Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Next Generation 4x21 "The Drumhead"

rating: ****

the story: The ship is investigated in relation to an elaborate conspiracy.

similar to: "Court Martial" (original series), "Rules of Engagement" (Deep Space Nine)

my thoughts: One of the truly exceptional and unique episodes in franchise lore, despite ostensibly participating in one of its more frequent tropes, the courtroom drama.

Except as it takes a look at further parts of how the ship runs on a routine basis (see "Family," "Data's Day," and "In Theory" elsewhere this season), it provides an expansive view that neatly complements another intimate look at Picard (see "Family" and "Qpid") and specifically how his assimilation by the Borg has affected his reputation but not his moral conviction (see the other great series courtroom classic, "The Measure of a Man").

This is about as sophisticated and intricate as Star Trek storytelling can get, aside from the more bombastic elements featuring the nasty Federation judge hell-bent on her witch hunt (until she becomes the recipient of Picard's greatest intellectual takedown), so unlikely and powerful a source of emotional catharsis that it continues to stand alone in execution and tone in franchise lore, a rare opportunity for the bad guy to get what's coming to them and the audience be entirely onboard with no manipulation or need to just assume the good guy is right because the whole thing is spelled out so brilliantly.

Do you end up caring for that poor half-Romulan crewman?  Absolutely.  You've never seen him before, and you'll never see him again, but his part is essential to how the whole thing unfolds.  This is emblematic of how the series had begun to realize how important it is to develop every aspect of the story, and why it elevated the whole franchise to levels fans found hard to see in later series (even though Deep Space Nine, from "Duet" onward, took it still further).

In the end there's very little to say but to let this one work its own magic.  It's the least flashy of all Star Trek classics, but absolutely deserves it placement with them.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

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