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Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Homeward”/“Sub Rosa”

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“Homeward” (season 7, episode 13; first aired January 15, 1994)

Or The One Where Worf Takes A Long Walk In A Small Room

I can’t remember the last time I successfully applied a principle in my life. I was going to start this review with some grand statement about how it’s important to have moral guidelines to get you through the complications and confusion that everyone one of has to face day in, day out. Then I realized, I’m not sure that’s actually true. Most of the ethical choices I make are so muddled up in emotion and circumstance and timing that they barely ever feel like choices. I really only realize the decision in retrospect, and the idea of applying some kind of consistent system to conversations or work obligations or relationships seems a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube while blindfolded, drunk, and wearing mittens. And yet, given the chaos (and all things considered, my life isn’t that nuts), it seems like it would be more important than ever to have some way to stay grounded. Maybe it’s like being an actor. During rehearsals, you take direction and comments on your work, but in the moment of the performance, 95 percent of the notes you get drop away. You just do your best and hope some of it sticks. Maybe that’s why we spend most of our childhood learning the same three or four lessons—so we can do our best as grown-ups, and hope some of it sticks.


Maybe that’s also why Picard and the others spend so much time talking about the Prime Directive, and reminding each other of the importance of noninterference at the drop of a hat. (“Wait! Don’t pick up that hat. It has a pre-space technology culture.”) They’re faced with situations which test their resolve on a regular basis, and these are really tough tests; we’re not talking “Should I tell the waitress she has the wrong change?” We’re talking living, breathing sentient beings, and playing god, and not being able to see the consequences of your actions in the long term. That’s the really scary part right there, and the reason why staying aloof, even when it seems impossible, makes the most sense in the long run. Still, I’m not sure any principle can be completely ironclad (I’m a big fan of John Fowles’ “Do no unnecessary harm,” but who gets to decide what “necessary” means?), and “Homeward” takes a long, slow look at an instant where the Prime Directive is pushed to an absolute extreme. It’s an episode about consequences, about examining assumptions and presenting two disparate views of the world and refusing to tell us which one to choose. I should be all over this shit. So why was I so bored?

We’re back in the doldrums with this week’s doubleheader, and while “Sub Rosa” is by far the worst of the two, at least it wasn’t as much a grind as watching the Enterprise pull a long con on a group of generically naïve aliens. There are all the pieces here of an interesting episode. We have a world-threatening climatic catastrophe; extensive use of the holodeck in a fairly reasonable, non-horrible fashion; extensive debate about the obligations and responsibilities of dealing with alien species (okay, that sounds a little on the dull side, but it could have been fascinating); and Worf in a pivotal role, dealing with his somewhat estranged foster brother, Nikolai. Nikolai is played by Paul Sorvino, which should mean that even if this is a snooze fest, you have ample opportunity to make Goodfellas jokes whenever Paulie is on screen. Here’s the sad part: While I recognized Sorvino, I didn’t remember the Goodfellas connection until just now. That’s 40 minutes worth of bad-joke opportunities wasted.


Back on point, “Homeward” has elements for success. But it just doesn’t work, primarily because the conflicts are minimized in ways that remove the majority of their tension; any suspense left behind is a grinding, dull affair, as again and again, we watch people say what needs to be accomplished and then, slowly, do that. There are minor complications, and a suicide (which is only the second we’ve had on the series, I think, unless you count the end of “The Child,” and who wants to do that?), but it’s all surface chatter. Nothing here has any emotional weight or real significance; it copies the attitudes of a great TNG episode, but forgets the soul. It doesn’t help that Picard is reduced to an authoritative figurehead, spouting regulations at Worf’s erring step-relation, but then lacking any means to actually follow through on anything he says. Basically, the episode breaks down to: Nikolai does something that violates Federation ordinance; Picard is upset; Nikolai has a plan that solves everything; Picard fumes some, but they follow the plan; it basically works out. There are problems (like that suicide), and “Homeward” is in some ways about how Nikolai’s self-righteousness forces other people to clean up his messes, but it’s largely toothless. Which means that I spent most the time trying to get worked up about what was happening on screen, and failing again and again.

Nikolai Rozhenko has been hidden on a science outpost on the pre-space (and most other) technology Boraal 2. But the planet is in crisis, as the atmosphere has become unstable; vicious electrical storms will render the surface uninhabitable in a matter of days. The Enterprise arrives to get Nikolai and his records off the planet, but when Worf beams down, he finds his brother has made contact with a village of Boraalans, and led them underground to protect them from the storms. He hasn’t told them everything about himself (and he doesn’t intend to), but he is determined to save them. He makes his case to Picard, and Picard, citing the PD, refuses. So Nikolai beams the colony aboard the ship onto the holodeck, and then trusts the merciful judgment of the Enterprise senior staff to help him complete his plan anyway. This works out well for him.

It’s strange how easily Nikolai is able to beam a group of 30 or so people onto the ship, and take over a holodeck in the process. The show hand-waves it by having Nikolai fake a disturbance related to Boraal’s storms in order to hide the energy surge, but you’d think there’d be some kind of child-proof lock on the teleporters. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is that once Nikolai goes through with his plan, he suffers no consequences for his rash behavior. If this episode is intended partly as a debate about the necessity (or lack thereof) of the Prime Directive, it’s a pretty one-sided debate at best. Picard and Troi talk in concepts, theories, vague imperatives, while Nikolai has a group of people who would die if they weren’t helped. Yes, you can’t save everyone, but the episode never gets around to giving us clear reasons why you can’t. Or even why this particular adventure is so ill-advised. Nikolai even winds up marrying a Boraalan (she’s pregnant with his child, which may hurt President Palmer’s chance for re-election); Worf argues with him over this, but finally capitulates with a sort of “That’s so Nikolai!” shrug.

“Homeward” attempts to generate suspense by having the holodeck on the fritz, constantly threatening Nikolai and Worf’s efforts to provide the colonists with a smooth transition to their new home. (Nikolai’s plan: Use the holodeck to re-create the Boraalan caves so the Boraalans never realize they’ve left their planet. Then find a planet capable of supporting them, and program the holodeck to simulate a journey to this new terrain, beaming them down once the transition is complete. It’s actually fairly ingenious, and makes you wonder if the less scrupulous scientists in the Federation haven’t considered using holodecks for similar, if less well-intentioned, ruses.) The two stepbrothers handle any difficulties that arise easily, and the Boraalans arrive at their destination none the wiser, with only a single casualty. It’s difficult to walk away from all this and still think the Directive is as indisputable a good as the rest of the series argues. That’s fine, if that’s the intent, but there are no ramifications suggested here. While the crew acknowledges they’re glad they saved the Boraalans in the end, there’s no, “Well, what does this all mean for our guiding principle?” comment. That’s because the situation is a closed loop, the number of conditions required to create it complex enough that it has little to no bearing on general behavior. Which makes for some lackluster drama.


The only way this might have worked is if we were given more reason to give a damn about the Boraalans. As is, they’re generic, which makes Nikolai’s arguments that they should be saved for their vital culture harder to swallow. (But then, given that he’s knocked one of them up, I doubt his reasoning is grounded by solid, logical thinking.) The only one we really get to know is Vorin, the chronicler who represents the episode’s only serious attempt at a counter to Nikolai’s demands. Through a computer glitch, Vorin finds his way off the holodeck (this is ridiculous, by the way; why wouldn’t Worf, Picard, or Riker—or anyone with a modicum of sense—have set up a guard or two outside the door?), wanders into Ten Forward, and learns the truth. Picard tries to break the news to him as gently as possible, but Vorin can’t handle it. Faced with a choice between returning to his people and keeping his experiences a secret, or making a new life in the Federation, Vorin kills himself. So, you see, Nikolai’s planning wasn’t perfect, and there was a cost, which means the Prime Directive isn’t completely pointless.

Except, one life to save 30 or so others isn’t the worst math in the world, especially since Vorin would’ve died either way. (Picard mourns that he died alone and afraid, and yes, that is sad, but the “alone” is a good thing.) More than that, though, is the unspoken condescension in this entire plotline. Vorin isn’t a character with a personality; he’s an idealized concept, the Native Artist, and his death is as meaningless as his life. Beyond the shock of a suicide on such a generally optimistic show, there’s little emotional impact here, and I’m troubled by Vorin’s assumption that his people couldn’t “handle” the knowledge of the Enterprise. We know so little about Boraalan culture that there’s no context in which to place his assumption, and it also makes you think about how much effort is expended here to coddle and protect an alien race from the “shock” of interstellar contact. Vorin is, I suspect, intended as representative of what might have happened if Nikolai and Worf’s attempts at concealment had failed, but the episode fails to make its case successfully. Instead, it offers a wish fulfillment scenario in which a deluded, arrogant do-gooder decides he wants to save the world—and does.


Grade: C+

Stray observations:

  • We don’t even see Nikolai’s reaction to Vorin’s death. The only time he mentions it, he mostly seems happy he can take the chronicler’s place.
  • It doesn’t help that the Enterprise crew is largely stripped of its autonomy here, reduced to playing second fiddle to Nikolai’s plots.
  • It’s fun seeing Michael Dorn nearly out of make-up.
  • If you’re curious about the “President Palmer” joke, Nikolai’s lady friend is played by Penny Johnson Jerald, who played the much despised Sherry Palmer in the first three seasons of 24.
  • To speed the Boraalans to their new home, Picard orders the Enterprise to go to maximum warp. Which means what, now?
  • “It is a sign of La Forge.”

“Sub Rosa” (season 7, episode 14; first aired January 29, 1994)

Or The One Where Ugh. Just Ugh.

All right, this one hurt. So it’s time to switch back to my favorite coping mechanism, the note-based review. Here are (with annotations and a few minor corrections) my thoughts as jotted down while watching “Sub Rosa.” The screams from a damned soul are implied.


Crusher’s grandmother’s funeral
We open in a cemetery, as Beverly gives a eulogy for a woman we’ve never heard mentioned before, Felisa “Nana” Howard. It’s an idyllic scene, in that it’s obviously a set modeled to look like something out of The Quiet Man, and there isn’t anything immediately unsettling about it. The episode should have started with Patrick Stewart in front of a red curtain, warning us that the hour to follow would feature scenes not fit for human consumption. A real missed opportunity there.

A handsome man drops a camellia on the coffin, and gives Beverly a sexy look. Strap in!
At this point, I like to think I was still laughing with the episode, not at it. Still, this the first official warning sign that we’re leaving behind science fiction, and heading into Lifetime Original Movie territory.


Picard and Governor Maturin get us up to speed on the colony.
Caldos—terraforming project
The place was built to look like the Scottish highlands.
Okay, so I was a little premature in the Quiet Man reference; this is Scottish, not Irish. There’s something very old-school Trek about the effort to recreate a familiar Earth environment, and it adds to the feeling, throughout the episode, that this is really just someone’s attempt to shoehorn their favorite genre into a series that can’t support it. (Although really, “Sub Rosa” gets so bad you can’t really blame it on genre problems.)

They walk over and stand in front of a fence. Seriously?
The blocking here isn’t very good, is what I’m saying.


“Your grandmother had remarkable green eyes.” Troi says this like it’s the greatest miracle of the world.
I’m sure the eyes are impressive, and I’m also sure Troi is just trying to find something nice to say, but really, this line is only here to set up for a payoff later in the episode. If you hear this and don’t immediately think, “I wonder when Beverly’s eyes will turn green,” you should probably watch more scary movies.

Nana raised Beverly after her mother died.
A magic candle. 
Oh, “Sub Rosa,” you can pretend all you like that this has a rational explanation, but I know a damn magic candle when I see one.


Beverly deals with her grief by randomly pawing through her grandmother’s stuff.
I’m being mean here, I think—anyone visiting the home of a recently deceased, much beloved relative would be interested in a bit of snooping. But this goes on for a while, and, like much of the episode, it’s awkward. Like maybe someone is trying to build suspense, but doesn’t quite grasp how to go about it.

Of course there’s a journal.
Because of course there is.

Old guy just wanders in and blows the candle out. Beverly is upset.
Ned Quint, the creepy caretaker. “Ach, there’s lots of things she dinna talk about!” PS There’s a death curse.
If you haven’t seen any of the early Friday The 13th movies, this won’t mean much to you, but Ned Quint is a Crazy Ralph stand-in, the elderly nutter who likes to wander in at the beginning of the movie and tell everyone they’re doomed, DOOOOOOOMED. Much like Crazy Ralph, Our Ned can neither clearly articulate the reasoning behind his warning, nor is he able to express himself in a way which is not deeply creepy and/or annoying. Also like Ralph, Ned isn’t long for this world.


I’m also curious as to why he’s so worked up here. Nana died after passing the century mark, and there’s never any indication that her association with Tall, Dark, and Spectral had a visibly negative effect on her. I get that we’re supposed to think it did, but for all we know, she spent her autumn years having ghost sex and died mid-orgasm. (Sorry for that image.)

The Governor hanging out with Data and Geordi in Engineering. Worried about the “caber toss.” 
GET IT? IT’S RUSTIC. (Oh, and something something Caldos has some problems in its weather-control systems.)


Nana was 100 years old and was nailing a guy in his 30s, Ronin.
Beverly and Deanna both think this is tops. I’ll just move on. It gets worse.

The candle comes back to light. And a ghost starts stripping Beverly. Wow.
Keep going.


“He knew exactly how I liked to be touched.” Oh sweet God.
I know. But keep going.

OH MY GOD. She fell asleep reading about her grandmother nailing a guy, and she considers this “erotic.” 
This. Oh lord, this. I guess attitudes are a lot more cavalier in the future about sex and so forth, which is great, but the idea of Beverly reading her grandmother’s account of hot, December-Dawn of Time romance in bed, and, y’know, getting off on this, is far more terrifying than any of the intentional scares this episode has to offer. Nana basically raised Beverly as her own child, which means she’s closer to Beverly’s mother. If I found a secret stash of my dad’s pornographic recollections, I’d burn the site, salt the earth, and never speak to him again. But maybe that’s just me.


A bunch of new flowers appear on the grave. And flashing green light. Gardening Tommyknockers!
[Obligatory Stephen King reference]

Problems with the weather-control system.
One of the (many) goofy elements of “Sub Rosa” is the way it keeps throwing in sci-fi elements while Beverly is off at the Spooky Sexcapades. If anything, these signs drag the episode down even farther. Ronin and his seduction attempts are awful, but they’re mesmerizingly, hilariously awful. The sci-fi stuff is, by comparison, tame and rather half-assed. (Although the two plots come together gloriously in the climax. Oh God, I said “climax.”)


Beverly goes home. There are flowers and shaking mirrors.
Ghost seduction, step one: Poltergeists are hot.

I think Beverly just orgasmed on screen. Oh lord.
See Step One.

“I love you Beverly. Just as I loved Felisa before you.”
Born in 1647 in Glasgow on Earth, first fell in love with Jessel Howard, has been haunting-and-nailing her descendants ever since.
This isn’t romantic. How is this romantic? “Your mom was hot, as was her mom before her, and her mom’s mom, and so forth. You are now part of the great chain. The great chain of me fog-banging red-heads till their eyes turn green.”


I think Beverly is orgasming through this entire exposition scene.
Oddly, this doesn’t make the scene more fun to watch. It just makes me feel bad for her. Really, how is this not rape? And yet it’s played for romance, even with the spookiness. The romantic genre often exploits unsettling gender politics for fantasy purposes, but the “have cake/eat too” strategy here is wrongheaded and insulting. Ronin uses his powers to bend Beverly to his will, and he’s still presented as a somewhat sympathetic figure, as though it would’ve been worth it to her to spend the remainder of her years camped out in the faux-Scottish countryside as the misty finger puppet of a being whose only interest in her is instinctual. Again: This isn’t romance, and all the gasps and wide-eyes and blowing wind won’t change that.

Poor, poor Gates McFadden. This is embarrassing.
Troi spends a lot of the episode hearing about Beverly’s adventures from the sidelines. I wonder if Marina Sirtis was gloating, just a little.


Back on the ship, Beverly seems perfectly fine. Because now she’s nailing a ghost.
This is such a weird jump. One scene, she’s terrified and wracked with ecstasy in her grandmother’s house, the next, she’s on the Enterprise, with nary a word about what happened. Is this mind control? Is she just so hot for the Grab-Ass Ghost that she’s willing to overlook her doubts? Not a clue.

“I’m not seeing anybody.” Literally!
Past Zack, you are one funny son of a bitch.


This is basically just a direct-to-video erotic thriller with all the skin edited out. 
You’re also very insightful. Are you seeing anyone?

Ground fog on the bridge. “It just sort of rolled in on us, sir.” 
Confession: this made me laugh.


Ned, the comical ethnic stereotype, tries to shut down the weather-control system, dies.
What? How did he—what was he—but if he knew enough to know the weather-control system was a threat, why wouldn’t he just tell—screw it. Don’t care.

Energy residual. Ew. He was killed by ghost discharge.
[Slowly backs away]

Ronin shows up in the flesh and gropes Beverly. “I need you to help me.”
Ah, and now we have Ronin in the flesh. Who looks like basically every other male dreamboat on the show, excluding Billy Campbell—a perfect marriage of father figure and sensitive artist, with a dash of stern violin instructor. And the high forehead just means his hairline recedes from the intensity of his eyes.


“I can’t do it for long.” Well, there goes the dream-lover status.
Ooo, good burn, Past Zack. Temporal paradox high five!

He wants the candle lit again. This is embarrassing.
I actually don’t remember exactly why I thought this was embarrassing, but I have faith in Past Zack. Besides, if embarrassment was riches, “Sub Rosa” would be the 1 percent.


They’re not even kissing! They’re just mouthing at each other!
Love In The Time Of The Junior High School Dance: Passion Never Dies, Is Also A Little Icky

Back on the Enterprise, Beverly lights the candle, and is clearly, very nervous and excited and this is so weird. 
Speaking of junior high, Beverly acts like a teenager really, really, really hoping that guy in her chemistry class wasn’t just screwing with her when he asked for her phone number. I’ll give “Sub Rosa” credit that at this point we’re supposed to find this unsettling, but it’s still painfully campy, and insulting to the character. Troi is the only other person on the show I can think of who was this thoroughly mind-screwed. (Riker was brainwashed by the Game, but he was never this subservient, which is telling, and more than a little sad. Apparently, the TNG folks think “romance” for the ladies is “desperation to please a man.”)


“I’m going to be part of you Beverly, would you like that?” “Yes, more than anything.” 
If Beverly had turned into the Gatekeeper at this point, I would’ve give “Sub Rosa” so many A pluses.

Beverly wants to quit Starfleet, stay on Caldos, dedicate her life to ghost-fucking.
And they say The American Dream is dead.


Geordi and Data in the graveyard at night, looking for an energy rating concentrated on Felisa’s grave.
I suppose Past Zack should’ve kept more specific notes about the actual plot, but I think we should all be grateful he was still awake. The cocaine budget for TV Club reviewers is lower than you’d think.

“Oh, Ronin.” 
Again, don’t remember this part. Just going to assume another orgasm here.


Picard comes by, sees Beverly orgasming lightly by the fire. 
I was right! Also, ugh. (Note: This is where a solid “Are you the Keymaster?” would’ve really saved the day.)

Ronin killed Felisa. He attacks Picard. This is terribly exciting.
You can assume the “exciting” is sarcastic.


Picard sends Beverly after Ronin. Why? Wouldn’t he know that’s dangerous? 
Here’s where the episode’s attempts to be a sort of gothic mystery really fall down. Picard knows Ronin is dangerous, considering that Ronin just nearly killed him. He also knows that Beverly is at least somewhat under the creature’s sway. The logical thing would be to call up to the Enterprise, have a security team beam down to escort her to the cemetery. Sure, it might not have helped, but at least it would’ve made more sense than a solo mission. But because the story requires Beverly to confront Ronin alone, nobody plays it smart.

I’m not going to lie. This was pretty amazing.


“There’s no such thing as a ghost. You are some kind of anaphasic life form!” Wow, sci-fi tech doesn’t make for a good dramatic reveal.
I’m also not sure how important the distinction is, although I guess it gives Beverly the courage to fight back.

She shoots it with a phaser. Okay, at least that wasn’t stupid.
I’m sorry Past Zack ever doubted you, Beverly. Although he does have a point—why didn’t you blow out the candle before you destroyed it? I hope it wasn’t just to milk the suspense; you can’t milk a dead cow.


“Somehow he realized one of my ancestors had a biochemistry that was compatible with his energy matrix.” 
Oh, that old saw.

“Whatever else he might have done, he made her very happy.” 
Argh. Why this tagline? Why do we have to soften a ghost story? A rapist-ghost story? Because the point here is that he made her happy, Beverly. He made her, under false pretenses and without giving her a choice. Sure, he was some kind of crazy alien being that had to exploit something in the Howard DNA to maintain structural integrity, but that doesn’t make him a nice guy.


Final thoughts: This was bad. Let us never speak of it again.

Grade: D

Next Week: We take a trip into the “Lower Decks” to help wash away the bad memories, and decide to be true to “Thine Own Self.”