Friday, June 5, 2015

The Next Generation 2x12 "The Royale"

rating: ****

Memory Alpha summary

via Tor
Later it would be a fistful.
For now, merely a hatful.
Like "Contagion" before it, "The Royale" is very much Next Generation doing an original series episode (not quite as literally as "The Naked Now," mind you), plunking the crew in the midst of a situation that draws them out of their normal future context into something more familiar.  In this instance, a casino.

Hey, baby needs a new pair of shoes!

Actually, "Royale" is a much, much less convoluted version of "A Piece of the Action."  Both are about books that somehow totally transformed societies.  Not religiously, mind you, just culturally.  "Piece of the Action" made gangsters out of a planet exposed to a book about...gangsters.  "Royale" is an extrapolation of a book an astronaut had with him.  Actually, this is kind of like a holodeck episode.  It's kind of like a lot of episodes, really.  For a change, I will not list every episode it reminds me of.

Suffice it to say, but "Royale" is a fascinating little entry.  It's kind of a humble little experience, but it's also kind of a classic.  No.  Not "kind of."  It is a classic.  It just might be the episode that proves that the second season is not as much of a bust as fans can sometimes suggest, that a huge portion of what the series ultimately became did in fact come from this season.  

Because, wouldn't you know, but "Royale" boils down to a poker episode.  This is an element of the series that had only just been introduced in "The Measure of a Man," and was in fact the last thing anyone saw the crew do in the series finale, "All Good Things..."  It's also a sign that the season had found a winning hand for Riker (who's so important, in fact, that the season finale, the controversial clip show "Shades of Gray," in fact revolves around him), who's perhaps the happiest he is all series when he realizes he gets to play poker in order to resolve the crisis at hand.  I mean seriously! 

Deep Space Nine had a baseball episode ("Take Me Out to the Holosuite") and even a casino caper of its own (Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang"), and the character of Vic Fontaine for a time allowed a PTSD-stressed Nog to find some relief in a fantasy ("It's Only a Paper Moon").  Of course, Reg Barlcay tried that, too ("Hollow Pursuits").  I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't do that.  (Here's another!  Spock allowing Pike a kind of happy ending from the illusions of the Talosians in "The Menagerie.")  And the funny thing is, "Royale" is a story told entirely in hindsight.  The whole thing's a mystery.  By the time we find out what really happened to create the casino, it all makes perfect sense.  The poor astronaut was tortured to death!  By a recreation of a bad novel!

Like I said, fascinating.  And I think it's an episode that has been easy to overlook.  But I've loved it since the first time I saw it.  It's a surprisingly smart story even though it hangs on a lot of elements that don't seem to add up to such a thing.  And it's a wonderful way to find the series coming into its own, even though it seems so easy to dismiss as a nonsense gimmick that should be more appropriate for an earlier time in franchise history.

Well, don't take my word for it.  Take a gamble and watch it for yourself...

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Diana Muldaur
Colm Meaney
Sam Anderson

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