While in his quarters, Picard is taken from the ship by an alien energy beam and held in a room with three other hostages: Tholl, a peace-loving Mizarian; Haro, a Bolian and Starfleet Academy cadet; and Esoqq, a beast-like member of the Chalnoth race.

The situation in the cell becomes increasingly tense when the prisoners discover that their food supply is poisonous to Esoqq, who eyes his fellow captives hungrily. Picard, Esoqq and Haro attempt to rewire the circuitry in a wall panel to open the door to the room, but they're struck by a bolt of energy. The frustrated quartet begins to suspect each other, believing that one of the others may actually be their captor.

Meanwhile, on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, the false Picard arouses the suspicions of the crew when he begins acting strangely, ordering the ship off course, leading the crew in drinking songs and making romantic overtures to Dr. Crusher. But when Riker finds traces of a sophisticated replicator in Picard's chambers and learns that the captain has led the U.S.S. Enterprise perilously close to a star emitting radiation, he overrides Picard's orders and takes command of the ship. Despite being called mutinous by the false Picard, the crew stands by Riker.

Back in the holding cell, the real Picard deduces that Haro is the captor among them. When she tries to deny the accusation, Picard points out that she exhibited knowledge of classified Starfleet information that would not be available to a cadet.

With that, Haro suddenly metamorphosizes into three identical aliens who are linked telepathically. The aliens explain that they were merely conducting an experiment to study leadership qualities among different species, since their race has no distinctions of authority. When one of the aliens accompanies Picard back to the U.S.S. Enterprise, the false Picard metamorphosizes into another alien.

Furious that he's been used as a guinea pig and that the lives of his crew have been needlessly endangered, Picard captures the two aliens in a forcefield. By this act, he is able to show how effective leadership really works and also that kidnapping is immoral. The point made, Picard send the aliens on their way.