May 4 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Drumhead”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Drumhead“The Drumhead”
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Jonthan Frakes
Season 4, Episode 21
Production episode 40274-195
Original air date: April 29, 1991
Stardate: 44769.2

Captain’s Log: The latest participant in the officer exchange program (seen in both “A Matter of Honor” and “Sins of the Father”) is J’Dan, a Klingon exobiologist. Unfortunately, he appears to have provided schematics of their dilithium crystal chambers to the Romulans and also sabotaged the warp drive. He denies everything while being interrogated by Riker and Troi — but when Worf escorts him to his quarters, he offers Worf reinstatement from his discommendation if he’ll just provide a shuttle. Worf’s response is an elbow to the stomach, a fist to the face, and an assurance that the Klingon High Council will provide him with a slow death.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Drumhead

Admiral Norah Satie comes out of retirement to aid in the investigation. She beams aboard, along with her staff. Picard escorts her to engineering, where La Forge shows her the playback of the explosion in the warp core. The isolation door is still down, as radiation levels are high, but sensors indicate that the articulation frame collapsed — and there was no sign of any trouble until just before the explosion, which lends credence to the sabotage theory.

Picard and Satie discuss concerns over a possible Klingon-Romulan alliance. Worf enters and shows them a hypo that J’Dan uses to treat an illness — but it’s been refitted with a device that can read digital information and convert it into amino acids, which he can then inject into someone else. Worf has also found that a Tarkanian diplomat who was on board while J’Dan was serving on the ship disappeared near the Cruces system. J’Dan maintains his innocence until Worf confronts him with the modified hypo, at which point he admits that he’s a Romulan spy. However, he denies sabotaging the warp core.

One of Satie’s aides is a Betazoid named Sabin Genestra, and he senses that J’Dan is telling the truth: he did steal secrets but did not sabotage the ship. Satie is concerned that the ship has bigger problems than just one rogue exchange officer.

Satie and Picard bond over tea and mutual admiration for Satie’s father, Judge Aaron Satie. The admiral confides that she wasn’t initially looking forward to working with Picard. Meanwhile, Genestra and Worf compose a list of people J’Dan dealt with while on board who need to be questioned; Genestra assures Worf that — given the circumstances of his discommendation — he was initially considered a security risk, but both he and Satie are confident in Worf’s ability given how thorough he’s been.

Satie starts conducting inquiries. One of those questioned is Simon Tarses, a mostly human medtech (his paternal grandfather is Vulcan), who gave J’Dan many of his injections. Genestra is sure that he’s lying, covering up something major. Satie wants Picard to restrict his movements, but Picard won’t treat a man as a criminal just based on Betazoid intuition. There needs to be proof, which isn’t there yet. Satie points out that waiting for that proof could lead to lives being lost.

Before they can continue the argument, La Forge calls Picard: they’ve been able to open the blast door and investigate the dilithium chamber more thoroughly. It turns out that, when the ship was repaired at McKinley Station, the articulation frame was replaced with a defective one. It broke down eventually and led to the explosion. It’s not sabotage, it was simply an accident.

Genestra and Satie are convinced that there’s still a saboteur on board, as Tarses was hiding something, and it’s unlikely that J’Dan was working alone.

A formal hearing is convened, which — to Picard’s surprise — is an open hearing. Satie feels that closed sessions invite rumor and speculation. Satie queries Crusher about who Tarses socialized with off-duty — a line of inquiry that Picard quickly cuts off. Genestra then questions Tarses, asking him about his access to medical supplies (including lying to Tarses by saying a corrosive chemical was used to sabotage the engine), then hits him with the biggie: Tarses lied when he enlisted in Starfleet. His paternal grandfather is Romulan, not Vulcan. Tarses invokes the Seventh Guarantee (the Federation equivalent of the Fifth Amendment).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Drumhead

Worf starts a detailed inquiry into Tarses’s life. Picard is furious, as this is turning into a witch hunt. Tarses’s invoking of the Seventh Guarantee should not be enough to provoke that level of suspicion.

Picard invites Tarses to his quarters and they talk. Tarses knows that his Starfleet career is finished because he lied on his application. Picard talks to Satie in private to convince her to cease the investigation, but she intends to expand the hearings to the entire ship. She’s also invited Admiral Thomas Henry of Starfleet Security to observe — and the first person on her list of people to be questioned is Picard.

Before questioning, Picard makes a statement expressing concern that they are proposing to end a man’s career due entirely to the fact that he has a relative who is of the same species as a current enemy. Satie then starts the questioning, mentioning that he’s violated the Prime Directive nine times. Genestra then questions Picard about “Ambassador T’Pel,” asking why he didn’t attempt to retrieve her from the Romulans. He questions the wisdom of having a security chief whose father was a Romulan collaborator. Satie also asks if he’s recovered from being transformed into Locutus, after being responsible for the destruction of 39 ships and the death of 11,000 people at Wolf 359.

Picard then quotes Satie’s father, which causes Satie burst into tears (yes, really), as she is disgusted by her father being quoted by someone who consorts with Romulans, and swears to bring Picard down.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Drumhead

Admiral Henry then gets up and walks out, a show of no-confidence that leads to Satie and Genestra calling a recess.

Worf goes to see Picard, telling him that Admiral Henry has called an end to the hearings and that Satie and her staff have left the Enterprise. Picard delivers the moral of the story about how we must be vigilant against people who would clothe their villainy in righteousness, and we mercifully fade to black.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf takes to McCarthyism like a duck to water, though it’s also his own investigation that exposes J’Dan. He mentions to Genestra that he’s “highly motivated” to investigate this crime, probably because of his discommendation — which Genestra later throws in his face during the questioning of Picard.

If I Only Had a Brain...: It strikes me as a missed opportunity for Satie not to have used Data as part of her conspiracy theory, since he took over the ship once...

I Believe I Said That: “Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot.”

Picard delivering the moral of the story while pointing out the tragic flaw in the character of Snidely Whiplash.

Welcome Aboard: Jean Simmons has always been a great actor, though you’d never know it from the one-dimensional performance she gives here. Character actor Bruce French is more effective in the still-rather-clichéd role of Genestra. As Admiral Henry, Earl Billings gets guest star billing for sitting in a chair and getting up and walking out of a room (nice work if you can get it). Henry Woronicz is probably the most ineffective Klingon since the unnamed doofus in “Friday’s Child.”

And for the first time in far too long, we have our Robert Knepper moment! I had totally forgotten that Spencer Garrett, a longtime character actor and particular favorite of mine, played Simon Tarses.

Trivial Matters: Satie is retconned into the investigation into the parasites that took over much of Starfleet Command in “Conspiracy.” In “All Good Things...” she’ll be established as being the person who signed Picard’s orders to take over the Enterprise.

Worf’s discommendation in “Sins of the Father” comes up multiple times, first as a concern then as a club to be used against Picard in his questioning. In addition, Satie and Genestra throw the events of “Data’s Day” and “The Best of Both Worlds Part II” in his face. The defective part that caused the explosion was put in while the Enterprise was being repaired, as seen in “Family.”

This story continues the undercurrent of a faction of Klingons wishing to ally with the Romulans, first seen with the use of a Romulan explosive on a Klingon ship in “Reunion,” then again with J’Dan’s spying here, and which will continue in “The Mind’s Eye” and “Redemption.”

Admiral Henry is seen again (and actually given dialogue) in the novel The Badlands Book 2 by Susan Wright. Sabin Genestra is part of an inspection team sent to evaluate the Enterprise just prior to the film Star Trek Nemesis in your humble rewatcher’s novel A Time for War, a Time for Peace.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The DrumheadSimon Tarses recovers from his disgrace in this episode in the novels. After serving a six-month suspension for lying on his application, he returns to duty on the Enterprise in Sins of Commission, also by Susan Wright, and Do Comets Dream? by S.P. Somtow. Eventually he goes to Starfleet Medical, becoming both an officer and a doctor, serving on Deep Space 9 (as seen in Avatar by S.D. Perry and the Mission: Gamma miniseries), then later becoming chief medical officer of the U.S.S. Aventine (the Destiny trilogy by David Mack).

Director Jonathan Frakes used the films Judgment at Nuremberg and The Caine Mutiny as the basis for several shots in the episode.

It’s not specified what the nine Prime Directive violations are. The events of “Justice,” “Pen Pals,” “Who Watches the Watchers?” and “Legacy” are possibilities for four of them. One wonders about the other five...

This episode also established the exact number of ships lost at Wolf 359 in “The Best of Both Worlds Part II,” as well as the casualty number.

Make it So: “I don’t like what we have become.” There’s a good Star Trek episode to be made about the short road from concern to paranoia, and about the object lesson inherent in Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And by “to be made” I mean, made after this one, specifically, the two-part Deep Space Nine story “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” which does an excellent job with this theme.

“The Drumhead,” not so much. The opening of the episode is spent with characters going on at great length about how awesome Satie is, while the admiral herself does nothing in particular to impress, and then once the investigation gets out of hand, she is completely demonized. There’s no nuance here — first she’s brilliant, later she’s evil, with no middle ground.

To make matters worse, the episode stacks the deck against her, having the witch hunt against Tarses occur after La Forge and Data have established that the “sabotage” was in fact an accident. The moral quandary would have been far less black and white if the sabotage theory was still in play when Tarses had his life taken apart piece by piece.

(There’s also a big “aroooo?” moment, when Satie goes on about how she’s spent the last four years not living anywhere, hopping from starship to shuttlecraft to starbase, fighting the good fight — when at the top of the episode she said she came out of retirement for this inquiry. Which is it?)

And then there’s the awful climax. Picard being turned into a Borg is a legitimate avenue for inquiry, given what Locutus did, but T’Pel? Really? She fooled the entire Diplomatic Corps, as well as Starfleet Command, for years,but it’s Picard’s fault that she was delivered back to the Romulans? Seriously? On the depth chart of people to be blamed for that one, Picard’s pretty danged low.

That’s not the worst part, though: in the end, we get this strong-willed, powerful, respected woman who is bound and determined to save the Federation at all costs — that is, until Picard quotes her father, at which point she turns into a crazed, blubbering mess. And then, all of a sudden, it’s over.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: The Drumhead

Just to make sure we get it, Picard then self-righteously delivers the moral of the story to a now-contrite Worf. It’s a good moral, mind you, and one that remains important. Hell, the lesson Picard provides is more applicable following the events of ten years and eight months ago than it was in 1991. But it’s given in an episode that is unsubtle and unconvincing and unimpressive.


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido will admit to having enjoyed writing Genestra in A Time for War, a Time for Peace, mostly because, taking his cue from this episode, he wrote Genestra as a total bastard. Go to his web site so you can buy his books, which are just totally awesome.

1. Pangolin
This is my most-hated TNG episode. Thank you for articulating so well all the ways they botched it. Now I can point my husband this way next time he fails to understand my scorn for it!
2. Trekker26
huh, I didn't hate this one nearly as much as you did, Krad. I found it to be quite a compelling story. And i thought it was one of Sir Patrick Stewart's finest acting in the series. Michael Dorn was rather strong in this one, as well.
3. Philippe13
I would never have taken the time to analyze this episode in such detail. When it originally aired I thought "wow, crazy lady!" and “meh” and waited for next week’s episode. Thank you for taking the time to look at it: I agree with your assessment!

In addition, thank you for pointing out the DS9 episodes that explore the same themes in a better manner: I stopped watching DS9 after the first couple of seasons so I'm sure I missed a lot of good episodes. (I did pick it up when they finally got rid of the Jadzia though; not sure if that’s the reason. I guess I never got over not having Ro Laren in the series!)
Now I’m looking forward to the DS9 rewatch already!
4. Raphael Della Ratta
I don't know: I always think back on this episode fondly. I think there are great moments for some characters, and something important is trying to be conveyed. It just was done hastily.

I will say this, krad -- you're pithy analyses do force me to at least reconsider my opinions of some episodes that appear to have held up better in my memory than in actuality.
6. Tesh
I remember disliking Norah Satie, but thinking that the overall message was solid. In retrospect, it was delivered in a less-than-impressive way, but all in all, I do think this is still a decent episode, mostly on the back of the core message.

At the same time, though, I think a counterpoint would have been nice, noting that sometimes the McCarthy is right, and that Starfleet HQ has indeed been incompetent in the past. Seems to me facts and evidence should rule the day, not politicking, and that's something that gets lost in this sort of highly public trial.
7. EvanB
Hmm, I don't know... the episode may not be nuanced, but it's still one of my favourites. I found Patrick Stewart's final performance pretty phenomenal, in the grand scheme. The ending is the best part.

I liked Norah Satie as someone with good intentions who has gone horribly astray. You argue that Satie doesn't do anything impressive to correspond with the crew's glowing comments about her before her arrival, but the whole point of the story is that she's no longer the impressive person she used to be; she's gone off the rails and we just don't see it right away because we're expecting her to be great. So her lack of impressiveness from the beginning tracks with the character and the story, as far as I'm concerned. The disgust I feel for her is what makes the episode work.

If you look back at all Star Trek, I think "nuanced" is sometimes asking too much, across the board. And I know, because I've seen every episode a dozen times. Star Trek has lots of social commentary... and lots of hammers bludgeoning issues to death. That's alright, it's kind of the Roddenberry way. Every once in a while we get something truly nuanced, and I appreciate it when it happens (yes, it happens with far greater regularity in the capable hands of DS9's writers), but in the meantime I'll go on rewatching -- and enjoying -- this episode.
8. David A
I disagree. This is an excellent episode, with a stellar performance by Patrick Stewart. The standard is not "How does this compare with the best possible show that could have been done on this theme?," but rather "How does this episode stack up against others in the series?" On that scale, with due regard to the faults you identify (including wooden performance from Jean Simmons), the episode scores at least an 8.
9. don3comp
I happen to have enjoyed this one. As a fan of the play "The Crucible," and of courtroom dramas, I found this episode to be an effective futuristic telling of that (currently much-needed and timely, as Keith noted) cautionary tale. Trying to protect an instituition by unkowingly contradicting the values of that institution is a theme well worth exploring. The unfortunate fact is that there are Norah Saties out there. For me, her memories of her father were moving and did provide nuance. Like the scientist in "Silicon Avatar," she thought she was honoring a loved one by her actions, but in reality she was doing the opposite. I had no problem with Simmons' performance. I do agree with Keith that the inciting incident (the sabotage) could have been used to greater effect.

It is fair to note, as a female letter writer did to a sci-fi magazine years ago, that there were more (unpleasant) women in positions of power (read: the Admiralty) than was necessary. These women would have had to have been captains, so how did they all get so unreasonable so fast? First Satie, then Nechyev. The aforementioned scientist from "Silicon Avatar" is another example. Female characters were seen in positions of authority plenty of times, but how they behaved didn't always present a favorable view of women in power. Interesting (or not) that "The Drumhead" was written by a woman...
10. rowanblaze
One thing to remember: The real McMarthy era essentially ended with the speech of a single man, Joseph Welch's "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" to applause in the hearing, signalling that the american people had had enough. A fall from grace can be rapid indeed.

@6 "The McCarthy" is pretty much always guilty of overreach, by defnition. There may have been communist subversives in the U.S. Government in the 50s, but the reputations of many innocent people were besmirched by the witchhunt conducted by McCarthy and his cronies.

KRADEC is right in that this is not a nuanced episode, but I love Picard's speech on the stand. And as has been mentioned, Trek is not exactly known for its subtlety in making a point.
Keith DeCandido
11. krad
I knew I was going to get a lot of disagreement on this one. I've always hated this episode, hated it from the moment I first saw it 21 years ago, and as the years went by, I got more and more boggled with the number of people who like the episode. I've even seen it on ten best lists.

For the life of me, I don't get why. It's an unsubtle mess that changes gears way too fast for the story to work.

(I didn't even mention the "aroooo?" moment, when Satie goes on about how she's spent the last four years not living anywhere, hopping from starship to shuttlecraft to starbase, fighting the good fight -- when at the top of the episode she said she came out of retirement for this inquiry. Which is it?)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
James Whitehead
12. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@10rowanblaze, that speech & McCarthy's attempt to go after the military weakened him terribly.

I rather liked this episode and didn't mind Picard's final comments. Considering today's politcal climate & the concept of 'you're with us or against us' I do not feel it too heavy handed since so many still haven't learned that lesson.

I enjoyed Jean Simmons' performance & liked the use of her character as a warning that 'evil' isn't always what it seems. That we do need, as Mad Eye Moody would say, "Constant vigilance!" against these types of 'witch hunts.'

Civil liberties to disappear overnight or with the sweep of a single pen, but over time, where none question what is done to others as it doesn't affect us.


PS - So while this might not be on my top ten list, I watch it when it comes on tv; which, to me, is a sign of a good episode.
13. Tesh
True, if there was substance to McCarthy's allegations, it definitely got lost in the posturing and politicking. Still, I maintain that the search for the truth, the First Duty, as it were, should be the point, though, and if that means someone unpleasant turns out to be right, we can't shuffle the truth away because we don't like the messenger or their style. That's just as much a miscarriage of justice as giving in to unfounded suspicions and public lynchings.

Perhaps that's the subtlety of this episode, though. Worf catches the Klingon spying for the Romulans while he's on the "witch hunt" in its early phases, but it's taking that to excess that's the problem. We see the initial paranoia about a spy wholly justified, but going just *that* much further, looking for accomplices based on emotional assumptions, topples into dangerous waters. What if the initial investigation were stopped because they were afraid to insult the Klingon alliance, or if Satie were clearly prejudiced against Klingons, or if the faulty seal was discovered before the hypo? Would the spying just get swept under the rug, or even wind up noticed at all? This, especially if Satie were clearly biased (as maybe she is, just not against Klingons; she wants a victory and will chase it at any cost)... would initial justification of her paranoia be an acceptable reason for her subsequent crusade? Would they have let her prosecute the case if she were clearly anti-Klingon? Would the facts of the case be tossed out because she was biased? (Again, I argue that she was biased, and shouldn't have been on the case.)

Casting Satie as a McCarthy, then, yes, she clearly went too far by badgering poor Tarses... but she was right that the Klingon was a spy. Where is that line, and when does it get crossed? When did the investigation go from honest detective work even by a McCarthy-esque character, into the witch hunt arena? Does her subsequent excess invalidate the initial success?

Those are the more interesting moral questions to me, not so much the all-too-obvious "cloaked villains" bit that only looks at when Satie went off the deep end.
14. Christopher L. Bennett
Well, this has always been an episode I've admired. It is a valuable message story, and a nice touch of imperfection in the often too-perfect Federation of TNG. Its message that even the most benevolent society can become dangerous if it becomes too convinced that its righteousness justifies all its actions is one that's been very influential to me in my writing.

And I admire what it represents from a production perspective. The last time TNG ran over-budget and needed to shoot an episode as inexpensively as possible, we got the disaster that was "Shades of Gray." This time around, the producers refused to repeat their mistakes and instead saved money by crafting a taut, efficient story driven by characters and ideas, a minimalist piece requiring no new sets or visual effects and barely any stunts or action. And it set the precedent for later money-saving, character-driven pieces like DS9's "Duet" or ENT's "Shuttlepod One," often among the most powerful and thought-provoking episodes. If nothing else, "The Drumhead" deserves credit for ensuring we never got another clip show.

I don't agree that it unfairly "stacked the deck" to have the explosion revealed as an accident so early. The whole point was that once paranoia gets established, it takes on a life of its own even after the original reason for it has vanished. It may seem heavy-handed, but that's because that's how it really works. What Senator McCarthy and HUAC did was so heavy-handed and irrationally excessive that nobody would believe it in a story if it hadn't really happened.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
15. Lisamarie
I've been looking forward to this one, if only becuase I was interested in what I would think. I've seen people mention this as one of the better ones, but I knew krad didn't like it which made me evaluate every part of it perhaps more critically than I would have, trying to figure out what the flaw was actually a little difficult for me to step back and figure out my OWN reaction to it, heh.

I actually quite liked it. Perhaps not one of my top ten, but I agree that the theme and statement is a good one. Although I did find myself disagreeing with Picard about acting on Betazed 'intuition' (and as a full Betazed, wouldn't it be more than just intuition? My impression was that they can read minds/emotions but is that just amongst each other?) - I mean, why else do you have him there if you're not going to use that information? It just seemed kind of wishy washy to me. I didn't agree with the heavy handed tactics later on, but it seemed like it at least warranted some additional investigation.

Again, I must have no eye for acting at all, because I didn't find her 'wooden'...I thought she was an interesting character with good intentions gone wrong. Actually, she reminded me quite a bit of Dolores Umbridge (although I would be inclined to view Satie much more charitably), especially with the flowing robes, hah.
Chin Bawambi
16. bawambi
Wow, I'm the only one who agrees with Keith on this. The only reason this episode rises to the level of a three is that Michael Dorn gives an excellent performance. I couldn't stand Simmons performance and this is one of the few that I don't like Patrick Stewart in. I think that Tesh's commentary here is far deeper in thinking than this episode. The betazoid was a complete farce, the complete lack of evidentary procedure (yet again) in the Federation was laughable. Ugh! I feel that people who like this episode must be projecting their own thinking onto it because for me it doesn't work on any level other than Dorn. The evils of mac carthyism are to be feared but portraying the actors in them as cartoonish minimizes said morality tale. Double Ugh!
alastair chadwin
17. a-j
I enjoyed this episode when it was first shown in the UK and have not seen it since. I was interested in the dislike for it that has been foreshadowed in the comments up to now.

For me the strength of the episode was in the fact that even after the explosion is shown to be an accident, the paranoia continues and has become self-feeding. When the episode was shown over here there had recently been a run of Ritual Satanic Abuse scares across the country in which a process very like that shown in the episode occured in several social service departments where if anyone questioned the process was then accused of being a satanist. The problem with Mac Carthyism is that it is not a search for the truth, it is a search for evidence that will not accept that there is none.

As to Satie's sudden collapse, I saw that as a (admittedly unsubtle) moment of her sudden realisation of who she has become and how far from the tree she has fallen. I didn't make the connection at the time, but I assume it was also an echo of the 'Have you no dignity sir' moment.

I do wholeheartedly agree, though, that DS9 did this kind of thing better.
18. tigeraid
I used to like it, and then re-watched it recently and liked it again. Dorn and Stewart give great performances. I think KRAD's problems are a little lame... Satie "suddenly" losing it and crying when Picard invokes her father makes perfect sense, to me. And the fact that everyone kept looking for a purpetrator after Data and LaForge determined it was an accident? Like that's never happened before? There's lots of cases where prosecutors and investigators keep digging hoping to find evil where there is none. Which was kind of the point of the story, I thought. Paranoia and borderline police state-ness run amok.
20. Lsana
I'm suprised. I thought I was the only one who hated this episode. I've always had a problem with Hollywood's handling of the security vs. freedom issue, where they can almost never think of anything to say other than "Paranoia is bad." This episode doesn't rise above any of the other dozens of movies and TV shows that try to make this point. Very few ever raise the point that, to invert the Franklin quote, sometimes those who refuse to trade liberty for safety end up dead and thus needing neither liberty nor safety.

The only place I disagree with the review is that I think in many ways, the DS9 version of this story is even worse. Here, a small problem is being blown up. There, the Federation has a serious, existential threat and still we can't come up with anything to say beyond, "Paranoia is bad."

The episode I would have liked to see was a follow-up to this one where it turns out that the half-Romulan actually is a traitor and ends up committing some heinous crime. Picard and crew have to do some soul-searching and figure out if they should have known at the time that the Admiral was right. Eventually, they come to the conclusion that no, there was no way to have figured it out based on the evidence available, they were right to defend him, and some times living in a free society means these things happen. But at the end of the episode, every one is thinking, "And yet..."
21. Seryddwr
Nah, I don't buy it - this episode is great. It is true the plot squeaks round a few corners. What I struggled with was (as Krad notes) the speed with which Satie turns into a fairly stereotypical bogeyman, and the cheap shots that constitute her attack on Picard in the penultimate scene followed by a very quick and convenient public breakdown. But for me, they were both easily rationalised, for the reasons noted above. The former point has a simple explanation: she's a fading star more concerned with the ideology of righteousness than at getting at the truth. As for the latter, I always reckoned that Jean Simmons, presented with a dog of a final speech after Picard's rejoinder, nevertheless wrings so much emotion out of it that you find yourself dragged along by it until it becomes compelling - rather like a pianist playing a hackneyed tune with so much feeling that it transcends the faults of its composition. The only other point I find fault with, strangely enough, is the performance of Spencer Garrett, who chews the scenery something rotten as poor old Simon Tarses.

Other than that, I think it's a fine episode, if a little short on nuance. It also contained some fabulous scenes between Worf and Picard.
alastair chadwin
22. a-j
With respect I cannot disagree more. The whole point is that the suspect is innocent. If the Federation were to behave in the manner you suggest then it is no longer the Federation. It becomes nothing more than just another form of government. Star Trek, in episodes like these and intensely in DS9, explores the implications behind having a government based on and inspired by idealism, just as the USA was.
23. ChrisG
Count me on the positive side. It's true that the episode does suffer
from some problems with timing and (lack of) subtlety, but it also
has some nice moments. I like Picard's conversation with Tarses, Worf's naivete and response on being betrayed, and Picard's statement (and defense of his right to make that statement).

I also disagree with Krad about Satie/Simmons. Yes, she is a strong-willed and accomplished woman but, quite realistically, she has weaknesses. Like many strong-willed and accomplished children of strong-willed and accomplished parents who never quite let the children forget who's on top, she both idolizes her father and desperately wants to prove worthy of him. That she is at the end of her career and thinking about her legacy only makes that need more poignant. I thought Simmons brought that out quite nicely. So when Picard quite intentionally hit her on her weak point, I found it quite believable that she would lose control like that. And if the depiction was a bit over the top, I can forgive that too.
24. Edgar Governo
A 3 for this episode, but a 7 for "Home Soil?" We really do have a different view of some TNG episodes.
Rob Rater
25. Quasarmodo
You can include me as a fan of this episode as well.
Keith DeCandido
26. krad
Edgar: I keep telling people that the warp factor rating is the least important part of the rewatch... ;)

Having said that, I stand by both ratings. I love watching "Home Soil" because it's a good science fiction story. Watching "The Drumhead" fills me with dread and irritation.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
27. t2o
@krad: it is amazing how two people can enjoy/hate completely different episodes. I hate "Home Soil" but absolutely love "The Drumhead." It's what makes life so fun and diverse i guess.
28. don3comp
@ #15 Lisamarie:

"Actually, (Satie) reminded me quite a bit of Dolores Umbridge (although I would be inclined to view Satie much more charitably), especially with the flowing robes..."

Yeah, fortunately, Starfleet uniform codes prevented Satie from wearing a pink cardigan! That, and Satie didn't talk (hem hem) like Umbridge. : )
Alyssa Tuma
29. AlyssaT
To me, the most annoying TNG episodes are those that had tons of potential and were, unfortunately, executed in such a way as to squander all that. At least the simply doofy/ill-conceived ones are good for a MST3K-style rewatch (and are mostly relegated to the first season).

There is a lot to be excited about here: Wonderful opportunities for solid performances from Stewart and Dorn (which I think was the case, for the most part) and a meaty and relevant plotline. But the biggest plus? Jean frickin' Simmons, who was an incredible and legendary actress. I love Star Trek, but I might love my classic British actors/actresses even more, and Simmons is at the top.

Her performance has flaws, but I think that has little to do with her talent (not Jean!). Her character was asked to go from fascinating and dignified to unhinged and bizarre (for dubious motivations) bordering uncomfortably close to a "women are hysterical and can't handle power, especially the old ones" stereotype. It might have been compelling if she were slowly revealed to be a total sociopath, but instead there were all these weird breakdowns and shifts and I found myself rewatching some scenes over to see if I had missed something (that quote thing at the end was just odd). Seems like it maybe suffered from poor editing? I don't know.

Worf's journey rang true, though, and I believe I've read that this is a personal favorite of Dorn's?
Joseph Newton
30. crzydroid
I think that this rewatch in general has been a fun way to observe what different people like in a tv show. People have different opinions about different episodes, and there are even some like this one where people either love it or hate it. For some people, it seems that what makes or breaks an episode is whether they think it's "a fun romp" or if it has just enough of those pet peeves. It probably has to do with different personality types, whether a person likes "gritty realism" or a happy ending, etc. For example, I liked this episode, and I think her breakdown at the end and the whole coming together works well. I'm trying to understand krad's criticism with this one, and it seems like he had a problem with the fact that the moral was too straightforward and black and white. Ok, fine. But I'm ok with the moral being straightforward.

There was a lot of interesting discussion on the Best of Both Worlds part II thread, and certain issues came up, such as, "Why did the Borg only send one ship?" That thread got me thinking a lot about what makes a tv show "good". One poster on that thread argued that there has to be some objective criteria besides "I liked it/I didn't like it," but in some ways, I think it can validly boil down to that. I mean, we are critiquing something that is supposed to be entertainment. It will appeal to some people and not to others. Obviously, I think there are probably objective things in an episode that will determine whether or not a particular individual likes it, but that thread just got me thinking about how much we should expect from a tv show.

I decided that criticising the writing aspect as though it were another form of writing, such as a book, is not entirely fair. I don't mean to hand wave away huge problems or defend tv writers for huge plot mistakes, but look at what is required of them. They have to write an episode that is relatively coherent, entertaining, makes use of a certain number of characters...and they have to do it in about a week. I feel like other published written works have the benefit of more time and going through more drafts--the writers on this thread can correct me.

It comes back to the individual though. What problems with the script can be overlooked because it's a tv show, and what problems are just too darn big? How do the performances, the effects, and the shots balance against the story?

At the end of the day, I think the way an episode comes together probably will just be hit or miss for certain individuals, and maybe you'll get really lucky and have something like BOBW part I that is a hit for most people. That being said, this rewatch has been interesting for me because I'm seeing how many bad episodes TNG had, or at least that a lot of the episodes maybe just weren't as good as I thought. But that might be because we have different expectations now. I think of more recent shows that I've seen and liked, like Veronica Mars or Game of Thrones, and I remember how enthralling they seemed. But as time goes by, will I start to notice the not-so-good episodes in those shows as well? Or have tv shows just collectively gotten better? Even if the latter is so, I think TNG probably had a part in paving the way for that.

Anyway, back to this episode in particular: I just want to clarify what about Dorn's acting people thought was good in this one. Because I thought the scene where he was interrogating J'Dan was some of the worst acting I've ever seen on this show. "THIS syringe???" That scene was pretty cringe-inducing. Knowing that Frakes directed this almost makes me think now that they were purposely going for the funny stereotype...but they couldn't be as obvious about it as a show like the Simpsons. Still, I feel like that scene outweighs whatever good performances he gave in the other scenes.
Darth Skeptical
31. DarthSkeptical
I'm with krad on this one. "Home Soil" is way better. A 3 seems somewhere between a "fair" and "slightly generous" rating to me.

If you're gonna do a courtroom drama on Trek, the subject of the inquiry has to be one of the regulars. I know Picard eventually finds his way to the stand, but by that point, it's obvious that Admiral Satie is just, yanno, crazy, so there's no jeopardy. It's like that episode of M*A*S*H where Harry Morgan (as General Steele, not Potter) puts Hawkeye on trial for insubordination. Because the general has flipped ("at Dawn", according to the episode title), Hawkeye's not in any real danger. That's fine on a sitcom, but on a drama, the prosecution must be "for realsies" and the defendant must be one of our regular cast throughout the proceedings. That's why "The Cage", "The Measure of a Man", "Dax" and even that one where the Voyager EMH is suing for artistic rights, work.

Also, courtroom dramas are about the formality of the proceedings, using a known trial structure to arrive at a truth. If you change the structure midway through the episode — by summarily adding to the charges or expanding the investigation — the audience is gonna smell a rat. Because the episode fails to establish clear limits on Satie's powers, it's pretty obvious that it's gonna end with her goin' down. And, sure, if we were talking about Perry Mason, you'd one to have one or two of these mistrial situations peppered throughout the season. But on a series like Trek, that's gonna be unsatisfying.

A narrative about the disqualification of counsel, rather than the guilt or innocence of the accused, is simply a waste of a good courtroom. (At least on a show that isn't normally a legal procedural.) Who cares if this admiral is abusing her powers? We just met her. What we want a courtroom to show us is whether Data has the rights of a human, or if Spock is going to be cashiered out of Starfleet, or if Jadzia Dax is guilty of Curzon Dax's alleged crimes.

I honestly couldn't care less for a story about a visiting admiral pinch-hitting for Joseph McCarthy, while inexplicably suffering some kind of dramatically impotent mental breakdown.
32. Big Joe S.
I respectfully dissent. This episode is one of TNG's finest.
To quote myself,
"One of Star Trek's strengths (which shined in DS9) was the ability to
present 20th Century conundrums in the context of the 23rd and 24th
Century. I always felt though that Star Trek, especially TNG, was at
times too perfect. This episode shows that in the 24th Century, there
are still serious questions about the relationship of the individual and
the State that are unanswered."
More appropriately, the 24th Century is just as human and fallable as the 21st Century. "We think we've come so far, torture of heretics, burning of witches..."
I agree that "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" are stronger in bringing this theme to life. To quote Avery Brooks (when I asked him), "It's part of a tradition of telling stories we have, ya dig?"
But this episode still works.
We are always on the edge of our seats. First, did J'Dan sabotage the warp core? If not, who did? What is Tarses hiding? Is there truly a conspiracy?
Worf, in particular, has a tremendous arc as Chief of Security. He goes from being on the frontlines of the investigating to being at odds with Picard over Tarses to standing up for Picard and seeking Picard's insights after it is all over. Worf is also prodded by Sabin over his discommendation. Michael Dorn pulls it off well to show us that Klingons are not monolithic and gruff.
Picard does well in showing us how we have slid down the slippery slope. The use of the term "Drumhead" is better than "Kangaroo Court" or "Inquisition" or "Inquest" or "Star Chamber". The Constitution and Rule of Law are fundamental to who we are, and Picard is right-"once any man's liberty is trodden on, we're all damaged." Picard is tremendous in standing up for our rights unfailingly.
Satie is a good villain. She appears to be a dedicated and sympathetic investigator. But, as Picard points out to Worf, she has her own agenda and clothes it in her skills as savior-investigator. In the words of Madison, Satie is factitious.
The exchange between Picard and Satie is powerful. Backed to the wall, Picard boldly quotes Judge Aaron Satie to point out just how ridiculous and incredulously wrong Norah Satie is. It's great lawyering. If you think about it, it actually makes sense that Satie would break down. She's been alone all these years. She worships Judge Satie. She is dedicated as savior-investigator. And Picard is turning everything against her and her own factitiousness. How would you, the factitious person feel, learn that your hero stands in opposition to everything you are and hear your enemy quote him chapter and verse? And it finally truly reveals Satie to us.
And the Picard-Worf friendship, arcing from "Sins of the Father", develops further and solidifies still further. Picard imparts his widsom to Worf and how vigilance is the price of our civil liberties.
This episode should be required watching for young Americans. Who we are, bound together by our freedoms, is fragile. And this episode reveals just how fragile and tenuous that identity is. The ghost of Judge Satie would be proud. Indeed, he lurks throughout this episode. Judge Satie and everything he represents is a key underpinning of this episode, even though he never appears. And that is some of the glue that makes it work.
In sum, this episode has everything that makes Star Trek great and why Star Trek works. This episode also belies everyone who bashes Star Trek. Or perhaps the bashing is because these themes are too mature and adult for those who bash Star Trek. Regardless, "The Drumhead" is good storytelling, especially as an allegory, and Picard and Worf lead the episode outstandingly. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.
33. USER
Since the 1960s, there have been countless shows dealing with WITCH-HUNTING & PARANOIA & STEREOTYPING & stuff, both at the flicker palace and on the booben toob. This episode here of SPACE TALKERS ANONYMOUS is one of the least memorable I can remember seeing on THIS TIMELY TOPIK. The warp factor is SO LOW that it is ... actually ... INVERTED!!1!1!!!
34. Adam Byrne
What does your last line mean Keith? I don't get how you relate this episode to 9/11. Thanks.
35. Ingonyama
Adam - Keith is referring to a widespread surge in American paranoia regarding the country's Muslim and Arab-American population following the events of 9/11, resulting in dictates like the Patriot Act, among other things. The Bush administration's 21st-century McCarthyism, if you will.

Keith - I respect your opinions on this episode...on its own, it's ham-handed and jumps around far too much.

However, while I hated it as a child...I love it as an adult. Crewman Tarses' persecution and Admiral Satie's wild goose chase are uncomfortably familiar to me in hindsight. Perhaps it's merely in light of the post-9/11 culture, but the episode resonates much more strongly now than it did.

That, and Sir Patrick Stewart and Michael Dorn sell the hell out of their respective roles. Picard's final speech is very much the "Have You No Decency?" of the episode, and his subtle, levelheaded, reasonably put observation to Satie, to me, feels like a suitable breaking point for this lonely, obsessed, paranoid, broken person.
36. Risingson
I also hated this episode. Not only it is extremely, uncomfortably heavy handed, but for the reasons exposed by Keith, namely the Satie character which has zero consistency and the many, many plot holes this episode manages to have in its 45 minutes. This is one of those episodes when TNG kicks me apart from what it is telling, and then I see awkward makeup, unnecesary close-ups, the weird face expressions from Jonathan Frakes and generally a bunch of actors that do not know what to do with what they are given.
37. Scott M
Years ago I had to sit through Pokemon, the First Movie. It starts out as a generally agreeable movie, and then, suddenly, turns into a club-you-in-the-face morality tale. I got the same feeling with this episode. It starts out as an interesting mystery, but the mystery ends abruptly (and turns out not to be a mystery at all), while the moral appears out of nowhere.

Don't get me wrong, Star Trek should be about something, and this was definitely about something. And it's interesting to see an episode about the past be so eerily prescient about the future. But it's just so obvious about everything.

Other thoughts: Picard said that Tarses' career was going to be ruined because his grandfather was Romulan. That makes for a great moral, but it's a bunch of liberal misdirection. Tarses' career was ruined because he lied on his entrance exam. Whether he needed to do so would be an interesting debate, but the episode never goes there.

And the ending. Satie throws a fit, and I guess the "real" admiral had seen enough? Did everyone realize she was a psychopath or just blinded by paranoia? And where was Troi during all this?

And Picard says Satie was a villain. I suppose that's what the episode was supposed to be about, but it seemed to me she was more of a fallen hero, or perhaps a disgraced anti-hero, than a villain. Thus, it seems a more appropriate moral would be that we must be vigilant against those who would cure ills with poison, not just those who would poison us outright. But Worf probably would have asked more questions, and they were out of time...
38. aaron parr
I've been sick lately and thus wtching Star Trek TNG for the first time. While I am impressed with the overall series so far, epsiodes like this make me wonder what the hell I am doing with my time.

The quality of this one looks like a british production. Its almost like Video from the 1960's. (Exageration but why does it look so bad?) If the acting was good, low production quality wouldn't have mettered, but the acting was across the board terrible in this one as was the writing.

I couldn't sit through it.
39. Nick Wingfield
What an annoying episode!

Pity - because Patrick Stewart’s courtroom performance is masterly. Unfortunately the rest of the show is pants!
If only Mr Spock could have been transported into this episode - he might have injected some logic into it.

My main bugbear is Picard’s rationale - or lack of it. A spy is caught. Surely it makes sense to investigate all those who had dealings with that spy - if only to eliminate them from enquiries. That isn’t being McCarthyite - its just acting responsibly. Yet Picard knows better and chastises Worf for essentially doing his job and trying to get to the truth. Picard also criticises Admiral Satie for being influenced by her Betazoid assistant’s ‘intuition’. But what does he use to determine medical assistant Simon Tarse’s innocence? Hard facts? Forensic evidence? No. He has a quick chat with him in Ten Forward and decides he’s a good guy. In other words he’s relying on his intuition - the very thing he’s criticised Satie’s assistant for. Of course the real reason Picard is so smugly self confident is that he’s read the script - and knows he’s going to be proven right in the end.

In another episode this could be a cautionary tale of how the rest of the crew rally around a young medical assistant who they believe has been unfairly accused of being part of a Romulan Conspiracy, only for Picard, the only one who wasn’t fooled, to prove his guilt and save the Enterprise. Fortunately, for Picard, he always seems to know which episode he’s in.

Oh, and one more thing. Does anyone else think that medical assistant Simon Tarse looks creepily like a young George W Bush? Now that’s a guy I can believe has alien blood coursing through his veins.
40. SethC
This episode is so-so. The idea of the Federation having enemies from within is a good premise but the script execution of it comes across as clumsy. Probably my biggest pet peeve of "Star Trek" in general, is that the writers made many episodes into modern-day morality plays and beat you over the head that they are doing modern-day morality plays, in an attempt to make it appear sophisticated and subtle, when it almost never is. Examples of this are rife: "Half a Life" (aging and agisim), "The Hunted" (society treats war veterans terribly), "The High Ground (Terrorism is bad), "Suddenly Human" (You can't make someone something they aren't), "Ethics" (Suicide is wrong), "Violations" (Evil lurks in the hearts of everyone) etc. Voyager did much the same thing. The main character (who's ALWAYS the smartest person in the room and can do no wrong) sums up the 'moral' bluntly at the end of the episode. There's absolutely no nunance, no depth and rarely multiple view points: Picard or Janeway say this, therefore it is correct. Period. DS9 did it much better as it went on and was able to introduce multiple view points and a much richer, more complex world. But that always has annoyed me about "TNG" especially.
MaGnUs von Tesla
41. lordmagnusen
Yes, DS9 did it better, yes, it was a bit heavy-handed... but this episode is good, I liked it. Not top ten, but I like it.

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