This episode piles on the cloak-and-dagger tropes such as secret messages, clandestine meetings, imposters, and, of course, conspiracy.
“Don’t trust anyone,” warns an old friend of Picard’s who, no surprise, doesn’t make it to the end of the next act.
The story ambitiously builds upon suspicions that Admiral Quinn first mentioned to Picard in s1e18 “Coming of Age,” warning of high-stakes fractures within the mostly utopian Federation. Yet the execution overall feels out of place in the Star Trek canon — even during the herky-jerky first season.
The teaser is a bit odd. While all the senior bridge officers are chatting during a relaxed shift, why is it that Picard is in his quarters sleeping? From a story perspective, the fact that the secret message rouses Picard out of bed in the middle of his sleep cycle suggests urgency. But from an in-world viewpoint, nothing seems to be happening that would require so many senior officers on the bridge during Picard’s sleep cycle.
At this point in the show, neither the Ten Forward lounge nor the “poker night” scenes had been introduced, so the writers didn’t have an easy way to show the crew casually gathered during downtime, so they put conversational scenes on the bridge. Fair enough, but it’s still odd that we’re also asked to accept that, for whatever reason, Picard is sleeping when that message comes in.
After the story dispatches the captain’s close personal friend (who has never been mentioned before and whose death has no noticeable effect on Picard in later episodes), we see creepily smiling admirals, including the aforementioned Quinn, who blandly assure Picard that everything is fine, and that if there is a conspiracy, it most certainly has nothing to do with high-ranking Starfleet officials who smile creepily while inviting you to dinner.
The ST:WTF moments in this episode include a fight scene where we can clearly see the faces of the stunt doubles, and Picard opening a covered dish to find a bowl of wiggly worms.
When the alien leader says “We mean you no harm,” Picard and Riker let their phasers do all the talking, with gory results that were probably great fun for the SFX crew to make, and kind of shocking for an era of family-friendly TV; nevertheless, 30 years later the scene is just meh.
I did like the Twilight-Zone style open ending, which hints that more of these alien parasite bugs might return. (By the time the producers got around to introducing a major new alien threat, they chose instead to introduce the Borg.)