The Next Phase (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 5, Episode 24) Ghost Ro Meets Ghost LaForge

Rewatching ST:TNG

A transporter accident causes LaForge and Ro to wander the Enterprise-D like ghosts.

The teaser begins in medias res, with the Enterprise responding to a Romulan distress call. While prepping to beam over, Ro snarks at Riker under her breath, but backs down when challenged.

The Romulans, who seem almost overwhelmed by the disaster, readily agree to send an important part back to the Enterprise “for replication.”

That’s when a Bad Thing happens. Ro, LaForge and the piece of equipment they had with them never re-matieralize.

The remaining Federation team and the Romulans work together to eject the malfunctioning warp core, and recovery work continues. 

As Picard strides to sickbay, he walks right past a pair of legs sprawled on the floor. As the camera angle shifts, we see the legs belong to a disoriented Ro, who totters off to sickbay, where everyone ignores her.

I find it hard to believe that someone as aggressive as Ro didn’t try to grab someone by the shoulder to get their attention; but the script requires her to hang around passively until Picard walks right through her. When she tries to pound a table, she’s shocked that her hand goes right through it. 

This is a heavily character-based episode, so I can understand why the writers wanted to make Ro pounding a desk to be the occasion for her “I must be a ghost” closeup.

When Ro discovers LaForge, she tries to convince him that they must be dead, but he rejects that suggestion. Clearly neither of them are familiar with the science-fiction and action comics trope of being “out of phase” with your surroundings, so they seem very slow to catch on. A few scenes later, we see Ro’s hand obviously touching the chair of her bridge station, and she thoughtfully caresses the console at her bridge station.  A bit later in the episode, LaForge makes a big deal out of repeatedly diving his hand into the bit “pool table” console in engineering. The scene includes very good reflections and surface distortion effects, so the SFX team seems to have put a lot of thought and money into those bits; it’s therefore a facepalm-worthy oversight that Ro’s hand only phases through objects when the script says it does. (The totally-out-of-phase-with-all-matter characters can ride elevators and shuttlecraft and the Enterprise-D itself with no trouble, and we can hear footsteps when the supposedly non-corporeal characters walk around.)

Eventually LaForge overhears enough to conclude that they need to hitch a shuttle ride over to the Romulan ship. During the ride, LaForge and Ro overhear Data asking Worf’s advice on organizing a memorial service. Worf’s bright-eyed discussion of LaForge’s honorable death is surprisingly moving, as is Data’s informal extemporaneous tribute to LaForge: “I never knew what a friend was until I met Geordi. He spoke to me as though I were human. He treated me no differently from anyone else. He accepted me for what I am. And that, I have learned, is friendship.”

On board the Romulan ship, LaForge casually sticks his head inside a piece of equipment and learns enough to speculate that the Romulans may have been experimenting with adapting their cloaking device in a way that makes ships not just invisible, but out of phase with their environment.

They overhear the Romulans have taken advantage of the rescue efforts to sabotage the Enterprise-D, which will blow up once it goes to warp. Ro and LaForge hurry out to hitch another shuttle ride back to the Enterprise. After they pass, a Romulan who had been sitting passively in a chair hops up and follows them. 

After LaForge and Ro split up, the out-of-phase Romulan, whose disruptor works because it phased along with him, captures Ro and orders her to take him to LaForge. Meanwhile, Data is following what he thinks are random technobabble distortion events, that we know are somehow being caused by Ro and LaForge wherever they go. The Romulan chases Ro through various crew quarters, where we see a woman in a towel, a man doing exercises, and a couple enjoying a dinner date. These are not the windowless junior officer quarters where we’ve seen Data, LaForge, Worf, O’Brien, but the luxurious quarters on the outer walls of the ship. This becomes important when LaForge, who is following Data as he searches room to room, tackles the Romulan and bumps him through the outer bulkhead. (We see him floating away in space.)

In a brilliant bit of coincidence that I totally accept because it makes for a great story, LaForge and Ro end up at their own memorial service in Ten Forward, with the hopes they they will cause enough TDEs (technobabble distortion events) to encourage Data to flood the room with PCP (plot contrivance particles), and thereby make them visible again. 

At the memorial service, balloons and revelers fill Ten Forward. Riker lifts his trombone and joins a band in “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  As people eat, drink, and make merry, LaForge is delighted, while in the background Ro wanders around sullenly firing the Romulan’s disruptor in random directions. (I found myself laughing out loud at the surreal scene.)

As the plot contrivance particle field zaps them at full strength, LaForge and Ro drop to the floor, and everyone is stunned to see their “dead” colleagues reappear at their own funerals.

“Data, do you see us?” says an elated, hopeful LaForge.

“Of course,” says Data nonchalantly, offering his hands to help them both up.

The final scene shows Ro reflecting on how arrogant she had been to reject the Bajoran traditions she had been raised on; LaForge praises the technology: “If it can teach Ro Laren humility, it can do anything,” and the two share a hearty laugh.