In which Picard hates the spotlight, Pressman has Lost his way, and Ensign Babyface has made a fine officer.
Today is Captain Picard Day, and as always, Troi enjoys Jean-Luc’s discomfort. At least we know Picard is a leader worthy of the accolated because he doesn’t particularly like being lionized. And this episode is worth it for Riker’s Picard impression alone. Also, someone had to carry all this stuff through the ship to put it in the conference room. News of that little Picard doll will be unstoppable.
Happily for Picard, duty calls – a priority transmission from Admiral Blackwell, which he takes in full view of the Picard Day poster. If Admiral Blackwell thinks the poster is unmerited, she keeps it to a polite inquiery and after the mission briefing. The Enterprise will be meeting up with someone from Starfleet Intelligence – the same outfit that got Picard captured and tortured for days. Also, they’re allowed to exceed Warp Speed limits for this mission, so it’s either really important or Starfleet is showing its true colors already.
Picard, in vengeance for all of Riker’s teasing, is going to arrange for a Commander Riker day, when who should beam aboard but Admiral Eric Pressman, an old friend of Will’s that Riker does not look at all happy to see. Also, Will’s first CO aboard the Pegasus, which has just been found by the Romulans. Hardly seems like a mega emergency, surely Starfleet equipment has been picked up by hostile governments before. It would have to be some kind of super-secret prototype to merit special attention from Starfleet Intelligence…
12 years ago, the Pegasus was lost in this sector to a warp core breach, which is usually depicted as a post-nuclear explosion that leaves nothing but some slowly cooling atomic dust. Odd, then, that Riker keeps looking upset at Pressman, and odder still that a Starfleet operative in Romulan High Command has reported that this decade-old prototype has shown some debris and everyone is afraid that it will be intact enough to worry about the Romulans salvaging.
The ship approaches a system composed of a large number of asteroids so close together that they’d be certain to crash into each other and lose momentum and fall into the primary in a few short millennia. As soon as they arrive, a Romulan ship decloaks, powers weapons, and opens communications. Commander Sirol is quite polite, and he and Picard bandy some barbs back and forth in an exchange that is frankly delightful to watch.
Worf reports that the Romulans are moving off and resuming tachyon scans of the system. I hate to be a spoiler, but you know I gotta. If you do a search, which I’ll save you the trouble of, you’ll find that tachyons have three references. The Calimarain attack with them, the Borg use them to open transwarp conduits, and the Federation uses them to look for cloaked Romulan ships. The Pegasus was a prototype, which do you want to put your money on?
Pressman and Riker chat about the good old days. Before Riker grew the beard (trigger warning: TV Tropes link!) he was known as Ensign Babyface. Wow, hostile work environment much? Admiral John Locke… I mean Pressman, talks about the Experiment, and justifies everything in the name of the Greater Good. It’s possible they’ll find this Experiment and continue the work, despite it’s evidently controversial nature. Pressman isn’t even allowing Riker to reveal the true nature of the mission to Picard.
Picard and Pressman have some drinks and talk about staffing issues. That was not an invitation for you all to write fanfiction, but I can’t stop you. What we focus on is Picard explaining, as he did back in the pilot, that his choice of Riker as first officer was based on Riker’s willingness to stand up to Picard if it was the right thing to do or the safety of the ship, the crew, or the mission demanded it, despite how it looked on an official record. Pressman explains his own philosophy – that obeying orders is more important, particularly in a crisis situation. That someone that Pressman could count on in a crisis was Will Riker, twelve years ago. I’m sure it’s not going to come up at all what kind of man Riker is today.
Riker was so distracted by his inner demons that he got his rib broken by Worf during some sparring practice. But such things are easily healed, and soon after, Riker is in the bridge when Geordi uses the term ‘pay dirt’ despite it being, like, five centuries old. They’ve found a Federation warp core signature buried inside an asteroid. Wait, wasn’t the warp core supposed to have blown up? Something’s foul in the system of Devolin. Riker wants to blow up the asteroid just to be sure. Pressman vetoes, and instead they irradiate the asteroid to mask the signature from the Romulans, since it will take too long to actually find the Pegasus.
The deception succeeds, and Picard starts plotting a deception that will allow them to return to the asteroid later. Pressman takes Riker into Picard’s ready room to yell at him for trying to destroy the Pegasus, because the Experiment is the key to changing the balance of power in the sector. There have been a lot of allusions to a mutiny aboard the Pegasus, and a picture becomes more and more clear of a young Will Riker, terrified of doing the wrong thing, backing the shady and possibly illegal orders of his captain while other, more seasoned officers held to principle.
After Riker’s shift, Picard calls him down to pull at some of the threads surrounding this whole situation. He managed to find a report mentioning the Pegasus mutiny by spending a bunch of favors, since it’s highly classified. And because it’s highly classified, Picard ordering Riker to recount the circumstances surrounding said mutiny seems a bit inappropriate. Riker gives a bit of an account and depicts defending pressman during a running firefight to the escape pod. The report also indicates that there’s a conspiracy which should be followed up on but never has been, and Picard finds the confidentiality line which Riker will not cross. Picard wanted a first officer that will stand up to him, and here he is. That said, Picard also wanted a first officer who will prioritize the safety of the ship and her crew, and makes that abundantly clear.
It’s the next day, and the Enterprise has arrived back at the important asteroid, with the Romulans far out of the system. With transporters out and a shuttle not powerful enough to hold its course inside the asteroid, Pressman orders Picard to take the Enterprise into the asteroid, and Picard does so after noting his official objection. In they go.
Fun fact: The Enterprise apparently has searchlights on her hull, which allow them to see the Pegasus embedded in the asteroid. Like the worst transporter accident ever. Fortunately, most of main engineering is clear of the asteroid, and once power and life support are restored, Pressman and Riker beam in. Some of the corpses of the crew are still there, preserved by vacuum, but the important equipment is intact and possibly even reparable. Pressman is really excited about that. Will is the opposite, and refuses to let The Experiment continue. Riker’s revelation that he’s making the other decision today than he did twelve years ago is somewhat hard to pay attention to, though, because nobody gave the cameraman a tripod and he keeps wiggling the shot.
What everything comes down to is a certain treaty, one that the Federation signed in good faith, but which Pressman says has given the Romulans a tactical advantage over the Federation for 60 years. There’s two things the Romulans have that the Federation doesn’t – their creepy quantum singularity drives, and cloaking devices. Cloaking devices that the Federation could easily have reverse engineered in the last 80 years from their scans, if not for a treaty. Pressman gives the ‘I made you and I can break you’ speech, a sure sign of going ’round the bend, but a fistfight is prevented by an asteroidquake of some sort. Pressman quickly grabs the almost-certainly-a-cloaking-device and they evacuate post-haste.
Aboard the Enterprise, the Romulans have melted the chasm closed and trapped the ship inside. Sirol calls to gloat and offers to evacuate the Enterprise crew to his ship and back to Romulus, after which they’ll be repatriated. Nobody likes this plan. Phasers are out because the asteroid is unstable and might collapse on them, and for some reason the shields and tractor beams won’t be sufficient to deflect chunks of rock in microgravity because dramatic tension and the MacGuffin of the week is more important than realistic physics. I’m not bitter!
Riker finally comes out with the classified secret – the equipment is indeed a cloaking device, but one which will somehow get them out of the asteroid. Pressman tries to take command of the ship, but he has no friends here. Instead, Riker gets the chance to explain that the device is a phasing cloak that would allow their ship to pass through the asteroid. Or allow an antimatter torpedo to pass through exactly one half of a planet before detonating in its core. Let alone its intelligence-gathering capabilities.
They begin to work on linking the cloak up to the Enterprise, and eight hours later they’re ready to go. They also accidentally figure out what happened to the Pegasus, which is basically that it caused a small explosion and drifted into an asteroid before failing. With a dramatic musical sting, the Enterprise begins to fly through the still-molten rock, which is handy as it provides an excuse for there to be any kind of visual display at all rather than sheer blackness since it’s not like any, y’know, light is going to be in the middle of three kilometers of rock otherwise. Unless the viewscreen has a Visualizer setting. The Enterprise makes it out of the asteroid and reveals themselves, and the existence of the cloak, to the Romulans as a show of good faith. Pressman is charged with treaty violation, and Riker points out that he needs to be arrested too. Picard quietly vows Pressman’s destruction, but when he goes to visit Riker in the brig to let him know that he’s passed the test of character and everything will be all right.