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...
TO BE CONTINUED.
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)
"Do you enjoy living dangerously, Galen?"
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...