Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Drumhead   Rewatch 
February 25, 2021 5:46 AM - Season 4, Episode 21 - Subscribe

When a spy is discovered aboard the Enterprise, retired Admiral Norah Satie drums up some old-fashioned paranoia aboard the Enterprise.

Memory Alpha won't let us leave until they think we've completely explored the issue:

• "The Drumhead" was conceived as a money-saving installment for the series. The studio suggested a clip show. Michael Piller and Rick Berman, however, both despised the idea, as neither wanted a repetition of the "Shades of Gray" approach. Piller commented on clip shows, "We think they're insulting to the audience. They tune in and then you create this false jeopardy and then flashback as their memory goes back to the wonderful time they had before they got trapped in the elevator and all that bullshit." They persuaded the studio to avoid a clip show while still producing an episode that was under budget – a bottle show.

• Jeri Taylor wrote the script based on a story idea Ronald D. Moore had proposed called "It Can't Happen Here." Taylor's aim was to show that witch-hunts, along the lines of US Senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist hearings and the Salem witch trials, could happen even in the enlightened 24th century if individual liberties and freedoms were breached, even if only slightly, in the name of preserving the Federation. She remarked, "It's a very provocative story and one which is a little darker than some of the others."

• According to director Jonathan Frakes, several shots from the episode were "stolen" from courtroom films including Judgment at Nuremberg, the 1961 Stanley Kramer film starring William Shatner, and The Caine Mutiny.

• This episode shares a common theme, the danger of sacrificing freedom for security, with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parter "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost".

• This is the second appearance of the interrogation room set after "The Defector". It is a modification of the bridge of the original USS Enterprise as seen in the first three movies.

• Jonathan Frakes had previously appeared with Jean Simmons on North and South. He described being able to cast her in this episode as a dream come true. To Frakes' surprise, he learned that Simmons was a "monstrous Trekkie".

• As "All Good Things..." later establishes, it was Norah Satie who initially "requested and required" Jean-Luc Picard to take command of the Enterprise when he first received that assignment. This fact is not mentioned in this episode.

• In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (2nd ed., p. 163), Jeri Taylor names this episode's script as the one of which she was proudest.

• This is one of Michael Dorn's two favorite TNG episodes, the other being "The Offspring".

• Jonathan Frakes has also named this episode as one of his favorites, in part for the chance to work with Jean Simmons. He commented, "I've always thought she was arguably the classiest, most significant actor we had on the series. She was wonderful in the scenes with Patrick [Stewart]. And she was still so gorgeous."

• In contrast, author Keith R.A. DeCandido is not fond of the episode. In an online review, he gave the episode a "warp factor" rating of 3 out of 10. He criticized the script for "stacking the deck" against the character of Satie and called the climax of the episode "awful". He stated, "[I]n the end, we get this strong-willed, powerful, respected woman who is bound and determined to save the Federation at all costs – that is, until Picard quotes her father, at which point she turns into a crazed, blubbering mess. And then, all of a sudden, it's over." Fellow author Christopher L. Bennett disagreed, remarking, "[T]his has always been an episode I've admired. It is a valuable message story, and a nice touch of imperfection in the often too-perfect Federation of TNG." He added, "It may seem heavy-handed, but that's because that's how it really works. What Senator McCarthy and HUAC did was so heavy-handed and irrationally excessive that nobody would believe it in a story if it hadn't really happened."


"My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this extraordinary union be preserved."
- Norah Satie, to Picard

"Admiral, what you're doing here is unethical. It's immoral. I'll fight it."
"Do what you must, captain... and so will I."
- Picard and Satie

"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."
- Picard, to Satie


Poster's Log:
This one had an entirely different flavor for me in a post-January 2021 rewatch. Bennett's note above is of course dead-on right w/r/t truth being stranger than fiction, but recent U.S. history has been so much stranger that most of this episode ends up seeming…I dunno, quaint? by comparison. (But not the final scene with Picard and Worf: eternal vigilance, indeed.) And I mean "quaint" in both the good and bad sense.

But there's also value in watching "The Drumhead" with an internal, Trek-worldbuilding focus—we get good stuff here about Klingons, Romulans, and Betazoids—and that it has that kind of depth is a strong mark in its favor. As is its strong dialogue, precise pacing, and ample opportunity for Picard to really Picard it up.

Its dynamite guests help a lot, both Simmons and Simon Tarses actor Spencer Garrett, the latter of whom also showed up once (much less memorably) in Voyager. J'Dan actor Henry Woronicz, by contrast, had two much more memorable performances in two of VOY's very best episodes, "Distant Origin" (he was Dr. Gegen) and "Living Witness."

Must-see TNG, to be sure, and objectively it's gotta be one of the show's top 10.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Simon Tarses" is a very good sci-fi name, which may be why everybody in this episode says it so much.

Good thing Simon Tarses didn't suddenly manifest a Robin Hood hat during his big moment in front of everybody. "Mr. Tarses, are you now, or have you ever been, an elf LARPer?!"
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (19 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
For me, this isn't just a great episode, but a phenomenal episode, the best legal episode in TNG and possibly the best in all of Trek (it's been a while since I've watched TOS' "Court Martial", which I might do soon just to see how it stacks up). Put bluntly, I think that it's the episode that everyone seems to think that "The Measure of a Man" is. The gradual creep from legal proceeding to witch hunt is thrilling; I even felt a little chill when Satie opened up the proceedings to spectators, realizing that, for all her high-minded rhetoric about "sunshine", she really just wanted an audience. At times, I was so furious at the proceedings that I had to get up and walk it off. The way that they roped Worf in, and then turned on him when he balked at their going too far, was *chef's kiss*. And poor Tarses. He just wanted to do his job. (And this ep is another affirmation that, why, yes, there is space racism among humans in the 24th century. There's a certain former poster and commenter in the Trek threads who I wish was still around to comment on the topic of biracial characters, especially those who feel that they have to "pass.")

And, really, just superb work by the guests. I'm not sure that I've seen Jean Simmons in anything else (I mostly know the name because of its acquisition by a certain jerk 70s greasepainted butt rocker), but it's cool that she's a Trekkie; she really helps build the tension and paranoia well over the course of the episode. Ditto for Bruce French as Sabin Genestra, the Roy Cohn to Satie's Joe McCarthy. Between him and Ral in "The Price", I'm really starting to wonder if the Federation has really thought through the implications of Betazoids having incredible advantages over other species in negotiations and legal proceedings. And, WRT Keith R.A. DeCandido's dislike of this ep... look, I like KRAD's own work, I really do, but Christopher L. Bennett is absolutely correct in that this is indeed how it works IRL. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy was dead of cirrhosis of the liver less than 2 ½ years after his censure, although Cohn, his consigliere, went on to plague the American legal establishment with his presence for decades longer before his death (ironically, just weeks after he was disbarred). Cohn also assisted McCarthy in persecuting people during the lavender scare, despite being a closeted gay man himself, and would, before his death, befriend a young real estate developer and future chief executive, to bring things around to the current situation. I wonder what Sabin went on to do after this...
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:06 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


I haven't had a chance to rewatch this one yet, I feel it's really uneven but enough high points to be a great Trek episode. I have seen it at least 5-6 times over the last 30 years, and get chills at some point during Picard's Big Speech, and a visceral reduction in anxiety when the Big Admiral wordlessly stands up and walks out. It's great 24th Century Aaron Sorkin stuff. I agree with DeCandido that Satee's collapse is a little contrived, but just don't think that criticism can do much damage considering the episodes' other virtues.
posted by skewed at 10:40 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


*buckles in for some Serious Trek* ok, TNG, I can feel the tension. Let's do this

Troi, literally sixty seconds into the episode: we can't be racist, we have a black friend, look, he's standing right there

*slaps every available control surface in a panic* ABORT ABORT ABORT

(This is otherwise a very good episode but wow)
posted by phooky at 11:00 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


One of the best of the season--strong acting and important moral message.

I feel like there was a slight flaw in the writing or something--or maybe someone can tell me what I'm missing. When Tarses is first questioned, Picard is so quick to jump in and protest that this is a witch hunt. Although it is later very well developed that, yes, we do have a big-time witch hunt, and Picard is right to resist it, I feel like in that first questioning scene we haven't yet seen anything but reasonable investigation. It seemed to me that they were given reason to suspect Tarses, this was a hugely important security matter, and in our society it is understood that you can hold someone for questioning--even jail them briefly before you even bring formal charges. To cap it off, a star ship isn't and shouldn't be a democracy.

The story all makes sense if the investigators have done something to step over the line right there, but I didn't see what it was.
posted by polecat at 11:27 AM on February 25


Watching this one, I kept notes as I went along. Here are a few:
Satie whirls around after Worf leaves the ready room and declares that she thinks that officer will be extremely valuable to the investigation.

Picard is so glad Satie is there to help! Satie says she thinks they'll be quite a team and Picard beams!!!

Tarses is given the chance to have counsel. "No, sir. I have nothing to hide." Famous last words.

Tarses was way too obvious. It didn't take a Betazoid to determine he was on edge.

Riker has been assigned as counsel, but Tarses doesn't want him. He hasn't done anything wrong. But he still looks edgy. Keep digging, kid.

This entire proceeding is BS, Riker is objecting, but there is no presiding judge! Picard and Satie are partners.

"I assert my Seventh Guarantee right, woe is me!"
That's as far as I got as far as notes. As a look at the internal dynamics of the Federation, this one is interesting. And Picard going full Picard at the end is always worth watching. But I for one would not rank this one as one of the better TNG episodes. Satie's collapse at the end is just too much. If this had been a two-parter where they could have teased out more nuance, for instance why Picard is so keen on working with Satie, it would have been better.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:28 AM on February 25


polecat, you didn't miss anything. That is a definite flaw.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:49 AM on February 25


Tarses was way too obvious. It didn't take a Betazoid to determine he was on edge.

This and a hundred other examples might be explained by the fact that in the 24th century they've become so reliant on having a Betazoid around that they've forgotten how to read body language and tone of voice, etc.
posted by polecat at 11:51 AM on February 25


"The Drumhead" has problems. Any episode that reveals the inner workings of Starfleet and the Federation invariably has problems. They are usually message episodes, so it ends up being problems vs messaging. In "The Measure of a Man," any problems are glossed over by the strong messaging. But in "The Drumhead," the messaging isn't near enough to cover things up.

Putting aside quibbles over details and such, there is simply that Satie seems to be some kind of free agent, roving around Starfleet looking for security threats and dealing with them. Starfleet Command allows that? The Federation allows that? And frankly, the writers are once again lazy in resolving this one, just like in "Galaxy's Child." The only reason things turn against Satie at the end is because she melted down in front of Admiral Henry, not because what she was doing was found to be wrong by any authority higher than Picard.
posted by Stuka at 11:55 AM on February 25


Satie seems to be some kind of free agent, roving around Starfleet looking for security threats and dealing with them. Starfleet Command allows that? The Federation allows that?

Memory Alpha's summary is: "With little progress in the investigation, Starfleet Command sends retired Admiral Norah Satie and her assistants – including Sabin Genestra, who is a Betazoid – to expedite the proceedings." The script has Satie noting that she came out of retirement at Starfleet's request and that she had to reassemble her former staff. IRL, it's not uncommon for retired former civilian and military officials to serve on special investigatory commissions; the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Challenger disaster, had several, including Richard Feynman, who worked on the Manhattan Project.

The only reason things turn against Satie at the end is because she melted down in front of Admiral Henry, not because what she was doing was found to be wrong by any authority higher than Picard.

Henry doesn't say anything onscreen, so we don't know what he thought of the hearing up to Satie's meltdown, but I doubt that he would have simply gotten up and walked out if things had really been going Satie's way up until then. I think that you're generally right that "Any episode that reveals the inner workings of Starfleet and the Federation invariably has problems", and one of this ep's problems (well, really a problem with worldbuilding in the series in general, or the lack thereof) is that Satie's approach seems more geared toward a political campaign, or setting up for one, but we know nothing about how the Federation actually does elections; in fact, we know more about Klingon politics (and will know a lot more when we reach the end of this season) than we do about Federation politics. That's really kind of weird when you think about it. Anyway, if Satie's whole motive behind this hearing was really a political one, then everything suddenly being over when she has her meltdown makes a lot more sense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:01 PM on February 25


Memory Alpha's summary is: "With little progress in the investigation, Starfleet Command sends retired Admiral Norah Satie and her assistants – including Sabin Genestra, who is a Betazoid – to expedite the proceedings." The script has Satie noting that she came out of retirement at Starfleet's request and that she had to reassemble her former staff.

I noted that at the start of the episode, but remember her big speech to Picard in his ready room after he asks her to close things down? "I've been traveling from planet to starbase to planet. I have no life. This is what I do. My father taught me to never stop." That didn't come across like that is how she lived up to retirement, but more like that's how she's been living right up to getting to the Enterprise as her latest assignment.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:47 PM on February 25


Jean Simmons plays opposite Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls.” The scene where she drinks a dolce de leche is awesome.
posted by Melismata at 4:08 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


She also got to be Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. She had a pretty amazing career.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:18 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


She's excellent in Elmer Gantry too.
posted by Fukiyama at 4:32 PM on February 25


I knew her as Varinia in Spartacus.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:17 PM on February 25


I noted that at the start of the episode, but remember her big speech to Picard in his ready room after he asks her to close things down? "I've been traveling from planet to starbase to planet. I have no life. This is what I do. My father taught me to never stop." That didn't come across like that is how she lived up to retirement, but more like that's how she's been living right up to getting to the Enterprise as her latest assignment.

But she hasn't been retired long--she conducted the investigation into the parasite conspiracy, which happened at the end of S1, and assuming that the investigation took even a little bit of time, and that she was still a flag officer when it was going on, she's probably been retired for two years or less. People who suck at retirement are a recurring trope in fiction, and it's basically Kirk's character arc in the TOS movies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:07 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that what might've really helped with at least a few of the criticisms mentioned here would've been a short post-flipout scene where Satie and somebody, presumably Picard, have an awkward chat right before she leaves. Because, like, the "Conspiracy" conspiracy is totally the sort of thing that could make somebody hyperparanoid—and the script could've given Satie the chance to recognize that. But to have that scene, you maybe have to lose the Picard/Worf scene.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:45 AM on February 26 [3 favorites]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Let's talk about equivalents. This week we have Simon Tarses, known throughout the galaxy as the male Calloway, who is thought to be the Giusti of sickbay, aka the Linda Larson of Ops. By a quirk of genetics, Simon can use Romulan Disruptors or Romulan PADDs if they end up in your Fed deck for some weird reason. Then there's U.S.S. Oberth, which is like our Miranda from a couple episodes back with -1 Weapons and +2 Shields. I'd still rather have a Nebula.

The rest of our cards for this episode have both 1st edition and 2nd edition variants. Norah Satie learned a lot more than her one Leadership from 1E in her second incarnation, while J'Ddan lost a letter from his name and got the Smuggler trait. Study Cometary Cloud gained a stat requirement, cuz 2E does not want you solving a mission with like two guys. Drumhead lost its explicit links to Satie and Picard, but still knocks off someone lacking integrity.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:20 AM on February 26


On rewatch, I really love this episode, I think it's great, it's got flaws I can definitely live with in order to get the Satie/Picard dynamic, and Picard's scenes with Worf, particularly this one:

WORF: But we know there is a traitor here. J'Dan has admitted his guilt. [And Tarses has all but done the same.]
PICARD: How?
WORF: He refused to answer the question about his Romulan grandfather.
PICARD: *with great alarm* That is not a crime, Worf. Nor can we infer his guilt because he didn't respond. . . . 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.


That Drumhead card you linked to really gets to the core of the conflict, StarkRoads. Satie determines that Picard is a Romulan collaborator, and needs to be taken down. She's got her dissembling bully tactics ready--start off Just Asking Questions, attack at their strengths, stir up shit and just act like something's been proven, otherwise, why would we even be talking about this? So now we've got T'Pel-ghazi and Wolf 359-ghazi--and the only reason it doesn't work is because she aimed too high, everyone already trusts Picard more than her. It's not that comforting a narrative, really.

The other thing that jumped out at me on rewatch that really needs more development: Simon Tarses felt he had to lie about being 1/4th Romulan???! Is there a blood-purity requirement in Starfleet? Would he have been rejected if he had told the truth?
posted by skewed at 7:23 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


The Romulan thing is pretty curious, especially since prior to the end of TNG Season 1, the Romulans were all withdrawn and isolated from galactic affairs. Unless Tarses entered the academy literally right after the events of "The Neutral Zone"…which actually might make sense; Earth's paranoia about the Romulans would have briefly spiked—in keeping with that disturbing thematic thread of THIS episode—and it gives Tarses at least a couple years at the Academy before he comes aboard.

Starfleet certainly wouldn't have actual policy against Romulans serving, but (A) the odds of any Romulan wanting to, at least for the past seventy-plus years, have gotta be quite low (if only because of Vulcans being prominent in the UFP and Romulan-Vulcan antipathy), so it may have basically never come up… and (B) advanced bureaucracies can always come up with apparently-legitimate justifications for keeping out those undesirables.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:38 AM on March 1


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