Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Sub Rosa"


Air date: 1/31/1994
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Beverly attends her maternal grandmother's funeral on a colony modeled after Scotland, where she finds herself drawn uncontrollably into a bizarre and unexpected tryst with ... a ghost. Okay, not really a ghost, because this is Star Trek. (It's an "anaphasic lifeform," blah, blah, blah.) But for all intents and purposes, yes, a ghost. A ghost named Ronin (Duncan Regehr) who, we ultimately learn, has been seducing the minds and cohabiting the bodies of the women in Beverly's family for generations. After season seven's endless parade of Family Tree Theater, this episode takes the cake — then blows it up with dynamite birthday candles.

Ah, "Sub Rosa." This may be TNG's equivalent to "Spock's Brain" — an episode so insanely, deliriously, hilariously, notoriously, transcendently bad that it manages to elevate awfulness to a sort of epic grandeur. Truth be told, I enjoyed watching "Sub Rosa" (granted, for all the wrong reasons) a lot more than I enjoyed watching "Homeward," but that's because I like to laugh at overcooked and overacted camp. The old adage "so bad it's good" was coined for just this sort of affair. I can't bring myself to hate "Sub Rosa" simply because it's way too goofy to be worthy of hatred.

Make no mistake — this is a terrible, terrible hour of so-called "science fiction" — but it's also a cheese-fest so absurd you almost wonder if it was meant in jest. (Note: I said "almost." I'm afraid it actually wasn't.) It appears to have been conceived as some sort of homage to 19th-century period romances crossed with haunted house stories. Where to begin?

  • Beverly has an erotic affair. With a ghost. (No reason to bury the lead.)
  • Beverly is warned early on by Ned Quint (Shay Duffin) that there's a ghost that brought her grandmother nothing but misery and bad luck, especially if she lit that dreaded candle. Helpful Quint dialogue: "Dahnaht laaght thaht caandle, and dahnaht goo to thaht hoose!" Beverly of course ignores these warnings. Then again, Quint is so urgent a Scotsman as to make James Doohan's Scotty seem restrained by comparison.
  • No cliche goes unused as the writers and producers channel haunted house ideas that had clearly been simmering for years. Green lightning! Thunder! Wind! Faces in mirrors that aren't there when you turn around! Beverly getting possessed!
  • Beverly's 10-Forward discussion with Troi about her supernatural paramour has a tone that pretty much translates to: OMG, HE GETS ME SO HOTT, LOL. Note to self for pitching the next spinoff series: Sex and the Saucer Section! Double LOL!
  • Beverly resigns her Starfleet commission to go live on the planet full-time with Ronin, because erotic supernatural adventures just SCRAMBLE WOMEN'S MINDS.
  • Quint is killed in the later acts by Ronin's sci-fi (or, if you will, ghostly) abilities, a victim of Screenwriting 101.
  • Picard walks in on Beverly while she's very close to having an orgasm. With a ghost. Awkward!
  • Hey, look! Graverobbing! And the animated corpse of Beverly's grandmother speaks!
  • Gates McFadden turns in a brave performance while drowning in oceans of dreck. An overheated, hysterical and, yes, quite awful performance — but brave.
  • There's probably a review to be written arguing how offensive this story is if you actually took its situation seriously. (Is Ronin a rapist? Is this episode misogynistic? Etc.) But I won't be the one to bother writing it.
  • This must be the worst episode of the season. I don't remember "Genesis" being nearly this bad (nor as laughable), but we'll see.
  • Did I mention Beverly has sex with a ghost?

Previous episode: Homeward
Next episode: Lower Decks

Season Index

41 comments on this review

Patrick - Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - 11:41pm (USA Central)
The parallel between "Sub Rosa" and "Spock's Brain" is apt. Both are as dumb as a sack of lobotomized hedgehogs, but fun despite their awfulness.

Keeping with that bad-episodes-in-the-final-season parallel, "Genesis" is TNG's "The Way to Eden": an endurance trial. It could definitely compete with "Shades of Grey" as the worst episode of the entire series.
JB - Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
I have a soft spot for this episode. Yes, it's terrible. Yes, it's overdone in all areas. But McFadden so rarely gets an episode to herself and she gives it her all. I also liked Chattaway's creepy, yet erotic score.
Paul - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:42am (USA Central)
Yup, this one is just terrible. "Genesis" is bad, but this is worse.

To me, the parallel with "And the Children Shall Lead" is much stronger. To me, that episode is TOS's worst, because it's boring and, like "Sub Rosa", it raises a lot of questions that go unanswered.

BTW, season 7 is really preparation for Voyager in good ways ("Parallels" was ripped off several times in YOY) and bad ways (do I need to draw the connection to "Spirit Folk").

And JB, who the F cares if this is one of Crusher's few episodes. It's still ridiculously bad.
Ian Whitcombe - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 1:34am (USA Central)
There's still "Masks" to suffer through too, Jammer. Not only is the SOS score for that one low, but you've brought it up in Voyager reviews.

I'd also argue that this episode is at least objectively better (direction, pace) than "Eye of the Beholder" in which has all the problems of "Sub Rosa" and the only thing going for it is a brief Worf/Riker exchange which makes no sense after the reveal.

Ian Whitcombe - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 1:35am (USA Central)
Also, how amazing to see a stretch of four episodes where none get in the two-three star range!
karatasiospa - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 6:00am (USA Central)
For me this one is the worst episode of TNG! i saw it once many years ago and i couldn't see it ever again.
And i disagree for Masks. For me it was a good and in some aspects even fascinating story at least for those who want to see science fiction not just (the overrated these days) character development.
Ravo - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 4:33am (USA Central)
Sex and the Saucer Section! Triple LOL!
Freddy - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 9:30am (USA Central)
Although all of your criticism does make sense on this episode, i must admit that i really enjoyed SUB ROSA when it was aired because of its uniqueness in terms of setting, atmosphere, score, direction.....it is one of those episodes you can never get out of your head ( in positive terms) because they try to do something that has never be done on the series and for that i love SUB ROSA, despite the fact that its story is weak and the actors are not all convincing.
Episodes like SUB ROSA, A FISTFULL OF DATA, GENESIS, and MASK are much more fun than most of the i-bring-back-a-family-member-never-seen-before-and-bore-you-to-death episodes :-)
methane - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 11:57am (USA Central)
Yes, I have to admit I enjoy this episode, even given its faults.

I find it wildly entertaining that the show mostly ignores sex for 6.5 seasons, and then suddenly has a show with 'ghost orgasms'.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 1:41pm (USA Central)
The only things I have to say about this episode start with F, S, C, MF, CS, B, B, B, G McF, and F F F F F F F F F.

Don't you have a negative stars option?
Grumpy - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
To JB's and Ravo's comments above, I say ditto.
Jammer - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
Another point I didn't make: Ronin has such a punchable face.
Josh - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 10:07am (USA Central)
All this and you didn't even mention that Duncan Regehr returns on DS9 as Shakaar?

I've always found the idea of a colony explicitly modelled on Scotland an odd one - and I even live in Nova Scotia.
Jay - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
I agree with all the comment already stated about the ridiculousness of this episodes premises, but if I ignore that and grant it seriousness, it still does a disservice to Beverly similar to what "Meridian" did to Dax. It just made no sense that these characters would give up their lives as they know them for strangers that they've only known in the time frame presented in them. Now you could argue that "supernatural" forces were at work on Beverly, but are they really trying to claim that it was about nothing more than the equivalent of mindshattering orgasms?
Nick P. - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
I am with you Jammer, this is not even close to the worst episode of the series. In my opionion, worst is a close tie between "Masks" and "force of nature". Those are are like watching paint dry. I really wondered if Patrick Stewart was going to fall asleep during those horrible boring episodes.

But this one is just too stupid to be bad! Even at 12-13 I remember thinking "seriously"? But then when you take it for the joke that it is(that I thought it was, thanks for THAT Jammer), it is really quite enjoyable. I mean, during the third season did you really think you would some day be able to say the following sentence... "and Than Picard walked in on Beverly masterbating to her grandmothers candle"??? SPOCKS BRAINNNNN.

Now, guys, I am a defender of "genesis". It is nowhere in the realm of BOBW or yesterdays Enterprise, but come on, it is really fun! Who cares if the "science" of it is stupid. Did you jerks forget they are flying PAST the speed of light in EVERY episode. That is IMPOSSIBLE. I have long since stopped caring if things in Star Trek are possible, and more if the stories make sense and the acting and music are good quality. That is why I would take a "Genesis" or a "Code of Honor" any day of the week over most of the cathartic by the numbers non-sense of this season like "Force of Nature" or masks. I honestly would rather watch the entire 3rd season of TOS 3 times in a row non-stop before having to watch "force of Nature" or "Masks" even once!!

BTW, JB, if every episode a certain character is in sucks, that probably says something about the character. Now, I love Crusher as much as the next fan, but honestly her episodes are among the worst.

Also, quick controversy question. Why is "code of honor" considered racist towards continental Africans, and yet this is NOT considered racist towards Irish? Even though the stereotypes are at least 10 times worse?
Paul - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 9:13am (USA Central)
@Nick P: For one thing, this episode is about a colony based on Scotland, not Ireland.
JB - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 4:13pm (USA Central)
Dr. Crusher had plenty of good episodes earlier in the show's run (like "Remember Me" and "The Host"). I'll definitely agree that later on in the show, this was not the case, but it's not like the other characters were spared either. Troi got "Man of the People" and "Eye of the Beholder", for instance.
Sanagi - Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - 4:05am (USA Central)
I haven't seen this episode in ages, so mainly I'm bothered by the fact that the Scottish ghost has a Japanese name.
Lewis - Sat, May 4, 2013 - 2:04am (USA Central)
By this point, I was really getting sick of Family Tree Hour on ST-TNG. I mean, really.
Paul - Sat, Jul 20, 2013 - 12:28am (USA Central)
"Beverly has an erotic affair. With a ghost. (No reason to bury the lead.)"

I believe it's "bury the lede." Don't worry, I only heard it on the radio and I thought it was "lead" also, and I worked in the newspapaer staff in high school!
Jammer - Sat, Jul 20, 2013 - 8:58am (USA Central)
I worked in newspapers at various levels for nearly 20 years, so I'm well aware of the "lede" spelling, but have always considered that a jargon-y variant where both are acceptable and "lead" as in "lead paragraph" would be more recognizable. Note that "lede" does not appear in most dictionaries, hence my decision (albeit an arbitrary one) to always use "lead." See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Lead_paragraph

Granted, the Wikipedia entry mentions "burying the lede" right there, but I think you see what I'm getting at based on the origins. Or perhaps my whole reasoning is indefensible. Considering that I worked in newspapers so long, I should probably use the industry spelling that I'm stubbornly shying away from.
navamske - Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
"Gates McFadden turns in a brave performance while drowning in oceans of dreck."

Yes. Star Dreck.
William B - Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - 8:56am (USA Central)
Poor Gates McFadden. 0.5 stars.
William B - Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - 9:06am (USA Central)
Seriously though, in addition to all the points raised above, Crusher tells Troi that she got off on reading her grandmother's diary, and Troi's like, "Oooh, I'm jealous!" Seriously, what? Even if we say Beverly is already possessed or whatever* and that's why she acts that way, Deanna just goes along with that as mostly normal behaviour. (I guess Deanna is the person whose mother has tried to sleep with her ex-lover, so maybe she does consider it normal behaviour.)

I also choose to interpret the last scene, in which Beverly tells Deanna "maybe it's too bad that I killed him rather than going to live with him and have ghost orgasms, because my grandmother was very happy" and Troi just stares at her, as being followed immediately by Troi saying, "Beverly, I was thinking, perhaps you should come see me for therapy. Every day. For the next several years."

I do like the way Riker delivers that line about the fog on the Enterprise -- "It just sort of rolled in on us, sir."

*One of the episode's many catastrophic failings is that Beverly basically transforms into a complete alternate version of herself with basically no explanation -- uh, so, he's an anaphasic life form, and that makes her...respond like a heroin addict undergoing withdrawal when he disappears for a few minutes?
Luka - Sun, Nov 24, 2013 - 5:52am (USA Central)
To me it's a Halloween themed episode of TNG. Clearly not something to be taken seriously. I thought the green lightning and fog were kinda cool. I kinda liked the creepy haunted house. Watching Beverly chew the scenery while looking beautiful doing it was clearly the grab for me.

I do agree the story is odd and raises some uneasy questions. I think ultimately TNG wanted a stylized gothic romance episode and went with all style and no substance.
Ty Kendall - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - 9:28am (USA Central)
Yep, this episode is most definitely one of ST's biggest duds of all time.

2 icky things that nobody (in the episode) seems to question:

1) a 100 year old dating a 34 year old (without any hint or suggestion of gold-digging, not that gold-digging could exist in the moneyless Federation)

2) Beverly instantly hooking up with her dead grandmother's lover - coz that's not remotely weird is it?
mephyve - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 7:13pm (USA Central)
Moonie - Sat, Feb 8, 2014 - 3:55pm (USA Central)
Ummm. Hard to believe this was made in 1994.


Smith - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 8:06am (USA Central)
A shallow episode with little depth. Poor acting and surprisingly poor directing by Frakes. I don't think anybody but Gates and the guest star (and writer Jeri Taylor) cared about this episode and didn't put in appropriate effort.

To read the behind the scenes testimonials of the writers whose good scripts Jeri Taylor blocked (as an exec) while writing and approving this one herself makes you cringe.
cormac - Sun, Jun 8, 2014 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
I disagree. This episode was a very nice change of pace from the dry TNG formula. Mcfaddens performance was very intense near the end, and the actor who played Robin actually pulled off an appropriate as well. The ghostly face in the mirror scene may be an old trick in the book, but it actually took me by surprise and worked. I liked the scene where Picard confronts Ronin and gets overwhelmed. I liked Nana rising from her grave at the end. Yes, they pumped up the sex. Yes, the guy who played Quint was over the top. Yes, some parts were cheesy....but come on, this is STAR TREK were talking about!! If I may observe, I think this episodes main crime is that it tried to be different; borrowing from a different genre and taking itself seriously instead of goofing around with the concept (ala FISTFUL OF DATAS). Its not comparable to SPOCKS BRAIN...that was off the wall and was not earnestly trying to imitate any respectable genre. This was a homage, but a halfway decent and serious one. Being a fan of the Gothic genre myself, I appreciated seeing it replicated within a familiar and conventionally sanitary STAR TREK universe. For example, I watched this just after I watched 11001001, which I found to be embarrassingly dry, confused and silly ("They should have just asked!!"). As I said, SUB ROSA was a nice change of pace and one of the more memorable episodes from the 7th season.
wilfrid - Sun, Jun 8, 2014 - 3:25pm (USA Central)
I also disagree with some of the thinly disguised allegations against the episode promoting rape and misogyny. The gothic genre has been around for centuries. Jane Eyre and Weathering Heights have been called two of the greatest works ever written right alongside the works of Shakespeare (which TNG relentlessly references time and time again) and are widely read in schools around the world and the subject of countless feminist essays:


Shouldn't that be enough to earn the presence of the genre at least a little respect? If the status of Jane Eyre and Weathering Heights are any indication, then the basic gothic romance has something to say about certain perspectives of romance, and beyond that, the human condition. And ultimately, isn't science fiction about commenting on the human condition?

Regardless of whatever flaws the episode's execution may have, I just don't see the reasons for the excessive knee-jerk negativity that's been directed against it over the years.
Elliott - Sun, Jun 8, 2014 - 6:02pm (USA Central)
@wilfrid :

The problem with Sub Rosa isn't its stylised use of the Gothic genre, but its subversion of it-every (once must admit, clichéd) characteristic prop of the genre is here relentlessly replaced with technobabble explanations in order to shoe-horn the story into the Trekverse.

The appeal of the Gothic genre is in the psychological examination of a character subject to a perceived suspension of reality. In Sub Rosa, the majority of the story's content focuses upon debunking those mysterious aspects which in Gothic art must remain mysterious.

The remaining time for character analysis of Beverly is anæmic. Add to that a nauseating does of tedium and utterly goofy choices in execution and you've got a reliably laughable episode.
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Aug 2, 2014 - 4:02pm (USA Central)
As far as "so bad it's good" goes, I'd rather watch Sharknado for ten hours than watch one minute of this again. At least Sharknado was funny. This was cringe-inducing.
langtonian - Sun, Aug 3, 2014 - 11:47am (USA Central)
To anyone concerned that this episode presents an offensive stereotype of Scotland, don't worry on our account. We're used to this kind of thing and, in any case, this is all too silly to take seriously.
SkepticalMI - Wed, Aug 27, 2014 - 9:28pm (USA Central)
Oh yeah, the lede/lead/leed isn't just the Beverly has an erotic affair with a ghost, it's that Beverly gets horny reading the erotic adventures of her 100 year old grandmother. I mean, I guess I'm not as enlightened as these 24th century people, but I'm pretty sure my response would be an "ewwww" and to close the book really quickly, not start sticking my hands down my pants...

And we can put another nail in this episode's coffin. Apparently they were sued for plagiarizing an Anne Rice novel. I mean, the Trek crew denies it, but still not a good sign.

And not that this episode deserves this much thought, but whatever happened to the mantra of exploring new life? I mean, yeah, Ronin was creepy and possessive and violated about a gazillion of our little ethical codes, but to just up and kill him like that? You couldn't try to reason with him, Beverly? For shame, for shame.

Meanwhile, there was one bit of unintentional (or maybe intentional) comedy here. Beverly was telling Picard about her grandma's erotic affairs, and Picard commented about Howard women maintaining a healthy libido as they age. And the way he said it sounded like he was practically leering at her. And then when Bev mentioned that Ronin was 30 years old, Picard looked disappointed. Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but I couldn't help but think that Picard was hoping to test his theory about Howard women's libido with Beverly... Heck, I can imagine Patrick Stewart intending it to be that way.

In any case, that's about all the time I'm spending with this episode. I've already spent far more time with it than it deserves.
Dave in NC - Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - 10:53am (USA Central)
OK, this is totally a cheesefest, but I can't help but like this episode. I dig the girl talk sessions with Crusher and Troi & Picard's knowing comment about the Howard women's libido The gothic elements are amusing (dramatic score, fog on the bridge, a seductive ghost). Yes, total cheese, but Gates McFadden really does her best with some silly material.

Of special notice for hilarity are Picard walking in on Beverly's self-love session and Nana coming back to life in her coffin.

"Dinna light the candle" is one of those lines that have taken on a life of their own. So much awesome cheesiness.

My main nitpick is different than some others: how is it that the Howard women have kept their surname throughout the centuries? I wasn't too clear on that.

Eh, this wasn't made to be analyzed, it was made to be absorbed.

*** stars
Drew - Sun, Oct 12, 2014 - 3:07pm (USA Central)
As a Scot, I should be offended by the depiction of my culture but I'm just too busy laughing at this nonsense to care. The upside to the whole mess is that Gates McFadden looks absolutely fabulous through the whole thing.
Dusty - Thu, Jan 1, 2015 - 5:44am (USA Central)
So tell me, Doctor...was he the ghost with the most? *RIM SHOT*

Oh, dear. You know an episode is going to be bad when you're rolling your eyes five minutes in, which I did during the clunky expository scene about the faux-Scottish Federation colony. The first laughs came nine minutes in with Shay Duffin doing a Scrooge McDuck impression. I cringed at the boring weather control scenes and Picard's joke about Beverly getting her nan's "affairs" in order.

For the rest of the episode I rolled my eyes, laughed, and cringed simultaneously. The gothic romance scenes are the kind of drek you would see on Lifetime, right down to the painful acting. Quint's death-by-green-lightning scene happens so fast you could look out the window and miss it, as though everyone involved was embarrassed and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. The climax with the zombie grandma and a page's worth of exposition from Beverly on "anaphasic life forms" was horrendously bad.

The only lasting entertainment I got out of 'Sub Rosa' was writing this comment, and sitting around trying to do a more over-the-top Scottish accent than Quint's. (I succeeded, but only just.) I would contend that Bev's motives for staying with Ronin, other than supernatural possession, were more about love than "mind-blowing orgasms"--although it's safe to say they were a factor. If this happened in real life, Beverly's reputation in Starfleet would never be the same, but thankfully it's just one episode of a TV show so it never had to be acknowledged again. I agree with Jammer: half a star for unintentional hilarity.
HolographicAndrew - Wed, Mar 4, 2015 - 12:42am (USA Central)
I see where Dave in NC is coming from although I wouldn't go so far as to say I liked this episode. I see what they were going for and the fog on the enterprise was kind of fun. "It just rolled in, Captain."

My main problem with it is that it falls into the category of a female character having some evil dude dating them, which happens a lot.

I really don't think season 7 is a bad as some say it is, but I'd rank this one slightly below The Royale.
Dave in NC - Wed, Mar 4, 2015 - 7:27am (USA Central)
@ Holographic Andrew

I just can't help myself. :)

The episode is so ludicrous and over-the-top I have to sit back and smile. Yes, it is cheesy and badly written, but it is NOT boring.

I, mean, Picard walks in on Beverly masturbating!!! How can that NOT make you laugh?
Pat - Thu, Mar 12, 2015 - 3:11am (USA Central)

The episode Sub Rosa, was not even fun or entertaining in anyway... it was a total embarrassment for the writers, the actors, especially Gates Mc Fadden, and even more disappointingly, the direction, by Johnathan Frakes, whose episodes I usually enjoy the most... "Spock's Brain", as bad as it was, should have earned an Emmy, compared to this terrible episode...

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