Riker’s old commander, Admiral Pressman (Terry O’Quinn) shows up to recover his former ship, the Pegasus. The Romulans are looking for it, as it was a prototype lost in space 12 years earlier. Pressman is damn near obsessed, to the point where he questionably orders the Enterprise into a large asteroid containing the Pegasus. Pressman won’t reveal to Picard (who knows something is up) what’s really going on and puts Riker in a tough spot. Pressman and Riker beam over to the Pegasus and return with a piece of equipment. Meanwhile, the Romulans destroy the entrance to the asteroid, trapping the Enterprise. Riker comes clean and tells Picard the piece of equipment is a prototype phase-cloaking device — in violation of a treaty with the Romulans. In addition to rendering a ship invisible, the device can allow ships to pass through matter. Picard uses the device to escape, but decloaks in front of the Romulans, offering proof of Pressman’s misdeeds. He then takes Pressman and Riker into custody, but later brings Riker back into the fold because he came clean in the end.
Why it’s important
As a kid, I remember wondering why Starfleet never used cloaking technology. It seemed like such an obvious thing, and there were episodes (like “Unification”) where cloaking a Federation starship would have been extremely useful. Gene Roddenberry apparently was against the idea of the Federation skulking around, but the rationale was left unexplained until “The Pegasus”. And the rationale mostly makes sense — though it’s odd that it had never been mentioned previously.
This was an episode that was right on the line as far as whether it would make the tapestry, partly because we don’t see much in the way of direct consequences. But it was such a watershed moment for me, as a 13-year-old watching this back in the day, that we squeezed it in.
What doesn’t hold up
It seems like the whole Neutral Zone thing — which was such a part of TOS and TNG, in the early seasons — was sort of tossed aside here (and in other episodes in late TNG and early DS9). Was the asteroid field we see in this episode in the Neutral Zone? Was it in an area where neither power had a claim? If it’s the second option, then I have to ask: What’s the point of the Neutral Zone in the first place? Of course, having an area of space designed to block interactions can be a nuisance for writers. But, in this episode, a line about the asteroid field being in the Neutral Zone or free space would have helped.
Also, why is it SO important that Pressman get the actual device? It seems pretty clear that he knows how the thing was built. Couldn’t someone just build a new one? There’s no indication that the materials used in it were hard to come by. If the WAY it was built was so important, then wouldn’t the Pegasus have had records? And, if so, was it really important that the device was retrievable — as opposed to being able to access the ship’s computers?
Finally, it’s not clear at the end of the episode whether the rest of the Pegasus was recovered. Remember that Pressman’s reasoning for the importance of the mission and the Romulans’ interest was that the ship would reveal a bunch of Starfleet secrets ASIDE from the cloaking device. Did Pressman lie about the Pegasus being a prototype? It’s possible that the Enterprise destroyed the asteroid after the incident — Riker suggests doing as much early in the episode — or that the ship was otherwise recovered. But it’s never really explained.
I’ve always assumed that the black mark on Riker’s record after this episode helped explain his lack of career advancement between the seventh season of TNG and “Star Trek: Nemesis”. That covered nine years in the Star Trek timeline. Of course, why Riker didn’t get any offers to command a ship for three years after he prevented the Borg from assimilating Earth is another question.
While this episode barely made the tapestry cut, it references one that just barely didn’t make it. “Force of Nature” is a controversial episode in Trek, as it, briefly, changed the whole nature of space exploration with the idea that warp drive was damaging the fabric of space. For the rest of the seventh season and in this episode, TNG gives lip service to the problem by instituting a speed limit of Warp 5 — except at times of emergency. But afterward, the damage warp was causing seems to be a non-issue. In DS9, Voyager and in the movies, ships routinely travel faster than Warp 5 — and there’s no on-screen explanation as to how the problem was solved.
Lastly, this episode is the backdrop of the much-maligned Enterprise finale, “These Are the Voyages” — and it’s in that episode’s review that we’ll assess the effort to tie both episodes together. Sneak preview: The creators shouldn’t have bothered.
Coming later this week …
Wesley hits the ol’ dusty trail.