As the crew goes through some battle simulations, Picard suddenly enters from his ready room and orders a change in course, then calls a conference with his senior staff. When theyre gone, Sito notices that the change in course will lead them near the Cardassian border. Later in Ten Forward, Ben tells Lavelle not to be so intimidated by Commander Riker, and recommends getting to know him a little better when theyre not on duty. The plan goes a little awry, though, because Ben mistakenly informs him that Riker is Canadian, and thats the topic he chooses to start the conversation with. When Riker explains that hes actually from Alaska, Lavelle notes, "Well, they both get a lot of snow," and awkwardly shuffles away.
Worf picks up an object on the ships sensors, which he identifies as an escape pod floating in Cardassian space. Picard orders that the occupant be beamed directly to Sickbay, and Doctor Crusher orders Nurse Ogawa to leave. Ogawa finds Sito standing guard to keep anyone but the senior staff out of Sickbay (so anyone else who gets sick will just have to walk it off, apparently) but neither one of them knows whats going on. Picard comes by and orders Sito to follow him back to his ready room, where he suddenly starts to chew her out for the incident she was involved in at Starfleet Academy. He tells her she should have been expelled for it and says that he has no idea how she ended up on the Enterprise.
The junior officers are left in the dark as to whats happening. La Forge has Taurik fire a phaser at one of the Enterprises shuttlecrafts, telling him that theyre performing a test of its hull resiliency. Taurik doesnt object, but does point out that its obvious that what theyre really doing is making it look like the shuttlecraft has been attacked. Doctor Crusher, meanwhile, swears Nurse Ogawa to secrecy and brings her in to Sickbay, where she sees that the person they beamed aboard from Cardassian space is (gasp!) a Cardassian.
The next scene, in the grand tradition of the series, takes place around a poker table. In fact, both the group of ensigns (along with Ben) and the usual poker crew are playing at the same time, and the scene cuts between them. The ensigns discuss who they think was in the escape pod Nurse Ogawa saying nothing, true to her word and the higher-ups discuss who to promote to ops. Riker doesnt like either candidate, but Worf sticks up for Sito and Troi reminds Riker that he and Lavelle arent all that different. Another issue discussed at the junior officers table is Tauriks concern that hes put himself on bad terms with Commander La Forge, but that fear is put to rest when La Forge personally asks for Taurik to help him run some tests that Taurik had suggested.
The next day, Worf takes Sito aside at the end of his martial arts class and tells her she can move up to his advanced class if she can pass a surprise test. The test requires her to defend herself against him while she wears a blindfold and he does not. After he easily defeats her three times, she refuses to continue, saying that the test is unfair. Worf replies that, yeah, it really is, and she shouldnt be afraid to say so. She gets his meaning, and speaks with Captain Picard a second time to tell him that its unfair of him to judge her entirely on one incident from her Academy days. The logic here is arguable, since the incident theyre talking about involved impeding an investigation into a fatal accident, but the point is moot since Picard reveals that he was really just testing her to see if she had the guts to stand up to him, because he wants her to participate in a secret operation. He also tells her that the reason shes on the Enterprise is because he asked for her, so that she could have a chance to redeem herself.
The whole secret is finally revealed to Sito. The person in the escape pod was a spy, bringing the Federation the military secrets of the Cardassians. To get back across the Cardassian border hell need to play the part of a bounty hunter who had crossed the border to capture a Bajoran terrorist, who will be played by Sito. If all goes well, shell be sent back in an escape pod similarly to how they picked up the spy in the first place. Picard stresses that hes not ordering Sito to go through with this, but Sito willingly volunteers. She and the spy set out in the phaser-burned shuttlecraft to make it look as if he is flying a stolen craft. The Enterprise waits for Sitos escape pod, but after more than thirty hours it still hasnt appeared. In breach of treaty, Picard orders a probe to be launched into Cardassian space. The probe reveals the debris of a destroyed escape pod. Picard makes a somber announcement to the crew.
Lavelle is promoted to ops, but feels guilty about how he got the promotion. Taurik tells him that the best way to honor Sitos memory is to excel at his new position. Ben then sees Worf sitting alone, and suggests he join Lavelle and the others. Worf protests that he was only Sitos commanding officer, but Ben tells him that Sito considered him her friend. The episode closes as Worf joins their table.
- Audience Surrogate: Nurse Ogawa is the one member of the "lower decks" crew that viewers know, so the younger officers aren't completely foreign.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Lavelle resorts to chanting a mantra of "Promote me!" to will his promotion. He gets it, but definitely not in a manner he would have wanted.
- Continuity Nod: To the Season 5 episode "The First Duty" where then Cadet Sito, along with Wesley and the rest of their team got in trouble for engaging in a cover up to hide the fact that a risky and illegal flight maneuver is what killed their fellow teammate.
- Disqualification-Induced Victory: Done tragically with Sito's death clearing Lavelle's path to promotion, one last bitter pill on top of an already terrible day.
- Downer Ending: Sito is killed before she can return to the Enterprise.
- I Know You Know I Know: Geordi and Taurik on damaging the shuttle craft to appear as if it had been attacked.
- Lower-Deck Episode: Trope Namer. The main characters have plenty of screen time, but the focus of the story is on Sito and her friends and how the crisis of the day looks from their perspective.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Why the Cardassian agent is helping The Federation. He knows that a war with the Federation would be devastating to Cardassia. He also knows that the Federation would never start such a war, but there are factions in Cardassia's government that would.
- Never Found the Body: Sito is presumed dead after the wreckage of her escape pod is found. The writers considered bringing her back for DS9 as a rescued prisoner, but decided that doing so would rob this episode of its poignancy (among other, more practical reasons).
- Not So Above It All: The Vulcan Taurik reacts with dull surprise to everything throughout the episode (it comes with the territory). However, in his brief final scene, he is visibly shaken at Picard's announcement of Sito's death.
- Not So Different: Riker and Lavelle. Well, the former is better at poker, anyway.
- Redemption Equals Death: Sito does everything in her power to atone for her actions at the Academy three years earlier. After much hassle, she emerges successful in proving her worth to her commanding officers, and it begins to look like she will have a long, promising career ahead for her in Starfleet. Sadly, this all becomes moot when she is killed by Cardassians during a top-secret mission.
- Reformed, but Rejected: Sito to Picard. Subverted when it turns out that Picard's rejection of Sito is actually a Secret Test of Character.
- Remember the New Guy?: Ben smacks of this. Which makes sense considering he was pretty much created to fill in for an unavailable Whoopi Goldberg.
- Secret Test of Character: Worf gives Sito one by blindfolding her and ordering her to block his attacks. She eventually protests that the test isn't fair, which turns out to be the entire point of the lesson, to speak up when being judged unfairly. This motivates her to do the same to Picard for his earlier "The Reason You Suck" Speech, which it turns out was the same sort of test.
- Similar Squad: The ensigns share a similar composition with the Main Characters they work with, as seen in the poker game. Sito works in Security under Worf, Taurik works in Engineering under La Forge, Ogawa works in Medical under Crusher, Lavelle works in Command under Riker, and Ben is a bartender under (in the civilian sense) Guinan. The ratio of two women and three men is also maintained. Ben plays the informal counselor and Troi observes, much to Riker's discomfort, that he and Lavelle are Not So Different.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Ben for Guinan.
- Trojan Prisoner: Sito was to pretend to be the prisoner of the Cardassian spy in order to allow him to cross the border in a Starfleet Shuttlecraft. Everything goes well until her escape pod is destroyed.