It's that time of year again, the holiday that brings joy to all the peoples of the ship: "Captain Picard Day." Naturally, he's uncomfortable being seen as a larger-than-life figure by the children - he even gets some ribbing from Riker over it - but he must continue the tradition and select a winner of the various drawings and sculptures of him. Thankfully, the day is interrupted by Vice Admiral Blackwell from Starfleet, who immediately reassigns the Enterprise, and informs Picard that they'll be taking on a passenger from Starfleet Intelligence. It turns out the passenger is Admiral Erik Pressman, who so happened to have been Commander Riker's captain on his first assignment out of the Academy: USS Pegasus. And as it also turns out, the Pegasus is the reason they're out here. It turns out the Romulans have found her...
Time for some backstory and exposition. As mentioned, Riker's first assignment was USS Pegasus, where Pressman was its captain. There was a warp core breach and the ship was presumed destroyed; only nine members of the crew escaped. However, a Starfleet Intelligence operative in the Romulan High Command intercepted a transmission indicating that a warbird found a piece of the Pegasus and was then ordered to find the rest of it. Since the ship was a testbed for new and experimental systems, some of which were used in building the Enterprise, Starfleet cannot allow the ship to fall into their hands. They arrive in the system and are immediately greeted by the Romulan warbird. Picard and the Romulan commander have some banter, both blatantly aware of why they're both in the system but not tipping their hands, but wish each other well in their "research."
Riker and Pressman share a drink in Ten Forward. It's here that we first learn that all is not what it seems. Riker makes a mention to "the experiment," which Pressman hopes is still salvageable. The Admiral proceeds to justify what they were doing, and reminds Riker that he's under orders not to discuss the nature of the mission with anyone, including Captain Picard. Obviously, this makes Riker uneasy. We later see Pressman having some tea with the Captain, who recounts how he selected Riker to be his first officer. Being one of fifty applicants with dry statistics and useless letters of recommendation, what caught Picard's eye about Riker was that he was willing to say "no" to his captain. Pressman interprets this as selecting someone who was disobedient, but it's here that the contrast between the two men is established: Picard wants someone who is willing to challenge him, while Pressman believes a first officer should always stand by his captain. It's also established that the official report about the incident aboard Pegasus preceding its destruction is a bit vague, containing gaps Pressman does not wish to fill.
Meanwhile, the search for Pegasus is proceeding slowly, until they find the warp core signature coming from inside a large asteroid. After tricking the Romulans into thinking there's nothing interesting inside, they resolve to come back later to investigate further. Pressman brings Riker into the ready room and chews him out for suggesting they destroy the asteroid before they find the ship. Afterwards, Picard summons Riker to his quarters. He reads from the official JAG report about the loss of Pegasus. As it turns out, there was a mutiny aboard just before they abandoned ship, and the report was deeply classified to the point that Picard needed to call in a few favors to look at it. Riker recounts what happened, saying there was an explosion in engineering and afterwards, most of the crew rebelled against Captain Pressman. Nine of them ran to the escape pod, and after it launched, there was an explosion as the ship appeared to be destroyed. Furious that Riker withheld, and continues to withhold, information from him, Picard lets him go but notes that he's treading on thin ice.
The next morning, the Enterprise returns to the asteroid to find the Pegasus. Deep inside, they find the ship is still intact, appearing embedded in the rock. Pressman overrules Picard's order for an away team and beams just himself and Riker over. In engineering, Pressman finds the experiment, fully intact. Having had time to think, Riker decides who deserves his loyalty and takes a stand against the Admiral. They engage in verbal bitchslaps until the asteroid is rocked by weapons fire. They return to the Enterprise with the piece of equipment, and learn that the Romulans have "accidentally" sealed them in. The Romulans offer to beam the Enterprise crew aboard and bring them back to Romulus before returning them to the Federation, an offer that Picard considers through gritted teeth. Considering their options to escape, Riker reveals what the vital experiment was: it was a prototype for a cloaking device that can pass through solid matter. Pressman responds by threatening Riker's career over revealing classified information. Picard is aghast, as the Federation possessing cloaking devices was banned by a treaty with the Romulans. Nevertheless, it is their best hope of escape.
After installing the device, the Enterprise passes through the asteroid without incident. Against Pressman's objections, Picard decloaks right in front of the Romulans, and informs them that there will be a full explanation later. He turns to Pressman and places him under arrest for his actions. Riker also asks to be arrested, as he partook in the crime. Picard later visits Riker in the brig, notifying him that he's reclaimed his loyalty, and releases him.
- Abandon Ship: Riker, Pressman, and several others did this before the (apparent) destruction of the Pegasus.
- The Atoner: Riker's felt guilt over his actions on the Pegasus for years. When Pressman is ordered to the brig, he notes he has to be jailed as well. When Picard visits him in the brig and tells him he'll be asked hard questions about his involvement, he silently nods; it's plain those "hard questions" will be easy for him to answer.
- Badass Arm-Fold: Pressman attempts to overrule Picard and take command of the ship. Worf responds to his order with one of these.
- Black and White Morality: Discussed and deconstructed. Pressed by Picard about the mutiny, Riker notes how he was just a young ensign concerned only with basic loyalty and duty to his captain. When the experiment caused a deadly accident and instigated the mutiny, Riker instinctively defended Pressman and considered the mutineers disloyal and self-serving. Having gained years of experience since then, though, he realized he was wrong—describing himself as too young and too stupid to know any better.
- Brief Accent Imitation: When Riker is teasing Picard about "Captain Picard Day":Picard: [The children] seem to have a somewhat exaggerated impression of me.
Riker: (holding up a Picard doll while imitating his voice) I don't know, I think the resemblance is rather striking. Wouldn't you agree, Number One?
Picard: Isn't there something else you have to do?
Riker: (still imitating Picard) I'll be on the bridge.
- Call-Back: Picard is given permission to exceed the Warp 5 speed limit established three episodes ago.
- A prototype Romulan version of a phasing cloak was a major plot element in season five's "The Next Phase." Interestingly, this shows that the Federation managed to field a working prototype of the device more than a decade earlier than the Romulan Empire. Both tests ended in disaster, but notably, while the Romulan cloak was defective, the Federation version apparently only failed due to operator error.
- Picard tells Pressman about how he chose Riker as his First Officer because of how he refused to let Captain DeSoto beam into a crisis situation at Altair III.
- Faux Affably Evil:
- Sirol, the Romulan captain, is not necessarily evil, but he's clearly putting on a veneer of affability to avoid discussing the real issue at hand. Picard returns his affectation in kind, though it's obvious that both captains know why the other is there.
- Pressman may seem like a Well-Intentioned Extremist, but upon boarding the Pegasus, he is unmoved by his dead crew, completely ignoring them when Riker mourns. He barks at Riker they're not there for a funeral, and gleefully begins to recover the device with a huge grin.
- Honor Before Reason:
- Picard tells Pressman why he recruited Riker as his first officer. He had never met him before the Farpoint mission, but Riker's record included something that caught his eye. Riker refused to let the captain of the Hood beam down into a hostile situation, refusing to back down even when threatened with a court-martial. Picard was impressed—saying he wanted a first officer more interested in standing up to him instead of being concerned with his record. It's very telling that Pressman balks at Picard's reasoning, preferring Undying Loyalty from his subordinates.
- Picard orders the ship to de-cloak in front of the Romulans. He knows that certain leaders in Starfleet tried to cover these cloaking experiments up once already, and he doesn't want to give them the chance to do so again.Picard: They'll know the truth, Admiral, which is what everyone will know very shortly.
- Humble Hero: Picard isn't too fond of "Captain Picard Day." Of course, Riker can't help teasing him about it.
- Hypocritical Humor: Riker enjoys teasing Picard over "Captain Picard Day," but he's not so amused when Picard arranges for "Commander Riker Day."
- I Know You Know I Know:
- Picard and Sirol do this back-and-forth when talking about what's brought them to the asteroid field. Neither of them are fooled.
- Sirol also claims that it was merely an accident that his geological experiments on the asteroid sealed the Enterprise in.
- Insane Admiral: Pressman. Couldn't let the final season pass without one more.Ron Moore: I am proud to say that I've written another Insane Admiral. They must put something in the water at Federation Headquarters.
- Invisibility Cloak: Taken Up to Eleven with one that makes a starship not only invisible but also able to pass through solid matter.
- Ironic Name: The ship would have better be named The Icarus, but that would have been too obvious.
- Just Following Orders:
- Discussed between Pressman and Picard. Pressman likes officers who shut up and do as they're told, while Picard chose his Number One to be someone who would stand up to him if necessary.
- Invoked verbatim by Riker, to originally justify supporting Pressman twelve years ago. Nowadays, it's no longer working.Riker: I wasn't a hero, and neither were you. What you did was wrong. And I was wrong to support you, but I was too young and too stupid to realize it. You were the captain, I was the ensign. I was just following orders.
- Also why Riker doesn't tell Picard what's really going on until the end, when he has no other choice.
- Just Think of the Potential: Pressman tries to use this argument, saying that the phase cloak will be the greatest breakthrough in weapons research in decades. Picard and Riker still don't buy it.
- The Mutiny: Most of the crew of the Pegasus mutinied against Captain Pressman, who was violating the treaty with the Romulans to develop cloaking technology, though Pressman does have permission of certain higher-ups in Starfleet. Riker acknowledges the ambiguity of the situation during his confrontation with Pressman, though he's now firmly in the camp of the mutineers.
- No MacGuffin, No Winner: Riker suggests destroying the asteroid with the Pegasus so that the Romulans can't claim it, but Pressman overrules him (and then yells at him in private).
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Apparently, there were no schematics anywhere else than the Pegasus, since the conspirators couldn't recreate the device elsewhere.
- No Such Agency: It's said in the episode that the phasing cloak was developed by a "secret group in Starfleet security". While not named on-screen in this episode, this group would be revealed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Section 31.
- Oh, Crap!: Riker has this look on his face when Pressman beams aboard.Riker: It's good to see you, sir.
Pressman: Yeah, sure it is. You look like you're about to faint.
- Plot Parallel: The episode recalls "The First Duty", which had Wesley Crusher put in a similar situation with a far shorter time scale.
- Rage Against the Mentor: Riker feels ashamed about supporting Pressman twelve years ago.Pressman: Now that doesn't sound like the same man who grabbed a phaser and defended his captain twelve years ago.
Riker: I've had twelve years to think about it. And if I had it to do over again, I would have grabbed the phaser and pointed it at you instead of them.
- Retcon: The infamous Star Trek: Enterprise Grand Finale "These Are The Voyages" would later retcon a fairly substantial subplot into this episode.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: From Pressman's point of view, anyway. He's content to violate a 60-year-old treaty on the grounds that the Federation will benefit. To his disgust, he finds himself alone in this thinking.
- Series Continuity Error: A minor example—Riker tells Pressman that he's had the beard for "about four years." Actually, it's been five and a half, Billy-boy.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!:
- Pressman and Picard's exchange.Pressman: I have powerful friends in Starfleet, Captain.
Picard: You're going to need them, Admiral.
- Worf does a nonverbal one before that when he crosses his arms and refuses to follow Pressman's orders.
- Pressman and Picard's exchange.
- Status Quo Is God: The episode ends with Picard visiting Riker in the brig (at his own insistence, as he was taking responsibility for helping Pressman all those years ago). During their talk, Picard informs him that Pressman and others are to be court-martialed for violating the treaty. While they make a point of saying that Riker will be spared that, Picard suggests that this may damage his career. Come the next episode, it's just business as usual. This is acknowledged by Picard noting in the brig how Riker stepping forward when it truly mattered is what counts.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: When Picard presses Riker for specifics about what really happened aboard the Pegasus:Riker: Sir, may I suggest you take this up with Admiral—
Picard: I'M TAKING THIS UP WITH YOU, WILL!
- Teleporter Accident: The phase cloak device on the Pegasus allows the ship to pass through solid rock. Unfortunately for most of the crew of the Pegasus, the device was shut off in the middle of an asteroid (although the novels at least tone down the Fridge Horror by revealing that everyone who remained on the ship was already dead by that point).
- That's an Order!: Pressman orders Picard to take the Enterprise into the asteroid with the Pegasus. Picard complies, but not without protest.Picard: (beat) Mr. Data, will you please note in the ship's log that this action is being taken over my explicit objection?
Data: It is so noted, sir.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Pressman, who believes the Federation is naive for adhering to the Treaty of Algeron.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Picard chews Riker out for taking part in what looks like a conspiracy to conceal the truth about what happened to the Pegasus. Riker looks like he's been slapped at the end of it.Picard: He's an Admiral, I'm a Captain - I cannot force you to disobey his orders. Therefore, I will have to remain in the dark on this mission; and I will just have to trust that you will not let Pressman put this ship at unnecessary risk. And if I find that that trust has been misplaced, then I will have to re-evaluate the command structure of this ship.
- Riker and Pressman then hit each other with these while arguing over the phase-cloak.