Star Trek Showrunner Admits He Did A Bad Job With The Best Villains

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

It’s rare to find a successful creator in Hollywood who is willing to admit his past mistakes. That’s why we were surprised (quite pleasantly) to discover that the late, great Star Trek writer and showrunner Michael Piller admitted to dropping the ball with a fan-favorite alien race.

After reviewing how the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Eye of the Needle” portrayed a Romulan, Piller later praised the show’s “multidimensional” approach to the alien because on The Next Generation, “We’ve always sort of used Romulans as stock villains.”

Romulans Have Become The Standard Star Trek Villain

To understand Piller’s praise, you need to first understand a bit more about the Star Trek: Voyager portrayal of one Romulan in particular. In “Eye of the Needle,” the Voyager crew uses a wormhole to make contact with a Romulan back home, one they ask to send messages to both their families and to Starfleet command. However, everything gets more complicated when they realize this Romulan is two decades in the past, and they can only communicate with him thanks to the timey-wimey properties of this particular wormhole.

Voyager Went Deeper Into Romulans Than Any Other Series

A big part of what makes this Star Trek: Voyager episode so compelling is that we get to see Janeway and her crew interact with a singular Romulan. Instead of a whole crew of sneering manipulators, we get to see a singular Romulan as he slowly learns to trust the crew of an enemy vessel. This is a big part of why Piller praised the episode for exploring this race in a way that The Next Generation never did.

Admits Past Mistakes

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Michael Piller was the showrunner for The Next Generation starting in Season 3 and oversaw some of the best Romulan episodes. But after the Star Trek guru watched this Voyager episode, he admitted that “We’ve always sort of used Romulans as stock villains in a World War II way.” Continuing this line of thought, he said, “I always felt the Romulans were the Germans and the Klingons, the Japanese.”

Romulan Culture Was A Mystery For Decades

While we never thought of it in those terms, Piller’s comment does retroactively make sense because many prominent Romulan episodes of TNG feature these aliens as nothing more than cunning Federation antagonists. Their participation in major events like the Klingon Civil War and the investigation of the anti-time anomaly didn’t really tell us anything about their culture…they were just mysterious bad guys doing mysterious bad guy stuff.

Voyager Almost Never Used Romulans Compared To Other Series

When we do learn about their culture in episodes like “Face of the Enemy” and “Unification,” the portrayal of things like the Romulan secret police mostly reinforces Piller’s notion that the aliens were stand-ins for World War II-era Germans.

There is plenty of irony, of course, that Star Trek: Voyager–a show that hardly ever had Romulans on it–gave us a more “multidimensional” approach to these classic bad guys than The Original Series or The Next Generation ever did.

Nuanced Portrayals Followed

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This more complex approach among the writers is most likely why we got increasingly nuanced portrayals of the Romulans in Deep Space Nine and even Nemesis. Sadly, though, Picard seems to have taken several large steps backward, portraying the Romulans once again as sneering manipulators whose only interesting character trait is that they hate computers even more than your grandpa does.

A Step Back

Given how badly Picard portrayed them, we can only hope that future Star Trek series will follow in Voyager’s footsteps and make the Romulans interesting again. If we ever get that long-awaited Star Trek: Legacy show, it would be the perfect opportunity to present these aliens as a distinctive threat once again. If the bad writing for these aliens persists, though, the franchise may find its audience disappearing quicker than a Warbird using a cloaking device.