WARNING: This article contains potentially dangerous spoiler information regarding TNG's "The Pegasus". Those not having seen the episode are urged to avoid this article until further notice.

Wow. Probably the best of the season to date -- certainly the meatiest.

I am very impressed -- barely a wrong note to be found in this one. Quite a bit more will follow, after this synopsis:

The Enterprise takes on board one Admiral Eric Pressman. Pressman, as well as being high up in Starfleet Intelligence, is also Riker's first commanding officer from the Pegasus -- and it's the Pegasus that is at issue right now. She was apparently carrying sensitive prototype equipment that would be dangerous in enemy hands; and the ship, thought lost with nearly all hands in an explosion twelve years ago, is apparently in the Devolin system, where the Romulans are intensely searching for it. The Enterprise is to proceed to that system and find the Pegasus -- "salvage it if possible, destroy it if necessary."

When they reach the system, they find it consisting primarily of asteroid debris, making scans slow and difficult. A Romulan warbird that's also exploring the system drops by to exchange "pleasantries", and its commander promises to remain in the area a while longer. The Romulans have a two-day headstart in the search, but the Enterprise begins searching nonetheless. Meanwhile, Riker and Pressman talk about the final days of the Pegasus to each other; and while Riker has second thoughts about some of his actions, Pressman reminds him that their actions were "for the good of the Federation". What's more, he plans to start up "the experiment" again if they find it intact -- "and this time, no one's going to stop us." He tells Riker that there are written orders for him from Starfleet Intelligence in the computer, and that he is not to reveal the nature of the mission to anyone, not even Picard.

After Pressman makes veiled remarks to Picard about the importance of loyalty, saying outright that it was Riker's unswerving loyalty on the Pegasus that kept them both alive when nearly every other crewmember died, the Enterprise strikes paydirt, finding signs of the warp-core. Unfortunately, it appears to be buried far down in a chasm on a large asteroid, and in the time it would take to find it more precisely, the Romulans would be over to see what was going on. Riker suggests destroying the asteroid to keep the Pegasus out of Romulan hands, but Pressman vehemently opposes it, preferring instead to go with Picard's plan of blanketing the area with ionizing radiation and covering traces of the warp-core's radiation. Although it's a risky move, it works, and the warbird apparently leaves. Picard, not wanting to arouse even further suspicions, orders the Enterprise to pursue a false search pattern and come back to the asteroid the next day.

After Picard leaves, Pressman upbraids Riker harshly in private for even considering destroying the Pegasus -- it would be difficult, he points out, to change the balance of power in the quadrant without the Pegasus in hand. Riker shows Pressman that he's changed in many ways, but Pressman commends him for his past loyalties, and says that "I know I can count on you again" to help him in this mission.

Riker then proceeds to Picard's quarters, where Picard wants to talk about a deeply-buried report he's uncovered about the last day of the Pegasus. The investigation found evidence of a mutiny on board, something unthinkable in the Federation, and signs that all the surviving officers, Riker included, withheld information. While Riker is willing to give some details about the mutiny (most of the crew felt Pressman was endangering the ship with some engine tests, and Riker, fresh out of the Academy and "full of notions like duty and honor" defended Pressman until they both could escape), he will not talk about what else was going on, suggesting that he take it up with Pressman. "I'm taking this up with you, Will! The Judge Advocate thought that you were participating in a conspiracy to cover up the truth. Now what the hell is going on here, Will? Why did that mutiny happen? Why is Pressman so determined to find that ship, twelve years later?"

"I've said all I can," Riker replies. "I am under direct orders from Admiral Pressman not to discuss this ... sir."

Picard stands, appalled. "Very well. He's an Admiral, I'm a Captain -- i cannot force you to disobey his orders. Therefore, I will have to remain in the dark on this mission; and I will just have to trust that you will not let Pressman put this ship at unnecessary risk. And if I find that that trust has been misplaced, then I will have to re-evaluate the command structure of this ship. Dismissed." Riker, somewhat stunned, leaves.

Picard's worries come to a head very quickly, as the return to the asteroid with the Pegasus brings a call from Pressman to take the Enterprise itself into the chasm, as it seems the surest way to get the Pegasus salvaged. Faced with direct orders, Picard agrees -- but only after logging his explicit objections and threatening to abort the mission if conditions get too tight. Fortunately, they find the Pegasus, but 65% of it is entombed within the asteroid itself! It is determined that much of the engineering section is intact, and Pressman and Riker beam over once life support is restored.

There, as they stroll past dead bodies to reach their objective, Riker gets more and more troubled about the nature of their mission. Finally, as Pressman discovers that "the experiment" is intact, Riker makes a decision: he will not allow Pressman to continue the experiments on the Enterprise. Although Pressman argues with him strenuously, even calling him a traitor, Riker stands his ground, saying that he made the wrong decision twelve years ago, and that if he had it to do over again, he'd have joined the mutineers. Pressman threatens to end Riker's career if he says a word to anyone, but just then they are forced to beam back. The Romulans have sealed off the entrance to the chasm with disruptors, sealing both ships inside kilometers of solid rock.

The Romulans hail, expressing regret over "accidentally" trapping the Enterprise in the asteroid and offering to beam all personnel to safety. No one, however, agrees with this choice, as it would hand over both ships to the Romulans without a fight. The Romulans lurk outside, awaiting a decision -- and Riker makes a choice. He tells Picard that Pressman's experiment may offer a solution. "It's a prototype for a Federation cloaking device."

Pressman is angry, and tells Riker that he's just ended his career, but Picard is incensed: The Federation agreed sixty years ago in the Treaty of Algeron never to develop cloaking technology. Pressman acknowledges that, but insists that the treaty was the Federation's biggest mistake, allowing the Romulans to keep them off balance for decades. When Picard doesn't agree, saying that this device might change the balance of power, but is unethical and illegal, Pressman tries to assume command. He quickly finds, however, that no one will go along with his mutiny, and conversation turns to the device.

Riker explains that it not only cloaks a ship, but "phases" it, allowing it to pass through normal matter. Thus, if hooked up properly, it should allow the Enterprise to leave the asteroid unscathed. Although the connections are somewhat tricky, LaForge and Data manage to hook it into the Enterprise safely, giving hints to what happened to the Pegasus in the process. The Enterprise escapes the asteroid, but then decloaks deliberately in front of the warbird, when Picard tells them that a message will go out very shortly to the Romulan government about this entire incident. The treaty, Picard assures Pressman, was negotiated in good faith and will not be broken -- and to that end, he places Pressman and Riker under arrest.

Later, Picard visits Riker in the brig. A full inquiry will get underway shortly, and will probably lead to a court-martial for Pressman and many other members of Starfleet Intelligence. Riker's part in it will cost him a great deal of respect, but his choice to tell the truth now, and his twelve years of superlative service since the Pegasus, will probably save him. His decision, furthermore, has done more than ever to convince Picard that, despite Riker's mistakes, Riker is still his choice for first officer.


Well, that takes care of that. (I never remember how much time it takes to write these synopses up after a few weeks off until I've done it. Yeesh. :-) ) Now, some equally verbose commentary:

First of all, I just noticed something interesting. With Ron Moore returning to the TNG writing fold, all of the last four shows have been written by the regular members of the writing staff: Moore, Brannon Braga ("Parallels"), Rene Echevarria ("Inheritance"), and Naren Shankar ("Force of Nature"). Of those, all but "Force of Nature" were quite good -- a serious upturn from the fairly lackluster start this season had. So a hearty "welcome back" to the big four -- but where the heck were they earlier?

In any event, Ron Moore's return certainly was remarkable -- not only is this one of the best of the season (it's this or "Parallels", depending on what I'm in the mood for), but it's probably the best TNG he's written in over a year. The last things he wrote that really drew me in were "Relics" and "Tapestry", and I think I like this a good deal better than either of those. Everything about it just felt so completely right that it was a pretty riveting show, all in all.

Most of the teaser wasn't related at all, but "Captain Picard Day" had me in stitches the whole scene. I enjoyed the scene as a whole immensely, but more than anything I just about died at seeing Frakes's Patrick Stewart impression actually make it in front of the camera. Frakes must've been saving that one up for years, given the smirk he had when he finally got to throw himself into it. Great, great fun. (Now I want to see Picard's entry into Commander Riker Day, but I suppose I'll live.)

On to more serious points. This season is likely to have a lot of shows trying to answer fundamental questions or resolve fundamental issues, since this is the last go-round for the series. On the whole, I'm not too thrilled with that, since on the whole it tends to lead to things like "Attached", which redeemed itself only with acting that rose light-years above the material. However, "The Pegasus" would be a fine model to follow for such a "fundamental" show, because it didn't really feel like it was trying to do that. What it felt like, and what it was through and through, was a damn good Riker piece about coming to grips with bad decisions. I consider the facts that it (1) settled the question of why the Federation doesn't have a cloaking device, and (2) set things up so Riker won't have to make excuses for not being a captain in the film series almost incidental to that fact. And that, I think, is exactly as it should be -- a show saying only "let's show why the Feds don't have a cloak" is about as relevant to the characters and to all but the most driven viewers as one that says "let's show why all races are humanoid." "The Chase" was the latter, and my feelings about that one are not positive -- "The Pegasus" handled its question RIGHT.

What's more, this was the sort of "answer" that raises as many questions as it ties up. We know now that the Federation has agreed not to develop a cloaking device. What we don't know, and what I'm sure will be debated for another twenty years unless someone decides to give it more detail, is WHY they made such an agreement. Regardless of Pressman's methods (more about him later), his argument that this treaty was a mistake may have some merit to it. (One of my officemates thinks so, and we've already gotten into one argument about it, so there's definitely room to maneuver -- either that, or I need a life. Take your pick. :-) ) What circumstances would make the Federation willingly agree to forgo such an important battle advantage? Were the Romulans so far behind in everything else that the Federation agreed to do it solely to stop the wars? Were the Romulans so far ahead in everything as to be able to force such an agreement? (That one I doubt.) Did the Romulans agree in turn not to try to develop some other form of technology? If so, what? (And are they abiding by it?) Lots and lots of questions here, with lots of possible answers. We've got a nice little backstory here waiting to be told, and I rather like that.

[By the way, something else came to mind. Since the treaty was sixty years or so old, that puts it about fifteen years past "Star Trek VI". It's all undoubtedly too late for Kirk's Enterprise to be involved -- septuagenarian captains aren't all that believable in my book, particularly in as martial a time as that era apparently was -- but Sulu and the Excelsior (or some other ship) should still be around. There's lots of room to fill in that decade and a half from his point of view -- anyone with ideas for a novel about this? :-) ]

Enough about the long-term ramifications, though. Even within the context of the episode, this show spoke volumes, especially about Riker. With someone as willing to stand his ground with Picard as Riker has been over the years, one might expect it to be a surprise that he *didn't* start out that way -- but I could see it very easily coming from someone "seven months out of the Academy, my head still full of words like 'duty' and 'honor'." Given the sheer force of personality Pressman had, to boot, Riker's unswerving loyalty at a crunch time makes sense -- but it must have been giving him nightmares for months afterward. Both his obedience then and his utter anger about it now rang completely and utterly true, and may even go a little ways to explain why he was willing to risk his career back on the Hood to keep his captain from beaming down then: maybe he was compensating for not standing up to his captain when he absolutely needed to.

Pressman's character, on the other hand, also spoke volumes, but in a very different key. It's difficult to argue conclusively one way or the other about the Treaty of Algeron, so I won't try. However, Pressman's methods strike me as exemplifying the very worst elements of "intelligence" communities. Pressman was convinced what he was doing was right, to be sure; but he was convinced SO absolutely that any means, no matter how brutal or how unjustified it might seem from other standpoints, was justified in terms of the end it would bring about. The elements of Starfleet Intelligence that were behind this seemed to have an attitude of "we know what's best for the Federation, so the rest of the Federation should stay the hell out of it" that, frankly, I see enough of in this century to make my skin crawl. I'm not sure it's in keeping with Roddenberry's original idea that the Federation is basically perfect, but I honestly couldn't care; it's realistic (there are always going to be some snakes in any garden), and it's cautionary (not that those who need the caution will be listening anyway, I suspect).

Actually, the reactions Picard (and Riker, to a fault) had to Pressman's presence and manner made for a very interesting contrast between what Federation crews and Romulan crews will put up with. In Romulan ships, or so it's appeared, having an intelligence operative there giving orders and threatening reprisals may make for some feelings of distrust (not surprisingly), but they are accepted as part of the ship, in most cases. Here, Pressman definitely wasn't -- and had he been less than an Admiral in rank, Picard would undoubtedly have simply refused to follow many of the orders. It's an interesting point to look for, I think.

Everybody did a bang-up job, acting-wise. Frakes showed more range than he has any time this season, and made it so that Riker honestly seemed to be in a lot of pain over his past choices. I haven't seen Terry O'Quinn in the past, but I've heard good things about him, and if this performance was any indication they're well deserved; he made Pressman powerful enough that Riker as an ensign couldn't be expected to resist him, but also extremely flawed. As for Stewart, I'll just say this: I laughed like hell during the teaser, but his threat to Riker to drop him as first officer made me feel like I'd been kicked in the teeth. That was such a cutting scene that I felt tired just watching it, and it's tough to do without both actors involved having gone all out. Major compliments to them.

I think that's really most of the comments that come to mind. This was a show that I think will rank rather highly in TNG's annals -- a good, solid, meaty drama that also has some interesting reflections on the universe surrounding it. If this and the two shows before it are any indication, this season should have a major, sustained upturn in quality much as last season did around this time. Suits me fine, that.

So, some shorter points:

  • I still say Lloyd Bridges should have had a cameo somewhere, given the title and the genre. ;-)
  • Based on the stardate, listing the Pegasus bit as happening twelve years ago seemed a bit off at first. Then I realized that the date given would have been for the *inquiry report*, not the incident itself. Does a year and a half seem an excessively long time? Well, if it does to you, I've got two words in response: "Iran-Contra". It seems that the process has at least speeded up a bit by the 24th century...
  • Riker served on a lot of ships in the past twelve years. Think about it: at this point we've got him pinned down as an ensign on the Pegasus twelve years ago, a lieutenant on the Potemkin three years later ("Second Chances"), and a lieutenant commander and first officer on the Hood for at least some of the three years after that, prior to joining the Enterprise crew. That's some fairly quick rank-climbing -- no wonder everyone thinks he needs to take a command.
  • Okay, someone has to ask: were Lisa and I the only ones expecting to see Red Lectroids clinging to the rock face as the Enterprise was phasing through? :-)
  • No wonder I was reminded a little bit of "Face of the Enemy". Besides the obvious Romulan presence, John Debney did the music for both, and damned well. Give this guy some more work.

That about covers it. So, wrapping up:

Plot: Tight, suspenseful, and gripping. Can't argue with something like that.

Plot handling: Extremely nice. LeVar Burton is turning into a very capable director.

Characterization: Not a false note to be found.

OVERALL: An easy 10. Keep this one for posterity.

NEXT WEEK:

Worf's foster brother and the Prime Directive -- two things that just shouldn't mix, it seems...



Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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"I don't know.  I think the resemblance is rather striking.  Wouldn't you
agree, Number One?"
"Isn't there something else you have to do?"
                -- Riker [imitating Picard] and Picard
--
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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