Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Face of the Enemy"

***

Air date: 2/8/1993
Teleplay by Naren Shankar
Story by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Troi wakes up aboard a Romulan warbird, looks in the mirror, and sees that she's been surgically transformed into a Romulan. The ship's first officer, N'Vek (Scott MacDonald), tells her that she's been brought on board for a very important mission, and that she must immediately prepare to meet the ship's commander while posing as an operative of the Tal Shiar, the extremely feared Romulan intelligence agency. But no time for questions right now! The commander is waiting! Explain later!

To say Troi is thrust into a situation for which she's not prepared would be an understatement. She's able to survive her first encounter with Commander Toreth (Carolyn Seymour) by bluffing her way through the situation, but she's mostly saved by the fact that everyone so fears the Tal Shiar that she doesn't have to volunteer any explanations. Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise, the crew takes into custody a former Starfleet officer, Stefan DeSeve (Barry Lynch), who defected to the Romulans many years ago and now has surrendered himself back to Starfleet (older and wiser, the story observantly suggests) but has a message from Ambassador Spock from the Romulan underground, imploring the Enterprise to make a rendezvous to intercept some crucial cargo.

Well, 2+2=4 (unless it's Orwell or "Chain of Command, Part II"), so these two threads must inevitably come together. The plot is a solid exercise of Romulan political intrigue, following up the events from "Unification," albeit without having anything in terms of meaningful or lasting significance. Troi has been brought aboard by N'Vek to ultimately help him smuggle some Romulan dissidents, who are in stasis in cargo containers aboard the warbird, to the Federation. The fact that Troi's an empath was apparently the selling point for why she would've been a candidate for this mission instead of someone more suited to espionage. (That, and we need a decent Troi episode now and then, and the Romulans tend to have a more female-centric authority base compared to most Trek alien societies.)

While "Face of the Enemy" is not exactly to Romulans as "Chain of Command" was to Cardassians, this story does offer an intriguing look into their power structure, and I especially liked the tension between Troi and Toreth, which stems from the fact that Toreth has no love for the Tal Shiar, which years ago hauled her father away in the middle of the night to be questioned, never to return. (The Tal Shiar is prone to police-state tactics, where proving guilt is less important than suspecting it.) The fencing between the two of them is interesting, and by being on the inside we can see the Romulans with a little more subtlety; note how Toreth lambastes the Tal Shiar's overly aggressive tactics, which creates messes, Toreth argues, that the military must then clean up.

The episode culminates with some tactical cat-and-mouse games between the cloaked warbird, the Enterprise, and undercover Troi, doing her best to help get the dissidents transported to the Enterprise. This is well done but not riveting. I should also point out that Marina Sirtis, game as she is here, is not all that convincing when she raises her voice in authority. But "Face of the Enemy" takes a good high-concept premise and milks it for what it's worth and then some.

(Also, yes, Romulan uniforms are still terrible, with a love for shoulder pads that can't be rivaled even by the 1980s, but hey.)

Previous episode: Aquiel
Next episode: Tapestry

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25 comments on this review

Patrick - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 12:14am (USA Central)
I love actress Carolyn Seymour. She's so deliciously sinister in so many of the roles she plays. She played a different Romulan commander in season 2's "Contagion". She was also wonderfully malevolent as the evil hologram/leaper, Zoe in the final season of Quantum Leap.
lvsxy808 - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 2:22pm (USA Central)
I think this is actually one of the best Romulan episodes the show ever managed - it made them feel like an actual culture rather than just green villains with pointy ears. I particularly like when Toreth said, "Contrary to propoganda, Starfleet is neither weak nor foolish." It's always nice to hear another empire's honest opinion of "us" as it helps round out the picture, and like Mark Lenard's Romulan Commander from TOS, it shows a certain grudging respect between warriors even on opposite sides.

It's also one of the strongest Troi vehicles. I like to think it was events like this and "Chain of Command" that pushed her further towards command responbilities as seen in season 7 after her horrendous showing in "Disaster."

And it was an even better show when it was remade as DS9's "Second Skin."
Jb - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 7:43pm (USA Central)
I think this is one of the better Troi episodes and one of Sirtis' best performances. Carolyn Seymour was also splendid, as she always is.

I also liked Don Davis' score, which stood out more than most of the music around this time in TNG's production.
Jeff Bedard - Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - 12:19pm (USA Central)
I like this episode a lot. I've been a fan of the Romulans for quite a while now. On the whole Romulan episodes seem to be especially good. But while reading your review a question suddenly popped into my head that I had never considered before.

If Toreth's father was taken away by the Tal Shiar all those years ago, how is it that Toreth could succeed in the military, including being given command of her own ship. Part of me is thinking that any background check on her would show her father being taken away by the Tal Shiar and with that incident in her background she'd never be allowed to join the military much less rise to command level.

Merely a question though. I really like the episode.
Tim - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
Really good - Good to see another side of Troi, did Enterprise not wonder where she was though..?
Brandon - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 4:58pm (USA Central)
I thought Sirtis was terrific here. You could clearly see her channel her dislike for Toreth into her performance as an intimidating Tal Shiar operative.

The most delicious part of this was where she relieved Toreth of command, sat down in her chair, and added an insult to injury: "Now, watch and learn." Great way to use the Romulan arrogance against her.
Brandon - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 5:02pm (USA Central)
(cont)

...especially where she lectures Toreth: "In order to defeat your enemy, you must first understand them", a hallmark of Romulan strategic thinking that Toreth would obviously know already and would therefore be insulted by Troi spelling it out for her. Great stuff.
Grumpy - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 6:59pm (USA Central)
"I think this is actually one of the best Romulan episodes the show ever managed..."

A lot of competition there, as Jeff Bedard alludes to. "Contagion," "The Enemy," "The Defector," and my personal favorite, "The Next Phase" (granted, they're little more than villains-of-the-week rather than a well-rounded culture).

"Contrary to propoganda, Starfleet is neither weak nor foolish."

That explains Star Trek 5! It was Romulan propaganda all along!
Patrick - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
Episodes like "The Enemy"; this episode; and ESPECIALLY "The Defector" proved that TNG was the only Modern Trek show to explore the Romulans as a people like The Original Series did.

It's a shame that TNG's feature film swansong utilized them so poorly. I mean all that crap with Shinzon and the Remans still gives me a headache. And Andreas Katsulas was still alive in 2001/2002! He could have reprised his role as Tomalak and joined forces with Picard against Shinzon giving the final battle a hell of a lot more resonance. *sigh* It was not to be...
Elliott - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 7:24pm (USA Central)
@Brandon : I have to disagree with you about Troi's motivations. One of the best things about this episode is that Troi learns duplicity--she actually empathises with Toreth's position and seems to abhor the way the Tal Shiar behaves (which would be fitting, given her character, her job, and position in Starfleet) and behaved toward's Toreth's father. Survivalism kicks in, however, and she plays the part of the hated to win credibility.

I also disagree with Jammer that Sirtis fails in the rĂ´le--I found it refreshing that she carried such a complex series of motivations and subterfuges so well...it's shocking when one remembers her quasi-orgasmic whimpering "pain...pain!!!" in season 1.

I can only fault the episode for its lack of resolution with Troi's character. Yes, the actions of the episode influenced later (terrible) episodes with her learning to take command (and crash the ship), but TNG had demonstrated that a good director and actor can sell the emotional upheaval of an episode without redundant dialogue. BOBW part II is the crown jewel in TNG's run. I have similar feelings about shots in DS9's "Far Beyond the Stars" and VOY's "Year of Hell."

3.5* from me.
Nick P. - Fri, Jul 6, 2012 - 11:01am (USA Central)
@Jeff,

I believe the answer is that the tal' shiar is NOT the military. The episode makes it pretty clear that the military leadership oftentimes distrust the Tal' Shiar. Doesn't look like they can be blamed.

And not to be a turd, but I have to ask the question that must be asked even today. Why do we assume Toreths' father was innocent?
Jay - Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - 10:12am (USA Central)
I agree about Carolyn Seymour playing villains well, but not only. She also played the virtuous and charming Mirasta Yale in First Contact, both roles so convinci8ngly.
T'Paul - Mon, Jun 17, 2013 - 7:14am (USA Central)
I think this episode is far closer to a four.

It is an extremely refreshing change for Troi, and I would say the story comes fairly close to riveting.

Yes, it's true that Troi is not totally convincing, but we can forgive that given her dubious acting past!

Plus the Romulan commander is fabulous and the Federation defector is not bad either.
Patrick - Wed, Jun 26, 2013 - 10:47pm (USA Central)
Does the Enterprise crew never realize that Troi is missing??? They never seem to acknowledge it or worry that their counselor has been kidnapped.

It would make sense if Picard were in on the plan, except HE ISN'T.
J - Wed, Jul 3, 2013 - 1:21am (USA Central)
@Patrick: Troi has been generally useless for a while. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't notice she was missing. Heck, I knew she was on that Romulan ship and I still didn't notice her missing from the Enterprise.
Reverend Spork - Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - 10:42pm (USA Central)
"Face of the enemy" proved that Troi as a character was badly misused for years, and that Sirtis can genuinely act. Rarely, if ever, was she given a better script to truly show off her acting chops. I wish this Troi had been around more often.
mephyve - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 1:19pm (USA Central)
I figure that since Troi was kidnapped at a conference she was probably on leave from the Enterprise.
Nice episode.
Jons - Tue, Jan 7, 2014 - 2:11am (USA Central)
I thought this episode was a solid four. I greatly enjoyed Sirtis' performance, who did a believable transition from "uh.. uh... OMGOMGOMG" to "I am in command of this ship now." It was progressive and well played.

Troi has annoyed me for a very long time, non in the least because I couldn't stand her clothes (I am not that kind of man). But there she finally became a real character and repaid the Enterprise in full for all the times they've bothered saving her life.
Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
Very underrated episode and great perfomrance by Marina. Interesting note, writer Naren Shankar was not happy with how the romulan bridge was layed out. His script was more exotic alien bridge with the commander standing over everybody.
Dave in NC - Sun, May 11, 2014 - 11:37am (USA Central)
Finally, a real episode for Troi, and wouldn't you know it, she actually nails it. Great performaces all around (especially Carolyn Seymour as the captain).

Side note: wonderful background scoring in this episode, especially the music as the episode closes. Being a Season 5 episode, whoever the composer was probably got a talking to from the producers for "daring" to write something relevant to what was on the screen, but I for one appreciated the effort. It made what was happening onscreen SO much better.
SkepticalMI - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
I do want to echo what everyone else said. This is an excellent performance by Sirtis, and is probably her best episode. It probably just goes to show how pointless the position of psychiatrist was on the show. They really couldn't show her doing her job much, and she wasn't too convincing as a serious advisor to Picard in delicate situations. Thus, she was relegated to telling everyone that the alien is hiding something, having cringe-worthy "love interest" episodes, and having her body taken over by noncorporeal aliens. So yeah, good to see her out of her element, but in a good plot for once. A far cry from season 1.

I think the dinner scene was my favorite, as it seemed to be the turning point in Troi's transformation to a treacherous Tal Shiar. Up to this point, she was clearly still acting very Starfleet-ish, being rather nice and accommodating and thus always ending up on the defensive. It was clear that Toreth didn't trust her at all, and it was clear that Troi would eventually be uncovered at the rate she was going. Yes, at that point Toreth just assumed she was a rookie intelligence officer who didn't know what she was doing, but things were going downhill fast. Troi wanted to hide in her room, but was forced to join the officer's mess. And then Toreth started to test her, and again Troi looked lost. But somewhere along the way, something clicked with her. She suddenly turned things around on Toreth. She started to be more confident, more condescending. She grew into the role that she needed to play. It was fun to watch.

If I have one quibble, it's the execution of the first officer. At that point, I imagine Toreth could have easily regained control and arrested N'Vek. I imagine that would be the Romulan thing to do (can't interrogate a dead person!). Toreth's action was more like what a Klingon would do. It's easily rectified; N'Vek could have pulled his weapon, and then his death would be justified. But it's a very minor point.

And I also want to echo what Patrick said a while back: this episode just highlights the failure of Nemesis. As I was rewatching this episode, it occurred to me that some sort of resolution to the Spock underground movement would have been a fitting end to the TNG movie era. TNG really did the Romulans best, and were chilling in the 3rd and 4th season. Afterwards they lost their luster a bit, but by calling back to Unification, this episode brought some nice continuity to the table. Suddenly we did have a couple new potential subplots to play with (that were much better than dealing with the daughter of an alternate universe Yar, and certainly better than a clone of Picard...). The tension between the military and the intelligence. A major senator defecting (only 3 years removed from a high level admiral defecting). And a new underground movement gaining steam. Yes, the connection is pretty tenuous, as the Senators in stasis was just a MacGuffin for the Troi plot, but it was nice to see anyway.

Nemesis even had a coup/peace initiative as part of its plot! While it was interesting to hear of the Remans, Shinzon was such a worthless character. Wouldn't it have been better to see some sort of resolution to this situation? It would be a nice swan song for TNG, much like Undiscovered Country was for TOS. It could have even had a Spock cameo if Nimoy was up for it. I don't know what the plot would have been, but it couldn't be any worse than what we got.
Elliott - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 8:53pm (USA Central)
@SkepticalMI :

Oh it could have been worse: it could have been Star Trek (2009).
Josh - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 9:17pm (USA Central)
That's a different kind of bad, and if we set the "Star Trek" label aside, it's an adequate and typically superficial J.J. Abrahms effort.

But Nemesis is just poorly executed, cheap-looking, and stupid. On the other hand, it's interesting to compare Tom Hardy as Shinzon to Tom Hardy as Bane.
Beth - Mon, Nov 24, 2014 - 4:10am (USA Central)
I don't remember what handle I went by before, so it's just "Beth" from now on.

I just want to say that I would rate this as a a 4 star episode (as I exclaimed at the end of the episode, "What an episode!", and that doesn't happen much. Maybe it was just renewed delight at how well Sirtis played her parts, the acting and plot overall on everyone's part). I also agree with SkepticalMI's points about the episode, and about what "Nemesis" could have been. "Nemesis" really could have been the calibre of "The Undiscovered Country". It ended up being a hollow shocker with a hollow plot filled with hollow, pointless action sequences... and dune buggy rides. Ugh. No, it wasn't quite as a bad as some ST movie outings, but it was nonetheless a huge letdown.
Beth - Mon, Nov 24, 2014 - 4:16am (USA Central)
Actually, a 3 out of 4 is the right rating. I keep mis-seeing your 4-star rating as a 5-star one, for whatever reason. :p

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