Written by Keith Mills
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 12
Production episode 40272-138
Original air date: March 27, 1989
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.