In the twenty-fourth and penultimate episode of the seventh season of The Next Generation, Ro Laren returns and WOW, THIS IS REALLY GOOD AND UNCOMFORTABLE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of colonialism and terrorism.
Goddamn, I really enjoyed this episode. Season seven of The Next Generation has had a number of solid episodes, but more so than perhaps the first season, it’s full of some of the weirdest and most unsatisfying stories in the show’s history. While the moral ambiguity at the conclusion of “Preemptive Strike” seems more suited to Deep Space Nine, I think that this is a great way for the show to “end.” It’s an episode about the challenges of space diplomacy, and it also brings back one of my favorite guest characters in order to destroy us.
AND LOOK, THIS EPISODE TOTALLY DESTROYED ME. While “Journey’s End” was a disaster in practically every respect, it did give us the framework for “Preemptive Strike.” Perhaps even more so than the Maquis two-parter on Deep Space Nine, this episode examined the continued implications of the peace treaty between the Cardassians and the Federation. I suspected fairly early that Ro’s mission – to infiltrate the Maquis in order to gather intelligence on their numbers, location, and plans – would put her in an uncomfortable position. Granted, that’s not a surprise at all within the script. Both Ro and Picard openly discuss the awkwardness of having to defend the Cardassians willingly. And it really is a surreal thing! Just in general, it feels odd, but for Ro, it’s tantamount to a nightmare. Yet initially, she accepts the mission. She trusts Picard – OH, HOW SHE TRUSTS HIM AND YEARNS FOR HIS VALIDATION – and she feels that she can prove herself by taking on a logistically and morally challenging mission.
Then she meets the Maquis, and aside from her violent first confrontation with them, they’re absolutely nothing like she expected. Until she sees what they go through, everything she has heard is an abstraction, an anecdote. They’re violent terrorists, she was told, who are threatening the peace in the border region. They’re a huge risk to the treaty. They must be stopped at all costs. Yet when she’s with them, she sees that they’re rational, if paranoid. They want the right to live where they want. They want the right to exist peacefully. Why is that so terrible? Why does it deserve the attention that it’s getting?
For me, it’s the surprise attack on the Maquis cell that marks the turning point in Ro’s characterization. Again, it wasn’t surprising that she was conflicted by the mission, but she still was ready to commit to her duty. She “steals” medical supplies, and then she sets the trap that Picard comes up with. I don’t know, however, that I had the reaction that the show wanted me to have. I think that’s partially because the writers didn’t define a couple of things as well as they could have, and thus, the story is a bit muddled about where our sympathies might lie. For example, the “trap” that Ro sets? It wasn’t until the end of the episode that I realized that the Enterprise and the other Federation ships planned to actually fire on the Maquis with the intent to harm them. I thought they’d do something like… I dunno. Trap them with tractor beams or something? Arrest them all? But there’s that line about Riker and Ro’s ship not being targeted, and honestly, that completely changes how I feel about this.
Why? Because in the midst of bonding with Macias and learning why this fight is so important to him, he and a bunch of other Maquis/citizens are gunned down by disguised Cardassians. Look, we already knew the Cardassians were trying to create the most hostile environment possible for all of the people whose land they now “owned.” This confirmation of it was horrifying! Obviously, the act itself was upsetting, but the complete lack of response from the Cardassians and the Federation is, to me, so much worse. The Federation is not truly helping any of their former colonies survive in this world. They don’t support them, they don’t do anything to pressure the Cardassians to stop this behavior, and by focusing most of their energy on the Maquis, they send a message loud and clear: your defense of yourself and your land and your people is worse than the Cardassians terrorizing you in the first place.
So the trap left a bad taste in my mouth. They fed fake information to these people that suggested a widescale use of biogenic weapons to wipe out the colonists, then Ro pushed and goaded them into the plan to attack the convoy, and then she’s expected to guide all of them to their deaths. (Again, I might not understand this as the writers intended, but that’s because they aren’t clear enough on this.) I don’t think this is a case of her simply sympathizing with the Maquis more as it’s her realizing just how fucked they are because of this political situation. After all the time she spent fighting for the rights of the Bajoran people, it just feels hypocritical to suddenly not help the Maquis.
Unfortunately, to do what she thinks is right, she betrays the one person she wanted to impress the most. THAT is still heartbreaking to me. IT IS FOR RIKER AND PICARD, TOO. (Seriously, he looks quietly devastated in that last shot.) But I can’t feel bad for Riker or Picard or the Federation because… well, when are they coming to the aid of these people who have to live their lives in fear of another Cardassian attack? Their disappointment is realistic, sure. I get why they feel as they do. Ro grew so much over the course of this show, and in their eyes, she’s throwing away all that growth.
I’d argue that she’s just growing in a direction they don’t like.
The video for “Preemptive Strike” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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