After the death of her grandmother, Beverly is visited by Ronin, a handsome and seductive disembodied man, who was once her grandmother’s lover. Overwhelmed by the intimacy of his presence, Beverly resigns Starfleet to live with him forever. However, when Ronin injures Picard and threatens other friends, she breaks free of his spell and destroys him. Ronin is explained to be an anaphasic life form who has kept alive by bonding with women in Beverly’s family for centuries.
Teleplay by Brannon Braga. Television Story by Jeri Taylor. Directed by Jonathan Frakes.
I like Dr. Crusher – she’s been one of my favorite characters for Next Generation during this whole re-watching exercise. And I like Jonathan Frakes as a director. Not all of his episodes have been brilliant, but for the most part his output includes some of my favorite episodes of the series: The Offspring, Reunion, Attached, etc. So I would like to say that Sub Rosa, the last episode of Next Generation to feature Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher in a starring role, and the last episode to be directed by Jonathan Frakes, is a brilliant example of that high standard. I’d like to, but I can’t. Because that would be a lie. And lying is wrong.
The idea of course is that Sub Rosa is meant to be Star Trek‘s take on gothic horror romance stories, complete with a Scottish setting, a handsome ghost, a fetching heroine in long flowing robes, and fog everywhere. The concept was apparently to fill the episode with as many of the tropes as possible while still giving everything a “science fiction” explanation. It’s a concept that’s not automatically doomed to fail–lots of modern Doctor Who episodes do the same thing–but it’s a bit of a strange fit for Star Trek. It’s an example of how the series in its last season seems to be flailing about a bit for new stories to tell. The production team seems more willing to try new stuff, but a lot of the time, like this one, it doesn’t really work.
I think that partly because the style of the episode is so different than normal, it all comes across as quite hokey. Instead of it being set primarily on a spaceship or a foreign looking alien world, it’s on a colony designed to look like a Scottish village. But it doesn’t really look like a Scottish village – it just looks fake. And that fakeness is more obvious because it’s different sort of artificiality than we normally see. The same goes for the story in general, which has an astounding scarcity of explanation for what is going on. Why does Ronin effect the weather exactly? Why is he dependent on those machines? And why is Quin such an extreme caricature. When Doctor Who does a story like this, they can pull it off because the show already has a sense of the ludicrous built into it, where Star Trek has always strived to have a sense of realism. As a result, they struggle more to throw in these unexplained details without looking a little embarrassed about it.
The worst offender in terms of explanations is Beverly herself: what is going on with her in this story? Is she just so taken with Ronin that she is really ready to give up her whole life to be with him? We’ve got to assume she’s being psychically manipulated in some fashion, right? Then why can’t the episode just come and out say so? Having said all that, Gates McFadden does give it her all in her final starring turn in Star Trek. Her commitment and energy almost makes the climax, where Beverly comes to herself again and fights back against Ronin, actually work.
Of course, you can’t really talk about Sub Rosa without at least acknowledging the incredible awkwardness of the way they portray Beverly’s “relationship” with Ronin, with him becoming a disembodied blob of energy and entering inside of her, sending her into rapturous fits. It’s an early example of something that this generation of Star Trek did more and more, where it would give science fiction excuses for making stuff highly sexualized. The end result is restrained, all things considered, but still pretty embarrassing.
• Michael Keenan plays Maturin. He was Patrick, one of a gang of genetically engineered humans in a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine, as well as a Mayor in Picket Fences.
• Duncan Regehr plays Ronin. What do I know this guy from? He was “Charles” in four episodes of the original TV series version of V. He also appears in three episodes of Deep Space Nine as one of Kira’s love-interests, Shakaar. He was the villain in the short-lived TV show, Wizards and Warriors (starring Jeff Conaway), and he played Errol Flynn in a TV movie called My Wicked, Wicked Ways.
Shout Out to the Past:
Beverly’s grandfather has been mentioned a couple of times before.
There are some semi-veiled references to Picard’s attraction to Beverly.
There is a reference to Dr. Selar.
• Beverly’s speech at the funeral is nice: “Most people on this colony will remember my grandmother as a healer, but her abilities went beyond that. She didn’t just relieve pain and fight illness. She knew that well-being is more than a healthy body. Her remedies often included words of advice as well as medicinal teas, and often they were just as bitter tasting.”
• The teaser is one of those in which tension is shoe-horned in to to just try to make it interesting. In this case, we see that Beverly apparently appears to feel oddly about one of the people at her grandmother’s funeral.
• Nice to see the increased friendship and connection between Beverly and Deanna, although Deanna’s advice is a bit strange.
• The crazy Scottish man comes in to warn Beverly of a curse, but can’t articulate himself enough to communicate everything.
• I don’t know if I’ve just been blind, but I’ve never noticed before that the Enterprise has chairs that have wheels on them (as we see in engineering), like in my office.
• The room is creepily filled with flowers. And how exactly did Ronin do that?
• Um, fog on the bridge.
• After that first encounter with Ronin, what’s going on? Is Beverly crazy or something? Does she know she has encountered a ghost? Is her brain scrambled?
• Beverly lights her candle with a little mini-phaser-lighter thing.
• Ronin’s re-appearance in Beverly’s room is a good but startling moment
• I like how oddly Beverly tries to leave the ship: “I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. I’m leaving Starfleet. Energize.”
• There’s a nice shot in the cemetery as Data and Geordi investigate.
• Picard seems to clue in quite easily that Ronin is something other than a normal being. I mean, I can see that he suspicious Ronin might be exerting an odd influence over Beverly, but how does he know that he’s not a known colonist on the planet?
• Exhuming the body is a much simpler process in the 24th Century
Dialogue High Point
I guess my favorite line is one that shows the subtext of Picard and Beverly’s potentially romantic relationship:
Jealousy doesn’t suit you, Jean-Luc.