Blogging the Next Generation: “Sub Rosa”

“You stay on in this house, and you keep that damn candle, I’ll not be responsible for what happens!”

Of all the crazy shit Star Trek: The Next Generation ever attempted, “Sub Rosa” might well be remembered as the craziest: the Gothic ghost story-cum-Harlequin romance novel in which Dr. Beverly Crusher – scientist, mother, and all-around sensible-headed voice of snark on the Enterprise – falls in love with her grandmother’s lover, who also happens to be a 17th-Century Scottish ghost with square-jawed good looks and a Fabio mullet. The ghost, it turns out, is trapped in a candle, and has been haunting / consuming the life force of Crusher’s family for eight hundred years. Oh – and there’s a crazy Scottish gamekeeper to dispense spooky exposition and/or get murdered as required by the story. “Sub Rosa” is so loony it nearly turns the dial all the way round till it becomes actually good again – almost.

They really brought the A-team to bear on this one, too, with a story from Jeri Taylor, screenplay from Brannon Braga, and direction from Frakes. The episode is beautifully art directed and lit, and really shines on blu-ray (even if the high-def presentation makes clear that the set decoration team took the in-jokes a bit too far, emblazoning “McFly” and “Vader” across the tombstones near Beverly’s grandmother’s grave). Everything is soft-focused and romantic, with an emphasis on twilight (pun intended!) and candlelight; and when Ronin gets uppity, the emerald-green lightning is a nice touch.

The trouble, of course, is simply that once the story gets moving – you can pinpoint the moment at either the scene where Ned Quint shows up condemning Beverly’s candle-related choices in his thick Scottish burr, or in the possession scene a few minutes later, when Bev appears to have a straight-up hysterical orgasm on camera – it’s so cheesy and preposterous that it’s flatly impossible to take any of it seriously. Other highlights include the ghost of Ronin doing Dan Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters poltergeist one better by tugging Beverly’s clothes off while she’s sleeping; Planet Scotland, generally; and Geordi and Data suddenly noticing Quint burrowing like a hedgehog into a control console on the Enterprise, his hobbit-ish butt wagging in the air.

All of which is to say, naturally, that I kind of love this episode. It’s awful and inspired in equal measure, but for me (as in all things) the real count of its bravery is simply this: it commits, unabashedly, to its own premise, and lives and dies by the result. Would that all Season Seven episodes had this kind of balls, ovaries, or non-gendered courage-making glands.

Three Enterprises out of five.

Blogging The Next Generation is winding down to the end, as I work my way through the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray.The final season is in stores now.