Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Next Generation 7x24 "Preemptive Strike"

rating: ****

the story: Ro goes rogue, joins the Maquis.

what it's all about: It's really astonishing that fans later totally misunderstood the Maquis in Voyager when the whole concept was plainly laid out here in "Preemptive Strike" (as well as the less successful two-part "The Maquis" in Deep Space Nine), with a beloved character like Ro Laren helping explain it.

Ro was one of the best characters in Next Generation, but aside from her equally brilliant debut ("Ensign Ro"), the series more often than not totally blew her potential, so it's not surprising that Michelle Forbes gradually lost interest the character, and flat-out refused to continue playing her in Deep Space Nine (Major Kira was created to replace her, which actually worked out really well).  "Preemptive Strike" brings Ro full-circle, as she finally decides Starfleet really isn't for her anymore, but the distinction between how her career ends and where we first saw it is a crucial one. 

It's all a matter of choice.  Originally, it wasn't Ro's choice at all.  She agreed to play ball with Starfleet, working covertly to assist initiatives aimed at relieving the stresses her native people, the Bajorans, still felt after years of occupation by the Cardassians.  Her relationship with Picard eased a troubled career, and mind, making it possible for her to find peace. 

That in a nutshell, by the way, is what Picard was all about, throughout the series.  He gave Worf and Data, for instance, safe places in which to explore their potential, allowed Riker to see what a functioning leadership team looked like, patched things up with Crusher, gave himself redemption, and let Troi see that family history doesn't have to be a burden (probably).  Of course he did the same for Ro.  In fact, Ro's the only character where this kind of relationship was spelled out.  (I mean, he had the same thing with Guinan.  That was the whole point, what "Time's Arrowed" finally explained about them.) 

So when Ro finds a new purpose, the one thing she regrets is having to tell Picard she's moved on.  That's the Maquis for you: not so much troubled or disgruntled Starfleet officers (though Chakotay and B'Elanna Torres certainly represent those aspects in Voyager), but individuals who have moved beyond Starfleet careers and found new purpose, which just so happens to be fighting for the same ideals, against the Cardassians. 

"Preemptive Strike" is actually a pivotal episode of the franchise beyond its Maquis groundwork.  Ever since Gene Roddenberry declared humanity's future as perfect, conflict had become a difficult thing to introduce into the narrative, at least without alien antagonists.  And yet, differing philosophies will always exist, in one form or another.  It's hard to watch Ro in the episode and think she's made a bad decision, just as it would be equally unlikely to suggest that because she's made a good decision, the people she's leaving behind have made a bad one.  Ideals are always worth fighting for.  The season had earlier botched that kind of storytelling in "Force of Nature."  Here the execution is pitch-perfect, in part because we're invested in the messenger and the message doesn't clash horribly with Star Trek's ideals. 

It's a certified classic.  When Ro says goodbye to Picard, through Riker, you can't help but feel you've seen the franchise in one of its finest moments.  The most striking thing about the scene is that Riker is hardly presented with his most flattering look ever.  It doesn't matter.  It's Picard you should be paying attention to, and the character whose absence suddenly envelops the whole series.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Embodies the contradiction at the heart of Star Trek.
  • series - Fleshes out the character of the character dynamics in this series.
  • character - Works for Ro, for Picard.
  • essential - Explains the Maquis perfectly.
notable guest-stars:
Michelle Forbes (Ro)
Richard Poe (Gul Evek)
Natalija Nogulich (Nechayev)


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