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

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28 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!"
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:

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)

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)
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.

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