Editor’s note: This article contains major spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 5, “Imposters.”
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 has been delivering week after week of incredible episodes, and Episode 5, “Imposters” is certainly one for the books. With the crew of the Titan successfully making it out of the gravity well and away from Vadic, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Riker (Jonathan Frakes) were in for a rude awakening as Shaw (Todd Stashwick) reported their insubordination—commandeering his ship for their rescue mission—to Starfleet. Little did we know that with that call, Shaw set in motion an emotional resolution to a story we’ve needed closure on for nearly 30 years.
When Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) turned that corner of the Titan, I audibly gasped. The return of prodigal daughter Ro Laren is something I never expected to see, and simultaneously exactly what we needed from Picard. Within the space of this 55-minute episode, writers Cindy Appel and Chris Derrick deliver a thrilling and heartfelt resolution to Ro’s story which has always felt somewhat unfinished since her final appearance on The Next Generation. Season 3 showrunner Terry Matalas described his pitch for this episode as a “paranoia thriller” in which “the only way to be sure you’re sitting across from the person that you hope you’re sitting across from is to get through your trauma with them.”
Ro and Picard had a rocky relationship from their first meeting, however, over the course of the final three seasons of Next Gen, Picard had grown proud of how far she’d come since they first met, coming to think of her as a sort of surrogate daughter. While it’s been around 20 years since Picard saw many of his friends from his days on the Enterprise, it’s been closer to 30 years since he last saw Ro after she broke his trust (and his heart) on her way out of Starfleet. With that in mind “Imposters” serves as a perfect follow-up to Ro’s final appearance on Next Gen, the penultimate episode of Season 7, “Preemptive Strike.”
Ro Laren’s Complicated History With Starfleet
Ro’s experience with Starfleet has always been a mixed bag. As a character who has a hard time making friends and a total resistance to authority figures, you might assume that Ro Laren isn’t actually cut out to be a Starfleet officer. Regardless of her social skills, Ro is highly skilled at operations, as well as espionage, in part because of her hardened exterior, which made her quite the effective tool for Admirals and Starfleet brass to use in their more questionable dealings. She would quite often be given missions that require getting her hands dirty, missions that more “noble” officers like Picard would be appalled at, as seen in her first episode, “Ensign Ro.”
As a child of war, Ro learns from a very young age to never show a single sign of weakness after watching her father be tortured to death at the hands of the Cardassians. While Picard’s inherent morality causes the two of them to butt heads often, it also inspires a bit of vulnerability and honesty in Ro, letting down her walls in a way that the audience knows she rarely does with anyone else. While many believe her to be duplicitous and untrustworthy, Ro is clear about her intentions from the start, saying, “I serve the Federation, but I am Bajoran,” leaving no question that she’ll always take the opportunity to help her people whenever she can, even if that means going against the Federation.
By opening up to Picard and leveling with him in her first episode, Ro gains a bit of respect from the seasoned Captain together they hatch a plan that both protects the Bajorans and Starfleet’s moral high ground. In turn, it’s then Picard who encourages her to stay aboard the Enterprise and further her career with Starfleet, saying, “I think it would be a shame for Starfleet to lose someone of your potential.” It’s clear that he sees a lot of himself in Ensign Ro that he wants to nurture—Picard serves as a father figure to a lot of people on the Enterprise, but this moment is one of the most direct.
What Happened in Ro’s Last Episode of ‘The Next Generation’?
In “Preemptive Strike,” Ro returns from advanced tactical training for a mission that very neatly book-ends her first appearance; however, now she has a real family aboard the Enterprise and a shiny new rank of Lieutenant. From the first moments of this episode, it’s easy to see how much the crew has come to care for Ro in contrast with her dark reputation when she first joined them. As the Federation has reached a peace treaty agreement, the Enterprise is drawn into a complicated mission when they find the rebel militia group, the Maquis, attacking a Cardassian ship.
When Starfleet hatches a plan to infiltrate the Maquis, they choose Lieutenant Ro as their operative, putting her in an extremely difficult position, forcing her to suppress her hatred for the Cardassians for the sake of their “common enemy.” Despite her reservations about the mission, Ro accepts in order to validate Picard’s faith in her. However, while she’s embedded with the Maquis she finds that her personal goals and morals actually align with their mission, seeing the people that Starfleet has labeled as terrorists as freedom fighters seeking to protect the Bajorans and keep the Cardassian threat at bay.
While she’s there, Ro meets another man who reminds her of her father—and then she watches helplessly as he too dies at the hands of the Cardassians. It’s enough to convince her that the Maquis’ fight against the Cardassians is a cause worth leaving Starfleet for, even if it means letting Picard down. In the final moments of the episode, Ro must make the decision to go through with Starfleet’s mission or betray Picard’s faith in her by following her heart and doing what she knows is right. Picard’s loyalty to Starfleet and his own privilege as the Captain of their flagship blinds him to Ro’s motivations, and all he can feel is her betrayal and that’s the state that their relationship is left in until we see her again on the Titan.
“Imposters” Gives Ro a Fitting Send-Off and an Emotional Resolution to Her Relationship With Picard
When Commander Ro Laren shows up on the Titan it’s a shock. The last time she was seen she had joined the Maquis, so to see her suddenly among Starfleet’s higher-ups coming to deal judgment to Picard for his crimes is entirely unexpected. With the Changeling issue aboard the ship, the paranoia that Ro could be an imposter is very high, and it’s not immediately clear that she isn’t one given that they can get past superficial tests. At face value neither Ro nor Picard has any reason to trust the other, in fact, they have plenty of reasons to distrust each other. Picard is ready and willing to dole out judgment on her, and despite “clawing her way back into Starfleet” she will never gain back his respect. Here Ro lands one of the best lines in recent Star Trek memory by telling Picard that “blind faith in any institution does not make one honorable.”
When Ro pulls Picard into the holodeck, they’re able to get out some of the things that they need to say to each other, airing out their anger to get to the root of their mutual heartbreak: “You broke my heart.” “And you broke mine.” Once this air is cleared between them, Ro is able to reveal vital information about how deeply the Changelings have infiltrated Starfleet, reiterating Beverly’s message from the beginning of the season to trust no one. Despite years of lost love between these two, it’s clear that they still care for one another—and at this point in his life, Picard is perhaps a little more willing to join Ro in the mud, understanding that not everything is as black and white as it might have looked from his ivory tower on the Enterprise.
Ro completely understands the severity of their situation, something that she has always been able to cut straight to when she needs to. She intends to buy Picard and the skeleton crew of the Titan, but before she goes she shares a truly profound moment of vulnerability with her former captain calling back to the kindred spirit that they recognize in each other: “I wish you’d known me, and that I had known you.” It’s such an emotional moment, and to see that level of sensitivity from Ro is honestly breathtaking; she’s always had a hard exterior, but beneath that is someone who cares so deeply for her fellow man, particularly Picard.
What happens next is quick and devastating as Ro’s imposter companions are beamed off of her shuttle leaving her with a bomb and no way to escape. Ro knows that she has only minutes left, and instead of using that time to save herself she uses it to do exactly what she said she would—she gives them a fighting chance. It’s incredibly sad to lose Ro as soon as we get her back, but it’s also an incredibly fitting way for her to go. She dies doing what she was always fighting to do every day of her life—protecting her people.
Having Ro return at this point is an interesting parallel to Picard’s relationship with Jack (Ed Speleers). Picard is trying so desperately to connect with his son, but after 20 years it’s not exactly the easiest task. Suddenly, his prodigal daughter returns and as soon as he begins to realize what she meant to him, she’s gone. This episode beautifully backs up the messaging of the previous episode which saw Picard telling a story about how Starfleet has always been the only family he has ever needed without knowing that he was saying this to his actual son. At the beginning of this episode, we see Picard urging Jack to join Starfleet, which he staunchly brushes off. But by following that moment with such an emotional journey between Picard and Ro, it’s abundantly clear that Picard has made a very real family within Starfleet. It isn’t about the institution itself but about the deep human connections that he has made with his fellow officers, and he wants Jack to join Starfleet because he wants Jack to be a part of his family.
Ro is and always has been an emotional anchor point for Picard, and seeing her return in such a meaningful way and reach a resolution of true understanding with him is incredibly satisfying. This was such an important relationship on The Next Generation, as Ro-centric episodes were often on Star Trek‘s more serious side exploring complex moral quandaries with high emotional stakes. With her final episode of that series ending in such a melancholy way, leaving a rift between her and Picard, it’s healing to see them finally truly understand each other in her final moments, and it makes losing her all the more meaningful.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 3 are available every Thursday on Paramount+.