The two-part “Chain of Command” is often hailed as one of The Next Generation’s best. It starts off with an absolute shock. Picard is relieved of his command of the Enterprise before the opening credits. Immediately after, there is no slowing down. Riker meets the new captain, an Edward Jellico, who is in charge of a special mission that will encounter the Cardassians.
Picard has his own mission. He, along with Worf and Crusher, go on a convert mission to discover whether they possess a rumored weapon of mass destruction. The mission does not go well. They indeed fail. Worf and Crusher are able to escape, but Picard is taken prisoner. It’s a precarious situation. There was no formal declaration of war between the Federation and the Cardassians. As such, Picard cannot invoke a treaty that protects prisoners of war. He’s being treated as an insurgent.
Much of the drama takes place between Picard and his captor, Gul Madrid. Picard is stripped of his clothes and hung by his hands for days. There is physical torture, of course. But it coincides with psychological torture. Picard is forced to look into four bright lights. Gul Madrid continues to ask Picard how many lights there are. Picard repeatedly answers correctly — four. Yet Madrid insists he is wrong, and physically hurts Picard with each insufficient answer.
This goes on and on. Through the exhaustion, pain, and hunger that Picard goes through, he is weakened and we can see that he is using every once of his strength to not give into Madrid’s games. He knows there are four lights. When he is finally freed, he shouts back in Madrid’s direction, exclaiming that there are four lights. He had the final word.
We learn of Picard’s strength and resilience in this episode. He is armed with military training to prevent giving sensitive information over to enemies. In this episode, there is a war on the line. Picard knows it. He refuses to be defeated.
I’d argue, though, the we learn the most about Picard’s command proficiencies by having to look at a new captain in command of the Enterprise. Like “The Best of Both Worlds”, we learn of Picard through his absence. In contrast to Picard, Jellico is brash, demanding, and relentless in the way that he wants his ship run. Make no mistake, Picard has full command of his ship and all that goes on. Yet he does so via rapport and trust that he establishes from the beginning of his captaincy. The inherent trust that exists between Picard and his senior staff, particularly Riker, who is relieved of duties in this episode, is not transferred onto Jellico, regardless of how capable he is.
There’s a humility to Picard’s command philosophy that isn’t evident until someone else is placed in command and interacting with the crew that Picard has assembled. Picard is every bit as confident and skilled as Jellico. While a command can be transferred, trust cannot. It’s why Riker and others doubt Jellico’s abilities. It’s not just due to a difference in command styles, but because a relationship and trust does not exist. The trust that Picard has with his crew is what makes the Enterprise so successful.