Written by Rene Echevarria, Michael A. Medlock, and Brannon Braga
Directed by LeVar Burton
Just about everyone has a former romantic partner about whom they occasionally wonder if things could have turned out differently. In Second Chances, ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) gets to re-examine her relationship with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and wonder about what might have been had he followed through on their pre-arranged meeting on the planet Risa.
The Enterprise returns to the planet Nervala IV, a planet where Starfleet researchers were abruptly forced to evacuate years before. Riker was there when this happened and barely made it off the surface to his ship, the Potempkin. When Riker beams down with the android, Data (Brent Spiner), and the Klingon, Worf (Michael Dorn), to retrieve the research, the encounter a human who is Riker’s doppelganger. He also claims to be Will Riker.
The Will Riker on the planet believes that the distortion field caused the Potempkin to lose the transporter lock on him. It soon becomes apparent that the distortion field somehow interfered and two “Will Rikers” were created. When Deanna Troi attempts to counsel him, he tells her it was the thought of her waiting for him which got him through the time alone and abandoned on the planet.
To complete the mission, the Riker rescued from the planet is assigned to help the Riker from the Enterprise retrieve the information from the computer. To try to mitigate an already confusing situation, the Riker of the planet begins going by his middle name, Thomas.
The idea of an alternate path of a character’s life was explored before. Specifically, in the episode Tapestry where Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) changes something which happened in his life and sees himself as a completely different person later on. In this case, the Riker who left Nervala IV is still the person he was, but has to contend with the Riker who didn’t leave the planet and who spent eight years in isolation.
Jonathan Frakes shines in his role as the two Rikers. Second Chances is one of the few episodes where he really seems to flow into his character – and in this case his duplicate as well. LeVar Burton (who portrays Geordi LaForge on the show) directed, and I think it helped. The familiarity with the characters helped him evoke certain differentiating nuances in each of the Rikers. They were remarkably similar, yet just different enough from the eight years in which their lives had diverged that they have distinct personalities.
This is also an episode where Marina Sirtis gets to show her character doing more than sitting next to the Captain using her empathic abilities. She is the woman getting a second chance at romance, and wondering how things would have been different. Up until now, she’s only dealt with the Riker who never met her on Risa. Now she is faced with a Riker who never had the opportunity to pass up that meeting and pined for her for eight years. Sirtis does a good job as a woman trying to recapture what she might have missed in life, but who’s also grown in those eight years and who also knows what Riker – either Thomas or Will – is driven by. She’s cautious at the same time.
The ending leaves the possibility for the character of Thomas Riker to return, as he does in the future. It’s an interesting depiction of the different paths our lives can take, without being a clichéd story of an overworked man or career-driven woman who never made time for a personal life.