Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Ensign Ro”

“Ensign Ro”
Written by Rick Berman & Michael Piller
Directed by Les Landau
Season 5, Episode 3
Production episode 40275-203
Original air date: October 7, 1991
Stardate: 45076.3

Captain’s log: Picard’s haircut is interrupted by a distress call from the Solarion IV colony, which is proximate to Cardassian space. Bajoran terrorists (referred to in this episode as “the Bajora”) claim responsibility for the destruction of the colony, saying that there will be no peace in the sector until their homeland is restored to them.

The Enterprise brings the survivors of the attack to Lya Station Alpha, where Picard meets with Admiral Kennelly. The Cardassians annexed Bajor forty years earlier, and they’ve had issues with terrorist attacks by Bajorans that entire time—but they’ve never attacked Federation territory before. However, a militant splinter group, led by a man named Orta, has formed recently. Picard’s orders are to find Orta and bring him in—and all Picard is given to offer Orta is amnesty (which he won’t want) and a promise that the Federation will work quietly, behind the scenes, to deal with this (which he won’t be impressed by, given the generations of suffering of his people).

To make matters worse, Kennelly has assigned a new officer to the Enterprise without consulting Picard: Ro Laren, a Bajoran who was responsible for an incident on Garon II involving the U.S.S. Wellington, and whom Kennelly got out of prison in order to help with this mission.

Ro beams aboard, greeted by Riker, who insists that she follow Starfleet uniform code by removing her earring. (This is an order Riker has never given to Troi when she’s out of uniform, or Worf when he wanders around with his baldric, but then again, they’re people the commanders of the ship actually trust.)

Picard and Riker meet with Ro, where it’s obvious that she’s got a chip on her shoulder roughly the size of Jupiter. They don’t want her there, and she doesn’t want to be there, but it’s better than prison, and it’s not like any of them has a choice. Ro then leaves the meeting without waiting to be dismissed.

The Enterprise proceeds to the Valo system, a destination for many Bajoran refugees. Data suggests contacting Jas Holza, an ad hoc leader, whom Crusher met at a diplomatic reception (and who’s an excellent dancer, apparently). Ro shoots this notion down—Holza is the token Bajoran that people invite to symposia and receptions, but he has no real weight. She suggests talking to Keeve Falor; he has no diplomatic experience and he won’t dance.

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He meets with Picard, Data, Worf, and Ro, who shows them their refugee camp. Keeve refuses to help Picard. He does disagree with the attack on Solarion because the Federation are innocent bystanders. When Picard asks why, then, he won’t help, Keeve says it’s because they’re just innocent bystanders.

Because the Federation and Cardassians now have a treaty, Picard says that the Federation can now work diplomatically to help the Bajorans in a way they couldn’t before. Keeve is less than impressed—Picard’s world is about diplomacy, but his is about blankets. Without hesitation, Picard orders Data to provide a blanket for every person in the camp, and Worf to make sure that the camp’s emergency needs are all provided for.

Then Keeve is willing to help, promising Picard to have an answer for him as to Orta’s whereabouts soon.

Picard acknowledges Ro’s help, but she says that the blankets helped; she did nothing useful. Her people, who should be as technologically advanced as the Federation, are instead defeated, destitute. She will never be defeated, which is why she ran away.

Keeve keeps his promise, and directs the Enterprise to Orta. Ro sits alone in Ten-Forward, rebuffing Crusher and Troi’s attempt to be friendly. After getting an earful from La Forge about how Ro doesn’t belong in the uniform and that he’d never turn his back on her, Guinan goes over to talk to Ro, where it’s revealed that she didn’t defend herself at her court martial. Eight people died after she disobeyed orders.

Afterward, she gets a private subspace call from Kennelly. The next morning, Ro beams down six hours early. Picard, Worf, Troi, and Data beam down without Ro to an empty meeting site—only to be ambushed by Orta.

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To everyone’s shock, Orta does not claim responsibility for the attack on Solarion IV. He’s happy to admit to attacking Cardassian targets, but not Solarion. Besides, he doesn’t have the resources to leave the Valo system.

Picard also confines Ro to quarters for leaving the ship without authorization. Guinan comes to Ro’s cabin to talk. There’s more going on than anyone on the ship realizes, and Ro doesn’t know who to trust—not even herself. Guinan says that a long time ago she got into some very serious trouble, and the only reason she got out of it was because she trusted Jean-Luc Picard.

Guinan brings Ro to Picard, and she explains that she did have authorization to beam down—from Kennelly. The admiral had told Ro to offer Orta weapons in exchange for coming back to the camps. Picard is aghast—more so when he realizes that Ro’s been in touch with Kennelly since reporting on board.

Ro knows that the mission is wrong, but she felt she had no choice. When she was seven, she watched her father get tortured to death by the Cardassians, and she was ashamed to be Bajoran. As she grew older, she understood the fallacy of that feeling, but it never went away. When Kennelly offered her a chance to save her people, she jumped at it, not wanting to be ashamed anymore.

But she hasn’t actually made the offer to Orta yet, because when he disavowed the attack on Solarion, nothing made sense anymore. She didn’t know who to trust, and she hasn’t spoken to Kennelly since.

Picard proposes that they do exactly what they were supposed to: bring Orta back to the camps, and then see what happens.

The Enterprise escorts a Bajoran ship—which has neither visual communication nor the capability of going faster than half impulse—to Valo III. En route, they are challenged by two Cardassian warships. Gul Dolak requests that the Enterprise withdraw and allow Dolak to destroy the Bajoran vessel, as it’s a known terrorist carrier.

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Picard talks to Kennelly. Dolak knew exactly where and when they would be present in the Valo system. Kennelly says his priority is to protect the Federation-Cardassian treaty, but Picard says he sees no way to do that without sacrificing the Bajorans. Kennelly—a little too quickly—says, “If that’s your call, I’ll support it.” But Picard won’t do that. Kennelly says he’s not seeing the big picture, but Picard sees a different picture. He imagines the Cardassians going to Kennelly after the attack on Solarion and saying that they have a common enemy—maybe the Federation can find Orta where they couldn’t.

Kennelly won’t admit that the whole point of the mission was to hand Orta over to the Cardassians, but he does order Picard to withdraw and leave the Bajorans to Dolak. Picard follows those orders, and Dolak’s ships blow up the Bajoran vessel.

When Kennelly calls for a report, Picard reveals that no hands were lost when the Bajoran vessel was destroyed, as it was empty and controlled remotely. Picard suspected something like this would happen. Kennelly is furious—”They’re terrorists, dammit!”—but Orta wasn’t responsible for the attack. Their ships don’t even have warp drive—they couldn’t have travelled to Solarion, much less attacked it. No, it was the Cardassians who manipulated events in general and Kennelly in particular to draw Orta out.

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After it’s all over, Picard convinces Ro to stay in Starfleet. Reluctantly, she accepts Picard’s challenge to do so—but only if she can wear her earring…

There is no honor in being pummeled: The Bajorans are able to ambush Picard and Worf easily—apparently. It happened off camera, so we’ll never know.

If I only had a brain…: Data suggests Jaz Holza as the best person to contact, no doubt based on research. Ro shoots him down in fairly short order.

Syntheholics anonymous: Guinan gets Ro to come out of her shell, insisting that she’s lying when in Ten-Forward she says she wants to be alone, because you don’t come to a bar to be alone. Ro declares her to be unlike any bartender she’s ever met, and Guinan says she’s unlike any Starfleet officer she’s ever met, which strikes her as the basis for an interesting friendship. Later, Guinan’s declaration that Ro is her friend carries significant weight with Picard.

In the driver’s seat: When not causing trouble or being confined to quarters, Ro gets to fly the ship.

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I believe I said that: “Am I disturbing you?”


“Good. You look like someone who wants to be disturbed.”

Guinan introducing herself to Ro.

Welcome aboard: Cliff Potts is the stereotypical Doofus Admiral character that has become a Trek cliché over the years. Ken Thorley makes an entertaining debut as Mr. Mot, the Bolian barber who has opinions about everything. Scott Marlowe (as Keeve) and Frank Collision (as Dolak) make no real impression, but Jeffrey Hayenga is most excellent in his one scene as Orta.

But the most important guest is the stellar Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren, kicking off one of TNG‘s best recurring characters, a role she got after impressing the producers with her performance as Dara in “Half a Life” the previous season.

Trivial matters: In many ways, this episode sets up Deep Space Nine, as the Bajorans and their conflict with the Cardassians—the backbone of the spinoff series—is established here. In addition to introducing Bajorans in general, this episode provides a new recurring character in Ro Laren, who will continue to appear periodically for the rest of the series.

The Cardassians are also firmly established as recurring villains. They’ll next appear in “Chain of Command.”

The producers wanted Forbes to move to DS9 along with Colm Meaney, but she didn’t wish to be tied down to a regular series, allegedly. (Three years after DS9‘s debut, she would become a regular on Homicide: Life on the Street for two seasons.) Ro did wind up on DS9 eventually in the novels, becoming the station’s security chief in the post-finale novels that began with Avatar by S.D. Perry, eventually moving up to executive officer and then commanding officer of the station, as seen in the recent Typhon Pact novels.

This episode is the first of several references to Picard’s aunt, Adele, who apparently had many cures for things. Her cure for the common cold was ginger tea, which Picard provides for Kennelly.

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Mot is the third Bolian barber on the Enterprise, after V’Sal in “Data’s Day” and an unnamed one with no dialogue in “The Host.” Mot will only appear once more, though he’ll be referenced a few times. Having the bald Bolians be barbers is an obvious, if moderately entertaining, joke.

Ro’s early life on Bajor is chronicled in the Terok Nor novel Night of the Wolves by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison. Her disastrous mission to Garon II while serving on the Wellington was shown in the 1994 DC comic book TNG Special #2 written by Michael Jan Friedman.

Both Jas Holza and Keeve Falor appear in the Terok Nor novel Day of the Vipers by James Swallow, which chronicles the earliest days of the Cardassian annexation of Bajor. That novel sets up both characters’ roles in this episode.

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Orta returns in your humble rewatcher’s The Brave and the Bold Book 1, which has him finally returning home two years after the Cardassian occupation of Bajor ends (during DS9‘s second season), and which also provides his background.

Guinan’s trouble that she got out of by trusting Picard is chronicled in the Stargazer novel Oblivion by Michael Jan Friedman.

The term “Bajora” will only be used one or two more times before being dropped in favor of “Bajoran” (which is also used in this episode). Your humble rewatcher established that the people of one of the old nation-states on Bajor before it became a unified world were called the Bajora in the novella “Horn and Ivory,” and the dialogue in this episode can be interpreted to mean that “the Bajora” is the name of Orta’s terrorist cell (like other cells established on DS9 such as Shakaar, the Kohn Ma, the Circle, etc.).

The Bajoran tradition of family name first, given name second is fussed over to a great extent, with Ro refusing to be called “Ensign Laren” to “assimilate,” and Keeve later thanking Picard for honoring him by calling him “Mr. Keeve” instead of “Mr. Falor.” This bit of Eurocentrism is completely ignored in future, as it should be, since there are plenty of human cultures (Chinese, e.g.) that practice that tradition, not to mention various other odd nomenclature structures around the Federation. This tradition should be neither problematic nor difficult, and while it’s a point against the episode that it is here, at least the producers had the brains to realize that it shouldn’t be going forward.

Make it so: “All is not what it seems to be, Captain.” Like “The Wounded,” the episode that introduced the Cardassians, this is an episode that works even more strongly in retrospect because of what it established. While “Ensign Ro” would still be a fine story if we never saw Ro, the Bajorans, or the Cardassians ever again, that it set up so much that would continue to recur on not just this show but its next two spinoffs makes it all the more impressive.

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The Bajorans have been considered analogues for Palestinians, Jews, Kurds, Haitians—the sad reality is that you can pretty much pick and choose. History is full of people who have had their homes taken from them, forced to become refugees.

And that’s part of why they’re effective—but they also are because we get to see them be people. Ro, Keeve, and Orta all have different perspectives on their people’s plight, and they all respond differently to the Enterprise‘s presence. Ro ran away—Keeve takes a shot at her for that—and doesn’t want to be ashamed anymore. Keeve has worked tirelessly to help the people who are starving and suffering, while Orta just wants to blow stuff up.

In general, Ro is a welcome addition to the crew, a bit of piss and vinegar to add to the syrupy mix of homogeneity that the TNG cast tends to be. These are friendly professionals who respect each other—it’s fun to have someone out of the mold who can stir the pot a bit.

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The plot itself is fairly predictable, but the politics are nicely complicated, the double-crosses well played, and the acting work by Sir Patrick Stewart, Michelle Forbes, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeffrey Hayenga, and Jonathan Frakes (as the pissed-off voice of the crew who don’t want Ro on board) is superb. A strong episode on its own, but made stronger by its legacy.


Warp factor rating: 8

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be appearing at Annie’s Book Stop in Worcester, Massachusetts this Saturday, the 9th of June, from 2-5pm, for an autographing/reading/Q&A. Please come on by!


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