Written by Jeri Taylor, David Carren, J. Larry Carroll, Joe Menosky, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Although originally aired in the spring of 1991, The Drumhead actually holds more relevance to current times than it did back then. There is a certain sense of timelessness with the ideas presented here, but it really resonated with me more now, twelve years later, than it did at the time of its original airing.
Following an accident in the Engineering section of the Enterprise, legendary Starfleet investigator Admiral Norah Satie (portrayed by Jean Simmons) comes on board. A Klingon spy has already been found out by the crew, but the Admiral is there to find out if there are more people involved.
What follows turns into a modern-day witch-hunt. In her quest for alleged saboteurs, Satie rolls over everything and everyone in her path, with little regard for human rights or whether one small lie makes a person a traitor.
As circumstantial evidence is mounted, she turns her attention to a young ensign, Simon Tarses (portrayed by Spencer Garrett). While he is under questioning, Satie’s Betazoid assistant uses his psychic powers and later announces that the young man is lying. It is then learned that there is Romulan in his bloodline. Does this automatically make him guilty of being a traitor and a saboteur?
In Satie’s eyes, it does.
Simmons is excellent as the Admiral whose name is feared throughout Starfleet. By the end of the episode, it becomes apparent that her power has corrupted her. Yet through it all, she gives a tremendous performance. Never once does the character seem to go over-the-top, something that could have easily happened. Instead, she is a woman who is used to being able to get to the supposed heart of the problem or create it if necessary. She’s the type of person who waits for the right climate to flourish.
Villains who cloak themselves in good deeds are hard to spot…
It’s interesting to watch the crew’s reaction to Satie. At first, her presence is welcomed. Worf (Michael Dorn) actively helps in the investigation. His enthusiasm for rooting out potential traitors and protecting the Enterprise and the people on board lead him to fall in with Satie all too easily. His actions show how people get drawn into situations with the best of intentions and somehow end up on the wrong side. I know I’ve watched news pieces many times and thought “How could they fall for that? How could they be so stupid as to go along with that?” The Drumhead shows how easily that might happen.
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) finally challenges Satie when he becomes uncomfortable with Satie’s targeting of Tarses. His challenges lead to him being targeted by Satie as a traitor. As she lists the circumstantial evidence surrounding his own possible guilt, it becomes apparent to everyone else that the investigation is out of control, as is Satie.
… spreading fear in the name of righteousness…
Much credit for this episode has to go to Jonathan Frakes, who directed, and Jeri Taylor who wrote the script. The pacing is perfect and at no point did it feel like it dragged. All of Taylor’s dialogue has a purpose; there are few points where it feels like there’s filler in there. Instead of rushing in to cause events to take place, she manages to create a flow of events that feels quite natural.
In addition to Simmons, Stewart’s performance is equally outstanding. At first, he is welcoming to the Admiral, and slowly his perceptions change. It’s no abrupt change in Picard, but rather we are shown his increasing discomfort with facial expressions and bits of dialogue.
In some respects, this episode revisits the question of using the Betazoid capabilities as a negotiating – and in this case interrogation – tool. The question is never resolved as to whether it is something proper to do, but it’s interesting to see the subject brought up again and discussed.
Thinking about the current climate of rooting out “traitors” and terrorists in this country, it’s easy to see how a person like Satie can flourish. Just because someone has Romulan blood, it does not make him a traitor. Just because someone comes from a foreign country, it does not make him a terrorist.
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Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Half a Life