Kirk in Repose, or How and Why I chose my Star Trek mix tape. Part 1 “How many lights?”
Last year, I made a conscious effort to watch the entire Star Trek cannon. To those not in the know, that’s 3 seasons of The original series (hereupon designated TOS), 1 animated, 7 The Next Generation (TNG), 7 Deep Space 9 (DS9), 7 Voyager (VOY), and 4 Enterprise (ENT).
Now, Anthony is a level 1 nerd, sorely in need of XP. As I was hacking through my daunting task, I was trying to convince Anthony to start watching the Trek so he could at least get my references. He, of course, was too busy playing video games for this, but he did ask me to make him a mixtape of the episodes I thought he needed to see.
And now a year later I want to go through this list and really dissect what makes these episodes fantastic and worth watching.
Chain of Command Part 2
Let’s face it, this is the best episode of Star Trek ever. (wow starting off with a bold statement eh?) seriously though, this episode came out of nowhere for me. This the second half of a two-parter came out in mid-season 6 right when the next generation Juggernaut was losing steam and team Berman was putting all their focus on the upcoming ds9.
Season six had some really shitty episodes ranging from the trite, where Picard, Ro, and Whoopie become kids again, to the obscenely bad Fist Full of Data. Season six is also known for having Reginald Barclay make several unwanted appearances. Not to say all the episodes are bad, I have a saccharine Relics and the other Picard heavy Tapestry, but Chain of Command changed the face of Star Trek for the next 20 years. Unlike most of the entire run of TNG, we actually start to see the dark real consequences of the federations enemies, and how they affect the crew we have come to know.
Star Trek is the bright sterile world of the future, and as I said on the podcast, it’s pretty much an anti-star wars. Whereas star wars is a kind of dystopian reality with a crumbling infrastructure based on a fascist theocracy, star trek is a kind of utopian future where science trumps religion, and Kirk and Picard solve more through diplomacy than violence (at least in theory). There was never a villain in st. I mean a serious nemesis. Sure the barbaric Klingons and fascist Romulans were foils to the ideology of the federation, but there was never a real threat to the federation until the Cardassians showed up.
When the Cardassians showed up in “The Wounded” they were actually a fairly sympathetic race just getting over the previous skirmish with the federation which took a toll on both sides. At the beginning of part 2 Gul Madred has a long lamentation on the cultural loss the Cardassians suffered as a result of the war.
I want to stop and talk about Madred played by the fantastic David Warner (who ST fans would recognize as St, John Talbot in Star Trek V and Chancellor Gorkon from Star Trek VI). Unlike those two roles which are bit parts, here he plays the role with such viciousness and evil that it really makes the episode. In fact the parallels of Madred to the Captain Edward Jellico (played by the equally talented Ronny Cox) really shows how thin the veneer of utopia exists in this universe.
They seriously did a show where Picard is psychologically and physically tortured. The rest of the plot is unimportant to me. What is important is that this episode is a character study of two leaders, Madred and Picard.
So what separates this episode from the others, first lets talk about how the Cardassian’s change. In “The Wounded” they were an ex-enemy, beat down by war and now at an uneasy peace. In part 1 of the two part Chain of Command we see a couple of other Cardassians, but in reality they are just carbon copies of old TNG villains. But in part 2 Madred flips this idea over and we see him dissect Picard in a seriously freaky Orwellian way. Madred uses sensory deprivation, sensory bombardment, forced nakedness, dehydration, starvation, physical pain, and cultural humiliation to try to gain knowledge of the Federation’s plans for Minos Korva. But for every moment of physical torture, Madred psychologically juxtaposes the situation showing his kind side. It’s truly terrifying. And to see Stewart deal with these tortures both physically and emotionally is heart breaking.
I’m a bit in the minority, many Trekkies think “The Best of Both Worlds” is the best episode. However, the Borg are a faceless enemy. The Cardassian’s have a story, and personality. That’s what makes them sympathetic, yet evil. You can see the evil develop, and if you continue to watch through DS9 you see why they make the decisions they do. You see why you would make the same decisions. When Picard finally gets the psychological upper hand you cheer for him, but feel for Madred, because his motivation is not to be evil for evil’s sake, but to be hard so his people can survive.
It’s not hard to see where Battlestar Galactica got its hard edge, with Ronald Moore helming the writing of this episode. Its tense, and for TNG that’s impressive. However like all TNG episodes, everything has to be set right at the end, and when Jellico finally gets the upperhand in the standoff and orders the release of Picard you’re feeling awesome. However when Madred walks into that room with Picard and trys one last time to get Picard to say “there are 5 lights” and you can see Picard is about to break, you lose a bit of your faith in him. Sure its awesome when he screams “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!!” , You’re excited and pumped, but you know and he knows that he was broken.
Damn…That’s good Star Trek. That’s good Sci-Fi, That’s just good storytelling.
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