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(Finally...the server comes back up.  Sorry for the delay, and sorry if the server problems cause this message to repeat.  --TL)

WARNING:  This article contains heavy spoiler information for this week's TNG episode, "Ensign Ro".  Those sentients who've not yet seen the episode and who don't wish foreknowledge of it are advised to depart now.

"Darmok" it wasn't...but it wasn't too bad, either..

This one's going to be tough to grade, no doubt about it.  I suppose I'll puzzle it out somehow...but first, a synopsis:

After the Solarion 4 settlement is destroyed, and a race called the Bajora claims responsibility, Picard meets with Admiral Kennelly, who tells him that the Bajoran responsible is a terrorist leader named Orta.  (The Bajorans' homeworld was annexed by the Cardassians generations ago--they've been refugees ever since.)  Picard's mission is to find Orta, and to get him back to the Bajoran settlement camps "any way he can".  Kennelly offers amnesty to Orta, but nothing more than promises beyond it.  

A possible snag in this mission is the very thing Kennelly proposed to help it:  the presence of one Ensign Ro Laran, a Bajoran.  Her past record is such that virtually no one on board wants her there (including Picard), but Kennelly insists she can be of help.  She comes on board, with a sour disposition light-years across.  

Despite her attitude, she manages to be of some help.  Due in large part to her suggestions and efforts, Picard manages to locate Orta, and they head to the third moon of Vallor 1, his base.  After Guinan takes an interest in Ro (despite Ro's opposition, and to the extent of calling her a friend), however, Ro receives a private communication from Admiral Kennelly.  Everything is "going as [he] predicted," she tells him...

The next morning, the away team (Picard, Troi, Worf, and Data) prepare to beam down, and find that Ro did so six hours ago.  They follow her, and are promptly captured by Orta and his people.  Orta, horribly disfigured as a result of Cardassian torture, tells them that he felt abducting them was necessary, and says that the Bajora were _not_ responsible for the attack.   (Ro had beamed down early to try to stop the bloodshed she was convinced the mission will eventually come to.)

Picard is somewhat inclined to believe Orta, especially since Troi sensed no deception from him.  However, he confines Ro to quarters for her unauthorized beam-down.  She broods in her quarters, but Guinan again comes to the rescue, coaxing enough out of her to find that much more is going on than originally thought, and she convinces Ro to talk to Picard (and convinces Picard to listen, equally importantly).

Ro reveals that she was given a different mission by Kennelly:  to offer Orta Federation weapons in exchange for returning to the camps.  (He also gave her authorization for her beam-down.)  However, with Orta's revelation, she no longer knows what to do or whom to trust.  Picard decides that the best course might be to actually _take_ Orta back to the camps, and then "see what happens"...

As the Enterprise escorts a Bajoran cruiser [at half impulse, the cruiser's top speed] to the camp, however, two Cardassian ships cross the border and forcefully "request" that the Enterprise leave this "terrorist" ship to them.   Picard initially refuses, and is given an hour.  Kennelly, far from helping, insists that the Cardassian treaty is the more important issue, and orders Picard to withdraw--even after Picard openly states his belief that Kennelly was working with the Cardassians to draw Orta out so that they could destroy him.

Picard withdraws, and the Bajoran cruiser is destroyed.  However, Kennelly is surprised to hear that no one was on board!  (Picard and Ro, suspecting a chain of events like this might occur, planned it.)  Picard informs Kennelly that the Bajoran ships are so old and obsolete that they were incapable of attacking the Solarion 4 settlement, and suggests that the Cardassians staged everything, hoping to find someone like Kennelly, naive enough to help them solve their problems.  All is well--and Ro, after Picard challenges her to stay in Starfleet, stays on.

There, that should do.  Now, some thoughts, such as they are:

I started off _extremely_ skeptical.  Apart from the first minute, a truly awful scene with the barber we've seen in the background once or twice [and which made me believe the "beauty salon" set has really been a waste of effort--the only half-decent scene we've had in it so far was in "Data's Day"], the first 10-15 minutes virtually *screamed* "This is TNG's take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" at me.  I wouldn't fault TNG for trying to tackle the issue--but this was looking poorly executed, and was looking about as subtle as a live grenade.  Bleah.

However, somewhere in there...it changed.  Radically, and for the better.  I think it must've been around the time Ro had her private communication from Kennelly--suddenly, it looked like this *wasn't* just a poorly-done "TNG moralizes until half the audience retches" show.  (I don't think there've been quite as many as some seem to think, but there've certainly been a few--"Symbiosis" comes to mind as a vivid example...)  Suddenly, there was something more to it--and something much more interesting.

The main thing that kept me interested early on (as interested as I was, anyway) was Ro herself.  She originally looked like something of a plot device, but man, she was a *feisty* plot device.  Michelle Forbes did a vastly better job here than she did as Timicin's daughter in "Half a Life," I must say.  (And TNG's definitely getting a better class of guest stars--first
Winfield's performance last week, and now hers.  Keep it up, folks...)  I wasn't hugely interested in her background (although I *did* want to know more of the details of what she did that got everyone so pissed, and I'm a little miffed we didn't get them), but something about her kept me watching.

The second half of the show was vastly better.  Ro's turnaround was slightly forced (as my wife put it, she and Sela really should get together for a major angst-wrestling match sometime :-) ), but it was fairly believable, thanks mostly to Guinan's presence.  And for once, TNG avoided its too-common "rushed ending" problem, and had the fifth act as the *best* one of the episode.  As in "Redemption II" [although it's about the only thing the shows share], Picard's strategizing is one of the more interesting things to watch.  

Some bits didn't ring true, though, mostly early on.  For example:

--Once again, Riker was *too* hostile and bullying.  I had no problem with him voicing lots of distaste for having her on board to Picard in private, or with his reminder about "proper uniform code" when she first came on board.  But his little spiel (bellowed, of course) about how lots of officers wait years to serve on this ship, and she doesn't care, etc., has simply got to go.  As with "Darmok", I'm not sure the problem was hugely in the writing, so much as in Frakes's playing of it.  Someone get this man back to directing!  :-)

--Most of the scene with Keeve Falor completely failed to hold my interest. [Well, all right, *after* Michelle Forbes takes off her jacket.  She *was* rather attractive, after all.  :-) ]  The arguments are ones I'd heard before (and more interestingly), and Picard's eventual solution struck me as buying his way out of the problem, which I found a little distasteful.

--This started out as a major objection, and was fortunately improved upon later.  I originally thought "wait a second...here we have this ensign whom virtually no one on board likes or trusts, and yet she manages to beam down by herself without authorization and the transporter operator *doesn't tell anyone about it*?  What?"  Fortunately, at least the "authorization" bit was cleared up, thanks to Adm. Kennelly.  I still think Riker would have set something up to keep a closer eye on her movements, though.

--The conference itself was fine (especially Ro's points), but Bev's statements about the diplomat being a good dancer seemed a little incongruous. This is a delicate negotiation we're heading into...

Okay.  As to the rest of the performances...hmm.  Stewart did a good job, as usual (although not stellar; nothing close to last week, certainly).  Whoopi did an excellent job--if I'm ever a starship captain, I definitely want a quirky Time Lord on staff.  :-)  Cliff Potts was interesting as Kennelly--at first, I was annoyed that he seemed to be so rash, but it turned out that that was completely intentional, so he's covered.  :-)

The direction was...mixed.  More specifically, some of the scenes themselves seemed a little poorly done (I'd really have liked a little background music during Ro's big "why I had to do this" speech, for example--it dragged horribly), but some of the cuts between them were excellent.  (The two I'm thinking of are Ro's "and he won't ask you to dance"/cut right to the beam-down, and Guinan's trust of "one man"/cut right to Picard.)

That would seem to cover that.  :-)  Some more random thoughts...

--That was a very weird-looking Cardassian.  Small problem with the makeup?

--I also noticed that the Cardassian's name was *Gul* Dolak.  Is "Gul" a title, a la the Ferengi DaiMon?  I didn't think so before, but now it's looking likely.

--Picard's jacket returns.  :-)

--Nice work, Worf, getting yourself and Picard captured like that without a struggle.  :-)

--The Cardassians are still being portrayed as somewhat subtle, scheming backstabbers.  Suits me fine--I was worried that they'd come back as a more peaceful race.

--Mike Shappe mentioned this to me back around "Redemption II", but it's a reasonably valid point here, too.  All of Picard's strategizing definitely makes me think that like Kirk, Picard will one day become an Admiral--and that unlike Kirk, Picard will take to it like a duck to water.  He's a chess player--and that's the stuff Admiralty is made of.  (Good thing, too--seems that everyone else of that rank is either obnoxious, stupid, or both.  :-) )

That would mostly seem to be that, I think.  It starts off slow (and doesn't look promising), but it definitely improves.  Thus, the numbers...

Plot:  7.  It wasn't clear at all what sort of tack the show was taking at first, and it should have been.  
Plot Handling:  5.  Too ssssssslllllllllllllooooooooooowwwwwwwww at the beginning, by a long shot.
Characterization:  9.  A bit off for Riker (again), but everyone else was strong, especially Stewart and Forbes (the two most visible).

TOTAL:  7.  Music and FX were about average, so no rounding up or down.

NEXT WEEK:

Tim has candidacy exams, and thus doesn't see the show or write a review until Friday or Saturday.  Oh...the show?

The "giant snowflake" from Data's past is back, and it's pissed.  Film at 11.

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjuliet
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"Mind if we join you?"
"Yes."
                --Troi and Ro, "Ensign Ro"
--
Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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