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Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Defector”


Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Defector”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Defector”


Published on December 8, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:
Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

“The Defector”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 3, Episode 10
Production episode 40273-158
Original air date: January 1, 1990
Stardate: 43462.5

Captain’s Log: We open with Data performing Act IV, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Henry V—the scene where Henry disguises himself as a soldier and walks among the troops on the eve of the battle at Agincourt.

Picard then heads to the bridge. A Romulan scout ship has breached the Neutral Zone. Picard orders Worf to hail them to warn the ship off, but before he can, the scout ship hails the Enterprise, requesting assistance—and asylum. A Romulan warbird decloaks in hot pursuit of the scout ship, firing on it.

The Enterprise goes to red alert. Picard warns off the warbird, then hails the scout, who reiterates his request for help. He’s fired upon, badly damaged, but also crosses into Federation space. The Enterprise extends shields around the scout and again hails the warbird. Before Picard can tell them to withdraw or be fired upon, they withdraw and don’t get fired upon. Riker is stunned that there’s no argument.

They beam the scout’s occupant aboard. He says he is Sub-lieutenant Setal, a low-ranking logistics clerk, with information about a Romulan base being built on Nelvana III in violation of the Neutral Zone, and as a precursor to an attack on Federation space. The base will go active in less than two days.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Setal blows up the scout ship, not wanting it to fall into enemy hands. Riker expresses confusion, as he thought Setal was defecting. Setal is disappointed—he calls humans “short-sighted.” He’s trying to stop a war, and he laments that all Starfleet wants to do is strip down his ship.

Riker and Troi interrogate Setal, who refuses to provide any intelligence beyond the construction of the Nelvana III base. La Forge also reports that the warbird kept its distance from the scout, indicating that they didn’t want to capture Setal.

Data calibrates a probe, which is sent to Nelvana III, picking up subspace transmissions and ionization disturbances—they could be indications of cloaked activity on the planet. The only way to be sure would be to go there and look for themselves.

Worf also takes a call from a Klingon vessel, the Bortas.

Setal sits in Ten-Forward and talks to Data. He tells the android that there are a host of Romulan cyberneticists who would love to be that close to him, which doesn’t fill Data with warm fuzzies. After Setal waxes rhapsodic about the glories of Romulus, Data brings him to the holodeck and re-creates the Valley of Chula on that planet. After a moment of nostalgia, Setal angrily asks that Data turn it off and then asks Data to tell Picard that Admiral Jarok wants to speak to him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Picard verifies that “Sub-lieutenant Setal” is really Admiral Alidar Jarok, a rather infamous Romulan soldier, responsible for, among other things, the Norkan Outpost massacre. This just makes Picard more suspicious. He has brought no irrefutable evidence, or indeed any evidence whatsoever, and has lied about who he is. A Romulan defector is unfathomable enough, but Admiral Jarok crossing the lines is impossible to credit.

Jarok explains that he’s doing this for his family, so his daughter will not die in a war that the Romulan Empire probably won’t win. She will grow up thinking him a traitor, but at least she’ll grow up. He’d been urging the High Command not to start another war, but he was shouted down and reassigned.

Picard insists that he will not proceed without full cooperation from Jarok, which the admiral finally does grudgingly provide. Picard then orders the ship to Nelvana III, in violation of the Treaty of Algeron. They arrive at the planet—and find nothing. No Romulan ships challenging them, no indications of a base on the planet, no indications even of attempts at construction. The subspace variations and ionization disturbances are still there, but there’s nothing else.

No one is more surprised at this than Jarok. He saw tactical communiques, records, timetables, ship assignments, and so on. Picard then drops the bomb: they were feeding him misinformation. He’d already been censured, and then they fed him false secrets, which prompted him to defect—something they let him do in order to lure a starship into the Neutral Zone.

As soon as they turn to leave (“Permission to leave the Neutral Zone” “At your earliest convenience, Number One”), two warbirds decloak. Commander Tomalak hails them. He plans to strip the Enterprise of all its secrets (the very thing Jarok disapprovingly accused Starfleet of wanting to do to his scout ship) and leave its broken hull on Romulus to inspire their armies for generations to come. As Tomalak explains it all, Picard looks at Jarok with the Stare of Disapproval.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Of course, Picard refuses to surrender, despite Tomalak’s urging to save the lives of those under his command. Picard instead signals Worf, who signals the three Klingon warships that were tailing them while cloaked. Now, suddenly, it’s gone from two to one in favor of the Romulans to the same odds in favor of the Federation and their allies. Tomalak wisely powers down his disruptors, and everyone goes on their merry way.

Except for Jarok, who commits suicide, leaving behind a note for his wife and daughter. Data expresses confusion, since Jarok must have known they wouldn’t be able to deliver it—but Picard knew that Jarok hoped that some day there would be peace between their nations that would allow them to do so.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Ionization disturbances can be indicators of cloaking devices, and there is usually also some visual distortion (which we’ve seen).

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi assists Riker in the interrogation of “Setal,” and she knows that he’s holding things back, inadvertently putting her finger on the issue: he’s lying about who he is, which is pretty fundamental. (There was a second interrogation scene that was scripted and filmed, but it was cut for time.)

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data gets quite a lesson in how to be a good commander, ranging from the lessons taught in Henry V to a discourse from La Forge on the subject of combining instincts with facts to make decisions. He also is the only person besides Crusher who shows compassion to “Setal,” providing him with images of the Valley of Chula on the holodeck.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf verbally fences with “Setal,” and later sets up the Klingon backup Picard uses at Nelvana III. There’s also a nice moment in sickbay, when Crusher references the events of “The Enemy“and shoots Worf a significant look.

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Data uses the holodeck to re-create medieval Agincourt, and then later uses it to re-create a part of Romulus (presumably based on images taken from spy probes) for “Setal.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

I Believe I Said That: “You ask us for faith in circumstances which are hardly possible to believe, compounded by lies and your refusal to tell us what you know.”

“I cannot betray my people!”

“You have already betrayed your people, Admiral! You’ve made your choices, sir! You’re a traitor! Now if the bitter taste of that is unapalatable to you, then I am truly sorry. But I will not risk my crew because you think you can dance on the edge of the Neutral Zone. You’ve crossed over, Admiral. You make yourself comfortable with that.”

Picard telling Jarok like it is.

Welcome Aboard: Andreas Katsulas makes a triumphant return as the smarmy Tomalak, this time having the initial upper hand on Picard, before having to back down at the last minute. The late, great John Hancock makes the first of two appearances as Admiral Haden.

Both S.A. Templeman and an uncredited Sir Patrick Stewart do an excellent job as Bates and Williams, the soldiers in the Henry V scene. It’s especially cool to see Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Stewart do Shakespeare, but Templeman is also quite good as Bates.

Finally, Jarok marks the first of four memorable roles played by James Sloyan on modern Trek. He would go on to play K’mtar (really an older version of Worf’s son Alexander) in “Firstborn,” Mora Pol, the scientist who “raised” Odo, on two episodes of Deep Space Nine, and the title character in the excellent Voyager episode “Jetrel.”

Trivial Matters: This is the second appearance of Tomalak, following “The Enemy,” the events of which are also referenced by Crusher and Jarok.

The original draft called for Data to be doing Sherlock Holmes in the teaser, but they ran into issues with the Conan Doyle estate because of problems with rights when doing “Elementary, Dear Data,” issues that wouldn’t be resolved until the sixth season. It was Sir Patrick Stewart who suggested Henry V, which had just been done on film by Kenneth Branagh shortly before the episode was shot, and which was referenced by Data as one of the performances he studies (along with Sir Laurence Olivier, and two others).

Several characters from this episode go on to appear in tie-in fiction. Tomalak appeared in the novels Vulcan’s Heart and Vulcan’s Soul: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz, The Badlands Book 2 by Susan Wright, Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman, the Genesis Wave trilogy by John Vornholt, Titan: Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels, Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III, and Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee; issues of Trek comics published by DC (an issue of the monthly TNG comic by Michael Jan Friedman), Marvel (an issue of Star Trek Unlimited by Ian Edginton & Dan Abnett, issues of DS9 by Michael A. Martin, Andy Mangels, and Mariano Nicieza), and IDW (the TNG: Intelligence Gathering miniseries by Scott & David Tipton); and the short story “Performance Appraisal” by Allyn Gibson in New Frontier: No Limits.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Your humble rewatcher used Vance Haden in a few of his own works: as the captain of the Carthage in The Art of the Impossible, and cameos as an admiral in The Brave and the Bold Book 2 and Q & A.

Jarok appeared in Catalyst of Sorrows by Margaret Wander Bonanno, and he was mentioned in my own A Singular Destiny (the main character in the latter novel wrote a monograph on Jarok that was a lot of the basis for how he was viewed in this episode). In addition, Picard was able to finally deliver Jarok’s dying note to his family during the Dominion War, when the Romulans and Federation were allied, in the short story “Suicide Note” by Geoff Trowbridge in the 20th anniversary TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit.

This episode marks the first mention of the Treaty of Algeron between the Romulans and the Federation, as well as the first mention of the Battle of Cheron.

Make it So: “If these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it.” Ronald D. Moore described this as the Cuban Missile Crisis in space, and the episode has all the tension of a mounting conflict. It’s a beautifully paced and constructed episode, with superb performances all around. Brent Spiner subtly plays Data’s curiosity and search for the human condition amidst the tension. Jonathan Frakes does a fine job playing bad cop. Guest stars Andreas Katsulas and especially James Sloyan are letter-perfect. And at the center of it all is one of Sir Patrick Stewart’s best performances. His conversation with Jarok in particular is a great scene.

Everything in this episode works. The plot flows beautifully, with each revelation making sense, and nothing that isn’t adequately explained or set up. Even the deus ex machina of the Klingons at the end is actually foreshadowed in two scenes. To top it all off, you’ve got Shakespeare, which starts as the latest acting exercise for Data, but it’s referenced again to good effect both in a later conversation between Data and Picard and again by Picard when he confronts Tomalak.

A truly fine episode.


Warp factor rating: 9


Keith R.A. DeCandido has written many books and comics and you can get autographed copies of several of his novels and comic books directly from him. Autographed copies of the print editions of his fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Dragon Precinct (the latter a trade reissue of the 2004 novel) are also available for preorder. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.

About the Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido


Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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