Jun 8 2012 3:30pm

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation,

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!

1. Seryddwr
First! Hopefully...

Agreed - a splendid episode. Admiral Jerkoff's annoyance when he bridles at Picard's scheme at the end is priceless. And the series says hello to the Bajorans. Retconning 'Bajora' is easy enough, isn't it? Just like retconning 'the traitors of Kling' *sigh* in 'Heart of Glory'. (Also, Patrick Stewart says 'Bajaran' in his final speech to the admiral. Must be that, ahem, French accent.)
Michael Burstein
2. mabfan
"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."

I'm hoping that the thread doesn't go this way, but as a meta-discussion, I remember when the episode first came out, a minor controversy erupted on Usenet regarding just who the Bajorans were meant to represent.

-- Michael A. Burstein
Keith DeCandido
3. krad
Michael: Sadly, as I said, there's no shortage. Which is exactly the point -- they, in essence, represent all of them....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
4. rowanblaze
Call them nits, but the crew's (Riker's) ignorance of the Bajoran family name being first and the prohibition on a cultural/religious body decoration bug me. There are plenty of Earth cultures, like China, where the family name is first, that should have been in every Bajoran Personnel file, and probably several others. Ro was not the only Bajoran in Starfleet, given the dialogue of this episode, probably not even the first.
Keith DeCandido
5. krad
rowanblaze: Ooooh, right! I totally forgot to mention that in the rewatch. Luckily, there's an edit function..................................

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Danis Brunet
6. Danis
Thank you, Mr. DeCandido, for clarifying the reason Michelle Forbes did not make the move to DS9. I had been told at the time it was because she had made unreasonable salary demands.
I wish Ms. Forbes had been on DS9. I always preferred Forbes acting style to that of Nana Visitor. I was glad that Picard convinced her to stay at the end of this episode. I had grown fond of the character on TNG and I think I would really have enjoyed following her character on DS9. I have not read much Star Trek fiction beyond a few of William Shatners’ novels but thank you also for pointing out fiction that expands on her character. I will check those out of the library in short order!
7. Christopher L. Bennett
I wish they had kept the "Bajora" usage on DS9. I get so sick of alien names ending in "-an" or "-ite." Also, didn't they emphasize "Bajor" on the second syllable in this episode "bu-zhor," before switching it to "bay-zhor" in DS9?

A more significant thing that was changed between here and DS9 was the focus on refugees. As Keith says, this episode was largely an allegory about the plight of refugees, and the Bajora/ns were talked about here as though all of them had been forced to leave their planet and become refugees. But DS9 presented them as a people who'd been subjugated while living on Bajor, and paid very little attention to the huge refugee population that "Ensign Ro" established. They did establish that Kira had been raised in a refugee camp (eventually called Singha), but the implication in later episodes was that it was somewhere on Bajor (which is confirmed by the behind-the-scenes map of Bajor that's duplicated in the DS9 Companion, where the "Singha Resettlement Center" is in Rakantha Province). So I think DS9's producers just forgot the original idea that the Bajorans were scattered offworld.

What always strikes me about this is the scene where Ro takes off her uniform top to give it to a shivering child -- and the uniform suddenly goes from being a one-piece garment with no front closure to a two-piece with a jacket that opens in front. I get it that the implicit idea was that it was a futuristic garment where the seams were invisible when sealed, but elsewhere in the episode, you could see that her uniform did have a seam/hidden zipper down the back, so it's not quite convincing.
Bradley Beek
8. beeker73
I absolutely LOATHED Ro Laren when I first watched this episode, and all "Ro" episodes that followed. I even transferred that feeling to Michelle Forbes, and refused to like anything she did.
As such, I was not looking forward to watching this episode again. To my great surprise I enjoyed the episode, and didn't loathe Ro.
Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho
9. ajk
It isn't even Eurocentric, as there are Europeans who follow the same custom.
Alyssa Tuma
10. AlyssaT
I always really loved Ro Laren, and thought that Forbes did a very good job of balancing the right amount of vulnerability, pig-headedness, and (justified) outrage needed for the role, along with a sweetly endearing desire to do right by Starfleet (despite the said chip on shoulder).

Last summer I suffered through a meandering and deeply disappointing season 1 of AMC's The Killing. One of the biggest drags week after week was watching Forbes' performance as a mother near catatonic with grief. Not that she didn't do a good job, it was just... HEAVY, man. So, it was nice to see her in something a bit "sparkier" than that.

Also, someone needs to tell Riker that the jerk store called and they're running out of HIM!
Cait Glasson
11. CaitieCat
And of course Forbes would be seen again more recently on BSG as the lethal and lovely Admiral Cain, another difficult but fascinating character. Part of her gift is that she's really good at that kind of I-should-reallly-hate-you character.
j p
12. sps49
Bajorans, yes, Michelle Forbes, yes, but why did we need Cardassians? Romulans would've been better.
13. Christopher L. Bennett
@12: I'm not sure "The Neutral Zone"'s premise that Romulans had been inactive in interstellar affairs for over half a century is compatible with the role of the oppressors of the Bajoran people for the previous four decades. Also, the premise of "Ensign Ro" required that there be nominally good relations between the Federation and the aliens in question, so that they could request Federation assistance and manipulate the admiral. That works with the Cardassians since there's a treaty as of "The Wounded." It wouldn't work with the more overtly hostile Romulans.
14. StrongDreams
Also, someone needs to tell Riker that the jerk store called and they're running out of HIM!

Maybe it's the exec's job to be the jerk that the captain can't be. The captain has to be the diplomat, respected by the entire crew. When the captain gives an order, the crew is expected to jump, even if it is a questionable order that puts their lives in danger. The captain has to persuade someone like Ensign Sito to volunteer for a suicide mission, and make her think it was her idea. The captain can't do that if Ensign Sito thinks he's an ass.

But the exec, on the other hand...
j p
15. sps49
@13- So you are right and I didn't think through the details. I still liked the Romulans (and Klingons) as opponents, and never really liked the TNG villains- the Ferengi were laughable, the Borg overpowered, and the Cardassians just annoyed me.
16. dav
Great episode, but the rest of the Ensign Ro episodes pale in comparison. I did always love the Cardassians too. Best creature/makeup design. Just got tired of the bumpy foreheads so I needed a suction cup forehead instead.
17. Earl Rogers
It always struck me funny that the absolutely ridiculous outfits they tolerated on Troi for several years were apparently considered normal and appropriate for the Bridge -and- for private sessions with her patients, yet that actually very mild and inoffensive looking earring was a sign of a rebel.
18. Christopher L. Bennett
@14: Except that the first officer is supposed to be the one with the most direct day-to-day, hands-on interaction with the crew, the one who works with them to carry out the captain's orders. So he should be the nicer, more accessible one. We even saw an aspect of this in the pilot when Picard asked Riker to be a cushion between him and the ship's children.

@17: Remember, Ro was a convicted felon whose disobedience was blamed for the death of eight crewmembers. She was released from prison to go on this mission. So she wasn't just an ordinary officer coming aboard the ship. She was a convict out on probation. So she wasn't granted the same level of freedom that another officer would've been -- not until she earned it. It wasn't about the earring, it was about whether she could be trusted to obey orders and follow the rules. So Riker wasn't going to grant her any latitude and was going to hold her to the strictest letter of the regulations.
19. Earl Rogers
18: Then why the heck is Data allowed to do anything by the commanding officers, given that he apparently can turn into an unstoppable ship-hijacker with the flip of a switch?

Consequences: They're only for non-main characters! And sometimes Worf and Picard.
20. Christopher L. Bennett
@19: Data was never charged with a crime, convicted, or sent to prison. Plus he's earned his commanding officers' trust. At the time Riker made Ro remove her earring, he didn't know her, and only knew her reputation as someone whose disobedience had cost lives. Once he did learn to trust her (and once her sentence had been permanently commuted), he allowed her to wear the earring.
21. JasonD
I always preferred Kira to Ro. Ro never struck me as nuanced enough to be the lead of a spinoff. Kira worked because of the unique mixture of toughness, vulnerablility, and spirituality, and I don't think it would have been as convincing coming from Ro.

And as had been said in the rewatch, Ro's earring being objected to so heavily could be because she's not trusted, or coming off like she's better than the room. You could argue that Worf's baldric is the same thing, but it really isn't when compared to an elaborate body piercing. And Troi started wearing the uniform more often when she got promoted to command. Not wearing the uniform would make her seem more approachable and less intimidating, IMHO.
22. bmac
I have a memory of an interview / remark by Patrick Stewart in which he indicated that he thought to play it that Picard was a bit attracted to Ro (even in this episode) - not in a way he would ever act upon, obviously, but there are perhaps some subtle signs here. (And less subtle ones in "Preemptive Strike".)
Joseph Newton
23. crzydroid
I found the earring thing pretty offensive just in retrospect given what was established about Bajoran religious custom later. I get that Riker didn't trust her as a convict, and tried from the get-go to set some discipline with her, but this is basically the equivalent of asking a Muslim to remove her head scarf/hijab. Granted, we didn't know that back then, and I'm not sure if Riker knew.

And CLB--thanks for noticing the thing about the jacket! We were watching this and I was like, "Wait a second...she gave a jacket to that kid, and then the rest of the time she's wearing the jumpsuit version." And now that I think about it, even Picard's two-piece has a zipper in the back, not the front. Also, I always found it odd how their communicators magically jump to the tank top whenever someone takes off the outer layer of his or her uniform.
24. DianeB
Me? I just love the way the novels fill in blanks and turn Guinan's throwaway line to Ro into an entire story of its own. I was never interested in the Stargazer series - now I am, at least in Book 4. :)
Alyssa Tuma
25. AlyssaT
@23 -- Spot on. This rewatch thing is tricky, because we know a great deal now how the Bajoran culture will be developed (well, those of us familiar with DS9, at least). I was probably unfairly projecting that knowledge on Riker. Had the Bajorans been dumped as a storyline after this episode, it probably wouldn't have struck a nerve. But still, it's hard not to wince a little when the implication is made by Riker that Ro's earring is the equivalent of, I don't know, one's teenage daughter getting a tattoo and dating a guy with a motorcycle -- petty, immature rebellion -- when we know it's so, so much more than that. (Plus, it's a bit freaky to see crabby Riker... like when an easygoing teacher you really respect yells at you. Yikes!)

Also, this uniform/jacket conversation is cracking me up!! For me, it's just always alarming when we see a member of Starfleet's skin (other than faces, hands, and Troi's cleavage, of course). I recently rewatched an episode of DS9 and found myself simply fascinated by O'Brien's bared forearms! It's like Victorian England or something!! :)
26. Mike kelm
I truly love the character of Ensign Ro because unlike the rest of the crew, she isn't quite the best and brightest with the cleanest record. Its a little more REAL to me and contrasts nicely with the rest of the crew. I thought Rikers treatment of her was excellent because he feels proud of his ship, his crew and the reputation they've built and doesn't want anyone screwing it up. In many ways I think Ro is what the crew might be if they didn't grow up in the idealistic paradise that is the federation.

In that same vein I think the banjoran story is also much more realistic, even from this early point because it isn't clear cut good or bad- its shades of gray. The planet, it's people and circumstance is pretty much the terminator line where light and dark meet in the galaxy (which realistically should be true of all the empires in tng).

Lastly, I applaud Michelle Forbes for her portrayal of this edgy, tormented character. You can tell her character is troubled by not only her past in starfleet but as a bajoran, yet she finds herself in a position to start anew with Picard, which she doesnt feel she deserves. A lesser actress might not be able to pull it off nearly as well. You can see parallels in her role as Ro and her role as Admiral Cain on BSG. Cain is what Adama could have been without the strength and guidance of President Roslin, just as Ro would have gone back to being a convict without much contribution to society without Captain Picard.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
27. Lisamarie
I can appreciate some snark. But then, I also liked Pulaski. I like Crusher too, and I can see why it was jarring for people that she was gone for a seaon, but since I knew going into it she was only there for one season, I liked her, except when she was hassling Data ;)

I don't really have much else to add - I haven't watched much of DS9 so I only know a cursory amount about the Bajorans, although I do feel the episode stood alone pretty well.

Random queston - was Kennelly actually going to offer them weapons, or was that just part of the 'bait' to flush them out? I am thinking it's the latter since there didn't seem to be huge repurcussions for him...
Adrian J.
28. LightningStorm
While it might have been nice to have Ro Laren move to DS9, I think having a Bajoran who lived through the whole occupation and was a resistance fighter and even afterward was not apart of Starfleet was a great and even important dynamic to have on the station.

If Ro went to DS9 I'd think she would have replaced Ben rather than Kira. Think of the tension and conflict between two characters like Ro and Kira, that would have been epic, watching a friendship form there from two very different personalities where one would naturally distrust the other and Kira would probably have written her off as a coward or possibly even a collaborator of sorts for running away and letting her people suffer.
29. SpockSedai
I always thought the trouble to which Guinan referred to Picard as having helped her out of was related to the events in "Time's Arrow".
30. rowanblaze
@21 JasonD I'm not sure about how the earrings were eventually portrayed in DS9, but Ro's is clearly shown on screen as being only a clip-on and easily removed, in some ways even more simply than Worf's baldric.

There are any number of extra-canonical reasons characters like Worf and Troi do not have completely standard uniforms, Worf's baldric sets him apart, and (as with the Bajorans) his back-story was not fully established at his first appearance. The Klingon was basically there to show how far they'd come in the years between TOS and TNG. Remember, at the time there had been no "Undiscovered Country," no Khitomer accords. So Roddenberry showed a Klingon on the Bridge, the Federation was at peace with, and had maybe even absorbed the Klingon Empire. (At the time, who knew?) Knowing what we know now about Worf—a by-the book-officer, if there ever was one—he would never have worn the baldric "out of regs," even as a proud Klingon.

Troi's counseling outfits had the already-mentioned "canonical" function of putting patients at ease as a counselor, the production reason being the Rule of Sexy, YMMV.

My issue with the Riker and the earring is that—right in this episode—it is established that the earring is a cultural religious symbol to the Bajoran people. Even if Riker didn't personally know this, the utopian culturally sensitive Starfleet would have, and it would have been an exception in the uniform regs. It is this cultural insensivity, the not realizing surnames come first and the banning of the earring, that is jarring for me in this episode.

One last comment on the name confusion. Most modern military uniforms have some form of nameplate or patch. I realize that Starfleet doesn't, but if they did, there never would have been a question about how to address Ro, because it would've been on her uniform.
Keith DeCandido
31. krad
rowanblaze: Sorry, no -- nothing in this episode establishes it as a religious symbol at all. Indeed, there is no mention whatsoever of spirituality in this episode. The only thing we know is that most Bajorans wear single earrings. Period. The cultural significance of the earring isn't explicated until DS9.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
32. DarthSkeptical
Keith's being hyperbolic when he claims this episode sets up DS9.  

Sure, this is the first appearance of Bajorans, but the complete absence of the religious element of Bajoran culture means, to my mind, that we're really not being introduced to Bajor at all.  We're just laying down the basic "oppressed people" metaphor.  That's nothing new in Star Trek.

If you never watched this episode, you'd have zero difficulty in understanding Bajor from just what's available on DS9.  "Ensign Ro" is  more like that quaint Golden Age origin story for a comic book character.  Or, more relevantly, like "The Host" is to the Trill.  It's a curiosity.  A thing that DS9 completists watch.  If you're watching it as a TNG fan in broadcast order, it does not whet your appetite for a whole show about these people. And for TNG fans, I'd argue the more important element is probably the Cardassians, since there are TNG-only impacts later on down the road with the Cardassians ("Chain of Command", "Journey's End", etc.)  But if the goal of a "set up" is to make the audience want more, it does absolutely nothing, in my view, for the Bajoran culture.  If you'd told me on the day I watched this for the first time that they were going to make a new Trek show that pivoted on these Bajora people, I'd have laughed in your face. 

As for whether it sets up Ro herself — who really cares?  She's only in 7 more episodes over the next three years.  I've always rather resented the fact that this episode was essentially a giant waste of time.  The producers took an entire episode to introduce us to a character who didn't stick around, and a culture that was better explained later.  Even the Cardassians are better (re)-introduced in that episode where O'Brien has to talk his former CO down.

I would rather have used the time on a flashback to Geordi's "origin tale" — or any sort of increase in our knowledge about any of the regular cast — than this essentially false advertisement for a new regular character.  Naming the episode "Ensign Ro" is either one of the lazier — or the most cynical — acts the TNG writing staff ever performed.

 "Here she is, folks:  ENSIGN RO!  We hope you like her, cause we're going to sweep her under the carpet almost immediately after this debut."

I know she's had a great life in books, but her televised existence never lived up to the modicum of potential of this episode.  Which makes this episode a sore reminder of unfulfilled promise — not the joyous start of something big.
33. Christopher L. Bennett
@32: The episode "sets up" DS9 in the sense that it introduces the Bajorans and their oppression by the Cardassians. Of course they didn't know at the time what that would lead to, but Bajor wouldn't exist without this episode.

Perhaps it might be more to your taste to say this was one of the key episodes that inspired DS9's backstory, along with "The Wounded" (for Cardassians, and for O'Brien as a major player), "The Host" (for Trill), and "The Price" (for wormholes and galactic quadrants, and for Ferengi as comic foils) -- as well as The Rifleman (for the premise of a man and his son settling in a rundown frontier setting) and Terminator 2 (for liquid shapeshifters).
Darth Skeptical
34. DarthSkeptical
Christopher, I don't know that the mere mention of a race or species is enough to count as "set up".  The Bajorans we see here are as different as the ones that form the basis of DS9 as Trills in "The Host" are to Dax.  Only the most cursory of similarities is shared between this episode and what comes later.

Beyond the obvious lack of religion, there's this concept of a diaspora.  I guess it's plausible enough that a few Bajorans would have been living offworld at the time the Occupation started.  But I have a hard time with the notion of full-on refugee settlements. Indeed, I'm not sure we hear of such a thing in any part of DS9. 

On DS9, it's stressed over and over again that the Bajorans are slaves on their own planet.  Or at least within their own jurisdiction, as with DS9 itself.  

In rather stark contrast,  "Ensign Ro" paints a picture of a "Bajoran diaspora".  Picard says you can find pockets of Bajorans on many different worlds, clinging to existence as "pariahs".  The Admiral says that the Cardassians kicked the Bajorans off Bajor.  And that just doesn't ring true to me.  The whole point of the Occupation is that the Cardassians kept the Bajorans on Bajor — or outright killed them.   It was like the Holocaust: people being forced into labor within a train ride of their homes.  Cardassians used Bajorans as stock.  They didn't, as this episode implies, allow refugees to escape.  Again, I'm not saying that it's completely implausible that there were some refugees.  But this episode suggests a major diaspora, and there's never evidence of that in DS9. 

And I suppose that's what I really don't like about this episode and Ro herself.  What this episode does is point Ro towards the Maquis ending she eventually gets in TNG. It establishes her as a refugee who might have a grudge against Cardassian/Federation border treaty.  Only, it doesn't do that.  She's directly confronted with the issue of the existing Cardassian/Federation border treaty in this episode, and she doesn't seem bothered in the least by it.   

Moreover, it's just not the fight we have in DS9 at all.  It's just plain wrong that she's more interested in borders than Bajor.  It's even more wrong in her final appearance that she's lured away from Starfleet to join the Maquis because a Maquis appeals to her "Bajoran-ness". I can see such an appeal working to make her in some way help the cause on Bajor.  But why is she sympathetic to the Maquis when she tells us here that she deliberately ran away from all of this?  It's an attempt at a kind of "full circle" approach to her character that doesn't really make any sense.  A home cooked Bajoran meal is supposedly the reason that she goes back on her position in this story, which is pretty lame as motivation goes.

Worse, Ro's entire television story more or less assumes that you aren't watching DS9.  If you are watching DS9, or are at least aware that Ro's appearance on the Enterprise is roughly concurrent with the end of the Occupation, Ro's not just an "individual" Bajoran, not simply an iconoclast.  It's not that she's marking out different territory than Kira or the other Bajorans we meet.  She's behaving in a fundamentally illogical way for not only a Bajoran, but herself.

There 's never a good reason given why she would go back on what she says here about why she ran away: "They're lost, defeated.  I will never be."   Okay, if she'll "never be" defeated, why does she throw her lot in with Maquis, when she could be helping her own, recently-liberated planet thrive again?  

Suggesting that "Ro" actually sets up any of the narrative of DS9 is hyperbole.  I don't even think it works as a setup for the character as purely used on TNG.  "Preemtive Strike" muddies Ro's character too much to make this episode terribly relevant within just the TNG canon.  And I personally think the depiction of Ro here as a runaway is largely ignored by writers using her in later DS9 books.  That she supposedly got command of DS9 by entering the Bajoran militia and then by being re-commissioned by Starfleet is, frankly, far-fetched based on this episode.  I just never felt like Kira would ever have wanted an officer like Ro, given that Ro deliberately ran away from the fight for Bajor, and then chose the Maquis over the rebuilding of Bajor.

To me, this is simply an episode that hasn't aged particularly well.  It probably held some interest on first broadcast, but was invalidated just a few months later by the premiere of DS9.  I think, too, that if you watch DS9 first and then go back to pick up this episode, it'll probably seem a lot more out of place than if you watch everything in strict broadcast order.  

At the end of the day, Ro through the prism of Kira doesn't work as well as Kira through the prism of Ro.
35. Christopher L. Bennett
@34: First off, I think you're defining "set up" both too literally and too rigidly. Obviously Keith didn't mean that it was an intentional prologue to DS9, because DS9 wasn't even a glimmer in their minds yet at the time this episode was made. What he means is that it established elements that were later built on by DS9. You're dwelling way too much on a minor point of semantics.

Second, the difference between this episode's portrayal of a Bajoran diaspora and DS9's portrayal of Bajor as an occupied planet doesn't bother me, because there are countless examples throughout history where refugees poured out of an occupied or wartorn nation while plenty of other people stayed in their homes. For instance, right now there are over 3 million Afghan refugees around the world, and there were considerably more a few years back, but there are nearly 30 million people still living in Afghanistan. So while "Ensign Ro"'s writers may have intended to imply that all Bajorans were refugees, there's no problem reconciling its portrayal of a large refugee population with DS9's portrayal of a large indigenous population, because that's consistent with most refugee situations in real life.

And Ro having different attitudes and priorities from other Bajorans isn't a problem because it would be bad writing to treat every member of an alien race as a uniform stereotype with only one way of thinking or one set of goals. In particular, it makes perfect sense that someone who's grown up among the refugee population would have a different psychology and outlook from someone who grew up on occupied Bajor itself, simply because they're different environments. (Although the Terok Nor novel trilogy has Ro growing up on Bajor and leaving as an adult.) It's not inconsistent or illogical for two members of the same species to have different beliefs. After all, you and I have very different beliefs about this episode, and I assume we're both human.
Darth Skeptical
36. DarthSkeptical
I'm being semantic, of course, but not overly so.  I just don't think this show can be said to even casually set up DS9.  It's so different from the situation that DS9 proposes that really nothing here is seen on DS9, aside from the very simple notion that Cardassians occupied Bajor.  The precise method of occupation, the goals of that occupation, the response of the Bajorans, even the response of the Federation — all of it is substantively different just in "Emissary" alone.   

As for whether refugees are created by war, of course they are — on Earth, in real life examples.  But it's just not what's posited on DS9.  There's never a sense on that show that the Cardassians let Bajorans go.  They killed them, or they used them as labor.  And you can enforce that sort of thing on a global scale with space ships in orbit and teleportation dampeners and, well, insert technobabble here.  The Bajorans can be analogous of various peoples on Earth without being an exact match because of the existence of Treknology.  The Cardassians are portrayed in DS9 as having the desire and the wherewithal to detain virtually all Bajorans.  Here, they are said to have created a diaspora of Bajorans out into what Picard calls "many worlds", where they live like beggars.  It's effectively saying the precise opposite of what DS9 does, so how can it be considered "set up"?  

It's more like, "Here are all these new ideas. But the only things you need to remember is that Cardassians don't get along with Bajorans and Ro has some sort of ill-defined chip on her shoulder.  The rest of it, you can forget."  

As for differences in personality between Kira and Ro, sure, it's bad writing to have them be exactly the same.    But Ro's goals just don't make sense within the context of TNG alone.  "Preemptive Strike" posits a total change of outlook from what she says about herself in "Ensign Ro", but doesn't adequately explain that rather seismic shift.  It's not that she's joining the Maquis to help her own colony.   That alone would be bizarre, because she firmly states in "Ro" that she deliberately ran away because these people were "defeated".  But if she were defending her own, adopted home, then at least you could say it made emotional sense. Unfortunately, that's not what TNG tells us Ro did.

No, she's left Starfleet to join other defeated people to do what?  Defend the notion of bad borders in general?  It's really very unclear, and it's certainly antithetical to what happens in this episode.  In real life terms, Ro's Maquis turn is like a French refugee in England not returning to France at the end of World War II, but instead going to fomerly Polish Belarus — where she doesn't know a soul — in order to help violently overthrow a treaty that in no way affects France.  

I mean, yes, the Poles who were suddenly displaced by the Allied Tehran Conference treaty are your spiritual allies.  Yes, you went to war with the Poles to defeat the Germans.  But if France hasn't been free for years, and you suddenly get it back, it's not plausible that your immediate concerns will be Poland.  

Not only are the goals behind Ro's departure from Starfleet unclear, but the triggering agent is rather unsatisfactory too.  It seems that she decides on a radical overhaul of her life because of a meal shared with a stranger.  Worse, Picard/Riker's reaction to her departure is like they think she's resigning or something.  But "Ensign Ro" says she was on some kind of "probation" in this episode.  "This assignment was better than jail," we're led to believe.  And we're certainly told that it was a mission-specific release at the the end of the episode.  Instead, Picard pulls some strings and extends her stay on the Enterprise.  So shouldn't they be trying to haul her ass back to a court simply because she's violating the terms of her prison release? 

Leaving DS9 completely off the table, "Ro" dosn't work because almost nothing that it allegedly "sets up" comes to anything, just in TNG alone.  They make her out to be a criminal serving time.  Never really touched on again.  They make a big deal about the earring, but there are ample occasions in later appearances where wardrobe continuity inexcusably forgets about it.  They make her out to be "above" living in squalor, but then they return her to a wholly different kind of destitution in her final outing.  Picard commits to a goal of honing her into a fine officer,  but that never happens.  There's a tiny suggestion that she goes to some sort of tactical training school at his behest, but mostly she's in episodes that don't advance this goal at all.  She's made a child, she's made Troi's contentious first officer, she's made cloaked, she's made to repeat the same actions over and over again, she made to fly the ship on several occasions — but, no, she's never made into whatever great officer Picard believes she can be in this episode.

So, yanno, maybe this episode is good in isolation.  But its impact on the rest of TNG and the broader Trek narrative, is minimal.  No, scratch that.  It's actually a negative impact because future writers actually do the opposite of most is what is laid out in this episode.  Not just with Ro, but with just the fundamentals of the Bajoran story as well.  And the complete abandonment of the Maquis plotlines in both Voyager and DS9 mean that the meant that the" Ensign Ro" Ensign Ro simply disappeared into a cul-de-sac.

"Ensign Ro" is an artifact, liked ridged-headed Trills, or "fierce" Ferengi or Robert April.  It's not really a part of the dominant Trek mythos.
37. Christopher L. Bennett
@36: "There's never a sense on that show that the Cardassians let Bajorans go. They killed them, or they used them as labor."

See comment #7. Early DS9 episodes did mention refugee camps, building on what "Ensign Ro" established, though in later seasons the producers claimed those camps had been on Bajor.
38. Nick P.
@Alyssa T.
"Also, someone needs to tell Riker that the jerk store called and they're running out of HIM!"

Thank you, I love when Seinfeld and TNG collide, it is so rare that it is truly magical when it occurs!!!!!!!
39. Thistlefizz
I agree when Riker makes Ro remove her earring it's irritating, and I also agree this is because of the significance that we apply to the act in retrospect. We know now that the earrings are religious in nature, but at the time of this episode's airing, that had not been estasblished.

While the fact that the earrings have religious symbolism may not have been set up until DS9, Starfleet still seems to not approve of them. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Learning Curve" this issue comes up again when Tovok makes the Bajoran Maqui crew member take off his earring.

By this point in the production timeline, the writers of the show knew that the Bajoran earrings had religious significance. So, this action by Tuvok, makes it look like Star Fleet doesn't give a flying f*** about the Bajoran people's religion. And, in a weird way, it retconns Riker's actions, showing that this is Star Fleet's policy (to make Bajorans remove their earrings).
40. uv
Love this episode! Ensign Roe is perhaps my favorite character (or at least one of my faves). The scenes with her and Guinan are awesome. (Guinan is also a contender for my favorite.)

In a way, Roe reminds me a bit of what I think Tasha Yar SHOULD have been like. Although Denise Crosby's acting needed improvement, I think most of the blame goes to that the dialogue lines her character was given were such that even a great actress wouldn't have been able to do much with them. Sad waste of an interesting character.
41. Kellia
Such a solid episode. Diplomatic relations that are anything but straightforward, conflicts that aren't black and white, social commentary that's actually very nuanced, and a truly interesting new character with some rough edges.

The terrible (and obviously, like from the very first scene obviously) evil Admiral is unfortunate--at this point I have a headcanon that the higher ups in the Federation are almost uniformly entrenched and corrupt. If you want to get completely plastered, you can play a drinking game where you read the episode plot summaries and take a shot every time a highly respected outsider who comes onto the Enterprise turns out to be obnoxiously rude or evil or crazed.

But! It's easier to talk about the faults of this episode than to explain why Ro works so well--she's just a dang good character. I had assumed she would take the usual guest star route and disappear after an episode (or two), so I was really surprised and excited to learn that she becomes a reoccuring character. I absolutely agree with @40 that she's something of what Tasha Yar should've been. Really makes you realize what a missed opportunity Yar was.
42. Babushka
I just have to say this since no one else is saying it. But Ro wore her earring on the 'wrong ' side. Not only does she not seem spiritual in a "Kira" sense, Ro also ran away from her people. She was ashamed of herself and her father and her people. Her own father! Even if a child internalizes shame on account of a trauma, they mourn the loss of a parent....Ro never seems to show that sort of brokenness. She then turns to the Maquis (one of the most useless rebellions ever) instead of joining the rebuilding of her homeland. I just want to say what I've been trying to say — Ro is evil. Haha, yes I said it. She wears her earring on the side which signifies a loyalty to the Pah-wraiths. So, take it for what it is. Always hated her arrogant mannerisms anyway. I think, also, that Guinan should pick better friends & people who get other people killed for insubordination should NEVER be allowed to pilot flagships!
43. Nightstrike
This episode makes me cry. First, any screen time from Whoopi is a pleasure in the worst case and a godsend in the best. In fact, I remember reading one time on these Star Trek Universe cards that added Guinan to an episode anytime Whoopi was available. The magic scene between Picard, Ro, and Guinan is exactly why -- "She's... my friend." That very line is why.

Beyond that, Ro is a perfect character. Troubled, evil at times, but we love her and want her to succeed and come out on top. We can relate to her. We all WANT to be Picard (who doesn't?), but who are we really? We're Ro, plain and simple. We're human. We screw up, we get into trouble, we don't know how to deal with it, and we hurt the ones we love in the process.

My only complaint is that Michelle made the Denise Crosby decision to bug out of Trek in the mid 90s. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Who knows, maybe if she stuck around, we wouldn't have had Bakula kill the franchise.
Keith DeCandido
44. krad
Nightstrike: All Forbes's sticking around would have done is deny us Nana Visitor's Kira Nerys, and that's not a price worth paying. Plus, it gave us Julianna Cox on Homicide: Life on the Street. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
45. NightStrike
krad: I'm probably going to make some enemies here when I say that I actually disliked Nana's portrayal of Kira. I've rewatched up to S2E4 so far, and... I dunno... Laren made me feel. Kira is just annoying. Different strokes, I guess. I'll probably comment more when I catch up on your DS9 posts.

BTW, happy to see that you're still responding to new comments for people like me that are late to the party. Thanks for that! :)
Keith DeCandido
46. krad
Kira is one of the my two favorite Trek characters and one of the strongest characters in the entire history of the franchise. So there, nyah nyah. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
47. Lisamarie
Who is your other? You have probably said it somewhere, but I can't recall.

I <3 Kira.
50. SethC
On the one hand, Riker (and Tuvok in "Learning Curve") requiring the Bajoran crew members to remove their earrings may be seen as being culturally ignorant and/or considered discriminatory. On the other hand, Starfleet and the Federation are considered strongly secular humanist and until the fourth season of DS9, the Starfleet crew considered the Prophets "wormhole aliens" but not gods. To the Bajorans, the Prophets are gods. I think Sisko's acceptance of his position as Emissary led other members of the crew (like Dax) to give the Prophets skeptical acceptance.

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