Brannon Braga has come in for a lot of flak for his writing over the years, particularly his work on Voyager and Enterprise, so it’s easy to forget that he did some fine work on TNG, and this was his finest. Quite possibly the best use of the teaser-and-five-act structure you’ll ever see, this episode is also a perfecting melding of good writing and strong directing. One of the reasons why it works is due to Jonathan Frakes’s excellent filming of the episode. Not only is each repeated scene shot differently from its predecessors, but Frakes also uses fewer and fewer cuts and more long single shots as the episode goes on, which makes the repeated scenes go by much faster. It’s a tour-de-force of structured writing and clever directing.
Lots of little touches make it work, from the fact that Crusher can’t seem to avoid breaking the glass, to Picard silently flipping through the book that he’s already mentioned twice that he had déjà vu with, to seemingly innocent lines like Riker’s about Data stacking the deck having bigger meaning as the episode progresses, to the integration of the poker game into the plot for a change, to what has to be the best teaser in the history of Star Trek. I mean, c’mon, they blew up the Enterprise and killed everyone before the opening credits! That’s awesome!