As Riker and Troi discuss crew evaluation reports in Ten Forward, we spend time with four junior officers who would normally get a few lines each. We already know Nurse Ogawa and Ensign Sito (one of the cadets who obstructed an investigation in s5e13 “The First Duty“). Lavelle is a square-jawed Dudley Do-Right and Taurik is a Vulcan with a dry wit. With their friend Ben (a gossipy civilian waiter) they look on as the series regulars sometimes encourage, and sometimes check their ambitions.
After a drill session on the bridge, where RIker offers a tip to the hesitant Sito but snaps at Lavelle for chirping “aye aye” instead of just “aye,” the senior staff heads into the briefing room, but we stay with the junior officers.
Taurik doesn’t take the cue that LaForge is too distracted and annoyed to listen to his brilliant ideas.
In sickbay, Crusher supports Ogawa both professionally and personally, asking about her ongoing romance with the still-unseen Lt. Powell.
In Ten Forward, Worf is still his usual stiff self, but he is offering thoughtful, friendly support to Sito.
After encouragement from Ben, Lavelle decides to try to get to know Riker — and fails miserably. I hadn’t seen this episode in almost 30 years and my own social anxiety made me have to fast-forward through a scene that I remember as painfully funny.
Lavelle is at the helm when the Enterprise encounters an escape pod. Taurik is working efficiently in engineering but LaForge shuts him down when he offers to identify the life form inside: “Nobody told you to do that, ensign.”
Crusher asks Ogawa to leave sickbay before the occupant of the life pod arrives. Sito is posted outside as a guard. When Riker declines Lavelle’s request to work an extra shift, and Picard orders Sito to follow him, the camerawork encourages us to focus on Lavelle’s disappointment and Sito’s nervous elation.
When Picard brings up Sito’s academy misconduct and chews her out, and when LaForge gets annoyed once again at Taurik’s clever inquiries, and when Crusher asks Ogawa to help her with a patient who turns out to be a Cardassian, we begin to realize the senior staff has a reason to be on edge.
During a poker game with the five young friends, Ben and Lavelle wonder aloud about what’s going on, but the others are quiet about the pieces of the puzzle they happen to know.
Meanwhile, the camera is cutting cleverly back and forth between this poker game and the senior staff at their own game, where they are talking about mentoring. Shortly after Troi convinces Riker that he’s being hard on Lavelle because they’re so much alike, LaForge excuses himself and drops by Taurik’s quarters, asking for his help. (Taurik shoots the others a surprised reaction (“He likes me!“); a really nice touch that wraps up his arc in this story.)
The next morning after a martial arts class, Worf repeatedly knocks over the blindfolded Sito until she complains, at which point he praises her courage. “Perhaps the next time you are judged unfairly, it will not take so many bruises for you to protest.”
And in the very next scene, a confident Sito confronts Picard, insisting to be judged on who she is now: “It’s not your place to punish me for what I did at the Academy.”
The plot takes a turn, as Picard tells Sito to join the senior staff at meeting, which also includes a Cardassian informant who needs someone to pose as a prisoner to bluff his way past the border guards. Of course, Sito volunteers.
A short but effective scene in the shuttle gives us all that we need to know about the Cardassian’s motives and backstory. When we see how impressed he is by Sito, we realize how much she has changed since we first met her as a cadet.
On my rewatch, I was impressed at how the writers worked the technobabble and the plot twists directly into the character development. We spent so much time watching the guest stars reacting to minor plot developments that it never felt like anything was info-dumped at us.
The final scene of Worf silently joining the young guest stars is a satisfying ending to an episode that features great writing, clever editing, and effective performances.