Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Defector

TNG's third season has really hit its stride with this tense, exciting episode. Here's what James thought of The Defector...

This review contains spoilers.

3.10 The Defector

The episode opens with Data performing Shakespeare on the holodeck while Captain Picard both simultaneously watches and appears in it under heavy prosthetics (ah, the magic of television.) While Picard once again instructs Data in abstract concepts beyond his comprehension (seriously, that must get tiresome for everyone) they’re interrupted by Riker, who tells them a Romulan ship is requesting assistance.

The Romulan scout ship is, in fact, being fired upon by a Romulan warbird AND it’s carrying a defector! When the Enterprise protects the scout, the Warbird gives up, cloaks, and then leaves. According to Worf, at least. How he knows an invisible ship has left the area is anyone’s guess.

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Picard transports the defector aboard, and claims he’s a low-level logistics officer who has uncovered a plot to attack the Federation. He insists there’s all the proof anyone could want at Nelvana III, a sunny planet just over the Neutral Zone border.

The Enterprise crew is initially suspicious, not least because the Romulans have a history of this kind of fake-out. He could be trying to trick them into making an aggressive incursion. Or maybe that’s what he wants them to think. Or maybe he wants them to think that’s what he wants them to think. Already things have gotten complicated. Picard’s about to go and rummage around his ship when it blows up, right off the Enterprise’s hull. Gee, thanks for mentioning that you turned your ship into a bomb, man.

While everyone debates whether this guy is telling the truth or not (and Geordi has to explain to Data, for the billionth time, that he was using a metaphor. Told you it could get tiresome…) the Romulan is starting to feel homesick. He can’t even order his water in Onkians, whatever they are.

While everyone’s sitting around wondering if this is their last replicated meal before a giant war, the Federation send a video message explaining that if this is a trick, the Romulans are at least holding up their end of the deception. Picard is ordered to sit tight and try to figure out the truth, but with nothing better to do he asks if Data can write a journal of events and, conscious of the need for narrative circularity in a narrative, does his best to tie things back to Henry V. Presumably he’s hoping if he can find a pithy line to end on everything will go back to normal, like it has every other week.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise gets a phonecall from the Klingons, which Picard sends Worf to deal with. Data and Geordi launch a probe, which appears to corroborate part of the Romulan’s story, but they’re all still too cautious to do anything. After a chat with Data, the Romulan decides he’s had enough and reveals that he’s not some low-level commoner, he’s Admiral Jarok. You know, Admiral Jarok! From the Norkan Massacre? “He’s from the Norkan Massacre! Get him!”

Picard and Jarok discuss his reasons for defecting, and after telling Picard he’s doing it all for the kids, Jarok finally reveals everything he knows, including the classified information he knows. The Enterprise heads to Nelvana III!

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It’s all very tense, but when they get to the planet there’s nothing there. Everyone’s like “dude, you said the party was here.” And Jarok’s like “they totally gave me this address!”. At which point everyone realises that Jarok was being lied to because no-one on Romulus even wanted him at their party anyway.

Jarok is devastated that he’s thrown his life away over disinformation, but Picard’s more concerned about having just violated all sorts of treaties. They’re about to hotfoot home when two warbirds de-cloak. One of them is carrying Tomalok! From that other episode. He tells Picard he’s going to blow up the Enterprise and put the shattered hull on display as an inspiration to future Romulan soldiers (this is clearly a man who hasn’t seen how starships explode. It normally looks like someone superimposed an explosion on top of a model, and leaves no debris.)

But before the Romulans can destroy the Enterprise, Picard makes a signal to his allies. Three previously unseen Klingon Warbirds decloak around the warbirds, having being summoned by Worf and Picard in secret earlier on. NOW it’s a fair fight! Which is why the Romulans decide to leave immediately. The Enterprise and their Klingon allies return to Federation space. It’s a happy ending for everyone! Except Jarok who commits suicide. Come on, Troi, where were you on that one?!

TNG WTF: So, when Picard was staring down two attacking Romulan ships, was I the only person thinking “He probably should’ve let the families out before taking the ship into hostile enemy space.” I do understand that this is an urgent situation and separating the saucer section can mean sitting through two, sometimes three minutes of library footage, but is there any reason the stardrive section couldn’t have accomplished this task by itself?

Admittedly, the stardrive section looks like the least intimidating starship ever, and it has a much worse captain’s chair, so maybe that’s the reason. They just didn’t want to look bad in front of the Romulans.

TNG LOL: It’s not intended to be funny, but I spent the entire first scene thinking “Hey, Captain Picard’s pretty legit, if captaining a starship doesn’t work out he’s got a career in theatre worked out.” But then it turned out that I wasn’t really supposed to notice that one of the Shakespearian guys was Patrick Stewart in disguise when Captain Picard turned up to interrupt the play. Whoops!

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Who’s That Face?: Admiral Jarok is James Sloyan, one of those guys who just keeps turning up on Star Trek. He’s also Future-Alexander in the TNG episode Firstborn, Odo’s “Father” Mara Pol in DS9, and Jetrel in the Voyager episode of the same name.

Time Until Meeting: 9:04. Where else would you speak to a probable defector than in the main conference room? Bonus points for Jarok requesting a meeting later on in the episode.

Captain’s Log: Another excellent episode! Most people will tell you Season 3 is when the show starts to get really good, but it’s hard to overstate how true that is. We’re not even half way through and it’s already making Season 1 and 2 look like a shaky pilot for what was to come. And again, after TNG spent a season ignoring the Romulans after a big introduction, they’re finally getting something interesting to do.

One of the joys about rewatching Star Trek is that I’m finding some hidden gems, and this is one of them. A tense plot combined with powerful philosophical ideals, strong characters and you get to see Klingon, Romulan and Federation starships in one shot. What’s not to like?

Some sci-fi fans make fun of TNG because Picard is more likely to worry about treaties and regulations than fist fight his way to victory, but the conclusion to this episode manages to be exciting without resorting to gratuitous disintegrations. Picard’s final gambit truly embodies Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy: Speak softly and carry a big stick. Not a shot was fired, but I dare anyone not to punch the air when those Klingon warbirds decloak. That’s some stone-cold diplomacy right there.

Watch or Skip? Watch. Loved it.

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