This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.
When most people think about the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard, Riker, Geordi La Forge, Worf, Beverly Crusher, and Data immediately come to mind. They might even think of some of the side characters, like Wesley Crusher and Chief Miles O’Brien, the latter of which went on to play a much bigger role on Deep Space Nine. But Trekkers would agree that when it comes to the best of the recurring characters of TNG, there’s one who stands above even Lieutenant Barclay and Doctor Pulaski: Michelle Forbes’ Ensign Ro Laren.
Introduced in the season five episode that bore her name, Ro was a Bajoran Ensign who clashed with Picard almost immediately. Played with a chip on her shoulder by Forbes, Ro brought an essential bit of conflict to the Enterprise crew, adhering to a moral code that sometimes put her at odds with Starfleet, and adding some edge to a show that tended to avoid deeper interpersonal conflicts (a Gene Roddenberry rule that modern Trek has largely abandoned). It’s no surprise, then, that Forbes’ abrupt exit from the franchise resulted in one of The Next Generation‘s most divisive storylines.
In the season 7 episode “Preemptive Strike,” Ro Laren defects from Starfleet to join the Maquis, a group of anti-Cardassian extremists who oppose the Federation’s treaty with the one-time occupiers of Bajor. Although producers originally hoped to continue Ro’s story on Deep Space Nine, the show about Starfleet occupying a former Cardassian space station above Bajor, Forbes passed on the opportunity, leading to the creation of Nana Visitor’s equally brilliant Major Kira Nerys as a replacement.
Meanwhile, the lack of closure for Ro left a frustrating hole in Next Generation. Throughout her two seasons on the show, Ro and Picard pushed one another, with the former learning how to be part of an organization that put the needs of the many before the needs of the few, and the latter learning to ease up on empty restrictions, eventually allowing Ro to wear her Bajoran earpiece on the Enterprise.
Ro’s story comes to an end shortly after she’s promoted to Lieutenant when she’s assigned to infiltrate and investigate a Maquis cell. The experience leads Ro to believe that she’ll do the most good by working with the rebel group, leading to her heartbreaking resignation from Starfleet. And unlike Worf, who always came back after resigning his commission to do Klingon stuff, Ro basically disappears, leaving both Picard and viewers hanging. Although she showed up again in non-canonical works — including the book The Wrath of the Prophets, which teams Ro with Kira — she didn’t even get a brief movie cameo, an honor bestowed upon Barclay in First Contact.
So it was quite the shock to see Ro Laren leading a group of Starfleet security personnel to court martial Picard, Riker, and Seven in the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard, “Imposters.” Our heroes knew they would face repercussions for commandeering the USS Titan and endangering Captain Shaw‘s crew in their attempts to rescue Beverly Crusher and her son Jack. But they are caught completely by surprise when Ro arrives once again representing Starfleet and with the rank of Commander.
Ro’s Starfleet comeback allows director Dan Liu to ratchet up the tension in the episode, in which we learn that renegade Changelings have already infiltrated the highest levels of Starfleet. Like the viewers, Picard doesn’t understand how Ro was allowed back into Starfleet after joining the Maquis or how she earned such a high-ranking position (apparently, he never asked his fellow defendant Seven of Nine about her Voyager shipmates Chakotay or Torres). So we watch the proceedings closely, convinced that Ro will, at any moment, reveal her true, gooey nature as an undercover Changeling.
But episode writers Cindy Appel & Chris Derrick have more than just paranoia in mind. Instead, they allow Picard and Ro to hash out their differences, thus giving a more satisfying conclusion to the latter’s journey. Ro explains that principles drove her to leave Starfleet for the Maquis, that it wasn’t just ego that prevented her from acquiescing to the Federation. And as she has always done, Ro challenges Picard’s assumptions, especially his sometimes blind faith in Starfleet, bringing a healthy bit of skepticism that will surely serve her former mentor well as he deals with the Changeling threat.
Unfortunately, their reunion is short-lived. By the end of the episode, Ro has chosen to sacrifice herself so that the Titan can escape the USS Intrepid, which is now also under the control of the Changelings. Some may argue that ending Ro’s story just as suddenly as it began is equally unsatisfying, but unlike her original exit back, Picard gives Ro the opportunity to fully speak for herself and make peace with Jean-Luc, while filling in the gaps from the TNG era. Most importantly, it gives us all a chance to say a proper goodbye to one of Star Trek‘s best characters.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 streams on Thursdays on Paramount+.