Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Royale"

*

Air date: 3/27/1989
Written by Keith Mills
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The most interesting aspect of "The Royale" is its math-history footnote concerning Fermat's Last Theorem, still unproved in 1989 when the episode was made, and still allegedly unproved in the 24th century. Who would've guessed then that the theorem, after more than 350 years, would be proved in 1995?

I mention that footnote in an episode that otherwise exhibits almost no interest or merit. After the Enterprise crew finds a piece of NASA space debris from the mid-21st century and traces it to a nearby planet, Riker, Data, and Worf beam down and enter a mysterious building. Inside they find an alien representation of a 20th-century casino hotel as based on a "second-rate novel" owned by the NASA astronaut that had survived, and used as a template by aliens to build him an oasis in the middle of a barren, unlivable environment. It makes for a classic TNG Pointless Period Piece.

The first sentence of the novel was, "It was a dark and stormy night," and the episode makes much of the fact that the novel is a piece of trash with shallow characters and endless cliches. I suppose this is to cover the fact that "The Royale," as an episode of TNG, has shallow characters and endless cliches. Seriously, it must've been a hell of a writers' meeting: "Let's do an episode that's about bad cliches and lame dialog so we don't have to write something that's actually good!" (Apparently, they figured that by pointing out that the storyline is dreck, that somehow excuses it.) The away team becomes trapped in the hotel and can't escape, for no reason except that this is a Twilight Zone-style mystery that has arbitrary rules and no satisfactory explanations.

I suppose I could excuse a fantasy show if it were entertaining, but not this one. There's no mystery or wonder or suspense, but merely bad cliches, pointless guest characters, aimless dialog, and a plodding premise that never comes close to justifying its fantasy elements. (And, no, Data playing craps isn't enough.)

Previous episode: Contagion
Next episode: Time Squared

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20 comments on this review

AeC - Sat, Jun 20, 2009 - 6:20pm (USA Central)
Am I the only person on the planet who's always gotten a big kick out of "The Royale?" Sure, it's thin, but intentionally so, and while I wouldn't want a steady diet of it, I usually appreciate things that flat-out revel in their chintziness.
Hal Berstram - Tue, Feb 9, 2010 - 5:46pm (USA Central)
An excellent summary of a very mixed season that nonetheless probably saved TNG. If they'd done another season like season 1 it would probably have been all over. (Nowadays it'd be all over after half a season if they'd started that badly!)

The only rating I'd disagree with in any major way here is 'The Royale' which I love. It feels very much like the kind of crazy plotline that the British sci-fi writer Douglas Adams (of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" fame) would have written. Some poor astronaut gets trapped in a facsimile of a trashy novel which he was carrying when he was rescued by aliens... it's a hilarious concept and the kind of thing that TNG could have done with a lot more of IMHO.
CalcBoy - Thu, Mar 31, 2011 - 11:58pm (USA Central)
>>The most interesting aspect of "The Royale" is its math-history footnote concerning Fermat's Last Theorem
Fanner - Mon, Jul 11, 2011 - 7:48pm (USA Central)
Loved Royale. And Captain's Holiday. And the one where they are in Sherwood Forest. And Elementary My Dear, Data.

I sense (and I may be very wrong) a strong dislike from our host here against eps off the Enterprise/Space.

When I was younger, I was the same way. I now really like those eps. Maybe I do BECAUSE they are only twice a season, or thereabouts. I would hate them if they were more common - that wouldn't be Trek.

But as far as the Enterprise, we get being on her bridge and investigating spacial anomilies almost EVERY week. Every now and then a Fish Out Of Water ep is fun and enjoyable to see the actors enjoy doing something a little different. Variety is the...
Nic - Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - 12:45pm (USA Central)
Don't forget the scene in "The Royale" where the surface of the planet is "MINUS 291 DEGREES CELCIUS"!!!

Uh Huh.
Rosario - Sun, Nov 4, 2012 - 11:23am (USA Central)
Hal: "It feels very much like the kind of crazy plotline that the British sci-fi writer Douglas Adams (of "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" fame) would have written. Some poor astronaut gets trapped in a facsimile of a trashy novel which he was carrying when he was rescued by aliens... it's a hilarious concept and the kind of thing that TNG could have done with a lot more of IMHO."

That certainly is a hilarious concept. Much more hilarious than 'crew finds poor astronaut that was trapped in a fascimile of a trashy novel he was reading and becomes trapped as well.' If only that poor astronaut had been reading 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' perhaps instead of the Royale, we could have had the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and they could have been ushered in to a table next to a dead rock singer and a cow could have run out to explain to our crew just how delicious she was and how badly she wanted to be eaten for their pleasure.

I'd watch it.
DG - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 2:27am (USA Central)
After watching DS9's "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang", this episode was going through my head, so I watched it.

They all seem so naive! Picard's been my favorite captain for freaking ever, but after DS9, the thought is 'how do you know it's not an ambush!? wait, wrong show...'

And Worf's hair is ugly! Hideously ugly!
Cail Corishev - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 9:03pm (USA Central)
I enjoy this one too. Sure, the premise is silly, but no sillier than the notion from the previous episode ("Contagion") that reading the log from an infected ship would infect your own ship.

Once past the thin premise, the rest works fine for me as a light comedy of the Anomaly of the Week variety.
Patrick - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 9:27pm (USA Central)
"The Royale" is 10x more enjoyable as a "Enterprise crew dealing with old time Earth stuff" than say, "A Fistful of Datas". Noble Willingham nearly steals the episode as Texas.
TDexter - Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - 11:43pm (USA Central)
I've always enjoyed and had a soft spot for this episode.

I think that the allegory is being missed in this review. The allegory is that man makes his own prison. Art is a means of escaping that prison. When art is schlock, there is no real escape. (This episode was schlock, you might counter; fair enough.) But when art somehow transcends that (as in the case of the 'Star Trek' universe, for the most part), and dares to dream bigger, there can be release.

The Enterprise crew is rescued as soon as it recognizes all the clichés of pop art and low-brow culture for what they are, and then is deftly able to navigate them, working them to their own ends. And that's Star Trek in a nutshell: always transcending schlock, while making good use of it at the same time.
Rikko - Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - 8:38am (USA Central)
I'm surprised by the number of positive reactions to this. I find 'The royale' to be somewhat boring and after the teaser I remember thinking :oh, no. Random stuff again.

My interest was lifted a bit when they found out it was all part of a novel and how they managed to get out. But, most of the episode was slow and the guest stars were bad.

@TDexter: That's a magnificent analysis! Never thought of TNG that way.
William B - Fri, Mar 29, 2013 - 2:33am (USA Central)
This was longer than I'd intended, but cathartic --

I like TDexter's take on this episode and that resonates with the themes I was idly thinking about while rewatching it. I do think that that is likely the intent of the episode.

Alas, I do not think the episode succeeds, to put it mildly. The biggest laugh-out-loud moment for me was this, when Picard was listening to The Royale on audiobook --

TROI: I don’t believe this dialogue, did humans really talk like that?

PICARD: Not in real life. Remember: everything that’s going on down there is taken from what Col. Ritchie called a second-rate novel.

Troi then smiles knowingly.

I love how stilted, unnatural, and pointless this exchange is. I think maybe Troi does remember that, Picard -- if she had forgotten it, maybe she would be wondering why he is spending his time listening to this audiobook at length. The bad dialogue within the 'The Royale' novel and novel-recreation frame is certainly intentional. What is this dialogue's excuse?

The episode's slow pace involves particularly passive protagonists, which can only really work if what is happening to the protagonists is interesting (which it is not): within this hour-long show, the total set of actions which the protagonists take to allow the crew to escape are:

1) find Ritchie and read his diary entry;
2) read the book;
3) see Mickey Dee leave;
4) determine that the way to escape is to "act out" the book;
5) have Data win at craps and buy the casino.

These five steps could be sufficient spine for an episode if there were any intermediate steps, but there are none -- point (2) is stretched out over about half the episode, where Data reads the book instantaneously but never again has his knowledge of the book used, and we see Picard slowly reading the book (leading to that dialogue exchange earlier).

The extent to which our away team sleepwalks through this episode can be felt by comparing this to other shows in the Trek canon. "We are trapped in a story and must play along to get out!" is basically the premise of all Holodeck stories, which grew tiresome yes but which still had some real highlights. The premise of aliens misinterpreting a single book as a guideline for a culture led to TOS' "A Piece of the Action," in which Kirk et al. applied dazzling wit and originality to game the system and win the day. By contrast, in this episode, the *sole* bit of actual inspiration by the crew is to have Data win at craps, and there there is no tension because we know Data can continue rolling sevens ad nauseam.

The backstory provided by Ritchie's journal entry is totally nonsensical -- the idea that he wrote *one* journal entry in all those years (and somehow kept track of the time); the idea that the aliens could communicate in English but could not understand Ritchie's telling them point-blank that he wants out stands up to little scrutiny; most of all, why would the aliens create the entire cast of the novel EXCEPT the "foreign investors," as if waiting for the away team for all time? This is lampshaded by having Riker say that nothing in this episode makes any sense, but pointing at flaws does not remove them or compensate.

And that's the bottom line. If the episode is attempting to make fun of bad art while making a piece that is "good art", it is itself such bad art that the smug dismissal of trash just makes the episode read worse. If the episode is meant to be some sort of commentary on trash by having a terrible TNG episode about a terrible (fictional) novel, it is hard to care. If it is a celebration of the entertainment value found in trash -- paging Pauline Kael! -- then it certainly could have used more scenes of anyone actually enjoying themselves besides having Riker smirk now and again and Data's rather out-of-character response.

Essentially -- if you're going to base an episode around terrible, unbearably bad material, do *something* to lighten that material, rather than gawking, and having characters constantly remind us that the dialogue is *supposed* to be bad.

Despite my general boredom, there are a few moments of meta-humour where I found myself giggling (it is, to be fair, late and I can't sleep) and I couldn't quite tell whether it was the intended effect or not. The biggest two involved Worf's reactions to the Royale's 20th century locale, and in both case the material was *written* as a joke, but it’s a joke so corny and obvious I could hardly believe they went there and that Michael Dorn could keep a straight face, less at the joke and at more at the idea that this is the joke they are doing. The first is Worf’s “Let us use these turbolifts!” and then standing in front of it, waiting for it to open, and declaring “they aren’t working!” I get that Worf is unfamiliar with 20th century casinos, but surely he understands that not everything in the world is automatic. The second is the hysterical way Dorn delivers Worf’s “No!” when answering the phone question if they want room service, after the similarly cheesy joke about the away team not knowing what room service meant. Something about that “No!” cracks me up -- probably because of course Worf would want to refuse whatever they were asking on the phone anyway, and was just waiting for the opportunity to scream it. Definitely this is an episode that needed as much barely restrained impatience from Worf as it could get.

As bad as this is, I think very little of it is as flat-out terrible as “Code of Honour” is; this episode mostly just has the life sapped out of it. For the first twenty minutes or so, before the episode numbed me totally, I didn’t even think it was going to be all that bad -- but then the dullness became more and more toxic. So 1 star sounds about right.
T'Paul - Sat, May 25, 2013 - 8:21pm (USA Central)
Original and consistent in its own way... and sure does it better than Voyager or Enterprise would, in that it takes itself as seriously as it can and follows its own logic, and tries to have us understand it too, I mean, it treats us as though we had a modicum of intelligence. Not a complete flop I would say.
langtonian - Sun, Jul 14, 2013 - 11:13am (USA Central)
I understand what most people are saying about this episode, but I have to say I don't mind this one. I wouldn't want this kind of thing all the time, but it tries to do something a bit different, and it's one of the few I remember clearly from watching the first time around.
Eduardo - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
"this episode mostly just has the life sapped out of it. For the first twenty minutes or so, before the episode numbed me totally, I didn’t even think it was going to be all that bad -- but then the dullness became more and more toxic. So 1 star sounds about right."

@William B

The reason this episode comes across as numbing is probably because it went through some extensive rewrites thanks to Maurice Hurley, who ended up diluting a lot of the comedy, surrealism and satire present in Tracy Tormé's original draft.

One of the reasons Hurley rewrote it is because he felt it was too similar to A Piece in the Action.

It was so altered, it came to the point of Tormé actually disowning the script and using a pseudonym, Keith Mills. Even director Cliff Bole preferred the original story outline.

More info on the link below:

en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/The_Royale_(episode)
William B - Thu, Aug 1, 2013 - 2:08pm (USA Central)
@Eduardo: Thanks for the info. I remembered hearing something about that; Tracy Tormé had that a lot didn't he? (Also, IIRC, Haven and Manhunt.)
Andrew - Thu, Aug 8, 2013 - 8:30pm (USA Central)
A lot has been said how this episode falls into the "off the ship" category, but I think the real problem is it's in the "crew travels to past-earth" category.

I generally don't like those stories, like "Time's Arrow".(aside from First Contact which was awesome). But I think Royale isn't too bad because it has enough humor in it. "Fistfull of Datas" as well has a good balance of humor.

But honestly I think this episode is more fun to watch than DS9's "Far Beyond the Stars." because atleast this episode still involves the crew investigating an alien mystery, and it doesn't take itself overly seriously.
Reverend Spork - Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - 6:07pm (USA Central)
I never thought that badly of this episode. It's equal parts silly and weird, but the characters handled a weird and silly situation fairly well, and that helped immensely. I'd give it one more star than jammer.
Kevin - Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - 10:40pm (USA Central)
I wonder if anyone else noticed just how much Brent keeps smiling in the early episodes.
Kevin - Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - 11:18pm (USA Central)
You know, after watching it again, it's bad, but it's fun. I have to admit I did smile at Brent out of character and having fun gambling.

It is one of those, so bad it is actually good episodes.

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