Following reports of terrorist activity apparently committed by the Bajorans, a population displaced by the Cardassians, Admiral Kennelly assigns the disgraced Bajoran Ensign Ro to the Enterprise. The Enterprise attempts to make contact with the Bajoran refugees in order to see the terrorism end, but Ro eventually confesses that she is under secret orders from the Admiral to offer the Bajoran leader Orta weapons in exchange for cessation of his terrorist activities. In reality, the Admiral is working with the Cardassians to set up Orta for death, and in even more reality, the terrorist attacks were not committed by Orta at all, but rather by the Cardassians in an attempt to convince the Admiral to help them. Ro helps Picard to uncover all of this. At the end, in spite of her troubled past, Picard offers Ro a permanent place in his crew.
Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by Rick Berman and Michael Piller. Directed by Les Landau .
Ensign Ro is a surprisingly excellent episode. “Surprisingly” not because I remembered it as being poor, but rather because I didn’t remember it very well at all. I knew it introduced the new recurring character Ro Laren as well as the Bajorans, who would go on to have such a key role in Deep Space Nine, but that was about it. Reviewing the episode reveals an engaging politically-driven plot that deals with the social reality of displacement, an issue that is sadly as relevant today as it was when the show first aired. The plight of the Bajorans is well-told, with no easy solutions on offer, making it one of the series’ strongest and most believable science-fiction parallels to a current world reality.
Another aspect of the script which is strong is the dialog. Particularly, Ensign Ro gets a lot of good lines, as does the Bajoran leader Keeve Falor. Examples include Ro saying, “Most Bajora these days accept the distortion of their names in order to assimilate. I do not,” and Keeve telling Picard, “We live in different universes, you and I. Yours is about diplomacy, politics, strategy. Mine is about blankets.” Strong writing like this helps to keep the political and character-driven scenes–of which there are many–engaging
Of course, the centerpiece of the whole episode is Michelle Forbes’ excellent performance as Ro Laren. She makes an immediate and strong first impression, and is a welcome addition to the series recurring cast. Ro is an example of a character-type that we haven’t had much opportunity to have around as a regular figure on Star Trek prior to this, and is as much an indication of Gene Roddenberry’s decreased involvement in the series as anything else (indeed, the episode aired only weeks prior to his death). For a while, you think the story is going to reveal that Ro had some secret noble reason for disobeying the order that led to her shipmate’s death and her own court martial, but they never go there: this is just somebody who has genuinely screwed up, apparently due to her own fault, and had to pay for it. That is refreshing.
Ro’s creation anticipates others that Star Trek will eventually bring us. I’m thinking in particular of Deep Space Nine’s Kira Nerys (a character developed when Forbes refused to reprise her role in a regular capacity) and also Voyager’s Tom Paris (another character who found redemption by serving Starfleet after major blowing it.) Ro is also sort of cut from similar cloth as Tasha Yar, in that she’s a young woman with a deeply traumatized and troubled past, except that she’s a measurably superior and better developed character. In fact, if Tasha had been a bit more like Ro from the beginning, things might have turned out a lot differently for the series.
On the downside, none of the regulars aside from Patrick Stewart’s Picard come across very well in this episode. Both Beverly and Geordi are made to appear a bit superficial or prejudiced, and the others are purely functional. But in this case, the strength of the interplay between Picard and Ro, as well as Guinan (who is put to good use), more than makes up for it.
• Michelle Forbes makes her first of 8 appearances here as Ensign Ro. She had previously appeared in Half a Life, and had roles in 24 and Battlestar Galactica.
• Frank Collison played Gul Dolak, a part he apparently reprises a couple of times on Deep Space Nine, albeit uncredited (see below). He also appeared in one of my favorite films, O Brother, Where Art Thou? as Wash Hogwallop, the cousin of John Turtorro’s character who turned over his kin to the police at the start, and whose wife had “R-U-N-N-O-F-T.”
• Jeff Hayenga plays Orta, a part that he also reprised uncredited in a couple of Deep Space Nine episodes (see Setting Up the Future, below)
• Harley Venton (Ensign Collins) will reappear as Chief Hutchinson in Hero Worship.
• Ken Thorley will once again play Mr. Mot (although with an extra “t” added to his name) in Schisms, and play another character in Time’s Arrow.
Shout Outs to the Past:
We get another Bolian hair dresser on board the Enterprise. The last one was seen in Data’s Day.
The Cardassians show up for the first time since The Wounded.
Setting Up the Future:
The Bajorans will have reclaimed their homeworld by the time Deep Space Nine begins (in fact, that’s the event which more or less precipitates the series). Indeed, Deep Space Nine will spend a lot of its 7 year run dealing with the ongoing issues between the Bajorans and the Cardassians.
Of course, Ensign Ro will appear several more times in the series. Mr. Mot the barber will also reappear once.
Apparently, but both Orta and Gul Dolak will be seen several more times as “Wanted Posters” in Odo’s office in Deep Space Nine.
• Mr. Mot’s comment about not colonizing so close to the Cardassians anticipates the whole Maquis issue not long from now
• This is only the second episode of Star Trek to be written by Executive Producer Rick Berman, and the first written by Berman and Michael Piller together. These are the same two who would go on to create Deep Space Nine together, which this episode did much to set up.
• The Bajoran home world is referred to here as “Bajora”, as opposed to “Bajor” as it later came to be known
• Apparently, Starfleet is unaware of Bajoran naming conventions just as much as they are unaware of various human naming conventions, like that of the South Koreans.
• A good exchange between Ro and Keeve–Keeve: “Simply because of one terrorist attack? Perhaps I should have known that. We should have attacked the Federation long ago. What do you think of that, Ro?” Ro: “I think you’re a small man who feels a rush of power in his belly and enjoys it far too much, Keeve. Stop talking and listen.”
• I like it when Picard tells Ro off. Ro: “Captain, I’m sorry, but I–” Picard: “This is not a discussion. You’re restricted to your quarters for the remainder of this mission. Dismissed.”
• There is reference to the never-rully-revealed history between Picard and Guinan.
• Interesting diplomatic dialog between Picard and the Cardassian
• And Picard gets the final zinger in against the duplicitous admiral. “Perhaps they were hoping to find someone in Starfleet like you, Admiral, naive enough to solve their Bajoran problem for them.”
Dialogue High Point
My favorite line is one of several excellent ones from Ro. She says, after hearing about Crusher’s experiences at a function with one notable Bajoran…
I would go to the camp on the southern continent of Valo Two. Find a man named Keeve Falor. He has no diplomatic experience. And he won’t ask you to dance.