the story: Tensions rise between the Federation and the Cardassian Empire, leading to a covert assignment for Picard and a new captain for the Enterprise.
similar to: "The Search" (Deep Space Nine)
my thoughts: Talk about ending the first half of the season with a bang...It's almost as if the sixth season didn't really matter to the producers until "Chain of Command," which features the kind of slam-bang impactful storytelling that typified the series at its very best, the Cardassian version of the grand Klingon saga that shaped so many of the best moments from Next Generation.
This first half is best known for the introduction of Captain Jellico, whereas the second half, which I will discuss separately, for the torture of Captain Picard. These are equally significant developments in the story, and for the series.
Adjusting to a different style of command is as difficult for Riker as was the presence of Shelby in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1." Jellico makes the early, stiff Picard seem like a wimp. He immediately sets about one of the most-needed revisions of the series: putting Troi in a regulation Starfleet uniform. Fans tend to overlook, when criticizing the form-fitting outfits of Seven and T'Pol in Voyager and Enterprise, respectively, that Troi's cleavage was easily the most provocative element of the franchise (outside of all the skimpy clothes guest characters tended to wear on alien worlds). It also didn't serve much of a narrative purpose except to single her out as a different kind of officer. yet she was, first and foremost, a Starfleet officer, like anyone else, so it was high time she looked the part, too. It was all part of the maturing of Troi's presence in the series, which seemed like a project for the whole season (see also: "Face of the Enemy").
Jellico sticks out more than Shelby because he rankles not just Riker, but the whole crew. He proves how warm a presence Picard has become over the years, and what a difference it makes when someone else is in charge. It's also the old Star Trek trick of finding interpersonal conflict when, technically, this is the bright happy future where we all get along, which dates back to the original series. Besides Jellico, there's also the debut of the quintessential "bad admiral" Nechayev, who would make a few more appearances in the franchise.
So "Chain of Command, Part 1" is a status marker for the whole series, right when the franchise was about to expand to include another (Deep Space Nine). And a darn good one.
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)
David Warner (Gul Madred)
Natalia Nogulich (Admiral Nechayev)
Ronny Cox (Jellico)