Monday, April 23, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Gambit, Part 1

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Gambit, Part 1"
Airdate: October 9, 1993
155 of 176 aired
155 of 176 produced


The crew of the Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of Captain Picard. When they track his movements to a seedy bar on a remote planet, they discover that he has apparently been killed. Unwilling to let the investigation end, Commander Riker pursues leads which bring them into contact with a mercenary ship looking for alien artifacts. After a firefight, Riker finds himself on the mercenary ship, and he is shocked to discover Captain Picard - alive and well, and working or the mercenaries!

This kitten has claws, boys!


Matthew: The setup of this episode is fun. It gives us the rare "Cantina scene" feel that Star Trek rarely features. It gives the characters a chance to stretch their legs and play a bit against type, especially Crusher as the angry sister. And of course, it ends on a good teaser cliffhanger note - is Picard dead? The cast of characters was a lot of fun, especially the bartender. I do kind of question whether this group of people wouldn't immediately seem like "the fuzz" to the bar patrons - humans, who are from a superbly advanced culture, ought to be conspicuous after all.

Kevin: I enjoyed the bar scenes immensely, too. It stretches credulity a little that the entire senior staff is on this, and not dedicated Starfleet security personnel, but it's not fatal. It was particularly fun watching how the characters pumped people for information. Riker is garrulous, Troi is soft and a little mysterious, and Worf, bless him, barrels straight through with a great made up story. What I liked most about the teaser is how well it telegraphed that the episode was a tone shift without making the characters behave out of character.

Matthew: This setup leads us to a set of enjoyable scenes, in which we see the crew in mourning for their captain. Has this been done before? Sure. But these are different shades, because we have friction between the crew members, be it between Riker and Troi, or between Worf and Data. Conflict generally equals drama, and it is effective here. I will say of the setup that I do wonder what the heck Picard was doing. Perhaps this will be answered in the next episode...

Kevin: The scene between Riker and Troi wrestling with personal grief and professional responsibility was great. It's nice that the writers trusted to actors and the viewers to leave the argument not entirely resolved in the scene. It lends credibility to the scene and their relationship that not every disagreement is tidily resolved. I also love that Troi calls Riker on his wallowing. I sympathize with how Riker feels, but Troi was right and was right to say so.

Matthew: The command code idea is a lot of fun - because it references previous continuity, but because it also tweaks it in such a way as to reward us for being intelligent viewers. Had J.J. Abrams been behind this, he'd have had a super genius (like his movie's version of Chekov) successfully hack the command codes one way or the other - which is inherently not entertaining, because it is arbitrary. Here, the characters do the right thing, change the codes, but then see through the ruse and advance the plot in an intelligent way. Speaking of potentially screwed up story points, the idea that "Galen" would know who the first officer of a ship in the sector is is a bit much - not so much because it seems implausible, but because it should seem implausible to the rest of the mercenary crew, since they each lack similar knowledge which would have uncovered Picard's identity.

Kevin: I remember this scene upset me a little when I was 11 because I was worried that I would not have been clever enough to know what Riker was doing. The scene remains a prime example of how relying on continuity and your viewer's intelligence is a gift, not a burden, to the writers. I will say overall this first half of the two-parter did a really good job of building to its conclusion. The loss of Picard then of Riker really throws the crew off and it shows. They're professional and they'll deal, but they will have bumps (looking at you, Worf). The only small part of the episode that truly bothered me was Starfleet's initial resistance to the Enterprise investigating Picard's apparent death. I can't imagine a Starfleet Admiral would be content to leave the matter to local authorities on a Federation world, let alone one with Dessica II's apparent reputation.


Matthew: I don't like Spiner's choices when he becomes "acting captain" Data. I've never liked the tone he takes with his voice, and just what was with the tenting of the fingers, a la Mr. Burns? I've always felt that the character would have played it cooler, namely, as if he had no emotions. It's just jarring to me. He was much better as Riker's "acting first officer," which leads me to the question, why would he sound different? Speaking of choices I'm not in love with, the "gruff" Picard voice is an annoyance on a par with Christian Bale's Batman. I mean, come on Jean-Luc, if they haven't discovered your true identity already, I don't think using your normal tone of voice is going to put them over the top.

Kevin: I enjoyed Spiner more in this episode. It harkens back to Redemption for me, where I think Data is portrayed as consciously trying to appear authoritative and missing a bit. I was okay with Picard's voice too. It was one more piece to show that everyone is forced into new roles in this episode. I did particularly enjoy Riker and Picard's scenes on the mercenary ship. They did a great job of acting like they didn't know each other. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Matthew: I loved the scene between Frakes and Sirtis. When Frakes describes the wound in his heart over Picard's death, it is very affecting. But Troi's indignation is also well played. It was a really engrossing scene between the two. The "cantina" crew performances were fun. Whenever the main cast gets to play dress up and put on airs, it is usually enjoyable, as it was in "Time's Arrow." It works very well here.

Kevin: I loved the Riker and Troi scene, because as with their romantic scenes in Second Chances, they get to act like adults, and it makes the scene really shine. I like Worf bristling at Data's inaction. He emotional response under the best of circumstances is to advise action, and his grief and wounded ego over losing two commanding officers provides a credible bases for him being a bit of a dick this episode.

Matthew: The guest stars, the mercenaries, were pretty good overall. The incomparable Robin Curtis is solid as usual. The way she delivers lines as a Vulcan is really delicious, and it's fun to see her play a character with more of an edge, here. Richard Lynch played a good douchey mercenary captain. I also really enjoyed Stephen Lee as the bartender. I wish he had been a more central character - perhaps in place of the Yridian - though he was well played by Alan Altshuld. One more thing: Ensign Huxtable.

Kevin: I did really like Robin Curtis as Tellara, and if memory serves, I saw this before seeing Search for Spock, so it's not just nostalgia at work here. The Yridian was fun, of a piece with the Yridian from Birthright, but with a tad more energy. Sabrina LeBeouf as the ensign was a little flat for me. Her character only got to deliver technobabble, and it never quite sounded like she had a handle on it, and what she had was that high on the complex treknobabble scale.

Production Values

Matthew: The views of planets from orbit are really good. They look more like photographs than like swirling gas patterns. The space battle effects, and the model of the mercenary ship, were also really good. The cliffhanger of the episode, which ends on an energy blast hitting the nacelles, looks really cool. Overall, this was a very good episode for optical effects and models.

Kevin: Agreed. The model of the Enterprise is looking really good this season. I like the use of the outdoor sets for the ruins where Riker is captured too. It's a far cry from the pea soup on planet Hell of some previous episodes.

Matthew: The alien ship looked really neat - and based on the viewscreen, seems to be at least a partial battle bridge redress. They really did a number on it - and it's surprising they didn't alter the screen as much as they did the rest of the set. The graphics were nifty looking, as was Galen's lab. Overall, really nice production all round.

Kevin: The okudagrams were a highlight of the episode. I think they did a really good job of making the ship seem like an actual place with lots of rooms and it added to the feel that this ship was a threat.

Matthew: Note to wardrobe - do not depict Commander Riker out of uniform. The black chevron fields on the uniform are the only thing flattering him in this episode. He really needs the slimming help at this point. The alien makeup was very good in this episode, especially on the bartender, the Yridian, and the mercenary crew.


Matthew: This is a 4 for me. Though there were a few things that nagged me here and there, and it's a bit lacking in sci-fi, the overall plot was novel and interesting, and it proceeded at a brisk pace. There were several nice performances from both main and guest cast. Everybody stays within character, and nothing stupid is necessary for plot progression - things "Descent" failed to accomplish. Overall it's a very solid show with a good story hook.

Kevin: I agree wholeheartedly with the 4 on this one, for much the reasons you cite. This episode does a great job of changing tone without breaking the characters and the pace, as you say, is fantastic. Even without the hard science fiction elements, this episode is a pleasant and welcome change after the somewhat more tepid entries to date. That makes a total of 8 from the two of us.

1 comment:

  1. Picard and Riker are both Federation heroes. It seems unlikely to me that they wouldn't be recognized most places they go.