Star Trek: The Next Generation: Second Chances   Rewatch 
September 6, 2021 5:31 PM - Season 6, Episode 24 - Subscribe

The Enterprise finds a second Will Riker on a planet that he helped evacuate eight years ago.

Memory Alpha always had the better hand, in everything.

Story and script
  • Michael Medlock's story of duplicating Will Riker was nearly rejected, until the writers decided to use the concept to explore the romance with Deanna Troi. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 249)) René Echevarria recalled, "We'd always talked about the fact that they used to be involved, and now they weren't. And 'Second Chances' was our chance to tell a story about them, and what a big love this really was for this man and woman. Tom is Riker. He's spent the last eight years thinking about being reunited with her." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 307)
  • This is the first Star Trek series episode to be directed by LeVar Burton. With the many complex visual effects, Burton considered it a "real baptism of fire." He remarked, "I had one actor playing two different characters, and those characters continually interacted throughout the course of the story. It was incumbent upon me to figure out how to accomplish that. I felt that if I could pull this off without sinking the ship, I really had a possible future as a director." (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 308) Burton went on to direct "The Pegasus", as well as many episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.
Cast and characters
  • Jonathan Frakes recalled, "One of my fondest memories of 'Second Chances' is how I was trying to find subtle differences between the two characters. And to this day, Marina [Sirtis] always reminds me of that. She says, 'I liked Thomas Riker better.'" (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 307)
  • Dr. Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut in space, has a cameo as Palmer. Burton cast Jemison as he knew that she had credited Nichelle Nichols' role as Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series as an inspiration. Burton remarked, "I knew how important seeing Nichelle in The Original Series had been for Mae. Just as it was for me, as a child of the fifties and the sixties, in formulating my own self-image. This was an opportunity that I didn't want to pass up – to complete that loop and close the circle." Burton invited Nichols to visit the production when Jemison was filming her scenes. Burton commented, "[I]t was magic. I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this is so cool.'" (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 309; Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., pp. 249-250))
  • Thomas Riker later appears in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Defiant". The Rikers seen in this episode were played by Jonathan Frakes, photo double Geoffrey Mutch, and stunt doubles Mark Riccardi and Tom Morga. (Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, p. 307)
  • This episode reveals what Riker's middle initial ("T") stands for: Thomas. According to Jeri Taylor, the writing staff considered a number of names, including "Tecumseh", before deciding that "simplest was best". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 250))
  • When William T. Riker says to Thomas Riker that he was able to "patch up" a few things with their estranged father, he is no doubt referring to the events of the Season Two episode "The Icarus Factor".
  • A duplication of this nature also happened in TOS: "The Enemy Within". In that story, Kirk is split into good and evil twins. In VOY: "Deadlock" the entire crew of the USS Voyager was duplicated. And in LD: "Kayshon, His Eyes Open", Brad Boimler is duplicated in precisely (and explicitly) the same fashion as Riker in this episode.
  • As of this episode, each of the five regular male actors have worn two different colored uniforms (LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn going from red to gold in season two, Brent Spiner wearing red in "Chain of Command, Part II" and "Future Imperfect", and Patrick Stewart wearing blue during "Tapestry").
  • Thomas Riker's dilapidated uniform, when he is first found, is in the style used by the Federation in Season 1. This would imply that this style of uniform was used for at least two years before the start of TNG. It would also correspond with Picard's memories of the USS Stargazer crew at the time of the Battle of Maxia in "The Battle", as well as Beverly's recollection of visiting Jack's body in "Violations", with both instances set in the 2350s, well before Riker's visit to Nervala IV.
Poster's Log:

Why is Riker wearing his comm badge on his jazz outfit?

Uniform aside, Thomas's grooming is pretty impeccable for being alone on a station with so many systems offline.

The cadence of the first confrontation between Will and Thomas on the planet is very off. It seems that Frakes's ability to play to the soundtrack gets better as the episode goes along.

Kudos to Marina Sirtis, given the tough job here of surfacing long-dormant emotions.

I love Worf's astuteness regarding seeing something in your double that you do not like in yourself.
posted by hanov3r (14 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This might be the best Riker episode, with the possible exception of "The Best of Both Worlds", which seems to qualify as one. But, in a way, it's also a Troi episode, because she's faced with a Will Riker who didn't leave her and who in fact seems to have owed his sanity to holding on to their love. (His physical survival seems a little improbable, not just for the suspiciously natty haircut but because he mentions that the replicators went out; how did he get by? Did he rig up some greenhouse system a la The Martian where he grew potatoes in his own poop? Well, anyway.) Riker gets to question some of his choices, and literally confront himself in the process; it's fitting that the events of "The Icarus Factor" are mentioned, because there are some oddly father-son-ish dynamics between Will and Tom. I was surprised to find out that this was LeVar Burton's first directing job, because he does a great job with the two Rikers; I thought that there was some subtle visual cues in some scenes (Tom's hair and beard seem a bit lighter at times), but a lot of it may simply be how Frakes played the two characters and how Burton worked with that.

Continuity-wise (and with Lower Decks riffing off of that recently), I wondered if there were protocols or regulations regarding apparent duplication of crew members via transporter, including trying to determine the "original" and/or checking them for psychological problems (speaking of "The Enemy Within"). I also wondered if Deanna's experiences with Tom, and Will's, led to Deanna and Will eventually getting back together and getting married. Finally, I wonder if Tom Riker maybe simply gave up on catching up to Will and decided to do what he did in DS9's "Defiant" because he was tired of being known as the lesser Riker "twin."
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 PM on September 6, 2021

To my own surprise, I totally forgot the title of this one until this rewatch. What I do remember is that the first time I saw it, I 100% expected Tom to plummet to his death despite Will's best efforts. It was a neat inversion of episodic-television-expectations for that to not be the resolution.

I'm glad they didn't try to do this episode in the first three or four seasons. Its core drama only works if we know these characters very well, despite gaps in our understanding of the Troi-Riker relationship pre-"Farpoint."

it's fitting that the events of "The Icarus Factor" are mentioned, because there are some oddly father-son-ish dynamics between Will and Tom.

I noticed that too this time. Could be a cause, and/or an effect, of the two of them getting under each other's skin. It's nice that this episode gives that one a bit more retroactive value.

I wonder if Tom Riker maybe simply gave up on catching up to Will and decided to do what he did in DS9's "Defiant" because he was tired of being known as the lesser Riker "twin."

That's very plausible, and no Riker would take that well. But my headcanon was always that seven years alone on a planet, with nobody to report to and no crew evaluations to conduct, gives a guy plenty of time to ruminate upon what the Federation is all about. He may well have already cultivated some vague doubts before his transfer to the Gandhi, and once there, he'd learn about the Cardassian treaty and those doubts could take form and deepen.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:44 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Distortion Field is an expensive-to-play interference card, fine enough if you really wanna do that kind of thing. I'd rather just go solve my own missions, generally. Here's Wesley's comments.

It's Not Bridge Crew Time Really: Thomas Riker kind of a lesser version of that got away, but can play with rocks instead. Eh. Wesley provides a view into how it was seen at the time.

Playmates toys released (as one of their deliberately-limited editions) A Thomas Riker figure Using the same mold as Ripped Shirt Riker. It looks kinda weird. Thomas Riker also got a DS9 version but maybe not the one you'd think, nah, this one has O'Brien's body, a clone of a different kind. They figured that making new version of a TNG character was a safe bet, both for audience recognition and re-using existing molds.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:03 AM on September 7, 2021

Can you imagine the reaction from the crew upon learning that there's a SECOND Riker? I mean, I know he's supposedly beloved by the crew, but boy, Will can sure be a dick to work for, and the idea of two of them haranguing the ensigns and hitting on every single woman who transported on board must have been a nightmare.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I remember liking this more back when it first aired, probably because I was crushing on Riker still for some reason (I assume because Ro was so infrequently on). Speaking of Ro, man, I totally wonder what her interactions with a second Riker would have been like--we were robbed.

The other reason it wasn't as fun for me as before I think mostly has to do with Will's just overbearing blowhard squinting disdain for the Tom variant. Bombastic hardass Riker is my second least favorite, after sex predator. Back then, I think I was a lot less...weary of it, I suppose.

Is that the only time we see most of the people in Ten Forward in casual clothes? Usually it seems like there's a sea of uniforms, but this time everyone was in their best fugly '90s outfits (the Fashion It So entry for this was a lot of fun).

I wonder if Tom Riker maybe simply gave up on catching up to Will and decided to do what he did in DS9's "Defiant" because he was tired of being known as the lesser Riker "twin."

So what did he do?
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:20 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

kitten: I don't want to give spoilers, so I'll just point you to the Wikipedia plot summary of the DS9 episode.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:01 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Parent Trap 2: The Icarus Factor or gtfo
posted by phooky at 12:53 PM on September 7, 2021

A few years ago I wrote an article for an alternate universe Science Fiction magazine about this episode being the jumping off point for an actually good Star Trek: Voyager series (in a universe where no one ever bothered making any Next Generation film and Deep Space 9 never existed).

(Said magazine also contains lots of alternate universe Doctor Who nerdery and a re-imagining of Tank Girl so that it was brilliant, among other things).
posted by dng at 1:00 PM on September 7, 2021

What does everyone think Tom is getting at in his last line at the poker game? "You always had the better hand," or something to that effect. I know what the writers are trying to convey, but in the context of the situation of two men meeting for the first time only days before, it is just a pointless line and has confused me for a long time. It is the stand out among many lines that seem like the writers are more interested in creating conflict than justifying conflict between the two.

Tom was stranded eight years before the events of the episode. At that point WTR was a lieutenant. Within two years, WR would go from being a mere Security lieutenant to being a Command commander assigned to the flagship of the Federation as first officer. Then for six years, his career just stopped progressing. Tom maybe looking at Will, he really shouldn't be feeling held back. Starfleet lost of lot officers during the Borg incursion. I don't think Tom should have been too worried about it. (This is of course another example of Worf getting screwed for seven years being stuck as lieutenant.)

Deanna for me really is the key to this one. Great scenes with both Rikers. Sirtis does very well in dealing with old feelings and embracing them while still being wary that Tom is still William T. Riker.

WR giving TR the trombone is a nice touch. Then when Troi and TR kiss in front of WR, WR's expression is... regress? Anger?

Overall this one is one of my late season favorites.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:55 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don’t think I’ve watched this with full attention for years but enjoyed it a lot this time. It’s almost but not quite a Deanna episode, and seen just from her point of view, really presses some good “what if?” buttons, as she is presented with a real chance to go back and start over with an old flame without having to deal with the accumulated drama of their break-up.

The tension between Thomas and William is kinda half-assed, Thomas should be pretty close to nuts, and William should find the whole thing freaky as hell. But 5 minutes after being rescued, Thomas is back on duty and William is barking orders like a regular Tuesday. I totally agree Fukiyama, that scene is awkward and weird, the line looks great on paper but doesn’t really make sense in context. Still, you know what the writers are getting at, Thomas is bitter that things just work out for William, even though as a matter of actual fact, he’s not any better at anything than Thomas, just luckier.
posted by skewed at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2021

Frakes has amazing chemistry... with himself. They really did an excellent job with the editing in this one, seamlessly putting Commander Riker and Lieutenant Riker in the same scenes together. Also, I loved the heart-to-heart in Ten Forward between Lt Riker and Deana. When Frakes doesn't overplay things, like whenever Riker shows affection, he's a fine actor, and he and Marina do have chemistry. Overall, "Second Chances" is an excellent later seasons episode that I enjoy watching.
posted by Stuka at 6:57 PM on September 7, 2021

The other reason it wasn't as fun for me as before I think mostly has to do with Will's just overbearing blowhard squinting disdain for the Tom variant.

I'm with you there partly. The blowhardiest moment IIRC is the "I GAVE YOU AN ORDER, LIEUTENANT!" cut to break, which may really have just been a little overplayed because it's a cut to break. A seething glower for that line read would've felt more natural, maybe followed with a shot of Shocked Tom Face to accompany the dramatic-music hit.

(I also wondered if they did the take that way for the purposes of the promo. Turns out they didn't, but the promo's editing makes it look like Will tries to straight-up murder Tom!)

It's also strange that (setting aside the loss of drama) Will didn't retreat more into emotionless Starfleet professionalism in dealing with Tom. Maybe for some reason he resents knowing that, under the circumstances, he should.

But I 100% buy Will being immediately chilly with Tom, as well as his attitude in the poker game. I suspect I'm not the only one here who is perfectly capable of showing kindness, forgiveness, and compassion toward just about everyone except themself. If I got duplicated, I know there'd be major tension at minimum, and if I/we were as competitive as Riker, it'd escalate to hostility, no doubt. I'd hope it wouldn't take a near-chasm-death for us to get over it, but with any luck I'll never have to find out.

Thomas should be pretty close to nuts

Mrs. and I discussed this too on this rewatch. The only explanation we could come up with was that Starfleet trains people for this, and Tom just really knuckled down on that training as a conscious effort to stay sane. Plus, he might've had Majel to talk to. Even so, there should have been a bit more social awkwardness, though I did detect some. We will see a much more plausible portrayal of the mental state of a long-term castaway early in season 7. I also would've liked more Hagrid-esque hair and beard when he first beams in, but we'll see that in season 7 too ^-^
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:48 AM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Off-topic, but today is "Star Trek Day," and it looks like there's going to be a Strange New Worlds panel B)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:50 AM on September 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also would've liked more Hagrid-esque hair and beard when he first beams in, but we'll see that in season 7 too ^-^

I know exactly what you're referring to, in part because it was used in the After Dark TNG screen saver.

As for how he managed not to lose it in isolation, my theories were that he had centuries' worth of movies or TV (occasionally, Trek has hinted that all entertainment is free and everybody has access to it), and maybe a mini-holodeck. If this had been a Lower Decks episode, he'd occasionally say something, then pause with an expectant look on his face, and Rutherford would eventually figure out that they were catchphrases from wildly popular programs of the past, and he was waiting to see if they got the reference. Also, he'd eventually get around to telling Troi that he hoped that their relationship would allow for him to have quality time with Pavane; Pavane of course would be a hologram who would basically be like Minuet, only more so, and when they met, Pavane would just look Troi up and down, wrinkle her nose, look at Tom and go, "Really?"
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:10 PM on September 8, 2021

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