Why One of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Worst Episodes Is Still Worth Watching

Days after her grandmother’s death, a young professional woman returns to her family home to sort through what was left behind. Wrapped in a blanket to warm herself from the storm raging outside, the woman senses a ghostly presence, one that visited her in a dream the night before. The presence begins to speak, bidding the woman closer, promising that he loves her as much as he once loved her grandmother. Terror grips the woman’s face, but with it, desire. 

I’m not describing a beloved rom-com or a scene from a Harlequin novel. This is a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation; specifically the season seven episode “Sub Rosa.” If you haven’t seen “Sub Rosa,” you may still be very aware of it. Known as the one in which Dr. Beverly Crusher has sex with a candle ghost, “Sub Rosa” regularly ends up on lists of the worst episodes in the series’ seven-season run, if not in the entire franchise. Sure, it’s not usually cited as much as the racism of “Code of Honor” or the misogyny of “The Child,” but it does nevertheless strike people as strange. Although “Sub Rosa” has a couple of defenders, even star Gates McFadden questioned the value of the episode and director Jonathan Frakes said “It wasn’t my finest hour.”

And yet, for all of its unusual qualities, “Sub Rosa” is an important part of Star Trek’s development. With its focus on eroticism and female desire, “Sub Rosa” pushes Trek into unfamiliar territory, giving us new ways of thinking about the human experience. 


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