Season Six - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Chain of Command Part II

Written by Frank Abatemarco, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Les Landau

Like the fifth-season episode The Inner Light, the second part of Chain of Command showcases the amazing acting talent of Patrick Stewart and once again gives rise to the question of why terrific performances like these in science fiction shows never receive Emmy Award nominations.

Having secured the capture of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in the first part of this show, the Cardassian Gul Madred (portrayed by David Warner) first attempts to use truth serum on the Captain to extract information about the Federation’s defenses. When that fails, he resorts to torture.

Back on the Enterprise, Captain Jellico (portrayed by Ronny Cox) nearly comes to blows with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) over the issue of whether or not a rescue mission should be looked into for Picard. The tension is heightened when Gul Lemec (portrayed by John Durbin) states that all Jellico has to do is state that Picard’s mission was authorized by the Federation, and then his life will be spared. When Jellico refuses to do so, another heated argument ensues and Riker is relieved of his command.

This part of the story didn’t sit well with me. Riker has been a Starfleet Officer for some time now and has to know that the welfare of the Federation and the people who serve it and Starfleet cannot be compromised for any one man, no matter who he is. I could see Riker initially being upset at the thought of losing this man who has been a mentor to him for six years now, but I would hope that his good sense (and training) would allow him to realize the truth instead of being so pig-headed.

Picard is subject to torture at the hands of a man who just enjoys it. Maybe it’s just me, but if I was standing in front of a man who was holding my life in his hands and wanted me to say I saw five lights when I only saw four, it’s no problem for me to say I see five lights. I understand the principle behind what was going on – that Madred wanted to break Picard, but couldn’t Picard have just agreed with whatever he wanted him to say (except for any military secrets Madred wanted to be disclosed) without being broken?

That’s not to take away anything from Patrick Stewart’s performance which is terrific here. He brings the viewer completely into the torture with him, wondering just how he will manage to escape his torturer with his sanity intact. Many other actors have tried to pull off torture scenes and not made it as believable as they have the “super-hero complex” where we wait for the moment when they break free and turn the tables on their captor. This is not the case here, as through his expressions, mannerisms, and dialogue Patrick Stewart conveys a man who is on the edge of losing his grip on reality and holding on as best he can.

Once again, though, the performance of Ronny Cox as Jellico stands out. He is so convincing in this part that it’s easy to believe the writers would write out Picard and insert Jellico, if only for a little while. This would provide a good storyline as the crew deals with a man distinctly different in his commanding style than what they are used to. Cox portrays Jellico as neurotically controlling, but not so much that he becomes a caricature. It would have been easy to transform him into an over-the-top character such as the father figure in the Twisted Sister videos of the 1980s, but that tone would not have fit the story. Rightly so, Cox holds back a bit on sending Jellico over that edge and makes him controlling enough that he is believable and interesting, even if we can’t help not liking him.

David Warner is also fantastic as Gul Madred. Fresh off of his performance as Chancellor Gorkon in the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, he gives a performance that is completely the opposite of the Klingon Chancellor in that film. He shows Madred’s softer side as well as his vulnerability, which Picard immediately picks up on, enraging his torturer even more. Warner shows this rage and this need for superiority without raging about, but mostly with quiet, desperate whispers and convincing body language.

I would have liked to have seen more follow-up on what happened during this episode. That the character of Jellico is never again seen is a true shame. When Picard was captured by the Borg, the producers followed that up with the excellent episode Family giving insight into the lasting effect the experience would have on this man. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.

The two episodes together are a terrific bit of science fiction drama. Not loaded down with special effects or space battles, they are instead a great suspense story with some terrific acting.

Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Chain of Command Part I

Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ship in a Bottle

5 replies »

  1. Excellent points, and I never thought of the idea of simply agreeing to go along with the torturer, although Amnesty International (I read that they’d collaborated on this episode) states that this is one of the things that torturers expect, initially, and is a part of the plan to force obedience in building…