Drumhead (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 4, Episode 21) Federation Loyalist Tramples Justice

Rewatching ST:TNG

An earnest, somewhat heavy-handed analysis of a Federation loyalist who is willing to trample justice in order to expose a conspiracy. An unusual episode, full of misdirection, and casual references to past episodes in a nod to the complex world-building that helped the Star Trek franchise mature.

While the script engineers the plot so that Picard can save the day with yet another speech, along the way it carefully establishes Admiral Satie as a hero who helped uncover a previous Federation conspiracy and who recognizes Worf’s loyalty (and usefulness).

This episode establishes that a Klingon exchange officer is guilty of espionage, and tries to use his knowledge of Worf’s discommendation to bargain his way off the Enterprise.

The Space Thing of the Week is a warp core failure that turns out, like the espionage story, to be a red herring. We also get to know the sweet-faced nervous medic Tarses, who finds himself drawn  into the investigation.

One of the admiral’s aides is a Betazed who uses his empathic powers to widen the scope of the investigation; the other aide just aggressively takes notes. They both get just enough screen time so that when Picard gives his climactic speech, their reactions carry some emotional weight.

TNG is from the era of episodic TV, when we didn’t expect season-long story arcs; still, this story could have been even more powerful if the series had previously introduced the formidable conspiracy-hunting Admiral Satie in one of the many scenes where Picard takes an order from Starfleet: or re-used one of the Klingon officers Riker met when he served on the Klingon ship; or brought back Dr. Selar.