Having dropped Deanna Troi‘s shuttlecraft off at Starbase G-6, the USS Enterprise-D is fortunately close to the Sigma III solar system, when its Federation colony transmits an urgent call for medical help. An accidental explosion has devastated a mining operation there. There are 504 colonists at the site.
En route to the mining colony at warp 9.1, the Enterprise is once again trapped in Q‘s force field grid. Q appears as an Aldebaran serpent on the bridge of the Enterprise, and informs the bridge crew that the Q Continuum, after studying their recent contact with Humanity, are mostly impressed by them and wishes to discuss it. Picard urgently asks to wait until they’ve completed their mission, but Q demands he abandon it. He then changes into a Starfleet admiral.
Q starts mocking PIcard, and notices that Riker is somewhat amused by it. Riker says that he might find it amusing if they weren’t on a mission to save suffering humans. Q retorts that humans are always suffering and dying, just as Worf starts to advance on Q. Picard stops him, giving Q the opportunity to mock Worf as well.
Picard again says that he will listen to Q’s offer of the realization of their “impossible dreams,” but only following their rescue mission. Q wonders why Picard doesn’t trust him, and Picard begins to tell him, angrily and at length. After Q mocks Picard some more, he turns to ask Riker what he finds of Q’s offer. Riker says that they do not have time for Q’s “games,” which triggers Q’s excitement.
He transports Riker, Data, La Forge, Yar, and Worf off the bridge to a class M planetoid, appearing before them in the uniform of a Napoleonic marshal. Picard is left alone and unable to contact anyone in the ship, nor access any of the turbolifts.
Q colorfully engages them in a Napoleonic-era campaign tent, offering Riker a drink that he identifies as “an old-fashioned lemonade” – incredibly so as he was just thinking about one. Drinks suddenly appear in the hands of the rest of the crew, seemingly their favourites. Everyone examines and tries their drink, except Worf who pointedly empties his glass and then smashes it to the ground.
Q declares that the point of his game will be to stay alive. He promises a great future for Humankind if they win, but something “disastrous” if they lose. Furthermore, the game will be completely unfair, brushing off fairness as a Human concept. Yar protests, and Q transports her away into a “penalty box,” but, unbeknownst to the crew, she is really back on the Enterprise. He says, that if anyone else violates the rules of the game, he will be put in the penalty box, displacing Tasha into nothingness.
Back on the Enterprise, Picard paces around the bridge, powerless to do anything. He laments that even the log entry system doesn’t work, as it feeds back and distorts his voice every time he tries to speak. Just then, Yar re-appears on the bridge and explains her situation to Picard. Being controlled by Q’s whims has left her off-balance and she is so fed up that she is on the verge of tears. Picard tries to comfort her, but she is ashamed of herself for even thinking about showing weakness, especially in front of Picard. Picard reassures her that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness, and Yar hints at what their relationship could be if he weren’t captain.
Suddenly, Q appears before Yar and Picard, apparently bored with the display the two officers have made, and says that Yar’s penalty is now over. While seated in the captain’s chair, he makes a starlog entry for Picard, explaining that the real intent of his game is to test whether the ship’s first officer is worthy of the greatest gift the Q can offer. They make a bet: Picard’s command against Q’s keeping out of Humanity’s path forever. Q then promptly tells Picard that he has already lost as Riker will be offered something impossible to refuse.
Meanwhile, down on the planetoid, Riker, Data, and La Forge discuss the situation while Worf gathers reconnaissance. Apparently, aliens dressed in 18th century French uniforms are heading their way, armed with ancient muskets.
Picard then confronts Q in his ready room. Q sits in his chair, reading one of Shakespeare‘s works. Picard asks why Q is demonstrating a “need” for Humans through this confrontation, instead of providing a simple, direct explanation, a statement of what he seeks. Through Q’s recitation, Picard understands that how Humans respond to a game tells him more about them. Q proposes to continue and quote some Hamlet for him. Picard refuses, and quotes him instead: “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel; in apprehension, how like a god…” Q stands up in objection from his chair, and responds that surely Picard doesn’t see Humanity like that. Picard answers that he sees Humanity as one day becoming like that, and perhaps that is what the Q fear. Q, obviously irritated by Picard, throws the large Shakespeare book at him and then disappears.
Back in Q’s game, Data explains that muskets are inferior to their phasers. The muskets, however, turn out to have phaser power. Q, appearing as Data before Riker, tells him that he now has the power of the Q, and is able to transport his crewmates back to the ship. He does so, and is amazed.
Back aboard Enterprise, all systems are again functioning, and the Q grid has disappeared. There is no sign anything happened, and no others noticed anything. Data, La Forge, and Worf appear back on the bridge, where Picard explains to them Q has shown some kind of interest in their first officer. But he has no idea why.
On the planetoid, Riker is laughing heartily about something, and Q becomes curious until Riker says that he’s laughing at him. Riker and Q discuss the powers Q has granted Riker. Interestingly, the rank insignia that Q now carries on his uniform is that of a Starfleet commander, implying they are now equals. Riker asks what Q wants from him. Q replies that the Continuum has granted them a gift, beyond all other gifts. Riker doesn’t understand what that means, and Q says that he never will until he becomes one of them. He explains that, before Farpoint Station, they saw Humanity as savages only. However, they discovered instead that Humans are unusual creatures, in their own limited ways. He also states that since Humans are constantly evolving, they may eventually become stronger than the Q one day. That’s why they have selected Riker to join the Q, to help them better understand the human need and hunger.
Riker rejects Q’s powers, and Q disappears. Suddenly, the bridge crew, including Picard but also Wesley Crusher, appear on the planetoid’s surface again, while they are approached by the soldier creatures Q created. Now unarmed, only Riker’s powers can save the crew now. Worf is stabbed by a bayonet from one of the animal soldiers, and after Crusher runs to his rescue, the acting ensign is killed as well. Frustrated and angry, Riker uses his new-found powers to create a Q-style force field around the soldiers, and transports the crew back to the Enterprise, healing Worf and Crusher in the process. Picard is stunned, claiming that only the Q can do what Riker did. Riker just stands there, arms crossed, looking smug.
The Enterprise, meanwhile, has arrived at the mining colony. In Picard’s ready room, Riker gives Picard his word that he will be strong enough not to use the power of the Q, no matter how hard Q makes it for him. An announcement from Data interrupts the conversation, advising Picard, that they are now in orbit of Quadra Sigma III. An away team beams down to the mining colony, and they find a small group of people seriously injured. La Forge finds a young child underneath some rocks. Dr. Crusher says it is too late, and that the child has died. Riker is faced with the dilemma of whether to bring the child back to life. He says that he is prevented from doing so by a promise. He shows his frustration to Picard on the Enterprise and surprisingly demands a meeting with the senior staff from him.
The senior staff, including Wesley, meets on the bridge. Riker explains that even though he has been granted unusual powers, he is not a monster, that he is still the same William Riker they know. Picard reminds him that he has already changed, for example, by not addressing him as captain. Riker doubts that his decision not to save the child was right, comparing it to when he saved the Enterprise crew earlier, however, Picard reminds him that that was a fiction Q created. He tries to convince Riker that the Q do not admire Humans, but that they have muddled Riker’s mind.
Then, Q appears as a medieval monk on the bridge, asking Riker, “are these truly your friends, brother?”
Standing serenely on the Bridge, Q – dressed as a monk – invites the crew to pray for understanding and compassion. Picard says he’ll do no such damn thing, and furiously asks Q why he takes on so many guises, “Have you no identity of your own?” Q retorts, “I forgive your blasphemy.” Picard actually seems highly amused by this, and asks Riker if he can see that Q is nothing more than a “flimflam man” – a charlatan. Q accuses Picard of jealousy, and asks how he can claim to be Riker’s friend if he’s obstructing him. Q then encourages Riker to demonstrate the love of his people by giving them a gift proving his affection. Picard thinks this is a great idea and supports Q’s plan, advising his crew that they may participate should they wish.
Dr. Crusher asks Wesley to leave with her. Riker, however, knowing that his young friend wishes he was older, turns Wesley into an adult, aging him ten years in an instant.
He offers to make Data Human, but the android declines, saying that it will never feel real to him. Data then quotes Shakespeare to drive his point home and says “this above all, to thine own self be true.“
Riker then walks to La Forge, granting him his vision. After taking in the view of Quadra Sigma III (and taking a long look at Tasha Yar’s “beautiful” face), La Forge also declines Riker’s gift, telling the commander that “the price is too high” and he does not like who he has to thank.
Riker then creates a Klingon female as a mate for Worf. Worf starts what I can only describe as some form of seduction ritual, which he punctuates by smacking her to the floor. She growls and approaches Worf on all fours before he seemingly comes to his senses and refuses the gift, claiming that there is no place for the female in his life.
Wesley also asks Riker to make him young again. It isn’t until Q says “But it’s easier, boy! Listen to Riker!” that Riker realizes his mistake. He admits he feels like a fool, and Picard comforts him by confirming that he should. Picard then walks up to Q, pulls off his hood and tells him to uphold their wager. Q stomps around the bridge, recalling no wager. Picard replies that his fellow Q will remember that because he failed to turn Riker, he’ll promise to stay out of Humanity’s way forever. Thunder sounds on the Enterprise bridge, and Q is abruptly called back to the Continuum, screaming for a second chance.
For the Enterprise crew, it is as if they had just returned from their rescue mission, like no time had passed in between. Data asks the captain how the Q can handle space and time so well, while they handle interactions with Humans so badly. Picard answers that they may one day learn that space and time are easier to handle than the Human equation.