This is the fifth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.
Brief Synopsis: Ensign Ro returns to the Enterprise having redeemed herself in the last few years. She is tasked with an important mission to infiltrate the Marquis and help the Federation destroy them. After immersing herself in their organization she has a conflict of conscience and must decide if she will go through with her mission.
“Preemptive Strike” is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: TNG. When the creators came up with the concept for DS9 the intention was that Ensign Ro would be the first officer on the station, but Michelle Forbes didn’t want to be a regular on a series, so the character was retooled to be Major Kira (which most people agree worked to the show’s advantage).
It seems strange that the writers would have chosen to spend the second-to-last episode of the series tying up this particular loose end. TNG did not have the same depth and breadth of supporting characters that DS9 did, but I don’t think there were a hell of a lot of people who would have stayed up nights wondering what happened to Ensign Ro.
That being said, I think this decision was made because someone had a story they wanted to tell, and what a story it is.
I feel on some level that Ensign Ro became the character Tasha Yar was supposed to be. Both grew up on planets where the benevolence of the Federation hadn’t really reached yet. She was a tough woman who had some rough edges and trouble dealing with authority. This seems to be a character archetype on Star Trek (Yar, Ro, B’elanna Torres, Kira…) that is done to better and worse degrees. For my money Ensign Ro is the most successful of these experiments due to the fact that we don’t see her week after week for years at a time. She can do something unexpected and disappear because she isn’t a main character.
Ro and Picard
I think of all the relationships in Star Trek, the one that resonates with me the most is the one between Picard and Ro. I deeply associate with Ro. I have had troubles figuring out where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing.
I know I have had many people come to the conclusion that I am deeply intelligent and creative, but I have trouble with authority. I will do what I think is right and it has caused me a tremendous amount of trouble. It takes so little to destroy another person’s reputation when they are at the beginning of their career that it leaves many people vulnerable to malicious behaviors.
I understand her aversion to authority. I understand why she feels the way she does and why she acts the way she does.
I love how in the first episode she appears on she wins over Picard. Picard is very open to giving people chances. She proved herself to him and he nurtured her in a way no one else did. They clearly had deep affection for one another, which is the only reason this episode works.
On its face, this episode could have been very heavy handed and sanctimonious. You have a bunch of people who are being displaced off their land who just want to be given the right to be left alone. They are being persecuted by their government for the benefit of an evil alien race (the Cardassians) that we have been made to hate through the whole time they have existed. This should have been a clear choice, pick the nice humans over the evil Cardassians, but it wasn’t.
The only thing that keeps this in balance is Ro’s unwillingness to betray a man who believed in her when no one else did.
That is a terrible conflict.
Who would want to betray Picard? Picard is the archetype of the father/boss/mentor everyone wishes that they had. No one would want to let him down, especially when he put his reputation on the line saying that you are trustworthy. Had Picard not had that relationship with Ro this episode would have been over in five minutes.
The AV Club does a write-up of this episode that probably does a better job of speaking about this relationship than I do, so if you want more, head on over there.
I don’t know about anyone else watching this, but this conflict was so hard. I understand being in a position where you know what the right thing to do is but you can’t pull the trigger on it because it would hurt someone you care about.
You know that she is going to go and join the Marquis, but the fact that they were able to leave it up in the air so long shows what an agonizing decision it was.
At the end when Ro asks Riker to tell Picard she is sorry, you can’t help but feel for her. The trust and connection she shared with Picard just wasn’t enough to get her to go against her conscience and do what she thought was wrong.
Picard’s reaction is wonderful as well. It would be way too much for him to either fly off the handle at her for stabbing him in the back or for him to say, “Oh well, she made a choice and I hope she is happy.”
Dude is deeply betrayed. He knew on some level that this was a bad idea and when they have their last meeting you can feel his silent imploring to her to please not do what he knows she is going to do. He understands why she did it, but it doesn’t soften the betrayal at all.
The comment at the end by Riker about how she didn’t seem to care that she betrayed the Federation but was deeply upset at the idea of betraying Picard is spot on. The Federation is just an anomalous, faceless entity that is making a bad decision, but Picard is the face of the people she is betraying, and that fucking sucks.