The ship proceeds on course to a pulsar cluster, but soon receives a distress call from a ship and diverts to help. The crew of the vessel, called Pakleds, appear rather odd, speaking in slow, simplistic speech and apparently lacking any real understanding of how their ship works or what is going on. Geordi tries to give some instructions, but they seem at a loss to understand - there are no translation difficulties, it seems to be the case that the Pakled are simply not very bright. The engineer beams aboard to help directly, and begins to make some repairs.
On the shuttle, Wesley and Picard spend some hours in rather uncomfortable silence before finally starting to talk. They gradually begin to establish a rapport, and Picard tells Wesley about how he lost his original heart as a newly graduated officer when he got into a fight with some Nausicaans in a bar and was stabbed through the chest. Picard expresses some regret for his wild youth and the two begin to bond.
On the Enterprise Troi senses danger from the Pakled ship and rushes to warn Riker that Geordi is in trouble, but they use an energy weapon to stun him and claim him as a hostage, threatening Riker that they will kill him unless he gives them the contents of the Enterprise's computer.
Picard and Wesley arrive at the Starbase and the captain goes in for his surgery. At first all goes well, but complications begin to develop and despite the best efforts of the surgeons, soon become life threatening.
Back on the Enterprise Riker and Geordi devise a bluff. The Enterprise flushes a red gas from its Bussard collectors, which Geordi claims to be a "crimson forcefield" which disables the Pakled ship. The disappointed Pakled surrender and Geordi is returned. It transpires that this is how they survive - they do not build ships or technology themselves, they just send out distress calls and capture people for use in blackmail for technology and information. With the Pakled defeated, the Enterprise heads off at high warp in response to a message from the Starbase concerning Picard's condition.
The Captain wakes to find that his surgery has been successful thanks to the intervention of a little help, none other than Pulaski. Although miffed, he must accept that his crew have discovered his little secret.
The Pakled are one of things that are kind of realistic, but horrible on screen. If aliens exist the one thing we can reasonably expect is that they are going to be very different from Humans. A biology teacher of mine once said "Humans and Chimps are 98% identical on a genetic level... but don't get too excited about that, because Human genetics are about 60% identical to Bananas." I've no idea if that's accurate, but it makes the point - you and all other life on Earth share a common ancestor, have a common fundamental DNA basis. Imagine how different a being from a whole different planet would be! Yet Trek often shows us aliens who are so similar to Humans that they differ only in some minor point of philosophy, or perhaps a slightly different bone structure on their head. So to see aliens who are genuinely different is always fun. We often see beings who are claimed to be far more intelligent than Humans are, though strangely those beings often end up being outwitted. Still, when we only see those who are smarter, it leads to the question - are Humans the dumbest sentients in the galaxy? It seems unlikely.
So it's perfectly reasonable that there would be species around who are less intelligent than Humans. One might argue that if that's so, they wouldn't have space travel - but this is to confuse knowledge with intelligence. I, for example, am far more knowledgeable about the universe than Issac Newton ever lived to be, simply because I live in an age where I have easy access to vast stores of information on subjects that didn't even exist in his day. Yet I'd hardly say that I was more intelligent than he. If we were to meet somehow, he might very well be confused by how such a dullard as I could know how the sun works, or what the early universe was like. So it's at least somewhat reasonable that the Pakled could know how to build and work a warp drive, no matter how dumb they are.
But oh my, does all that just not work on screen. Instead, all it does is make the Enterprise-D crew look like idiots themselves for falling into the trap, and for taking so long to work out a way out of it. The Pakled are just awful on screen. There's no sense of threat from them, because they just come across as funny with their constant "we are smart. We look for things!"
Picard also doesn't come off great. Seriously, he thinks his crew will lose confidence in him if they know he has an artificial heart that needs replacing? It paints a pretty egotistical picture of how Picard thinks his crew view him, as this godlike figure of perfection. Little wonder that he agreed to "Captain Picard Day"!
Wesley... gawd. Well, for once he comes across as nervous, intimidated, kinda shy. All the things a kid his age should be around the almighty perfect Captain. Still, his character was so annoying to fans by this point that people are tempted to throw things at the screen every time he's on it. I try to be fair, I try to like it, but some part of me is wishing a Romulan Warbird would decloak and blow the shuttle to bits.
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