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Picard plays an 'Escape the Room' game - the first of a double bill of the Captain's solo missions
Picard is reading a book while giving an exposition dump when he is suddenly kidnapped by a miniature 2001 space monolith. He wakes up in a small set with some random aliens. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew are panicking about strange energy readings in the Captain’s quarters, and when they arrive there they find his doppelganger. Wonder how long it will take to work that out... most of the episode, probably.
Picard gets to hang out in a prison with a Bolean cadet, an arrogant Mizarian, and a belligerent Chalnoth. It sounds like the set up for a terrible joke, but no, it’s just the set up for a so-so episode. More interesting than the mystery in the jail cell is just how much carnage fake Picard can cause on the Enterprise-D before the crew suspect him. Dropping in on the poker game is one thing, flirting with Dr Crusher is quite another, but when he bursts into song in Ten Forward the jig is well and truly up.
Imprisoned Picard solves the mystery using the ol’ ‘information you shouldn’t have’ trick, and reveals the alien captors, who were experimenting on other species in order to learn about leadership, which is a concept their culture lacks. Quite how they managed to implement such an elaborate scheme without leaders - let alone decide to do so! - is never quite resolved.
Yes, we’re still recovering from the massive overspend that was “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, so we get yet another bottle show like “The Offspring” to save on costs. Some well made-up guest stars and one tiny minimalist set is all we get to work with, and when I say ‘tiny’, I mean it - take a look!
Michael Piller suggests that this story was motivated by putting some meat on the bones of Picard's character:
We wanted to come up with some real fun for both Patrick the actor and Jean-Luc the character, so we came up with this idea. It might have been two ideas put into one. One was Picard gets stuck in a no-exit situation, and a false Picard takes his place on the Enterprise. I loved the stuff on the Enterprise, wonderful character stuff and Patrick was wonderful. I thought it was a good, solid show and immediately following that was “Captain's Holiday”, which, again, was borne out of the fact that we wanted to give the captain some characterization.
I find it interesting that the Enterprise-D is rendezvousing with the USS Hood in this episode. You may recall that the Hood brought Riker to the Enterprise in “Encounter at Farpoint, Part One”, and we already had a call back to the Hood this season when it was going to back up the Enterprise in the Romulan Neutral Zone for “The Defector”. Astonishingly, the Hood is going to be mentioned again in “Tin Man”, in just two weeks time. What is it about the Hood that makes it turn up again and again this season? I doubt anyone has an answer for this one.
As a bottle show, this episode is all about the roles, and perhaps the best aspect of the episode is that we get to mix things up with the regular crew by throwing in Picard’s doppelganger. This must also have been fun for Patrick Stewart, as few actors can resist an ‘evil twin’ opportunity, even if this one isn’t exactly evil, not even malicious, just rather quirkily messed up. It’s fun that they give Gates McFadden a scene with the fake Picard, and it’s a great moment when she finally yields to his advances only to be kicked out into the corridor.
The guest stars are an interesting bunch. First up, we meet Joycelyn O’Brien’s Bolean cadet, Mitena Haro. I’m afraid I don't get on very well with O’Brien's performance here, and her career is largely a dozen TV movies, this role, and a guest spot on Quantum Leap.
Reiner Schöne’s Esoqq has brilliant make-up, and is suitably threatening in the role, but the performance doesn't really go anywhere unfortunately.
Schöne had a very lengthy career both in US television and in German TV. As well as TNG, you may have seen him crop up in MacGyver, Babylon 5, and Sliders - not to mention Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, where he played Shinnok. He actually makes a brilliant villain when given the chance, but I do feel the make-up rather obscures his capacity to deliver here.
My absolutely favourite aspect of the episode, though, is Stephen Markle’s Kova Tholl, who is brilliantly annoying throughout, and provides a great deal of entertainment by being so.
His longest lasting role was as Lt Ted Loomis in the soap opera The Edge of Night during 1982, close to the end of its nearly thirty year run. You also might have seen him as Flynn in the Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion USA. I think it’s fair to say that his performance in this episode might be considered a career highlight!
I also note that the two aliens revealed at the end of the story are, weirdly, twin brothers - Jerry and Jeff Rector. Why twins? I have absolutely no idea. I guess the idea is that if you’re all really similar, you can’t appoint leaders. Even this feels like something of a stretch.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
The monolith in the opening sequence is pretty distinctive and sets up the sense of mystery rather well.
But this one’s a triumph for the make-up department all the way, with some great alien designs, as the pictures above make clear. But I also want to share something very special for any DS9 fans. That outfit that Esoqq is wearing…? It will go on to be the redressed as the costume for that loveable barfly at Quarks, Morn.
We’ll get to see Morn in TNG in season six, wearing this very same (modified) outfit. For now, however, drink in the make-up, and relax into the warm nonsense that is the plot of this moderately charming cost-saving episode.
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