the story: Picard is tortured for information by a sadistic Cardassian.
similar to: "Balance of Terror" (original series), "The Die is Cast" (Deep Space Nine), "Kir'Shara" (Enterprise)
my thoughts: Well, ask any fan, and they'll tell you all about how this episode is a classic. David Warner, a repeated guest presence in the franchise, is in his finest role as the Cardassian torturer Gul Madred, who matches wits with Picard in a way no other character could. In its own way, "Chain of Command, Part 2" is Next Generation's version of the Kirk/Khan showdown from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I'll put it another way: "There are four lights!" Those are Picard's defiant final words to Madred, uttered in a hoarse voice, which he later retracts, actually, in a humbling conversation with Troi, admitting he was on the verge of breaking. Like Data shooting at Kivas Fajo in "The Most Toys," it's the moment fans have to keep in mind when they struggle to reconcile the Picard of Star Trek: First Contact with the more composed Picard to be found virtually in every other adventure. This is a man of deep passion and conviction, who under ordinary circumstances ("Sarek" is another example) is in scrupulous control of himself. That's what this episode is all about, seeing how far that really goes. It's the ultimate test of the character. At times he's recklessly defiant (goading Madred about allowing his daughter to see him at work), and at others, almost mocking (jabbing Madred about the helpless little boy the Cardassian once was), but make no mistake, this is Picard stretched to capacity. It's absolutely riveting, of course.
The whole thing is a game of chess, including Captain Jellico's second go in command of the Enterprise, as Next Generation produces its ultimate Cardassian episode, paving the way for the brilliant Deep Space Nine material that would follow. In a way, it's the "Balance of Terror" of the series, in the way the Romulans proved to be nuanced adversaries in the original series, Madred's torture inadvertently giving Picard, and the audience, a glimpse into Cardassian culture, which turns out to be more rich than we'd seen from any other Star Trek alien species.
It'd be wrong to assume this experience couldn't be duplicated, in some ways just as brilliantly, because Garak torturing Odo ("The Die is Cast," Deep Space Nine) and Shran torturing Soval ("Kir'Shara," Enterprise) are equally impactful moments in franchise lore, if less well-known. It's just, when you give Patrick Stewart a chance to shine, it's hard to be as memorable. Everyone expects Stewart to be brilliant, but he has so few moments where he really has material he can sink his teeth into. If nothing else, "Chain of Command, Part 2" is one such moment.
I think that's easy to agree with.
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)
Ronny Cox (Jellico)
David Warner (Gul Madred)