Friday, September 10, 2021

Star Trek: Ensign Ro

Episode: "Ensign Ro"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 7, 1991

Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) is assigned to the Enterprise against Picard's wishes.  Ro, a Bajoran,  had previously been court-martialed for disobeying orders but was pardoned by Admiral Kennely so she could serve on a particular mission: to persuade Bajoran rebels to stop attacking Federation settlements.

"Ensign Ro" is an important episode for the future of the franchise.  For starters, it introduces the Bajorans and their struggle against their conquerors, the Cardassians, the backdrop for Deep Space Nine, Star Trek's next spinoff.  Just as importantly, Ro herself became a popular recurring character with both the audience and the production staff, one with a lasting impact.  Forbes was offered the opportunity to reprise the role as a lead character for both DS9 and Voyager.  While she turned them down both times, elements of Ro are clearly evident in both Kira Nyris in DS9 and Tom Paris in Voyager.  

The real world parallels for the Bajorans - the Jews, the Armenians, the Kurds, indeed, the Palestinians - are many and obvious.  There's some interesting foreshadowing, though unintentional as DS9 wasn't even a discussion yet.  In a conversation with Picard, Keeve, one of the Bajoran rebels, makes note of the fact that because of their non-interference policies, Starfleet generally ignores suffering such as that of his people.  It's a frequent and reasonable criticism of Trek: they don't sit with problems for very long, always heading off to the next week's adventure.  DS9 and the Bajorans are about to change that.

Another strong episode - that makes four in a row by my reckoning.  

Acting Notes

Michelle Renee Forbes Guajardo was born January 8, 1965 in Austin, Texas.  Initially an aspiring ballet dancer, she started her professional acting career at age 16.

Forbes had a two-year stint on Guiding Light in a dual role: Solita Carrera/Sonni Carrera Lewis.  The gig earned her a Daytime Emmy nomination.  NextGen was her big break.  She caught the producers' eye as Dara in "Half a Life" and they offered her the Ro Loren part the following season.  In total, she made eight appearances as Ro.  Later, she had regular roles on Homicide: Life on the Street, In Treatment, True Blood and The Killing, for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination.  Films have included Kalifornia, Swimming with Sharks and Columbus.


  1. I love the character of Ro and this episode truly sheds light on what non interference can do...or not do. When is it right to interfere and when is it right to let things play their course? That is a tough decision and never one to take lightly. I think Ro and Picard had great chemistry, not in a romance way, but as a mentor to a student. She is not liked by almost everyone...except Guinan. Love this episode and the character.

    1. The idea of noninterference is another thing I struggle with in Star Trek. It has so many implications; it’s not just, say, a follow out from Vietnam, although that was probably the single biggest argument when it was first conceived. I’m glad the actual heroes of the franchise don’t worry too much about it as they decide on the right course of action.

    2. I've said it before but always worth mentioning...

      The weird thing about the Prime Directive is that it's rarely mentioned without being almost immediately violated and that goes back to the original series. Yes, in the late '60s, many were pushing for the US to get the heck out of Vietnam but it would seem that for Roddenberry and his writers, the question was more nuanced.

  2. One famous bit of franchise lore is that DS9 was indeed in discussions at the time of Gene Roddenberry’s death, so he would have at least have known something about it. It’s very possible that “Ensign Ro” was indeed conceived as a launching pad.

    I didn’t know Forbes was offered Voyager, too.

    The idea of terrorist heroes in Star Trek still bothers me post-9/11, especially as we hit the two-decade mark. I understand the storytelling, and will never see Kira as a villain, but for me personally it’s problematic. I much prefer these figures as resistance fighters (saboteurs), like the French in WWII. But to blow things and/or people up, not my definition of a wise course of action. There’s not a real world version that changes my mind about this.

    1. Okay... I try to avoid real-world politics in principal but especially with DS9 coming, it's going to be difficult to avoid.

      In a war, no one's hands are clean. Civilians die on both sides and collateral damage from drone strikes isn't really any more forgivable than a dirty bomb in a Tel Aviv cafe. The end result is the same. The superior power doesn't have the moral high ground just because its weapons are more expensive.

      We need to be clear on what terrorism really is. A terrorist attack is one that deliberately targets civilians. It is designed to alarm the opposition and draw attention to the cause of the perpetrators. It is extremely effective in achieving these goals and is thus an affordable way for a weaker country to wage war against a super power.

      The super power, in its turn, will often label any guerrilla-style operation as a terrorist attack even if the target is a military one. The super power knows the opposition can't wage war on conventional terms so they make their own political play to undermine the resistance.

      So in the real world, the attack on the USS Cole was certainly an act of sabotage but whether or not it was terrorism depends on your point of view. It was a military target so according to the dictionary it may not have been. But since it didn't fall under the "rules of engagement" and military personnel were killed in a non-combat situation, it has historically been labeled as a terrorist attack by the US. Worth noting, of course, al Qaeda didn't care either way. They got the worldwide attention they wanted on the cheap. True, substantial damage to the US military was, and still is, beyond their capacity. But they can make plenty of noise.

      With all that in mind, let's address the Bajoran Resistance. The Cardassians and at least some within the Federation consider them terrorists. But are they really? Granted, we don't know much yet but over time, we'll learn more. The Resistance generally attacks military Cardassian targets but they're not too bothered if civilians who happen to be there die as a result.

      Callous? Certainly. But no more so than the Israelis sending a guided missile into a Palestinian apartment building to take out a resistance cell, collateral damage be damned. Nagasaki wasn't much of a military target in August of 1945. The truth is, the US and its allies killed thousands of civilians in their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not to be excused just because they did so by "conventional" means.

      To be sure, in both the real world and in fiction, this is tricky stuff.

      In a war, no one's hands are clean.

    2. Sorry, "dirty bomb" is not what I mean. That would be a whole new, terrifying ball game. I mean the sort of cheap bomb made with nails and shards of glass thrown together by suicide bombers.

  3. está genial tu post, en la primera foto me gusta mas.

  4. Got to mention that Forbes also played Admiral Kain in the new Battlestar Galactica back in the 2000s.

    1. Perhaps I'll tackle BG via blog someday. Perhaps. So many other shows to explore.