Thursday, July 21, 2011

Picard Tortured For Our Understanding In "Chain Of Command, Part 2"

The Good: Amazing acting, Worthwhile story, Great character development
The Bad: Somewhat obvious ending
The Basics: When Picard is tortured by Cardassians, the new captain of the Enterprise puts the safety of the Federation ahead of his life.

When last we saw our heroes, back in "Chain Of Command, Part I," (reviewed here!) Captain Jellico was in command of the Enterprise, menaced by the Cardassian Gul Lemec, Riker was at odds with him, Worf and Dr. Crusher were fleeing for their lives and Picard had been captured by a mysterious Cardassian and told he was about to be debriefed. Things certainly looked dire. They aren't likely to get much better at the beginning of "Chain Of Command, Part II." The viewer, however, is in for a difficult, though worthwhile hour that is possibly more timely now than when it was first released.

Picard, heavily drugged, has revealed all he knows about StarFleet ship positions along the Cardassian border. Gul Madred, then, begins to torment Picard, insisting he has more knowledge he needs and Picard does his best to resist. Captain Jellico flounders in his negotiations and he soon must make a decision to sacrifice Picard or lose important ground to the Cardassians. When Jellico chooses the former option, he and Riker clash and Picard is forced to hold out quite a bit longer. As Picard is tortured by Madred, Jellico works to keep war from breaking out between the Federation and the Cardassians.

This is a wonderful chance for Patrick Stewart to show off his acting skills. Stewart does some very difficult scenes being tortured. He has one of the least pleasant nude scenes in film history and a great bit of acting surrounding being tormented. He makes us believe almost instantly in his character's plight. Stewart's acting is such that we never once think he is anywhere but in a prison being tortured. There's not a moment that the episode pulls back to make us think that Picard can't or won't be killed by Madred. In fact, it's extraordinary to watch Stewart act and emote as he portrays being dehydrated, plagued by excruciating pain and drugged. He is amazing and this episode is the one that ought to have won him a ton of awards, but did not.

Adding to the menace are the various characters unique to "Chain Of Command, Part II." Gul Madred is a horrible Cardassian and we can see in him the individual and cultural traits of the Cardassians. Madred is a character full of power and everything he does suggests that. Similarly, Gul Lemec is in control and menacing in a more cunning, political way. The two Cardassian characters work out excellently.

Similarly, the presence of Captain Jellico adds menace to the episode and a great deal of uncertainty. Jellico allows us to suspend our disbelief and believe for a while that things might not end all right. Instead, Jellico's rough edges with the crew make us feel like Picard could truly be lost. It works out quite well.

Ronnie Cox makes Jellico feel like a horribly controlling captain. He uses a deceptively casual body language to make Jellico seem more real. So, instead of being a parody of a captain who is different and controlling, Cox manages to keep the performance from going over the top. He makes us believe that he is different and no less competent than Picard.

But the scene stealer is David Warner, who plays Gul Madred - though his character's name is never mentioned in the episode. Warner makes Madred cruel and powerful. His posture goes a long way toward making us believe in Madred's invincibility. When Picard resists, Warner alters Madred's tone and seated position in a way that we see what Picard sees, the crack in the facade. The thing is, these are subtle details, minute changes that the actors do and they do them masterfully to make us believe in them. Warner, especially, is exceptional at doing this.

"Chain Of Command, Part II" is difficult to watch and it's not recommended for children. It does deal with torture and the effects it has on an individual and it is presented with realism. This is a hard-hitting social message and the producers, wisely, did not pull any punches on it. What happens to Picard is horrific and the graphic nature of the torture may be difficult for many viewers to deal with.

Sadly, "Chain Of Command, Part II" has not - to my knowledge - been used by anyone in politics of a sterling example of one of the great truths of our time: nothing justified torture. The episode also makes several cognizant points that seem to be lacking in the U.S.'s public arguments to kill every alleged terrorist preemptively, concepts like: torture has NEVER been a reliable method of extracting information and use of torture degrades the people(s) who torture and mortgages any culture or identity they had. This episode puts all of the cards on the table and it does it brutally and with compelling drama. It's a shame the leaders in the United States - who have to compromise on bills figuring out what an acceptable amount of torture is for these turbulent times - are not compelled to watch this show.

There is no more compelling argument - outside of reality - for the abolition of torture in all forms than "Chain Of Command, Part II."

This is a great episode of television and something that may be rewatched over and over again, despite its difficult, adult content.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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