Beneath the stones, the beach; beneath the beach, Cthulhu

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. David Faggiani
    April 1, 2016 @ 3:25 am

    Well…. I love a good redemptive reading, but I would argue that in addition to 'men hating it', you can add to that column 'anyone who's Scottish, partly Scottish or has ever been to Scotland or heard a Scottish accent'. 🙂 For me (my mum's Scottish and I lived in Scotland for years) it's like the 'trying to listen to Daphne in Frasier' syndrome.

    I get your point about Picard's 'pastiche' observations though. Does this make Sub Rosa akin to one of the original series 'roman/gangster planet' outings? It's just that here we're doing a gothic melodrama ('female') genre rather than a period adventure ('male') genre?


  2. Josh Marsfelder
    April 1, 2016 @ 9:24 am


    That was the argument I was trying to hedge against with my observation that Captain Picard points out the planet's artificiality: This isn't Scotland or even anywhere near a remotely realistic recreation of Scotland: Its the Spooky Dark and Spooky Setting of a Gothic romance bodice-ripper brought to life with a sign that says "Welcome to Scotland" written in crayon.


  3. Neo Tuxedo
    April 2, 2016 @ 2:56 am

    This episode also aired in the context of The Witching Hour, the first book in Anne Rice's "Mayfair Witches" cycle, and Ronin struck me as a fairly close counterpart of Rowan Mayfair's demon-lover Lasher. In other words, "Sub Rosa" is a genre collision of the sort that Phil Sandifer has often pointed out Doctor Who doing (the sort, indeed, that he considers it to be based on). Because Ronin is the interloper, and because the narrative is on Beverly's side (but I repeat myself), he ultimately has to fail where Lasher succeeded.


  4. Daru
    April 8, 2016 @ 3:41 am

    Beautiful story.

    I'm Scottish and I love it! I don't mind in any way at all that this is a cartoon image of Scotland as we have established that all versions of stories are possible, and we know that this isn't set in Scotland or on Earth anyway.

    Good points about the Anne Rice books and Lasher above.

    Genre collision – Star Trek at it's best.


  5. JFrancis
    March 19, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

    I hope this comment reaches you, though I appreciate posting it on an archived version of a post that went up on the original Vaka Rangi blog a year ago . . . well, I hope this stands a somewhat better than half chance of being read!

    I wanted to thank you for prompting me to watch Sub Rosa, an episode I’d always consciously skipped on my TNG watch-throughs (the synopsis of this one is rarely kind). I would probably have kept doing so if I hadn’t happened to read this post today, and I think that would have meant missing out on a really quite excellent skewering of the Gothic romantic hero. A lot of thought clearly went into this particular genre mash-up, far more than it will likely get wider credit for. As you mentioned above, the artificiality of the setting is nodded to in a very savy fashion, the conflation of distinctive sites around Scotland and the complexity of the weather control nicely mirroring Ronin’s constructed persona. The ‘superstitious villager’ routine acted out by Ned switched neatly around when it becomes clear he has the smarts to hunt Ronin into the weather station mechanism. The fog on the Enterprise bridge being a symptom of Ronin’s presence as he tries to force his narrative on Beverly’s.

    And that is of course what is happening. Not in the metafictional sense but in the very real, sadly everyday way in which people like him try to impose their expectations on those they want. ‘I will give you everything you want’ is such a lovely romantic thing to say . . . but of course people like him rarely stop to ask what the ‘you’ in that statement actually does want.

    In that regard, it is a brilliant beat to have the spell broken not by the actual attack on Picard but by Ronin’s instance that Beverly doesn’t treat him – which of course is asking her to change something essential to the life she chose for herself. More so than Star Fleet, which is in many ways simply the means, she is a doctor and a scientist and she point-blank refuses to change that.

    And there’s no weaselling around the point for once, no labouring of the harm that Ronin’s presence will physically cause (is that even on the table? I must admit to slightly tuning out some of the technobabble trappings), just the simple clear statement that this is a man trying to change Beverley’s life because of what he wants and that is wrong. It doesn’t matter that it’ll be a pleasant life, even pleasurable, because it wouldn’t be her choice; it would be his. Dear gods below, but I dread to think where the worst impulses of Trek might have carried this story – in some dark corner of reality, there’s a version where the manly heroes rush in to save the weak overcome woman from her own desires.

    But not here. Here, Dr Crusher traps and vaporises the Edward Cullens of the universe and goes off to be the commanding medical genius she chooses to be. (I will say it helps a lot coming at this after rewatching both Timescape and Descent earlier in the day. I know she only gets a single line in Timescape but her for some reason her almost non-reaction to nearly being disrupted to death always sticks with me.)

    Bonus points too for Picard’s reaction to the whole thing, which reads as stunned disbelief turning to honest concern. At no point does he turn on Beverley and it’s only when Ronin appears to him in the flesh that he actually turns nasty on him. Bonus too for Deanna being, well, the Deanna Troi we needed but too rarely got — though of course, you hardly need me to wax lyrical about that!

    So in short, thank you very much for making me finally watch Sub Rosa. As someone who gets most annoyed with Star Trek when it tries to take its trappings more seriously than its subjects, I could very much have stood to see more stories like this one.


    • Josh Marsfelder
      March 20, 2017 @ 12:42 am


      Thanks so much for all the kind words. I’m really glad you enjoyed “Sub Rosa”, and humbled that I played a role in bringing some more joy to people.

      I don’t have much more to add, because I naturally agree with everything you said!


      • JFrancis
        March 20, 2017 @ 9:23 pm


        Oh, and while I’m here, I should also thank you for pointing me towards Raumpatrouille Orion, which I would definitely never have found without your piece on it. What an absolutely marvellous series it was! Definitely something that needs wider recognition. My partner and myself thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish and it has lodged in my mind enough that I think it might be vaguely influencing the extremely self-indulgent ‘how I would have done Enterprise’ fan-fic my brain is seeing fit to spool out at the moment . . .

        Less embarrassingly, it will no doubt be an influence on any space-based stories I write in the future, for which you have my sincere gratitude!


        • Josh Marsfelder
          March 21, 2017 @ 3:52 am

          Raumpatrouille Orion absolutely deserves to be more widely known and read. It warrants way more than a footnote in fandom circles because it’s such a brilliantly intuitive way to do space-based science fiction that’s different from what Star Wars did and how Star Trek gets commonly read.

          I’m really glad you liked the show, and that that section of the project seems to be getting so much love!


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