In which the Federation faces the greatest threat to its security yet.
Today, we are going to do more Cardassian stuff. The Enterprise is on the way to a briefing on the charlie-foxtrot situation that is the Cardassian DMZ. I can’t think of a better time to bring back the newly re-minted Lt. Ro Larren, former Bajoran refugee with a chip on her shoulder towards Starfleet. Can you? There’s no way this can go poorly.
Many of the senior staff are there to congratulate her on her promotion and completing Advanced Tactical, but Ro is more interested in meeting Picard, who – three seconds after leaving the party (and a total of twelve seconds after she arrives at her own party) asks her to report to the bridge. He’s not even there yet, and I kind of assume it’s deliberate.
In fact, it is, and he did it to rescue her from the party, which is adorable. This has been your reminder that Picard is the most paternal of any commander we’ve seen so far, including the one who’s an actual father. While his brother has progeny, you get the sense that Picard has long since decided his legacy will be his crew.
The Enterprise must shortly thereafter hop to respond to a distress call from the DMZ, where some Federation ships are committing piracy. Clearly, Picard has not been up on the happy-haps.
I would like to formally apologize for my use of the wordy happy-haps. While I do that, Cam Hudson and a squadrom of Federation fighters are swarming a Cardassian cruiser, so Picard starts yelling at them on their way into engagement range. His first attempt is to disrupt the attack without killing anyone, which drives the attackers off so the Enterprise can render assistance to what turns out to be Gul Evek’s ship.
Evek is not what you might call grateful. Perhaps with reason, but you’d think if it were culturally appropriate to be bristly and hostile he might appreciate it more when Picard fires back. That encounter gets repeated a little later to Admiral Nachayev, who tells the other side of the story. The Admiralty does not forget that the Cardassians are supplying arms to their colonists, and Nacheyev does not forgive. That said, she’s still worried about the Maquis uptick in hostility.
Because of her training, heritage, and disciplinary history, Starfleet has asked that Lt. Ro go undercover to infiltrate the Maquis. This is going to be difficult, since not only has Larren spent quite a lot of time fighting Cardassians and isn’t going to want to defend them, Starfleet training or no. She even had an instructor with Maquis sympathies join up. Larren makes it clear that she’s mostly agreeing to this out of personal loyalty to Picard. This actually runs a little bit of a parallel to the thread in the TOS movies, where the crew’s personal loyalty to Kirk wound up trumping their Starfleet oaths.
Quick cut to a seedy, dirty bar on a presumably DMZ-adjacent planet, where Ro starts her cover by pretending to be on the run from Starfleet. This deception gets someone to stand up for her sight-unseen, because anyone who kills Cardassians is okay by him. Also, anyone who walks into a bar and randomly kisses a stranger. Ro doesn’t come right out and admit it, but she must have done something right because when he phasers her, it’s only to stun her so they can take her to HQ for an interview and interrogation. The Maquis are careful.
She gives her carefully edited and heavily sassy backstory. They’re going to check her backstory, and the old guy is going to give her a tour and an opportunity to overpower him and steal his weapon, in case her betrayal is going to come early. It’s also implied that she doesn’t get to leave the camp if her story doesn’t check out.
The old guy explains their side of the story, and since he doesn’t think he’s talking to a sanctimonious Starfleet officer, he explains a little bit less hostilely than we’ve seen previously. He explains how the official governance isn’t honoring the whole territorial trade thing that was supposed to happen. Even if it’s not the actual Cardassian government that’s running around beating up old men, they’re not putting a stop to it. And he and Larren bond over old family recipes of Bajoran kimchee and talk of her dead father.
The next incident is that the Maquis council has learned that the Cardassian government is going to be smuggling weapons to its colonies in the DMZ. The Maquis want to raid it, but need medical supplies in order to do so. Ro offers to seal the supplies from the Enterprise, since she knows the security, and one of the Maquis goes with her.
Here’s how the DMZ works: There are sensor buoys placed all along the border. Any crossing is reported to the Federation. Only crossings at designated cargo-search checkpoints are permitted. The buoys have codes that allow ships to pass through undetected, apparently. I find it hard to believe that there’s a legitimate use for such codes, but they’re rotated regularly. Maybe they’re just system locks, and Ro will use them to initiate a maintenance cycle or rewrite the whitelist.
It’s been a week since Ro left the Enterprise and Picard is eagerly awaiting word. In the meantime, the Enterprise is charging to the rescue of a medical ship stranded near a pulsar, which causes so much interference that the Enterprise sensors will be practically blind. Which makes the whole scenario a perfect cover. Ro will draw the Enterprise close and steal all the medical supplies before they know what hit ’em.
They also have to get through the shields, while the bridge crew starts figuring out that something is amiss. They’ve found a piggyback signal on the main distress beacon, which is either Ro filling them in on the plan or Ro being so deep cover that she’s trying to take down the shields via remote, otherwise known as The Riker Maneuver. She claims that the Enterprise‘ impulse engines destabilize the rear shields enough to take a ship through it. The message is detected and the ruse works, and fun fact: the shields will pass solid objects. Granted the shield has been destabilized and deliberately weakened, but the visual raises a lot of questions.
The heist goes off successfully, and Picard orders a token ‘effort’ to stop them, which gets her in good with the Maquis. The old leader says that even their paranoid agents trust her now, but he always has. This is number one on the list of Things You Should Say To Someone You Suspect Is Planning To Betray You For A Cause They’re Not Sure They Still Believe In. It runs a strong possibility of pushing they over the edge onto your side, or at least limiting the damage they do out of guilt.
Ro tells Picard about their upcoming raid on a suspected biogenic weapon supply, and Picard talks about using this as bait so that when the Maquis commit supplies, they can have most of their warmaking capacity taken out in one action. It’s a sound strategy, but with Perfectly Forthright Picard suggesting this kind of underhanded trap and the Maquis consisting of old men who get beat up, suddenly the Federation isn’t looking so good even to the most naive of viewers. Still, Ro has her duty, and will carry it out.
She explains that Starfleet has intelligence that various independent powers are bringing in components which are individually perfectly legal, but which together can make the aforementioned dreaded biogenic weapons. The story is that the Cardassians are basically setting up a meth lab, and the Maquis jump on it. The Maquis leader thinks that this may be a move towards the whole crisis eventually ending. Once the Cardassian government realizes they can’t intimidate the locals into leaving, they’ll give up, and there will be a big party. Something he says about music gets Ro into a fragile emotional state, while sinister robed figures sneak into camp, reveal themselves to be Cardassians, and start shooting people. Judging by how few people run for weapons, most of the casualties are probably even civilians. Grandfatherly Old Maquis Man dies in Ro Larren’s arms.
Some time later, Picard in civvies shows up at the bar to meet with Ro, whose cover is immediately hitting on him to get him to cancel the mission. She’s trying to cancel the mission, ascribing a level of caution to the Maquis that would make any future attempts of this kind impossible. Picard can tell, though, and she confesses that she’s having her doubts about going through with it, and he issues the ultimatum. It’s couched as advice out of concern, and it probably is, but it’s still an ultimatum. Do this, or your detractors in Starfleet will have more ammunition against you.
There’s a point being made through the whole arc since Journey’s End about authenticity here. The Federation, for all its lofty goals of the inherent dignity of life, has to make deals with people who very probably are legitimately flouting a treaty, because not to do so would risk war. Starfleet Command is making an actual decision in the Trolley problem, and it may be the right one. It is, at the very least, morally defensible. The Maquis is a smaller organization with fewer constituents, and it is therefore freer to represent that smaller group more perfectly than the Federation as a governing body can represent the needs of the border colonies along with the core worlds. And it’s a new organizaiton, so it’s full of people who joined for a reason, beyond being born into it. They are more authentic than the establishment, and even Ro’s cover for this meeting as a prostitute is a subtle nod to what she now feels Starfleet is asking her to do – sell away her choices. Do her Job. Lie back and think of the Academy.
Picard has had Riker infiltrate with Ro based on her new reticence, and the mission continues, but Ro turns on Riker at the last half-minute. She holds Riker at phaserpoint, reveals the ambush, and aborts the convoy attack. Ro is defecting. It’s a difficult choice, but even Riker can’t bring himself to blame her enough to try to talk her out of it. He even kind-of-defends her to Picard, and our last shot is of the perfect captain realizing the depths of the problem facing the Federation.