Star Trek: The Next Generation: Gambit, Part II   Rewatch 
October 1, 2021 4:50 AM - Season 7, Episode 5 - Subscribe

While operating undercover on a pirate vessel, Picard makes an archaeological discovery that really resonates with him.

All Memory Alpha is saying, is give peace a chance:

• Ronald D. Moore commented, "I felt we ran out of story in 'Part II'. There were places where I was treading water. We had to find the lost ark and I didn't know what the lost ark was. Instead, we had a device from ancient Vulcan myth that had mythic properties that you explain are telepathic focusing properties. I was trying really hard to make this thing work and in the end, I just said, 'All right, maybe we should just go for it and make this a classic Gene [Roddenberry] kind of message and go for "think happy thoughts" and make it something which tied into the backstory of Vulcan and of Surak and peace.' I thought it would fit in nicely. I'm not sure if it did. It might have just fallen in on its own gooeyness."

• In early drafts of the script the psionic resonator was much more powerful, capable of killing millions of people at a time.

• Naren Shankar based the Vulcan subplot here on Spock's admission in TOS: "Journey to Babel" that a Vulcan could kill for a logical reason. He decided to take a different tone for the Vulcans: "We went for people who very logically felt that Vulcan's problems were linked to contamination by illogical people, so in a logical sense you say 'Get rid of them'…a very logical way to arrive at racism."

• Initially the Vulcan god of death was bald, until Rick Berman ordered hair to be etched on to avoid resemblance to Patrick Stewart in close-ups.

• NBA star James Worthy's appearance as Koral came about due to a chance meeting with Robert O'Reilly on an airplane. Worthy admitted his desire to appear on the show. At O'Reilly's urging, Worthy met with Rick Berman and Michael Piller, who in turn asked Jeri Taylor for suitable cameo roles. This timed perfectly with the need for filler elements in this episode, and thus Koral was created.

• It is revealed in this episode that Vulcan is one of the founding worlds of the Federation. It would not be revealed until ENT: "Zero Hour" (which aired a decade later) that the other three are Earth, Andoria and Tellar, though these four worlds had been mentioned as the founding planets in several non-canon publications and fan works.

• Ron Moore named the Stone of Gol after the plateau where Spock studied in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Shankar joked that the weapon might colloquially be called the "Gol Stone".

• The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 267) comments that elements of this episode suggest the Vulcan-Romulan schism may predate Surak.

• After Data reprimands Worf in the ready room, he imitates Picard's tugging of his shirt when standing up (commonly referred to as a Picard Maneuver).

"There's one thing that I have learned on this ship, and that's to be cautious and never to blindly embrace what might appear to be good fortune."
- Baran

"Commander Riker, by taking this action you risk charges of assault, theft, piracy, and treason."
- Data

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave."
- Picard, to Riker (quoting Sir Walter Scott's Marmion)

Poster's Log:
I find I'm willing to overlook this one's weak points—Robin Curtis's dopey Scooby-Doo-villain take when she's defeated, the Koral scenes obviously being filler—perhaps largely because all the performers here are pretty well dialed-in. McFadden's hyper-polite manner toward Koral always gets a laugh out of me; now that I think of it, their dynamic is downright Lower Decks-esque.

Also, the Data-Worf stuff in here is fantastic and, I have to think, makes this ep worth watching even to TNGers who are annoyed by these types of stories.

And I'm never gonna turn down some Vulcan worldbuilding. (I found myself wondering on this rewatch whether the franchise is ever gonna clearly explain the Romulan origin story.)

In a sort of Trek-movie odd-even TNG equivalent, it seems like the Part IIs that are midseason are apt to be better than their Part Is, and the pattern is reversed for the summer cliffhangers. Unification, Chain of Command, Birthright, and Gambit are the only midseason two-parters and they all could be said to have stronger Part IIs. Not shocking, really: MA has made it clear that the summer cliffhangers were basically never figured out in advance, resulting in so many clunky season-opening Part IIs.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing sums up the writers' complete exhaustion quite like seeing the title "Gambit, Part II" on the screen. Gambits have been a thing in Star Trek since the early TOS days, and there's nothing in this episode that makes it more gambity than a dozen others. It's like naming an episode "Holodeck" or "Red Alert". The fact that they chose that for a two-parter just makes me want to tuck the writers into bed. Shhhh, go to sleep. Yes, you were a good writer today. We'll have waffles in the morning. Good night, writing room.

While we're on the subject of Star Trek tropes, even by the standards of a show that relies heavily on deus ex machinas (machinae? dei ex machina? whatevs) the whole "I pulled the old pain-o-lator switcharoo on Captain Forehead offscreen" was a stunner. I also loved the ancient superweapon reveal. "Your phasers are nothing compared to a weapon of the miiiinnnnndddd!" Yeah, well, turns out phasers work well on chill people. too. And you apparently had to be super angry for it to work? I mean, it didn't work on the Klingon. The Klingon! Who couldn't keep his chill in front of his CO and is still stewing over being chewed out! It's like if in Dune, Paul was all "what's in the box" and the reverend mother was like "a really bad smell" or "an overwhelming urge to fart". Can you tamp down your natural disinclination to get a stinky finger when death is on the line?!? In summary: your superweapon sucks and you didn't do your research and you should feel bad.

Robin Curtis was acting super Romulan-y in this one. Were we supposed to think that the Vulcan isolationist movement was a Romulan plot in response for Spock being such a dingus on Romulus?

I liked Koral! I would 100% watch "Star Trek: Koral". Just going around the galaxy, mumbling one-word responses to questions, and fucking up people's rugs.
posted by phooky at 6:36 AM on October 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Space pirates, I can understand why Gene wanted to stay away from that. He wanted Star Trek to be a purer product. But by TNG S7, I would think Trek was mature enough and self-assured enough to have some fun with some space pirates. Except it wasn't. TNG really dropped the ball here. For instance, as others mentioned about Gambit I, the raider ship's bridge looks about as clean and shipshape as a Starfleet bridge. And the whole Vulcan isolationist faction, coupled with the psionic artifact, pretty heavy stuff for a couple of episodes about space pirates. Guess TNG really wasn't that confident in doing space pirates per se.

And I won't even get into the Enterprise going all the way to Vulcan, the core of the Federation, on this mission.

On the other hand, I've always liked the ending of Gambit II. The interaction between Picard, Riker, and Data is fun. And it's a charming peek at Starfleet regs.
posted by Stuka at 6:43 AM on October 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

McFadden's hyper-polite manner toward Koral always gets a laugh out of me

I really got a "British tourist speaking English, but slowly and loudly, to the natives" vibe out of McFadden when Koral first walks off his shuttle, and it's not a good look.
posted by hanov3r at 7:12 AM on October 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I do think that the McGuffin was the weak point of this episode. In addition to not working on people who are calm (and it sort of makes sense that it wouldn't even work on Worf, since he has to suppress his rage pretty much all the time; arguably, that may be why he got into mok'bara, aka Klingon tai chi, and even why it's a big hit with the rest of the crew), it seems to only hit one person at a time, unless it's got a higher setting that Tallera doesn't know about. (For someone who's putting all her chips on this One Weird Old Trick That Surak Doesn't Want You To Know About, she doesn't seem to actually know that much about it going in.) The episode could have been a deconstruction of the whole this-ancient-weapon-will-let-me-rule-the-world-or-galaxy-or-whatever trope; even if you can pull the sword from the stone, Excalibur is still just a sword, and not tactically that useful, let alone the basis for a system of government. It's a symbol, but not one that would have that much power over a very rational people. (Although Trek will go there anyway, in a future episode of DS9. But anyway.) Actually putting a line in the ep to that effect would have helped a lot. (Or simply not have tried using it at all, which is why a very similar McGuffin in a very similar episode--the Tox Uthat in "Captain's Holiday"--never gets used.)

But the rest of the episode is pretty good. Loved the scene between Worf and Data; Worf is acting appropriately for a first officer... on a Klingon ship. And I also liked the skulduggery behind the scenes on the pirate ship, which seems to have not been named--bro do u even pirate?--and, of course, Picard and Riker getting punchy. The general atmosphere aboard the pirate ship reminded me of Iain M. Banks' first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, which has a very good deconstruction of the space mercenary/pirate trope, with the captain being a real gasbag who isn't very canny and a crew that, precisely because they're a ragtag band of misfits, don't work together very well and horribly screw up their attempts at raiding lost temples and whatnot; an infiltrator ends up using the ship for their own purposes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:23 AM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd forgotten enough of this one that when Worf barked "Finally!" I blurted out loud, "Oh, fuck off, you unprofessional ass." So I was thrilled when Data called him on the carpet and did it in such a professional manner. And then I love how they end the conversation: "Bro, I won't put this in your file, I'm sorry you hate me now." "I don't hate you, Bro! You hate me!" "I don't hate you, ILU, let's be pals again." Honestly, for once, I'm a Data fan in this one.

I was so disappointed in the resonator. Using it on only one person at a time instead of groups or crowds seems monumentally inefficient, though I will say that "empty your mind of violent thoughts" feels really different to me than "think happy thoughts" and I contemplated whether that was something I could do when commanded to with no prior warning. Like, do you think of a beach on Risa, or do you try to go blank--because I could never do the latter. I can't even freaking meditate successfully.

And it's all the more disappointing because I was deeply intrigued by the concept of a separatist movement on Vulcan, of all places. It's a bummer they dropped all of that.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:32 AM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Worf has spent seven years watching Riker in public and private do his thing. That he acted the way he did in these episodes is is inexcusable.

Yeah, part two does come off well in specific parts, but is half baked over all.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:28 AM on October 1, 2021

Look, not to rag on the guy, but immediately upon getting bumped up into the captain's chair, Riker let the crew down by refusing to attend a memorial, took the Enterprise on an admitted mission of revenge, insisted on leading an away team against all protocol and advice, and gets captured after like, what, ten hours in the role? I'm just saying that if you're looking to excoriate Worf for not handling a double field promotion well, maybe "he had Riker as a role model" is not the argument you're looking for.
posted by phooky at 2:09 PM on October 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ronald Moore sure says a lot about how exhausted and out of ideas the writers were. I wonder how much that was really the case and how much was just him being dissatisfied with the franchise.

That being said, I do remember these two episodes as being a little underwhelming. Baran always looked like kind of an irritable drag queen Murphy Brown to me, with the eyeliner and the blond mullet, and I just couldn't take him very seriously as a threat. I also remember thinking that if they were going to cast an NBA star as a big scary Klingon they needed to shoot him so his height was more obvious. They have him standing on a shuttle gangplank so he's higher up than Crusher, but it doesn't really come across that he's seven feet tall or whatever. I haven't seen this episode in years so it may be that I'm forgetting some shots where they do play up his height, but I remember his part as seeming like an obvious cameo from somebody famous I'd never heard of, and when it was pointed out to me that he was an NBA guy I was like, "Really? I never would've guessed."

We saw Robin Curtis speak at a Trek con years after this, and she seemed kind of stoked but also baffled about her strange place in Trek. She told a funny story about how she asked somebody at the show if she might be too recognizable, playing another Vulcan after she played Saavik, and they were like, "Uh... we don't think it'll be a problem." She was like, "Am I really that forgettable?" But with the different personalities and hairstyles and the Romulan forehead ridges, and the fact that you just don't expect Saavik to turn up on TNG, I doubt many people did make the connection. I just looked Curtis up and apparently she's a realtor now. She was fun at the con, telling struggling actor stories, and I hope she gets some more acting gigs one of these days!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

the concept of a separatist movement on Vulcan, of all places. It's a bummer they dropped all of that.

They played with the idea on Enterprise ("Fusion", S1E17). Enterprise encounters a small faction of maverick Vulcans breaking away from the emotional repression routine; bad shit ensues.

I guess it's inevitable, once you've imagined a highly structured, emotionally repressed society, that writers will feel compelled to find a way to crack the individual characters or the entire society one way or another.

Of course "Fusion" would have long preceded the TNG era, chronologically.
posted by zadcat at 6:20 PM on October 1, 2021

Ronald Moore sure says a lot about how exhausted and out of ideas the writers were. I wonder how much that was really the case and how much was just him being dissatisfied with the franchise.

I take RDM at his word on this one. I've read the cast was contracted for eight seasons and were surprised when BermanTrek pulled the plug after only seven. I can buy that they were out of ideas for the show and were itching to cash in on the big screen.
posted by Stuka at 8:15 PM on October 1, 2021

All-in on cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
The Vulcan Stone of Gol in the first set could be a nasty artifact, just a bit slow to earn+play as an event. Neural Servo Device might have worked in the Premiere days to control a crew, it's funny to see the 'EV ENT' typo in the card template. We get most of our 1E pirate crew here, including Baran, and Narik, but more notably Vekor, who as a Science/Medical you could throw in any deck she was invaluable for quite some time. I have a signed one from the actress around somewhere, I think. Koral is pretty buff.

More interesting perhaps is Galen, the first six-skilled personnel usable by non-Federation(and only non-Federation) players. Naturally the first for blue players was regular old JLP. From there, we get gimmicky premium card Tallera, pretty good for Romulan decks.

Second Edition returned to the well for the basic Authenticate Artifacts, a more thematic Stone of Gol, a skill filler Narik, and altogether more useful Koral, Dour Smuggler. Tallera, Covert Isolationist appeared later to support some of those high point missions, while the Tenth Anniversary subset included Arctus Baran, Treasure Seeker
and his ship Fortune, Raider for Hire. Your ships really make the deck in 2E, so for an artifact-focused strategy you could really do worse.
posted by StarkRoads at 1:51 AM on October 2, 2021

I'm just saying that if you're looking to excoriate Worf for not handling a double field promotion well, maybe "he had Riker as a role model" is not the argument you're looking for.

To be fair, Riker has as a role model a captain who, while on leave, takes it upon himself to go sleuthing and snooping for probably dangerous felons, without so much as alerting either Riker or Starfleet (or both) that the highly-decorated captain of the fleet’s flagship is off to play real-life detective/policeman.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:15 AM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

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