Troi: So you're trying to establish a dominant position by making him wait for you. The trouble with wolves is that sometimes in the fight for dominance, one of them ends up dead.
Jellico: In that case, the trick is to be the wolf that's still standing at the end.
Jean-Luc Picard, Worf, and Beverly Crusher are assigned by Starfleet on a covert mission to seek and destroy a Cardassian biological weapons installation on their border world, Celtris III. In Picard's place, Starfleet assigns Captain Edward Jellico, who has a vastly different style of command and decorum than the Enterprise crew, particularly William Riker, are accustomed to. Under Jellico, the Enterprise patrols the border near Minos Korva, a tactically significant Federation planet, and holds negotiations as to the fate of the planet with Cardassian representatives.
After intensive training in the holodeck, Picard, Worf, and Crusher discreetly arrive on Celtris III and infiltrate the base. However, they find no signs of biological weapons, and suspecting a trap, they attempt to flee. Worf and Crusher escape, but Picard is taken prisoner and brought to Gul Madred, who informs him Celtris III was a trap designed to capture Picard. Gul Madred is already quite familiar with Picard and his service history as a Starfleet officer, and even talks about his deeds with a hint of admiration, calling him the most interesting challenge to walk through his door in years.
Madred uses a number of torture methods, including sensory deprivation, sensory bombardment, forced nakedness, stress positions, dehydration, starvation, physical pain, and cultural humiliation to try to gain knowledge of the Federation's plans for Minos Korva. It quickly becomes clear that Picard legitimately does not know any information that is helpful to the Cardassian, but Madred stubbornly refuses to accept this. Madred attempts another tactic to break Picard's will: he shows his captive four bright lights, and demands that Picard answer that there are five, inflicting intense pain on Picard if he does not agree.
Meanwhile, the Cardassians inform the Enterprise crew that Picard has been captured. Jellico refuses to acknowledge that Picard was on a Starfleet mission, an admission necessary for Picard to receive the rights of a prisoner of war rather than being subjected to torture as a terrorist; this leads to a heated argument between Jellico and Riker upon which Jellico relieves Riker of duty. The crew observes signs of residue from a nearby nebula on the hull of a Cardassian ship, and Jellico suspects a Cardassian fleet may attempt to use the cover of the nebula to launch an attack on Minos Korva. Jellico determines their best course of action is to place mines across the nebula using a shuttlecraft. However, Riker is the most qualified pilot for the mission. Riker candidly criticizes Jellico's command style and only accepts the assignment once Jellico personally asks him to pilot the shuttle instead of ordering him to do so. Riker successfully lays the minefield, and Jellico uses the threat of the minefield to force the Cardassians to disarm and retreat, also demanding Picard's return.
With word of the failure of the Cardassians to secure Minos Korva, Madred attempts one last ploy to break Picard, by falsely claiming that Cardassia has taken the planet and the Enterprise was destroyed in the battle. He offers Picard a choice: to remain in captivity for the rest of his life or live in comfort on Cardassia by admitting he sees five lights. As Picard momentarily considers the offer, a Cardassian officer interrupts the process and informs Madred that Picard must be returned now. As Picard is freed from his bonds and about to be taken away, he turns to Madred and defiantly shouts, "There are four lights!" Picard is returned to the Federation and reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise. Picard admits privately to Deanna Troi that he was saved just in the nick of time, as by that point he was broken enough to be willing to say anything to make the torture stop, and for a brief moment he actually did see five lights.
Tropes featured in "Chain of Command":
- 2 + Torture = 5: "How many lights do you see?" There are four, but the "correct" answer is "five".
- Ace Pilot: Riker is the best pilot on the Enterprise (this assessment from Geordi La Forge, who used to be the ship's helmsman).
- Aggressive Negotiations: With the help of a few magnetic mines, Jellico finally takes the dominant position in negotiations.
- Agony Beam: The implant Madred uses to torture Picard amounts to this.
- Alien Lunch: Invoked by Gul Madred. He serves Picard a raw Taspar egg as an attempt at degrading him. Although clearly disgusted, Picard, starving after days of torture, eats it.
- All There in the Manual: Madred's name is never spoken onscreen. It's only shown in the credits.
- Apologetic Attacker: Madred apologizes to Picard the first time he activates the pain device, claiming that he doesn't enjoy using it. Yeah, right.
- Audience Surrogate: Worf is this on the shuttle while Picard and Crusher explain how metagenic weapons work.
- Beneath the Mask: Jellico makes a big show of storming out of negotiations with the Cardassians, then makes a number of predictions and orders to his support staff about what to do next. The nonplussed Riker says that at least Jellico is confident that his actions are correct, but Troi soberly reveals that he's not at all.
- Berserk Button: Picard manages to press two of Madred's during the torture sessions, first by challenging his belief in the benefits of the military control of Cardassia, and later, by seeing through Madred's justifications to see him for what he really is: a scared boy taking his pain out on others.
- Bittersweet Ending: The ending begins on a victorious note, as Picard is released from captivity and is even able to make one final gesture of defiance at Madred as he leaves. However, Picard ends up privately telling Troi that had his torture continued any longer, he would have given in and said anything to end the pain. Worst of all, he admits that — for a brief moment — he actually could see five lights.
- Blatant Lies:
- Gul Lemec claims that Picard, Crusher, and Worf attacked a Cardassian outpost and killed 55 people unprovoked. He clearly doesn't expect Riker and Jellico to believe it but uses the so-called war crime as a bargaining chip.
- Madred claims, at first, that a message has been sent to a neutral planet when Picard requests a representative. He later admits to the lie; when Picard again requests a neutral representative, Madred coldly tells him "there is no such person".
- Just before using the torture implant for the first time, Madred tells Picard "I don't enjoy this".
- In a final bid to break him, Madred tells Picard that the Enterprise has been destroyed and that Picard is doomed to remain at Madred's mercy unless he gives in to the torture. The truth is that the Cardassians' plans have fallen apart and Madred is being forced to return Picard to the Federation.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Riker feels that Jellico's expectations are unreasonable and damaging to the crew's morale. Jellico believes it is more important to have the ship at peak efficiency before confronting the Cardassians, and that the crew should suck it up and do their jobs. Maybe his demands would have given them the winning edge if it came to battle, or maybe the crew would have been too burned out to fight. We'll never know.
- Break the Badass: Madred recognized Picard as a competent officer and wanted to break his will. In reality, Madred couldn't care less what Picard knew or didn't know. For him it was all about proving that he could break the strong-willed human mentally.
- The Bully: Madred was a victim of them in his youth, and as an adult, this is what he's become: a sadist inflicting pain on helpless victims to try and forget that he was once a helpless victim himself.
- Captain's Log: Recorded by Jellico instead of Picard because he is the new captain.
- Catchphrase: Jellico says "Get it done" after giving orders. This is a deliberate contrast to Picard's usual "Make it so", as Picard is often deciding on a course of action suggested by a subordinate.
- Characterization Marches On: Even so late in TNG's run, this still pops up with the Ferengi. When we first see Solok, he's offering to send "three large Ferengi" to act as debt collectors for a client. Their future appearances in the franchise would almost always have them hiring members of more physically intimidating races — usually Nausicaans or Klingons — to act as thugs or bodyguards.
- Character Tic: Jellico has a way of swooping around as he walks with his shoulders forward. It shows his brisk, determined personality in contrast to the more sedate and thoughtful Picard.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Electric shocks, mind games, starvation etc.
- Control Freak: While not an evil man, Jellico is a strict martinet with no patience for criticism or delays in the fulfillment of his orders.
- Custom Uniform of Sexy: Defied. Jellico asks Troi to wear a standard uniform, which she does for the first time since "Encounter at Farpoint".
- Dark and Troubled Past: Gul Madred grew up on the streets, once badly beaten up when he found some aforementioned Taspar eggs. Picard, however, calls him out on it because of how he became a torture technician.
- Defiant to the End: Deconstructed with Picard's famous "There are four lights!" rebuttal to Gul Madred. After being tortured for days on end Picard is at his wit's end, mentally and physically drained of all his power to resist, let alone move, and Madred tries one last time to get him to yield by giving him an ultimatum: Relent and you will be given all the comforts Cardassia can give you, or continue resisting and your unbearable torture will continue. Just as Picard is about to give his answer, Cardassian guards come in to retrieve Picard, telling Madred that their superiors made a deal with the Federation for his release, but just before leaving Picard defiantly says that he sees four lights to rub it in Madred's face that he was not broken by the torture. The deconstruction comes when Picard discusses the torture with Troi in private and tells her that not only he would have said there were five lights if the guards had not arrived then, he would have said and done anything to make the pain stop, and worse yet; he was so much at his wit's end he actually for a moment saw five lights instead of four. The moral of this is to show that torture is so dehumanizing and brutal that it can break any man's will if inflicted long enough, even seemingly superhuman examples of moral virtue like Picard.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Picard is disturbed that Madred's daughter casually visits him while Madred tortures Picard. Madred defends the practice, saying that Cardassian children are raised to believe that the enemies of the state deserve whatever fate befalls them, which curtails into a lot of justifications and cultural posturing on Madred's part.Picard: I am surprised that... you let her come in here.
Picard: To expose a child to... this... to someone who is suffering, to see that it... it is you who inflict that suffering...
Madred: From the time Jil Orra could crawl, she's been taught about the enemies of the Cardassians, and that enemies deserve their fates.
Picard: When children learn to devalue others, they can devalue anyone. Including their parents.
Madred: What a blind, narrow view you have. What an arrogant man you are.
- Double Speak: Admiral Nechayev, the Obstructive Bureaucrat, when she's briefing Data, Riker and Troi.Riker: Are the Cardassians ready for a war?Nechayev: I didn't say war, Commander, I said incursion.
- En Route Sum-Up: Picard explains the mission to Worf and Crusher after they've left the Enterprise. It's Justified as a security precaution.
- Establishing Character Moment: Jellico arrives on the ship having memorized the ship's layout and senior staff. He briskly rattles off a serious of sweeping changes and then boards the turbo lift before Riker can even react. His commanding style is exemplified in one scene.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
- "Evil" may be pushing it, but Jellico's decoration of the ready room includes drawings made by his young son.
- Gul Madred is briefly visited by his young daughter as he's interrogating Picard. Madred's prisoner asks him what she must think of her father's work, to which Madred retorts that she's told her daddy is doing it for her sake and all of Cardassia.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Lemec expected Gul Madred to have Picard clean and ready to return to the Federation when they came to retrieve him, but find him making one last effort to break Picard's will. Lemec isn't pleased with this.
- Evil Is Petty: Despite all of his rhetoric and courtesies, Madred proves to be a deeply petty man; after Picard challenges his beliefs about the Cardassian way of life, Madred slaps him in the face rather than respond to the argument. Later, when Picard manages to get under his skin, Madred continues and intensifies the torture out of nothing but spite. In the end, when he has to return Picard to the Federation, Madred just takes one last opportunity to try to break him. His motive for torturing Picard in the first place is pettier still; it quickly becomes clear that Picard doesn't have the information Madred was ordered to get, but Madred drags out the torture anyway for the sake of his own ego, wanting to prove that his will is stronger than Picard's.
- Faux Affably Evil: Madred tries to present himself to Picard as a noble man forced to perform an ugly duty, but Picard realizes too well that Madred enjoys making others suffer in his position.
- Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Madred defends his actions by invoking his Dark and Troubled Past. Picard retorts that Madred is simply a sadist using his past to cover up the fact that he enjoys making people suffer.
- Gaslighting: "There are five lights! How many do you see now?" Then there's his lie that Crusher was also a prisoner when she escaped.
- Gilded Cage: At the end, Madred lies to Picard that the Enterprise has been destroyed, so nobody is coming to rescue him. Further, Picard's best hope at this point is to be assigned to a relatively comfortable prison to live out his days rather than face execution or a Hellhole Prison, he just has to convince Madred that he truly believes there really are five lights.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: A diplomatic variant — while negotiating with Lemec, Riker and Troi are the good cops while Jellico is the bad cop.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: Jellico and Lemec compete to see who's the bigger "Ass" in Ambassador.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: In contrast to Picard, who is A Father to His Men, Jellico is businesslike and authoritarian, which inspires no loyalty or trust from his men. However, everything he does has a valid and ethical reason behind it. He also covers his office with pictures of his young son, showing that there's a soft spot beneath the hard exterior.
- Jerkass Has a Point: The senior staff resent Jellico's command style, but his judgments are all perfectly sound.
- When Riker requests a rescue mission to recover Picard, Jellico turns him down, correctly pointing out that such a mission has no chance of success. Jellico is actually uncharacteristically gentle with Riker at first, only reverting to his harsher tone when Riker presses the issue.
- Riker is disgusted that Jellico is willing to risk Picard's life in his negotiations with Gul Lemec, but as Jellico points out, giving in to the Cardassians' demands, or even showing a willingness to, is not an option. Admitting Picard was on a secret mission to infiltrate Cardassia would be a disaster, both diplomatically and militarily.
- Karma Houdini: Gul Madred is left completely unpunished for his actions.
- Lured into a Trap: One tailor-made for Picard because the Cassardians want information that they think he has.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: Why else would Starfleet send three senior officers (two of whom are middle-aged and one of whom is a medical doctor) on a guerrilla raid instead of a team of Space Marines?
- Military Coup: It's revealed that the Cardassian government is a fairly new military regime that took power through a coup.
- Named After Somebody Famous: John Jellicoe was a British admiral who pulled off his own "Picard maneuver" (no, not the uniform tug) against a German fleet during the Battle of Jutland, using some impressive tactics to save his fleet from an impossible situation, as this episode's Jellico did.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Subverted—Crusher and Worf are forced to flee after Picard is captured.
- Not So Different: According to Picard, the Cardassians were once known as a peaceful and spiritual people. While he doesn't explicitly make the comparison, this description also fits the Bajorans, especially before the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.
- Playing Pictionary: Troi and Jellico looking at a picture drawn by Jellico's son.Jellico: It's an elephant...[rotates it 90 degrees] I think.
Troi: Definitely an elephant.
- Publicly Discussing the Secret: Jellico and Picard discuss Picard's secret mission in the open after the transfer ceremony. They do however keep their voices down to a whisper, and it is only in front of the senior officers.
- No Sense of Distance: Apparently, Picard, Crusher, and Worf brought enough rope to rappel half a kilometer.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "THERE! ARE!...FOUR! LIGHTS!"
- Race Name Basis: Madred says that he'll only address Picard as "Human", telling him that he has no other identity.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: The Picard torture subplot is 1984 IN SPACE!
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Picard dishes one out to Madred after hearing of his experiences as a child, cutting through all of the Cardassian's justifications for his cruelty and seeing him for the scared, helpless boy he used to be. It triggers a Villainous Breakdown for Madred, and an extended bout of torture for Picard, but it's an impressive turning of the tables for however long it lasts.Picard: Must be rewarding to you to... to repay others for all those years of misery.
Madred: What do you mean?
Picard: Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control. One wonders that it's still practiced.
Madred: I fail to see where this analysis is leading.
Picard: Whenever I... look at you now, I won't see a powerful Cardassian warrior, I will see a six-year-old boy who is powerless to protect himself.
Madred: Be quiet!
Picard: In spite of all you have done to me, I find you a pitiable man.
Madred: Picard, stop it, or I will turn this on and leave you in agony all night.
Picard: Haha, you called me "Picard"!
Madred: What are the defense plans for Minos Korva?
Picard: There are four lights!
Madred: [triggers the Agony Beam] There are five lights! How many do you see now?
Picard: [sobbing through the pain] You are six years old! Weak and helpless! You cannot hurt me!
- Riker and Jellico give one to each other, largely based around I Don't Like You and You Don't Like Me.Jellico: Let's drop the ranks for a moment. I don't like you. I think you're insubordinate, arrogant, willful, and I don't think you're a particularly good First Officer.Riker: Well, now that the ranks are dropped, Captain, I don't like you, either. You are arrogant and closed-minded. You need to control everything and everyone. You don't provide an atmosphere of trust, and you don't inspire these people to go out of their way for you. You've got everyone wound up so tight, there's no joy in anything. I don't think you're a particularly good Captain.note
- Picard dishes one out to Madred after hearing of his experiences as a child, cutting through all of the Cardassian's justifications for his cruelty and seeing him for the scared, helpless boy he used to be. It triggers a Villainous Breakdown for Madred, and an extended bout of torture for Picard, but it's an impressive turning of the tables for however long it lasts.
- Sadist: Beneath his cultural interests and affectation of courtesy, this is what Gul Madred boils down to: a cruel man taking out his own troubled childhood on those who are now at his mercy.
- Shameful Strip: Madred does this to Picard to further denigrate him.
- Shame If Something Happened: Lemec not-so-subtly letting on that he knows about the secret mission.
- Shout-Out: In 1984 a torturer asks how many fingers he's holding up, while trying to make his victim see five, when he's holding up four.Winston Smith: Freedom is the ability to say that two plus two equals four.
- Shown Their Work: With the exception of the pain-inducing implant, all the torture practices Madred uses on Picard, including feigning a shared interest and threatening one of his friends, are taken directly from Amnesty International archives. Patrick Stewart, who is a strong supporter of Amnesty International, was pleased by this, as he studied psychological profiles for torture victims.
- Smug Snake: Gul Lemec gets a massive grin on his face the minute he has some weight to throw around in his negotiations with Jellico. It disappears in a hurry when Lemec loses the advantage.
- Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: Geordi and Jellico mention doing the "Titan's Turn": a risky move done by shuttle pilots doing the Jovian Run between Jupiter and Saturn where they would accelerate towards Titan and then graze the atmosphere before turning sharply around the limb of the moon. It's implied to be illegal as the pilot's next action would be to pray that nobody saw them.
- Stock Footage: The matte painting depicting Torman V is a reuse of the Moab IV painting from "The Masterpiece Society".
- Sudden School Uniform: Jellico comes down hard on a number of the Enterprise crew, but one of the most immediately visible is his insistence that Deanna wear her duty uniform from now on, after six seasons of her alternating between different types of casual outfit.
- Survival Mantra:Picard: You are six years old! Weak and helpless! You cannot hurt me!
- Sympathy for the Devil: Picard to Madred, though it ties into his survival mantra.Picard: In spite of all you've done to me, I find you a pitiable man!
- Think of the Children!: Picard and Madred get into an argument over this due to Culture Clash. This starts a running theme in Deep Space Nine where "the children" is used to excuse various Cardassian atrocities.Picard: Her belly may be full, but her spirit will be empty.
- Torture Chamber Episode: The Cardassians put Picard in one involving Unwilling Suspension, lots of darkness, and little food.
- Torture Is Ineffective: Picard tells Gul Madred that torture has historically been an ineffective way of obtaining information, and in this case it also helped that he didn't know the specific information they wanted (Federation defense plans for a disputed planet). However, at the end of the episode, Picard confesses to Troi that he had indeed been broken by the end of his imprisonment: only being informed of his freedom at the last second brought him back to his senses long enough to shout defiance at his captor. Of course, there is also the fact that for Madred, the whole thing quickly stopped being about getting information, and became entirely about his own pride. By the end, Madred's real goal was to prove that he was stronger than Picard and could break his will.
- Torture Technician: Gul Madred has the knowledge and experience to break people mentally. He uses real tactics here. By the end, the whole situation stops being about information extraction, and just becomes about Madred wanting to prove how good a technician he is by breaking Picard.
- Truth Serum: Madred uses some on Picard during his first interrogation. It fails to reveal any information regarding the Federation's defense plans for Minos Korva, but this is because Picard actually doesn't know anything about the subject.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: How the main crew, particularly Riker, sees Jellico, because he is far more strict, controlling, and abrasive than Picard.
- Villain Ball: Gul Madred is too easily goaded for an experienced torturer.
- Villainous Breakdown: When Picard refuses to answer how many lights he sees, Madred physically strikes Picard and addressed him as such after previously declaring he'd only be referred to as "Human". Madred also notably completely loses his cool briefly, when him and Picard discusses his daughter, and Picard remarks that "Her belly may be full, but her spirit will be empty."
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: In a debate with Picard, Madred paints the Cardassian military as this, using their warmongering and (implicitly) atrocities like the Bajoran occupation as a means of providing for their people. Picard argues that the ends don't justify the means, and gets a backhand to the face and another round of torture for it.Madred: What do you know of Cardassian history?
Picard: I know that once, you were a peaceful people, with a rich spiritual life.
Madred: And what did peace and spirituality get us? People starved by the millions. Bodies went unburied, disease was rampant, the suffering was unimaginable.
Picard: Since the military took over, hundreds of thousands more have died.
Madred: But we are feeding the people. We acquired territory during the wars. We developed new resources. We initiated a rebuilding program. We have mandated agricultural programs. That... is what the military has done for Cardassia. And because of that, my daughter will never worry about going hungry.
Picard: Her belly may be full, but her spirit will be empty.
[Madred slaps Picard in the face]
- Wham Line: In one of the shortest teasers of the franchise, Admiral Nechayev comes into Picard's ready room, and suddenly and bluntly states that he's being relieved of command of the Enterprise.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Apparently, Worf hates bats.
- The Worf Effect: The Trope Namer gets shot (not fatally), but not before taking out at least one Cardassian.
- You Do Not Want To Know: When Riker barely dodges a Cardassian ship in the nebula:Geordi: Do I want to know how close that was?