In which an assessment must be made, Picard and Crusher are joined at the brain, and a question is answered and then asked again.
The Enterprise is in orbit around Kesprytt III to evaluate the possibility of ‘associate membership’ in the Federation. We don’t precisely know what that is, but it sounds like a partial or trial membership. Presumably the planet does not meet all of the requirements but wants to get started. Also note that the Enterprise is here by herself in order to do this, which basically means Picard and his staff get to write the report that makes or breaks that request.
Also, the first scene here is Beverly sitting down for one of her breakfasts with Picard. Now, these two have always been friends, but we first started hearing about these breakfasts in “Qpid,” shortly after Picard’s experience as a Borg appendage. It feels like these might have started out as a way for Beverly to serruptitiously evaluate the captain’s ongoing physical and mental health without running into the kind of resistance Kirk always gave McCoy when it was time for his physical.
Picard has tuned out to Beverly’s general shipboard gossip in order to think more fully on the assignment at hand. Apparently the planet is home to two sapient species, the Kes and the Prytt (hence the planet name) and only one of them wants to join the Federation. So far, all Federation members have a world government. The Kes are at that level, but the Prytt are xenophobic introverts. Sadly, we don’t get to hear why it would have been Totally Different In The Case Of Earth due to a classically-timed interruption.
Picard and Crusher beam into the security relay station once the Kes have lowered their defense screens, but the transport goes through without the Kes receiving them properly. Where’s Reg Barclay to panic about transporter accidents when you need him?
Picard has woken up on a hard concrete floor and covered in sawdust. So, good news, they weren’t vaporized in transport. Neither of them remember the end of the transport, however. They also both have implants connected to their brainstems, and are being held prisoner by the Prytt security administration on charges of conspiring against the Prytt to establish a military alliance. The implants appear to be designed to calibrate to their brain patterns and read their minds after a period of calibration, which is by far the most realistic interface technology seen so far.
Meanwhile, analysis of the transporter reveals that there’s nothing wrong with the equipment, but the presence of antigraviton particles suggests that someone hijacked the transporter beam using a tractor beam or a derivative thereof. It’s kind of terrifying that’s possible, because what happens if you don’t get the whole matter stream?
Picard and Crusher have an ally on the inside – instead of dinner, someone brings them Crusher’s medical tricorder, complete with a new map added to the directory. They’ve also been given the door code. So not only does someone want them to (try to) escape, but that someone has knowledge of the Federation mobile operating system. They’ve also been given the door code. This does strongly suggest that the help is sincere, since it must have come from someone with at least some familiarity with Federation tech. Still, it’s probably not enough to get Picard to stop mentally composing the worst Space-Yelp review in history.
The Kes ambassador offers his sincerest apologies to the Enterprise crew. One assumes he took a shuttle rather than beaming up. I assume he doesn’t want to be captured. He’s also assuring the Federation that they’re ready to insert a hostage rescue team immediately, having no hope whatsoever that diplomacy would work. I’ve been immersed in the Heist genre recently, so I’m not sure whether this is that or a vague memory of the plot of the episode talking, but his attitude immediately makes me suspect this of being a false-flag operation designed to trick the Federation into bombing the Prytt out of existence.
Sadly, the Kes and the Prytt have no red phone-equivalent – they have no way to talk in the event of global catastrophe, and thus no diplomatic channels to open now. Makes the Cold War relationship between the US and USSR look positively friendly. Aside from that, though, the response seems relatively sensible – assemble your strike team, try what diplomacy there is to be tried, and try to eliminate any security breaches which might have led to the problem in the first place. That said, even Worf is giving the ambassador weird looks when he scans his room for… probably listening devices.
Thus commences Star Trek doing Princess Bride. Picard and Crusher have to make their way though the Fire Swamps with only their extensive survival training and a superscience hand computer (or what we might as well think of as an iPhone 10 with a sensor case) to guide them. Crusher successfully guides them through the gas without Captain Buttercup’s dress catching on fire, though, so now all they have to watch out for is Tribbles Of Unusual Size.
Riker has begun communicating with the Prytt but does not start out with much luck. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much poking the hornet’s nest before the security ministry calls them, to tell Riker to knock it off. They threaten aggressive action, but Worf is sure to tell us that Prytt weaponry poses no threat against the pinnacle of engineering for a multi-species alliance of technology fetishists. Even more good news – the ambassador is taking credit for freeing Picard and Crusher via an intelligence operative.
During the escape attempt, Picard and Crusher have started reacting to things the other one hasn’t actually said. At first they don’t notice it, and it’s transitory, but we can presume that it will get worse (or better!) as time passes and the devices align properly.
The Kes ambassador has built an entire monitoring station in his quarters, complete with plasma ball, but he’s willing to admit, under this privacy shield, that the Kes are winning a propaganda war and have recruited some Prytt who aren’t a fan of Space-North-Korea. In fact, the Kes operatives control a whole village. They’re still holding out hope for that Federation membership, too.
Picard and Beverly are getting a little fed up with each other, and starting to feel a little sympathy for what true telepaths go though. They try to split up, hoping it will weaken the link (not that this has ever seemed to be a barrier for Troi’s empathic sense) but apparently the neural links work differently, and if they get more than about twenty paces apart they start getting sick. Looks like the neural implants require them to be in pretty close proximity. Like a high-tech equivalent of a chain gang. One wonders if this is an intentional effect.
Beverly gets a little insight to Picard’s command style when he blatantly guesses at the direction and admits to doing this a nonzero amount when captaining in general. This can’t be a surprise – Starfleet clearly knows enough to test for the ability to make a decision rather than succumbing to analysis paralysis. And Beverly is a doctor. At some point she must have come across a situation where taking a risk was a better option than delaying. Still, what’s more important is all the feels. Their progress towards the village is interrupted by a Prytt patrol, so they scrap it and trust in their ability to take down the border security force field instead. See, folks? Star Trek knew twenty years ago that building a wall won’t stup anyone.
The Kes minister has been accumulating widgets, and is now being a bit accusatory about Picard and Crusher not making the rendezvous. His paranoiahas him accusing the Federation of setting up a secret alliance with the Prytt. And if you thought I was dismissive of their chances of joining the Federation before, wait until you hear my derision when their ambassador goes off on this rant.
I am officially derisive of their chances of joining.
Beverly now knows that Picard is not a fan of her elaborate breakfasts, but the good news is she wasn’t a huge fan either, so now they’ll just have coffee and croissonts forever. Those two are definitely going to bone just as soon as they are no longer professionally and ethically bound not to… oh no wait Beverly is
talking about her dead husband and now all the feels. Even worse, the resultant airing of laundry puts the nail in the coffin of the theory that Wesley is actually Picard’s kid. Picard’s been in love with Beverly for a while, but never acted on it. It’s very strong character work, but it’s also nice that they’re more or less officially not a Will They Or Won’t They couple. They’re still close, but it’s more or less officially confirmed by mind reading that they’re not in love.
The ambassador is still on the ship for some reason. Looks like it’s to show the Kes ambassador that the Prytt are not their allies. I am entirely uncertain as to why Riker is trying so hard here. To be clear, it’s laudible that the Federation wants to consider new applicants, but given how deeply unready this planet and its people very clearly are, this is like calling someone back for multiple follow-up job interviews just to see how long you can keep the joke going. It’s bordering on cruel at this point.
Next day, Crusher and Riker are on the run from an armed patrol and the Kes and Prytt ambassadors are screaming at each other across the conference table before Riker finally drops the hammer. He’s going to write a terrible report for the Kes, and if Picard and Crusher are harmed he will ensure that the ensuing investigation is really annoying to the Prytt. Like, super annoying for reals, bro.
Crusher and Picard make it to the force field just ahead of the security forces. Crusher manages to open a hole barely big enough for one, and pushes Picard through. As is so often the case, I’m struggling to figure out how the technology works such that it wouldn’t have been easier just to force two of the towers into reboot mode and shut down a whole segment. All I know is there’s something about harmonics. And that if Riker hadn’t just achieved diplomatic victory, they would have both died of neural withdrawal. As it stands, though, they get to share a private joke at Riker’s expense on the way to getting their neural spikes removed. Incidentally, Starfleet R&D ought to work on that technology too, although maybe give it better range and an on-off switch.
Afterwards, Jean-Luc and Bevery enjoy a drink, and this time, let us note that they are in their civvies, which makes for a nice and suggestive bookend. The two of them have been missing hearing the other one in their thoughts. Beverly even got to hear Picard’s dreams about her… as well as his waking thoughts. Whatever happens between them, it won’t be tonight, but neither of them is taking anything completely off the table.