Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 7, Episode 12
Production episode 40276-264
Original air date: January 10, 1994
Captain’s Log: The observation lounge has been decorated for Captain Picard Day, the table festooned with various representations in assorted media of Picard created by the children of the Enterprise. The captain had been hoping that after last year, they wouldn’t do it again, but the children on the ship always look forward to it—as, apparently, does Riker, since it gives him the opportunity to do his Picard impersonation, while using one of the Picard dolls as a ventriloquist’s dummy.
A call comes in from Admiral Blackwell, who is amused by the notion of Captain Picard Day, and sends the Enterprise to rendezvous with the Crazy Horse for a mission sufficiently classified that Blackwell won’t discuss it over subspace.
Admiral Erik Pressman beams on board, and Riker looks like someone just told him his dog died. Pressman was Riker’s first CO aboard the U.S.S. Pegasus, and Riker insists he’s just surprised, though it’s obvious there’s more to it than that. Pressman is now with Starfleet Intelligence, and he’s leading this mission to recover the Pegasus.
Pressman and Riker tell Picard and La Forge the story of what happened twelve years ago: the Pegasus had a warp-core breach. Pressman, Riker (the ship’s helmsman), and seven others made it to the escape pods, and those nine observed a matter/antimatter explosion, but they never found any wreckage.
However, three days ago, SI learned that a Romulan warbird identified a piece of wreckage from the Pegasus, and has been ordered to find any other wreckage there may be. The Enterprise’s orders are to find it first—salvage if possible, destroy if necessary. The Pegasus, according to Pressman, was a prototype, filled with experimental systems, some of which were used in the construction of the Enterprise. Despite being more than a decade old, it might have some intelligence value to the Romulans. Picard remains in charge of the Enterprise, but Pressman commands the mission.
Throughout the briefing, Pressman and Riker exchange bizarre, significant looks, and Riker looks like he wants to throw up.
They arrive at the Devolin system, which is filled with ionization radiation and asteroidal debris, which will make the search slow. Just as they arrive, a warbird, the Terix, decloaks. Commander Sirol and Captain Picard have an oh-so-polite conversation, where they both lie through their teeth and say they are both scanning gaseous anomalies. The Terix resumes their scans, and the Enterprise starts theirs. Now it’s a race.
Pressman and Riker share a drink in Ten-Forward. Riker is slightly more comfortable, but only slightly. Riker asks about “the experiment,” and if they might find it. Pressman says that they might be able to do right what they did wrong twelve years ago—this after a cryptic conversation about doing the right thing and the others couldn’t see that what they did was for the good of the Federation, and a whole bunch of other things that make it clear that it wasn’t just a warp-core breach that only nine people were able to escape. Riker is aghast that they’re going to do it again, whatever it is, but Riker has orders directly from Admiral Raner, the head of Starfleet Security, not to discuss their true mission, not even with Picard.
Picard and Pressman share a drink, with captain telling admiral about why he chose Riker as his first officer. Picard also asks if Pressman can add anything to the official report—it’s a bit vague as to what happened before they abandoned ship—but all he says is that he needed an officer he could count on, and Will Riker was that guy.
Riker reports to sickbay, having jabbed when he should’ve blocked while doing bat’leth drills with Worf. He got distracted at a critical moment, and might’ve gotten himself killed if they had been using real bat’leths. The symbolism of Riker’s words are laid on a bit thick.
On the bridge, they detect inside an asteroid a subspace resonance signature of a Starfleet warp core that Pressman is pretty sure is the Pegasus. But it’s inside the asteroid—it has a bunch of deep fissures that a ship could fit in. The Terix changes course to see what the Enterprise is so interested in, and they bathe the asteroid in ionizing radiation—which the system is full of anyhow—to mask the resonance signature. (This is after Riker pointedly suggests blowing up the asteroid to avoid any possibility of the Pegasus falling into Romulan hands, but Pressman rejects that notion—destroying the ship is only a last resort.) Picard then orders them to “search” other sections to make it look good to the Romulans until the following morning when they’ll come back to this asteroid.
Picard leaves Riker in charge of the bridge, at which point Pressman speaks to Riker in private, castigating him for suggesting the ship be destroyed before they even have had a chance to look at it.
Riker later reports to Picard’s quarters to bring him a scan analysis, but that was a pretense. Picard has managed to dig up a Judge Advocate General report on an investigation into a mutiny on the Pegasus. Picard had to call in a lot of favors just to even look at that report, which was classified by SI, and he’s a little peevish about the fact that neither Riker nor Pressman gave any hint that there was a mutiny.
According to Riker, they were at yellow alert, performing experiments on the engines. The first officer and chief engineer led a mutiny, accusing Captain Pressman of endangering the ship. Riker—all of seven months out of the Academy—grabbed a phaser and defended his captain. The nine of them made it to the escape pods and left the ship. It exploded a little while later.
Picard then reads further from the JAG report that it was believed that the survivors were not telling the whole story and that it required further investigation—which never happened. But when he presses further, Riker explains that he’s under orders not to discuss this with anyone, not even Picard. The captain pushes no further—he’s a captain, Pressman’s an admiral. He just has to trust that Riker will not endanger the ship. And his quiet disapproval is way way more devastating than when he was yelling at Riker just a few minutes ago….
Then Picard goes over Pressman’s head to Blackwell, but she’s just as in the dark on this and she’s got the head of SI breathing down her neck.
The Enterprise returns to the asteroid. Data thinks that the warp core is intact, possibly the entire engineering section. It’s too much solid rock to transport through, and the asteroid has too many gravimetric and magnetic fluctuations for it to be safe to send a shuttle. Pressman suggests flying the Enterprise in. Picard doesn’t think it’s worth the risk, but Pressman overrides him.
They find the Pegasus, completely intact, but 65% of it is inside the asteroid—as if it partially materialized inside solid rock. The engineering section is mostly free, so Pressman and Riker can beam over—just the two of them, as there’s “sensitive equipment” that Pressman doesn’t want anyone else near. They find a whole lot of corpses, whose existence Pressman barely acknowledges, so focused is he on the experiment—which sure looks like a cloaking device, which Pressman giddily announces is intact.
Which forces Riker to make the decision he’s been putting off. He can’t let Pressman start the experiments again. They’re surrounded by the bodies of people who died because of them. Pressman says it was their own damn fault that they died, but Riker says they have no way of knowing what happened after they left. Riker also says that if he had it all to do over again, he’d have pointed his phaser at Pressman.
Before they can continue to argue, though, they have bigger problems: the Romulans destroyed the chasm opening, sealing the Enterprise in. Sirol is abject in his apologies for “accidentally” sealing them in during their “geological experiments,” but if Picard had shared their plans with him, this horrible situation could’ve been avoided, tsk tsk.
Sirol offers to transport the Enterprise crew onto the Terix and bring them back to Romulan space. Picard says he’ll take it under advisement and ends the communication. Riker then says he has a way out: the cloaking device in Pressman’s quarters.
The light bulb goes off over Picard’s head: why this is such a big deal and why it’s being shrouded in secrecy. Experimenting with a cloak is in violation of the Treaty of Algeron, in which the Federation agreed not to develop cloaking technology.
But this isn’t just any cloak: it also phases matter so it can pass through solid objects. Data and La Forge are able to hook the phased cloak up to the ship’s systems. La Forge warns that the intercooler levels need to be monitored or the plasma relays will blow. Riker realizes that that was what happened to the Pegasus: the explosion they saw was the plasma igniting, and then the ship drifted while still phased. The cloak failed while they were inside this asteroid and materialized.
They activate the phased cloak and fly through the rock and into space. Pressman is smugly pleased with himself that the cloak worked—and somewhat less pleased when Picard orders the ship to decloak. Pressman shouts that the Romulans will know the truth, which is rather the point—Picard intends to let everyone know exactly what Pressman did. And then he orders Worf to place Pressman under arrest. Riker steps forward and says that he should be arrested, too, and Worf escorts them both off the bridge. Pressman utters the standard cry of the high-powered television character who’s just been arrested: “I have a lot of friends at Starfleet Command.” Picard quietly says that he’ll need them.
Picard visits Riker in the brig, telling him that Pressman and several members of SI will be court-martialed and Riker will be investigated. And then they leave the brig, one big happy family again.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Verteron particles can mask something from sensor scans, but they’re also not naturally occurring. Just so’s you know.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is only in the opening scene, where she has to remind Picard of how important Captain Picard Day is to the kids on the ship.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: When Pressman tries to take over the ship as well as the mission, he orders Worf to escort Picard off the bridge. Worf hesitates for maybe half a second before he folds his arms and doesn’t move. The message is clear—if you don’t got Worf on your side, you don’t got nobody on your side.
In the Driver’s seat: Ensign Gates finally gets a line of dialogue while the camera’s on her, saying, “Course plotted, sir,” as the Enterprise prepares to enter the asteroid.
I Believe I Said That: “So who won the contest?”
“Oh, uh, Paul Menegay—a seven-year-old. He did a most interesting clay sculpture of my head.”
“Was that the orange one with the lumpy skin?”
“Oh, you’ll be interested to know that I’ve arranged for a Commander Riker Day next month. I’m even considering making an entry myself.”
Riker and Picard discussing Captain Picard Day, and then the captain hoisting the commander on his own Picard. (Cue groans.)
Welcome Aboard: Terry O’Quinn has become one of the most well-regarded television actors working today, probably best known for his role as John Locke on Lost. He’s here as Admiral Pressman, with more hair than we’ve come to expect him to have, though still not a lot. Rounding out the cast are Nancy Vawter as Admiral Blackwell and the delightfully smarmy Michael Mack as Commander Sirol (who has the distinction of being the first African-American actor to play a Romulan).
Trivial Matters: This episode finally explains why the Federation has never used a cloaking device, which has been an open question pretty much since the notion of cloaking technology was first raised way back in “Balance of Terror” on the original series: it was part of the terms of the Treaty of Algeron (the treaty itself established in “The Defector”). The research the Pegasus is established as having done twelve years earlier is similar to that done by the Romulans in “The Next Phase.”
Blackwell tells Picard that warp-speed limitations are suspended for the duration of the mission, proving that they are remembering the events of “Force of Nature” while simultaneously ignoring them where at all possible.
The framing sequence of the Enterprise series finale “These are the Voyages…” took place during this episode, as Riker re-created critical events on Captain Jonathan Archer’s Earth ship Enterprise by way of aiding him in his decision to tell Picard about the cloak—though the events of that episode really only fit into this one with a really big hammer. Leaving aside the fact that Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis are noticeably ten years older in the Enterprise finale, there’s really nowhere in this episode for Riker’s holodeck jaunts to take place, nor does his decision at the end to tell Picard jibe with this episode in which he doesn’t tell Picard until he’s more or less backed into a corner.
The short story “Loose Ends” by Dayton Ward in New Frontier: No Limits has Mackenzie Calhoun working for Starfleet Intelligence and going undercover to destroy the phased cloak; Sirol appears in that story as well. The Lost Era novel Deny Thy Father by Jeff Mariotte shows Riker’s earliest days serving on the Pegasus under Captain Pressman after graduating from the Academy.
Originally, the script called for the teaser to show Data, Troi, and Riker rehearsing Pygmalion, but Michael Piller scotched the idea, so Ronald D. Moore wrote a sequence that would take advantage of Jonathan Frakes’s excellent impersonation of Sir Patrick Stewart.
Make it So: “You’d rather be a traitor than a hero.” The all-around WTFery that was the Enterprise finale—about which plenty has been said (here’s a particularly cogent piece from Jamahl “Jammer” Epsicokhan)—has made it easy to forget that “The Pegasus” was a damn fine hour of television.
One of the first things we learned about William Riker in “Encounter at Farpoint” was that he refused to let Captain DeSoto of the Hood, under whom he served as first officer, beam down to a planet during a crisis because it was too risky. Picard himself reminds us of this when talking to Pressman, which is handy, because we learn how Riker got to the point where he would do that in this episode. As an ensign, fresh out of the Academy, he blindly obeyed his captain and most of his crewmates died. While that action probably helped his career—Riker has been established all along as having a fast promotion track, viz. “The Arsenal of Freedom,” which established that he was offered a command of his own before signing onto the Enterprise, not to mention “Second Chances”—it also made him realize that blind obedience wasn’t always the right thing.
But dumbass things we do when young can sometimes come back to haunt us, and Riker gets a huge lesson in that. It’s interesting, even though I watched TNG enthusiastically when it was on the air two decades ago, and have seen individual episodes plenty of times, this rewatch has given me a new appreciation of some aspects of the show. Some are negative—I intensely dislike the Geordi La Forge character a lot more now, for example—but as we near the end of this rewatch, I’m really coming to appreciate the growth of Jonathan Frakes as an actor. I doubt that the John Wayne-channeling first season Frakes could have pulled this episode off, but he nails it here. His anguish is palpable, as is his guilt, and while I won’t call it subtle (his snotty use of “Yes sir” to snark off Pressman whenever the admiral shoots him down is pretty obvious, for starters), it’s effective.
The episode is so beautifully constructed. By opening with the Captain Picard Day silliness, we get to see just how close Picard and Riker have become: Riker’s impersonation of Picard and teasing him about the orange lumpy bust, Picard coming back at him with the threat of “Commander Riker Day.” It’s wonderful stuff, which then gets turned on his ear when Picard throws the JAG report in Riker’s face. Sir Patrick Stewart’s slow burn in this episode is magnificent, as he knows that Pressman and Riker are hiding stuff from him, and he wastes no time in trying to get to the bottom of it. And his disappointed anger at Riker is as devastating as the like feelings he had toward Wes in “The First Duty”—another Ron Moore script about duty and the covering up of lies. Even though you know that Frakes has second billing and isn’t going anywhere, you still feel like Picard absolutely means it when he says he may need to reconsider the command structure of the ship.
In addition, Moore does right what was done wrong in “The Chase” and “Force of Nature.” We finally get an explanation for why the Federation doesn’t have cloaking devices (beyond Gene Roddenberry’s oft-stated dictum that “we don’t sneak around”), and it’s one that works. But it’s not what the episode is about, really. Hell, we don’t even find out what “the experiment” is until the final act (though the prop designers gave a bit of it away by having the device Pressman liberates from the Pegasus engine room look a lot like the cloaking device from “The Enterprise Incident”), because that’s not the story. The story is Riker’s dilemma and how he must balance what he did as a callow youth (obeying the letter of duty while violating its spirit) with what he needs to do now (vice versa).
The one place where the script falls down is in Admiral Pressman, who is the stereotypical Evil Admiral that has become a Trek cliché, but here Moore is rescued by Terry O’Quinn, who makes Pressman’s obsessive asshole a real person. Add to that all the little touches—the tense scenes of the Enterprise flying around inside an asteroid, the magnificent verbal fencing between Picard and Sirol (O’Quinn’s presence makes it easy to forget that he’s not the only strong guest star here, as Michael Mack is superbly oily), Captain Picard Day, Worf disregarding Pressman’s power grab—wrapped around a wonderful building mystery of what has Riker so spooked, and you get one of TNG’s best.
Warp factor rating: 10
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Farpoint 2013 in Timonium, Maryland this weekend, along with actors John Billingsley, Lee Arenberg, Felicia Day, Giancarlo Esposito, Bonita Friedericy, and Rob Paulsen, as well as fellow Trek scribes David Mack, Robert Greenberger, Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman, Allyn Gibson, and Howard Weinstein. His schedule is here.