When aliens link them telepathically, Picard and Crusher are forced to confront feelings for one another they have buried for years.
Plot Summary: When Picard and Crusher beam down to Kesprytt to evaluate the unusual request of the Kes to join the Federation without the consent of the xenophobic Prytt, their transporter beam is diverted to a Prytt prison cell, where a Prytt leader named Lorin tells them that they are charged with conspiring with the enemy – the Kes. The Prytt have put implants into Picard and Crusher’s necks that are designed to align with their thought patterns and reveal their motives. To the captain and doctor’s surprise, the implants also begin to allow them to sense one another’s thoughts. Riker sets up a meeting with the Kes leader, Mauric, who comes on board the Enterprise with a full security team, fearful of Prytt spying. Mauric wants to invade the Prytt capitol to rescue Picard and Crusher, but Riker insists on trying diplomacy before force. Lorin rebuffs his attempts to contact her people, threatening to attack the Enterprise if further attempts are made. Meanwhile, Picard and Crusher find a tricorder hidden in a platter that’s supposed to hold prison food and use it to escape, though the map newly added to the directory is vague and leads them along a dangerous path. The link between them is growing stronger, and when they try to separate, they become incapacitated. While camping under the stars, Picard and Crusher discuss their pasts and admit not only that they both knew an attraction had existed between them, but that Picard had been in love with Crusher while she was married to his best friend. Mauric tells Riker that he has an operative in Prytt territory looking for them, but when Picard and Crusher see the man in a Prytt uniform, they hide. Their disappearance leads Mauric to suspect that the pair are conspiring with the Prytt. Stymied and frustrated, Riker has Lorin beamed aboard without permission and forces Mauric to negotiate with her, though neither has useful information about Picard or Crusher’s location and both believe the other is in secret negotiations to get weapons from the Federation. Riker informs them that he is certain the Kes will be denied Federation membership and warns Lorin that if she isn’t more helpful, dozens of Starfleet ships will arrive to look for the missing officers, making contact with many of the Prytt. Though she is reluctant to help, the Enterprise receives a signal that Picard and Crusher have been found by the Prytt at the Kes border, and Lorin has their coordinates sent to the ship so they can be beamed back. Later, Picard and Crusher agree that they’re relieved not to be reading each other’s minds but they also miss the intimacy of the experience. Picard believes they should pursue this relationship, but Crusher says that perhaps they should not, and tells Picard good night.
Analysis: It should surprise no one who reads these reviews regularly when I say that I’m an even bigger ‘shipper than I am a sci-fi fan. The X-Files was primarily about Mulder/Scully for me, not whether the truth was out there, and it took me till the Ninth Doctor to really become a Doctor Who fan because that was the first time I loved the companion as much as the Doctor (please note: I missed Sarah Jane Smith the first time around, or it might have happened much earlier). While I’d never claim that I love Star Trek only for the relationships, the things I’ve loved most passionately about each show has been primarily relationship-centered (Kirk/Spock, Janeway/Chakotay, the myriad wonderful interactions of Deep Space Nine from Garak/Bashir to Kira/Odo), and I’ve often wondered if part of my lack of adoration for Next Gen the first time around was frustration with the lack of relationship development, or at least the glacial pace of it. “Attached” represents everything that irritates me about intimacy in the first of the Star Trek sequels, so even though I enjoy the performances of Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with the direction or pacing of the episode, most of what I’m about to say concerns this long-simmering gripe.
We’ve known that Picard and Crusher had a complicated past since “Encounter at Farpoint.” We’ve known since the episode just after the pilot, “The Naked Now,” that with her inhibitions repressed, Crusher can’t keep her hands off Picard. We’ve known since the early Wesley Crusher series takeover that Picard has messy feelings about the entire Crusher family, that he carries around a load of guilt for Jack’s death, that he can’t decide whether to treat Wesley as a son or push him away the way he keeps all children at arm’s length, and we’ve known through Q’s meddling, plus the presence of Jenice, Kamala, Nella Daren, et al, that Picard has major issues integrating how he sees himself as a Starfleet officer with his ability to carry on an intimate relationship. We’ve known that on multiple occasions – “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “Remember Me” – when Crusher thought she was going to die, she’s started to tell Picard that there’s something she needs to say, only to be cut off. These aren’t two people who haven’t spent any time playing what-if or working out what they might say if the right moment ever arose, and they’re neither naive nor unfamiliar with one another; we’ve seen that they’re close enough as friends to have serious arguments about work and about the philosophy behind that work, yet continue to have social breakfasts together. As we learn in “Attached,” in fact, they both value those breakfasts so much that they’re willing to eat things they don’t like just to make the other one happy. There’s no way both these characters haven’t played out scenarios in their minds where someone didn’t leave after dinner or someone arrived earlier than breakfast, in a wouldn’t-it-be-fun sense or a happily-ever-after sense, even if there are practical reasons why it might be a bad idea to take it out of the realm of fantasy.
Now we get a scenario where Picard and Crusher are joined at the brain. If you discovered that someone could read your mind, what’s the first thing you’d think about – after “Oh my god, isn’t there some way I can get this person to stop reading my mind or at least to control what they see?”? Snape in Harry Potter is so worried about what Harry might see that he takes certain thoughts out of his mind during Occlumency lessons and stores them in a Pensieve, which seems much more like normal human behavior to me than the absolute lack of concern shown by Picard and Crusher, even if they’d had no personal secrets. Everyone has embarrassing anecdotes from the distant past they wouldn’t want their best friend or their spouse reading in their thoughts, and everyone has occasional irritated thoughts about their nearest and dearest that it’s just as well the nearest and dearest can’t hear. Joined at the brain with someone, no matter who, and even if Prytt agents were chasing me, I’d be wavering between “Oh no, I better not think about how I’ve pictured you naked!” and “Oh no, I’d better not think about how much I hate it when you pick your teeth!” or something very similar. Picard may have wonderful discipline over his words and actions, but I simply don’t believe he has similar discipline over his innermost thoughts – not if he’s human. Yet even though I’d expect the first thing to enter Picard’s mind upon learning of the connection with Beverly would be, “Oh no, I’d better think about anything except the fact that I was in love with Beverly while she was my best friend’s wife,” Picard is entirely focused on escape, then on figuring out what they can eat, then on Crusher’s sense of humor, then on the fact that they both like to watch fire. It isn’t until Crusher actually mentions Jack that Picard remembers he doesn’t want to think about how he was in love with her.
That would have been fine if the episode were coming out of a context and heading toward a resolution where that was firmly in the past. If we’d never had an inkling before of unresolved attraction/passion/sexual tension, if Picard could shake his head at himself and say he knows now if was youthful folly, if Crusher’s inclination was to blush and say oh dear and try to change the subject, then it might be plausible that this secret from the past could surface and lead to a moment of awkwardness and then, a few hours later, easy smiles and jokes. But this is something that’s been lurking, not even dormant, for a lot of years; we’ve seen Crusher jealous when Picard had Jenice on board, we’ve seen Picard open up to Crusher in a way he never opens up to anyone else on the ship, we’ve been made aware of the possibilities (dramatic as well as personal) of a deeper relationship between them. Crusher is inconsistent; first she wants to talk about it, she doesn’t understand why he never told her that he was in love with her, then she wants to sleep, and apparently doesn’t want to think about it any more. She seems more flustered than Picard, who’s usually the one knocked off his game by a big emotional scene he can’t avoid. They’re back to being professional the next morning – they have to be, since Prytt agents are chasing them – and when they’re trapped on either side of the Kes border, with the situation looking as if they might be separated, there’s no “Jean-Luc, I have something to tell you” moment, even though it’s precisely the sort of scenario where we’d have seen one in an earlier episode.
Has something changed? Picard seems to think so; his quarters are lit by candlelight when Crusher comes by after they’re rescued, they’re drinking wine, he’s not embarrassed by her flirting, not even when she implies that she saw some suggestive things in his mind while he was dreaming. But when he takes up the obvious line of questioning after she tells him so, asking whether they should stop being afraid to explore these feelings, she says that perhaps they should be afraid, and flees the room without any further explanation. As frustrating as this must be for Picard, it’s equally frustrating for viewers. When did Beverly Crusher turn into a coward? I don’t mean because she thinks they shouldn’t hop into bed together – there are a lot of good reasons for that, the foremost being that if he couldn’t face the possibility of having to order Nella Daren to risk death while she was his lover, how much worse would it be with Crusher, whom he has known for much longer and for whose husband’s death he holds himself responsible. There are chain-of-command issues, there are interpersonal issues involving the people they work with, there’s the fact that Crusher’s son may hold Picard responsible for his failure to graduate from the Academy…lots of things they could talk about. But Crusher doesn’t want to talk. It’s like she wants verbal confirmation that Picard desires her, and once she’s got that, she’s not interested in any kind of reciprocal sharing or even in saying it’s nice to know but she needs time to think. We’ve seen that Crusher is very careful with her feelings and a bit conservative – she wouldn’t give Odan a chance in a woman’s body – and if I don’t read her exit as timid, then it looks insensitive to Picard’s feelings, so I’d rather assume she’s scared.
Which, maybe, is a good moment to look at the episode as a whole. The Kes think they’re ready to join the Federation, yet they’re incapable of dealing with outsiders without paranoia that almost seems like teenage “who do you love” competitiveness – they suspect Starfleet has asked the Prytt to the prom as well. The Prytt, meanwhile, have no interest in being courted or even spoken to, and react to a simple “hello” by threatening to pull out their weapons. Riker tries to be friendly to both, then realizes that neither respects him for it and both take it to mean he’s waiting to see who’d make the best companion, so he resorts to condescension and warnings instead; it works well enough to get Picard and Crusher back, but so far as we know, the Enterprise leaves without knowing whether their visit might have sparked a civil war or a new alliance. (Do the Kes and Prytt get nauseous when they move apart?) I understand that we’re not supposed to take this planet and its problems overly seriously, they aren’t the focus of the story, but the Kes/Prytt situation is left as unresolved as the Picard/Crusher situation. Don’t we deserve a little closure? Two decades on, we still haven’t got it; oh, Picard and Crusher married and divorced in the series finale, and married in some of the Pocket Books novels and in countless fan fiction stories. But unlike their colleagues Riker and Troi, they seem destined for eternal might-have-been status – for themselves and for us.