WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the second half of a two-part story, entitled "Gambit, Part II". Those not wishing to have the ending spoiled for them should get away now.

In brief: One of the only part 2's to be better than a part 1, but only because it didn't have to set things up the way part 1 did. Your basic TNG B-movie plot.

More on that and many other things, after a synopsis:

The Enterprise is hit by disruptor fire, but only at minimal power. Data, anticipating this, orders simulated damage and return fire at low power as well. The damage to the raiders is apparently extensive enough to put them in a very bad position, and Baran orders them to flee. Although the ship is still sensor-invisible, Data orders Worf to simply let it go...

Some time later, Troi and Geordi are looking at Riker's transmission to the Enterprise, hoping to find some sort of coded message, but to no avail. Worf grumbles a bit about having to sit and wait rather than attempt pursuit, but just at that moment Geordi finds something: a carrier-wave pattern on the same signal used to transmit Riker's command codes. They begin decoding.

Meanwhile, on the raider ship, Baran is nonplussed to find the engines off-line for hours, but is gracious enough to thank Riker for saving their lives. "Galen", however, is not so gracious, and reviles Riker for crossing over and turning traitor against his former comrades. When he asks Riker how it feels to be a traitor, Riker's only response is a punch to the jaw. Baran orders Galen down to the cargo hold to check samples.

Down in the hold, Tallera comes to talk to "Galen", wondering if he's "incredibly stupid -- or incredibly smart." She points out that in the past, Galen has managed to bypass the weapons problem that he claimed was preventing them from fighting, and wonders aloud why he didn't this time. The conversation is cut short, however, when one artifact Galen is scanning is revealed to be what they're looking for, and Tallera informs Baran immediately.

Baran, after giving instructions for having the artifact brought to him, talks to Riker of the potential for vast profit. After making a veiled offer of employment for Riker on a long-term basis, Baran recruits him to befriend Galen and help root out potential traitors. He also says, as a further gift, that when the time is right, "I want you to kill Galen."

Back on the Enterprise, Data finds that the coded message was a detailed flight plan for the raider ship, and orders the Enterprise to the Hyralan sector to head off the mercenaries. When Worf mutters, "Finally!" to the prospect of some action, however, Data quickly orders him to the ready room.

There, he comes down hard, reminding Worf that the job of a first officer is to carry out the decisions of a captain, not to publicly undercut his authority. Although he welcomes alternate suggestions, he emphasizes that Worf is not to question a decision once it is made. Worf apologizes for his error, and asks to remain as first officer. Data grants that request, and both apologize to the other for the possible threat to their friendship.

With the raiders en route to Hyralan, Riker tells Picard what Baran has ordered. Picard, in return, tells of his discovery that the artifact they found was not Romulan in origin, but Vulcan. With these two new twists revealed, they decide to start planning a mutiny. Narek informs "Galen" that although he wouldn't follow Galen as a new leader, he would follow Tallera, and so would the crew.

As Narek leaves, however, Tallera enters and demands to know who "Galen" is, threatening his life if he doesn't answer. She has discovered the message Picard sent to the Enterprise, and wants to know what he's doing on board. As it turns out, neither "Galen" nor Tallera is what he/she appears to be. Picard reveals his identity, and "Tallera" is now revealed as T'Pal, a member of Vulcan security forces disguised as a Romulan. She joined the mercenaries a year ago to ensure that no one found the artifacts that Baran is hunting for -- they are pieces to the Stone of Gol, a weapon from ancient Vulcan history that amplifies telepathic energy and can be devastating in the wrong hands. She must stop the weapon from being assembled, whatever the cost. Picard agrees to help, and suggests that they both continue in their respective roles.

The Enterprise reaches the Hyralan system first, and intercepts a small Klingon ship which is to make a delivery to the raiders. At Worf's suggestion, they bring the ship aboard for a "health and safety inspection", in reality getting the pilot, an extremely large and taciturn Klingon named Koral, off the ship while they search it for the second artifact. When the raiders get a message saying that Koral has been detained, Baran says that the only way to get the second artifact is to raid the Enterprise itself for it, using Riker's knowledge to give them an edge. When "Galen" complains that Riker will just sell them out, Baran orders Galen to accompany him on the mission -- and then tells Riker quietly that to prove his loyalty, he must kill Galen once they have the second artifact...

The search of Koral's ship proves negative, and Worf and Beverly are at something of a loss about what to do next -- but suddenly, the raiders beam aboard and solve their problem for them. Riker boasts to them that "I've had a change of profession," and realizes that Koral must have the artifact on his person. "Galen" asks Worf where Koral currently is, and Worf plays ignorant as to Galen's true identity. Koral is in the observation lounge, as it turns out -- and after planning to beam there directly from a shuttlecraft, Riker stuns both Worf and Beverly into unconsciousness.

In the observation lounge, the arrival of the raiding party leaves Data and Troi temporarily speechless. Riker and company grab the artifact, and when Data accuses Riker of a host of court-martial offenses, Riker says that one more won't make any difference -- and fires on "Galen". Picard, however, manages to duck, and shoots Riker instead. "Is he dead?" he demands gruffly from Troi, who says that he is. "Galen", triumphant, orders the raiders to beam back, departing with them. Data takes immediate action, scanning for the ship and raising shields, and Riker turns out to have been stunned all along.

On the raider ship, Galen slugs Baran, claiming that Baran set Riker to betray the boarding party and that it's time for a new leader. When the crew, including Tallera, rallies behind him, Baran tries to kill Picard with the neural implant Picard has, but thanks to Picard secretly altering the relevant codes, kills himself instead. "Galen" assumes command, and orders the ship to hold course until they figure out the next move.

Riker calls Setok, head of Vulcan security, to inform him that the raiding party is en route and is not to be harmed, but finds out to his surprise that they have no record of an operative aboard a mercenary ship! Picard, meanwhile, discovers that the artifacts are to be delivered to an abandoned catacomb on Vulcan and orders the raider ship there. He asks Tallera for help in deciphering some of the glyphs on the two artifacts found so far, but she is strangely unhelpful, almost preoccupied. She further insists that she will be going down alone, so as to create less suspicion in the isolationist group after the weapon.

They arrive at Vulcan, but "Galen" orders a change in plans: Tallera is to take only one artifact down, coming back up with their payment before the second is delivered. Tallera turns the tables, revealing Picard's Starfleet connections and accusing him of selling out the crew. In return, Picard tells them of Tallera's interest in the weapon, and suggests that they will be abandoned once she has assembled the full device. Narek and Vekor offer a compromise: they will accompany Tallera down and collect the payment themselves. She agrees, suggesting they bring Picard down as a hostage.

They arrive in the caverns, where Narek and Vekor find that their "reward" is less than half of what they were promised. Tallera says that it's the best they will get, and urges them to leave. When they threaten her, she turns the now-completed weapon on them, killing them very quickly. Picard, however, refuses to threaten her, despite her insistence that "the power of the mind" is unstoppable. Riker and company arrive in the caves, but Picard orders them to drop their weapons and clear their minds of aggression. Having seen the glyph on the final piece of the weapon, he reasons that the resonator is only effective when amplifying negative emotions, and that if they refuse to succumb to aggression, it cannot harm them. Tallera tries to attack them anyway, and to her frustration finds she cannot. She is taken into custody, and as Vulcan arranges for the complete destruction of the weapon, Picard and Riker both get used to being back on the Enterprise.


That would seem to take care of that. Now, the usual flurry of comments.

First of all, I have to say that "Gambit" is probably the second two-parter in TNG history with a better second half than a first half. The first one was "Chain of Command", and the two actually have a fairly significant trait in common.

That trait is that the first part, in having to set up all the complications that explode in part two, contains all the ugly leaps in logic and poor decision-making that tend to make me wince, and that the second part just gets to take the situation as a given and run with it, which gives them lots of room for fun. Truth be told, most two-parters have that kind of setup, but it's only in "Chain of Command" and "Gambit" that the disparity between a flawed setup and a strong resolution is so pronounced.

As you may recall, I was left extremely cold by "Gambit, Part I". It seemed to be entirely too full of characters doing stupid things solely for the sake of setting up complications. I still feel that way.

However, with those things having already happened, everyone just got to ride out the storm in part 2 -- and everyone involved seemed to have a glorious time doing it. I enjoyed part 2 tremendously -- it wasn't perfect, but it was a great deal of fun.

Part of that fun was seeing Stewart and Frakes having their fun playing against type. Both essentially had to play two roles: the regular Picard and regular Riker, and the Galen and Riker that the rest of the raider crew saw. For Frakes, the stretch was mostly a matter of jettisoning some scruples here and there; I have a feeling that Frakes playing Riker-as-sleazy-pirate is now Frakes might secretly want to play Riker on a regular basis. :-)

For Stewart, on the other hand, the change was very pronounced. Picard is always a very proper man, not only in deed but in speech. "Galen" had to not only be a bastard (which he was, no doubt), but a fairly lower-class one in every detail, including the way he carried himself and his very accent. Stewart must have been warming up for the vocal acrobatics he'll be needing in his "A Christmas Carol" reading this holiday season, because the difference here was really quite a turn from his usual Picard. Needless to say, however, he accomplished it beautifully. A lot of the fun of "Gambit, Part II" was watching both Stewart and Frakes flip back and forth between personas.

Also high on the list of Enjoyable Things for this episode was watching all the plans-within-plans-within-plans unfold at a rather dizzying pace. I suspect I wasn't the only one, but when Picard thought out loud, "I'm having difficulty remembering whose side I'm on," I had to shoot back "How do you think we feel?" :-) By the time Tallera "confessed" to being a Vulcan, I was wondering if anybody on that ship was just a plain old pirate. It seems that a few were -- but of course, they're the ones that got killed. :-)

Speaking of Tallera, I think Robin Curtis did an exceptional job most of the time in giving us the right mixture of trust and suspicion of "T'Pal". When she started describing the isolationist movement to Picard, I immediately said "and she's one of them," but Lisa disagreed, saying "no, they're the ones she's after," before Tallera did. As it turns out, I was right, but that's not the point. ;-) The point is that there was enough swirling around in the show that it really wasn't dead obvious either way, and that's a definite plus.

I also liked the idea of the search for the Vulcan weapon, far better than I think I'd have enjoyed any new Romulan twist as was suggested by part 1. Although the ending was a little on the hokey side, at least in the execution ("but it can be destroyed by _peace" -- oh, please), the idea of a telepathic weapon from Vulcan prehistory was an excellent one, if one that I seem to recall popping up in a novel or two. It was also damned good to see Picard's archaeological skills proving so useful for a change. Since Picard generally does seem to be the 24th century Renaissance man, it's good to see the range of his knowledge really turn out to be fruitful once in a while.

Probably the best subplot of the whole affair, however, was seeing Data in command. This is one 'droid that's come a long way since the first season -- he's ready for a full-time command post if he wants one, I think. His scene with Worf was probably the single best scene TNG has had so far this year, and possibly the best Data/Worf scene done ever. Spiner deserves a major cheer for pulling off the challenge of having a character who was emotionless and pissed-off at the same time, something I don't recall seeing done this well since "The Most Toys" over three years ago. Bravo's all around.

Finally (as far as the positives go), this was the first show TNG's had this season where the dialogue not only flowed, but downright crackled. I've already mentioned the line about Picard not remembering which side he's on and the entire scene in the ready room, but beyond all that there were two bits which absolutely had me on the floor. The first was a small exchange after Riker's been "killed":

"He's only stunned." [Data:] "I must admit -- I am experiencing a similar sensation."

Love it. The other one was, of course, the last several lines of the show, as Picard and RIker are wrapping up their affairs:

"Wait a minute -- you've been declared dead. You can't give orders around here." "If we are to adhere to the exact letter of Starfleet regulations, then technically, sir, you have been declared a renegate. In fact, I believe you are facing twelve counts of court-martial offenses. You cannot give orders either, sir." "That's quite right -- and, as I am supposed to be dead, I'll go and get some sleep, and Mr. Data, I suggest that you escort Commander Riker to the brig." "Aye, sir." [Picard leaves...] "This way, sir." "Data, he was joking. You know that, right? Data?"

The only thing that could have made the ending even better was to give Data a very small smirk on the side of his face that Riker couldn't see, but that's a nitpick. I loved it to pieces.

So, all in all, "Gambit, Part II" was a rollicking good ride. However, I don't want to give the impression that there were no negatives. There definitely were a few. First, I've already mentioned that the execution of the climax was a little off -- I like the idea of an emotional defense against an emotional weapon, but not the way it was done. Second, James Worthy was pretty much a waste as Koral -- a big waste, but a waste. Third, and probably most importantly, the one serious problem I had suspending disbelief was that nobody noticed the raider ship arriving before the boarding party came on the Enterprise. The thing's invisible to long-range sensors, but you can't tell me nobody could make visual contact with it. That's the one bit of "stupid plot tricks" that part II suffered from -- not enough to really annoy me, but enough to remind me of all the things in part I that did annoy me.

All in all, "Gambit" as a whole seems to be the TNG equivalent of a good Saturday matinee B-movie. There are some big leaps in logic to set the whole thing up, but once you suspend large enough chunks of disbelief to let yourself go with it, it's entertaining.

So, some short takes and then I'm outta here:

  • Picard changed the transponder codes on Galen's little neuro-device. WHEN? I must be missing something, but I can't figure out when or how he could possibly have done such a thing...
  • Most people probably noticed this, but Tallera gave a big clue to her real identity in the teaser, when she informs Baran that with the damage, "The logical course of action is to withdraw."

That would seem to be about it. Thus, to wrap up:

Plot: All the absurdities were set up in part 1, so this just got to see where they led. Some nice intrigue.

Plot Handling: Terrific. You never get time to think because you're having too much fun just enjoying the ride.

Characterization: Also very strong. Liked it a bunch.

OVERALL: Call this a 9. That would give "Gambit" as a whole a 6.5, which sounds about right for a TNG B-movie. :-)

NEXT WEEK:

Data gets nightmares. I've been waiting for this one for months.


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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                        -- Picard
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