The Drumhead

WARNING: The following article contains spoiler information on this week's TNG episode, "The Drumhead". So, if you don't want any spoilers, don't read it. (Boy, that should be a generic enough warning--nobody'll know how I feel, especially since I'm writing this several hours BEFORE the rest of the review...:-) ) This starts out really slow, but picks up a LOT. Pretty good overall. Okay, so I'm a sucker for courtroom dramas. (Makes me wonder why I've never been enchanted by "LA Law". Oh well.) This was another success in the lines of TOS's "Court-Martial" and TNG's "The Measure of a Man" in that it managed to get tons of tension crammed into a very small room. But more on that after the synop, like so...

An investigation is underway: there's been a security breach, followed by an explosion in engineering which may well have been the result of sabotage. A Klingon exobiologist, J'Ddan, is under investigation for the security breach, and lots of circumstantial evidence points to him. He denies any involvement.

Showing up to help the investigation is retired Admiral Nora Satie, who's smoked out many a conspiracy in the past. Her investigations, combined with some of Worf's findings, quickly point to obvious guilt for J'Ddan, who confesses to his crime. However, when Sabin, a Betazoid aide to Satie, says that he appears to be telling the truth in denying the apparent sabotage, Satie concludes that there's a conspiracy on board.

Satie, whose father was a revered judge in the Federation (required reading in the Academy, at least in Picard's time) quickly gets to work. J'Ddan had few associates, so the number of people to question is small. Since he often received injections, Dr. Crusher is an obvious choice, but she has nothing useful to give. However, after Simon Tarses, a med-tech, testifies, Sabin immediately claims that Tarses is frightened and covering up a huge lie--and says "there's your man." Picard begins to get worried about this chain of events, refusing to hound an innocent man--_especially_ when Geordi and Data's investigation later turns up strong evidence that the explosion in Engineering was a random accident, not sabotage.

Satie, however, will have none of it, and insists that the lack of sabotage doesn't imply a lack of conspiracy. At the second hearing for Tarses (which is now open to spectators, incidentally), Sabin ends up using a blatant lie about the explosion in Engineering to get Tarses off balance, and accuses him of being a known liar about his ancestry (his grandfather was not Vulcan, but Romulan). Tarses refuses to answer Sabin's questions.

Picard becomes more and more upset at the turn of events, and reminds Worf that Tarses has committed no crime. (Worf, however, is by now convinced that he "must" seek out the enemies of the Federation.) When Picard talks to Satie and demands an end to the hearings, threatening to go to Starfleet Command, Satie informs him that she's been in touch with Command, and the hearings are to be *expanded*. In addition, her old associate Adm. Henry of Starfleet Security is now coming on board to observe the hearings. Picard vows to fight, and quickly finds himself ordered to testify at the next set of hearings.

At Picard's hearing, Satie shows little mercy. She questions his devotion to the Prime Directive, claiming he's broken it 9 times since taking command of the Enterprise. She asks how he can sleep at night after all the destruction and loss of life he caused as part of the Borg. The final straw, however, comes when Picard quotes her father's old warnings of curtailing freedom: she begins to rant that Picard dirties her father's memory by speaking of him, and vows to bring down Picard at any cost. Admiral Henry, in response, merely gets up--and walks out without a word.

Later, the hearings over and the matter settled, Picard tells Worf that although Satie is now discredited, others like her will always exist, waiting for the right moment to surface. "Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay."

Well, that should do. I had to skimp on a few details to keep it within manageable proportions, though. Anyway, on to commentary.

As I said, the story started off rather slowly. In fact, it dragged. While most of it was necessary to set up for the later part of the show, I found myself somewhat disinterested by the early stages of the investigation. Basically, I didn't get particularly engrossed until J'Ddan (damn, but it's hard to type that correctly :-) ) had actually confessed and the hearings for Tarses had begun; in short, until the witch-hunt got underway. The means J'Ddan used to transmit information (an optical reader attached to a hypo, converting data into amino acids and thus using anyone he injects as carriers of information) was very interesting, but not really enough to get my attention for more than a moment or two. It dragged.

However, that changed really fast. As soon as the witch-hunt had started, I found it very difficult to think about anything else BUT the show. While I often end up thinking about non-Trek stuff during commercials, this time I was trying to extrapolate reactions to the last things I'd seen and trying to figure out exactly what could be done to avoid the problems they faced. I was very engrossed, no doubt about it.

The plot was very solid. The one minor plot hole (and that not even a hole) is that I think Troi should have been used more than in just the initial questioning of J'Ddan. After all, two Betazoids (or one and a half, I guess) should be better than one, right? Even if Satie would have bristled at the concept ("isn't my assistant reliable enough for you?" or something like that), I'd still have liked to see it come up. But since Sabin didn't actually come up with any wrong feelings (J'Ddan was telling the truth, and Tarses WAS covering up a lie), I don't think it would have changed anything relevant.

The direction was quite good, at least once the show picked up steam. I could tell it was Jonathan Frakes (remember him? :-) ) right off, though--some of the shots he used were very reminiscent of similar ones in "Reunion". (Specifically, I'm thinking of the shot of Worf from below in "Reunion", which looked similar to the one of Worf and J'Ddan in the lift in the teaser here.) Not that I mind--I thought both "The Offspring" and "Reunion" were very well directed.

A quick, possibly out-of-place interjection. TNG is giving me more and more of a serialized impression, and "The Drumhead" was a very good example of that. I'm not really talking about all the past continuity mentions here (the Prime Directive violations, etc.), but about the very minor subplot with Worf. Several times in the course of the show, much mention is made of Worf's father's alleged treachery at Khitomer (and to VERY good effect; I was half ready to snarl a bit at Sabin myself when he accused Worf of being the son of a Romulan collaborator...) and of Worf's virtual nonexistence on the Klingon homeworld. Nothing was really done with it--it was just emphasized a great deal in the course of the show. I think they're getting ready well in advance for lead-ins to "Redemption", the season finale--and if they prepare for it this far in advance, and this well, I really can't wait.

(In the like vein [yeesh, I'm digressing from my digression!], I found it interesting that "Conspiracy" was alluded to here for the first time since its existence. (I'm talking about Adm. Satie having "uncovered a conspiracy at Starfleet Command" just under three years ago here...I doubt they meant it to refer to anything else.) One wonders if they're actually thinking about getting back to it. We can but hope...)

Anyway, onwards to characterizations and the like. There isn't much to say about most of the regulars, because they had very few lines. All of the regulars except for Picard and Worf were basically walk-ons, and all did their jobs just fine. So with THAT out of the way, let me deal with the guest stars first. I guess the three main ones are Satie, Sabin, and Tarses.

Jean Simmons did a surprisingly good job as Adm. Satie. From the preview, I wasn't expecting much, but the "I've brought down bigger men than you, Picard!" was probably her worst moment of the show. (Nice choice in clips, guys. Yeesh.) With a couple of short exceptions (that clip as one, along with basically the whole rest of that outburst, which I thought was a little overdone), she was rather believable on the whole. In fact, I suppose she must have been fairly believable, because I wouldn't have harbored such strong feelings towards her character at the end if she hadn't been. (When she mentioned the Borg incident at the end, I was muttering various phrases about her, her attitude, her somewhat dubious parentage, etc.)

Bruce French (Sabin) was equally good if not better than Ms. Simmons. He managed to go from one side of his character to another quite well; I was feeling rather mellow towards him early on, but was definitely against him by the end as well. A lot of that was the writing, but if French hadn't done as good a job as he did, I wouldn't have bought him in one of the two roles. Nice job.

As for Spencer Simmons (Simon Tarses)...well...he was okay. Not spectacular, but decent, and far better than he could have been. In a number of cases, but particularly in his case, the show could have degenerated into major melodrama. Fortunately, it didn't. Simmons wasn't bad, but he's probably in the top third of TNG guest stars.

Then for Picard and Worf. Both were TREMENDOUS. Worf was expertly written and expertly played--as soon as the little bit about Tarses's grandfather came out, I just knew Worf would take that (both the ancestry and his refusal to answer any further questions) as "all but" an admission of guilt. It would have stunned me to no end had he not. (That's not quite the same thing as being predictable, though, which I do dislike. Predictable would have been for the investigation to turn up some link to Picard which brought him down, and then it all turned out to be a hoax, with someone else, probably one of the investigators or something, as the culprit, etc. That would have been mighty dull.) It seems to me that a security officer is the perfect choice for someone who would be likely to take Satie's attitude hook, line, and sinker, and see only as far as "the Federation DOES have enemies!", period. Lots of bravos here--probably Worf's best show since "Reunion".

Picard. Wow. I've gone on record many times as stating that not only is Patrick Stewart amongst my favorite actors, but that Picard is probably my favorite character on TNG. This clinches it. I empathized more for him than I probably ever have. (I suspect that not everyone else will, however. A lot of this may be due to the fact that I have VERY strong feelings about the issues raised here myself, and Picard pretty much said everything I felt on the subject, and far more eloquently than I ever could.) If people want to see a good example of Patrick Stewart's acting abilities and why I like Picard as a character, this show will be a shining reason why.

Let's see, what else. Quickly--the music was okay. I liked the somewhat dark sound of the strings in the teaser, but it got overused later, so I guess it went neutral, same as usual.

I said before that the plot was solid, but I didn't say why I did think so. Let me amend that mistake now. Everything was built very carefully on everything else, and given the (in my view) warped mindset Satie started off with, a lot of her "conclusions", both about Picard and everything else, made sense. Truths were misinterpreted and subtly twisted into extremely damning innuendoes. Everything just made SENSE to me, that's all.

In particular, a lot of the main lines of the show (particularly Satie's, Worf's, and Picard's) rang exceedingly true. A few of them:

"If it was so innocent, why do you hesitate to give us the names?" I've seen this used elsewhere, with equal effectiveness. Really nasty, manipulating, fear-mongering statement for me, but damn it all, it works.

[Tarses refused to answer about his grandfather] "That is not a crime, Worf! Nor can we infer his guilt because he didn't respond!" "Sir--if a man were not afraid of the truth, he WOULD answer!" Just perfect for both characters, and for both sides of the issue.

"Admiral Satie has ordered you to report to the interrogation room at 0900 hours tomorrow morning. You are to be questioned before the committee." LARGE Brrrrrr.........I don't think I'd ever want to be on the receiving end of a line like that.

I think I'm just about done, but I should see if I can come up with an answer to the implicit challenge in the show, namely what 9 instances Satie's referring to where Picard broke the Prime Directive. (Granted, her interpretation was probably a VERY strict one, but still.) I can think of three that are clear and obvious violations: "Justice" (rescuing Wes), "Pen Pals" (allowing Sarjenka to be helped and saving her planet), and "Who Watches the Watchers" (pretty obvious here). As for the other six...hmm...I'm really not sure, since the level of the culture is sometimes murky. I'll work on it.

I suppose that just about wraps it up. I liked the show a lot once it got going. Whether you will...depends. I liked it because I'm a sucker for courtroom dramas, and because I have very strong feelings about the issues raised herein (i.e. McCarthyist tactics). If you've been left cold by other courtroom-type Trek (like "The Measure of a Man"), I doubt you'll like it as much as I did. If you want action, you're out of luck. If you want comedy, you're definitely out of luck--this was a dead serious episode from beginning to end. But I thought that a lot of it was truly gripping.

Anyway, onto the numbers. I should mention that I'm changing my rating system a little: it's silly to have a whole separate rating and equal consideration given for "Technical", i.e. music, effects, etc., since I really don't consider it the equal of the other aspects of the show. I think I'll change it into a +1 to -1 rating which adds on to the rating I get from the other three. With that in mind...

Plot: 9.5. A tiny bit off for not at least mentioning the use of Troi, but rock-solid otherwise. Plot Handling: 7. Three points off for the slow start, but that's it. Characterization: 10. The absolutely fantastic Worf and Picard more than make up for the slight problems with one or two of the guests.

TOTAL: 9, rounding up for the slightly better than average music. Definitely a keeper.

NEXT WEEK: Wait a second. Did I read this right? Are they trying to do a Lwaxana Troi story STRAIGHT? Angels and ministers of grace defend us...well, we'll see.

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students) BITNET: tlynch@citjuliet INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "With the first link, a chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably." Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.


Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <>
Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38