WARNING: The following post contains spoiler information for the TNG episode, "Chain of Command, Part I", in the context of a review. Those not wishing to see said spoilers (or said review, for that matter) had best move on.

The characters and execution? Wonderful. The plot? Well...maybe.

It depends a lot on what's revealed in part 2, and I'm not at all convinced about which way it's going to work. More after a lengthy synop.

The Enterprise rendezvouses with the USS Cairo near the Cardassian border, but Picard quickly finds that his meeting with Vice Admiral Nechayev is going to be short and blunt. "I'm here to relieve you of command of the Enterprise," she says...

Some time later, Nechayev briefs the senior officers, minus Picard, Dr. Crusher, and Worf.  She tells them of Cardassian ship movements near their side of the border, and of Federation suspicions that the Cardassians are planning an "incursion" to seize some disputed systems in Federation territory. In order to stave off this possible act of war, the Enterprise is being sent to conduct open talks with the Cardassians in the area, thus both appearing peaceful and having the flagship on the border in the event of hostilities. However, to Riker's surprise, Nechayev hands over command of the Enterprise to Capt. Edward Jellico, who negotiated the original armistice with the Cardassians two years ago. When asked about Picard and the others, Nechayev says only that they are "on assignment."

Picard, meanwhile, is training in caverns with Worf and Beverly, apparently in preparation for some sort of quick commando operation. Although they are having their difficulties, Picard assures them that where they're really going will be far worse -- but refuses to elaborate.

Jellico arrives on board the Enterprise and quickly takes charge, demanding several changes in the day-to-day routine to start things off. At the official change of command a short time later, he and Picard talk whileothers speculate on how permanent the assignment is.  Jellico volunteers to launch a probe that will obtain more detailed information on "the installation", and quickly arranges matters. However, in the process he becomes disenchanted with Riker, who has not yet implemented some of the changes he ordered initially. Picard volunteers that Riker is a fine officer, which Jellico grants. "Of course he is, Jean-Luc. I'm sure it'll all work out."

Hours after this, the transition to Jellico's command is proving very rocky. Jellico is ordering major changes in everything on very short notice: science stations are being devoted to damage and weapons, battle drills are frequent, Engineering needs a complete overhaul, "...and get that fish out of the ready room." When Troi attempts to talk to Jellico about the crew needing time to get used to his style, he claims he can't afford that time, and asks her to "deal with the morale situation. [...] By the way...I prefer a certain formality on the bridge.  I'd appreciate it if you wore a standard uniform while on duty."

Geordi gripes to Riker about the working conditions (not only does he have huge amounts of work ordered, but a third of the department has now been transferred to security), and urges Riker to speak to Picard about it. Riker tries, but when he finds Picard in his quarters, Picard is utterly exhausted from his training. Riker quietly leaves.

As the Enterprise reaches the border, Picard and Jellico meet for one last time. Although Picard is under strict orders to maintain radio silence until things are completed, Jellico assures him that the Enterprise will monitor his channel just in case. After a quick communication with Riker, Jellico again disparages Riker's attitude, and Picard quickly leaps to his defense, asking Jellico to give him a chance. Jellico listens, but says that realistically, a war is imminent, and that he doesn't have time "to give Will Riker or anyone else...a *chance*. And forgive me for being blunt, but the Enterprise is mine now." Jellico stands.  "'s hoping you beat the odds.  Good hunting."

The shuttle carrying Picard, Beverly and Worf leaves the Enterprise, and Picard now briefs the two.  According to the intelligence reports, the Cardassians are working on a "metagenic" weapon. This is, roughly speaking, the biological equivalent of a neutron bomb: it destroys all life in a given ecosphere, then dissipates harmlessly, leaving the planet ripe for occupation by the attacking species. The weapon is extremely dangerous, but rumour has it that the Cardassians are working on a way of shipping the virus while dormant and then activating it via a subspace signal, thus keeping themselves well out of harm's way. Picard, thanks to tests he conducted while commanding the Stargazer, is a leading expert on theta-band subspace waves, the expected type; thus the choice of him for this mission. He refers to Worf's presence as obvious, and notes that Beverly's job is to locate and destroy any biotoxins they may find. Their job as a whole is to infiltrate a Cardassian installation on Celtris Three (site of a great many theta-band emissions of late), determine if there is a metagenic production facility there, and if so destroy it. The three head for a Ferengi and, through Bev's
seductive manner with him, manage to convince him to transport them to Celtris.

Quite some time later, they are exploring the caverns on Celtris Three, which bear a striking resemblance to their training ground. The theta-band signals they pick up begin to guide them, and they head off after a chance encounter with a Celtrisian bat. ("You're not afraid of *bats*, are you, Worf?"  "Of course not.")

Meanwhile, the Enterprise rendezvouses with the Cardassian ship Reklar and its commander, Gul Lemec. Jellico attempts to take a dominant position from the start, waiting in his ready room for an hour before meeting with a rather impatient Gul Lemec.

Back in the caverns, Picard and the others happen upon a sheer granite cliff, which is the only way down to the installation. ("You're not afraid of *heights*, are you, doctor?" "Of course not.") They begin rappelling down.

Back on the Enterprise, Jellico meets with Lemec, bringing Riker and Troi in with him. When Lemec complains about both the delay and the others' presence, however, Jellico responds harshly, accusing Lemec of quibbling over minor points. "I can see you're not serious about these talks. If the Cardassian Union truly wishes to discuss peace, they can send someone who can negotiate in a *civilized* manner!" snarls Jellico, who then walks out. A
perplexed Riker and Troi follow him out; Jellico then orders that in a few minutes, they should go back in and say that they've convinced him to meet with Lemec once more, but that Lemec must be more reasonable because Jellico is so *unreasonable*. He suggests that they allow (grudgingly) two of Lemec's aides to join them, and then adjourns to his ready room. "I'll say this for him; he's sure of himself," volunteers Riker. "No. He's not."

Picard and the team reach the bottom of the cliff and move on, now having to crawl through a very narrow lava tube for a few tens of meters.

The negotiations begin anew, beginning much more congenially this time. Lemec dismisses the Cardassian "provocation" as paranoia, saying that they are merely conducting training exercises. Lemec then brings up the disputed worlds, and draws an angry response from Jellico, saying that "you abdicated the right to those worlds when you signed the armistice!" As Troi calms Jellico down, Lemec insists that the Cardassians are preparing to defend themselves if necessary, but nothing more. 

"The Federation will not *start* a war," Riker points out. Lemec accepts that this is Riker's belief, but then talks of rumours of a small Federation assault team being sent to a Cardassian world. "Of course, I don't believe it.  Such an attempt would almost certainly fail.  And even if it succeeded, it would trigger a _very serious_ response on our part."  Jellico feigns ignorance, and accepts Lemec's call for a recess. Almost as an afterthought, Lemec asks, "Where is Captain Picard?" "Reassigned." "Well, I hope his new assignment is not too dangerous. It would be a shame if something were to happen to such a...such a *noted* officer." "Yes. It would."

The team, meanwhile, is nearing the end of the crawlway. A freak rockslide nearly causes Bev serious injury, but Worf manages to save her in time. All are feeling a bit shaken, but continue on. They arrive at an entrance to the facility, with proximity sensors nearby. Worf deactivates those sensors, then breaks through the magnetic seals on the door. They burst in ready for anything, and are surprised to find...*nothing*.

"It's a trap. Come on!" Picard and the others turn to exit, but now Cardassian guards spring from virtually every shadow, attempting to prevent their escape. Worf and Beverly manage to get away, but Picard is forced to remain behind long enough that the door closes before he can escape. (Worf attempts to keep the door open, but is wounded and must withdraw.) As Beverly and Worf flee, Picard drops his weapon and surrenders.

Riker informs Jellico of a number of coded messages coming from Celtris Three, noting also that the theta-band emissions coming from that planet have recently ceased. Jellico passes that news back to Nechayev, saying that one way or another, the mission is finished. "Have you heard from our friends?" Nechayev asks. "No." "Let me know if you do. I would very much like to see them again." "So would I, Admiral."

Finally, Picard is led in to his inquisitor, Gul Madred. "A challenge," he muses, dismissing the guard. "You should prove an interesting challenge -- possibly the most interesting to come through that door in many years."

"What do you want?"

"Why, you, of course." Madred begins to circle Picard like a hawk.  "Picard. Jean-Luc. Serial number SP, dash, 937, dash, 215. Son of Maurice and Yvette Picard. Born in Navarre, France. Formerly captain of the Stargazer, where you conducted extensive studies on theta-band carrier waves."

Picard stares at Madred in astonishment.

"Don't look so surprised. How could we have designed a lure for the captain of the Federation flagship unless we knew something about his background?"

"So you concocted an elaborate ruse to bring me here. Why?"

Madred, now ceasing his movements, fixes his gaze directly on Picard. "In this room, you do not ask the questions. I ask them; you answer. If I am not satisfied with your answers, you will die."


Well, now, wasn't that interesting? (And one advantage of this review being so late is that the review/synop of part 2 will probably show up only a day after this one.  :-) ) Now, on with the show.

Well, as I said at the beginning, my only problems with the show are very plot-oriented. The characterization (both written and acted) and the direction were both quite good, and I'll heap my praise on them in a bit. I have a few plausibility questions that come to mind, however.

While most of them are very small (things like "why did Picard et al. need to find their own transport?", which while valid is also not particularly relevant in my opinion), one of them is not. That one, simply put, is this:

Unless there's more going on than we've been told so far, choosing that particular team for this suicide mission is completely absurd.

Let's run through it. Worf I can buy; he's well trained in tactical matters and strong. Beverly I absolutely cannot buy, however; if I'm being asked to believe that there is *no one* on the security end of things trained in biotoxins and so forth (not even necessarily on the Enterprise), I'm afraid I must decline.

Finally, sending Picard is a mistake in a whole host of ways. First, it probably *is* a suicide mission, and Picard's so integral to the Enterprise that sending him off to die is a big mistake, particularly if it leads to a war where the Enterprise needs to be at maximum efficiency. Second, Picard's absence from the talks would (if the Cardassians didn't already know about
it) send up a signal flare that something's afoot, *especially* since Picard is such a well-respected diplomat. 

I'm not sure what can be done in Bev's case, but I have strong suspicions about this whole affair that would explain Picard's choice with no difficulty whatsoever:

Adm. Nechayev's in on the setup.

Think about it. She, one assumes, is the one who selected Picard for the mission; she is the only contact Picard *or* Jellico has had with Starfleet that we're aware of; and she's the only source of intelligence on Cardassian matters that we've seen either Picard or Jellico consult. If she is either a Cardassian mole or simply someone who *wants* a conflict, then sending Picard is an excellent choice (particularly if she's a mole; if she wants the Feds to win, then sending Picard in is a bit dim from a tactical sense).

I have no idea if that suspicion is right, but I hope so. If so, then my plot questions are down to less essential ones (like the justification for Bev's presence). If not, however, the whole setup's based on a house of cards, which will hurt.

Anyway, on to more pleasant discussions. Regardless of whatever questions nagged at me later (or perhaps during, but very slightly), the show itself kept me more than interested throughout. This may be the first time since BOBW1 that we've had both a Federation Threat [TM] storyline and a Personal Crisis [TM] storyline together where both have *worked*. While I expect the Picard/Madred scenes to keep me more enthralled in part 2 (for reasons I'll discuss in a bit), here the scenes focusing on Jellico had the upper hand. In almost no scene, however, did I find myself bored. (All right...maybe one. Toss the Ferengi out a window, please.) 

We were tossed right into the middle of a plot, more or less. Unlike "Unification" (the nearest relative I can think of offhand to this), the full accounting of the situation didn't come until halfway through; we were piecing together bits of it ourselves until then. (Of course, as I've already said, I suspect we still don't know the *whole* story, but that's a different matter.) In general, I prefer it that way; while TNG is entertaining, its plots can be a bit predictable, and I definitely appreciate it when all the cards are *not* initially on the table.

Robert Scheerer has definitely rebounded from some of his directing stints of last season ("New Ground"? "The Outcast"? Ehh.) and has returned to form. While nothing stuck out as particularly breathtaking (except perhaps the final scene with Madred circling a helpless Picard; a common technique, but also an effective one), everything was very crisp this time around. We were kept moving without a lot of time to think or catch our breath. Yea, 'tis good.

I said a little while ago that I found the Jellico-centered scenes the most interesting of this part, on the whole. I chalk that up almost entirely to the performance of Ronny Cox in the role. Cox's Jellico is clearly not someone we're meant to give a chance even before we see what he does. After his first appearance -- hunched-over, limping, jowly, and with very sunken eyes -- my initial thought was "Oh my Lord, Nixon made Captain!" :-) Captain Queeg is probably a little more appropriate, however, and I also half expect Jellico to come into a scene holding two steel balls at some point in part two. It's something of a pity that Jellico is *so* unlikable, as there might be a little more conflict about Picard's return if he weren't; but if he's there to create friction, he's doing a hell of a job. (His "get that fish out of the ready room" line was a nicely executed piece of work, too; just in case anyone was *still* thinking he had a little empathy for Picard...)

Jellico's presence also led to the single best scene involving Troi in a long, long time. No, not her discussion with him in his ready room, though that was certainly reasonable. I'm talking about her comment to Riker as Jellico moves away from their first meeting with Gul Lemec. No, he's not [sure of himself]." That is the sort of thing Troi's empathic abilities are *meant* for, and it was understated enough that it worked beautifully.

Then, there's the promise of great things next time around between Picard and Gul Madred.  David Warner (Madred) is clearly trying to follow in the Mark Lenard School of Multiple Race-Roles; between the last two films and this, he's now played a human, a Klingon, and a Cardassian. More than that, however, this time we have him playing someone particularly sadistic and nasty; and I *think* he's being restricted just enough that it won't turn out over the top. In short, we *may* get a performance from Warner that rivals his turn as Jack the Ripper in "Time After Time", which as longstanding readers know is the standard by which I judge most David Warner roles.  :-) In any case, with Warner and Stewart playing together for much of part 2, I expect wonderful things.

So, a few short takes before I wander off into even more irrelevancies:

--Is it just me, or is Worf starting to mutate into the Cowardly Lion? I don't know about you, but my response after the "bats" exchange way to have Worf wandering down the corridor saying "I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do I do I do I do I *DO*!" ;-)

--Continuity question: The armistice with the Cardassians was negotiated only *two* years ago? That doesn't make sense to me; it's strongly implied if not outright said in "The Wounded" that they've been at peace for at least a year or two, and it goes completely against the grain to retroactively claim that the Federation was at *war* for the first three seasons of TNG.  Let's try that again, folks...

--More proof that Jellico's a nasty guy; he shut down the astrophysics lab. The nerve! :-)

--Imagine, if you will, the first staff meeting Jellico runs that involves Lt. Reg Barclay.  But don't imagine it for long.

--I believe this show now holds the record for shortest TNG teaser ever. And at 39 seconds, I don't think it's likely to get broken; I'm not sure it *can* and still get anything done.

--Why, exactly, do the Cardassians want *Picard*? One aspect that occurs to me is the propaganda value; having the flagship captain and the man who helped repel the Borg invasion as a POW is a nice morale-builder for the Cardassian troops. But are they also after him for information; and if so, what sort?

--Another prediction of mine, based on zero knowledge of part 2: I suspect that Picard is not going to escape the Cardassians. Instead, I'm betting that he's going to be handed over as part of the negotiations; perhaps the Cardassians are hoping to break him so that he's useless when he *does* return. We'll see.

--One ranting against cliches: *why* did we need the rockslide in the tunnel, and why was Bev bringing up the rear? I mean, come on. (Still, as a friend of mine remarked, it could be worse; at least she didn't twist her ankle in the final escape. :-) )

Well, that ought to about do it. (It's also a scant few hours until I see part 2 myself, so I better get this up and posted! :-) ) I'm going to give this a lot of provisional scores, which may need revision if my hopes about Nechayev's involvement do not prove founded. (Of course, if they come up with some other good way of justifying Picard, that's fine.) So, for now:

Plot: 8. A bunch of little things over and above Picard have gnawed at me, but not enough to make a lot of difference.

Plot Handling: 10. Crisp and snappy.

Characterization: 10. Yes. Like that.

TOTAL: 9.5. Veddy nice indeed; now don't muck it up!


It all gets worse.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
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"I'm very silly, but it's what I do for a living."
Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...