Retro Review: Face of the Enemy

Kidnapped and forced to play the role of a Romulan operative, Troi must match wits against a wily Romulan commander.

Plot Summary: Troi awakens to find herself surgically altered to look like a Romulan officer aboard the Romulan warbird Khazara. Subcommander N’Vek informs her that she must pose as Major Rakal of the Romulan intelligence force, the Tal Shiar, and order the ship to the Kaleb sector carrying a secret and volatile cargo. Commander Toreth resents having a Tal Shiar officer on her ship, but obeys the order to change course. While the ship is traveling, N’Vek tells Troi that he needed a Starfleet officer rather than a Romulan to pose as a Tal Shiar operative because the ship’s secret cargo is Romulan Vice-Proconsul M’ret and his aides. The defectors – who are in stasis – and N’Vek are all part of Ambassador Spock’s underground peace movement. Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise where everyone believes Troi is at a conference, a onetime Starfleet officer named DeSeve who had defected to Romulus is rescued during his return to Federation space. Though Riker has him arrested, DeSeve insists on speaking to Picard, to whom he explains that Ambassador Spock needs the Enterprise to receive important cargo from a Corvallen freighter in the Kaleb sector. But when the Khazara has its rendezvous with the Corvallans, Troi senses that its captain has no intention of bringing the cargo into Federation space. She warns N’Vek, who destroys the freighter, claiming to Toreth that Rakal ordered him to do so. When the Enterprise fails to encounter the freighter, Picard begins searching the area. Toreth discovers that the vessel is nearby and begins a game of cat-and-mouse, threatening to destroy it. Troi orders N’Vek to find a way to make the warbird visible under cloak to the Enterprise so that they can get the defectors safely to Federation space. When Toreth realizes that the Enterprise can track the Khazara under cloak, she orders her crew to open fire, but Troi takes command of the vessel in the name of the Tal Shiar, contacting an astonished Picard and giving him a message suggesting that he lower the Enterprise’s shields. When he does so, she orders N’Vek to fire with minimal power at the Enterprise, allowing him to beam the Romulan defectors on board at the same time. Toreth learns that the weak disruptor fire was merely a cover for a secret transport and has Troi arrested while one of her bridge crew shoots and kills N’Vek. The warbird must lower its shields to go to warp, however, and Troi is beamed aboard the Enterprise at that moment. Though Troi is saddened by all the lost lives, Picard tells her that N’Vek and the freighter crew have saved the defectors.

Analysis: I absolutely love “Face of the Enemy,” in which we get to see Deanna Troi as she always should have been – confident, strong, well-versed in Federation politics, using her empathic abilities to defuse dangerous situations. As if that weren’t enough, we get another wonderful female character in Toreth, who like the female Romulan Commander of the original series appears to have a great deal of autonomy on her own vessel – in Toreth’s case, this extends even to daring to criticize the Tal Shiar, the mere mention of which makes Troi sense that the rest of the crewmembers are terrified of her. That Toreth is in command of a warbird in spite of having a father who was arrested and apparently executed as a traitor suggests that she must be one of the Empire’s finest. It’s hard to disagree with any of the decisions that she makes; she’s simply outplayed by Troi, who as an empath has an unfair advantage. It’s a real shame that they meet the way they do, because there’s so much to admire about Toreth and enough she resents in the Romulan hierarchy that she’d make an excellent future contact. If I have a complaint with the ending of the episode, it’s that in her grief for N’Vek and the real Major Rakal – who was killed so that a Starfleet officer could take her place – Troi doesn’t spare a thought for Toreth, who will probably be held responsible for Vice-Proconsul M’ret’s disappearance since N’Vek isn’t alive to take the fall. Toreth may not be part of the underground – given her choice of career and her family history, it would probably be much too dangerous – but she’s clearly a moderate who believes her father was just an idealist and who despises the meddling of the Tal Shiar into the lives of loyal Romulans who want only the freedom to speak their minds. She is outraged when N’Vek kills the freighter crew without her order. She doesn’t underestimate Starfleet’s military might, and she doesn’t buy into the official propaganda that the Federation is weak and foolish, nor is she afraid to say so in front of her officers. It’s pretty clear that Troi believes Toreth and her ship pose a critical danger to the Enterprise.

In previous episodes, we’ve seen Troi as a very strong character when the whole ship is under duress – she’s always a cool head when there’s danger or a diplomatic crisis brewing – yet she doesn’t always deal well with personal stress, from little things like having her mother meddling to major violations by meddling aliens. I’m still boggled that it took everyone so long to figure out something was seriously wrong in “Man of the People” when Alkar was dumping his evil thoughts into her. She doesn’t cry out “Pain!” any more as she did in early seasons, but quite often she’s been shown as overwhelmed by her own empathic abilities or suffering when an enemy turns them against her. It’s so wonderful to see her wake up drugged and disoriented, discover that she’s been surgically altered, yet remain entirely self-possessed, arguing with N’Vek from the start and playing the role she must take on to survive. Obviously she must be terrified, yet she never shows it; she shows N’Vek anger and Toreth cool determination, because she knows that’s what will make each respond to Troi’s own interests. Despite what he has done to her, she apparently trusts N’Vek’s motives almost from the beginning, but she never has faith that his initial plan will work, and when the Enterprise puts in an appearance, she is ready with a plan of her own to bring about her own rescue – and more importantly, in her mind, to deliver M’ret safely to the Federation. Though Troi is outgoing by nature and usually quite chatty even with people who’ve been identified to her as adversaries, she understands the importance of saying as little as possible; when put on the spot by Toreth and interrogated about Rakal’s education and political beliefs, she does an expert job of turning the questions around, finding out information about Toreth that she will use to devastating effect later on. This is one of Marina Sirtis’s best performances and she doesn’t need to waste one second of it as eye candy.

And if we ever needed any proof of how much Picard counts on Troi, we get it when she introduces herself to him as Rakal and persuades him to lower the Enterprise’s shields. The two introduce themselves to one another before Troi offers a circuitous warning, reassurance and request, telling Picard that if he works with her to lower the tension, she will help defuse the situation. The crew understands that this is a request to lower the shields, and the consequences prove to be defused, as it were, but Picard takes a terrible risk – he knows from Sela that the Romulans are capable of torture and attempts at mind-control, he has no real way of knowing whether Troi is speaking of her own free will. Riker and Worf are clearly very alarmed to see her on that viewscreen in a Romulan uniform. Troi manages to persuade them all that she knows what she’s doing, then remains calm in Toreth’s custody until Worf and LaForge can coordinate a split-second transporter rescue. Through all the posturing, she remains very much herself: she is both devastated and furious when N’Vek kills the freighter crew, she is unnerved by how terrified the Romulans are of the Tal Shiar, she insults the Romulan food so she doesn’t have to eat it. When she deems it necessary, she threatens to behave like a Tal Shiar operative and turn N’Vek in as a traitor, though she must know it’s an empty threat since he could far more easily expose her as a fake Romulan; she just knows that she must negotiate at all times in the strongest possible terms, as a Romulan would do. It’s too bad she’s not on the Enterprise to try to get inside DeSeve’s head – we never get much of an explanation of either why he turned traitor or why he decided to come back to the Federation – I bet she’d have taken him apart in minutes.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: The Next Generation forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

Up Next