Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Second Chances”

“Second Chances”
Written by Michael Medlock and Rene Echevarria
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 6, Episode 24
Production episode 40276-250
Original air date: May 24, 1993
Stardate: 46915.2

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is in orbit of Nervala IV, which is surrounded by a distortion field that inhibits transport, communications, sensors, and just about everything else. Every eight years, three transport windows open up. Some data was left behind eight years ago, and the Enterprise is going to retrieve it. One of the people on the last mission to Nervala was Lieutenant William Riker of the U.S.S. Potemkin.

Commander Riker is leading a jazz quartet for a concert in Ten-Forward. When he asks for requests, Troi asks for “Nightbird,” a song Riker has been trying to master the solo of for ten years. Reluctantly, Riker goes ahead and starts the song, but he is interrupted by Data—the window has opened up sooner than expected. Riker beams down along with Data, Worf, and an engineer. To Riker’s surprise, the place looks different, even though nobody could have been here. Worf theorizes that a ship may have gotten caught in the distortion field and crashed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

That, however, wasn’t it—William Riker, in a ragged operations uniform (the “unitard” seen in the first two seasons) with lieutenant’s pips, arrives, and everybody is very very very very confused. Lieutenant Riker—who has messier hair and a full beard rather than a trimmed one—says that he was the last one out from the Potemkin away team, but they lost the signal on him, and he was stranded, unable to communicate thanks to the interference. But Commander Riker remembers beaming out safely and going on with his life.

Worf beams Lieutenant Riker back to the Enterprise, where Crusher examines him. He’s identical to Commander Riker, down even to the brain scan, which means it isn’t a clone, since brainwave patterns are formed by experiences.

La Forge examines the Potemkin’s transporter logs, and reports that the transporter chief tried to compensate for a surge in the distortion field by creating a second confinement beam, but it turned out to be unnecessary. But the confinement beam reflected back to the surface and created a second Riker.

Lieutenant Riker cannibalized the computer for his own use in order to survive, so they’ll need his help to retrieve the database, but Crusher is reluctant to send him down there. Troi offers to talk to him. This proves problematic, as the lieutenant grabs her, picks her up, calls her “imzadi,” and kisses her.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Troi backs off and sits him down. Apparently, they had been intending to get together on Risa six weeks after the Nervala mission, but Commander Riker was promoted to lieutenant commander and made first officer on the Hood (ironically, thanks to a commendation received after the Nervala mission), and never made the date. They didn’t see each other again until they were posted to the Enterprise.

Lieutenant Riker reveals that thoughts of Troi were one of the few things that kept him sane during his eight-year exile. He is also willing to help the Enterprise retrieve the database, since he reconfigured the computer so much during the past eight years it’s unrecognizable.

The same away team—plus Lieutenant Riker, who is late, as he hasn’t had to be punctual for eight years—beams down. They can’t access the database due to damage thanks to seismic activity, so they have to go to the computer core under the station. Lieutenant Riker says he can do it, but the window will close in three minutes. The lieutenant offers to stay down, and doesn’t take no for an order, forcing Commander Riker to yell at him.

Back on board, the lieutenant leaves notes for Troi all over the ship, sending her on a scavenger hunt to a transporter room, to engineering, and finally to Ten-Forward, where he gives her an etching (made with a phaser on metal) of the falls on Betazed where they last saw each other.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

He talks about the early days on Nervala, waiting for a rescue, figuring there was no rescue attempt because they thought he was dead, imagining the memorial service. The talk gets heavy after that, as Troi admits to her disappointment that Riker didn’t make the date on Risa.

Lieutenant Riker goes over the commander’s head to Picard, and Picard orders his first officer to go with the lieutenant’s plan to go under the station despite the risks. Commander Riker then comes down hard on his lower-ranking doppelganger for doing such an end-run.

Crusher and Troi do a mok’bara workout, where Crusher encourages Troi to go for it with Lieutenant Riker—who then shows up. Crusher beats a hasty retreat, and it’s about six seconds before they start smooching.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Troi then goes to Commander Riker to get his blessing, which he gives. Later, Commander Riker, Data, and Worf play poker, and Lieutenant Riker shows up. The commander invites him to be dealt in, and Data deals five-card draw. It quickly turns into a pissing contest between the two of them, ending with the lieutenant losing and leaving with the line that the commander always had the better hand.

Picard has made some inquiries, and he’s found a posting for Lieutenant Riker on the Gandhi. But that would be the end of his and Troi’s burgeoning relationship, because she’s not willing to just give up her life on the Enterprise.

The away team goes down for the third window. The Rikers go down to the core while Worf and Data and that poor never-named engineer work the consoles. Lieutenant Riker snarks the commander, then panics over some ion radiation; Commander Riker fixes the problem easily and admonishes the lieutenant for giving up too easily. Then a catwalk collapses, and the commander has to save the lieutenant’s life. They then repair the conduits, and the database is retrieved.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Lieutenant Riker—who has decided to go by his middle name of Thomas—is packing to head off to the Gandhi. Troi says she’s not going to join him, which doesn’t surprise Tom. Will then arrives with a present: his trombone, which means now he’ll never get “Nightbird” right….

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Apparently boosting a transporter signal with a second annular confinement beam runs the risk of creating a duplicate of the person, as long as the phase differential is matched by the distortion field that forced you to create a second beam in the first place. Cha cha cha.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi goes to Tom Riker as a counselor, and instead is confronted with the possibility of a do-over on the last eight years of her romantic life.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data queries Worf on the subject of meeting one’s duplicate. For some inexplicable reason, he never mentions his own “evil twin,” Lore (whom we’ll be seeing again shortly).

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf tells Data that he would probably also not like a potential doppelganger because he is not easy to get along with, a notion Data agrees with a little too quickly, prompting the patented Worf Look Of Outrage.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Tom Riker has spent eight years jonesing for Troi. It takes Troi a day or so, but, with some serious encouragement from Crusher, gives in for a night of passionate nookie.

I Believe I Said That: “If you met a double of yourself, would you have difficulty interacting with him?”

“I think so.”


“I am not easy to get along with.”

Data asking a probing question and Worf giving a very self-aware answer.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Welcome Aboard: Only one real guest this week, as Jonathan Frakes does double duty as two versions of Riker—but that one’s a doozy. Dr. Mae Jemison appears as Transporter Chief Palmer. Jemison is an astronaut, and was the first African-American woman to travel to space. A big Star Trek fan, she was inspired by Nichelle Nichols’s role on the original series, and the two became friends. (Nichols visited the set of this episode when Jemison filmed her part.) Jemison was the first astronaut to play a role on Trek.

Trivial Matters: This episode was the directorial debut of LeVar Burton, and he picked a doozy, as he needed to do tons of doubles shots and bluescreening and such—quite a challenge for a neophyte director. But it paid off, as he became quite a prolific Trek director, helming “The Pegasus” in the seventh season, and going on to direct ten episode of Deep Space Nine, eight of Voyager, and nine of Enterprise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Riker was established as serving on the Potemkin in “Peak Performance.”

This is the second of three times that Trek went into the duplication well, the previous time being “The Enemy Within” on the original series, and the next will be “Deadlock” on Voyager.

The notion was briefly floated to kill off Commander Riker and leave the lieutenant alive. Data would be promoted to first officer and Lieutenant Riker would take over at ops. Part of me is really sorry they didn’t do that.

Riker says that he was able to “patch up” things with Kyle Riker, which is an overly generous interpretation of the events of “The Icarus Factor.” But I have my issues with that episode, as you can all read at the link.

Fan assumptions, encouraged by jazz fan Jonathan Frakes, was that Riker’s middle initial of T stood for “Thelonius,” but this episode established otherwise. The Thelonius middle name was used by Peter David in Imzadi.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Tom Riker will next appear in the Deep Space Nine episode “Defiant.” He will go on to appear in bunches of tie-in fiction, ranging from the Double Helix novel Quarantine by John Vornholt (which bridges the gap between this episode and “Defiant”), to issues #29-30 of the DS9 comic published by Malibu written by Mark Paniccia, to the novel Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David, to the Dominion Wars videogame, to the alternate future of Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens Millennium trilogy, to A Weary Life by Robert Greenberger, part of the Slings and Arrows eBook miniseries.

In the “aggressively useless trivia” department, as of this episode each of the five male regulars on TNG have worn two different colored uniforms. Sir Patrick Stewart has worn blue (in “Tapestry”) as well as his regular red, Frakes has worn gold (this episode) as well as his usual red, Brent Spiner has worn red (in “Future Imperfect” and “Chain of Command, Part II”) on top of his regular gold, and Burton and Michael Dorn went from wearing red in the first season to gold from the second forward.

At the Shore Leave convention a bunch of years ago, Nichelle Nichols told a story about Dr. Mae Jemison. When she was getting ready to go out into space, Nichols called Cape Canaveral to wish her well. When she called, she identified herself and said she wanted to speak to Dr. Jemison. She was transferred to someone else, and kept getting bounced all over the base before she got to speak to Jemison. Later, she found out that everyone was geeking out over getting to talk to Lieutenant Uhura that they kept passing her around the base so everyone would get to talk to her. (This has almost nothing to do with the episode, but since it was the one in which Jemison appeared, and because I love that story, I had to share it.)

Make it So: “Next time, don’t give up so easily.” I remember dreading this episode when it first aired. A transporter twin? It was hoary when the original series did it in 1966, and worse, we’re going to do it with Riker? Hadn’t we learned out lesson from “Datalore” and “Time Squared”?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

I should have learned the lesson that “Frame of Mind” taught me, which was that Jonathan Frakes isn’t as bad as you think he is. What makes the episode shine is his performances, as you can easily tell the difference between Tom and Will Riker. He plays Tom as, in essence, younger, even though he’s the same age, more impulsive, and more willing to take risks.

There are some amusing parallels to “The Best of Both Worlds” here, with Tom Riker in the Shelby role—even down to doing an end-run around Riker to Picard and joining the poker game. Riker said he saw a lot of himself in Shelby, and now he gets to see all of himself in Tom.

And yet, what’s interesting about this episode isn’t so much what it tells us about Riker as what it tells us about Troi—that she did carry a torch for Riker, but Mr. Ambition Pants put his career first. The title is as much about her as it is Tom. She’s hesitant to try it out a second time for fear that it may end the same way—as, indeed, it does, sort of.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Second Chances

Still, the collapsing catwalk rescue at the end seems horribly tacked on, and in all honesty, Tom doesn’t really feel like someone who’s been trapped alone for eight years. Having said that, the episode is far better than a transporter duplicate episode has any right to be.


Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido is going to be at Flora in Arlington, Massachusetts tonight at 6pm for the east coast launch of Tales from the House Band Volume 2, an anthology from Plus One Press that includes his story “I Believe I’m Sinkin’ Down.” He’ll be joined by fellow contributors Clea Simon, Brett Milano, and Dave Brigham. Come check it out!


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