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

◄ Season Index

43 comments on this review

Chris
Sun, Sep 9, 2007, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
^
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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.

10/10

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 (UTC -5)
Genuinely awesome. This got my DS9 senses tingling.
Jack
Tue, Apr 8, 2014, 5:28pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
I could watch Data and Picard act out Shakespeare all day...
msw188
Wed, Sep 17, 2014, 11:37pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
Is it known whether the generals family got the good bye letter in the future?
Ospero
Tue, Mar 3, 2015, 4:39am (UTC -5)
@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.
Luke
Sun, May 31, 2015, 8:32am (UTC -5)
They say it's a lot easier to talk about something you don't like as opposed to something you like. "The Defector" proves that point for me. For the longest time, this has been my hands-down favorite episode of TNG. Excellent tension/drama, two wonderful guest stars, the brilliant use of Shakespeare, the intrigue/brinksmanship and the wonderful play-off with the Klingon ships all make this episode one of the best in the whole franchise.

The only minor problem I can find in it is the rather irrational willingness of the Enterprise crew to understand why Jarok crossed the lines. They constantly want more and more information from him in order to gain an advantage and then act surprised and confused when he refuses. Guys, he didn't come over to help you win a war. He came over to prevent a war and maintain the balance of power.

And, I just want to say that SkepticalMI's theory about the Romulan reaction to the Klingon ships is fantastic!

10/10
Nic
Sat, Jun 6, 2015, 7:13am (UTC -5)
I love this episode too, but it's not perfect.

The biggest flaw from a plot standpoint is that Troi is so underused. She participates in Jarok's interrogation and senses that he is hiding something, but she should have been able to tell that what he had already revealed was true. Of course, that would have made the rest of the episode impossible. But a few lines explaining that she couldn't read Romulans that well, or that he had been trained to close his mind to telepaths, would have been enough to get around this.
Diamond Dave
Thu, Sep 3, 2015, 2:57pm (UTC -5)
Excellent episode. We finally have a story where the stakes mean something, and by layering the tension we build to a conclusion that's every bit as satisfying as the rest of the episode demands.

We are kept twisting as to the veracity of Setal/Jarok's claims, and due to some excellent guest acting we can identify with the titular defector when he's revealed to simply have been a pawn in a larger game. For someone to have given up everything for an honourable cause, only to have even that snatched away, leads to the inevitable, and affecting, conclusion.

With some memorable Shakespearean allegory thrown in, this is a worthy 3.5 stars.
Dan
Fri, Nov 27, 2015, 1:02am (UTC -5)
Nic, I'm with you: when the story hinges on trusting someone, it should be Troi front and center in the episode. Instead, she only gets like one line. That says a lot, unfortunately, about how they value her character. (I don't think it's impossible to write stories about possible liars with Troi heavily involved -- there are limits to what she can do. But she should have a lot to say, even on a deeper thematic level, about trust.)

Two other minor things that bug me:
- If ever there's a time to separate the saucer section and leave behind hundreds of unnecessary passengers, it's when you enter the Neutral Zone.
- The dialogue should at least acknowledge that the Romulans have violated the Neutral Zone too, right? It is presented as if the Enterprise going into the Neutral Zone is as serious a violation as the Romulans' encroachment on *Federation Space* in "The Enemy".
Jason R.
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 7:01am (UTC -5)
It's a shame that in later episodes Tomalak has to be supplanted by Sela. Apart from the fact that Sela is shown to be an incompetent twit through her endless blundering, Denise Crosby is such a vastly inferior actor to Andreas Katsulas. Tomalak made such a delicious recurring villain. Shame this was his last real appearance.
Paul M.
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 7:33am (UTC -5)
I never quite understood the following Tomalak seems to have among some Trek fans. I mean, he's the guy we saw a handful of times growling an smirking over the screen. Nothing remotely memorable about him as far as I'm concerned.
Chrome
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 9:53am (UTC -5)
I think Tomalak's actor plays a good Cold War villain, to say the least. His more memorable episode is "The Enemy". Though it was nice to have him back in "All Good Things..."

I can't think of a more memorable Romulan, to be honest. I suppose Nero from the Abrams' Trek movie, but that's more likely because the movie is newer, not because Nero was a stellar Romulan.
NCC-1701-Z
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 11:44am (UTC -5)
@Chrome, Jason R: I loved Tomalak as well and was very disappointed that this was his last true appearance. For the role he was given, he played it very well. Katsulas did play the Vissian Captain on the ENT episode "Cogenitor" though. Sadly, he passed away in 2006.

It would have been nice to have him or Sela in Star Trek Nemesis in place of the one-off Romulan Commander Donatra.
Paul M.
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 3:35pm (UTC -5)
I suppose that's just it, Chrome: since Tomalak is pretty much the only recurring Romulan, he became the "cool" Romulan. But is he? I mean really, what do we know about the guy? What makes him tick? What does he stand for? What defines his character? What do you imagine he does when he's not on screen? I speak only for myself, but I'm clueless on all these questions. That, in my opinion, is not an interesting character. Sloyan's Romulan from this very episode left a much, much bigger impression on me than Katsulas ever did over however many episodes he appeared in.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 9:48am (UTC -5)
@Paul M.

Romulans are all about intrigue. They engineer these crazy plans in order to test their enemies while gleefully watching them struggle. That's what Tomalak does, and he does it well in my opinion. I suppose they could've fleshed him out better, but TNG isn't really a war show, and Tomalak was unfortunately supplanted by Sela before he got more development as Jason R. pointed out.
Paul M.
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 11:36am (UTC -5)
Just checked IMDB. Katsulas appeared as Tomalak in 4 episodes only. One of those -- Future Imperfect -- was a simulation, and the other was at the very end of the show in All Good Things. That leaves us with a total of TWO appearances in Season 3, in both of those for a couple of minutes.

Come on, let's not make some kind of cool Romulan archetype out of this guy.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 12:11pm (UTC -5)
@Paul M.

I'd argue that the showrunners themselves made Tomalak the archetype. Need a simulated Romulan threat? Here's Tomalak. Need a generic Romulan threat to raise the stakes in Q's puzzle? Here's Tomalak.

The Romulan you liked played by Sloyan, was already dead in this episode. So, were stuck with Tomalak or Sela for Romulan antagonists. I still think Tomalak is the better of the two.
Paul M.
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 4:51pm (UTC -5)
That's a terribly low bar to set: Sela or Tomalak. There was nothing stopping writers and producers from coming up with a truly compelling recurring Romulan character, much as they managed to give Klingons some recognizable faces with distinct backstories and character: Duras and his sisters, Gowron, K'Mpec. The problem with TNG-era Romulans was that they were always too sketchy for their own good. They were sneaky, they liked to plot and scheme, and they were an obstinate adversary to deal with, but they were never given the kind of consideration and exploration Trek gave Klingons and especially Cardassians.

That this episode is so beloved speaks not only to the strength of the script and cast, but also to the potential of Romulans as an interesting multifaceted species. Alas, it was not to be.

I wonder if some part of love (or appreciation if love is too strong a word) some fans bestow upon Tomalak is due to Katsulas's memorable role as G'Kar on Babylon 5. Now *that* was a fantastic character and a fascinating race.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 5:05pm (UTC -5)
Not every villain needs to be "compelling". The Borg aren't compelling. They're destructive and single-minded. That's part of their charm. In fact, many on this board criticize Voyager for trying to make Borg less than the badass villains they were in earlier shows. Adding nuance can backfire.

I think that's what you're trying to do with Tomalak. That's not his role in this series. He's a card-carrying villain, and at that job, he excels.
Robert
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 6:33pm (UTC -5)
That's because that look didn't suit the Borg. Seska was a card carrying bad guy and she was compelling.
Paul M.
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 9:27pm (UTC -5)
I dont get your point, Chrome.

Borg *are* compelling. They were meant to be a hive-mind implacable faceless swarm that comes at you and eats you alive (sort of), no buts, no ifs. They were scary precisely because they couldn't be reasoned with and because they had no discernible motive except assimilation.

Romulans aren't -- or shouldn't be -- faceless mooks. They are a traditional adversary to our protagonists, much like Klingons, Cardassians, or any number of other "typical" humanoid races. They have a clear agenda that they follow. A representative of such an adversary should have a compelling character and interesting motivation. Again, look at Duras, Gowron, Dukat, Chang, Khan, or any number of other arguably successful Trek villains. They, like all good antagonists, need to have either a personal motivation for doing what they do or otherwise they should at least be compelling "plot-movers" with memorable character traits, even if superficial (I'm reminded of Senator Vreenak from In the Pale Moonlight - now that's a character who left an impression). Tomalak by comparison is simply a random characterless Romulan who might as well have been different character every episode he appeared in; it would have made zero difference.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 11, 2016, 10:23pm (UTC -5)
Eh, we've strayed too far from this episode and seem we're talking about completely different things now. I accept that you don't like the character, and perhaps you can accept that others like him for the reasons you don't.
Paul M.
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 7:00am (UTC -5)
Okay, then tell me: what specifically do you like about Tomalak? What, in your opinion, elevates him from a random side character to an interesting character? What is so appealing about him that leads you, as you said, to love him?
Robert
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 7:52am (UTC -5)
I neither love nor hate Tomalak, but I fall closer to the side of enjoying him.

For what it's worth I think it is a combination of good performances and decent writing, although we didn't see much of him.

I felt he was appropriately menacing enough to be a worthy adversary of Jean Luc Picard. To be honest, the only one other than Tomalak that EVER really feels like they could actually match wits with Picard is Q. Granted we don't know much about Tomalak, but maybe that helps... maybe the mystery is what makes him feel like a match.

Even Madred, who probably comes the closest, really had all the advantages and even then only BARELY managed to get to Picard. The Duras Sisters weren't. Soran wasn't. Even the Borg Queen really didn't seem impressive next to Picard to me. Sela sure as heck wasn't.

You just really get the sense that Tomalak is the Romulan Picard and that if they ever really went head to head it'd be a thing to watch. I'm sorry it never happened. At least that's how I felt about him.

Some actors can make a character compelling with very little lines to work with. He just imbues Tomalak with an air that says he's Picard's equal.
Paul M.
Fri, Feb 12, 2016, 11:04am (UTC -5)
Katsulas doesn't have Stewart's gloriously bald and shiny head. He can never be Picard's equal. NEVAH!
Jason R.
Tue, Feb 16, 2016, 7:18am (UTC -5)
"I never quite understood the following Tomalak seems to have among some Trek fans. I mean, he's the guy we saw a handful of times growling an smirking over the screen. Nothing remotely memorable about him as far as I'm concerned."

I understand your puzzlement. To be fair, I think you're right that Katsulas never really had an opportunity to do much with the character except smirk on a viewscreen, so I can't honestly say he was really a great recurring villain.

Let me amend my previous statement to say that he *could have been* such a delicious recurring villain had the writers continued to develop him instead of switching mid stream for Sela, who was DOA due to Crosby's inept performance and the ham-fisted writing behind her (Unification being Exhibit A).

As any Babylon 5 fan will tell you, Katsulas as G'Kar was simply one of the most memorable and enjoyable performances in all of scifi. Katsulas could have turned Tomalak into a character equal to a Gul Dukat had they given him the chance and attempted to develop him.
phaedon
Wed, Apr 27, 2016, 6:23pm (UTC -5)
The opening with Data's performance of Shakespeare.. only to be revisited in Picard's showdown with Tomalak, where Picard, with a smirk, quotes Henry V, "If the cause is just and honorable, [my crew is] prepared to give their lives." This was lost on me as a child. This episode could've just as well been called "King's Company."

Stunning episode all around. Powerful, small performances especially by Troi and Data. That shot of Troi trying to figure out if the defector is telling the truth or not. Data being asked to record this moment for history. Just incredible!

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