Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation



Part I: Air date: 10/11/1993
Teleplay by Naren Shankar
Story by Christopher Hatton and Naren Shankar
Directed by Peter Lauritson

Part II: Air date: 10/18/1993
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Naren Shankar
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After Picard goes missing, the crew tracks his movements to a bar whose criminal clientele claim he was killed in a fight. DNA evidence seems to corroborate the story. Riker opens an investigation to find the people responsible for the captain's presumed murder and bring them to justice. This leads the Enterprise to the surface of a planet whose archaeological artifacts have been raided by a group of alien mercenaries, who open fire on the away team and capture Riker. Aboard their ship as a prisoner, Riker discovers that — twist alert! — Picard is a member of their crew.

"Gambit" is a two-parter that lives or dies on plot execution and twists and turns; there's really not much else to it. The characters exist to drive the action and there are no larger themes to consider, Trekkian or otherwise. My most significant thought inspired by "Gambit" is that when you consider Star Trek back in the TOS days — where space was like an untamed frontier — and then consider it again in the latter TNG days — where six-plus seasons of universe creation has built something familiar and recognizable — then rogue mercenaries seem almost oddly out of place and novel.

With Picard and Riker both aboard the mercenary ship, that leaves Data in command of the Enterprise, who appoints Worf as first officer. This transition is not without its growing pains; Worf grumbles publicly about Data's decisions to sit and wait for analysis rather than taking to pursuit of the mercenaries and their vessel. Data eventually pulls Worf aside and tells him not to openly question his decisions once they've been made. Brent Spiner shows again how good he is in this role by portraying Data as stern and forceful, but without seeming angry — and all the while maintaining an android-like persona. He very successfully walks a fine line in the performance.

Meanwhile, aboard the mercenary ship, Picard explains to Riker how he has become a member of the crew, posing as a smuggler named Galen, and hoping to uncover their plan. Picard (and Stewart) plays Galen with an amusing dose of swagger and cynicism, who is at odds with the mercenary leader, Baran (Richard Lynch, who looks and sounds like a lowlife villain should look and sound). Picard hopes to quietly exploit the fractures in the uneasy alliances among this group. He enlists Riker to play the part of Galen's new rival, thereby getting in good with Baran. This is kind of fun, but I for one would like to know how someone as famous as Picard isn't instantly recognizable to just about everyone in the Alpha Quadrant, especially after the Borg incident. Is there no Wikipedia in the 24th century?

There are numerous games afoot in "Gambit." In addition to Riker's attempts to ally with Baran, there's also a Romulan named Tallera (Robin Curtis, better here than as Saavik in Treks III and IV), who has a secret agenda hidden beneath her secret identity as a Vulcan operative, providing the story with a double-layered twist that emerges in its second part.

"Gambit" has a workable plot which manages to hold together as the story jumps from star system to star system. Its problem is that it could never get over the hump of "meh" in terms of my involvement with it. The cliffhanger moment at the end of part one is transparently obvious (why try to milk suspense out of a moment that's clearly a con?), and there are crucial payoffs that fall flat, number one being the death of Baran, who is conned into killing himself with his own power-wielding control device. It should be a deliciously ironic moment, but it's a disappointment.

And this story, with its ancient artifacts hiding a mysterious secret and a chase across the sector, also seems very similar to brisker paced, more economical "The Chase." While "Gambit" doesn't feel blatantly padded, it also doesn't have a story impact that remotely justifies two episodes. It turns out Tallera is the real villain, vying to assemble from the artifacts an ancient Vulcan weapon in her attempt to wield ultimate power. But this plays like more low-rent Indiana Jones, right down to the revelation that the weapon is useless because it can be defeated by peaceful thoughts. (It's another payoff that seems underwhelming, boiling down to the fact that Picard has done his homework and Tallera has not.) "Gambit" is intended as a straightforward adventure yarn with no lasting significance. Okay, so it is, and it has its moments. But on the whole it left me cold.

Previous episode: Interface
Next episode: Phantasms

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24 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - 9:09pm (USA Central)
You seriously think The Chase was better than this? I would give this one 3-3/4. Not quite a perfect 4, but a really grand episode.

Picard as Galen was marvelous, the mystery worked, Data in command was awesome, Tallera was truly menacing (and I liked the clarity of her reasoning), and the payoff had me on the edge of my seat.

I also loved watching Riker catch on. The acting on TNG is not always up to snuff, but there are certain moments where they inhabit their characters very well.

I can watch this one over and over.
David - Fri, Sep 21, 2012 - 12:10am (USA Central)
Yeah 2.5 stars seems about right--This two parter wasnt that exciting or involving. It had a "stop start" feel to it with moments of interest mixed with moments that grounded the story to a boring halt. I also thought it tried to do too much and became too unfocused and at times labored having me itch for the "fast forward" button.
John - Fri, Sep 21, 2012 - 5:15am (USA Central)
One fun bit is having 6-9 Lakers star James Worthy as the Klingon they run into. Worf just looks so uncomfortable when he's standing next to the guy.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Sep 21, 2012 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
Now David, you just have to stop that. When I come on and change Jammer's star rating, everyone else just has to agree with me!

And I had no idea that was James Worthy! Thanks John!
Paul - Mon, Sep 24, 2012 - 10:28am (USA Central)
This two-parter could have been really strong. It's one of the last Picard/Riker combo episodes, and there are some interesting ideas here.

But too much of it is forced. The Riker/Troi scene about the "death" of Picard is pretty awful. Worf's behavior toward Data is just ridiculous -- Worf muttering "finally" is really out of character. And Jammer makes an excellent point about Picard being recognizable.

Also, why did the creators decide to wreck Worf so much this season? A Klingon warrior's blood is supposed to boil, and yet he can go all zen to the Vulcan weapon?
John (the younger) - Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - 3:10am (USA Central)
Paul: Yeah that Troi/Riker scene was painful.

The only demographic this episode should appeal to is 10-15yo males - That’s how old I was when I first saw it.

And yet I still remember thinking it was tacky and boring back then.

If it wasn’t for Patrick Stewart this would barely be worth 1 star. S’pose that could be said for far too much TNG…
FlyingSquirrel - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
I wasn't a big fan of this two-parter, but it does at least have a one-liner that I still remember even though I haven't seen it in years. After they fake Riker's death back on board the Enterprise and Picard leaves with the mercs, Troi observes that Riker is only stunned and Data says, "I must admit, I am experiencing a similar sensation."
Sxottlan - Mon, Oct 1, 2012 - 2:15am (USA Central)
TNG doing DS9. That has always been my take on this two-parter. You have the usually prim and proper TNG crew getting down and dirty (Riker punches Picard right in the face!). Everyone is dabbling in deception.

The shoot-out in the forest was cool (actual location shooting!) and I liked the guest characters and actors. Richard Lynch! I wanted Picard to tell him, "Time to die." Love the moment when the one mercenary refers to Galen as "captain" and Picard has to reign in his reaction.

I loved the Vulcan weapon revealed at the end.

I also loved the ending scene. I always imagined Riker screaming Data's name in that final shot as the ship flies away and Data hauls Riker to the brig.
Jay - Sat, Oct 6, 2012 - 11:59am (USA Central)
Baran looked too much like a lion to take seriously. I found myself wondering if the ship was off to see the Wizard.
Baby Buddha - Fri, Oct 12, 2012 - 4:01pm (USA Central)
Watchable, but not engrossing.

I liked seeing Picard in his civvies and thought Data was awesome in command of the Enterprise.
Richard Lynch exuded evil as the mercenary leader.

I recognised the actress who played Tallera, Robn Curtis who played the Vulcan officer, Saavik in The Voyage Home, I love it when actors are recycled.

Season 7 is indeed dull and lacklustre compared with the former glories, but am staying with it, (re) watching it to the end as the series limps to a close.
Tim Dexter - Fri, Nov 2, 2012 - 4:42am (USA Central)
This episode has Ronald D. Moore written all over it. I tend to enjoy the episodes that Moore writes, especially for DS9, but also for TNG. I quite liked both parts of this episode. Nothing wrong with a little space spaghetti western. I think that some people forget that Star Trek's roots are actually more within this genre.
Derek - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 1:15am (USA Central)
I've always had a soft spot for this 2-parter...it's just good fun. It would have been perfect for the "Two Hour Awesome TV Movie" that Voyager later pioneered. As is, the dumb cliffhanger is...dumb. I'm glad Jammer reviewed it as one episode.
Corey - Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - 1:38pm (USA Central)
I would probably bump this to 3 stars myself, it was pretty entertaining.

I thoroughly enjoyed the final scene of Riker being hauled to the Brig by Data.
Jack - Fri, Sep 13, 2013 - 10:25pm (USA Central)
Picard dying here makes Guinan's absence seem rather glaring, consideirng their supposed relationship.
Paul - Fri, Oct 4, 2013 - 9:30am (USA Central)
Watched this again this week. I think it's further indication that the TNG writers/cast ran out of gas for much of the final season and made the show just too sedate. Picard and Riker are on a mercenary ship, but they roll with it way too easily.

Also, for as paranoid as Baran is, I find it hard to believe that Riker and Picard could have the candid convos they have. Shouldn't there be some sort of surveillance?

TNG relied too much on Data, but he is the highlight of this two-parter (even if the Worf stuff is ridiculous). But I'm sometimes confused by why the creators ever promoted Geordi. He's essentially fourth in command of the Enterprise, but after the first season (where he's still a second LT.) he's never in command. Scotty, meanwhile, routinely took command on TOS. In this ep, he really should be the acting first officer. He's certainly on the bridge for most of the time.

Last thought: Picard is declared dead and the Enterprise is, at first, sent on another assignment. But Riker isn't promoted, and there's no talk of the Enterprise getting a new captain. I think that undercuts the drama because it sort of makes it feel like Picard might still pop up. Also, it's inconsistent with Starfleet's actions in "The Best of Both Worlds" -- where Riker got a field promotion -- and "Chain of Command" -- where Jelico is made captain simply because Picard is assigned to a special op. Even a line of dialog in the scene with Riker and the admiral -- "We're still sorting out what to do with the captaincy," etc. -- would have helped.

Dan - Thu, Nov 21, 2013 - 12:02pm (USA Central)
Is it me or is every fade to black in this two parter end with a "you'll die", or "ill kill you"? It's actually kind of funny.
mephyve - Tue, Jan 28, 2014 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
Once again I must thank time for diluting my memory of this highly gripping yarn! (Though reading Jammer's opines may have spoiled it for me if I hadn't stopped in time) C'mon Jammer, use part two to judge part 1. lol
Anyway, though I understand where Jammer is coming from, I don't think mercenaries can ever be out of place considering the vastness of the universe. And yeah, we know it's a con but there is still intrigue in the 'old time serial' sense. We all knew Zorro wasn't going to die; Batfink was going to escape Hugo Agogo's latest death trap; the Enterprise won't go kaboom, but there's still enough we don't know to make us "Tune in next week!" Or in the next minute if you have the box set, or a netflix account.
I'm glad I have the box set, because I cannot stand the foreign language subtitles on my region's netflix, that have no shutoff options.
mephyve - Tue, Jan 28, 2014 - 9:27pm (USA Central)
Oh I get it now, one review covering two parts. Well I have to say I agree with grumpy otter. This was at least a 3.5 episode. (It had to lose .5 for putting a Cosby kid at the helm, Sabrina Lebeef or boof or beauf or something.
I think that by season 7 a lot of folks were 'trekked out.' What with Ds9 as the new kid on the block and TNG wrapping up it's tv phase, if the show didn't have some huge character growth or trekkifying implications it was viewed as filler.
Highly entertaining, edge of your seat stuff. Nice plot twists.
I'll tackle the Worf problem that was posed. I find it interesting that when Worf is portrayed as the epitome of a Klingon warrior in the show, someone will comment that he is a poser, having spent his formative years being raised by humans. Here, he overcomes a weapon by suppressing his warrior blood and so someone points out that he's a hot blooded Klingon. What he actually is, is a combination of both worlds. What do you get when you raise a bear as a pet? A best friend who might accidentally kill you when he grows up. He may be a little domesticated but he still has a bear's strength and nature. Worf, being smarter than the average bear, can suppress his Klingon instincts when necessary as we saw in liasons but you don't want to keep 'poking the bear.'
Moonie - Sun, Feb 2, 2014 - 3:29pm (USA Central)
Hm I really liked Gambit. Very enjoyable. Definitely at least 3 stars for me. Data is a fantastic captain. And there were a few really classic lines. The Riker/Picard scenes on the mercenary sho were great.

Loved it.
Smith - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 9:14am (USA Central)
One of my favorite two part episodes. Lot of fun with great twists. It had an unpredictable angle that many TNG episodes didn't have. Very good acting...especially Stewart (one of his best performances). Yes...the Troi/Riker banter over Picard's death was pretty bad. Do we “mourn or move on” plot device is beyond awful and has failed every-time trek uses it. Also the Data/Worf speal was awkward...but kind of worked out. I'm not sure Data would be as interesting as a command officer...maybe a good thing Tom Riker didn't replace Will a couple of episodes back... All in all these are minor foibles and can't detract from the episode in general which was great fun.
Garth - Sat, Mar 22, 2014 - 7:38am (USA Central)
I quite enjoyed this two parter... It feels like a Blakes 7 episode.
JWH - Wed, Jun 18, 2014 - 7:22pm (USA Central)
This episode made me think of all the great "Data in command" plots we could have had over the years.
Taylor - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 2:20pm (USA Central)
I dig how the mercenaries apparently came from the Monster Mullet Planet.

Also, if there was an actor suited to schlep a bunch of Trekkie cranial makeup, it was Richard Lynch.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 17, 2014 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
Random comments:

- This is a pretty fun episode. Intrigue can be fun, seeing plots within plots within plots. Chases and battles of wits and seeing some of the other worlds and aliens of the Trek world was enjoyable. Yes, the mercenaries were a bit goofy, but Baran was pretty convincing as a captain who isn't quite capable of being in command. So if the only question was if I liked watching it, the answer is yes.

- As others have said, the fact that this is one of the very few Riker/Picard episodes in the later seasons is part of the enjoyment. These two do work well together, in a different matter than Kirk and Spock. It's two professionals rather than two friends. It's more like the mentor and a journeyman working together rather than emotionalism vs rationalism like TOS. It's too bad they don't have more of these interactions.

- Honestly, this does work well as a two parter. A good intrigue does require a lot of time to build up and get all those layers of deception going, so it's needed. There's also the nice B-plot of Data's second command. It's a lot more toned down and realistic than in Redemption, probably because he doesn't have to prove himself to this crew. People are used to following his orders here, so it's a bit more natural to see him as captain. And yet, he still has that rational, unemotional approach to captaining that makes sense for him, as well as putting on the airs of being a captain (such as when everyone else leaves the conference room and he remains). The whole "android is captain!" bit wasn't a plot issue, just Data as captain. And he pulled it off well.

- I see a lot of people complaining about the Worf bit, but I think it was handled ok. Worf is about as opposite of Data as you can get, and at this point doesn't have much experience with being in command. He's the guy who always argues with Picard and Riker anyway, so of course there's going to be some conflict here. And he was reasonably professional (for Worf, of course) except for the one "finally" that got Data to call him out. It wasn't overdone, I think.

- As an aside, I can see Starfleet leaving Riker in command, but when both the captain and first officer died? Yeah, I'd think that's time to bring in a replacement, no offense to Data.

- Meanwhile, the massive Klingon was awesome. I know he wasn't an actor, but James Worthy did an admirable job of being an utterly intimidating loser (seriously, a Klingon smuggling for these mercenaries? How's that for a lack of honor!). And the rest of the cast responding to him was great.

- The ending, however, was a bit disappointing. The greatest weapon in the galaxy is a slow moving telepathic wave? Seriously? The lady mercenary could have zapped Tellera a dozen times over while she was psychically killing the guy mercenary. And, of course, that it was defeated by singing Shiny Happy People Holding Hands. I see the point, but unfortunately Robin Curtis doesn't sell it very well. Her freaking out at the end was rather hammy in the end.

- I am a bit disappointed that the episode implies that these Vulcan separatists really exists. It would have been preferable if it had just been one more lie in this giant episode of lies. It would have been better if it was just Tellera involved in this for some reason. Besides, even if there was a Vulcan separatist movement, I would hope they would be better at it than Tellera was. What was her plan if Baran was still alive?

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