Spoiler Level: High
This episode has a lot going for it. For starters, there's the USS Yamato, and not as an illusion this time but the real thing. Even though she blows up before the opening credits, it's still nice to see it. Heck, it's nice to finally see another Galaxy-class ship. We only saw Constitution-class ships in the original Trek (because they couldn't afford to make different ships), yet we rarely got to see other Galaxy-class ships in Next Gen & DS9. Any time another Federation ship was needed, we saw an Exclesior-class, a Miranda-class, or a Constellation-class. We never got to see another movie-style Constitution-class besides the Enterprise(s), ever. And when we did finally get to see other Galaxy class-ships, they'd always get blown up. Until they finally blew up the 1701-D herself and replaced her with the Sovereign-class 1701-E. Then they'd let the Galaxy-class ships not get blown up, but we never got to see another Sovereign-class ship. Or an Intrepid-class ship besides Voyager. It's like the producers forgot we were smart enough to understand that there's multiple ships of the same class. In fact, the two times we see the Yamato it's essential to the script that it be the same kind of ship as the Enterprise-- in "Where Silence Has Lease," what they think is the Yamato turns out to be Nagilum showing them a reflection of themselves, and here it sets up a threat to the Enterprise-- there may be a design flaw in all the Galaxy-class ships that might cause the Enterprise to blow up like the Yamato did.
But that's just me being a nit-picky fanboy because I love spaceships and I'm always hungry for more cool spaceship shots.
The other cool thing about this episode is that it introduces the legend of the Iconians, the lost race that used Gateways to travel to other worlds. The Iconian Gateways would come back in Deep Space Nine and in a huge crossover in the TrekLit novels, not to mention that the concept of traveling via a gateway instead of a starship would become the premise for 17 seasons of Stargate shows.
This episode also sets up several of Picard's more famous character traits: he orders his first Earl Grey tea, and we get his first mention of his love of archeology.
Watching this episode in light or recent world events, the scene of Wesley talking with Picard about the loss of the Yamato was very touching. The name Yamato is of course from Japan; it was a battleship in World War II, which was rebuilt into a spaceship in the classic anime Space Battleship Yamato, translated into Star Blazers in the US. So when Wesley talks about how he can't get the loss of all those lives off his mind, I couldn't help but think of all the tragedies that have struck Japan this week. I've also been shocked by the callousness of some people on the web (who shall remain nameless and linkless here, because imho they don't deserve the attention they've already received). Anyone who can look at such suffering and claim it's justified because of Pearl Harbor or even worse, that this is God somehow punishing the Japanese has lost the important part of being human. Wesley asks Picard how he's able to handle the loss of so many people so easily, and Picard replies it's never easy. "If ever the time comes when the death of a single individual fails to move us..." Well, he doesn't get to finish his thought because the replicator gives him a plotted plant instead of his Earl Grey tea. But I like to hope that this means humanity will outgrow the kinds of heartless sentiments I've been seeing now.