The U.S.S. Enterprise travels to the Klingon Empire, where Picard is to attend the installation of Gowron, the new Leader of the High Council. En route, the starship is intercepted by a Klingon ship bearing Gowron, who informs Picard that the Duras family is amassing a rebel faction and plotting civil war against the Empire. Duras, the slain challenger for leadership of the High Council, was responsible for Worf's discommendation and was also found guilty of conspiring with the Romulans. Based on the discommendation, Gowron asks Picard to ban the Duras family from the Council, but Picard insists that such action is beyond his jurisdiction.

Worf later asks Gowron to restore his family name, but Gowron refuses, claiming it would create further dissension among Council members. Arriving at the Empire, Worf requests a leave of absence and travels to a Klingon ship on which his brother Kurn serves as captain. Kurn informs Worf that he has created his own alliance that will defy Gowron and the Duras family. Worf, however, insists that Kurn remain loyal to the Klingon leadership, devising a plan to back Gowron in exchange for restoration of their family honor.

When Picard and Gowron appear before the High Council to prepare for the installation, the proceedings are interrupted by an announcement from the Duras sisters that Duras' illegitimate son Toral will challenge Gowron for leadership. A majority of the Council votes in favor of the challenge, and the matter is turned over to neutral arbiter Picard for consideration. Later, the Duras sisters, Lursa and B'Etor, meet secretly with a Romulan general and a mysterious woman to discuss their plan to gain control of the Empire. The sisters invite Picard to their home to persuade him that a favorable vote for Toral is in the Federation's best interest. Picard skillfully expresses his grasp of the situation and his awareness of a possible Romulan alliance, and the following day informs the High Council that he has rejected Toral as a candidate. One by one, the Council members step to Toral's side to show their support.

Worf then meets with Gowron on his ship, offering the support of several Klingon warships in return for the restoration of his family's honor. Gowron insists on Federation help, but Worf refuses to involve Picard. As Gowron goads Worf about his divided loyalty, their ship is attacked by rebels loyal to the Duras family. Observing the battle from the U.S.S. Enterprise, Picard receives a plea for help from Gowron's ship. The captain's response is to order the U.S.S. Enterprise out of the combat area rather than drag the Federation into a civil war. Meanwhile, on board the Klingon ship, Worf is able to fend off the attackers until his brother's ship arrives and the rebel ships disengage. Gowron immediately proceeds with the installation, at which Picard is in attendance, restoring Worf's family honor immediately after the ceremony. Worf then beseeches Picard to intervene in the insurrection on behalf of Gowron, but Picard stands by his commitment to stay out of Klingon internal affairs. Picard then orders Worf to return to the U.S.S. Enterprise, leaving a torn Worf to ponder whether he will remain with Starfleet or return to his people.