Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

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

“Chain of Command, Part I”
Written by Frank Abatemarco and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 6, Episode 10
Production episode 40276-236
Original air date: December 14, 1992
Stardate: 46357.4

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise rendezvouses with the U.S.S. Cairo near the Cardassian border to meet with Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev, who relieves Picard of command of the Enterprise. She then meets with Riker, Data, and Troi, explaining that the forces the Cardassians had been using to hold the Bajoran system have been moved toward the Federation border, and that they’re making incursions on disputed planets on that border. She explains that not only Picard, but Worf and Crusher have been reassigned, and that Captain Edward Jellico, CO of the Cairo, will be taking command of the ship for a negotiation with the Cardassians – Jellico has considerable experience with the Cardassians.

Riker is a little cranky about all this – three of the senior staff reassigned, Nechayev playing word games regarding “war” versus “incursion” which sounds dangerously like doublespeak, and then someone else being given command instead of him—and meets Jellico in the transporter room. Jellico has his own style—he knows Riker’s service record already, and asks how he prefers to be referred to, “William” or “Will” (what, no “Bill”?), and also asks for a change to a four-shift watch.

Meanwhile, Picard, Worf, and Crusher are running drills on the holodeck, performing a mission that involves running through caves and fighting off Cardassians. The specifics of the mission have yet to be divulged to Worf or Crusher.

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The change-of-command ceremony occurs in Ten-Forward – Picard reads his orders, transfers command codes to the new guy, and then is formally relieved by Jellico. The two captains talk in private about the mission – the intelligence Picard has on the installation is two years old, and Jellico offers to launch a probe. When ordering Riker to do that, Jellico learns that the four-shift rotation hasn’t been implemented yet, as the department heads have all stated that a four-shift rotation would present significant personnel issues. Jellico doesn’t give a good goddamn, and he tells Riker to get it done, no matter what the department heads say.

(The four-shift thing has always bugged me. The most efficient method on a twenty-four hour day with humans is eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure – that’s three shifts. Having four six-hour shifts instead is disruptive and silly, and it’s the one change that Jellico makes that never made anything like sense.)

Later on the bridge (which Jellico’s arrival on is announced by Data with “Captain on the bridge!”), the ship is 51 hours from their rendezvous with the Reklar for the negotiations and Jellico seems determined to overhaul the Enterprise’s engines and tactical systems. He calls for a change in the distribution of phaser power and warp coil efficiency, which will require the entire engineering staff working ’round the clock.

Troi talks to Jellico as he’s redecorating his ready room—including with some artwork by his young son—about the difficulty of adjusting to Jellico’s command style. Jellico then fobs it all off on her; he doesn’t have time for a honeymoon with the crew, and puts her in charge of “the morale situation,” making sure they adjust to his way of doing things.

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La Forge talks to Riker about Jellico’s wholesale changes—which are fine in and of themselves, but La Forge can’t make the changes in the time allotted and with the personnel he has, while adjusting to a stupid four-shift rotation. La Forge suggests talking to Picard, but Riker comes to him when he’s back from training for the mission, and he’s obviously completely fried. Riker gently backs off from burdening him further.

Jellico and Picard have a final meeting, with Picard singing Riker’s praises to an unimpressed Jellico. Then the shuttle departs with Picard, Worf, and Crusher, and the captain can now explain the mission: Starfleet Intelligence believe the Cardassians are developing metagenic weapons. SI detected theta-band emissions that may indicate the construction of a delivery system for the metagenic weapons that would make them safe for the wielder (which has always been the biggest risk with bio-weapons of this sort). The three of them are to penetrate the Celtris III installation, determine if metagenic weapons are being used, and destroy them.

Picard did experiments with theta-band emissions on the Stargazer, Crusher is there to find and destroy any biotoxins, and Worf is there for muscle. They can’t go into Cardassian territory on a Starfleet shuttle, so they acquire passage on a Ferengi cargo carrier. Upon arrival at Celtris III, they move through caves that look like the ones from the holodeck. However, the real thing has bats, which startle Worf (“You’re not afraid of bats, are you, Lieutenant?” “Of course not!”), and then they have to rappel down a cliff face, which makes Crusher apprehensive (“You’re not afraid of heights, are you, Doctor?” “Of course not!”).

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The Enterprise meets with the Reklar, and Gul Lemec beams on board. Jellico deliberately keeps them waiting by way of establishing dominance in the meeting. (When he explains this to Troi, he likens Cardassians to timber wolves.) When he finally does meet with Lemec, Riker and Troi by his side, he causes a scene, running over Lemec’s objections that he was waiting for an hour and that it’s not a one-on-one meeting, and then Jellico storms out. On the bridge, he tells Riker and Troi to go back and tell Lemec that Jellico is a loose cannon and give grudging permission for two aides.

At the second meeting, to which Lemec has indeed brought two aides, Jellico is much more polite—at least, at first. Lemec insists that the troops massing are training exercises. Jellico counters that they might send starships on the border to observe the exercises. There’s posturing back and forth, and then Lemec makes it clear that they know about Picard, Worf, and Crusher’s mission, which sets everyone on edge.

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On Celtris III, after cutting through a lava tube (and after Worf has to rescue Crusher from a cave-in, literally picking Picard up and moving him out of the way so he can save her with his soooper Klingon strength), they arrive at a maintenance hatch for the installation.

Except, once they break into the hatch, there is no installation, no lab, no nothing, just another cave, with a small device that emits theta-band waves. Picard channels Admiral Ackbar (“It’s a trap!”), and they try to escape, but only Worf and Crusher get away. Picard is captured, and brought to an interrogator named Gul Madred, who announces that the questioning of Picard will be an interesting challenge.

To be continued…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Metagenic weapons can wipe out every living thing on a planet, but leave the equipment and technology intact (basically a big-ass sci-fi version of a neutron bomb). The Cardassians are alleged to be developing a subspace carrier wave for such a weapon, which would leave it neutral until it’s deployed.

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Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi tries to talk to Jellico about the problems the crew is having with his command style, and Jellico not only shuts her down, but makes her wear a formal uniform, something she hasn’t done since “Encounter at Farpoint” (and which she will continue to wear for the rest of the show’s run).

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf gets to show off a bit here, singlehandedly rescuing Crusher from a cave-in, then using his mad security skillz to break into the fake lab.

If I only had a brain…: Data turns out to be the ideal officer for Jellico, because he does what he’s told and comes up with methods of doing things without letting emotion get in the way. This will be carried over into next week…

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck: Picard runs simulations on the holodeck of the cave system on Celtris III. When they’re on Celtris III itself, Picard recognizes the bats, so why the heck didn’t he put them in the holodeck program? Seems to me that it’s not much of a simulation if it doesn’t include that…

I believe I said that: “I’ve got to get this ship ready, and I don’t have time to give Will Riker, or anyone else, a chance. And forgive me for being blunt, but the Enterprise is mine now.”

Jellico peeing all over Picard’s stuff.

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Welcome aboard: Four of the most distinctive guest stars in Trek history this week, creating four memorable characters. Natalia Nogulich makes the first of many appearances as the antagonistic Admiral Nechayev. John Durbin, having previously been a Selay on “Lonely Among Us,” plays Gul Lemec with a wonderful voice and a delightfully insincere smile (he’ll return to play roles on both Deep Space Nine and Voyager). Ronny Cox brings the same intensity to Edward Jellico that he brought to his signature roles in the films Total Recall and RoboCop, and the great David Warner makes an immediate impression in the final scene as Gul Madred, warming us up for next week (Warner appeared in two straight Trek films, playing the drunken St. John Talbot in Star Trek V and the ill-fated reformer Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI).

Lou Wagner also appears as DaiMon Solok; he’ll be back later this season on DS9 as Krax in “The Nagus.”

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Trivial matters: This two-parter sets the stage for Deep Space Nine, establishing that the Cardassians have pulled out of Bajor. The original intent was for the scene with DaiMon Solok to involve Quark and take place on DS9, but it was changed when the decision was made to debut the spinoff in January, a month after “Chain of Command” aired. That scene was filmed on DS9’s replimat set.

The character of Jellico only appears in this two-parter on screen, but he recurs extensively in the tie-in fiction. He’s a regular in Peter David’s New Frontier series (having been promoted to admiral following the events of this two-parter), and also plays a large supporting role in David Mack’s Destiny trilogy. He’s made a bunch of other appearances, most taking place after this storyline, but your humble rewatcher did a story of Jellico on the Cairo for the Captain’s Log comic book miniseries published by IDW.

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The same thing for the character of Madred, who has appeared in the DS9 novels Mission: Gamma: Lesser Evil by Robert Simpson and A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson, the TNG novel Ship of the Line by Diane Carey, and your humble rewatcher’s short story “Four Lights” in the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit, that last a direct sequel to this two-parter, where Picard captures Madred during the Dominion War and puts him in the brig.

Lemec will appear again as the Cardassian leader of the conquering of Betazed during the Dominion War, as seen in both your humble rewatcher’s short story “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” in Tales of the Dominion War and the TNG novel The Battle of Betazed by Susan Kearney & Charlotte Douglas.

This is the first of several onscreen appearances by Nechayev, who will return in “Descent,” “Journey’s End,” and “Preemptive Strike,” and also appear twice on DS9. She, too, is a regular in David’s New Frontier series, and is also in (among others), Rogue Saucer and the Genesis Wave series by John Vornholt, Terok Nor: Dawn of the Eagles by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison, Invasion!: Time’s Enemy by L.A. Graf, Hollow Men by Una McCormack, the Destiny trilogy by David Mack, your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 2, and the comic book The Space Between by David Tischman and Casey Maloney.

The episode was originally intended as a single story, with Picard being rescued in the end, but Michael Piller suggested expanding it to do a two-person play with Madred and Picard for the second part as a budget-saver. It not only worked to help keep the budget under control, it made the two-parter far more memorable.

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Make it so: “Get it done.” This is half a great episode, as we get a shakeup of the status quo on the Enterprise. Edward Jellico is a fascinating character—also a polarizing one. Talking about him among Star Trek fans is always entertaining, because opinion is usually divided down the middle. Some think he’s just what the ship needed, others think he’s an irredeemable asshat.

Mind you, the episode works because they’re both right. Jellico is a good captain, just with a different style (epitomized by his more direct “get it done” versus Picard’s gentler “make it so”). He’s also put on the ship during a tense situation, which warps everything around him, magnifying the problems and muting the good. He has a much more formal command style, but he refers to everyone casually by their given name, an interesting velvet glove in which to clad his iron fist. His changes to the engineering and tactical systems are reasonable given the likelihood of a conflict—on the other hand, asking them to make such radical changes so quickly is just asking for trouble, especially when you’re also adjusting to a spectacularly stupid new shift structure on top of it. (I know I keep harping on it, but the four-shift thing is really dumb, and Jellico’s insistence on sledgehammering it in along with everything else serves to make him look unnecessarily stubborn and recalcitrant.)

But the shakeup works wonderfully, creating some fascinating dynamics, especially with Jellico’s increased dissatisfaction with Riker (which will come to a head next week).

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The other half of the episode falls apart as soon as you blow on it. The actual mission of gadding about through the caves is mildly diverting (less so the idiotic scene where they book passage with the Ferengi, which might have been salvaged by Armin Shimerman…), but it makes absolutely no sense that these three people are being sent on the mission. Picard’s the captain of the flagship—just because his ship played with theta-band emissions once (and it had to have been at least a decade earlier), they’re going to take him off his post to lead this mission? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take a doctor who specializes in bio-weapons instead of Crusher? And doesn’t Starfleet Intelligence have, y’know, operatives who can do what Worf is doing?

Worse, Madred reveals that the whole thing was specifically to lure Picard into Cardassian territory, which makes me wonder what they would have done if they got someone else who served on the Stargazer back when the theta-band tests were done to perform this mission.

It’s all an excuse to set up Part 2, of course, which we’ll talk about on Tuesday, but the methods by which they get there are horrendously contrived.

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Having said all that, this remains an excellent episode for the Enterprise portions. Often lost in the hugger-mugger about Jellico and Nechayev and Madred (all memorable characters who have each created great impressions on the Trek universe) is the fact that John Durbin gives a superb performance as Lemec, modulating easily from outrage to arrogance. The moment when he reveals that the Cardassians know about Picard’s covert mission is brilliant, Jellico’s maneuverings collapsing under the weight of that revelation that changes everything. Both Durbin and Cox play it perfectly.

Wonderful stuff, even with its flaws, but the flaws set up the best parts of the conclusion…

Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido is Media Guest of Honor at Albacon 2012 in Latham, New York this weekend (here’s his schedule), and will also be one of the readers, along with fellow Trek scribe Aaron Rosenberg, for next week’s New York Review of Science Fiction Reading at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art on Tuesday the 23rd of October at 7pm.


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