Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Undercover Into Darkness: "Chain Of Command, Part 1" Is A Dangerous Setup Episode!

The Good: Character, Plot, Acting, Mood, Make-up
The Bad: Feels like a setup episode
The Basics: When Picard is replaced with a more belligerent captain, the Enterprise is put in serious jeopardy in "Chain Of Command, Part 1."

Sometimes, the most fault one may find in a television episode is that it feels like it is setting itself up for a cliffhanger, the sense we get throughout the episode that the words "To Be Continued" will appear in the last frame of the episode. Once Star Trek The Next Generation began doing cliffhangers with the third season finale "The Best Of Both Worlds" (reviewed here!), they never seemed to try to disguise their setup episodes. Usually, that was fine; occasionally it was a severe let down as the first part set an episode up so well that the second part could not hope to match its quality. Such is not the case with "Chain Of Command, Part I." It feels like a setup episode, but we forgive it because of the quality of the episode.

"Chain Of Command" finds Admiral Necheyev arriving on the Enterprise to relieve Picard of command of the ship. The Enterprise is turned over to Captain Edward Jellico while Picard, Worf and Dr. Crusher train for an undercover operation. Jellico immediately takes control with a very different style from Picard. He has a certain order he wants and he wants things immediately and his way. As the crew struggles to adapt to his demanding command style, Picard finds himself taxed for his new mission. When Picard leaves the Enterprise, Jellico immediately gets into a conflict with the Cardassians and Picard finally reveals their mission to his team.

What works perfectly in "Chain Of Command" is the acting and the character. Picard and Jellico are two very different men and they clash instantly. As a result, it seems very natural that the Enterprise crew would fail to get along well with him. Riker and Geordi meet with the most difficulty when interfacing with him and this, too, is natural given that they are the two officers - at least with emotions - Picard relies upon most. Jellico, for his part, is not a bad man or a particularly bad captain; he's just very different from Picard.

Jellico is played by Ronnie Cox and Cox has a presence to him that is commanding and yet we can find it believable that his character is also a father. Cox sells us on Jellico as a man who is probably quite good at what he does once he sets in, but keeping his body language casual, but his orders and rule of law very strict, he makes us believe there is more to this character than we actually see. In one of the episode's final scenes, Cox plays a scene with moral ambiguity perfectly, making us wonder which side Jellico is truly on.

Jellico is, in some ways, a character that is easier to sympathize with than some would like to admit. He is a man besieged on all sides. When he's not getting flack from Riker or Geordi or being preached at by Troi, he is being threatened by the Cardassian Gul Lemec. Lemec is a decent villain and as Picard and his team infiltrate a Cardassian outpost on Celtris III, his menace as a character grows.

The real acting kudos has to be given to Patrick Stewart. While Jonathan Frakes and Levar Burton explore the whinier sides of their characters, Stewart is stretching himself in the most physical role he will take on in the series. Stewart sells us on Picard being a running, fighting, repelling action hero type during the undercover mission. Part of making that plausible is the exhaustion he reveals while training for the mission and Stewart does a great job in both halves.

"Chain Of Command" does pretty much everything right, keeping a taunt 45 minutes wherein we wonder what will happen with the Enterprise going into a political hot spot against the Cardassians with a new captain and with the Captain's covert mission to a distant world. It's enough to keep anyone who likes good action-adventure, political intrigue stories on the edge of their seats for the entire time. And it works as a setup episode, even if they don't revisit the menacing moment Jellico and Necheyev have near the end.

[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 for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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