Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 94: The Drumhead

The Investigator

Plot Synopsis: An overzealous retired Starfleet admiral begins an investigation that turns into a witch-hunt aboard the Enterprise, determined to find a conspiracy and ultimately accusing Captain Picard of treason.

Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser is pretty abrupt in getting us up to speed. A Klingon officer on the Enterprise as part of the exchange program we’ve been involved in since season 2 is suspected to be a Romulan spy for two reasons: schematics have been stolen, and an explosion occurred in the dilithium chamber. Plot A is about the conspiracy investigation, there is no plot B. Satie and Worf get him to admit he stole the schematics, but he denies the warp core explosion. There’s only one conclusion–a conspiracy of spies!

We follow along with the investigation but at a certain point things take a turn, and things devolve into a witch hunt instead. Satie is that turning point. When something is proven not to be sabotage as they were assuming she says, “Just because there was no sabotage, doesn’t mean there isn’t a conspiracy on this ship.” The episode ramps up from there and builds to a satisfying climax.

The traitor-spy

Favorite Scenes: There are several. The final courtroom scene with Satie and Picard is the climax, and is probably the best scene of the episode. The single most important line is the last one. “Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay.” One that has stuck with me is where Picard express discomfort over Satie wanting him to restrict a crewman’s movements based solely on her Betazoid investigator’s intuition.

Satie: If Counselor Troi suggested to you that someone on the ship were dangerous, would you not act on that? Observe him, curb his activity?

Picard *pauses a moment*: Yes, I admit I probably would. And perhaps I should reevaluate that behavior.

Satie continues to press him until he stops it.

Picard: No. I won’t treat a man as a criminal unless there is cause to do so.

I found myself agreeing with how I would act if Troi came to me with something like that, and how my mind was changed by Picard’s reasoning. It’s influenced how I view the judicial system, and how crucial “innocent until proven guilty” really is. See? Everything you need to know you learn from Star Trek! Another meaningful discussion occurs between him and Worf, where Worf is convinced crewman Tarses is guilty and Picard asks him why.

Worf: He refused to answer the question about his Romulan grandfather.

Picard *with heat*: That is not a crime, Worf! Nor can we infer his guilt because he didn’t respond.

Worf: Sir, if a man were not afraid of the truth, he would answer.

Picard *shaking his head*: Oh, no. We cannot allow ourselves to think that… we cannot take a fundamental principle of the constitution and turn it against a citizen.

Worf: Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out!

Picard: Oh yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.

The accident

Use of Cast/Characters: This isn’t exactly a Picard episode, but it might as well be. He gets pushed fairly hard at a couple of points here, and is the only one to see through the panic of a conspiracy that gains traction on board his ship. He also bests Satie at her own game, which is awesome. Riker, Data, Geordi, Troi, and Beverly all have about the same to do, which is not much–they have a few lines, but are mostly in the background. Worf gets much more, dealing with the history of his discommendation, providing the key to nailing the Klingon spy, and getting caught up in the paranoia on the ship. The guest star here is no less than Dame Jean Simmons, one of the most renowned actresses of the 20th century. If you haven’t seen her in Olivier’s Hamlet, The Robe, Guys and Dolls, Elmer Gantry, Spartacus, and half a dozen more, go and check them out. She delivers a powerhouse performance here too.

The confounding factor

Blu Ray Version: Two seconds of original footage couldn’t be found, so they had to upconvert the SD version to HD. Luckily it occurs at 7:06-7:08 with the smoke-filled dilithium chamber, so it’s almost unnoticeable.

Nitpicks: We’re told Admiral Satie was who uncovered the alien conspiracy from Conspiracy. Really? That’s not how I remember it. It was starship captains and Data who did that.

Overall Impression: This is one of those rare episodes that gets better the older you are. I worry that people underestimate this episode, because it’s one with eminent applicability to our lives today, and one of the most relevant episodes in all the Star Trek canon. There are echoes of McCarthyism (“why do you hesitate to give us the names?”), and the exchange with Worf has implications today toward the war on terror, as well as the ultimate price we have to pay to live in a free society: eternal vigilance. Not giving in to fear. I’ve seen my own government use fear against its citizens with increasing frequency over the past 17 years especially, encouraging us to sacrifice freedom for security. For those who like episodes exploring these themes, check out the DS9 two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost. I also like the reminder by the writers about how using a guarantee (to not answer a question that may serve to incriminate yourself) from the US’s own constitution can be used against people who are on trial and invoke it. Then there’s the matter of judging a man because of the blood in his veins, or his ethnicity. I’ve seen that lately too, especially in the US and folks from the Middle East. As I’ve said before, episodes like this are one of the reasons I love Star Trek above other sci fi. I rate this episode a very solid 4 out of 5 stars.

The accused

Behind the Scenes/Trivia: We learn that Picard has violated the Prime Directive nine times since taking command of the Enterprise. I’ve tried to piece together when that might be. I can’t come up with all nine, but I can name some. In Justice Picard deliberately freed Wesley from a death sentence; in Pen Pals he authorized Data to meet with a member of a species not aware of interstellar life, and saved the planet from a natural catastrophe; in Who Watches the Watchers he involved himself directly with the Mintakans; in The High Ground he becoming involved in and ended a civil war; in Devil’s Due he directly affected the outcome of ‘Ardra’ with the planets’ population. To me these are pretty clear cut. Others are less so: in Reunion he arbitrated the future leadership of the Klingon Empire, but is that a violation; First Contact has some skirting of the Prime Directive; Encounter at Farpoint, just because the Bandi trapped an entity may not necessarily give Picard  the right to free it; Up the Long Ladder, in rescuing a civilization, albeit a distant human one, from destruction. At the end of the day I’ll just say Satie probably defined him breaking the Prime Directive a little more strictly than I do.

There are references in the Picard’s trial to Data’s Day, Sins of the Father, and Best of Both Worlds. In the final scenes Picard makes reference to the Spanish Inquisition and the witch hunts of history. The term ‘social panic’ is probably a more accurate term here. We also learn that 39 ships were lost during the events of Best of Both Worlds, and ~11,000 people died. The interrogation room (actually a redress of the Enterprise bridge set) is seen for the second and last time after The Defector episode.

This episode almost didn’t happen. The studio wanted another clip show to save money, and but Berman and Piller refused it because they’re awful and insulting to the audience. Jeri Taylor wrote this as a way to have an episode that didn’t require a big budget to make. It was a success, they came in $250,000 under budget, and Jeri said it’s the TNG script she’s most proud of. This is the third of eight episodes Jonathan Frakes directed, after The Offspring and Reunion. This episode saw the departure of Ron Jones, the music composer who scored almost all the episodes up until now. Evidently he argued with Berman too much about what kind of music was appropriate for the series. Don’t feel too bad for the guy, he went on to score Family Guy and American Dad.

Jean Simmons was a huge Star Trek fan. Evidently she’d call her friends after watching every episode and they’d discuss the episode. This is one of Jonathan Frakes’ and Michael Dorn’s favorite episodes. Michael Dorn has said in a panel in 2011 that his favorite guest star was Jean Simmons, and I don’t blame him.

Missable/Unmissable? In my estimation it’s unmissable for it’s social importance alone–the topnotch acting doesn’t hurt either. The next episode addresses a social issue as well, even if Majel Barrett is in it.

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