Troi, Riker, Worf, and Crusher are undercover in a seedy alien bar on Dessica II, trying to pry information out of the locals regarding a bald human who passed through recently. Most of the patrons are tight-lipped with the proprietor looming over them, but one Yridian agrees to spill the beans in exchange for a lift out of there. He tells them that the man they want (who was obviously a disguised Picard) got into a bar fight with some dangerous-looking aliens some weeks ago... and was vaporized for his trouble. Troi senses no deception from the witness, and Crusher verifies his DNA at the scene, leaving them with no doubt as to the truth of the story.
Troi starts preparing a memorial for the grieving crew, but Riker is more interested in hunting down the people responsible. Despite concerns over his objectivity, Starfleet Command gives him permission to start an independent investigation into Picard's fate.
His first step is to visit their Yridian guest, who is making full use of the luxuries of the Enterprise. He offers more information in exchange for a shuttlecraft. Riker's counteroffer is to throw him up against the wall and threaten to turn him over to the Klingons, who have multiple warrants out for him. That gets him talking in a hurry. He says Picard's killers were a group of mercenaries who were headed for the Barradas system.
The Enterprise arrives at Barradas III, an uninhabited M-class planet with several ancient alien ruins. Riker leads an away team down to the surface, where they are soon ambushed by the mercenaries. After an extended firefight that leaves Riker stunned, the attackers take him and some artifacts and retreat aboard a ship hidden in orbit. The Enterprise pursues, but the ship's unique stealth design allows it to slip away from their sensors. Data, now in command, considers their options.
Riker awakens aboard the mercenary ship, crewed by a diverse collection of outlaws. Their commander, Baran, introduces himself, along with his favorite toy: a pain-inducing remote neural servo that all of them — Riker now included — wear.
Baran decides Riker might be valuable, despite objections from the crew, one of whom... is Captain Picard, back from the dead. Galen, as he is known to the mercs, pressures Baran to kill Riker, spinning a yarn about his uselessness as a hostage because of his long history of insubordination. The conversation is interrupted by a critical engine malfunction, which their engineer isn't experienced enough to handle. Riker is able to fix it, which endears him somewhat to the crew.
Meanwhile, on Barradas III, the Enterprise crew have been analyzing the artifacts the pirates were after. Data notes that one of them was Romulan and both planets they visited contained ruins built by cultural relatives of the Romulans, but that still doesn't explain what makes them worth killing for. They set a course to the nearest planet containing similar ruins, Caulder II, hoping to find their quarry there.
Riker is given quarters on the mercenary ship. Picard comes to him so they can talk privately. He explains that he was abducted by these thieves (the phaser that "vaporized" him was actually transporting him away), where he convinced them he was a smuggler and made himself valuable with his xenoarchaeologic knowledge. Baran is looking for a very specific Romulan artifact, and it's up to them to find out why. Picard tells Riker to play into the "corrupt officer" persona to get closer to Baran.
As they approach Caulder II, Picard convinces Baran to have Riker talk them past a Federation science outpost there to avoid a fight, but it soon becomes clear that they are stalling. The mercenaries manage to beam a few artifacts from the surface, but the Enterprise arrives before they can finish the job. Riker offers to use his command codes to shut down their shields — except both he and Data know that his codes would be invalidated after his capture. Data, convinced that Riker has an ace up his sleeve, orders Worf to play along by dropping their shields. The mercenaries fire, and hit the Enterprise's starboard nacelle...
...but their phasers have negligible impact. Riker apparently sabotaged their weapons, so the Enterprise feigns damage and returns fire with only enough power to force the enemy ship to disengage.
Tallera, the ship's Romulan crewmember and Baran's right hand, pays Picard a visit as he is analyzing the latest artifacts. She questions him over his illogical behavior, constantly antagonizing Baran when the only thing keeping him alive is his expertise. Speaking of which, one of the new artifacts just returned a positive match for the signature he wants.
Baran is still wary of Riker, but is nevertheless warming up to him after his latest bout of treason. He gives Riker a test of loyalty: make up with Galen, find out who might join him in a mutiny, and kill them. Picard is quite amused when he learns.
Picard has learned that the latest artifact is actually Vulcan, not Romulan, but still doesn't have enough information to know what makes them so special. Their next stop is a rendezvous with a Klingon courier in the Hyralen sector, which the Enterprise also knows thanks to a message Picard hid in Riker's command codes at their last encounter.
Though it seems he didn't hide it well enough. Soon after Riker leaves, Tallera arrives, phaser in hand.
She has deduced that Picard is really from Starfleet, but fortunately for him, she is also an ally of the Federation. She reintroduces herself as T'Paal, an undercover agent of the V'Shar (Vulcan Security). The artifacts Baran has been searching for are part of an ancient Vulcan device, the Stone of Gol, which amplifies Vulcan psionic energy into a lethal weapon. The V'Shar believe a radical group of xenophobic isolationists want to get their hands on it, which T'Paal is bound to prevent at all cost.
The Enterprise arrives first at the Hyralen sector and encounters a small Klingon shuttle. They contrive an excuse to bring it onboard for inspection, but neither it nor its lone pilot are forthcoming about the artifact he is supposedly carrying. When the mercenaries arrive, Riker, Picard, and three others sneak aboard and make their way to the conference room where the courier is being questioned by Troi and Data. They take the artifact, which was hidden on his person. Riker then "betrays" Picard, unsuccessfully, and is "killed" by Picard in return. They leave him behind, believing him to be dead.
Back on the merc ship, Picard uses Riker's betrayal to rally the crew to mutiny. Baran, of course, decides to turn his torture remote Up to Eleven in response, but Picard switched their transponder codes somehow. Baran instead kills himself. Picard destroys the remote as a guarantee that no one else will try to use it, then sets a course to Vulcan where the dropoff for their client is supposed to be.
Picard has learned much about the Stone of Gol from its engravings, but there's still one piece missing. T'Paal doesn't seem very interested in entertaining his theories about the runes' symbolism. He also tells her that he asked Riker to call ahead and make sure the V'Shar know they would be coming. Her troubled reaction makes Picard suspect that she is not who she says she is.
In fact, she is one of the Vulcan extremists who want the ancient weapon, as Riker has already discovered. She exposes Picard to the rest of the crew before he can do anything about it, and unfortunately, they pay no heed to his warnings. T'Paal promises them their payment, which is all they care about.
They take Picard down to the surface as a hostage. The payment and the final piece of the weapon are waiting for them, but the mercs are unhappy with the amount they've been given. When they protest, T'Paal gives them a taste of the now-completed psionic resonator... with fatal results.
Reinforcements arrive from the Enterprise. Picard immediately orders them to stand down and not make any aggressive moves.
T'Paal struggles impotently to kill each of them in turn, but Picard was right on the money. Defeated and defenseless, she and the surviving mercenaries are arrested, and the psionic resonator is destroyed to prevent it from ever being used for violence again.
Tropes provided by "Gambit (Pt 1&2)":
- Absentee Actor: Doctor Crusher doesn't show up for most of either two episodes, despite the apparent requirement for potential bridge qualified officers as a result of all the higher ranked officers going missing, being captured or being off the Enterprise at various points in the episode. In particular, when Data starts to track the mercenary vessel, he still has Worf at his tactical station, so at the very least Data could have used Crusher as a nominal first officer. Although being absent from most of the episode, she does make a brief appearance in the bar at the very beginning, and she conducts the "health inspection" of the Klingon ship in the second half.
- Amplifier Artifact: The Stone of Gol works by amplifying a Vulcan's telepathy into a weapon.
- Apologetic Attacker: Riker apologizes to Worf and Crusher before stunning them.
- Artifact of Doom: The Stone of Gol.
- Big Brother Instinct: While looking for Picard, Riker pretends that his sister (Crusher) was defiled by Picard.
- Blown Across the Room: The completed Stone of Gol dramatically tosses its victims several meters through the air. This appears to be merely a side-effect of its killing power; it wouldn't be enough to cause the instantaneous death we see.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: Data gives an order with "Make it so."
- Call-Back: This isn't the first time that the Enterprise takes a hit to the nacelles, with the crew pretending that they've taken more damage than they actually have.
- Once again, Data take the part of commanding officer quite seriously, showing zero tolerance for insubordination.
- There are call backs & similarities to the episode Chain Of Command:
- When Picard finally shows up midway through the first half of part one, he specifically mentions that Riker was relieved of duty during the incident from that episode.
- Picard was captured & effectively goes undercover on the mercenary ship, thus he is absent from the Enterprise.
- Picard once again suffers the effects of an implanted torture device and is very quick to destroy its remote-control when he gets the chance.
- Riker gets captured by the antagonists just like Picard was.
- During the aforementioned relieving of Riker's duty, Data was made first officer by Captain Jellico. After Picard vanishes, Data is made First Officer by Riker. However, Data didn't switch to the red command uniform, probably because Riker hadn't accepted Picard's death and was assuming that Data would only be a temporary first officer.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Why Picard is upfront about his lack of respect for Baran — as long as his skills are needed, Baran will just have to put up with it.
- Captain Morgan Pose: Now Geordi's doing it, right alongside Riker.
- The Chains of Commanding: Data takes the position of acting captain seriously, even apologizing to Worf when it seems that their friendship has been broken.
- Character Name Alias: Picard uses the alias "Galen", a homage to the surname of his archaeologist mentor from "The Chase".
- Cliffhanger: Baran's ship firing at the Enterprise and hitting a nacelle— which "Cause and Effect" had previously established to lead to the destruction of the ship.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: The pain implants that Baran uses on his crew when they piss him off.
- Distressed Dude: Riker is kidnapped and forced to serve aboard Baran's ship. He finds that Picard is already there as well.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Tallera. She's part of Baran's crew, but tells Picard that she's actually working for Vulcan security. This holds up until Riker learns that the Vulcans have no operatives on Baran's ship, shortly before it's revealed that Tallera is actually working for Vulcan extremists.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Discussed, as the crew believe Picard was vaporized during a Bar Brawl. That's what really seems to aggravate Riker.Riker: The captain died in a bar fight for nothing. Somebody has to answer for that. Then I can mourn.
- Gambit Pileup: Given the title of the episode, this is to be expected. Picard eventually even comments, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave. I have trouble remembering whose side I'm on." Five in progress:
- The artifact raiders trying to assemble a powerful artifact weapon from ancient Vulcan history
- Captain Picard's attempt to find out the nature of the artifact
- Riker's attempts to incite a mutiny (allied with Picard's)
- Acting Captain Data running interference of sorts and "playing along"
- Tallera's extremist sect agenda
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Picard turns Baran's pain gizmo against him while leading The Mutiny.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: This episode features the longest phaser fight depicted in TNG, with over three dozen shots fired. Everyone has abysmal aim; no one is killed aside from an unnamed background character who is ambushed to set off the fight.
- Informed Attribute: For all the talk of it being a legendary weapon, the psychic amplifier doesn't seem all that powerful in practice. Even ignoring its Weaksauce Weakness, it takes several seconds for the amplifier field to build and can only be directed against a single opponent. It probably deserved its reputation in Vulcan antiquity, and it may also have Magikarp Powers we don't get a chance to see (an experienced user might be able to kill more quickly, at greater range, etc.), but a phaser would have been more reliable in Tallera's situation.
- It's a Long Story:Riker: This is gonna take a little time to explain.
- "Just Joking" Justification: "Data, he was just joking. You know that, right?"
- The Main Characters Do Everything: When Riker decides to hop down to the planet to look for the mercenaries that took Picard, acting first officer Data points out that he shouldn't go as his place is on the bridge, and that he would have said the same thing to Picard. Riker ignores him. And gets captured, and is very lucky to escape without his chief engineer or chief of security being hurt in addition to the redshirt that takes a hit. Later on Geordi, Data & Worf go back down to the planet, with Troi also apparently down there with a search team. One wonders who exactly was left up on the Enterprise, which would have been missing its regular Captain & First Officer, Second Officer Data, Chief Engineer Geordi, Chief of Security Worf, and Troi (although she wasn't command qualified yet). Presumably Doctor Crusher who is command qualified would be in the Captain's chair, but she's only briefly in the episode.
- Morality-Guided Attack: The Stone of Gol, an ancient Vulcan weapon which harms its target by reflecting said target's own violent thoughts back at him/her. It can be rendered harmless by clearing your mind of any such negative thoughts, which is exactly what the Vulcans following the teachings of Surak tend to do.
- No-Sell: Picard defeats the psychic amplifier by emptying his mind of violent thoughts. Without those, the weapon has nothing to amplify, rendering it harmless.
- Not Quite Dead: Picard, of course.
- Plot Coupon: The three parts of the Stone of Gol.
- Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Worf is plainly irritated with how Data (now acting captain) proceeds after Riker is kidnapped—even voicing that irritation on the bridge in front of everyone else. The trope is lampshaded after Data has to reprimand Worf and threaten to replace him as acting first officer.Data: Mr. Worf, I am sorry if I have ended our friendship.
Worf: Sir, it is I who has jeopardized our friendship, not you. If you will overlook this incident, I would like to continue to consider you my friend.
Data: I would like that as well.
Worf: Thank you, sir.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Baran actually listens to advice to avoid getting into battles where they would likely be destroyed.
- The Quiet One: The Klingon shuttle pilot rarely says more than one word at a time.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Riker is pissed at the thought of Picard being killed and intends to make whoever was responsible pay.
- Sarcasm-Blind: Played for Laughs in the epilogue when Data, not realizing that Picard was being facetious about putting Riker under arrest for his "crimes" during the episode, stoically drags him to the brig.
- Scotty Time: Baran does this with his underlings (like every other captain), but promises more dire consequences for failure.
- Special Guest: NBA star James Worthy plays Koral, the pilot of the Klingon shuttle in part two.
- Talk to the Fist: Picard decks Baran right before mutinying. He and Riker also punch each other while pretending to be enemies.
- Teleport Gun: Arctus Baran uses special weapons that look like they're vaporizing you, but are actually covering up for you being kidnapped by transporter.
- Weaksauce Weakness: The Stone of Gol can only kill someone if they have violent or aggressive thoughts. The ancient Vulcans dismantled it because, after the teachings of Surak had suppressed their formerly violent emotions, the weapon was now useless. Unless it had some long-range abilities, was able to be used against people the wielder couldn't see, or had some kind of potential area or mass effect on populations, the Stone as shown at the end of the episode isn't any more useful than a hand phaser at close range.
- We Do Not Know Each Other: Picard pretends to be a smuggler who doesn't know and doesn't trust Riker.
- Wham Shot: The Reveal that Picard is alive and on Baran's ship.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Troi loses her cool with Riker and chides him for indulging in his desire to avenge Picard, instead of supporting his grieving crew. Riker insists he is only interested in justice, which Troi accepts, though it's not clear how convinced she is.
- Worf grumbles audibly over some of Data's decisions, which prompts Data to give him a stern lecture for his lack of decorum.Data: Any further objections should be given to me in private, not in front of the crew. I do not recall Commander Riker ever publicly showing irritation with his captain as you did a moment ago.
- With Due Respect: In the above conversation, Worf tells Data that "With all due respect, sir, I have always felt free to voice my opinions even when they differ from those of Captain Picard or Commander Riker." Given that they have a respectful conversation and at the end Worf apologizes for jeopardizing his friendship with Data, it would seem that this is one of those rare times when the statement actually is meant with respect.
- The Worf Barrage: The Stone of Gol, when used against those who have cleared their minds of violent thoughts, does nothing. Even Worf himself is able to stop the effect.
- The Worf Effect: Now he's getting it from Riker.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: The alien bartender estimates Picard to be two meters (6'5") tall. Patrick Stewart, at 5'10", is nowhere near that tall . Even Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker, is "only" 6'4" (1.93 meters) tall, and he towers above Stewart (then again, it may be the bartender who can't do math).
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Discussed, almost by name. Baran plans to kill Picard once they find all the artifacts.Baran: We have only one more artifact to find...and once Galen confirms it's genuine, his usefulness on this ship will come to a very sudden end.