The Enterprise enters an unexplored nebula. While in there, an energy ball gets into the ship and eventually finds a young girl, Clara Sutter, passing through her head and emerging as her imaginary friend, Isabella. Isabella explores the humans to determine if they are a good species while also staying invisible to everyone else, or rather leaving when they come.
Problems develop as Isabella convinces Clara to do things that are against the rules, leading her father and Troi to become concerned. In the end, Isabella's species has to decide to destroy them or let them live based on how they treated her and Clara. Picard is able to convince her that the rules she interpreted as cruel and oppressive were in fact necessary to keep Clara safe, and Clara and Isabelle part on amicable terms.
Tropes in this episode include:
- The 47 Society: The nebula is named FGC 47, and when the crew figures out how to image the energy strands that are impeding the ship's progress, they find a lattice of 47 million of them.
- Creepy Child: Isabella comes off as this. She tries to act as a normal girl, but talks with a monotone and her smile is very forced, bordering on a Slasher Smile.
- Deadpan Snarker: Data gets in a good one when the Engineering department tries to come up with a good name for the nebula.La Forge: So, what are we gonna call this nebula? FGC 47 just doesn't have the proper ring to it.
Daniel Sutter: Why don't we call it Sutter's Cloud?
La Forge: No, I was thinking about something more along the lines of the La Forge Nebula. It has sort of a majestic sound, don't you think?
Data: Given the selections, I prefer FGC 47.
- Energy Being: Here we go again...
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: When Isabella gets mad at Clara leaving her to go with Troi, her eyes glow red.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: The reason Clara even has an imaginary friend to begin with.
- Imaginary Friend: See the episode's name.
- Military Brat: Clara has moved around quite a lot over the past few years as her father, Ensign Sutter, changed postings. The episode also establishes that both of Geordi La Forge's parents were in Starfleet and he had a similar childhood, leading Ensign Sutter to ask him for advice about Clara.
- Missing Mom: Clara lives only with her father. It isn't known if her mother is dead or works elsewhere, although Geordi's discussion with Ensign Sutter about whether he never knew whether he'd be living with his mother or father would seem to imply the latter.
- Not Now, Kiddo: Clara's ominous warnings about Isabella aren't given a lot of attention by the adults. It's only when Isabella attacks Troi that the crew makes the connection that there's an alien life form causing trouble on board. This is ultimately in part of what motivates Isabella to believe that the Enterprise should be destroyed, that the adults aren't listening to Clara.
- Not So Above It All: Data brushes off Guinan when she describes the shapes she's seeing in the nebula, similar to cloud watching, and then gives us this gem:Data: It is interesting that people try to find meaningful patterns in things that are essentially random. I have noticed that the images they perceive sometimes suggest what they are thinking about at that particular moment. [beat] Besides, it is clearly a bunny rabbit.
- Not-So-Imaginary Friend: For a while, only Clara knows that "Isabella" is now very real. Only Worf happens to see Isabella by chance, which pays off later.
- Patrick Stewart Speech: And Picard says he's not good with kids!Picard: You are seeing this ship, all of us, from a unique perspective. From a child's point of view. It must seem terribly unfair and restrictive to you. As adults, we don't always stop to consider how everything we say and do shapes the impressions of young people. But if you're judging us, as a people, by the way we treat our children—and I think there can be no better criterion—then you must understand how deeply we care for them. When our children are young, they don't understand what might be dangerous. Our rules are to keep them from harm, real or imagined, and that's part of the continuity of our human species. When Clara grows up, she will make rules for her children to protect them, as we protect her.
- Swiss Cheese Security: Somehow not a single person notices a big ball of energy floating into the ship!
- You Have to Believe Me!: Since "Isabella" can become invisible, this leads to a lot of Clara struggling to get the adults to understand the nightmare she's going through.