Original air date: January 10, 1994
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. The Romulans have found her.
Riker recalls his first assignment on USS Pegasus. There was a warp core breach, and the ship was presumed destroyed. Only nine members of the crew escaped. Recently, 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 at an asteroid field and are immediately greeted by the Romulan warbird. Picard and the Romulan captain share a tense conversation in which they trade Stealth Insults and pretend to be conducting innocent research.
Riker and Pressman share a drink in Ten Forward. Their enigmatic conversation references an experiment that might still be salvageable on the Pegasus, but Pressman orders Riker not to discuss it with anyone, even 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 most of the crew rebelled against Captain Pressman afterwards. 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 is continuing 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 to finally take a stand against the Admiral, something he was too inexperienced to do the first time around. As they argue, the asteroid becomes unstable, and they're forced to beam away. 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: 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.
- 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 recalls meeting Riker for the first time at Farpoint Station. In that episode, Picard's first conversation with Riker was the story of his principled insubordination.
- 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 each captain knows why the other is there.
- 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.
- Also the (unseen) Admiral Raner, head of Starfleet Security, who is stated to have authorized Pressman's mission, as well as the secrecy surrounding it, so presumably she was also part of the conspiracy.
- Pressman. Couldn't let the final season pass without one more.
- Invisibility Cloak: Taken Up to Eleven with one that makes a starship not only invisible but also able to pass through solid matter.
- 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.
- Karma Houdini: It's unknown whether the other officers who sided with Captain Pressman and Riker on the Pegasus twelve years ago were ever punished for their role in the conspiracy.
- 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 from 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. This might be because it was a secret even within Starfleet due to the fact that it violated a treaty.
- 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.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: The theme of the episode. Riker regrets following orders and not joining the mutiny against Pressman's immoral orders. When Pressman and Riker discuss the ideal qualities of a First Officer, Picard wants someone who will do what he feels is right regardless of whether he'd be technically insubordinate in doing so. Riker has done this in the past, which is why Picard chose him. By the end of the episode, he finally gains the courage to disobey Admiral Pressman. Ironically, however, Pressman was himself breaking rules, so Riker will find himself in trouble for ever having followed his orders in the first place.
- Series Continuity Error: A minor example—Riker tells Pressman that he's had the beard for "about four years." Since each season takes place over a year within the show, and Riker grew it at the start of season two, it would be about five and a half years.
- 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.
- Smug Snake: Sirol could give Tomalak a run for his money in the smarm department.
- 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 naïve 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.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are!: Picard to Riker at the end, when the latter is dealing with his guilt over supporting Pressman.Picard: You made a mistake twelve years ago, but your service since then has earned you a great deal of respect. But this incident may cost you some of that respect.
Riker: I can't help but feel I should have come forward a long time ago.
Picard: When the moment came to make a decision, you made the right one. You chose to tell the truth and face the consequences. So long as you can still do that, then you deserve to wear that uniform. And I will still be proud to have you as my First Officer.