The Good: Extraordinary acting, interesting character development, Excellent themes
The Bad: Disappointing character direction for Worf
The Basics: A StarFleet Admiral arrives aboard the Enterprise to prosecute a crime and develops her investigation into a witch hunt.
It seems every season, Star Trek The Next Generation attempted a courtroom drama and the fourth season's "The Drumhead" is one of the strongest successes of the season. It's a testament to Star Trek The Next Generation that its most thematically obvious episodes may also be some of the series' most compelling. "The Drumhead" certainly fits that bill.
In this outing, an elderly Federation legal mind, Admiral Norah Satie, arrives on the Enterprise following an accident in engineering. The Enterprise crew has already smoked out a Klingon saboteur and Satie's arrival suggests more operatives may be playing deadlier games. Her search, with Worf's assistance, quickly yields a young ensign whose heritage is exposed as Romulan and when this circumstantial piece of evidence is revealed, Picard resists the conviction of his officer. Satie leaps upon the opportunity to threaten Picard and put him on trial. Satie's vehemence boils over and the anger she portrays ultimately discredits her.
Usually, I am quite reticent about exposing the end of episodes and in this case, I did it willingly because it's impossible to discuss the themes without it. Besides, Norah Satie's over the top persecution of everyone she encounters sets the end up. Nevertheless, "The Drumhead" is one of the most re-watchable episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation.
From its title onward, the viewer will quickly discover and understand that the episode is about the dangers of becoming part of a hive mind, a Cause. Worf falls in with Satie and as a result, she becomes something like a cult leader in a witch trial (which is what the title of the episode alludes to). It is somewhat disappointing that Worf, who always touts his honor, becomes so easily swayed by Satie in such an obviously dishonorable act.
Yet, Worf's swaying to the thematic Dark Side works perfectly in the end, illustrating that even good people with honorable goals may go dreadfully off-course.
The strength of "The Drumhead" outside the sheer thematic power is in its acting. Finally we have a compelling use of actors Michael Dorn and Patrick Stewart. Patrick plays Picard as a philosopher king once more, but this time with a certain silent sorrow that has been lacking from his previously cold and distant demeanor. Dorn plays Worf perfectly as a character on the edge, searching for the truth and swept up in a grand cause.
The real strength in acting in the episode comes from Jean Simmons, who plays Norah Satie. Simmons performance takes what could easily be viewed as an over the top character and tempers her with a restrained control, especially in terms of facial expression. Simmons' cool facade makes believable her initial allegations and positions - in establishing the framework for the witchhunt that follows. And in her character's ultimate collapse, Simmons brings anger and hostility and paranoia out perfectly in her voice and eyes. She's an acting great in this role.
"The Drumhead" is also one of the easiest episodes for non-Star Trek fans to get into as it requires almost no knowledge whatsoever about Star Trek The Next Generation. Instead, this is a wonderful bottle episode that focuses on obsession and paranoia and the lengths people will accept a good cause delving. Ultimately, this is a moralistic tale about the dangers of a system without checks and balances and it holds up over many many rewatchings.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!
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© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.