A group of Bajoran terrorists has attacked a Federation outpost. The Enterprise must track them down and persuade them to abandon their cause. But this won't be easy, as the Bajorans are fighting to free themselves from occupation by the Cardassians, by any means necessary. To assist in this endeavor, an Admiral assigns a Bajoran officer to the Enterprise, Ensign Ro Laren. But this new officer has a checkered past that includes a recent stint in prison. Even if she can fit in, will she be of any help? And even if she could help, will she?
Although the series did not intend to introduce a new series regular to replace Wesley Crusher, the writers did want a recurring face in place of the procession of anonymous helmsmen seated next to Data. Specifically, the writers wanted someone with a darker background who could inject a bit of conflict into the otherwise harmonious crew. And preferably, they wanted a female. From these requirements, Ro Laren and the Bajorans were born.
This episode contains much of the back story that would inform the next spinoff series, Deep Space Nine. But the writers were by no means planning ahead. In fact, the original script for this episode positioned the Romulans as the oppressors of the Bajorans. But executive producer Rick Berman felt that they'd been used too much recently in the Klingon civil war arc. Recalling "The Wounded" from the previous season, he requested the change to the Cardassians.
To portray this new character, the producers looked to an actress who had impressed them in a minor guest starring role in the previous season, Michelle Forbes. She comes through again here. She brings the conflict they were looking for, conveying Ro's standoffish personality with rolling eyes, folded arms, and a perpetual scowl. But even more, she rounds out the character with a strong performance in a scene where she recounts watching her father be tortured to death in front of her when she was seven years old.
Other characters play key roles in introducing this new one. Picard, ever the level-headed diplomat, recoils with shocking venom at the first mention of Ro Laren's name. It's a tone he rarely strikes, instantly telling us a lot about the character we're about to meet. Ultimately, it takes Guinan -- a fellow refugee from her own homeworld -- to break the ice with Ro and forge a way forward with Picard. Show runner Michael Piller thought this was the key element in introducing Ro, using the beloved character of Guinan to give the audience permission to accept the new character. (Piller also pointed out that the lack of fan resistance to Ro indicated the success of the new character. Perhaps he was comparing Ro to the failure of Dr. Pulaski from before his tenure.)
The introduction of the Bajoran race is somewhat less successful here, though it might be unfair to judge them against how fully seven seasons of Deep Space Nine would flesh them out. Picard does share the intriguing detail than their civilization was culturally advanced even before humans were walking upright, but there's no notion of their religious convictions beyond the symbol of Ro's earring. They seem to all generically be terrorists. Their makeup is still a work in progress (with an extra ridge between their eyebrows that would never appear again). And there seems to be disagreement about whether they're called the "Bajora" or the "Bajorans," sometimes even by the same character within the same scene.
- Ro isn't the only character making a first appearance here. Though a Bolian barber had been seen on the series before, this was the debut of Mot the Barber. Riker calls him "the best barber in Starfleet," though the way he jerks Picard's head around suggests otherwise.
- For the second consecutive episode, the series does some filming on location. And for the second consecutive time, it's in Bronson Canyon.
- The first moment that demonstrates Ro's nonconformity is when Commander Riker orders her to remove her earring and comply with Starfleet uniform code. It may be a nice character moment for Ro, but it really doesn't make much sense for Riker. After all, Worf is allowed to wear his Klingon baldric, while Troi doesn't even bother to wear a Starfleet uniform at all.