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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S4E21 "The Drumhead"

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Worf: Sir, the Federation does have enemies! We must seek them out!
Picard: Oh, yes. That's how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don't like what we have become.

Things are tense aboard the Enterprise. A few days ago, an explosion in the engine room put the warp core out of commission and several crew members in sickbay. Sabotage is suspected, and all signs point to J'Dan, a Klingon scientist currently serving aboard the Enterprise as part of the Federation–Klingon Officer Exchange Program (remember that?). Starfleet Intelligence has discovered that several design specs and schematics of Enterprise systems have fallen into Romulan hands right about the time J'Dan started serving aboard. J'Dan denies the charges, naturally, but his behavior during and immediately after the inquiry raise suspicions. Troi detects that he's hiding something, and as Worf escorts him back to his quarters, J'Dan tries to bribe him: he's got powerful friends back on the Klingon homeworld, he claims, and if Worf would help him escape the Enterprise he could see what he could do about that whole family disgrace thing Worf has. Fortunately for him, Worf has enough presence of mind to wait until they've gotten back to his quarters before sucker-punching J'Dan and promising him that he'll expose his spying ways.


A short time later, the Enterprise receives a visitor. Starfleet Command has been watching the situation and have deemed the threat of espionage significant enough to warrant a formal investigation. To that end, they have plucked legendary intelligence expert Admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons) out of retirement, and with her arrival the investigation kicks into full gear. Security footage of the explosion indicates a sudden catastrophic failure of the dilithium chamber's hatch, which could well be the result of sabotage. Furthermore, Worf has discovered that J'Dan's personal hypospray has been modified to download information from the Enterprise's computer and encode it intoa biological sequence. Several people who have left the Enterprise while J'Dan has been serving there have since mysteriously disappeared. It would seem that J'Dan has been using random people as "data mules," injecting them with the encoded information, and then directing his accomplices to abduct them. Satie is so impressed by Worf's work that she requests that he be part of her investigation team, and that he lead the interrogation of J'Dan.


Confronted with this new evidence, J'Dan cracks, admitting that he's a spy for the Romulans and a traitor to the Empire. However, he still claims to know nothing about the warp core explosion. It's a puzzling thing that he refuses to admit to this in the light of the rest of the evidence against him, but that sets Satie's suspicions off. She finds it hard to believe that J'Dan was acting alone, and if he was in fact telling the truth, then he might not be only spy aboard the Enterprise. She continues her investigation, focusing on the Enterprise medical team, as they were the ones with the most frequent contact with J'Dan. Picard is uneasy with the course the investigation is taking, but Satie assures him that it's just a routine inquiry. And that she and he are a team, the Enterprise and her crew are his command, and she will not step on his toes.

The investigation proceeds, and it soon uncovers a suspect: Simon Tarses, a quarter-Vulcan medical technician who most often attended to J'Dan when he came into Sickbay for his regular checkups. During his interview, Tarses is cooperative but extremely nervous. And Sabin Genestra, Satie's Betazoid aide, senses that he's hiding a very big secret.

Satie immediately recommends that Tarses be watched and his movements restricted, but Picard disagrees. There is no evidence that Tarses is really a spy; all they've got to go on is a Betazoid's read of his emotions and, well, who wouldn't be nervous in his situation? Before this argument can go much further, LaForge checks in. The engine room is clear, and he and Data have finished their investigation. The explosion was not due to sabotage. The chamber hatch failed due to metal fatigue. It was an accident. The fact that it happened at the same time there was a spy on board was a complete coincidence.

This doesn't stop Satie, however. She's convinced Tarses is hiding something, she's determined to root it out. She calls him back for another inquiry—and this time she opens the hearing to the public. Genestra tears into Tarses, firing off hostile question after hostile question, even outright lying about the cause of the explosion, until finally he makes his biggest accusation: the secret Tarses has been hiding is that he lied about his heritage on his Starfleet application. His grandfather wasn't Vulcan; he was Romulan.

This whole situation is now leaving a bad taste in Picard's mouth. First he speaks to Worf about it. But Worf believes that the Admiral has the best interests of the Federation at heart, and he's adamant about working with her to root out these Romulan collaborators. Then Picard speaks to Simon Tarses privately, to get to know the man a little. He finds that all Simon is really guilty of is being too enthusiastic about joining Starfleet; lying on his application was his way of trying to head off any questions about his loyalty (ironically, the very thing that led to all these questions now). And now, Tarses laments, the career he worked so hard to build is done.

Finally, Picard confronts Satie. This has gone on long enough, he says. He will no longer cooperate with her investigation, and if she refuses to stop interrogating his crew, he will go to Starfleet Command directly. Satie counters with the fact that Starfleet Command authorized her to do this, and furthermore, the head of Starfleet Security, Admiral Thomas Henry, is on his way to the Enterprise to personally observe the further investigations. The inquiries will continue with Henry in attendance — and Captain Picard himself will be the next one on the stand.

When Picard takes the stand, he's immediately called to account for nearly every black mark on his record, from his occasional bending of the Prime Directive to his assimilation by the Borg. At this point, Worf finally realizes this is getting out of hand and tries to defend his captain, but he's smacked down by Genestra, who calls his loyalty into question due to his family's alleged collusion with the Romulans. Picard responds to these accusations by quoting the words of Aaron Satie, renowned Federation judge and Norah Satie's father, regarding personal freedom and suppression of rights.

Picard quoting her beloved father's words back to her causes Admiral Satie to go berserk, launching into a scathing tirade that exposes her as a paranoid tyrant. The crowd turns against Satie, and Admiral Henry leaves the room in disgust without a word.

The hearings are stopped, Admiral Henry leaves, and Admiral Satie is sent back out to pasture. Worf and Picard discuss the events of the last few days, and Worf beats himself up for allowing himself to be Satie's tool. Picard assures him that he wasn't alone, that those who spread fear in the name of righteousness are not always easy to spot. And that the cost of freedom from tyranny is to be on guard against people like her.

Picard: Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay.

Tropes featured in "The Drumhead" include:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Admiral Satie is called out of retirement for this investigation. She later tells Picard that the last four years of her life have been devoted solely to her duty, suggesting she hasn't been out of the game long at all.
  • Amoral Attorney: Sabin Genestra, although even he thinks that Satie's rant at the end is going too far.
  • Aside Glance: When Picard learns that there may be a collaborator on board, he reacts by looking into the camera and grimacing at us.
  • Berserk Button: Satie remains in control of herself at the hearing, until Picard quotes one of her father's famous speeches about civil rights. Then she absolutely loses it.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: While their intentions are arguably good, both Satie and Sabin prove to be far nastier individuals than their initially professional and reasonable demeanors suggest. Satie, in particular, acts quite friendly towards Worf and Picard until they start questioning her, at which point she becomes downright venomous.
  • Bottle Episode: It takes place entirely on the Enterprise, with little in the way of special effects. Rebuffing executive demands for a Clip Show, the writers came up with a much better concept that could still be brought in under budget.
  • Break Them by Talking: Picard delivers one of his famous speeches near the end of the hearing, leading to Satie's Villainous Breakdown as she spits back a flurry of invective, surrendering any credibility.
    Picard: You know, there are some words I've known since I was a schoolboy: "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured...the first thought forbidden...the first freedom denied...chains us all irrevocably." Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom... and warning. [Satie starts looking like a volcano about to erupt] The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged. I fear that today—
    Satie: [jumps to her feet] How dare you! You, who consort with Romulans, invoke my father's name to support your traitorous arguments? It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets! My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle! You dirty his name when you speak it! [Admiral Henry gives Satie an angry and disappointed glare] He loved the Federation! But you, Captain, corrupt it! You undermine our very way of life! I will expose you for what you are! I've brought down bigger men than you, Picard!!
    [Henry stands up and silently walks out]
    Satie: [visibly shaken] ...I have nothing more to say. [sits down looking devastated]
  • Bribe Backfire: Not a monetary bribe, but J'Dan offers to have some powerful friends help restore Worf's honor in exchange for his help escaping the Enterprise. Worf responds with an Offhand Backhand, followed by:
    Worf: [holding J'Dan against a wall] I don't know how you transferred secret information to the Romulans, but I will find out. And when I inform the Klingon High Council, they will put you to a slow death.
  • Broken Pedestal: Picard is initially thrilled to have the revered Admiral Satie on board to assist their investigation into a possible saboteur on the Enterprise, but his pedestal is quickly broken when Satie starts ruthlessly persecuting his crew, including the captain himself.
  • Call-Back: "The Drumhead" references quite a few previous episodes. Satie supposedly helped ferret out the conspiracy in "Conspiracy." J'Dan offers to fix Worf's discommendation, and Satie brings up Mogh's supposed collusion with Romulans, both referencing "Sins of the Father." Satie's accusations against Picard include his assimilation by the Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds" and his unwitting delivery of a Romulan spy back to her people in "Data's Day." All this continuity might be a relic of the original concept as a Clip Show.
  • Daddy's Girl: Norah Satie loved her father a great deal. Which goes a long way toward explaining her tirade when Picard quotes him back to her.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Picard mentions to Worf how villains of this sort are easier to spot than the Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, thus providing this episode's Aesop.
  • Death Glare:
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Satie treats Picard as a criminal because of the Mind Rape he suffered from the Borg. Can you say "Victim Blaming"?
    • The Fantastic Racism with which Satie (and Sabin) treat Tarses certainly has resonance with any number of Real Life examples of people hated and distrusted for their ancestry or race, such as the treatment of Americans of German and Japanese descent during World War II. This is only underscored by having the admiral who walks out of the court proceedings in disgust being portrayed by a black actor.
  • Don't Answer That: When Sabin demands that Tarses admit that his paternal grandfather was a Romulan, rather than a Vulcan, Riker, acting as his legal counsel, tells him not to answer. Discussed later between Worf, who believes that Tarses' refusal to speak is in itself an indication of guilt, and Picard, who tells him he can't think that way; Tarses is innocent until proven guilty and cannot be made to incriminate himself; the entire point of the Seventh Guarantee (an expy of the US's Fifth Amendment) is that a person may invoke it and not have their guilt presumed.
  • Everyone Has Standards: When the head of Starfleet Security, the guy whose job is to be paranoid, thinks you're going too far...
  • Facepalm: Picard, of course, in response to Satie's accusations. It's not as popular as the one in "Deja Q" but is still subject to Memetic Mutation.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Anti-Romulan sentiment plays a significant role in this episode. Satie's suspicions about Tarses are based solely on his ancestry, not his personal feelings or political leanings. Ironically, she proves that he was right to fear discrimination based solely on being one-quarter Romulan.
    • J'Dan claims to be a victim of this, that he's being accused of espionage and sabotage just because he's Klingon. He is, of course, guilty of espionage, but not sabotage.
  • A Father to His Men: Picard puts his ass directly on the line to defend Crewman Tarses, a member of the Enterprise crew that he'd never even spoken to (at least, not on-screen).
  • Freudian Excuse: Worf seems to have this going on. The disgrace of his family due to the accusations of his father collaborating with the Romulans drives him to prove his loyalty and hatred of the Romulans even more, falling under Satie's influence very easily. It's when Genestra brings his family history up against him that he finally realizes he's on the wrong side.
  • General Ripper: Admiral Satie, renowned for her zeal in sniffing out conspiracies, goes loco looking for Romulan collaborators. Apparently, being famous as a conspiracy-uncoverer makes one pretty paranoid in one's old age.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half does indeed focus on the investigation and what J'Dan is up to, but he reveals himself soon enough, and after laying seeds in the first half, the story takes a much darker turn into Satie's pathological obsession with investigating the crew. When Tarses ends up in her crosshairs, the issue becomes the security of the state versus the rights of its citizens, with Satie arguing the former while Picard defends the latter.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Satie already has experience at defending The Federation from conspiracies, such as the one with the mind-control parasites. That time, there was a conspiracy to deal with. This time, however...
  • Hiding Your Heritage: Simon Tarses is one-quarter Romulan, but hides it by claiming that he's part-Vulcan instead. As Romulans and Vulcans are related, this holds up to the usual scrutiny, until Sabin decides to dig deeper.
  • Hoist by Her Own Petard: Satie's decision to bring Admiral Henry into the investigation backfires when Henry shuts her down for going out of control.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: When Picard refuses to accept Tarses's guilt based on "nothing but Betazoid intuition," Satie promptly points out how much he often relies on Troi's intuition in similar situations—and to Picard's credit he concedes the point, and says he's going to reconsider that going forward.
  • Improperly Paranoid: There is a Romulan spy on board but he is found quickly and he had nothing to do with the malfunction, and still Satie is willing to destroy the careers of every single person on board the Enterprise with her witch hunt just to make sure. Picard ends up destroying her career instead by proving to her superiors that she's running on sheer crazy.
  • Insane Admiral: Satie turns out to be this. Fortunately, Henry isn't.
  • Iron Lady: Norah Satie is poised, dignified, and unwavering in her convictions, up until her Villainous Breakdown.
  • Jerkass Realization: Worf, at the end of the episode.
  • Kangaroo Court: Satie turns the hearings into this until Henry shuts her down. The episode's title refers to the trope, as Picard recalls "drumhead trials" being performed after battles with no justice in sight.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • As soon as Worf speaks up in Picard's defense, both Satie and Sabin ignore his previous help; Satie implies that he was partly responsible for the Romulan double agent's escape, and Sabin goes as far as to bring up the false charges against Worf's father.
    • Satie throws Picard's assimilation by the Borg in his face, using it to try and discredit him and suggesting that he should be held responsible for the deaths at Wolf 359.
  • Kirk Summation: Satie should've listened, but she didn't.
    Picard: I'm deeply concerned about what is happening here. It began when we apprehended a spy; a man who admitted his guilt and will answer for his crime. But the hunt didn't end there. Another man, Mr. Simon Tarses, was brought to trial, and it was a trial, no matter what others choose to call it. A trial based on insinuation and innuendo. Nothing substantive offered against Mr. Tarses, much less proven. Mr. Tarses' grandfather is Romulan. And for that reason his career now stands in ruins. Have we become so... fearful, have we become so cowardly, that we must extinguish a man because he carries the blood of a current enemy? Admiral, let us not condemn Simon Tarses, or anyone else, because of their bloodlines, or investigate others for their innocent associations. I implore you; do not continue with this proceeding. End it now.
  • Knight Templar: Admiral Satie. She genuinely loves the Federation and has devoted her life to its service. Unfortunately she lets paranoia and a desire for the spotlight get the better of her. As she pushes the investigation into paranoid territory, she tells Picard with pride that she has nothing in her life but her duty — no family, no friends, no home. Given that she's also supposed to be retired, we can understand (though not empathize with) her zeal to keep investigating.
  • Living Lie Detector: The Betazoid Sabin Genestra is used as this during investigations. Picard is uncomfortable with Genestra's readings being used as factual evidence, but Satie counters that Picard himself trusts Troi's readings enough to make decisions. Picard says that perhaps he is wrong to do so.
  • Lying to the Perp: Sabin pulls this on Tarses, claiming that the warp core explosion was caused by chemicals that Tarses had access to (even though it was an accident). Tarses refuses to cop to anything.
  • Mandatory Line: Because Jonathan Frakes was directing the episode, Riker's role is limited to appearing in the teaser, acting as Tarses' counsel during his hearing, and appearing in the background of a few other scenes.
  • Married to the Job: Satie notes that she's spent her life traveling from place to place doing her job and has no friends.
  • Motive Rant: J'Dan finally admits to passing information to the Romulans, saying that they would make better allies than The Federation.
    J'Dan: The blood of all Klingons has become water! Since the Federation alliance, we are turned into a nation of mewling babies! The Romulans are strong. They are worthy allies. They do not turn Klingons into weaklings, like you! [looks at Worf]
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Simon Tarses, after getting publicly humiliated by Sabin, is just wallowing in remorse for lying to Starfleet. Picard takes it upon himself to try and talk it out with him and understand him, since it's clear Tarses is hardly any sort of malicious person. It's no use; Tarses is too shaken up.
    • Worf's reaction at the end.
      Worf: I believed her. I helped her. I did not see what she truly was.
    • Satie's reaction as well, once she realizes how badly she just screwed herself.
  • Nervous Wreck: Poor Simon Tarses looks like a bundle of nerves every time he's on the stand, and it's hard to blame him, especially once Sabin starts laying into him. When we last see him in the episode, talking with Picard, he's at his lowest, utterly terrified and wracked with guilt.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: While this episode’s tone of paranoia is meant to invoke the McCarthy Hearings and the Un-American Activities Committees, Norah Satie herself isn’t a Joseph McCarthy Expy. She instead is one for former CIA Counterintelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton, who became wracked with paranoia upon discovering the Cambridge Five spy ring’s extent of treachery. Angleton was worse than McCarthy, with his paranoid vendetta having severely reduced the CIA’s effectiveness as an intelligence gatherer, by scuttling too many promising careers and discounting too many defectors as being double agents. He even went so far as to suspect Nixon and Kissinger of being Soviet moles, which caused him to finally be forced out of the Agency.
  • Not Me This Time: J'Dan eventually does admit to having been a spy for the Romulans but denies sabotaging the warp core. This causes everyone to realize that wasn't his doing since if he decided he had nothing to lose and confessed to own crime, why would he lie about another.
  • Not So Stoic: Admiral Satie is perfectly poised and reasonable-sounding throughout the investigation, letting her deputy Sabin handle the shouting and Perp Sweating—up until Picard quotes her father, sending her into her Villainous Breakdown.
  • The Paranoiac: Admiral Satie fits this to a T. Even when the evidence conclusively proves that there was no sabotage, she refuses to give up on the idea of a conspiracy aboard the Enterprise. She brushes off any criticism of her methods, disregarding it at best or considering it obstruction of her righteous efforts, and when challenged, she refers to her father's teachings and the personal sacrifices she has made, rather than considering that she might be in the wrong. She also demonstrates the controlling nature (she subverts Picard's authority on his own ship and goes over his head even before she starts suspecting him), self-righteousness (see Knight Templar, above), xenophobia (particularly of Romulans), and self-importance ("I've brought down bigger men than you, Picard!") associated with the personality type. Her relentless badgering of Tarses and insinuation that Picard should be considered responsible for the actions of Locutus demonstrate a distinct lack of empathy, as well.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Henry turns out to be one. When Satie exposes herself as a lunatic, he withdraws his support by leaving the hearing in the middle of her tirade.
  • Red Herring: The warp core explosion. Turns out there is such a thing as coincidence—though if it hadn't happened, J'Dan may never have been investigated and exposed in the first place.
  • Remember the New Guy?: According to Picard, Admiral Satie was instrumental in exposing the alien parasite infiltration back in Season 1's "Conspiracy", despite not appearing or being mentioned in that episode.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Admiral Henry decides he's had enough of the hearing and walks out, ending it.
  • Shutting Up Now:
    Satie: [hushed tone] I have nothing more to say.
  • Smug Snake: Once Satie and her staff turn their sights on Picard and the crew, they lose all politeness and act blatantly disrespectful to him and his officers. At one point, Satie's aide Nellen strolls onto the Enterprise bridge and summons the captain to the committee for questioning, with a smirk on her face as she does so.
  • Stock Legal Phrases: Tarses invokes "The Seventh Guarantee" of the Federation Constitution, which appears to be the Federation equivalent of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: protection from self-incrimination.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Subverted. The Klingon spy had nothing to do with the core explosion, which really was an accident. Satie, however, seems to believe in this trope.
  • Title Drop: Picard compares Satie's hearing to a "drumhead trial," explaining how this was a summary court-martial where defendants got short shrift, the name derived from its often being set up on the spot using a drum as a seat for the presiding judge.
  • Tranquil Fury: When J'Dan offers to restore Worf's family name for his cooperation in betraying the Federation, Worf casually steps inside J'Dan's quarters and waits for the door to shut before pummeling the man.
  • Uneven Hybrid: Simon Tarses claims to be one-quarter Vulcan courtesy of his paternal grandfather, although he is actually one-quarter Romulan. This is more politically than biologically significant, since Vulcans and Romulans are technically the same species. Tarses himself appears to be human except for slightly Pointy Ears and tapered sideburns reminiscent of Spock's.
  • Unperson: J'Dan says this was Worf's fate on the Klingon homeworld.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Satie has an epic one at the end of Picard's hearing, leading straight to a...
  • Villainous BSoD: She simply sits down and says "I have nothing more to say..."
  • The Voiceless: Henry doesn't speak a word on screen, but his face and actions say everything.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The fate of J'Dan's "data mules" is never revealed, or for that matter if they were willing accomplices or just unsuspecting victims. Although, considering it was likely the Tal Shiar doing the abductions, maybe we're better off not knowing.
    • It's hard not to wonder about whatever became of Simon Tarses, as his final fate is never commented on outside of Picard acknowledging that regardless of the outcome of his own hearing, Tarses' career will likely be in ruins.
  • Witch Hunt: Satie is absolutely determined to root out any possible traitors, whether or not the targets of her persecution are actually innocent be damned.


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