Plot Synopsis: The Enterprise investigates the wreckage of a 21st century Earth spaceship orbiting a distant planet and the appearance of a casino with inhabitants based on a paperback novel.
Plot A and B Analysis: A serviceable teaser here. The Klingons were passing by a planet and discovered shards of a ship of some kind in the atmosphere, then for some strange reason decided to report it to the Federation. The crew investigates and beams aboard a fragment of it for analysis, only to discover the word NASA and an American Flag on it. Plot A concerns the away team and the Royale; I suppose you could call the efforts of the Enterprise crew to get the away team back a plot B, but I’m not sure it qualifies. A building materializes on the planet for no reason and an away team beams down to investigate. They enter to find themselves in a casino, and after a short stay they try to leave, but are unable to! Dun-dun-dunnn! Later on we find the remains of an astronaut from about 300 years ago and learn the rest of the story. You don’t get bored waiting for the plot to resolve itself, and there are some amusing segments in this mostly light-hearted episode, but you’re not exactly on the edge of your seat either.
Favorite Scenes: There are a couple of funny scenes in this one. The first is when they meet the assistant manager, and later on when Data starts gambling it’s pretty enjoyable. Not much else.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard doesn’t have much to do except talk about Fermat’s Theorem, then pace and look pensive. Riker is used quite a bit in this episode, and he comes across pretty well. He’s decisive, most of his decisions are correct, and he figures out how to resolve the plot. Data is used about as much and he’s his usual likable self, particularly when he starts to gamble. This is one of the first episodes where you can see more “emotion” from Data than usual, and it won’t be hard to spot. Worf is on the away team but again he doesn’t really do much–that’s alright, at least he’s going on away teams this season. Troi is in this episode but you’d never know it, she has about five lines. Geordi is used a bit, and LeVar gives a typical likable performance. Wes works with Geordi here but the writers are still not wanting to use him, he doesn’t do much at all. Pulaski does the least of all, she’s in a total of one scene which is just fine with me. Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien is starting to appear on a frequent basis on the show, evidence that the producers like him. Sam Anderson as the assistant manager does a good job here in his role, and Noble Willingham as Texas gives a fully authentic performance that is nice to see.
Blu Ray Version: The planet is beautiful, and that’s because it’s a re-use of Angel One and Minos from Arsenal of Freedom. There is very little grain in this episode, thank goodness. If you take a close look at the 00:46 mark when the screen is listing Atmospheric Composition you’ll see Yurium and Keimium, yet another reference to Dirty Pair. Also keep an eye out at 5:34 for a “Kei Yuri Factor” on the bottom left as well. At 24:54 when Riker is examining the uniform patch, it’s been corrected for Blu Ray to read Charybdis instead of the old Apollo XVII patch.
Nitpicks: There is absolutely no reason for Geordi to be on the bridge in the teaser. This could just as well have been accomplished by Data at Ops. The writers and producers are still trying to figure out how to use him as Chief Engineer this season. He later claims the temp of the planet is -291 C, which is actually below absolute zero, kind of impossible! Right after they enter the Royale Data suggests they leave since they have no communications with the Enterprise. It’s the right decision, echoing Picard’s decision to try to beam them up, and Riker should be experienced enough to recognize that just because circumstances look innocuous doesn’t mean they are. Instead he opts to stay.
Overall Impression: When I was 13 I liked this episode better. As an adult it seems to have lost a lot of its charm, the only exception being the scenes with Data gambling which are still fairly fun. This episode seems to encapsulate what most of season two was about: episodes that were average at the time and don’t really hold up well years later. The plot isn’t particularly compelling, and after seeing it once you don’t really have a strong desire to ever see it again. It would have been nice to learn something about who the aliens actually were, and we never do get an answer as to why the Royale still existed long after the reason for its existence has been dead. Oh well. I rate this episode 2 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: There’s a story behind this episode as well. The Royale was Tracy Tormé’s baby, the same guy that wrote the excellent The Big Goodbye. It’s one of the two scripts that got him the job on TNG, but the head writer re-wrote it so much Tormé used a pseudonym in protest, “Keith Mills,” which is the name that appears in the episode. I’ll share Tormé’s words on it here:
I’ve completely disowned the piece. I suppose skeletally it’s my story, but when I started to read the rewrite, I got ten pages through it and I got sort of a cold chill and had to put it down. An interesting thing is that the cast, the crew and even secretaries went out of their way to tell me how much they liked my draft, and they asked me in a totally puzzled manner, what on Earth had happened and why we had changed it. All I could do was shrug. Of course this is all my opinion, and you’d probably hear something different from the other side…I felt like a lot of the comedy was taken out. A lot of the surrealism was taken out. I feel that it’s very heavy-handed now, and it’s gone from being a strange episode to being a stupid episode.
It’s because of this episode that Tormé stopped being a staff member and was demoted to “creative consultant.” It’s unfortunate because the guy’s a gifted writer. He’ll contribute to only one more episode, Manhunt, before leaving completely.
It may interest the reader to know that Fermat’s last theorem was solved in 1995. Picard’s line “curiouser and curiouser” is a reference to the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For you DS9 fans, Jill Jacobsen (who played the socialite ditz) in this episode will resurface in an episode on that series. If you recognize Noble Willingham you must be a Walker, Texas Ranger fan, because he starred on that show as well as appearing in others going all the way back to Bonanza.
Missable/Unmissable? Really pretty missable, there’s not anything special here. Luckily the next episode is worth watching.