A team of Federation anthropologists, working in a camouflaged outpost on Mintaka III, have been observing the Mintakans — a race of Vulcan-like humanoids whose development is at the equivalent of earth's Bronze Age. But when an explosion rips through the post, the expedition's leader, Barron, and his assistant, an elderly woman named Warren, are seriously injured. A third team member, a young man named Palmer, is dazed in the blast and wanders away from the site.
Beaming down to assist the Federation officials, the Away Team is spotted by two Mintakans, Liko and his daughter Oji. Stunned by the sight of Warren being beamed up to the U.S.S. Enterprise, Liko accidentally slips and is critically injured in a fall. To save his life, Dr. Crusher beams Liko up to the ship, although it violates the Federation's Prime Directive, which states that members are not to interfere with other cultures.
Regaining consciousness in Sickbay, Liko overhears Picard promising Barron that he will find Palmer. Despite the fact that Crusher performs a procedure to remove his short term memory, it doesn't work and Liko returns to the planet describing "the Picard" to other Mintakans as a god, capable of healing wounds and reversing death.
To find Palmer and minimize any cultural contamination, Riker and Troi beam down to the planet disguised as Mintakans. They overhear Liko telling his friends about "the Picard's" powers and are shocked when three Mintakan hunters walk in carrying Palmer. Liko immediately assumes that Palmer is a servant of "the Picard" and it would please the god if they presented Palmer to him.
While Troi diverts the Mintakans, Riker beams himself and Palmer up to the Enterprise. When Liko and the group realize what Riker has done, they fear that "the Picard" will be angry with them for losing Palmer. To redeem themselves, they seize Troi with the intention of killing her to prove their loyalty to "the Picard."
Fearing for Troi's life, Picard has Nuria, the Mintakan leader, beamed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, hoping that if she is convinced that he is not a god, she will be able to persuade her people of that fact. Despite all his efforts, Picard is unable to convince Nuria that he is a mere mortal — until she sees him stand by helplessly in Sickbay when Warren dies and she realizes Picard has no power over life and death.
Just as Troi is about to be sacrificed, Nuria and Picard return to Mintaka III. Liko, still believing that Picard is a god, attempts to prove Picard's omnipotence by firing a crossbow at him. Only when he sees Picard suffering from his wound is Liko convinced of his mistake. Troi is freed and after Picard is healed, he bids farewell to the Mintakans, who are left to progress on their own.