WARNING: This review has been cosmetically altered to appear as a review of this week's TNG episode, "Face of the Enemy". In reality, it is a 90,000-word essay on molluscs. Well, that's *much* better. The mollusc is ...
Oh. Sorry, my mistake. :-)
"Face of the Enemy" was a strong piece of work -- not without minor flaws here and there, but only minor ones. More information follows, after this synopsis:
Inside a Romulan Warbird, a groggy officer awakes, asks fruitlessly for the computer to turn on the lights, and finally stumbles over to the dresser to turn on a light herself. There, this "officer" is not what she appears -- she is, in fact, Deanna Troi altered to look like a Romulan!
The second-in-command of the ship, Sub-Commander N'Vek, arrives and quickly explains to her the facts she needs to know after her abduction and alteration. Troi is now Major Rakal of the "Tal Shiar", the Romulan intelligence section, and as such need answer to no one. N'Vek tells her quite earnestly that her help is needed, and that her only chance of survival is to follow his advice. Troi acquiesces for the moment, and is taken to meet Commander Toreth.
Toreth holds a clear contempt for the Tal Shiar in general, and for Troi in particular. She takes great pleasure in attempting to put Troi ill-at-ease, demanding to know where Troi's guards are and the nature of the mission the ship is on. This rattles Troi early on, but she quickly settles into play-acting her role to the best of her ability, and threatens Toreth with Tal Shiar retribution well enough that Toreth decides, for the moment, to follow orders and head to the Kaleb sector after taking on some secret cargo.
Meanwhile, in Federation space, the Enterprise takes on board one Ensign DeSeve, a defector to Romulus who after twenty years is returning to his original allegiance. He is, of course, arrested for treason and held for court-martial, but he also insists on speaking to Picard. When Picard arrives ("Commander!" "At ease -- and it's Captain, actually."), DeSeve informs him that he is carrying a message from Spock, involving more "cowboy diplomacy". DeSeve says that a Corvallen freighter will arrive shortly in the Kaleb sector carrying important cargo for the Federation, and that the Enterprise should meet it.
Picard, however, does not take this information at face value, and demands to know something of the messenger before he can properly evaluate the message. DeSeve talks briefly of his decisions to defect and then return. The Romulans, he says, have a particularly rigid moral code that strictly defines what is right and what is wrong; and this rigidity lends itself well to a clarity of thought and of purpose. However, he continues, as he aged, he discovered that clarity was perhaps not quite so ... clear-cut. Picard, satisfied, immediately orders the Enterprise to the Kaleb sector.
Troi meets N'Vek in the Warbird's cargo bay, and discovers that the cargo is in actuality some unconscious _passengers_. The three people in stasis are Vice Proconsul M'Ret and two of his top aides, all of which intend to defect to the Federation to protest Romulan policies and help the dissident movement, of which N'Vek is a part, establish an underground railroad to help dissidents escape. And while N'Vek agrees with Troi's protest that a Romulan officer might have better served in her role, he says that if this phase of the plan fails, a Starfleet officer will be required. For now, the plan is that once the ship rendezvous with the freighter, both she and the cargo will be sent to Federation space and freedom.
Troi and N'Vek, separately, head to dinner with the senior officers. There, Toreth makes several attempts to break through Troi's guard, referring to past intelligence errors that led to executions, asking Troi about her educational background, and agreeing strongly with an assessment by a teacher at the Romulan War Academy that the military and the Tal Shiar are fundamentally at odds, with the former being based on trust and the latter on deception. Troi, becoming Tal Shiar to the hilt, argues that they are the only thing ensuring the loyalty of the Empire -- but this draws Toreth's wrath even further, as she reveals that the Tal Shiar arrested and executed her own father for nothing more than foolish idealism. Troi refuses to be baited any further, however: "I don't need your devotion, Commander -- just your obedience." "That's all you have," snarls Toreth, just as the meal is adjourned.
The Warbird meets with the freighter, but all is not well. Troi senses that the Corvallen captain has no intention of keeping his word, and surreptitiously informs N'Vek of this. N'Vek immediately destroys the freighter and tells Toreth he acted under Troi's orders. Troi, feeling trapped, responds very harshly to Toreth's anger, citing broad discretionary powers in carrying out her mission and dismissing the loss of life as necessary. While Toreth makes a log entry deploring the unnecessary death, Troi orders her to cloak the ship for protection and then to "hold position and *wait*." Troi stalks out.
The Enterprise, meanwhile, arrives in the same sector, but finds no trace of the freighter they were meant to meet. Picard quickly demands to know from DeSeve what's going on, but DeSeve does not know. He admits that the message he gave Picard did not come *directly* from Spock, but that the person who did deliver it is one that DeSeve trusts implicitly. He reveals that the freighter has a small speed, and thus must be no more than fifteen light-years distant. Picard orders a search pattern.
Back on the Warbird, Troi and N'Vek argue about the loss of life on the freighter and about the collapse of their initial plan. N'Vek calms Troi down and says that the new plan is to proceed to the Starfleet base on Draken Four, inside Federation space -- and that Troi will have to provide the access codes to get past the Starfleet graviton "listening posts" along the border.
Troi conveys these orders to Toreth, adding that the freighter was destroyed because its captain was a known Federation spy. Toreth is utterly contemptuous of the plan, citing gravitic sensors and possible tachyon "nets" similar to those used during the Klingon civil war. Troi insists, calling Toreth a coward. Toreth agrees, but not without getting in a parting shot: "I think it is your kind that will be the death of us all." They prepare to leave for Draken Four, but sensors pick up a vessel approaching -- the Enterprise.
Toreth, seeing no need to provoke a confrontation, orders the Warbird to quietly slip away under maneuvering jets (warp engines in the radiation field of the destroyed freighter would make them detectable), as the Enterprise crew finds the freighter's wreckage and deduces that it was caused by very recent Romulan disruptor fire. Troi, sensing an opportunity to avoid crossing the border, asserts her authority over *N'Vek*, threatening N'Vek with exposure as a traitor if he does not help her find a way to somehow enable the Enterprise to track them. N'Vek acquiesces, offering to work with a sympathizer in Engineering to create a small magnetic imbalance in the warp engines that may be detectable.
The Enterprise picks up that distortion intermittently, and with the help of Ensign DeSeve concludes that it's from a Romulan ship. They set a course for it. Toreth's reaction to the Enterprise tracking them is understandably surprised, and she also reacts in a way DeSeve warns the Enterprise is likely; she plans an attack. She orders a course set to directly below the Enterprise's hull, saying that if the Enterprise *can* detect them, they'll move to avoid an attack -- and if so, "I will destroy them."
The Enterprise crew notice the distortion approaching them and back off. Toreth prepares to attack, but is prevented by Troi, who declares Toreth unfit to command and relieves her of duty, threatening the crew's families to get their assistance in making Toreth step down. She tells Toreth to "watch and learn", claiming that she will use diplomacy to get the Enterprise to lower their shields and *then* attack.
The Enterprise answers the Romulan hail, and the bridge officers show understandable shock at seeing their counselor commanding the Warbird. "Rakal" promises no more incidents such as the destruction of the freighter, and offers to beam aboard to work things out. Picard agrees, ordering a transporter lock on her and telling Worf privately to keep it active no matter what happens.
Troi and N'Vek fire on the Enterprise, but with only minimal power. The Enterprise shudders, but takes no significant damage -- and the three dissidents, beamed over simultaneously with the disruptor fire, appear on the bridge.
Toreth discovers the disruptor sabotage on the Warbird and accuses N'Vek and Troi. "I see two traitors in our midst." She reaches for her weapon, forgetting that N'Vek had confiscated it earlier on Troi's orders. N'Vek reaches for his own weapon, and is killed by the ship's pilot. Toreth threatens Troi with interrogation and execution, and orders shields dropped and the cloak re-engaged for a return home. At the instant shields are dropped, however, the Enterprise beams Troi home and leaves the area at breakneck speed. Troi has her "old face" returned to her, and Picard reassures her that thanks to her efforts, N'Vek's sacrifice will not be in vain.
Whew. It's been a while since I wrote a long synopsis like that; I'd forgotten how much time they took. (Thank heavens for three-day weekends. :-) ) Now, onwards:
I have one minor plausibility objection to "Face of the Enemy", so I'll get it out of the way first. I find it hard to believe that something as crucial as the access codes for Federation border stations would be something that Troi (or, by implication from N'Vek's statements, any Starfleet officer) would have. Had she ever had to actually *use* them, I'd be much more concerned -- as it is, it's just a small glitch.
That said, I thought "Face of the Enemy" was a marvelous piece of work, both on the Warbird half and on the Enterprise half. Both Marina Sirtis and Deanna Troi had their best episodes in ages (perhaps ever), we got some very intriguing insights into Romulan culture, the guest stars ranged from decent to superlative, and the plot rolled along without ever stalling or seeming rushed. I'm quite impressed.
To start with, let's take the Warbird side, since it's probably the one more people focused on. The most obvious point concerns Troi's situation and how she dealt with it -- and she dealt with it well. Placed in a situation that almost anyone would consider out of their league, *Troi* (not just Sirtis) had to give the acting performance of a lifetime [literally, since it would've been the _last_ such performance of her lifetime had she failed] to not only escape herself, but to aid her kidnappers. And against all expectations, she pulled it off.
Part of my concern before seeing the show had to do with the fact that Sirtis's usual method of having Troi show anger (rare, I know, but it's happened) is to make her rather shrill and vocal (much as she was the one time she utterly lost her cool with N'Vek here). That sort of demonstration is decidedly *not* Romulan so far as I'm concerned, and I was worried that she might not be able to pull off the clipped, contemptuous style more akin to Romulan dynamics. (In retrospect, given "Clues" and "Power Play", I probably shouldn't have worried.) However, she took to it nicely, displaying at least as much arrogance as needed -- and probably overdoing it a bit here and there, which for a Tal Shiar representative might not be so bad.
However, nearly as critical to the success of the story as Troi's role was that of Commander Toreth. Here, I expected good things initially owing to Carolyn Seymour's excellent showings in both "Contagion" and especially "First Contact". What I saw, however, surpassed my expectations significantly. Toreth was revealed very strongly as a person akin to Picard -- in fact, had "Balance of Terror" been a TNG episode I could very easily see Seymour assuming Mark Lenard's role. Her concern for her ship, her crew, and her *ethics* was far beyond that we've been led to believe is typical for Romulans in this era, and made for quite a different look at Romulan culture. A great deal of that was due to Seymour's superb job at walking the tightrope between seeming so sympathetic that you wondered what she was doing in command and seeming so cold-hearted that you didn't care or dismissed her as one-dimensional. There are only a couple of TNG Romulans who've managed that, the actor playing Admiral Jarok in "The Defector" being one of the others. Bravo to Ms. Seymour.
Scott MacDonald as N'Vek was quite adequate in his role, but not a standout. N'Vek was present primarily to help explain the plot to Troi (often a thankless or unnecessary task, but not here) and in that, he worked beautifully. I didn't find him a particularly sympathetic character, however -- and my concern when he was killed was far more how Troi would avoid that fate than any feeling I might have for N'Vek.
One of the most fascinating things to come out of the "Warbird" side of the show was the discussion of the Tal Shiar and how it related to the military. I was reminded of two things, only one of which relates to Trek. First, the depiction of *Romulan* intrigues here reminded me a great deal of certain _Klingon_ codes of ethics as depicted in John Ford's _The Final Reflection_ from way back. (In fact, the Tal Shiar was even mentioned once as "Imperial Intelligence", which rang a *big* bell.) Secondly, I was reminded somewhat of "The Hunt For Red October", in which some of the Navy/KGB interplay is significant early on in the course of the film. I think Toreth's point about trust vs. deception was very well made, and I will be *very* curious to see what kind of fallout this episode's events will lead to in Romulan space and on Romulus itself.
Which leads me to something else: this show, finally, depicted some of the aftermath of "Unification". Over a year has passed since we've seen evidence of a Romulan underground movement and political dissidents, and I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever see it mentioned again. Well, at least *someone* (two someones, actually -- Rene Echevarria of "The Mind's Eye" and "I, Borg" fame wrote the story here and Naren Shankar of "The First Duty" and "Ship in a Bottle" did the teleplay) remembered it and built on it. Spock's efforts are beginning to bear some fruit, and M'Ret's defection should add a little momentum. I'm starting to wonder if events closing out TNG's television run or beginning its film run will deal with the Federation/Romulan rapprochement, or some desperate Romulan acts to avoid "sharing the fate of the Klingons". Hmm...
In a show like this, I usually expect the Enterprise role to be secondary (much as it was in "Chain of Command, Part II"), and it would have been were it not for Barry Lynch's [no relation, honest :-) ] wonderful work as the repatriated Ensign DeSeve. This, I'm convinced, was the true "Face of the Enemy" referred to in the title, not Troi's plastic surgery. DeSeve's difficulty in readjusting to Federation life (such as that it is *not* dangerous to volunteer information) was delicately handled, and his remarks about Romulan modes of thinking had me absolutely fascinated. Even after having seen a rerun of "The Defector" just hours before this, I still found myself extremely impressed by how well DeSeve was shown. (When I think about it further, he struck me as a very *defeated* person. He gave up everything to follow one code of ideals, and then found the ideals he worshipped were flawed. No wonder he seemed so tired.)
The direction was very nicely done, and among the best work I've ever seen from Gabrielle Beaumont. (Given that two of her early pieces for TNG were "The Bonding" and "Disaster", though, I was rather worried before seeing the show.) The dinner scene on the Warbird, for example, positively oozed tension, and the chase scenes late in the show had me rather concerned for the safety of all involved. I think just about everyone was at their best here.
There are a couple of things to say about the music as well. I don't know who Don Davis (the composer) was, but he has some interesting new ideas. The teaser's music seemed positively *eerie*. I'd probably be a good deal more impressed than I was were it not for hearing Ron Jones's *fantastic* work on "The Defector" just slightly earlier, though. TNG music has always been good at being unintrusive, but for a while it was dynamic at the same time. That's not always the case any more...
That said, I think I'm through the major points. Some smaller ones:
-- Worf's changed his look again. I'm not sure where that ponytail came from, but I think I like it.
-- Worf also displayed his longstanding prejudice against Romulans very quietly here; his simple "Was he a Romulan?" to DeSeve about his contact made it obvious that if the answer was yes, the contact wasn't to be trusted. Nicely done.
-- A "forced quantum singularity" as a power source? Let's cut the technobabble *out* from here on in. N'Vek's explanation to Troi was more than adequate; we didn't need to bring this in besides. Sigh...
-- On that distortion, however, that bit also reminded me slightly of "The Hunt For Red October". "One ping only" kept surfacing in my brain...:-)
That's about it. *Very* nicely done this week -- it more than made up for the debacle of "Aquiel". Now, if we can keep this up, things will definitely be looking up.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 9.5. The "access codes" glitch is minimal, since it was merely an option. Plot Handling: 10. Superlative. Characterization: 10. Strong kudos to Sirtis, Seymour, and Lynch.
TOTAL: 10. Way to go.
NEXT WEEK: Q makes up for "Q-Less", I hope.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: firstname.lastname@example.org UUCP: ...!email@example.com "But I will not risk my crew because you think you can *dance* on the edge of the Neutral Zone." -- "The Defector" Copyright 1993, 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. 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.