Season 2, Episode 12
Watcher: Mike & Erin
Today’s episode is another that I remember very vividly watching as a child. I was 10 years old when “The Royale” originally aired in 1989. I loved it then but let’s see how it holds up today. Helping me out on this experiment is my friend Erin (@ErinHadley) who also watched TNG as a kid and has a strong emotional attachment to it. For some of us 80’s kids, Trek was a part of our nightly routine. I remember the sound of Mom washing our dinner dishes in the kitchen while I settled in on our plaid couch in the living room, home made phaser in hand (it was a flashlight) ready for the Enterprises’s weekly adventure– (or nightly once there were enough in the can to run 5 times a week.)
But getting back to today’s episode, “The Royale” is basically a mystery. Our heroes find NASA wreckage very far from home and upon investigating end up trapped on a mysterious planet in what seems to be an early 21st century hotel and casino. It sounds like a bizarre, very “Star Trek” kind of episode, right? Unfortunately, something is lost in translation. According to Memory Alpha, screenwriter Tracy Tormé was so unhappy with the changes made his story hat he completely disowned the piece. With that juicy gossip in mind, let’s dive in and see how this episode holds up! I’m going to paste in sections of the my chat transcript with Erin as we watched. Enjoy–
Erin: GASP! An American Flag! NASA!
MJ: NASA also hasn’t used that logo since the 80’s. They call that the “worm” logo.
Erin: Oh right…. they changed styles some time ago.
MJ: Yep. I liked the worm!
Erin: IT’s so funny watching this to see how dated parts of it can be.
MJ: When I was a kid I REALLY wanted to go to NASA’s Space Camp!
Erin: DITTO! I did a science fair project for the Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe in the seventh grade. But, I went to Catholic School, so I didn’t win, because the bible, or something.
MJ: That’s amazing! That sounds like a chapter in your memoir
The Enterprise crew quickly identify this chunk of metal as originating from the mid 21st Century. As Erin pointed out, that’s about 35 years from now. I guess NASA will go back to the worm logo before then. Maybe they’ll want to go for a retro thing. 🙂
Back to the story– Riker, Data, & Worf form a landing party. They beam down and find themselves on a
sound stage dark planet surface with a revolving door. “Well, this is what we came here for….” say our heros as they walk into a lavish casino!
Erin: That’s where they spend the budget – on the interior!
That chandelier was half the budget! Of course Riker wants to hang out in the casino. Sadly, this 80’s casino is filled with dramatic music and bad dialogue. It’s like something out of a bad pulp fiction novel.. oh yeah. That’s what it is.
MJ: “Anybody with any sense is afraid of Mickey-D”. I know! I watched Supersize me!
Erin: The dialogue is unbelievable. Exactly! Those French Fries do not decompose.
Eventually the gang head upstairs into a hotel room. It’s pretty shabby looking and comes with a head guy in the bed. It’s a Nasa crew member from the 21st century! He’s been dead for a long time.
MJ: That is NOT a nice hotel.
Erin: Yikes! Call housekeeping!
MJ: Yeah- in the original script that guy was still alive.
Erin: Oh that would have been interesting to see that version.
MJ: 52 stars! [on the NASA crewman’s uniform]
Erin: So what are the two new states? Puerto Rico? Canada?
In the end we learn that this casino illusion was all built by some aliens… or something… as a nice place for the surviving NASA astronaut to live out his days. They based it on a book that he had with him– a bad pulp fiction book. So our crew figure the only way to get out is to play out the end of the book and fill the roll of the foreign investors who come in and buy the hotel. To to that they need money. Luckily Data is really good at playing craps!
MJ: I think this is a nice Brent Spiner / Data moment.
Erin: I adore Data. My Erin trivia…. I thought that I met Brent Spiner in an online forum way back in the days of Prodigy. Turns out it was some dude pretending to be Brent Spiner…
MJ: to pick up chicks?
Erin: I don’t know….
MJ: Wow… that is… amazing.
Erin: But, he broke my 11 year old heart.
Erin: Then I met the real Brent Spiner eons later, and he was the nicest guy ever.
MJ: It was like the episode “Pen Palls” I bet he’s a cool guy!
Erin: So, I moved on with my life. Everything worked out.
And that’s basically how the episode ends! They play out the end of the book and walk out of the hotel. Let’s jump back into my interview with Erin.
MJ: Ok- my standard question. How do you think the episode holds up? How would it do on TV today? If they did a new Trek show today- and redid this episode what changes would they make?
Erin: Well, in rewatching, you become aware of how campy certain aspects of it were. I think what saves this show (particularly the early seasons which were a bit campier like TOS) is the caliber of actors they hired, and the chemistry of the cast. Some of the episodes were brilliantly written, some poorly, and some were in between. This particular episode was a cool concept, but there was so much explanation and exposition… I mean, Data literally explained the rules of Black Jack. ut, I still enjoy watching it enormously, because seeing these characters in this situation is wildly entertaining.
MJ: Very true. It came across dull. I think the mystery idea would hold up very well today. Almost like a “Lost” episode. Where did that NASA debris come from? What is this world we’ve found? Who is in charge here– pulling the strings? I think the very premise would hold up VERY well. But the execution would be very different.
Erin: The idea of “what’s really happening here” would absolutely resonate with today’s audiences.
Erin: I think part of what fell flat here was that there were puzzles… which we like…
But the element of danger was a bit too abstract. Yes, they were trapped… but were they ever in danger? It needed to be a bit more sinister.
MJ: And most of those puzzles were solved instantly with a diary. No real payoff.
Erin: Exactly. We didn’t get to go on the journey and figure it out. IT was handed to us. I still want to know what the two new states are. That’s the enduring mystery for me.
MJ: It became not about the mystery- but about being trapped. But you’re right. The danger was a bit too calm. Maybe they should have been stuck there for a while. Like what if it took them a month to figure it out. They have to start sleeping in the hotel rooms. The ship discusses leaving them behind… RAISE THE STAKES
MJ: Haha! Yes— Maybe Texas split into 3?