Monday, October 10, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Ensign Ro

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Ensign Ro"
Airdate: October 7, 1991
102 of 176 produced
102 of 176 aired


A Federation colony near the Cardassian border is attacked and a group calling themselves the Bajora claim responsibility. The Cardassians annexed the Bajoran homeworld decades ago and since Bajoran refugees have struggled make a home in the surrounding systems, and with this attack, it appears at least some of them are willing to go to extreme measures to press their case. With the fragile Cardassian treaty in the balance, the Enterprise is tasked with defusing the situation and finding those responsible. Toward that end, Starfleet sends them Ensign Ro Laren, a Bajoran and disgraced Starfleet officer. Can Captain Picard get to the bottom of this mystery and deal with the volatile and unpredictable Ensign Ro.
Sigh. Yes, I'll show you the hidden communicator trick again...


Kevin: This episode works on a number of levels for me. First, with the Klingon arc largely resolved, we need a new overarching enemy and the Cardassians are the most likely kick-ass candidate. This feels of a piece with "The Wounded." It keeps the same focus on the characters and their development while quietly developing a more complicated political problem. The episode does a really good job of giving me enough exposition to fuel the episode without getting bogged down in too much detail. The references to the Occupation married with Ro's haunted descriotion of her father's death gave the plot both breadth and depth. It also has the plan within a plan with a plan with a Rubik's cube feel that wil become a Cardassian hallmark. Moreso than any other major villain, the Cardassian felt the most complete and consistently realized right off the bat.

Matthew: This episode fails to work for me on a number of writing levels. I think the structure is fundamentally  flawed. We go from one guy with a funny sounding name to the next, lather, rinse, repeat, and don't get to the meat of the plot until 35 minutes in. We are given some really interesting pieces of info (Bajoran culture is millions of years old, and they're basically a combo of Israel and Palestine historically), and then are told nothing further about them. We are given an "intrigue" that fails to make sense, before, during and after it occurs.

Kevin: Married to the grand Machiavellian plots are some great character development. Ro is a great character. A lot of this goes to Michelle Forbes' acting, but the character is really well-realized right away. She is not merely someone with a bad attitude nor are her flaws attributed entirely to the tragedies of her youth. She's both. It's a much more nuanced approach than they could have gone with, and it pays dividends. In "Tin Man," we've seen Riker be almost a dick to the Guest Star With a Checkered Past, but there Picard was cautious, if not a little dismissive. Here, Picard is immediately hostile to her as well. It reads as completely credible for Picard to feel that way; it's just interesting that they didn't have him decide to take her under his wing from the teaser. It gives their scenes sine tension and makes the ending far more meaningful.

Kevin: This is also a good Guinan outing. I like when gets in people's faces as opposed to merely being serene, and all the scenes together felt organic. It makes sense Guinan would take to the outcast immediately, where the Starfleet officers wouldn't. It was also nice to see Guinan push against Picard on the basis of something other than her intuition. It gives their relationshio a little more teeth as well.

Matthew: As much as I think the A plot kind of sucks, I agree the B plot is good. Ro is a fun character, and grows out of a good impulse on the part of Berman and Piller - wanting to add conflict and a harder edge to a recurring character. It's nice to see that the Federation isn't a utopia machine, and that there are people on the wrong end of the stick who get screwed, even in the future. And Ro is a nice illustration of this - caught between two worlds, full of both self-hatred and bitter anger towards of those who failed to help.  That said, I was consistently annoyed by the "Everyone knows what Ro did" phenomenon. Is there some sort of Starfleet TMZ gossip blog or something? Why would Picard, Riker, AND GEORDI know all about her misadventure at Garon II, if she was just a lower-ranked officer?

Kevin: This episode is not without its flaws, though. The plot is just a little too complex for its own good. Were there really no other Bajorans in Starfleet? We know why Kennelly wanted her, but shouldn't that have been a flag to Picard in the first place. The Cardassians were apparently willing to risk outright war with the Federation to pursue a man who, by Picard's description is trapped on a moon. And don't even get me started on the three dimensional geography problems of an intergalactic border somehow being between two planets in the same star system, but whatever...None of these problems committ the mortal sin of derailing an otherwise well paced and engrossing episode.

Matthew: I'm going to disagree somewhat on this. I do think the unduly complicated political plot, and the utterly baffling motivations behind it, did knock this show down a peg as far as rating go. What in hell did Kennelly want out of his participation with the Cardassians? Money? Women? Kanar? A cure for his Cardassian Cold? Well, as far as this episode is concerned, none of the above. The Cardassians' motives are equally mysterious. How many people did they kill on Solarian IV? Seems like an act of war to me, one that "The Wounded" paints them as reluctant to engage in. Now, could there be answers to these questions that are plausible? Sure. But none of them are given in this episode, and it suffers for it.


Kevin: Michelle Forbes was asked back on the strength of her performance as Dara in "Half a Life," and...yeah...good call there, casting people. Her combativeness was supressed to just the right degree to keep her from being a cariacture and the scene describing her father's death is haunting. She really threw herself into the part and it showed. There's a reason she's one of the few female characters who aren't forgotten or written off the show.

Matthew: It's too bad Ro didn't get another set of scenes this juicy again in the series, because Michelle Forbes acted the living doo-doo out of this role. And no, "Rascals" doesn't count, because the best scenes were given to a kid. I agree on the torture story - truly exceptional acting, by any standard. Overall she created a strong and indelibly memorable character with all of her line readings and acting choices.

Kevin: The main cast didn't get as much to do this time, other than Picard. The conference scene was good though. Beverly's earnest attempt to be helpful with the bitchy comment by Ro was well done. I liked Picard's scenes sussing out the mystery and laying the trap for Kennelly. It again flt like it was harkening back to "The Wounded." Gul Dulac was appropriately thin and creepy, and Kennelly felt appropriately like the officious, corrupt official he was.

Matthew: Yeah, I kind of disliked "Shouty Riker" in this episode. To be fair, the lines were in the script, and maybe the director wanted more intensity. But it came off as shrill, which doesn't jibe with my usual "Riker's a cool dude" vibe. I'm going to chalk this up to acting choices, given the previous instance you mentioned ("Tin Man"). Crusher and Troi got shut down by Ro's character, which was too bad. But it did lead to one of the better Guinan outings. Whoopi Goldberg is consistently good as Guinan, but the character's advice felt more realistic and less cosmically wise here.

Production Values

Kevin: The Bajoran camp was well done insofar as the size and population. It felt like a lot of people lived in a small place. The costuming felt complete and not merely thrown together, and it relates nicely, but not exactly to the earth-tone knitwear of DS9 Bajoran clothes. The caves were pretty good and I remember funding Orta's mangled face really fucked up when I was a kid. It's still decent, but not earth-shattering. The Bajoran nose ridges are one of my favorite make-up jobs, actually. It's simple, but it plays really well on a lot of faces.

Matthew: I agree, the camp looked good - so good, that it can distract the viewer for a while from asking "Why in heaven's name has the plot taken us here? Get on with it!" The director, Les Landau, is clearly a pro at making a small number of extras fill out a set realistically. I liked the voice box that Orta was using. I'm always a fan of a visual equalizer on a piece of sound equipment.

Kevin: Orta's ship had plenty of detail, and here, the generic triangular ship actually made sense in the context of the episode. The Cardassian warships looked awesome again, but the phaser effect is still not as good as it will be in DS9.


Kevin: This gets a 4. The acting is above average, and the political plot while imperfect holds my attention well. This is a personal favorite of mine and it does a good job of expanding and introducing characters and plot arcs that will impact the rest of the franchise.

Matthew: I think this is a 3. I'm not going to give this a soft rating merely because it introduces a bunch of cool stuff for future stories (not that I am accusing you of such, Kevin.) The motivations behind the characters were far too murky for far too long, and they still didn't get paid off in the end by anything that made a lick of sense. Pacing was a bit languid. The sci-fi questions I wanted answered weren't. But Michelle Forbes kicks serious tooshie, and she saves this episode from doing any worse. But a 7 is still slightly above average, so let it not be said that we railroaded this one.


  1. Yeah I think your thoughts on this episode are good. It does seem odd that she is only bajoran or that Star Fleet personnel would not know that Ro is her last name.

    Also whats up with her uniform. Picard's looks like it opens in the back as do all the other main cast's. Opening in the front seems a lot easier. Does Picard have a cabin boy(I think Chris Elliot should have guest stared) that we don't know about to dress him.

  2. Was there a podcast recorded for "Ensign Ro"? The post is tagged with "Podcast" but there isn't a link...

  3. That's a good question, Bill. Since there is no picture, I'm thinking that we thought there would be one, but for some reason it didn't come off. We will investigate.