Star Trek The Next Generation: Gambit, Part 1

From the complicated cold open to an undercover operation on a pirate ship, this episode was Next Gen clearly trying to do something completely different.

So let's start at the beginning.

The Enterprise crew, in casual, drapey civilian clothes and messy hair, were checking out the Star Wars cantina-like bar where Picard was killed. This was a bit less effective than it could have been, since the audience was very aware that Picard couldn't be dead. Although I really have to applaud the extensive alien makeups here. Next Gen usually gave us what we called "face aliens," actors with a limited amount of makeup and prosthetics on their faces. They went all out this time.

Back at the ship while everyone was mourning Picard, Troi was literally screaming at Riker, which I thought might be inappropriate behavior for a mental health professional. Riker decided to postpone Enterprise's latest mission and continue investigating Picard's death, and oddly, Starfleet let him do it. I did enjoy new first officer Data using Riker's argument about captains not leading away teams against him, even though it was unsuccessful. It was also fun to see Data in command for most of the episode. Is Data too unemotional to function successfully as a ship's captain? He did seem a bit too rigid.

Note that Data was right about Riker leading an away team, since Riker indeed jumped directly into danger when he was taken by the pirates, headed by an alien named Baran (Richard Lynch) who kept his minions under control with pain patches on their necks. And surprise! One of those minions was Jean-Luc Picard in an exciting new costume, calling himself "Galen."

I'm a fan of Patrick Stewart's and I bet he enjoyed playing a character that was Picard's opposite. In fact, Stewart is so good that we could see Picard subtly telegraphing what he was doing to Riker as he trashed Riker's reputation as a Starfleet officer and recommended killing him, right before setting up a situation that would make Riker an asset to the crew. Jonathan Frakes did a good job here too, as Riker mostly concealed his shock and managed to play along.

I also liked Picard making a not-so-subtle attempt to recruit Tallera, his Romulan crewmate. Although the cliffhanger at the end of the episode ("Fire!") arrived before we learned much of anything about why the pirates were after Romulan artifacts. Stay tuned for part two.

Bits:

— Stardate 47135.2. Dessica 2 and Barradas 3, plus the pirate starship.

— Extensive phaser gunfight. Yet another thing they never do on Next Gen.

— And speaking of phasers, how about that phaser-as-secret-transporter thing? Very cool idea.

— Robin Curtis (Tallera) replaced Kirstie Alley as Saavik in the original series Star Trek movies The Search for Spock (1984) and The Voyage Home (1986). It was nice to see her again. (This episode originally aired in 1993, by the way.)

— Note also Sabrina LeBoeuf from The Cosby Show, who had a lot of uncomfortable dialogue to spout at Ops.

— One thing I didn't notice but discovered while reading up on this episode: Riker got the alien Yranac from the bar to talk, and note what Yranac's name is spelled backward.

— In the original series, Spock's lack of emotion and difficulty in dealing with command was brought up more than once. I kept thinking about it during Data's command scenes.

— During the conference room scene, Data steepled his fingers. Was he deliberately mimicking Picard?


Quotes:

Riker: "This is not about revenge. This is about justice. The captain died in a bar fight for nothing. Somebody has to answer for that. Then, I can mourn."

Data: "If Captain Picard were here..."
Riker: "He's not."
Data: "I realize that, sir. But if he were and he wanted to lead an away team, you would tell him that the captain's place..."
Riker: "...is on the bridge. Not this time."

I don't remember exactly how this two-parter ended, so I don't feel I can rate part one fairly. But I did enjoy it a lot more than "Descent." Maybe it should have been the sixth season finale,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

magritte said...

I quite enjoyed this one too, in large part because of Picard's performance as Baran. One of the odd things about TNG is that so many episodes don't really give Patrick Stewart a whole lot to really do.

And I like your comment about them putting more work than usual into the aliens in the bar scene--couldn't help thinking they were consciously referencing the classic Star Wars cantina scene. I've been watching Farscape lately and it has made me very conscious of how lazy the Star Trek franchise is in portraying aliens. Though I suppose it's much more pleasant for the actors.

Billie Doux said...

magritte, I was actually discussing Farscape with my son as we were watching this episode. "Face alien" makeup undoubtedly made it easier for actors to emote on Next Gen.