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This post contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Picard,” season 3, episode 5, “Imposter.”
The third and final season of “Picard” made no secret of the fact that it was bringing back “Star Trek: The Next Generation” characters. Some of the earliest sneak peeks that we saw for it last year (such as this one) put the “Next Generation” crew right out in front. In addition to the requisite Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), we’ve already seen several familiar faces in the first half of “Picard” season 3, including Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), and the one and only Worf (Michael Dorn). We also know that Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) is on the way at some point, and a subsequent teaser trailer confirmed the impending return of Lore (Brent Spiner) and Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) as well.
There’s one other surprise return, however, that the marketing for “Picard” withheld altogether: namely, Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), who hasn’t been seen in the canonical “Star Trek” universe since the penultimate episode of “The Next Generation” all the way back in 1994. Ro was a late addition to the “Next Generation” cast; she first appeared in the season 5 episode, “Ensign Ro,” immediately establishing herself as an assertive presence who would bring conflict to the starship Enterprise.
Though Ro became a recurring character across seven more episodes, her fate was left dangling somewhat at the end of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Yet as she helps uncover the changeling conspiracy in the latest “Picard” episode, “Imposter,” it pays off both her first and last “Star Trek” appearance. And we soon learn that what happened to Ro after “The Next Generation” isn’t so different from what happened to her before she joined the Enterprise crew all those years ago.
Introducing Ensign Ro Laren
As it happens, Ro’s first appearance in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was also tied to a conspiracy. In “Ensign Ro,” some of her backstory is parceled out in dialogue before she ever appears onscreen.
Admiral Kennelly (Cliff Potts) has assigned Ro to the Enterprise without consulting Captain Picard. The first Picard even hears of it is when she’s about to beam aboard, at which point Commander Riker orders Ro to remove her Bajoran earring to conform to Starfleet’s dress code. Through the back-and-forth between Picard and Kennelly, and later, Picard and Ro herself, we learn that she was court-martialed and spent time in prison before the admiral pulled some strings to get her out and get her reinstated as an officer.
Picard is reluctant to have Ro on board the Enterprise, as it’s alluded that she previously disobeyed orders and caused the deaths of eight away team members in an “incident on Garon II.” However, Ro provides valuable insight into the Bajoran culture, such as how her people are traditionally addressed by their family names first. She’s also a straight shooter who delivers lines like, “I think you’re a small man who feels a rush of power in his belly and enjoys it far too much.”
Picard eventually warms to Ro after Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) vouches for her and Ro comes clean about her true mission, which is to draw out a Bajoran terrorist for Kennelly. It turns out the admiral has been working with the Cardassians, the very aliens who occupied the Bajoran home world, all along. This goes against Starfleet’s whole peacekeeping ideal and shows that it’s not a perfect organization, an idea that would come back into play when Ro made her final appearance in “The Next Generation” season 7.
Ro Exits The Franchise In Preemptive Strike
At the very end of “Ensign Ro,” after they’ve exposed Admiral Kennelly, Picard convinces Ro to accept the challenge of remaining in Starfleet. He takes her under his wing and allows her to wear her Bajoran earring again, but in a weird way, Picard almost becomes the new Admiral Kennelly in “Preemptive Strike,” which marked Ro’s final appearance and the second to last episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
The plot of “Preemptive Strike” involves Picard sending Ro (now, a lieutenant) to infiltrate the Maquis, a group of resistance fighters made up of former Federation colonists and even some ex-Starfleet officers who lost their homes and/or their belief in Starfleet when the Federation ceded territory to the Cardassians. Ro agrees to go undercover, telling Picard, “There’s one good reason to take this mission, and that is, to validate your faith in me.” However, she begins to have misgivings as she sees the Maquis up close and finds a new father figure in Macias (John Franklyn-Robbins).
Ro’s loyalties shift further as she witnesses the Cardassians attack the Maquis, killing Macias before Picard tries to use her to lead the Maquis into a trap (just as Admiral Kennelly once did with her and the Bajorans). At one point, Ro and Picard wind up canoodling in a bar to maintain her cover, and he threatens to court-martial her if she sabotages the mission. This would put her right back where she started.
Ultimately, as oxymoronic as it might sound, Ro chooses to follow her conscience and betray Picard, alerting the Maquis and then leaving to join them. In the end, Riker tells Picard, “She seemed very sure that she was doing the right thing. I think her only regret was that she let you down.”
Abandoned Plans For Ro In Deep Space Nine And Voyager
Naren Shankar conceived the story for “Preemptive Strike,” and according to him (as quoted in the book “Star Trek: The Next Generation 365”), the “Next Generation” writers’ room originally wanted to have Ro Laren cross over into the next — some say, best — “Star Trek” series, “Deep Space Nine.” Excerpts from the series bible (via “The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space”) show that Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) would have been as reluctant to have Ro aboard as Picard initially was, until she won Sisko over to become DS9’s first officer. She would have also befriended Dax (Terry Farrell) and Odo (René Auberjonois), forming an adversarial relationship with Quark (Armin Shimerman).
Alas, it was not to be. As Michelle Forbes explained at a 2008 “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas, she wasn’t ready to commit to a TV series full-time. “I was too young to get married,” she joked. Instead, the future the writers had mapped out for Forbes — the first actress to be fitted for Bajoran nose ridges, per the “Star Trek: The Next Generation Make-Up FX Journal” — was folded into another classic character, Nana Visitor’s Kira.
“Deep Space Nine” was a year into its run when “Preemptive Strike” aired, while “Star Trek: Voyager” was on the horizon in 1995. The writers still held out hope that Ro could return in “Voyager.” She didn’t, but that was why they shifted her involvement from the Bajorans to the Maquis.
“With Ro,” Shankar said, “we’d wanted to create a character to spin off into Deep Space Nine, and give her some history with what they were going to be doing. A lot of the Maquis elements in ‘Preemptive Strike’ were like that, too. They were going to be laid into Voyager’s world.”
Ro’s history repeats itself in “Picard” episode 5 when she shows back up in a Starfleet uniform. We learn her backstory through dialogue again as she reveals that she left the Maquis, turned herself in, and was court-martialed and “sent to prison again.” Starfleet intelligence then recruited her because of her history with terrorist groups, and she “worked [her] way up slowly again,” becoming a commander this time.
Picard mentored Ro and she betrayed him, and now his greatest failure has come back to haunt him. But the tables have turned and he’s the one accused of treason. He has a right to be angry, but Ro is also the perfect character foil for him and his own tendency to confuse duty for morality. “Blind faith in any institution does not make one honorable,” she says, and we can see her side of the argument right along with his, just as we could with Beverly Crusher.
Despite their differences, Picard and Ro’s emotionally charged reunion in “Imposter” helps sell the danger of the changeling conspiracy, as they realize they can only trust each other. Ro leaves her earring with him, and it turns out it holds valuable intel. Unfortunately, her reappearance proves to be a one-and-done, but she and Picard at least form a better understanding before they kill her off, and Michelle Forbes is the clear MVP of this episode.
Unlike the serialized “Picard,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” dealt mostly in self-contained single episodes or two-parters. “Preemptive Strike” always made for a curious penultimate episode in that it brought back Ro, only to send her off with the Maquis and leave her fate unknown. With “Imposter,” we now finally have closure for the character, almost 30 years later.
New episodes of “Picard” air Wednesdays on Paramount+.
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