‘Star Trek: Picard’ Says Goodbye to One of the Federation’s Best Defenders
"Blind faith in any institution does not make one honorable." - Ro Laren
Last week’s Star Trek: Picard gave us the return of one of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s most interesting and nuanced characters: Ro Laren, played by Michelle Forbes.
This season of Picard was widely advertised as a TNG reunion, focusing on the return of the main cast. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see Forbes back in action as one of the most intriguing and complicated figures from Picard’s past.
Ro was the first Bajoran character to appear in the Star Trek universe (in TNG season 5, episode 3, “Ensign Ro”). When assigned to the Enterprise-D, she developed a strong relationship with Captain Picard.
But this wasn’t without conflict and controversy.
Spoilers ahead for season 3, episode 5 of Star Trek: Picard—”Imposters.”
Ensign Ro did the wrong things for the right reasons
Ro arrived on Picard’s Enterprise after her reinstatement to Starfleet. She’d been court-martialed and imprisoned for disobeying direct orders during her first assignment on the USS Wellington. This led to the deaths of eight of her crewmates.
Admiral Kennelly reinstated her on the condition that she would help him conduct a covert mission to take down a Bajoran terrorist. This agreement led to the first situation where she “betrayed” Picard. You can read about it over at Memory Alpha, the home for all nitty-gritty Star Trek info.
Despite that dubious introduction, Picard saw Ro’s potential as a Starfleet officer and kept her on the Enterprise. Ensign Ro was a constant presence during season 5 of TNG, appearing in the episodes “Disaster,” “Conundrum,” “Power Play,” “Cause and Effect,” and “The Next Phase.”
She next appeared in only one episode in season 6, “Rascals,” in which a transporter accident causes Ro, along with Picard, Guinan, and Keiko O’Brien, to physiologically revert to their 12-year-old selves while retaining their adult memories.
And then there’s her controversial (and final) appearance on TNG. In season 7, episode 24, “Preemptive Strike,” Ro takes an assignment from Picard to infiltrate a group called the Maquis.
Ro Laren’s final “betrayal” of Jean-Luc Picard
According to Memory Alpha, the Maquis were “a resistance group that consisted of Federation-born colonists and discontented Starfleet officers who organized against the Cardassian occupation of their homes in the Demilitarized Zone after their colonies were ceded to the Cardassian Union by Federation Cardassian Treaties.”
Her assignment was to lure the Maquis into a Federation trap by staging a fake convoy for them to attack. However, she became more and more sympathetic to the Maquis’ cause and tried to stop the plan from happening. Eventually, she decides to leave Starfleet and join the Maquis, which is what ultimately causes the strain we see between her and Picard in this week’s PIC episode, “Imposters.”
Ro Laren as a Picard’s mirror
This season of PIC is all about Picard breaking the rules that he feels need to be broken, lying to people, and putting fellow Starfleet officers in danger—all to save Beverly Crusher and their son, Jack. Yet, when they have to face the inevitable consequences of their actions, and the person sent to hold them accountable is Commander Ro, Picard is still holding a grudge about her betrayal and talking trash.
This is interesting (and often annoying) for a few reasons:
- Picard is My Captain, but he’s also a huge hypocrite. When he thinks it necessary to lie to Starfleet, he has zero qualms. When Ro acts in accordance with her own ethical code, Picard gets on his moral high horse. It’s less about his belief in Starfleet than it is about him feeling personally betrayed. As if betraying him is betraying Starfleet.
- Picard knew that the Cardassians forced Ro to watch as they tortured and killed her father when she was a girl. The idea that he would expect Ro to be all-in on Starfleet and entrap a resistance group fighting against a Cardassian occupation that the Federation allowed to happen is ridiculous!
- The TNG episode “Preemptive Strike,” which aired in 1994, overlaps with ST: Deep Space Nine. On DS9, we learn the full extent of the atrocities committed by the Cardassians. It’s both interesting and frustrating that, despite the knowledge that the Cardassians committed war crimes against the Bajorans, the Federation continued to appease them in the interest of “peace” while labeling the Maquis as traitors.
Ro Laren as Star Trek‘s first depiction of righteous dissent in the Federation
Perhaps Picard was drawn to Ro in the first place, then felt angry about her joining the Maquis, because he saw so much of himself in her … albeit a more “free” version. Ro is able to articulate her ethics outside of Starfleet expectations, and maybe Picard wishes he could do that, too. He requires the use of Starfleet as a cover for his disobedient behavior, and she doesn’t. So they could never completely connect.
Thankfully, this episode of PIC allows Ro and Picard to talk through their differences, and Ro has a line that sums up why she’s such an important character in Star Trek canon:
“Blind faith in any institution does not make one honorable.”
Ro appeared at a time when Star Trek was maturing as a franchise. Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was heavily involved as a producer through season 2 of TNG. Roddenberry was known for his early rule that conflict on the show should primarily arise from the Federation’s interactions with other civilizations.
However, when Roddenberry turned over the Executive Producer reins to Rick Berman and Michael Piller in season 3, they brought in some new voices—like Ronald D. Moore, who was basically responsible for the development of the Klingons and went on to spearhead Battlestar Galactica; and Ira Steven Behr, who became the showrunner on DS9.
This team wanted to explore the nuance in the United Federation of Planets and examine whether or not the Federation was all good all the time. Since The Original Series, Star Trek has depicted plenty of non-Federation worlds that think ill of the Federation, but we’d never seen members of the Federation challenging their own.
Until Ro Laren and the introduction of the Maquis.
There is optimism in rebellion on Star Trek
When Ro “betrayed” Picard and DS9 was introduced, many fans criticized both as being “not real Star Trek.” They joined in Picard’s opinion that Ro was the worst kind of traitor, and they saw DS9‘s focus on the effects of war—and this Starfleet space station’s involvement—as an affront to the optimism they saw in TOS and early TNG.
But Star Trek, like all good sci-fi, has always held a mirror up to society. Star Trek has never just been an optimistic look at the future. It’s used allegory and metaphor to comment on the societal ills of the real world since TOS. Why would that commentary stop at Starfleet or the Federation themselves? Why wouldn’t the shows and films examine the potential harm the Federation can cause in order to look at the effects of colonialism in our world?
As we’ve learned from another big sci-fi franchise, “Rebellions are built on hope.” There is optimism in continually fighting injustice; in expecting better from your own government and challenging them when you don’t receive it.
Goodbye, Ro Laren
Ro had a rough life, she was complicated, and she never felt like she fit in, but she was never without hope and optimism. She kept returning to Starfleet time and time again because she believed in it, and when it fell short, Ro chose to fight the Federation, knowing that it was capable of change.
Sadly, Ro’s journey has come to an end. In this recent episode of PIC, after Ro and Picard came to an understanding, Ro was put in a position to face death. She had come to the Titan on the USS Intrepid to warn Picard about Changelings infiltrating Starfleet. As it turns out, they’d also infiltrated her crew and were on her shuttle, where they planted a bomb.
So, Ro went out the way she lived: fighting to protect the Federation on her own terms. She flew her shuttle into one of the Intrepid’s nacelles so that the Titan could get away, but not before leaving Picard her Bajoran earring. The earring contained a chip that held all of the information she’s gathered in her Changeling investigation.
Star Trek: Picard gave Ro Laren a proper send-off while also giving Picard the closure he needed with her at the end of his life. Having her return for one final appearance on a current Star Trek show reminds us of the importance to always question our institutions and not take for granted that their ethics continue to be our ethics.
Ro Laren teaches us that the optimism of Star Trek lies not in its institutions, but in its people.
(featured image: Paramount+)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]