On a planet that Riker barely escaped from eight years earlier, the Enterprise discovers a duplicate of Riker, created by a freak transporter accident on that previous occasion. This duplicate is as much Will Riker as the Enterprise first officer, just with very different experiences in the last eight years. This two Rikers have difficulty adjusting to each other’s existence, but must work together to complete a mission. Meanwhile, the new Riker attempts to rekindle his romance with Deanna. In the end, eh chooses to pursue his career and goes to serve on another ship.
Teleplay by René Echevarria. Story by Michael A. Medlock. Directed by LeVar Burton.
Okay…the transporter just created a person. A sentient human being. Of course, this is just an excuse, really, to have a story about two Rikers, including one whose career was stopped short at an earlier stage. Nowhere is there any effort to wrestle with the ramifications that the transporter didn’t just move matter, it appears to have created it, at the same time endowing that newly formed matter with will and sentience. Not that we should be surprised, I guess, certainly not in retrospect. After all, this is the franchise that has already begun to assert–and later will repeatedly confirm–that creating new people is as simple as giving the holodeck a few off-the-cuff commands. So, duplicated person invented through improbable transporter mishap? No problem!
But having gotten those sorts of objections out of the way, Second Chances does work quite well, and is exactly the sort of high-concept story the series has often been particularly good at. The episode gives us some honest and genuine interactions as Riker, Troi, and Riker all deal with the personal implications of that mishap all those eight years ago. I particularly appreciated the whole thing with Troi and her re-awakened romance. The story gives us plenty of opportunity to learn about Troi and Riker’s backstory and the details of the decline in their relationship, and gives us a bit of insight into both characters, and Riker’s ongoing character arc regarding his career decisions.
Jonathan Frakes, who has long ago proved his acting chops in this series, does so once again by reasonably successfully creating two distinct versions of the same guy. Marina Sirtis also gives a good and affecting performance as she brings out Troi’s regret over her failed romance with Riker.
Aside from all that, the episode winds up being a little bit flat at the end simply because there’s really no really engaging way to conclude the story. Troi, of course, doesn’t wind up in a long-term relationship with the new Riker, and the new Riker winds up serving somewhere else in the world of Starfleet, and aside from an episode of Deep Space Nine, is never heard from again. It’s not a bad ending, but it feels a bit inevitable – like what else could they have done? An interesting result of the way the plot unfolds is that the newly discovered Riker overall is much more likeable than “our” Riker. Our Riker comes across as a bit of a jerk – both for dumping Troi, and for treating his duplicate with basically no compassion or kindness whatsoever. It would have been interesting if our Riker had actually been killed off, as apparently had famously been considered, but that’s exactly the bold and unexpected sort of storytelling that we’re particularly unlikely to see in a franchise like Star Trek.
• Dr. Mae Jemison plays Lt. Palmer. She has only one other credited acting role on IMDB, but she is best known for being an astronaut, the first African-American woman to go into space.
Shout out to the Past:
There is a reference to the events of The Icarus Factor and Riker’s relationship with his father.
Setting Up the Future:
“Thomas” Riker turns up again in an episode of Deep Space Nine called Defiant, which was sort of cool, but then never showed up again, which was a bit of a pity.
• Interesting little bit at the beginning with Riker on the trombone, and Beverly and Troi out in major clubbing outfits.
• Oh, and it’s LeVar Burton directing the episode – the first of many that he will do. He makes the third cast member to start directing, I believe.
• What I think of as one of the greatest missed opportunities of the episode: Riker’s beard. Naturally, the trapped Riker could have ended up growing a beard just because it would have been difficult not to while he was stranded. But it would have been interesting if they had him afterwards choose to not to keep it afterwards (especially since he wouldn’t have had one when he was trapped, presumably. Or at least, he could have shaved off his beard for the episode’s ending, when he leaves. That would have helped keep him visually distinct enough from his counterpart.
• When I was originally watching this, I wondered if it would turn out that Riker was split similar to Kirk back in The Enemy Within, with their personalities being split as well. I thought it would be interesting if the story had re-integrated the two Riker’s and it had led to his personality radically changing.
• In the conference scene, we see that Riker instantly realizes the implications of Troi seeing the other Riker
• The two Riker’s working together on something boring and technical – cue personal conversation!
• The optical effects when our Riker confronts the other Riker on the planet don’t quite work
• The 2nd Riker sends Troi on a little scavenger hunt, which is cute. She is won over by flowers, cheap poetry, and some chocolate.
• It’s an effective moment with Troi sharing her disappointment in the way Riker distanced himself from her.
• Beverly & Troi hanging out, doing Klingon exercise. We’ll see more and more of this over the rest of the series, making it feel like they are the only two women on the ship.
• A poker game – first for a while. Riker, Riker, Worf, and Data. Poker is such an obvious metaphor for challenging relationships. I find it hard in watching this scene, though, that it’s hard to not think about what they are using for money, when they make such a big deal about betting and raising and so on.
• The moment between Worf and Data, discussing humanity, is nice but becoming a little typical on the show.
• The climax, on rewatch, is a little underwhelming.
Dialogue High Point
My favorite line is from “original” Riker, where he says something to Troi about her romance with the other Riker, which I consider to be the most insightful line in the episode.
If he had gotten off the planet instead of me, don’t you think he would have made the same choices that I made?