Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Second Chances"

***1/2

Air date: 5/24/1993
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Mike Medlock
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise arrives at a barren world that's the site of a former Starfleet installation that was abandoned eight years ago because the planet's distortion field rendered access to the surface impossible by both shuttle and transporter. With brief windows of entry over the next few days, the Enterprise hopes to retrieve data from the station's computers before the opportunity for access expires. Crucial detail: Riker was part of the original evacuation mission eight years ago when Starfleet abandoned the post and was just barely beamed out before the window in the field closed completely.

So the crew is stunned to find a doppelganger of Riker on the station who claims to have been trapped there for eight years. It turns out the planet's distortion field caused Riker's transporter beam to be copied and reflected back to the surface, essentially cloning him (memories and all) into two separate people who are equally and legitimately William T. Riker. Neither knew that the other existed.

It's another high concept, to be sure, but it's a brilliant one the story takes seriously and uses to explore the past and present of Riker's character better than nearly all TNG episodes that have ever centered on him. Here's an episode that stops to consider that when you come face to face with someone who claims to be you and the proof shows he's not lying, a piece of you feels like your identity has been stolen. While this version of Riker seems a little too well-adjusted (and, indeed, not as different from our Riker in general as he probably should be) given that he has spent the past eight years in total isolation, the story uses its premise to posit a series of what-ifs (hence the title) — taking a look at the choices Riker made eight years ago, and asking whether he would make them again.

Most crucially is the question of Riker and Troi. If you look at the six years of TNG's run to this point, you realize that a lot was implied and hinted at about Riker and Troi and their relationship before they were both assigned to the Enterprise — indeed, the most concrete dialogue might actually have been in "Encounter at Farpoint," regrettably. But "Second Chances" finally takes a look at these two people and acknowledges that they once had an important and real relationship, and uses that to tell the rare romantic story on TNG that actually, truly works — precisely because it has a real history and real stakes and is believable, rather than being concocted in a few hours or days and banished to the realm of the immediately irrelevant, like most one-off romances.

This Riker spent many of those first few trapped months holding on to the hope that he would be rescued and ultimately reunited with Deanna — and when he learns that after the very mission that left him stranded his duplicate went on to make his career the priority, he finds it almost impossible to believe. He is certain he would never make that choice himself. But the situation allows them to perhaps pick up where they left off, and Troi herself allows for the possibility. "Second Chances" is essentially an exploration of the age-old adage of The Road Not Traveled, and a surprisingly effective one with good dialogue and character moments. One man went on to choose his career over his relationship, while the other one spent eight years trapped in a hole. Now seeing the big picture, the guy who was trapped in the hole has some resentments.

This culminates in a very good scene where Riker plays a poker hand against himself and the two of them clear the air. It's a simple and grounded scene dealing with an extraordinary situation. But naturally, you can't go home again; there are too many complications for the romance here to continue, and ultimately we can't have two Rikers living aboard the Enterprise. But I respect the decision by the writers not to make the obvious move of killing Thomas Riker and instead having him transferred to another ship to continue his life. (And this would, of course, have its own intriguingly bizarro consequences in DS9's third-season episode, "Defiant.") "Second Chances" is an episode that could've been a cynical or shallow exploration of its premise, but the execution is anything but.

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24 comments on this review

Paul - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
I like what the creators were trying to do here, but Tom Riker is just too well-adjusted after eight years of solitude. Hell, he looks too well-fed, if nothing else!

And the fact that Deanna never mentions Tom Riker again -- and jumps in the sack with Worf of all people in season 7 -- is ridiculous.
grumpy_otter - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
I'm with Paul--Deanna's apparent ease at getting over him, when we've had hints that she still feels so strongly for Riker, is not believable.

I know that for the sake of the show they had to send Thomas Riker away, but it still made me mad. If they had kept him around for a bit so that relationship could have been explored more, I would have enjoyed it.

I've always thought I would enjoy meeting a "younger" self. Could be interesting--but Will acts like Thomas did it on purpose to screw with him. I don't like Will in this episode.

Which is all just quibble, really--I love this episode for the way they deal with the "what if?" scenario. It's a great one.

Nic - Wed, Sep 12, 2012 - 9:13pm (USA Central)
Apparently, the writers toyed with the idea of having William Riker die and Thomas Riker taking his place for the rest of the series. It would definitely been a gutsy move, but imagine the story possibilities arising just from the promotions (e.g. Thomas Riker at conn, Data First Officer, etc.)
Paul - Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - 3:58pm (USA Central)
@Nic -- I've read that, too. But, of course, even the idea of it shows that they were running out of ideas for Will Riker.
John - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 2:11am (USA Central)
Nah this one didn't work for me.

Particularly the way Troi just jumps into a relationship with the 'other' Riker.. makes her seem silly and desperate.

You know, I always thought Jonathan Frakes was a decent actor until this one and Frame of Mind came along.
Nick P. - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 3:44pm (USA Central)
Agreed wit Jammer. This is a wonderful episode from beginning to end. One of the neatest things about this episode is that because the series is well established at this time (in other words, OLD), it feels real what is going on at this point. These are real people who are dealing with things that they have lay dormant for a number of years.

I LOVE this episode, but as someone mentioned above my comment, next season Troi jumps in bed with Worf, and what the hell is Riker doing? I still feel like Riker is one of the most abused characters in Star Trek. He could have been so much more. I prefer Riker from season 1 and 2. I think ferengi have bigger balls than Riker by season 6 and 7. If you could have told Riker in Season 1 that in 7 years, he would still be first officer, he is not married to Troi (hasn't really banged her much either) AND he was offered command at least 3 times, he probably would have killed himself!
Paul - Tue, Oct 9, 2012 - 2:11pm (USA Central)
@Nick P:

That's a little over the top. Riker was still Riker until the fifth season or so. It's about then when he's basically late-TOS Scotty to Picard (Kirk) and Data (Spock).

I wonder if some of this had to do with Frakes directing a bunch of episodes. But either way, he certainly devolved from "the finest officer I've ever served with" to a background character.

He actually has a bit of a resurgence in the movies. His dialog with Cochrane in "FC" was good and, though it was Scotty-esque, he was good in command of the Enterprise is "Insurrection".

Of course, he was completely worthless in "Nemesis".
mouse - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:07am (USA Central)
I always think of this episode (and DS9's Defiant) when I'm rewatching Farscape's season 3 (with the duplicate Chrichtons). For me, Scape took everything I loved about my favorite sci fi and either turned it on its ear or made it better. This is pretty much a shining example of that. Finding out that there was some consideration of either killing off Will Riker or having both Rikers around for an episode or two is going to make that connection even stronger for me.
Cail Corishev - Wed, Dec 5, 2012 - 12:24pm (USA Central)
Watching the series back when I was about 20, one of the biggest frustrations was seeing the young, dashing Riker sitting around on the bridge while old man Picard went on one swashbuckling adventure after another. Now that I'm older, Picard doesn't seem quite so ridiculous, but the use of Riker was still disappointing. This episode was one of the few where we get to see a Riker out of Picard's shadow. Here after 8 years alone, or facing Locutus, or as an admiral in the future, he's a total bad-ass compared to the Will who hangs around being noble about being in the friend-zone with his Imzadi and passes up command after command so he can keep playing second banana to Picard.

His turn on DS9 was great for that reason too. I think he would have made a great regular or semi-regular character there as the much more relaxed, adventurous Tom. I liked Eddington well enough, but Frakes in that role over a number of episodes would have been excellent.
TH - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 3:33pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised no one brought up the parallel's to this season's Tapestry. This one might have flown better if it was not so close in proximety to that one, but look at these together:

We view a version of a main character with some change made to their past and see the implications their experiences have had on making them who they are today. The character also sees this and has a new appreciation for their past experiences.

I don't really think it ultimately makes this a worse episode, but I do think it's interesting that they have such similar concepts. I guess it goes to show that if you reuse a concept well enough, people don't notice or don't care.
Krog - Wed, May 1, 2013 - 12:58am (USA Central)
I wish Will Riker would have seen his other self and realized that he had forfeited his dream of becoming a captain for the security of being a first officer, then asked Picard to speak with Starfleet about a promotion. Will Riker gets written off of the show (with the possibility of coming back in guest spots), while Tom Riker serves as a new lieutenant on the Enterprise. It would have provided a much needed shake-up to the show.
Grumpy - Wed, May 1, 2013 - 6:49pm (USA Central)
Congratulations, Krog. You've solved the narrative dilemma that prevented the twist described by Nic above: they were going to *kill* Will Riker (plummeting down the convenient bottomless pit) but, looking forward to movies, didn't want to disrupt the character. Which is a feeble excuse; if Tom Riker had been the status quo for a year, we would've followed him to movies, too.

But your idea avoids that problem, Krog. If Will Riker simply opted for promotion (just in time for the season-ending cliffhanger), it would've completed his character arc *and* left him alive for potential movie cameos. Again, it must've been the pressure of a TV writing schedule that kept them from seeing the possibility (even during the 6/7 break).
Cloudane - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 5:00am (USA Central)
I remember a while back seeing this (knowing, I think, from future episodes that Tom Riker is a more "edgy" version and then coming back to it) as a classic example of the nerd frustration of "bad boy comes along and *instantly* snaps up the girl you've been trying to figure out how to win for the past 6 years" in its purest form: a younger and more determined version of your own self.
William B - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 5:39am (USA Central)
@Claudane, technically not younger -- just with years less experience chasing other women. (Hint hint Commander.)
T'Paul - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 9:22am (USA Central)
Left a few many ends untied for me... Tom Riker's later appearance on DS9 would resolve some, but it's all a bit whirlwind to really explore the idea.

Plus the Troi - Tom split-up at the end didn't really ring true for me.
William B - Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
I find this episode quite touching; this is the best romance story TNG ever did that was not a Picard episode (I think that, in different ways, one can make strong cases for "The Perfect Mate," "The Inner Light" and "Lessons"). I think this is also the second best Troi story in the series, after "Face of the Enemy." That said, it has one significant flaw which holds it back from greatness, and that flaw is, basically, that the episode can't really address the biggest flaw in Riker's characterization post-BOBW2. Why is Riker still on the Enterprise, and given that he's on the Enterprise, why hasn't he tried to make it work with Troi? It's not that I think Riker *should* have gone and gotten a command somewhere else, and the episode seems to suggest -- when Will says "I know what I want, and I know what I have" -- that he recognizes that the Enterprise is a special place, and that he'd rather continue working there than to move somewhere else. But I don't think that's enough to account for the big discrepancy between what Will *wanted* at the beginning of the series and what he wants now. He is less likely to take crazy risks, and has some maturity which Tom does not.

I didn't end up finishing it, but after rewatching BoBW I started writing about Riker's character arc in that ep, and why I think he stays on the Enterprise at the end. On some level, the idea that Riker *has* to leave the Enterprise to follow his career is just as much a construct as the idea that he *has* to stay and stay under Picard's thumb. By "defeating" Picard and rescuing him all in one motion, Riker proves in part 2 that it is not fear of working without the net that allows him to stay; he genuinely likes serving on the Enterprise under Picard for its own sake. "Future Imperfect," not long thereafter, suggests that maybe Riker's desire to stay on the ship is also because the ship he wants to command is really the Enterprise (Riker says something similar in Generations). Given that "The Icarus Factor" (in a somewhat muddled way) ties Riker's ambition to his anger at his father, I think that the fact that he has let go of some of his anger at Kyle Riker is also part of why it's possible for Will to get settled, and, in particular, for him to stay on the Enterprise to maintain a close relationship with his mentor, friend, and surrogate father in Jean-Luc.

And yet, while I can see all that, it still is not really made explicit, especially not in this show, and this means that there is a gap in the Will/Tom conflict. Tom is a reminder of what Will has left behind, both good and bad, but it doesn't lead clearly enough to the question of *why* he left that behind.

On the other hand, I think this does the best job of explaining the Riker/Troi relationship and breakup that has yet been done. On some level, I think Troi really is still not *over* Riker's prioritizing his career over her back in the day. If Riker could say with certainty that he was staying on the Enterprise for the forseeable future, and if he also decided that he genuinely wanted a relationship with Troi, I think that he could win her over. However, for the most part, that's not what Riker wants -- he likes the emotional intimacy he has with Troi, but going for anything deeper actually means risking hurting her again in a way that she might not be able to forgive or get over. When Will warns Troi about not falling for Tom, because Tom will hurt her, I think he's also implicitly warning Deanna about himself. *He* is still not trustworthy; it's not just that he wasn't trustworthy all those years ago, but he still does not trust himself not to hurt her.

For what it's worth, I think season six is a very good year for Riker stories -- this, "Frame of Mind," "Schisms," and the Riker/Jellico part of "Chain of Command" (part 2 especially) are all quite good.
Paul - Mon, Sep 23, 2013 - 10:02am (USA Central)
@William B: I think this is an underrated episode. It's probably the best Troi performance in the series. Sirtis was BY FAR the weakest actor on TNG, but she was good here. I also thought the episode did a good job of differentiating Tom and Will.

It's too bad "The Pegasus" didn't take place in the fourth or fifth season, because that did provide rationale for Riker not getting a command of his own for a time as his reputation was tarnished. But, after the Borg attack and before that episode, it was kind of amazing that he was still on the Enterprise. I know there's some indication that Riker didn't get a ship immediately after BOBW because the fleet needed to be rebuilt. But that flies in the face of the ridiculous size of Starfleet (as far as the number of ships) that we see in DS9. And, anyway, Riker could have stayed on the Excalibur after "Redemption" or captained one of the ships that Picard said NEEDED captains at that point (presumably, those ships were part of the post-BOBW buildup).
Jack - Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - 10:24am (USA Central)
Men's leisurewear and formalwear must be similar in the 24th century. The shirt Riker wore while performing in the band in Ten Forward,(where Beverly and Troi were all dressed up) looked like the same shirt Riker was wearing while leisurely reading in his quarters when Jellico came to fetch him to pilot a shuttle.
Nissa - Sun, Jan 5, 2014 - 2:58pm (USA Central)
I like the idea of this episode, but Will Riker was being a jerk to Tom. They should have just had it out and called themselves brothers.

That, and I feel like nothing happened. I'm not an action junkie and action isn't necessarily a missing piece, but the episode doesn't really pique my interest. There's not enough real conflict, and the one between the Rikers feels artificial.

As for the relationship angle, I sort of like it. It would have been better if it weren't a one-off, though.
mephyve - Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - 11:16pm (USA Central)
Now see, this was sci-fi! Love that transporter. It's just an amazing piece of equipment! It can cure illnesses, regenerate limbs, keep people alive for centuries and even duplicate a person by accident.
Used to love Marvel's 'What if ..'comic . This fits right in. I actually wouldn't mind having a replica of me out around but given Riker's personality, I could see how it would irk him.
Somebody should remind Data that he met his own doppel ganger. He's already dealt with the uniqueness question.
Evil Troi couldn't resist the chance to get Will back for choosing career over love. She just had to lead him on.
Moonie - Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 8:45am (USA Central)
I think this episode really suffered from the fact that in TNG, all storylines have to be resolved in 50 minutes. This concept doesn't work for a complex idea like this one. And it really highlights the limits of that kind of storytelling. A frequent TNG problem.

It also made me wonder why anyone ever uses transporters anymore.... lol.
Jason - Sat, Feb 15, 2014 - 1:34pm (USA Central)
Agreed on the time constraint issue. It's probably also why everyone on the Enterprise was so ridiculously nonchalant about there suddenly being a Riker clone.
Smith - Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
Liked the episode but thought it had a higher than realized ceiling. Remember when Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbs" clones himself? That WAS epic. This was more banter and argumental. Seemed they could have had some fun with this. Trombone duals...exchanged stories about the people they know...changed uniforms for fun to throw people off. Definitely needed more humor.

Just seemed like the same thing when they met...stupid arguing...nothing more.

Jeri Taylor (and much of the staff) wanted to kill Will Riker and replace him with Tom. Tom would have run ops and Data would have been the executive officer. Berman thought about it, but said no because he thought it would cause too many problems. Too bad...
Jack - Sun, Apr 6, 2014 - 11:38am (USA Central)
After eight years and having been able to restore various systems, one would think he'd have found a few minutes to replicate another garment, or at the least mend his uniform.

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