In the fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard’s final season, we were reintroduced, and then said goodbye to, a character from The Next Generation (TNG) that many fans thought we’d never see again. The episode saw the return of Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren, the Bajoran officer last seen in the seventh season TNG episode “Preemptive Strike.” The relationship between Ro and Captain Picard ended on a sour note in that episode. For nearly 30 years, fans didn’t think we’d get any closure to that relationship. But we finally have, and we also said goodbye to the character for good. Here’s the history of Ro Laren, perhaps the Enterprise-D’s most controversial crew member.
Ro Laren: Star Trek’s First Bajoran
The Next Generation introduced Ro Laren in the fifth season episode titled “Ensign Ro.” After the death of Denise Crosby’s character of Tasha Yar at the end of season one, the only female leads on the show, Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, and Guinan, were in caregiver positions. All were empathetic shoulders for the crew to cry on. The show lacked a woman who was more action prone, and who was maybe a little rougher around the edges. The producers created Ro to fulfill that purpose. She appeared as a recurring character throughout TNG seasons five and six and made one final appearance in the show’s seventh season.
Ro was important for several reasons. She was the first Bajoran introduced in the franchise, establishing that race. From her, we learned that Bajorans were a spiritual people, who wore one earring as a religious symbol. We also learned that the Bajoran family name came first, and the individual name came second. Which is why she was properly addressed as “Ensign Ro,” not “Ensign Laren.” We also learned of the long history of persecution of the Bajoran people by the Cardassians. All of these things would later form the core backstory for the Bajoran people in Deep Space Nine. In fact, they intended Ro Laren to be a main character in that series, but Michelle Forbes turned down the offer. Instead, the Bajoran character of Major Kira Nerys was created to replace her.
Ensign Ro’s Tragic Backstory
Ro Laren was born on the planet Bajor, which at the time was under occupation by the Cardassian Union. The Cardassians had strip-mined the planet, forcing the inhabitants into slave labor. Ro Laren’s parents moved the family from one refugee camp to another. When she was seven years old, Cardassians forced her to watch as they tortured her father to death. She felt shame in being Bajoran, and ran away from her home and her heritage. She eventually went to Starfleet Academy—but her career in Starfleet was fraught with problems from the start.
While serving on the U.S.S. Wellington, a willful Ro Laren disobeyed a direct order on an away mission. Eight crew members died as a result. Starfleet court-martialed Ro for this act, and sent her to the stockade. A Starfleet admiral released her from prison and reinstated her, now reduced to the rank of ensign. He assigned her, much to Captain Picard’s protest, to the Enterprise-D. Supposedly, they reinstated her to help track down a Bajoran terrorist, something they needed the Enterprise to do.
An Unlikely Bond with Captain Picard
However, the truth was that the Admiral wanted her to broker a secret deal with the Bajoran terrorists, against the Prime Directive. She informed Captain Picard of the plans of this corrupt Admiral, gaining his trust. He requested she stay on board the Enterprise, and he would help her make up for past mistakes, and get her Starfleet career back on track. After many missions together, she began to view Picard as a mentor and father figure. She also developed bonds with fellow crew members like Geordi La Forge, and the ship’s bartender, Guinan. Ro and Guinan grew even closer when a transporter mishap turned them both into kids. She eventually made the rank of lieutenant again.
Sadly, the bond between Ro and Picard shattered when Picard gave her a special assignment. They ordered her to go undercover as a member of the Maquis, a rebel group made of different alien species. They fought against the Cardassians, who they felt were occupying their homeworlds. But Ro Laren, mostly due to her childhood trauma, sympathized with the Maquis. Instead of infiltrating them to take them down, she wound up joining them. Picard saw this as a deep betrayal, and the two never saw each other again. Many believed she died when the Dominion wiped out the Maquis‘ infrastructure during their war on the Alpha Quadrant.
What Happened to Ro After The Next Generation?
As we learned in episode five of Star Trek: Picard, however, not only did Ro Laren not die, she actually rejoined Starfleet. This shocked Picard. Although we’re not sure how a former admiral of his stature didn’t know this fact already. After years with the Maquis, Ro turned herself in to Starfleet. They court-martialed her and she went to prison again. Given her history with terrorist groups, upon release from jail, they recruited her into Starfleet Intelligence. After an intense rehabilitation program, she worked her way up the Starfleet ladder again. She was the one who recognized a conspiracy growing within Starfleet, and subcontracted Worf and Raffi into a larger investigation.
Ro shared her feelings about the compromised Federation with Picard. However, before that, the two finally had a confrontation aboard the Titan, where they aired out their feelings of betrayal and disappointment with each other in an emotional scene—one 29 years in the making. But before Ro was killed by Changeling terrorists in an effort to frame Picard and Riker, she and Jean-Luc came to an understanding, and admitted their mutual respect for one another. She also gave Picard her Bajoran earring, which contained all her investigation into the infiltration of Starfleet.
When Ro Laren died, she left to join the Prophets, knowing that Picard had regained his respect for her after so many years. It was a sad, yet poignant ending for one of Star Trek’s most unforgettable recurring characters.
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