A surprising coda to an episode of The Next Generation resolves lingering issues while advancing the current story.
I expected many things from Star Trek: Picard’s third season. I did not, however, expect the return of none other than Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), much less what amounts to a sequel to “Preemptive Strike,” the character’s swan song in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original rebellious Bajoran returns to the franchise for the first time in nearly thirty years, with an episode that plays much like the character—well-intentioned but often frustrating.
Thankfully, though, Ro isn’t here for mere nostalgia. Instead, she serves three equally important purposes in the episode, which each dovetail nicely.
The first is to explore the aftermath of a major choice that’s been twisting in the narrative wind since TNG’s final season. In Ro’s last episode, Captain Picard sends her on a covert mission to infiltrate and undermine the Maquis. Instead, she ultimately chose to aid them and defect. Despite the broken bond between her and Jean-Luc, the only fallout viewers witnessed was Ro asking Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to tell Picard she was sorry and Jean-Luc himself giving one of those wistful, haunted gazes out the ready room window that Patrick Stewart made famous.
“Imposters,” then, gives the characters a chance to hash out their feelings about Ro’s choice face to face for the first time, albeit three decades later. The impulse is admirable, even if the realization is a mixed bag. Picard laments that Ro violated his trust. Ro criticizes Picard for not understanding why she did what she did. But by the end of the episode, she understands his broken heart, and he sees the conviction behind her choices, and by extension, Ro herself, in a way that gives both of them peace despite a rough end.
The dialogue to get there is clunky and labored. And once again, Star Trek forgets that Will had the better-developed relationship with Laren. But the performances are strong, and the long-delayed catharsis is firmly present.
The pair’s reckoning isn’t just about righting old wrongs, though. It ties into the larger theme of the episode, given away by the title. It’s imposter time! There are Changelings among us. Nobody’s sure who anyone really is or if they can be trusted. Raffi (Michelle Hurd) fakes her presence via a mobile emitter. (Hello, Voyager fans!) Jack (Ed Speleers) dons a Starfleet uniform so Seven (Jeri Ryan) can hide him in plain sight. All the major players flirt with some kind of false identity, lending to the paranoid atmosphere of the hour and feeding the key motifs at the core of this story.
“Imposters,” then, gives the characters a chance to hash out their feelings about Ro’s choice face to face for the first time, albeit three decades later.
That idea dovetails perfectly with the confrontation between Picard and Ro, where each has reason to believe the other might be an infiltrator. Therein lies the second big reason behind Ro’s return. “Imposters” sets up the justifiable paranoia of seemingly out-of-character moments that could signify a supposed friend is secretly the enemy. For example, Ro rejoining Starfleet, the absence of her earring, or her testiness with two one-time friends. And it blends perfectly with the mundane alternative that people can simply change over the course of thirty years apart.
To that end, as painful as it is for both Laren and Jean-Luc to open up their old wounds, their reckoning serves to confirm, in emotionally vulnerable terms, that they both are who they say they are. It’s a canny choice to blend the psychological and practical. The execution might not be perfect, but the harmony between hashing out past resentments and serving the present crisis is a sharp bit of writing.
Alas, the same can’t be said for the non-Ro parts of the episode. Worf (Michael Dorn) and Raffi chase down yet another lead with the crime syndicate responsible for the Starfleet Recruitment Center attack, and it’s starting to feel like wheel-spinning. The elliptical feeling isn’t helped by the way the show keeps reusing the same sets and locations like Ten Forward and District 6. Plus, the pair’s confrontation with the near-oxymoronic Vulcan crime boss feels like the sort of absurd mismatch that should be the provenance of Lower Decks rather than played straight. But maybe the attempt only fails because Krinn the Logical Criminal sounds like Tyrion Lannister doing a bad impression of Scar from The Lion King.
The material with Jack’s haunting visions isn’t much better. “Imposters” does cleverly play with expectations a bit, suggesting that Jack’s nightmares might lead him to go on a killing spree against the crew of the Titan, a fate he’s desperate to avoid. Instead, it’s revealed that he’s actually going after shapeshifters, with hints that he has a sixth sense for taking out Changelings. Likewise, Beverly (Gates McFadden) cuts through his stoic exterior, much like she used to do with Jean-Luc, and convinces her son to admit he needs help, which is a nice moment for a key relationship that’s been underdeveloped so far.
[The] contrived, plot-mandated ending only dampens the still abiding excitement for the return of one of TNG’s shortest-lived yet most memorable recurring characters.
But after two seasons of Star Trek: Picard and, frankly, a raft of modern storytelling, the cryptic teases of some nebulous, whispered threat is a tired cliché. The hints that Jack may be connected to the new, fleshier Changelings, with sinewy red branches that seem to align him with Vidac’s bizarre head-hand, play like fodder for the speculation game rather than a show gradually putting its cards on the table. With a wind-up this tedious and overstretched, the payoff had better be good.
At least it ties into the episode’s big reveal and the third major purpose that the now Lieutenant Ro serves—to help explain that the Founders have evolved and also compromised Starfleet. The former reveal comes courtesy of Dr. Crusher, who dissects the Changeling saboteur and discovers that it has fully-formed internal organs and blood-like plasma sufficient to fool the ship’s scanners. In truth, this detail seems like a bit of a cheat, a way for Picard to get around the shapeshifter tests and precautions established in Deep Space Nine. But giving an old enemy a new wrinkle so that old defense mechanisms no longer work, is a time-honored tradition in the franchise, so it gets a pass.
The latter comes from Ro herself, who, it turns out, is the one managing Worf and Raffi’s intelligence mission and using her talents to craft a defense within a small circle of trust to fight this hidden enemy. The move provides a nice bit of redemption for Ro, having paid for her transgressions and been plucked from prison by Starfleet due to her experience with insurgents a la Tom Paris. And it also allows the Next Generation crew to run back to the rhythms of TNG’s “Conspiracy,” the episode where parasitic beings had taken over Starfleet from the inside and a Starfleet officer onto the deception put Picard through his paces to ensure he and his crew could be trusted.
Ro’s presence allows someone in the know to pass on the mission to Picard, connecting him with Worf and Raffi and bringing us ever closer to both the main threat of the season and the inevitable TNG reunion. Unfortunately, Laren’s “knows too much” status gives us yet another classic character brought back just to be killed in this series (justice for Hugh and Icheb!), as her security escorts turn out to be Changelings ready to bring her down.
Still, that contrived, plot-mandated ending only dampens the still abiding excitement for the return of one of TNG’s shortest-lived yet most memorable recurring characters. Star Trek: Picard’s third season seems like the one the most devoted to The Next Generation, making more references to past adventures, reviving the rhythms that the prior show thrived on, and returning more classic characters. Thankfully though, Ro Laren’s reappearance is more than just catnip for longtime fans. Instead, it’s a means to explore lingering scars from long ago with conviction and purpose, and use the return to fuel the latest adventure, rather than simply relive the good old days. The results vary, but the mission, and the characters, are as surprising and noble as ever.