Picard's shock Star Trek return fails a classic Next Generation character
Star Trek: Picard season 3 episode 5 spoilers follow.
Picard's final season is a nostalgic one, even though it does look to the future, and that's because all our Next Gen faves are back. Riker, Crusher, and even Worf — who's become a full-blown Star Trek daddy thanks to his new silver fox look — are all reunited with Jean-Luc this season.
It's not just the main Enterprise crew who are back either. In episode three, actor Thomas Dekker made a surprise return to the franchise after he played an imaginary version of Picard's kid back in the 90s, and now episode five has surprised us with the return of someone even more unexpected.
Who is Ro Laren?
29 years after she left the Enterprise in Next Generation's penultimate episode, Ro Laren is finally back on our screens, and she does not look happy to see Jean-Luc. Things are awkward, and not just because Ro's been forced to deal with Picard's usual chaos on behalf of the Federation. There's also some long-standing tension that hasn't been resolved since we last saw them together on screen in 1994.
Back in the third episode of Next Gen season five, the Bajoran officer was introduced as a new officer aboard the USS Enterprise-D, but Jean-Luc wasn't too happy about Ro's assignment even then due to her previous court martial.
Things improved, however, over the next three seasons as Ro went on to prove herself in the eyes of her captain. That is, until she defected to the resistance group the Maquis after she was originally assigned to infiltrate them.
Right before she beamed away for good in her final episode, Ro told Riker to tell Picard that she was sorry for betraying his trust. Jean-Luc didn't take that too well, caught up in a mix of anger but also guilt for the role he played in her desertion.
After Next Generation came to an end, just one episode later, the team behind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine planned to bring Ro Laren back as First Officer under Benjamin Sisko's command. However, Michelle Forbes turned down this return to the role, which forced the writers to create a new character named Kira Nerys instead, who was inspired by Ro.
And with that, Ro Laren vanished from Star Trek onscreen. Fans who wanted to see what happened to her next had to read the Deep Space Nine relaunch novels that were published in the early noughties.
But now, almost three decades later, Michelle Forbes has finally agreed to return as Ro for one last sendoff. It's painful for Jean-Luc to see her again, and honestly, we're feeling some kind of way about it too.
Ro Laren's return explained
When Ro Laren arrives onboard and comes face-to-face with Picard, the tension is palpable. It turns out that this is the first time they've seen each other since that fateful day when she left and — in Picard's eyes — betrayed his trust.
It turns out Picard's grudges know how to live long and prosper because it's not long before the word "traitor" comes up and Jean-Luc even aims his weapon at her before everything comes to a head. Sure, he suspects Ro might be a Changeling in disguise, but this definitely feels personal in a way that wouldn't with anyone else.
To determine if Ro really is who she says she is, Jean-Luc has to dredge up the past — "I've been rehearsing this conversation for years" — and in doing so, he ends up admitting to her that she "broke his heart." To which Ro replies, "And you broke mine."
Like his devastating conversation with Crusher two episodes earlier, this is Jean-Luc at his most vulnerable, which is something that Picard has excelled at exploring this season in particular. Without a ship of his own, Jean-Luc the man, not the Admiral, comes to the fore more, giving us time to better understand who he is behind that Starfleet uniform now that he's forced to reckon with his past.
After Ro and Jean-Luc are finally given space to talk about what's long been left unsaid, there's still some tension, but you can also see that love and respect remain between them too. That's why Ro's decision to leave hurt them both so much in the first place, and that's why they manage to get it together now still, in spite of everything, to combat the encroaching Changeling threat that's coming for them all.
This resolution has been a very long time coming for Star Trek fans, including showrunner Terry Matalas who told Digital Spy exclusively that he "always wanted to see the next part" of their story:
"If you're going to tell one final Star Trek: The Next Generation story, it really felt like Ro Laren needed to be a part of it," added Matalas. "We were really lucky to have her back and be able to tell one great, final Ro Laren and Picard story."
Up to this point, it's exactly that. The answer to a cliffhanger that many will have forgotten they needed until they finally see it handled now so beautifully in this episode. But what comes next may divide longtime Star Trek fans who hoped to see more of Ro onscreen somehow.
Ro Laren's tragic fate explained
With their feelings aired and some form of trust re-established, Ro tells Picard to take the USS Titan and run while she buys them some time. But not before she delivers one final, haunting line to Jean-Luc that best summarises the pain she's carried since their last goodbye:
"I only did what I thought was best, all these years, I wish you had known me the way I knew you."
And with that, Ro departs, but on her return to the USS Intrepid, she discovers that her security team were actually Changelings all along, and even worse, they left a bomb aboard her shuttle. There's no time to make it back to the other ship alive, and the transport systems have been jammed too, so Ro decides to drive her craft straight into the Intrepid, knowing that the ship has now been overrun by Changelings.
"Jean-Luc, it's up to you now," Ro tells him over the intercom. "Finish what I started. I'm giving you what you gave me all those years ago. A fighting chance."
Picard starts to ask for forgiveness but it's too late. The connection is lost, and then we watch Ro's ship explode with her still inside.
It's an incredibly emotional send-off, one of the most powerful that Star Trek has seen in years, but it all just happens so quickly. We're barely given time to take in Ro's return and her conversation with Jean-Luc before we lose her forever with this ultimate sacrifice.
Although the speed at which this happens does feel quite cinematic, much like Picard as a whole this season, it's brutal to kill off such a beloved character so quickly following her three decade-long absence on screen.
It's almost as if Ro's death was seen as a chance to raise the stakes without having to actually kill any of the major players. And in that sense, it does work, but we feel cheated nonetheless, even if Ro wouldn't haven't been able to return again anyway (be it due to Picard maybe ending soon or Michelle Forbes perhaps not wanting to come back for more).
Speaking to showrunner Terry Matalas, we shared our mixed feelings on this moment and asked for some insight into why Ro had to die, to which he said:
"If you know you're going to get three or four more seasons, then you probably wouldn't do that. But there's a sense of finality, as as a final Next Gen story. There's nothing really better than knowing that Ro saved the galaxy by sending her friends and heroes off on the journey that will hopefully save the galaxy. It's her mission and she set the path for them. So it's this heartfelt goodbye, but a truly heroic one in its tragedy."
As much as we love to see Star Trek boldly go where no man has gone before, Ro's death left us wishing Picard had been a little less bold this season, at least in this one key regard.
Star Trek: Picard season 3 is available on Paramount+ in the US, with new episodes released weekly. Viewers in the UK can watch the new season on Prime Video and Paramount+ from February 17.
Previous seasons are available to stream on the same platforms.
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