Star Trek just brought back a fan favorite from the 90s, and in doing so created one of the most emotionally affecting moments in franchise history. If you’re still reeling from the events of Picard Season 3, Episode 5, “Craps,” Know This: It’s Been Planned From the Beginning for This Character to Return, and As Showrunner Terry Matalas Says On the contraryno other characters have been considered at this time.
Spoilers for the final episode of Star Trek: Picard forward!
Over the last few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a recurring crew member unlike any Trek character that had come before. Beginning in 1991, with the episode “Ensign Ro,” Michelle Forbes created a foil for the rest of the squeaky clean Enterprise-D. Unlike the Starfleet crew members we’d met so far, Ro was an argumentative rule breaker who held no reverence for Jean-Luc, Will, or the rest of the crew. And of course, the fans fell in love with her and so did the team of Enterprise. Now, after 29 years, Ro Laren has returned to face Jean-Luc Picard, but also to save the galaxy.
In “Decepticons,” Ro’s shocking return raises suspicions in Riker and Picard right away: Has Ro joined the Maquis rebel group and betrayed Starfleet? How can this be Ro Lahren? Could this be a rogue Changeling?
But the brilliance of “Decepticons” is how the arc of the episode plays with our feelings for Ro as well as Picard’s distrust of her. And once the script flips and we realize that Ro is fighting against a vast conspiracy, everything changes. Of all the moments in Picard Season 3, this is the most important. Here we learn that the Changeling takeover of Starfleet is much bigger than we thought, and the stakes are much higher than a personal mission for Jean-Luc and Beverly.
So when Season 3 was created, did showrunner Terry Matalas and the other writers of the episode — like Cindy Appel and Chris Derrick — have another character in mind for this moment?
“No,” says Matalas On the contrary. “It had to be Ro Lahren. It was shocking to me that she never acted in the feature films.
It’s shockingly right. Like Guinan or Miles and Keiko O’Brien, Roe was extremely central to TNG mythos, so much so that its final episode, “Preemptive Strike,” was the penultimate episode of the entire series, airing on May 14, 1994, just one week before the final episode ever, “All Good Things…”
Roe was even part of the original pitch for Deep Space Nine, but Michelle Forbes declined to reprise the role, leading to Nana Visitor’s Major Kira being created instead. But Matalas has a point about TNG feature films. The series features side characters such as Lt. Barkley First contactand Wil Wheaton even had a cameo Nemesis. Without including Ro in any of the TNG feature films is an omission that has now been fixed. As Matalas says, if you see Picard Season 3 as an ongoing, TNG movie, “She should have been part of the finale TNG cinematic narrative.”
But not just fan service, Ro Lahren’s return also comes with a shocking death scene, perhaps one of the biggest deaths in Star Trek history. When Ro finds out that her shuttle has a bomb, she decides to hit it USS Intrepid — which is run by shapeshifters — and buy 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 should have meant a lot. Ro had to set our heroes on a course that could potentially save the galaxy. And as Worf says in the next ep [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 Thursdays on Paramount+.