The Royale (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 12)

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

In “The Royale,” an away team is trapped in a simulated casino, where Data cheats at roulette.

That’s about it.

A solid teaser and surreal first act ramp up the mystery nicely; however, on my rewatch, the episode didn’t hold together very well for me.

We’re told that aliens who accidentally killed most of the crew of a 21stC NASA mission conjured up a simulation for the benefit of the lone survivor, drawing on a cheesy paperback novel the astronauts happened to have with them.

It’s nice to know paperbacks will still be around in the 2030s.

Still, it’s preposterous that a pulp novel would contain enough detail to enable aliens to reconstruct a 20C Las Vegas hotel at that level of detail, complete with games that apparently follow the official rules so precisely that Data can identify when the simulated dice have been unfairly weighted.

The pulp novel also apparently contains enough information to let aliens duplicate a character’s Texas dialect and mannerisms (including a perfect recreation of a classic ten-gallon hat) and also generate new character dialogue in response to the actions of the away team.

Yes, of course the aliens could have drawn details from people’s minds, but the single diary entry the NASA astronaut wrote during his 38 year imprisonment suggests the aliens made no attempt to communicate. If they had, Richey wouldn’t have had to guess at their motives, and they would have learned that he hated the simulation they created for him. 

There’s no explanation for why the simulation is shielded from transporter beams and phasers and (at first) communications, or why it’s still running after hundreds of years, or why it was designed to let strangers walk in and take on the roles of characters from the novel.

The answer to all this is of course that the writers had a story to tell, and they hoped we wouldn’t look that closely at all the shaky premises.

Aliens who find a book and use it to recreate a period of Earth’s history was the premise for the equally implausible but much more enjoyable TOS episode “A Piece of the Action.” A human astronaut living out his lonely life in a simulated hotel created by aliens was done before in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Gene Roddenberry already put an android winning at casino games into his own 1970s TV pilot, “The Questor Tapes.”

The teaser’s reference to Fermat’s Last Theorem, Troi’s long-distance tracking of Riker’s emotional state, and Picard’s reaction to reading the text of The Hotel Royale make for some good shipboard scenes. but there really isn’t a separate B-plot.