The Enterprise responds to a distress signal from a damaged Talarian ship. They are nervous to lend aid because the Talarians are a ruthless and militaristic people who recently went to war with the Federation. Picard decides to risk it, and the away team finds a number of wounded Talarians as well as a human teen boy.
The human boy, Jono, turns out to have been raised by the Talarians as one of their own from an early age, to the point that he does not recognize himself as human. He treats the human crew of the Enterprise with derision until Picard arrives, and Jono's rigid upbringing forces him to respect the authority of a captain. Still, Jono insists that he be returned to his own Talarian captain as soon as possible.
Crusher discovers that Jono has received critical injuries in the past few years and suspects that the Talarians have been abusing him. She strongly urges Picard to keep Jono out of the hands of his abusers, even if his values have been twisted to accept them as his family. Picard also learns that Jono's closest human relative is a highly respected admiral from a long line of great Federation officers. He is torn between ripping Jono from his adopted family and "saving" him from them.
When the Talarians arrive to pick up their lost crewmen, the captain, Endar, reveals that he has adopted Jono as his son. He also explains that Jono's injuries were not abuse but a simple accident from when the boy tried a daring stunt to impress him. When Picard delays returning Jono along with the other Talarians, Endar states that he will go to war if his son is not returned soon.
Picard takes Jono under his wing and tries to get him acquainted with his human heritage, hoping that if Jono chooses to remain with the Federation, Endar will respect the decision and not attack. They play sports, eat ice cream, socialize with the crew and watch a video from his human grandmother. Conflicted, the boy closes out the day by stabbing Picard in his bed, nearly killing him. When confronted about his deed, Jono states that he would rather die than allow who he is to be torn away from him.
As Endar's ultimatum reaches its conclusion and he readies an attack on the Enterprise, Picard returns to the bridge and admits his error, saying that in trying to decide what was best for Jono, he never considered Jono's feelings. He returns Jono to his father, and the two part on good terms.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Abusive Parents: What Doctor Crusher and the rest of the crew believe Endar is. It turns out that Jono received his injuries trying to fit in with his peers.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Captain Endar raised Jono as his own son since according to Talarian tradition, he is allowed to claim the son of a slain enemy after he lost his own son in a Starfleet attack.
- Boomerang Bigot: Jono/Jeremiah looks down on non-Talarians, despite himself being human by blood.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Whilst he led attacks that wiped out Federation colonies and - to human eyes - abducted a child, Endar shows obvious love and affection for Jono. Their face-to-face interaction, whilst formal, is undoubtedly emotionally charged and Endar's relief when Jono is finally returned is palpable.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Despite being an unapologetic member of a warlike and misogynistic race that forbids even so much as skin-contact with other species, Endar is taken aback when Picard accuses him of abusing his adopted son, and then explains how those injuries really happened.
- Fantastic Racism: Talarians really don't like aliens, to the point that they insist on wearing gloves on board the Enterprise in order to avoid coming into physical contact with them (although Jono removes his at the end when saying goodbye to Picard, demonstrating the respect he has developed for him). However, this appears to be strictly cultural rather than racial, as Jono himself is evidently accepted fully as one of them and seems to have faced no prejudice due to his human birth — which means that, to an extent, the Talarians are actually more tolerant than the Vulcans.
- Happily Adopted: Jono and his adoptive father Endar clearly love each other as much as if they were one another's flesh and blood. It takes the Enterprise crew most of the episode to accept this.
- Interspecies Adoption: Endar adopted Jono.
- It's All About Me: Jono's human grandmother, a Starfleet admiral, seems only concerned with having him "carry on the family line."
- No Woman's Land: The Talarians' society is mentioned to be a strict patriarchy, where a woman can never outrank a man.
- Only Sane Man: Once again, Worf is the one to state the most bluntly practical and least idealistic viewpoint on the situation. He questions the wisdom of going to war with the Talarians over a single boy.
- Parental Abandonment: Jono's parents were killed in the Talarian attack when he was young.
- Parental Substitute: Picard attempts to become this for Jono, but Jono feels more affection for Endar, his adoptive father.
- Prefers Rocks to Pillows: Jono has to sleep in a hammock because beds "hurt his back."
- Raised by Orcs: Jono was raised by Talarians in a society with values that the Federation finds rather repugnant, but they must eventually recognize that Jono has been raised in that society so long that it is permanently engrained in his identity
- Suicide by Cop: Jono, torn between human and Talarian societies, tries to find a way out by stabbing Picard, believing he will be executed for it. Ultimately averted since Picard has absolutely no intention of executing him, and realizes he should have taken greater account of Jono's wishes.
- Stock Footage: Geordi LaForge only appears in a very brief scene, which is recycled from an earlier episode. The reason for this is that LeVar Burton suffered an accident shortly before filming started on the 4th season.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Dr. Crusher believes Jono has this, as she thinks his adopted family have been abusing him. By the end of the episode, though, it's clear she's wrong on both counts.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Jono's relationship with Endar has shades of this. Thankfully Endar is aware of his son's over-achieving nature and does indeed care for him, just appearing aloof.