WARNING: The following post contains intense spoilers for "Chain of Command, Part II" that the faint of heart may find disturbing. Proceed with caution.
Plot? Again, only in part. Execution? If possible, *better* than in part 1.
My hopes for the Stewart/Warner scenes in particular proved more than fulfilled. More on that and much more, however, after (ye gods) another synopsis:
Picard, now heavily drugged, is being interrogated. He answers all questions put to him as best he can, including giving the names of the rest of his team; but when Gul Madred asks about the defense plans for Minos Korva, Picard has no answer. Madred orders the dosage increased and begins again...
Meanwhile, the negotiations are stalling back aboard the Enterprise, and are only made worse when Gul Lemec raises the issue of Celtris Three. When he is asked what evidence he has for Picard's team's "attack", he responds that they have Picard himself, and assures them that, although exactly how is not known, "we *will* respond." After he leaves, Jellico confirms to Riker and Troi that Picard and company were sent to Celtris, and that he may well be captured. He sends Riker in a shuttle to the planned rendezvous point to pick up whichever team members do return.
Picard is now brought back to Gul Madred, blindfolded. He asks to see a neutral representative, and is assured that one is en route. Madred plays the gracious host, removing Picard's blindfold and shackles, and the two then talk of Cardassian archaeology. When Picard eventually asks to be returned to his ship, however, Madred chuckles. "My dear captain, you are a *criminal*. You have been apprehended invading one of our secret facilities. The least that will happen is for you to stand trial, and be punished. But I am offering you the opportunity for that experience to be ... _civilized_." The price, of course, is cooperation with Madred's questioning, particularly as regards the defense plans for Minos Korva. When Picard assures Madred that he does not *know* those plans, Madred is skeptical; the Enterprise, after all, would be the command ship for that planet's sector in the event of an attack.
Picard is manhandled by the arriving guards and resists. "Wasted energy, Captain..." says Madred, now approaching Picard with a very sharp knife. "Are you in good health?" Picard protests that torture is forbidden by the code regarding prisoners of war, but Madred relentlessly carves off Picard's clothing. "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." Picard, stripped naked, is shackled at both hands and feet and left to sleep while stretched vertically like a side of beef.
When Riker returns with Beverly and Worf (both bruised and scratched, but intact), Jellico puts Geordi to work analyzing Bev's tricorder readings. Riker asks permission to prepare a rescue operation for Picard, but Jellico refuses, saying that under the current circumstances, it would be foolhardy. "He's _gone_. I'm sorry, Will, but you're going to have to accept that."
Morning arrives for Picard, and with it Gul Madred. "Good morning; I trust you slept well." Picard is unshackled, but then subjected to watching Madred cheerfully drink his morning beverage while Picard suffers from thirst. "Thirsty?" Picard nods. "I would imagine so."
The interrogation begins again, with Madred professing to believe that Picard knows nothing of Minos Korva. Instead, Madred turns on four very bright lights behind him and asks Picard how many lights he sees. When Picard, not surprisingly, sees four, Madred rejects his answer. He calls Picard's attention to a small device that has been implanted in his chest, which Madred can use to produce pain in any part of Picard's body at will. When Picard continues to insist that there are four lights, Madred begins to use this device...
Picard's initial interrogation is shown to Jellico, Riker and Troi. Picard, it so happens, is not protected by the Seldonis Four Convention unless he is officially a prisoner of war; and the only way to establish that is to admit that he was acting under Federation orders, an admission Jellico is by no means prepared to make. Gul Lemec, of course, offers an alternate option: if the Federation withdraws completely from the sector, they will release Picard and forget the whole thing. Jellico requests a recess to consult his superiors, and ultimately ends up involved in a shouting match with Riker, who demands that Picard's life is worth the admission that he *was* acting on behalf of the Federation. Despite Troi's attempts to mediate, the argument escalates: "Are you questioning my judgement, Commander?" "As first officer, it is my responsibility to point out any actions that may be *mistakes* by a commanding officer, _sir_," snarls Riker. "Then maybe," responds Jellico in kind, "it's time you found other responsibilities. You're relieved; don't make me confine you to quarters as well." Riker stalks off.
Some time later, Jellico confers with Geordi and Data, who is now acting first officer. They reason that the Cardassians may have deliberately set a trap for Picard, and further suggest that it may be to get defense plans for this sector. They become convinced that the Cardassians are planning an imminent attack somewhere in the sector, and Jellico orders Geordi to scan Lemec's ship in an attempt to find out where it might be.
Gul Madred, meanwhile, has a brief meeting with his daughter in Picard's presence. After she leaves, Picard (now robed) expresses his surprise at Madred allowing her to see him. He further suggests, upon hearing statements from Madred that she knows "enemies deserve their fate," that she will soon learn to devalue those other than the "enemies," perhaps even including her own parents. This quickly evolves into a discussion of Cardassian history and what the ruling military junta has done for (and to) the Cardassians. Madred brags that since the military takeover, feeding the population is no longer a problem, and that "my daughter will never have to worry about going hungry." "Her belly may be full, but her spirit will be empty," retorts Picard. Madred, furious, slugs Picard and begins again. "How many lights do you see?"
Geordi's scans suggest that Lemec's ship may have recently been in the McAllister Nebula, a nebula very near the Cardassian/Federation border. Jellico quickly believes that a Cardassian fleet is hiding in that nebula until they can attack, and a check of the area suggests that Minos Korva (a prior Cardassian target) would be a prime location to attack from that site. Jellico orders the Enterprise to Minos Korva on the double.
Madred, at this point, tries another tactic. He commends Picard as being remarkably strong-willed: "I see no point in keeping you here any further; you may go." Picard slowly pulls himself up off the floor of the chamber and begins to lurch towards the open doors, only to hear "We will get what we need from the human female." Madred tells him that both Beverly and Worf have been captured (Worf killed), and that since he proved so unhelpful, they will have to get their information from her. Picard protests that Bev knows nothing of defenses; she's a medical officer. "You might be right; I'll have to determine that for myself." Picard drags himself back to Madred's desk and sits, offering to stay.
With the Enterprise en route to Minos Korva, Jellico outlines his plans to hit the Cardassian fleet in the nebula before it leaves it. Despite objections from crewmembers that his theory is by no means certain, he holds firm, ordering Worf to prep 500 antimatter mines and Geordi to prepare a shuttle for the journey. Beverly goes to prepare sickbay for the inevitable casualties, very bitter at Jellico's attitude.
As morning comes again, Gul Madred shares a breakfast of taspa eggs with Picard. Picard, finding his egg contains a still-living taspa, eats it greedily anyway. Madred, amused, talks of eating his first live taspa when he was six years old, and of having other eggs from the same nest taken from him forcibly by an older boy. Rather than accepting this, however, Picard pursues it. "It must be rewarding you to repay others for all those years of misery."
"What do you mean?"
"Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control. One wonders why it is still practiced."
"I fail to see where this analysis is leading," says Madred dully.
Picard pounces, despite his tired voice. "Whenever I look at you now, I won't see a powerful Cardassian warrior. I will see a six-year old boy who is powerless to protect himself."
Madred erupts into a rage, turning the lights on Picard full blast. "Be quiet!"
"In spite of all you have done to me, I find you a pitiable man."
"Picard, stop it -- " Madred raises the pain inducer. "-- or I will turn this on and leave you in agony all night."
Picard laughs. "Ha! You called me Picard."
"What are the Federation's defense plans for Minos Korva?"
"There are four lights!"
Madred, enraged, begins tormenting Picard anew. "There are _five_ lights! How many do you see now?"
Picard, despite his agony and growing incoherence, manages one final barb before lapsing into screams. "You are six years old! Weak and helpless! You cannot hurt me!"
Jellico and Geordi, meanwhile, talk in the newly prepared shuttle of old piloting runs. When it turns out that Jellico needs the best pilot around to conduct this strafing run, Geordi tells him that Riker is the best they've got.
Jellico eventually goes to Riker and asks him to pilot the shuttle, but not until the two drop ranks and trade barbs. But eventually, Jellico asks Riker for help. "Will you pilot the shuttle, Commander?" "Yes." Jellico turns to leave. "You're welcome."
Riker and Geordi swoop into the nebula in their shuttle and plant the mines on the Cardassian ships. Once they have returned, Jellico signals a very angry Gul Madred on the Reklar. I'm not going to argue with you, Gul Madred. Every one of your ships has a mine on its belly, my finger's on the button, and you're in a _very_ bad position." After the weakness of the situation becomes apparent, Madred agrees to all of Jellico's terms, including the immediate release of Picard.
This news, however, has yet to reach Picard, who finds himself alone and takes the opportunity to smash the pain inducer, despite the knowledge that Madred has duplicates. Madred, arriving, tries to break Picard one last time by telling him that the battle has been won by the Cardassians, that the Enterprise is burning, and that Picard is theirs forever.
He offers Picard a choice: academic pursuits and comfort, or a continuation of the days of torture. "It's up to you. A life of ease and reflection and intellectual challenge ... or this.""
What must I do?"
"Nothing, really. Tell me ... how many lights you see. How many?"
Picard stares at the lights abjectly for a long time. As the guards come in, Madred urges Picard to tell him before it's too late. "Don't be a stubborn fool! How many?"
One of the arriving Cardassians, however, is Gul Lemec, who demands to know why Picard isn't ready for his journey back to the Enterprise. He tells Picard to go with the guards to get cleaned up and ready for his return. Picard stands up and screams defiantly at Madred, "There are FOUR LIGHTS!", then stalks off with the guards, refusing any help with the walk.
Some time later, Picard returns to the Enterprise intact and obtains his command back from Jellico. His first action as captain, however, is to give Will the bridge and talk to Troi in the ready room.
"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 say that I could see five lights when in fact there were only four."
"You didn't say it."
Picard tries to reassure her. "No. No." He becomes pensive again, however: "But I was going to. I would have said anything. But more than that, I believed that I _could see_ five lights..."
And the Enterprise sails out among the stars.
Whew. It's a good thing we're on winter break this week; just writing that was work enough! :) Now, on to some commentary.
The first point, unfortunately, is a negative one. I said in my review of part 1 that the only justification I could find for sending Picard on such a suicide mission was if Nechayev was in on setting him up, and that for us to simply be asked to accept this was a bad move.
Part 2 did nothing to assuage my fears on that score. In fact, if anything it made matters worse by using the justification "well, only 3 *Starfleet captains* have his kind of expertise on theta-band emissions" [emphasis mine]. Great. Anybody want to explain why exactly they needed to have a
*captain* rather than a lower-ranking officer trained in special operations like this? I understand the attempt, but it simply didn't work, and I'm being asked to believe that the Starfleet top brass is full of fools. (On the other hand, that point *has* been alluded to before. :-) )
I have one other major objection, but I'll get to it after I talk about all the good things; and there are *many*.
To begin with, every single hope I had for the high quality of the Picard/Madred scenes was not only played out, but *surpassed*. David Warner was allowed to be at his most chilling for the first time in a long time, and Stewart got to sink his teeth into the meatiest role he's had as Picard since "The Inner Light", and probably the most anguished portrayal of Picard since his breakdown in "Family." It's no secret that I consider Stewart one of the main strengths of TNG, and scenes like the above one of his strengths, so any show that lets about half of its time be devoted to such things will be all but guaranteed to captivate me.
(Additionally, I have to say that in the nonverbal portions of Picard's torture, particularly near the end, I was reminded for the first time on a long while of Stewart's role as Karla in the BBC adaptations of two John le Carre' novels. Brief roles, but very nice indeed; check them out if you haven't.)
These scenes gained additional strength by the fact that they pulled as few punches as broadcast television would allow (and fewer than network would have allowed, I'll wager; thank Elath for syndication). Granted, very little of the torture was as physically *graphic* as it is currently (in
terms of sheer blood, that is); but given four centuries of advances in technology, I imagine that pain without scars would be easy and preferred by those species who indulge. And in terms of pain inflicted, this was extremely intense, made all the more so by Stewart's ability to express it. (Not an easy thing to do, mind you; take a look at Gates McFadden in "The Arsenal of Freedom" to see how most people try to get across excruciating pain, then be glad it wasn't Beverly being tortured.) I'd read that Rick Berman was considering a parental advisory for this show; given the "Trek Lite" fare we've had for most of this season before "Chain of Command", that actually might have been a good idea.
Madred was a far more interesting character than I'd originally expected, due both to Warner's portrayal of him and by the strength of the scripting. While the "torturer is really helpless himself" theme is hardly new, it can be incredibly effective when done well, and this was. (Warner is one of
those actors who can let you physically see his arrogance burst and drain away when overmatched; he even managed to do it through a couple of pounds of makeup here, too.) My knuckles were white through a great deal of the last few torture scenes, particularly the penultimate one -- and yes, I did taunt the screen myself at Madred calling Picard by name before Picard did. :-)
Enough on that. The Enterprise-based scenes, while clearly subordinate to the Picard-based scenes both by design and by dint of less powerful performances, were on the whole quite good. Jellico had me fooled, I'll grant; while I never felt that Jellico himself was a traitor, I most definitely *did* feel that he was likely to prove unfit for duty and be carried off by episode's end. I was wrong; despite his many problems (and Riker, I feel, was right on target in his criticisms, as was Jellico in his criticisms of Riker), Jellico proved a very able and confident captain. Perhaps, as "The Wounded" might also suggest, one just needs to be a little unbalanced before one can *really* deal with the Cardassians effectively.
The two best Jellico-centered scenes, by far, were the two clashes with Riker, and the second one worked far better. Jellico, while not particularly pleasant, is damned good at manipulating people; I think he knew as soon as he walked through the door to Riker's quarters exactly what he had to say and do to get Riker to pilot the shuttle, and did not deviate. (Note that he formally dropped ranks before laying into Riker. I'm not up on military protocol, but my hunch would be that while rank would need to be dropped for Riker to *respond*, it would not be for Jellico to say what he said. By dropping rank, he let Riker let off steam and calm down before asking him to do the job. Nicely done.) He lost nothing, except a token amount of pride in going through that door in the first place.
I also thought while watching that the Jellico/Riker exchange there was an interesting counterpoint to the Picard/Q exchange towards the end of "Q Who".Both times, a captain has to ask for help from someone he despises, and both times he gets it. (For that matter, Riker and Q were about equally smug in their respective situations. Of course, Riker hadn't had the luxury of setting the situation up in the first place...) At any rate, watching the grace with which Picard accepts the necessity of asking Q for help vs. the bluntness and need to get in another barb that Jellico had nicely compares their two management styles, and it works.
That leads me to the ending, which while praiseworthy also leads to my other main complaint. As expected, Picard was handed over as part of the negotiations (though the Federation obtained far more of an upper hand than I expected), and he regained command of the Enterprise. What I absolutely *do not* like, however, is how it seemed so effortless to him. From our perspective, he's walking out of Gul Madred's torture chamber one minute, and back to normal the next; and that is simply wrong. I realize that given the intense nature of the torture, there may have been a certain urge to reassure viewers that "yes, don't worry, everything *is* all right;" but that same intensity makes such a flat assurance ludicrous at best. We don't even get a sense of how much time had passed; if it had been a month or something (or even a fortnight), then I might be able to believe it; but the default assumption is that we're talking a few hours to a few days, and that is simply not enough time for Picard to have recovered. This is the hand-waving ending that hurts characterization time and time again, and taken to extremes this time. It's the one thing about this entire storyline (which on the whole was very good, and *stunningly* executed) that had me absolutely furious.
The final scene with Troi both helped and hurt along those lines. On the one hand, it did show that not everything is perfect, and played up the very real fact that for victims of torture, the problems don't end with release. On the other, however, I remember the examples of BOBW and "The Inner Light" (among other things), where very real character changes are given token mention later (I'd say "lip service", but in the case of "The Inner Light" it would be a very bad pun, given the recent cameo of the flute) and then forgotten forever. I remember them, and I realize that this will be no different. And in that case, that final scene with Troi is almost rubbing salt in a wound, because everybody knows that *that's all we'll get*. Now, if TNG surprises me and actually follows this up (if nothing else, Picard should react *very* badly next time he comes into contact with Cardassians, or perhaps even if reminded of them), then this scene will be a lovely lead-in. But if not, it feels vaguely like a slap in the face; and I don't care for it.
(Along similar lines is that Picard did not react a bit to seeing Bev or Worf alive. Now, I realize that he very likely didn't believe Madred's story of their capture; but given the little worms of doubt that clearly creep in, he should have reacted at least a little. Stewart's more than capable of it, so Picard was clearly not intended to react. Growl.)
In any case, I shouldn't let that one item get to me *too* much; it's more a reflection on trends I find upsetting in the series as a whole rather than something casting aspersions on "Chain of Command" in particular. So, let's go to some short takes:
--Musical note: As Picard and Troi head into the ready room, if you listen carefully you'll notice that Jay Chattaway stuck in a very slight rendition of the original Alexander Courage theme. I'm not sure why, but I like it.
--Note to those who believe every rumour they see: Well, it appears that Picard did *not* end up on Deep Space Nine at the close of this show. Take rumours with a minor salt lick next time. :-)
--Given that, however, I have to wonder why Paramount changed the schedule at the last minute, particularly given that CoC2 will be airing in NYC the day after Christmas, which is not a particularly big day for television viewing. Was it just that they wanted to get in a lot of ads for DS9, or was there something more? (Or did somebody just screw up?)
--Bev learned fast; she hadn't been around Jellico nearly as long as the rest of the crew, and she *already* loathed him. :-)
--Could someone with a closed-captioning decoder please let me know what Picard's final lines are after "You cannot hurt me!" I've gone over it several times, but damned if I can make it out...
That should about do it. However, I have one final note before I go into the ratings.
As "Chain of Command" was at least a meta-lead-in to "Deep Space Nine", this seems a good time to let you know where I stand wrt reviews and synopses of same.
Don't expect any. While I intend to watch and tape DS9 regularly (along with "Babylon 5" once it starts in late February), and hopefully enjoy it, my teaching duties simply do not allow me the time to do reviews of both TNG and DS9. At least, not and do it right; and I'd rather do one review right than two done halfway. Truth be told, I don't really have the time to do the reviews I'm already doing; but I feel a certain obligation to both you and myself to see the TNG reviewing biz through to its end, and besides, it's fun. :-) But unless things change significantly, my reviewing is staying confined to TNG.
That said, the numbers. First off, my original 9.5 for part 1 is being downgraded to an 8.5, since the plot problems grew much more intense than I had hoped. Now:
Plot: 9. I have several objections about the ending, but few of them impact directly on this episode.
Plot Handling: 10. Bravo.
Characterization: 0. I could not in good conscience do otherwise.
TOTAL: 10. Very nice, folks; very nice.
NEXT: Four more weeks of reruns to let DS9 get going, and I go back to maintaining net.silence. S'long for now...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Do you know that in this century you can go into a shop and purchase a revolver or any firearm, it's perfectly legal, these people encourage--"
"STOP IT!" [slap]
"It's catching, isn't it? Violence."
--David Warner and Malcolm McDowell, "Time After Time"
-- Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...