Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Chain of Command, Part II”

“Chain of Command, Part II”
Written by Frank Abatemarco
Directed by Les Landau
Season 6, Episode 11
Production episode 40276-237
Original air date: December 21, 1992
Stardate: 46357.4

Captain’s Log: We get a summary of the high points of Part 1, and then show the beginning of Picard’s interrogation, where he has been injected with the Cardassian equivalent of sodium pentothal. He reveals his name, mother’s name, place of birth, and current assignment, but says, “I don’t know” when asked what Starfleet’s plans for Minos Korva are, at which point Gul Madred ups the dosage.

On the Enterprise, the negotiations, which are already going poorly, go much worse when Gul Lemec reveals that they have captured Picard. (He also accuses Picard, Worf, and Crusher of killing 55 Cardassian men, women, and children, which is patently false, but not at all surprising.) Lemec assures Jellico that the Cardassians will respond to this attack on their soil, and leaves. Jellico is forced to reveal Picard’s mission to Riker and Troi, and he sends Riker to the rendezvous point in the hopes of finding the trio there and exposing Lemec’s words for a lie.

But we know better, as we cut to Picard, no longer drugged, being brought to Madred. Picard demands a neutral representative. Madred lies and says such a representative is en route. They banter for a bit, discussing archeology, the fact that the Cardassians plundered their archeological treasures to pay for their war efforts. Madred also makes it clear that Picard is a criminal who will stand trial and be punished. What form that punishment takes depends on his cooperation. He wants to know Starfleet’s defensive strategy for Minos Korva, which Picard insists he does not know — and he also knows that he’s been drugged and told them everything he knows already.

The gloves come off, then, and Madred strings Picard up, strips him naked, and makes it clear that he has no rights of person, and will heretofore only be referred to as “human.” And then he leaves Picard alone, dangling from the ceiling by his arms.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

Riker returns from the rendezvous point with only two of the three people he was hoping to see. Immediately, Riker requests permission to mount a rescue mission, which Jellico refuses.

The following morning, Madred returns, letting Picard down, and drinking in front of him without offering him anything, even though he’s incredibly thirsty. Then he turns on four lights behind him and asks Picard how many lights he sees. Picard says he sees four, but Madred insists there are five. Madred then demonstrates the implant in his chest which causes Picard tremendous pain at Madred’s whim.

On the Enterprise, Lemec shows Jellico, Riker, and Troi a recording of Picard’s interrogation. When execution is threatened, Riker mentions the terms of the convention applying to prisoners of war, which Lemec throws in his face, as that would mean the Federation acknowledges Picard’s invasion of their space – which they won’t, meaning the Cardassians will treat him as a terrorist, not a POW. Lemec makes an offer: the Federation withdraws entirely from this sector, and they’ll release Picard.

Jellico has to check with Nechayev, but he will recommend they not give in. Riker recommends that they at least acknowledge Picard was acting under orders, so he’ll have the protection of being a POW. Jellico refuses, as it would play into Lemec’s hands, and it devolves into a nasty argument that ends with Jellico relieving Riker of duty.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

Soon after, Jellico meets with Data—now first officer, with Jellico going so far as to put Data in a command-red uniform—and La Forge—who looks more than a little annoyed that Jellico took that extra step—to try to figure out why they captured Picard in particular. Since the Enterprise was to be the vanguard of any defense against Cardassian incursion in the event of a war, that may be what they were interested in. Jellico has La Forge perform a discreet scan on Lemec’s ship to see where it’s been, and he determines that it was probably in the McAllister Nebula, which is a good jumping-off point to attack Minos Korva, a system they tried to annex during the war. Jellico orders Data to set a course for that system.

It’s apparently take-your-daughter-to-work day on Cardassia, as Madred brings his daughter in. She asks if humans have mothers and fathers, and Madred says they do, but their parents don’t love them the way Cardassians do. After she leaves, they talk some more, Picard decrying Madred’s exposing his daughter to torture, which modulates into a discussion of Cardassian history – once they were peaceful and spiritual, but people starved by the millions. Since the military took over, many lives have been lost, but the people can feed themselves, and Madred’s daughter will never go hungry. After Picard comments that her belly may be full but her spirit will be empty, Madred backhands him, then goes back to asking how many lights there are and infliting agonizing pain on Picard when he doesn’t say there are five of them.

After some more torture, and another break, Madred offers to let Picard go – they’ll just interrogate Crusher next. (He tells Picard that Worf was killed, but Crusher was captured.) Rather than subject Crusher to Madred’s ministrations, Picard chooses to stay.

Later on, Madred offers Picard food: a taspar egg, which Picard consumes hungrily, even though there’s stuff swimming around in the egg. Madred tells a story of childhood when he lived as a poor ragamuffin on the streets. He found three taspar eggs, ate one as eagerly as Picard did, and saved the other two, as they’d feed him for a week. But an older boy stole them from him, breaking his arm in the process. Picard sees his first opening, as he now realizes that Madred is paying other people back for his being bullied as a child, and says he finds Madred to be pitiable. Not overwhelmingly thrilled with this psychoanalysis—or Picard’s pity—Madred turns on the lights and activates the implant. Picard screams in agony but continues to insist that there are only four lights.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

The Enterprise heads to the nebula. La Forge modifies a shuttle to work in the nebula, and Worf arms magnetic mines to be placed on the Cardassian ships that are probably in the nebula. They’re not a hundred percent sure, and Crusher is particularly cranky on the subject of the risk Jellico is taking on a hunch. But it’s not a discussion – the mission has already been approved by Starfleet Command.

In the shuttle bay, Jellico checks on La Forge. They reminisce about their respective backgrounds as pilots—both of them were shuttle pilots early in their career—and that leads La Forge to point out that you need an incredibly skilled pilot to lay these mines within two kilometers of the Cardassian ships, with only a proximity detector to navigate by. And La Forge insists that the best person for the job on board is William T. Riker.

After Jellico gets this opinion from everyone else on board, he goes to Riker’s quarters. Jellico drops the ranks for a moment, and flat-out states that he doesn’t like Riker, finding him insubordinate, arrogant, willful, and a lousy first officer. Since the ranks are dropped, Riker counters that he doesn’t like Jellico, either, finding him arrogant, close-minded, a control freak, uninspirational, and a lousy captain. Jellico won’t order Riker to pilot the shuttle, but he does ask – and Riker smugly says yes. He and La Forge deploy the mines successfully, and then Jellico calls for red alert and hails Lemec. Realizing that his entire fleet is now mined—after Jellico detonates one of them—Lemec backs off, agreeing to retreat, and also to free Picard.

While alone, Picard grabs the padd that Madred has been using to activate the implant and smashes it. Madred then enters and, after assuring Picard that he has plenty more padds, tells Picard that the invasion of Minos Korva has been successful and the Enterprise has been destroyed. The universe will believe Picard to have gone down with his ship, and no one will ever know he is with the Cardassians. Madred then offers him a choice: stay with Madred and continue to be tortured, or live in comfort with intellectual challenges. All he has to do to determine which fate is his is to tell Madred how many lights there are.

Before Picard can answer, Lemec comes in, furious that Picard isn’t cleaned up and ready to be taken back to the Enterprise yet. Madred weakly says that he had unfinished business with Picard. Realizing that Madred lied one last time, Picard screams that there are four lights and leaves the room.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

Picard returns to the Enterprise, and Jellico returns command to him. Once that’s done, Picard goes into his ready room with Troi, where he admits something he didn’t put in his report: that he was ready to admit that there were five lights, and he would have said so had Lemec not come in when he did. At that point, he truly believed he saw five lights.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The McAllister Nebula has a molecular dispersion field that means that ships can only stay inside it for 72 hours or so. La Forge can shield the shuttlecraft from the field, which makes you wonder why the Cardassians didn’t do likewise. Data also gives a precise time when the Cardassians will have to leave, but since they don’t know when the ships entered, it’s not clear how he got to that figure.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is the first person Picard talks to once he gets command back, and it’s a professional conversation, patient to shrink.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data gets to be first officer for the third time (after “A Matter of Honor” and “Peak Performance”) and again does a fine job, though this is the first time he’s been asked to put on the red uniform to go with it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

I Believe I Said That: “Do I wanna know how close that was?”

“No.”

La Forge’s question following the shuttle making a hard turn, and Riker’s emphatic reply.

Welcome Aboard: No new guest stars this week, aside from Heather Lauren Olson as Madred’s daughter. Returning after Part 1 are Ronny Cox continuing to be disruptive as Jellico, John Durbin continuing to be delightfully slimy as Lemec, and David Warner knocking it out of the park as Madred.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Chain of Command, Part 2

Trivial Matters: To prepare for this episode, both scripter Frank Abatemarco and actor Sir Patrick Stewart studied material provided by Amnesty International regarding torture.

One of the inspirations for the episode was the 1991 film Closet Land. Another was the George Orwell novel 1984, where O’Brien of the Thought Police used fingers the way Madred used lights when interrogating Winston Smith, insisting he held up five fingers when he only held up four.

At two points while he’s being tortured, Picard takes refuge in the French song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon,” which he sang as a boy with his family. It’s also revealed that his mother—whom we saw an image of in “Where No One Has Gone Before”—was named Yvette.

In your humble rewatcher’s TNG comic book Perchance to Dream, Picard uses the four lights as a mental anchor to assist him when he undergoes a mind-meld that results in the personality of Locutus dominating his mind.

Picard’s next appearance will be on “Emissary,” the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, which aired a month after this. This two-parter did a great deal to cement the Cardassians as a major antagonist in the Star Trek universe, and they remain a large part of DS9 throughout its run.

Although Abatemarco got sole credit, the script got a page-one rewrite by Jeri Taylor.

Make it So: “There are four lights!” Like Part 1, this is half a great episode, but the positions are reversed, as Picard’s half of the story is some of TNG’s finest work, but the Jellico half is just awful. None of the maneuvering makes any kind of sense, neither the Cardassians’ fleet-gathering in a single nebula, nor the relative ease with which the Enterprise flushes them out, nor how thoroughly Lemec capitulates to Jellico once he starts detonating mines.

There are certainly moments: Jellico’s confrontation with Riker is well played, as both characters are right about the other one, and I must admit to loving the conversation between Jellico and La Forge about their younger days doing “Titan’s turn” as shuttle pilots. But it doesn’t work on the same level as Jellico’s initial takeover of the ship, and the ease with which the status quo is restored is unconvincing given the circumstances of Part 1.

Having said that, nobody remembers Part 2 for the Jellico bits. This half is all about two great actors in David Warner and Sir Patrick Stewart doing a two-person play in a room. The manipulations, the carefully constructed lies, the strength that Picard shows in the face of torture, the artful way that Madred constructs his questioning – it’s just brilliantly done. And the actors are magnificent, from Warner’s quiet, even tone that is far scarier than any shouting or histrionics would have been, and Stewart being stripped bare both literally and psychologically, showing the scars of Madred’s ministrations.

Best of all, though, is Picard’s admission to Troi at the end that he had, indeed, been broken, that Madred had truly convinced him that there were five lights.

 

Warp factor rating: 8


Keith R.A. DeCandido is one of the readers, along with fellow Trek scribe Aaron Rosenberg, for this week’s New York Review of Science Fiction Reading at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art tonight at 7pm. He is also one of the readers, along with Genevieve Valentine, John Wray, and Tor.com’s Emily Asher-Perrin, this Friday the 26th for Tor.com’s Ryan Britt’s “I, Reader” Scary Stories reading at Singularity & Co. in Brooklyn, also at 7pm.

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