Plot Synopsis: The Enterprise grants asylum to a defector from the Romulan Empire, who claims to have vital information concerning a renewed Romulan offensive against the Federation.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is a first, we open with Data acting in a Shakespearean play. It’s a nice glimpse into Data’s attempts to learn more about humanity, and Picard is watching him, but they get called to the bridge in time to see a small Romulan scout ship that hails them and asks for asylum as it’s being chased by a full-fledged Warbird. Plot A concerns the Romulan defector, there is no plot B. The scout ship passes into Federation territory and the Enterprise extends her shields to protect it as the Warbird moves up for a nose-to-nose confrontation, then without explanation it turns and cloaks. Turns out a logistics officer has defected from the Romulan empire to prevent all-out war, claiming the Romulans are preparing a massive offensive, and are 48 hours from completing a cloaked base as a staging area on a planet in the Neutral Zone. He wants the Enterprise to fly in and destroy the base to prevent war. Is he telling the truth, or is it a trap? Thus our plot is born. Something’s a little off with this defector though. He knows about the Galorndorn Core incident from a previous episode, he set his ship to self-destruct before an away team can investigate, then LaForge discovers the Warbird slowed down so as to let the defector escape. It becomes obvious this guy is probably a spy, but then some of the things he says start coming true, such as unusual readings from the planet he is talking about. This entire episode works the audience over in deciding what we will make of this cipher, this “defector.” The way this episode is paced, the quality of the script, the consistent tension and the ultimate resolution of the plot places it among the finest episodes of season 3, and among my favorites of the entire series.
Favorite Scenes: This episode is full of them, and there are great and memorable lines as well. Patrick always has a way of imbuing a scene with drama and gravitas. “We have less than 48 hours to prevent a war…or perhaps, to start one.” There is a nice scene between Geordi and Data discussing the concept of a “gut instinct” also. However there are two scenes that stick out above all the others. The first takes place in Picard’s ready room, when he confronts Admiral Jarok about his identity and the choice he faces in whether or not to enter the Neutral Zone:
Picard: On what basis, admiral, am I to decide? Your good word? Are you willing to help us overpower the Romulan B-type warbirds we may encounter? Are you prepared to help us detect them through their cloaking shields?
Jarok gives only frosty silence as a response.
Picard: Well, you see my problem, admiral. You ask us for faith in circumstances which are hardly possible to believe, compounded by lies and your refusal to tell us what you know!
Jarok: I cannot betray my people!
Picard: You’ve already betrayed your people, admiral! You’ve made you choices sir. You’re a traitor! Now if the bitter taste of that is unpalatable to you I am truly sorry. But I will not risk my crew because you think you can dance on the edge of the Neutral Zone. You’ve crossed over, admiral. You make yourself comfortable with that.
Picard continues to hold the line in this conversation with another formidable presence until he gets the answers he needs. It’s one of the early examples of great speeches that Picard gives in his ready room, which will occur off and on throughout the series. The best scene in the episode occurs at the climax, as it should, with the trap fully sprung and the Enterprise in deep, deep trouble. Picard squares off against Commander Tomalak, the same Romulan Commander we saw in The Enemy, and he’s not friendly. I’ll only share a brief quote:
Tomalak: You see Picard, after we dissect your Enterprise for every precious bit of information, I intend to display its broken hull in the center of the Romulan capital as a symbol of our victory. It will inspire our armies for generations to come, and serve as a warning to any other traitor who would create ripples of disloyalty.
The entire scene is rockin’, and we see how in the chess game with the Romulans this time it’s Picard who out-thinks his enemy.
Use of Cast/Characters: Wil Wheaton had this episode off. The weight of command is heavy indeed here, and it all falls on Picard’s shoulders. It’s episodes like this that convince the audience the Federation made the right choice in putting this man in command of the flagship; it also convinces me that you couldn’t pay me enough for Picard’s job, the responsibility must be an awesome one. Picard essentially has to make a decision about whether to believe the Romulan, go into the Neutral Zone , and once he’s there to figure a way out and he does it all. Riker is an able first officer and gets to participate in the interrogation scene along with Troi, but otherwise those two don’t have much to do. Data get some development here as this is his first exploration of acting, as well as some good back-and-forth with Jarok, and even a scene on how to follow one’s instincts. Geordi helps Data along in that scene and has a few others but he doesn’t do much in this episode. Doctor Crusher patches up Jarok but otherwise does even less herself. Worf does have a key role to play but it’s almost entirely off-scene and he has about the same screen time as Crusher. James Sloyan portrays Admiral Jarok and he does an absolutely terrific job, first class. He plays virtually every scene pitch-perfect, and helps elevate the entire episode by virtue of his performance, he is a joy to watch. It’s also nice to see Andreas Katsulas again too, even if he’s only in the episode for a few minutes.
Blu Ray Version: Excellent clarity again, and the Romulan disruptor blasts as well as the planet Nelvana III look great!
Nitpicks: About 20 minutes in Picard asks data how the “ship’s spirit” is. It dovetails back into the teaser with Henry V walking unbeknownst among his men, but really Data is the last person to ask if you want to take the emotional pulse of 1,000 people.
Overall Impression: My two favorite things about this episode are the showdown between the Enterprise and the Romulans at the climax, and the reversal we are dealt here as well. The audience is invited to evaluate the defector who we become increasingly convinced is a liar, but even though he’s revealed to be one it turns out he wasn’t lying about defecting. In most shows either he’d be truly defecting and give valuable info or he’d be a liar and everyone gets had. This is more complex than that, but you could say that both of these happen at the same time. It’s just wonderful! Patrick and James Sloyan have great chemistry together and are really what make this episode great. Plus there is some action here! To me, this is among the best of TNG. I rate this episode 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This is the episode where the new model of the Enterprise was used for the first time. It will be used almost exclusively from here on out for the rest of the series and if you pay attention you can spot some differences. This episode went through several rewrites, but as Ron Moore and the writers put it, it’s basically the Cuban Missile Crisis in space. The teaser was originally going to be another Sherlock Holmes riff but due to copyright reasons that I discussed for that episode, they needed to do something else. It was Patrick that suggested Henry V and I’m telling you, ever since I was a teenager I figured it was because of him that we got any Shakespeare in TNG. If you pay attention in the teaser you can see that it’s Patrick Stewart made up as one of the soldiers in Henry V–the other guy kinda looks like Frakes, but it’s not him. Turns out the name of the planet Nelvana III was named for the animation studio Nelvana Limited–don’t ask me why. James Sloyan returns for one more episode of TNG, two episodes of DS9 as Mora Pol, and one episode of Voyager as well. Evidently there were a couple of extra scenes, including a deleted interrogation scene that the director really liked but had to cut for time constraints. Argh, why couldn’t they have put them in the Blu Ray episode, like they did with Measure of a Man? Some of you may wonder if the suicide note of Jarok ever finds its way to his family. If interested, read the short story “Suicide Note” in the anthology The Sky’s the Limit. Finally, this was the first episode of Star Trek to air in the 1990s.
Missable/Unmissable? This is an unmissable episode. It’s just excellent from beginning to end and one of the finest episodes from the season. Watch this one. The next one isn’t unmissable, but it’s pretty good too.