Friday, February 10, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Chain of Command, Part 1

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Chain of Command, Part 1"
Airdate: December 14, 1992
135 of 176 produced
135 of 176 aired


While Picard, Crusher and Worf are called away to a commando mission on the Cardassian world Seltris III, the Enterprise is turned over to a new Captain, Edward Jellico. But the tension caused by his abrasive command style soon seems like small potatoes when the commando mission goes awry, and questions soon abound over whether the participants are dead, wounded, or perhaps worse.

Captain Jellico prefers a certain formality on the bridge. So do we, Counselor, so do we.


Matthew: Before I get into a more detailed dissection of the episode, I want to start by saying that I applaud this story's ambition. Although it was apparently stretched into two episodes by Michael Piller in order to save budgets, it doesn't show at all in the final product, and the themes and conflicts it focuses on are a welcome departure for the series.  The theme I liked best in this part is the interpersonal conflicts between the crew and a new captain with a different style. I do think that the script made Captain Jellico a bit too much of a stick in the mud, and a scene perhaps demonstrating how one of his "change" ideas actually worked out for the better would have gone a long way towards vindicating his character. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching our principals chafe under his leadership.

Kevin: Well, one of his ideas was gangbusters: putting Troi back in a uniform. Marina Sirtis joked about it at the convention we went to, but I really think there is a marked increase in heavy stuff for her character once she was wearing a uniform, as if the writers started to take her seriously. I would have enjoyed watching her push a little more when he pretty much dismissed her concerns as touchy-feely nonsense. The crew got thrown for a loop at the eve of a crisis. Morale is not a frivolous concern here. It's also not like the crew was performing below standards. They've literally saved the galaxy a few times. As played, it almost damaged the character's credibility that he could see how well-oiled a machine he was inheriting. That being said, the idea is awesome. I remember being really upset when I was kid, especially the way Nechayev summarily tells Picard in the first ten seconds of the episode.

Matthew: It needs to be said that the story device for getting Picard, Crusher, and Worf off the ship was somewhat strained, at best. The idea that the Cardassians would deliberately concoct so abstract a plot, and one that would demand the use of Jean-Luc Picard, based on some expertise he demonstrated decades prior at the Academy, was frankly a bit ludicrous. There must have been some more recent experience, one that we had seen in an episode, that could have been used. Maybe Picard's experience with the Borg? His command of the blockade mission against the Romulans? This plot device was so arbitrary that it probably would have been preferable for the Cardassians to kidnap Picard outright. The notion of a man in his fifties and a woman in her forties as commandos was ridiculous. The setup was used to discuss, very briefly, the idea of "metagenic weapons," basically a future cross between biological weapons and he neutron bomb. This idea was not expanded upon in the slightest, and the episode probably would have been better if it had been, and if Picard had been captured not by a ruse but during an actual mission to eliminate such weapons.

Kevin: I agree. More than Riker or Data's little side missions that really should have specialists, this is the worst example of plucking an officer out of the norm for no reason other than the plot. It's not fatal by any stretch because what it sets up is so good, it goes a long way to forgive the way they got there. Also, given that Data deciphers the set up in about six seconds, how did no one at Starfleet Intelligence? I liked watching the crew deal with the fallout over what in the real world is a far more common occurrence. The idea they've lasted this long as unit is somewhat surprising. Something I'll discuss more when we get to All Good Things... is the idea that an integral part of the success of the crew is how close they are and how they depend on each other. So more than the ship suffering a breakdown or facing a foe of up to and including omnipotent power, if you really want to hobble the Enterprise, break up the family. I think the only missed opportunity here was more explicitly pairing Jellico's reticence with their own. Riker got close with his almost-petulance. Seeing Jellico extend an olive branch that the crew reflexively declines out of loyalty to Picard could have been really fun.

Matthew: The secondary characters introduced in this story were interesting to a person. Admiral Nechayev is a fun, ball-busting sort of character, and it's nice to see a woman with that level of authority. Gul Lemec was unctuous and threatening. Captain Jellico was a fun study in contrasts, at least for an episode or two. And Gul Madred, even the little bit we saw of him here, was a villain par excellence. The presence of these characters really added to the richness of the story and the world.

Kevin: This episode is part of why I loved the set up of DS9 so much. Since scene one in The Wounded, the Cardassians were the most nuanced and credible villains in TNG, and it pays dividends here. You can imagine any number of Earth analogs in this tense territorial standoff, rife with ego and brinkmanship. Of all the referenced conflicts of the franchise, the Cardassian War felt the most realistic because of characters like this.


Matthew: I really liked a lot of Patrick Stewart's acting choices here. The way he sort of physically shrank away from conflict after being relieved of command was very effective. You could see on his face that he wanted to step in, but that he was holding back. Marina Sirtis was really good with Troi as a conciliator with Jellico. Jonathan Frakes was a bit too blustery for my tastes, and the way he rolled his eyes at Nechayev early on bordered on insubordinate behavior.

Kevin: The way Picard seemed to deflate when Jellico shut down his advice was almost heartbreaking. It's nice to realize he depends on the crew as much as they depend on him. I loved Troi here. Her role as counselor felt credible and place on the bridge well earned when she was cooly sizing up both the Cardassians and Jellico. Like I said above, I would have appreciated something in the script discussing Riker's attitude as unhelpful as Jellico.

Matthew: Ronny Cox always plays a good jerk executive (RoboCop, Total Recall) and he does so again here. But it's not a completely unsympathetic performance, which is a real challenging line to walk when you're tasked with irritating our beloved principal characters. Natalija Nogulich was really good in her brief appearance as Nechayev, and it's easy to see why she was brought back. Her scenes really crackle, and she brings the perfect "no nonsense woman" approach to the role. I could imagine her as a Secretary of State like Hillary Clinton, for instance.

Kevin: We met Natalija Nagulich at the same convention we met Sirtis (and Frakes and Suzie Plakson, btw.) She talked a lot about the craft of acting, having done a lot of theater work in Chicago, and it really shows here. She really did a good job of being assertive and even unpleasant without it reading as a shrill bitch. As much as scenes of Crusher or Troi's roles, smaller ones like this really cement the idea of women's roles in the Star Trek universe. I agree on Jellico, too. The scene with Troi and his children's drawings really sang. I was struck with the image of a stern disciplinarian who is in fact immensely proud of his child, but probably can't say it to his child's face.

Matthew: John Durbin, was really, really good as Gul Lemec, and I fail to see why he wasn't brought back more than he was. He looked great in the outfit, with his slim but tall build, and he voice was terrific. His smiling line reading when discussing Picard's "missing" status was both chilling and amusing. Speaking of great voices, we only get a little taste of the incomparable David Warner here, but he makes the most of it, as always. His recitation of Picard's personal information was really good.

Kevin: Agreed again. Lemec's demeanor went a long way to credit Jellico's position. We've been a little spoiled by enemies that can be swayed by Picard's smooth diplomacy. It would have been interesting to watch Picard lock horns with him.

Production Values

Matthew: The Seltris III caves were kind of dark and, well, blue. They did the job, but nothing more. We got a re-use of the genome colony matte from "The Masterpiece Society." Apparently, the Ferengi scene was shot in the DS9 replimat set, but was filmed really tightly to disguise this somewhat. I liked the minor redress of the ready room, since it did more than the script to make Jellico seem more identifiable.

Kevin: They were going to initially talk to Quark on DS9, but the staff realized the episode would air before that series' premiere, so they nixed it at the last minute. It's a shame. It would have been fun to watch Beverly put the moves on Quark.

Matthew: We are introduced here to the Cardassian uniforms that we will see throughout the rest of the franchise, and they are definitely an improvement on the previous ones. The look combines the reptilian aspect of the previous design with a sort of medieval armor look. The commando uniforms were kind of monastic with their hoodies. Not great, but not bad. I'm sure Dorn enjoyed not having to put on the forehead for a few days.

Kevin: I find it interesting that the black ones are commando where the red ones are surgeon. Hmm.


Matthew: Given the creakiness of the setup and the basic lack of science fiction, I think a 5 is off the table. But the acting is so good, and the conflicts are so juicy, that this episode cannot but be thought of in the top quartile of the show. I think it's easily a 4.

Kevin: I agree with the 4 for a total of 8. I think the second half is going to be pretty awesome as it won't be weighed down by having to set up the story, it can just get to it. But despite that, this is still a gripping episode that even now, I'm still on tenterhooks for Part 2.


  1. I have always wondered where the bad-ass though as nails captains of Star Fleet are. After all as we see in DS9 Star fleet is also a military organization and Jellico seems more of the Military type. I really like the Jellico character. I imagine that any time a Captain comes to a new ship he has to shake things up. One has to wonder how does Jellico really feel about Picard returning from his mission.

    and I totally agree that sending Worf, Crusher and Picard on the mission makes no sense. Send some Red Shirts!!!

    1. You like Jellico? You must be an awesome and amazing manager/supervisor then.

  2. I love this review. It hit the nail right on the head with some of the issues I had with it and a lot of the things I liked about it.

    I really hated Jellico. I have had bosses like that: mean, micromanaging slave-trading, petty jerks with an asshole where there should be a soul. He doesnt just have another style of doing things, he is bossy, mean, rude and just aggressive. it is exactly as Riker tells him: he doesnt inspire people to want to go out of their way for him, to do a good job because he is just so awful. He is holding everyone on a tight leash "get it done NOW" just barking around orders and issuing threats. That is no way to run and treat people.And people who are asshole bosses: i wonder: Do they really think this is the right way to manage professionals? Or people?

    I also always wonder how assholes like that make it this far. Just based on their evaluation and performance reports alone. One of the things people in an organization such as Starfleet are undoubtedly evaluated on is their ability to communicate, how they treat others, their sense for team work and all. Communication skills, how you relate to people. How can someone who is a mean jackass at heart consistently get good reviews and advance? this type of behavior doesnt just develop over night. Or maybe Jellico, much like a lot of people in power positions (and cops) is just some petty, power-hungry bitter man who uses his position of authority to abuse people. Who knows what pathology drove him. I just cant imagine he made it this far with that kind of a personality.

    I also cant imagine Jellico embodying any of the qualities one would expect out of a Starfleet captain. He seems inflexible, closed minded, pedantic. I cant imagine how he, with his shortsightedness and professional assholishness - would have conducted himself in half the situations Picard has been in so far. How does he travel the galaxy with that mindset?

    Speaking of which; I found Picard's reaction to Jellico's harshness very neutered. I dont know what was up with Stewart, but he didnt play the "I am so shocked at this guy" part very convincingly. I guess there is nothing he could have done but I expected to see more of a shock and/or disappointment in his eyes but he just seemed like he couldnt care less. He was almost too composed.

    Oh and I LOVED how Riker rolled his eyes at Nechayev. I remember even watching it as a kid being very turned off by the way she just told him to basically get the fuck out and didnt even look at him. That was very rude. Why do people like that always have to b rude? Overall she just seemed bitchy. Why cant women in power be portrayed as anything but that? Why do they have to be bitches? Very unpleasant person and her dictatorship style of command also seems out of place in a place like Starfleet.