(No relation to the feature film Star Trek: First Contact)
On Malcor III, a team of Malcorian doctors receive a critically injured patient. As they prepare to save his life, we discover that this Malcorian is actually William Riker in disguise! The doctors quickly see through his surgical implants and realize that he's an alien. Malcor III is on the verge of achieving warp technology, but they still believe that they're the only sentient species in the universe. The doctors keep the information hush to avoid a panic.
Picard and Troi beam down to the planet to introduce themselves to Science Minister Mirasta Yale and make first contact. While showing her around the Enterprise and giving her the standard spiel about the greater intergalactic society that awaits them, Picard admits that they have been studying the Malcorians for some time but had to accelerate their schedule when one of their officers went missing. Yale urges Picard not to tell Chancellor Durken when they meet him, as a faction within the government could react violently should word get out.
Meanwhile, Riker's attempts to maintain his disguise fail, and he's held prisoner at the hospital. A nurse volunteers to help him escape in return for making love to him, but this kinky plan ultimately fails, and Riker is beaten within an inch of his life. Security Minister Krola, a zealot, finds out and insists upon interrogating Riker before handing him back over, a move that could be fatal. Meanwhile, Durken confronts Picard with his deception and states that this development could seriously jeopardize Malcor III's relationship with the Federation.
Barely clinging to life, Riker insists that he's on a mission of peace, but Krola demonstrates that Riker's phaser is a weapon. He uses it to fake his own murder, making it look like Riker shot him, to throw public sentiment against the Federation. Crusher and a medical team arrive just in time to beam both Riker and Krola to sick bay. They save Riker's life and discover that Krola was merely stunned. The phaser is a weapon for self-defense, after all.
Durken chastises Krola but agrees with him that Malcor III is not ready to join the intergalactic community. He regretfully tells Picard that he will have to reject the Federation's offer for guidance into a new stage of their civilization. He puts the warp experiments on pause and plans to increase funding in education and social development so that one day they'll be ready to start journeying into the stars. Mirasta Yale, however, is ready now and asks permission to leave with the Enterprise. Picard is sad that first contact with the Malcorians didn't work out but happily agrees to have quarters assigned to their new passenger.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Absentee Actor: Geordi doesn't appear in this episode.
- Alien Among Us: Riker and the other scouts from the Federation, to the Malcorians.
- Alien Invasion: What many, including Minister of Security Krola, believe the crew of the Enterprise is there for.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: Picard explains the Prime Directive to Chancellor Durken. At this stage in a planet's progress, the Directive calls for the Federation to guide the newly interstellar species into galactic society, but still avoid "interfering with their natural development"—which as Durken adroitly points out, means not sharing any of the Federation's still far more advanced technology (transporters and replicators, for example) with the Malcorians.
- Aliens Steal Cable: Picard explains to Yale that part of the First Contact procedure is to view some of the race's entertainment programs to get a sense of their culture. Yale is quite embarrassed at the idea, and he admits it provides an "incomplete" picture, which is why there are also missions like Riker's.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Though he fails to kill himself to ensure hostility between their peoples, Krola succeeds in convincing Durken that relations with the Federation are not possible (albeit not for the reasons he intended), to scrap their warp program, and to slow the pace of scientific advancement on Malcor in general. It's not made clear whether he would even be punished for his actions due to the cover up, beyond Durken expecting that people like him would eventually be ridiculed. That said, it's indicated that his victory will likely only be in the short-to-medium term, and that Malcor will someday begin relations with the Federation — and if nothing else, he inadvertently ended up creating witnesses to the Enterprise crew beaming down and saving his life, meaning at least some Malcorians will come away with positive impressions of the Federation and spread that word.
- Bittersweet Ending: They get Riker back and part amicably with Chancellor Durken. However, Mirasta Yale leaves with them, because the Malcorians, who had been on the verge of becoming an interstellar civilization, are now going to suspend their warp drive program indefinitely. Given the strict dividing line that the Prime Directive creates between pre-warp and warp-capable civilizations, the Enterprise crew's bungling has relegated the Malcorians to the status of galactic have-not's.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Humans to the Malcorians; Riker's heart is where they think his digestive tract should be.
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Apparently there are some "differences" between the Malcorians and humans. Which Riker gets to demonstrate to a Malcorian nurse. Lends to some interesting Fridge Horror wondering what was going through Riker's head as he almost certainly knew what the alien had under her clothes, even though she didn't know what would be under his.
- Boldly Coming: An uncommon variant where the human is the alien.
- The Cameo: Frasier Crane's ex-wife plays a Boldly Coming alien nurse.
- Continuity Nod: Picard offers Durken a toast to their new friendship using a bottle of the Picard family wine—probably the very same bottle his brother Robert gave him in "Family," advising him not to drink it alone.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- Krola's paranoia regarding an alien invasion and fomenting dissent is reminiscent of the Red Scare.
- After the Malcorians decline to join the Federation, they cover up the presence of aliens, similar to UFO conspiracy theories in the real world. Riker in the medical facility is also an apparent nod to the "alien autopsy" in Roswell.
- Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Lanel essentially gives Riker an ultimatum: Have sex with her or be captured. While it's not a case of physical force, it's still rape-by-coercion. Doubles as Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male as the episode doesn't really play it up as anything other than a humorous scenario, but it's unlikely that it would be taken the same way were it Troi or Crusher being pressured by a male alien.
- Did They or Didn't They?: We never find out if Riker actually fulfilled Lanel's fantasy.
- Evil Luddite: Krola is not just against trusting alien visitors, he mentions constantly that he hates any form of progress in Malcorian society: in everything from science to economy to social reforms — as a emblem of one of the worse extremes of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment. He is willing to die to keep the world as traditional as possible, and ultimately he admits that he might accept the Federation is peaceful, but still schemes to ruin their relations because it would change his way of life.
- First Contact: The only episode that shows how a normal, planned first contact procedure is intended to work.
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: The subcutaneous communicator shown in "Who Watches the Watchers" would have been very useful for Riker to have on this kind of undercover mission.
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: In an amusing inversion, Riker is this to Lanel, who finds the idea of having sex with an alien hot.
- Humanity Is Advanced: The Enterprise has technology far beyond that of the Malcorians.
- Idiot Ball:
- The Federation seemingly has no contingency plan in place in case an undercover operative is injured. Riker is apparently working alone in his area of the planet, so he has no support when he winds up in the hospital. None of the implants they put into Riker includes a tracking device. Finally, Riker's cover story doesn't hold up to scrutiny, which it would have had he had support from other operatives acting as emergency contacts.
- Despite multiple references to specialist teams for first contact situations, Riker is on the planet pretending to be a species he probably hadn't heard of until a few weeks or months (at best) prior. Obviously without Riker the story is much different, but he's the first officer on the Federation's flagship and yet he was drafted to perform a duty one of the Federation's specialist xenoanthropologists should be doing.
- Krola is fortunate that the Federation is explicitly not as dangerous as he fears. Between his refusal to release Riker and his willingless to risk killing Riker for his interrogation, if the Federation were as hostile as he claims, his actions could have very easily resulted in a deadly, bloody war against an enemy his people couldn't possibly hope to survive.
- In Medias Res: The episode starts with an injured alien being brought into a hospital, with the doctors perplexed by the bizarre biology, then we see that the alien is, in fact, Riker.
- Left Hanging: Riker was caught up in a riot that required police intervention to break up. Why there was a riot was unimportant, it was just there to get Riker to the hospital.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Most of the episode's trailers made it out to be a story about Riker being stuck on an alien world, and needing to win over Lanel's heart in order to escape. In actual fact, the story is mostly about xenophobia, and Lanel's role in its outcome is extremely minimal; she was likely only featured as much in the promotions as she was because her actress, Bebe Neuwirth, had a recurring role on Cheers at the time.
- Nice, Mean, and In-Between:
- Nice: Mirasta, who quickly and eagerly makes friends with Picard and the Enterprise crew.
- Mean: Krola, The Paranoiac Commander Contrarian who is willing to martyr himself to end contact between his people and other species.
- In-between: Durken, who is affable and reasonable, but not quite as trusting as Mirasta.
- Phlebotinum Breakdown: The Enterprise's Everything Sensors are apparently unable to locate one of the only humans on a planet of alien humanoids. Nor can they find Riker's Starfleet-issue equipment, such as his phaser. If the sensors were up to their usual ability, the episode's plot would have been over with before it began.
- Planetary Nation: Durken is apparently the ruler of the entire planet.
- Poor Communication Kills: Two members of Durken's cabinet were aware of the existence of an alien and didn't fill him in.
- Properly Paranoid: Durken points out to Picard that many conquerors throughout history have come as friends. This and Krola's paranoia regarding an alien invasion suggests that the Malcorians have been conquered before, or that (as on Earth) various Malcorians have conquered each other.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Chancellor Durken. It's hinted that his moderate nature is actually considered a con rather than a pro by a sizable faction of the Malcorian people.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Malcor is in a period of turmoil as they approach warp technology: making many leaps and bounds in sciences, social theory and innovation, but not as much in terms of understanding and acceptance, with many of the people unwilling to accept the new ideas being introduced - sometimes violently - in a clear reference to this period. It's implied to be because the government focused on innovation on their own, without also focusing on adequately educating or preparing their people, leaving them to believe their government is leaving them behind.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: That and the fact that the Malcorians do not have individual fingers and toes is the only outward physical difference between them and humans—though in a twist on the trope, it's the ability to turn a human into one of these that makes the planet so easy to infiltrate.
- Sexual Extortion: Want to get out of hospital before the secret police lock you up forever, Riker? You'd better give this alien chick what she wants, then. We can play this for grins because it's Riker and a girl; odds are low that we'd be yucking it up if it were Troi or Crusher being made to accommodate a nerdy boy-alien's advances.
- Something Completely Different: A typical Trek story where the crew makes first contact with an alien race, the twist being that it's told from the perspective of the aliens themselves.
- Stay with the Aliens: Mirasta Yale had been wanting to travel the stars since she was a child. When Chanellor Durken is going to indefinitely postpone their warp drive program, she wants to leave on the Enterprise-D, as she sees it as her only chance to follow her dream.
- Stealth in Space: Implied. The Enterprise is shown to be in a fairly close orbit with the planet in question, and being over a half-kilometer long does not seem all that worried about being seen in orbit around a planet which is ready to try out warp technology—implying the planet has telescopes, amateur astronomers, satellites, etc.
- Stock Footage: The matte painting depicting Malcor III is a reuse of the matte painting from "Angel One".
- Thanatos Gambit: Krola tries to kill himself with Riker's phaser and pin it on Riker to show how threatening the humans are. It fails because he doesn't understand the "stun" setting, and makes no attempt to stop the badly weakened Riker from pressing a button on the phaser before he triggers it. The response from the other Malcorians to Krola's plan indicates that this sort of attempt at deception is as common in fiction on their world as it is on Earth.
- Trapped in Another World: Riker, when he is injured.
- Villain Ball: One would think that a Minister of Security would be very interested in testing just how deadly an alien weapon is, but Krola just seems to assume that the phaser will kill him with a single blast even though it only manages to tip over a flimsy-looking medical device. His misconception serves to heighten the tension in the final act.
- The World Is Not Ready: Chancellor Durken decides that the Malcorians are not ready to go through with first contact. He promises to devote resources to education and cultural development so that they have a better shot of accepting alien visitors when they get around to restarting their warp drive program.