“Sub Rosa” – TNG 7X14

Quick summary: Crusher attends her grandmother’s funeral and finds that she had a ghost-like “lover”, Ronin, who had been moving from one woman to another in her family line for generations and is now fixated on her.

Critique: According to the book Captain’s Logs, production staff say the reception to this episode was split along gender lines, with men hating the show and women loving it. If that’s true, I’ll be bucking a trend here. I’ll get the good things about this episode out of the way first, because there aren’t very many of them. 

Troi and Crusher talk in Ten Forward

The absolute best thing about “Sub Rosa” is number of Crusher/Troi BFF scenes. We get to see Troi using her empathic skills to navigate a friendship, and it’s not overstated. For example, she knows when Crusher wants her there and when she wants to be alone after her grandmother’s funeral.

That same scene we also get to learn more about Crusher’s upbringing, and relationship with her mother and grandmother, than we’ve ever really heard before.

The only part of Troi’s role in this episode that I really wondered about was the part where she tells Picard about Ronin, after Beverly unexpectedly resigns. Keep in mind she would’ve had to fill in quite a bit of backstory, because all Picard knows is that Crusher had found her grandma’s journal references to a 34-year-old lover*.

Troi talks to Picard in his Ready Room

Troi: Beverly was attracted to Ronin in a very intense and intimate way. I warned her that it was all very sudden but she didn’t want to talk about it, so I let her alone. I sensed that she was holding something back, that she wasn’t telling me the whole truth.

Picard: Do you think this Ronin could be exerting some sort of influence over her? That it’s because of him that she’s staying?

Troi: It’s possible. But she may really believe she’s in love with him. 

At this point Troi and Picard are just confused; they don’t know Beverly is in danger. So my question is, is there no expectation of confidentiality with the ship’s counsellor? I get that she’d have to tell Picard if she knew something that could prevent someone from getting hurt or the ship or Federation being put in danger, but reporting what your friend told you about their love life*, before you know if it’s relevant?

The other thing I can appreciate about “Sub Rosa” is that, if they were going to put the episode in a ridiculous Scottish gothic setting, at least they did an okay job explaining it. They actually take the time for Governor Maturin to explain to Picard how the colony was carefully crafted to give people a taste of old Scottish scenery and culture, including aliens like him who felt drawn to Scotland. 

Ned Quint in his tam

They did not, however, explain why ol’ Groundskeeper Willie – I mean Ned Quint – needed an accent as exaggerated as Scotty’s, while Ronin, who started out in Scotland many centuries ago, sounds Canadian with just a hint of English.

But the most significant issue with this episode isn’t the issues with the accents or Troi’s big mouth, or the unimpressive explanation of how Ronin can travel to the Enterprise (“I can travel on the power transfer beam!”).

sartorialscientist was the person who requested I review this episode and here’s what she said:

[I] was disturbed by how Crusher is essentially raped by this ghost/alien, and yet no one seems disturbed by it (including her).

The biggest problem with this episode is that it’s a story about sexual assault that we’re supposed to read as a story about romance.

Lest you think calling it rape is an overreach, consider the following:

  • Ronin can be seen as committing rape by deception. He claims to be a spirit or ghost who only wants to “become one” with her, but by the end we learn, and Beverly calls out, that he’s really an energy being who needed her as an “organic host to maintain molecular cohesion”.
  • Even more significantly, It is rape when one partner does not have the ability to freely consent. Ronin begins by invading Beverly’s dreams while she’s asleep, and then subjects her to some kind of mind control in the cottage. She is clearly terrified and trying her best to resist. She even tells him to stop, but he doesn’t:
Beverly screams at Ronin to stop

Ronin: When your family moved out into the galaxy, I moved with them.

Crusher: I don’t believe you.

Ronin: I believe you are the most beautiful women I have ever known.

Crusher: What’s, what’s happening to me?

Ronin: We’re becoming one, Beverly. We’re going to be together.

Crusher: I don’t understand. Stop it!

But as sartorialscientist mentioned, none of the other characters calls Crusher’s “romance” with Ronin what it really is. 

There’s a point late in the episode where you start to get your hopes up. After Ronin attacks Picard and then Geordi and Data (by zapping them after possessing Crusher’s deceased grandma, which is pretty awesome), Crusher realizes she has to stop him. 

Beverly fires a phaser in the cemetery

Crusher: There’s no such thing as a ghost. You are some sort of anaphasic lifeform. Anaphasic energy is extremely unstable. It needs an organic host in order to maintain molecular cohesion or else you’ll die. Isn’t that right?…I also scanned the candle. The flame is plasma based. You were using it as a receptacle for yourself in order to get to me, in order to merge with me. You have been using me, Nana, my entire family for centuries!

She shoots the candle/receptacle and then shoots him before breaking down in tears (Gates’ acting is fabulous throughout this episode – I just wish she’d been given a better vehicle).

As we go into the last scene on the Enterprise we hear Picard mention in his log that Crusher has a difficult recovery ahead. If they’d kind of left it at that, it might have been not so bad. Crusher would’ve ended the episode by taking control and killing her attacker. Instead, she goes back to using the rhetoric of romance to describe what happened (emphasis mine):

Crusher: I imagine that he took human form and seduced her like he did me. I was about to be initiated into a very unusual relationship. You might call it a family tradition. But there’s a part of me that’s a little sad.

Troi: How so?

Crusher: I re-read the entries in my grandmother’s journals. Whatever else he might have done, he made her very happy.

It’s obvious by looking at this quote from Jeri Taylor (who has story credit for this episode [Brannon Braga wrote the teleplay]) that the writers just didn’t see the seriousness of the situation they wrote:

It is a romance but we do have women in our audience and women do traditionally respond to romantic stories.

And don’t even get me started on Taylor’s generalization about what kind of stories women like… 

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Crusher tells Troi about her mother and grandmother.

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