“The Drumhead” is the 95th episode of the syndicated American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the 21st episode of the programme’s fourth season.
It was directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William Riker on the show. It takes the form of a courtroom drama.
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, an explosion aboard the Enterprise leads to a high-level investigation headed by Admiral Norah Satie, a retired officer renowned for her skill at exposing conspiracies. Satie quickly determines that a visiting Klingon officer was attempting to smuggle diagrams off the ship, but the Klingon denies any involvement in the explosion. Satie refuses to give up on her investigation, even after the explosion is proven to be an accident, and she accuses Captain Picard of treason when he challenges her charges against an innocent crewman.
When an explosion within the dilithium chamber of the Federation starship Enterprise’s warp engine room appears to be the work of sabotage, Starfleet Command dispatches a retired rear admiral from the Legal Division of its Support Services Section, Norah Satie (Jean Simmons), to lead an investigation to uncover the cause.
Worf (Michael Dorn) discovers that J’Dan (Henry Woronicz), a Klingon exchange officer, had been using modified hypospray syringes to encode information into amino acid sequences for secret transport. J’Dan admits his collaboration with the Romulans but attests that he did not sabotage the chamber. Satie and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) interview crew members who associated with J’Dan. Among them are Dr. (Cmdr.) Beverly Crusher and medical technician Simon Tarses (Spencer Garrett), who claims that his only relationship with J’Dan was to administer injections necessary to treat a rare disease. Satie’s Betazoid aide (Bruce French) senses that Tarses is concealing something. Meanwhile, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Commander Data (Brent Spiner) determine that the hatch had failed due to simple fatigue, not sabotage.
Picard considers the matter closed, but Satie pushes to complete her investigation of Tarses under the pretext of proving his innocence. She conducts a second interview with Tarses, held in front of a room full of people. Captain Picard assigns Commander Riker to act as counsel to the crewman. Satie’s aide falsely accuses Tarses of using a compound found in Sickbay to sabotage the hatch. He then accuses Tarses of falsifying his academy entrance application and that he is in fact one quarter Romulan, not one quarter Vulcan as he had claimed. Commander Riker quickly whispers to Tarses, who invokes his right to not answer the accusation on the grounds that his answer may incriminate him.
Satie uses this discovery as a pretext to expand her investigations. Picard objects, but Satie reveals that she has been in constant contact with Starfleet Command’s Headquarters, that all future hearings will be open, and that Admiral Thomas Henry (Earl Billings) of Starfleet Security will attend. Picard begins to compare the tribunal to a drumhead, a kind of battle-field court-martial of the 18th and 19th centuries on Earth that became infamous for its numerous miscarriages of justice. Even though he resolves to prevent her from conducting a witch-hunt, he is summoned to be interviewed before the tribunal.
Satie uses the hearing to accuse Picard of numerous transgressions of the Prime Directive and other Starfleet orders, actions which were, in fact, later vetted and approved by Starfleet Command. When Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) stands to defend Picard’s actions, Satie turns on him, pointing out Picard’s poor judgement in having a Chief of Security who is the son of a traitor.
Satie then proceeds to question Picard about his encounter with the Borg and whether he has fully recovered, implying that Picard should have trouble sleeping from the guilt he should feel, because the knowledge of Starfleet obtained by the Borg when Picard was transformed into Locutus had caused the death of 11,000 lives and the destruction of 39 ships.
Picard recalls a quote from Satie’s own father Aaron Satie, whose judgements are required reading at Starfleet Academy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.] Satie is enraged at him invoking her father, and launches into a fanatical tirade, condemning Picard as a traitor seeking to undermine the very fabric of the Federation. Satie’s fanaticism proves to be her undoing, as a visibly disgusted Admiral Henry, who was previously one of Satie’s closest allies at Starfleet command, walks out of the hearing without so much as uttering a word to her, and later calls a halt to any additional investigation.
Worf and Picard reflect on Satie’s disgrace. Worf expresses regret for his assistance in her investigation, not seeing her for what she really was. Picard notes that vigilance is the price humanity must continually pay in exchange for freedom.
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Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Jonathan Frakes.
- Writer(s): Jen Taylor.
- Release Date: 29 April 1991.
- Running Time: 45 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.