6/10/14

Star Trek: Asterisk "The Drumhead"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S04E21
Air Date: April 29, 1991
Written by: Jeri Taylor
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes

Premise
Retired Admiral Norah Satie is brought out of retirement to hold a witch hunt against an alleged Romulan terrorist.

Recap
We begin by questioning a Klingon exchange officer, J'Dan about the events surrounding a dilithium chamber explosion. Coincidentally, Starfleet recently learned that the Romulans got their hands on information regarding the chamber, and with the Klingons having a history with those green blooded villains, you can see why we would be suspicious of J'Dan. But J'Dan is not talking. He dies having anything to do with the explosion, so Starfleet is forced to bring in the big guns: retired Admiral Norah Satie, a debater so good that she regularly outsmarted her brothers at the dinner table after her father brought up a subject to be debated. Oh, and she also headed up the investigation into the alien conspiracy against Starfleet three years ago.

Under Satie's rule, a more thorough investigation is carried out. She immediately goes to engineering to see what was up with the explosion and Geordi shows her the security recording. Yup, that's an explosion, alright. Later, Worf arrives with a hypospray that is designed to encode information onto biological tags to be hidden inside a host's body. This hypospray was found in J'Dan's quarters, so the Klingon is brought in for questioning once again. When confronted about the hypospray he admits his guilt in sending information to the Romulans. "ALL KLINGON BLOOD HAS TURNED TO WATER!" he exclaims, especially pointing out Worf who had earlier refused to help him escape the ship. He says that the Romulans are worthy allies because they're warriors, or whatever. In any case, he sent them the information, but he still refuses to acknowledge playing any part in the explosion. And Satie's betazoid friend agrees that he's telling the truth.
It would seem there's a bigger problem than just one traitor.
With the matter of the explosion still hanging over their heads, Satie and Picard begin questioning other members of the crew to get to the bottom of it. One of them is medical technician Simon Tarses. Tarses was responsible, along with a team of medical technicians, for giving regular injections to J'Dan for his Ba'ltmasor syndrome. This would easily cover up an injection that encoded information into him. He also says that his paternal grandfather was Vulcan, as seen by his long ears and slightly greenish skin color. At the end of his interrogation, the Betazoid insists that he's lying about something; covering up a truth that's giving him a great deal of stress. He and Satie are convinced they have their man. Now they must prove it.

Unfortunately for them, Picard checks up on Geordi and Data in engineering and they report that they have found the explosion to be a complete accident; the result of a manufacturing error that would never have been detected prior to the incident. Regardless, Tarses is still up for another inquiry, this time with an audience of other crew members. Satie insists that private hearings are bad for morale. Riker is set to be Tarses's attorney, and with the evidence that Geordi and Data had, it looks like a cut and dried case... except this is the middle of the episode, so it can't be anywhere near finished right? During the course of the investigation, the Betazoid reveals that Tarses lied about his heritage. His grandfather was not Vulcan, but Romulan, and that, says the Betazoid, is where Tarses's loyalties lie today! Under the council of Riker, Tarses refuses to answer whether that's true since "the answer may serve to incriminate me."
I FRAKKED UP I FRAKKED UP I FRAKK INF RAKKE D THE FRA KUP!
During the recess, Picard confers with Worf and gives the story behind the episode's title. Then he meets with Tarses who admits that he falsified his information when applying to Starfleet, but that's all; he's not a traitor. Then Picard sees Satie to try and get her to stop the investigation, but she insists not only will it go on, but it will, in fact, be expanded while Starfleet Security Admiral Thomas Henry sits in to witness it. The next day, Picard himself is called to the stand. After a passionate plea to end these proceedings, Picard's actions are called into question, including the time he let a Romulan spy escape with Starfleet secrets after posing as a Vulcan. Worf tries to defend Picard, but is rebuffed by accusations of siding with his father who was known as a Romulan collaborator. Then, the coup de grĂ¢ce: questioning whether Picard has fully recovered from being Borg.

But then Picard makes a genius move. He uses Satie's own father's words against her. This has the effect of goading her into revealing exactly how screwed up she is about the whole thing. She outrages and exclaims that she's "brought down bigger men than you!" While she's melting down, Admiral Henry gets up and silently leaves the room, informally calling an end to the trial. Satie is left in the interrogation room alone, shaken, and left to think on what she's done.
I FRAKKED UP I FRAKKED UP I FRAKK INF RAKKE D THE FRA KUP!
After all is said and done, Worf meets Picard in the conference room to tell him that Admiral Henry has officially called an end to any more hearings on the matter and that Satie has left the Enterprise. Picard then notes that just when you thought humanity has evolved beyond witch hunts, you find someone like Satie. Worf says he helped her; he didn't see what she was, but Picard comforts him saying that villains who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged. She, or people like her, will always be with them, ready to spread fear in the name of righteousness. They must always remain vigilant and stand ready in the face of another bottle episode.

Review
So, yes, this was, in fact, a bottle episode. They wrote this episode after refusing to do a clip show at the request of the studio, and for that we thank them. This was infinitely better than a clip show, and it still contained references to past episodes. I have to admit that the first time I watched it, I kind of stopped paying attention after J'Dan left. That's on me, because I was distracted enough to think that there wasn't much going on, but there are some deep, heavy issues at play here, and they should not be overlooked just because there's not a whole lot of action. As a matter of fact, the overriding theme of sacrificing freedom for security is a major point of Star Trek Into Darkness, which irrevocably connects the JJ Abrams era to the Roddenberry era. So, yes, despite not liking it at first, I learned to love it. And I hope its lessons are taken to heart for all who watch it.