Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Defector   Rewatch 
October 19, 2020 6:42 AM - Season 3, Episode 10 - Subscribe

The Enterprise grants asylum to a defector from the Romulan Empire, who claims to have vital information concerning a renewed Romulan offensive against the Federation.

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Story and script
  • Ronald D. Moore describes the story as "the Cuban missile crisis at the Neutral Zone." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 110)
  • The episode's premise, having been conceived by Moore, was recommended and relayed by Michael Piller to Rick Berman in a memo dated 8 August 1989. Although this installment wasn't named in that memo, the story was briefly described thus; "A Romulan defector is picked up as he escapes across the neutral zone. He is a significant enough player to attract the attention of Federation Intelligence who send an envoy to debrief him. His information is suspect. And inflammatory. He could be a plant to provoke the Federation into making a move that could lead to war – which a vocal faction of the Romulans favor. But if he is telling the truth, this information could save lives if the Enterprise is willing to intervene, but it means crossing the neutral zone and violating their treaty. The defector gives us lots of reasons to distrust him. The crew is divided. Finally, Picard takes his chances and finds the defector was telling the truth; he saves the lives after which the ironic message from Starfleet headquarters comes – do not cross the neutral zone."
  • The story, at one point during rewrites, was a love story between Crusher and Jarok. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 110)
  • The teaser originally involved Data as Sherlock Holmes, but had to be replaced for legal reasons (see: "Elementary, Dear Data"). Patrick Stewart suggested Henry V as an alternative when approached by Michael Piller, two days before filming. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 110) Piller noted that elements of the Shakespearean play were incorporated into later scenes in the episode. "There's a scene where Picard and Data are talking about how the crew is holding up, and then Picard says a line or two that echoes the play. Then, in the confrontation with the Romulans, there are suggestions of Henry V in Picard's stance, bravery and decisions, and what the argument is about. If you are a musician, as I am, it is a trick that you throw into arrangements to echo other songs and play on a melody that reminds you of something else. I was very proud of that." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 190)
  • In the revised final draft script, three Romulan warbirds were supposed to decloak and attack the Enterprise. In the finished episode, only two Romulan ships are involved, giving the Klingon-Federation fleet an even bigger advantage.
Cast and characters
  • Actor Andreas Katsulas makes his second of four appearances in TNG as Romulan Commander Tomalak. It also marks Tomalak's final 'real' appearance in Star Trek. Of his next two appearances, "Future Imperfect" was part of an illusion, and the second in "All Good Things..." was part of an alternate timeline.
  • This episode marks the first Star Trek appearance of James Sloyan (as Alidar Jarok) who was to be a prolific Trek actor. He appears in TNG again as K'mtar, a future Alexander Rozhenko, in "Firstborn" and plays the title character in VOY: "Jetrel", but his largest role was as Odo's "father", Doctor Mora Pol, appearing in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "The Alternate" and "The Begotten".
  • Actor John Hancock makes his first of two appearances in TNG as Starfleet Admiral Haden. His name is mentioned only in the script here, but it would be aired the following season in "The Wounded". Likewise, he is depicted only sending a video message in this episode, while he is actually conversing with Picard in the subsequent appearance.
Studio models
  • This episode featured three new studio models to the series, including the new four-foot miniature of the Enterprise-D, the Romulan scout ship and the second D'deridex-class model. All three can be seen together during the stand-off scene during the first act.
  • The three Klingon Birds of Prey appear as large in size as the Galaxy-class Enterprise. The two previously established Bird of Prey classes (B'Rel and K'vort) are considerably smaller than the Galaxy-class starship.
  • This was the first episode of Star Trek to air in the 1990s.
  • Jarok references a "humiliating defeat at the Battle of Cheron." A display in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" will establish that this was the final battle of the Earth-Romulan War.
  • This is the first episode to mention the Treaty of Algeron.
  • While Beverly Crusher and Jarok discuss the recent events at Galorndon Core, which allowed her to learn something about Romulan anatomy, she eyes Worf. This alludes to the events of "The Enemy" where Worf declined to save the life of a Romulan tended by Crusher.
  • Picard compares Riker to "one of [his] countrymen," the American Civil War Union officer George Armstrong Custer. It is later established in VOY: "Death Wish" that one of his distant ancestors (Thaddius Riker, a Union Army colonel) fought in the American Civil War.
Poster's Log:
Patrick Stewart's fluency in Shakespeare shines throughout this episode. The teaser is wonderful, of course, but (Pillar's "when you're a musician, as I am" preening aside) the later echoes in Picard's discussion with Data and the closing sequence with Tomalak are beautiful.

Once again showing that Star Trek creators don't always handle the concept of 'distance' very well, Picard asks navigation to move them to five kilometers away from the Romulan scout and extend the shields. The next exterior shot shows the scout hanging approximately one saucer-section's width (about 500 meters) away from the Enterprise.

Setal/Jarok's reaction to the holodeck recreation of the valley of Chula seems surprising. While Romulan warbirds probably don't have recreational facilities, a civilization capable of cloaking devices should be expected to understand the capabilities of holograph technology.

Actor James Sloyan really sells Jarmok's confusion when the base turns out to be misinformation. That moment when Jarmok realizes that this was all a test of his loyalty that he's just failed is powerful.

Tomalak's joy at having caught the Enterprise is palpable. He's still stinging from "The Enemy"; getting some revenge on Picard (and the trophy of the Enterprise) means a lot to him. His line, "You see, Picard, after we dissect your Enterprise for every precious bit of information, I intend to display its broken hull in the centre of the Romulan capitol as a symbol of our victory", is beautifully delivered.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Rewatching this one really struck home how much I remember of these episodes' broad strokes but have forgotten details. I remembered that the base would be a fake, but had forgotten how much the crew do convince themselves that it's worth violating the treaty to investigate.

Can we talk about the design of the Romulan scout ship for a moment? Designed as a one-shot (the scout type is talked about in two other episodes - the recently seen "The Enemy" and the to-come "Face of the Enemy" - but not seen), it's still a well-fleshed out design. The shape evokes a standardization of Romulan ship design in the same way that Federation shuttles and runabouts call back to starship design without looking like miniature starships. To me, this really highlights the care and detail the TNG creators put into making sure their antagonists were as fully fleshed-out as their heroes.
posted by hanov3r (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The story, at one point during rewrites, was a love story between Crusher and Jarok.

Did Jarok live in a candle?
posted by Servo5678 at 6:55 AM on October 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

This ep was even better than I remembered. I'd admired Sloyan's work previously in "Jetrel" and the two DS9 eps with Mora Pol; he was the best thing about the former (which was otherwise a not-entirely-successful gravitas transplant for Neelix), and Pol was another role that involved someone with an ethically-troubled past trying to do good and maybe score a little redemption for himself in the process. Jarok's kind of an asshole when he first comes on board, even though the E-E has just saved him, and even though he mellows out a bit, it's not at all clear at first that he isn't in on some kind of Romulan scheme. (A few years before this ep, HBO had a movie about Yuri Nosenko, a defecting KGB agent suspected of being a deliberate plant, a lot of whose revelations were in denial of Soviet involvement in JFK's assassination; this ep reminded me of that movie, which took the POV of one of Nosenko's CIA skeptics.)

Although so much of the episode rests on Sloyan's portrayal of Jarok, the rest of the writing and acting also fits together really well; Tomalak's amiability in "The Enemy" is revealed as yet another deception--he's willing to throw a dissident admiral under the bus for the chance at getting a nice trophy to show off on Romulus. The set-up with the Klingons was also nice; it's easy to forget that they're not fans of the Romulans, either. And, finally, I liked the Henry V scene a lot; it's my favorite Shakespeare play, and even though it's not one of the big speeches or battles, that whole eve-of-Agincourt dialogue with Williams is just great. Big ups to Stewart for going through makeup and everything to play Williams, too.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:09 AM on October 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jack, your wikipedia link just led me into a (short) rabbit hole about KGB defectors and I gave me a chance to realize how many of them I've met (my dad did related Official Government Stuff when I was a kid). Maybe that's one of the reasons I like this episode as much as I do.
posted by hanov3r at 8:18 AM on October 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

I meant the E-D above, of course.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on October 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

This one is pretty good all the way around. Jarok is convincing. The senior staff's thoughts on Jarok are well fleshed out.

One thing that does bother me about this one every time I see it is at the end when Jarok is talking on the bridge. He is confronted by Picard and he declares how he's seen the communiques, the timetables, and so on. Then a few moments later, he basically repeats himself as he deals with the fact he has been duped. This wouldn't be so awkward if he was talking to someone, but Picard turns and goes back to his chair as Jarok just kind of looks off into the distance and the camera zooms in on him. A reaction shot or something would have been good at some point there.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:59 AM on October 19, 2020

A must-watch by any measure, as far as I'm concerned. This is the first seriously consequential episode, from an in-universe perspective, since "Conspiracy"—and this one's consequence feels more earned. It's a classic "only the Enterprise can stop interstellar war" plot, but aided immensely by the great, reliable guest actor James Sloyan as Jarok. Tomalak coming back is a cherry on top.

And yes, thanks for bringing up the Romulan scout ship, hanov3r. It's a striking design and I love it, and it's even more striking that we never see it again, which I didn't love. The good news is that another new Romulan ship design, Senator Vreenak's shuttle, in DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight" is every bit as striking-looking. The bad news is we only see THAT one once too. The frogurt is also cursed!

Picard asking Data to "keep a record" seems to justify Data getting a Log voiceover later, but in a subsequent season 3 episode, Riker also gets a Log V-O—while Picard is in the same scene—but with no such justification. *shrug*
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:07 PM on October 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

"The Enemy", "The Price", "The Defector"...the era of super creative episode titles continues.

Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere('94): Covert Installation; Strategic Diversion; Alidar Jarok; Tomalak; Scout Vessel. A couple easy missions for your Romulans and 50% of their rare personnel from Premiere...with four skills between them. For whatever reason, Tebok is better than either one and easier to get. The 'cult favorite' status of playing Romulan was in part because these were cool characters on the show and mediocre cards. They'd get some enhancement later on.

Enhanced Premiere('00): Covert Installation II. Speaking of creative names, this updated mission sold in fixed packs with a stack of Premiere boosters to help clear out the immense back-inventory. To this day, sealed white border Premiere cards are dirt cheap.

Second Edition('02): Nelvana Trap; Alternate Identity; Alidar Jarok, Conscientious Admiral; Scout Vessel. As we recently saw with Tomalak, Beguiling Adversary the 2E version of Jarok is both more useful and flavorful.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I like to think we only ever see the Romulan scout ships designs once is because the secretive, paranoid Romulans say "The Federation saw one of our scout ships one time for a few minutes. Scrap it and design a new one!"
posted by Servo5678 at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've had the card game as a mnemonic for so long I kinda forget that the Pi didn't actually appear.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:27 PM on October 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

When Jarok is in sickbay, still masquerading as Setal, he mentions the incident "at the Galorndan Core". I think that's the only time that location is mentioned with a definitive article; it's usually referenced as "at Galorndan Core".

He also mispronounces "credo" with a short 'e' sound ('KREH-doh'), but I blame weird programming in the universal translator for that.
posted by hanov3r at 12:50 PM on October 19, 2020

Lots of tasty acting in this one. But my favourite bit is Worf when Picard finally tells him to uncloak the Klingon ships. "Romulan disruptors are powering down, sir!"
posted by zadcat at 3:57 PM on October 20, 2020

Also: The ending comes too fast here. Realistically, if Jarok is considered a prisoner, shouldn't he have to surrender his uniform and its accessories, and dress in a generic Federation jumpsuit? He should never have had access to the suicide pill in the first place.
posted by zadcat at 5:09 PM on October 20, 2020

- I'm not sure that Jarok is considered a prisoner. The Federation is something of a utopia and hasn't had a major war in quite some time (at least until the thing with the Cardassians is retconned in), and Jarok would have been quite a coup for them if he had turned out to be legit.

- The suicide pill might have been something specifically designed to evade Federation transporter filters; there are some things which aren't poisons except in high doses.

- He might have had it somewhere besides his clothing, if you catch my drift.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:26 PM on October 20, 2020

It's that old Federation rootbeer-flavoured starry-eyed thing. They should have remembered from Heart of Glory, when the Klingon pair assembled a blaster from parts of their clanky goth uniforms, that aliens might have all kinds of unpleasant surprises stashed on their persons, even if they give up any obvious weaponry on arrival.
posted by zadcat at 7:37 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pretty much peak trek, I still remember flipping out when the Klingons decloaked. Stands up very well on rewatch, lots of talk and just a little bit of action at the end to get the blood going.

The good guys save the day by outmaneuvering the baddies and making a peaceful resolution to the standoff the best option for everyone. Trek idealism at its best.

I have been thinking with all these scenes showing how Picard takes history, archaeology, literature, etc. so seriously, this probably had more of an effect on me than I had realized. I didn't have many nearby models for being a successful adult, and I watched *a lot* of TNG reruns through my early and mid teens. Not that I became a good student or anything, I was still a huge slacker. But I *aspired* to be a man of letters rather than, say, Rambo or whatever.
posted by skewed at 3:11 PM on October 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

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