Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Gambit, Part I”

“Gambit, Part I”
Written by Christopher Hatton and Naren Shankar
Directed by Peter Lauritson
Season 7, Episode 4
Production episode 40276-256
Original air date: October 11, 1993
Stardate: 47135.2

Captain’s Log: We open with Troi in a seedy bar, wearing civilian clothes, who says she is looking for a man who owes him money, a man who kinda matches the description of Picard (he’s mentioned as being two meters tall, which is over six-and-a-half feet, a very generous estimation of the height of a character played by the 5’9″ Sir Patrick Stewart). The bartender flirts with her for a bit, then reminds Troi that his customers prefer their privacy.

Elsewhere in the bar, Riker and Worf are also in civvies, and also questioning folks in the bar, with Worf having found a Yridian named Yranac who’s willing to talk—but only because Worf claimed that Riker’s looking for the man who impregnated Riker’s sister. Before Yranac can say anything, though, the bartender tries to throw him out. Then Crusher shows up pointing a phaser at the bartender. Riker, not missing a beat, says that Crusher is the pregnant sister in question, and she’s pissed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Yranac is now much more nervous, and insists that he be given passage on their ship if he is to talk, to which Riker and Worf agree. He says that the man they’re looking for was questioned by a nasty-looking bunch of aliens, who attacked him, eventually firing a weapon on him, vaporizing him instantly.

Troi, devastated, says he’s telling the truth. Crusher is able to confirm that the DNA traces in the bar are Picard’s. He’s been killed.

While Troi wants to organize a memorial service, Riker is more focused on finding out what happened. He can’t mourn until he knows why Picard died in a bar fight. The authorities on the planet where the bar was have jurisdiction, so Admiral Chekote can’t officially authorize Riker to investigate Picard’s death—but he does put the Enterprise on detached duty, so their mission is at the discretion of her commanding officer.

Riker then questions Yranac further, but he says the only other thing he remembers is that they said they’d kill anyone who talked. But Yranac is willing to risk it if Riker gives him a shuttlecraft; Riker counters with a threat of extradition to the Klingon Empire, where Yranac has a bunch of outstanding warrants for fraud. Fear of a Klingon prison does wonders to loosen his tongue: they were a band of mercenaries that have been operating in the sector for six months. They mentioned that they were going to the Barradas system. Riker has Data set a course there.

Barradas III is the only Class-M planet, currently uninhabited, though it was an outpost for the Debrune thousands of years ago. There are energy readings on the planet that indicate someone might be there. Riker leads an away team that includes Worf, La Forge, and a mess of security folks. While there are old ruins around (at least La Forge says there are—we only see rocks), there are also recent indentations that have the same microcrystalline damage Crusher found in the bar.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Then they’re fired upon. Some kind of interference on the surface blocks communications and transporters. The bad guys are a motley collection of aliens, including one Romulan who breaks cover to grab some pottery shards that were just dropped on the ground. Riker is knocked down by a backblast, and then the mercenaries beam away with Riker.

As soon as the mercenaries leave, the interference drops. A ship appears suddenly in orbit. It fires on the Enterprise and then goes to warp—Data goes to warp to follow at a higher speed, but the sensor signal of the ship fades away. Data goes back to Barradas III to retrieve the away team.

Later, Data briefs what’s left of the senior staff: a ship matching the configuration of the ship that fired on them has been linked to raids on planets in this sector. The Enterprise readings indicate that it’s covered in a sheath that makes it resistant to sensors, which is why they didn’t see it in orbit, nor detect it at warp.

Since they have no idea where they went, Data’s plan is to return to the surface to try to find clues as to what they were doing there. (Data then leans back in his chair with his fingertips against each other, because, y’know, that looks captainly.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

We then get a look at the mercenary ship. After Narik whines about how the engines aren’t working properly, the leader of the group, Arctus Baran, meets Riker, brought to him by the Romulan, Tallera. Riker provides name, rank, and serial number, and then says that he was on Barradas III for scientific research. When Riker gets snarky, Baran touches a control that activates a device on Riker’s neck and causes him significant pain, thus revealing how Baran controls his crew. (Everyone on board has the same small square on their necks.) Vekor and Narik both think they should get rid of Riker—Starfleet won’t negotiate for his release, but they will pursue him.

Then another of Baran’s crew pipes up, saying that Narik and Vekor are right, and that they should kill Riker now—the others call him Galen, but it is, in fact, the not-really-dead Jean-Luc Picard.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Baran thinks Riker can be useful, but “Galen” thinks he’s less useful than Baran might think, if he’s “the same Will Riker I’ve heard about.” He then goes on about Riker’s history of insubordination, even being relieved of duty at Minos Korva. Baran is suspicious of this knowledge, but he claims to have been smuggling artifacts out of Federation space for years, so he’s gotten to know some Starfleet personnel—and Riker is probably en route to a court martial. Riker plays along and snidely says he’s gotten out of them before.

Before Picard can convince Baran to kill Riker—he even volunteers to do it himself—something goes horribly wrong with the warp drive. They’re accelerating out of control. The antimatter flow regulator is malfunctioning. Picard reports this while giving Riker a look, and then Riker volunteers to fix the problem—which he does, in the nick of time. He gives Picard a smug look and asks, “Still wish you’d killed me?”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Back on Barradas III, Worf reports that the archeological digs on the planet have been looted. Data theorizes a Romulan connection—there were ruins on the planet with the bar that were Romulan in origin, and the Debrune were a Romulan offshoot. Worf also points out that the leader of the group that attacked them was Romulan. But the artifacts have no obvious value.

Of all the other planets in the sector with Romulan artifacts, there are only three the mercenaries haven’t hit. The closest is Calder II, which has a poorly defended Federation science outpost. Data warns the outpost and sets a course.

Picard meets with Riker in the quarters Baran gave him. Turns out that the mercenaries can activate their transporters via weapons fire, so Picard wasn’t vaporized, he was beamed to the ship. Picard had been on leave, studying ruins, but the site had been vandalized. Wanting to know who did it, Picard investigated, leading him to the bar. He convinced them that he was a smuggler named Galen, offering to help them appraise the artifacts. For whatever reason, Baran is collecting Romulan artifacts, and searching for a specific particle signature.

Baran doesn’t like “Galen” much, but he’s proven himself useful, so Baran puts up with him. Picard deliberately set up the engine failure, and painted Riker as a less-than-stellar officer, in order to make it easier for Riker to get close to Baran and find out the truth.

Then the door opens, and Picard immediately gets into character and backhands Riker to the deck. Baran enters and is not happy that “Galen” is performing an interrogation without his permission. Picard leaves, kicking Riker in the ribs one last time before departing.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Baran announces that their next destination is Calder II. The plan is to destroy the Federation outpost in orbit, but Picard suggests using Riker to convince the outpost to lower shields so they can beam the artifacts up without any shots being fired. Tallera agrees with that suggestion, and Baran reluctantly agrees to try it.

Later, Tallera talks to Picard, wanting to know why he insists on being snotty to Baran who could so easily kill him. Picard insists that Baran needs him, as he’s increased the quality of the scans by a lot. Tallera makes it clear that she will only tolerate his attitude as long as it doesn’t get in the way of her getting her reward at the end of it all. She also makes it clear that she, at least, also knows the full story of their mission.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

At Calder II, Riker tries to get the outpost to lower shields, but—having been warned by Data—the lieutenant in charge is stalling. Baran wants to destroy the outpost, but Picard manages to configure the disruptors to only take out the shields. Tallera beams up some of the artifacts, but the outpost restores shields before she can finish the job. Baran orders the outpost destroyed—

—but then the Enterprise swoops in. Baran instructs Riker to order the ship off, which he does. Data is reluctant to do so, given the danger to the outpost, so Riker cuts him off and then offers to use his command codes to lower the shields.

Worf, of course, detects this, and it doesn’t work because his codes were changed the minute he was captured. But Data knows that he knows this, and so figures he has his reasons for wanting the mercenaries to think he has control. He orders Worf to drop the shields, and then Baran orders Galen to fire on the Enterprise.

To be continued…

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: When the flow regulator freezes, Riker figures it’s a controlled lockout in the regulator subsystem. He runs an active bypass through the plasma flow converter, and has Narik run phase lock feedback through the regulator on a six-second delay. Afterward, he suggests they reinitiate the regulator subcompressors. Cha cha cha.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi gets to yell at Riker for being selfish and unwilling to participate in the memorial service for Picard.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data gets two promotions in one episode, sitting on Riker’s right in Act 1 when Picard is believed killed and taking command after Riker’s captured. He has to contend with a ship that can’t be detected and a cranky Worf.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf does well in working Yranac, finding the way to get him to talk through his affection for his own sister. He then rather tiresomely gets to play the same role Hobson played in “Redemption II,” straw malcontent for Acting Captain Data to knock down.

I Believe I Said That: “Perhaps there is an element of risk here that I did not appreciate.”

“And how much more latinum will it take to offset this risk?”

Yranac and Worf, negotiating.

Welcome Aboard: Quite the assortment of guests in this one. Veteran character actor Richard Lynch, who made a career of playing scumbuckets, plays to type as Baran. Julie Caitlin Brown (credited as Caitlin Brown) plays Vekor, having played Ty Kejada in Deep Space Nine’s “The Passenger”; these days, Brown is an actor’s agent, managing convention appearances for them. Robin Curtis returns to Trek as Tallera, having replaced Kirstie Alley in the role of Saavik for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Alan Altshuld once again drowns in latex as Yranac, having played a heavily made-up mercenary in “Starship Mine”; he’ll appear twice on Voyager, in “False Profits” and “Day of Honor.” Bruce Gray reprises his role of Admiral Chekote, having just played him the previous week on DS9’s “The Circle.” Stephen Lee, having played Chorgan in “The Vengeance Factor,” overenunciates as the bartender. And Cameron Thor whines a lot as Narik.

But the episode’s Robert Knepper moment is Sabrina LeBoeuf, who made a name for herself as the eldest child on The Cosby Show, as Data’s replacement at ops.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Trivial Matters: Picard cloaks a good lie with a truth—Riker was actually relieved of command at Minos Korva in “Chain of Command, Part II.” He also names his smuggler alias after his mentor in archaeology, first seen (and also killed) in “The Chase.”

This is the only mention of the Debrune on screen, though they are mentioned in the comic book Star Trek Countdown, the RPG modules The Way of D’era: The Romulan Star Empire (from Last Unicorn) and Worlds (from Decipher), and in the Haynes reference work U.S.S. Enterprise Owners’ Workshop Manual (which established that Barradas III’s ruins were first explored by the U.S.S. Enterprise-B under the command of Demora Sulu).

Calder II will appear again in the Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels, and alternate timeline versions of the planet appear in the 13th issue of IDW’s current Star Trek comic book series written by Mike Johnson and in Greg Cox’s The Worst of Both Worlds in Mirror Universe: Glass Empires.

Your humble rewatcher established that Baran sold the sensor-proof sheath to the Bajoran resistance in the short novel A Gutted World (in Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions; technically an alternate timeline also, but the divergent point was after when the sale took place).

The script for this episode broke one of Gene Roddenberry’s cardinal rules, to wit, that there would be no space pirates. Apparently, whenever this episode was discussed, Rick Berman tied a blindfold around the bust of Roddenberry he kept in his office.

This episode is the first mention on TNG of the apparently universal currency of gold-pressed latinum, first mentioned on DS9. Also “Yranac” is “canary” spelled backwards; that’s old slang for someone who informs to authorites (“sings like a canary”).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Gambit, Part I

Make it So: “So you can imagine how much this means to me.” I have to admit to absolutely loving this two-parter, mainly because it’s such a delightful little throwback. It’s a pure action piece that wouldn’t have been out of place on my television set on a Tuesday night in 1979. It’s got phaser fights, space battles, deceptions, double crosses, poor disguises, interrogations held at gunpoint and/or by throwing somebody into a wall, lots of aliens, the sneeringest of sneering bad guys, a mysterious second in command, and Picard backhanding Riker across the jaw and then kicking him in the ribs. I ask you, what’s not to like?

And yet, it’s still very much a TNG episode. Data gets to work on his command routine, which is more polished and sure than it was in “Redemption II,” and yet very much rooted in the character’s hyper-rationalism. Riker gets to be the man of action he was originally pitched as, leading away teams and being the charismatic guy. Both Picard and Riker work hard—going so far as to risk their cover more than once—to ensure that no lives are lost. (After episodes like “Where Silence Has Lease” and “Starship Mine” and “Suspicions” and “Descent, Part II,” where the characters are a little too cavalier about causing loss of life, this is refreshing.)

Most of all, though, this episode follows the TNG credo that Jean-Luc Picard is smarter than you. He throws himself completely into the part, immediately changing tactics in such a way that will allow Riker to be brought in on his plan, furthering his agenda while creating a convincing persona as Galen, even submitting himself to the incredible drudgework of appraising the artifacts one by one.

It helps that most of the acting is top-notch. Besides excellent turns by Sir Patrick Stewart (playing Galen with swagger and super obnoxiousness) and Jonathan Frakes (who gets a lot of mileage out of his WTF face, from the revelation that Worf used his nonexistent pregnant sister to get info to several reactions to Picard on the mercenary ship), there are some fine guest turns. Cameron Thor plays Narik very well, constantly whining and on the defensive, knowing he’s only marginally competent but refusing to be blamed for everything that goes wrong, even though he knows it’s probably his fault. Robin Curtis gives a performance that is light-years ahead of her robotic turn as Saavik. And if you want an unrepentant bad guy that you unreservedly hate, it’s hard to go wrong casting Richard Lynch and his Brooklyn snarl.

I wouldn’t want this every week, but, as with the similar “Power Play,” it’s a fun little romp that’s a nice change of pace.

 

Warp factor rating: 6


Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn’t just write genre stuff, as when he’s done uploading this rewatch, he has to go back to co-editing (with Cecilia Tan) the 2013 Yankees Annual for Lindy’s Sports, which will be out in March.

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