Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, as well as for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I don’t usually engage too much in theorising about my favourite shows, but Star Trek is somewhat of an exception! Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, introduced us to a lot of information about some of the events and individuals that have shaped the galaxy since Star Trek: Nemesis. And I got thinking about a few of those points, as well as other story points from the episode.
This is pure speculation. I don’t have “sources” – no one online does – and this is just a short collection of my own personal theories based on my viewing of Remembrance. It’s highly likely that none of these will turn out to be correct!
Number 1: Index, the hologram from the Starfleet archive, is sentient.
After the attack on Mars, which was conducted by rogue synthetics, there was a “galactic treaty” which banned synthetic life. But “synthetic” is a very broad term – if they wanted to ban androids, why not just say “android”? If I’m right, then all sentient machines and AIs – not just androids – have been outlawed. This would include self-aware, fully sentient holograms.
We’re aware of three who fall into this category. Vic Fontaine, who was a recurring character on Deep Space Nine in its final seasons, Professor Moriarty, who was accidentally created by the Enterprise-D computer, and The Doctor from Voyager. Of those three, Moriarty’s fate is unclear – he was trapped in his own holographic world by Picard and his crew, but whether his programme survived the destruction of the Enterprise-D isn’t known. Vic Fontaine and The Doctor may very well have still been active around the time of the attack on Mars – so what happened to them? I wonder if we’ll find out.
Regardless, if there is a ban on all artificial intelligence, including holograms, that should mean that Index, the hologram at the Starfleet archive, is just a piece of software and isn’t self-aware. But when I watched Remembrance, there was something in the performance that indicated a greater understanding of what was going on. The eye movements, the tiny smile when showing Picard the painting, and other very subtle clues contributed to this feeling, at least for me. I don’t know whether we’ll see Index again, or whether it will even matter, but I have a suspicion that she is sentient.
I hope that, one way or another, the question of holograms is addressed. The Doctor was obviously a huge part of the Voyager crew, and Vic Fontaine was important too, so it would be nice to know one way or the other what happened to them – even if it’s only implicitly through some throwaway comment about holograms.
Number 2: Bruce Maddox inadvertently caused the attack on Mars.
Mars came under attack by rogue synthetics, destroying the fleet Picard hoped to use to aid the evacuation of Romulus. At that time, a senior figure in the Federation’s synthetic research was Bruce Maddox – who we met in The Measure Of A Man from the second season of The Next Generation. After the ban on synthetics went into effect, Maddox went underground and – so it seems, anyway – continued his research into synthetic life.
The underlying cause of the attack on Mars isn’t known as of Remembrance, despite the attack taking place over a decade earlier. I wonder if Maddox did something while creating or programming the synthetics to cause them to malfunction. In Star Trek: Insurrection, Data goes rogue too, attacking a cloaked Federation outpost and exposing the officers to the Ba’ku, who they had been observing. The reason was that Data’s core programming took over, and all he knew was “right and wrong” – and believing the mission to forcibly relocate the Ba’ku to be wrong, he attacked his Starfleet colleagues.
So there is precedent in Star Trek for an android to malfunction in a similar way. If there were something wrong in the synthetics’ programming, or if Maddox inadvertently triggered something, that could explain why they went rogue and attacked Starfleet.
It might also explain why Maddox went into hiding, and why he continues to work on synthetics in spite of the ban – perhaps he feels guilty over what happened. And perhaps he’s trying to prove – to himself and to the galactic community – that not all synthetics are bad, and that what happened was a one-off mistake.
Either way, I’m certain we’ll learn the reason for the synthetics’ attack by the end of the season.
Number 3: The Romulans who attacked Dahj were the Tal Shiar.
In Remembrance, Dahj is attacked twice by masked assailants, and during the second attack one of them loses his helmet and is revealed to be Romulan.
In the 24th Century, the Tal Shiar was the Romulan intelligence agency and secret police force. They were known to employ cutting-edge technology, and if any organisation had the capability to pull off two incursions on Earth without raising the alarm, it’s them. They were able to beam operatives to a location very close to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, attack and seemingly kill a Federation citizen while she was with a retired Starfleet flag officer, and cover their tracks so that neither they nor their target appeared on Starfleet’s security monitors. That’s incredibly impressive, and of all the organisations we know of in Star Trek, the Tal Shiar are certainly near the top of the list when it comes to being able to pull it off. Given that at least one of the attackers was Romulan, it starts to add up.
It’s possible that the group weren’t all Romulan – we only saw the face of a single individual, after all – and even if they are, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re working for the Tal Shiar. However, the Romulan state has clearly survived in some form, and the Romulans remain an independent faction, so that implies that the machinery of their state, including the Tal Shiar, survived as well. The Tal Shiar and the Cardassians’ Obsidian Order were the two most significant intelligence agencies in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants the last time we saw the 24th Century, so if anyone could pull off an attack of this type so close to the heart of Starfleet – and manage to cover it up – it seems at least plausible that they’re involved.
Number 4: The Romulans/Tal Shiar are attacking synthetics as revenge for Mars.
Over 90,000 people died as a direct result of the attack on Mars. Some of those may have been Romulan, but by far the greater impact of the attack was that the rescue armada, designed to evacuate 900 million Romulans, was completely destroyed.
While the attack proved a significant blow to the Federation – losing a major shipyard and Earth’s closest neighbour becoming uninhabitable – the Romulans arguably suffered more as a result, not least because the Federation refused to rebuild the lost fleet. How many Romulans died as a result, because they couldn’t be evacuated before the supernova, isn’t clear at this stage, but it could number in the millions.
That gives Romulans a powerful reason to hate synthetics, and could explain why they send strike teams to Earth to capture or kill any synthetics they find.
Dahj describes synthetics as “murder machines” – a view tainted, no doubt, by the events on Mars. The Romulans, out of all the factions in the galaxy, would have felt that way even more strongly if the attack disrupted plans to evacuate their homeworld. Even more so than the Federation, this gives the Romulans a reason to be incredibly aggressive toward synthetics and a reason to strictly enforce the ban on synthetic life.
Number 5: Soji and Dahj aren’t synthetic after all – they’re human.
This one would be a major double-bluff. After Picard discovered that Data had painted Dahj’s likeness thirty years previously, it’s assumed by everyone that they’re androids created by Maddox – but what if they aren’t? What if, instead, they’re genetically enhanced humans? One of the ancestors of Data’s creator, Arik Soong, experimented with augmented humans in the 22nd Century. A trilogy of Enterprise episodes in Season 4 deal with this storyline: Borderland, Cold Station 12, and The Augments.
If Maddox – or someone else on his team – had shifted research away from synthetics to genetic engineering the result could be Soji and Dahj. Since Dr Jurati was absolutely convinced that sentient androids were a long way away from being achievable, it could make sense. Genetic engineering could also explain Dahj’s abilities, as we saw from augments in Enterprise and of course Khan that physical and mental abilities can both be enhanced. We also saw in The Next Generation that the ageing process can be accelerated for genetically enhanced children, so Dahj and Soji’s ages (twenty-ish) shouldn’t count against this idea.
In the 24th Century, the Federation could scan for life forms very accurately. Data would register on sensor scans very differently to a human, so if synthetic life was banned, surely the Federation would have measures in place to detect synthetics using already-available technology. Dahj and Soji weren’t detected as being out of the ordinary at all, so either their synthetic nature is completely concealed somehow, or maybe they’re not synthetic at all. If they are, as Picard puts it, “flesh-and-blood androids”, this raises an interesting question in itself – where do you draw the line between synthetic and non-synthetic? If Maddox and his team basically built two humans from the ground up, using organic materials and human DNA, are they human or synthetic?
The flip side to this theory – and the reason why it’s unlikely – is that genetic engineering is banned, just as synthetic research is. There’s no reason for Maddox and his team to switch lanes. And Maddox has been involved in android research for over three decades at this point – changing to genetic engineering would be a wholly new field of study.
Number 6: Someone hacked the synthetics.
Why did the synthetics attack Mars? This is one of the key mysteries that Star Trek: Picard established, and I’m absolutely certain we’ll find out the real reason by the end of the season.
Connected to the idea above, that a mistake on Maddox’s part may have inadvertently led to the attack, it’s conceivable that someone hacked into the synthetics and commanded them to launch the attack.
The attack on Mars was a very specific action. The synthetics didn’t simply malfunction and attack any Starfleet or Federation personnel in their immediate vicinity. A team of them, working in tandem, took control of a number of ships, took down Mars’ defences, and launched a coordinated attack with all ships engaging simultaneously. That doesn’t seem like a malfunction – it was a specific, deliberate act.
If something Maddox did left the door open to a cyber attack that took control of the synthetics – or even if it was something he and his team could in no way have prevented – this would mean that someone deliberately targeted Mars, and by extension the rescue fleet.
The choice of target is also interesting – the synthetics could have attacked Earth, destroying the office of the Federation President and Starfleet Headquarters. That would have been a far more devastating blow to the Federation as a whole than the loss of one shipyard – which was building ships not even intended for the Federation to use for their own benefit. Again, this speaks to it being a deliberately chosen target, and thus a deliberate act by someone.
So who could the culprits be? Let’s make a list.
Section 31 – The shadowy, off-the-record intelligence agency has recently been featured heavily in Discovery (and is set to have its own series) and they’ve shown in the past that they’re not above taking incredibly aggressive action to further their objectives. If Section 31’s leadership believed the decision to help Romulus was a mistake – as they conceivably might have done – they may have decided to act to stop it.
The Borg – Borg technology is capable of things far beyond the knowledge of the Federation and other Alpha Quadrant powers. They’re skilled at working with AIs and machines as the Borg are themselves partially synthetic. They’re also no friend to the Federation or the Romulans, and we know thanks to the existence of a Borg cube that there has been some form of Borg activity in the region.
The Klingons – The Klingons and Romulans have cooperated in the past, but relations between the two Empires haven’t always been great. The Klingons may have seen the Romulan supernova as an opportunity to expand into Romulan territory, and may have decided to sabotage Federation efforts to help believing it would benefit them. While hacking synthetics and hiding behind the scenes may not be a stereotypically Klingon move, they may have chosen this route to avoid war with the Federation.
A rogue Romulan faction – It’s possible that elements within the Romulan government, military, or the Tal Shiar would have seen accepting Federation help as beneath them. Not wanting to be indebted to an old enemy, they may have sabotaged the evacuation, even if doing so condemned many of their fellow citizens to death.
The Dominion – Prior to the Dominion War, Dominion operatives attempted to break apart the Alpha and Beta Quadrant factions, pushing them into war with one another so that they could sneak in during the chaos. Their attempts to push the Federation and Klingons to war even worked for a time, before a changeling was exposed in the Klingon military. This fits with their modus operandi, at least as of the 2370s – whether the Dominion changed significantly as a result of their loss is unclear.
So that’s it. Six ideas that are probably all wrong, but were fun to write about nevertheless. I’m not the sort of person to get overly attached to any particular theory, certainly not to the point where I’d let it spoil my enjoyment of finding out what the writers and directors of the series actually intend to happen! I’ve seen that happen a lot in recent years – The Last Jedi probably being the best example, as a lot of people became very upset that their own pet theories about where the story would go didn’t pan out on screen.
Of the six above, Dahj and Soji being genetically enhanced humans seems the least likely, and the Tal Shiar being the mysterious masked attackers seems the most likely, at least to me. But as I say, they could very easily all be wrong.
Remembrance has set up some genuinely interesting story threads, and I can’t wait for Friday to get the next instalment and see where things go next.
The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.