"Gambit, Part One"

Season Seven, Episode 4
Teleplay by Naran Shankar
Story by Chris Hatton and Naren Shankar
Directed by Peter Lauritson
Music by Jay Chattaway
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Capt Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Cmdr Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Richard Lynch as Baran
Robin Curtis as Tallera
Caitlin Brown as Vekor
Cameron Thor as Narik
Alan Altshuld as Yranac
Bruce Gray as Admiral Chekote
Sabrina LeBeauf as Ensign Giusti
Stephen Lee as Bartender
Derek Webster as Lt Sanders

The Enterprise crew investigate the disappearance of Captain Picard, tracing his last known whereabouts to an alien bar and learning that he was vapourised in a phaser fight. Incensed by the Captain's death, Riker gets Starfleet's permission to investigate the shady circumstances that led up to this tragedy. Riker forces a Yridian witness to reveal the next stop of Picard's attackers, a bunch of renegade mercenaries. Amid an ambush, Riker is abducted by the very people and is amazed to find aboard their ship none other than Jean-Luc Picard. Picard, however, is posing as a smuggler named "Galen" and in private explains to Riker that he infiltrated the mercenary ship to discover their nefarious plot. Riker assumes the role of Starfleet black sheep, conning the leader Baran into trusting him. However, when the Enterprise traces the mercenaries to Calder II, Baran orders Riker to destroy his own ship.


So they do still remember how to make an episode half-way entertaining!! Believe it or not, four episodes into the season, Gambit, Part One is the only one that manages to rise above the humdrum of mediocrity. It's not exactly perfect, but it is an engaging, enjoyable romp that more or less kept my interest from start to finish. That's all I ask, really.

The basic plot is more than a little thin, and if you examine it closely you're bound to find problems. For a start, Picard has evidently undergone something of a transformation -- he's now Indiana Jones in space! Gallivanting around like an impetuous one-man police force doesn't strike me as the Captain I know. Kirk perhaps, but not Picard. But the plot is reasonably well constructed and, despite a slightly uneven pace, remains engaging and intriguing throughout. The teaser was fun and a lot of the subsequent reaction to Picard's demise was quite good. 

This is in spite of Jonathan Frakes slipping into his annoyingly phoney "shout 'n' pout" mode and some overacting by Marina Sirtis who let herself get a bit carried away when Troi was shouting at Riker. Still, it's a nice rarity to have a bit of character conflict, even if it never led anywhere. I think Riker needed a good slap in the face with regards to the tirade of revenge he set out on (and shame on Starfleet for letting him go in the first place). It was clear that Riker was acting out of his own hurt instead of thinking about the safety of the ship and crew. His entire manner of conducting himself wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring, and frankly it's little wonder he's not yet made Captain (even by the time of the movie Insurrection). Mind you, I can only stand "shout 'n' pout" Riker in short doses -- and my tolerance was definitely being tested here.

The plot thickens a little when Riker is abducted by the mercenaries that evidently killed Picard. There's a nicely-staged phaser-fight to provide some eye candy, but quite laughable is the absolutely pathetic aim of the villains! I mean, really, one could have gone for a quiet afternoon stroll across the crossfire and not been hit. Their aim was that bad! Anyway, Riker is subsequently taken aboard the mercenary ship where he meets none other than Jean-Luc Picard (yeah, like we really believed he was dead!) posing as a smuggler named Galen. Patrick Stewart is clearly having a lot of fun as he flexes his acting muscles and gets to play a role vastly different to the more cerebral, composed Picard. The mercenary crew are a motley bunch, and although portrayed in rather broad strokes, came across as a lot more colourful than the show's average guest characters. 

Despite refusing to verbalise it, we all know that the "mercenaries" were actually space pirates. I guess Trek considers itself a little too sophisticated to be dealing with "space pirates", but...ooo-aar, me hearties -- shiver me timbers!!! (Sorry, I had to get that out my system!) Richard Lynch, no stranger to playing the bad guy, does a capable job as the leader Baran while other familiar faces among his crew include Caitlin Brown (who appeared in DS9's The Passenger) and Robin Curtis who played Saavik in the third and fourth Star Trek films. Okay, so there ain't a lot of depth to these characters, but they were fun to watch and of the lot the enigmatic Tallera proves the most interesting (and part two will pick up on this).

Occasionally the plot felt somewhat stretched and there's very little meat in terms of characterisation, but this is nevertheless an enjoyable romp. Perhaps a little thin, but fun. Given the recent spate of duds, I'll take fun.

Rating: 7

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