In which baby needs a new pair of shoes.
Memory Alpha says: The Enterprise investigates the wreckage of a 21st century Earth spaceship orbiting a distant planet and the appearance of a casino with inhabitants based on a paperback novel. (Please click the Memory Alpha link for detailed information.)
I think it’s safe to say that ‘The Royale’ is one of the strangest episodes of Star Trek. Apparently the original script was even more surrealistic, but that was roped back in rewrites (upsetting Tracy Tormé, who was quite proud of how weird it was). I know some people dislike it because it’s so ridiculous, but if you’ve been reading so far I imagine you have some inkling of my response. I have a tendency to like things that are weird for weirdness’ sake (although I will eventually get cross if hints of deeper meaning are not paid off in a satisfying way, as with Lost; if you don’t have a really awesome deeper meaning planned from the start, DON’T HINT), and to enjoy it when Star Trek interacts with past space exploration efforts, and besides ‘The Royale With Cheese’ features Data looking adorable in a cowboy hat, so I’m not really in the mood to make thoughtful, intellectually robust criticisms.
- So they’re going to have a look at this planet because some passing Klingons saw some junk. I’m not sure why this is a Thing, other than general Federation nosiness, minding everyone’s business. I suppose they may reason that the debris could indicate there are castaways nearby in need of help, which is nice of them. Or the Klingons were just making an ‘Enterprise=garbage scow’ joke that nobody on the D got.
- of course Picard is looking at a French maths mystery. In 1995 some dork had to spoil this episode by coming up with a proof for Fermat’s theorem. Some dialogue was written into a DS9 episode to get around this, implying that the 1995 proof simply didn’t meet Picard’s standards. On the other hand, by the 1990s Earth was also supposed to be embroiled in a Eugenics War (not that Voyager was prepared to acknowledge it), so I don’t think there’s any need to be too terribly precise about this. We’re just privileged to see how space exploration turned out in the Star Trek universe.
- Hallo O’Brien! I like how in these early episodes he has a very particular posture when standing at the transporter controls, with his head tilted just so, such that almost any establishing shot of O’Brien at the console is hard to distinguish from any other. Actually, do I like that or have I merely noticed it without having any particular feelings about it? Do I just like seeing O’Brien? Probably.
- The BGM wants us to be really, really weirded out by the chunk of NASA vessel hull that Riker and O’Brien hold up. It is a very cool image, two men in Starfleet uniform holding a bit of the contemporary space program. Not that there’s much of a space program any more. Stupid USA, don’t you know your existence is only justified to the extent that you do interesting things nobody else has the resources to do? I said interesting things. Confiscate all the money George Lucas uses to make increasingly bad new-format revisions of Star Wars and build more moon rockets.
- I… probably shouldn’t be looking at this or commenting on it, but I suspect O’Brien of stuffing a sock down the front of his onesie today.
- Look at Data standing with his hands clasped nicely to recite.
- doop de doop Wesley has checked in for the week; he will contribute nothing
- hahahahaha oh this is so gloriously dorky and cheaply strange-looking. That revolving door in the middle of darkness is a lovely image. So in they go!
- Wow, it sounds like people have LOUD FUN at the Royale. I have trouble seeing casinos as fun or elegant places. At the SkyCity casino here in Auckland, the staff wear flea-collars around their ankles to discourage the fleas that infest the carpets from biting them. The management won’t close the place down long enough for a full fumigation. I know the existence of a shitty casino doesn’t rule out the existence of pleasant casinos any more than the existence of a shitty zoo rules out the existence of a well-kept one, but dude. Flea-collars.
- And here’s… Bernard from Lost, whose name I never learn despite him showing up in all sorts of things. He has a nice creepy Twilight Zone demeanour here, all we’ve been expecting you.
- Yes, I think ‘a trio of foreign gentlemen’ covers it quite nicely.
- HA I love the SAXOPHONE OF EMOTION that accompanies the bellboy’s entrance to ask about Rita and MICKEY D. Were people not calling McDonald’s that yet, or was Tormé being deliberately weird? And the SAXOPHONE OF EMOTION cuts right out as the bellboy leaves. It’s great.
- They get a room key each and some complimentary chips. Data examines his with great interest. (Do they get a room each, or are they sharing?)
- It’s interesting how Bernard functions much like a holodeck NPC who will take things like three grown men in matching onesies, guys with porcelain skin and golden eyes, and Klingon foreheads in his stride as long as they don’t require him to depart from a certain script. I know he’s only a simulation, but it would be so interesting to know how such an AI perceives such characteristics and deals with them.
- They’re not alive? Then what are they? GHOSTS! Why, so far, have none of them said ‘It’s like our holodeck’? Surely that would be a comparison they would think of pretty quickly, especially as the holodeck is shiny new technology and everyone loves to play with it?
- ‘Man, you sound just like my ex-wife.’ Your ex-wife was given to claiming you lacked DNA? An unusual spousal complaint.
- Riker is smirking. He… likes rude Texans?
- DATA GETS A HAT. AND HE GETS TO PLAY A NEW CARD GAME. AND THIS HAPPENS.
(The frizzy-haired woman’s impressed whistle is quite absurd. Data’s little eyebrow-flirt even more so. I don’t think her name is ever spoken in the episode but apparently she’s Vanessa.)
- DATA IN HIS HAT IS JUST SO ADORABLE. WHY COULDN’T A HAT BE PART OF STARFLEET UNIFORM?
- Interesting exchange:
RIKER: Having fun, Data?
DATA: Fun, sir? While there is a certain amount of enjoyment involved, I am mainly conducting research into –
RIKER: Save it. We’re getting out of here.
There is a certain amount of enjoyment involved – Data, by his own account, is actively enjoying what he is doing. Not that Riker actually cares – either about Data’s fun or whether he’s found anything out. He hasn’t. But he could have – Riker doesn’t know.
- Awwww, you could have let him keep the hat. Or he could have won it off you!
- Technobabble with Picard, Geordi and a silent, touch-typing Wesley. It is dull.
- Revolving door comedy.
- Strangely, Data cannot get attention from little old ladies – presumably because they are only programmed to gamble, not as interactive NPCs.
- I like how both Data and Riker go around asking about an alternative exit, while Worf goes looking for one, moving furniture in the process. Oh come on, Worf, why use a phaser when you could kick it in?
- Does Deanna have this detailed a read on Riker’s changing feelings planetside because they have a close relationship? Is this yet another example of the writers changing the actual extent and nature of her powers for narrative convenience?
- There is an incredible level of background detail, particularly fashion-wise, in the Royale. You should, of course, see what Fashion It So had to say about it.
- LOOK OUT HE’S GOT A GUN. I love the bellboy’s magical effect on the BGM. It’s as if he can summon an unseen band.
- Back on the Enterprise, it’s boring, Picard and Deanna are worried and confused.
- Worf cannot conceive of a lift that is not turbo. It takes Data, the guy who was confused by a standard lamp going out when he pulled its plug out of the wall, to push the call button.
- Seeing Riker, Data and Worf in a hotel corridor just reinforces my impression of how much the corridors of the Enterprise tend to look like they’re in a hotel. Particularly that place at the end of a T-junction where there are a couple of chairs, a coffee table, a painting on the wall and a potted plant.
- DEAD SKELLINGTON
- Excellent exchange: Riker: Looks like the poor devil died in his sleep. Worf: What a terrible way to die.
- I don’t know, his decomposition looks pretty advanced to me – his bones are showing. If he looked more intact but desiccated, the line and the visuals might work better together.
- Another glorious visual: a spacesuit in a hotel wardrobe. If there were fifty-two United States of America ‘between 2033 and 2079 AD,’ I wonder what the extra two were? I also wonder why the hell the line about the dates was given to Riker. It wouldn’t seem odd at all for Data to know the exact dates of different periods of the United States’ membership (Datas gonna date) but it’s a peculiar thing for a mere human being to know off the top of his head. Riker doesn’t even need to pause to remember!
- Worf has located the Gideon Bible and the Hotel Royale – which Data proceeds to read by flicking through its pages. It would have made a great strange, otherworldly moment if they had opened the Bible to find it was blank inside or just had vague scribbly approximations of print, because the aliens who made this might have found a description of a Gideon Bible in the novel (not that most people would bother to describe a Gideon Bible when writing about a hotel room, they’ve become such a given) but wouldn’t know what its text should be like.
- For that matter, the visual execution of this episode seems slightly wrong to me because it is too detailed and accurate. In most novels, there are all sorts of things about the setting that the writer doesn’t describe directly or explicitly because readers are expected to know enough about such locations to fill in the background from their imaginations. This is part of why older novels become harder to read, because those background details are less and less familiar, readers are conscious that they’re missing something, and it interferes with their enjoyment. Guidebooks like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew become necessary. The environment of the Royale should be full of areas that are blurry, smoothed-off to disguise uncertainties, drawers that don’t open, carpets that just blend into the bottoms of walls, people who appear normal at a distance but display a disturbing lack of realistic detail when examined closely. Perhaps effects like this were described in Tormé’s original teleplay and were written out?
- If Colonel Richey’s ship was the Charybdis, did it have a sister ship called Scylla?
- God, what a grim fate Richey faced. On the other hand, why did he wait thirty-eight years before writing anything down about it? Based on this episode, I would say that every astronaut heading into space should take care to keep with them at all times a copy of a novel whose world they wouldn’t mind living in. Just in case. I think mine would be Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, although I’d have to have it on a Kindle or something because the book is gloriously fat and heavy. Some books could be used to swat insects; I think Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell would be sufficient to swat a mouse.
- I also think it’s a shame that somebody brought the Hotel Royale along on a mission beyond the solar system, when they could so easily have brought Casino Royale.
- Actually, given the length and purpose of the mission, to get beyond the solar system, wouldn’t it make sense for the astronauts to have brought along a lot more books than just one novel? Unless they did as I suggested and brought their books on a Kindle or other electronic device, which the aliens couldn’t figure out how to read, and there was only one paper book on board.
- Lieutenant LaForge has a thought! His plan is… to let you freeze and then thaw you out. Dr Pulaski is also here, briefly earning her paycheque for the week.
- Does Picard really mean it when he says they’ll wait for months if necessary? The Federation flagship will wait for months in orbit of some nowheresville planet, because three of its crew (admittedly, its first and second officers and its security chief – which seems like an awfully high concentration of indispensible personnel for one away team) are stuck in a weird dumb magic hotel on the surface?
- There’s something inexplicably delightful about the sight of Worf answering a phone. I’m impressed that he knows which end of the receiver to hold to his mouth and which near his ear, given his unfamiliarity with elevator call buttons.
- So in The Hotel Royale, which Data just read, the term ‘room service’ is never used in a way that would let him correctly infer its meaning? I think my favourite use of the term is Miss Hannigan’s in Annie, to imply, probably correctly, that Lily St Regis is a great big prostitute.
- How considerate that Worf closes the door of the dead man’s room on the way out.
- It’s just as well for Picard that Hotel Royale‘s text is on file in the memory bank of a military/scientific starship. I mean, what are the odds?
- How unfair is it that no complete and authoritative text of any of Shakespeare’s plays has survived to the present day, but Hotel Royale has been preserved for the ages?
- Bulwer-Lytton moment.
- Worf doesn’t know how to do casual queries, Data. You could at least be his wingman. (One thing I love about the dynamic with these two is that Data is actually better with people.)
- Riker comes back and asks what they found out, and Worf answers ‘Nothing,’ neglecting to mention that he hasn’t actually talked to anyone yet because he’s too shy.
- SAXOPHONE OF EMOTION!
- Mickey D. gets his own entrance theme music. And he looks ridiculous. What is it about wearing an overcoat draped over your shoulders with the sleeves hanging empty? It doesn’t look dapper or powerful. It looks as if you don’t know how to wear coats.
- I love how the audiobook version Picard and Troi are now listening to has voice actors who sound the same as the characters on the planet. Either that or they’re just listening to what’s going on in earshot of Riker’s commbadge. It’s really not clear.
- This episode is so cheap. How cheap is it? They just had the bellboy get shot in the back by a large caliber handgun, and he fell to the ground, his back fully visible, with no hole in the back of his coat. Or is that just the kind of uncanny lack of detail I was wishing for earlier? There’s no blood puddle spreading out under him either.
- I wouldn’t call that a bloody shoot-out – one shot was fired and its target died immediately, with a conspicuous lack of blood. How has Picard managed to read ahead when a few minutes earlier he was listening to an audiobook that was up to the same point as events happening on the planet?
- I do like the fact that Riker figures out that he can escape from the story by playing along, adopting a role in the narrative. That’s a very nice idea.
- RIKER. DON’T SAY ‘ELABORATE’ TO DATA UNLESS YOU REALLY MEAN IT.
- Is ‘Texas’ supposed to be plotting with Vanessa to kill her husband, which was meant to be the subplot of the novel, or just trying to make her waste all her money and planning to nail her once she has nowhere to stay but his hotel room?
- I do not think Vanessa is the person to ask for a luck-blow on your dice. Ask Worf.
- I also think it was intended to be funny when Vanessa repeatedly said ‘yeah’ in a vapid tone of voice just after Data made some valid point. I feel a bit sorry for this actress. I think the role was cast with Bernadette Peters in mind – possibly because I was thinking of Lily St Regis earlier – but she is no Bernadette Peters.
- Look at Data fix loaded dice by… squeezing them? And then, out of nowhere, he suddenly hits on a persona for gambling, and we’re right back to the ‘preposterously sexy’ or ‘sexily preposterous’ territory of ‘Lonely Among Us.’ If he put the cowboy hat back on at this point the combination would be quite lethal. And the invisible band has just decided to favour Data with what only the doomed bellboy and Mickey D were worthy of before, THEME MUSIC! Data gets a much cooler jazzy sort of theme than the Saxophone of Emotion. Eyebrow-flirting is in evidence once again, but the target is Riker. This scene gives the impression of Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes saying ‘ah, fuckit’ and just going for ULTIMATE CHEESE (while Michael Dorn sticks with ‘stoic’ – poor Worf has nothing to do). It is all the better for it.
- Riker likes the idea of being ‘flamboyantly generous.’
- How has Data won $12.3 million at a roulette table in a hotel lobby?
- How does Riker know how to spread money around, given that he comes from a socialist utopia? Is he just an instinctive high roller? Or did he just suddenly think ‘Oh, like Risa’?
- You didn’t show me your car. You didn’t let me keep your hat. Therefore I have broken you. Sorry Tex.
- I would have liked it if Tex had given Data the hat and he’d borne it away as a trophy.
- And then they went home. Bit of a flat ending – all it really has for a climax is the cheese scene. I feel like this could have been made more interesting if Vanessa and Texas, as the other known characters at the table, had had some kind of conflict with Data, something at stake, like Texas thinking Data is trying to steal Vanessa away or to ruin him and retaliating in some way (instead of just seeming hurt and confused for a moment, then chuckling and deciding he likes them). Or Vanessa latching onto Data, deciding that he’s a better ticket out of her situation than Texas, and Data having to work out how to extricate himself from that situation without messing up their attempt to roll with the plot of the novel. But such a complication would need to be introduced earlier in the episode to be played out properly.
- So they are left saying that the Charybdis’ presence so far from where she could be expected is just an unguessable mystery – when just last week they discovered the Iconian gateway.
- Well, I’ll just leave you with this.
- Next time it’ll be ‘Time Squared.’ Two Picards! And Riker tries to cook!