The Good: Well acted, Good plot, Interesting Characters, Well paced.
The Bad: Pointless Special Effects Shots
The Basics: A surprisingly good episode, "The Defector" puts the Enterprise on the hunt for a secret Romulan base courtesy of a Romulan dissident.
Star Trek The Next Generation seemed to hit its stride once it got over the philosophy browbeating and did some continuing stories. There's a whole arc with Data and Soong-type androids, there's Worf's relationships with Klingons. And there's the adversary the Romulans, who return again throughout the third season. "The Defector" is an episode best appreciated by fans of Star Trek The Next Generation as it relies on the viewer having seen the earlier episode "The Enemy" (reviewed here!).
"The Defector" is a seemingly straightforward episode wherein a Romulan officer leaves the Romulan Empire and flees to the Enterprise. Following an interrogation by Riker and a humane conversation with Data, the Romulan reveals his identity, not as a low ranking officer, but as Admiral Jarok, an important Romulan military strategist. His defection is suddenly a profound thing and the Romulans want him back. Jarok's defection revolves around a secret cloaked Romulan base supposedly being built on a planet in the Neutral Zone, an act of war by Treaty standards. But, as things seldom are, there's more than meets the eye and the appearance of Commander Tomalak implies a Romulan trap.
"The Defector" has a lot of layers to it and rightly so. This is an episode of political intrigue and stories of intrigue seldom work unless there are several things going on. The nice thing about the convoluted plot (Jarok begins the episode with an assumed name and limited importance, for example) is that it keeps the focus effectively divided so that no single plot becomes tedious. So, for example, scenes where Data provides Jarok with holodeck simulations of Romulan skies, the scene reaches its conclusion before it bores us. Similarly, Jarok doesn't spend oodles of time boring us with his family sob story, instead it is mentioned, we see its effect on the character, then the episode moves on.
What makes the episode work is Jarok, played by James Sloyan. Sloyan is one of the unsung heroes of the Star Trek Universe, appearing here as a Romulan, later on Star Trek Deep Space Nine as Odo's "father" Dr. Mora, and Jetrel on Star Trek Voyager. Sloyan has a unique way of using his voice and body language to convince the viewer of his authenticity as whatever alien he is playing this week. He has distinct personality which he uses to add to the dramatic characters he portrays. In "The Defector" he breathes life into Jarok when the Romulan Admiral seems pretty standard in the text of the episode. Here the actor aids greatly in the creation of the character.
And the other actors seem to respond to that here. Patrick Stewart and Andreas Katsulas seem to take almost supporting roles to Sloyan. The three work well off each other, creating a dynamic between Picard, Jarok and Tomalak that has real vibrancy and aids in the pace of the episode.
What does "The Defector" have for the non-fan of Star Trek The Next Generation? Well, it's a story of political intrigue and thus, anyone interested in the mechanics of spies and turncoats will enjoy this piece. But the truth is, it's interesting to fans more because the Romulans are such good adversaries. Knowing the players in the elaborate Star Trek universe, the magnitude of a Romulan defection is often lost on non-fans. The Romulans have an orderly society with honor as a cultural value. Defections are truly astounding. Unless you've watched the four hours of Romulan episodes that precede "The Defector" (two of those hours being in the original Star Trek series).
Regardless of that, this is an episode with wonderful characters who are confronting serious political problems. "The Defector" is an excellent study of the nature of political dissidents and the length and motivations of those who seek to preserve their society by confronting their government.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode or film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.