One episode stands out for Patrick Stewart
Patrick Stewart, who turns 81 today, surprised Gene Roddenberry back in 1987 when he was cast in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The creator of Star Trek didn’t want Stewart in the part originally, but it didn’t take long for Roddenberry to see what the British actor brought to the role. And it didn’t take long for viewers of the newest Star Trek series to start comparing Stewart’s Captain Picard to William Shatner’s role as Captain James T. Picard.
Stewart resumed the role of the captain promoted to admiral in Star Trek: Picard in 2020, and there have been moments in that series that have reminded us why he was one of the best captains Starfleet had. But, so far, none of those moments have eclipsed the absolute best Stewart gave in part II of the sixth season opening of TNG: Chain of Command.
Patrick Stewart doesn’t just stand out in one scene
Many fans, when recalling this episode, will immediately quote “there are four lights,” Captain Picard’s ultimate moment when he declares victory over his torturer, Gul Madred. But that is at the ending of an entire episode where Stewart excels at his craft, even going so far as to insist on being nude during the torture scene.
From the moment Gul Madred tells Captain Picard he’ll only refer to him as human to the end, Stewart shines in this episode, going from a forceful captain who commands a starship to a starving man desperate for food. His moments of pain are written across his face, daring anyone to prove that he’s only acting the part.
There are other episodes where Stewart stands out for a scene or two, but Chain of Command, Part II is his ultimate achievement as the captain’s dignity is stripped away. Stewart manages to portray a torture victim still clinging to his integrity. When he tells Gul Madred that he will only see a six-year-old boy when he looks at the Cardassian, he embodies the defiance of those who came before him and have faced down their tormentors.
"“Whenever I look at you now, I won’t see a powerful Cardassian warrior. I will see a six-year-old boy who is powerless to protect himself.”"
Withstanding the torture and braving the cruelty of his captor is Captain Picard’s ultimate victory. And then to pity the man who’d treated him so horrendously serves as the sharpest slap in the face.
"“Despite all you have done to me, I find you a pitiable man.”"
In this episode, Patrick Stewart leaves little doubt that he can breathe life into any scene presented to him. Regardless of the words, he turns a script into pure magic.