Oct. 6, 2020

011: TNG: Face of the Enemy

Trust - what happens when you have it...and when you don't.

On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Face of the Enemy. He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Romulan Commander Toreth...yep, the Romulan Commander!

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Welcome, everyone! Thank you for coming aboard! We have a good one today where we will be learning leadership lessons from an unexpected source! See what I mean as we dive into the 14th episode of the 6th season of The Next Generation, Face of the Enemy. 


We open up in a dark room with ominous music. Sounds like Troi waking up with a bad headache. She looks in the mirror and…SHE’S A ROMULAN! 

We’re on a Romulan warbird, the Khazara. Sub Commander Nevek comes to Troi, and he knows who she is. He explains she was abducted from a conference and surgically altered to appear to be a Romulan; Major Rakal of the Tal Shiar. This is the first mention or appearance of the Tal Shiar in all of Star Trek; an organization that will have huge impacts in Deep Space 9, Picard and other Star Trek. He feeds her the orders for the plan but won’t explain much else. They are going to fool the Commander of the ship to complete some clandestine operation. Troi, seeing no alternative, reluctantly agrees.

We meet Commander Toreth as the ship is taking on cargo. Troi struggles to find her footing here, but use her empathy to read the situation and adapt. Toreth buys into the ruse! She complains that the cargo that was brought in is for the Tal Shiar and she hasn’t been made privy to its contents. 

Toreth immediately establishes herself as a leader among her crew. She states it is her primary duty to protect them. She then stands up for them, talking about the brutal methods of the Tal Shiar. This will be an interesting episode, because Toreth is going to be the one providing us with most of our leadership examples and lessons. Already she is demonstrating that she is willing to put herself at risk, both professional and personal, to protect her crew.

After their back and forth, she complies with Troi. 

Poor crew; it’s a good thing she’s standing up for them because they’re all standing up! There aren’t any chairs on the bridge!!

On the Enterprise, the are taking on a human that defected to the Romulan Empire. After 20 years, he’s turning himself in. Riker immediately places Ensign De’Seve under arrest for treason. He complies. He comes on board wearing a Romulan uniform that Riker tells him he doesn’t want to see him in again. Also, we get confirmation here that the Romulans literally offer only one haircut! Poor guy.

He asks to meet with Picard as soon as possible. He says he has urgent intelligence for him. 

They meet up. Picard keeps his voice low and calm, shoring respect for DeSeve and for his message. DeSeve says he has a message from Ambassador Spock. You see, about a year before this episode, we learned Spock, Federation Ambassador to the Romulan Empire, was running a covert op to unite the Romulans and Vulcans, who share a common ancestry. DeSeve says Spock requires more “Cowboy Diplomacy” from Picard. They’ll need to pick up some cargo, from the same place Troi has commanded the Khazara to go. Picard listens closely to DeSeve but also tries to understand why he chose to defect, and now has chosen to return. He calmly asks questions. He doesn’t appear to be passing judgement of any kind. His body language suggests he’s upset and frustrated with DeSeve, but he doesn’t do or say anything to confirm that. He ultimately demonstrates his belief and, maybe trust, in him as he orders the ship to the Kaleb sector as quickly as possible.

On the warbird, Nevek is going to show Troi what the cargo is and what they are doing. We learn more about the terrifying reputation of the Tal Shiar here as the crew not only listen to Troi, but are terrified of her. Nevek opens a cargo container. There, lying in stasis in Vice Pro Counsel M’Ret and his aides. They’re defecting. Nevek is revealed as part of Spock’s movement as well. This defection could pave the road for thousands more defections. 

Nevek explains a little more of the plan. He doesn’t share too much with Troi, for her own protection. But the fact she is a Starfleet officer is part of his contingency plan. What he does share is that they are meeting some mercenaries. They’ll transfer the cargo to them. He doesn’t share this with Troi, but we’ve seen the other part of the plan - the Enterprise will meet the mercenaries and retrieve the defectors. Troi, or Rakal, and Nevek head to the wardroom to have dinner with the Commander and senior staff.

This episode came out in early ’93. While the Cold War had ended, it was still very much a part of our culture. With a lot of the viewers of this series having grown up in the 70s and 80s, it took some time for it to not be a nearly all-consuming part of our lives. In 1990, the epic film, The Hunt For Red October came out. I remember buying this on VHS and the cassette was red - cool marketing! But this was a submarine movie about a Soviet submarine captain with a complex, secret plan to defect to the United States along with new Soviet technology. There are a number of similarities between that film and this episode. Obviously, the general theme of defection, which was a very real thing during the Cold War. Some notable people that came to the West during that time were Milos Forman, known for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the Tony Award winning Natalia Makarova, tennis superstar Martina Navratilova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous dancer and actor. But it wasn’t one-sided. Just like DeSeve defected to the Romulans, others defected to the Soviet Union or Soviet influenced areas as well. Some historical accounts suggest it did not go well for most of them. One of the famous, well, infamous examples is Lee Harvey Oswald. He defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, but returned to the US in ’62.

In the movie, Ramius, the Soviet captain was going to offer the Soviet technology to the US. In this episode, it is more about opening the doors for others as much as it is about the personnel that are defecting. I think early brainstorms on the script had a Romulan ship coming with the defectors, but that didn’t make it into the episode.

Look at that! Apparently, this is the Starfleet Historical Academy! In reality, though, the Cold War, specifically, is referenced a lot in Star Trek. I mean, there is a lot to unpack from that time. Plus, amazing films such as The Hunt For Red October, Dr Strangelove and, the greatest film that depicts the human spirit and inherent unity in us all - Rocky IV; show that there are endless stories to be told while examining that period of our history.

Ok, so they’re sitting at dinner. Toreth is just digging into Troi. It’s almost like she knows something is up. This episode makes it clear the Tal Shiar are not well loved in Romulan Society, but she has a real axe to grind! Before we find out about that, though, she continues to show she is a leader that leads by example (I destroyed that myself) and relies on trust (military commanders must trust).

We’ve talked about that a few times on this podcast, and will continue to! Trust is one of, if not THE key to effective leadership. When you trust your staff, it allows them to demonstrate their full potential, and isn’t that what you want? Don’t you want people to perform at their best? Well, trust is what makes that happen. If your teams trust you, they will listen to what you have to say. When you have to deliver bad news, they will listen to you and, more likely than not, receive it well, or, as well as they can. As we’ll see later in this episode, when you’re in trouble, they will stand by your side - of course they’ll stand….remember, no chairs on the bridge - as much as they are able. 

In this moment, Toreth uses the concept of trust as context for her explanation of her hatred for the Tal Shiar. (dragging my father out os his home). Troi sees this as her opportunity. She doubles down on her role leaving no doubt that she is the real deal (your dad sucked).

They meet the mercenary freighter and things aren’t right. Troi can sense they are being deceptive. She tells Nevek they’re lying and he immediately blows the freighter up. Toreth FREAKS out!! He puts the blame on Rakal; rightly so - makes it a Tal Shiar issue. Toreth confirms there were 18 people on the freighter but doesn’t care of there were 18 or 800. She sees this as a waste of lives and not how the Romulan military would conduct business. 

I’m loving Toreth. She’s courageous. She knows what she believes in and, based on what we’ve learned of the Tal Shiar, is willing to die for it. Imagine having a leader like her. She is someone that would never ask a person to do something she wasn’t willing to do herself. She’s been there, gotten through it, and now is leading you through it. She’s adding so much depth and complexity to the Romulan culture. It’s great!

What I don’t want you to hear, though, is that you, as a leader, have to be able to do all of the jobs of the people that report to you. You are the leader, THAT is your job. Let them do there’s. The point here isn’t that Toreth, or you, have done everything your team has done or will do. The point is, she is willing, and you should also be willing, to be there with them; don’t leave them on their own. 

This makes me think of the “clash of leadership styles!” In this corner, you have Jeff Akin - he’s a leader that is going to stand with you and support you as you do the hard things that are part of your job. In the opposing corner, Vince McMahon! Yeah, the WWE dude. He’s a former ECW and WWF champion. He won those titles by getting in the ring and doing what the people that work for him do. He put his body on the line just like they do. He also sleeps like 4 hours a night, works out endlessly and demands that his people hold themselves to the same standards he does. 

Then there’s Jeff. Jeff works late nights and weekends to be available to his project teams as they work on a difficult phase. He walks into executive’s offices and takes the balm for missteps by his teams. He publicly calls out success members of his team have had. 
(1, 2 3!! Ding ding)

And your winner - it’s me!!!

Well, honestly, there is something to say for both styles. I mean, if I was asking for someone to lie on the ground while a 265 pound person leapt off a rope 5 feet above them and drove their elbow into their chest…maybe there’s some value in me taking some of those lumps too. And more value if I were to do it in a way that kept the spotlight shining on the people that do that for a living. But, what people want is what Toreth demonstrates here. No one on that ship has any love for Major Rakal or the Tal Shiar, and she’s putting herself directly between her crew, and this evil they must tolerate. 

The ship cloaks and holds position as Troi storms off.

The Enterprise reaches the coordinates DeSeve sent them to. Nothing. Picard interrogates DeSeve. He maintains his calm demeanor, but with the slightest edge to his voice. He allows DeSeve space to answer the questions. He’s able to learn more about the freighter they’re chasing and it gives them a manageable search radius. Picard feels betrayed when learning this new information, confused why DeSeve didn’t volunteer it earlier. He says that living among Romulans for so long has taught him not to volunteer information. 

Picard doesn’t know the scope of what he’s involved in. All he knows is that he has a returning defector on board, that claims a connection to Spock. He would be completely justified in using much more aggressive tactics to get the information he needs. Instead, he listens. He’s clear, based on his body language and the tone of his voice, with his feelings on the matter, but he doesn’t make it about himself. What’s important is the information. If this it truly from Spock, he knows it’s important. The trust he has in Spock, based both on his reputation and his experience with him, fuels his need and drive to carry out the mission DeSeve has shared with him. His focus is on doing exactly that. He could push DeSeve, prove that Picard and the Federation are right and the Romulans aren’t; he could succumb to Worf’s ongoing reminder that DeSeve is a traitor, but it’s not about any of that. Right now, in these moments, it’s about the information and the mission. Picard approaches DeSeve with emotional intelligence, listening, asking clarifying questions without a loaded agenda. And in that, he not only gets the info he needs, but also allows DeSeve to share some of his trauma from his time with the Romulans, possibly making him a more valuable asset to the Federation. He ends the discussion by making it clear DeSeve needs to be more forthcoming, and then they head onto the bridge to begin the search.

Shocking, right? In a 4 minute scene, Picard puts on a masterclass on getting information and strengthening trust!

Troi and Nevek meet in the cargo hold. Troi loses it! She lays into him for murdering those 18 people! He admits the plan has collapsed. The plan is now for them to divert to Drakon IV; there’s a starbase there. Catch is, Troi has to provide the access codes to get their safely. She’s feeling trapped but doesn’t see any other option.

Man, Marina Sirtis is killing it!!! She doesn’t get many chances to shine on this show, unfortunately. When she does, though, she really does! Through that uncomfortable make-up she’s able to convey the carnival of emotions she’s experiencing. She knows more than Picard or the Enterprise knows about this mission. This is huge. She wants to make this happen, but the actions she’s involved in, the ruse she’s having to portray is weighing on her. Heavily. This has got to be one of the top Deanna Troi episodes in the whole series.

She tells Toreth what the deal is. She’s harsh, cold and to the point. Toreth admits the Federation is neither weak nor foolish and she is railing against this order. Troi, or Rakal, shares that she has the access codes to get them there safely. She then accuses Toreth of being a coward. She stands up to Rakal, but orders the ship on its way. 

Just before they take off, the Enterprise shows up! Visible look of relief on Troi’s face, but their appearance backs up everything Troi stated. Toreth is calm and cool. She seeks out options and plans for an exit from the system. 

On the Enterprise they confirm the freighter has been destroyed and believe it was Romulans. They go to red alert and start looking for a cloaked vessel. Troi works with Nevek to create a very minor imbalance in the warp core emissions. A magnetic trace that would be barely perceptible. Troi tells him to proceed.

On the theme of trust, this is another great example. She knows the Enterprise is out there. She knows what they are capable of. She trusts that even the minor imbalance will be detected and that they’ll be able to figure out what it is. And that’s exactly what happens. Data detects the magnetic disturbance and Picard, along with DeSeve, confirms it’s likely a cloaked Romulan ship.

The tie to the Hunt for Red October shines here; it’s a submarine game. Enterprise maneuvers in an exact intercept course, almost tipping their hand. Right now, both ships think they know what the other is doing. Courageous tactic by Toreth confirms for them that the Enterprise can track them! Slow, intense; really exciting sequence and an inside look and feel, from both sides, of cloaked warfare; or contemporary naval maneuvers when subs are involved. 

Toreth commands battle operations. As they begin to decloak, Rakal intercedes. She makes a compelling case for Toreth to step down and give up command. Rakal threatens the crew’s families if they don’t support her. They very begrudgingly comply. Even Nevek is uncomfortable with this open betrayal. 

Rakal takes the captain’s seat and hails the Enterprise. Obvious shock and awe from the Enterprise crew. Picard plays right along, though. She offers to beam over to the Enterprise to negotiate the situation. They drop shields, fully trusting her and assuming she needs their help. Rakal orders the warbird to fire upon the Enterprise!! Nevek fires the disruptors with almost no power and beams the defectors to the bridge. Troi remains on the Romulan ship.

The ruse worked in that it got M’Reth and his aides to the Federation, but it doesn’t last. Toreth connects all the dots. She accuses Rakal of being a traitor and one of her crew immediately vaporizes Nevek. 

Remember earlier when we talked about trust and the culture Toreth promoted? Well, here’s where it pays off!! They did the bare minimum to comply with Rakal when she orders Toreth to stand down, but that was under the threat of capture and torture of their families. The second that threat was moot, they came to Toreth’s aid. Immediately!!

She presses the issue and tries to get all the info from Troi. She keeps her mouth shut. As the warbird cloaks and prepares to warp away, Picard has Troi beamed over; they were just waiting for the moment.

Again, trust pays off!!

Dr Crusher undoes the surgical efforts. Picard lets Deanna know the operation was a success and that M’Reth is grateful; they anticipate more defectors as a result of this. Troi explains that Nevek sacrificed himself for this and should be recognized. Picard agrees. Not wanting a war to break out over this, Toreth continued to warp out even after Troi was beamed away and the Enterprise escapes the scene at warp 9.

<<Red Alert>>

Great episode! We added depth and dimension to the Romulans and Deanna Troi. We explored a real-life, nearly real-time socio-political issue through the lens of sci fi; something Star Trek excels at. I really enjoyed it. 

This is the only time since the Unification two parter in season 5, except for a brief mention in the 2009 film, Spock’s work with the Romulans is mentioned. And that’s a real shame. That was a brave and exciting story-line that they could have done so much more with. I mean, imagine if there was a series with strife in the Romulan Empire! They could really explore the impacts of Spock’s work there and the effects of Vice Pro Counsel M’Ret defection. Ah, if only….. 

The Enterprise crew spend precious little time on screen in this one, but they really maximize that. We see a highly functioning team solving complex problems. It’s great! I was struck by how comforting it was to see them. Having Troi in Romulan makeup, and the uncomfortable design of the Romulan ship helped make the Enterprise and its crew feel familiar. 

And on that, I think that’s my only real gripe with the episode, outside of it living in a bubble when it could have influenced the entire franchise. The Romulan sets were really bland. I can imagine they tried to make it look and feel different, which they did, but I think it looked and felt, well, cheap. Half-hearted. There’s an over the shoulder shot with Toreth in the captain’s position looking at the view screen and it looks like something I might have built out of cardboard boxes when I was 28…I mean, 9….. But it’s not that bad, just not as good as it likely could have been.

But, seriously, let’s talk about Troi and Toreth! Toreth was played by Carolyn Seymour. I am a huge fan! Doctor Chakwas….Serrice ice brandy, anyone??? An accomplished actor with amazing and enviable voice credits! Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and Gears of War to name a few. She’s also a popular guest star in Star Trek, and understandably so! She and Troi are perfect adversaries. They begin with some subtlety, but it escalates, masterfully. The dinner scene where Toreth shares what happened to her father is so good. It perfectly establishes her, Toreth, as the sympathetic character, and Troi, as Rakal, as the super villain. And, frankly, I cannot think of a better Troi episode. After this, there is no question about the value she brings to the Enterprise and Starfleet. 

<<Command Codes>>

A lot to talk about here, but really all following the same theme. Trust. Everything works in this episode because of trust; and when it falls apart, it’s the lack of trust that causes that.

Let’s take the Picard, DeSeve piece first. He encounters someone that betrayed the Federation 20 years ago that claims to have valuable information. Picard has no reason to trust this person at all. DeSeve knows this and leverages a shared relationship to provide a foundation to trust - they both have worked with Spock. Like we talked about earlier, Picard seeks to understand. His goal is not to punish DeSeve or to prove his authority, it is simply to understand the request of Spock and help as he is able to. 

We use this form of trust building all the time. Think about your LinkedIn profile. When someone requests a connection with you, you’re more likely to accept if they’re a 2nd degree connection; or at least you’re more likely to engage with them once you’re connected because of your shared connection. Or how often do you introduce two people because of your relationship with them? “Hey, Sarah, this is Isaiah. Isaiah is new to the company but really delivered on a recent project. Isaiah, Sarah is probably one of the best project managers we work with. I thought the two of you could really benefit from each other.” Leveraging a shared relationship establishes a baseline for trust to form. 

Now, you have to continue to build on that, of course. DeSeve does a great job here. At one point we learn he didn’t share all the necessary info with Picard. Now, Picard could go straight to assuming the worst and accuse him of deception, but DeSeve owns his mistake and explains why. He is honest and vulnerable. The foundation of trust that is built can grow, quickly, because of that. 

We talked quite bit about Toreth and the trust she engendered in her crew. We saw this pay off for her the moment Rakal lost her power.

Speaking of Rakal, what a great example of the lack of trust. People followed her, well, did what she said, because of fear. And when they did, they did it halfway. Think about her command to arrest Toreth. Had they trusted her and believed in what she was doing, they would have taken her off the bridge and locked her up. Instead, they moved her 6 feet to the side and kind of pointed disruptors at her. At the first opportunity, everyone turned on Rakal. No trust leads to non-sustainable leadership.

One of the coolest examples of trust in this whole episode, though, was entirely unspoken. The Khazara hails the Enterprise. Immediately, both Picard and Troi trusts the other. They play their parts and are successful. If they didn’t have bulletproof trust, Picard likely would have faltered, or asked the wrong question. Instead, he trusted she knew what she was doing and she trusted Picard and the crew would do their absolute best to help solve the problem.

Bottom line, the trust in this episode avoided an intergalactic war, allowed dissidents to defect and got Troi back to the Enterprise safely.

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

What did you think of this episode? What thoughts do you have on trust? Where have you had great successes because of it? Let me know! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in trust, a k i n. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please share it with a friend or someone you think could benefit from it.

What are we going to watch next time…. 

Oh, wow. The 2nd episode of the 4th season of The Next Generation, Family. This is an emotional one! If you’re watching episodes along with me, and especially if you aren’t familiar with Star Trek, I strongly recommend watching both parts of the Best of Both Worlds before this one; it provides a lot of context. Also, those are just great episodes to watch anyway!  

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!