Saturday, July 29, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 136 (Chain of Command: Part 1)

There were certain movies or TV episodes that made sense over time.  I didn’t get the message as a child.  However, as an adult, I began to pick up on things that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger.  Sometimes, the reverse is true.  When Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Chain of Command aired, I didn’t question certain things.  This is probably why I remember the episode as being better than it actually was.  It wasn’t until later that I began to pick up on things.

The episode starts with Captain Picard being told that he’s being relieved of command of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  The reason is that he’s being sent on a covert operation along with Dr. Crusher and Chief of Security Worf.  The details aren’t forthcoming, but Picard gets to meet his replacement, Captain Edward Jellico.

It doesn’t take long for Jellico to start making changes.  He tells Commander Riker that he wants the crew on a four-shift rotation rather than the current three shifts.  He also takes Lieutenant Commander Data around the ship making demands, like telling engineering that he wants efficiency up and certain parts of the ship overhauled.  Data tells Jellico that it’s possible, but also points out that it would just barely be so.  Jellico wants it done anyway.

Meanwhile,  Picard, Worf and Crusher are training for their unspecified mission.  It isn’t until they leave that Picard can fill them in on the details: The Cardassians are making a weapon that could wipe out all organic life on a planet.  The three of them are to invade a research facility and destroy anything that might be dangerous.  It turns out that it’s a trap.  Crusher and Worf retreat, presumably to escape while Picard is captured.

When the episode first aired 25 years ago, the only thing that really bothered me was that they not only replaced Picard as captain, but the replaced him with a jerk.  Jellico isn’t concerned with being nice.  He’s concerned with results.  How people feel is secondary.  He’s the captain.  I came to realize that this was probably necessary, as he’s being sent to deal with Cardassians.  Riker at one point asks why he isn’t leading the mission.  Riker wouldn’t have been able to carry those scenes.  They needed someone who was abrasive.

It’s a little surprising to me that he made captain at all.  I suppose it’s possible that his method isn’t so bad if you’re used to it.  The crew seems to hate him mostly for changing things.  In fact, this is probably the only time that Riker is made to look bad.  When he has to tell Jellico that the change in shift rotation hasn’t happened yet, Jellico doesn’t care how the department heads feel.  In all fairness, Riker should have gotten it done sooner.  However, it’s done more to show how demanding Jellico is being.  I think the episode could have done without it.

Upon rewatching the episode, what seems most odd is that they would have sent Picard in the first place.  The next episode will have Picard being interrogated.  This episode serves to put him in that situation, but the reasoning is convoluted.  He’s one of three living captains to know about a certain technology.  The other two are retired.  You’re telling me that in all of Starfleet, the best person to send is a captain?  There are no engineers or science officers that could go instead?

The same goes for the chief medical officer of the Enterprise.  They only need someone to verify and possibly destroy the weapon.  Jellico is brought to the Enterprise on another starship, meaning you had at least two medical crews to choose from.  It was never explained why Dr. Crusher is needed.  (The reasoning will become obvious in the second part.)

If you’re thinking that these are the only problems I had with the story, I’ll be making some more points in my review of the second part.  This episode tends to typify why the season sets were a good idea.  Back when the episodes were being released on VHS, there were certain episodes like these that had some good scenes, but not great episodes.  It’s hard to recommend buying them, as you really have to buy two episodes when it’s not necessarily worth the price of one.  I hate to tear it down only to tell you to watch it, but it isn’t really worth avoiding altogether.

IMDb page

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