Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Defector”

The Defector“The Defector”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Sheerer

Season 3, Episode 10
Original air date: January 1, 1990
Star date: 43462.5

Mission summary

Picard is giving Data lessons in humanity by way of Henry V on the holodeck, but their epiphanies are interrupted by a Romulan scout ship asking for help. Suddenly a warbird decloaks, fires some shots at the scout ship, and turns away as the Enterprise extends its deflector shields around the scout ship to protect it. As life support there fails, Picard has the ship’s only occupant beamed over: Romulan Sublieutenant Setal, bearing warnings that the Romulans are planning to start a war, beginning at Nelvana III.

Setal claims he’s not a traitor, and set his ship to self-destruct so that the Federation can’t get ahold of Romulan technology to prove it. Rather, he fears that the Romulans would never survive another war, and has risked everything to prevent the annihilation of his people and his way of life. But his allegations–that the Romulans have built a base within the Neutral Zone and the reactor will be online in just two days–can’t be corroborated by any sensor readings or objective evidence. Hours of interrogation with Riker and Troi yield little information of value, and La Forge discovers something curious about the man’s arrival: the warbird never meant to destroy him. It matched speed and ensured non-lethal hits, as if they wanted him to reach the Enterprise unscathed. Starfleet headquarters is similarly confused, telling Picard to sort out the truth of whether he’s a traitor or a spy, and if war is truly imminent.

Setal, for his part, is not adjusting well to his time among enemies. The computer can’t seem to understand his specifications, and any mention or reminder of the home or family that he’ll never see again sends him into a tailspin of depression. When Data takes him to a holographic re-creation of the Valley of Chula, he finally breaks, and tells Data to let Picard know that it is not Sublieutenant Setal, but Admiral Jarok, that wishes to speak with him.

Picard gets confirmation from Starfleet that this man is indeed Admiral Jarok, the devious mind behind some massacres here or there, but Picard still (or perhaps especially now) doesn’t believe this story about war. He asks to be persuaded.

JAROK: There comes a time in a man’s life that you cannot know. When he looks down at the first smile of his baby girl and realizes he must change the world for her. For all children. It is for her that I am here. Not to destroy the Romulan Empire, but to save it. For months, I tried desperately to persuade the High Command that another war would destroy the Empire. They got tired of my arguments. Finally I was censured, sent off to command some distant sector. This was my only recourse. I will never see my child smile again. She will grow up believing that her father is a traitor. But she will grow up. If you act, Picard. If we stop the war before it begins.

But Picard is still skeptical, until Jarok finally decides to provide strategic, tactical, and technological information about the Romulan fleet. In agreement, Picard sets course for Nelvana III to discover the alleged base meant to start a war.

But when they get there without resistance, they discover nothing.

PICARD: Nelvana Three, Admiral. No base, no weapons, no sign of any life at all.
JAROK: But I saw the tactical communiqués. The records. Timetables for completion. An entire legion was assigned to the section.
PICARD: Is it possible they could have been feeding you disinformation? You said that you had been censured. Reassigned, four months ago. They knew of your dissatisfaction. Could all this have been to test your loyalty?
JAROK: No. No. It’s impossible.
PICARD: They let you escape with an arsenal of worthless secrets. What other explanation is there?

At that moment, a Romulan warbird commanded by Tomalak appears. He’s pleased to see Picard again and delights in his little scheme. By feeding misinformation to Jarok, he has enticed the Federation to cross into the Neutral Zone and violate the treaty themselves. He prepares to destroy the Enterprise and display its broken hull on Romulus, but Picard reveals that with him are three cloaked Klingon ships.

PICARD: What shall it be, Tomalak?
TOMALAK: You will still not survive our assault.
PICARD: You will not survive ours. Shall we die together?
TOMALAK: I look forward to our next meeting, Captain.

With a war averted, all should be celebrating. All but Jarok, who, devastated by his unnecessary betrayal for an invisible threat, has committed suicide. He leaves in his quarters a letter to his wife and daughter, which cannot be delivered, of course. Picard hopes it may be delivered one day when there is peace thanks to other men like Jarok.

The Defector


“The Defector” put the 1990s era of Trek off to a great start. This has always been one of my favorites, but some of the shine has rubbed off since I last saw it.

James Sloyan gives fantastic depth and nuance to the tortured Jarok. Even in the silly shoulderpads, face ridges, and jewelry, I absolutely buy this man’s anguish. Jarok’s ambivalence about his actions give meaning to the little faraway looks and painful reminders of his exile and his contempt for the Federation’s delays. He makes this Romulan feel both very different–aggressive, irritable, arrogant–and so much the same, with his love for his family and country. I love his interaction with Worf (followed by his cop to Riker that he’s just trying to light a fire under the Klingon), as well as his menacing implication to Data about being taken apart. He’s complex and contradictory: a man of war who seeks peace, a warrior who puts his family first, a traitor and also a patriot. I wish that the story weren’t so overwhelmed with Shakespeare references because Jarok is a perfect Shakespearean hero. He’s one of my favorite characters in all of Star Trek.

I am less impressed with the way the entire crew articulates the mystery of his appearance, asking aloud if he’s a traitor or a spy and wondering about his motives. We’re all wondering! You don’t have to tell us to wonder! And Riker and Troi don’t so much as test his trustworthiness as constantly ask him if he’s trustworthy. This… is not a good interrogation technique. Can’t Troi tell if he’s lying anyway? If she can’t, what the hell is she doing there? I was also disappointed that some of the central unknowns are solved so quickly, as La Forge discovers very early on in the episode that the warbird’s threats to Jarok weren’t serious and it was all staged. So it’s clear from the start that at least part of this is inauthentic, which deflates the balloon a little when you have such a sincere Jarok. The same is true for Picard, who says aloud at least twice that he’s anxious about going to war, which doesn’t at all convey anxiety the way the writers think it does. He says he worries about war, yet I never felt any real threat that it was a possibility.

There are also some other oddities: the computer can’t seem to convert Romulan scales to Celsius and Ten Forward can’t create Romulan ale, but the holodeck can recreate a valley from Romulus? How does Jarok know Klingon curses? And for the love of god, can someone please put down the Shakespeare mallet and stop hitting us with it? It’s one thing to open with the holodeck piece, which I hate no matter what; it’s another to then pepper the whole episode with lines and references. One or the other! And frankly, I don’t feel Henry V is even appropriate for this episode. There is no question here that the war would be just or that the troops would follow their leader. It feels tacked on and misunderstood, like the script was accidentally stapled to a 10th grade book report. The letter at the end also felt like too much to me, too hokey.

Nevertheless, it all comes together in the end with the reappearance of the delightful Andreas Katsulas as Tomalak, Picard’s ace up his sleeve, and the death of Jarok. I find it particularly interesting that Jarok ends the episode believing that it was all a waste–that his defection was for nothing, that he left his home and his family for a threat that didn’t exist–and yet the events of the episode prove that all he feared was absolutely true. There really was a Romulan plan to bring about war with the Federation; it just wasn’t the plan he thought it was. Perhaps if he hadn’t defected the Romulans would not have been able to put the plan into motion, but I suspect they would have done it anyway, one way or another, and in that scenario Picard would not have had the vital warning. And now that this plan failed, Picard and the rest of the Federation are on notice, and future Romulan attempts to start a war would be ineffective. Further, I imagine that Jarok’s actions were bold enough to persuade some on the High Council to recognize the seriousness of their weakness and delay (perhaps forever) the offensive (he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t really believe it!). It seems clear with the introduction of the suicide tablet at the mid-way point that Jarok had no intention of settling among the Federation peoples, but it’s much more tragic that he probably never realized how right he was and how much good he did.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: This wig is an abomination. Patrick Stewart had hair once, you don’t have to guess.

Best Line: JAROK: You’re the android. I know a host of Romulan cyberneticists that would love to be this close to you.
DATA: I do not find that concept particularly appealing.
JAROK: Nor should you.

Trivia/Other Notes: James Sloyan will return in “Firstborn” as a Klingon. He also appears in DS9’s “The Alternate” and “The Begotten” as the scientist who first studied Odo, and in Voyager‘s “Jetel” as the title character.

The entire staff worked on the script together, but I like to think the parts that irritate me most are all Ron Moore.

In case you weren’t sure Moore was a hack, he used this exact same plot on Battlestar Galactica.

The holodeck scene was going to be more Sherlock Holmes, but they had to ditch that thanks to rights issues. It was Patrick Stewart that suggested Henry V.

When Jarok is surprised that Dr. Crusher knows about Romulan anatomy and Crusher then gives a nasty look to Worf, they are of course referencing the events of “The Enemy.”

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 9 – “The Vengeance Factor.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 11 – “The Hunted.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.