This entry was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, this television series wouldn’t exist. To learn more, visit the SAG-AFTRA strike site.
“Oh, I have been rehearsing this conversation for thirty years.”
The big fan-service reactivation I was stumping for in season three of Star Trek: Picard was Denise Crosby returning as Commander Sela. My logic, I thought, was sound: Sela had never been tied off as a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation (she appears in four episodes, is foiled twice, and never comes back); Terry Matalas had spent a lot of season two closing the loop on key Next Gen family members who were not part of the core seven (Q, Wesley, and Guinan); and there had been admissions in interviews and on panels (including by Crosby herself) that the character of Tasha Yar would be addressed in season three “in some way.” Now, Sela isn’t Tasha, but all the plot-contrivance legwork had already been done, to set up nice cameo by Crosby. (Comparatively, the writing staff is going to have to work much harder to contrive a return for Brent Spiner as Data, which we’ll get to next week.) And as Tasha’s daughter, Sela would allow the Next Gen characters to at least somewhat address their fallen comrade as part of this valedictory year.
Of course, Sela as a premise is a pretty repellent one, so maybe, it’s better she was left on the shelf with Barclay, Dr. Pulaski, and Chief O’Brien. Nonetheless, all my internal noodling about Sela did have one unanticipated side-effect: it apparently preoccupied my mind to such an extent that the idea of Ro Laren turning up this season never even occurred to me. Which is weird, because putting Ro in the season basically ticks all the boxes I listed above for Tasha/Sela: she had an open narrative thread that could be tied up, having “betrayed” Picard and joined the Maquis in Next Gen‘s penultimate episode; and she was, absolutely, a critical Next Gen character outside the core seven. How could I have forgotten her?!
Well, however it happened, I’m glad it did, because when Ro turned up this week in “Imposters,” I absolutely whooped. I loved Ro in her three years on Next Gen (though I still can’t quite forgive the writers’ room for not leaving her as a child at the end of “Rascals,” just for the sheer fun of it, since Michelle Forbes wasn’t willing to commit to a full-time tenure on the series anyway). Forbes is a delight in pretty much anything she tackles, so she brings great fortitude to the mid-season turning point here. And, to my absolute shock, yeah, she and Picard needed to go through some shit. It’s all right there to be mined, and Ro’s return is one of the strongest choices Matalas makes all season.
The U.S.S. Intrepid shows up and arrests the Titan. The days of VFX models are long behind us, so every Starfleet ship looks different now, which is somehow not as much fun as when there were identifiable classes in the fleet, and dozens of identical ships in each line. Shaw can’t wait to hand Picard and Riker over to Starfleet, but he also demonstrates an uncommon depth of knowledge of Enterprise-era fuckuppery — he references the Generations crash, the Insurrection insurrection, and the “All Good Things” time-hole without missing a beat — which suggests that he might actually be the world’s biggest Picard fanboy and not the other thing. (“Oh my god! Why are you obsessed with me!” is not, unfortunately, Jean-Luc’s reply.) The boys turn the corner to greet their accusers, and yup, there’s Ro, in a raven-black fuck ass bob, and — somehow — back in uniform, a commander in Starfleet Security. The charge: treason, which Picard finds pretty rich, given the circumstances of their previous meeting.
Everyone else is in moving-things-along mode. Jack’s having dreams of slaughtering the entire bridge crew, and rebuffing overtures from his dad to join Starfleet, while he’s awake. (Seven hides Jack in a Starfleet uniform when Starfleet Security boards the ship, as if the writers are mocking his pretensions towards self-determination. You’re obviously going to end up in Starfleet, boy.) Raffi and Worf are running down leads on Blade Runner Planet, which gives Worf some time to meditate, fight another underworld heavy, and stage his own death. (At Raffi’s hand! Don’t ask.) Beverly is doing her Scully thing, autopsying the dead Changeling, which seems like it should probably not be possible, but the Changeling science on Picard is not troubling itself to be 100% consistent with Deep Space Nine‘s exacting mythology, and/or these Changelings are different, or something. (Sidney La Forge can’t stop puking at the sight of her dead double, which is kinda fun.)
Speaking of Deep Space Nine: inevitably, once we’re dealing with Changelings, we need to start doing the “who can we trust?” / Invasion of the Body Snatchers trope. I didn’t love it on DS9 — actually, I never love it; as a plot device in paranoia science fiction, I find it quite wearisome. (Ask me how I felt about Secret Invasion, the comic, even before it became Secret Invasion, the single worst thing in the 43-part Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
The premise here, though, is that Ro might be a Changeling (Ro tries to put this to rest by yanking a dagger out of her boot and bloodying her palm); and Ro thinks Picard is a Changeling; and beyond this, anyone in Starfleet might turn out to be a Changeling. Which, of course, is exactly what happens. But in the meantime, the trope also becomes a relatively nice way to fasttrack the Picard/Ro drama, because trust and the betrayal of trust is at the centre of their rift anyway, and the Changeling thing just forces them to say what’s on their minds a little faster than they might have done otherwise.
“Blind faith in any institution does not make one honourable,” Ro says, scoring one of the higher-level bullseyes of the whole series on the subject of Starfleet’s recent decay from its TOS and TNG-era aspect to the less-aspirational mode it operates in within NuTrek. Ro tells her story, about returning from the Maquis and being court-martialed and sent back to prison (a nice reminder of where she came from, at the start of all this); and because Forbes could sell me a phonebook in 2023, it all feels rich, nuanced, and lived. And then Ro wants to talk to Picard alone — really really alone, which means holodeck, which means that fucking bar again! — and now they can really talk, but not before Picard draws down on his former protégé. Emotional repair-work over phaser emitters: always a good sign.
But, it’s great. Ro leans straight into it, and calls Picard’s love for her conditional, and his moral surety inextricably chained to his fealty to Starfleet, and his mentorship of her, pure egotism. And even though pretty much none of this would have qualified as subtext on Next Gen, let alone text, it’s a belter of a scene from a Star Trek: Picard perspective. However clumsily, these are a lot of the subtexts that this series has been attempting to explore with the character of Picard for the past two and a half seasons; it just takes an old friend/frenemy, acting as an accelerant, to finally catch the fire. And in a beauty of a writing move, it’s only when both characters tell one another that they broke each other’s hearts, that they are both willing to concede that neither of them is a Changeling. As a means to prove that you’re really who you say you are, vulnerability in the face of decades-old wounds is more reliable than blood.
And so finally, Ro gets to say the thing: “Starfleet is compromised. At the highest level.” Weee! And off we go.
Blogging the Next Generation: Picard runs Thursdays on tederick.com as I work my way through every episode of Star Trek: Picard. The original BTNG did the same for Star Trek: The Next Generation. While you’re here, why not sign this petition, asking CBS to release Picard’s final season on 4K UHD disc, which it deserves. Fuck streaming for ruining Hollywood!