When tensions with the Cardassians increase, Picard is reassigned to a special undercover sabotage mission against what is believed to be a new deadly weapon. Meanwhile, a new Captain comes aboard the Enterprise, causing tension with all the officers by his abrasive manner. This Captain Edward Jellico is responsible to negotiate with the Cardassians while this secret mission is taking place. However, the presumed weapon turns out to be a trap to lure Picard into a vulnerable situation. It works, and Picard is captured by the Cardassians.
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by Frank Abatemarco. Directed by Robert Scheerer.
When people remember Chain of Command (and they do, it’s highly regarded and considered one of the best by many), they generally remember the second part. Picard being tortured by the Cardassian, with Patrick Stewart giving it his all, struggling to retain his dignity in the face of the brutality of his captor. But what about the first part? Picard’s story is entertaining for what it is, but it winds up having a little bit of a “wait for the second part” feel to it (not as bad as Unification, but sort of in that direction). Having Picard teamed with Worf and Crusher makes for a different sort of combination, and there is a real feeling of weight and import to their mission, but the revelation at the end makes it feel like it was a bit for nothing.
So what are we watching during that first part? Who really is the star of the episode? It’s Ronny Cox, that’s who.
Ronny Cox, a well known character actor who has been around for decades, does an excellent job. His task is not to make Captain Jellico a deeply nuanced, complex individual – but more to create a character who was a very different Captain than Picard. He’s a bit more direct, a bit more “by the book”. He’s also sort of unpleasant, and kind of a jerk (nice to acknowledge that such people exist in the future). This is a bit of a spoiler for the second part, but it’s great that Jellico isn’t anything ridiculous like a secret villain or whatever. He’s just a Captain who has a very different way about him, which feels realistic. And he winds up with all the best lines and moments in the episode, as he walks around ruffling everyone’s feathers. Both Riker and Troi have a lot to do as they try to respond to this unexpected and very foreign influence in their midst.
Also significant in this story are the presence and role of the Cardassians. Their scenes with Jellico work very well. Gul Lemec is not up to the par of the “best” Cardassians (such as Dukat, Garak, or even Madred, who makes his debut at the end of this episode), but his scenes across episode of Next Generation to air before Deep Space Nine debuted, as it this story that really establishes the Cardassians as an enemy to be reckoned with, an idea that would be developed extensively on the spin-off show.
Not as much is made of the fact that Picard has been relieved of command. Instead, he spends the first half of the episode with his orders shrouded in mystery, and the second half with him underway in the less interesting parts of his mission. This material is not weak or badly done, it’s just not as interesting as the rest of the episode. But the ending, where Picard is captured, and torture is threatened by David Warner – another well-known character actor – more than makes up for it. it’s a great concluding moment, and it sets up what will become one of Picard’s defining episodes, in the second part.
• Ronny Cox, who plays Captain Jellico, is a well known character actor. I’m familiar with him as one of the stars of St. Elsehwere in its final season, as well as from Deliverance, Robocop, and Stargate SG-1. He also, apparently, played the Chief on the TV series Cop Rock.
• Natalija Nogulich plays Admiral Nechayev for the first time. She has many credited roles, and will play Nechayev again several times on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
• John Durbin plays Gul Lemec. He appears again
• Lou Wagner, who plays DaiMon Solok, appeared in several Planet of the Apes movies, including in the first two as Lucius. He also was a regular on CHiPs for a little while, including some episodes along side Michael Dorn.
• David Warner plays Gul Madred. He is a very famous actor who has been in hundreds of productions. I know him as Evil from Time Bandits, Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol (starring George C. Scott). He of course was also previously St. John Talbot in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He also played Jor-El in Lois & Clark.
Shout Out to the Past:
There’s a brief reference to the Bajorans. We also hear talk about Riker’s refusing to be promoted to his own command.
Setting Up the Future
Vice Admiral Nechayav makes her debut here. She will appear several more times in the franchise.
As noted above, this episode (and its second part) really establish the Cardassians as a prime threat for the Federation, which is an idea developed in the future, especially in Deep Space Nine.
• That’s one of the shortest and punchiest opening teasers ever!
• Both Nechayev and Jellico seem determined to make this as difficult as possible for everyone
• Jellico has his own catchphrase, contrasting sharply with Picard’s “Make it so.” He says, repeatedly, “Get it done,” as in, “You will tell the department heads that as of now the Enterprise is on a four shift rotation. I don’t want to talk about it. Get it done.”
• Very jarring to hear Jellico’s voice doing the Captain’s Log
• Other signs of Jellico’s roughness: “Oh, and get that fish out of the ready room,” and “I’m glad you brought this to my attention, Deanna. Unfortunately, I don’t have a time for a honeymoon with the crew. You’ve clearly given this a lot of thought, so I’d like you to take charge of the morale situation. Please see to it that they make the adjustment to the new routine quickly and easily.” That last line, in response to Deanna’s attempt at diplomacy, shows as much as any how different this Captain will operate.
• In one fell swoop, Jellico refuses Deanna’s advice and makes her feel uncomfortable with his request that she wear a standard uniform. But we are all happy that he did (and so was actress Marina Sirtis, apparently).
• I like it how Riker, seeing Picard’s tiredness, decides not to bother him with his troubles.
• It’s effective for tension how we in the audience wait with Beverly and Worf to know what’s going on.
• Beverly wiling Solok into helping – it looks a little bit awkward. And Worf looks annoyed.
• I feel like Beverly is speaking a bit loudly in the caves
• Worf might be afraid of bats. And Beverly of heights.
• Memorable little exchange between Riker and Troi about Jellico. “Well, I’ll say this for him – he’s sure of himself,” says Riker. “No, he’s not,” replies Troi.
• Gul Lemec’s best line comes when Jellico tries to deny knowledge of Picard’s secret mission. “Then there’s no need for worry,” he says, before pausing a moment, and adding, “A brief recess would seem to be in order.”
• The crew breaking into a secret installation that turns out to not exist is reminiscent of the famous Blakes Seven episode Pressure Point.
• Madred makes a strong first impression, in one of the show’s best cliffhangers: “In this room, you do not ask questions. I ask them, you answer. If I’m not satisfied with those answers, you will die.”
Dialogue High Point
I think my favorites comes when Picard asks Jellico to give Commander Riker a chance to prove himself.
Jean-Luc, let’s be candid for a moment. The Cardassians aren’t going to listen to reason, and the Federation isn’t going to give in to their demands. And the chances are you won’t be coming back from this mission of yours. I want this ship ready for action and I don’t have time to give Will Riker or anyone else a chance.