Why one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is still worth watching (2023)


Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7 episode "Sub Rosa" is often vilified by fans, but its themes are undiscovered land.

Why one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is still worth watching (1)VonJoe George | |

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Why one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is still worth watching (2)

Days after the death of her grandmother, a young professional woman returns to her family home to sort through what was left behind. Wrapped in a blanket to warm from the storm raging outside, the woman senses a ghostly presence that visited her in a dream the night before. The presence begins to speak, offering the woman closer and promising that he loves her as much as he once loved her grandmother. Horror covers the woman's face, but with it also desire.

I'm not describing a beloved rom-com or a scene from a Harlequin novel. This is a scene fromStar Trek: The Next Generation; specifically the Season 7 episode "Sub Rosa". If you haven't seen "Sub Rosa" yet, you might still be very aware. Known as the one in which Dr. Beverly Crusher has sex with a candle genie, "Sub Rosa" consistently ranks among the worst episodes of the show's seven seasons, if not the entire franchise. Sure, it's not typically cited as often as the racism of "Code of Honor" or the misogyny of "The Child," but it still strikes people as odd. Although "Sub Rosa" hasa few defenders, even Star Gates McFaddenquestioned the value of the episodeand directorsaid Jonathan Frakes"It wasn't my finest hour."

And yet, for all its unusual qualities, "Sub Rosa" is an important part ofStar Treks development. With its focus on eroticism and female lust, “Sub Rosa” pushes.Trekventure into uncharted territory and open up new ways for us to think about the human experience.

literary roots

There are few things that are more importantStar Trekas literary references. Already in the first season oforiginal series, Gene Roddenberry and his team wrote stories with titles ripped from Shakespeare, like "Dagger of the Mind" or "The Conscience of the King". This has continued to the present day, from theMoby Dickparallels aFirst contactTodiscovery's Michael Burnham recalls reading her adoptive motherAlice in Wonderlandto her.


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(Video) 10 Most Hated Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes

Speaking of white rabbits,Trekloves to get silly, as anyone who remembers the original series episode "Shore Leave" can tell you. From the start, the franchise has balanced its high-spirited ideals with goofy plots that have seen Kirk and his crew have equal wits against the child god Trelane or cavort with space hippies. Later series followed suit, with the darker oneDeep Space Ninetaking a break from the Dominion War to follow Jake and Nog's quest for a baseball card while they are evictedTravellerThe crew recreated series from the 1940s in the holodeck.

For these reasons, Sub Rosa isn't an outlier for the franchise, at least not conceptually. Written by producer Brannon Braga, based on a story thatTrekMainstay Jeri Taylor, adapted from an idea by Jeanna F. Gallo, gives the sequel a sci-fi twist on Henry James' ghostly novellaThe rotation of the screw.

From these high literary roots, Braga and director Jonathan Frakes draw on ideas that are among the most hackneyed in the worldTrekStory. The episode not only takes place in the Coldos colony on a planet that has been terraformed to resemble 17thCentury in Scotland, but the romantic spirit at its center lives in a candle lit by the family of Dr. Beverly Crusher. At the same time, the story never leaves the essenceTNGBoundaries and brings together a subplot in which Data and Geordi help a colony leader investigate problems with the weather controller. By the end of the episode, the ghost is revealed to be an alien parasite trying to inhabit Beverly, messing with the weather control stations to achieve its goals.

In other words, "Sub Rosa" blends scientific research, literary appreciation, and goofy conceit, just like some of the best entries in the franchise. But is it good?

A family tradition

At the beginning of Sub Rosa, Dr. Crusher (née Howard) Counselor Troi on the sexual urges she felt while reading entries in her late grandmother's diary. Through the diary, Crusher learns that the centenarian had a lover; a man in his thirties named Ronin. Instead of feeling weird or embarrassed about getting excited about her grandmother's writing, Beverly expresses her pride. "The sensations were very real and extremely arousing," she says to Troi, who replies, "I'm honestly jealous."

For most of us, that seems like an unlikely admission. And it's just one of the unusual decisions Braga and Frakes made in the episode. The fact that Ronin lives in a candle should certainly emphasize the gothic quality of the story. Instead, it provokes giggles from the audience, and not just because of the object's semi-phallic design.


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And then there's Quint, whose name is one of the few obvious cluesThe rotation of the screw. The caretaker of the Howard house, Quint, arrives shortly after Crusher's grandmother's funeral to destroy the candle. When Beverly stops him, Quint issues a dire warning, telling the Doctor that the candle will bring nothing but suffering, just like previous generations of Howards.

"Sub Rosa" attempts to cast Quint as the naysayer, that key character in a good ghost story who knows more about the threat than the protagonist but ultimately has to be ignored. When used well, the Doomsayer can add tension to a ghost story, much like the caretaker Mrs. Grose didThe rotation of the screw(or Hannah Grose by T'Nia Miller in the excellent adaptation by Mike Flanagan,The Haunting of Bly Manor).

But Quint feels much closer to Crazy Ralph, the guy who tells the teenagersFriday the 13ththat Camp Crystal Lake has "a killing curse." With a Scottish accent that even James Doohan would call a bit much, Quint rants and raves about spectral dangers until he somehow makes his way to the Enterprise bridge and is shocked to death by Ronin, who overloads one of the ship's computers.

And then there are the sex scenes. When Ronin Crusher reveals his presence, it reaches them as an invisible presence, sending them into orgasmic tremors. And for those familiar with nerd culture, these scenes resemble less the pinnacle of pleasure and more like the worst scene inghostbusters, in which Ray Stantz gets an amazing fellatio.

In short, it's hard not to laugh or be concerned about many aspects of Sub Rosa. But these shortcomings only underscore the needStar Trekto take on the challenges of Gothic Romance.

Where no human has gone before

Part of the reason "Sub Rosa" falls short is that it breaks new groundStar Trek. While the franchise regularly delves into horror, it rarely goes Gothic (theAGBEpisode "Catspaw" written byPsychoauthor Robert Bloch, is an exception that proves the rule). AndNext Generation, with his beige Enterprise and the talks in the ready room, seems unsuitable for the task.

(Video) Was TNG Season 2 Really That Bad?

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Even strangerStar Trekis the sexuality of the episode. I havewritten elsewhereoneTrek's complicated relationship with emotions, and while "Sub Rosa" ultimately follows the Standard Model about feelings (Beverly's feelings for Ronin nearly destroy her, forcing Picard, Data, and Geordi to logically solve the problem and save her), it leads something an even rarerStar Trek: eroticism.

Sure, old Captain Kirk liked his romantic escapades, and Risa exists in thatStar Trekuniverse, but rarely do we see sexuality really portrayed on the show, especially from a female perspective. Sure, the show was happy to put female actors in skin-tight outfits, and there's no denying the allure of Picard's Risa swimwear. But the mostTrekDepictions of intimacy had all the complexity of a Dabo girl's uniform.

With Sub Rosa we get something different: a focus on a woman's desire and even pleasure. At several points in the episode, Ronin visits Beverly and sends her into ecstasy. Gates McFadden goes weak in the knees and falls back on furniture. She tosses her red hair over her eyes and her hands search for something to grab. Does it look silly? Well, of course, because sex always looks silly to bystanders. But it's also completely authentic, a depiction of the vulnerability that comes with every sexual experience.

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More importantly, McFadden's performance puts Beverly's desire first. At no point in the episode does Frakes give in to the male gaze, nor do we see the pleasure from Ronin's perspective. Yes, the male Ronin initiates the encounters, and we eventually learn that it's for his own ends, to the point where you could argue that the alien is sexually assaulting the Doctor - it's grim territory, even if we are acknowledge that the story of the episode came from the minds of two women. But during the encounters, the camera only shows us what Beverly feels and what she wants.

At the end of the episode, with everything revealed, Crusher admits to having complex feelings about the affair's ending. "Whatever else [Ronin] could have done, he made her very happy," Beverly says of her grandmother, expressing her grandmother's feelings and agency and herself, not Ronin's plans.

The ongoing mission

At this point one can legitimately ask, “Why shouldTrekdo Gothic Romance? It's a show about space explorers. It doesn't have to deal with that kind of thing."


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It's true thatStar Trekstarted out as a “Wagon Train to the Stars” but quickly evolved into an exploration of what makes people human. And while it's made exciting strides in all areas of experience, sexuality remains somewhat undiscovered territory for the series. If the franchise really wants to understand the human complexion, sexuality can't be ignored - it has to be addressed, even if it's uncomfortable.

Sub Rosa may be imperfect in its portrayal of eroticism, but it represents fascinating first steps into the subjectTrek.


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tags:OutstandingStar Trek: The Next Generation

Why one of the worst episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is still worth watching (3)

Written by

Joe George|@jageorgeii

Joe George's writing has appeared on Slate, Polygon, Tor.com and more!

Read more from Joe George

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Which infamous episode of the next generation is considered the series worst? ›

Shades of Gray (3.4/10)

At least TNG got its worst-ever episode out of the way early. If you're watching this show for the first time, just know that things get better moving forward. Critics on IMDb largely dismiss Shades of Grey as collateral damage in the 1988 Writer's Guild of America strike.

How many episodes was Star Trek Next Generation? ›

Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series which aired in syndication from September 1987 through May 1994. It is the second live-action series of the Star Trek franchise and comprises a total of 178 episodes over 7 seasons.

What is the saddest episode of Star Trek Next Generation? ›

Many fans argue that "The Offspring" is one of the saddest episodes of the whole series due to its ending scene, which left many in tears.

What episodes of TNG can I skip? ›

Star Trek: The Next Generation - 10 Filler Episodes You Can Skip To Save Time
  • Up A Long Ladder. ...
  • The Royale. ...
  • Angel One. ...
  • Justice. ...
  • Sub Rosa. ...
  • The Masterpiece Society. ...
  • Night Terrors. ...
  • Code Of Honor.
Mar 19, 2022

When did TNG start getting good? ›

Things improve in the second year, but the show doesn't really hit a sustained run of good stuff until Season 3. That said, if you're determined to watch as much of the show as possible, here are some episodes that you really will want to avoid.

Why did Star Trek Next Generation get Cancelled? ›

Of the previous generation of long-running hits, "M*A*S*H" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" expired of similar causes. But "Star Trek: The Next Generation" died for business reasons, not creative ones. It was canceled by its producer, Paramount Television, at the height of its powers.

What is the most watched Star Trek episode? ›

The series finale of "Voyager" is the most watched and rewatched episode in the entire franchise according to Netflix.

What is the most famous episode of Star Trek? ›

The 10 Best Classic Star Trek Episodes
  • Amok Time (Season 2) ...
  • The Naked Time (Season 1) ...
  • The Enemy Within (Season 1) ...
  • Where No Man Has Gone Before (Season 1) ...
  • Space Seed (Season 1) ...
  • Mirror, Mirror (Season 2) ...
  • Balance of Terror (Season 1) ...
  • The City on the Edge of Forever (Season 1)
Apr 5, 2022

Which Star Trek is considered the best? ›

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022-Present)

But so far, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best Trek series of the modern streaming era.

What season does next generation get good? ›

Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:

Things improve in the second year, but the show doesn't really hit a sustained run of good stuff until Season 3. That said, if you're determined to watch as much of the show as possible, here are some episodes that you really will want to avoid.

Did the cast of the next generation get along? ›

When the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation get together, it's like no time has passed. That's probably because they still hang out. "We actually like each other," Marina Sirtis remarks in EW's New York Comic Con video suite. "I know it's a weird concept in Hollywood, but we actually get on."

What episodes of the next generation should I watch? ›

Very Important Binge: The best TNG episodes to watch before Star Trek: Picard
  • Season 1, Episode 13: 'Datalore' ...
  • Season 2, Episode 9: 'The Measure of a Man' ...
  • Season 3, Episode 10: 'The Defector' ...
  • Season 3, Episode 26 and Season 4, Episode 1: 'The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2' ...
  • Season 4, Episode 2: 'Family'
Jun 25, 2020

Is the next generation better than the original series? ›

TNG had 7 seasons while TOS only had 3, but TNG arguably did more character development in its single season than almost all of TOS combined. Its characters were more flawed, more fallible, and less "iconic" to the point of little deviation from their central characterization.


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