TNG: S4E21: “The Drumhead”

In which a traitor is found, a saboteur is sought, and a witch hunter is burned. 

The first rule of Worf's Discommendation is that you do not talk about Worf's Discommendation.

The first rule of Worf’s Discommendation is that you do not talk about Worf’s Discommendation.

Ominous strings as Picard talks about having to question a Klingon exobiologist on the matter of espionage and possible sabotage. The Klingon, however, stoutly denies ever participating, even though his identity was used to log in. I’m not sure how you question a Klingon – their Bar Mitzvah involves cattle prods, so it’s not like torture would be particularly effective even if Riker and Deanna wanted to do that. As he is escorted back to his quarters for house arrest, it just wouldn’t be an episode with a Klingon in it if Worf wasn’t needled about his disgrace. He is, as it turns out, still pretty sore about all that.

Brought in to help the proceedings is one of the admirals involved in that whole bugs-and-Remek’s-head-exploded thing. She’s apparently good at spy-hunting. And the thing about a spy-hunter is that they almost always find one. Especially with a Betazoid assistant. Does a Betazoid mind-scan count as legal proof, I wonder?

A point of note – the actual engine core has radiation shielding for if the dilithium cap might happen one day to blow off the chamber. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that points to sabotage – the stolen plans involve the part that failed, nothing was wrong until 52 milliseconds before the explosion, and so on. So far, nothing conclusive, though. It seems the saboteur did their job well. There are also political concerns. If the Klingon did it and the plans wound up in Romulan hands, those are two powers that have a history of belligerence with the Federation who might be getting ready to team up. Bad news bears.

Also, we’re going to start with Retired Admiral Norah Satie being imperious and Need-To-Know about literally everything, just in case Picard is a Romulan spy. Worf interrupts with the method of data delivery – basically the Klingon J’Dan’s space-insulin hypospray has a datacard reader and an amino acid encoder and he can inject someone with the paydata. Potentially without their knoweldge, but Satie insists that there probably will be.

When confronted with this evidence, J’Dan of course launches into an evil monologue about how the Romulans will help the Klingon Empire return to a state of glory, but still insists he didn’t sabotage the engine. The Betazoid confirms that this is probably the truth, so the hunt begins for another spy.

Riker reminisces about reading Satie’s father’s writings – the man was a famous orator and judge and drilled his kids in Oxford-style debate. She, in turn, hands him the benediction ‘working with you might not be completely terrible.’ The Betazoid aid is slightly better at buttering up Worf, but not much.

This set doesn't actually scream 'interrogation room,' does it?

This set doesn’t actually scream ‘interrogation room,’ does it?

Let the witch hunt begin. Starting with Crusher, since the method of data smuggling was medical in nature. Incidentally, we saw this room in “The Defector” in order to interrogate the Romulan there. It’s not how I would set up such a room, but maybe this wasn’t its original purpose? I mean, if it’s supposed to actually be an interrogation room, what’s with the blue backlit cutouts on the wall. And if it’s not, what was this room supposed to be?

Anyway, Crusher is excused and Simon Tarsis, Crewman First Class, Medical Technician is brought in. Simon Tarsis and his pointy ears. He’s one-quarter Vulcan, you see. Simon seems nervous, as one might expect of someone being questioned by a retired admiral and the captain. He gives satisfactory answers and leaves, but the Betazoid triggers on a lie once he leaves. I guess he can’t figure out the specific lie because Tarsis is part-Vulcan and may have a touch of mental discipline?

The police-state thoughtcrime discussion is a tad heavy-handed, but quite a pertinent discourse between idealism (Picard) and paranoia (Satie). The discussion is put on hold when Geordi calls to explain that the hatch blew because of a fault in manufacture. That evidence strongly suggests coincidence, but that’s not good enough for Satie. “Just because there was no sabotage doesn’t mean there isn’t a conspiracy” is one of the more chilling things Star Trek has ever come out with. This indicates a dark undercurrent within the Federation, the kind that is going to lead, in a few years, to Section 31 and “In the Pale Moonlight” and all that other Darker and Grittier stuff that seems to do so weel these days.

Satie has opened the second Tarsis hearing to the public, which is bad enough, but in the hearing, the Betazoid prosecutor makes up the notion that the engine damage was caused by corrosive Sickbay-related compounds using a ‘what would you say if I told you’ word trick, and nobody stands up and punches him in the mouth for falsifying a legal proceeding. Sure, it’s not strictly speaking a trial, but this is, as they say, not my Starfleet. Hashtag, or whatever. Using that as a launching pad, the Betadouche accuses Tarsis of having Romulan ancestry. Because apparently that’s a crime now.

Worf is really into this. Checking up on Tarsis’ school friends, ordering him to live in a brain-scanning polygraph. Even in the future, educated Federation officers believe that pleading the 5th (or the Seventh Guarantee, as it is called in the Federation) is an admission of guilt.

Point of order – Tarsis is a crewman, didn’t go to the Academy. Enlisted is very much a thing in Starfleet. He doesn’t have pips, though, and O’Brien did when Sergey Rozhenko had that moment of camaraderie. O’Brien’s rank is a thoroughly confusing issue, is what I’m getting at here. Tarsis couldn’t get a commission, though, because it would have meant siting in a classroom rather than signing on to a posting.

It's a neat bit of costume design that her dress looks like an executioner's robe with the hood down and her zipper pull is a noose.

It’s a neat bit of costume design that her dress looks like an executioner’s robe with the hood down and her zipper pull is a noose.

Satie has spent years going from posting to posting in order to root out traitors and sedition and tries to invoke “I have no friends” as if it’s supposed to make us feel bad for her rather than shouting at the screen that this fact is obvious ‘cuz she’s a terrible person. Like right here, when she threatenes to ruin Picard’s career because he believes in Due Process. But rather than Picard shutting down the hearings because they’ve become a kangaroo court, Satie is going to start ‘investigating’ everyone on the ship under the aegis of an Admiral Thomas Henry, from Starfleet Security.

Starting with Picard, for fighting her.

It is not a good sign when the person administrating a hearing has to have regulations quoted at her in order to grant legal rights. But Picard does get to make his big speech about how this is a farce. This speech falls of deaf ears, and Satie starts by attacking him on the basis of his adherence to the Prime Directive. They bring up the T’Pel incident, which to be fair does look bad in this context. Then she brings up the Borg thing, where Picard gave away military secrets resulting in eleven thousand deaths.



There can be only one response – quoting her father’s jurisprudence back at her to give her a mental breakdown. This seems to be enough for the Admiral, who gets up and walks out. Even her Witchsmeller Pursuivant is looking at her like “damn, she’s nuts.” In the end, we are reminded that as much as it is important to be vigilant against external threats, it’s at least as important to be vigilant against our own vigilance.

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