Star Trek: The Next Generation: Chain of Command, Part II   Rewatch 
July 22, 2021 4:15 AM - Season 6, Episode 11 - Subscribe

Cardassian torturer Gul Madred offers his prisoner Picard a nice egg in this trying time.

Is this what's keeping you from breaking? Memories of Memory Alpha?:

• Jeri Taylor did a page one rewrite on the teleplay, but Frank Abatermarco retained the sole writing credit for the episode. This all-too-common television occurrence upset many of the production staff. Michael Piller later stated that "Jeri [Taylor] did a remarkable job" and that he is "extremely proud of this episode."

• Abatermarco did intensive research, including consultations with Amnesty International, on the psychology of torturers, torture methods, and the experiences of endurers to inform the episode. Amnesty supporter Patrick Stewart was delighted at the first draft, but was concerned when he heard of the rewrites. Taylor recalled, "Patrick got very concerned because he assumed that meant we were going to back off from the very strong nature of it. He said, 'I don't want that to happen. I think that this hits it head on. I want to do that. I don't want this to become another talky episode where we simply talk about and around something and don't really tell it the way it is." These concerns were shared by Taylor, who remembered that Stewart was thrilled at the finished script "because we didn't back off an inch. It was very strong stuff."

• Stewart prepared for his torture scene at the hands of the Cardassians by reviewing tapes provided by Amnesty International. Stewart, at his own insistence, performed the beginning torture scene naked on a closed set.

• David Warner took over the role of Madred on three days notice and, though he had previously appeared in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, he knew nothing about the Cardassians from The Next Generation. As he recalled in a 2011 interview; "It was another makeup job. It was with Pat Stewart, who's an old colleague. It was great to be a part of that. I thought, "Oh, I've done two of the others, the old classic ones, and here I am in The Next Generation. I'll go for it." So I wasn't aware of it, of the Cardassians. I didn't know their history at all, except of course, that they weren't very nice." Due to the short time in which he had to prepare, Warner also did not have enough time to memorize his lines. As such, they were written down on cue cards. As he commented; "There was too much technobabble and dialogue that doesn't come naturally to me. So they wrote everything up for me. I don't mind people knowing this. Every line I said, I actually was reading it over Patrick's shoulder or they put it down there for me to do it."

• This episode was the last to air before "Emissary" [FF previously --ed.], the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on 3 January 1993. The Cardassians are an integral part of that series.

• During interrogation, Picard sings the first two lines of the French song called "Sur le pont d'Avignon."

• Entertainment Weekly ranked this episode (combined with Part I) #10 on their list of "The Top 10 Episodes" to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

• Michael Piller remarked, "I can't imagine a better show than 'Chain of Command, Part II' and it had no tricks or whiz bang stuff and it was one of the least expensive shows of the season. David Warner was sensational and Patrick Stewart was even better. I don't think there's been a better show in the history of this series, and certainly there was not a better hour of television on that year."

• Taylor noted that some viewers protested at the graphic nature of the torture scenes. "They didn't want to see Patrick Stewart or anybody else writhing in pain. They felt that it was excessive, that it went too far and that it was disturbing to children. I can't disagree. It's certainly very intense for children. I wish there had been a disclaimer."

• Ronny Cox greatly enjoyed the role his character played in the two-parter. He commented, "[J]ust about everything on the ship was between Riker and Jellico. And I loved that aspect. Gene Roddenberry didn't like conflict between the characters, so my guy was the first guy to come in and sort of ruffle everybody's feathers. I liked that aspect of him. I also liked that he was a by-the-book guy. I loved it when Picard comes back to the Enterprise at the end and Jellico says, 'Here's your ship back, just the way you left it… maybe a little better.'" He elaborated, "I never saw him as a villain. He was a bit of a hard-ass, but not a villain. I thought he dealt with the Cardassians really well and I thought he ran the Enterprise really well, though in a completely different style from Picard." He also joked, "I've done a lot of things in my career, and I've got people in my family who think that's the only thing of any worth I have ever done. I'm also a trivia answer. I'm one of the few actors, other than the show's regulars, to have done a captain's log on TNG."

• In a review for Star Trek (2009) appearing in Slate Magazine, writer Juliet Lapidos argued with its "standard Hollywood torture scene," the film failed to live up to the intellectual standard set by "Chain of Command, Part II", whose treatment of the issue she found both more sophisticated and pertinent to the ongoing debate in the United States at that time.

"The Cardassian Union has yet to decide how it will respond to this latest provocation. But rest assured, we will respond."
- Gul Lemec

"From this point on, you will enjoy no privilege of rank, no privileges of person. From now on, I will refer to you only as Human. You have no other identity!"
- Gul Madred, as he begins to torture Picard

"How many lights do you see there?"
"I see four lights."
"No. There are five."
- Gul Madred and Jean-Luc Picard

"I can't believe you're willing to sacrifice Captain Picard's life as a negotiation tactic!"
- Will Riker, to Edward Jellico

Poster's Log:
Easily among my top episodes of this series. I don't think it's possible to have seen it too often. If TNG has a "Pale Moonlight" analogue—an abnormally dark and serious episode that happens to also be really really good, and not just because of the dark seriousness—this is it. They made wise structural choices in this 2-parter: Jellico's stuff is the A-story and Picard's is the B- in part 1, and they switched it for part 2. (Though I love the way Jellico slinks off the bridge in his last scene.) Ronny Cox measured up to the demands of this role, and I would have been pleased to see his character awkwardly return for a brief guest spot in a subsequent TNG episode (if I hadn't learned about the Jellico fandom in the last thread!).

But David Warner's performance here is just fucking fabulous—as is the writing. There's no book I've reread nearly as often as 1984, and while Madred's four lights thing really is lifted right out of 1984, what I found interesting on this rewatch is how notable the differences are in the characterization of the two torturer characters. We get to know Madred more than we do his 1984 counterpart O'Brien, and he's a less supernatural, more comprehensible character. This does nothing to diminish his menace; in fact, I think it helps, because we feel a compulsion to understand where Madred is coming from and how he can do these things, which is scary even though he's not human.

It's also got a more dramatically satisfying (if less political) denouement than 1984's, but I will say no more about that because I want any of you who have not yet read 1984 to do so right now and come back to comment later! And don't wimp out and watch the movie; it leaves out a ton of stuff! BIG CHEESES IS WATCHING YOU.

I should also note that (A) Lemec was really great too, albeit in a very different way from Madred, and (B) any of you reading this who found this two-parter to be among your favorite episodes of TNG should definitely check out DS9, where Cardassians are the most frequently-recurring adversary*, if you haven't already.

We've talked about the concept of "Villain Decay" before, but this episode is the opposite—Villain Ripening?—for the Cardassians. I'm happy to say also that the closest the Cardassians ever got to actual Villain Decay may have been in DS9: "Tribunal" (FF previously), which owes an obvious debt to this episode but came off more Kafkaesque and almost silly—but nevertheless does no lasting damage to the Cardassians' general menace IMO.

* = Come to think of it, thanks to DS9, Cardassians have gotta be the most recurring adversary in all of Trek! If you compared, say, screen time, I don't think Klingons would come close, even factoring in DISCO.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The relevant Greatest Gen episode is one of their better ones IMO; they point out various other ways in which the episode excels that I had not consciously recognized.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Up front, let's just say it: Madred may be the all-time galactic champion of "Worst Use of 'Take Your Daughter to Work Day'".

This is an unabashedly great episode, not just for the superlative performance of the two principals but for its relevance in both our culture and in the franchise in general, where some of the issues brought up here will recur. (Not, I am sad to say, always for the better.) In addition to Nineteen Eighty-Four, I would also suggest V for Vendetta (the original graphic novel) as a comparison point; it has its own hard-to-stomach interrogation scene, albeit one with a considerably more optimistic denouement.

Here, it's obvious that the whole point of this exercise in brutality is to break Picard, to get him to submit to Madred's authority regardless of how irrational it is. And this characterization of Cardassians, the need to establish and maintain dominance, is also noted by Jellico, and is carried through to DS9; the very first thing that Sisko notices when he walks into Ops for the first time is how the station commander's office is placed well above the level of the rest of the room. (And this is followed up by Dukat paying a "friendly" visit, swaggering in like he still runs the place.) Madred's bringing his daughter in is an extension of that; he wants to extend the dominance of his family to, well, the next generation. Of course, failure to actually accomplish that goal, as when Picard seizes on Madred's tale of the taspar eggs, stings him as badly as the implanted agonizer stings Picard. In Andrew J. Robinson's superlative book A Stitch in Time, in which Madred appears, Garak acidly observes that "If nothing else, an interrogator must have the stamina to outlast his subject." Picard almost didn't, but "almost" only counts in horseshoes and photon torpedoes.

People mentioned some of David Warner's other roles in the last post, but I'd also mention his role as Gorkon in Star Trek VI, the Klingon martyr for peace. (We don't need to talk about Star Trek V, where he was wasted.) As in this ep, Warner made excellent use of his courtly, gentle delivery, and, given the difference between his manner and the nature of his actions in this ep, I'm wondering again how Gorkon gained the sort of status in Klingon society and politics to be able to push through the Khitomer Accords. And, while I'm at it, big ups to Patrick Stewart, who did his own research for the part. I shudder to think of what he might have watched.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:51 AM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

This episode was used for Cardassian cards before there was a playable Cardassian affiliation, so anyone can ask their opponent a few questions. Or resort to less savory methods, with a Non-Aligned Madred. Grim. Cardassian players later got their own Madred. Gul Lemec got his ship printed first in the Second Edition format and it returned on the 1E template. Second edition also saw its own versions of Lemec and Madred, notably similar to the originals.

As this marks its first appearance, this is the source for Cardassia Prime, Hardscrabble World, as well as strategic support for them as an affiliation in 2E with Fresh Tactic, Means of Control, and Shared Delicacy. A fairly-beatable space dilemma is also featured.

I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention that this storyline is the source for the so-called "Redemption Data" figure. This variant A) was made very cheaply with existing parts and B) exists in small enough quantities (7,000 or so) that sealed instances may sell for about $150 as of this writing.

There's no Star Trek episode so thoughtful and high-intentioned that it wasn't immediately metabolized into product.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:42 AM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

My girlfriend watched this two-parter with me (her first time seeing it) and she actually broke into tears during Picard's reaction to Madred's story of his childhood. Stewart's performance is so understated and powerful.

I could have done with a little less "Riker being insufferable" when Jellico came to ask him to pilot the shuttle.
posted by hanov3r at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2021

I'm a bit surprised that there isn't a Taspar egg CCG card.

The direct human version would be balut. I'm an adventurous eater, but I balk at balut; eggs are self-contained, so all the metabolic waste produced during gestation remains within the egg and is co-consumed with the developing embryo and as-yet unconsumed nutrients.
posted by porpoise at 11:47 AM on July 22, 2021

I saw this one maybe two or three years ago, then again a few days ago, but rewatched just the Picard parts today during lunch--really exceptional, there's only maybe 4-5 episodes that I can rewatch like that. Poor Picard, after BoBW, The Inner Light and this, he's gone through more abuse than anyone could handle.

But most of the episode portrays Picard as the ultimate refined tough guy who can't be broken, which is an enjoyable fantasy, as Picard is our beloved hero at this point. We get great scenes of Picard's resistance: Singing songs while being tortured, slamming the torture device even though he would have known it couldn't change anything. The highlights for me were Picard's response after hearing Madred's story about the egg: "Must be rewarding to you to repay others for all those years of misery." This feels like such a slap, and was so startling. Then, Picard's laugh when Madred calls him "Picard" instead of "Human"--such a tiny but effective triumph, the best moment of the episode for me. Picard's triumph over his bully is complete at that point, and his rescue while still pondering Madred's final offer leaves it at a slightly ambiguous place that you'd expect from TNG.

Then, to have that all undermined, when Picard admits to Troi that not only was he prepared to say anything, but that he really saw five lights, recontextualizes everything. Picard's not the macho fantasy, the one who can't be broken. Madred won, and at the deepest level possible. Much more disturbing, and satisfying at the same time.

The parallels with 1984 were not lost on me even as a teen, but I think the way Ryan/Abetemarco used the four lights/five lights thing in place of "loving big brother" was extremely effective. I don't think I understood for a long time why O'Brien cared whether or not Winston loved Big Brother, so long as he was willing to be obedient and say that he did. But it's very clear how Madred wants to break down Picard, and why actually seeing five lights would be the ultimate victory for him.

One other thought, how is it that "somone menacingly offers guest a large, disgusting egg" became a trope? I feel like I've seen it a bunch of times, but the only other one I can think of offhand is from the Teddy Perkins episode of Atlanta.
posted by skewed at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

David Warner was also the voice of R'as al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series, and he brought the same courtly menace that he did here.

Of the episode itself, I'll repeat something I said in a comment many years ago, which is that the amazing thing about it is that it reveals the pointlessness of torture; note how Gul Madred quickly moves from trying to get Picard to divulge information about Federation defenses to trying to break him for its own sake. (Not surprised to learn that Amnesty International consulted on the script.) You just don't see that anymore, certainly not since 9/11 and 24; the assumption is almost always that torture, even if it's portrayed as wrong, works. Combine that with the affection for antiheroes and "conflicted" characters willing to do bad things for the right reasons over the last few decades, and you have some really toxic characterizations of torture in the discourse.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:20 PM on July 22, 2021 [9 favorites]

Jesus. I am… traumatized by this. This is my first watch and honestly I was bored out of my mind by part one, but this one… hoo boy. Intense.
posted by obfuscation at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2021

It is intense. I would have never expected Trek to do something like this. Or any show? Today, maybe, but in nineteen-ninety-fucking-two? I don't think anything on television did anything like it. Powerful.

On the B plot, Riker and co came off badly in the first part, but here I'm totally with him. He's not saying anything wrong, Jellico is doing shitty realpolitik vs Riker representing Federation ideals. Just admit you did the thing everyone knows you did, Capt Bellicose!

One thing that's interesting is Jellico is kind of a return of Picard v1. Early on, Picard was sold as this by the book hardass and it was Riker who had all the amiable qualities. Even recently, check out his interactions with Ro before Guinan intercedes.
posted by rodlymight at 6:36 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

1) Under the influence of truth serum, it's "Picard, Jean-Luc," but the best they could do for "name and rank" is "Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher" and "Lieutenant Worf"? Again, TNG's casual realism is showing. Don't put any effort into the small details there, folks.

2A) Riker is asking Jellico, a mere starship captain, for permission to start planning a rescue mission into Cardassian space, as if Admiral Nechayev, Starfleet Command, the Federation Council (or whoever runs the Federation in the TNG-era) has nothing to say about it.

2B) Riker just won't stop. Now he wants Jellico to unilaterally acknowlege that Picard was there on Federation orders. For an episode titled "Chain of Command," the writers made the concept completely foreign to Riker.

3) Is "Part II" the first episode where BermanTrek started walking things back? Picard and Madred are talking about the Cardassian situation and there is no mention at all of the replicator, which could solve all of Cardassia's ills.

4) Bev, would she have been so snarky if it was Jean-Luc playing a hunch about Cardassians being in the nebula?

5) David Warner is a wonderful actor who was excellent as Madred. But Madred is a poorly written character. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure what exactly the Cardassians wanted with Picard. They had him drugged; he revealed nothing. And then Madred seemed to spend more time losing mind-games to Picard than actually trying to extract information from him.

6) There we go. Geordi is bonding with Jellico! Oh, the pay-off after all that manufactured hostility in "Part I."

7) Did I miss an "as you were" from Jellico when he visited Riker? Oh, that's right, Riker isn't an officer and a gentleman, I forgot. And then Riker tells Jellico that the crew hates him right after Jellico bonded with Geordi in the shuttle. That makes perfect sense!

8) And to cap off an undercooked episode, that clumsy ending that I have always hated. Picard comes back, Jellico says his farewell, and then, immediately, Picard and Troi go into the ready room for that completely forced heart-to-heart.

9) Yup, "Chain of Command, Part II" is another part two that is woefully inferior to its part one.
posted by Stuka at 7:44 PM on July 22, 2021

there is no mention at all of the replicator, which could solve all of Cardassia's ills

There's a DS9 episode in... I want to say season 3... where after long negotiations, the Federation agrees to loan industrial replicators to Cardassia to rebuild their society (which the Maquis don't like, so they try to steal them).
posted by Servo5678 at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2021

The revelation that Warner was doing such an amazing performance while READING HIS LINES OFF CUE CARDS is blowing my fucking mind.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 6:09 AM on July 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

Stuka in his fifth point raises an interesting question, what do the Cardassians want with Picard?

They went to great lengths to create a situation to lure Picard since he is the captain of the command ship of the sector. After truth drugs, they learn he doesn't have the info on Minos Korva. Yet even while they are interrogating him, they have an attack fleet in position in a nebula with a time limit on how long they can wait.

Picard holds out beyond the time limit, do they attack regardless? So what is the point of capturing Picard?
posted by Fukiyama at 7:58 AM on July 23, 2021

There's a DS9 episode in... I want to say season 3... where after long negotiations, the Federation agrees to loan industrial replicators to Cardassia to rebuild their society (which the Maquis don't like, so they try to steal them).

If BermanTrek had thought to deal with this issue in TNG, it would have been a great opening for a major debate about the Prime Directive. The Cardassians are poor and technologically inferior. Because of that, they are hostile towards the Federation. A technology transfer would not only save Cardassian lives, but it would secure interstellar peace. But there would be the Prime Directive, standing high and mighty in the way of all good sense.
posted by Stuka at 8:31 AM on July 23, 2021

Picard holds out beyond the time limit, do they attack regardless? So what is the point of capturing Picard?

They attack regardless. The Cardassians had hoped Picard would have some useful intel, but even though he doesn’t they will never let him go. The US is still holding prisoners of the war on terror at Guantanamo Bay, some for nearly 20 years now.
posted by rodlymight at 8:42 AM on July 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

They attack regardless.

I would prefer the element of surprise myself. Capturing Picard and then letting the Federation know I have him and giving them time to switch things up seems counterproductive to me.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2021

Yeah, but he gives them a pretext for the attack. The Federation attacked without provikation, the Cardassian Union is merely defending itself. And when he breaks, Picard will confess to massacring civilians on Celtris 3 in a broadcast to the galactic community.
posted by rodlymight at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2021

To make a pedantic world buildy speculation, it's interesting that Madred and Lemec are both Guls and the same rank in theory but ultimately Lemec takes control of the situation and orders Picard's release. Cardassian military intelligence may be in an inferior position to the Navy? The Celtris III incident could have embarrassed them to the degree that the Obsidian Order gained the upper hand during the DS9 era.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Well, now that this has devolved into nitpicking, I feel silly commenting, but I was sick yesterday, so...

One reason I love this episode is that I love great acting, and this one gave it to us in spades. Even though it's a mostly two-man show, other members of the crew get some good scenes in too. It's hard to take the argument between Jellico and Riker that gets Riker shitcanned seriously (it feels so stagey and manufactured, and like the actors could barely keep themselves together during it), but their antagonistic shuttle pilot conversation feels more like they've settled down a little. And Warner's shock when Stewart throws that laugh at him, his flashes of losing control of the situation, are so fantastic, especially when you know that he didn't have time to prepare for the role.

Beverly's snark is both hilarious and as unprofessional as the whinging in the previous part. Gul...Lemec? I think? I can never tell the Cardassians apart if I don't already know the actor. The blowhard facing off with the Enterprise, anyway--there's something about his thinness and the uniform (the narrow trousers, the big square-shouldered tunic) that makes him look like he's the singer in a New Wave band in the '80s. It's very hard for me to take him seriously.

When I worked at Slate, they did a big interactive piece on torture that was pretty comprehensive (this was after the news about Abu Ghraib), and a lot of us touched parts of it at various stages along the way. I was already pretty familiar with torture concepts and practices from my history studies, not much was a surprise, yet it was still pretty soul-searing and one of those things that left you wanting to drink heavily after you'd edited a piece. And I imagine that Patrick Stewart's performance must have affected him (to say nothing of Warner's portrayal of casual cruelty), that you'd have to try to shake it off after a few takes of one of those scenes. I don't think either of them is a big Method actor type, but even when you're removed from the realities of torture, the of knowledge that people endure it all the time in this fucked-up world gets under your skin.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

But there would be the Prime Directive

The Cardassians have warp drive. The Prime Directive doesn’t apply.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:26 PM on July 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Steve Shives has a nice youtube video about Why Captain Jellico Is Actually Pretty Awesome
posted by OldReliable at 4:18 AM on July 24, 2021

A small but interesting point is that this was the episode that got Lt. Troi into uniform for the rest of the show.
posted by OldReliable at 4:20 AM on July 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

I remember watching this episode in college with my guy friends, and every single one of us were like “OMG THE UNIFORM IS 1000% BETTER SHE SHOULD KEEP IT FOR THE REST OF THE SERIES.” Apparently everyone else felt the same way.
posted by Melismata at 5:29 AM on July 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

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