Tony Wilkins reviews the Star Trek The Next Generation episode “The Pegasus”
Admiral Eric Pressman of Starfleet Intelligence arrives aboard the USS Enterprise with a secret mission for Picard and Riker. Pressman and Riker’s former ship, the USS Pegasus, once presumed destroyed has resurfaced and is in danger of falling in to Romulan hands. While the Enterprise searches an asteroid belt (with a Romulan Warbird close by) Picard begins to uncover that there was a mutiny onboard the Pegasus before it was destroyed and that Riker is deliberately hiding facts from him leading to one of their most fiery confrontations of the whole series. Upon discovering the Pegasus the Enterprise-D becomes trapped inside an asteroid after the entrance is closed off by the Romulans. It is then Riker finally reveals the truth; the Pegasus was testing an interphasic cloaking device in violation of a treaty the Federation signed in good faith. Picard fits the device to the Enterprise-D and uses it to escape the asteroid but not before revealing the truth to the Romulans.
“The Pegasus” is one of my all time favorite episodes of The Next Generation. It is one of the most military episodes that the show ever made and the whole affair plays out like a classic Cold War submarine story such as “The Hunt For Red October”. Like the Tom Clancy novel there is a new weapon that both sides are trying to get their hands on. Ron Moore who wrote the episode actually cited “Raise the Titanic” as his primary inspiration for the story and we can clearly see the comparison.
This episode would not have been so interesting had it not been for Terry O’Quinn’s guest performance as Pressman. O’Quinn had been used to playing a high ranking US Navy officer as a recurring guest star in JAG and so brought the authoritarian persona with him quite well. Pressman joins the long list of Starfleet Admirals who have gone mad but it was O’Quinn’s performance that made this one all the more believable and give a higher quality to the role. At times he makes some valid points which gives you some sympathy with the character although that sympathy soon disperses when you hear that he is quite remorseless about the loss of his former crew in trying to achieve the goal of giving Starfleet cloaking technology. A little known fact is that there were efforts to have O’Quinn reprise the role in future episodes of Deep Space Nine although that ultimately failed to blossom.
While this has been cited as one of Jonathan Frakes’ best episodes I have always seen it more as one of Picard/Riker’s best. The conflict that arises between the two over Riker’s refusal to reveal the truth to Picard is what makes this so fascinating to watch. Given that it was the last season the two actors now knew how to work off one another and it showed brilliantly. The scene in Picard’s quarters is one of the most tense moments between them ever seen on screen. It’s interesting to note that while Gene Roddenberry was alive he strictly opposed such character conflict believing humans had evolved beyond such petty arguments. This is why there was little character conflict in the early seasons but writers such as Moore felt this limited their ability to tell good stories and I have to admit that judging by this episode and a few others I have to agree. Even with our closest friends and colleagues there will be times we wont agree and to be true to life you have to show this.
One of my favorite scenes was watching Picard talking to the Romulan commander when the Enterprise arrives in the asteroid field. It has all the usual political double talk with both sides not saying much directly but indirectly there is a mutual understanding of the rules of the game. It really enforces my opinion that this plays out like a good Cold War story. It’s like the Soviets saying “we’re JUST conducting a test of our newest missile” when in reality what they are saying is “look at our newest missile; if you cause trouble this is coming your way.”
Perhaps the biggest contribution to the Star Trek universe this episode makes is the revelation about why when Starfleet often appears more technologically advanced than either the Klingons or Romulans do they not have cloaking technology? The real reason from a writer’s perspective is that cloaking technology is seen as a tool of the villain but having a treaty prohibiting the technology was a good way of explaining it in-context even if it does feel a little stretched. Sticking to the Cold War analogy it would be akin to the US signing a treaty preventing it from deploying nuclear missile submarines. I loved the fact that the cloaking device itself is largely transparent; it’s like saying even the components are cloaked. An interesting sidenote is that in the expanded universe of the Star Trek:Titan novels it is revealed that all Federation ships carry schematics for building cloaking devices hidden within their databanks should the Romulans ever start a war thereby nullifying the Treaty of Algeron. This is similarly implied on-screen in the final episode of The Next Generation, “All Good Things” where in the future scenes the Romulan Empire is under Klingon occupation and as such Federation starships now have cloaks.
I do have to pick some faults with the episode though in the interests of fairness. Being a technogeek my first complaint was the USS Pegasus itself. I know they had to use a previously established class as a cost saving measure but why the Oberth-class? It is probably the most uninteresting Starfleet design ever. Given that Pressman describes the ship as a prototype technology testbed for systems installed aboard ships like the Enterprise-D wouldn’t it have made more sense to use the Ambassador-class model or even an Excelsior-class to imply the common belief that modernized Excelsiors were still being built in the mid 24th century (which explains why 80 years after the original Excelsior there are still vast numbers of the class in service and still putting up a good performance against the Dominion). Apparently a new design was considered hence Pressman’s line but this was dropped at the last minute on cost grounds.
My second criticism of the episode comes with the scene where the Enterprise goes inside the asteroid. I understand the reasoning behind it with regards to the story and drama but was it really necessary to endanger the crew and their families (who seem to be onboard occasionally by this point) like that? Surely it would have made more sense to separate the saucer section and take the engineering hull in. This would have the advantage of reducing the mass of the ship so the engines wouldn’t have to work so hard in the gravitational sheer and keeping the vast majority of the crew/families out of danger. The real answer of course is that this would not make for good storytelling because the separated saucer section could have prevented the Romulans from sealing Picard and co. inside the asteroid.
Those things being said; I can overlook them. This was a fascinating story and is one that perhaps best plays out better as a repeat when you feel like you too are now hiding the secret of the cloak along with Riker and Pressman. Would I have wanted to see Pressman again? No, it is better to have appeared in one good episode than in several possibly mediocre ones and Terry O’Quinn’s performance will leave this episode a legend in its own right. Its just a shame it was sullied by the last episode of Star Trek:Enterprise.
Thanks for reading…