A smart, character-driven story that follows the crew of the Enterprise-D through a short time loop (about a year before Bill Murray did something similar in “Groundhog Day”).
After a chaotic teaser that ends with the Enterprise-D blowing to smithereens, we get a routine Captain’s Log, a relaxed poker game where Crusher impressively calls Riker’s bluff, a dizzy LaForge visiting sickbay, a humming Crusher hearing odd voices at bedtime, a routine staff meeting, an encounter with a Space Thing, and the fatal scene we saw in the teaser.
Act II begins with the same captain’s log and the same poker game, but not quite the same. This time, when Crusher gets the feeling that Riker is bluffing, Riker gets the feeling that Crusher is going to call his bluff, and their eyes lock meaningfully. But the moment passes when Crusher is called to sickbay to treat LaForge, and the rest of the time loop repeats as we’ve already seen it.
Act III begins with the same captain’s log and the same poker game, but this time everyone at the table can predict what cards Data is about to deal. Crusher gets the feeling that LaForge is about to visit sickbay, and when he does, she’s more alert, and notices more clues, which in turn prompts Picard to order “a localized subspace scan” which reveals a “dekyon field distortion” which is another puzzle piece that the script requires them to have before they can realize they’re trapped in a time loop. (This is TV, after all, and the plot has to move along.)
Bear in mind that the movie Groundhog Day was released about a year later, so it was a brand new experience to see a plot unfold as actors repeat the same scenes with slight variations. We’re also seeing new events that are happening for the first time, because the characters are responding for the first time to brand new clues. Data manages pretty quickly to rig up a device that will let him send “a few characters” to himself in the next loop. As soon as they get it working, the Space Thing appears, and the crisis plays out as it always has — except that this time, just before the ka-boom, we see Data typing something furiously.
On my first watch I remember thinking Act V was a bit of a letdown. Sherlock Holmes has such an unfair advantage over the reader because he draws on obscure knowledge to interpret details that Watson doesn’t even mention in his narration; in a similar way, Data’s ability to send himself a coded message, interpret that message, and act appropriately is not as interesting as Crusher’s ability to act on her intuition. (The recurring bit with her wine glass nicely ramps up the tension.)