Star Trek The Next Generation: Preemptive Strike

Ro: "It's been a long time since I've felt like I really belonged somewhere."

By nature I love brevity: TNG tackles a situation and a story built for DS9, and actually does about as well as one could expect. Still, this show is not the place for what they wanted to do.

First, let's face it. The Maquis belong to DS9. They were created there, and that's where they're best dealt with. VOY tried valiantly to work them into the fabric of that show, but despite the fact that it produced some of the most interesting stuff in the first two seasons, the Maquis were all but forgotten by the time Season Three rolled around. By nature, they're difficult to wrestle with, and remarkably nuanced, which makes them solid, classic DS9 fare. TNG doesn't have the nuance to deal with the issue, and VOY doesn't have the attention span.

That being said, I quite like this episode. It has its flaws, sure, and they aren't small. But everything I wanted to see here is present in some form, even if I have to dig deeper than I would prefer to find it. A lot of good ideas went into 'Preemptive Strike,' and you can see their influence even if they themselves were lost by the time the show made it to the screen.

'Preemptive Strike,' unsurprisingly, lives or dies on the strength of its principal character, now Lieutenant Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes). I like Ro, although I'm aware that there are many who do not, and I think the strength of the episode depends a lot on whether or not you like and connect with her. For a show that isn't terribly serialized, this episode does remarkably little to introduce you to Ro in the first few scenes, so if you haven't encountered the character before this, I recommend catching up on her history with the show first.

Ro's new training and checkered past made her the perfect choice for her mission, but it also made her the most dangerous choice. Ro was never the best team player for the Federation, even though she learned a lot during her time on the Enterprise, and she spent her life before Starfleet fighting the Cardassians. That's a hard habit to kick; just ask Major Kira. It makes perfect sense that Ro would be sympathetic to the Maquis cause, but this episode smartly keeps that from overtaking her actions until the end. Because the audience followed Ro's journey throughout Season Five, we've seen her recommit to Starfleet, tied, of course, to her admiration and respect for Captain Picard. To send her off on a mission and immediately give her doubts would be too much, and it would undermine everything we've seen Ro go through. Instead, the groundwork had to be laid.

But even with the introduction of new father figure Macias (John Franklyn-Robbins), it isn't enough to believe her change of heart in such a short period of time. There's no way I'd buy him swaying her to the side of the Maquis through words. This brings us to the second stroke of brilliance in this episode's plot – killing Macias. At first, it seems obvious, but it's of paramount importance to the success of the story. Macias and Ro couldn't develop the necessary relationship to turn her in that period of time, but they could develop enough to show Ro what potential is there. His death then serves to complete the rest of the journey that time would not allow, by forcing her to imagine the realization of that potential.

One small flaw in Ro and Macias' interactions, however, is that her real father figure is Picard. Picard, the man who believed in her and saw potential. Picard, the man who gave her a second chance over the objections of his leadership. Picard, the man who turned her life around. Ro's choice would not be impactful were it not for her intense desire to impress Picard.

This brings us to the big chink in this episode's armor – the finale. Ro's decision should be powerful. We should have some tension, or emotion, beyond the mere lines delivered. The music and direction should have combined with the writing to make me feel something, because I sure as heck already knew what she was going to do. Without suspense as to the outcome, we need to be given something to feel, and I don't think we were. I think the problem lies largely in the fact that Ro is using Riker as a proxy for her apology to Picard. Maybe if Riker had been assigned to the mission with her from the very start, and she'd been using him to communicate with Picard all along, it would have worked better. Plus, then he would have served as a tangible reminder throughout of what she'd be giving up to make the decision she did.

Strange New Worlds:

The Maquis portions of the episode apparently take place on two planets: Ronara Prime and Juhraya. This was not made abundantly clear, but it doesn't really affect the plot, so I don't care much.

New Life and New Civilizations:

No new species in this episode. We don't even learn any more about our existing species.

Pensees:

-Because the development of Star Trek: Voyager was well underway at the time, the show runners included many subtle setups and allusions. This includes the implication that Ro's instructor at Advanced Tactical Training who left Starfleet for the Maquis was, in fact, Chakotay. Voyager went on to contradict this connection by stating that Chakotay resigned his commission in 2368, a year before Ro's first appearance on TNG.

-Patrick Stewart directed this episode. This makes him the first Captain to direct the penultimate episode of his series, followed by Avery Brooks' direction of 'The Dogs of War' on DS9.

-Shannon Cochran would reprise her role as Kalita in the DS9 episode 'Defiant,' alongside Jonathan Frakes as Thomas Riker.

-Michelle Forbes was in hot water with the show at this point, having declined the chance to expand her role as part of the main cast of DS9. That role eventually became Major Kira.

Quotes:

Ro, to Picard: "If it weren't for you, my life would be a very different one right now."

Ro: "I've spent the better part of my life fighting the Cardassians. I never thought I'd be helping them out."

Picard, on the Maquis: "We're all sympathetic, Lieutenant. Our civilian population in the Demilitarized Zone is in a very difficult situation. But even sympathy has to end at some point. A peace treaty isn't just a piece of paper."

For an episode that belonged to a different show, this was a very good one. 4.5 out of 6 spicy, spicy hasperats.

--
CoramDeo missed his closeup. He has himself to blame.

2 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

Although I wanted Michelle Forbes at first in DS9, I am very, very happy that we got Nana Visitor.

CoramDeo said...

I second that, Victoria! Forbes would have done a great job, but I probably wouldn't know how great Nana Visitor was otherwise.