Star Trek: The Next Generation – Chain of Command, Part II [6.11]

Picard is held prisoner and tortured  by Cardassian Gul Madred, wanting information about how the Federation would respond to a Cardassian incursion.  Picard does his best resisting having his will broken, refusing to comply with Madred insisting upon a false number of lights in the room.  Meanwhile, Captain Jellico attempts to continue his negotiations with the Cardassians, but he and Riker conflict with how to handle Picard’s capture.  Jellico relieves Riker of duty, but must ask for his help when he needs his skills as a shuttle pilot.  Eventually, Jellico is able to get the upper hand on the Cardassians and force them to release Picard – who has managed to avoid breaking, but only just.  Picard resumes command of the Enterprise.

Written by Frank Abatemarco. Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: Chain of Command, Part I • Next Episode: Ship in a Bottle

Comments:
Everyone who enjoys Next Generation knows that Patrick Stewart is a good actor.  We’ve seen that demonstrated in lots of episodes, even in the sub-par opening season of the series.  Then over the years there have been a few episodes that really give Stewart the chance to dig deep, and show just how talented he is.  I’m thinking of stories like Family, and The Inner Light, Sarek,  and the forthcoming All Good Things…

And then there is Chain of Command, Part II, which while by no means my favorite episode of the series, certainly gives Patrick Stewart the chance to strut his stuff like no other episode before or since, the torture storyline providing him the opportunity to pull off a bit of a thespian tour-de-force.  One of the best qualities of Stewart’s performance as Picard has been his ability to imbue the character’s most vulnerable moments with tremendous dignity, and certainly here we see the Captain at his most vulnerable.  He’s a helpless, naked, brutalized victim, and yet he still is able to confound his captor with his resolve.  It’s some powerful stuff.

Holding up the other end of this duet is a very capable performance from David Warner as Gul Madred.  Probably the most interesting thing about this aspect of the story is how very “civilized” we see the Cardassians as being – interested in art, music, and family.  In many ways, they are the mirror image of the Federation, with much the same values, and at the same time, utterly depraved.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s fitting that this was the very last original episode of Next Generation to air before Deep Space Nine debuted, as the Cardassians were in many ways the primary antagonists of that series.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, we get to see the most interesting part of Chain of Command, Part I playing out to its conclusion:  Captain Jellico attempts to deal with the Cardassians as the Enterprise crew attempts to deal with Captain Jellico.  The confrontation between Jellico and Riker is pretty well handled – providing proponents of both sides with enough evidence to feel that they were “proved right”.  I remember my brother commenting after this episode that it was great to see Riker finally put in his place, while I had thought that on the whole that Riker had “come out on top”.  That is some good balanced storytelling.  It’s interesting that in the long run, Jelllico is actually pulls off his mission, albeit with Riker’s help.  He manages to successfully push back the Cardassians and rescue Picard.  He just doesn’t make any friends amongst his crew doing it.

All-in-all, I’d call this the most successful two-parter of the series since The Best of Both Worlds.

Guest Cast:
• Again, David Warner and Ronny Cox play Gul Madred and Captain Jellico – both are accomplished actors with many well-known credits.

Setting Up the Future:
As mentioned more than once now, the episode positions the Cardassians as major enemies of the Federation, setting up their relationship in Deep Space Nine.

Observations:
• In spite of some fun scenes, ultimately very little happened in the first part, as evidence by the fact that almost all of the “last time” scenes were from the last 15 minutes of the episode.

• Interestingly, the episode begins with Picard feeling like he’s in command of the situation.  He is quickly corrected about that.

• Creepy line from Gul Madred:  “Are you in good health?  Do you have any physical ailments I should know about?” before the torturing begins.  Also, “But I’ve told you that I believe you.  I didn’t ask you about Minos Korva.  I asked how many lights you see.”  Clearly, Madred’s job isn’t necessarily to get information from Picard, but to break his will.

• Data is suddenly in a red uniform, now that he’s the first officer.

• “When children learn to devalue others, they can devalue anyone, including their parents.”  Good stuff.

• The torture stuff is pretty unpleasant.  But it’s fun when Picard asks, “What lights?”

• Beverly gets a good one in:  “Have sickbay ready for the casualties you are about to send me.”

• Picard eats the disgusting food, in his desperation

• If it weren’t for the indisputable king of the memorable dialog, listed below, this line from Picard would be a strong contender:  “Whenever I look at you, I won’t see a powerful Cardassian warrior.  I will see a six year old boy who is powerless to protect himself….In spite of all you’ve done to me, I find you a pitiable man.”  And then, in agony, “You are six years old!  Weak and helpless!  You cannot hurt me!”

• This is a little thing, but I like that Riker answers his doorbell with “Come in!” rather than just, “Come,” which seems more commonly used.

• No matter whose side you find yourself on, the “dropped ranks” confrontation between Jellico and Riker is pretty well done:

Jellico:  Let’s drop the ranks for a moment.  I don’t like you.  I think you’re insubordinate, arrogant, willful, and I don’t think you’re a particularly good first officer.  But you are also the best pilot on the ship.
Riker:  Well, now that the ranks are dropped, Captain, I don’t like you, either.  You are arrogant and closed-minded.  You need to control everything and everyone.  You don’t provide an atmosphere of trust, and you don’t inspire these people to go out of their way for you.  You’ve got everybody wound up so tight there’s no joy in anything.  I don’t think you’re a particularly good Captain.

Followed by, of course, Riker’s, “Then ask me.”

• Whoa–that image of the shuttle flying along looks a bit hokey.

• It’s a nice touch that it’s Jellico who says, “Captain on the bridge,” when Picard returns.

• Jellico leaves, and nobody misses him.

Dialogue High Point
It’s not the cleverest line of dialog, but in context, it’s the line that represents everything that’s good about this episode.  It’s not just the most iconic line of the episode, it’s actually one of the most iconic lines of the entire series, if not the franchise–perhaps the most iconic that wasn’t a “catchphrase, repeated in other episodes.  It is repeated several times in this episode, but without a doubt the moment we all remember is the one toward the end, when Picard finds out he is being set free, and that he has managed to hold out against Gul Madred, if only barely.

There are four lights!

Previous Episode: Chain of Command, Part I • Next Episode: Ship in a Bottle

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One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Chain of Command, Part II [6.11]

  1. That final “there are four lights” was such a powerful moment. Stewart nails this entire episode. Then he gets the great scene with Troi where he admits to having seen five lights.

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