How the "Chain of Command, Part II" Star Episode is still relevant 30 years later

31 December 2022
"Chain of Command, Part II" is the 11th episode of the sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It first aired in the United States on December 17, 1992. The episode is considered a classic for its portrayal of the psychological abuse of prisoners of war and its exploration of the limits of human endurance.

In the episode, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is captured by the Cardassians, an alien race with whom the Federation is in a state of war. He is taken to a secret prison where he is subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture in an attempt to extract information from him. 

The Cardassians are particularly interested in Picard's knowledge of a secret mission that he had undertaken before his capture.

One of the most memorable scenes in the episode is when Picard is brought before his interrogator, Gul Madred. Madred tries to break Picard's will by forcing him to deny reality. He repeatedly shows Picard four lights and insists that there are five, and demands that Picard agree with him. When Picard refuses, Madred increases the intensity of his torture.

chain of command star trek

This scene is considered a classic because it highlights the psychological abuse that prisoners of war can experience. The use of physical and psychological torture to extract information from prisoners is a real-world issue that has been documented throughout history. The scene in "Chain of Command, Part II" shows how difficult it can be for prisoners to resist such tactics, and how important it is for them to maintain their own sense of reality and truth.

Throughout the episode, Picard remains steadfast in his refusal to give in to his captors' demands. He endures physical and psychological pain, but never compromises his own sense of morality or integrity. This makes him a heroic figure who stands up for what is right in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Sir Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard has spoken about the "Chain of Command" two-parter and its impact on him personally. 

In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he stated that the episode was one of the most challenging of his career, particularly the scene in which he is tortured by Gul Madred. He described the experience of filming the episode as "grueling" and "exhausting," but also noted that he was proud of the final result and the impact that it had on audiences.

Stewart has also spoken about the episode's political themes and their relevance to contemporary issues.

In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, he said that the episode was "an extraordinary reflection of the world in which we live," particularly in terms of the use of torture and the erosion of civil liberties. He noted that the episode had become even more relevant in the years since it was first aired, and that it had inspired him to become more politically active in his personal life.

The audience reaction to "Chain of Command, Part II" was generally positive, with many viewers and critics praising the episode for its powerful exploration of the psychological abuse of prisoners of war.

In the years since the episode was first aired, it has been the subject of much discussion and analysis in both academic and popular circles. It has been cited as an example of the ways in which science fiction can be used to explore important social and political issues, and has been compared to real-world cases of torture and prisoner abuse.

For example, in a 2004 article for The New Yorker, journalist Seymour M. Hersh drew comparisons between the use of torture by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the tactics used by Gul Madred in "Chain of Command, Part II." Hersh noted that the episode had been cited by military and intelligence officials as a possible inspiration for the use of torture in the post-9/11 era.

Similarly, in a 2014 article for The Atlantic, writer Conor Friedersdorf argued that the episode was a prescient commentary on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by the US government in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Friedersdorf noted that the episode had anticipated many of the ethical and legal debates that would emerge in the years following the attacks, and that it had helped to raise awareness of the dangers of torture and prisoner abuse.

Overall, the audience reaction to "Chain of Command, Part II" has been overwhelmingly positive, with the episode continuing to be remembered and discussed as a powerful exploration of the human cost of war and the importance of maintaining one's own sense of morality and integrity in the face of adversity.

the lights in chain of command star trek

 "Chain of Command, Part II" Trivia

  • The episode was written by Ronald D. Moore, who would go on to become one of the most prominent writers and producers in the Star Trek franchise (and ultimately making himself a name for Battle Star Galactica). Moore has cited "Chain of Command" as one of his favorite episodes that he worked on during his time with the franchise.
  • The scenes in which Captain Picard is tortured by Gul Madred were inspired by the real-life experiences of prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. The writers and producers of the episode consulted with former POWs to ensure that the portrayal of torture was realistic and respectful.
  • The role of Gul Madred was played by David Warner, who had previously appeared in several other Star Trek episodes as different characters. Warner is also known for his roles in films such as "Tron," "Time After Time," and "Titanic."
  • The episode features a cameo appearance by Star Trek creater Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Roddenberry appears as a holographic image in a scene in which Picard is reviewing mission orders.
  • The episode was originally intended to be a one-hour special, but was expanded into a two-parter due to the complexity of the story and the importance of the themes being explored.
  • The episode won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Editing for a Series. It was also nominated for several other Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Editing for a Series - Single Camera Production.
  • The episode's title, "Chain of Command," is a reference to the military hierarchy in which Picard and his crew operate. It is also a play on words, referring to both the command structure of the Enterprise and the psychological manipulation used by Gul Madred to break Picard's spirit.
In conclusion, "Chain of Command, Part II" is a classic episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that explores the issue of psychological abuse of prisoners of war. 

The scene in which Picard is forced to deny reality is a powerful portrayal of the tactics used by interrogators to break prisoners' wills. Picard's refusal to give in to his captors' demands makes him a heroic figure who represents the best of humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity. 

The episode continues to be remembered and discussed as a thought-provoking exploration of the limits of human endurance and the importance of maintaining one's own sense of morality and integrity.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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