The episode begins with Data exploring the human condition through acting in a Shakespearean play. Captain Picard is giving Data some constructive criticism when he is notified by Commander Riker that a Romulan scout vessel is being pursued in the Neutral Zone. The scout vessel is under attack by a Romulan war bird, and they are approaching Federation space. The Enterprise moves to intercept the ship, causing the Warbird to cloak and return to Romulan space. The occupant of the ship is brought aboard the Enterprise, and claims he is Sub-Lieutenant Setal, an insignificant logistics clerk seeking to defect to the Federation after coming across information about a secret Romulan installation on the planet Nelvana III, within the Neutral Zone, that could sustain a large Romulan fleet.
Picard and his crew remain skeptical of Setal's claims when he refuses to provide them with any more evidence, and Picard orders an investigation of Setal's reliability while the Federation relays to the Enterprise that the Romulans are seeking Setal's return. When Setal's ship auto-destructs, the crew is forced to review the records of Setal's arrival, and believe that the Romulans arranged Setal as part of an elaborate hoax. Picard refuses to enter the Neutral Zone on the baseless claims.
Setal confides to Data that his defection came at a heavy price, that he will never be able to see Romulus or his family again; Data attempts to alleviate Setal's feelings by taking him to a holodeck representation of Romulus. Setal dismisses the hologram and reveals that he is actually Admiral Jarok, a high-ranking officer who previously had led a vicious campaign against several Federation outposts near the Neutral Zone. Jarok again beseeches Picard to investigate Nelvana III, but Picard refuses, and demands either Jarok provide the full information or he will be damned as a traitor. Jarok gives in to Picard's request, and gives detailed tactical information to Picard. Picard orders the Enterprise to Nelvana III.
When they arrive, the crew finds the planet completely barren with no evidence of any installation, to Jarok's surprise. Unexpectedly, two Romulan war birds uncloak and fire upon the Enterprise. Picard realizes that Jarok was used as a pawn by the Romulans, feeding him disinformation to lure the Federation into the Neutral Zone and at the same time disgrace Jarok. Picard had already taken precautions for this possibility as three Birds of Prey, sent by the Klingons by Worf (at the recommendation of Picard), de-cloak and trap the Warbirds. The Enterprise is allowed to leave the Neutral Zone without incident. As they leave the Neutral Zone, the crew finds that Jarok has committed suicide leaving behind a note for his family, and Picard comments on Jarok's strength of conviction for change to end the Federation-Romulan conflict as the episode closes.
In addition to his regular role of Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart also played the role of the holodeck character of "Michael Williams" from Shakespeare'sHenry V, Act 4, Scene I, in the opening scenes of the episode. Stewart requested this out of his love for Shakespeare--Stewart is himself a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stewart uses a regional English accent from the 'Black Country', an area between Birmingham and Wolverhampton; his version is of the strong 'Gornal' variety of Black Country accent.
This is the second episode to be written by Ronald D. Moore, and the episode that earned him a position on the show's writing staff. Moore would go on to have a long association with Star Trek, staying with Star Trek: The Next Generation through its final season and then moving to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where he would eventually become a co-executive producer. Moore would also later co-write the first two feature films based on The Next Generation, Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact.