Category Archives: 1992

“Chain of Command”

The galaxy’s weirdest barbershop quartet.

Part I: Picard, Crusher and Worf are assigned to a secret mission and Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox) is made captain of the Enterprise to deal with some new Cardassian tensions. Jellico’s a jerk and he ruffles everyone’s feathers, notably Riker’s. Meanwhile, Picard, Crusher and Worf leave to determine whether the Cardassians are building some super-bad weapons on a Cardassian planet. They get there and Picard is captured — and he learns there are no weapons and that the whole thing was a trap to get him.

Part II: Picard is drugged and tortured by the nasty Gul Madred (David Warner) who is intent on learning the Federation’s defense plans for a particular planet near the border, Minas Corva. The Cardies figured Picard would have known those plans as captain of the Enterprise, hence the trap. Meanwhile, Jellico and Riker clash, and Jellico relieves Riker of duty. As Picard is tortured again and again, the Enterprise learns that a fleet of Cardassian ships is in a Nebula near Minas Corva. Jellico swallows his pride and gets Riker to pilot a shuttle to lay mines on the Cardassian ships. Holding all the cards (hiyo!) Jellico forces the Cardassians to surrender. A visibly affected Picard later returns and takes back the Enterprise, but admits to Troi that he was about to cave to Madred’s torture.

“I said, ‘Get that fish out of the ready room.'”

Why it’s important

This is truly one of Trek’s darker — and best — two-parters. Stewart was never better as Picard, and the writing on the Cardassian planet (like when Picard tells Madred he pities him) was pitch perfect. Warner’s Madred was great, too. More on all of that momentarily …

Bigger picture, this really cements the Cardassians as power players on par with the Federation, Klingons and Romulans. Up until now, the Cardassians had appeared just twice and seemed more like peripheral bad guys (though well established peripheral bad guys). But this episode featured the look and feel of the Cardassians we see over the next seven years. It also likely was produced with DS9 in mind. The tensions Jellico is sent to address stem from the Cardassians redeploying forces that had withdrawn from the Bajoran sector. This two-parter aired in December 1992 and DS9’s pilot, “Emissary”, aired in early January 1993.

It is a shame we never saw Madred again, though.

“I’m taking the remote and changing the channel, human. You will now have to watch me in ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.'”

What doesn’t hold up

The tension with Jellico was great — to a point. Unfortunately, the creators hammed it up too much. It’s unlikely Jellico would have been as hard-headed and that the crew (particularly Riker, Geordi and Crusher, in part two) would have been as obstinate. Even if you can shrug off Jellico’s issues, we know that the Enterprise crew is — or should be — more professional. More subtlety would have been appreciated, for almost everyone. The two exceptions are Troi (Marina Sirtis puts in a strong performance) and Data, who’s written and acted appropriately.

In fact, Jellico is actually in the right in the argument in which he relieves Riker. Picard took the assignment knowing that he’d likely be declared a renegade if he were captured. Riker accuses Jellico of trading Picard’s life to improve his bargaining position, but that’s actually what Jellico should do. We’re talking about the fate of two large space empires compared with the life of one man. It’s too bad Riker didn’t blow his top at another more reasonable time.

This episode is actually a good example of Riker-as-chowderhead that we see in TNG’s later seasons. The worst instances are in the “Times Arrow” two-parter — which we won’t review — in which Riker wants to put the lives of Data and Picard ahead of possibly thousands of people on Earth. There’s an awful line where Riker says, “What could be more important than Data?” despite the fact that the crew has learned a bunch of aliens are traveling back to the 19th century for unknown reasons. There and elsewhere in later TNG, Riker’s reactions and dialog are often used to afford other characters the opportunity to explain why tough decisions are being made. In this episode, it provides exposition as to why Picard’s life is mostly forfeit. Riker from earlier seasons would have been smarter.

It’s also a little hard to swallow that the Cardassians would go to such lengths to capture Picard, as the plan wouldn’t have had a high success rate. The idea that he’s one of very few Starfleet officers with experience in “theta band emissions” — which are part of the weapons the Cardassians were supposedly developing — is believable, I guess. But given the vastness of space, it would have been very likely that Picard wouldn’t have been around to fall for the trap. Hell, three weeks earlier (in “Rascals”) he was reduced in age to a teenager in a transporter accident! What would the Cardies have done if the effects couldn’t have been reversed — or if the Ferengi mercenaries had captured the Enterprise?

Also, I think that Riker, once again, doesn’t get the love he deserves from Starfleet. This is a guy who, you know, saved the Federation from the Borg. Even if Admiral Nechayev (Natalija Nogulich) decided on Jellico because of his experience with Cardassians, a line about how everyone appreciates what Riker had done for the Federation would have been appreciated. Hell, Jellico could have even said something about how he thinks Riker got credit that should have gone to the Enterprise crew.

One more Riker note: It’s odd that he’s considered the Enterprise’s best pilot, the “best there is”, as Geordi says. Is he really better than Data? I suppose Jellico wouldn’t have wanted to be without Data on the bridge, but still …

Final thoughts

Of course, this episode is really all about the torture scenes. Picard’s refusals to accede to Madred’s wishes — “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” — are a highlight of the franchise. Stewart and Warner are just so good in this episode that the stretch that is the setup for getting Picard to the planet where he’s tortured is basically worth it.

We also get the backdrop about how Cardassians treat prisoners. Their torture skills are discussed a lot on DS9. Although we saw them twice before (in “The Wounded” and “Ensign Ro”) we really didn’t know much about them. We learn a lot here, even though some of the backstory about them doesn’t mesh with what we learn later.

Of course, it’s too bad that we didn’t see Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) in this episode, in which her comments about Picard’s capture would have been interesting. She appeared in “Rascals”, three episodes prior to part one. It seems like she transferred off the ship shortly thereafter, as she doesn’t appear again for more than a year, in the penultimate TNG episode “Preemptive Strike”.

Coming later this week …

We learn why nearly all Star Trek aliens are bipeds. For serious.

“I, Borg”

“When I return to the collective, I will rename Fourth of Five and Fifth of Five ‘Dew’ and ‘Lou’.”

The Enterprise finds a single Borg (Jonathan Del Arco) at a crash site, and Crusher insists on nursing it back to health. The crew is cautious, given their last encounters with the Borg, and comes up with a plan to use the injured Borg as a weapon to wipe out the entire collective. But the injured Borg, cut off from the hive mind, becomes an individual, and La Forge names him “Hugh”. After meeting Hugh, Picard eventually decides against using an individual as a weapon of mass destruction and decides against sending Hugh back with an invasive program. The crew sends Hugh back to the Borg — but with his new-found individuality.

“So, Mr. La Forge … the Borg can assimilate entire worlds, but they can be beaten by a weird shape? Maybe you need to call in Dr. Brahms on this one …”

Why it’s important

Hugh, upon returning to the Borg, destabilizes a subset of the collective with his individuality. The subset is later found by Lore — Data’s evil twin brother introduced in “Datalore” — who leads them on attacks against the Federation in the upcoming “Descent” two-parter, which begins in the sixth-season finale. That partly paves the way for Data to recover his emotion chip from Lore — which Lore stole from Data in “Brothers”. The emotion chip becomes a major focus point of “Star Trek: Generations” as we’ll discuss later.

But this episode might be more important for what it says about 24th-century humanity (at least, the TNG version of it).

In the first part of the episode, the only cast member speaking out against using Hugh as a weapon is Crusher. Even Troi and Data — characters who might object for various reasons — are pretty much behind the plan. But as the episode progresses, and as the characters get to know Hugh and see that he’s not a mindless killing machine, they realize that they can’t use him as such. It’s a core Trek message about morality, as it dismisses the caustic, security-first message we might have seen in later Trek (and in the beginning of this episode). It’s interesting to wonder what captains Kirk, Sisko, Janeway or Archer would have done in Picard’s situation. Given the actions by each of them — and given that Picard changes his mind despite the events of “The Best of Both Worlds” — I think Picard is the only captain (certainly, the only second-generation captain) who certainly would have not sent the invasive program along with Hugh. More on that in a moment.

I’m glad this captain doesn’t want to get ‘that fish out of the ready room’.

What doesn’t hold up

The invasive program — essentially, an unsolvable shape, or something — sure doesn’t seem like it should be a big threat to the Borg. I also find it odd that Data, the ship’s foremost expert on artificial intelligence who interfaced with the collective in “The Best of Both Worlds”, isn’t more involved with Hugh. I get that La Forge’s presence is needed for the emotional connection. But maybe Data could have subbed for Crusher and supplanted cold machine reasoning with Crusher’s humanism? Maybe not …

One real problem is the idea that the Borg couldn’t handle the infusion of individuality. The collective has assimilated billions, perhaps trillions of people. Didn’t they have individuality when they became drones? Or, is the idea that the Borg block the individuality of newly assimilated people but didn’t know to block Hugh’s?

Lastly, I still don’t understand exactly where the Borg are in relation to the Federation. In “Q Who?”, we’re told they’re thousands of light years away, but that they most likely destroyed several Federation and Romulan outposts in “The Neutral Zone”, about a year earlier. Here, Hugh’s ship and the one that comes to recover it are in an area of space the Federation is considering for colonization — which means it can’t be too far away from more settled areas. But we don’t see the Borg (in their collective state) again for like four years — when they have a battle in the Terran system in “Star Trek: First Contact”. That’s despite the fact that they’re a relative stone’s throw (especially with Borg technology we see in Voyager) from the Federation and that they’ve been around the Neutral Zone, which was established when the Federation was newer and presumably much smaller.

I suppose you could argue that the Borg are encountering other Federation ships and planets in events that didn’t involve the Enterprise (or, later, DS9). But that doesn’t seem to mesh with the foreboding surrounding the Borg return in “Descent” or in “Star Trek: First Contact”. Each time, the idea is that the Borg “HAVE RETURNED”. But what were they doing in the interim? Keep in mind that only a part of the collective is affected by Hugh after this episode.

The big thing, I guess, is that the series could have turned into All Borg, All the Time, and that the creators didn’t want that.

Final thoughts

As noted above, this episode is about as idealistic as they come in Trek. It matches some of the most Roddenberry moments from TOS (like “The Corbomite Maneuver”) in rendering aid to a fallen adversary, refusing to follow through with an approach that could only be rationalized by the ends justifying the means. Of course, in “The Corbomite Maneuver”, Kirk really holds all the cards and only risks his life and the lives of two others by helping his adversary. In this case, Picard must do what he thinks is right with a LOT more at stake. It’s also interesting that in “Descent”, Picard is excoriated by an admiral for not “ridding the Federation of a mortal foe.”

Sisko — who did some pretty dirty stuff in the latter years of DS9 and whose wife was killed by the Borg — would have likely sent Hugh back with the invasive program, with Bashir or possibly Dax questioning the decision. Janeway is tougher to pinpoint, as her character was more erratically written. But her near-obsession with getting her crew home would have likely prevailed — though it’s unlikely the Voyager creators would have forced her to make the hard choice, as that series was always about finding cheats for the hard questions. Same goes for Kirk really — though I think Kirk would have talked the talk more before finding a way to work around the problem.

Archer, of course, was the one captain who was partly written after the events of 9/11. Given his actions during the third season Xindi arc — torture, piracy, etc. — I think he would have ultimately gone with the ends over the means. But he likely would have been torn up about it.

Anyway, this is a great TNG episode because it’s one that only really would have worked on TNG. It was Trek’s most idealistic crew and series and was the best about “doing the right thing” — at least, until the movies (more on THAT later). The episode also is well served by Patrick Stewart, who displays Picard’s anguish perfectly. The whole episode is about his high-sounding ideals fighting the awfulness he went through and the fear that the Borg could do it somewhere else. As Picard and TNG are wont to do, they pick the moral option.

Coming next week …