Romulans and the Depiction of Green Blood

The appearance of Romulans has been limited by their being portrayed by human actors (in blatant Federation propaganda, no less), but something I have long been obsessed with is their green blood and how you would go about portraying a person with green blood. A lot of the redness in human skin is due to the redness of human blood, and areas that are more heavily vascularized like mucous membranes (ex: lips, genitals, etc) tend to be a lot redder than the surrounding areas in fairer skinned humans. Some of the red-ish color in human skin can be due to pheomelanin, but this is generally more of an orange color (like the color of freckles) than what you get from the blood visible in the more highly vascularized areas. Darker skinned humans still generally have a reddish undercast to their skin, because of their red blood, but darker skin is less translucent because of the role of melanin and other pigments in protecting the skin from UV so the blood is less visible. But even the darkest humans have red tongues and gums. Of course, then, very fair skinned Romulans would have a lot of green in their cheeks, green lips, green nipples, etc. And even the darkest skinned Romulans with lots of pigmentation with not a lot of visible vascularization would have green tongues and gums. A portrayal like this is what I consider the “ideal” or “true” portrayal of a Romulan, and the standard against which I personally judge all makeup on human actors portraying Romulans.

In TOS, they do put green makeup on the Romulans (and Vulcans); mostly eyeshadow (for some reason), and I think they generally tried to cast more naturally olive-complexioned humans so they wouldn’t require as much makeup to cover any redness in their faces. No redness visible in the cheeks, they seemed careful to avoid that. Curiously, they never opted to cover the redness in the actors’ lips in TOS, so the lips look pretty incongruous. But, given a lot of the limitations in the makeup technology of the time, it does a decent job at portraying the *idea* of a green-blooded people.

In TNG, they definitely got a lot greener in many respects, and again they seemed to preferentially cast more olive-complexioned people so they wouldn’t have as much redness to cover up. But curiously, red lipstick was often applied to the actors, which seems simply absurd to me. If Romulans (and Vulcans) used cosmetics, they would paint their lips green – of course. I like to joke that Romulans and Vulcans went through a period of fashion where everything Human and Earthling was hip and just the coolest – so painting your lips red became all the rage (“Look at me, I’m a human!”) of course I don’t actually believe this. Simply more evidence of the limitations of Romulans being portrayed by humans – why they don’t just hire Romulan actors to play Romulan characters already is beyond me.

Starting with around DS9/Voyager era, makeup technology had improved, but also that was when (I think) the makeup artists really started putting a lot of effort into imagining a truly green-blooded person. They even cast fair skinned Romulans (like Letant and Vreenak who are both very fair; and as a great detail Vreenak even seems to have that green “Romulan Flush” going in the scene where he is drinking kali-fal), but they blotted out all the redness in the actor’s cheeks and lips and around the eyes with a neutral skin tone to wash it out, and then went back over it with green wherever there was red. It is really impressive. All the Romulans and Vulcans now have a generally green undercast to their skintone, and no more red lipstick! Vulcan women in DS9 paint their lips green, and it looks fantastic. It ranges from more brown-green to a more vibrant green, same as with Earthling cosmetics (where lipstick can range from red-brown to very red). It also makes sense because Romulans with lots of orange pheomelanin (lips are an area that can have more pheomelanin) would probably have those areas coming out looking more brown, due to the green blood undercast on the orange surface pigment. And in an interesting attention to detail, Romulan women in DS9 appear not to use cosmetics. This is portrayed consistently enough that I think it was intentional – to highlight some of the cultural differences between Vulcans and Romulans. Vulcans have more rigid and prescribed gender roles, and Romulans have looser gender roles. Vulcan women use lots of cosmetics, Romulan women use none. An interesting way to use theatrical cosmetics and “show, don’t tell” and execute some situational storytelling.

But then, starting with Enterprise onward, we’ve been getting progressively less green Romulans and Vulcans. In Enterprise it is like a callback to the kind-of-green but with red lips, which I understand it takes place before TOS so the aesthetic choice may have been intentional in this regard. Well maybe the Human makeup fad was going on then, I don’t know 😉

Romulan Culture Musings

((Note: in this I make direct comparisons to Vulcan society, because it presents an interesting opportunity for a purely cultural comparison. Romulans and Vulcans have only been separate populations for ~2,000 years so all the differences between the two societies are cultural. 2,000 years is not enough time for literally anything. Humans crossed the land bridge from Asia into North America at least 10,000 years ago, to give you some context. Of course, Romulans simply existing and doing their thing already disproves much of the central tenants of the Vulcan theocracy and philosophy, but it seems like that just makes the Vulcans dig in to their beliefs further. I reject all notions of biological differences as Federation propaganda. You know what they say: may he who is without headcanon cast the first stone.))

Broadly, Romulans are intensely curious which can manifest from playful mirth to a more sinister mischievousness. However, they tend to consistently shy away from direct confrontation. A primary manifestation of this, is that Romulans push until they get pushed back. They understand the terms and regulations as written, but they’re always curious about where the Hard Line is. It’s almost always much further than what the written rules describe. It’s how they feel out their status and position. Humans of course see this as them being opportunistic and “if you give a Romulan an inch, they’ll take a mile” and maybe this is true too, but usually if you give Romulans even a tiny bit of resistance they back off, antsy about direct confrontation. And I suppose Starfleet does push back hard on the things they actually care about. Of course, now the Romulans know exactly which things Starfleet actually cares about. Which is usually the whole point of the exercise, not merely to stir up trouble.

Troi said herself in “The Neutral Zone” that Romulans are curious, and that they just kind of low-key like humans. They’re fascinated with them, and she says that many analysts believe that it is this fascination which has allowed the Federation-Romulan peace to last as long as it has. And I do see it. In many interactions, Romulans do seem to genuinely like humans, or at the very least feel intrigued by them. I actually think Romulans like humans much more than humans like Romulans. That is part of why they’re always so playfully mischievous with humans.

Of course, it can be difficult to tell when Romulans are doing their usual posturing and testing the boundaries versus when they are actually pursuing a high value target which they’re willing to fight for, which is what makes humans think of them as capricious and unpredictable. But even for high-value targets, Romulans always prefer subtlety, subterfuge, and cunning plans with perhaps a surgical extraction of a small force rather than brute force – covering their tracks so their involvement cannot be proved. And they will always avoid physical confrontation unless they’re backed into a corner. Presumably their Vulcanoid physique would make them very good at physical combat, but it seems they just don’t like it. They’re always careful to maintain plausible deniability in all things. And that’s because…

If wrongdoing is suspected with no proof, the expectation is to gently confront the other party with your suspicions in an indirect manner, such that they have enough room to make an explanation and save face. Even if you both know that you both know what’s going on. Romulans even give humans an out to save face like this, many times. Romulans actually find it perplexing and honestly a bit aggressive when humans don’t take their “out,” and just fess up like “alright you got me!” Humans think they are being honest and coming clean, and surely the Romulans would be happy with that. But Romulans see it as the humans flaunting their deception and wrongs, humiliating them. Romulans do have a bit of a face culture. Not nearly as extreme as Vulcan face culture, but they still have one, and this is the primary manifestation I’ve seen of it.

One of my favorite examples of this was Commander Sirol of the Terix. He knows Picard is looking for the Pegasus, and he knows that Picard knows he is looking for the Pegasus. The Pegasus contains physical proof of the Federation’s violation of the treaty of Algeron. Still, no need to tip his hand so soon, especially with no physical evidence. He tells Picard that they are in the area conducting a scientific survey. Picard responds that he, too, is performing scientific measurements. It is clear that Sirol knows for a fact this is not the case, but nobody directly challenges the pretense.

He gently suggests that perhaps they could “share and compare their data,” to help both scientific surveys along. Picard says sorry, no, he doesn’t think their data would be relevant. Sirol agrees that yes, on second thought they probably wouldn’t have much use for their data either. He “accepts” Picard’s very fake sounding story, and doesn’t challenge it. He did get a bit playful when he suggested sharing data (which he knows full well neither ship has), but no direct challenge. More just to try and catch Picard off guard, see how he will react. When Picard sticks to his story, Sirol lets it stand, and a tense game follows where each tries to continue searching for the Pegasus whilst also pretending to act casual for the other ship. Both parties know that both parties are fully aware of what’s going on, but the performance is important. Especially if nobody finds the Pegasus, it would have been better on both sides to pretend they totally weren’t looking for it.

And when Sirol seals the Enterprise into the asteroid, all like “Oh! Oh dear! Why Picard, now what are you doing in there? Who goes inside of an asteroid? Who does that?? Well now I feel awful, just awful! Let me beam your crew onto the Terix, and I’ll get you all to safety” classic Romulan sass, classic Romulan cunning. He’d send somebody out later to scoop up both the Pegasus and the Enterprise, that’s the unstated threat.

Everybody knows that the Romulans flagrantly flaunt the Treaty of Algeron all the time, by patrolling the Neutral Zone whilst cloaked. That’s the Romulans just being playful again: seeing what they can get away with, seeing if the Federation will get riled up, flaunting the technological advantage which allows them to do this, while always always being careful to cover their tracks. Show up just a bit too early so the Feds *know* you were in the Neutral Zone the whole time, but keep it ambiguous enough to be “oh, no we just got here, because we saw YOU enter the Neutral Zone first!” probably the most classic example of Romulan mischief. Starfleet is well aware, but they also seem to realize that this game is harmless enough so long as it doesn’t escalate any further, so they mostly ignore it unless the Romulans do something blatant.

Another example in my mind is Senator Cretak. She leans often on her professional relationship with Admiral Ross, as he seems to be a very tractable man and often capitulates to her when pressed. I do think it is funny that Ross is under the impression that Cretak is a tractable Romulan and he has her under control, when in every confrontation we see him wrapped around her finger. When it is discovered that her hospital is hosting an entire arsenal on the Bajoran moon, Admiral Ross asks the Bajorans to stand down, as they are frankly “less important to the war effort than the Romulans.” Cretak claims the armaments are only for the defense of the hospital from the Dominion. When she sends three D’deridex class cruisers to the moon, loaded with the materials to complete the construction of the targeting system, she explains that the cruisers are merely delivering much-needed medical supplies and equipment.

The Bajorans do not accept the obvious lie at all, and know that the Romulans would not send three massive warships to deliver medical supplies. But Cretak insists this is all they are doing. Admiral Ross pleads with the Bajorans to just let the Romulans do their thing, it’s just some posturing game to establish dominance or whatever and not a threat, but Bajor has all too recently overthrown the Cardassians after 50 years of occupation and are skittish about any other empires setting up shop so close, so they push back. Upon sensing that this resistance is a hard boundary, Cretak pulls back.

The best evidence I’ve seen that Romulans also do some manner of this posturing with each other to get a feel for boundaries, is Commander Toreth. She is a gruff military woman in command of a ship. She is well liked and respected by her crew, and commands their absolute loyalty. When a Tal Shiar officer gets assigned to her vessel for a “top secret mission,” she isn’t thrilled by what she perceives as those bureaucratic spooks keeping tabs on her.

Immediately Commander Toreth makes her displeasure known to the Tal Shiar officer. She makes it clear that she doesn’t care about freaky little Tal Shiar spooks and their freaky little missions. When essentially all the push-back she gets is “You better listen to me, I’m acting under the authority the Tal Shiar!!!” Commander Toreth is unimpressed, and amused at how toothless this spook is. She is not cowed by the Tal Shiar. Toreth’s crew sides with her over the Tal Shiar. Which Toreth knows they will do, she has complete faith in her crew’s loyalty.

While a proudly passionate and emotional people, Romulans find anger to be a “primitive” emotion, something barbaric and distasteful. They have strong cultural taboos on angry outbursts or losing your temper. This strong social pressure seems to have given them relatively good control over how they express anger (especially in professional situations) – at least as good as humans’ – even though we’re told they experience the feeling of anger more strongly. They do not see anger as a sign of virility or strength at all. Therefore, they express anger mostly as passive-aggression, cutting witticisms, and snide remarks. They are slow to lose their tempers. They rarely respond to insults and won’t take the bait if someone is trying to rile them up. But they do love baiting others. They especially find cultures which believe strongly in “fighting words” and which are quick to anger – I’m looking at you Klingons – they find it hilarious to rile them up by casually making insulting remarks.

There are a few scenes where a Klingon is angrily hurling insults at a Romulan, and the Romulan just seems bored with the whole situation. The Romulans take it all in with a smile, if they even deign to notice at all, until they calmly deliver some cruel remark with a saccharine smile. Then the Klingon FREAKS OUT, which the Romulan finds hilarious. They find it funny that somebody would give out insults if they’re unprepared to take any in return. They also just think it’s funny to see somebody act angry. They have this in common with the Vulcans, it would seem. The only difference is, where Romulans openly revel in it, the Vulcans like to pretend they are not enjoying it; they’re Just Asking Questions, or Being Logical. But Snide Condescension is the favorite emotion of both Vulcans and Romulans. The main scenes like this I think of are when Admiral Jarok is conversing with Worf in The Defector, and when Letant is conversing with Martok in Tears of the Prophets. What were you thinking, Klingons? These guys cut their teeth on Romulus – Shade Capital of the galaxy!

More to the way Romulans are militaristic and yet non-confrontational were (I thought) represented well in Enterprise with the Romulan Drone storyline and the whole subplot of the Romulan psyops/infiltration on Vulcan. I liked how this established the idea of a Romulan infiltration of Vulcan society. It makes complete sense. I’m sure they have some low-level ongoing sleeper cell on Vulcan. And honestly… I’m sure the Vulcans have similar on Romulus.

And the final Romulan cultural observation I’ll write about today is: they seem to have no (or only very loosely defined) gender roles. Their gender parity in the military and government is significantly better than the Federation’s, and certainly better than societies with very rigid gender roles (like Klingons). It makes for an interesting contrast to Vulcan society’s (in some aspects) rigid gender roles, especially in terms of how Vulcans commodify women’s reproduction.

Neither Romulan men or women seem overly concerned with gender-as-a-performance. Don’t get me wrong, they seem to *have* gender, but find performing a gender to be an illogical waste of energy. I like to think they are perplexed by societies, like humans, that do completely arbitrary things (like cut vs grow out hair etc) to signal gender to their in-group. In a galaxy filled with alien societies that coincidentally perform hyper-femininity and hyper-masculinity all the exact same way that 20th century Western Earthling societies do it, I always thought it was refreshing that there’s at least one alien society out there that doesn’t bother. I find this much more interesting than the J’naii, because while the J’naii they don’t have gender roles but they also don’t have sex. Romulans are more interesting to me personally, because they have only very loosely defined gender roles (if any at all), but they still continue to make more Romulans in the traditional way.

One of the primary indicators of gender parity across society is paternal investment in childrearing. Given both Romulans’ high degree of gender parity and that they supposedly feel their emotions much more intensely than humans, I think Romulan men might simply have very intensely strong paternal instincts which lead to high paternal involvement. Especially since (I think all) the Romulan fathers we have seen depicted, do seem to consistently have very strong parental instincts and bonds. Even Romulan fathers that are not good men generally (even war criminals) seem to still have a tender fondness and a strong desire for time and investment in their children’s lives. This would also lead to looser gender roles in their society (if parental instincts were equal or close to equal), and that is possibly a part of why they have such good gender parity.

They also would have inevitably gone through a frontier period during the colonization of Romulus which could have also contributed to them rejecting the traditional gender roles of Vulcan society (an idea that was explored and made more explicit in Star Trek Online).

Picard Thoughts (Spoilers)

The new Picard series has thus far been mediocre for me. I think it is brilliantly acted, I love all the characters, and it is very beautiful and polished – cinematic, even. But all of the episodes have felt uncharacteristically shallow for a Star Trek show.

I knew going in that they would retcon a ton of Romulan canon – that was inevitable (like there having explicitly been Romulan cybernetics researchers in TNG and Romulans converted into borg drones in Voyager), but it isn’t even really the retcons that bother me (for I have trained my mind to simultaneously accept two contradictory canons). It is how the whole show seems tonally dissonant with other Star Treks. It is more like an action hero movie with huge grandiose battles where the heroes are in no danger whatsoever as they effortlessly mow down hundreds of faceless bad guys. The Tal Shiar are now apparently the Stormtroopers of Star Trek, and they line themselves up politely for the heroes to pick them off one by one.

And what a strange choice for enormous hordes of faceless baddies to square off in combat with! The Romulans invented an assassination device which can be injected into the skin undetected, and remain dormant until the subject uses a teleporter. Then it scrambles the victim’s signal and they die. Subtle, clean, sinister. This is the sort of style we have come to expect from the Tal Shiar. And since the people in Picard apparently use teleporters all the time (to go all around the globe instantaneously), it seems an obvious choice in the arsenal of the Tal Shiar. But no, in Picard the Tal Shiar’s main strategy seems to be to send 50 guys in through the front door with guns blazing for every situation. Very disappointing.

Previous series have shown us that the Romulans tend to shy away from boots-on-the-ground combat, and will only engage as a last resort. If a goal can be reached via cunning trickery or quiet arts, they will absolutely go that route. This is a point of pride for them! They ridicule Klingons for simply throwing waves of men at a combat problem until it is solved. And yet that’s all they seem capable of now.

Beyond this being a terrible fit for Romulans (and the Tal Shiar especially), it doesn’t mesh with other Star Treks. I understand the sort of appeal of the Kung Fu hero who fights of waves upon waves of opponents and remains standing. It shows the hero is larger-than-life, mythic, powerful. But Star Trek isn’t for that, and historically the combat they have shown have tended to be small desperate chaotic skirmishes – more fitting for the tone and subject of humanity coming together collaboratively to be greater than the sum of its parts. I know that it is a silly trope these days about “redshirts dying” and perhaps their deaths are pretty cheap, but at least it does show that these skirmishes are not to be taken lightly as there are going to be casualties on both sides. I don’t think action films with the mythic hero are bad, but I do think the trope doesn’t fit in Star Trek.

As for the plot, it has been pretty shallow and absurd thus far. The Romulan Bulterian Jihad is silly and unconvincing, and doesn’t even come with all the cool what-if workarounds to AI like we got to see in Herbet’s Dune. And they have apparently crafted their entire society around the Butlerian Jihad to the point that the anti-AI police have a staggeringly limitless budget. For a ridiculous goal. I can believe that the Romulans might have prohibitions on AI (you could say they got skittish about it after the Borg War, or after Mars, or any number of things), but you’d expect the enforcement of this to be meted out by some regulatory office like the FDA. Not the Super Duper Ultra Tal Shiar. And not to be some ancient defining aspect of their entire culture (that somehow never came up before now). And WHY would people tell stories about this to scare children? What child would be scared by this? “Now Billy, be good, because the Super Duper Ultra Tal Shiar has placed several strict limitations and sanctions on AI research!” It is just so silly.

Before it started, I figured that Picard wouldn’t have the oomph of Deep Space Nine (big shoes to fill), but I think it doesn’t even manage to capture the depth of an average Next Generation episode. So I’ve been mostly disappointed by the overall blandness and mediocrity of the story, alas.