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The Defector

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 16, 2008 - 9:27 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Defector' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Riker interrupts Data's rehearsal of Henry V to call the android and his director - the captain - to the bridge. A Romulan scout ship is spotted crossing the Neutral Zone with a larger Romulan warbird in pursuit. The pilot of the scout ship begs for asylum and is brought aboard the Enterprise, where he warns Picard that the Romulans have established a base on Nelvana III from which they plan to launch a massive invasion in less than two days. When Picard expresses doubts that a low-ranking pilot could have so much tactical information on Romulan military buildups, the pilot admits that he lied about his rank; he is actually Admiral Jarok, the onetime leader of a vicious attack on Federation outposts. Since then, Jarok has had a child, and now he wants her to grow up in a peaceful galaxy, even if she is taught to believe that her father is a traitor for betraying Romulan secrets. Worf is extremely suspicious of this Romulan and says that the Klingon ships in the region would not blindly follow a Romulan into a trap that might make them look like the aggressors in a war. Still, Picard makes the decision to take the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone and to Nelvana III, where there is no sign of a Romulan base. While Picard wonders whether Jarok's loyalty was being tested by superiors who fed him false information, three Romulan warships arrive and decloak. Commander Tomalak from Galorndon Core demands Picard's surrender, but just as Tomalak orders his ships to fire, three Klingon ships uncloak in strategic positions to ensure a stalemate. Tomalak retreats, but Jarok commits suicide.

Analysis: As bottle episodes go, "The Defector" is very well done. The "action" is almost entirely verbal, with a couple of shots of space pursuit and special-effect weapons to punctuate the stakes. James Sloyan gives a terrific performance as the titular character, a onetime brutal warrior who now cannot bear to raise a child under the specter of annihilation. The storyline is held together by Picard's contemplation of Shakespeare, trying to explain to Data why a king would go about in disguise among his own people to gauge their mood, wondering whether to put the lives of all his crew at risk in a battle they likely could not win. Jarok has many similarities to the unnamed Romulan of Kirk's era who tested the cloaking device against Federation outposts - a man weary of war who is no longer certain that his people's passion for conquest serves their best interests. Though Ron Moore is best known for developing the second generation Klingons, he demonstrates here no less an understanding of what made the original series Romulans so memorable.

It's the drama and the acting that carry the episode along, because this particular Romulan ploy is even easier to see through than Spock's seduction of the female Romulan commander from whom he and Kirk stole the cloaking device. As LaForge realizes early on, the Romulans don't try very hard to stop Jarok from crossing the Neutral Zone and reaching the Starfleet vessel; Picard smells the trap, yet he also can't afford not to check out the possibility that Jarok's information is correct, though both Starfleet and the Klingons are highly doubtful. It's hard to doubt Jarok's passionate sincerity, and at the same time it's impossible to believe that the Romulans would let him run away with such volatile information. Initially posing as a low-level pilot who can curse in Klingon, he gains a kind of perverse credibility when he reveals not only that he is an admiral but a war criminal despised by the Federation. Starfleet tells Picard to doubt whatever Jarok tells him, but what Jarok says is that he saw his baby girl and realized that he had to change his world for her and for all children - not to destroy the Romulan Empire as a traitor, but to save it, for Jarok has certainly betrayed his own people if not the Federation.

Oddly, it is Data rather than Troi with whom Jarok forges a bond before he has admitted to his true identity, perhaps feeling more comfortable with "the cold reaction of an android" than the sympathies of a counselor who has already tried to interrogate him. When Jarok expresses unhappiness that he will never be allowed to return home, Data uses the holodeck to recreate Romulus, but that only serves as a further reminder that the only home and future Jarok will know is the Federation, and he asks to have the program turned off. There is no middle ground, no Neutral Zone; though Jarok tries to protect the Romulans by destroying his scout ship and hiding his military role, he realizes that, as Picard demands, he must cooperate fully to convince Starfleet that the threat on Nelvana III is real.

Except that it isn't. Which Picard must have assumed before entering the Neutral Zone or he'd surely have wanted more than three Klingon ships as escort. The involvement of the Klingons is played very subtly, with Worf - who despises the Romulans - giving Picard the idea the bring backup as sneaky as their adversaries. Tomalak proves just as arrogant across the Neutral Zone as he did at Galorndon Core, announcing in great detail his plans to dissect the Enterprise, display its broken hull in the Romulan capital to inspire future generations of Romulans...yet he backs down just as quickly as he did from the earlier confrontation when he realizes that Picard knows more and is better prepared than expected. "Shall we die together?" the captain asks cheerfully, knowing that unlike a Klingon who might declare it a good day to die, the Romulan will back off. Not so Jarok, however, who realizes that his sacrifice was all for nothing; having lost his home and his family, he chooses death.

Nice moments: Picard advising Data not to imitate famous Henry V performers like Olivier and Branagh. Crusher's horror at the thought that Jarok's wounds might have been self-inflicted to gain Starfleet's trust. Jarok's statement that one world's butcher is another world's hero; "perhaps I am neither one," he says, sounding both hopeful and cynical. Picard's declaration to Jarok that whether he likes it or not, Jarok is already a traitor to his people so he had better tell them everything they need to know to destroy the weapons at Nelvana III. At the end, Jarok leaves a letter for his wife and daughter that puzzles Data, since Jarok must have known that the Romulans would never have allowed it to be delivered. "Today, perhaps," adds Picard, who hopes that if other Romulans share Jarok's convictions, then perhaps the time is nearing when they can take his letter home for him.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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