Investigating an inhospitable world, Riker, Worf and Data discover a re-creation of a 20th Century casino inhabited by cliched characters. They find they are trapped there. After they realize that aliens have created this environment out of a cheap novel for a long-dead human explorer, they are able to figure out how to become characters in the story, allowing them ultimately to leave.
Written by Keith Mills. Directed by Cliff Bole
The Royale is a ho-hum story, a trippy but unoriginal concept (didn’t we see this in about half a dozen episodes of The Twilight Zone, as well as the original series?) There is a marked lack of dramatic tension, so that even though we are curious to have the presence of the NASA logo and the American flag explained, in the end it all just feels like an excuse to get some of our most heroes interacting with a goofy, 20th century casino – kind of like a holodeck episode but without the benefit of the safety protocols being turned off.
Star Trek seems to have a bit of a thing for creating pastiches of different “olden days” settings. Between the holodeck and various confused alien races, it did it a lot. This is a pity, because it rarely did it well. The production design could be pretty good, but the characters and dialog usually felt stilted and unnatural. Now, in this story, the casino environment is supposed to be artificial and cliched – but that’s not really doing the story any favors because it just feels like the regulars are trapped in a bad script.
The real problem is that the characters, and thus the audience, never really engage with the situation on any sort of real emotional level. The closest comes when Riker reads out of the dead astronaut’s journal that he was welcoming death, but it’s not enough. Even though the Away Team is trapped, there’s no sense of threat. Even though the situation is potentially funny, the humor here is kept very broad, and thus gets a bit lost in the midst of the poorly defined fictional characters. The surreal ideas on display are not explored very thoroughly, as they could have been if the Away Team had for example tried to alter the direction of the story they’re trapped in, or made any meta-comments about the nature of being fictional characters whose actions are pre-determined.
Most obviously, there is no attempt made to actually talk with the beings who created the environment in the first place. And no effort is given to explaining how a race of beings could read and understand a book, but yet be unable to communicate in any other way. Instead we get a little hand-wave about Fermat’s theorem and unexplained mysteries, and are thus left with the understanding that this story was really nothing else but an excuse to get our characters wandering around a badly written casino. And really, where is the joy in that?
• Noble Willingham, who plays Texas, appeared in many movies and TV shows, including both City Slickers movies.
• Sam Anderson, who played the Assistant Manager, is familiar to genre fans as Bernard, a recurring role on Lost, as well as regular / recurring roles on ER, Growing Pains, Perfect Strangers, Picket Fences, and more.
Anticipting the Future
• Nothing specifically, but the idea of the 24th Century Starfleet officers being trapped in “cliched fiction” occurs a couple of times in the future of Star Trek via holodecks, both to better effect. In Deep Space Nine, there was Bashir’s James Bond-like story, and in Voyager, there is Tom Paris’ “Captain Proton” adventure.
• There’s a casual reference to the Klingons at the start of the story – as if they were any other race of Federation allies.
• Similar to the previous episode, this story has quite the procedural feel – the Enterprise comes across a mystery, and we see their investigative process. It’s a bit more tedious though, and full of a fair amount of technobabble – the first time that I’ve really become aware of this while watching the series again.
• As I have vague recollections to the big “revelation” of the episode (the discovery of the dead body and the information on the novel), it becomes a bit dull to watch it again.
• When they discover that they can’t get out of the hotel, it feels a lot like a Twilight Zone episode.
• It’s amazing to see, 25 years later, how “cheapish” the phaser effect seems.
• Troi can detect Riker’s emotions from very far away. It seems a bit ludicrous – not sure if it’s contradicting anything else that we’ve ever seen. I guess because they’re all Imzadi’s and all…
• Worf has a good line when he learns that the astronaut died in his sleep: “What a terrible way to die.”
• According to the episode, between 2033 and 2079 AD, the USA had 52 stars.
• The novel they are in begins with “It was a dark and stormy night,” the infamous-ly bad line that was popularized by numerous Peanuts comic strips.
• Of course, Data turns into a massively successful gambler. I’m not sure how he does it. The dialog makes it appear he is just “repairing” the dice, not “fixing” them. But it’s hard to explain otherwise how he suddenly is able to be such a winner at craps, even with his super-android brain.
• I know I’ve already commented on this, but seriously if these aliens are so clueless about humans, than how are they able to create that casino and all those people in such detail? I’m sure the book doesn’t explain all that intricate production design so precisely.
Dialogue High Point
In a pretty mediocre episode, there are a couple of good lines. Mickey D says at the end, after killing the bellhop, “Should have listened to me, kid. No woman’s worth dying for. Killing for, not dying for.” But my favorite is a moment of revelation for the crew, when Riker asks the Assistant Manager, “This planet. What do you call it?” and gets the reply
Earth. What do you call it?