Picard and Crusher are implanted with devices that let them overhear each other’s thoughts. The plot contrivance that makes this possible is ridiculous even by Star Trek standards; however, if you are a Jean Luc / Beverly shipper (as I am), the payoff is delightful. The preachy geopolitical framing story is also totally on brand for Star Trek.
Preparing for a mission to evaluate a politically divided planet’s request to join the Federation, Picard is distracted during his customary breakfast with Crusher. She questions the policy that planets must have solved their own geopolitical problems before joining the Federation, and she seems ready for a cheerful and comfortable debate.
Instead of beaming down to meet with the majority government, they find themselves in a prison cell, having been intercepted by the separatist minority. (They are of course being held in the same cell together, because TV.)
Despite the fact they have apparently had no contact whatsoever with the Federation, the separatists have somehow managed to figure out how to intercept the transporter beam, and how to implant interrogation devices that are supposed to help the captors read the prisoners’ thoughts — but instead link them telepathically to each other.
It’s a silly premise, but forgivable because it’s so much fun watching Jean-Luc and Beverly reacting to each other’s fleeting thoughts (a fear of heights; hunger), and then later when Beverly realizes Picard is pretending to be confident when he’s actually guessing. A visit to the familiar cave set, and some sneaking around outside sets up a really touching fireside conversation where, prompted by access to each other’s thoughts, Picard and Crusher get personal.
Picard admits he felt guilty falling in love with his best friend’s wife, so he never acted on his feelings. Over time, he gradually fell out of love with Beverly, and now they are friends.
Riker meanwhile deals with the leaders of two comically paranoid factions. While nobody is going to think of this plot will make or break the story, it’s still a decent bit of political intrigue that fleshes out how the Federation works.
After Crusher and Picard are rescued but still telepathically linked, they apparently share snarky thoughts about Riker.
A final scene brings up the possibility that now that they have put all their emotional cards on the table, it’s up to them to decide what to do next. A very sweet scene has a sliding door whooshing shut to part them as friends, but each pauses thoughtfully on the other side of the door before moving on.
Oh, my heart!
The two are still obviously meant for each other, but the show runners are doing the right thing by keeping the romance a possibility, so that we will keep rooting for them.
TNG was such an optimistic show, which insisted that humans are capable of overcoming their differences and working together; that’s one reason why I’ve enjoyed re-visiting the series so much, and why I’m going to be sad when I finish my rewatch.