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November 27, 2013


No article should start with Sub Rosa, so let’s dig in for the winter of Trek episode writing and tackle Force of Nature first…

Episode: The one about global warming [warp drive hurting space]

Season: The one where everyone was thinking ahead to their next project/Stargate/unemployment

Plot: Two sibling scientists [one okay, one a complete knob] tell Picard that high warp [anything over warp 7, I think] is damaging sub-space. Picard tells them to talk to the hand [Data] and keep plugging away until they can actually prove what they’re saying. After sulking for 15 minutes, the sister scientist flies a shuttle into an already damaged area of space and kills herself, thus proving her bullshit. Picard tells the Klingons and the Romulans to limit their usage of warp 6 + [they can use that speed for emergencies or movies, but nothing else] and completely against character, the Klingons agree. The Romulans don’t.

Why is it so bad?

Like most analogy/metaphor episodes, it’s dull. Remember the one about gay rights? Riker kissing a girl who was supposed to be gender neutral but looked much more like a woman than a man?

That was bad, and so is this. Not just because of the drama in the episode itself, but mainly because of the stupid analogy it dumps on the script.

Remember: ANALOGIES are the biggest fraud of debate. They often seem accurate, and are very persuasive [which increases their danger], but are mostly full of shit.

Right, let’s get into this:

1] Humans are not the first species in space

I don’t know much about the Earth’s environment and all the ways we’re murdering it, but it’s pretty easy to grasp on a basic level. And that basic level goes like this: humans are the first industrial civilisation to inhabit and fuck up the atmosphere of Earth. The dinosaurs may have been big and scary, but they didn’t have combustion engines or deodorant or any of the thousands of pollutants we’ve come up with. Neither do the dolphins. Or the mice.

This means global warming caused by artificial pollutants [us] is an original event in this planets history. That makes it harder to argue against as, even if you’re a non-believer, you can still look at pictures of the smog hanging over Beijing or LA and realise, hey, that can’t be a good thing.

Now, let’s think about Space. Specifically, Trek Space.

i] It’s huge.

Even a hundred billion starships wouldn’t fill up 0.000000000009% of it. Their warp tracks or whatever the emissions/damage is called would probably cover 0.0000004%.

Earth’s atmosphere, in contrast, is quite small. Create enough pollution and it’s gonna get trapped and do some serious damage.

ii] Space has no atmosphere

It’s true, it doesn’t. It does have particles of gas scattered around, but obviously not enough to make an atmosphere.

Not that this matters. In ‘Force of Nature’ the analogy replaces ‘atmosphere’ with ‘Space in general’. At least I think it does. It might be subspace it damages, I’m not sure. But the idea is: overuse of warp has created tears in sub-space, which open up into real Space, and any ship that flies into one of these tears will eventually explode [with cheap CGI].

Actually, they’d probably just use the sister scientist’s explosion again and again, it’s cheaper.

iii] Thousands of other alien races have used Space for thousands of millennia.

Why would this tearing of space only be a problem now? Fine, some of the previous alien races used stargates…only they had a different name for them…gateways? I think it was the Iconians who used them…and others probably had alternative shortcuts that bypassed warp, but I’m guessing, taking into account the fact that all current Trek species use warp to get around, most of them used the Cochrane method.

Which means?

I can’t do maths of this magnitude, but it probably looks something like this:

Number of alien races in the history of the milky way galaxy ever = 15,000,000,000

Number of races that used warp = 14,000,000,000

Number of starships belonging to each race [average] = 5,000

Number of times each starship went higher than warp 7 in one Earth year = 46

Conclusion = Space should’ve been torn to pieces about 2 billion years ago.

But that’s not the worst of this…

2] Let’s screw over whoever comes next…

If this episode just had bad drama, bad characters and a bad analogy then you could forgive it. But it’s more sinister than that. It does the one thing Trek should never do, unless it’s mapped out all possible consequences…something the writers of the last Trek film never gave a shit about [Magic Kahn blood…inter-planetary beaming…krist…]

That is:

Never let bullshit episodes like ‘Force of Nature’ alter the Trek Universe!

It’s a fair rule, and one that this episode in particular shits all over. The idea of travelling everywhere at warp 5 is ludicrous. It probably doubles or triples the amount of time it takes to get anywhere in the galaxy, and makes further exploration extremely improbable. Unless they build a lot of starbases or use generation ships…which they won’t, because then it wouldn’t be Trek.

Trek = warp drive, exploration, transporters, phasers, prime directive

Remember when they could only do Warp 5 in Enterprise and it took them a whole season to get to Risa?

Okay, they were pissing about in Suliban internment camps along the way, but it still took a while…

That’s what this episode is trying to do to the future of Trek.

* The plot of this episode focuses on one sector of Space, which is roughly 20 light years in size, but the ending suggests they will limit themselves to Warp 5 all over the quadrant…it must be the case, as in two other episodes they refer to going at a lower warp because of the new law, and they can’t always be in the same sector…right?

Therefore, the law must apply to all areas of the galaxy, which is bullshit.

Why did they do this?

Simple. The writers knew it was season 7 and just didn’t care enough about the future of the series not to mess with it. Also, they really wanted to write a parallel to the environmental damage we’re doing on this planet right now, and for it to have repercussions…not realising that both the analogy and repercussions made no sense.

In short: they saw a chance for hack writing and they took it.

Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage in this case. For the rest of the season, Picard made a few references to the new warp law, but rarely followed it. If there was an emergency, he’d happily turn the warp core up to 11.

And by the time Enterprise came along, they’d realised that Warp 5 wasn’t actually that fast and you couldn’t explore very far if that was your top speed. It’d be like walking from London to Ljubljana, when a plane could get you there in 3 hours.

Actually, how do the different levels of warp work?

I vaguely know the basics…warp 1 is when the FTL barrier is broken, 10 is infinite velocity, but how do they measure the in-between speeds?

What exactly happens at warp 10?

I remember an episode of Voyager where Tom Paris broke the warp ten barrier and was everywhere at once and it was okay in the end even though he turned into a lizard and impregnated Janeway…

…but I also remember the Borg and the Voth and other alien races could go to Transwarp, which was…what? Warp 10?

Or was it something different?

4] Season 7

Between this and the first two seasons of TNG, you’d be hard pressed to pick a winner when it comes to badness.

Okay, thinking about it for more than four seconds, Season 1 wins quite easily, but it’s not really a fair comparison, is it? Season 1 [and 2 to an extent] were bad because the writers and the producers didn’t know exactly what they were doing, so they ended up stuck halfway between original Trek and something else. By Season 3, they’d figured things out.

Season 7 has no such excuses. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they decided to stop doing it.

Here’s a list of the crimes [the very worst episodes]:

Force of Nature


Liasons [awful, but the Worf scenes are okay]



Dark Page


Sub Rosa

Okay, there are only eight truly awful episodes, but from a season of 26 in total, that’s still one in 3.25.

Not enough to condemn a whole season maybe, but…let’s do a pivot and look at the episodes that are either very good or great.

Lower Decks

All Good Things…

That’s it. Two great episodes in an entire season…three if you count ‘All Good Things…’ as a two parter. The rest are either terrible or just average…or worse, wasted potential. I mean, for fuck’s sake, even the last season of Voyager had more great episodes than this one…

Let’s compare Season 7 of TNG to Season 6…how many great/terrible episodes were in that one?

Terrible  = Rascals [arguable], Aquiel [non-arguable…even the writer’s mum would cringe at this one]

Great/very good = Chain of Command, Tapestry, Fistful of Datas [arguable], Face of the Enemy, Timescape, The Chase, Starship Mine, Ship in a Bottle

Also, the episodes I would call average in Season 6 [Birthright, Frame of Mind, Schisms, Relics] are generally better than the average ones from Season 7.

So, in total:

Season 7 – Terrible episodes = 8

Average episodes = 16

Great/very good episodes = 2

Season 6 – Terrible episodes = 2

Average episodes = 15

Great/very good episodes = 9 [Chain of Command counts as 2]

9 great episodes against 2, and 8 terrible ones against 2…it’s pretty clear that something went very, very wrong on that summer break between seasons 6 and 7.


God knows. Ron Moore lost his typewriter?


There’s a theory that, once you know a series is coming to a close, all motivation to write decent science fiction stories dissipates and you just turn into Danny Glover trying not to do anything spectacular or risky before handing in your badge.

Also, by the time they were writing Season 7, it was well-known that there would be a film following it [I think]…so why do anything to rock the bridge when you could save all that for Star Trek: Generations? Imagine the shock factor when something spectacular happens in that instead…

Imagine the horror as Picard sits around a Christmas Tree with children dressed like Victorian era cherubs…as the Enterprise crashes into California…as Data shits himself in front of Malcolm McDowell…

Man…did that film really happen?

Back to TNG [and other shitness]…

Is there anything else to say about Season 7?

Well, we could run through all the terrible episodes and analyse why they’re terrible…starting with Sub Rosa.

Why is Sub Rosa terrible?

I won’t be caustic about it, it’s too easy. I’ll just type it all out like a robot, no winking, I swear.

1] General Plot

Beverly Crusher attends the funeral of the grandmother who raised her, a woman who had a ghost lover [not Patrick Swayze, but Shakaar from DS9!] and lived in a colony terraformed to resemble the Scottish Highlands for no other reason than one alien guy thought Scotland was cool when he was a kid.

Beverly stays at her late grandmother’s house, lights a candle that calls Ronin [the ghost], has a few weird feelings, shouts at people, shakes a little then resigns her Starfleet commission so she can spend the rest of her life having orgasms on a not very comfortable-looking couch.

When Picard tries to interfere, Ronin starts messing with the weather, causing lightning on the Paramount sets…

I’m not sure who came up with this idea, but it’s clear it should’ve been killed at the ‘anyone got any ideas for a Beverly episode? Anyone? No? Seriously, anything?’ stage.

For some reason, it wasn’t. They persevered. They actually tried to make something decent of it, flying in the face of the famous saying: you can’t polish a Beverly episode.

Why did they do this?

Okay, the Scottish highlands colony idea was so bizarre it could’ve worked, if the tone was right, but surely there were better ideas on the table. Ideas focused on actual character traits of Beverly Crusher.

For example:

Her ethics as a doctor

Her gentleness as a person

Her relationship with Picard

Her skills as a leader

Her disappearance in Season 2

Her dead husband

Any of those would’ve been acceptable…okay, she’d already explored two of them in Season 7 [Attached, Dances with Wesley], so it would’ve been a stretch to visit them again…but the other four would’ve sufficed.

Remember Beverly’s best character episodes?

Me neither. But I remember one from Season 4, ‘Remember Me’, which actually gave the character something to do that wasn’t linked to ‘falling in love’ or being a doctor.

Actually, any episode synopsis that included ‘Riker/Beverly/Troi/Geordi falls in love with random alien/anomaly’ automatically put me off watching the thing. I really don’t want to sail off on another tangent, but I can’t help it…things come up when you’re writing about Trek, things you didn’t think annoyed you so much…or things that annoyed you in the past but you’d put them behind you…but now it’s clear.

Let’s see how many times each character in TNG has fallen in love with something in the space of a single episode:

In no particular order [but obviously starting with the chief offender, Troi]

Troi = 72 [Masterpiece Society, Man of the People, The Price, Various others I can’t remember now…]

Riker = 6 [Angel One, Irish Gypsy, Gay episode, 0010001001, many others]

Beverly = 5 [ Transfigurations, The High Ground, Trill dude, etc.]

Geordi = 3 [Aquiel, Galaxy’s Child, Booby Trap]

There it is. Troi is the clear winner, though I may have exaggerated a little…which basically means that all four of these character are generally useless. Or not useless exactly, they do have other traits, but once a writer gives you a ‘falls in love’ episode, it means they’re struggling to figure out what to do with you. It means your character is not particularly strong or defined and, really, it’s especially insulting for the women.

If you change the criteria to episodes where a lead character ‘falls in lust’ with someone then Riker becomes the clear winner. He doesn’t fall in love with any of his women, he just plays around with them for 45 minutes. It doesn’t define him as a character because he gets other non-sex episodes to do that.

Troi and Beverly on the other hand…it becomes part of who they are. In most of the examples, they are seduced by the man, instead of an equal pursuit. You could say that Beverly and the trill guy are more equal…they get to know each other over a longer period of time…but it’s still a standalone episode that doesn’t really add anything to her character. Neither is it based on any character trait she already has. She just hangs around with him, likes him then…end of episode.

I really can’t stand these episodes. Trek should be better than this…instead, whenever it comes up with these ‘falls in love’ episodes, it shows how truly awful it can be.

Back to Sub Rosa…

Where was I? Plot?

Okay, in short: it’s dumb. Beverly isn’t Beverly, she’s an ‘anybody’. As in, anybody could’ve played this character as she seems to have no control over the situation. The ghost is all-encompassing, which leads to zero character conflict and zero interest in what’s happening onscreen.

Compare this to the episode ‘Frame of Mind’. Anyone could’ve been driven mad like Riker is, but the episode really makes the effort to show both his confusion and his struggle to retain his identity.

Sub Rosa just lets Beverly move into her Grandma’s house and light a candle.

2] The Scottish highlands

Scotland has a population of around 5 million. Even in the context of this planet, it’s tiny. In the context of the Trek Universe, with thousands of known races and planets, it’s just ridiculous. Why would anyone consider terraforming an entire planet in its image? How the hell do they even know about the place?

It makes no sense.

Unless…one of the leading scientists of the terraforming institute saw ‘Highlander’ once and decided the part where everyone was freezing their tits off in the mud and rain was beautiful and told the other scientists that, yes, this is it…forget Risa, let’s re-make one of the rainiest, shittiest places on Earth.

It’s just a terrible idea. One of the writers must’ve liked Scotland, that’s the only way this could’ve happened. And when writers start putting things in episodes that they ‘like’, you know you’re on rocky ground. [See also: Star Trek: Nemesis – Patrick Stewart loves off-road racing and, my God, so does Picard]

3] Misuse of Beverly

I’ve already mentioned how much I hate the ‘falls in love’ episodes, mostly because it turns main characters into pieces of wood that are completely interchangeable with other pieces of wood.

Beverly is not the strongest character in TNG, but she is distinctive in her own way. She has ethics, she’s probably the most non-violent of all the characters, and she’s a widow. She’s also a very different leader in terms of style to both Riker and Picard.

In this episode, she’s treated like a typical woman in pre-DS9 Trek. She’s passive, she’s co-dependent, she’s a bit annoying…she’s totally in thrall to a man who wants to possess her [literally] without any hint of irony at all.

Can you imagine this episode with Riker in Beverly’s role?

Me neither [I’m assuming you said ‘no’…if you said ‘yes’, you’re wrong, probably].

How much more interesting would it have been to have an episode where Beverly was put in charge of the ship again and was given a genuine challenge to her moral beliefs?

It could even have led to some kind of character development…maybe she comes up against a situation where she has to send someone to their death?

Why the hell did they choose Sub Rosa over anything like this?

Theory: they just didn’t know who Beverly was as a character.

Evidence: Sub Rosa

Conclusion: they just didn’t know who Beverly was as a character.

4] How could this mess have been better?

I’m not sure it could’ve been, but let’s try anyway.

The main problems, as I see them, were:

i] Beverly submits to the ghost too fast

ii] The Scottish Highlands colony

iii] Bad writing/no danger to Beverly or anyone else

The first problem is the easiest to fix. Have her resist. Make the whole episode a struggle between Beverly and Ronin the ghost.

How to do this?

Ronin the ghost has one form throughout, a form which is very condescending. Do all women desire this kind of love? I mean, the guy’s not even good-looking. And having a conversation with him is like talking to someone who has no hobbies, no beliefs, no opinion on anything because he’s a ghost who just likes to give orgasms. To me, that makes him the equivalent of a sex toy. In fact, this whole episode might’ve been a hell of a lot simpler if they’d just put Ronin’s face on the end of dildo and let Beverly talk to that.

So…to improve things…why not give Ronin different forms? Why not make him resemble her late husband? Imagine Picard coming to confront Ronin and staring into the eyes of the man he sent to his death…

My God, it seems so obvious…why did they not do this?

Also, giving Beverly a bit more intelligence…making her doubt the thing in front of her, making her fight it…this would’ve a] been more consistent with her character, and b] given the episode more tension [if any tension can be wrung from a piece of shit concept like this]

The Scottish Highlands thing…okay, they could’ve kept it, but why not put it in danger? Why not make the leader of the colony stubborn and under pressure to convert the place into something like Risa? Perhaps Ronin could’ve been linked to the demise of the colony in general…a symbol of the loss of the smaller way of life…

It might not have saved the episode, but it would’ve been better than having a guy talking about caber tosses and afternoon tea with no tension whatsoever…

The third problem…bad writing…

I believe that bad writing often comes from the standard of the concept. If you’re working on something shit like Sub Rosa…a concept so flawed and worthless…then a part of you [the smart part] just stops trying. Why bother writing great lines when the plot doesn’t support it?

Therefore, fix the first two problems and you automatically fix the writing. All you need to do is change the form of the ghost, make it smarter, give it a personality even…and then good writing will flow from that.

There you go…fix all three of those and you’ve saved the episode…or polished it at least. Obviously, the idea for Sub Rosa should’ve died at the earliest possible stage, but it didn’t, so I’ve done the best with the idea given…much like the real writers, I guess.

What about the rest of the terrible episodes of Season 7?

I’ll get around to them one day. Honestly, watching all six of them back to back could be the end of me, so give me a bit of time.

Next time, I think I’ll have a crack at The Void…the Voyager episode that could and should have been great…but instead had the quickest last five minutes of any Trek episode ever…there was even a montage…

Or maybe I should do something more positive…

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