WARNING:  This article contains copious spoilers for "Gambit, Part I", the
latest TNG episode.  If you don't wish to risk spoilage, don't proceed further.

In brief:  This doesn't feel like something that needed two parts.  Snappy, but I haven't found a point to it yet...

Somehow, that bugs me.  A two-part story should be a two-parter for a reason
beyond wanting two parts.  This felt like it was stretched.  We'll see -- meanwhile, here's a synopsis while I collect my thoughts.  :-)

Picard has been missing for weeks, and the search for him leads to a seedy
bar on Dessica Two.  A combination of reward and intimidation finds them
someone who tells them what they need to know -- but that fact is
bittersweet, as they find that Picard was apparently vaporized in a bar brawl
by mercenaries!  The mercenaries' base may be located in the Barradas system, and Riker orders the Enterprise there quickly.

When they arrive, there is no immediate sign of a base, but some odd
emissions.  Riker leads an away team down (over Data's objections that he
belongs on the bridge at this time) to investigate.  They find signs of a
looted archaeological site, but before they can do more than get an initial
look, they are brutally attacked.  One security officer is killed, and Riker
is captured.  The Enterprise, with Data commanding, sees a ship break orbit
and pursues, but loses them on long-range sensors owing to an "energy sheath" encasing the mercenary ship.  They return to the planet.

Meanwhile, on the raider ship, Riker finds himself the topic of debate
between Baran, the mercenary leader who wants to keep him around for
potential use, and the rest of the crew.  Baran appears to be winning, but a
voice then tells him that the crew are right.  Picard, large as life, turns in his chair.  "I say kill him -- now."

Picard, using the name "Galen", argues that Riker's usefulness is minimal,
citing information that he's insubordinate and likely to be court-martialed
soon anyway.  Baran is skeptical, but a sudden engine failure forces him to
turn to Riker for help anyway -- and when Riker manages to save the ship, he keeps Riker confined to quarters rather than imprisoned.

The Enterprise finds a pattern of devastation in many archaeological sites in
the sector, all with a common Romulan origin, and Data speculates that the
raiders are searching for some Romulan artifact.  After inspecting the layout
of the sector, the crew reasons that Calder Two is the next likely target,
and head there quickly, sending word ahead to stall the raiders until the Enterprise can arrive.

Meanwhile, Picard explains the situation to Riker in private.  He sought the
raiders out after finding a site he wanted to examine devastated and was
caught asking too many questions.  Rather than being vaporized, he was hit by
a weapon which activated their ship's transporter, thus giving the appearance
of being vaporized.  He has been masquerading as "Galen", a smuggler, ever
since, appraising their loot, and he believes that if Riker acts as Picard's
enemy, Riker might be able to gain Baran's confidence and find out what
they're truly looking for.  Riker agrees, and as Baran enters, "Galen" knocks Riker to the floor rather brutally...

Some time later, "Galen" argues against a frontal attack on the Federation
outpost on Calder Two, suggesting instead that they use Riker to talk their
way through.  Baran agrees, grudgingly.  "Galen" then has a long talk with
Tallera, the Romulan first officer of the ship, while he appraises artifacts.
He gets no information of use from her, but she warns him that he will not be
allowed to stand in the way of their mission and suggests he not antagonize Baran so much.

The outpost stalls when Riker orders them to let the ship pass, and
eventually Baran realizes it's a trap.  "Galen" fires a quick shot to disable
the shield generator, allowing them to start beaming up artifacts -- but when
the shields go back up shortly thereafter, Baran orders the base destroyed.  
They prepare to fire, but the Enterprise arrives in the nick of time.  Baran,
convinced that Riker has sent them a message, orders him to order them to
leave.  He does so, and when they refuse he attempts to disable their shields
remotely.  He fails, but Data orders the shields down anyway.  The raider ship fires, catching the Enterprise square in the warp nacelles...


Well, that takes care of that.  Now, some thoughts, such as they are.

As I suggested at the start of the review, I have some difficulties with the
idea of "Gambit" as a two-parter at all, unless there's far more than
currently meets the eye.  Cliffhangers, to me at least, need more of a reason
to exist than a simple "let's have a cliffhanger" idea.  BOBW and "Chain of
Command", for instance, had major events both global and personal taking
place; "Unification" had the return of a TOS character and the death of
another one; "Redemption" had the Klingon/Federation alliance seriously
threatened; "Time's Arrow" and "Birthright" both had serious personal crises
to be overcome.  All of those, at least to a point, had a strong reason to
stretch out over two shows or more, though I suspect both of the last two shows I mentioned could have been one without too much trouble.  

"Gambit", on the other hand, looks like a simple "espionage and routine
threat" situation to me.  I got no sense of personal challenge from it, and
certainly no sense of impending doom or menace the way I did from part I of
"Redemption" or DS9's recent "The Homecoming".  Simply put, I don't see why
this had to be a two-part story aside from marketing reasons, and those aren't enough.

But enough of motivation.  How did the show work on its own?

Well, parts of it worked quite well.  In particular, I very much enjoyed the
scenes with Data in command of the Enterprise.  Data appears to be becoming
more capable as a commander with each passing chance to take command, and
it's remarkably pleasant to see that evolution.  The conference meeting was
excellent, as was his decisive approach once the raiders' likely intentions were revealed.  

However, I have a lot of problems with several of the basic premises.  For instance:

1)  Picard goes on vacation to do some digging.  No problem.  However, he
then vanishes without a trace to pursue a little one-man quest to find out
who ransacked the site he wanted to work on.  That is *not* the mark of the Picard I'm familiar with.

2)  Starfleet puts the Enterprise on "detached duty" to let it chase down
Picard's killers.  Doesn't this seem like overkill?  Doesn't the flagship of the Federation have more important things to do?

3)  Riker beams down into a hostile situation.  That doesn't surprise me at
all, and I've no problem with it, or with Data's objections.  However, I _do_
think Data's objections should have been far, far stronger in nature, and I
also think that given those objections, to have _Data_ down on the surface on the next planetside scene is a fairly shoddy piece of work.

That's all of my major objections to the storyline, but unfortunately they're
quite enough.  Much of "Gambit" felt like a story lifted from some other show and grafted onto the TNG characters, with all too many seams showing.

The scenes on the raider ship, on the other hand, were quite engaging to
watch.  I know I've seen Richard Lynch (Baran -- and no, no relation :-) )
playing villains in other places before, but I can't remember where.  His
look and voice, however, already give him a head start on villainous
characters, and he seems to have more than enough talent to fill in the rest.
I couldn't buy him as an epic, manipulative villain a la Minister Jaro in DS9, but as a small-time thief and murderer he's quite capable.

And, despite all my qualms, I do admit to a certain curiosity about just what
it _is_ that the raiders are searching for.  It's not exactly a burning passion, mind you, but the show did its job well enough that I'm curious.

The one strongly intriguing part of "Gambit, Pt I", however, was Data's
attitude once in command.  Maybe I'm misreading things, but I have the
definite feeling that he knows a lot more than he's telling about the
raiders, and about what Picard's up to.  I hope I'm right, as it would be a nice twist.

So, some short takes:

-- With all due respect to those concerned, the Riker/Troi scene when Riker's
hurting really didn't work.  Riker was fine (mostly), but Troi was back to
the sort of cringe-inducing lines she had her first few seasons.  "Do you think you're the only one in pain?"  Not after that line, no.

-- On the other hand, cute joke in naming the informant to talks to Riker.  
Yranac certainly did sing well, didn't he?  :-)  (For those who have no earthly idea what I'm talking about, spell the name backwards.)

-- One of the innovations in the show that I did rather like was the idea of
this weapon-as-transporter.  I have to wonder why no one ever thought of it before, if it's so feasible -- it would seem amazingly convenient.

That about does it.  So, to wrap up:

Plot:  Implausible.  Some of the questions it raises are interesting, but
        there are too many holes in the setup to make me believe much of it.
Plot Handling:  A good deal better.  Things moved along at a nice pace,
        and the action sequences were certainly nice.
Characterization:  Spotty.  Data was terrific, and most of the mercenaries
        are interesting, but I had a lot of trouble believing Picard, and         most of the rest were ciphers.

OVERALL:  Call it a 4.  Sad to say, I'm not impressed.


And we thought Picard and Riker were badly off _before_...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"Do you _enjoy_ living dangerously, Galen?"
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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