Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Face of the Enemy”

“Face of the Enemy”
Written by Rene Echevarria and Naren Shankar
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont
Season 6, Episode 13
Production episode 40276-240
Original air date: February 8, 1993
Stardate: 46519.1

Captain’s Log: A woman on a Romulan ship, and wearing a Romulan uniform, wakes up and appears to be hung over. The computer won’t turn the lights on, and she clambers to her feet and manages to find a light switch near a mirror. When the lights to go on she and we are shocked to see that it’s Troi, who has been surgically altered to look like a Romulan.

Sub-commander N’Vek enters and explains the situation in as brusque a manner as possible—necessary due to lack of time. They’re on a warbird, the Khazara, and Troi must tell the ship’s CO, Commander Toreth, that she is Major Rakal of the Tal Shiar (the Romulan intelligence service) and as Rakal, Troi must order Toreth to set course for the Kaleb Sector, but not tell Toreth why.

Troi’s head is swimming, and not just from the drugs N’Vek pumped her with when he kidnapped her from a conference. N’Vek assures her that her only chance of getting off the Khazara alive is to do exactly as he says—and he also reminds her that she’s an empath and would know if he was lying. She reluctantly admits that he is not.

Toreth summons N’Vek and “our guest” to the bridge. They take on cargo, and Toreth meets “Major Rakal” for the first time. Troi struggles with the role at first, not aided by Toreth’s obvious disdain for the Tal Shiar. The commander is also pissed that she hasn’t been told what the cargo is, and informs Rakal that she intends to open it.

At this point, Troi finally puts her game face on and tells Toreth that the cargo is property of the Tal Shiar and Toreth will not open it and will proceed to the Kaleb Sector forthwith. Toreth reluctantly agrees—not that she really has a choice. Her disdain for the Tal Shiar is masking a very real fear of what they can do, and Troi is taking advantage of that fear.

Elsewhere, the Enterprise is taking a passenger on board: a former Starfleet officer named DeSeve, who twenty years ago defected to Romulus, and now is un-defecting (is that a word?) back home. (He even has a Romulan military haircut.) He is placed under arrest for treason. He also has a message for Picard from Ambassador Spock—a further example of “cowboy diplomacy,” which is a handy way of making it clear that it really does come from Spock, since that conversation between Picard and Spock was private. The Enterprise must rendezvous with a freighter in the Kaleb Sector.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

DeSeve also explains himself: he found Romulan morality, their strict sense of what is right and what is wrong, very appealing as a youth.

On the Khazara, Troi meets with N’Vek in the cargo bay. The “cargo” is, in fact, Vice Proconsul M’Ret and his two aides. He’d been speaking out against Romulan policies, and feared he would be imprisoned. Spock set up this escape route for his defection—N’Vek, Troi realizes, is part of Spock’s underground. Their plan is to rendezvous with a freighter (the same one DeSeve said the Enterprise needed to meet up with) and transfer Troi and the cargo carriers to it.

Troi joins Toreth and her senior staff for dinner, entering in the middle of a war story in which Toreth got a commendation—and in which the intelligence officer was executed. Toreth then pokes at Rakal with a stick some more, eventually revealing that her father was arrested in the middle of the night by the Tal Shiar for speaking his mind.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

The Khazara rendezvouses with the freighter. Troi senses that the captain of the freighter is lying and has no intention of fulfilling the mission for which he was paid. N’Vek then overreacts by destroying the freighter, and saying that Rakal gave the order. Toreth is furious at this subverting of her authority, but Troi recovers from her shock at N’Vek’s actions and slaps Toreth down, pointing to the insignia on her neck and reminding Toreth that she is the primary authority on the ship. She orders the cloaking device engaged and orders Toreth to hold position and wait.

The Enterprise arrives at the rendezvous, but nobody’s there. (Because the freighter was just destroyed.) DeSeve tells Picard and Worf that the freighter is an Antares-class ship that couldn’t be more than fifteen light-years away, since they would have had to take on the cargo in the last day in order to make this rendezvous.

On the Khazara, Troi is pissed. N’Vek reveals Plan B: go to a Federation base. As a Starfleet officer, Troi can provide the access codes for the gravitic sensor net so they can enter Federation territory safely.

When Troi gives the order to go to the base (saying that she recognized the freighter captain as a known Federation spy) Toreth is—surprise!—not happy with her new orders, but follows them after taking a few more shots at the Tal Shiar.

They proceed to the bridge, and then they detect the Enterprise—which changes everything. For one thing, it helps sell Troi’s line that the freighter captain was a Federation spy. It also provides a much easier place to send the cargo.

The Enterprise is examining the debris of the freighter, and Data determines that it is indeed an Antares-class freighter, and it was destroyed by a Romulan ship, and not that long ago. Riker orders red alert.

Troi wants to send the cargo to the Enterprise, but N’Vek wants to stick with the original plan. Troi rightly points out that the original plan was toasted as soon as he blew up the freighter. She forces him to find a way to let the Enterprise track the Khazara even while cloaked—initially, he refuses, but Troi threatens to tell Toreth that he’s a traitor unless he starts listening to her for a change.

Data detects an intermittent distortion that DeSeve verifies could be a cloaked ship that’s having a minor engine fluctuation. Picard orders McKnight to change course to follow the distortion. Meanwhile, Toreth realizes that the Enterprise can track them somehow—to test whether or not that’s true, she maneuvers the Khazara right under the Enterprise’s nose. When the Enterprise backs away, Toreth puts the ship on battle stations.

Troi orders battle readiness ceased. Speaking derisively of the military’s tendency to use violence when discretion is required, she removes Toreth from command (threatening the families of anyone who disobeys her), and then explains her plan. Rather than decloak and fire upon them immediately when the Enterprise is battle-ready, she instead will propose a diplomatic solution, and get the Enterprise—who wish to avoid war—to lower their shields so they can be destroyed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

The Khazara hails the Enterprise, and when “Major Rakal of the Tal Shiar” comes on the screen it’s a huge test of everyone’s poker face. Picard plays along, asking if the major can shed any light on the freighter attack. Troi explains that the previous commander fired on the freighter without authorization and has been removed from command. She offers to beam over to discuss the situation, and requests that the Enterprise lower their shields for transport.

After she signs off, Picard orders the shields lowered, and then Troi orders N’Vek to fire on the Enterprise—but it’s a low-power shot that hides a transporter beam, which deposits M’Ret and his aides onto the bridge. DeSeve recognizes them immediately, and Riker summons a medical team, while Picard raises shields again. N’Vek claims the disruptor power is fluctuating for some reason, but Toreth pushes him aside and sees that it was sabotaged in order to hide the transporter. Toreth’s pilot determines that the transport originated in the cargo bay, at which point Toreth realize that Rakal and N’Vek are traitors. The pilot kills N’Vek and then points his disruptor at Troi until Toreth can disarm her. The commander then orders the ship to cloak—which requires them to drop the shields, at which point the Enterprise can beam Troi over and bugger back home.

M’Ret and his aides are safe, Troi gets her real face back, and Toreth is probably really confused as to what happened.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: It’s established in this episode that Romulan ships use a quantum singularity to power their warp drive. (This is why the Romulan warp core imploded, rather than exploded, in “The Next Phase.”)

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Interestingly enough, the original story by Rene Echevarria called for Crusher to be the one kidnapped and impersonating Major Rakal, but it became evident that Troi’s empathic abilities made her better suited to the task.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: This episode marks the debut of Worf’s longer hair, tied back in a ponytail (and also with a braid in there), a look he would retain for the rest of the series, on Deep Space Nine, and in all four TNG films.

In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign McKnight is seen flying the ship for the first time since “In Theory,” and for the final time on the air. Meanwhile, Toreth’s pilot never gets a name, but he totally saves the day from the Romulan perspective, as he tracks the transporter beam and kills N’Vek, saving his commander’s life.

I Believe I Said That: “Agonize all you want. But don’t let it get in the way of our plan.”

“You don’t have a plan anymore!”

N’Vek trying to keep Troi focused, and Troi not especially willing to play along with that.

Welcome Aboard: Scott MacDonald had just appeared on the previous week’s episode of Deep Space Nine as Tosk in “Captive Pursuit” before playing N’Vek here; those two were his first roles as an actor, and he would go on to play Ensign Rollins in Voyager’s premiere episode “Caretaker,” Goran’agar in DS9’s “Hippocratic Oath,” and the recurring role of Dolim on Enterprise. Meanwhile, this is Carolyn Seymour’s third role on TNG, and her second time playing a Romulan shipmaster, having played Taris in “Contagion”; she was also Mirasta Yale in “First Contact,” and will play the holonovel character “Mrs. Templeton” in two episodes of Voyager. Barry Lynch does excellent work as the defector DeSeve (he’ll also appear in several Trek video games), and Pamela Winslow returns again as McKnight.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

Trivial Matters: This episode serves as a sequel to “Unification” and “Unification II,” continuing the theme of Spock’s underground movement among the Romulans, without having to actually bring Leonard Nimoy back. The movement will next be referenced in the 2009 Star Trek. (Apparently, Michael Piller briefly floated the notion that the cargo was Spock himself, but when they opened the stasis chambers, he wasn’t there, and the dissidents who were smuggled in said that he didn’t make it. But they couldn’t kill a major Star Trek—indeed, the major Star Trek character—off-camera like that.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

Commander Toreth appeared again in two novels, Vulcan’s Soul: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz and your humble rewatcher’s A Singular Destiny.

The Tal Shiar name was chosen by Naren Shankar as a deliberate variant of tal-shaya, a Vulcan method of breaking someone’s neck, established in “Journey to Babel” on the original series.

Toreth makes a reference to a tachyon detection grid, like the one used in “Redemption II.”

Susan Shwartz wrote a sequel to this episode from DeSeve’s perspective in her short story “Turncoats” in the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit.

 

Make it So: “Your opinion of the Tal Shiar is quite clear, Commander.” There’s a tiny issue I have with this episode that I want to get out of the way: what language is Troi speaking when she’s on the Khazara?

Language is an issue that Star Trek mostly avoids like the plague, with vague references to universal translators that work like magic. A Deep Space Nine episode (“Sanctuary”) addressed the situation more directly, but that episode raised more questions than it answered. When Riker served on the Pagh, they made a point of having the Klingons speak the human language for Riker’s sake (which was silly, but at least it addressed the issue without having to have an entire episode with subtitles and forcing the actors to wrap their lips around Klingon). Here, Troi is undercover, so she has to be speaking the Romulan language, especially when she’s dealing with Toreth and the rest of the non-N’Vek crew.

It’s only an issue because of one of the episode’s (many) nice touches, to wit, Barry Lynch’s initial scenes as DeSeve where he struggles with English, as you would expect from someone who hasn’t spoken it in two decades. But if that’s the case, then Troi simply must be speaking Romulan—probably with an accent (hell, she speaks English with an accent). You’d think someone as observant as Toreth would notice that….

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Face of the Enemy

Still, it’s a minor complaint (albeit one that remains a sore point on all of Trek, even on Enterprise which went to the trouble of having a linguist on board and still mostly dodged the issue or dealt with it poorly). Overall, this is a superb episode, a great vehicle for Marina Sirtis, a nice sequel to the Spock two-parter, and a fascinating look at the Romulans as people from a variety of perspectives. Toreth in particular is a complicated individual, justifiably proud of her military record, and obviously a patriot and a devoted citizen of the empire—but not an unquestioning one, as she doesn’t think highly of the Tal Shiar (with good reason, given what happened to her father). For that matter, the character of DeSeve is fascinating, a type of person you rarely see on Star Trek, and a nice insight into the larger tapestry of life in the 24th century.

What I especially admire about this episode is the way that DeSeve’s internal conflict mirrors that of the episode. He refers to a moral certainty that was appealing to him as a youth, but as he grew older he realized that it was far more complicated than that. So too with the players in this episode, as the truly moral and sympathetic character is Toreth, the nominal antagonist, whom Troi has to maneuver around when she isn’t actively sabotaging her command and threatening her. A lot of what Toreth says are things Troi would likely agree with were she allowed to be herself. Meanwhile, N’Vek is a cold-hearted, murdering bastard—but he’s the one who’s actually on the side of the angels, more or less.

Plus Sirtis kicks seventeen kinds of ass here, modulating beautifully from compassionate Starfleet officer to fascist bitch on wheels. What’s especially fun is when bits from one bleed into the other: when “Rakal” acts quiet and polite, first when she meets Toreth before she settles into the role, and again when she asks the pilot how many people were on the freighter; and when Troi gets medieval on N’Vek’s ass to get him to let the Enterprise know where they are. It’s a nice next step for the character, after she was thrust into command in “Disaster.”

The climax is a little bit anti, but it also all makes perfect sense. It’s been long established that Romulan ships are unshielded when cloaked, so the Enterprise beaming Troi off once the Khazara cloaked worked just fine. Besides, the tension here wasn’t about physical action.

 

Warp factor rating: 8

 


Keith R.A. DeCandido is not at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend. So there.

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