The Defector

The Enterprise is tasked with stopping a galactic war between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. But are they actually being tricked into starting that war? And if so, by whom? Where does the answer lie? In android-like logic? Or deep in the human gut? Find out when we put The Defector in the Mission Log.

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  • First!!

  • This is my favorite episode of all Star Trek!!!

  • I really liked this episode for so many reasons..
    1. the Shakespeare war commentary. I thought of this episode when George W Bush convinced so many to go to war. The part about…”if his cause be not just..all these arms and heads and legs will rise up and cry “WE DIED AT SUCH A PLACE!!”…heavy stuff
    2. the Romulan disruptor blasts! the steady line phaser bursts always seemed very slow…the sound of these…the speed! the tagging of the scout ship..just more fast paced a la Star Wars…
    3. The Tom Clancy feel- I think I soon read, “Red Storm Rising” about WWIII w the Russians and it just felt very heavy!!
    4. The backstory mentioning “humiliating defeat at Charon”…the “Treaty of Algeron”, just makes you wonder about what happened and how it went down so many years ago….
    5. The music….when Picard reveals the Jarok is all in, that tune, build up, just really ups the ante and sets the mood. The disbelief of the crew, that, “Oh ShT he gave us the info, IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!!” expressions, tone, music, really intensified the episode
    6. The prior communication to the Klingon vessel, was such a cool easter egg, made rewatching really fun….
    7. The “I have no idea what’s about to happen!!!” feel, so palpable and really the decloaking of the TWO Romulan Warbirds…UNPRECEDENTED!! so fun and really memorable….but just as intense was when the Klingons appear…so cunning..GUILE!!! – ok, just want to say for the record, this ritual of re watching these episodes on Netflix (btw super clear!! seeing all those lights on the Warbird..such detail!! makes you realize how poor our tvs were in the 90s!!) posting on hear w people who love Trek as much as I do, its just FUN!!, to see people who know wayyyy more than more about episodes I thought I knew really well…let me go look for some pics!!

  • James Sloyan “Admiral Jarok”

    • Muthsarah

      A most dapper gentleman, he.

  • Wildride

    The only failure of this episode is it’s one of many Trek episodes where it ends with a suicide that’s meant to feel poignant, but only seems convenient. “Well, we’ll never have to address this again. If we don’t kill him off, they’ll expect us to include this character every time the Romulans are involved.”

    • Yup. Victim of the “one and done” thought process of filming syndicated shows I guess. What a bummer. The arcs they did follow through with got lame….Romulan Tasha, Worf’s son, wacky holodeck….even Q and the Borg..poor follow up and development…

  • James Goss

    It’s episodes like this that remind me of what is missing in the later seasons. The racking suspense in this (used to greater effect in BOBW) is supplied by the Ron Jones’s music. Berman’s decree for ‘sonic wallpaper’ made seasons 5-7 pretty drab.

    • what do you mean by sonic wallpaper? Yes, the score was great. Intense buildup. I agree, sadly S3 was the BEST! the following years had some good episodes but for overall consistency its 3. Darn, what a shame. I recall watching Crusher take command and Troi too or seeing Geordis parents crammed into one episode thinking, ouch, they are really reaching…. this was a great episode for Romulans, then they had to cram in Tasha Yar…ugh…poor follow through…

      • James Goss

        “Sonic wallpaper” was a phrase I read in regards to the musical choices later on in the show. I forget where it originated, perhaps Jones himself. Long story short, Berman was not a fan of “music that called attention to itself” or something like that. After Ron Jones was fired, you might notice the music becoming generic and subdued, not really delivering any emotional impact or driving suspense. There was some here and there, like The Inner Light, but not to the extent of the first three seasons.

        • Geez, Rick Berman, what a bummer. let’s try to minimize creative original music…yeesshh , Ron Jones, fired? hmmm gonna google, I think he did “Best of Both Worlds” and that was great!

          • James Goss

            He was fired at the end of season 4. His last episode score was The Drumhead.

          • what an absolute bummer, just read a little about that..sigh…

  • James Goss

    It’s a good thing the Klingon plot devices didn’t decide instead to open fire on the Romulans.

    • “I wanted prisoners!!” – “Lucky shot sir!!” – Search for Spock..hahaha

  • Lou Dalmaso

    While I dug the Picard/Jarok scene for what you mention, what really was the meaty part was when Jarok accuses Picard of “giving up too much for his career” for not pursuing a family life outside of Starfleet. The Idea of family (or the lack of) will haunt Picard all the way thru “Generations”

    • I have to say, I feel differently about the impact of this episode not that I am a father. I think when I watched this at age 18 in 1990, it didn’t hit me that hard, the part about him never seeing his daughter again. Also, now knowing the ruthlessness of the Tal Shiar, I have to assume his daughter might get killed. Hopefully he made arrangements, but wow, what a terrible sacrifice.

      • Muthsarah

        I….never considered the “punish the family” angle. It’s really, really disturbing to think about.

        However, Jarok’s a smart guy. Unless he is seriously underestimating the Tal Shiar’s ruthlessness and/or the Senate’s paranoia, the fact that he seems so certain that his daughter will survive still gives me hope that he knows there’s a line the Romulans probably won’t cross. That they could condemn the man without taking it out on his family.

        The Romulans and Cardassians are my favorite Star Trek races/peoples. On the surface, they are fascists. Not like real Earth fascists, but almost caricatures of how we portray them. But most of them are still decent people, just people living with a veil over their eyes, only being told what their autocratic rulers tell them about the outside world and how they’re supposed to live their lives. The Cardassians had a chaotic recent past that immediately preceded military rule. The Romulans (to me, clearly, even if the shows never explored it) had a very painful separation from the Vulcans. Both of them have a collective “national” trauma which is so strong, they’re afraid to even wonder out loud if they may be exaggerating it. And so they fall so easily into paranoid, despotic rule.

        But right from the start, “Balance of Terror” shows us the Romulans as decent people with very relatable fears and values, just people who, like our pals on the ol’ NCC, have their orders and priorities, and it’s all the more tragic that they can’t sync them up with ANYONE else’s. “The Enterprise Incident” shows us again that Romulans can feel. The (unnamed?) Romulan commander lets her guard down around Spock, and immediately gets burned. BADLY. I can’t imagine she was able to move on from that incident, if she ever regained her freedom. “The Enemy” showed that a Romulan could overcome his fear and paranoia and co-operate with a “defective” human under the right circumstances, and be (publicly!) gracious to him afterwards, when he explains to Tomalak what Geordi helped him do. And later Trek would introduce the Romulan Underground movement, in one not-so-good episode (Unification), and one great one (Face of the Enemy).

        “The Wounded” and so much of DS9 would flesh out the Cardassians in even greater depth.

        The idea of the eeeeeeevil villain who’s actually not so bad is one of my favorite plot elements, right next to the bittersweet ending. Life is gray like that. I want to like the people I’m told I should hate. I want to be reminded that pleasure often comes packaged with pain. Jarok’s death is perfect, all the more so because it is foreshadowed. Everything he does in this episode makes perfect logical sense. I feel for the guy, I really do. I wish things could have turned out better for him, and his tragic death shifts my thoughts (as a viewer) from his life to his daughter’s. To all Romulans like him.

        It’s my favorite TNG episode for a reason. I will concede it may not be “the best”. I love “The Inner Light” and “Tapestry” and “The Wounded” just about as much. But when I re-discovered this (only remembering the de-cloaking Klingon ships and how cool that way, but being unable to remember where from), the whole episode hit me like a bolt outta the blue. I can’t remember a more visceral reaction to anything Trek. It really, really got my attention. And I looked up the screenplay shortly afterwards, and really analyzed it. It’s brilliant.

        And so it’s my #1.

        • Yes, just as it was pointed out..”one world’s butcher is another world’s hero….” perspective, timing and “upbringing” of a culture/planet/race has everything to do with their bearing in the world. This too is my favorite of all the episodes for the reasons below…I enjoy your in depth analysis. Too bad TNG didn’t have an equivalent of Garak. Really a window into the world of a shadowy adversary. I like how some of the post DS9 books introduced a Jem Hadar elder, Taranatar as another “Spock” type character. Great episode on so many levels.

          • Muthsarah

            I don’t personally think it’s a bad thing that TNG never had a Garak. It if did, then Garak never woulda been special. He was an innovation. On a show that lived (and partially died) on its innovativeness.

            Divertissement: Did you now that Andrew Robinson (Garak) auditioned for Odo, but lost out to Rene Auberjonois, but DS9’s people were so impressed with his audition (he was also the villain in “Dirty Harry”) that they wrote a whole new character for Robinson, Garak again, who premiered in the SECOND episode?

            Stuff like that is why I have never been able to say, and can’t currently say, and maybe never ever could say, that TNG is my favorite series. Because even though its TOS-ish anthologized nature makes it ideal for re-watched, DS9’s crew always managed to top it for pure A) fan-nish callbacks, and B) delving-deeperishness. DS9’s writers were all true-blue fans of the franchise, wanting to delve ever deeper and deeper into what the franchise, to that point, had only hinted at. Which meant they inevitably hit all those dark veins that Gene never wanted the franchise to go, even if it was always hinted at – settler leaving the Federation to found new planets….why? Ugly treaties with hostile alien empires….forged at what price? Starfleet being a militarized force…in a very un-militarized Federation….but is there an ultra-militarized force bent on safeguarding this utopian peace in the face of most un-utopian threats?

            I don’t hold the lack of a Garak figure against TNG. Yeah, it was a crazy idealistic series, but that’s party of the greater mosaic that is the beauty of TNG. It’s still an idealistic series, through-and-through. The characters may occasionally be put through the ringer, but they remain resolutely ideal figures. Role models we should all aspire to be. And there’s always a place for figures like that.

            DS9 dug deeper, so much so as to undermine Trek’s idealism. Sad to say, but life resembles DS9 more than TNG. It’s always worthwhile to idealize the ideal. Gotta have something to strive for, however distant it seems. But DS9’s more grounded nature provided the viewer with a more immediate, visceral, identification with the universe. DS9 wasn’t so perfect. Problems weren’t so easily ironed out after 48 minutes. But the good guys still prevailed. To live and struggle another day.

            Each series has its place. And so, it’s so hard for me to choose between them. I love them both. So much. I love them both.

          • completely AGREE! DS9 is my favorite and very gritty and realistic. In the future no matter how far man comes, there will still be war, murder, racism etc…Gene’s vision was hopeful and inspiring and hopefully the positives will outweigh the negatives. Loved the DS9 “VISION” clarity of storytelling from beginning to end…oooops, we better be careful and keep on topic!! hahaha

        • Guess that’s why they made a good “team” in their failed attack on the Founders…good stuff…I wish the reptilian nature of the Cardassians was expanded on more..dang, guess who cant wait till DS9? lol, glad we have months of TNG though to relive…

        • CmdrR

          Pet theory: Could Jarok be Commander Sela’s father? I know it’s never stated, and seem to remember the Sela turned-in her father as a traitor. Just wondering if that could all have been part of Jarok’s plan to ensure she survived. Romulans are tricky, especially when you add time-travel. And don’t say Yesterday’s Enterprise hasn’t happened yet, because things get all timey-whimey in Trek.

          • Muthsarah

            Sela has already grown up by the time of TNG. She’s a highly-ranked officer. And Sela turned in her MOTHER…some…blonde woman*. Not intentionally, really, she was just a little kid and was frightened at being removed from her home and not knowing why.

            And trying to tie every known character together in a grand tapestry of lazy co-incidenc– I mean “destiny”…is a very “today” cliche. Back in the 80s/90s, it was OK to introduce a new character and not have them be related to a previous character. Which has the side benefit of making the universe seem bigger. Or at least big enough to accommodate more than a dozen people.

            * – Y’know, short hair. The kind who maybe looks good in yellow. I dunno, I heard things.

            P.S. As far as a Romulan turning in her father, I wonder if you’re conflating Sela and Commander Toreth from “Face of the Enemy”. Sela turned in her mother, Toreth’s father was himself executed by the Tal Shiar. And Deanna had to answer for that: “Your father was obviously a traitor.”

          • CmdrR

            OK. I buy that. I won’t buy anything about what happened when, because that’s all a hash. Timey-whimey. So, my theory is disproved, and that’s cool.

          • Durakken

            The answer is no, because Yesterday’s Enterprise hasn’t happened yet. The events of that happened then happened after that point in time and only the changes that happened in the past only happened in the past after Yesterday’s Enterprise.

            Or let’s try explain another way…

            Set of Events A happen includes Jarok, bur not Sela
            Time changes
            Set of Events B happen that isn’t important
            Time changes
            Set of Events C happen includes Jarok and Sela

            So any event that happened in Set A cannot include an event that only happens in Set C.

            However, it is possible that you can take into account inevitability and say that even though Sela didn’t turn in Jarok in Set A, she may have added to whatever group of events that led to Jarok being “turned in” because Set A still happened in Set C.

            That is to say, if 100 people are in a crowd, 1 more person doesn’t make much of a difference. So in this case, it is a “possibility,” but a non-important one.

    • Muthsarah

      I liked “Generations” for years, almost entirely because I loved the Picard/family angle – I always liked Picard + kids, and Picard + Rene and Robert. The line you mentioned is one of many reasons I think I took to this episode so much when I re-discovered it a decade ago.

      Jarok is keen in so many ways, even managing to get underneath Picard’s skin without realizing what he’s doing (though that’s retconning). I think he and Picard worked so well because they really could be friends and colleagues. A shame the Romulan Empire wasn’t interested in being friends with anyone.

      • “Generations” was easily the second worst Trek Movie – behind Trek V “Final Frontier” . Period.

        • Muthsarah

          Well…so I’ve heard.

          As I said, I liked (not loved, liked) Generations from the first time I watched it until several years later. I enjoyed seeing Kirk Scotty, and Chekov. I LOVED the Picard/Troi scene, and the later Nexus scene with him surrounded by his fake-family. Almost made me cry, that last bit, since I so loved his years-long uncomfortableness with children, and since I had really latched onto his part of “Family”. The idea that PIcard could have felt real remorse, obviously hidden from those around him, that he felt he should have started a family but didn’t, and now that he has suddenly lost his brother and nephew, and at an advanced age, feeling like he had let down his entire family, all of his ancestors dating back centuries….it really got to me. I think I even mighta cried that first viewing. I think I really did.

          Honestly, THAT coulda been the whole plot to the movie, Picard grieving over failing/choosing not to marry and have kids to keep up his proud lineage and I woulda adored it. I’m sure I woulda adored it far more than what we actually got. Instead….BS Klingon, Elorian, planet, ribbon, Kirk, omelets, horse, punching, bridge, crashing into planet, blah!

          Yeah, it took me several years, but I eventually came around to understanding how bad that movie was. But, circa 1995…I couldn’t not like it. I was too young to be discriminating. And that one thing – Picard + family – hit me so hard in the feels…I enjoyed the film for that alone.

          Star Trek: First Contact is trash. TRASH. Not remotely Trek. Cheap-ass B-level action movie with a cast that didn’t fit in. Awful movie. Y’all think it’s fun? Eh? Then you don’t like thinking. None of it makes sense. Most of the cast is wasted in cheap B-plot. Even the A-plot is embarrassing. All action scenes are terrible. The final act makes NO SENSE. That’s all I’m gonna say.

          Insurrection? Deeply flawed. Still the film that feels most like a TNG episode. But not a good one. More like a lackluster two-parter. Unification. Birthright. Episodes I NEVER revisit. Just long and boring, and woulda been better condensed into one regular episode with half the stuff cut ou.

          Nemesis…utter garbage. An attempt to “improve” on First Contact by making it even more darkerer, even more actionerier, even more violentier. And nothing works. Utter garbage. Plus a lot of pretty green. But nothing salvageable.

          So…is “Generations” the worst of the TNGs? No, I don’t think so. I CAN, techincally, go back and watch it. But I won’t. Really, NONE of them are worth revisiting. But, gun to my head, which one would I see? Insurrection. No question.

          II > IV > III > VI > IX > I > VII > V > VIII > X

          I won’t bring the recent so-called “Abrams-Trek” into the conversation. I don’t recognize their existence.

  • mc900

    I don’t think it was luck that the Klingons came to Picard’s aid. I don’t think he would have entered the neutral zone without some kind of edge. That was strategy.
    As for the value of Jarok’s sacrifice. Even if it wasn’t to plan, anytime someone of note makes that kind of sacrifice in the name of peace it brings both sides a step closer to understanding and therefore peace.

    • Muthsarah

      Who thinks it’s luck? Picard has connections with the High Council for helping to keep the Duras mess hush-hush. Also, the Klingons are technically (but not enthusiastically) allies of the Federation, and they HAAAAAAAAATE the Romulans.


      • but the episode w/ Duras vs Worf hasn’t happened yet! lol

        • Muthsarah

          …Oh, hey, you’re right.


          So we’ve only had Heart of Glory and A Matter of Honor as far as Klingon episodes?

    • Guysguysguysguysguys… It’s not “luck” that the Klingons showed up. That’s not what we said. They were part of Picard’s secret plan executed by worf. It was Jarok who was lucky (he didn’t know about the plan, remember?) that Picard thought through it enough to bring along enough power to avoid an all-out battle.

      • CmdrR

        I had to watch this ep 2 or 3 times before I caught the significance of an early snippet of dialogue:
        COMPUTER: Captain Picard, priority message from security officer, Klingon vessel Bortas.
        PICARD: Lieutenant Worf, will you handle this at security station, deck nine.
        WORF: Aye, sir.
        This was before DVD’s and downloads, which let us micro-analyze every bit of dialogue… and allowed lazy screenwriters to put band-aids on their plot holes by throwing in dialogue an hour before something that makes no sense happens on screen. (I’m looking at you Transformers!)*
        *side rant to my rant: Transformers, a prequel? WHHYYYYYY!!!!!!????!!!!!

  • Definitely NOT LUCK!! Picard and Worf had a Plan B and it worked out very well! WoW. what an ending! That was guile and strategy and damn good communications discipline!!

  • Durakken

    Have you considered that that was Patrick Stewart giving genuine advice to Brent Spiner in the Henry V scene.

    Also, you missed an interesting contra-examination of the idea of stepping down to examine your subordinates. Jarek is the opposite to that with the council (stand in for “the people”) stepping above to examine the leader, but more over Jarek is hiding his identity because he knows his people and thus needs to step down to act appropriately where as the idea presented in the Henry V scene is that the leader must step down to get to know the people to act right.

    • CmdrR

      I always felt that the acting abilities of the TNG cast improved in large part because of Patrick’s influence. Esp. Frakes and Spiner.

      • Durakken

        Frakes greatly improved from season to season, definitely. Spiner is hard to tell though imo because of the character. Data’s evolution mirrors that of an actor becoming more comfortable with the role and as a result it can’t be certain whether that is Spiner playing Data better which just happens to be Data acting more natural or Spiner playing Data worse and happens to be Data acting more natural.

        I was also referring to, if I remember right, Stewart was supposed to be a Stand in for the Henry V role for a play, but instead took TNG. It’s interesting if that is true because, like I said, it would be Stewart giving advice to Data on how to play Henry V and Spiner in general with acting rather than Picard giving advice, in essence breaking the 4th wall.

  • CmdrR

    Thanks for correcting the gaff on Picard stepping out of the turbolift into the infinite. But… now where will I send my torrent of emails? Another fantastic podcast on another great Season 3 episode. I don’t like “favorite ep” questions because some days I want this, others I want “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and **looks around slyly** some days I actually enjoy “Spock’s Brain.” If you take Trek overall, all 740 (whatever!!) episodes, the movies and even TAS and the better novels… I think Trek is 40% great, 15% awful, and the rest respectable. I’ll take that batting average any day!

  • Federation-Romulan-Klingon stand off at Nelvana III

    • Muthsarah

      I don’t want to say “orgasmic”, but….this scene, and this image…are always most pleasurable to revisit.

      The Romulans still have the coolest ship designs. Love the liberal use of green, my favorite color. Even in “Nemesis”. Why did they have to be the eternal bad guys?

      • Yes the green is so unique also their designs look very organic..like a real birds beak with wings

        • Muthsarah

          I always liked the giant holes between the wings. I really want to see a Federation or Klingon warship shoot at them and have the torpedo go right through.

  • Muthsarah

    Just tossing this out there:

    Personally, I consider this episode as the moment where TNG surpassed TOS. TOS coulda never delved this deeply into…well…anything. First episode of 1990, you say…Ken?…fitting. The 1990s were a decade of consistent re-examination of one’s place in the world, or of what the world around us was supposed to be about, and what our values really are. At least in America. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    I really appreciate this episode for “humanizing” the Romulans. Even if earlier episodes (minus “The Neutral Zone”) had all done that to some extent, this episode actually went to so as to make THE ROMULAN into the episode’s main (tragic) hero.

    This episode, to me, marks where TNG finally took the baton from TOS and became the flagship of the franchise. Yeah, “Wrath of Khan” doesn’t count, exactly (though this episode still matches it in quality of message if not in spectacle), but this episode nonetheless marked the first point where TNG went deeper, with more to show, than any previous Trek episode. “The Measure of a Man”, obviously TOS never woulda touched that….because it didn’t have an android. So not comparable. But TNG reached so, so deep into political intrigue, ambiguous plots, identifiable, sympathetic villains, and intricate plot structure. To me, “The Defector” is superior to any TOS episode (WoK doesn’t count, not comparable because medium). And so, it’s the point where TNG officially emerged from its mother (Galaxy’s Child sense) and became its own beast.

    It’s not the beginning of TNG as a sci-fi phenomenon, but it nonetheless marked the very moment where TNG surpassed its predecessor.

    Please send all hate mail to John Champion. He still hasn’t answered for his crimes in dismissing “The Vengeance Factor”.

  • no message?!!?!? no message?!?!?!? AaarRRGGGhh! to me it seemed obvious! Weapons of Mass Destruction!!- hahaha, well, I mean to me it was all about justification for war. When the Iraq war started I really thought of this episode. War violence in general can often stem from the most petty of disagreements. But sadly, this is in our nature to bluster, puff our chest out and well…”That escalated quickly”- Ron Burgundy (Anchorman). I was really into Tom Clancy at this time and “Red Storm Rising”, “Clear and Present Danger” & “The Sum of All Fears” really highlighted how violence and war can easily get out of hand….

  • Kristian Marie Kbot McKee

    You guys are household names in our home. ^__^

  • Cygnus-X1

    Great episode and commentary. Good point about the sort-of “mirror” HENRY V, if you will, in the form of Jarok posing as a low-level officer walking amongst the other side’s troops. I also totally agree with Ken that James Sloyan hits it out of the park, totally embodying his character, and that performance deserves a lot of credit for making this such a strong, compelling episode.

    In terms of the message/meaning of this story, I’d say it’s a tale of a tragic hero whom life does not treat fairly despite his doing the right thing for all the right reasons—because life just ain’t fair some times (maybe most of the time). But, at the very end, we get a suggestion that maybe Jarok’s actions—“his cause being just”—will inspire others, and in that way, maybe they weren’t totally in vain.

    Another message/meaning that I take from this story is that love is the most powerful motive that there is, in Jarok’s case, more powerful than duty, nationalistic notions of “honor,” even pride and self-interest. And even the enemy (“Russians,” by Sting) can love their children as much as we do.

    Yet another meaning/message is the fallibility of human intuition and feelings, which we get from Geordie’s dialogue with Data. Ironically, Geordie is trying to teach Data that human hunches, intuition and feelings are just as valid as Data’s logical analysis of facts; however, Geordie’s hunch (that they’re “going to catch the Romulans with their pants down on Nelvana 3”) turns out to be dead wrong.

    In terms of the plot, I like how we get little clues from the very beginning, when the Romulans give up chasing Jarok “without an argument,” that something is amiss with the whole situation. And, then, it all falls into place at the end, including Picard’s hints throughout that he’s got it all sussed.

  • gizmochimp

    I found it odd that Picard would ask Data to record the events that were about to transpire. It worked well as a scene, but logically it makes no sense as Data remembers everything all of the time, whether you ask him to or not.