Wesley must complete his Starfleet Academy entrance exams and is booked by shuttle to travel to a nearby starbase. Picard goes along with him when Pulaski orders him to have heart surgery at the starbase's medical facility, for reasons Picard would like to keep as quiet as possible. With Riker in command, the Enterprise answers the distress call from a disabled ship of Pakleds, a race of humanoids that might best be described as ... slow. Riker agrees to send Geordi to repair their engines.
Our attention is flagged when Worf repeatedly urges caution in answering a call from a race the Enterprise knows nothing about. The Pakleds seem harmless, even stupid, but it might all be a ruse. Then again, maybe not. The fact that they feel confident (as Troi intuits) and not helpless might be beside the point when considering their intelligence. Riker finds himself managing a potentially deadly standoff when the Pakleds take Geordi's phaser and hold him hostage, demanding all of the data in the Enterprise's computer.
Even though the episode is always watchable, the problem is that the Pakleds should never have gotten the upper hand in the first place — not based on what we see of their intelligence. The standoff is created by the Enterprise's own shortsightedness: For example, why would they send Geordi over with a phaser just so it can be used against him? Besides, I find the plausibility of the Pakleds dubious. They're either too smart or too dumb to be behaving this way, and for a long time the episode doesn't know which. How could they have stolen so many others' technology using similar ruses? Somehow, I don't see the Klingons or Romulans caving in to a hostage standoff, or even being Good Samaritans that could become the victim of such a ruse in the first place. The Enterprise's solution to the problem is an elaborate con that proves my point: If the Pakleds are dumb enough to be taken in by such ham-handed trickery, they couldn't possibly be able to travel through space in the first place.
The subplot involving Wesley and Picard is actually pretty good, mostly because of the issue of Picard's image. He doesn't want to have surgery on the Enterprise — and, for that matter, his whole dilemma involving his artificial heart is established with a wonderfully told piece of backstory that brings a whole new dimension to his character.
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