How Star Trek Just Fixed The One Thing The Next Generation Movies Overlooked
Picard showrunner Terry Matalas explains why one specific character had to return.
Star Trek has just brought back a 1990s fan favorite, and in doing so, created one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the franchise's history. If you’re still reeling from the events of Picard Season 3, Episode 5, “Imposters,” know this: It was planned from the start that this character had to return, and as showrunner Terry Matalas tells Inverse, no other character was ever considered for this moment.
Spoilers for the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard ahead!
During the last few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one recurring crew member was not like any Trek character who had come before. Starting in 1991, with the episode “Ensign Ro,” Michelle Forbes created a foil for the rest of the squeaky-clean Enterprise-D. In contrast to the Starfleet crewmembers we’d met so far, Ro was an argumentative ruler-breaker, who had no reverence for Jean-Luc, Will, or the rest of the crew. And of course, fans fell in love with her, as did the crew of the Enterprise. Now after 29 years, Ro Laren has returned, to confront Jean-Luc Picard, but also, to save the galaxy.
In “Imposters,” Ro’s shocking return raises suspicions from Riker and Picard right away: Didn’t Ro join the rebel group the Maquis and betray Starfleet? How could this be Ro Laren? Could this be a Changeling imposter?
But, the brilliance of “Imposters” is how the arc of the episode plays with our feelings for Ro, as well as Picard’s mistrust of her. And once the script flips, and we realize Ro is fighting against a massive conspiracy, everything changes. Of all the moments in Picard Season 3, this is easily the most pivotal. It’s here we learn the Changeling takeover of Starfleet is much bigger than we thought, and the stakes are way higher than a personal mission for Jean-Luc and Beverly.
So, when Season 3 was crafted, did showrunner Terry Matalas and the episode’s other writers — like Cindy Appel and Chris Derrick — ever consider another character for this moment?
“No,” Matalas tells Inverse. “It had to be Ro Laren. It was shocking to me she was never in the feature films.”
Shocking is right. Like Guinan, or Miles and Keiko O'Brien, Ro was hugely central to the TNG mythos, so much so, that her final episode, “Preemptive Strike,” was the penultimate episode of the entire series, airing on May 14th, 1994, just one week before the last episode ever, “All Good Things...”
Ro was even part of the initial pitch for Deep Space Nine, but Michelle Forbes declined to reprise the role, which led to the creation of Nana Visitor’s Major Kira, instead. But, Matalas has a point about the TNG feature films. Side characters from the series like Lt. Barclay appeared in First Contact, and Wil Wheaton even had a cameo in Nemesis. Not including Ro in any of the TNG feature films is an oversight, that now has been corrected. As Matalas puts it, if you see Picard Season 3 as a protracted, TNG movie, “She had to be part of the final TNG cinematic narrative.”
But more than just fan service, the return of Ro Laren also comes with a shocking death scene, perhaps one of the biggest deaths in Star Trek history. When Ro realizes her shuttle has a bomb on it, she decides to ram the USS Intrepid — which is crewed by shapeshifters — and buy the Titan enough time to escape.
Killing off a beloved character after bringing her back after so long was “certainly something none of us took lightly,” Matalas explains. “Her sacrifice needed to have tremendous meaning. Ro needed to set our heroes on a course that could potentially save the galaxy. And as Worf says in the next episode [Episode 6], it will be up to them to ensure that Ro Laren did not die in vain.”
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 airs new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+.