The Importance of Leadership: “Chain of Command pt. 1”

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Chain of Command, Part One

While I realize that I’d perhaps mentioned plans to move into a DS9 rewatch after finishing the coverage for Star Trek: Picard, I have decided to finish reviewing the highlights (and low-lights) of the last two seasons of Star Trek: the Next Generation because I still need a little Jean-Luc Picard in my life. To that end, I’m delving into ”Chain of Command Part 1,” which is a set up for one of the most iconic sequences in all of Star Trek, but while I am excited to get into the meat of next week’s episode, there’s some really great elements in the first half as well that get somewhat short shrift.

Plot Ahoy

The Enterprise encounters the Cairo for a rendezvous with Cairo passenger Vice Admiral Alynna Necheyev, but interestingly, Necheyev meets only with Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, and Data to inform them that command of the Enterprise will be turned over to Captain Edward Jellico in order for him to negotiate a stand down for the three divisions of ground troops the Cardassians have mobilized following their withdrawal from the Bajoran sector. Because Jellico negotiated part of the original treaty, Necheyev feels that he is best suited to negotiate with them again. She also informs the three officers that Dr. Crusher and Worf have been reassigned as well. Meanwhile, on the holodeck, we see Picard, Crusher, and Worf, clad all in black, running through TNG’s signature fake rock caves. Picard has evidently been timing them, and he is displeased with their progress.

Jellico arrives on the ship and proceeds to demonstrate not only that he has the crew bios and ship layouts memorized but also that he has very real plans to shake up the ship’s operation-style. His abrupt manner clearly throws Riker off his game, despite his surprise that Jellico wants to institute a four shift rotation to replace the three shift rotation under Captain Picard. Jellico also wants to set the Enterprise to a more war-time footing, meaning that he replaces science stations with weapons stations on the bridge and wants 15% more efficiency out of the engines and a complete overhaul of the warp coil. Geordi LaForge protests that he’d need more time than he’s given to perform that tasks, and Data informs him that Jellico’s requests are achievable. Jellico simply tells everyone to “Get it done.”

Troi attempts to reason with Jellico in her capacity as ship’s counselor, pointing out that his actions have created a bit of a morale crisis on the Enterprise. Jellico thanks her for bringing the matter to his attention and charges her with taking care of it. He also mentions that he prefers more formality on his bridge and requests that she wear a standard uniform while on duty. Nonplussed, Troi leaves the ready room.

They old the official change-of-command ceremony, transferring Picard’s authority to Jellico, and afterward, smarting from a sharp dressing down, Riker visits Picard to ask him to plead with Jellico to stop running quite as roughshod over the crew as he has been. Picard agrees and tries to convince Jellico that his crew functions perfectly well and that he should trust them. Jellico, particularly unimpressed with Riker’s performance, reminds Picard that he is the ship’s captain.

The Enterprise makes its rendezvous with the Reklar, and Jellico has its commander, Gul Lemec, cool his heels for over an hour as a tactic to establish dominance. Then, he takes Troi and Riker with him to the meeting, incensing Lemec, so Jellico leaves. He then instructs Troi and Riker to tell Lemec that they convinced him to reconsider and to allow Lemec two assistants at the negotiation table. Meanwhile, Picard, Crusher, and Worf have departed on the shuttle Feynman. Picard explains that their mission is to find and destroy any possible metagenic or biological weapons on a secret Cardassian facility located on Celtris III, a planet in Cardassian space. To get there, they book passage on a Ferengi vessel after the most awkward seduction ever to grace the small screen. Once there, they discover that they’ve fallen into a Cardassian trap. Crusher and Worf escape, but the Cardassians capture Picard and take him to Gul Madred, who casually informs him that the entire Celtris III lab rumor was a cleverly orchestrated trap to acquire Picard.

On the Enterprise, negotiations open anew, and Lemec surprises Jellico by wondering whatever could possibly have happened to Picard. He mentions that it would be a terrible thing were something untoward to happen to Picard. Jellico reaches out to Necheyev, and everyone shares a sinking feeling.

So, that happened…

“Chain of Command” began life as a precursor episode to the launch of DS9. This episode aired on December 14, 1992, and “Emissary Part 1” first aired on January 2, 1993. The production team wrote the episode to inform viewers that the Cardassians had withdrawn from Bajoran space, leading into Federation leadership over the station. Originally intended to be a one-shot, Michael Piller suggested stretching the episode out into a two-parter with the second half primarily focusing on Madred torturing Picard as a budget-saving measure. Thus, “Chain of Command part one” feels artificially padded, and that padding mostly occurs during the Damon Solok sequence. Having Crusher, wearing a truly horrific dress, engage in oo-mox to convince Solok to offer them passage on his ship, doesn’t work at all and comes off less as clever and more awkward than anything else. The segments on Celtris III aren’t terrible so much as they are unremarkable. Worf gets a brief moment to demonstrate his competence as a breacher, after some ostensibly witty repartee with Dr. Crusher regarding fears of bats and heights, but ultimately, the entire point of the sequence is to have Picard captured.

Jellico, ably played by Ronny Cox, really is the most interesting part of this episode. The episode forces us as viewers to feel off-kilter by keeping us as in the dark about the duration of Jellico’s tenure as captain of the Enterprise as it does the rest of the crew. LaForge informs us that Starfleet typically does not bother with the change-of-command ceremony where the assignment is temporary, and we sympathize with Riker, who’s on the receiving end of most of Jellico’s displeasure, for trying to cushion the pain of transition for his crew as much as possible. At twelve, when I initially saw the episode, I was convinced that Jellico was the epitome of a terrible captain and possibly a terrible person. Now, in my late thirties, I don’t necessarily believe he was a terrible captain, though he’s certainly not pleasant.

Jellico is a polarizing character in Star Trek fandom, with fans breaking largely into two camps—those that consider him a necessary breath of fresh air and those who believe him to be an irredeemable ass. Keith DeCandido believes both assessments to be accurate. I don’t agree with the latter, though I can get behind the former. “Chain of Command” occurs roughly halfway through season six, and while seasons five and six feature some really fantastic episodes, the series begins to feel stale at this point. The quality of the show takes a steep dive in season seven, and what Jellico’s brief appearance does is shake up the dynamic both for the characters but also for the show’s atmosphere.

As far as his command goes, Jellico’s suggestions are largely good ones. When Jellico tells LaForge to increase engine efficiency, his only reply is that his engines currently operate within acceptable parameters. It’s a weak protest, and Data calmly calls him on it. Jellico, furthermore, makes no secret of his dislike of Riker’s more lenient command style, and he rightly expects Riker to follow his orders. That is, after all, how a chain of command actually works. Having Troi put on a uniform is a great move, both because Jellico acknowledges her as an officer with real responsibilities onboard but also because from this episode forward, Troi will no longer wear costumes with ridiculously plunging necklines. She, like every other officer, will dress as a Starfleet officer. Sirtis herself approved of the change. While Jellico may not be a nice or as friendly as Picard, he’s clearly a solid commander.

The breakdown occurs, largely, with the crew whose protests mostly fall into the same category as LaForge’s—everything is fine, why fix something that isn’t broken? The answer, of course, is that as captain, Jellico is well within his authority to issue orders and have them obeyed. Jellico has no responsibility to ease the crew into his changes, though doing so would perhaps create a more cordial working environment. However, he doesn’t care about easing into a new command precisely because he worries that, in the event his negotiations fail, he’ll find himself in a combat situation. His log entry demonstrates that his entire goal is to get the ship as ready as he can for precisely that eventuality, and to him, the crew, lacking all knowledge about the secret mission to Celtris III and the potential for conflict, inappropriately drags their feet in effectuating those preparations. Jellico also adopts an air of confidence to keep the crew from realizing the extent of the danger despite his own concerns. Troi tells Riker that Jellico isn’t as confident as he appears, which subtly hints that Jellico is doing the best he can under less than ideal circumstances.

The Cardassians in this episode are simply fantastic villains. John Durbin’s Gul Lemec also proves to be a fantastic character, if a bit of a sleeper highlight in this episode. Lemec gets very little screentime, but the grin he gives Jellico when he oh-so-casually speculates as to Picard’s fate is quite possibly the most quintessential Cardassian expression not to appear on Marc Alaimo’s face. David Warner’s Gul Madred still inspires dread when he cuts away Picard’s uniform. When he informs Picard that he will have no personhood, twelve-year-old me was terrified. Thirty-eight-year-old me, while not terrified, certainly experienced a few goosebumps because Warner’s performance is just that good.

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:

  1. Jellico demands that Livingston be removed, and while in the episode, doing so seems to reinforce that this is no longer Picard’s Enterprise that was actually a move to placate Patrick Stewart who felt that Picard keeping a captive animal was inappropriate to the series’ ethos.
  2. I love the fact that Jellico has a small child and displayed his artwork in the ready room. That’s a great humanizing touch.

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