Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Preemptive Strike”

“Preemptive Strike”
Written by Naren Shankar and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Season 7, Episode 24
Production episode 40276-276
Original air date: May 16, 1994
Stardate: 47941.7

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is headed to a briefing on the situation in the Demilitarized Zone and also welcomes Ro back on board, as she has just completed Starfleet Advanced Tactical Training and been promoted to a full lieutenant. She’s a bit overwhelmed by the welcome-home party.

Upon receiving a distress call from a Cardassian ship, the Enterprise diverts and has to rescue the Cardassians from the Maquis. (Riker comments on the ridiculousness of firing on Federation ships to defend a Cardassian ship.) They’re able to drive the Maquis off and provide medical assistance to Gul Evek and his crew. Picard and Evek trade frustrations over the situation in sickbay, and then Picard meets with Admiral Nechayev. The Maquis’ ranks are growing, and they seem to be preparing for a military posture rather than simple self-defense against Cardassians who’ve harassed them in the DMZ.

They also don’t know where the Maquis actually are, and they need an undercover operative. Conveniently, they have the perfect person on board: Ro, who has just completed tac training, is Bajoran, and has a rough enough history that her cover story will be convincing. Ro accepts the assignment, mainly to validate Picard’s faith in her.

Ro shows up at a bar in the DMZ, followed shortly by Worf and Data who claim to be looking for her, saying she’s responsible for the death of a Cardassian soldier. A human says that she was there, but she just left. Worf and Data leave and Ro thanks the man, whose name is Santos. Santos then stuns her and brings her to a Maquis camp. Santos, along with two others, Macias and Kalita, interrogate her. The story is a mix of truth (her childhood, her prison sentence) and fiction (that she killed a Cardassian soldier, that she’s AWOL from Starfleet). Kalita and Santos check her story out while Macias shows her the camp and tells his story. He lived on Juhraya where Cardassian soldiers dragged him from his bed and beat him.

Her story checks out, and they welcome her to the ranks.

After a few days, they hear that the Cardassians are supplying Pendi II with biogenic weapons to be used on the Maquis. They need to make a strike, but they need medical supplies to treat the wounded following the strike. Ro offers to steal supplies from the Enterprise, which Macias agrees to, but Kalita insists on accompanying her, as she doesn’t entirely trust their new recruit yet.

Ro is able to spoof the sensor buoys on the border so they can traverse the border to Federation space without being searched. Then they go to the Topin system, which is filled with various bits of interference that make communications and sensors all but useless, and send out a distress call, claiming to be a science vessel. The Enterprise responds to the call, as Ro expected, and she’s able to penetrate the ship’s shields and beam the medical supplies from Cargo Bay 7. A piggybacked comm signal alerts Worf that she’s on board, so Picard has them play along to let them take the supplies and escape.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

That mission gives Ro the Maquis’ trust, so she’s able to meet with Picard. They plan to give the Maquis a target: supply false evidence of those biogenic weapons they’re worried about and lead them into a trap. Ro is having a bit of trouble with betraying people she’s come to care about, especially Macias.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

Three Cardassians ambush the camp and just start shooting indiscriminately. Macias is among those killed, and Ro is devastated. She later meets with Picard at the same bar where she was recruited insisting he cancel the mission. She’s getting cold feet, but Picard makes it clear that the mission needs to be completed. He sends Riker back with her to make sure she carries it out. (Riker is given Bajoran nose ridges and an earring, and poses as a relative of Ro’s. This is hilarious given what happened in “Conundrum”…)

The convoy goes into position and the Maquis move to attack it as expected. Ro, however, pulls a phaser on Riker and exposes the Starfleet task force hiding out in a nearby nebula. The Maquis pull out and Ro beams away to stay with them, telling Riker that she’s sorry she let Picard down.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The Topin system is full of plot-convenient interference that makes it easy for Ro and Kalita to be all covert and stuff. Though the plan would never have worked without Picard and the gang’s cooperation.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: When rescuing Evek’s ship, Picard asks Worf if he can detonate torpedoes between the Maquis ships and the Cardassian ship—which he does, a rather fine piece of needle-threading with high explosives. Because he’s just that awesome.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Ro grabs a random stranger and kisses him in the bar so Worf and Data won’t notice her when she starts her mission. Later, she and Picard pretend to be making out in a corner of the bar while having a clandestine meeting. (Which means Sir Patrick Stewart got to direct himself making pretend nookie with a hot chick. It’s good to be king…)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

In the Driver’s Seat: Ro relieves Ensign Gates at conn during the rescue of Evek’s ship.

I Believe I Said That: “When an old fighter like me dies, someone always steps forward to take his place.”

Macias’s last words.

Welcome Aboard: Michelle Forbes returns as Ro for the first time since the sixth season’s “Rascals,” and we find out what the character’s been doing all this time.

Richard Poe and Natalija Nogulich return as Evek and Nechayev, respectively—those two were also in “Journey’s End” and “The Maquis” on Deep Space Nine. Both actors will appear again in the same roles on DS9, Poe in “Tribunal,” Nogulich in “The Search Part 2.”

Shannon Cochran makes the first of two appearances as Kalita; she’ll play the role again in DS9’s “Defiant.” Cochran will also play Martok’s wife Sirella in DS9’s “You Are Cordially Invited…” and Romulan Senator Tal’Aura in Star Trek Nemesis.

William Thomas Jr. gets to be mildly slimy as Santos, John Franklyn-Robbins gets to be paternal as Macias, and Sam Alejan gets to be kissed by Michelle Forbes as the guy the in the bar.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

Trivial Matters: Ro’s career in the Maquis will be chronicled in various novels and comics: Rogue Saucer and the Dominion War novels Behind Enemy Lines and Tunnel Through the Stars, all by John Vornholt; Wrath of the Prophets by Peter David, Robert Greenberger, & Michael Jan Friedman; and Marvel’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Special #1 by Dan Abnett & Ian Edginton and Andrew Currie. After the Dominion War, Ro would wind up joining the Bajoran Militia and serving as Odo’s replacement as security chief on Deep Space 9 starting in the novel Avatar by S.D. Perry and continuing in the assorted DS9 post-finale novels that have been published since 2001. Ro has, over the course of several novels, rejoined Starfleet when Bajor became part of the Federation (Unity, also by Perry), and became executive officer and then commanding officer of DS9 (Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III). She currently holds the rank of captain.

This episode continues the storyline begun in “Journey’s End” and continued in “The Maquis” two-parter on DS9, intended to set up the Maquis and the upcoming spinoff series Voyager. The lieutenant commander Ro refers to who joined the Maquis was intended to be a reference to Chakotay, the eventual first officer on Voyager.

In the bar, we see a human of Native ancestry, a Klingon, and a dark-skinned Vulcan all near each other, a nice little preview of the bridge crew of Chakotay’s Maquis cell (Chakotay, Torres, and Tuvok) in the Voyager premiere episode “Caretaker.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

Nechayev makes reference to Picard providing her with canapés in “Journey’s End.”

This is Sir Patrick Stewart’s last time in the director’s chair, and the only one of his five directorial endeavors that did not have a heavy focus on the character of Data.

Make it So: “Goodbye, Will.” The last regular episode gives us the last of the recurring character sendoffs (Barclay in “Genesis,” Wes in “Journey’s End,” and Alexander in “Firstborn”), as Ro returns and immediately defects. Oopsie.

As part of the ongoing efforts of the writing staffs of both TNG and DS9 to give us the Maquis conflict that provides the spine of Voyager’s setup, this works nicely. Seeing a character we actually know and care about being seduced to the Maquis is an even more effective stratagem than some guy we’ve never met but who we’re told is an old friend of the lead (the Cal Hudson character in “The Maquis” on DS9, who’s a buddy of Sisko’s; it doesn’t help that the ever-mediocre Bernie Casey played Hudson). Ro’s the perfect character for this, too, as she’s never been entirely comfortable as a Starfleet officer, and as a refugee from the Bajoran camps, she’s got plenty of animus against the Cardassians.

But the story itself plods a bit. The beats are all depressingly predictable and obvious. Santos and Kalita are ciphers, Macias practically wears a neon sign that says “FATHER FIGURE” on his forehead, and everything proceeds exactly as you’d expect, particularly Macias’s oh-so-telegraphed death. It doesn’t help that Echevarria’s script is uncharacteristically clunky (much of the dialogue is flat and expository rather than conversational, even more so than is usual for TNG), and Stewart’s direction remains as lifeless as ever.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch  on Tor.com: Preemptive Strike

What makes the episode work are two performances. One is by the venerable John Franklyn-Robbins, who takes the walking talking cliché of Macias and makes him warm and convincing. Yes, he’s a bog-standard character whose dialogue can be seen a mile off, but Franklyn-Robbins’s warm smile and avuncular mien are eminently likable.

The other is by Michelle Forbes, who ends a nifty little character arc that began with her eponymous episode in season 5 and progressed nicely to this, where she comes full circle: once again making a decision that puts her on the outs with Starfleet. Forbes inhabits the character so completely, from her awkwardness at the reception in her honor to her playing the role of rebel, to her pain at thinking about her father (though that scene is one of the worst in the script, as just the mention of a musical instrument sends her into a tear-filled reminisce), to her decision to betray Starfleet and the Enterprise.

My main disappointment with the episode is that it focuses so much on Ro’s relationship with Picard that it ignores her relationship with Riker—though at least those two are paired up for Ro’s final scene. I love how Jonathan Frakes plays it—he doesn’t make any kind of effort to stop her, or even talk her out of it. He knows better than to try.

It’s a good sendoff for a character who deserved a great one.

 

Warp factor rating: 6


Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes them that celebrate a fine Passover or a good Easter. For the rest of us, well, we can just enjoy our weekend….

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