“Face of the Enemy” is one of the most concrete examples of the ways Troi’s character expands and becomes so much more awesome in the last few seasons of the show.
It’s an episode where the main conflict is between two strong, complex women characters, and it’s not over a man!
It’s also just a really enjoyable episode, which is why I chose it as one of my top picks of Star Trek episodes directed by women.
So to recap, before the credits, Troi wakes up, looks in the mirror, finds out she’s been transformed into a Romulan, only with greater-than-average eyeshadow and lipstick for a Romulan.
After the opening credits, a Romulan dude, Subcommander N’Vek, comes in and starts giving her orders. He tells her she has to pretend she’s Major Rakal of the Tal Shiar and must order the Romulan Commander Toreth to alter the ship’s course. Troi’s empathic abilities are a huge bonus here, as she can sense no deception from N’Vek so is able to decide it’s probably wisest to go along with him, even though he can’t tell her more now.
On the bridge, Troi meets Toreth.
Side note: one of the reasons I love the Romulans is that the women do seem truly equal. No “green-skinned space babe” trope here – Commander Toreth and most of the other Romulan women we meet dress in the same goofy, quilted football-player-shouldered outfits as their male colleagues, and are treated with the same respect.
Anywho, Toreth is a BAMF soldier, but she does not like the Tal Shiar. Troi grows into her new role quickly and shuts down the discussion like a true member of an elite, highly-feared secret intelligence agency.
Toreth: Ah. The Tal Shiar is deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the military. I’m sure that every person on the Bridge of this ship could offer testimony about personal experiences with the Tal Shiar, but I doubt that many could recall those encounters as tender and caring. So I must ask you to forgive me, Major, if I hesitate to accept your assurances that that cargo presents no danger to my crew. I intend to open those containers.
Troi: That cargo is the property of the Tal Shiar. You will not touch it.
Toreth: On whose authority?
Troi: Mine. And if you do not wish to undergo another personal experience with the Tal Shiar, I suggest you not question me again.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Picard and co are picking up a former Starfleet officer who defected to the Romulans and is defecting back again, after having finding their hair cuts really don’t suit him.
The Ensign tells Picard he’s helping Spock’s Romulan resistance movement and Spock has asked Picard to take the Enterprise to the Kaleb sector to pick up some important cargo.
Which, we find out back on the Romulan warbird, is a high-ranking Romulan government official and two of his aides, in stasis.
N’Vek tells Troi the plan is to rendezvous with a freighter in the Kaleb sector, which will take her and the containers back to Federation space.
Before then, though, she has to go to dinner with Toreth and the other officers. Imagine having Thanksgiving dinner with one of your exes, someone you never really liked in high school, and the aunt who keeps pressuring you to settle down, then multiply that awkwardness by 10.
It’s a great scene for both Toreth and Troi. Toreth does her best to unnerve Troi/”Major Rakal” and show how much she disparages the Tal Shiar and their lack of ethics.
Troi: We ensure the loyalty of the people. Do you believe the Empire would be better off without our protection?
Toreth: Protection? From what? How was the Empire threatened by the words of an old man, a devoted citizen who merely tried to speak his mind? How did the Tal Shiar protect the Empire by dragging him, my father, out of his home in the middle of the night?
Troi: Clearly, your father was a traitor.
Toreth: No. He was just an idealistic old man. I never saw him again.
Troi: I don’t need your devotion, Commander. Just your obedience.
Toreth: And that’s all you have.
Just then, they get word from the bridge that they’ve detected the freighter. They head up, but as soon as they hail the freighter Captain, Troi can tell he’s lying about something. She whispers this to N’Vek, who fires on and destroys the ship, and then totally throws “Major Rakal” under the bus, claiming she ordered it.
Instead of freaking out like you know she’d probably wants to do after 18 people were killed in her name, Troi doesn’t break her cool. She gets all up in Toreth’s face, who condemns the killing in no uncertain terms.
In the cargo bay, she and N’Vek regroup. Troi is clearly agitated and angry at N’Vek. He has a backup plan, though – Troi will order Toreth to a Federation base and give them the access codes for the sensor net to escape detection.
She pulls off another confrontation with Toreth, who’s understandably reluctant to head into Federation space, even cloaked. When they cross over, they find the Enterprise, who’s been scanning the freighter debris.
They proceed, trying to avoid detection. Troi goes back to her quarters, where N’Vek meets her. She tells him they need to send a message to the Enterprise and she has had enough of him calling all the shots.
Troi: We’re not playing it your way any more, N’Vek. I’ve been kidnapped, surgically altered, put in danger I’ve gone along with all your plans. Now you are going to listen to me. You find a way to let the Enterprise track us, or I will go to Toreth and tell her I’ve discovered you’re a traitor. I’ll order you ejected into space. Is that clear, Subcommander?
N’Vek finds a buddy who can sabotage the engines to allow the Enterprise to track them, but Toreth becomes suspicious of the Enterprise’s behaviour. She orders the pilot to fly them directly under the Enterprise’s hull to see if they move. “If they do, I will destroy them,” says Toreth.
And they do, so then Troi has to take over the ship to stop Toreth’s attack. By threatening the Tal Shiar will come after all of them and their families, she removes Toreth from command and opens a channel to the Enterprise, saying she will trick them into lowering their shields.
She tells Picard she is Major Rakal and would like to transport to the ship to discuss the situation peacefully. Picard agrees, knowing it’s really Troi, and as they lower the shields, Troi gives the order to fire.
But! It’s N’Vek firing so we know it’s ok – the shot barely does any damage and the bodies of the three government dissidents materialize on the Enterprise bridge. It’s obvious pretty quickly to everyone else that Troi is not Tal Shiar. Toreth takes back control. N’Vek tries to draw his weapon but is shot by the pilot.
Toreth says they’ll interrogate and execute Troi, but the Enterprise beams her back in the nick of time and all is well.
My only slight disappointment with this episode happens at the very end when Picard visits Troi in Sickbay and she doesn’t want to take any credit for her awesome job. “The thanks should go to N’Vek,” she says. But luckily Picard sees she deserves no small share of the credit and replies, “Thanks to the two of you, the way has been paved for further rescue operations.”
What we learned this episode:
- Troi has skillz
- Complex women villains are possible!
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass, big time.