Plot Synopsis: An injury to Commander Riker during a reconnaissance mission threatens the prospects for first contact with a culture on the verge of warp travel.
Plot A and B Analysis: We have one of the briefest teasers ever: a person is being conveyed on a stretcher into an alien emergency room, which we soon learn is Will Riker in alien makeup. Plot A is about a First Contact situation that went awry when Riker got himself injured at the riot, plot B is about Riker’s attempts to escape. We learn that the planet’s society is on the verge of discovering faster-than-light travel. However they also tend to think they are the center of the universe, and evidence of an alien could cause a huge amount of disruption. Picard and Troi work with the science leader, then the leader of the planet and make official contact, but forces are at work that see Riker as a forerunner to invasion. Plot A and B work together to tell an interesting story that, we realize by the final scene could only end one way.
Favorite Scenes: I think we all know what the favorite scene is. Riker has to escape from the hospital, and a willing hospital staffer comes in, asking him if he’s an alien and promising to help him. He finally tells her, and asks for her help. But she has a price:
Riker: Now will you help me?
Lanel: If you make love to me.
Riker, *not sure if he heard correctly*: What?
Lanel: I’ve always wanted to make love with an alien!
With minimal resistance from Riker, what follows can only be described with music: boom-chika-wow-wow… Afterward she helps him escape and asks if she’ll ever see him again. He gives a classic male line.
Riker *pauses*: I’ll give you a call the next time I pass through your star system.
Use of Cast/Characters: Levar Burton had this episode off. Picard is the spearhead of making contact with an alien world, and he does a great job of making his case with the leaders of Malcor III, but Patrick Stewart isn’t called on to do much in the way of acting here. Riker spends most of his time in the hospital bed, weakly trying to not break his cover and later mounting a horny nurse, but he acquits himself about as well as anyone would I suppose. That guy’s gonna need a few days off! Data and Worf do next to nothing, and Beverly is in one scene. Other than the first contact scene with Picard and Yale, Deanna doesn’t do anything either. George Coe, Carolyn Seymour, George Hearn and Michael Ensign all do very well in their respective guest star roles, I don’t have any complaints here. Bebe Neuwirth as horny Lanel is great.
Blu Ray Version: The planet is gorgeous and detailed, and the land features looks like it might be a flipped version of Australia, or a recolored version of Antarctica. It’s not a new planet though, it’s the same one we see in Shades of Gray, The Hunted and Captain’s Holiday.
Nitpicks: Why isn’t Riker outfitted with a subcutaneous communicator like in Who Watches the Watchers? Similar situation. Of course it’s because Riker would never be in danger and we’d have no plot. Still, he could’ve had it damaged in the riots. They also never found Riker’s communicator, but I’m guessing the Enterprise crew found it and retrieved it.
Overall Impression: I didn’t like this episode at all when I was 15, but as an adult I like it much more. It’s a well-told tale of how the Federation goes about First Contact with a world on the verge of discovering interstellar travel. It’s a culture that’s not a whole lot different than our own, and in an unexpected twist we discover it is ultimately not ready. But there is still a happy ending for one of them! All of the guest stars are well-drawn, and even the ‘villain’ of this episode isn’t as two-dimensional as we at first assume. Also, how can you not like the scene with Bebe Neuwirth? This is the only episode in Star Trek that is told entirely from the view of the aliens, and it’s one that I enjoyed and recommend. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: First thing I want to say is that this, being the 88th of 176 episodes, is the exact halfway point through TNG. You are in the precise middle of the series here. Bebe Neuwirth (famous for playing Frasier’s wife/ex-wife Lilith on Cheers and Frasier) is a huge Star Trek fan. Her story of how she got cast goes like this: “I guess they got wind of the fact that I’m a Trekkie and that I would love to do their show. Something came up that they felt I could do it. They sent it over and I jumped at it. It was basically one scene, and I had a ball doing it.”
This is the first time we see the wine being used that Picard’s brother gave him back in Family. This episode went through a lot of permutations with different writers, which is usually a bad sign. This is one of only five episodes that does not tell us the stardate. Carolyn Seymour, who played Mirasta Yale, played a Romulan in Contagion and would play another one in Face of the Enemy. Mass Effect fans might also recognize her voice as that of Doctor Chakwas.
Missable/Unmissable? It’s technically missable, but this is one of the better season four episodes. I recommend it. It’s certainly better than the next one.