Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ro Laren Returns . . . For A Time . . . With "Preemptive Strike."

The Good: Excellent character work, Nice acting, Good story
The Bad: Not built up to enough
The Basics: When Ro Laren returns to the Enterprise, she leaves on a mission only she could pull off with a conflict of loyalties that is compelling to watch.

As Star Trek The Next Generation came to a close, the producers tried to resolve as many character arcs as possible. And while the viewers never find out quite what happened to Dr. Pulaski (the Chief Medical Officer for season two), by this point in the seventh season (this being the penultimate episode of the series), many of the supplemental characters have been written out, like Alexander and Wesley Crusher. One of the most compelling characters of the series, the noticeably absent Ensign Ro Laren, returns in "Preemptive Strike," the second to last episode of Star Trek The Next Generation.

Ro Laren returns to the Enterprise as a Lieutenant who has received special training from StarFleet Intelligence, prepared for all sorts of undercover missions. The Enterprise is dispatched to the Demilitarized Zone between the Federation and Cardassian space, an area where a local colonial war has been breaking out without the consent or oversight of the two major governments. Ro is assigned to infiltrate the militant Federation colonists known as the Maquis. There she befriends an old man named Macius, who causes her to sympathize with the Maquis. As Ro's mission nears a critical juncture, she begins to question her loyalty and decide who she will fight for . . .

The only real problem with "Preemptive Strike" is that it asks the viewers to accept a rather odd character conceit without question. In the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation, Ensign Ro appeared on the Enterprise and began to rub everyone the wrong way because she had a great many opinions that differed from what was pretty much a homogenous Federation viewpoint. In short, she was a force on the show throughout the fifth season and then recurring in the sixth season. The producers of Star Trek The Next Generation ask us to simply accept her absence for most of the last half of the sixth season and the entirety of the seventh under a lame excuse of "away on training mission."

What would have made "Preemptive Strike" more powerful would have been seeing Lieutenant Ro, now with more confidence and ability, on the Enterprise using her new Intelligence and tactical skills so we became more invested in her character again before this big decision. As it is approached here, Ro returns and seems somewhat green again. That is to say, it is hard to watch her wrestle with the magnitude of her decisions knowing that this is her first undercover mission (i.e. one might expect a new intelligence officer to make a mistake or two on her first mission undercover, whereas is we witnessed her talents and strength of conviction before this, it might seem like more of a conflict than a result of her inexperience).

Outside that, "Preemptive Strike" is great and a worthy near-send off for Star Trek The Next Generation. Despite how obvious the use of Ro for this particular mission may seem, it could not go to any other character with any realism. Ro is the perfect character to be put in this sort of moral dilemma where she must choose between her loyalty to StarFleet and her sympathies to an underdog in a horrible situation.

Ro Laren's strength has always been that she is an outsider, which makes the viewer relate to her better than we might to some of the other, more heroic characters on Star Trek The Next Generation. In retrospect, it may seem like a cheap attempt to sell the forthcoming Star Trek Voyager (which was in preproduction at this point) that so many characters have ethical dilemmas revolving around the Maquis (Wesley Crusher earlier experienced a crisis of faith over injustices in the Demilitarized Zone), but Lieutenant Ro's character arc seems to come quite naturally in "Preemptive Strike," making it hold up rather well.

Perhaps the nicest aspect of "Preemptive Strike" is that it does not chicken out on the philosophical matters in the way many of the Star Trek The Next Generation episodes do. Ro Laren has a compelling and difficult choice to make about where her loyalties belong and given her history (as established in "Ensign Ro" - reviewed here - and other fifth season episodes featuring Ro), it cannot be an easy choice to make. As a result, her struggle must seem difficult and it is written and presented with respect and depth.

The episode is held together almost entirely by the acting of Michelle Forbes, who portrays Ro Laren. Forbes is a brilliant actress and perhaps her greatest strength in this episode is that she slides right back into place among the cast. Forbes works with Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and Patrick Stewart (Picard) with an ease of a well-trained professional. She approaches the character with differences in nuance that make us believe that she has been off on training - having Ro walk with more confidence, for instance. Yet, she keeps the kernel of the character intact, so the performance does not seem unfamiliar and the character is easily recognizable. Her body language and ability to emote in quiet scenes is phenomenal and easily make us believe - and like - this character.

"Preemptive Strike" is a nice episode for anyone who enjoys a decent moral dilemma story. While one need not be a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation, nor science fiction in general, people who have seen "Ensign Ro" and the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episodes "The Maquis I and II" are liable to appreciate the character work far more than those who have not. Regardless, this episode is both entertaining and insightful and an excellent build-up to the series finale.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, DVD and movie reviews, check out my Star Trek index page with links to all of the Star Trek reviews by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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