In which the universe turns upside-down.
We open with Picard stoned and answering questions under the effects of serum. This is a little fascinating, actually. The Cardassians clearly have an aggressive counter-intelligence network, as evidenced by the trap that got Picard here in the first place. But they either don’t have or don’t use the machine telepathy devices that the Federation has had access to for decades and which the Romulans have had access to for at least a few years. The Cardassians have a very different feel to their espionage network than the Romulans do, but it’s kind of hard to characterize.
Anyway, Gul Madred is asking the same battery of questions over and over again, and increasing the dosage each time Picard answers ‘I don’t know’ to a question about Federation defenses around Minos Korva even though he’s already given up secrets about his team members.
Back aboard the Enterprise, Jellico is being told that Picard, Worf, and Crusher attacked the Cardassian world and killed fifty-five or so civilians. Gul Lemec is having a field day. Somewhat panicked, Jellico dispatches Will in a shuttle to the emergency rendesvous point, which both gets someone in place to pick up Crusher and Worf and also deprives the Enterprise of the only person with the sack to remind Jellico of what an enormous ass he’s made of himself so far.
Picard is in no position to make demands, but does so anyway, demanding a neutral representative from Madred as required under their treaty. Madred does Affiable Evil so very well, releasing Picard’s restraints and engaging him in a discussion about archaeology. The turn, because there has to be a turn, is that the local tombs were raided to pay for the Cardassian war effort, and provides the carrot – Picard offers the Federation defense strategy and receives… ‘civilized justice.’ Or he can continue his insistence that he doesn’t know, and get asked the most ominous question that can be asked in situations like this.
“Are you in good health? Do you have any physical ailments I should know about?”
The Babylon 5 episode “Intersections in Real Time” also does this sequence amazingly well and in a very different style. One gets the sense that Madred enjoys himself a bit, and honestly if you can’t take a little joy in your work what’s the point. The B5 episode is just as, or perhaps more powerful, by making the interrogator just a Guy Doing His Job. Malevolence or banality, which is really scarier? Probably whichever one is holding the knife to your neck at any given moment. They strip Picard down and suspend him by his manacles from the ceiling.
Riker brings back Crusher and Worf and demands permission to start planning a rescue mission, but Jellico, of course, refuses. Jellico is not accustomed to working with the crew of the Enterprise. You bring someone back from being a Borg, you don’t give up on them so easily.
I’m not sure whether the mark on Picard’s chest is a bruise from his durance or a reference to his artificial heart, but it’s a nice touch. Oh, nope, it’s a pain implant. And thus begins the infamous Lights question. Madred lights up four lamps and insists that there are five, and starts torturing Picard every time he insists that there are four.
Jellico is in a tight spot. The terms of the treaty would cover Picard if he were a prisoner of war. He’s only a prisoner of war if his mission was officially sanctioned by the Federation. Without that sanction, he’s a terrorist or a spy and not covered by the conventions. The alternative is letting the Cardassians win their territory game. The post-meeting shouting match leaves Riker relieved of duty. Red doesn’t work for Data.
Data does figure out that the trap was specifically tailored for Picard. Hazard of information theory – if your bait can only catch one type of prey, it can be inferred that you need that specific prey. His access codes are all changed, so the draw must be something that can’t change on a forward basis. As is standard, one conversation with Data and Geordi is sufficient to see the broad shape of the opposition and begin devising a plan.
With Picard nearly passed out in a corner, Madred helps his daughter feed her ferret, and they casually discuss him. Madred teaches his daughter that human parents don’t love their children because they’re different. It’s one of many delightfully insidious moments in this whole episode. It also shows us that torture, even the torture of an alien, isn’t considered too harsh for a small child. Cardassian children, or at least Madred’s daughter, is taught that the Enemies of Cardassia deserve whatever they get. Daddy is a hero, saving Cardassia one remote-controlled Agonizer at a time.
We also get a little Cardassian history – they used to be peaceful, and there were mass famines and plagues. Then the Military took over, and now people die but not of starvation – their expansion onto other worlds is feeding the Cardassian people. This probably makes my top list of ‘things we infer from Star Trek from one scene rather than having to read a history textbook.’ Famines and plagues are egalitarian deaths. Even someone like the daughter of a high-ranking and valuable member of the ruling class can die of starvation and disease. But military casualties… those you can pick and choose. When Madred says “my daughter will never worry about going hungry,’ that is the truth behind the statement.
Also, pro tip, Madred. When you start justifying your type of government to your prisoner in an interrogation room and then slap them out of anger, it means you are losing. There’s no shame in losing to Picard, though. When asked how many lights there are, Picard is riding high enough to ask “what lights?” This earns him more pain. I hope it was worth it.
Some specific hull damage on the Cardassian ship lets Geordi deduce that the Cardassians are interested in Minas Korva, and they set course and warp away from the negotiations. Presumably the negotiations can’t get much worse than they are now.
Madred releases Picard. He’s just given up, and opens the door for Jean-Luc. The parting shot is that they’ll just torture Beverly to death instead. He was saving her until Madred was done interrogating Picard. We know this is lies, but Picard does not, and sits back down in the chair of his own free will.
Madred seems to be rewarding Picard for sticking around, although that ‘reward’ is a really disgusting-looking egg. This is not the first time Picard has eaten live food, though. Madred regales Picard with stories of growing up as an urchin on the streets, which gives Picard another option to get some digs in. Despite the inevitable pain, Picard is delivering more lasting wounds to Madred than Madred is delivering to Picard. So, uh, way to go, I guess. When your brain just dies from cortisol overdose, I guess take comfort that Madred will never really be able to enjoy his job again?
Jellico and Geordi discuss their plan for dealing with the Cardassian threat near Minas Korva. In the Academy, there’s something known as Titan’s Turn – hard acceleration toward Titan followed by a brief kiss on the atmosphere and hard about. The result is a slingshot that moves the craft at .7 C without a Warp field. In case you were wondering, that means that the craft experiences approximately 1.4 days per observer day. Geordi states he can pull this off in the nebula, but Riker’s the correct man for the job. Now we’ll see if Riker learned to make peace with stubborn old men from that time he and his dad played Starfleet Gladiator.
Not really, as it turns out. At least he waited until Jellico ‘dropped the ranks’ and initiated hostilities before explaining just what makes him such a terrible officer. Geordi and Riker deploy the mines with no significant trouble, and, having mined the Cardassian ships and demonstrated that fact, Jellico dictates terms – The Cardassians will leave, eject their phaser coils, and slink home with their tails between their legs, and return Picard to the Federation.
Picard does not yet have this information. All he knows is that Madred left him alone with the remote, and that sadly the remote is ruggedized. Madred informs Picard that the Enterprise is destroyed and their invasion was successful, and that Picard’s only choice is to live in the interrogation chamber or in relative comfort. All he has to do is admit there are five lights. Two over his left shoulder, and two over his right shoulder in almost every shot of the lamps.
When Gul Lemek arrives to tell Picard that he’s being released and Picard screams that there are four lights, this is not a moment of triumph. Triumph would have been if he’d rejected Madred’s offer before. But as Picard resumes his command of the Enterprise and sends Jellico back to the Cairo, and as he passes the watch to Riker so he can confide in Troi, he tells us that in the end, he was about to break. And we can understand that, surely. Even though the first duty of a Starfleet officer is to the truth, we could understand Picard selling out just that little bit to stop the torture. But Picard admits that he thought he saw five lights.
In that moment, Picard was broken. Two plus two makes five.