In the future universe of Star Trek, humanity has grown out of its infancy, eliminated hunger, want, and the need for possessions. But people still make a lot of upsetting decisions, especially Starfleet captains. Trekkers regularly debate the merits of Sisko manipulating the Romulans into the Dominion war, Kirk seeking vengeance against a blood-sucking space cloud, and Janeway … well, doing lots of things, but let’s just say “solving” Tuvix.
But just looking at the ratio of screen time to controversial decisions, it’s hard to outdo Captain Edward Jellico, who took command of the Enterprise-D in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Chain of Command.” The tenth and eleventh episodes of Next Generation‘s sixth season, “Chain of Command” parts one and two found Captain Picard, Lieutenant Worf, and Dr. Crusher sent by Starfleet on a secret mission in Cardassian space. In Picard’s absence, Starfleet installs Jellico as new Captain of the Enterprise. Immediately, Jellico’s no-nonsense style bristles the crew, particularly Commander Riker, and the ill will continues after the Cardassians capture Picard.
But as Jellico returns to screens after a long absence, his actor Ronny Cox has come to the defense of the short-lived Enteprise captain. Speaking to Trek Movie about his performance as now Admiral Jellico on Star Trek: Prodigy, Cox argued that his character improved the Enterprise in many ways. “If you go back and look at what he did, he achieved a great deal of things there,” Cox argued.
Specifically, Cox points to Next Generation’s (in)famous mandate from creator Gene Roddenberry that evolved beings would not have internal conflict between them. “That robbed them dramatically of conflict among characters,” Cox contends. “And when Jellico came in, they were able to institute that. So his sort of beef with Riker brought a new dimension to the show.”
We’re not sure we agree with him there. While nearly all agree that Rodenberry’s rule hamstrung Next Generation‘s first season, it was non-existent by the time “Chain of Command” aired in season six. Even season two featured numerous episodes with conflict between Starfleet officers, most notably “The Measure of a Man.”
Despite his character’s “my way or the highway” attitude, Cox also reminded readers that Jellico’s decisions made life better for the series regulars. Perhaps the most notable was his command that Counsellor Troi abandon the skin-tight bodysuits she had been wearing for a standard Starfleet uniform. “Jellico gets a bunch of beef pork for making her put on a uniform, but [Troi actor Marina Sirtis] asked for that and she got a lot more stuff after that,” he contended.
Cox also defended Jellico’s command to remove Picard’s fishtank from the Enterprise ready room. According to Cox, “Patrick Stewart always hated the fish in the ready room.” Stewart argued that people who defended “the dignity of all creatures in the universe” would keep captured fish on their ship, but the producers liked the visual flourish it provided. So when he ordered the fish be removed from the ready room, “Jellico did that for Patrick!” joked Cox.
Even before he made his first onscreen appearance since “Chain of Command” in the recent Prodigy episode “Masquerade,” Jellico continued his controversial ways. According to Star Trek: Lower Decks, one of Jellico’s first actions as Admiral was banning the Zebulon Sisters from Starfleet ships. As of this writing, Cox has not yet defended that decision.