Friday, July 15, 2011

Classics: TNG 3:10 - The Defector (Cheers)

Overall Rating: 9.1

It's not that this type of story hasn't been done before - science fiction is full of tales of good men who were patriots for bad regimes being led to noble deeds by their masters as a means of destroying them - but it'd never been done on Trek, and IMHO, it requires a certain mastery of characterization and style that Trek writers did not have prior to TNG's third season.

Plot Synopsis:

A full disclosure of the story can be found at Memory Alpha.

The Skinny:

Michael Pillar and Rick Berman take a lot of flak from Trek fans...some of it deserved...some not. The fact is, they did usher in an era of muted, uncreative music, mass-production in scripting of episodes (TOS was cobbled together from mostly freelance writers, and the first two seasons of TNG as well...from day one of the Pillar era, lead authors did most of the work and that eventually led to the endless string of episodes by an overworked Brannon Braga), and a militarization of Trek that many fans didn't like and that was distinctly not what the naive hack upstairs (Roddenbury) had in mind. It's also true that during Pillar's primary tenure, Trek produced the vast majority of its' most brilliant works...all of DS9 was under the supervision of this dynamic duo and TNG was carried by that crew from the third through the fifth seasons as well (not coincidentally, these seasons are universally considered TNG's strongest).

This episode epitomizes the difference between Pillar/Berman and, say, Maurice Hurley or Gene Roddenbury. In their own commentary, Pillar and Moore (both of whom served with distinction on DS9) talked about the hard work that went into this script (it didn't write itself, that's for sure) and how proud they were of the hidden details they threw into it - allusions to Shakespeare's Henry V, the difficulty in making the filming of an interrogation seem visually interesting, the work they did to prevent the episode from becoming a series of scenes with talking heads. They spent days crafting a believable tragic hero character (Jarok) and giving him a back story thick enough to make us actually begin to root for him. And they did all of this because they weren't happy with their earlier efforts. Roddenbury-style scripts tended to be forged from a potentially interesting concept, long as the script followed through on the concept, it was rare for any attempt to be made to make the product as good as it could be.

A Roddenbury version of this would have probably made Jarok less of a Romulan and more of a conscientious objector. A Hurley script would have ended with Jarok screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (because Hurley had no concept of subtlety). Pillar's version ends with Jarok on the bridge numbly (and hopelessly) revealing his fate - "this was all to destroy me..." - yet he is not angry with his people. Instead, he is crushed at what he perceives as his own failure. He betrayed his people to the enemy and will now pay the price in exile. We, the viewers, can draw our own conclusions (mine would be that this rouse was beyond cruel and that Jarok was a good man falsely believing in a bad so many of today's hard line progressives).

I'm quite certain that a Hurley script would have involved some seriously dubious romantic story between Jarok and Crusher, as was at one point on the table in the many drafts of this episode. This episode works because, although Jarok continually protests that he is a patriot - loves his homeland dearly - we begin to feel for him in his more vulnerable moments. And then when it's revealed that the attack was a rouse to scare out Federation sympathizers (which he was distinctly NOT written to be)...the twist leaves us in stunned silence. That works for me.

Writing: 9.5

The script is a work of art...the allusions to Henry V were a bit too subtle for me and that probably indicates that they were more for the trained drama critic than for their target audience (generally a bad thing)...and the middle of the episode still drags a bit, but some of Jarok's back story fills that gap and makes the end worthwhile.

Acting: 9.5

Patrick Stewart was at the top of his game as was professional guest star James Sloyan (Jarok). Even Tomalak ('s Adreas Katsulas!) is outstanding.

Message: 8.3

A good man can nevertheless be lead to perdition if he chooses his moral compass badly. Even the best of Romulans - if patriotic to that dictatorial regime - are complicit to the crimes of that regime. Jarok - no matter how honorable you might believe hi to be - will suffer (perhaps unfairly) for that misdeed. Perhaps, in exile, he can be convinced that his government is destroying the good will of his people.

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