Riker’s former commanding officer arrives on board the Enterprise, using his rank as an admiral to usurp Picard’s authority on a secret mission to recover their ship, the Pegasus, which has long been thought lost in an incident in which a young Riker protected his Captain from other mutinying officers. This creates conflicted loyalties for Riker and strain in his relationship with Picard. When the Enterprise is endangered by Romulans, Riker disobeys the Admiral by revealing to Picard the existence of an illegal piece of technology which the Pegasus had been experimenting with when it was destroyed: a phased cloaking device, which violates the Federation-Romulan treaty. The Admiral is arrested while Picard and the Federation attempt to salvage their relationship with the Romulans.
Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by LeVar Burton.
The Pegasus is a solid piece of work, delivering a satisfying blend of intrigue, tension and excitement. It features a good character-driven script and some excellent direction by LeVar Burton on his second time behind the camera. There are some inventive camera movements throughout the story, and the pacing is kept up thanks to simple but effective techniques like having key dialogue come in the form of interruptions to other, more routine conversation. These approaches help to keep the story engaging and fresh, and keep the plot moving forward.
The episode is also notable for an impressive guest performance by Terry O’Quinn as Admiral Pressman. O’Quinn’s strong screen presence and personality make Pressman a memorable presence, and a good foil for both Picard and Riker. It’s no surprise to learn that the production team were considering bringing the character back or an episode of Deep Space Nine. As effective a character as Pressman is, though, it’s the tension between Riker and Picard that really makes the episode memorable. The confrontation between the two, when Riker acknowledges that he is under orders from Admiral Pressman, is the best one of the episode, and demonstrates that the series could still pack a punch.
It’s also interesting to see the way the story takes the time to explain a long-standing point of confusion amongst Star Trek audiences, which is why the Federation has never developed the cloaking technology that there enemies have found so handy. Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty successful “insertion” into the backstory of the franchise, as are the revelations of Riker’s history aboard the Pegasus. The story of his well-intentioned “failure” during the mutiny draws out new aspects of the character we hadn’t seen before, but still feels consistent with the character we know.
If there’s an unsuccessful aspect to the story, it’s with the “Phase Cloak” technology itself. This development is apparently so volatile that its use morally justifies a mutiny, killed almost everyone on board the Pegasus, and sends Riker into a massive crisis of conscience. However, when the Enterprise is in a jam, there’s no qualms about using the device and no difficulties in making it work. Data is even able to give an estimation of how long it will take to make it work without ever seeing the thing. It’s a ridiculous plot-convenience that does undermine a good episode, but only slightly.
• What?! That’s Terry O’Quinn as Admiral Pressman! He was John Locke and his smoke monster duplicate for six years on Lost. He also appeared in the show Millennium, and played a FBI officer who allowed himself to get blown up in the X-Files Movie. What else was he in? He appears as a General for a bunch of episodes of The West Wing, and an assistant FBI director in Alias. He also played another admiral for a few episodes of JAG, and someone I don’t remember in short-lived science fiction series Earth 2 (maybe he was that guy that Dr. Heller was always talking to via some sort of holographic interface?)
• Michael Mack plays Commander Sirol. He also played Ensign Hayes in Star Trek: Generations, who may or may not be the same character who, played by someone else, responded from Engineering in Parallels.
Shout Out to the Past:
• This is the first episode where it’s mentioned that the Enterprise is authorized to exceed the warp speed limitations set up in Force of Nature.
• The incident in which Riker refused to allow his previous Captain to beam down on with an Away Team is referred to and its impact upon Picard elaborated upon. We last heard about this on Encounter at Farpoint.
• Verteron particles, mentioned here, were previously referenced in Force of Nature.
Setting Up the Future:
• The whole treaty with the Romulans regarding the cloaking device will get at least a shout out in Deep Space Nine, when the Federation will start regularly using cloaked ships, or at least one.
• Cute opening – “Captain Picard Day.” And Riker’s pretty funny teasing the Captain. “I don’t know why we have to do this every year. I thought that last year the teachers had agreed that they wouldn’t do this anymore.”
• Patrick Stewart is pretty funny and odd when he says, “I’m a role model,” in the midst of laughing to the admiral.
• Good exchange between Riker and Pressman when they see each other: “It’s good to see you, sir,” “Yeah, sure it is, you look like you’re about to faint.”
• Terry O’Quinn is listed as a “Special Guest Star”. I wouldn’t have thought he’d have been well-known enough to warrant such a distinction.
• Romulans! I didn’t even remember that they appeared this year, beyond briefly in the finale. Apparently, we’re not building on “warming up” of relations that we saw last season in The Chase and Timescape.
• Cool shot of the ops station tracking over to the center, and then pushing in on Picard and command chairs. This episode features a lot of well-designed camera moves.
• Federation-Romulan diplomacy – full of lots of big smiles from Picard.
• Riker mentions growing the beard, and says it’s been about four years. Actually, it’s been 5 1/2 years of real life time since Jonathan Frakes started wearing a beard.
• Riker is very evidently uncomfortable with the presence of Pressman.
• Good exchange between Picard and Pressman:
Picard: I wanted someone who would stand up to me. Someone who was more concerned with the safety of the ship and accomplishing the mission than who something looked on his record. To me, that’s one of the marks of a good officer.
Pressman: Frankly, I’ve always felt it was more important for an officer to trust his captain’s judgment. In a crisis, there’s no time for explanations. Orders have to be obeyed without question or lives may be lost.
Pressman: I guess this mission has brought up some old ghosts for me. You know what it’s like to lose a ship. You’re always wondering if there was something else you should have done, something you missed.
• Another nice touch from director LeVar Burton is the presence of lots of other crew members around the ship–such as sick bay, engineering, the bridge. It gives a sense of scope and size to the Enterprise.
• Terry O’Quinn has such a distinctive voice. When I read his dialogue again, it’s easy to hear him saying it: “I would like to think that too. Because those things say more about a man than the rank on his collar or the unifrom he wears. They define him. Twelve years ago, a lot of older and more seasoned officers turned away from their duty, but you stood up for what was right. I’m sorry, Will. I know the kind of man you are. I know that I can count on you again.”
• Ensign Gates talked! Is that the first time we’ve seen her speak?
• There are dead bodies everywhere, people they knew, but Riker and Pressman do not even spare a glance at them. But the scene features some more effective moments:
Riker: I’ve had twelve years to think about it, and if I had to do it over again, I would grabbed the phaser and pointed it at you instead of them.
Pressman: So on reflection, you’d rather be a traitor than a hero.
Riker: I wasn’t a hero and neither were you!
• More smiling diplomacy with the Romulans: “It’s entirely possible we accidentally sealed you in,” says Sirol. “If only we had known you were beneath the surface, if you had shared your plans with us, this might have been avoided.”
• Picard asks for options – it’s pretty safe bet Worf will suggest something violent that Data will explain is too dangerous. Yup.
• Worf refuses to arrest Picard – cool.
• Riker is under arrest…again? That’s twice this season! Hmm, at the end, I guess Admiral Pressman is in a different brig.
Dialogue High Point
As noted, my favorite bit comes in the confrontation between Picard and Riker, after Riker tells Picard he’s under orders from the admiral. Picard’s response:
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 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.