WARNING: This post contains well-hidden spoilers for "Sub Rosa", the latest offering from TNG. Those who wish not to be exposed to spoilers (even in confidence) should stay well clear.

In brief: a few moments here and there, but not nearly enough to keep me from wondering why this show was made.

In addition, I have a fairly serious issue with authors' credit to bring up where "Sub Rosa" is concerned. But first, as always ... a synopsis:

The Enterprise is at a colony on Caldos Four, for the funeral of Beverly Crusher's grandmother, Felisa Howard. At the funeral, Bev is surprised to see a youngish-looking man place a flower on her grave. She discusses the personal nature of the gesture with Deanna, and then adjourns back to her grandmother's home. Meanwhile, Picard agrees to Governor Maturin's request to stick around and help with the weather control units, in exchange for a tour of the colony, which has managed to recreate the feel of Scotland very successfully.

At the house, Beverly goes through "Nana's" possessions, quickly finding a lit candle meant to symbolize "the enduring Howard spirit". Deanna leaves after offering some condolences, and Bev broods, eventually finding some journals of her grandmother's and taking them upstairs to read. This is interrupted, however, when Ned Quint, a friend of Felisa's, comes in the house and blows out the candle -- and ordering Bev in no uncertain terms never to light it again. She throws him out, and he disclaims all responsibility for whatever future she brings on herself.

That evening, after Beverly has read her grandmother's repeated reference to her lover "Ronin", a man in his mid-thirties that Bev knew nothing about, the candle (now in her quarters) sputters briefly, and the sheets around Beverly begin to move. She responds as if being caresses, then hears a voice calling her name. She wakes, shocked. She talks to Deanna about the incident (or rather, "the dream", as that is what she believes it to be), and wonders if the dreams will continue.

At the cemetery later, Bev finds Quint and apologizes to him for her behavior the previous day. He accepts the apology, but says he'll never again enter the Howard home, and that she shouldn't either -- the house, he says, is haunted by a ghost who lives in the candle, and his inability to enter it right now is making him cause the storms now forming over the colony. Beverly is skeptical -- after all, the malfunctioning weather grid is causing the storms -- but he is adamant that the spirit is responsible. As the storm begins to pour down, Beverly returns to the house -- but when she enters, she finds flowers strewn everywhere...

The door closes behind her, and Beverly wanders the house, seeming very unnerved. Eventually, Ronin speaks to her invisibly, even taking control of her body. He tells her that he's a spirit, born in 17th-century Scotland, and that he has been with Howard women for centuries. Bev doesn't understand, but Ronin proves irresistible. Later, Deanna drops by Bev's quarters on the Enterprise and talks to her about her new-found "friend", urging her not to mistake shared grief for love, but Bev assures her that at the moment, it's not love -- "I'm just intrigued."

The situation gets stranger, both on the Enterprise and on the planet. Data and Geordi go down to the planet to find a way to stop the power transfer they had earlier started to stabilize the weather system, but instead find Quint trying desperately to disconnect primary power to the system. He tells them to keep back, saying that a mysterious "he" is trying to kill them all -- but suddenly, sparks fly from the console he is near, and Quint falls to the ground, dead.

Data and Geordi assume a plasma discharge killed him, but Bev disagrees, saying that she's found traces of anaphasic energy in his body. She sends the body to the Enterprise for testing, and returns to the house to confront Ronin. Ronin admits causing Quint's death, but says there are more important things to talk about. He materializes, physically, and tells her that he needs her help: he needs her to light the candle, which he requires to stay strong. He will travel up the power beam from the Enterprise and join her on the ship. Bev quickly returns to the ship and lights the candle, and in short order Ronin is there, promising her that they'll be together always, "and you will feel love as you never felt it before." He turns himself to mist and envelops her, and she responds with abandon.

Shortly thereafter, Picard rushes into the transporter room to find Beverly, having resigned her commission, ready to beam down to the planet for good! He tries to talk her out of it, but she is adamant, and leaves. After he talks to Deanna about Ronin's possible influence, he decides to go down and meet Ronin for himself, as Geordi and Data go down to the planet to search for another anaphasic signature, which is quickly shown to be in the cemetery, very near Felisa Howard's grave.

Picard comes to the Howard home, and after knocking without an answer, enters to find Beverly in the throes of passion, having just merged with Ronin. She collects herself and tries to get Picard to leave, telling him "jealousy doesn't suit you, Jean-Luc." Picard, however, is adamant, telling her that this situation is simply not the Beverly he knows, and asking why she seems to be the only one who has ever seen Ronin? Ronin then appears, walking down the stairs, and tells Picard to leave. He, however, will not, instead asking hard questions about Ronin's origins and challenging his claim to be a colonist.

After Picard gives Geordi and Data permission to exhume Felisa's body, Ronin disappears in anger. Picard tries to get Beverly to come with him, but is shocked by anaphasic energy and falls to the ground in pain. Beverly, forced to choose, stays with Picard to help him as Ronin leaves to stop Data and Geordi. She stabilizes Picard's condition, then goes to the cemetery to stop Ronin. She arrives in time to see him take over Felisa's body and shock both Geordi and Data into unconsciousness, and screams at him to stop what he is doing. She accuses him of being an "anaphasic lifeform", using her body and those of Howard women through the centuries to maintain his stability. He grants that, but insists that he loved them all. He tells her to lay down the candle, which she does -- but she then phasers it, leaving Ronin nowhere to go. With the only option being to hide in Beverly herself, Ronin leaps for her, but Bev phasers him as well, dispersing his energy forever. Everyone recovers, but Beverly tells Deanna later that she feels some sense of disappointment. Having read her grandmother's journals, she now knows that "whatever else he may have done ... he made her very happy."


Well, that takes care of that. Now for the commentary.

First and foremost, I have to make a comment on the ... well, let's say the familiarity of this particular episode. I don't know if you've read Anne Rice's The Witching Hour [if not, I recommend it], but the number of similarities between that novel and the first two-thirds or so of "Sub Rosa" are astonishing, both in number and in degree.

Basically, change the name "Ronin" to "Lasher", "Howard" to "Mayfair", "anaphasic lifeform" to "demon", the candle to an emerald pendant, and a few other details, and "Sub Rosa" is a watered-down version of The Witching Hour. (I haven't read the sequel to TWH, Lasher, yet, but my understanding from people who have is that it tends to cover the remainder of this episode. Sigh.)

My hope is that one of two things are true: either

1) Anne Rice was consulted before this show was produced and gave her blessing. In fact, given that there's a hidden "Based upon material by" credit to Jeanna F. Gallo, perhaps that is Rice under a pseudonym.

or

2) Whoever bought the material from Ms. Gallo didn't realize the similarities between this show and Rice's novel.

Those are the only two possibilities that would make me feel even remotely good about the similarities that are all too obvious -- because the other two conclusions are either so farfetched as to be unbelievable (i.e. that these were completely independent), or rather damning towards a group of people that have earned my respect over the years. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed the parallels -- and I hope as fervently as I can that more information on this comes to the surface as quickly as possible.

Anyway, that particular point had to be made. The similarities aside, what did I think of "Sub Rosa"? Well ... I've seen better, especially from the team of Braga on script and Frakes directing. I mean, this is the same pair that gave us "Cause and Effect" and was partly responsible for "Reunion", both high up on my list of favorites -- so what happened here?

One of the things I had the most trouble with (aside from the ending, which I'll get to later) was the characterization of Beverly once Ronin started taking an active role. We have seen Bev face all sorts of things in her years, and even when she gets convinced she's going crazy (a la "Remember Me"), she has been believable and a fairly strong individual. Here, though, what did we see? Ronin is said to have some incredible influence over the Howard women, but the only time it's tested (towards the end), Bev wins. So what does this influence come down to, that apparently makes a normally intelligent person act and talk (down to the voice at times) like a five-year-old?

Apparently, he's the spiritual equivalent of being incredibly good in bed. This makes Bev compromise her beliefs, turn her back on everyone and everything she holds dear, and shrug off Quint's murder after a few minutes of angst.

Am I the only one that finds the presentation far too close to "all a woman needs is a good lay to be controllable" for anyone's comfort?

The other major problem I had with "Sub Rosa" was the ending. For all the objections I've raised so far, "Sub Rosa" did manage to have a nicely creepy feel to it for much of the early part of the show. However, the last five minutes, to be blunt, were awful. Technobabble is bad enough; having people screaming incoherently is usually bad enough without strongly extenuating circumstances (such as the Riker from the Borg-universe in "Parallels"). Having someone screaming technobabble incoherently, therefore, is pretty high up on my list of unpleasant things to watch.

It also made very little sense. What alerted Bev to this? Seeing her grandmother's body taken over by Ronin? If she's already managed to convince herself that Ronin's truly a ghost, why is possession such an odd leap to make? Was it just the final straw? Perhaps -- but very little about that scene rang true.

Very little about the show rang true, when it comes down to it. Ned Quint certainly didn't, thanks mostly to a Scottish accent so damned thick as to almost be parody. Bev's reactions didn't after the first ten minutes of the show. Some of Picard's actions didn't; some of Deanna's didn't either. I'm sorry, but I found very little to like here.

Lest I sound like this was absolutely without merit, though, let me note a few pluses. As I said, bits of the show did feel somewhat creepy. While Ronin's voice and attitude didn't do too much for me, having Bev come home and suddenly find flowers everywhere managed to induce at least the beginnings of a shiver. Perhaps "creepy" is the wrong word for it, as much of the show didn't really do that -- what it did was establish the right atmosphere. That I'd tend to credit mostly to Frakes, who's been good at establishing the right tone to a show for quite a while.

The one scene that I found most appealing was the "fog on the bridge" scene. While there wasn't much point to it, it was a delightful bit of weirdness that had me chuckling. "It just kind of rolled in on us, sir." I like it.

However, that's about it to the major pluses of "Sub Rosa". Even without the question of the story's origins, it's a fairly bad show. With that question as yet unanswered, it's the first show in a long while that I'm finding it hard to not ... well, for want of a better word, not condemn. This is a show for completists (or for those who want to watch Gates McFadden writhe in a rather attractive manner, which I'll admit I didn't exactly turn away from :-) ), but that's about as far as I'm prepared to go.

So, a few short notes:

  • One other plus to the show was the title. "Sub Rosa", which literally means "under the rose", is a phrase that indicates something private or secretive, which the Howards' lives with Ronin surely were. I don't know who came up with the title, but it's a nice touch.
  • Picard tells Maturin that he's "obviously not Scotch yourself." Damn straight. Scotch is a liquor. Scottish or Scots is the adjective. Picard, and Stewart for that matter, should have known better.
  • Cute double-entendre alert: Right after Bev has told Picard about her grandmother's affairs with Ronin, Picard tells her that they'll be sticking around long enough for her to put her grandmother's affairs in order. It's not the greatest pun in the world, but it's not bad -- and I'm a little surprised they didn't make it more obvious. :-)
  • Felisa was clearly Bev's maternal grandmother, based on the entire premise of the show. Given that Howard was also Bev's maiden name, that implies that Bev's parents took her mother's name. Ver-ry interesting...
  • Another plus: music. Much of the atmosphere and creepiness of the early parts of the show can probably be credited to Jay Chattaway. While I can't think of any specific musical moment that got to me, I definitely remember the music as helping to establish the mood.

That's about it. We've got a dozen episodes of TNG to go -- and with "Homeward" and "Sub Rosa" being the last two, I'm frankly worried. I don't want to remember TNG on notes like this -- I'd rather remember something like "Parallels" or "The Pegasus". Where are they?

So, to sum up:

Plot: 40 minutes of a horror tale not suited for Trek, followed by 5 minutes of Technobabble from Hell. Ugh.

Plot handling: The only plus I can give, and that slight. A good mood piece much of the time.

Characterization: Awful. I don't like what this did to Bev, and everyone else has seen better days, too.

OVERALL: 2.5. A serious disappointment; it can only get better from here...

NEXT WEEK:

A look at the lower levels of the rank structure...



Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
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"It just sort of rolled in on us, sir."
                        -- Riker
--
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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