Thu
Sep 22 2011 1:03pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Royale”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Royale”

“The Royale”
Written by Keith Mills
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 12
Production episode 40272-138
Original air date: March 27, 1989
Stardate: 42625.4

Captain’s Log: The Klingons discover debris in orbit of a planet. The Enterprise investigates, and finds debris from an Earth spaceship — it’s a NASA ship with a flag from the United States of the mid-twenty-first century (52 stars on the flag).

The planet below is beyond inhospitable — the atmosphere is nitrogen, methane, and liquid neon, the temperature is -291 Celsius, and with winds of 312 meters per second. However, they do detect a structure that’s in a zone with a breathable atmosphere.

Since they have no idea how an Earth ship could’ve gotten this far out, and this building doesn’t make much sense, Picard sends a team down consisting of Riker, Data, and Worf. They go through a revolving door, which leads to a casino/hotel called The Royale. It’s filled with gamblers and staff, but none are emitting life signs.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Royale”

They scope out the joint for a while, but after Data wins at blackjack, Riker decides it’s time to go. However, they can’t get out through the revolving door — nor any other means, including a phaser to the wall.

Meanwhile, a story is playing out involving the desk clerk, a bellboy, a woman named Rita, and a gangster named Mickey D.

Data detects human DNA elsewhere in the structure. They track it to one of the rooms, where they find human skeletal remains and the uniform of an astronaut named Colonel Stephen Richey, who was the commander of the Charybdis, launched in 2037. Worf finds a novel called Hotel Royale and a diary. According to the latter’s one entry, the Charybdis was infected by alien beings. The rest of the crew was killed. The aliens — mistaking the novel for a guide to how humans live — set up the setting of the Hotel Royale for Richey to live in. According to the diary, “I hold no malice toward my benefactors. They could not possibly know the hell they have put me through, for it was such a badly written book, filled with endless cliché and shallow characters. I shall welcome death when it comes.”

While Riker, Data, and Worf try to find out how to get out, the climax of the novel plays out as Mickey D shows up and shoots the bellboy in the back for horning in on his girl Rita. According to Picard — who, to his tremendous chagrin, has now read the novel — after Mickey D shoots the bellboy, foreign investors buy the hotel for $12.5 million. Riker decides to take on the role of those investors. Data beats the house at craps, they buy the hotel, and then, finally, can leave.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s mental link with Riker — established way back in “Encounter at Farpoint” — enables her to track the away team when the ship’s lost contact with them via her sensing of Riker’s emotional state.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Picard and Riker discuss Fermat’s Last Theorem, which was famously unsolved. Picard waxes rhapsodic about the fact that it’s been a mystery for 800 years. Of course, in 1995, six years after this episode aired in 1989, a proof was discovered by Andrew Wiles.

Also, somehow the planet’s surface temperature is 18 degrees below absolute zero, which is sorta kinda impossible (h/t to mcwetboy in the comments).

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data throws himself into the part of high-rolling gambler, using his sooooooper-strength to modify the dice so that he’ll win at craps. He also bonds with Texas and Vanessa to occasional comic effect, and also wears a very cunning hat...

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Royale”

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: In Richey’s hotel room, Worf answers the phone, and deals with the front desk in a manner very similar to the way I deal with hotel staff when they wake me up with annoying phone calls. He also reacts to Richey’s death like a true Klingon: when told he died in his sleep, he comments, “What a terrible way to die.” He also looks horribly pained while watching Data gamble.

I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator: One of the options presented for rescuing the away team is to cut through the poisonous atmosphere and open a hole that would also plunge the team into -291 degree temperatures. Pulaski assures the away team that she can probably revive them from the instant cryo-freeze that would happen. Riker’s confidence in this is so great that he moves heaven and earth to find another way out....

The Boy!?: Wes helps La Forge try to penetrate the interference so the Enterprise can communicate with the away team, and then helps track down Richey’s service record.

Welcome Aboard. We get two of the finest character actors of all time in one episode in Sam Anderson — still going strong today, most recently as Bernard on Lost — as the wonderfully snarky desk clerk and the late great Noble Willingham as the bombastic Texas. Jill Jacobson, Leo Garcia, and Gregory Beecroft are all appropriately dreadful as the clichéd characters of Vanessa, the bellboy, and Mickey D, respectively.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Royale”

I Believe I Said That: “‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ Not a promising beginning.”

“It may get better.”

Picard reading the opening line of Hotel Royale, and Troi expressing an unfounded optimism.

Trivial Matters: The writing credit is a pseudonym for staff writer Tracey Tormé, who was unhappy with the rewrites done to his teleplay by co-executive producer Maurice Hurley.

It isn’t explained what happens to Texas’s glasses right after Data’s last roll of the dice. They just disappear without explanation.

Any similarity to the original series’s “A Piece of the Action,” in which aliens use a human book as the basis for an entire culture, is purely coincidental. Probably. Okay, maybe not...

Make it So: “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.” I’m probably the only person in the world who adores this episode, but I truly do. Even the episode’s writer has disowned it. Just watching this episode cries out for a Pulp Fiction reference, referring to it as “The Royale” with cheese, as there’s plenty of the latter.

But dadgummit, I like the episode. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a professional book editor for 15+ years, and so have read a lot of bad prose in my time, but the notion of the away team trapped in a really bad novel is hilariously appealing. It’s a total goof, but a fun one, especially since the dialogue really is that dreadful, with appropriately cheesy music to accompany the scenes where the novel plays out. Picard’s agonized expression while suffering through the novel is comedy gold, as is Troi’s exasperated exit from the room when she can’t take it anymore. Plus: lotsa 80s hair!

Okay, it’s dumb. It’s pointless. But I like it. So there.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Royale”

 

Warp factor rating: 5


Keith R.A. DeCandido is best known for the many works of Star Trek fiction he’s written, but he’s also edited quite a bit, including the Corps of Engineers series during its entire run from 2000-2007, the anthologies Tales of the Dominion War, Tales from the Captain’s Table, and New Frontier: No Limits (that last with Peter David), and the eBook miniseries Mere Anarchy and Slings and Arrows. His latest novel is Guilt in Innocence, which is part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept that he is co-authoring along with Aaron Rosenberg (author of several Corps of Engineers stories), Steve Lockley, Steven Savile, and David Niall Wilson. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his twice-monthly podcast, Dead Kitchen Radio.

45 comments
Jonathan Crowe
1. mcwetboy
–291°C is 18 degrees below absolute zero. Sigh.
Rootboy
2. Rootboy
I kind of dig this one too, goofy as it is. It's kind of like the Enterprise stumbled into an episode of The Twilight Zone from the other side.
Rootboy
3. Hammerlock
@1 - Maybe they're adjusting for inflation? Then again, this fits for the rest of the badly written episode, soooo...
Rootboy
4. Lurking Canadian
My interpretation wasn't that Data loaded the dice. The dice were already loaded to make it impossible to win. He adjusted them so they weren't loaded anymore, which then enabled him to use his super android skillz to roll a perfectly fair run of sevens.

And I always liked this episode, too.
Rootboy
5. don3comp
You're definitely not the only one who likes it. I've always enjoyed it. Okay, the "you have to see the story through to the end to get out of the fantasy world that's gone wrong" bit has been done to death, but "The Royale" is a fun way of "Trek" pretending to be something it's not usually (in this case a "Maverick" type of story) without using the holodeck yet again. And the novel's penny-dreadful characters make good farce.

The episode also makes a good point (if with a sledgehammer) about "we are what we eat." The stories we consume do define us as a culture.

I like the blonde bimbo's oh-so-literal: "I'm losing my shirt!"

The one thing that's always bothered me: why on earth couldn't somebody be troubled to use a phaser to cremate Ritchie's body? For goodness' sake, don't let him keep lying there and decaying, give him a dignified end (if a few centuries late)!
Rootboy
6. DLFerguson
You're not the only one, Keith. "The Royale" is one of my favorite TNG episodes as well. I dunno why...maybe because it's a situation that I could only imagine taking place in the Star Trek universe and nowhere else. And it's a story that for me has a very strong flavor of TOS.
Michael Burstein
7. mabfan
It's a fun episode, and I enjoyed it too.

Regarding Fermat's Last Theorem: after Wiles came up with his proof, Trek did do a brief scene in DS9 in which Sisko is trying to come up with a variation on Wiles's proof. Also, since Wiles's proof, which involves an esoteric mathematical concept called the modularity theorem for elliptical curves, is clearly not what Fermat had in mind, I like to think that Picard was playing the game of searching for the simpler proof that would vindicate Fermat.
Kristoff Bergenholm
8. Magentawolf
It's an absolutely 'terrible' episode, but given the premise, it was quite well done throughout it. I've always loved this one, too. :)
Rootboy
9. Codefox
I finally caught up to the re-watch so I can comment in time with everyone else. Too bad I caught up on this episode 8D The episode itself as science fiction is horrible. Clearly the aliens were studying the Colonel and built a cage. Which they then left running for hundreds of years seemingly unsupervised? They understood english well enough create the Royale but not enough to communicate in some way with Richey? The episode was entirely non-sensical.

But, the acting was superb which made it watchable and even enjoyable. Since everyone involved acknowledged the story was horrible, that made it all pretty funny. There didn't even seem to be real fear that they wouldn't escape. Heck, Troi was actually even pretty useful since she was able to tell Picard how Riker's mood was when they had no contact.

And #7 beat me to the punch. Picard can be assumed to be still working on trying to figure out what Fermat figured out. It had to have been done with simple mathematics but noone can figure out if he really had a proof. (Since there ended up being a proof...I'll give him benefit of the doubt... 8) )

I'll agree with the 5. A goofy, fun and pointless episode.
Chris Hawks
10. SaltManZ
I don't think I've ever seen this episode, but that screencap of Data in the hat is priceless!
Rootboy
11. Pendard
Wow, people are coming out of the wood work to admit their deep, dark, secret love for "The Royale." And I'm going to add my voice to the chorus. It's not my favorite TNG episode -- probably not even in my top 50 -- but, like the very best of the holodeck episodes, the regular actors and the guest stars play a ridiculous concept to the hilt and their enthusiasm makes up for the shortcomings of the material.
Rootboy
12. The Hey
Nope. Hate this episode with the fire of a blazing sun. (How's that for bad prose?)
Rootboy
13. critter42
I think what makes it for me is the pedigree of the character actors they got for this episode (which I think is part of why everyone thinks of it as a Twilight Zone or Maverick type episode - strong character actors that evoke those old shows) and their way the actors play their parts absolutely dead straight.

I feel that if they had played it even slightly like they knew they were in on the joke, it would have veered over into the schlocky, bad Trek we all know and don't like.
Keith DeCandido
14. krad
mcwetboy: Knew I forgot something...... *thanks the fates for the edit function*

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Margot Virzana
15. LuvURphleb
Who cant love this episode? Its simple, with our beloved star trek heros, and it actually does have a believable plot with dead astronaut. They explain how the structure got there and why. And i dont feel cheated by not knowing more about the "benefactors".
Adrian J.
16. LightningStorm
Imagine my surprise to see this episode not being hated on. I too really liked this episode. It is in fact the episode that I most remembered having seen prior to actually becoming a Star Trek fan of any kind.

I'm kinda disappointed at the 5 rating (I'd probably give it a 7 or more) but given the vitriol I've seen thrown about regarding this episode before it's refreshing to see so many people liking it!
Thomas Nesslage
17. aerathi18
Actually negative Kelvin is theoretically possible, although it has never been observed naturally. But come on... this is a series that has warp drives, time travel, and an entire race of nearly omnipotent beings!

As for the episode as a whole, I agree with the reviewer that I enjoy it way more than I probably should. It's silly, it's cheesy, and it's just plain fun. The only part I felt was a little too contrived was the note left by the astronaut... it would have felt more realistic (haha, here we go expecting reality again) for him to have left a running diary that slowly built to his conclusion. Data could have read and summed it up in 5 seconds.
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
LightningStorm: I gave it a 5 because that was what felt right. I need to emphasize that the least important part of the rewatch is the rating, and it's probably the part I give the least thought to, because the fun in this is the experience of watching it again and babbling about it, not nailing down some kind of arbitrary numerical value to the episode. If I did this rewatch a year later, or a year earlier, half the numbers (at least) might be different.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Rootboy
19. Seryddwr
So absolute zero has never been observed - hey, it's 2011, and I just heard a report on the BBC saying that those clever bods at CERN have just observed subatomic particles moving faster than light!!! So I for one am waiting with baited breath for -291 Kelvin... :-)

This episode is a steaming pile of horse manure. But I agree with #11 - it's watchable in the same way that a lot of season 1 is watchable, not because the plot is any good, but because everyone gives it beans, as one of my mates is wont to say, on camera. There are one or two season 7 episodes whose plots beat the pants off this one - like 'Emergence', for example - but which are more or less unwatchable because hardly anyone in the cast is with the program.

The moral of the story: never underestimate the power of cheese.
Rootboy
20. Jeff R.
The Royale is definitely in the class of Good Bad Trek. I'd never put it in any kind of top X list of episodes, but if I happened to be channel surfing and hit the beginning of this episode, I'd probably watch it through, which wouldn't necessarily be the case for some of my top episodes...
Rootboy
21. RobinM
This episode is very cheestastic;I'd rate it around a 3 myself. I enjoy the character actors performances the most. It's not an episode I sit down and rewatch if I catch it on cable TOS "A Piece of the Action" is much better.
rob mcCathy
22. roblewmac
I really don't see anything good about this. I guess you guys are thinking parody where I just see BAD.
Rootboy
23. Terror and Love
C ould you imagine being trapped in that hotel for all that time. What a type of hell. And the plot just repeats. He toughed it out though till the end.

Poor poor fellow.
Rootboy
24. JasonD
@23: You totally beat me to the punch on that one. The astronaut's diary entry just gives me chills every time. I'm right with Worf in sharing his horror over how he died.

Another bit of sadness is Trek assuming back in 1988 that NASA would still be conducting manned missions into space for the next 50 years, and they just recently killed the space shuttle. :`(
Rootboy
25. Chessara
Well, I hated it! Ugh!!! I had to actually force myself to finish it this time around....don't remember much about the first time I saw it but I think my reaction was not as strong...maybe I was amused by Data's part in it.

This time the only thing I could think was "Who on Earth would bring along such a dreadful novel on a long space mission??"

I've not seen A Piece of the Action recently, but I seem to have fonder memories of that one, will do a re-watch to see if they still hold up.
Rootboy
26. euphbass
Good point, Chessara (25)! Can you imagine how this episode could have gone if the astronaunt had taken, say, Lord Of The Rings, or War & Peace to read on the trip...? I'd pay good money to see that!
matt
27. graftonio
The only worse fate than being stuck in "The Royale" until you died would be having to watch this episode over and over.
Rootboy
28. Jeff in Singapore
@chessara #25 and @phbass #26 — wasn't there some line read from the diary to the effect that Col. Richey brought the novel along to put himself to sleep? $DEITY knows I've a shelf or six of trashy novels that fill that function quite nicely…
Keith DeCandido
29. krad
Jeff: No, one of the other crew members had -- for reasons passing understanding -- brought the novel along to while away the long, lonely hours in deep space.....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Rootboy
30. Seryddwr
When Elon Musk starts running regular trips to Mars on his Falcon Heavy, I'm planning to leave the e-book at home, and take some Dan Brown to pass the long, lonely hours on the way there. And a shovel. I'll take a shovel.
Rootboy
31. Chessara
@euphbass: Lord of the Rings would have been my choice!! :) Imagine having aliens simulate that!! I'd volunteer in a instant!! :P
Rootboy
32. Mike S.
I have a soft spot for this one.

My late grandmother was no fan of Star Trek, certianly not TNG (she had some affection for the original series). However, when she saw this episode, and it's plotline, listed in TV Guide (during one of it's many reruns), she wanted to sit down and watch it with me. She loved the casinos, and gambling, so she loved this episode (I think she particularly identified with the old lady at the slot machine who is so focused on the game, that she totally ignores Data's question).

If for no other reason then the one I just mentioned, I liked this episode.
Rootboy
33. Pah
I don't really like any of the episodes were they go back to the 20th century in one way or another, it just does not excite me.

And the detail that really irritated me was the revolving door. They should have come out of it faster than one whole revolvation.
Nicky Kay
34. NickyKV2
I didn't like this episode at first, but the more I watch it, the more it makes me laugh. I do feel sorry for Ritchie. Shame he didn't take a few Doctor Who novels with him. Now, that would have made a great cross-over episode. I agree with Jeff R. "definitely in the class of Good Bad Trek". It's not an episode to be taken at all seriously. Miss the fun and you miss out.
Rootboy
35. Christopher L. Bennett
Oops, I missed this review until now. Wanted to say that I've always had a soft spot for this episode too. I like the surreal ones. I agree with the Twilight Zone comparisons, but also the minimalism of the revolving door in the middle of blackness reminds me of "The Empath" or "Spectre of the Gun."

But there's one more direct homage. The scene of an android using his precision to win at craps, and then using his superstrength to normalize a pair of loaded dice, previously appeared in Gene Roddenberry's pilot movie The Questor Tapes. Data himself was basically a recycling of the Questor concept, but this is the most direct lift ever from Questor to Data.

Another part of the episode's charm is a great Ron Jones score. I love the period music.
Nicky Kay
36. NickyKV2
I agree with Chrisopher L Bennett, especially about the music!
Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
37. ajk
@29, maybe they hadn't read it yet at the time?
Justin Devlin
38. EnsignJayburd
Kind of a polar opposite of my impression of many 1st season episodes, this one I feel was a bad idea done well.
Rootboy
39. CAPT RX
In general I think this is a great episode. No big themes, or complex save the universe speeches, or hand wringing angst as to "what fools these mortals be". Sort of reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" but I digress. I do quibble with one point....HOW DARE PICARD ridcule "It was a dark and stormy night" as a poor opening! This is the same episode that started with the ridiculous opening of him on the holodeck playing detective Dixon Hill with a plot that can only be described as a Super-Sized Royale with Cheese! Ugh! That 5 min segement was filled with more cliche's than the rest of the episode.
Rootboy
40. Electone
Worf answering the telephone was worth the price of admission. Another fun romp - loved the casino scenes. Hated the silly effect of having the three crewmembers just go all the way around the turnstyle door. The should have switched camera angles and shown them emerging on the other side. I always found the casino set very clausterphobic and cheap looking, but that adds to the notion that it was created solely out of the pages of the book. Nods to Ron Jones for another wonderful soundtrack piece.
Rootboy
41. Kimbburlie
None of the sites that summarize plot continuity problems mentions a real obvious one: How come the trio of nondescript investors never showed up? All the other characters were there, but those three didn't, which conveniently allowed Data, Riker and Worf to pull off their ruse. Nobody caught that? Had they shown up, then there would have been a big conflict, with both parties of three vying for ownership.
Rootboy
42. Kimbburlie
Another thing, any aliens who are technologically advanced enough to travel far out in space and create a simulated world, should be smart enough to tell that an astronaut's book is a novel rather than the way he really lives. Really! Dumb aliens!
Dylan Maddalena
43. Thor-roboT
As a kid, I recorded eposides w/o comercials (which was a feat using a vcr, the pause button, and my sense of timing) and this was one of the episodes I had down. I watched it several times over and have never gotten tired of it. The ep includes my 2nd favorite exchange involving Worf - the 1st being when he tries prune juice ("Warrior's Drink"):
Worf: What is this place?
Desk Clerk: Why, the Royal. Of Course.
Riker: He means this planet; What do you call it?
Desk Clerk: ...(um, really?) Earth... What do YOU call it?
Worf: WE call it Theta 8.
Desk Clerk: ...(Riiiiiiight) How charming.

Amazing exchange. Just before the Clerk tells them they're on Earth, he looks at them like they're completely nuts. If you've ever worked as a front desk person, you know these kinds of rediculous questions are just a part of the job and Sam Anderson plays it perfectly. One of the best comic moments in the entire series.
Matthew Clark
44. clarkbhm
Also, one of my favorite fun episodes of the series. When I got older and could get into the casino, I wanted to play craps, specifically because it seemed so much fun in The Royale.
Rootboy
45. SpaceCadet
I tried watching this episode on blu-ray but just couldn't make it to the end. It has no redeeming value in my mind. What is the actual point or morale of this story?

But how cool would it have been if the novel the aliens had recreated was an actual good one like Game of Thrones. Worf would be in heaven!

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