TNG: S2E12: “The Royale”

In which NASA’s legacy is found, Paramount had a spare set lying around, and there’s nothing worse than a bad novel.

“Catspaw” was an episode that felt like someone tried and failed to port an unrelated story into the Star Trek universe. By contrast, from what I remember, “The Royale” feels like someone tried and succeeded at doing this. From what I remember. Let’s see if I’m right.

The Enterprise is entering orbit around Beta 116-VIII (which would be the 8th planet in the Beta 116 system. If it had any moons, I’m not sure how we’d designate them. Cuneiform? Cooperation with the Klingons is alive and well apparently, since the Enterprise was directed here by Klingons finding some odd debris in orbit. The planet itself is… uninhabitable isn’t the right word. The atmosphere is toxic, the winds are blowing at around 700 miles per hour (they use meters per second, but I’m establishing a precedent for unit conversion) and the surface temperature is -17.85 Kelvins. That’s right, this planet is below absolute zero. Where’s my vodka?

There are fifty-two stars on that flag. Imagine if NASA was still launching things by the time we have fifty-two states.

There are fifty-two stars on that flag. Imagine if NASA was still launching things by the time we have fifty-two states.

Maybe there was another Celsius who redefined the temperature scale? Just one of the many divergences between the Next Generation timeline and ours. Another is that Picard is puzzling over Fermat’s Last Theorem because in the Star Trek universe it wasn’t proved in 1994 by Andrew Wiles. The theme of the episode will apparently be musing over mysteries, as O’Brien beams aboard a section of hull with some very distinctive markings on it. It is, in fact, the remains of a NASA vehicle. It was launched in the mid-21st century, and it appears that the object was destroyed by something on the same level as current Federation weapons technology.

Is it everything you dreamed it could be?

Is it everything you dreamed it could be?

The weirdness continues – there’s a building down there on the ammonia-tornado-stricken, sub-absolute-zero planet, surrounded by breathable air that apparently has not solidified 9though it is sitting on a plateau of frozen methane. Only one thing to do – beam down an away team without hazmat suits and hope it doesn’t go away. Send Riker, Data, and Worf. And once again, they holster their weapons only to immediately draw them before even looking around. Why holster them you are all terrible at everything. The other odd thing, aside from raging storms not penetrating the mysterious exclusion zone, is a revolving door set into a void. Don’t worry about the fact that the structure it’s part of is completely undetectable. Actually, do worry about it, and report in to the ship. Good Riker. You get a Good Officer Cookie.

Ont he other side of the door is a lively casino filled with people. The landing party actually vanishes from Enterprise communications and vice versa. Picard believes it’s interference of some sort. I prefer ‘pocket dimension,’  but either way it’s a casino full of people in twenties or thirties dress. That’s the 1920s or 1930s, jsut to be clear. They are welcomed by a rather creepy high-foreheaded gentleman to the Casino Royale, and almost immediately, crime drama music and background saxophones start up.

I’m comparing the behavior of the casino inhabitants to what we’ve seen of holodeck characters so far. They’re both on-script, as it were. That is to say, both the hotel clerk and holodeck characters (except Moriarty, of course) are solidly grounded int he narrative to which they belong. The hotel clerk thinks he’s on Earth just like one of the background characters in “Elementary. Dear Data” thought the Arch was ‘dark magic.’ It is not particularly surprising, given this and the general implausibility of the planet, that the people have no lifesigns or DNA structure.

Interestingly, Troi can still sense Riker (and can sense that he is amused) even though the entire away team is still off the sensors. And why wouldn’t he be amused – Data is learning to play Blackjack from a boisterous Texan. Still, since they can’t contact the ship it’s time to leave the casino. They head for the exit, which turns them right around again. They’re trapped. Forever. Dramatic musical sting! Most of the denizens of the casino won’t respond, and Word can’t even blast his way out. This is probably a good thing, given the general atmosphere outside which, lest we forget, is colder than cold is actually allowed to be. No I will not give up on that. Deal with it.

The drama continues to unfold in the background while the hotel staff gives Riker the runaround. Eventually, the Enterprise is able to start punching through the interference due to jargon. This is still not impeding Troi’s empathic sense. Now, this is interesting to me, and I’ll tell you why. Of course I will. Why else are you here?

Machine Telepathy emphatically exists in the Star Trek universe. In “Dagger of the Mind,” the Federation has a device which can reprogram human minds. In “Errand of Mercy,” the Klingons have an interrogation device that can rip information out of humans. And in “The Shizoid Man” Troi herself is able to read Ira Graves’ personality from Data’s positronic brain. What this suggests to me is that telepathy operates on a set of known, quantifiable means that can be read and reproduced by science. The Betazoid brain is capable of picking up on whatever frequency humans and human-like brains (as well as space jellyfish) ‘broadcast’ at from long ranges. These frequencies, however, can’t be electromagnetic, or they would be scattered by the interference the away team is experiencing. (Or the EM bands they occupy aren’t full of interference from the storms, but that would be a remarkable coincidence.) It seems likely that Federation science has discovered a brand new particle, wave, or fundamental force of the universe which some organic brains have been detecting for millions, perhaps even billions of years. Furthermore, the ‘broadcast’ ability can’t be very detrimental to the health of the organism using it or it would probably have been selected out aeons ago for caloric requirements if nothing else. Assuming evolution works in the same way in Star Trek, of course. Biologists, please feel free to correct me.

Anyway, digression aside, Data detects human DNA so they go up the elevator to a hotel room to find it. I find myself once again awed by how they seem to be able to detect these things from dozens of meters away. Data detects DNA but no life signs, and they find a skeleton in the bed, dead from 200 years but not decomposed due to the total lack of other bacteria. Anyone who has watched CSI knows this is bull, but it’s way more pleasant than them finding dried soup in the bed.

Apparently, the 52-star flag on the uniform places the date of launch between 2033 and 2079. So we know the US still exists until at least 2079. This, in turn, means that the US as a political entity survives the Eugenics Wars. Goody. The spacesuit has a name on it, Colonel S. Richey. They also find with his remains a novel “Hotel Royale.” Sounds familiar. Data reads it in the time it takes Picard to walk from Tactical to Communications.

"This is awful, Deanna, but it's still not as bad as that 'Twilight' thing you made me read."

“This is awful, Deanna, but it’s still not as bad as that ‘Twilight’ thing you made me read.”

Apparently, Richey’s ship was contaminated by aliens and the rest of his crew killed. After which, out of guilt, they read “Hotel Royale,” interpreted it as a treatise on daily life, and built the hotel for Richey.  Imagine being stuck in a bad novel for years. I shudder to think. The plan is therefore to see if the book itself offers any clues as to how to get out, as the alternative is cutting open the bubble and letting the atmosphere rush in, and to beam the away team out in the 12 seconds before the toxic gasses and bitter cold-beyond-cold kill them. Picard does not like this book. Nobody likes this book.

They let the novel play out around them, culminating in the gangster character shooting the plucky young bellboy, and walks out the door. Apparently, the only thing left in the novel is that the hotel gets bought out by foreign investors and leaving the assistant manager in charge. What a coincidence, since the assistant manager referred to Riker, Worf, and Data as foreign types, and Data happens to be uniquely suited to winning money at card-based games of chance in eras prior to widespread high-speed computation.

What I mean to say is that he could easily do very well at card-counting, particularly if nobody knows what to look for and especially particularly if security wasn’t written to take someone out and deconstruct their kneecaps. But isntead of blackjack, Data goes for craps. This is a terrible idea, but then again he also appears to be able to crush weighted dice back into shape, and due to writers not understanding how probability works, this puts him on a hot streak to having enough money to buy the hotel. Then again, if they’re taking the role of the investors, the scenario may be built to force them to win. They buy the hotel, walk out, and beam up with evident relief.

As far as who brought Richey to the planet and how? It’s a puzzle that might never be solved, just like Fermat’s theorem.










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