While I understand the mixed reaction that has greeted these pairings (they are, after all, a kind of preemptive double-dip), taken on its own terms “Chain of Command” is far better suited to a special release than “Unification.” Take away Leonard Nimoy’s guest-starring role as Spock and you’re left with a rather dry episode. “Chain of Command,” on the other hand, is a real corker that gets off to a shocking start. The Enterprise is sent into a tizzy as Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is relieved of command, replaced by the folksy but forthright Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox). Picard, Worf (Michael Dorn), and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) are tasked with a covert, special ops mission that hardly anyone seems to know anything about.
The storytelling is nothing short of superb as the reasons behind Picard’s mission are slowly revealed. Without giving too much away, the Cardassians (an alien species; adversaries of the Starfleet) are developing an incredibly powerful (and illegal) biological weapon that can wipe out an entire planet’s ecosystem. Picard and company have been sent into the Cardassian stronghold to put a stop to their progress. After Picard is captured, he’s relentless tortured by a Cardassian named Gul Madred (David Warner). Madred plays O’Brien to Picard’s Winston as Orwellian mind games adapted from 1984 (“How many lights do you see?”) are used to try to break Picard.
As intense (and terrifically acted by Warner and Stewart) as these segments are, there’s plenty of parallel drama unfolding on the Enterprise. Ronny Cox has a field day with Captain Jellico, a leader with a very different style than Picard. The crew is understandably rattled, especially Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes). In one of the episode’s best moments, he and Jellico drop ranks and express their mutual distaste. It’s almost a surprise how compliant the rest of the crew is in light of the apparent abandonment of their missing-in-action former captain. Data (Brent Spiner) quickly adapts to the changes—an understandable and logical development, but a disconcerting reminder of his non-human nature nonetheless. One can’t help but cheer for Riker, who stands alone in being willing to risk his career to stand for what he believes is right.
The high definition transfer is the same one found on the Season Six Blu-ray. Anyone who still hasn’t seen the “new” TNG will be blown away by the cinematic richness of the restored presentation. Both live-action and visual effects sequences look top notch. Occasionally soft images seem to have been inherent in Jonathan West’s original cinematography. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is also the same sterling soundtrack we hear on the Season Six box set. The lossless audio offers quite a mix of directional effects from the various surround channels and is a consistent sonic pleasure.
For anyone who also owns the complete Season Six Blu-ray, the real draw for this release are the exclusive special features. The audio commentary features Trek techies Mike and Denis Okuda, cinematographer Jonathan West, and cast member Ronny Cox. The conversational chat covers all the bases, including story analysis, technical issues, and various anecdotal asides. It must be quite a kick for DPs like West to finally be able to see and discuss their work the way it was intended to be seen. The flat, fuzzy, faded, and altogether uninspiring standard definition transfers of old weren’t even worth commenting on. A half-hour featurette “The Privilege of Rank” does a nice job of encapsulating a lot of what’s heard in the commentary. A generous amount of newly-unearth deleted scenes (around 13 minutes worth between the two parts) is a great treat for fans.