Written by Ronald D. Moore, Frank Abatemarco, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Scheerer
One of the problems with the two-part season-ending cliff-hangers in Star Trek: The Next Generation was that the first half (closing one season) was usually written with no idea what would happen in the second half (opening the following season). This usually resulted in a terrific first episode building towards the climax, and a resolution that was so unsatisfying that it brings down the entire story.
On the occasions that two-part episodes were produced within a single season, the result was quite different. This is the case with the fifth-season episodes Unification Part I and Unification Part II.
In the first part of Chain of Command, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is relieved of command when Starfleet Intelligence becomes aware of an incursion into Federation space by the Cardassians. He, along with Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) is temporarily reassigned and Captain Jellico (portrayed by Ronny Cox) is given command of the Enterprise in the interim, during which it will meet with a Cardassian representative, Gul Lemec (portrayed by John Durbin).
Captain Jellico is much different than Captain Picard. He expects different things from the crew and has differing standards. One style is not necessarily better than another, but they are just very different. The crew has a hard time with his decisions and what he is asking of them.
Captain Picard reveals that they believe the Cardassians have developed a weapon capable of wiping out every living thing on a planet and allowing an attacker to walk in and take over all of the mechanics and facilities left behind. This is what they are going in to verify, and destroy – if necessary.
Captain Jellico, meanwhile, meets with Gul Lemec after deliberately keeping the man waiting for more than an hour. He is adversarial and challenging in their meetings until the Lemec hints that he knows more of what is going on with Captain Picard’s operation than he is supposed to.
Once Captain Picard, Dr. Crusher, and Worf realize they have been duped, they attempt to escape. Worf and Crusher manage to get away, but Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians.
While I usually don’t like to reveal the entire storyline of an episode, it is fine here as it is all a build-up toward what will happen in Part II and it is necessary to know that Captain Picard has been captured by the Cardassians.
The acting here is really good, although everything we see by Patrick Stewart in this episode will be overshadowed by the fine job he does in Part II. Still, his performance here is good as he walks the line, especially in trying to bridge the gap between Captain Jellico and his crew.
If there’s one person who shines here, it’s Ronny Cox as Jellico. If he looks familiar, he has been a common character actor appearing in such movies as Murder at 1600 as the President and Chief Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop. Here he is a man who has very different standards than his predecessor and seems to grate on the crew with every decision he makes. When he chooses to run drills or ask for tasks to be performed, it grates on them. When he asks the Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), to dress more formally on the bridge, she seems put off.
His military decisions often meet with glares from his first officer, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), letting the viewer know how he feels about those choices. Jellico doesn’t know how long he will be in command of the Enterprise, yet he doesn’t seem to be at all interested in getting to know his crew. The performance is such that I didn’t think Jellico would treat them any different were he in command for five hours or five years; he draws a formal line between himself and the crew and I doubt anything would ever cause him to cross that line.
This is a terrific set-up episode as it sets up so many conflicts. Troi tells Riker that Jellico is not as confident as he appears, making viewers doubt his command abilities and if he’ll be able to handle the crisis of having Captain Picard a prisoner of the Cardassians. The situation with Picard being a prisoner must also be resolved, as well as the question of what exactly the Cardassians are up to.
This is probably the best two-part episode in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, and well worth watching. Even the first part boasts a decent story of its own while setting up several points to be resolved in the second part. Although fans of the series might not completely understand the command style differences between Captains Picard and Jellico, just about anyone can appreciate what happens when a new supervisor walks in.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Aquiel
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Chain of Command Part II