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Worst of the Best: The Next Generation's 'Sub Rosa'

The Most Bafflingly Horrible Episode From One of the Best Series of All Time

Welcome to "The Worst of the Best," a series of articles in which I will explore the strangest, most cringe-worthy, and downright awful episodes from otherwise quality television series. No series is without its low points, even a franchise as groundbreaking and beloved as Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was and still is a high point in television. It elevated the Star Trek series beyond the basic monster-alien-of-the-week format to new heights of social commentary, character development, and storytelling, which the series, arguably, never was able to top. However, with such pioneering episodes as The Best of Both Worlds, Brothers, and The Inner Light, there are bound to be some proportionately terrible episodes. 

And thus, I present to you, the overwrought tripe that is Sub Rosa.

Ostentatious, inexplicable, and painfully schmaltzy, this episode reads more like a bad erotic fan fiction than a legitimate entry into the Star Trek canon. It's a notable departure from the usual mood and style of the series, and this, if done properly, could have been refreshing. However, Sub Rosa is a hamfisted attempt at shoehorning in some Victorian horror, complete with nonsensical melodrama, magic candles, stormy nights, and Scottish groundskeepers giving ominous warnings. This is considered by a multitude of fans to be the worst episode of the series, and for good reason. What's most shocking of all, perhaps, is the fact that this episode was directed by Number One himself, Jonathan Frakes, who went on to direct Star Trek: First Contact.

In this episode, the Enterprise crew visits a planet colonized by Scots (located in the system known as Haggis 12), so that Doctor Beverly Crusher can attend her grandmother’s funeral. During the visit, Beverly finds Grandma's diary, and, in reading it, discovers that her 100-year-old Granny was getting freaky with a 34-year-old buck named Ronin. Turns out, Ronin is actually a ghost that has been haunting (sexily haunting) the women in Beverly’s family for generations. Being a strong, intelligent woman, Beverly falls in love with him and decides to leave the Enterprise to live on Planet Scotland. However, it turns out that Ronin is actually not a ghost at all, but some kind of alien that can only materialize if its energy source (the magic candle) is activated, and he regenerates his life force by boning green-eyed women. You know, classic Hollywood tropes.

Anyway, Beverly eventually comes to her senses once Ronin resurrects her grandmother as an evil zombie to do his bidding. This is apparently where the doctor draws the line. She destroys the Magic Space Candle and Ronin the Alien Ghost Pimp disappears. And then everyone laughs, has drinks served by Whoopi Goldberg, and Beverly relates how she’s a little sad to no longer be banging her dead Grandma’s boyfriend.

Space exploration at its finest.

In a series that so poignantly explored social issues and human nature, this episode sticks out like a sore thumb, putting on display prime examples of poor writing, and a plot that goes nowhere, has no stakes, no point, and no moral. It degrades the character of Doctor Beverly Crusher, who is ordinarily an intelligent and steadfast woman, and, no matter what excuse you give for her behavior within the episode, it still stands as a disservice to such a beloved character. The actors seem like they're just going through the motions, and behave in ways that make no sense. It does nothing to further the plot, and, while it tries to fill out Beverly's backstory, there were far more interesting ways they could have developed her character that wouldn't have been as embarrassing to the series' reputation.

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