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Star Trek TNG - Season 4 - Episode 21

Star Trek TNG - 4x21 - The Drumhead

Originally Aired: 1991-4-29

A Starfleet investigation becomes a witch hunt. [DVD]

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 7.07

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 9 5 5 16 12 36 15 34 46 62 52


- According to Satie, Picard has violated the Prime Directive 9 times since he took command of the Enterprise.

Remarkable Scenes
- Worf's reaction to being bribed.
- Sabin mentions Worf's father a traitor. I like that detail. As far as he's concerned, that's true, as he wouldn't know the secret the high command is maintaining.
- The revelation that the engine explosion was an accident.
- The revelation that Tarses is part Romulan, not Vulcan.
- Good contintuity, mentioning the Romulan spy from TNG: Data's Day. As well as the mentioning of Picard being assimilated in TNG: Best of Both Worlds.
- Picard getting Satie all wound up.

My Review
This episode examines a very real moral dilemma, but I found the way in which it did so utterly offensive. Nobody seemed to be in character until the end, except for Picard, and the paranoia exhibited throughout this episode just seemed ridiculous. The various plot threads didn't seem to connect very well, and loose threads are left behind. What happened to Tarses? How and why did a Romulan enter the Federation and take a human wife 100 years ago? All the interesting things about this story were neglected while it concentrated on fear, uncertainty, doubt, and paranoia.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Pete Miller on 2006-03-31 at 9:41pm:
    This episode is one of the few times I disagree with Mr. Kethinov. To me, this episode is what Star Trek is all about.

    Negative : What's up with all the 70 year old Grandma Admirals in Starfleet? I do agree that some of the characters were out of character. And the episode lacks, shall we say, action. As silly as it may seem, a 10-rated episode for me has to have SOME action. So -1 for those things.

    Positive : This episode builds a very intriguing and nicely done story right from the beginning with the Klingon spy. I liked how the grandma admiral gradually transformed from a typical bureaucrat into a ruthless monster. I would not say that the paranoia seen in the episode is at all ridiculous. It is quite real, as was seen partly in the McCarthy trials, but most prominently in the Salem witch trials. The mob rule sentiment makes your blood boil, yet it is extememly applicable to the world today.

    "Witch hunting" in the sense exhibited in this episode is something that has occurred throughout human history. It is important to have episodes like this that remind us of problems within our culture. This episode is a manifestation of Gene Roddenberry's intentions at their finest, and as I said earlier they are what Star trek is all about. Makes you want to read the Crucible by Arthur Miller. Great Episode, I'd give it a 9, perhaps even a 10.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2006-05-07 at 2:26pm:
    "Trial" episodes of Trek have never been disappointing, but most fall along a predictable plot line. The trial always gets out of hand with the protagonist about to win, but the defendant pulls off a remarkable comeback in the end.

    It is always great to see Picard's moral conscience react to the things going on around him. This episode brings that out a lot. Worf, on the other hand, seems to be easily influenced by what is happening. This becomes out of line with his character as we know it. He may kill a person every now and then, but it is unlikely for him to conduct an unhonorable witch hunt.

    Although the Drumhead immediately relates to some of the issues of the modern world, such as the interrogation of suspected terrorists, I just find this episode forgettable just hours after I watched it.
  • From DSOmo on 2007-08-26 at 5:15am:
    A Klingon exobiologist? Not a "normal" occupation for a Klingon. Doesn't seem like a very "warrior-like" line of work to me.
  • From Firewater on 2008-03-03 at 7:47am:
    I have admired many of your TNG reviews although I will, respectfully, disagree with your comments on this one.

    I believe making the characters "out-of-character" until the end propelled this episode's story. At it's essence, it *was* about fear, uncertainty, doubt and paranoia. It was an example of how even the best of men/women can fall to the influence of such things, despite their intentions.

    All of the Romulan/Tarses shenanigans were red herrings. In the end, it was all a witch hunt with no verifiable ties to anything at all. To be honest, I see this as a very TOS episode, hinting at the way our society could easily shift back into McCarthyism even though (when this episode was aired) it was the 1990s.

    In fact, I would even go so far to say that this would be relevant today post-9/11. So I would just suggest looking at this episode from a slightly different viewpoint.. I think it's highly underrated and worth another shot.
  • From JRPoole on 2008-06-25 at 11:53pm:
    I'm in almost total agreement with the review here. I don't find this offensive really, but I do find it dreadfully dull, didactic, and obvious.

    On the subject of Tarses' Romulan heritage, I think the most reasonable explanation is that his grandfather was a defector who lived his life posing as a Vulcan to avoid trouble. Probably only his family knew the truth.
  • From Flot on 2010-09-24 at 7:40pm:
    I agree with your view, and think this episode could have easily been fantastic if it didn't feel like it came out of nowhere, nor end with no real consequences.

    I found it frustrating to watch because you could see that they were trying to take advantage of a lot of good content and continuity, but to no avail.
  • From MJ on 2011-01-07 at 5:27pm:
    I also agree with the vast majority of the webmaster’s ratings, but I would give this one a 7. The lack of explanation of Tarses fate doesn’t ruin it for me, nor does the lack of sufficient explanation for what exactly he did wrong (was it falsifying the application or the fact that his grandparent is Romulan?).

    The drama of the episode is irresistible, and the issues it grapples with are both complex and timely; it would’ve been interesting to see how differently this might have been written in a post-9/11 world. I also don’t think everyone is quite out of character. Worf’s paranoia at the prospect of having a Romulan spy on board seems very fitting, for example.

    The only other snag which knocks the episode down somewhat is that it seems strange that Admiral Satie would’ve been able to use tactics like this in all her investigations without throwing up any red flags. Sometimes it seems everyone at Starfleet are blind, despicable fools compared to Picard and crew.

    But overall, I really enjoyed it!
  • From Robert Koenn on 2011-03-16 at 8:43am:
    I personally found this to be a very good episode which I rated 8. I suppose a big part of that for me was the way it applies to our present Muslim fear mongering which is actually going on as I write with Rep. King's Muslim witch hunt in congress. It was so pertinent the way a powerful politician can gain fame by preying on the fears of the populace and undercutting our fundamental principles using this fear. It of course also reinforces that persons personae for personal gain. It was so great to see Picard handle this is such a moral and principled way that is portrays what one rationale individual can do to put these glory seekers in their place. I did not find the characterizations out of place and Worf has always been a character to jump off the deep end at a moments notice, not an inaccurate portrayal of his Klingon genetics at all. So for me using this alliterative to present day and historical events was quite good and I rated this episode quite high.
  • From ChristopherA on 2012-06-18 at 9:13pm:
    This is an excellent morality play, though a little clunky a times. While it is true that the characters seem to fall into the witch hunt mentality somewhat too easily, morality episodes like this usually have to play rather aggressively with characterization in order to get to the point and fit the episode within the time available. Also, it can be hard to set stories in a utopia. Measure of a Man has exactly the same issues as this – it makes the Federation justice system seem awfully unfair – but it works if you just accept the premises and go with the episode.
    - They never explain why Tarses lied on his application at all. So what if he is part-Romulan. Is the Federation racist? I thought it had been established that they had gotten over that. Perhaps the Federation is only racist when it comes to races that are currently enemies of the Federation.
    - DSOmo: Although the Klingons love thinking of themselves as warriors in spirit, that doesn't mean they have no other occupations. Somebody has to fill all those support roles.
  • From Quando on 2013-07-31 at 1:13am:
    This episode raises a question I often ask about Star Trek TNG: why is there no lawyer assigned to the Enterprise? This is the flagship of the Federation, and it's not like this is the first time that having a lawyer around would have really come in handy (see, e.g., Data's trial in the Measure of a Man, or the episode where Picard is analyzing the really complicated treaty with the Sheliac Corporate looking for a loophole). I mean, the Enterprise seems to have everything else. They have a botanist, a bartender, several waiters in Ten Forward, a barber, and even an expert on 20th century earth history (Wyatt what's-his-name on The Long Goodbye episode). But the best they can do for poor old Simon Tarses, with his career and maybe even his freedom hanging in the balance, is appointing Will Riker as his "counsel" (practicing law without a license). Remember when they stopped at that planet where everyone was half-naked and peaceful for shore leave? They asked Lt. Yar (who, I assume, has no legal training at all) to review the planet's legal system, and she concludes that there is "nothing unusual". Except, as it turns out, that they have the death penalty for EVERYTHING - including stepping on the flowers. Nice job Yar (although, you almost got Wesley killed, and in the words of Galron, I consider that "no small favor"). Come on. The Enterprise needs a lawyer. I'd be glad to volunteer!
  • From Troy on 2015-06-08 at 2:28pm:
    Yes a lawyer for the Enterprise...make him an ambulance chasing Ferengi!
  • From Chantarelle on 2015-12-23 at 1:07am:
    Like other commenters, I mostly agree with the reviews on this website, however, I disagree with most of this one. I’ll agree that the premise of the episode, and the witch hunt involved was kind of clumsy and forceful, however, if that had been handled better, then I think the Enterprise’s reaction, and their being ‘out of character’, would have been completely believable. That’s the whole point of causing that kind of fear and paranoia. I especially liked Worf’s embarrassment at being swayed so easily.
    Interesting to see that comments going back to 2006 talk about how relevant this episode is in ‘today’s’ world. Sadly, it seems to be even more relevant today than it was 10 years ago. Can only hope that people won’t still be saying that in 2026.
    Eric, if you read this, I’d be curious to know whether you have reviewed your opinion on this one since posting the review, and whether your opinion may have changed at all either due to some of the comments here, or a rewatch? Not that I’m implying it *should* change. Just curious :-)
  • From tigertooth on 2017-06-07 at 11:37pm:
    I remember really liking this one, and I was excited to re-watch it. I still liked it, but I certainly see some of the criticisms here. It's a bit obvious -- perhaps the tropes are more fully entrenched now than they were in 1991.

    Also, as someone pointed out, there's really no action and I'd add there's no real sci-fi either. Sure, there's hypospray-this and dilithium-that, but there's nothing that you couldn't easily put in a modern setting -- or even a few centuries pre-modern. Not a huge criticism, but it's interesting.

    Maybe even a bigger flaw than a lack of resolution on Tarses is the lack of resolution on Satie. What happened to her after this? It seems like she just went on to her next case. Yikes, no repercussions? I'd almost be tempted to check her for one of the aliens from Conspiracy (1x25).

    But more than that, the question I would have liked to have seen explored is: Why did Satie get so hellbent on finding traitors where they didn't exist? Without an answer to that, her motivation is a complete mystery, thus hurting the drama.

    Another problem is J'Dan. So there was a Klingon spying for the Romulans who was aboard the Enterprise?!!? Whoa! That's huge! And they only caught him by sheer luck that the new dilithium chamber hatch happened to be faulty in such a way that it happened to fail at just the right time and in just the right way that it looked at first like sabotage. Man, they got super duper lucky! What information did J'Dan transmit? How did he get turned by the Romulans? There's a lot of big stuff there that never gets discussed, and I think that's way bigger than all the talk about Tarses' grandfather. I get why the dropped the J'Dan story when they did, but it's a huge thread to just let go of.

    So while I still give this a thumbs up for the main story arc -- the nice Picard-Satie enemy-to-friend-to-enemy cycle -- nearly all the surrounding stuff with Tarses, Worf, and J'Dan
    is neutral at best. Even Genestra seemed like he'd be more interesting than he turned out to be. A ton of potential for an amazing episode (even without much action or sci-fi), but it didn't really come together.

  • From McCoy on 2017-12-10 at 4:29am:
    About lack of action - watch "Twelve angry men":)
    It's a great episode and even paradoxally good sf. Because it remind us that witch hunt is always possible, even in technologically advanced society. Human is always human and we need to watch our morality, no matter how "advanced" we think we are. People may think, that witch hunt were all about religion, but it's not true. Episodes like this makes me wonder - all that Federation stuff is to good to be true, and their confidence in "starfleet values" sometimes reminds me of totalitarism. Just a bit, of course, but still...
  • From Admiral Oh bummer! on 2021-08-03 at 3:58pm:
    A 1?? This is the episode I think of when I contemplate how great the Picard character and Patrick Stewart is.

    And to the guy who wonders about Grandma admirals...admirals are old, I mean we mostly see Grandma/Grandpa Admirals in Star Trek and even the great Admiral Nacheyev will be a Grandma Admiral in 10 years.

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