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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Royale

September 6, 2013

Originally aired March 27, 1989. Stardate 42625.4. The Enterprise is in the uncharted Theta 116 system, where there’s debris over some planet that has a temperature that’s actually below absolute zero. Picard is trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Which was actually solved in 1995. Oops. The problem with setting a story in the future, I suppose. (DS9 addressed the matter, as an aside.) Riker beams aboard a piece of the debris, which has a US flag on it, and the old NASA logo, which was actually retired in 1992.

After the credits, there’s a structure detected below. Riker beams down with Data and Worf to check it out. There’s a revolving door. It leads into a casino. As soon as they do, they lose communications. The three of them are greeted into the Hotel Royale. A bellboy asks the guy at the front desk if Rita called, and says he’s not afraid of Mickey D. They ask the clerk what the planet’s called, and he says Earth. Data does a scan, and none of the people have lifesigns.

After a break, Data explains the people are neither man nor machine, and a Texan walks by. The Texan takes a quick liking to Data. The guy’s name is Texas. He’s fun, but mostly because Noble Willingham plays it so sincerely. The three try to leave, but wind up back inside. They try to find another exit, but even phasering the wall doesn’t work.

Break. The bellboy from earlier grabs a gun, and tells the desk clerk he’s going to make Mickey D. leave Rita alone. The Enterprise manages to get through the interference to talk to Riker for a minute. Data detects human DNA. They go up an elevator, and enter a hotel room. They find a dead body. Long, long dead. 283 years dead. Worf finds a spacesuit. Picard gets back through to Riker. They also find a novel – Hotel Royale. Data summarizes it, and it describes what’s happening around them. Riker also reads off a diary entry. The Colonel says an alien presence must have contaminated the ship and killed off the rest of the crew, and recreated the Royale out of a sense of guilt, believing it to be a guide to the world the colonel came from. Unfortunately, he hated the book and was welcoming death.

Break. The phone rings. It was room service. Filler, but oddly entertaining. Picard and Troi read the novel, which starts, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Stewart’s sigh seems very genuine. Data meets back up with Texas. Then Mickey D. shows up to threaten the bellboy. Up on the ship, again, Marina Sirtis seems legitimately amused at the dialogue. Mickey D. shoots the bellboy. Aww, Troi missed the good part. Riker and Picard talk, and Picard mentions the novel ending with three foreign investors buying the place. Riker realizes they’re the investors.

Break. They head to the craps table. Data starts getting awesome. It’s fun. Then they finally manage to leave and get beamed back up.

This episode is . . . OK, it’s actually kinda stupid. The plot is ridiculous, and doesn’t quite reach the level of being ridiculous enough to be fun. The characters are bad cliches, though that actually kinda works as a bit of loving satire. Texas feels like a bit of a repeat of “Sonny” from The Neutral Zone. A Southerner trying to teach Data how to have fun. But he’s also a bit sleazy. As I said, though, Willingham plays it totally straight, which is the only way to make it work.

The unfortunate thing about this episode is that it actually could’ve been really good. The original script, by Mel Tormé, was apparently much more surreal, much more humourous, and with more subtlety and satire. The rewrites, by Maurice Hurley, left it really straightforward and stupid, with only a few bits of satire left in. The premise was actually pretty amusing – the Away team stuck in a bad novel. It’s a great idea. But not a whole lot is really done with those elements. The best parts of the episode are actually those following the plot of the novel, because it’s so cheesy that you can’t help but laugh. But they just didn’t take it far enough. They treat the whole thing too seriously, until Brent Spiner just absolutely nails it at the craps table. Seriously, he makes that scene.

Overall, I’d give this 2/5. It’s stupid, with only a few brief moments of amusing absurdity.

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