Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Defector"


Air date: 1/1/1990
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A Romulan scout ship, under attack from a pursuing Romulan Warbird, comes charging across the Neutral Zone. Its sole occupant, Setal (James Sloyan), desperately requests asylum, which the Enterprise grants. Setal claims that a secret Romulan base along the Neutral Zone is the site of a massive Romulan fleet poised for an invasion.

Ron Moore's second TNG script is a marked improvement over his first. "Defector" documents — with high stakes and no shortage of fascinating twists and turns — a consistently interesting battle of wits between the Romulans and Federation. In its third season, TNG has turned the Romulan Empire into a worthy nemesis that is as sneaky and cunning as it is aggressive and threatening.

The central question of this story is whether Setal is actually telling the truth, or if he is a Romulan spy trying to lure the Enterprise with false intelligence into illegally entering the Neutral Zone and starting a war. Setal is perfectly played by James Sloyan, who conveys the urgent sincerity of a man trying to prevent a war while at the same time playing a man who is still every bit Romulan at heart, from his love for his homeland to his hatred of the Klingons (he curses Worf in an early scene) to his acerbic, superior attitude. He's here because he wants to stop what he believes is a misguided offensive that will destroy his homeland, not because he wants to betray it. The plot thickens when Setal is revealed to actually be Admiral Jarok, a high-ranking official responsible for infamous attacks on the Federation.

Picard's dilemma is that he has no evidence of a Romulan invasion plot other than Jarok's word. Indeed, evidence suggests that the Romulans' pursuit of Jarok might have been staged entirely for the Enterprise's benefit. In a startlingly terrific scene, Picard pointedly gives Jarok a wake-up call, telling him that he's already a traitor to his people, no matter how much he may think he's trying to be a patriot, and that he should follow through on his intentions and give the Enterprise the information they need to investigate the allegation properly.

It all leads to a dangerous venture into the Neutral Zone, which leads to another interesting showdown with Tomalak. The Romulans' willingness to use Jarok as a patsy in this plan is diabolically devious — one might say cruel — and makes Jarok the tragic figure in a heartless chess game. Just when the Enterprise looks outmatched and outgunned, Picard has one last trick up his sleeve. The writers had cleverly sneaked in the crucial clue (about the cloaked Klingon escorts) just under the radar. This chess game ends in a stalemate that keeps war at bay.

Previous episode: The Vengeance Factor
Next episode: The Hunted

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21 comments on this review

Chris - Sun, Sep 9, 2007 - 12:13pm (USA Central)
One of my favourite elements of TNG was the tension between the Federation and the Romulans. It was played so remarkably well in the third season, with "The Enemy" and particularly "The Defector" ending with fantastic stand-offs. The politics and brinkmanship are so compelling. And Worf allowing the injured Romulan to die was powerful stuff - perhaps one of the first signs of the "shades of grey" that would become such a fundamental element of Deep Space Nine.
Will - Sat, Jul 28, 2012 - 11:54am (USA Central)
The opening to this episode always gives me tingles. It truly portrays the tension of interstellar relations well.
Bryan - Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - 3:33am (USA Central)
This was the episode that started it all...

When I was a kid my dad watched the original Star Trek series and of course I watched it with him. When TNG came out I refused to watch it. The thought of some old bald guy being the captain of the Enterprise didn't jive with me- I refused to accept it. Then one day it happened... I watched THIS episode: The Defector.

Hook, line, and sinker!! From here on out I was a happy Star Trek: TNG fan boy!!! After this episode I found it hard to believe that anyone else in the world could be a better captain than Picard!!!! Long live the Star Trek universe!!
xaaos - Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - 1:26pm (USA Central)
An outstanding episode and a great twist in the end.

Tomalak's re-appearance was quite welcome and enjoyable. What a sneaky, evil captain. When the tides were against him, he politely withdrew. Maybe Picard and his Klingons allies should have instead vaporised them. I know that this would cause war, but hell, it would be a great fun watching Tomalak getting ass kicked at last. xD
William B - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 9:16am (USA Central)
As Jammer pointed out, “The Defector” is a huge improvement on Ron Moore’s first script in “The Bonding”; both are clear demonstrations of Moore’s interests and running themes throughout TNG, DS9 and BSG (well, maybe in Roswell and Carnivale too, but I haven’t seen those). The episode takes the brinksmanship from “The Enemy” and turns it up a notch by opening with the suggestion from “Seval” that the Romulans are planning to start a war. The episode also connects forward; the set-up of Jarok posing as a lowly desk clerk carrying information so as to hide that he is a high-commanding officer, thought of by the Federation as a butcher and by the Romulans as a hero but who is perhaps neither, is inverted in DS9’s “Duet,” where the lowly desk clerk poses as a high-commanding officer.

One of the themes running through this episode is a question that always fascinates me: how do you make decisions based on incomplete information? As Geordi said, you never have the complete picture, and you can fill that in with pure deduction or with “instinct,” which at best is a form of logic only perceived on the subconscious level and at worst is a reliance on arbitrary feelings and prejudices rather than the truth. Related to this is the recognition throughout that knowledge is power, from the knowledge gained by disassembling starships (which both our crew and Tomalak are interested in doing) to knowledge of a person’s background. Jarok destroys his ship and refuses to give military information because that would shift too much power to the Federation (hiding the truth because it could help the Federation); he hides his background and identity because he believes it would prejudice the crew to disbelieve him (hiding the truth because this truth could reasonably lead to the crew coming to false conclusions). And indeed, this is a great episode for form mirroring content: the whole episode is structured as a mystery, in which disparate elements which push and pull in different directions (“Seval” is clearly lying about something and his pursuit by the Romulan warbird seems staged, but he also seems sincere) and which finally come together in the suggestion that Tomalak, representing the Romulans, masterminded the whole thing. Of course, there is still more that Tomalak doesn’t know, and Picard’s masterminding the Klingons’ arrival on scene works brilliantly. The sharp, twisty plotting is not merely a fun device (and it is fun), but supports the theme and helps us recognize the difficulties that come in attempting to make quadrant-shaking decisions when only part of the picture can be seen.

At the episode’s end, the Tomalak makes the choice to avoid a battle which is essentially Mutually Assured Destruction. (“You will not survive our assault.” “You will not survive ours.”) Tomalak leaves and lets the Enterprise and her Klingon escorts zip away. The open question is whether every step of the Romulan plan was to test Jarok’s loyalty, or whether it was only in the final stages. Certainly, the Romulans want conquest, but are only the aggressors in extreme sneak attacks done in secret (like the Tal Shiar assault on the Dominion in DS9). Are they eager for war, or do they desire peace as much as the Federation does, but with an eye to prevent continued Federation and Klingon expansion and to subvert those powers if they can and an unwillingness to brook any disloyalty to the High Command? My suspicion is that it’s the latter, with the Picard-Tomalak-Klingons sequence a microcosm of the political situation in the quadrant which will always end in stalemate. The Romulans continue to be interesting, proud but intelligent, desiring expansion but not at all costs. Which, of course, is who Jarok is, and it’s part of the episode’s strengths that Jarok is at once clearly a Romulan who believes in Romulan values, not particularly repentant for the “campaigns” he had been involved in nor especially proud of them, and a man whose belief in the value of peace (and the possibility of his children growing up in a quadrant without war—“They will grow up thinking their father is a traitor…but they will grow up”) to leave everything behind. Picard’s words from Henry V when he confronts Tomalak at the end—“If the cause be just…”—are part of what help alleviate the tragedy of Jarok’s end: he kills himself out of shame, but his defection or death are not meaningless insofar as his giving up his homeworld was for a genuinely meaningful cause.

I feel like dancing on the 3.5-4 star line for the episode. Jarok himself is a great character; the use of Henry V to help frame the episode works well. The interaction between Jarok and the whole crew is excellent—the best scene is the scene with Picard in his ready room but the interrogation with Riker and Troi, and the Ten-Forward and holodeck scenes with Data are highlights. Generally the whole cast is used well to show a spectrum of responses to Jarok, all of which hint at a part but not the whole of what motivates this complex character. Picard’s asking Data to chronicle these last days in the event a war should happen ties into the main themes—history should have as much information as is possible, from as objective source as possible—but I do feel like this thread was a little underdeveloped. But this is a minor criticism. The only thing that makes me hesitate to give it four stars is not any significant flaw within the episode but the desire to save four stars for episodes that are near the best of the season (if not the series)—and season three is so good that I am not quite sure if this episode should properly make the cut. Ultimately, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and agree with Jammer’s four star rating.
Josh - Fri, May 17, 2013 - 11:20am (USA Central)
Another fine review, though I don't think four stars is generous for "The Defector" at all. The only real unfortunate part of the episode was Jarok's death. I would have loved to see James Sloyan take on a recurring character - he always makes such an impression. It's true that Dr Mora appeared twice on DS9 (it feels like more), but his later appearance on Voyager in "Jetrel" felt like something of a retread.
istok - Sun, Jun 9, 2013 - 11:48am (USA Central)
Typical American bullcrap at the end though. The future will be so nice if we can just find enough people willing to betray their homeworlds.
Babylon 5 has a much better grasp on what the humanity will look like and do 4 centuries from now.
TrueSlayer - Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - 12:57pm (USA Central)
Great episode! Really loved how conflicted Jarok was when he found out his actions were ultimately for nothing. A tragic and untimely death perhaps, but ends with plenty of hope for the future. Istok, I think you missed the point of the episode. They are not looking for people to betray their homeworlds. Rather they want people to come to a mutual understanding of one another, and to pursue peace, as opposed to war, for the sake of universal prosperity.
Spyindia Nishant - Mon, Oct 7, 2013 - 7:02am (USA Central)
This is the first time that I am here but doesn't seems like that. Like it.
Latex Zebra - Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - 5:36am (USA Central)
Yep, 4 stars from me. Romulan unforms look very impractical. Can't imagine wanting to fight hand to hand wearing those shoulder pads.
The only other annoyance is Tomalok's willinness to plunge them back into war. This was an excercise to expose a traitor, not go to war.
If the Klingons hadn't been there it was either surrender Enterprise or this is war.
All over a traitor?
SkepticalMI - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
I love the ending. Picard is stuck in a classic dilemma. Are the Romulans building a base or not? Should he investigate or not? If he picks right (they're not building a base and he doesn't investigate, or they are building and he does go), then nothing bad happens. If they're building a base and he stays put, a preemptive strike could cripple the Federation. But if they're not and he violates the Neutral Zone, then he could lose his ship and possibly start a war. This negative outcome is slightly more desirable then the crippling pre-emptive strike, so he goes. But not before turning the tables. Rather than just reacting to the situation the Romulans providing, he puts together a little initiative of his own. And so, in one of the most memorable scenes in TNG, the Klingon ships decloak, wiping the smugness off of Tomalak's face and saving the Enterprise. War averted, the Enterprise returns home safe and sound. Hurray!

While we're all supposed to cheer for Picard's brilliance and Tomalak's "curses, foiled again!" moment (especially so soon after The Enemy), it occurs to me that the Romulans still didn't exactly lose in that confrontation. Now, I know the writers didn't think about this aspect and didn't plan ahead, but it makes TNG sound better if they did so I'm going with it. Here goes:

Bringing the Klingons along wasn't just about saving Picard's bacon, it was a political show of force. By coming along, the Klingons subtly announced their intentions in the renewed Federation/Romulan face off: that they would be an enthusiastic ally of the Federation. The Klingon/Fed alliance was a mere 20 years old, and what with the Romulans focusing elsewhere for so long they weren't sure how strong that alliance was. Indeed, even the Federation and Klingons didn't know. After all, the Federation just fought a war with the Cardassians, and presumably the Klingons stayed out of that one. So was it an actual mutual defense pact, a la France and Britain in WWI? Or just a mutual friendly status pact, a la US and France/Britain at the start of the war (a war not joined by the US until much later)? Regardless of the legal status of the treaty, the reality may be much different.

By making a stand with the Enterprise, the Klingons made their attention known. They would stand with the Federation, and would declare war on the Romulans if they attacked the Federation. This is very, very valuable information to the Romulans, as it refocuses their entire political efforts. William B noted that the theme of knowledge is power is played throughout this episode; here is one more little piece of it. Even though Picard needed to play that trump card, the Romulans gained in power by observing that trump card and gaining the knowledge of what it meant. In fact, what was the next major storyline with the Romulans?

Trying to break up the Federation/Klingon alliance by instituting a Klingon civil war. Perhaps the events of The Mind's Eye and Redemption were due to Picard's decision. Heck, perhaps Romulans sniffing around their old allies in the Klingon empire is what caused Duras's father's involvement in the Khitomer massacre to be known, hence Worf's discommendation and K'eyhlar's death were also due to Picard's request. Yes, I know this wasn't planned and I'm making the whole thing up. But it kinda puts an interesting spin on things, doesn't it?

In any case, either this or Reunion is my single favorite 1-hour Star Trek episode. It means I can't really review it much, because I was too busy enjoying myself reqatching it rather than analyzing it. But wow, do I love the tension throughout the episode, the back and forth and uncertainty in Jarok's position, and the character of Jarok himself. And, of course, the entire face off with Tomalak.

It's not too often that we get such a sheer sense of bravado from Picard. But it's so prevalent, so powerful in that seen. "If the cause is just and honorable, they are prepared to give their lives. Are you prepared to die today, Tomalak?" I still get a smile on my face when Picard smiles and says that. Seeing Picard smile and show off his brinksmanship is just as much of a payoff for me as the Klingon ships decloaking. In the Enemy, Picard's bravado is directed towards making a stand for peace, opening himself up to being destroyed for a mission of mercy. Here, it's towards war; he calmly threatens mutually assured destruction on his enemy, and only then offers to stand down if the Romulans give in. Whatever the preconceptions of Picard being a wuss and surrender-happy, it's episodes like this that show he can still stand up and fight when need be.

4 stars. Easily.
Paul M. - Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - 8:15am (USA Central)
Skeptical, I love your analysis of Klingon-Federation alliance and how Picard's moves may have helped instigate further Romulan plotting. As you yourself say, that probably wasn't the intention of the Powers That Be, but that doesn't diminish the neatness and logic of your proposed geopolitical game of chess.

Great work.
Rikko - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 3:34pm (USA Central)
Great episode!

With this one S3 already had 3 very good episodes up to this point, including "Booby Trap" and "The enemy".

Personally, I'd say this bunch of good stories saved TNG for me, because coming from two terrible seasons I was almost giving up hope. S3 started to live up to expectations, and as the season developed even further, I realized this was just the beginning.

On the episode itself, I thought at first they made a plot mistake when Picard wanted to talk to Worf and that was never mentioned again...until the final moments. Awesome comeback. TNG's writing is getting real sharp at last!
Trekker - Thu, Apr 3, 2014 - 8:01pm (USA Central)
This is one of my Top 10 of Star Trek, top 5 3 of TNG.

The pacing, plot, and characters were awesome. The debate of knowledge, deception, and strategic moves makes this seem almost realistic.


FYI: Skeptical, I agree with your analysis, I think Ron Moore probably planned this out in terms of longer term stories. He is famed for his heavy social-political storytelling in DS9 and BSG.
Tom - Thu, Apr 3, 2014 - 10:56pm (USA Central)
Genuinely awesome. This got my DS9 senses tingling.
Jack - Tue, Apr 8, 2014 - 5:28pm (USA Central)
What if his vessel had exploded while the away team they were planning had been aboard?
NCC-1701-Z - Thu, Jun 12, 2014 - 12:28am (USA Central)
I never get tired of watching this episode. The fact that I am tied between this and "Best of Both Worlds" for the title of my favorite TNG episode of all time probably says it all about my feelings for this installment. I also detect traces of DS9 and BSG in here, too...

The soundtrack was integral to this episode. I love how the Klingon music from STTMP played faintly just before Picard told Worf to signal the Klingons - cues you in before it actually happens.

And Tomalak's face when he realized he just got owned? Priceless. (Followed by his "well played, sir" face before he closed the comm.) Too bad we never saw him again after this except as a holographic projection. I would have loved to see him in ST Nemesis, maybe as the captain of one of those Romulan ships instead of a brand new character.

Good decision to lead off the ep with a scene from Shakespeare's Henry V - another hint of things to come. Bravo.
Denny - Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - 4:52pm (USA Central)
I could watch Data and Picard act out Shakespeare all day...
msw188 - Wed, Sep 17, 2014 - 11:37pm (USA Central)
We do see Tomalak briefly in the finale. Are there really no other appearances by him after this?

I don't think this one is 4stars for me. I have a minor personal complaint that prevents a highest rating - I've never liked it when stories put the viewer/reader/whatever in the position of one of the protagonists, but then withhold the protagonist's plan for the sake of a surprise later. It would have been tough to make this story work well otherwise, but it still bothers me.

See, the episode pretty clearly shows events unfolding from Picard's perspective. As others have noted, the (well-built) tension is derived from our lack of knowledge, dramatically presented as Picard's lack of knowledge. It makes Picard's decision to 'go for it' exciting, because we understand the risks inherent with incomplete knowledge just as Picard does. Except that when the Klingon reveal is made, we realize that no, we didn't actually understand the risks (or lack thereof). This, to me, gives the built-up tension a slightly fake quality, and it disconnects me from the main characters.

Despite that rant, the episode is still great in a lot of respects. Mid to low 3.5 stars.
parachutingpigeon - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 - 11:20am (USA Central)
Is it known whether the generals family got the good bye letter in the future?
Ospero - Tue, Mar 3, 2015 - 4:39am (USA Central)
@parachutingpigeon: Not in canon, but there is a short story in the TNG anthology "The Sky's the Limit" that shows Picard on Romulus after the Romulans join the Dominion War, delivering the letter to Jarok's widow and daughter. I'm not going to spoil the ending of that one, except to say that it ties in nicely with DS9's Romulan stories.

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