Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Drumhead"

3.5 stars

Air date: 4/29/1991
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The crew discovers that visiting Klingon officer D'Jan (Henry Woronicz) has been stealing technical secrets from the Enterprise and transmitting them via quiet and clever channels to the Romulans. There also has been an explosion on the ship's warp core, leading D'Jan to become the obvious suspect of sabotage. Admiral Norah Satie (Jean Simmons), a renowned Starfleet prosecutor, comes aboard the ship to aid in the investigation of the matter. "Aid in" quickly becomes "take over," and soon she's presiding over a sprawling paranoid inquiry involving unconfirmed speculation, serious allegations, and public hearings. Picard strenuously objects to what becomes a witch hunt.

It starts small and builds slowly: Just a few questions of a few people. Satie seems to be doing her job, and even I thought Picard was being overly naive when fussing over the fact that her second chair is a Betazoid. But soon the investigation has narrowed in on Crewman Tarses (Spencer Garrett), suspected merely because he worked in sickbay when D'Jan came in for routine procedures. Satie continues to press on, and ultimately presses Picard for not clamping down, despite the lack of incriminating evidence on Tarses and, further, with strong emerging evidence that the explosion in engineering was actually an accident. The details of the episode are solid, but it's the message that really works here. It's painful to watch Tarses destroyed over the mere fact that his grandfather was Romulan (rather than Vulcan, as he claimed). It's presumed guilt by national ancestry.

Ultimately, Picard is called to testify, in what raises the stakes to a witch hunt while, in narrative terms, serves to turn the story into a battle of wills between Satie and Picard. (Hint: Never bet against Picard.) The way Satie twists the facts is deplorable; I liked the story's invocation of continuity where she essentially attacks Picard for being abducted by the Borg.

There were numerous "courtroom episodes" on Trek throughout the years, and "The Drumhead" is one of the best. With the threat of terrorism and the ensuing questions of curtailed individual rights at the forefront of today's sociopolitical discussion, "The Drumhead," like DS9's "Homefront," is even more relevant in America today than when it originally aired. In a way it seems eerily prescient — until you consider that these issues have repeated themselves in cycles as a result of whatever the paranoia of the moment may stem from, whether it was the Japanese during World War II, suspected communists during the Cold War, or terrorist "persons of interest" post-9/11.

"The Drumhead" is a bit theatrical at times; one wonders if Satie, supposedly such a seasoned professional, would so easily be baited into a meltdown at the end. Or that she'd so easily have been able to lull Worf into her camp. But perhaps that's the point: The law has been hijacked by an overzealous individual whose judgment is suspect. (You can insert your own current-day political commentary here.)

Previous episode: Qpid
Next episode: Half a Life

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86 comments on this review

Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 7:24am (UTC -5)
"The Drumhead" is one of my favourite episodes of all time - it has a wonderful slow build, with things becoming more and more sinister as the episode progresses. And as you said Jammer, it touches on continuity very well, referencing "Best of Both Worlds" and "Data's Day". The episode also contains one of my favourite epilogues. "Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we must continue to pay".

"The Mind's Eye" is another favourite - I think the music during Data's investigation is very effective, as it slowly dawns on him what is going on. It's also a funny example of the "no running" rule on Starships - Data finds out that his friend is about to kill a high-ranking Klingon official, possibly plunging the Federation and Klingons into war, and he walks quite calmly to the cargo bay. Still, it's a great episode with a very exciting climax.

"First Contact" was one of those episodes which I thought showed a different side of the Federation. Their use of deception in learning more about races is really playing with fire, if you ask me, and in this case they were found out.

I think Season 4 was the best season of TNG. It had one of the best mixes of stand-alone episodes and arc episodes, and contained a number of classic shows. Thanks once again for the reviews Jammer - I look forward to your views on season 5, which I think contains one of the worst, if not the worst, episode of TNG I've ever seen. It's a Lwaxana episode, so no surprise there.
Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 1:40pm (UTC -5)
In my mind, The Drumhead was probably the best episode of the season and top 5 of the series for sure...

Not sure how you can give First Contact 4 stars... it was decent but a bit boring, and the conservative minister was a total caricature.

I agree with everyone on Remember Me too. On subsequent viewings however I found myself wondering how I didnt know what was going on right away, when Crusher vanished from the room after Wesleys experiment made a flash.
Wed, May 16, 2012, 10:51pm (UTC -5)
I didn't believe Satee's meltdown at the end either, but hey, the episode had to end dramatically somehow.
Mon, Jun 18, 2012, 12:52am (UTC -5)
The bit about the Borg was nice -- I'd been wondering if such suspicions would ever be raised, especially since the episode immediately following the Borg episodes contained no such worries about Picard's "reliability". In our society, there's no way Picard could be trusted again.
Mon, Dec 31, 2012, 2:45pm (UTC -5)
I love this episode, one of my favorites of TNG. The inspiration from The Crucible and the HUAC activites ( are obvious.

And Picard's speech clearly reminds me of Joseph Welch's "Have you at last no decency sir" speech at the Army hearings.
William B
Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
I just watched this and I think I need to watch it again to decide what I think of it. This is an episode that I think is on the border between excellent and weak -- which sounds bizarre, perhaps. But on the one hand, it is dramatic dynamite, a slow build in which Satie's slow freight train of an investigation slowly accelerates until it seems as if it'll be impossible to stop, and only Picard's cool-headed but passionate defense of civil liberties as the core of the Federation remain. It's also an episode which avoids the shadings that could make this story that much more compelling.

Part of what works about "The Wounded" is that it does not go as far as to make Maxwell wrong in his suspicions, "only" his methods. What that episode -- and others mentioned, including "Data's Day" -- demonstrate is that the cost of upholding the principles that Picard represents is real. In order to avoid starting a war, spies get away; to avoid going on a mission of total destruction, Cardassians get away with beginning to build up weapons. There is a sacrifice to be made, but the sacrifice is one that is worth making.

Clearly, Satie is wrong about Picard, and she is also (ultimately) wrong about the conspiracy on the Enterprise. There is some non-zero chance that there is a conspiracy we are unaware of, but it is so close to zero, which means that Satie comes across as ultimate unhinged from fairly early on. When it's ultimately fairly clear that Tarses' loyalty is to Starfleet, it's easy to agree with Picard that he should not be assumed to be a traitor because of his ancestry (and because he lied about it). Much harder is to defend Tarses as innocent until proven guilty of sabotage or treason when it seems genuinely plausible that he be a traitor, or that it's left an open question. Standing up for civil liberties, as Picard does here, I support fully, but the episode makes it just a tad too easy to support it. One must be willing to support civil liberties, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty of a crime, even when that will sometimes lead to genuine security breaches. As a result, the episode misses a chance to go to a level beyond what it actually was, and be (really) about defending civil liberties even when -- *especially* when -- it is potentially very costly.

The episode gestures toward this and there are pains to make Satie, while still ultimately a villain, at least one who does seem to be motivated with a genuine desire to protect the Federation. I do think that she brushes aside the implications of the fact that the supposed sabotage in the warp core was an accident too quickly to be fully believable; her insistence that there *is* a conspiracy on board is not entirely credible. But for all this, there is a great deal of effort to make her credible and this makes her an effective antagonist overall.

She is not acting for personal gain, except insofar as she has a strong sense of pride which eventually gets in thew ay of her judgment, when her confrontation with Picard (eventually) becomes personal. Her Betazoid aide is right that Tarses is hiding something (and while it is sad to see his career ruined, it does make sense that lying on one's application and perjuring is a serious offense). She's not wrong when she calls Picard out on using Troi's talents as a guide, the way she uses her aide's. Her greatest weapon through most of the episode is her supreme confidence in her own rightness, and when Picard attempts to block her investigation she can come to no possible conclusion but that he is part of the conspiracy.

Best of all is the use of Worf -- whom we know is a man of extreme integrity, but who lacks the conviction that Picard has in the value of personal freedom. The great irony at the heart of Worf's story here is that he buys into Satie's line of thinking even though that line of thinking condemns him. He has always believed that Duras is a traitor because his father is a traitor, even though he *knows* that other people wrongly think the same of him (falsely believing about his father, i.e.). Tarses refusing to speak further is *exactly*, in fact, what Worf did in "Sins of the Father" -- Worf *has his reasons* for refusing a challenge even though from an outsider with a suspicious nature the only possibly cause he could have for refusing said challenge is because he is hiding his own (or his father's) guilt. That Worf is unaware of the irony, even though it is subtly suggested in an early scene with Satie's aide, makes the story all the more compelling, especially when he is attacked in the final courtroom confrontation.

The real difference, in fact, between Worf's reaction to the interrogations of Tarses and to Picard demonstrates part of the key to this episode. Worf knows Picard and he knows that Picard had his reasons -- he was there and saw those reasons. Things that look suspicious on paper and can be twisted, around and around, again and again, are clear when seen in their proper context. Worf has that context for Picard; he doesn't have it for Tarses, and so he naturally assumes the worst. Satie, who has that context for no one on the ship, eventually believes the worst of everybody, focusing on the worst possible interpretation of each event, using the Borg incident against Picard (!), implying that Picard must be a terrible man because he dares to continue to sleep at night. Picard's attempt to get to know Tarses is part of the thing that separates him from Worf and Satie.

Satie's emotional breakdown I struggle with. By making Satie look especially unhinged, the episode continues to stack the deck against her a little too strongly in order to make Picard (who is already right) look more transparently right. But it still fits in with the episode's themes, suggesting that Satie operates by preying on people's emotions -- fear, anger, and finally hatred -- rather than on their reason. On some level, the ending suggests, Satie knows that she has strayed from the standard set by her father, and her inability to deal with this causes her to lash out at Picard as strongly as she can, because if she can prove that he is not a righteous man she can go back to being secure in herself.

Overall, I do think this is a very strong episode -- and yet.... If Satie were just a bit more justified, it would have been a much stronger show, and perhaps a classic instead of "merely" a very good show. Probably 3.5 stars.
Mon, Jul 8, 2013, 7:28pm (UTC -5)
@William: Count me as a "fan" of your reviews here. This may be the best yet, particularly because "The Drumhead" is both very strong and very frustrating since Satie is just a bit too obvious an antagonist. Still, the courtroom scenes manage to transcend cliche, and it's pretty hard to argue with the use of the "Picard speech" device.
William B
Tue, Jul 9, 2013, 12:36am (UTC -5)
@Josh: thanks. I can't remember another episode which left me as conflicted as this one, and it's pretty hard to sort through.
Latex Zebra
Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 6:59am (UTC -5)
Some people complain that TNG was not episodic but certain themes were carried for quite a few episodes. Klingon/Romulan alliances being one of them.

I love this episode. Satie's meltdown is a bit full on but it wasn't a surprise as you start distrusting her quite early on.

This is probably in my top 10 TNG episodes.
Sat, Nov 16, 2013, 5:09pm (UTC -5)
Star Trek has a tendency to affix added unlikability to people they want to come off as tends to be proportional to how much of a claim on being right the "villain" has.

If we assign any validity to Spock's "the needs of the many...", then the So'na POV from Insurrection was actually the more inherently virtuous (actually, I agree that it was), which is why they had to be made into mustache-twirling villains in other ways, like having subdued two other races into essentially indentured servitude and otherwise being presented as inherently hostile and even grotesque. It even was done post-Insurrection, when in DS9, Damar indicated that the So'na had joined the Dominion.
Sun, Apr 6, 2014, 7:10pm (UTC -5)
The last scene with Picard and Worf, where Worf is apologizing to Picard, is emblematic of the problem with this episode. Picard is giving his 50th speech of the episode, and sums up our Very Special Lesson for Worf: "Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged." Well, that's a nice lesson. Too bad mustache-twirling villain is exactly how they made Norah Satie.

I get a bit annoyed when writers and producers have to prop up their own views by making the characters with the opposing viewpoints evil. This is especially true when they out the opposing viewpoint in a way that makes all the other characters notice. Yet that's exactly what they do here, having Satie's suspicions overrun into a crazy witch hunt, ending with her breaking down in the court room and everyone leaving her. Hurray for straw men!

I mean, let's look at things rationally here. J'Dann DID have an accomplice. That much is known. He injected that genetic sequencer thingy into someone who left the ship and got it to the Romulans. Worf suspects some random diplomat, true, but he hasn't confirmed it yet. Yet Picard wants to consider the matter settled immediately. Why? There was a serious security breach on your ship. It behooves you to be a little more thorough then just saying "oh, it was probably that guy. Everything's all wrapped up now!" Yes, it was probably just that other diplomat and no Starfleet officers involved, but you should still check!

And if a trained investigator (who can read minds) tells you that someone is acting very suspiciously during the interview, it makes sense to look into the matter further. And to find out he was hiding his ancestry, well, again, it makes sense to look into the matter further! No, that's not enough to throw him in the brig. But that's not what Satie was suggesting! Yes, she was probably going too far in immediately declaring that he should be restricted from sensitive areas, but Picard was too quick to declare further questioning off limits. Besides, shouldn't sensitive areas be restricted anyways? Sigh...

Of course, the episode had another moment of lack of awareness with Worf. He asks Picard if Tarses was innocent, why would he not state everything openly? Gee, I don't know Mr. Accept Discommendation Rather Than Reveal the Treachery of Duras' Father... OK, so maybe Worf might not have realized it. But why didn't Picard bring that up? The answer, of course, is that Worf is TNG's straw man unenlightened crew member, and thus must always be in the wrong. Given how much I like TNG's cast, it's annoying when they're set up like caricatures rather than realistic officers.

The reason I'm harping on this so much is that this is almost a great episode. It's very well paced, has quite a bit of tension, and deals with some meaty issues. The directing is excellent. All the pieces are there, but they're unfortunately spoiled by Admiral Straw Man.
Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 8:45pm (UTC -5)
@Jay: As far as the So'na go, on the one hand you're definitely right about the whole moralizing of characters turning them into figurative devils or angels. Having said that, I don't see the collection of metaphasic particles being a "the needs of the many" win. In the short term, yes, the particles could be immediately used to benefit the many more Federation citizens for perhaps a couple hundred years instead of a handful of Ba'ku. In the long term, doing the actual study of the natural extant ring of metaphasic particles would likely produce benefit to near all life indefinitely. Instead, the needs of the few--the So'na--are taking a lead because they can--in the short term--harvest the particles when the Federation can not and the Admiral wants all the credit. Which brings back to the original point, the reason the So'na end up being so monstrous is they want to live forever but not be trapped to a planet in the middle of nowhere. If only they had enough medical knowledge, they'd just do the harvesting and self-regeneration all themselves. The real shame was the unwillingness to face that the Ba'ku were had their own sort of guilt, to live forever and yet waste that life--very much against the ideals of human self-improvement of Star Trek. That seems the bigger sin.

@SkepticalMI: I don't think Satie was ever really portrayed as a mustache twirling villain. Just a self-important (her little speech of all her "sacrifice"), self-righteous (unwavering in her convictions of a conspiracy) motivation to do what she thinks is right regardless of her methods going near directly towards investing everyone to step through and prove their innocence--the core of a police state, really. Yet only near the is she painted as much of a villain as her exuberance doesn't seem to be ever perturbed by contrary evidence. I mean, that's the whole reason why Picard's little counterpoints are always about the moderation of taking reasonable steps and not about Satie being wrong or that there couldn't necessarily be a conspiracy.

@To everyone: At some level, I understand where the debate of a weak vs strong episode comes from, especially hinging on how the evidence of a conspiracy--the question of whether the dilithium chamber door was sabotaged--being possible revealed too early. But consider that later those at the hearing gasp when they hear of "evidence" of a corrosive on the door. We're looking at the investigation and the hearings from the inside. And we see that what has to be the truth today--there are numerous investigations led by the exuberant investigators who all see conspiracies where there are none and even under the best of intentions will actively ignore solid evidence to the contrary and lie in public towards their own ends--"a tactic; a way of applying pressure" that begins with lies and with paranoia can end in torture and death. You see, *you* the viewer see a monster while from a different perspective, without that breakdown in the court room, you'd never think twice about Satie being but a virtuous woman and it very odd that such a fruitful investigation was cut short. But then I ask you, how many terrorists have the NSA/CIA/FBI caught? How quickly are they to tout figures of success only when their programs are threatened to be cut off and yet the rest of the time, it seems very clear that at best they discover near nothing. Even under the best of circumstances, from the inside the virtuous are likely to appear as monsters. Meaning to or not, perhaps the lesson is one of how greater transparency is needed so we have a better grasp on "the inside"? Or, you know, Picard's general moderation of action because of a recognition of "The Drumhead".
Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 4:19pm (UTC -5)
The mustache-twirling part refers primarily to her courtroom breakdown. It's just so out of place and unrealistic.

I didn't want to bring it up earlier given how easily these comments veer off in a political manner, but I was reminded of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged while watching the end of this show. In the book (spoilers abound in case anyone cares), the characters are representative of Rand's Objectivist philosophy, so all the protagonists are 2-dimensional perfect paragons of rationalism while all the antagonists are 2-dimensional villains. That's ok, because it worked within the plot. The villainous qualities were greed, corruption, refusal to accept reality, and an overwhelming and flawed sense of self-righteousness. While it may be absurd to have everyone act this way, it was engaging on its own... until the end of the book. These self-righteous businessmen were now torturing one of the protagonists while becoming wildly unhinged, while said-protagonist was dealing with the torture and pontificating how awesome Objectivism is.

It took me completely out of the story. Just because you're a greedy self-righteous jerk doesn't mean you're also a sadist! It didn't fit the way the characters were presented for the first 80% of the book. And it didn't follow naturally from the events of the plot (at least to me). People just don't end up over-the-top like that. Furthermore, it makes it look like a cheat; a way for the author to turn the ratchet up on the opposing philosophy. Naturally, the author is right and anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly insane!

Have you ever composed arguments in your head while alone or in the shower or something, and imagined how devastating said arguments are? Of course, it's easy to win arguments in your head; you are calm and rational and understand everything perfectly, leaving your imagined opponent stuttering helplessly. Heck, I composed this reply while in the shower, and it was so awesome that the owner of Paramount read it and made me writer, director, and star of the next Star Trek movie... But seriously, most of us are smart and humble enough to know that we don't have all the answers, and that the arguments in our head are different than ones we might have in real life. But this episode reads like the sort of imagined argument you would come up with in the shower.

Norah Satie is a respected admiral and investigator. She is also a brilliant debater, and was trained by her father to be able to use logic as well as any Vulcan (at least that's what her tea break scene with Picard suggests). Given that, do you really see her spouting out a bunch of random insults at Picard's leadership, and then go on a rant when he gives one small speech? I don't.

Up to that final act, this was an excellent episode. But that rant kinda ruined it for me.
Sun, Apr 13, 2014, 8:37pm (UTC -5)
I stand corrected about the mustache twirling. You're right. The episode would have been strengthened without the rant but would have left the episode with a more horrific truth, that Saties of the world keep on going and rarely do they go in and attack someone who has any chance of even debate. That's a harder truth to stomach, though. :/
Mon, May 19, 2014, 1:09pm (UTC -5)
SkepticalMI: "Too bad mustache-twirling villain is exactly how they made Norah Satie."

I never thought of it that way until I read the comments. But watching the episode again, I see your point. Still, though, she seemed reasonable enough in the beginning before graduating into hyper paranoia, which I thought did effectively illustrate Picard's point in the end despite her becoming too obvious a villain in the end.

Still, I think this is one of Trek's better courtroom episodes (also reminds me a bit of BSG's "Litmus"), although the ending rant seemed too staged.
Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 4:48am (UTC -5)
The meltdown was in no sense indicative of mustache twirling, but of the fact that Satie is not the paragon of objectivity she presents herself as through most of the episode. She's not evil, she's overzealous and a bit of an egomaniac.

The respect and awe she held for her father was well-established earlier in the episode. This combined with her manic conviction that it is up to her to save Starfleet from disloyalty, conspiracies and the like allows Picard to pull the psychological trick of showing that one defining part of her character (devotion to father) is in contradiction with another (devotion to Starfleet).

It's a massive case of cognitive dissonance, and thus not too farfetched to think it might draw her out of her ultra-rational shell. In fact, the breakdown helps establish her as a real three-dimensional character rather than a mustache-twirling foil exactly because it shows her increasing penchant for witch-trial style investigation to be a result of zeal rather than leaving her motives for a personal crusade against Picard and crew masked by a calm and collected demeanor.
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 8:57am (UTC -5)
This episode was good but mostly because of Stewart's acting. Otherwise there was too little doubt or misdirection about how Satie (just that she had been right about a past dangerous conspiracy and that as a child she enjoyed family table debates) or the episode would turn out; there was a bit that Tarses lying about being descended from a Romulan was portrayed as real bad but it was predictable (yet really rushed) that the crew would then feel bad about being suspicious. Picard and Taylor objecting to surveillance or duty-reassignment to someone under suspicion if not likely lying felt very extreme given the stakes involved.
Fri, Oct 3, 2014, 3:24pm (UTC -5)
Amazing the timelessness of this episode, filmed in 1991.

Watching it today all I could think about was the series of assumptions that led to the Iraq war, especially when Satie said something like "by the time we get well founded evidence, it could be too late!"

Also the Romulan-ancestor thing touched on the fear that American had for Japanese-Americans during WWII (leading folks like George Takei having to live in internment camps).
Fri, Oct 24, 2014, 7:04pm (UTC -5)
From the beginning of the episode I had a hard time reconciling how renowned and legendary Norah Satie that was being described in dialogue with the clearly lesser person standing before us in person. So pretty much the entirety of the episode was just an exercise in waiting for shoes to drop.
Sat, Oct 25, 2014, 12:41pm (UTC -5)
Agree James. But we did get Picard's drumhead speech though :-)
Fri, Dec 5, 2014, 6:44am (UTC -5)
I really enjoyed most of this but that ending was a little weak. The callbacks to prior episodes was nice. my highlight was the speech Picard gave about destroying a man based on the blood he carries, it feels as appropriate as ever.
Mon, Jun 1, 2015, 12:14pm (UTC -5)
This is easily one of my favorite episodes of any Star Trek series. It comes across as having been ripped right out of today's headlines - and then you realize it was written and aired many years before 9-11 and the ensuing security state, where data is collected on everyone just on the chance someone may be hiding something. Between Bill C-51 in Canada and the so-called Patriot Act in the U.S., the issues raised in this episode, and its portrayal of a powerful "patriot" who doesn't hesitate to destroy anyone to protect their perceived version of the status quo, the episode could not be more topical. And yet, it is nearly 25 years old!

That's what makes this story so good -- and what makes it come off as prescient -- is the idea that of the necessity to protect our rights and liberties at all costs comes up again and again, requiring eternal vigilance in the face of state power. Picard nails the risks of trading liberty for security in several superbly delivered monologues. Then there is also is the secondary theme of Crewman Tarses' ruination simply based on his ancestry. Too often, science fiction that is meant to cast light on current dilemmas is too heavy-handed and clumsy to succeed. This episode could serve as a blueprint for how to do this kind of sci fi story successfully.
Sun, Jul 19, 2015, 9:00am (UTC -5)
"(You can insert your own current-day political commentary here.)"

No thanks, I think I'll pass on what will only piss off people from every corner of the political spectrum.

Do I really need to go into what makes this episode so good? The slow build-up to full-out paranoia, the gut-wrenching use of Crewman Tarses, the wonderful use of Worf as an unknowing accomplice in Satie's villainy, some of the best Picard Speeches in the series, the wonderful use of continuity in the final showdown between Picard and Satie, etc.? Everyone knows what makes "The Drumhead" so good. As for Satie's breakdown at the end - it works for me. She clearly believes that there's a conspiracy afoot and that Picard is disloyal to the Federation and Starfleet. And now Picard is quoting her own father, who she views with an almost divine reverence. Naturally she's going to break down at that point.

But what really stands out about this episode is that it is about as close to a full-out rejection of the Roddenberry utopian Federation as you can get. "Eternal vigilance is the price we must continually pay."? I could easily see that whole concept being laughed at in the first two seasons, where humanity had presumably evolved past the need for vigilance. A lot of people say that DS9 killed the idea of Roddenberry's view of the future. Nonsense! Episodes like this did long before DS9. And God bless "The Drumhead" for it!

There are a few little nitpicky errors I can point out, but I don't think they detract from the episode in any way. For instance, why does Satie's Betazoid assistant (who is clearly meant to be a full-blooded Betazoid) act like he's only half-Betazoid like Troi? He shouldn't be getting impressions or vague senses from the people being investigated. He should be flat-out reading their thoughts. And, how is possible for Tarses' grandfather to have been Romulan when the Romulans were completely isolating themselves from the Federation back then?

"The Drumhead" is easily one of the best of TNG, quite possibly one of the best of the whole franchise. And, okay, I'll indulge in a little political commentary after all - maybe some of the people around here who have been saying things like theists shouldn't be allowed to practice religion in public or that conservatives can't be true Trek fans should re-watch this episode because, after all, "the first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."

I don't give 10 out of 10 scores lightly, but this one deserves it in spades.

Diamond Dave
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 5:32am (UTC -5)
In commenting on how prescient an episode is, one must also muse on the timeliness of the topic at hand. Witch-hunts have always been with us and always will be. So to me this episode serves as an examination of a universal truth.

And, to my mind, it does it in an unsatisfactory manner. Satie turns too readily to rampant ideologue, and then to blubbering meltdown. Worf leaps in with his pitchfork, and contritely leaps out again at the end. The issues are laid on with a trowel, and the moral messages with all the subtlety of a brick.

What does work well is the spiral into excess, culminating in the accusations of Picard (one wonders quite what 9 breaches of the Prime Directive mean in practice to a Captain's career!). And if the subtle insinuation that there is a conspiracy at the heart of the Federation is tossed out in this episode, it'll come back later... 2.5 stars.
Wed, Dec 23, 2015, 6:24am (UTC -5)
Watching it again, I liked the acting of Crewman Tarses (Spencer Garrett). He looked truly nervous on the stand, eyes darting, breathing funny. And I thought Jean Simmons did great with her dismissive looks. Whenever she heard something Satie didn't like, or didn't fit with her view, the actress really sold the body language for me.

In '91, I thought the Admiral (brought out of retirement) was mildly unhinged, and the further into the episode we got, the further she was shown to be a bit mad/loopy with her single-mindedness, until even Picard was in the crosshairs. I just wondered how they would ultimately show it, then Picard gave his speech. It really worked for me then (still does). But I'd wondered for a moment if it would stick, or if they'd just take a break and she'd be all better. Then the other Admiral leaves the room. I think he was there just so we could see him go, so we'd know the investigation was done. Otherwise, there would be no one to stop her.

I have this in my list of episodes that are really good, but I don't really like. As it built up I knew it was going to go horribly wrong in some way, and waiting for the shoe to drop made my skin crawl.

Regards Everyone... RT
John Carr
Wed, Dec 23, 2015, 7:12am (UTC -5)
I think all the criticism of the episode is accurate.

With that said, it's still one of my favorite episodes! I believe why so many of us love The Drumhead and Darmok is Patrick Steward's performance. Patrick's performance frankly overpowers the story limitations and bring us viewers passionately into the story. Looked under a microscope, both these episodes have flaws (but so does any story). It's just so much fun watching Patrick act perfectly and be allowed too showcase his talent.
Mon, Jan 18, 2016, 12:37am (UTC -5)
From William: "It's also an episode which avoids the shadings that could make this story that much more compelling." Yes, 100 times yes.

There's potential here, but I really can't get on the "great episode" bandwagon. If you want to have a compelling debate, you've got to be able to view the argument from both points of view. I lost that about the time that it was determined no sabotage occurred, but the all decided to go forward with the hearings anyway. What crime is being investigated? What facts are the hearings attempting to establish? I stopped believing there was something to investigate, let alone believing that someone might actually be guilty of something.

You want great "court room" TNG, Measure of a Man is a much better place to look. Here, it's all just framing for Picard to eloquently take on some straw men. Appreciate the facepalm at the end, though. Just 2.5 stars for me.
Michael Brennick
Thu, May 19, 2016, 3:35pm (UTC -5)
The casting of Jean Simmons raises this episode's profile substantially. Picard's facile grandstanding on his own "civil liberties" drumhead lowers the episode.
Wed, May 25, 2016, 11:19pm (UTC -5)
@Luke Maybe his grandfather was a Romulan defector who made it safely to federation space. at least that's the only logical explanation of why he is half Romulan.

I do find it strange that Starfleet will except Klingons Bajorans and even Ferengi(albeit several years after this incident) But Tarses is worried(and rightly considering the way the Betazoid treats him) that being part Romulan will automatically hurt his chances of being accepted into Starfleet. sounds like some good old fashioned discrimination!
Thu, May 26, 2016, 8:26am (UTC -5)
The only reason this episode is watchable and notable.

"You know, there some words I've known since I was a school boy. With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably. Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie as wisdom and warning. The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged. I fear that today"

Captain Picard
Fri, May 27, 2016, 10:29pm (UTC -5)
The comments on this episode to the effect that it is an overly blunt McCarthyism allegory are well-taken, but.... there was nothing subtle about McCarthyism, and recent American history is well-nigh complete with people whose self-righteousness has led them to flout our Constitution (so our Supreme Court has said. In Hamdi v . Rumsfeld, Rasul v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumseld and Boumedine v . Bush, cases which I fear are quickly becoming ancient history) in the name of the flag and "safety." Some of these these people, in their own minds, believe they act with good intentions.

So did Norah Satie at the beginning of this episode. To her, to be virtuous is to apply the principles articulated by her father. To me - I am a forme prosecutor - what some might deem Satie's out-of-character, unhinged behavior might be explained by what makes up the difference between her father and herself. He was a judge and she is, in effect, a prosecutor. More than one prosecutor will tell you that the longer he or she has been in the business, the easier it is to think that his prosecutorial actions are "justified" in the name of a higher power. Some prosecutors know that they are lying to themselves when they say this, and some are merely self-deluded. Either way, and as concerns Admiral Satie, the point I am trying to make here is that people who enforce the law can often develop tunnel vision. Merely losing a case is an insufficient deterrent to unethical behavior when a prosecutor keeps his job in May event. Why WOULD such a person feel the need to meditate on his ethical behavior when there is virtually no one to hold him accountable? (Except a judge, in egregious circumstances). Satie tells Picard, almost in passing, that she has not seen her family in years, and has no friends. As such, her actions in trying to ferret out wrongdoing have been in examined by human hands.

Her father, on the other hand, was a judge. Judges' decisions and writings are treated by many people in the U.S. with reverence. The episod - set 350 years from now, suggests that at least some judges are still held in public esteem.

Picard, by hurling Satie's own father's words against her, finally is able to tell Satie, in a way that others could not or would not, that her behavior is exactly the kind of overreaching that her father spent his life trying to stop. Her father, the judge, reaching out of the grave to admonish her, through the avatar of Picard's quote. For Norah Satie, there can be no more effective or utter rebuke. Her losing it, because she realizes what it is she has finally lost - a sense that the notion that rules must be followed only if following them serves some end - is to me quite understandable.

Criticism has been made of the fact that the episode would have been more compelling had Picard not so obviously been on the side of right and Satie on the side of wrong. We viewers tend to perceive that there is imbalance in part because Picard is a character whom we know and trust, and Satie is a stranger. So, all other things being equal, our natural sympathies lie with Picard in the first instance - a bias which leads us to conclude that the scales are clearly tipped in his favor, when maybe perhaps the balance is a little less lopsided.

Don't believe me that point of view can cause us to distort what may actually be something resembling dramatic balance? Think about Law and Order (the first one), a show that tells us from the get-go that it is told from the point of view of the police and the prosecutors. How many times have you rooted for McCoy or Stone or one of the other prosecutors to secure a guilty verdict? More times than what, upon sober reflection, you realize was the amount of times such a verdict was justified? If your answer is at least "one," maybe you'd be a little less harsh on this episode. Sure, it could have been more subtle, but subtlety is a tricky business - too little, it sounds like you're shouting. Even the tiniest bit too much, and you might come off as not really saying much of anything. Which is fine - unless you like Star Trek - and many of us do -because you admire its tendency to side with those who are on the right side.
Fri, May 27, 2016, 11:59pm (UTC -5)
"We viewers tend to perceive that there is imbalance in part because Picard is a character whom we know and trust, and Satie is a stranger."

This is probably true, however I still think the writers could've done more to make us sympathetic to Admiral Satie's position. In "The Measure of a Man", they put Riker on Maddox's side and even gave Riker and the judge some reasonable arguments against Picard's position that Data is a lifeform. That's good court drama because the viewers wrestle with the very issues of the characters.

Here, Satie is so poorly presented, it's hard to believe she could've been legitimately interested in Federation security interests. Indeed, you yourself have sided against her position in your opening paragraph.
Sat, Jul 16, 2016, 10:27pm (UTC -5)
I am almost certain that Admiral Satie had a mental health problem that interfered with her duties. I question why she was allowed to conduct the investigation, and why the investigation wasn't stopped earlier. In fact, I question why she was allowed to be in her position. I also don't understand why no one questioned her sanity during this whole process. She is simply unfit for duty.
Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 10:19am (UTC -5)
I wish I had the time to really get this comment because it requires. It is been a long time since I saw this episode when I first saw it my mother explained to me the how you say Origins of the episode and where it came from. I'm in my thirties now and I have to say that this episode is incredibly creepy and tense. The end of that episode it reminds me of a 1950s or 1960s courtroom drama. Think Inherit the Wind and for some reason I also think of Manchurian Candidate even though Manchurian did not have a same type of courtroom atmosphere.

Perhaps it is my memories of seeing the film Inherit the Wind when I was still in high school in the early nineties as well as seeing chillin films such as The Manchurian Candidate both new and old and seeing it's and it's "remake" playing like a creepy sequel.

For whatever reason despite the science fiction atmosphere and it being roughly three hundred years in the future this episode has a certain Timeless quality. As I watch more contemporary products such as the man in the High Castle which is itself an adaptation of an old Philip K dick novel written in the sixties I think to myself that this show really hit upon something special. I have always been a fan of certain relics of our Modern Age showing up in the sci fi films. Sometimes it's embarrassing. There are some very clear 1960s ideal in the original Star Trek and if you pay attention you can see some obvious 80s hairstyles and design choices in Star Trek the Next Generation.

But when you take a show like this and and conjure up everything from the most beloved 1950s courtroom dramas and even plays such as The Crucible that's when you move past Syfy Into The Human Condition. When this came out we were still dealing with Communism in some ways if I recall correctly the Soviet Union did did not fall till several years later but I can't think of anything that was happening at that point in time that made this episode culturally relevant. To me that's a strength of the episode. I think I was 11 when I saw this for the first time and even then I remember it making me uncomfortable. I was young I did not realize that some of the the views I hold now could ever put me in a situation like this. Watching it now as an adult I realize only too clear Timeless nature of an episode like this. Everything from 911 to Trump to the prosecution of Jews and queer people this episode could have been made last week. Perhaps that is why a series like this has staying power. I would say it is easily the best episode of the entire season.

We can only hope for new science fiction to touch on the human condition as eloquently as STNG and DS9 did.
Trek fan
Tue, Nov 29, 2016, 4:40pm (UTC -5)
I would give this episode 2 1/2 stars. Good material, but poor execution, and I agree with the earlier comment that "Measure of a Man" leaves "Drumhead" in the dust because the former presented a balance of intelligent worldviews in the courtroom debate. While "Drumhead" paces the tension nicely and does a nice job setting up a confrontation between the captain and admiral, the one-dimensional zaniness and climactic ranting of the admiral undo any sense of dramatic interest at the end. Compared even to "Court Martial," the TOS episode where Kirk's trial is overseen by worthy adversaries as opposed to ranting fools, this TNG outing is a real loser. While the issues of security and personal freedom are certainly pertinent, the one-handed presentation fails to give the admiral's position any rational traction that might push back against Picard and provide the viewer with more dramatic traction. As often happens in TNG, the solutions here are a little too obvious and the moral superiority of the captain is a bit too self-righteous. There is good stuff here, but the script and performances fail to give us the "debate of equals" the admiral's reputation had promised, and the easy way out that the screenwriters take is just that: a cop-out.
Sun, Jan 1, 2017, 7:34am (UTC -5)
Just rewatched this. Odd thing, I though clearly remembered a plot point that it turns out actually didn't happen.

My recollection was that as the interrogation of Tarses intensified and it became clear that his career in Starfleet was finished, that he committed suicide.

I thought that the episode used that for both drama when it happened, and later when his innonce was determined, to show the consequences of going down the road of a witch hunt.

Turns out of course that none of that happened (I assume the first time I watched it that was my guess of what would happen, and then forgot about the true ending).

Not saying it would have been a better ending (as I presumably thought that was what was going to happen, maybe it would have been too predictable), just find it an interesting 'what if'.

Anyhow,, while Admiral Satie's meltdown may have been a bit over the top, my favorite part of the episode was the other admiral simply walking out of the hearing without a word after it. A case of making a strong statement without saying anything.
Sun, Jan 1, 2017, 6:58pm (UTC -5)
"My recollection was that as the interrogation of Tarses intensified and it became clear that his career in Starfleet was finished, that he committed suicide. "

@ Matt-

You might be remembering 'The Defector' I think it was called, where the Romulan who thought he was trying to help his people by defecting to the Federation killed himself after he learned it was all a trick by the Romulans.

And since Tarses was part Romulan, this could be it!
Tue, Jan 3, 2017, 6:46am (UTC -5)
Del_Duio: I bet that was what I was thinking of. Good thing they didn't use that plot here then!
Sun, Feb 19, 2017, 11:09pm (UTC -5)
One aspect of the story that I think goes unfairly unremarked, is that the episode doesn't act as if caution and suspicion aren't needed in times of danger. The klingon guy really was an enemy spy and he even used the race card. So while Sate may have been a bit too evil and not well argued, the episode is even handed enough in its approach to the situation. Yes, there IS danger-doesn't mean it's worth to let it destroy what and who we are protecting.
Tue, Feb 21, 2017, 11:10am (UTC -5)
"One aspect of the story that I think goes unfairly unremarked, is that the episode doesn't act as if caution and suspicion aren't needed in times of danger. The klingon guy really was an enemy spy and he even used the race card. So while Sate may have been a bit too evil and not well argued, the episode is even handed enough in its approach to the situation. Yes, there IS danger-doesn't mean it's worth to let it destroy what and who we are protecting."

It brings up Satie's side of the argument, but she's made into a complete strawman. It's easy to walk away with the message that "National security just isn't worth it." because nothing Satie does actually helps the Enterprise. They already found the spy, and the "conspiracy" was debunked because there was no sabotage. All Satie did was waste everyone's time with litigation while what the ship really needed was a bigger repair crew.
Peter G.
Tue, Feb 21, 2017, 11:25am (UTC -5)
I'll say one thing about this episode which never occurred to me in all the years I've been rewatching the series: they clearly meant for this episode to be part of a larger Romulan arc that they'd been building towards during season 4. As much as we think that DS9 initiated the long arc, the TNG writers were keen to do it despite being prevented by the network, and in S4 they did get in some building continuity. The arc traces back to "Sins of the Father", and in S4 goes something like this:

"Reunion" - Introducing internal Klingon tensions.

"Data's Day" - Bringing the Romulans into the picture as being up to something (we'll omit "Future Imperfect" as counting).

"The Drumhead" - Reintroducing the idea of a Romulan scare, and in the process subtly implying that Satie believed in the possibility of Klingons and Romulans conspiring together. To our knowledge this hadn't happened since TOS when they shared technology with each other.

"The Mind's Eye" - Bringing to the forefront that the Romulans are up to no good. And I had completely forgotten until I watched this again the other week that Sela makes her first shadowy appearance at the end of this one.

"Redemption" - Where it all comes together.

To have five separate episodes in a season all leading towards the cliffhanger finale is pretty darn good considering they had to slip it in, most likely under the network's noses. From that standpoint I'll forgive some of the details in "The Drumhead" that don't add up to that much, because I can see now that as an arc they were using it to put certain ideas in our heads about wondering what the Klingons and Romulans were up to. The fact of the matter is that the way the script dealt with Tarsis wasn't very compelling in terms of us actually considering he might actually be guilty of something, and so Satie being wrong ended up overshadowing the legitimate concern about Romulan interference, which I think should have been written in better.
John Harmon
Fri, Feb 24, 2017, 2:23pm (UTC -5)
"The law has been hijacked by an overzealous individual whose judgment is suspect."

Ain't it the truth...
Thu, Mar 16, 2017, 4:03am (UTC -5)
>(You can insert your own current-day political commentary here.)

And boy, can you. Amazing how that's one thing that will never become dated...
Mon, Apr 10, 2017, 1:50am (UTC -5)
I enjoyed the individual acting (Picard, Satie, Tarses..) but put together, it rang a bit hollow. As a former comment pointed out, the momentum was lost once it had been established that the explosion was not manufactured by a saboteur - from that point on, there just didn't seem much point in investigating further as there was really nothing left to investigate.

I too enjoyed Tarses' performance. That being said I was disturbed at how quick they were to discriminate against him based on the fact that he was Romulan, and by extension, the extenuating circumstances that led to him deeming it necessary to lie about his lineage. I can't imagine having to grow up with so much self loathing that you would have to lie about your race on a school application. No one should ever be made to feel bad about themselves due to their heritage/race. I suppose the Federation isn't as enlightened as it likes to think it is.
Tue, Jun 13, 2017, 3:46pm (UTC -5)
This one is as subtle as a sledgehammer, and therefore not really interesting. Apart from Tarses (briefly) the episode never becomes intriguing on a personal level. It also lacked any kind of humor whatsoever (maybe with the exception of Worf hitting the traitor with a move that I thought only Steven Seagal could pull off). Instead, "The Drumhead" smacks us over the head with its message and has the audacity to pretend to be intelligent about it. Definitely not one of the "great" episodes for me.
Mon, Jul 24, 2017, 3:54pm (UTC -5)
For those who found Satie's rant difficult to believe, I was once in a real court and saw something similar happen. The accused was defending in person and when his theatrical case was derailed with derision by a (grizzled store detective) witness, he lost the plot. It was hugely entertaining.

Incidentally, has anyone ever had qualms about serving on board with a Betazoid? They don't seem to have any code of ethics about reading your mind as and when it suits them. Is there no general expectation of privacy in Starfleet?
Mon, Jul 24, 2017, 3:59pm (UTC -5)

There's a huge difference between the average person trying to defend themselves in court and a seasoned prosecutor trying to make a case. I.e., If Satie was just some layman with a personal stake in the case, her breakdown would've been much more believable.
Tue, Jul 25, 2017, 1:51pm (UTC -5)

You make a good point. It just seemed to me that although Satie boasts about her prowess she lets her 'team' do all the legal heavy lifting.

There seems to be a lot of precedent in Starfleet (in all series) for putting officers into a courtroom and expecting them to perform as legal officers. I didn't see Satie as being any different- just rather better at raising her profile as a result.
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 8:27am (UTC -5)
Satie's pet betazoid was able to to tell that the Klingon spy was telling the truth about not sabotaging the engines. She then jumped to the conclusion that he must have had assistance. Why did she not just ask the Klingon if he acted alone? Her betazoid would have been able to tell there and then that there was no conspiracy.

Apart from that point, I don't think this story fits into the trek world at all. We're constantly shown how society has evolved into something close to utopia, yet they expect us to believe this kind of rubbish could still occur. I call bs.
Jason R.
Tue, Sep 5, 2017, 6:56am (UTC -5)
Rather, Mikey, I call BS on this supposed utopia - as DS9 and later Trek stories did with great success. Trek was always at its best when it explored its characters' humanity, and the utopia described (mostly through Picard in STNG) is phony baloney for a plethora of reasons.
Fri, Sep 15, 2017, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
This has always been one of my favorite episodes. I did think Saties rant was a bit unhinged but it was one of those well written it could happen stories.
michael j
Fri, Oct 13, 2017, 4:02am (UTC -5)
So many here find Satie's meltdown implausible. I disagree. It's pretty much foreshadowed. She tells Picard she hasn't seen a family member in years and that she has no friends. She lives on starbases and starships. I'm already seeing red flags.

Note the frequent references to her father. She has elevated her late father on a pedestal because that is all she has. That and the Federation. That's not much of a life. Zealots -- especially isolated and lonely ones -- have facades that don't crack easily but when they do, it's quite a scene.
Thu, Oct 19, 2017, 12:35am (UTC -5)
3 stars. It’s a relatively decent and st times engrossing episode but really a great or excellent episode

I felt Picard was being far too naive and Admiral Satie was taking it too far. There was a middle ground to be had where some restrained prudent steps could be enacted like keeping an eye on Tarses while they investigate but not going overboard investigating everyone he knew going all the way back to his training days. Worf was right there are enemies who want to undermine the federation and the Klingon admitting he gave schematics to the Romulans confirms it.

Then the episode kind of takes the easy way out turning Satie from initially a realist to a zealous look who having spent so much time investigating conspiracies came to believe there was a conspiracy everywhere. That part kind of was over the top
Wed, Oct 25, 2017, 4:26am (UTC -5)
Okay episode, not great, the production and characterization and believability criticisms here are valid. My interest usually boils down to the principles at play, so:

Courtroom dramas that play out social overreaction to possible subversion - recalling HUAC and the Red Scare, most obviously - thrive on showing the impact to individual rights. Not often mentioned is how such screwups malign something that is probably more important: social trust. I would like to have seen, in some narrative way, an attitude of suspicion break down crew morale, harm the crew's ability to trust its officers (Worf, for example, could have started having problems with performance from crew members who thought they might be investigated), and ultimately break down the interdependency upon which every group relies upon. You do this enough, and you won't have a crew anymore. You will have a collection of alienated individuals terrified of having every little questionable detail of their actions viewed in the worst possible light. This is how good faith dies.

Paranoia is a response to one's social environment, what happens when you sense that trust is collapsing. And while the case in favor of individual liberties has the biggest gut punch to it, individuals die regularly in Star Trek and it is not at all like what we see here. Individual welfare or utility are really not the point. Simon Tarsus could have been killed by the Borg, and it is not the same kind of failure, not unsettling in the same way. An internal breakdown is far worse, far more debilitating, and takes far longer to recover from than any direct enemy action. It has been said that no society is conquered from outside until it first fails from within.

My views are quite right wing and from the usual Trekkian perspective, I prioritize security, in-group "prejudice", and competition enough that you might call it gleeful assholery, especially if you didn't know me personally. But if caught between upholding security and enabling trust, I would support trust in the vast majority of situations. Picard should have, somewhere, showed some concern that Satee was breaking down his ship from the inside more than sabotage ever had, and appealed to his crew, especially his senior officers, to find a way to get those hearings off the schedule. I think this would have been a better resolution than a noble speech on freedom and an unjustified mental breakdown from someone who had been built up to be a legend for her rationality.
Thu, Feb 15, 2018, 6:56pm (UTC -5)
A Klingon, possibly working with Romulans, is revealed to be a criminal. Starfleet prosecutes him. Picard is fine with this. A deranged Admiral with severe prejudices, however, won't stop with this one Romulan. In her eyes, everything is a conspiracy aimed at toppling her civiliation. She fixates on a young man with Romulan ancestry. Prejudiced and bigoted, and cloaking this all in a righteous cause, she essentializes the young man and sets about attempting to convict him. Afterall, all Romulans are guilty. Even half breeds.

In Trumpland, this episode just rings so true.
Sean Hagins
Wed, Mar 7, 2018, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
Everyone seems to feel that the Admiral's blowup at the end came out of nowhere. I think (as also Charles did) that Picard's mention of her father was the touchpoint. She wasn't some raving maniac, but there are some things that will set people off and seeing how much this Admiral idolized her dad, it would make sense that anyone she views as suspect hiding behind her father's words (in her opinion) would set her off.

As far as the Federation being racist, I don't see that as a stretch. Remember only 80 years ago in TOS, a crewman who served on the Enterprise with Spock for years (presumably) suddenly turns on him when he sees that the Romulans look like Vulcans. It's highly possible that the Romulan-Federation war of the early 23rd century is still a touchpoint to the average citizen. Whilst the Klingons are now established allies, the Romulans never were. And also since they just came out of the shadows again, this means that so little is known of them. It is easy to be racist against a "boogyman" like that.

As far as politics, I am completely neutral-I watch Star Trek for entertainment, not to relate it to anything else.
John Hellier
Sat, Apr 7, 2018, 5:39am (UTC -5)
And sadly the last episode featuring Ron Jones on Music which was a major mistake by the production team getting rid of them He brought grey colour to the episode he scored

seen the TNG episodes in Blu-ray and restored is Joys of being reconstructed so brilliantly it still makes an impression watching even if the odd episode isn’t as good

I still tend to feel the TNG was it is most Star Trek influenced 123 and 4 series 5 6 and 7 for me didn’t quite have the impact that the earlier ones did
Sat, Apr 7, 2018, 8:26pm (UTC -5)
Great episode that really makes you think even if it's a little obvious Picard is right (because he always has to be, apparently). I did notice that D'Jan's way of transmitting classified information through his blood would later be reused in the pilot of Enterprise with the Klingon courier Klang. Oversight, franchise fatigue or subtle send up? You decide!
Wed, May 16, 2018, 4:17pm (UTC -5)
I remember feeling very uncomfortable when first watching this and rightly so.
This is a super episode, ably assisted by a star turn from the venerable Jean Simmons.
I agree with the comments about the 'I've broken stronger men than you!' meltdown in the last reel but as someone said it was a necessary dramatic development.
TNG at its best in my view.
Mon, Jun 25, 2018, 10:13pm (UTC -5)
It's truly unnerving watching this episode, at random, right after Trump held a rally to publicly announce crimes of a targeted minority.

Tue, Jun 26, 2018, 5:40pm (UTC -5)
Spreading fear in the name of righteousness, not sticking to innocent until proven guilty -- a powerful episode with some quality performances from Simmons, Stewart and also the actor who played Tarses. It's crazy but also somewhat believable how a few questions and doubts turns into an absolute witch hunt in Satie's hands. Trek does deliver its messages with sledgehammers but the blurring of the lines (a trial vs. an inquiry) and the effects it can have were compellingly illustrated here.

Satie's breakdown at the end was a bit over the top and should not have been necessary for the other admiral to call off the shit show. But it's fascinating to watch how Satie cloaks herself in her love for the Federation, her father's words as a famous judge. But one also has to wonder what consequences fall on Picard for the Romulan spy ("Data's Day"). But for sure Satie is over the top and it gets ridiculous to see this continue. Prescient stuff though for our times.

This is a good story for showing how some circumstantial stuff can balloon into destroying a career (Tarses) and becoming a turning point for an organization. A much better episode than "Conspiracy" as it avoids a totally stupid (gory) ending and improves on the building up leading to the climax.

Perhaps also a point about how one (Satie) can become so singularly focused on something that one fails to see the forest from the trees. This also happens to Worf -- this is in-character I think as he has his us vs. them mentality and Satie's paranoia feeds into his desire to protect.

One detail I didn't like was how Satie brought in a viewing gallery for the inquiry. I guess this was a bit of an over the top act to show how ludicrous things were starting to get.

Picard's great once again -- never raised his voice but stayed calm and emphasized not trodding on a man's freedom. Although Tarses lying on his application is worth uncovering/exploring/punishing -- small lies can turn into bigger things if somebody feels they can get away with it. Yes the surveillance was over the top but some mild discipline should come of it. But the kid's career should not be ruined.

3.5 stars for "The Drumhead" -- I believe this episode is sometimes cited as one of TNG's best. I wouldn't go so far as to say that but I think it is one that can resonate with non-Trek fans and does transcend the show to some extent. The Picard character will win a ton of points -- he gets in some words of wisdom to Worf in the episode's coda. Very engaging episode that also shows what happens when the person in charge (Satie) has too much power and is basically nuts.
Sarjenka's Little Brother
Fri, Jul 6, 2018, 10:34pm (UTC -5)
I liked it then.

I love it now.

It's absolutely chilling to watch this in 2018. It resonates with me so much more than it did in 1991. And I don't see any Jean Luc Picards on the horizon to save us from our current band of Admiral Saties who have hijacked our country and have an angry, self-righteous mob to support them.

I'm going to have to make room in my Top 5 for this one.
Jason R.
Sun, Jul 8, 2018, 7:19am (UTC -5)
"It's absolutely chilling to watch this in 2018. It resonates with me so much more than it did in 1991. And I don't see any Jean Luc Picards on the horizon to save us from our current band of Admiral Saties who have hijacked our country and have an angry, self-righteous mob to support them. "

Haha You know what's funny about this comment? Pretty much 100% of the population would agree. 50% would point at the other 50% and the other 50% the reverse.

And everyone might be right!
Tue, Jul 24, 2018, 11:42am (UTC -5)
Star Trek casting:

When you want an officer who's screwing up, such as a captain steaming full speed into Romulan territory to blow up everything in sight, or an incompetent like Barclay, you cast a white male.

When you want to show a successful, high-ranking person, you cast a black male.

When you want a strong, independent, successful person, you cast a woman...
Tue, Jul 24, 2018, 6:15pm (UTC -5)

Oh please. In this episode, the shady spy is a black man, the noble hero is a straight white man and the crazed villain is a woman. Get off 4chan and grow up.
Fri, Jul 27, 2018, 3:05am (UTC -5)
Spot-on, Jason.

Connecting Satie with Trump strikes me as reflexive anti-Trumpism — though one could argue they are both bullies, Satie’s sinister arrogance seems to have little in common with Trump’s blustering self-satisfaction.

Perhaps an analogy with the Left’s obsession with a Trump-Russia conspiracy is a better fit for this episode, with the monomaniacal Rachel Maddow in the role of the articulate but unhinged Satie.

Of course, Rachel Maddow’s motivations are quite clear — the great weakness of The Drumhead is that Satie’s motivations were never made clear by the writers.

But there is still the pleasure of watching this fine example of Picard’s principled Stoicism, even within a fairly implausible scenario.
Thu, Aug 23, 2018, 9:21pm (UTC -5)
After J'Dan's confession as being a spy, I found his comment that Worf was a weakling, rather amusing. I know that he was referring to Worf's position in the peace loving Federation, but it was still amusing seeing the "weakling" Worf kick his butt. Also funny was when he was calling Worf out for being a traitor who would never have the chance for glory as a warrior. J'Dan himself wasn't a "warrior", he was a scientist, so what the heck is he talking about? Where's J'Dan's chance for glory?...
Sat, Sep 1, 2018, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
Unfortunate it is, that apparentmy some law has been passed that prohibits enjoying this episode as entertainment, as a parable, a cautionary tale.

Robert Mueller is Satie; Dick Cheney was; McCarthy was. It hurts a political party's cause these days when the party does not affect a victim mentality and cry, "witch hunt."

The scope of Satie's commission was never defined in the episode. She was, Picard stated in a Captain's log, "arriving to assist in our inquiry." It can be inferred, given her being called out of retirement, and by her being having exposed the conspiracy from Season 1, that she had a fair amount of latitude over the means of how to conduct the inquiry. Of course, she abused this discretion and Picard exposed her for being a demagogue, and the investigation closed.

Robert Mueller, warmly regarded by Republicans two years ago, was tasked by Congress and through regulation with investigating matters whether Russia attempted to interfere with our 2016 presidential election. His investigation, along with other evidence, has shown that this attempt was made - and was to some degree, successful (such as, through its hacking of DNC databases). Mueller was not asked specifically to find whether President Trump colluded with Russians in any such attempt to interfere. That question, though, of the President's involvement, is fairly within the intendment of Mueller's charge. Mueller has every right within what federal law permits, as he investigates potential interference, to find out the who, what, when, where, and why of the interference attempts. If he has exceeded the scope of his commission, surely there is some law or even legal principle he has violated. The people screaming "witch-hunt"- The same ones who love witch hunts because they would deny Hillary Clinton due process of law and "lock her up" for some unspecified crime (our legal system is the envy of the world because due process means a prosecutor cannot make up a crime and convict someone of it; a crime must already exist on the books) - should look in the mirror. These people supported the investigation of Bill Clinton by Kenneth Starr. STARR himself has gone on record as staring he should have given that investigation to someone else after its Whitewater portion ended.

Satie revealed her own motives when she told Picard, haughtily, I question your motives!" Are Trump supporters ranting about witch hunts because they don't think the drumhead trials spoken of by Picard should have happenee-because they are driven only to see justice delivered dispassionately?

Turn on Fox News and watch the next 10 minutes. You don't need Admiral Satie's powers of deduction to find out the answer to that one. With Trump, it is "Justice for Me, But Not for Thee." It is the Justice of the Hypocrite and the one who sets double standards. That is not justice. It is, to paraphrase something else Picard once said,petty thuggery.
Thu, Oct 25, 2018, 3:58pm (UTC -5)
^Fine point about how an investigation can go quite a way beyond its initial parameters and that expansion actually be appropriate, justified, even still be within or at least related to the initial scope-and yet those investigated due to that expansion will almost invariably shout that the expansion is abusive and the investigation now obviously way out of hand.
Tue, Jan 22, 2019, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
The comparison to Mueller and the Russia investigation are compelling.
Dave in MN
Tue, Jan 22, 2019, 7:54pm (UTC -5)

Agreed. Is this the kind of society & governance we want?

Reds Under Beds was a concept I thought went out with Joseph McCarthy's censure, but I guess not.

A truly timeless episode!
Tue, Jan 29, 2019, 10:56am (UTC -5)
Though a change, it probably wouldn't really be a bad thing (or that much of a change) if yes, every president from now on was investigated for a possible crime if there was at least significant evidence he (or assistants) had committed it, heck, yes, expand that to members of Congress too.
Dave in MN
Tue, Jan 29, 2019, 11:10am (UTC -5)
If everyone in power is under permanent investigation/surveillance , who is investigating the investigators?
Tue, Jan 29, 2019, 9:09pm (UTC -5)
Fair point but the best we can do to avoid investigations getting out of hand, being corrupt themselves, is probably what we're doing now, have an independent investigation be not completely independent from the larger Justice Department and also have the President and legislative houses checking and balancing each other including the executive departments.
Sun, Mar 31, 2019, 9:15am (UTC -5)
“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, it suddenly threatens to start all over again."

- Picard

Of course he would say that. This was a real tipping point for Picard’s command. I’m sure he could feel the walls closing in on him. It was the beginning of the end for him. He was done. Picard will resign. He will not serve out his term.
Fri, Apr 12, 2019, 9:03am (UTC -5)

This episode put me on edge as it reminded me of the hunt for the crystalline entity. Is that the same actress? f not,it gave me the same vibe of a witchhunt from te beginning.

Havin that in mind, I wasn't watching this with fresh eyes so do not know how it appears to someone who has no inkling or sense as to what is to come.

The captain's speech at the end bumped it up to a 10 for me and I shall try and recall his sentence "spreading fear in the name of righteousness" as it applies today over and over again.
Sun, Sep 8, 2019, 6:26am (UTC -5)
I rewatched this the other day I realized it is kind of all over the map as far as the narrative

It starts out about a legitimate investigation with good faith from all parties then decided to pull the rug out from the intriguing conspiracy angle before halfway in turning into a story making Satie too extremely paranoid and Picard too extremely naive before deciding to change course again with Sati turning into an all out villain singlemindedly wanting to destroy Picard for opposing here

The writing left a lot to be desired
Chris Clancy
Mon, Sep 23, 2019, 9:30pm (UTC -5)
Saw "The Drumhead" again this morning in Japan. It had been a long time since I last viewed it. The title jogged my memory; I recalled having enjoyed the episode. The recurring theme of Picard in the courtroom is certainly memorable. Though acting in his own defense may not carry the same dramatic effect as his defense of Data in "Measure of a Man," Picard's quoting Judge Aaron Satie is effective. "The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged." How poignant this line rings in this day and age.
Tue, Dec 3, 2019, 10:34pm (UTC -5)
I love how the pacing's done here. The investigations reach full throttle in practically the last five minutes of the episode, and it's the very force of Satie's blind passion that brings them to a halt.

It's established that the explosion was an accident early on, and so the tension of the episode is not in whether Tarses is guilty, but in how Satie -- in such a position of power, and determination to use it -- can be stopped. It's a relief that the crew of the Enterprise are clear enough of mind to see through her in the end, and do not get further caught up in her viciousness for its own sake. Forcefulness and strong stances, whether substantiated or not, can be terrifyingly persuasive.

Also I have to say I was mildly amused by the extent of Admiral Thomas Henry's role in this episode: to sit in a chair, and then leave the room. Is that all you have to do as an admiral? Sign me up!
Dr. Bob
Tue, Mar 17, 2020, 10:27am (UTC -5)
While Satie was near the end of her diatribe, It bothered me that admiral Henry just walked out of the room instead of ending the hearing right then!
Tue, Mar 17, 2020, 11:14am (UTC -5)
If the legal system of Star Trek works anything like our own, I don't think the admiral can just unilaterally end the hearing. He probably goes and files a report to Starfleet, and Starfleet ends the hearing through some JAG channel. That said, I liked the subtlety that we get from the moment as Admiral Henry quietly walks out of the room. It serves as a sharp rebuke that contrasts with Satie's boisterous and rambling accusations.
Sat, Apr 4, 2020, 10:01am (UTC -5)
I think we need to examine where Starfleet is at this point in Season 4.

In Conspiracy, back in season 1, we saw an alien takeover at the highest levels - every major Admiral, so many top Captains. The cream of the brass, compromised, infiltrated.

Immediately, Starfleet starts grasping at whatever it can get its hands on to protect itself. Very early in season 2, we see the Federation willing to trample on the rights of one of their own officers - Data - if it means they might get an edge. Fortunately the case in Measure of a Man came out in Data’s favour, but it could have easily gone the other way.

Things are so tense that even a seasoned diplomat like Picard is willing, by the end of season 2, to engage in war games (Peak Performance).

By early season 3, the Romulans have sensed Starfleet is weak. They risk an incursion into Federation space by sending people to Galorndon Core (The Enemy). The Federation’s reputation is so bad that in the very next episode, the Barzan decide not to partner with the Federation in developing their worm hole. That episode - The Price - plays like sour grapes, saying that the worm hole was not stable anyway, so no big deal. But the fact remains that the Federation is not the default preferred partners they might think they are.

Again the Romulans fuck with the Federation in The Defector. Picard only gets out with his ship intact thanks to help from the Klingons.

Indeed season 3 does something very sneaky with Yesterday’s Enterprise. It posits an alternative timeline where the Federation is at war with the Klingons. And truth be told, even this more militaristic and muscular Starfleet has only about 6 months to go before it will fall.

And then Starfleet again comes after Data’s rights, this time with his daughter. I think if Offspring was after BOBW, the result would be different. 9/11 changed everything.

Then in Tin Man, if you remember, the Romulans beat the Enterprise to the prize. Romulans reach Tin Man first because they want it more - they are willing to accept a one way trip if it means they get there first.

And so at the end of Season 3/ beginning of Season 4, when the Borg destroy 39 ships and kill 11,000 Starfleet personnel, one can safely say that this may truly have broken the back of the Federation. After 3 years of a string of loses, this was a body blow on par with 9/11 or Covid-19.

What does the Federation do now? It starts to withdraw.

Early in season 4, Picard backs down from a fight with the Talarians (Suddenly Human), and turns an Admiral’s grandson - her only living descendant and the last of her family - Picard turns this kid over to the Talarian captain. He finds some fig leaf for the decision, sure, but it is clear that the Enterprise is deep in Talarian space, and this is no time for a fight.

And what else does the Federation do? It starts to meddle in the internal affairs of its neighbours.

Specifically, in Reunion, a Starfleet captain ensures that a Klingon who might ally the Empire with the Romulans is prevented from ascending to the Chancellorship. That candidate is literally killed by a starfleet officer - Worf. Where’s your Prime Directive now?

And so when at the midpoint of season 4, the flagship of the Federation delivers a Romulan spy back to her people (Data’s Day), can we say this great United Federation of Planets is anything more than a paper tiger?

Quickly the Federation makes peace with its bloodthirsty neighbours, the Cardassians. Even though some of their best captains know the Cardi’s are arming the boarder and are not to be trusted (The Wounded). But the Federation simply cannot afford war any longer.

And like the Burzon, and their worm hole, even cultures that know nothing of the vast civilisations in space tell Picard they want nothing to do with his Federation (First Contact).

That is the background, those are the stumbles Starfleet has suffered - on every boarder (Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Talarians), and even at the very heart of the Federation (Conspiracy, BOBW) in just the 3 years leading up to The Drumhead.

There is a great quote from Captain Sheridan in Babylon 5. He says:

"See, in the last few years, we've stumbled. We stumbled at the death of the President, the war, and on and on. And when you stumble a lot, you start looking at your feet. Well, we have to make people lift their eyes back to the horizon, and see the line of ancestors behind us, saying, 'Make my life have meaning.' And to our inheritors before us, saying, 'Create the world we will live in.' I mean, we're not just holding jobs and having dinners. We are in the process of building the future.”

By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation gets to Season 4’s Drumhead, the Federation has stumbled severely and repeatedly. That is the environment in which people like Admiral Satee thrive.

Witch hunt! Inquisition! Independent Counsel! Drumhead trial.

Three years of stumbles leaves everyone in a very precarious position. All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

So say we all.
Peter G.
Sat, Apr 4, 2020, 10:45am (UTC -5)
@ Mal,

I find it dubious that you're comparing the Federation (a) being tested by Romulans, (b) being unable to compete against the Klingons in an alternate reality, (c) the presence of the odd asshole like Cdr Maddox, to the Federation losing at Wolf 359. This latter event is much more likely than anything else to explain Federation paranoia, but even then your S4 examples seem to be an example of preferring peace and justice over expedient warlike behavior; hardly questionable by their own standards. Sheridan in B5 was specifically referring to Earth turning to totalitarian fascism and assassination, and then screwing over all of their neighbors for their own power. That seems to be precisely the opposite of what you're suggesting the Federation here has done.

I kind of get that your general point is that a series of failures can make people like Satie scared, but I don't think you need to try to concoct an analysis of TNG where the Federation is failing repeatedly to explain why certain people in it might be paranoid: it's because some people *want a war* even in peace, and want a fight even when there's nothing to fight about. But even putting that aside, Q's main point in Q WHo was that the universe is a dangerous place; so yeah, simply existing is dangerous and could potentially stress out a paranoid person. You don't even need to cite specific stressors for this to be true, but if you wanted to then Wolf 359 would be enough by itself.
Sat, Apr 4, 2020, 10:47am (UTC -5)

Entertaining read I must say -- but I think you are like 7-of-9 in "The Voyager Conspiracy". In some cases you've got some "interesting" interpretation of events to sew together your tale.

For example, regarding "Reunion" - Worf kills Duras in revenge for killing K'Ehleyr. He's acting very much on his own here, even if it does set in motion Gowron's ascent. This episode is not a PD issue. Picard never wanted to oblige K'Mpec in finding out who is killing the Klingon leader and who gets to be the one. Picard realized that is an internal Klingon affair, but he gets quasi-blackmailed into getting involved.

I do believe the Federation, through the lens of Picard's Enterprise, suffers some blows but I don't think it's quite as stark as you make it seem. Some of the episodes you mention "Measure of a Man" and "Suddenly Human" just to mention 2 -- I really don't believe they are meant to show a teetering Federation in the context of Alpha/Beta quadrant geopolitics.
Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 9:44pm (UTC -5)

Go back an re-watch the closing minutes of “Reunion”

Picard does the standard dress down followed by, “yeah but” he has perfected over the years (e.g., in Legacy, after Riker goes out of his way to save Tasha’s sister, PICARD: That's an emotional response, Will. We can't afford it. RIKER: Understood, Captain. PICARD: Commander. Well done.).

Similarly in Reunion:

PICARD: I had hoped you would not throw away a promising career. I understand your loss, We all admired K'Ehleyr. A reprimand will appear on your record. Dismissed.

And then the “yeah but”

Picard immediately goes on without skipping a beat:

"Mister Worf, isn't it time for the truth about your father's innocence to be told? After all, you only accepted this dishonour to protect the name of Duras and hold the Empire together. Now that he has died in disgrace, what is gained by further silence?"

So let’s be clear, Picard knew exactly what he was doing. Bringing Worf into the mix when he was serving as arbiter of succession had clear purpose: to sow chaos and cause delay.

@Peter G., you me reminded of

Babylon 5 was so much clearer about the “why” of what was happening, whereas Star Trek was so much stronger on the procedure - the “how” - a procedure that often served only to obscure the true underlying causes.

About the only exception is “Ensign Ro” where of course we got to see exactly how Ro made it onto the Enterprise, and we get to know the Admiral who pulled the strings. We saw a little more of that in DS9, where Admiral Layton tries to bring Sisco to Earth, thinking Sisco would be “his guy” after seeing first-hand the threat the Dominion posed. And of course Admiral Quinn tries the same thing with Picard in “Coming of Age”, offering him the headship of Starfleet Academy in the run up to “Conspiracy”. But by and large these machinations were hidden in TNG. That doesn't mean they weren’t happening.

If TNG had been as blatant as Babylon 5, Commander Maddox would have been operating under protection of some high ranking Senator (TNG uses Admirals, where B5 used Senators, but same difference). Think of the negotiator in B5’s "By Any Means Necessary” - he had similar cover. But of course this being early TNG, Maddox was simply introduced by an Admiral of the week (who then disappeared), and then Maddox quoted “orders” for the rest of the hour.

By the time we got to “Offspring” in mid-season 3, TNG had matured a little (and maybe Starfleet command was a bit weary of having lost the last battle of wills to Picard in Measure of a Man), and so the relevant Admiral came out to get Data’s daughter himself -


That’s the kind of machination that Admiral Saatie pulled in “Drumhead” by having Admiral Thomas Henry of Starfleet Security personally attend the hearing. That is almost Babylon 5 “Eyes” level politics. Almost.

@ Peter & @ Rahul,

Q is right. The universe is a dangerous place. And TNG tried to paint a thick veneer of normalcy over all of it. But underneath all the captain’s logs and holodeck adventures, you see with the Klingons, Romulans, Talarians and Cadassians - and the Maquis & Ro - not to mention the Borg, and whatever those bugs in “Conspiracy” were called, some chinks in that cool surface begin to peak through. “The Drumhead” was perhaps the place where that veneer pealed away just enough for us to actually see underneath as to what Starfleet really was all about during the TNG years. And no doubt that’s why Picard stayed in the Captain’s chair so long, keeping himself light-years away from Earth by putting off that coveted promotion to Admiral. Politics was just not his game.

Go back and re-watch TNG now, knowing what we now know. It is … fascinating :)
Peter G.
Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 10:47pm (UTC -5)
@ Mal,

I do agree with you on the one point that TNG was trying to paint over humanity's weaknesses as "solved", which does ring a bell from B5's 'ministry of peace' where they had solved all problems by 're-defining' them. I could see how, in the far future in a post-scarcity society, we might arrogantly paint the elimination of physical lack as having overcome our struggle with our own nature. That type of materialistic evaluation would not surprise me *at all*, especially if the ruling power was in the business of selling its own success as a PR move which the Federation does seem like it's in the business of doing. TOS was much more clear that for all its accomplishments the Federation was still in the business of competing with its neighbors and acting as a cold war power even in times of peace. To the extent that TOS was critical of this fact the show was therefore aware of how hard it will be to get away from one type of strife or another, more so than TNG was. Gene wanted TNG to be 'the next chapter' in Earth's advances but actually in some ways it plays out as a regression from TOS - little more accomplished, but also less aware of the reality. In TOS our weakness, which is very hard to face up to, was at the core of many episodes. So that in TNG when we get a Nora Satie she strikes us in the end as a loony, whereas in TOS terms I think it would be more like, yeah, that's what you expect when one person has a lot of power and no way to channel it productively, just like Captain Garth. The question is always what to do with war heroes in times of peace (a problem also with Captain Maxwell) and crusaders in times where a crusade is not needed (Satie). Do you just put them out to pasture? And more generally the question is about where these impulses come from, and can we do something with them prior to them causing a spirited person from imploding on their own energies. TNG seemed rather to simply view these people as nutty and try to pretend that it's just a blip in paradise. I tend more to see it as a sign that peace is difficult to achieve when people want drama and garbage fires (a la B5) and especially when even though material wealth is off the table there are other powers out there for those types of people to pursue. Eternal vigilance, and all that.

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