the story: Riker's old commanding officer brings back ghosts from the past, and a secret Federation cloaking device.
what it's all about: What's baffling to me is that fans have such a hard time appreciating Enterprise's series finale, "These Are the Voyages..." They've cooked up this malarkey that it's somehow more of a Next Generation episode, because Riker and Troi play supporting roles in it, viewing Archer's crew in their holodeck. What they so often fail to distinguish is that the Riker/Troi sequences are part of a different episode, "The Pegasus."
This is like trying to argue that Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations" isn't a stone cold classic because it features scenes from the original series' "The Trouble with Tribbles," or to a lesser extent, that Voyager's "Flashback" is unworthy of some distinction because it draws heavily on certain elements from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (both episodes were part of Star Trek's 30th anniversary celebration in 1996).
Listen, if you reference a classic episode, and that's exactly what "The Pegasus" is, and you manage to say something significant about it, which "These Are the Voyages..." does, it's really hard to argue what fans somehow have argued, for more than a decade.
"The Pegasus" is kind of the Riker episode Next Generation spent seven seasons trying to find. Not just the idea that Riker never became a captain in all that time, but his troubled relationship with authority (Picard notwithstanding, which I think was the whole point of their dynamic, though it was never really spelled out as such), and how his early career was spent desperately trying to be the perfect officer (he even gave up Troi!), and finding that this was difficult even in a so-called utopia like Gene Roddenberry envisioned the future. In fact, if you ever wanted to figure out how Next Generation changed the finish line of utopia from where Roddenberry originally placed it, "The Pegasus" is the place to look. It crystalized years of storytelling for the series and led to great storytelling in subsequent series. (Fans have an equally tough time making peace with Janeway making peace with the Maquis, and vice versa, so easily in Voyager, but I think it can be summed up with a viewing of "The Pegasus.")
So what does "These Are the Voyages..." have to say about "The Pegasus?" Well, the Enterprise episode is all about the ability to trust your superior officer. Trip ends up taking a unique interpretation of trust when he sacrifices himself to save Archer. In a way, that's what Riker thinks he's doing in "The Pegasus." Picard ("Lower Decks" just a few episodes later makes this very clear) could sometimes be a little high-minded, aloof, in his judgments of the crew, or at least appear to be, which no doubt always made it hard to face him. Riker not only has to come clean about something from his past, but withholding information from the present as well. In his mind, he's sacrificing himself in order for Picard to get to do the right thing.
It's perhaps too easy to interpret the episode as Riker doing the right thing. He already did the right thing, originally, and now he's being asked to do it again. The choice, however, is not ultimately his. This isn't Miles O'Brien in "The Wounded," talking an old commanding officer out of something. This isn't about whether or not Starfleet should have cloaking devices. This is about Picard taking an active stance on the issue. So often, in what would have only been conversational material in the original series, Picard was forced to accept the moral ambiguities of the universe, the very definition of adhering to the Prime Directive. Here he's backed into a corner as never before. And his first officer has disappointed him for the first time.
This is a Picard episode as much as a Riker episode. This is about the two of them finally coming to terms with one another. "The Best of Both Worlds" is often misunderstood as a Picard story, when in fact it's Riker's. It's appropriate that the dynamics finally change when they're forced to confront each other once again.
It's a big, big moment, one of the most important ones in the whole of franchise lore. So of course it's worthy of a follow-up. I mean, if the tribbles...! (Incidentally, that's also why Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness can comfortably coexist, and all other happy echoes. That's just good storytelling. It's call narrative renascence.)
- franchise - Oh, it's important all the way around.
- series - So definitely for the series itself.
- character - For Riker, for Picard.
- essential - Kind of the high point of the season, at the very least, eh?