Star Trek The Next Generation: Chain of Command, Part 2

“There are four lights!”

I have some mixed feelings about this episode.
While the dialogue, acting, and plotting were all very well done, it was a torture episode. No matter how good it was, we spent most of it watching Picard go through one of the worst experiences of his life. Well, maybe not quite as bad as becoming a Borg, but close.

Is this episode one of the best of the series? That’s kind of a complicated question. On one hand, Patrick Stewart and David Warner were amazing. The wonderful back and forth dialogue, the small stories they told each other, every mannerism was deeply nuanced, from subtle facial tics to exaggerated emotions. There was also the incredibly powerful physical degradation suffered by Picard, although the timeline is a little fuzzy. Was it days or merely hours?

Ronny Cox was equally as impressive as Captain Jellico, giving us a totally different kind of captain who wasn’t a villain but was definitely an antagonist. You can understand why Riker had so much trouble with him, but Jellico was right, Riker was insubordinate. Of course Jellico was an arrogant, impatient micromanager who ultimately proved to be the right man for the job, locking the Cardassians into a stalemate and forcing them to return Picard and abandon their plans for invasion. I couldn’t see Picard making that same choice, although Picard would’ve been successful, too.

I would be remiss not to mention how much this two parter establishes the Cardassians, their culture and societal structure, laying the groundwork for Deep Space Nine. They are clearly set up as villains, with little to redeem them. Yet we also got a taste of just how close the Cardassians are to humans.  We see how much they love their children, have weird food delicacies, and have similar emotional responses to us. They were a society driven to the brink of collapse and chose the structured way out (having the military take over), which seems to have cost them their souls.

Okay, so my issues with this episode are two-fold. First, the torture. Although well done, and not terribly graphic, it was disturbing enough as a psychological game between Picard and Gul Madred (what a name, mad red… crazy blood, a bit on the nose). Watching Picard stripped of everything, including his dignity and name, wasn’t just hard to watch, it was gratuitous. Madred’s game was all about asserting control, even though he effectively destroyed the integrity of the information he was after. The toll on Picard was obvious: he was strong at the beginning, but afterward sitting back in his ready room, he looked hollow. He was ready to give up, and his final act of defiance was really only a matter of timing.

My second major issue with this episode is fairly simple: this episode feels like the equivalent of Oscar bait. Oscar bait is typically defined as a movie released late in the year, designed to be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. This episode was very clearly designed to be dramatically manipulative, cast with brilliant actors, scripted with intentionally affecting dialogue. It almost seems like it was made to be a special event, made to be great. Does that take away from the experience? Well, yes and no. "Unification" was a similar exercise, and it wasn’t as good (and that one had Spock). I understand they did research the subject (torture) heavily, taking into account the various methods, and the effects that those methods had on its victims. What it boils down to is, this show is static, episodic, and Picard will be perfectly normal by the next episode.

Bits:

Data looked great in a red uniform, and it bothers me he isn’t in a command uniform given the fact he is third in command. I know he is the Conn officer, which puts him in gold, but shouldn’t someone of that kind of rank be in a command uniform?

Speaking of uniforms, Marina Sirtis campaigned for Troi to be in a uniform, and she finally got her wish. I know Mark mentioned this in his Part 1 review, but I love Troi in blue, she looks so much better.

The Taspar eggs were pretty gross, but not entirely unbelievable as an odd alien delicacy.

Jellico and Geordi mentioned being assigned as pilots to the Jovian run, a trip between Jupiter and Saturn and back, a trip they would do every single day they were on duty. This was nice because it showed Jellico as a person, and gave us a taste of what normal life would be like as a lower ranking member of the federation.

Quotes:

Madred: "From this point on, you will enjoy no privilege of rank, no privileges of person. From now on, I will refer to you only as Human. You have no other identity!"

Madred: "How many lights do you see there?"
Picard: "I see four lights."
Madred: "No. There are five."
Picard: "I know nothing about Minos Korva."
Madred: "But I've told you that I believe you. I didn't ask you about Minos Korva. I asked how many lights you see."
Picard: "There are four lights."
Madred: "I don't understand how you can be so mistaken."

Jil Orra: "Do humans have mothers and fathers?"
Madred: "Yes... but human mothers and fathers don't love their children as we do. They're not the same as we are."

Picard: "When children learn to devalue others they can devalue anyone, including their parents."
Madred: "What a blind, narrow view you have. What an arrogant man you are."

Picard: "Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information; it is ultimately self-defeating as a means of gaining control. One wonders why it is still practiced."

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."
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."

Picard: "What I didn't put in the report was that at the end he gave me a choice – between a life of comfort or more torture. All I had to do was to say that I could see five lights when, in fact, there were only four."
Beverly: "You didn't say it?"
Picard: "No! No. But I was going to. I would have told him anything. Anything at all! But more than that, I believed that I could see five lights."

It would be wrong to under-rate this episode, but I cannot give it my highest rating.

3-1/2 out of 4 Taspar eggs.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

An excellent review, J.D. I just rewatched this one (I have the next Next Gen review) and I kept thinking that, while such an intense episode with such exceptional actors makes this one memorable -- I am a huge fan of Patrick Stewart's and he was amazing -- I really had a problem with how they got the characters into this situation. How do we give Patrick Stewart and David Warner (I'm a fan of his, too) these heavy-duty emotional scenes to do together? There's a reason why captains don't go on away teams and the reason for Picard to go on this mission absolutely made no sense.

There's a La Femme Nikita episode something like this one, called "War," where the two main characters are captured and tortured...

https://www.douxreviews.com/2002/07/la-femme-nikita-war.html

And I'm going to spoil it for you, so beware the spoilers!

In "War," Michael had deliberately allowed himself to be captured and tortured in order to force Nikita to reveal specific information to the enemy to save him. In "War," the resemblance to 1984 is even more direct than in "Chain of Command." (Two words: rat cage.) But my point is that the set-up made more sense and added an emotional and romantic component that worked.

Wow, I digressed. It happens.

And maybe I should mention for a third time that Patrick Stewart is awesome. He even allowed himself to be filmed nude to make it more real.

One more thing. I couldn't help thinking throughout that Bob Cratchit was torturing Ebenezer Scrooge. :)

And I'll stop now.

televisionandotherrantings said...

It might be worth mentioning that the story wasn't originally planned as a two-parter but it was done so as a cost-saving measure. You don't to do too many effects if its mostly two actors in a room.
http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Chain_of_Command%2C_Part_II_(episode)

I ended up really appreciating this episode on my most recent watch of it about 3 years ago. I think the stuff on the Enterprise in this episode and previous part was pretty alright but the scenes with Madred and Picard are damn iconic. The writing and acting was real top-notch. This is also probably the darkest episode of TNG and definitely did set up DS9 pretty well in that regard.

Still I don't think there's any shame in this not being one of your personal favourites. There's gonna be a lot of instances where an episode (or even a whole season) of a show is a fan favourite or highly praised and you just aren't gonna be on board even if you can kind of understand where it comes from. The Inner Light is one of those for me.

TheShadowKnows said...

"Data looked great in a red uniform, and it bothers me he isn’t in a command uniform given the fact he is third in command. I know he is the Conn officer, which puts him in gold, but shouldn’t someone of that kind of rank be in a command uniform?"

As far as that goes, Spock always wore (science officer) blue despite being SECOND in command. And Scotty, who appeared to be third in command, wore (engineering) red instead of (command) green/gold*.

I guess Starfleet is just like that.

* - The command shirts on the original series were actually green, but they always looked gold on TV.