"Preemptive Strike"

Season Seven, Episode 24
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Naren Shankar
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Capt Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Cmdr William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Cmdr Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Michelle Forbes as Lieutenant Ro Laren
John Franklin-Robbins as Macias
Natalija Nogulich as Admiral Nechayev
William Thomas, Jr as Santos
Shannon Cochrane as Kalita
Richard Poe as Gul Evek

Lieutenant Ro Laren returns to the Enterprise following a year of Advanced Tactical Training at Starfleet. As the situation in the Cardassian/Federation Demilitarised Zone becomes ever more volatile, Starfleet asks Ro to go undercover and infiltrate the Maquis in an attempt to allay the situation. Thanks to the ruse of having killed a Cardassian soldier, Ro encounters a Maquis cell, led by an old man named Macias, with whom she forms an instant bond. The Maquis suspect the Cardassians of smuggling components of a biogenic weapon in the zone. Needing medical supplies, Ro volunteers to raid the Enterprise and steal the supplies, an operation which gains her the trust of the cell. Meeting Picard secretly, Ro learns that the next stage of the plan is to lure the Maquis into a trap. Ro expresses her doubts about the plan -- she has become sympathetic to their plight. She nevertheless agrees to carry out her mission. But when Macias is killed amid a Cardassian raid, she decides that she belongs with the Maquis and exposes Starfleet's trap. Her only regret is betraying Picard's trust in her.


At last, a good episode! Not too much to ask now, is it? Admittedly, Preemptive Strike is not without its flaws -- some of them quite substantial -- but following such dreck as Genesis, Bloodlines and Emergence I'll take it, warts and all. And it's a pleasure to see one last appearance by Michelle Forbes, following an absence of two years, in which time she turned down the role that was later filled by Nana Visitor's Kira in DS9. (I didn't much like Ro's new haircut, though. Wasn't all that flattering, I didn't think).

Originally titled "The Good Fight" (a far better title, in my opinion), the premise of Preemptive Strike is hardly original -- character goes undercover only to find their loyalties divided. That said, it's executed with some finesse and provides an interesting glimpse at the Maquis, the rogue Federation citizens who have taken up arms against the Cardassians in the Demilitarised Zone (as established in Journey's End a few episodes back and DS9's two-part The Maquis). On one hand Ro was an excellent choice for this undercover mission, as Picard said -- she's Bajoran, her father was killed by the Cardassians and she's had trouble with Starfleet in the past. Ironically, it turns out she was too good a choice for the mission.

Her troubled past only adds to her understanding of and sympathy toward the plight of the Maquis. It's probably only natural she would gravitate toward their point of view. This is a nicely-conceived story, filled with a moral ambiguity that's tipped over from sister series DS9, making for bleakly compelling viewing. Ro's eventual decision to join the Maquis made perfect sense. Frankly, it's a wonder she wasn't the founding member of the Maquis -- she never struck me as Starfleet material (and it's debatable whether that's a compliment or not) and one can only assume she found her true calling as a Cardassian ass-kicking freedom fighter. In lieu of the Maquis' eventual devastating fate, in DS9's Blaze of Glory, her decision to join the Maquis is made all the more poignant, tinged with great tragedy looming on the horizon.

Unfortunately, whilst teaming up Ro with the Maquis was a stroke of genius, the episode is undermined by a tendency on the part of the writers to resort to cheap, gimmicky tactics to sell the premise. One almost gets the impression they're not quite convinced by it themselves. For instance, the Picard/Ro relationship is laid on far too thickly -- aside from Picard's hand in Ro's initial assignment, there's been precisely zero evidence that the two have formed a close mentor/protege relationship. Nice idea, but if we were meant to buy it as anything other than a cynical plot device, it would have been nice had there been some evidence to substantiate such a bond. That said, the two share some of the episode's more powerful scenes, including a stand-out conversation in the alien bar while posing as call girl and her client. Her subsequent act of betrayal made for a reasonably poignant conclusion: the final shot of Picard being particularly powerful.

Another, more damning evidence of manipulation on the part of the writers was the character of Macias. Simply put, he wasn't in the least bit convincing as a Maquis leader. In a bid to make him sympathetic and appealing -- so we could thus relate to Ro's dilemma -- he's cast as a cuddly old codger: basically, he's everyone's  favourite grandpa. Only problem is, everyone's favourite grandpa should be at home in his rocking chair, smoking his pipe, NOT leading a band of outlaw freedom fighters. Just isn't convincing. As amiable as John Franklin-Robbins is in the role, I simply couldn't accept Macias as a character, for in reality he was little more than a manipulative plot device. It goes without saying that this is dishonest storytelling and between that and the forced Picard/Ro angle it doesn't reflect well upon the episode as a whole. Compare this with Rene Echevarria's later work, DS9's Honor Among Thieves which took a virtually identical premise but played it entirely without gimmicks, centring squarely upon the characters. And, lo and behold, it worked -- more so than this, in fact.

Don't get me wrong, Preemptive Strike is a solid episode, well performed, well directed and not without a degree of understated resonance. The problem is, to achieve its aim, it's willing to play a little dirty; utilising manipulative gimmicks and big sign posts that tend to shoot it in its own foot. Just goes to show -- honesty always is the best policy!

Rating: 7

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