The Drumhead

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"The Drumhead"
Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
Episode no.Season 4
Episode 21
Directed byJonathan Frakes
Written byJeri Taylor
Featured musicRon Jones
Cinematography byMarvin Rush
Production code195
Original air dateApril 29, 1991 (1991-04-29)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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Star Trek: The Next Generation (season 4)
List of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes

"The Drumhead" is the 95th episode of the syndicated American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the 21st episode of the program's fourth season. It was directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes,[1] who played Commander William Riker on the show. It takes the form of a courtroom drama.

An explosion aboard the Enterprise leads to a high-level investigation headed by Admiral Norah Satie, a retired officer renowned for her skill at exposing conspiracies. Satie quickly determines that a visiting Klingon officer was attempting to smuggle diagrams off the ship, but the Klingon denies any involvement in the explosion. Satie refuses to give up on her investigation, even after the explosion is proven to be an accident, and she accuses Captain Picard of treason when he challenges her charges against an innocent crewman.


When an explosion within the dilithium chamber of the Federation starship Enterprise's warp engine room appears to be the work of sabotage, Starfleet Command dispatches a retired rear admiral from the Legal Division of its Support Services Section, Norah Satie, to lead an investigation to uncover the cause.

Satie discovers that J'Dan (Henry Woronicz), a Klingon exchange officer, had been using modified hypospray syringes to encode information into amino acid sequences for secret transport. J'Dan admits his collaboration with the Romulans but attests that he did not sabotage the chamber. Satie and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) interview crew members who associated with J'Dan. One interviewee is medical technician Simon Tarses (Spencer Garrett), who claims that his only relationship with J'Dan was to administer injections necessary to treat a rare disease. Satie's Betazoid aide (Bruce French) senses that Tarses is concealing something. Meanwhile, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Commander Data (Brent Spiner) determine that the hatch had failed due to simple fatigue, not sabotage.[2]

Picard considers the matter closed, but Satie pushes to complete her investigation of Tarses under the pretext of proving his innocence. She conducts a second interview with Tarses, held in front of a room full of people. Captain Picard assigns Commander Riker to act as counsel to the crewman. Satie's aide falsely accuses Tarses of using a compound found in Sickbay to sabotage the hatch. He then accuses Tarses of falsifying his academy entrance application and that he is in fact one quarter Romulan, not one quarter Vulcan as he had claimed. Commander Riker quickly whispers to Tarses, who invokes his right to not answer the accusation on the grounds that his answer may incriminate him.

Satie uses this discovery as a pretext to expand her investigations. Picard objects, but Satie reveals that she has been in constant contact with Starfleet Command's Headquarters, that all future hearings will be open, and that Admiral Thomas Henry (Earl Billings) of the Security Division of the Starfleet Support Services Section will attend. Picard begins to compare the tribunal to a drumhead, a kind of battle-field court-martial of the 18th and 19th centuries on Earth that became infamous for its numerous miscarriages of justice. Even though he resolves to prevent her from conducting a witch-hunt, he is summoned to be interviewed before the tribunal.

Satie uses the hearing to accuse Picard of numerous transgressions of the Prime Directive and other Starfleet orders. When Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) stands to defend Picard's actions, Satie turns on him, pointing out Picard's poor judgment in having a Chief of Security who is the son of a traitor. Picard recalls a quote from Satie's own father Aaron, whose judgments are required reading at the Starfleet Academy: "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."[3] Satie is enraged, and launches into a tirade condemning Picard as a traitor.

Satie's fanaticism proves to be her undoing, as the disgusted Admiral Henry walks out of the hearing and later calls a halt to any additional investigation. Worf and Picard reflect on Satie's disgrace. Worf expresses regret for his assistance in her investigation, not seeing her for what she really was. Picard notes that vigilance is the price humanity must continually pay in exchange for freedom.

References to other episodes[edit]

  • Satie comments on Worf's father being a Romulan collaborator, referring to events in the third season episode "Sins of the Father".
  • Satie questions Picard's actions regarding the Romulan spy T'Pel, referring to events in the fourth season episode "Data's Day".
  • Satie refers to Picard's abduction by the Borg, as shown in "The Best of Both Worlds"


This episode is featured on the Star Trek: The Next Generation - Jean-Luc Picard Collection DVD set for Region 1 only. It is the fourth of seven episodes featured on disc 1 of the two-disc set.


"The Drumhead" was rated the 15th best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 2016 by Hollywood Reporter.[4] Actor Michael Dorn, who played the character Worf on the show, has stated this was his favorite episode of the series, and in particular liked Worf and Picard's scene at the end of the episode.[5]

In 2014, "The Drumhead" was rated as the 34th best episode of Star Trek by io9, when reviewing the top 100 episodes of all series up to that time (including animated and live-action television series).[6] In 2018, Tom's Guide rated "The Drumhead" one of the 15 best episodes featuring Picard.[7]



  • Guest star Jean Simmons, a noted longtime Trekkie,[8] portrays retired Rear Admiral Norah Satie, a special investigator who visits the Federation starship Enterprise.
  • Michael Dorn said this was one of his two favorite episodes, the other being "The Offspring", which Jonathan Frakes also directed.[9]
  • "The Drumhead" was the last Star Trek episode to have its music scored by Ron Jones, whom producers Rick Berman and Peter Lauritson dismissed, shortly after he had completed his work on it, as "Ron's stuff was getting big and somewhat flamboyant" and the producers "decided to move on and try other composers."[10]


  1. ^ "The Drumhead". IMDB. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  2. ^ Zack Handlen (January 20, 2011). "Qpid/The Drumhead". AV Club. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  3. ^ "The Greatest Star Trek Quotes". John Petrie. Archived from the original on December 26, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ "The 15 Best Capt. Picard Episodes of Star Trek". Tom's Guide. August 12, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  8. ^ "Simmons, Jean". Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "ST:TNG: Final Unity: Michael Dorn Interview". Retrieved March 12, 2008.
  10. ^ "Rick Berman Answers Your Questions - Part 1". March 1, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2011.

See also[edit]

  • Balance of Terror (Star Trek, aired December 15, 1966, S1E14, first episode with Romulans)

External links[edit]