Plot Synopsis: Picard must undergo a serious medical procedure while the Enterprise deals with a race called the Pakleds, who lures the crew in hopes of stealing its technology.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here covers a lot of ground, and is maybe the longest one so far. The Enterprise is mapping a star cluster and Wes is preparing for his second attempt at the Starfleet Academy entrance exams, the same ones he failed in season one. Meanwhile Dr. Pulaski orders Picard to go to the same starbase that Wes is heading to for some medical reason, so the two of them head out on a long shuttlecraft ride. Lastly, the Enterprise receives a mayday signal and speeds off toward it. Plot A revolves around the Pakleds’ ‘distress’, and plot B involves Picard and Wes. It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize the Pakleds aren’t that bright. The initial conversation is a little funny (not nearly as funny as Symbiosis), and Geordi beams over to help. Back on the shuttle we find out that Picard is going to the starbase for a heart replacement. Plot A plods along with Geordi fixing one thing only to have another break down. Those dumb little Pakleds have set a trap and hold Geordi hostage, demanding Riker give them Federation technology in exchange for his life. It’s a fairly ridiculous plot that is hard to believe and has a predictable (and equally ridiculous) resolution. Plot B is better. What starts out as just a few brief interludes turns into Picard for the first time opening up to Wes, explaining not only how his original heart was “injured” but mentoring him also, which is the best scene of this episode. Unfortunately toward the end it descends into a contrived crisis with an equally predictable resolution.
Favorite Scenes: Far and away the best scene of this episode is the talk that Picard and Wes have on board the shuttlecraft. Patrick does a great job telling a very personal story, and it signals a change in their relationship from here on out. All the more impressive is that how it happened was Patrick Stewart’s idea, as I’ll discuss later on. Picard’s story about his youth also happens to be the inspiration for a later episode that is excellent.
Use of Cast/Characters: Plot B is all about Picard, and we get quite a bit of character development here. We learn at the Academy he was the opposite of the man he is now: brash, opinionated, cocky, and his reckless behavior landed him his artificial heart. It’s pretty enjoyable. He also decides to bond for the first time with Wes, which will bear fruit as the series progresses. Riker solves the predicament with the Pakleds, which goes toward his skills as a command officer if the whole thing weren’t so unbelievable in the first place. He brushes off Worf’s appropriate warning, though, which only serves to invalidate Worf. Data is the information terminal in this episode and not good for much else. Worf is someone they should have listened to! He had misgivings and they were right, but really he doesn’t do much. Troi is used briefly to finally bring some weight to Worf’s warnings, but of course by then it’s too late. Geordi is a pretty big part of plot A, and he has some mildly interesting moments of repartee, but there’s only so much an actor can do with a disappointing script. Wes gets to finally start developing a relationship with Picard which will influence him, and passes those darn Starfleet exams. Pulaski doesn’t embarrass herself too much in this one; she’s almost likable in the last moments of the episode. Almost.
Blu Ray Version: Some bits are grainy, most are very clear, otherwise there’s not a lot noteworthy here. Some errors with the shuttlecraft were fixed as well. The matte panting of Starbase 515 was modified, so it doesn’t look as much like Angel One anymore.
Nitpicks: Well, how about the entire plot A? How dumb are the officers here, that even after he’s been kidnapped they are still trying to figure out what happened? Worf points out the obvious in the beginning: Do we have to send our chief engineer just to solve a little problem? The plan to get Geordi back is super-cheesy, but I guess it goes along with the rest of the plot. There is a little snafu in the convo between Picard and Wes, where he says the Klingons “joined the Federation.” Of course the Klingons never joined the Federation, he’s probably referring to the Federation/Klingon alliance. The entire end of the episode where plot B gets resolved isn’t much better, manufacturing an emergency in a routine procedure so we can see Pulaski as a super-doctor.
Overall Impression: This episode overall isn’t very good. There’s in fact not much to recommend it except for the parts on the shuttlecraft with Picard and Wes. I make a lot of it in this review but it only adds up to maybe 10 minutes. This episode feels like a throwback to season one if you think about it: there’s some bad dialogue, a plot that you or I could have written, and other than one scene no real drama. Even the scenes I remembered as a kid being funny between Riker, Geordi and the Pakleds don’t hold up as an adult. I rate this episode 2 out of 5 stars, and it’s only that high because of the Picard/Wesley scenes.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The director seemed to think the Pakleds were symbolic of us, today. Their “need for things” is a reflection of our materialistic society, we can make the planet a better place instead, yadda yadda. If so it was pretty poorly executed. This is one episode in which we were supposed to see the captain’s yacht, that oval-looking thing on the bottom of the saucer section, but they evidently ran out of money so it became a shuttle craft instead–pity. The story that Picard tells was supposed to take place up front where they were piloting, but Patrick Stewart had the idea of moving toward the back so it was a more informal setting, and it made the whole scene memorable. I took that as one more sign of the kind of caliber actor that Patrick is, his instincts can enhance scenes that ordinarily would have been just another forgettable few minutes.
Missable/Unmissable? This episode is the pivotal turning point in the relationship between Picard and Wesley Crusher, and it also sets up the excellent episode Tapestry. It’s really a very missable episode altogether otherwise. It’s still better than the next one though, ugh.