Star Trek: The Next Generation “Sub Rosa” (part 1 of 4)
Summary: Instead of writing my own summary, I’d thought I’d provide the description from the back cover of the Harlequin Books novelization* of this episode.
(*You’ll note I was able to get a copy of this novel despite it not actually existing. I’ve got connections, baby, what can I say?) Anyway, here’s what it would say if it existed:
Dr. Beverly Crusher is a Starfleet medical officer adrift on a starship, a healer who can cure everything but her damaged heart. Her soul is as empty as the darkness of space. When her grandmother dies, she visits the colony where, just like Beverly, her beloved Nana was a healer. The writings in Nana’s journal are bittersweet with regrets and protected secrets. Memories linger there as well, memories of a seductive stranger known only as Ronin.
Soon, Beverly’s dreams are haunted by Ronin, a seductive spirit who is sensual and primal and sensually primal-licious. With a dreamlike power, he enters her life with dreamlike, hypnotic passion that burns like a dying star, yet with dreamlike kisses that refresh like the polar ice caps of a Class M planet. Their explosive chemistry threatens to overwhelm Beverly, and she has to make a choice: Starfleet or unbelievable, non-stop sex?
After recapping a couple of episodes of the original series, I figured it was finally time to dish out some of that abuse to the spin-offs; They’ve certainly earned it. So let’s start with the adventures of Picard and the Enterprise-D.
By the time Star Trek: The Next Generation reached its final season, it had achieved the kind of boffo ratings that no Star Trek series has seen since (or had seen before, for that matter). The show faltered in a big way in its first two seasons (mainly due to the 1988 writer’s strike) before finally growing into an excellent show that many feel is the equal of (and some might say superior to) the original series.
(The second season episode I originally considered recapping, “Shades of Gray”, only exists because of the writer’s strike. Actually, that’s a poor choice of words, since the episode barely exists at all. It’s truly one of The Next Generation‘s worst, but being about 95% stock footage, it wouldn’t have worked for the purposes of this website, since any recap of it probably would’ve been about two paragraphs long.)
The Next Generation wouldn’t start to have truly awful episodes again until its seventh and final season. Simply put, the series was showing its age. As you’d expect, there were the typical ailments that afflict any long-running series: Writers run out of plots, stories are recycled, people get bored with playing the same characters, etc. But in TNG‘s case, there were extraordinary pressures weighing heavily on the producers in that last season.
Rick Berman took over production duties on TNG when Gene Roddenberry’s health began to deteriorate around the third season, and officially assumed the reigns of the entire franchise upon Roddenberry’s death in 1991. While TNG was wrapping up its final season, Berman was also overseeing the concurrently running Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as supervising pre-production on the film that would see the TNG cast jump to the big screen, Star Trek: Generations. On top of all that, he was developing the show that would help launch the whole UPN network, Star Trek: Voyager. So to say Berman was having a hectic year is, to put it mildly, an understatement.
So, obviously, quality slipped. There were more than a few scripts in the seventh season of TNG that probably should have been sent back for rewrites; And there are still more that should’ve just been sent back, period. While, in an overall sense, the first and second seasons of TNG were much more painful, the seventh season probably had the worst individual episodes of the whole series run.
Which brings us to “Sub Rosa”. Whereas the exploits of Kirk’s Enterprise usually had a pall of sexism hanging over them, TNG often took things too far in the opposite direction, subjecting us to the entirely new phenomena of Girlie Trek. “Sub Rosa” is the nadir of Girlie Trek. It’s as if the writer took a really hokey, poorly-written supernatural romance novel, sprinkled in a few scenes taking place aboard a starship, and called it an episode of Star Trek.
In fact, that may not be far off from the truth. After “Sub Rosa” aired, a lot of fans were immediately up in arms over what they saw as blatant plagiarism of the Anne Rice novels The Witching Hour and Lasher. I can’t personally comment on similarities, because, as regular visitors to this site know, I can’t read. Plus, the two books together total over 1,700 pages [!!]. If anyone out there has the patience to read these two novels in order to fully grasp the similarities, than all I can say is good luck and let me know how it goes.
Still, just a quick glance at the back covers of the novels reveals just how much of this episode has been stolen from Anne Rice’s novels. But more on this at the end of the recap.
This is a rare TNG episode that focuses on the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (played by Gates McFadden). Dr. Crusher was one of the most underutilized characters in the whole ensemble, and sadly, we’re about to find out why. While McFadden is no Denise Crosby, and she certainly has her share of admirers, it’s obvious her acting abilities weren’t quite up to pulling off an episode like this. (But in her defense, I have to wonder if any actress out there would have been able to pull it off.)
The episode opens on a funeral in what looks like a traditional Scottish village. Several black-clad mourners stand around a grave, and among them are Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, and Dr. Crusher in their Starfleet dress uniforms.
Crusher delivers a eulogy, where we learn the funeral is for her grandmother Felisa Howard. Crusher explains that Felisa was a doctor like her, and a healer to this colony. She gave them medicine and tea as well as advice, blah blah blah eulogy-cakes.
Crusher says, “Rest in peace, Nana.” Here I was hoping Nana’s last name would be “Fo-Fana” and Crusher would lead the mourners in a rendition of “The Name Game”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Also quite unfortunately, this episode won’t follow Federation funeral protocols seen in “And the Children Shall Lead”, so Captain Picard won’t be planting a flimsy UFP flag anywhere nearby.
Crusher steps aside and a guy with a pig snout commits Nana’s body to the earth with the standard “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” soliloquy. They lower Nana into the ground, and as mourners pass, they each toss a handful of dirt onto Nana’s casket. All except one that is, because we suddenly see a bright pink flower land on the coffin.
A surprised Dr. Crusher looks up and links eyes with a Mysterious Stranger™, who looks quite despondent over the loss of Nana. He turns and walks away. End teaser, and Picard does the whole “Space, the final frontier” speech.
When we return, the ceremony is just about wrapped up. Crusher asks Troi if she noticed the Mysterious Stranger™ at the service, but Troi is clueless. According to Crusher, the flower he tossed on the casket was a “camellia”, which was Nana’s favorite flower. Troi suggests he was one of Nana’s patients, but Crusher says it was a “very personal gesture”. And also, the Mysterious Stranger™ gave her a “remarkable look” as he walked away. Anyway, the two decide to head over to Nana’s house to take care of some things.
Dress Uniform Picard and Pig Snout stroll through the graveyard. Pig Snout, our current Forehead of the Week, expositories that the Caldos colony is one of the Federation’s older terraforming projects, being almost a century old. He asks if one of the Enterprise engineers could look over the Whatever Technology controlling the colony’s weather, and in exchange he offers Picard a tour of the colony and a “home-cooked meal”.
Picard says he can delay the departure of the Enterprise for a few days. So, I guess that home cooked meal was all the enticement he needed. I don’t want to be there when he finds out it’s a big steaming plate of haggis.
Picard says, “I actually feel as if I’m in the Scottish highlands!” This is our first sign of trouble, as this whole wretched episode will take place on a Federation colony supposedly designed to look exactly like old Scotland. Well, I guess as far as cheesy romance novels go, they’ve already nailed the backdrop.
Picard refers to Pig Snout as “Governor”, and keenly notes that he’s not Scottish. Picard wonders what drew him here, prompting Governor Pig Snout to recount a boyhood trip to Scotland that’s really not worth my time to recap.
Moving along, we cut to Troi and Crusher entering Nana’s house. Of course, if you back up a few frames, you can clearly see Troi still at the cemetery [!], wandering around behind Picard as he talks to Governor Pig Snout.
Anyway, Nana’s house is a quaint, old-world, Better Homes and Gardens cottage that looks like every bed and breakfast in Europe. Troi sniffs some dried flowers, then picks up a framed photo of Crusher and her grandmother. Troi notices Nana’s “remarkable” green eyes, (hey, writers, buy a thesaurus) and Crusher reveals that all the Howard women had green eyes, “except for my mother and me.”
Troi asks about Crusher’s mother. Dr. Crusher remembers her well, but not as well as she remembers Nana, who raised her after her mother died. She waves her hand over a candle and Troi exclaims, “That’s beautiful!” I guess she’s got a thing for tchotchkes you can buy at Pier 1 Imports. Crusher says it’s a family heirloom. “It’s supposed to symbolize the enduring Howard spirit.” Get it? “Spirit”? Get it? Well, you will later on, whether you want to or not.
Suddenly, Crusher is shouting at Troi. “Wherever they may go! The shining light to guide them through our fortune!” Okay, interesting direction they gave her there.
She says Nana always had the candle lit, and Troi suggests Crusher take it back to the ship with her. Then Troi announces she’s got to get back to Enterprise. Crusher says, “You don’t have to leave!” But Troi is totally like, no, I do have to leave. Translation: Even the ship’s counselor can get bored of hearing about somebody’s “nana” all day.
Cue time-killing “Beverly sitting and thinking” sequence, followed by “Beverly looking at old books” sequence as trite “Scottish” music scores the scene. Eventually, she finds Nana’s journal. Crusher wraps an ugly paisley blanket around herself and heads upstairs with the journal.
Suddenly, a really obnoxious Scottish stereotype barges into the cottage. He blows out Nana’s Pier 1 candle, so Crusher immediately comes rushing downstairs. She shouts at him and grabs the candle away and demands to know what he’s doing there.
In an extraordinary casting coup on the part of TNG, they actually got Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons to play this part. The guy yells, “I woul’n’ be soo high ‘n mightay w’ me, Beverly How’rd Croosher! I spent morr time here ‘n’a pass five years than ye have ‘n’a past twenny!” Damn. I think even Scotty would look at this guy and go, “Dude, tone it down some.”
Crusher demands to know who he is, and he says his name is Ned Quint, and he takes care of the place when Nana is away. Crusher says Nana never mentioned him, but Groundskeeper Willie bugs his eyes out and cries, “Ohhh, there’s lot’sa thinggggs she dinna talk abooot!” Good Lord, that’s a clichéd accent. I swear, this is the guy who put the “twee” in “tweed”.
He grabs for the candle, saying they have to get rid of it because it’s brought “not’n but misery ‘n bad luck!” Crusher says it’s a family heirloom and yells at Willie to leave. He angrily burrs, “Howard women, always tha same stubborn fewls!“
He stops at the door and warns, “I wash my hands of it nah! You stay awn ‘n ‘is hawse, and yew keep that DAHMNED CAHNDLE! I’ll NAWT be responsible fur wha’ happens!” Thankfully, Crusher shuts the door in his face.
Cut to the Enterprise in orbit above Caldos. Down in Engineering, Data and Governor Pig Snout are running diagnostics on the planet’s weather systems. Commander LaForge calls over to say there’s a Whatever Fluctuation in the weather control system. Some stock technobabble explains this could be a Bad Thing for the colony. Data gets readings of “unusually high humidity” on parts of the planet and “increasing cloud activity”, which could be the beginnings of a storm.
The Governor is stunned, because, as everyone knows, it never rains on Caldos. Geordi wants to check out some of the colony’s Whatever Conduits, and Data leaves to do a Technobabble Diagnostic on a Whooziwhatsis Regulator. The Governor hopes they can fix the problem because of a “caber toss” scheduled for the following afternoon. Geordi just looks confused, as do I, because I have no idea what a “caber toss” is. However, if “caber” means “dwarf”, consider me onboard.