|Making first contact.|
Picard chases the Borg back through time... No wait, wrong First Contact.
The Enterprise is on a First Contact mission to Malcor III, a planet on the cusp of developing warp technology. Before making contact, it is standard procedure to gather as much information about the civilization as possible. To that end, Enterprise studies broadcasts from the planet. There are also Starfleet personnel who have been cosmetically altered to resemble the Malcorians. Riker is superficially altered to resemble them in order to coordinate efforts with them, as Picard prepares to personally contact the Malcorian Chancellor (George Coe).
When Riker gets caught in a riot, he is injured and loses contact with his ship. He is taken to a local hospital, where the doctors quickly realize that he is not a Malcorian. Now he must find a way to escape before the state security forces are contacted - something which could complicate Picard's First Contact, and make it impossible for Riker to ever escape alive!
Capt. Picard: This episode sees him in full diplomat mode. He deals with Mirasta (Carolyn Seymour) and the Chancellor pleasantly and with as much openness as is pragmatic. When Mirasta warns him against telling the Chancellor of Riker's situation, Picard heeds her warning - something he later admits was a mistake. He is frank in taking responsibility for the error, and he and Chancellor Durken seem like ready-made friends. He is also understanding of the Chancellor's decision at the end. Patrick Stewart is at his best in episodes like this, showing Picard's intelligence and diplomatic skill, and it's refreshing to see the meat of the episode devoted to Picard interacting in this way with equally intelligent guest characters.
Riker: Gets the Kirk treatment, as he catches the eye of a nurse (Bebe Neuwirth) who is effectively a UFO nut, and who demands that Riker make love to her in order for her to help him escape. Riker - if you're actually attempting to dissuade her, talking about how "there are differences... in the way we make love," probably was not a good choice. Outside of adding another notch to his belt (no wonder he gained weight - He needed a bigger belt for storage), Riker has a pretty good episode. He remains calm, attempting at first to brazen out his situation by pretending that all of his biological differences from the Malcorians are simple birth defects before finally attempting escape.
First Contact is a surprisingly good episode. Parts of it almost seem to be the flip-side of Season Three's Who Watches the Watchers, particularly when Picard takes Mirasta aboard Enterprise to introduce himself and his technology to her. The scenes in which Picard interacts with her and with Chancellor Durken showcase some thoughtful, intelligent writing and also some very good acting by Patrick Stewart, Carolyn Seymour, and George Coe.
These scenes are so good, I almost regret the need for the "Riker-in-jeopardy" subplot. Not that the Riker scenes are at all bad. Frakes is on good form, and Riker's attempts to stick to his (weak) cover story while trying to escape are believable in context. But the intelligent drama centering around Picard and the Chancellor is simply much more interesting. I can't help but wonder how this episode might have played with the entire show from the point of view of the Chancellor and his inner circle, with no Riker subplot, just the drama of the first contact situation itself to fuel the episode. But that would probably have been too much of a departure for TNG to attempt, even in a period in which the show has become much more experimental than in its early days.
An enjoyable departure from the norm, in any case, with at least as much time devoted to the well-developed and well-acted guest characters as to the main cast. A good episode that falls just short of being a great one.
Overall Rating: 8/10