**** (4 stars out of 5)
And he never left.
A bizarre transporter malfunction back then split Lt. Riker into two guys! Neither is his evil half (unless they both are?). While we were following the one with the "cushy" life, the other has been alone in a shabby station for most of a decade. Dr. Crusher confirms that Ragged Riker is no clone: there's no genetic drift and his brain is nearly identical. (Crusher is very quick to claim clones can't be programmed with memories for someone who just met the high-functioning Kahless Clone. How could incense-huffing Klingon clerics do something the UFP can't?)
Geordi offers the "explanation": some sort of power surge, a second annular confinement beam, and a little phase distortion voodoo, but enough chit-chat, let's get to the kissing! Ragged Riker, now in gold, leaps for Deanna's lips. He's a PRE-BREAK-UP copy who's really been pining for some Betazoid Boinking.
Where there's Two Wills, there's a way. And plenty o' friction between the "brothers". Yet they don't seem very inclined to settle things with a Dance-Off or a Devil's Three-Way.
Lt. Riker creates a romantic scavenger hunt for Troi. The prize is a mouthful of beard!
Bev encourages Troi's interest in Lt. Willy. Bev got to taste the beard back in 'The Host', so why not Deanna?
Commander Riker knows about their Panking of Hankies and feels "Flattered... sort of." He also warns Deanna against the strong probability that she will be hurt... again. Red saves Gold in the caverns while retrieving valuable data mcnuggets, but, of course, when the chance arises to further his career, Gold jumps at it, and jumps ship. He's going to take the name Thomas Riker (their middle name) in the divorce. As a consolation prize, Deanna gets Just-Friends 'Original Recipe' Riker, and Tom gets a trombone.
"Second Chances" has to admit that Red Dwarf did this first with two Arnold Rimmers! but, heck, it doesn't matter. This is a marvelous story! The Riker effects blew me away back then, and they still hold up. This episode features a cameo appearance by Real-world astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, first female African-American in space. It's also the Trek-directing debut of LeVar Burton, who will go on to direct many other amazing Treks. Don't miss your 'Second Chance' to experience them- keep reading my Beard-iful Blog!