‘CHAIN OF COMMAND’ (TNG)
Please feel free to comment on my review.
This two-parter in Season 6 of ‘Star Trek: TNG’ is a pretty intense story! It features one of the best performances by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard who stars opposite David Warner as a sadistic Cardassian officer who tortures him. The second episode is pretty gruelling than the first one.
I’ve met David Warner in real-life at conventions over the years. He’s a really nice chap and I’ve had amazing chats with him. He previously appeared in two ‘Star Trek’ movies including ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’. This is David’s third ‘Star Trek’ association.
In ‘Part I’ of ‘Chain of Command’, the Enterprise is visited by Natalia Nogulich as Admiral Alynna Nechayev. She has come to relieve Captain Picard of his command of the Enterprise. Wow! What has Picard done to deserve this? He was doing fine in his job as captain. I didn’t see him do anything wrong.
No, the reason why Picard’s been relieved of command of the Enterprise is because he; Dr. Beverly Crusher and Lt. Worf has been assigned by Starfleet to go on a convert mission. They are to seek and destroy a Cardassian biological weapons installation. It is assumed they are building a terrible weapon.
Around the time this two-parter was shown on TV, the next ‘Star Trek’ spin-off series, ‘Deep Space Nine’, was about to be aired on TV in 1993. There are certainly echoes of ‘DS9’ in this two-parter, especially with the Cardassians and the atmosphere of the potential war to occur with the Federation.
It seems that Starfleet are keeping everything hush-hush with Picard, Beverly and Worf’s convert mission. This is especially the case when the Enterprise gets a new captain in place of Picard. The new captain is Ronny Cox as Captain Edward Jellico. He is well-meaning, but is such hard work for everyone.
Jellico has a vastly different style of command and decorum compared to Picard and it doesn’t sit comfortably with every one of the Enterprise crew. Commander Riker clashes with Jellico at times and even questions his decision-making when they go off on this negotiation mission with the Cardassians.
Yeah whilst Picard, Beverly and Worf are away on their covert mission, Jellico and the Enterprise are on a mission to distract the Cardassians in outer space. Jellico was chosen to be captain of the Enterprise since he seems to have more experience with the Cardassians as opposed to Picard and Riker.
As well as clashing with Riker and even Geordi at times, Jellico makes certain changes to how the Enterprise’s efficiency levels are improved. This includes making the ship battle-hardened and ready for a potential war. He even removes some of Picard’s items in his ready room to avoid any distraction.
But of course, this is the story where Deanna gets told by Jellico to change into a standard blue Starfleet uniform. Which begs the question, why didn’t she do that for most of the series. She (sort-of) started wearing one in ‘Encounter At Farpoint’, but most of the time she’s been in these jumpsuits.
I actually like seeing Deanna in a Starfleet uniform. It makes her more part of the Enterprise crew as opposed to looking civilian-like for most of the ‘TNG’ series. I know that she’s meant to connect more with people as a person, but Deanna in a Starfleet uniform makes her more professional-looking here.
The negotiations with the Cardassians in outer space don’t go well as the Enterprise meets a Cardassian ship on the border near Minos Korva, a tactically significant Federation planet. Jellico, Riker and Deanna meet John Durbin as Gul Lemec for the negotiations. They don’t run smoothly as intended.
Meanwhile with Picard, Beverly and Worf, they get help from a Ferengi – Lou Wagner as DaiMon Solok – which is another ‘DS9’ influence, before they go off to Celtris III where the weapons installation is. Picard, Beverly and Worf have had a lot of intensive training in the holodeck to prepare for the mission.
But as the three eventually infiltrate the base in a discrete manner, they find no signs of biological weapons being developed. Not even a lab. Picard realises it’s a trap and they attempt to flee before the Cardassians attack them. Worf and Beverly manage to escape, but Picard gets taken as a prisoner.
It’s where he’s brought before David Warner as Gul Madred who interrogates him. It seems that the Celtris III weapons installation trap was a ruse designed to capture Picard specifically. The Cardassians want information from Picard and Gul Madred is really determined to get that information out of him.
It’s amazing how David Warner’s been able to play three totally different characters in ‘Star Trek’. He played a human in ‘Star Trek V’; a Klingon in ‘Star Trek VI’ and now a Cardassian in this ‘TNG’ two-parter. He’s also done a number of roles in the ‘Doctor Who’ universe in the audio stories by Big Finish.
Gul Madred turns out to be a pretty sadistic Cardassian officer. In ‘Part II’ of this, he uses various means of torture to get the information the Cardiassians want from Picard. This is despite Picard telling the truth under a truth serum. David Warner’s performance as the sadistic Gul Madred is very compelling.
The Cardassians are in the belief Picard has information regarding the Federation’s plans for Minos Korva. Picard has no knowledge of this. This begs why the Cardassians would think he’d have information about it already. They got wind of it surely, but why would they assume he’d have it now.
The torture scenes with Picard by Madred are pretty intense. Picard gets stripped of his rank; identity and even his clothes. Madred has Picard manacled to a steel rack above where he is left naked for the night. Picard suffers very greatly with dehydration; starvation and physical pain in the second episode.
Madred also attempts to break Picard’s will by showing him four bright lights and telling him to say that there are five of them. Picard refuses to say there are five lights instead of four to which Madred inflicts intense pain with a sensor inside his chest. I can imagine how so intensely painful that must be.
The acting between Patrick Stewart and David Warner is phenomenal in the second episode of this two-parter. You see this adversarial relationship between the two that is so multi-layered. Picard questions Madred’s motives and Madred even tells lies to Picard in the attempt to break the will he has.
There’s a point where Madred tells Picard he can leave and that they’ll interrogate Beverly instead when he claims they have her whereas in fact they don’t. Picard doesn’t know this of course, but he remains to stay since it is indicated he’s fond of Beverly and the Cardassians know that as a weakness.
Eventually Madred allows Picard to have some breakfast with him, which includes eggs that have living creatures inside of them. Picard gulps it down bravely even in his weakened state. Madred is amused by this before he shares ‘nostalgic’ memories on how he used to be weak and helpless at six years old.
Picard takes opportunity to ridicule Madred over the man he is today as he now sees him as a helpless six-year-old and not intimidating. Madred becomes angered by this, calling ‘Picard’ at one point when he originally refused to call him by that name. Picard gets tortured even further from Madred’s anger.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew are informed about Picard’s capture but Jellico refuses to allow a rescue mission when they’re in a tight spot with the Cardassians. This leads to a heated argument between Jellico and Riker. It all eventually leads to Riker being relieved of duty by Captain Jellico in the process.
Data gets promoted to first officer in place of Riker and even wears a red uniform for a change which is nice. Which makes me wonder why didn’t Spock wear a gold uniform all the time he was in ‘The Original Series’ as he was Kirk’s first officer. I know he was the science officer too but I’m puzzled here.
Eventually the Enterprise soon work it out that the Cardassians are using a nebula as a means of an attack on Minos Korva. Jellico orders mines to place across the nebula and he very soon puts Riker back on duty as he is the most qualified person to pilot a shuttlecraft to deploy the mines across that nebula.
I like how Jellico eventually asks Riker personally to pilot the shuttle and he agrees. The minefield is successfully laid and Jellico uses the threat of warning to set off the mines unless the Cardassians disarm and retreat from the nebula. The Cardiassians comply and Jellico also demands Picard’s return.
Back with Picard, Gul Madred tries one more time to ploy with Picard and break his will. He falsely claims that Cardassia have taken Minos Korva and the Enterprise is destroyed before offering him a choice of torture and comfort. All Picard has to do is say there are ‘five’ lights instead of four above him.
It makes me wonder why Madred would be so determined to lie to Picard like this as it must be personal to torture him this way. Thankfully however Cardiassan officers led by Gul Lemec enter as Picard is to be returned to the Enterprise immediately. I liked how Picard defies Madred by the climax.
Just when Picard is told he is free and about to be taken away, he slowly turns to Madred and defiantly shouts, “THERE…ARE…FOUR LIGHTS!” It was a pretty intense moment of defiance on Picard’s part. Eventually he’s returned to the Enterprise and also has his command of the ship reinstated by Jellico.
‘Chain of Command’ is a pretty gruelling two-part story with torture scenes, especially in the second episode. But it’s brilliantly written and features superb performances by Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard and David Warner as Gul Madred. I look forward to see David Warner again about this TV story.
‘Chain of Command’ (TNG) rating – 9/10
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