Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Chain of Command, Part II"

****

Air date: 12/21/1992
Written by Frank Abatemarco
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Picard is held captive by the Cardassians and interrogated for information by Gul Madred (the great David Warner), who starts with truth serum and mind games before quickly moving on to torture. Meanwhile, the Enterprise learns of Picard's capture in the middle of their negotiations with Cardassian Gul Lemec (John Durbin), who now intends to use Picard's capture as leverage in the situation. It doesn't help that Picard's raid on the supposed Cardassian facility was a covert operation that violates the treaty and would be considered an act of war. In an example of outrageously false theatricality, Lemec claims Picard's operation resulted in the deaths of more than 50 men, women, and children.

Deep Space Nine was well into production by the time "Chain of Command, Part II" was made, but it wouldn't premiere for two weeks after this episode aired. One wonders if the TNG writers, knowing what the Cardassians would be to DS9, decided ahead of its sister series' launch that they wanted to establish some real meat behind the society that would be the new show's primary nemesis. "Chain of Command, Part II" provides a meaty entry point into the Cardassian mindset through the dark and intense scenes between Picard and Madred. These scenes are all the more believable because we come to see Madred not simply as a generic antagonist, but a specific, even understandable, product of a military government-state that pulled itself out of poverty and starvation by lashing out and conquering its interstellar neighbors (like the Bajorans).

There's no doubt the Cardassians are designed as an Orwellian society. The entire Picard/Madred subplot isn't simply inspired by 1984; it's directly transplanted — from the nature of the electronic torture device to the interrogator's desire to gain not just information but dominion over his victim's mind, to the whole business of the five lights versus the four. (In 1984, it's five fingers instead of four.) Patrick Stewart and David Warner are masterful in scenes of psychological and physical intensity, taking place in a room with production design that oozes dank and dim.

But what also stands out here are the nuances of character and society. Madred has a quiet scene with his daughter whom he clearly loves, and he talks with Picard about his time as a starving young boy on the streets of Cardassia, and how Cardassia made itself strong again through its military agenda. These are terrific, observant scenes of well-written dialogue. In a way, this insight allows Picard to understand Madred — even pity him — in what is, from Madred's point of view, his own strategic miscalculation. What Madred does to Picard is horrible, yes, but what the story does is pretty great — allowing us a portal into the Cardassian psyche via exposition that arises organically from the drama. By the time the episode is over, a major piece of TNG-era mythos has been established.

Back on the Enterprise, the situation with the negotiations, Jellico, and Riker continues to deteriorate, and ultimately Jellico relieves Riker of duty (and puts Data in command) after Riker questions Jellico's initial plan to sacrifice Picard as a negotiation tactic. The plot in this story is all-around solid and engaging, but it's elevated by the tension Jellico brings to the table and the fact that it all ties back into Picard's fate. Ultimately, Jellico and Riker must come to the most grudging of understandings — but not before a classic exchange where the two drop rank and tell each other exactly what they think of each other. (Jellico goes first, and then Riker's response is deliciously brutal.)

And who can forget, once all the cards have been played and the negotiations for Picard's release have been made: "There! Are! Four! Lights!" It's a moment of victory that Picard gets over Madred — but the episode wisely knows that it was a hollow one made possible only by the eleventh-hour agreement that secured his release. Picard confesses to Troi that not only was he going to say whatever Madred wanted him to, but that he could actually see five lights. When given the choice in front of Picard, it's easy to see how pride would be so small a price to pay, and how you could convince yourself a lie was the truth.

Previous episode: Chain of Command, Part I
Next episode: Ship in a Bottle

Season Index

35 comments on this review

James - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 1:14am (USA Central)
By the end of the episode, I swore I saw five lights.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 2:39am (USA Central)
There is no fun watching people being tortured (never understood those that enjoy watching stuff like Hostel) but it is the exchanges between Picard and Madred that make this episode stand out. I actually like Jelico, wouldn't want to serve under him.
Sxottlan - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 3:02am (USA Central)
To me the best part is Madred's plea of "Help me!" as Lemec comes in to free Picard. All the more important by how he's marginalized the moment Lemec enters the room. His plea pathetically comes from off-screen.

He was just as dependent on having a victim to give him purpose on his backwater planet.
Keith R.A. DeCandido - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 4:13am (USA Central)
In fact, "Chain of Command" was intended to be more of a lead-in to DS9, insofar as the Ferengi middleman in Part 1 was supposed to be Quark on the Cardassian station Terok Nor, but because they weren't premiering DS9 until a month after this one aired, they changed it to a generic Ferengi. The scene was filmed on DS9's replimat set.
Patrick - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 1:55pm (USA Central)
I don't think any other Star Trek show changed so radically over its entire run than TNG.

In terms of serious villainy it went from Armus the Evil Oil Slick to Gul Madred. (Q notwithstanding).

I challenge anyone to watch "Skin of Evil" and "Chain of Command, part II" back to back and see if your head doesn't explode from knowing they're both from the same show.
Ken - Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - 12:33am (USA Central)
"There are four stars!"
"THERE ARE FIVE STARS! HOW MANY DO YOU SEE NOW?"
Nic - Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - 6:48am (USA Central)
Here's a great article that compares this episode with the torture scene in the new Star Trek movie:

www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2009/05/there_are_four_lights.html
Greg M - Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - 5:51pm (USA Central)
I typically don't like the way Torture is done on TV because I feel like a lot of it is just hollow and does nothing to add to the characters. One show that comes to mind as an example is 24. It seemed like torture was used only as a device and when it happened every week, it borders on more annoying than actually useful.

Despite that though, there are two instances I've seen where Torture added a bunch to an episode, and that's here and DS9's die is cast. It's one thing to torture someone, but what I want to see is how this affects the torturer and the victim on a psychological level. If movies/series/episodes manage that, than the torture scene works.
Elliott - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 7:52pm (USA Central)
@ Nic : thanks for that article! I think similar ones could be written regarding every aspect of that brain-dead movie.

Someone else pointed out that during the last 3 years of its run, nearly every great episode of TNG was a story about Picard in some sort of box with or without other good actors with minimal periphery scenes with the rest of the cast.

I don't need to add much to the review (or Nic's article) of the torture scenes and how exquisite they are. It occurred to me that, had I directed the episode, the final shot of Picard leaving the chambre would have shown HIS perspective of the lights. A camera shot of Madred roofed by blinding and glaring lights which is just long enough to let you realise, if you pay attention, that there are five lights shining into your eyes. Then would come the line "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!". Not necessary as the episode is a gem as it is, but just a thought.

I'd like to point out the richness of the dialogue and the intellectual calibre of the discussions between Madred and Picard--this was the kind of text which did not survive the TOS era very much. There were still good ideas in the TNG era (and even in ENT) to be explored, but very rare are the episodes past TNG season 4 which don't pander their language to a less intellectual audience.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 8:01am (USA Central)
I think the standout moment of this episode is Picard's little victory when discussing Madred as a boy and Picard's line about him being pitiful, and then pulling him for calling him Picard.
I doubt in a real torture experience that the torturer would open themselves up like that, and to be honest only a stupid prisoner would open themselves up to further torture by goading them, but in a scripted Sci Fi series with two quality actors this is a great piece of television.
Paul - Fri, Jul 6, 2012 - 2:06pm (USA Central)
Interesting point about early TNG (Skin of Evil) versus this two-parter. The series certainly did mature. As Jammer capably pointed out, a lot of early TNG is like bad TOS (Skin of Evil, Code of Honor, etc.).

Still, something happened in the later seasons of TNG (which I think carried over to Voyager): It became almost a little too thoughtful or too reasonable or comfortable, maybe. I'm not counting this two-parter (which is excellent) but there are a lot of episodes that are just kind of boring or too sedate.

To be sure, there are some excellent TNG episodes in the final two years (Tapestry, the Chase, Parallels). But there are a lot of high-concept/low-energy outings, too. Thine Own Self, Masks and several others just feel kind of flat.

I've noted this elsewhere, but this was, in part, due to a changed character dynamic. The final two seasons do far less with Riker and Geordi and much more with Troi and Worf. Picard and Data are, obviously, the main characters. But Troi and Worf (even before their romance) supplant Riker and Geordi as the next tier.

Marina Sirtis is clearly the worst actor in the cast (possibly in all of Trek). Michael Dorn was one of the better characters, but attempts to humanize him (particularly in season 7) were just kind of lame. So, when the creators decided to devote much of the final two years on Troi and Worf (individually and together), it hurt the series, IMO.

There are also a lot more ship-bound shows, which was one of my complaints about Voyager (which, to me, is the worst Trek series by a wide margin).

Certainly, TNG evolved from pulpier scifi to something more thoughtful. But I think it also lost some spark after a time.
Taylor - Wed, Jul 11, 2012 - 2:58pm (USA Central)
I'm amused no one mentioned how this was Patrick Stewart's major beefcake moment on TNG. His partial nudity is semi-legendary in these parts (San Francisco) and entrenched him as a sex symbol. (Forget Riker, dude ...)
David - Sat, Jul 28, 2012 - 7:53am (USA Central)
@Taylor

Hell yeah, in fact every female Trek fan I've ever known (and a few of the boys as well, as you mention) has expressed a preference for Picard over Riker. I don't think Team Riker even exists!
Josh - Fri, Aug 3, 2012 - 3:13pm (USA Central)
There are and were five lights. Watch carefully each time and you will see a little blue light on the top left side of the fourth light on the left side of the screen. Being in such close proximity to one of the four glaring ones however, it is understandable that a person would then be tricked into thinking there are four lights. Despite the deviousness of the act, I believe it would have provided a strong psychological shock to a person to discover they were indeed wrong after all of that when the four bright lights are turned off and the fifth light revealed.
Kevin - Sat, Aug 25, 2012 - 3:51am (USA Central)
@Josh
There are 4 lights. I'm watching the episode now on netflix. At time stamp 22:43 you can pause it to see that the small blue light you saw is not present as the lights are coming on. Rather, what you saw as the 5th light was a reflection of the production lights on the canisters of the prop lights. I'm taking time to respond because the idea was so interesting and shocking that I had to check it out.

That would have been seriously devious and extremely dark. Nice observation, in real time it does appear to be another light, but I for one am thankful that "THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!"
TheDream - Sat, Feb 23, 2013 - 9:40am (USA Central)
I thought that Madred was implying that HE was the fifth light
T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
I thought that the red uniform went well with Data's complexion!

Must add Madred to my favourite villains list.

As far as Picard the beefcake, I think his best look was when he had recently arrived to the planet in "The inner light"... those are some well-toned arms!
mephyve - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 7:44am (USA Central)
Picard's admission destroyed it for me in the end. It was interesting to see Picard 'broken' (assimilated) by the Borg. Having him broken by the Cardassians as well just seemed redundant to me.
It was a great moment when Picard exuberantly proclaimed 'There are four lights!' His later admission was deflating and unnecessary.
Marshal - Thu, Sep 5, 2013 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
When Picard finally leaves Madred's office after his final act of defiance I notice that Madred's expression is not embarrassment or anger at being bested. He has a small grin. Is it because he respects Picard as a worthy opponent or even a peer?

I don't understand how seeing Picard as a real human being "ruins" the show. I can identify completely with his emotional journey and his sense of loss and confusion after this terrible experience. He isn't Superman or a god. His victory over Madred isn't because he is unbreakable, it cost him a great deal. Heroism isn't found in being tougher than everyone else. A heroic effort is when the character understands their own weakness but exceeds those perceived limits to achieve their goal.
William B - Thu, Sep 5, 2013 - 9:17pm (USA Central)
Unfortunately, I always find the great episodes a little harder to talk about than the less-great ones, so I don't have much to say right now, though I might later. One thing I think is worth noting: the Riker-Jellico stuff is clearly the less significant material, in comparison to the tour de force of the Picard-Madred scenes. But I think that it has a lot in common with the Picard-Madred thing thematically, except that while Picard-Madred shows individualism-authoritarianism as good and evil, Riker and Jellico represent less extreme versions of the same individualism-authoritarian axis, in which it`s less clear who is right and who is wrong. Like Madred, Jellico's anger at Riker is fueled by the fact that Riker refuses to be controlled and to play the role that Jellico wants him to play, and Riker's minor victory in the scene in Riker's quarters, in which Jellico leaves angry and annoyed and Riker sits smugly victorious that Jellico acknowledged his worth as a pilot (if not as a first officer) foreshadows that ultimately Picard will "win" against Madred, refuse to bow down before him and play by Madred's rules, even if it could easily have gone the other way. I am not at all comparing the Riker/Jellico dynamic to Picard/Madred morally, except that they are in slightly similar thematic territory. Unlike Madred, whose work is shown to be completely ineffective as well as morally unconscionable, Jellico's methods, while a little dubious, are what is needed to quell the Cardassians and to rescue Picard.
Paul - Mon, Dec 2, 2013 - 9:20am (USA Central)
It's interesting watching TNG now, 20 years later. A lot of it really doesn't hold up. The early seasons have far too many examples of bad-TOS storytelling and season 7 really goes off the rails ("Genesis", "Sub Rosa") is really sedate ("Force of Nature", "Eye of the Beholder") or both ("Emergence").

Seasons 3-6 are, obviously, quite good -- but even some of the episodes in those seasons seem trivial compared with the darker and more serialized television that is now common ("Breaking Bad", "Sons of Anarchy").

But this two-parter is really exceptional.

It's probably Patrick Stewart's best performance as Picard, and that's saying something. His interchanges with Madred are really excellent, particularly the scene with Madred's daughter. But this episode is also one of the best uses of the ensemble. Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes, neither of whom are really very good actors, deliver here -- particularly Frakes in part 2. LeVar Burton and Gates McFadden come up big, too. Michael Dorn certainly does the Worf thing well -- I like the nice touch when Worf pushes Picard aside to help Crusher in part 1. The only major character who doesn't really shine is Data, though Spiner is good in limited action.

Throw in good guest stars across the board (even the guy playing LeMec is quite good) and you've got the makings for a classic.

This two-parter isn't compared with "BOBW" in the history of Trek, but maybe it should be. It holds up just as well and it's importance in setting the Cardassians up as more than villains of the week -- as they were in seasons 4 and 5 -- is pretty instrumental to the franchise.

My only complaint has to do with the operation in the nebula. Jelico orders the Enterprise there without explaining the departure to the Reklar. Then, once Riker and Geordi complete their mission, Jelico hails the Reklar, and LeMec answers. But ... how did the Reklar get there -- and how did Jelico KNOW it was there?

All of that could have been fixed with a few lines of dialog or different sequencing (LeMec hails the Enterprise, etc.). Still, one of TNG's best outings.
Kristen - Wed, Dec 18, 2013 - 11:56am (USA Central)
Paul, SOA has been downhill since the third season and hasn't peaked since. TNG had several solid seasons and even its weaker seasons had a few triumphs. I'm shuddering a little at your comparison, not because of the genre difference (which makes them tough to compare), but the idea that a misogynistic BOOM! BOOM! fest has anything over TNG, which has never relied on musical montages and adolescent narration to build character.
Paul - Wed, Dec 18, 2013 - 2:10pm (USA Central)
@Kristen: Well, I agree with you that SOA has far too many musical montages. And I can agree that SOA and TNG are two very different shows.

But 'shuddering at the comparison'? That's a bit much.
Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
Weak episode with little variation. The scene with the Cardassian and Picard is simplistic with no twists nor growth. Just simple torture/control issues in a dark horror like set which is not fun to watch. Felt like ground-hog day. The stories that were supposed to make the Cardassian torturer personable came off as drival and one dimensional.

Subplot with Jellico didn't work. Fun idea to shake things up with the staff...but Jellico came off as annoying and naggy. Discordant and a token conflict character. Writers need to realize that CONTRAST and not just conflict can tell stories.
Trekker - Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - 8:43pm (USA Central)
@Smith, Actually, it is a homage to Orwellian themes that should be repetitive to be scary. George Orwell's entire premise for 1984 was that a lie told many times over and over and over and over and over again will be the truth to you.

Good stories need tension and psychological frames of perception.

The depth in this episode is subtle and make the Cardassian society that we fear.

If you watched DS9, remember what Garak said about the Cardassian concept of the "Repetitive epic" in the episode "the Wire"; this is how their society functions. Propagenda to the point of truth.
Londonboy73 - Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - 6:47pm (USA Central)
I love this episode for all the reasons said above. The Picard scenes are among the best in Trek

I have to say though that there is a major floor in the fact that Riker is apparently the best shuttle pilot on The Enterprise. It's obviously Data as he is programmed to be the best!!

If you have to be extremely precise in dropping mines who you gonna call...... It's not going to be the imperfect human is it.

SamSimon - Sun, Jun 1, 2014 - 1:37pm (USA Central)
These two episodes are truly masterpieces. To me, they are perfect in each and every detail. And so ahead of their time as well!
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - 10:43pm (USA Central)
One plausibility question: Wouldn't this sort of raid fall under the jurisdiction of the 24th century equivalent of a SWAT team or MACOs, instead of risking a starship captain and their top officers however much their expertise?

However, what we get once Picard has been captured makes it all worthwhile. The ends clearly justify the plot stretching necessary to set it up. Classic Trek, and very ahead of its time. "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!" Come on, you can't beat that.

I also loved the moment when Riker told Jellico just what he thought of him. A great release of tension.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 3, 2014 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
I'm afraid I disagree. I thought Part I was great, but Part II was a pretty big letdown. Both of the plots were not handled as well as they could be.

First of all, let's deal with Riker/Jellico. For all the buildup in Part I, the two still remained professional. Riker's purpose as first officer is to give his opinion and to point out where he thinks his captain is incorrect. So he does that. And he has a point; switching to a four shift rotation may end up taking a great deal of effort. Riker didn't know it needed to be done so soon. So its forgivable that he didn't have it done immediately, and it's understandable that he'd be miffed by Jellico's blunt demands to change it immediately.

But besides that and besides Jellico's resistance to Riker, the two still worked together. When Jellico demanded they reroute the power through the whatever, Riker commented on it, but still was perfectly willing to obey. And Jellico still trusted him to be a part of the negotiations (he didn't necessarily have to be, after all).

In short, they were still professionals.

So what do we get in the second half? Riker blows up at Jellico, Jellico blows up at Riker, relieves him of duty, then has to come crawling back to Riker at the end despite getting into another pissing match. So much for professional, mature officers. The whole "conflict is drama" thing is way overused; you can still create interesting drama without epic standoffs between people. You can still show the two butting heads without going over the top!

Would Jellico really have releaved Riker there? There was a possibillity of war. Yes, Riker was understandably enraged that Jellico was leaving Picard to die. But Jellico had his reasons. And if Riker had been written reasonably, he would have eventually calmed down (after all, Riker did the same thing to Picard back in BOBW). So explain himself, yes. Watch Riker closer, yes. But cut him out? Threaten the efficiency of his ship potentially just before a war breaks out? Why would he do something like that? Jellico was portrayed as a competent and composed captain up through this point; does this action strike you as the action of someone competent and composed?

And, of course, the cliche of needing his help at the end. By my count, we're now up to three "best pilot ever" officers on the Enterprise: Data (Most Toys), Picard (Booby Trap), and now Riker. All for the "you don't like me and I don't like you but we need to work together" trope. Yawn.

And as for the torture scenes...

I'm afraid we're supposed to think it's powerful because the producers said so. It's like making a holocaust movie in order to win an Oscar; dark unpleasant things means Serious Drama. But why? It can't be because of its value as a moral lesson. OK, torture is bad, glad I needed Hollywood to tell me that... Is it just because it breaks a character we love? That seems rather cynical, and I for one don't agree that that always makes for a good show. Is it because of the acting? Well, yes, it was very well acted, but so are plenty of other scenes in otherwise dull episodes. So what?

Because I wasn't getting the point of it. The show did wonders for making the torture accurate in terms of being, well, a professional method of torturing someone. So why was Madred so unprofessional? Why was there no real point to the torture?

We know the whole thing was set up to capture Picard. We know they have drugs to get all the information they need out of him; they did that first. So at this point, they don't think he has anything else of value. So why try to break him? What was the point? Is it just because the Cardassians are Orwellian fascists? That doesn't work, because Picard is not Cardassian. In 1984, Oceania subjected their dissidents to such torture because they had the goal of completely stamping out anything but loyalty to the cause. But did they do that to the Eastasian or Eurasian POWs? I find that highly unlikely. So why do it to Picard here?

There's no need for information. There's no need to suppress dissent. There's no need for anything. The best I can think of is that they wanted practice. Maybe Picard was the highest ranked Starfleet Officer captured. Might as well see what it takes to break him.

But that leads to my other major complaint. If Picard was so important a prisoner, why give him to a torturer who doesn't know what he's doing? I mean, I don't even like swatting flies, but I think I'd do a better job at torturing than Gul Madred. He made two serious mistakes.

For starters, he already won a major victory, but didn't follow up on it. I'm referring to the scene where he let Picard go telling him that he'll start on Beverly next. Of course, Picard stayed. Here's how it played out:

Madred: "Well, you're too hard to break. You're free. Guess we'll just torture the doctor instead."
Picard: "No, not that! Anything but that! Torture me instead! ...But I'm still not gonna break."
Madred: "Ummm, didn't we just tell you that the whole reason we're going to torture the doctor is because you won't break?"

And yet Madred doesn't seem to recognize this. He doesn't follow up on it. He doesn't point out the illogic to Picard who is getting tortured to save Beverly while simultaneously refusing to break (which is why he had to save Beverly in the first place). Why did Madred not follow up on this? Yes, it would have been easier if Crusher was captured too, but still. He got the first real piece of Picard's submission there. Why no follow up?

But even worse, he allowed Picard to get under his skin... twice! What kind of cockamamie torturer can't keep his temper under control when torturing someone? This was supposed to be Picard's big triumphant moment, the triumph of the human spirit, and all I was thinking was that it was just too unrealistic. If you're going to be making the Cardassian government out to be pure evil, then do that. Don't be making them pathetic as well.

The only thing I can think of is that it all relates back to a comment Jellico made in part I. That Cardassians are always trying to assert dominance over the other. And it's always a game of "alpha dog" with them. They are the ultimate bruised ego race.

But apparantly everyone else thinks this is the greatest episode ever, so maybe it is just me. I'd rate it as good. It was engaging, after all, but it didn't blow me away by any stretch of the imagination.
William B - Mon, Aug 4, 2014 - 12:21pm (USA Central)
@SkepticalMI, you raise some good points. A few quick thoughts:

1) Re: 1984, this isn't necessarily relevant to this episode (though I think parts of it are), but I think Oceania would torture and break POWs, for three reasons:

i) O'Brien says that the purpose of power is power, the purpose of cruelty is cruelty. One of the 'perks' of being higher in the party is the ability to be slightly crueler to people lower in the Party than the people above them are to them. And the doublethink ideology basically means that O'Brien, for one, both does and doesn't recognize that the torture is "pointless" -- in Winston's case, they break Winston *even though* they have no plans to use Winston as part of their society, in order to prove that they can break anyone. There's no, or at least very little, lesson there; it is its own point.

ii) Ultimately, it's pointed out that Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia are essentially the same -- that whatever superficial differences exist between the countries which are important in order to inflame public hatred of them, they are really the same hydra with different heads. In that sense, it hardly would matter whether a prisoner would brought in from a different country or the same country -- as long as that prisoner had some semblance of an idea of freedom, it would be important to crush it for the continued functioning of the world overall. No *real* dissidents, of any country, can be allowed to exist.

iii) On a pragmatic level, "broken" prisoners can be re-trained to be useful, as sleeper agents or whatever. I don't know whether they would actually do this in Oceania, unless there was an equilibrium of prisoners being exchanged between the countries to match the other war equilibrium that is established between the countries. If there is, then it would serve their purposes to "break" them.

That doesn't mean they *would* torture enemy POWs in Oceania -- they might just kill them outright. However, I am not convinced they wouldn't.

2) How this relates to "Chain of Command" is that I think we're led to see that Cardassians believe their own contradictory press. This episode doesn't introduce many of the elements we'll come to see in DS9 -- like the Cardassians' justice system, which they *know* is rigged and yet view as justice anyway -- but I think the contradiction is there. Cardassians are "strong," and they value "strength," and their belief in their own strength and superiority is actually what allowed them to survive harsh times. This is, I think (unless there's something in "The Wounded" or "Ensign Ro" I'm forgetting) the first time in which the fact that Cardassia as a planet was so poor people could barely eat before the military took over is revealed and discussed. Cardassia's ancient culture, (pardon the term) humanistic values, appreciation for art and science-for-its-own-sake, got it nowhere. The only thing that apparently got them out was power.

That power comes with an entitlement: Cardassians survived because they deserved to, and they exploit the Bajorans and other races because they are superior. At the same time, people like Madred who lived before the transformation of Cardassian values know this is not the only way to live -- and in his case even seems to have some genuine appreciation for the culture that Cardassia had before before its militarism overtook other concerns. I think Madred, then, is smart enough to know "deep down" that "the weak" don't deserve to be exploited and hurt anymore than he deserved to suffer as a child, and that there are things in this weak Cardassia which were worth preserving. I think that's the source of the weak Cardassian ego, and the constant need to prove themselves through acts of dominance -- their sense of entitlement, related to their strength, requires constantly proving that strength, to demonstrate that their strength is some intrinsic quality -- and that their militaristic, tyrannical philosophy is the *only* "real" philosophy which can lead to survival and prosperity.

That is the source of Madred's need to break Picard, IMO -- Picard represents everything the Cardassians have left behind, and he *must* be broken on a personal level to prove that militaristic, dominating strength wins. On a national level, this must also be true, and no doubt torturers are inducted into this belief, and people like Madred who are clearly intelligent would be able to see through it consciously if they weren't so strongly inducted into this belief that their minds could simply not take it if it were stripped from them. I suspect that it's important for Madred to prove his value to his superiors by torturing, and by believing hard in what he's doing.

I suspect that on a practical level, the Cardassians really did hope they could compel Picard to be so broken that he becomes a tool for them to use -- he could give a false confession about Minos Korva, or give false reports about what the Federation were doing with their black ops team, or otherwise be useful to the cause. And while threatening Picard with Crusher's life can allow Picard to sacrifice *himself*, everyone knows that that's not really going to be sufficient in the long-run: Picard will not actually lie about the Federation and hurt them in order to protect one of his crewmates, even if he'll obviously sacrifice himself. It's a tool to be used by Madred in order to force Picard to submit to more "breaking," in the hopes that eventually Picard will be fully a tool of the Cardassians.

But, ultimately, I think the tool part is secondary. The Cardassian superiors no doubt expect that Picard will be useful to them in some way -- if nothing else, to reveal information about Minos Korva -- but Madred wants to break Picard to prove the dominance of Cardassian philosophy over Federation philosophy, and I think that is probably the ultimate thing that Cardassian torturers are trained to do, which is in the short-term, maybe even for a generation or two, a strategy leading to dominance, but is self-defeating in the long term (as DS9 shows). I think this is part of why Madred does open up his flank the way you suggest, because he actually genuinely *does* feel some connection to Picard and wants to convince him of his superiority (and the superiority of his philosophy) and demonstrating that he once thought as Picard did about the world, at least on some level, is initially meant as a way both to instill sympathy in Picard and to lead Picard to "understand" how his Federation values of peace, seeking of knowledge and beauty for its own sake, etc., will lead to ruin in the wrong circumstances.

3) Re: Jellico and Riker, I see your point and I do think both men are unprofessional here. I mostly like that, though, not purely because conflict is good!, but because I think it reflects in interesting ways on the Picard/Madred plotline.

Riker and Jellico are basically a mirror of Picard and Madred, but much, *much* less extreme. Jellico believes in dominance, has trained himself to think like a Cardassian, and, like Madred, is frustrated and angry (and ego-bruised) when his way doesn't get immediate results. Unlike Madred, Jellico is not a sadist, nor is he a torturer, and he does, I think, believe pretty genuinely in Federation values. He is just slightly to the domination side of the individualist-authoritarian spectrum, where Madred is very far over. And what we find, in this episode, is that Jellico possesses some of the same flaws as Madred in smaller quantities, as Riker points out (Troi's statement in part 1 that Jellico isn't too sure about himself prefigures Madred's breakdown), but he is also useful to some degree. Jellico's ability to think like Cardassians saves the day, and he is useful in a crisis or war. I think he's a way of complicating the episode's message -- dominance and militarism taken to extremes are obviously wrong, and even in moderation they can be unpleasant, but it may be a useful strategy among others.

With regard to Riker, I think there's a subtle character arc in Riker's story throughout the series which may not have been intended but which is interesting if teased out, having to do with Riker & authority. The first thing we learn about him, basically, is that he's suspicious of the Zorn guy on Farpoint, and that he refused to let his captain beam down because his captain's life means more to him than the captain's orders. Therein is a kind of contradiction that stays with Riker throughout the series, and is highlighted in his relationship with his father, in his relationship with Picard (especially in BOBW), in these episodes, in "The Pegasus," and to a lesser extent even in the "Riker in an illusion" episodes ("Future Imperfect," "Frame of Mind") and in episodes in which Riker's maverick side and love of besting his captain comes up ("A Matter of Honour," "Peak Performance," "BOBW" again). Riker has a love-hate relationship with authority, which I think can be traced back (if you're particularly Freudian) to his love-hate relationship with his father. He wants to follow in his father's footsteps and also defy him. He wants to protect his captain so much that he will defy his orders. In "BOBW," Guinan suggests that Riker's willingness to *kill* Locutus is part and parcel of Riker's inability to let him go. In "The Pegasus," it's revealed that Riker hero worshipped Pressman and refused to defy his orders when the crew was justly mutinying, and that this has haunted him ever since. (I guess if you want to get more Freudian, his mother's "abandonment" of him through death might explain a lot about his relationships with women, and the weirdness of the fact that his ideal woman in "Future Imperfect" is a fantasy hologram who doesn't exist.)

So the moment he really, *really* goes after Jellico is the moment where his two captain figures are in opposition -- his "good" captain is in danger and his "bad" captain is in the way. This is something of a red flag to a bull for Riker, who has both an unusually fierce loyalty and an unusually intense antiauthoritarian streak. Riker, I think, has a real point as well here: he is not suggesting they give up everything to save Picard, but the Federation *should* own up to what they've been doing so that Picard can get the Geneva Convention-equivalent protections, and, well, for a sense of fairness even otherwise. It's a kind of TNG-esque sense of fairness, or idealism if one would prefer, that depends on the assumption that Starfleet will play fair. Given "The Pegasus," and the way in which one of the defining moments of Riker's life (which we haven't yet heard about) is the a mutiny centred around a secret, rule-breaking Federation mission, I think it makes sense that Riker, even if he doesn't recognize all his reasons, would feel *very* strongly about speaking up for the Federation owning up to its secrets.

I do agree, though, that Riker being the "best pilot!" is a silly contrivance -- one which I think is, on the balance, worth it, because I think the testy reconciliation between Riker and Jellico is ultimately important thematically (to show that there is some way of incorporating some individualist values into authority and some authority into individualist values, in stark contrast to the understandable total opposition that hey have in the Picard/Madred plot).
William B - Mon, Aug 4, 2014 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
Haha, "quick" thoughts. I crack me up.
SkepticalMI - Mon, Aug 4, 2014 - 7:20pm (USA Central)
Fair enough. It's been awhile since I read 1984, but I seem to recall that they didn't care about the Proles either. Yes, the government was about cruelty, but more as a tool than as a desired state. But that's neither here nor there.

I do think the episode as a whole was an interesting look into the state of mind of the Cardassians (or at least TNG Cardassia; obviously DS9 would run with it a lot more). And I do agree that it seems to be overcompensating for their insecurity. I didn't consider that Jellico was a mirror for that, although that interpretation does make sense. One nice character quirk I liked was that Jellico was always fidgeting with his hands, which seems to suggest he was internally very nervous about everything. I'm not sure if that was the intention or not, but it does fit.

So maybe the Cardassians, and Madred specifically, wanted to break Picard just because. That's fine. But I still can't agree that the execution of everything worked well.

Yes, Picard's not going to spill all of the Federation's secrets to save Beverly. But he clearly wasn't thinking totally rationally at this point in time. After all, if his head was clear he would have realized that the Cardassians wouldn't just let him go like that. But Madred never followed up on it. When Picard sat down, but still looked defiant, Madred should have continued. Made Picard beg Madred to torture him.

And while I can see Madred establishing an intellectual rapport with Picard, I cannot see him losing his temper like that. Given the way he was trying to break Picard down, he should have always considered himself above it all. It was too EASY of a victory for Picard.

Yes, I realize I'm alone in that assessment, but so be it.

As a random aside, my impression from DS9 is that the Cardassian fascism is fairly longstanding (things like Garak's description of classic literature), whereas here it was defined as being relatively new. Madred's description certainly mirrors Nazi Germany more, but doesn't really fit with a lengthy repression of the Bajorans. A slight retcon, but probably a necessary one.
William B - Mon, Aug 4, 2014 - 8:39pm (USA Central)
Well, you're not *clearly* wrong. Madred losing his cool is unprofessional, and may not have been fully justified by the characterization in general. It's always worked for me -- but I can't really remember a time before I watched this episode, and your points do make sense to me.
William B - Mon, Aug 4, 2014 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
"You're not *clearly* wrong" looks way more condescending than I meant it. I meant to say something more like, "I think I'm right that Madred's characterization is justified, but it's not at all clear to me that your arguments are flawed, or that this portrayal of a torturer has holes in it."

It's also a good point that the highers-up didn't care about the proles. I think if proles genuinely *did* start agitating in some way, they would come down hard on them, though; they could afford not to care specifically because the proles were completely de-powered, and the proles' version of sin was so harmless to the Party (like their cheap pornography or whatever).
digitaurus - Tue, Sep 30, 2014 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
This pair of episodes arguably throw an interesting light on Star Fleet Command's view of Jean Luc Picard by this stage in his career.

The fact is that - although the Enterprise was clearly pre-assigned to lead the Federation response in the event of a Cardassian attack in this sector (a fact the Cardassians learnt, leading to the ruse to capture Picard) - Picard was apparently NOT scheduled to be its captain in these circumstances. As a result, he has no knowledge of any contingency plans, which of course disrupts the Cardassian's plans.

Why ? Jeliico's behaviour gives us clues. Jellico assumes that the Enterprise crew has become slack - and the evidence suggests he may be right. Perhaps the crew's lack of edge reflects a going-off-the-boil of its captain ?

Personally, I think Picard's experience in The Inner Light DID have a profound effect on his character and that this change is reflected in (i) the tenor of all subsequent episodes (even the best ones), (ii) a more pronounced "softness" in Picard's character, and (iii) a resulting loss of edge among its crew. Maybe Ryker can sense it too which is why he keeps getting so antsy the whole time.

Whatever the reasons, by this stage Starfleet apparently don't see Picard as the right captain for the Enterprise in a time of war.

A counter-argument to this is that Picard is only relieved of the captaincy so he can run off to do spec-ops making use of his theta band experience (as per the Cardassian plot). This is probably the case but I rather like the idea that all Picard's escapades have lead to some serious re-evaluation at higher levels in Starfleet.

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