*** (3 stars out of 5)
A dive bar, clandestine deals, scumbags dickering over money. No, you're not watching Deep Space Nine, just a very clever copy.
Enterprise's senior staff can't find Picard, so they crap all over 'the First Duty' and start lying like crazy, ceaselessly badgering a Yridian called Yranek. Ye informs yem that the smooth-headed humanoid was last seen being vaporized in a bar fight on Dessica II, the sector's leading manufacturer of desiccant silica gel.
Riker and Troi are too angry to mourn. GOOD! Not one person in the audience is fooled for a moment. This is the kind of intensity everybody should have had when Geordi's mom went missing. Either find your Captain alive or know the reason why. Riker gets permission to bring those responsible to justice from Admiral Chekote at Starbase 227, last seen telling Sisko to tuck his tail between his legs and flee the Jaro military coup.
Yranek, afraid for his life, finally starts yakking when Riker offers to extradite him to the Klingons for his many frauds and thefts. The killers are pursued to Barradas III.
Ensign Sondra Huxtable monitors the heavy phaser fight as the mercenary gang abducts Riker. Everyone involved has all the aiming skill of crack Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers, which is to say highly precise... unless there's a camera pointed at them. Their Miradorn ship has a cloaking device by any other name. Specifically, the name 'energy sheath'. (If it makes no material difference, why not just call it a damned cloaking device and move on?) The boss goon, Arctus Baran, has a neural servo to keep his people in line with jolts of pain. He dominates a rough crew including a meek Boslic Engineer, Saavik's Romulan descendant Tallera, and Picard's identical cousin- a bloodthirsty archeology pirate called Galen.
Oh, wait, it's Picard. Pretty sneaky! Wait, archeology pirate? I wasn't aware this was a common career path. Perhaps he studied at the Belloq Institute. The school motto is: There is Nothing You Can Possess That I Cannot Take Away!
Baran's Buccaneers have been snatching artifacts made by the ancient Romulans or their cousins the Debrune. They use teleport guns, and when they snatched "Galen" he made himself useful as an appraiser. Since Baran hates Galen, Galen makes an enemy of Riker, hoping that this will make Baran and Riker BFFs. Because friendship is magic.
"Galen" manages to save the uncooperative Starfleet outpost on Calder II from Baran's wrath. But he and Riker are now forced to shoot at Enterprise...! JINKIES! What next? Tune in tomorrow, same Trek time, same Trek channel.
"Gambit Part I" features, as Baran, Richard Lynch, a perfectly serviceable villain whom you may not recognize from such dubious films as Trancers II and from such Need-Not-See-TV as Galactica 1980. And 'Gambit' achieves just that sort of mediocre cheesy that is your cheese bread and cheese butter if you watch enough SF. It's an appropriate story, if true, that Rick Berman used to blindfold the bust of Gene Roddenberry while they broke scripts he would have vetoed. Like this one. Theoretically, it's clever, fun, and someone out there loves it. But this increasingly hypothetical someone... would not be me.