Written by Naren Shankar, Christopher Hatton, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Peter Lauritson
After starting off the seventh season with three duds in a row, along came the two-part episode Gambit. Under normal circumstances, it would probably be looked at with a lot more criticism. In light of the last three episodes, it looks pretty good.
Commander Riker, the Klingon Worf, Dr. Crusher, and Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, and Marina Sirtis) are in a dive bar on a planet searching for Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) who has gone missing. They hear a story which leads them to believe Picard has been vaporized and killed..
The crew must then deal with the fallout from his apparent death and the sense of loss. Deanna tries to schedule a memorial service and has a brutal encounter with Riker. She accuses him of being out for revenge and shirking his responsibility to the crew. He learns those who were responsible might be headed to the Barradas system and takes the Enterprise there.
The android Data (Brent Spiner) is now acting as first officer and he suggests that Riker is wrong to take the mission to the surface of Barradas III himself, since the Captain’s place is on the bridge. After picking up energy signatures from the planet, Riker beams down with Geordi (LeVar Burton), Worf, and a “Yellow Shirt” who is soon killed off when the Away Team is attacked.
It’s an old Star Trek joke that in the original series, anyone who beamed down to the surface wearing a red shirt was going to get killed. It’s nice that they at least changed the shirt colors of who gets killed. Riker is then abducted by the attackers which includes at least one Romulan.
When Riker is brought on board, he meets the crew which has abducted him. Included in the crew on board the vessel is Picard, posing as a smuggler named Galen. “Galen” tells the leader to kill Riker.
When he has a chance to see Riker alone, Picard tells Riker about how he was on an archaeological dig that was raided. He followed the raiders’ trail until he came across this group of mercenaries stealing Romulan artifacts throughout the sector looking for a specific artifact. Picard enlists Riker’s aid in trying to get information from Baran (portrayed by Richard Lynch), the leader of the mercenaries.
What makes this episode works is that it shakes up the status quo in a way. Both the Captain and the First Officer are off of the Enterprise in a totally different environment. Frakes and Stewart play off each other nicely and with a comfort level that can only be achieved after seven years on the same series together. Although uncertain of what’s going on at first, Riker trusts his Captain so much that he doesn’t even question him when Picard as “Galen” tells Baran to kill him.
This is an episode that wouldn’t have worked in the first or second season of the series’ run. The bond that needs to be there not just between Captain Picard and Riker but between the rest of the crew is one built over time. Data is left to run the Enterprise in Picard’s and Riker’s absence, and who would trust an android when he orders them to lower their shields and put themselves at the mercy of the enemy? Data even has the capability to trust that whatever Riker is going to do, he knows what he’s doing.
The episode doesn’t feel as if it were stretched out to be two parts; there’s no real filler here. The story is handled pretty well, and other than being somewhat convoluted it’s not bad. There is some contrivance on the part of being able to believe that Captain Picard as a highly-ranked member of Starfleet would be able to go off on his own and join up with a band of ruffians, but overall it’s not one of the worst suspensions of disbelief I’ve seen.
It would be about 3 1/2 stars but I’ll give it four just because the three leading up to this were such disappointments. The question becomes does Part II fail as badly as so many other second-part episodes seem to in Star Trek: The Next Generation…