We begin this episode In Medias Res, with the Enterprise's engines on fire and the ship out of control. The bridge crew is frantically trying to steady the ship long enough to launch the lifeboats as Picard orders all hands to abandon ship. And just as the audience is thinking, "Like You Would Really Do It," they really do it: the Enterprise vanishes in a huge space explosion.
Then the opening credits roll.
Act I seems to be a How We Got Here, as we're re-introduced to the Enterprise entering an unexplored sector. We first look in on Riker, Data, Worf and Crusher engaging in their regular poker game. After much banter (and a win for Crusher, who calls Riker's bluff), Crusher is called to sickbay to help La Forge deal with a major dizzy spell—but she experiences a bit of Déjà Vu whilst treating him. Later that night, in her quarters, Crusher hears what seem to be a mass of disembodied voices and, in switching on the light, breaks a glass she'd left on the night stand.
Crusher reports her experiences to the rest of the senior staff, but is interrupted when sensors detect a Negative Space Wedgie nearby. As the bridge crew attempt to deal with the situation, the ship begins losing power and is unable to move—just as a starship emerges from the Space Wedgie on a direct collision course. With no power to the engines, Riker (standing at Data's side for no apparent reason) suggests decompressing the main shuttlebay to provide the necessary thrust to get out of the way, while Data counter-suggests using the tractor beam to push the other ship aside. Picard goes with Data's plan, which is not entirely successful: the other ship is deflected, but not by enough, and smashes the Enterprise's warp nacelle. This quickly causes a series of catastrophes, the events of the teaser play out before us again, and the Enterprise is destroyed.
Act II re-re-introduces us to the Enterprise entering an unexplored sector; it's at this point that savvy viewers will recognize the "Groundhog Day" Loop at play. Again we visit Riker, Data, Worf and Crusher playing poker, with much familiar banter. Crusher is about to win when Riker folds, realizing that she is going to call his bluff. Crusher is called to sickbay to help La Forge deal with a major dizzy spell, and again experiences déjà vu—only this time, La Forge feels it as well. Later that night Crusher again hears voices in her quarters and quickly calls the captain—breaking that glass once again.
The next morning Crusher reports her experience, relating that others aboard ship have also heard the voices. But before they can investigate, sensors detect a Negative Space Wedgie nearby. As the bridge crew attempt to deal with the situation, a starship emerges from the Wedgie on a direct collision course. As before, Riker stands at Data's station and suggests decompressing the main shuttlebay while Data votes for a tractor beam. Picard sides with Data, the collision occurs and the Enterprise blows up real good.
Act III. The Enterprise enters an unexplored sector. By this time, even the characters are starting to catch on, after a fashion; at their poker game, Worf recognizes their banter, and then he, Riker and Crusher correctly call out the hand Data is dealing even before he deals it.
In anticipation, Crusher calls sickbay asking after La Forge, only to be told he just walked in. This time, Crusher is examining La Forge's VISOR under Picard's supervision as they all discuss their recent déjà vu episodes. Crusher finds that some Techno Babble is affecting the VISOR, causing his dizziness.
Later that night, Crusher is ready for the disembodied voices; when they occur, she records them (she also moves the glass away from the light switch so she won't knock it over) and calls down to La Forge that she has something to report. He in turn tells her that another instance of that same Techno Babble just happened. As she rushes out to meet him, she knocks the glass off the table, breaking it yet again. In Engineering, La Forge and Data analyze Crusher's recording and discover that the voices belong to the crew of the Enterprise.
The next morning, Crusher and La Forge fill the others in on what they think is going on: a Negative Space Wedgie is going to entrap the Enterprise in a "Groundhog Day" Loop. They listen to parts of the recording which suggest the severity of the encounter's outcome, while trying to think of a way out. The problem is (unlike most instances of this trope) that if/when the Loop "loops," they all lose their memories of the previous loop, except for feelings of déjà vu. La Forge suggests rewiring Data's Applied Phlebotinum to mirror the previously established Techno Babble so that, if/when the Loop "loops," he can send a message into the next loop—albeit an extremely short one, one word at most, which will show up only as a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion so Data won't know initially what it means. The plan is carried out, and no one feels like they've tried this before, which is a good sign. Red Alert! Negative Space Wedgie! Ship on collision course! The tractor beam doesn't work! Enterprise explodes! Only this time Data manages to activate the Techno Babble message at the last second.
Back in that unexplored sector, back to the poker game. Worf experiences nIb'poH, and Crusher attempts to predict the hand that Data is about to deal. Instead, he deals all 3s, then three of a kind to each. Crusher is called to sickbay to help La Forge deal with a dizzy spell; she inspects his VISOR on a hunch and finds that it is being affected by Techno Babble. In Engineering, Data runs a diagnostic on ship's systems, and the results come up all 3s. They get a call from Crusher, telling them she's just recorded a mass of disembodied voices in her quarters—and they hear a glass shatter.
The next morning, they are reporting their findings: they seem to be stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop caused by an as-yet-unencountered Negative Space Wedgie. The Techno Babble which has been giving La Forge dizzy spells is also related to the Loop, and may be behind all the occurrences of the number 3 Data (and apparently the entire crew, it turns out) has been seeing. It is revealed that Data has been rewired to accept the Techno Babble, which seems to be a way to send short messages from one Loop into the next. As they ponder over what this could mean, they are called to the bridge to deal with a Negative Space Wedgie.
As before, the ship is without power and unable to move as another ship emerges from the Wedgie. Riker (standing at Data's side for no apparent reason) suggests decompressing the shuttlebay, but Data counter-suggests using the tractor beam to push the other ship clear. Picard sides with Data, but Data suddenly has a Eureka Moment and goes with Riker's plan instead; the main shuttlebay decompresses, pushing the Enterprise clear and allowing the other ship to pass safely. The Negative Space Wedgie vanishes, power is restored, and the Enterprise crew greet the crew of the USS Bozeman (commanded by none other than Captain Frasier Crane), which was either stuck in the Loop for some 90 years or got teleported by the rift 90 years into the future. Data explains his Eureka Moment: glancing at Riker, Data noted the number of rank pins on his collar (3) and deduced that the various phantom 3s referred to Riker, indicating that Riker's plan would be the successful one. Good thing he didn't think it referred to himself, since he is 3rd in command of the ship behind Riker and Picard.
Tropes featured in this episode include:
- Abandon Ship: Picard calls for it, but the Enterprise explodes before anyone can get off.
- Arc Number: Invoked. As stated above, Data manages to send a message to himself in the last loop, which turns out to be the number 3.
- Bottle Episode: Sets on the Enterprise are all reused sets, the Bozeman is a retooling of the USS Reliant from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and the Bozeman's interior is from the recently produced Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Kelsey Grammer's guest appearance is the only aspect that deviates from this trope.
- Brick Joke:
- At the start of each time loop, Riker wonders aloud if Data is using his high-speed shuffling ability to stack the deck. In the final loop, that's exactly what Data does (albeit subconsciously).
- Despite her best efforts, Crusher manages to break her wineglass in every iteration of the loop. The final time, we don't even see it, but La Forge and Data hear it shatter over the comm.
- Call-Back: "Yesterday's Enterprise" featured a Federation ship from the past stumbling through a time rift as well.
- Captain Morgan Pose: Riker's habit of leaning on Data's console actually helps save the Enterprise, reminding Data about Riker's plan.
- Card Sharp: In the last time loop, Data unconsciously stacks the deck so that he deals everyone a single 3 followed by three of a kind.
- Chekhov's Skill: In "A Matter of Time," Data explained that he was capable of listening to and distinguishing over 150 musical works at the same time. Here, he uses the same skill to sort through the jumble of voices from the previous time loops.
- Déjà Vu: The crew are caught in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, Doctor Crusher begins to experience déjà vu, and so do the other crew members when she brings up the issue. In subsequent loops, this progesses to predicting events before they happen.
- A Day in the Limelight: Starts out like this, for Beverly Crusher. The episode plays with this trope, beginning by focusing on Dr. Crusher, who keeps noticing little things feeling familiar. Slowly, the focus expands to the rest of the main cast, who band together to figure out what the hell is going on.
- Downer Beginning: The ship explodes, right in the teaser, killing everyone. Talk about catching the viewer's attention!
- Fate Worse than Death: It is heavily implied that the Bozeman crew have relived their own loop for the better part of a century—though unlike the Enterprise crew, whether they are at all aware of it is left unclear.
- Failsafe Failure: The warp-core ejection system. As usual.
- Fling a Light into the Future: How they end up saving the Enterprise; La Forge comes up with a way for Data to send a brief message to himself in the next loop.
- Beverly calls Riker on a bluff in the first scene with the card game, saying she had a feeling he was bluffing. Knowing that Riker has the best poker face on the ship, it's a little clue that Bev was "remembering" previous iterations of the game.
- Riker jokes that he hopes Data isn't stacking the poker deck. He ends up doing just that during the final deal.
- Given Name Reveal: Nurse Alyssa's last name was finally revealed in this episode: Ogawa.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: Predating the Trope Namer by over a year.
- Hearing Voices: Caused by timelines bleeding over. It's not only mental, either; Crusher manages to make a recording of the voices for Data to analyze.
- In Medias Res: How the episode begins. When the Enterprise is first destroyed, viewers are led to believe that what happens next is How We Got Here, until it's revealed that the ship is trapped in a time-loop. That means that the first time the Enterprise is shown blowing up isn't necessarily the first time it was destroyed!
- Each loop takes roughly a day, and they find out at the end they're out of sync by seventeen days. So the episode-opening destruction is roughly the twelfth time it was destroyed.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: "All hands, abandon ship! Repeat, all hands, abandon—"
- Magic Countdown: The last red alert scene, where Data looks around to notice Riker's rank pin, plays out significantly longer than in previous rounds.
- Then again, it could be playing out (at least partially) in Data's mind; after all, to him, 0.68 seconds is "nearly an eternity."
- Most of the loops seem to have slightly different timing, with events happening sooner or slightly later in the various runthroughs. Could possibly be excused by the Negative Space Wedgie causing slight variations in the causality that sets off particular events.
- Negative Space Wedgie: The cloud causing the Temporal Paradox.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Done extremely effectively with the poker game that begins Act I. We've just seen the Enterprise explode and the entire main cast die... and the first scene afterwards does not address that fact in the slightest. It isn't until the next scene, with Crusher and La Forge in Sickbay, that we get any indication that anything is wrong.
- Oh, Crap!: The look on the crew's face when they hear the recording of Picard screaming to abandon ship.
- Pinocchio Nose: After calling Riker's bluff, Crusher tells him that his left eyebrow raises when he bluffs—except she's just kidding.
- Ripple Effect-Proof Memory:
- Downplayed. Crew members do not entirely remember previous loops, but do experience Déjà Vu moments, which grow in intensity with each new iteration.
- One of the Expanded Universe novels also mentions that the Bozeman crew experienced the same effect, but didn't have the knowledge to break themselves free like the Enterprise did, resulting in 90 years of feeling trapped in a perpetual cycle of death.
- Played straight in a different novel, where the Bozeman crew only remembers the final iteration with no knowledge of the loop until after Bateson meets with Picard.
- Rule of Three: Data and his three spree in the final loop before it's broken.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Lampshaded, defied, averted, played straight, and thoroughly deconstructed.
- Space Is Noisy: The Enterprise explodes with a loud noise.
- Stable Time Loop: When Riker suggests that reversing course could be the cause of the ship's destruction, he is implying, whether he realizes it or not, that this trope is in effect. The irony is that it isn't, and had the crew not been overthinking the situation in this way, they might have broken free after the first loop.note
- Starts with Their Funeral: The episode starts with the Enterprise getting blown up, then seemingly cuts back to show the events leading up to the explosion. It's a subversion: the Enterprise is caught in a time loop, and the crew is actually reliving the events, with slight variations each time, until they find a way out.
- Take a Third Option: Averted. There doesn't seem to be a reason they couldn't have both decompressed the main shuttle bay and used the tractor beam on the other ship, but nobody thinks to try this, possibly because they have so little time to think anything through.
- The Tell: Crusher claims that Riker's left eyebrow raises slightly when he bluffs, but then says that she's just kidding.
- Too Much Information: When Data is summarizing his analysis of the "overlapping voices" phenomenon that Dr. Crusher recorded, Picard cuts Data off when he proceeds to listing the number of couples who he determined were engaged in "romantic encounters".
- Warm Milk Helps You Sleep: Picard's Aunt Adele has a recipe for steamed milk which he shares with Crusher.
- Wham Shot: The Enterprise-D going kablooey in space in the cold open.
- What Year Is This?: Inverted. Picard asks Captain Bateson what year he thinks he's in, with Bateson assuming it's still 2278. The Enterprise crew also has concerns about this for themselves, but are relieved that it hasn't been anywhere near that long for them (only about 17 days) when they ring up a timebase reading.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Dr Crusher very deliberately tries to avoid breaking her glass in the next loop but just ends up breaking it another way. It achieves Brick Joke status when Geordi contacts her on the intercom, and in the background you hear a glass breaking.