report a scientific curiosity. Sensors have detected a T-Tauri-type star within a stellar cloud that appears to have an Class-M planet in orbit capable of supporting life.
As they are approaching the system, they detect an energy distortion resembling an unstable wormhole—not unusual near a T-Tauri star. Before they have a chance to withdraw, they are pulled in, and Data turns around to find that everyone has been rendered unconscious.
When they recover, Data reports that the wormhole stunned the crew for about half a minute. No major injuries or damage are reported. Thankful for their good fortune, they decide to play it safe and launch a probe to investigate the anomalous planet. Its telemetry shows it to be a mundane gas giant instead of the Class-M they expected, which Data speculates might have actually been from another system, detected through the unstable wormhole. Though puzzling, Picard decides it is not a mystery worth pursuing.
However, yet another mystery emerges. Dr. Crusher comes to Picard with some alien moss samples that she had planted right before the incident. They have inexplicably grown a full day's worth, which neither of them can explain, as Data personally vouched for the 30-second time gap. When they ask Data for his opinion, he offers a Technobabble hypothesis based on a temporal theory with little relation to botany. It's clear that the senior staff is not buying it, and after Picard dismisses Data on an errand, La Forge admits his astonishment that Data would offer such a far-fetched explanation.
With Data's state of mind in question, the crew investigates further without his knowledge. They uncover further evidence that a full day passed after the wormhole incident, and that Data falsified all of the computer's evidence to the contrary, along with the probe's record of the gas giant (actually a charted planet elsewhere in the galaxy). Further, it seems they may not have been lying about unconscious the whole time, as Worf's wrist was broken and subsequently healed. Further, Troi has been feeling "unfocused" since she woke up. When she returns to her quarters and looks in the mirror, she has a sudden premonition that a stranger is looking at her with her own eyes.
Picard confronts Data with his suspicions that the android knows what the hell is going on. Data seems to choose his words very carefully as he admits to nothing but also offers nothing in his defense. Apart from his reticence, Data has cooperated fully, which leads the crew to conclude that he is not acting maliciously and may have been forced into silence for their own protection.
Though he recognizes the danger in further curiosity, Picard is not willing to drop the matter without clearing Data of suspicion. They return to the T-Tauri star system, where they find the original Class-M planet. Data implores Picard to leave, but to no avail. Troi enters the bridge possessed by an alien, prompting Data to finally break his silence.
The inhabitants of the planet are a race of extreme xenophobes called the Paxans. The wormhole was actually a defense system designed to stun the crew of curious vessels so that they can be relocated farther away under the guise of being caught by a dangerous anomaly. But as Data was not affected by this technology, he was able to resist them and revive the crew, leading to a confrontation. The aliens don't want their existence made known, but destroying the Enterprise might cause Starfleet to come looking.
Using Troi to communicate by proxy, the Paxans agreed to a compromise: the ship would be allowed to leave as long as the crew's memory and computer logs were wiped and Data was sworn to secrecy. The crew tried to remove all evidence of the event, but the loose ends they overlooked were enough to unravel the conspiracy. Now that the ruse has failed, the Paxans again consider violence, but Picard convinces them to give the plan another try, arguing that they can eliminate all the clues that unraveled the mystery.
The crew wakes up from their second bout of unconsciousness, but this time no one seems to sense anything is amiss. Picard contemplates sending a probe toward the planet, but Data innocently argues against it. After a tense moment of vacillating, Picard shrugs and orders the ship away. Data plots a course with as much relief as his emotionless circuits can generate.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Aesop Amnesia: Picard's claim that Data would be "stripped down to the wires" as a consequence of his deception flies in the face of "The Measure of a Man", in which Data was legally acknowledged to have the rights of an individual (a judgment that Picard himself argued in favor of). You might blame it on his obvious annoyance at Data's blatant evasiveness, but it's still a little jarring.
- Artistic License – Medicine: Crusher's medical kit has a caduceus on it, with two winged serpents wrapped around a staff. The caduceus is the symbol of heralds and messengers, but it is widely confused with the Rod of Asclepius, a single serpent wrapped around a staff, which is the actual symbol of healing. You'd think that Starfleet wouldn't make that kind of mistake.
- Beware the Honest Ones: Data does his utmost to ensure the masquerade and try to throw the crew off the scent.
- Bottle Episode: Dialogue-driven, takes place only on the existing sets of the Enterprise, and any special effects needed for the Paxans are completely avoided by having them possess Troi to interact with the crew without being seen.
- Busman's Holiday: Even when the Enterprise is explicitly on downtime, it still gets sucked into a planet mystery.
- Clock Discrepancy: Several of these turn up. Data initially succeeds in explaining them away, but their accumulation leads the crew to discover the truth.
- Conflicting Loyalty: An odd case. Data has to obey orders from—in effect—two different Picards, one who ordered him to hide the truth for a good reason and one who's trying to find the truth without knowing better.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Picard refuses to accept Data's answers about what happened, and returns to the system where the crew was knocked out. This nearly gets them killed.
- Eminently Enigmatic Race: The race of non-corporeal aliens are so secretive that they use a fake wormhole to fool people into thinking their region of space is too dangerous to venture into, and erase the memories of anyone who learns of their existence.
- Fanservice: Guinan flashes her stocking garters, which is pretty risque for Star Trek.
- Meaningful Background Event: Coupled with Foreshadowing. When the crew wakes up the first time, Worf can be seen in the back suddenly checking on his wrist as if he was suddenly injured.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: Picard tries to convince the aliens that humans are naturally curious, and when inconsistencies (the moss, Worf's wrist, the ship's clock) made the cover story implausible, they were compelled to solve the mystery. The aliens accept this explanation.
- Phlebotinum-Proof Robot: The xenophobic aliens can't modify Data's memory. This is despite being able to modify the computer.
- Red Herring: Worf notes that Data is one of the only people on the ship capable of breaking his wrist, further adding to suspicions that Data has gone rogue. It turns out that Troi of all people did it while possessed by Paxans and presumably hopped up on Super-Strength. In any good mystery, it's always the person you least suspect!
- Spotting the Thread: The potted moss is the first clue to suggest that the crew was out for far longer than Data claims.
- Talking through Technique: One of the clues that Dr. Crusher discovers is that Worf's hand was broken and the bones set by a doctor. She realizes that she herself is the only person who would have set them that exact way.
- Technobabble: Humorously lampshaded. Data gives a long-winded technobabble explanation for why the moss grew much larger than it would have, and after he leaves, Picard asks Geordi if he believes him. Despite all their technobabble solutions, they do not.
- Tempting Fate: In his log entry at the beginning of the episode, Picard says that he expects their journey through the Ngame Nebula to be "uneventful."
- The Needs of the Many: Data justifies lying to and obstructing everyone because of this.Data: Which would you place first, the welfare of a single individual or that of the entire crew?
- They Would Cut You Up: Picard warns Data that this could happen if Data refuses to tell the truth and is court-martialed as a result. (Picard isn't being manipulative, but rather seems actually afraid that this would happen, which as discussed above is odd.)
- Tongue-Tied: Though they aren't willing to trust all 1,000+ people on the Enterprise with their secret, the Paxans are willing to trust just Data. He certainly makes good on his promise; no amount of threats or cajoling gets him to open up.
- Violence is the Only Option: During both encounters, the Paxans consider destroying the Enterprise to keep their existence a secret, though it's clear that they'd prefer not to, since they give Picard's alternative solution a try— twice, in fact.
- The Voice: The Paxans are never seen, only heard as a deep, unnatural voice when they speak through Troi (and even that is probably not what they really sound like).
- Walk and Talk: Invoked by Picard when Crusher needs to talk to him. Since he needs to get to Engineering, he tells her to meet him en route so they can talk.
- We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Data took an image of a gas giant in the ship's database, changed the color scheme a little, and programmed the probe that they launched so that it would transmit that image instead of what it actually found. Geordi figured out that it was faked once he took a good look at the actual probe telemetry.
- Wham Line:Picard: Who gave you the order [to lie]?
Data: You did, sir.
- The Worf Effect: Has greater plot relevance than usual in this episode. When it is discovered that Worf's wrist was broken during the crew's lost time, suspicion falls on Data due to his android strength, when in reality it was Troi while possessed by the aliens.
- You Already Changed the Past: A very odd variation. The crew's memories had been erased by Data, allowing them to escape the alien threat. However, Picard's determination to get to the bottom of the mystery causes the Enterprise to return to the place they previously escaped from, endangering them once again.