Star Trek: The Next Generation: Ensign Ro   Rewatch 
March 25, 2021 3:37 AM - Season 5, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Picard confronts Bajoran terrorists and the Starfleet ensign nobody likes. (No, not him; the other one.)

I rarely refuse an interesting fan wiki:

• This episode features the first appearance of the Bajorans, who went on to be a focal point of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the original story, it was the Romulans who were occupying Bajor, but Rick Berman felt the Romulans had been seen too much and, remembering "The Wounded", had the occupiers changed to the Cardassians. Even though this episode proved an inspiration on the creation of the DS9 TV series, it was written at a time before that series was envisioned.

• Berman emphasized the Bajorans were not modeled on any one real-life group. "The Kurds, the Palestinians, the Jews in the 1940s, the boat people from Haiti – unfortunately, the homeless and terrorism are problems [in every age]."

• On Friday 2 August 1991, Paramount Stage 8 and 9 were visited by the Executives of Paramount Pictures. The call sheet featured a note that the two sets must be clean and lighted.

• This episode was created to introduce the new recurring character of Ro Laren. The producers hoped to add another character who could create some conflict, and preferably a woman. Berman explained, "The other characters in the cast are relatively homogeneous; some might even say bland. So we wanted a character with the strength and dignity of a Starfleet officer but with a troubled past, an edge."

• The name "Bajora" – at times used here to indicate both the Bajoran race and their terrorist group – is not heard after this episode in TNG, DS9, or VOY, but it is visible on a computer readout in "Conundrum". Later episodes of DS9 established named terrorist groups on Bajor, including the Kohn-Ma and the Circle.

• Kennelly states that the Occupation of Bajor has lasted forty years. Later references conflict with one another and Kennelly's claim. See the Inconsistencies section of the Occupation page for more information.

• The appearance of the Bajorans in this episode is slightly different; over each eye, there is a subtle ridge. These were dropped later and Ro Laren no longer has them in her final appearance in TNG: "Preemptive Strike".

• Michael Piller felt that the introduction of Ro was a success. "It's one of the season's greatest accomplishments. Not just by Rick and I, but by the acting of Michelle, who is just a wonderful performer. You don't just throw in new people because this audience is really particular about who they're going to make part of the family, but I've heard almost no resistance to Ensign Ro."

• Guinan tells Ro that "a very long time ago, I got into some serious trouble too, and I mean serious, and I'd probably still be there, if I hadn't trusted one man." The Star Trek: Stargazer novel Oblivion shows the backstory for the friendship of Picard and Guinan, including how Picard helped save Guinan. However, Guinan may have been referring to the events of "Time's Arrow, Part II".

"Mind if we join you?"
- Deanna Troi, asking Ro Laren if she and Beverly Crusher can sit with her in Ten Forward

"You were innocent bystanders for decades as the Cardassians took our homes. As they violated and tortured our people in the most hideous ways imaginable. As we were forced to flee."
"We were saddened by those events, but they occurred within the borders of the Cardassian Empire."
"And the Federation is pledged not to interfere with the internal affairs of others. How convenient that must be for you. To turn a deaf ear to those who suffer behind a line on a map."
- Keeve and Picard

"They're lost, defeated. I will never be."
- Ro Laren observing with Picard the Bajorans on Valo II

Poster's Log:
Was Badmiral "Sneezy" Kennelly's virus intended as a headfake for loyal TNG viewers who know how much this show likes to do stories about viruses?

I'm happy to report that this show does NOT forget about the Ro/Guinan friendship.

I agree with the remark that introducing Ro was a success. She both disrupts, and fits, this crew at this time, and better still, the season doesn't make the mistake of turning her into a Poochie the same way that VOY did with Seven. The "Greatest Gen" guys rightly point out the excellent performance of Michelle Forbes, and I'm going to go out on a limb and wonder, (in part because of her awesome speech about her dad here) if a lesser performer had been cast in this role, whether we would have even had a DS9—which is ironic because Forbes was intended to return to the role of Ro in DS9 (she turned it down).

I guess if I have a nitpick, it's only that, because the Bajoran/Cardassian stuff had so much potential (which of course DS9 would realize) and because we had to wait an awfully long time to have another woman added to the main cast after losing Yar…maybe Ro should've been introduced in season four? I know I've felt, in previous TNG rewatches, a twinge of "Ro, we hardly knew ye" at the end of season 7.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Memory Alpha makes no note of this, but players of The Sims 3 who are reading this might be aware that the made-up language spoken by Sims (called "Simlish" according to Mrs. Cheeses) contains a few easter egg utterances. One of them, always spoken in frustration at e.g. a broken toilet, is "Keeve falor!"

Mystery Science Theater fans may be gobsmacked to learn that Kennelly actor Cliff Potts played the "made-for-TV hippie" in the pilot of San Francisco International (riffed upon in MST3K's season six).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They definitely needed some new blood, and Ensign Ro is okay with me, but this episode is plotted really poorly, in my opinion. Admiral Sneezy is approached by a Cardassian operative, and convinced to clandestinely use the Enterprise to flush out and then summarily execute a group of supposed interstellar terrorists. He is later mildly embarrassed when he finds out the people he tried to have killed are not terrorists, and don't even have the capability to leave their own star system. Once again the writers take the easy out and blame everything on One Bad Admiral.
posted by skewed at 7:22 AM on March 25, 2021

Due to her appearance in the ancillary media (comics, the SNES game, the CCG of course, the playmates figure...) and because she appears in the next-to-last episode, she looms pretty large in my imagination as part of the crew of these later seasons. The memory cheats.

The scenes with Guinan are on point as usual. It's almost funny how spicy Riker is about Ro. "People wait years to serve on this ship!" Yeah dude, and we've seen you-specifically stop them from doing so with Shelby. Having some regrets?

Star Trek, in some mutated form, will return to the idea of a fallen officer getting one last mission.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:41 AM on March 25, 2021

I don't know why this one in particular feels like the final nail in the coffin of Roddenberry-era Star Trek, but it somehow does. Remember that one TOS episode where they talk about how they don't really have prisons any more and criminals just get super supportive therapy? Good times! Now there's an officer who just got out of jail, another who (presumably) is on their way there, and loads of internal conflict and Starfleet politicking. The show is pivoting from one in which the dramatic action hinges on all the strange and wonderful things we're discovering in our weird universe, to one which is primarily about the interactions between knowns (our crew, Starfleet, our recurring alien adversaries, etc.). That's not a worse show-- I'd argue that it's better, episode to episode, than Ye Olde Trek-- but it is less ambitious.
posted by phooky at 11:49 AM on March 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

That's not a worse show-- I'd argue that it's better, episode to episode, than Ye Olde Trek-- but it is less ambitious.

Oh, I don't know about that... Running from place to place keeps you on your toes, but you never develop a sense of place. You get a whole lot of planets of hats, and terribly little nuance. The sense of place comes up a lot later in TNG and DS9: there's (apparently) uninhabited M-class planets scattered around by the dozen, but do you want to uproot your society to move to one of them? (And if you've been displaced and ended up on one of these far-flung planets, why do you want to bother going back?) The 'societies' in question here include the Bajorans, the Maquis, and those Native Americans from S7. Probably more besides...

It's actually kinda surprising that the M-class planets are uninhabited. I would expect any rando disaffected group who could wrangle access to a warp core would find their way to one of them and try to set up a new civilization, according to their own rules. This in itself would be a fascinating basis for a show, reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin's Hainish books (dispossessed, left hand of darkness, word for world is forest). Look at all of these scattered worlds as social experiments, initiated by people that had a really strong vision of the worlds they wanted to build, and see where they ended up. Each world with its partisans and malcontents, arguing about why the Experiment isn't going exactly as planned.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:16 PM on March 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

phooky, I think that you may be remembering TOS a lot differently than I do. They do have prisons, and although the episode "Dagger of the Mind" initially states that Dr. Tristan Adams has done miracle work in the penal colonies, turns out that, whoops, he's actually been using a mind-control machine called the "neural neutralizer" to make it seem like people had been cured of their bad behavior. (Like a lot of so-called behavioral "miracle cures", it usually made people worse.) You may be conflating it with the episode "Whom Gods Destroy" which stated that most mental illness (not necessarily criminal) had been cured, with only a handful of incurable patients, including Garth of Izar. Both Kirk and Spock were court-martialed during TOS, to different degrees, and probably from TNG forward the showrunners reasoned that not all cases of criminal behavior were due to mental illness. (See also: Tom Paris, Kasidy Yates, Richard Bashir, Michael Burnham.) Personally, I think that we can have "all the strange and wonderful things we're discovering in our weird universe" and people who fuck up and maybe need to have a little redemption in with their boldly going &c. The paradigm that Roddenberry promulgated in the first few seasons, where Starfleet people were basically supposed to be perfect, really dragged on the show and the ability of scriptwriters to work around it, and Ro, along with Barclay and O'Brien, were part of the movement to make characters a bit more nuanced and interesting.

Anyway, I liked this one a lot, since, along with S4's "The Wounded", it counts as a sort of unofficial pilot/prequel to DS9. (You might also throw in "The Host", although the Trill would undergo heavy revision before Jadzia Dax appeared.) It's kind of amusing, knowing that Ro was originally intended for the role that became Kira Nerys, because she's got about the same exact hairstyle that Kira had in the first ep of DS9 (although not thereafter), and even though I wouldn't want anyone but Nana Visitor to have been Kira, I have to admit that Ro would have been a decent choice to square off against Benjamin Sisko; Michelle Forbes certainly has the acting chops. I also like the fact that the crew (Riker especially) wasn't too keen on her being assigned to the ship at first; it's in line with their being down on Barclay for screwing up, and we'll also see some of that with Sito Jaxa in her second appearance in the future. They're proud of their ship and maybe a little snooty about who should get the honor of an assignment to it. And so many of the key moments are just perfect: Ro talking about her dad; Guinan pointing out that, for someone who wants to be alone, Ro sure picked a hell of a place to do it (as the kids say, I felt seen); and when Guinan tells Picard, "She's my friend", Ro's glance at Guinan is just about everything. And, finally, the thing with the earring, although I don't know that we will know until DS9 what the real significance of it is for Bajorans.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

I've always loved this one because of Ro and her giant shoulder chip, and because of Ro making friends with Guinan by coercion, the storyline about displaced people and colonizers, and just...everything Michelle Forbes, man. I had forgotten she had that odious daughter role in a previous episode and only recalled her being on Next Gen in this role, and with it my dawning discovery across her subsequent appearances that maybe, huh, I wasn't as 100 percent straight as I'd always thought I was. (Although I also remember how incredibly hot those scenes were where she and Picard are pretending to negotiate for...uh, time with each other toward the end of the show and I'm sure that I mentally wrote many a Ro/Picard fanfic in those days before I had learned about fanfiction.)

Knowing now what we know of the dude showrunners, it's kind of astonishing that a cool character like her and like Guinan could even be on this show, but I'm very grateful to it. The scenes where Riker's bellowing at her just kill me now, he's such a freaking pompous blowhard and she's just burning with "fuck you" energy. I stan one (1) queen.

It was fun to see the barber again--I can't recall, does he appear again? (Is he a barber or a full-service stylist? Because the women on the ship definitely have some complicated 'dos.)
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:02 PM on March 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

You've all talked about the admiral! And Riker's attitude. So I will just note some things I noticed.

I like when Ro takes off her service blouse to put around the child when they first arrive at the camp. It goes from being a garment that seems to be one piece (or zips up the back like the old style?) to being a jacket that Ro takes off and then drapes over the girl's shoulders. And Ro's com badge: that's a neat trick how it goes from the outside of her uniform to her undershirt with no effort from Ro.

I love Guinan and have been and always will be opposed to any canonical effort to fleshing out the history of her friendship with Picard. It just works so much better being explained with vague clues like in this episode.
posted by Fukiyama at 6:58 PM on March 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Premiere included Mot the Barber as a joke character with a joke skill that didn't do anything in the game. Why, we'll never know. The game also takes a somewhat harsh view of Ro Laren: 4 integrity and Treachery, yeowtch. A little later we got End Transmission, which, Wes can explain in some detail.

This episode was mined for Cardassian and Bajoran cards after they were introduced as affiliations in the DS9 set of 1998. Dolak, Keeve Falor, and Orta are all decently powerful.

In the game's second version, Keeve was reduced to a 1 cost skill filler. Guinan, Listener is a key TNG faction personnel, exemplifying that 'mutual advantage' mechanic typical of Fed cards. Ideally, you use those 5 points to immediately play At What Cost? And effectively double your card plays on that turn. This time around, Mot acted as effectively a free personnel that didn't count toward your the resources your opponent could deploy to thwart a mission attempt.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2021

Oh yeah, the game also took a fairly dim view of Mot's Advice.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2021

One of the many things Roddenberry had ideas about was clothing closures, and how by TNG they'd be basically invisible, though usually there's at least the appearance of a seam. As for the badge, maybe Ro has just practiced a lot of close-up magic.

(As I recall, in production there were actually different pieces that were worn for open jacket vs closed, and they would use the magic of editing to avoid ever showing a zipper.)
posted by ckape at 8:05 PM on March 28, 2021

Don’t forget good ol’ Barber Pole!
posted by Guy Smiley at 7:36 AM on March 29, 2021

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