Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for The End is the Beginning – the third episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for all previous episodes. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
To get it out of the way before we start, I have reviewed the first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard already. You can find the first episode here, and the second episode here.
Mysteries continue to deepen in Star Trek: Picard, and The End is the Beginning has certainly left us with more questions than answers at this point. It was, overall, a solid episode that was at least on par with last week’s Maps and Legends. Visual effects were outstanding as usual, and we got proper introductions to two more main characters. I think there’s only one remaining who we haven’t met.
As happened last week, The End is the Beginning opened with a look back in time. We briefly saw the rogue synths’ attack, including what I believe were a couple of new clips of Mars, before the action cuts to Admiral Picard – in full uniform – outside Starfleet Headquarters. He meets Raffi, the woman who pointed a phaser at him at the end of the previous episode, and it’s revealed that she was a Starfleet officer. Judging by her rank pips I believe she was a commander, and she’s wearing the gold of either engineering or security.
Though we did see, in Picard’s dreams, uniforms from The Next Generation films and Deep Space Nine, it would have been a good opportunity to see them again here, I think. Starfleet uniforms have gone through a number of revisions, but the uniforms used here, fourteen years prior to the series, are different from the uniforms we saw starting in First Contact and running through the next two films and the back half of DS9. While I understand that each new show and each new creative team wants to give Star Trek a refreshed look and put their own spin on things, for this short scene I feel that they could have used those older uniforms – there was no real reason not to and it would have been a nice little tie-in to past iterations of Star Trek, as well as to Picard’s personal history.
Picard and Raffi were obviously close – she calls him “JL”, which is something we haven’t seen anyone really do before. The incredible effort to save Romulus may be part of the reason for this familiarity, or she may simply be a kind of aide-de-camp who he’s worked with since his promotion. Picard had friends and friendly relationships with his crewmates in The Next Generation, but there was always a formality to those relationships within the command structure of Starfleet. His crew, for example, weren’t on first-name terms with him in the way that some of Kirk’s crew were. So this is a new direction for his character in a sense, but it shouldn’t be all that unexpected under the circumstances. From a production point of view, having Raffi be on first-name terms with Picard is one way to immediately convey to us as the audience how close their relationship was at this moment in time. And when taken like that I felt that it worked – though I can already predict it will be a point of criticism for some.
As the scene unfolds, it’s clear what has just happened – this is the immediate aftermath of Picard’s resignation. Raffi doesn’t realise it at first, and watching her digging around for alternative solutions was heart-wrenching because we already knew what the outcome was before Picard said a word. It was nice to see Picard in uniform as an Admiral in this flashback scene, albeit that it was right after he had resigned. I wonder if we’ll see his argument with Clancy and others in future episodes, but I don’t actually think we need to because this scene conveyed everything we needed to know. Picard was his usual calm self, having recovered from the argument we know to have happened inside the building behind him. But he was a defeated man in this moment, and the way he shuts down any suggestion of doing something on his own to keep his promise to the Romulans shows that. Personally I believe that he did ultimately do something to contribute to the rescue effort – Laris and Zhaban’s loyalty could be seen as an indication of that – but in this moment that’s clearly something he can’t even fathom.
The synthetics were described as having suffered a “fatal code error” – but given this scene was taking place in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and that it’s been stated in previous episodes that what happened to them wasn’t clear, I don’t think this answer is as conclusive as it sounds. It would lend credence to my theory that Dr Maddox – who Picard is planning to look for – somehow accidentally caused the attack. However, we saw another brief look at the eyes of F8, the synthetic we met last week, and again it looks like he’s receiving new data or downloading something, which I think is indicative of a hack. Given some of the comments later in the episode from Raffi in particular, the hack theory seems more and more likely. The culprit, however, remains unclear.
The Vasquez Rocks have been a filming location in several iterations of Star Trek. Most notably it was the site where Kirk fought against the Gorn captain in the episode Arena from The Original Series, but the location has also been used to represent Vulcan, including in the reboot film series, as well as serving as various locations in The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise. It was interesting to set Raffi’s home in such an identifiable location, and it was a nice homage and not to past Star Trek stories without being too in-your-face. Star Trek: Picard has been good at this, at least so far, managing to throw in little nods and winks to returning fans without letting nostalgia overwhelm the plot.
Raffi is now no longer a member of Starfleet. Whether this happened immediately upon Picard’s resignation – as she suggested in the previous scene – is unclear, and I don’t see why it would. An officer, even an aide-de-camp as it seems she may have been, could be reassigned, and unless she tendered her own resignation there’s no reason why Picard’s resignation or the attack on Mars would have led to her losing her commission as a Starfleet officer. Regardless of the reason, however, she’s clearly had a rough few years. It was mentioned in some of the pre-release marketing material that Michelle Hurd’s character – who we now know is Raffi – had a drug problem. She seems to ingest a drug called “snakeleaf”, which looked to me to be a 24th Century marijuana – complete with the possible side-effect of paranoia. If this comes back into play in future episodes perhaps we’ll learn more.
After a conversation in which Picard is trying to get her help to solicit a ship and pilot, she storms off. And in this moment, for a few seconds before finding his resolve and going after her, I think we see Picard finally hit rock bottom. He’s been on a downward slide since we first got reacquainted with him in Remembrance, but after losing Dahj, after trying and failing to get Starfleet to help, and having nowhere else to turn Raffi seems to have let him down too. And for a brief moment, Sir Patrick Stewart shows us, with little more than a facial expression and body language, Picard’s absolute rock bottom. In that expression was a man ready to quit, utterly defeated, depressed and dejected. How he manages to find the energy to press on and go after her – Picard is in his mid-late ninties after all – is beyond me, but he does.
The action then cuts to the Artifact, where Hugh the ex-Borg is keeping track of Soji. He’s impressed by the care she showed to the Nameless Borg last week, and it turns out he’s in charge of something called the “Borg reclamation project”. I was wrong in last week’s review and subsequent articles, by the way. The Borg Soji and her Romulan colleagues are removing the implants from aren’t dead – they’re alive, just unconscious. And it would seem that after their implants are removed they can be reawakened, free of their connection to the Collective.
Hugh describes these former Borg – the XB’s – as the “most despised people in the galaxy”, and it’s implied that those on board the Artifact aren’t permitted to leave by the Romulans. I don’t think this applies to Hugh, though. Soji has been asking for an interview with a Romulan XB, and after seeing her work with Nameless, Hugh decides to grant her request.
I enjoyed Jonathan Del Arco’s performance. He was recognisable as Hugh to returning fans – and to anyone who’d seen the pre-release marketing material – but as mentioned above, there was nothing that new fans or people who aren’t as attuned to Star Trek would miss by not knowing or remembering who Hugh was. When I heard a few months ago that Hugh would be returning in Star Trek: Picard I confess I was more than a little surprised. He appeared in two or three episodes of The Next Generation, and while those episodes were good they weren’t necessarily the show’s finest offerings, and Hugh was very much a minor character – with no offence intended to Jonathan Del Arco. So his return caught me off-guard when I heard about it, because I could think of half a dozen or more side characters from The Next Generation that I felt might be more interesting to see return. However, what we saw of Hugh was genuinely impressive. And to see that he’s using the individuality he recovered to help other Borg overcome their assimilation was wholesome – it’s something Picard would be proud of, no doubt.
Back at Vasquez Rocks, Raffi tries to tell Picard – presumably not for the first time – that she believes Starfleet and the Romulans conspired to attack the rescue armada. Picard is disbelieving, but he does say that Raffi had a unique talent for seeing connections that other people couldn’t. Based on last week’s episode with Commodore Oh and Lieutenant Rizzo, this could well be part of the conspiracy she’s referring to. I don’t believe it’s been thrown into the story as a misdirect – this is another piece of the puzzle to understanding what happened on Mars and what may be still happening with the Zhat Vash and Starfleet. Raffi does come across as somewhat paranoid, jumping from point to point quickly while swigging a bottle of wine. Michelle Hurd did a great job conveying a character who has lost everything and has been addled by years of substance abuse. Yet it’s clear that beneath the surface, Raffi still has a keen mind.
The scene concludes with her telling Picard she knows a pilot, Chris Rios, and that he will be in touch. Apparently she’d already set this up before the two of them had a conversation – or at least that was the inference I picked up.
At the Daystrom Institute, Commodore Oh pays a visit to Dr Jurati in person, wanting to know about Jurati’s visits from Picard. There was something ominous about this scene, and though we don’t see much of it unfolding, it was clear that Dr Jurati was caught out and was about to spill the beans. From a costuming point of view, this was definitely one of the weakest points in the series so far. Commodore Oh is wearing sunglasses – fairly modern-looking ones at that – and she just looks absolutely ridiculous. Far from looking like an investigating FBI or CIA agent – which was clearly the intention – the combination of Starfleet uniform, Vulcan ears, and sunglasses just looked stupid. If that was the aim, which it shouldn’t be when dealing with the most important named villain we’ve seen in the show thus far, then great. Mission accomplished. But I’m sure the intention was not to make Commodore Oh look ridiculous, so it has to go down as a costuming fail, I’m afraid.
Back aboard the Artifact, Hugh flashes his credentials to the Romulans to get Soji access to the XB she wants to interview – a Romulan named Ramdha. The room they enter, which is under pretty heavy guard, contains a few Romulans, who Soji describes as “the disordered”. And I have to take somewhat of an issue here – the people in the room all appear to be mentally ill; the camera pans around and we get a few close-ups of some of the Romulan inmates taking part in pretty stereotypical “mentally ill person” activities that any number of television shows portray when they want to get across the idea that a group of people are psychiatric patients. We see someone drawing dark shapes very intently, another waving aimlessly in the air, and several muttering away to themselves. While it gets its point across as a brief scene in a television show, it’s an incredibly stereotypical picture of mental health.
Soji finds the individual she wants to talk to – apparently Ramdha is an expert in Romulan mythology and legends, and Soji believes she can help Romulan XBs with her knowledge reacclimate to life outside of the Collective. When we’ve seen individuals in prior iterations of Star Trek liberated from the Borg, including Hugh, we’ve never seen significant psychological conditions as these “disordered” seem to have. Hugh mentions that these are “all the Romulans ever assimilated”, so it could be a uniquely Romulan trait. It could also be related to the Borg cube’s “submatrix collapse” which is evidently what disabled the ship years prior to the events of the series.
Back at Vasquez Rocks, Raffi is deep in research, clearly trying to find out all she can about Maddox, the Romulans and everything else Picard told her about. Picard calls her and sends her his data on Maddox, and after this brief scene is over we finally see the ship – the ship that will be a significant part of the series. It’s been said before that in the Star Trek franchise, the ship is almost like an extra crew member. It’s the setting for many episodes, it’s something distinct and recognisable, and it has a name, a design, and a personality all its own. I must’ve missed the ship’s name, but apparently it’s called La Sirena – Spanish for “the mermaid”.
La Sirena is different from any Federation or Starfleet ship we’ve seen so far in Star Trek. That’s not a controversial statement, it’s just a matter of fact. Firstly, there’s no “SS” designation, nor any other apparent designation or numbering scheme. Then there’s the design of the ship itself. There’s no saucer section or obvious warp nacelles; the engines appear to be built into the main hull. And La Sirena is an unusual design – a main body with two large “arms” either side, and a number of fins and other details near the engines at the rear. I would say it’s very much a modern-day science fiction vessel design, taking almost everything “Star Trek” and ignoring it in favour of inspiration from other franchises. In particular, I’m seeing elements of Mass Effect and Battlestar Galactica in its design, perhaps with a dash of Star Wars for good measure. It’s designed to look as “cool” as possible – if you remember in Voyager when Tom Paris was designing the Delta Flyer and he wanted tailfins and other aesthetic elements, but Tuvok shot him down saying the Delta Flyer wasn’t a “hot rod”. Well, Chris Rios built or bought himself a 24th Century hot rod.
I actually love this design. The red detailing on the hull, the modern sci-fi-inspired shape, yet the familiar blue hue of Starfleet warp engines combine to make a truly unique and utterly distinctive vessel. When Sir Patrick Stewart was conducting one of his many interviews prior to Star Trek: Picard, he said that the set built for La Sirena was the biggest starship set he’d ever seen used before in his time working on Star Trek. So I think we’re going to see a lot more of this beauty before the show is over.
A couple of years ago, Santiago Cabera – the actor who portrays Rios – was in a series called Salvation. This was my first encounter with him as an actor, and I adored his performance in that underappreciated show. When I heard he was going to play a role in Star Trek: Picard I was genuinely thrilled – and he’s only the third actor since Scott Bakula and Sonequa Martin-Green that I was familiar with before they took Star Trek roles! Not that that really matters, at the end of the day!
He gets a fantastic opportunity over the next few scenes to show off his range – Chris Rios has apparently configured all of the holograms on his ship to look just like him. When Picard materialises on the (very large) transporter pad, after a brief swelling of the music to signify his return to space – an emotional moment in itself – he’s greeted by who we assume is Capt. Rios. Only it isn’t – it’s his Emergency Medical Hologram. The real Rios is sitting on the bridge, suffering a wound to the shoulder. The EMH is easily able to treat it and he’s fine, though after refusing a dermal regenerator he will probably have a scar. The effect of the shrapnel lodged in his flesh was, in contrast to much of the rest of the scene which relied on CGI, a wonderful example of practical special effects. And both the effects artist and makeup artists should be congratulated, because the overall look was incredibly realistic – and it looked like a very painful injury that he suffered at some unknown location for an unknown reason.
After briefly pausing over the Captain’s chair, Picard takes a seat at either the helm or conn position, and talks with Rios about the mission and where they may be headed. The two also discuss Rios’ background – Picard notes from the way the ship is maintained and organised that Rios was a Starfleet officer. He confirms this, and talks briefly about a ship he was on that was seemingly lost – but Starfleet covered it up. Another hint there that all is not well in Starfleet, tying into the conspiracy we’ve seen glimpses of.
The music score here was fantastic. Picard tells Rios that he can tell he’s “Starfleet to the core”, and the familiar theme pipes up as his speech comes to a close. But when Rios tells Picard “don’t try to get inside my head”, the theme turns sour and discordant, full of minor chords and it grinds to halt. We got that moment of the classic theme and Picard together, only for it to fade away. I loved that, and even though music can be hard to put into words I hope that point came across.
Raffi is continuing to dig into Maddox, and soon manages to find her way to some part of the Starfleet “internet” called Freecloud. It isn’t clear exactly what this is, but Raffi seems to know exactly what it means in this short, dialogue-free scene. We got a couple of these with Raffi in The End is the Beginning, and it shows her as a self-reliant person. A loner, perhaps, but also someone who can be dedicated to something – arguably obsessively so – when she sets her mind to it.
Rios has another conversation with one of his holograms – this one is the ENH, or Emergency Navigational Hologram. They discuss Picard and his virtues, and Rios is adamant that he doesn’t want to get involved again, to get too close to Picard or anyone else because his former captain – on the ship Starfleet erased from their records – ended up killed. His death clearly still haunts Rios. This is a setup we’ve seen before, and there’s a Han Solo-esque feel to Rios in this scene. He’s a good person at his core, an ex-Starfleet officer, but someone who’s gone through something traumatic and his response has been to try to shut himself off from his feelings. But his heart of gold will come back into play later in the story – at least, if Star Trek: Picard follows convention!
Picard has returned to the vineyard and has packed a bag. Laris and Zhaban, to my surprise I must admit, aren’t going to accompany him. They’re going to stay and tend the grapes, and Laris has seemingly got over her anger and/or fear at Picard’s departure that she expressed so strongly last week. As Zhaban gives Picard a bag of provisions for the trip, the trio come under attack by assassins from the same group who attacked Dahj in the premiere.
This was a genuinely heart-stopping moment in The End is the Beginning. As Picard takes cover, Laris and Zhaban show off their Tal Shiar skills by fighting off the attackers – though at any moment either of them could have been killed. I didn’t expect them both to survive the fight, but they did. Which is good – I don’t think I could’ve taken losing one of them so soon! As the fight ends and the three gather themselves, one Romulan is left stirring in the corner and raises his weapon – only to be shot by Dr Jurati, who has apparently entered the château while the fight was ongoing.
Alison Pill hasn’t had much to do so far in Star Trek: Picard, but here we really got to see an acting performance from her. She portrays Dr Jurati’s fear and adrenaline rush just pitch-perfectly, and her reaction to using the Romulan weapon, killing someone, and talking with Picard afterwards was absolutely one of the high points of the episode. It was absolutely on point and I can’t fault anything about her role in this scene.
Meanwhile, back on the Artifact, Soji is finally able to get Ramdha to talk to her a little. They talk briefly about Romulan mythology – though apparently Ramdha dislikes that term, instead calling what she does “the news”. Soji likes this idea, and hopes to use some of what Ramdha is doing to help the other Romulan XB’s.
While Picard and the others interview the sole surviving Romulan attacker, Ramdha turns on Soji, saying she “remembers [her] from tomorrow”. Soji and Hugh seem to attribute this to her psychological state, but she becomes increasingly agitated and aggressive, and the scenes cut back and forth a couple of times between the Romulan captive at the vineyard telling Picard Soji and Dahj aren’t what he “thinks they are”, and Ramdha accusing Soji of being “the destroyer” and asking her if she is the sister “who lives or dies”. The editing here, while fast-paced, was absolutely incredible, and the blending of the two scenes was fantastic and raised the tension significantly.
Soji seems to come close to having an “activation” similar to Dahj’s in Remembrance. She asks Ramdha a series of rapid-fire questions about her role on board a Romulan vessel and the Borg cube’s submatrix collapse – perhaps this is part of what she was programmed to learn about. Ramdha manages to pull a weapon, and though Soji is able to disarm her before she hurts herself, everyone involved is clearly shaken. Soji, upset by Ramdha’s comments about her sister, calls her mother – the same woman Dahj spoke to in the premiere – and asks about Dahj by name. Her mother tells her a lie – that Dahj is okay – and Soji collapses into unconsciousness. Whether this was simply a result of exhaustion or whether the “mother” said a word or phrase that triggered her to shut down/rest is unclear – but my money’s on the latter.
The Romulan attacker spits acid at Zhaban, just like the others did to Dahj, though Zhaban is unharmed while the Romulan disintegrates – apparently this acid is both a weapon of last resort and a kind of suicide pill. Something vaguely comparable would be old-fashioned cyanide capsules – many Nazis in Germany when defeat was looming used cyanide in glass capsules to commit suicide – biting on the capsule to release the fast-acting poison. I’m certain this was at least part of the inspiration for this device.
With the Romulan dead, Picard and his friends didn’t actually learn anything. His words were little more than incoherent warnings about Soji and Dahj – but I’m taken by the threat that Soji “isn’t what we think she is”. We’ve been working on the assumption that she’s synthetic – could this be a clue that she isn’t? I speculated in my first theory post that Soji and Dahj might actually be genetically enhanced humans and not androids, so that remains a possibility. It could also be a reference to Soji and Dahj being some kind of weapon – the “activation” and Dahj’s fighting skills, as well as Soji’s hidden knowledge and aggressive pursuit of it could point to that.
Before we get on to the end of the episode I want to nitpick. This is something I thought of last week but dismissed, but because Picard, Raffi, and the others still don’t really have a destination I feel like I have to bring it up at this point. Picard knows Dahj Asha’s full name. Dr Jurati had access to her application to the Daystrom institute, which included school transcripts. Could it really be so difficult to find out her sister’s name given what they already know? With the information they already have it should be a hop, skip, and jump to find the family, to find Soji’s name, and to figure out that she’s a scientist aboard the Artifact – after all, those people’s names must be recorded somewhere. Raffi in particular has a unique way of finding out information, and Laris and Zhaban are ex-Tal Shiar. I would have thought between them they could figure it out with a little effort. I know it’s a nitpick. And it isn’t a huge deal, it doesn’t harm the story. But it’s a little annoyance in the back of my mind, I must confess.
After Soji awakens from her nap/shutdown, Narek pays her a visit. He’s obviously heard or seen what happened and wants to check in with her. In this scene they embrace, and Narek says hes “falling in love” with her. Narek’s intentions here are unclear – in the next scene he’s with Rizzo, now returned to her Romulan appearance, and they’re talking about “staying on mission” and figuring out what Soji knows. But Narek could just as easily have meant what he said to Soji – or perhaps this is some foreshadowing of something more between them to come in future episodes. Either way, I have a feeling Narek may abandon his mission and his cause in order to be with Soji and keep her safe.
Narek and Rizzo meeting in a dark, shadowy hallway had all the earmarks of a classic spy drama. And I loved the way the scene between them was shot. A Borg cube clearly has a lot of corridors and dark areas where no one is present – absolutely the perfect environment for two clandestine operatives to meet.
Dr Jurati insists on going with Picard to track down Maddox and Soji, insisting he needs her expertise as the greatest expert on synthetics on Earth. Picard and Jurati beam up to La Sirena, where Raffi has also joined the crew – but she insists she’s only hitching a ride to Freecloud – apparently the place where her research led her – for her own purposes, and not as part of Picard’s mission. Rios is just the pilot, and Raffi is going her own way, so Picard definitely needed Dr Jurati’s company as she’s currently the only person who’s actually going with him for the right reasons! Though there was a hint, albeit a small one that I could be misinterpreting, that Dr Jurati isn’t all she appears – Raffi seems to think it’s a mistake to let her join the mission without even a “basic” security check. Could that come back to bite Picard? Time will tell.
The episode ends with Picard giving the order to “engage!” to the indifferent-looking Rios and Raffi, and La Sirena warps out of sight as the credits start to roll.
The End is the Beginning was another great episode. Again, perhaps not on par with Remembrance, but definitely a really enjoyable episode of Star Trek that moved the story forward – while uncovering a whole host of new mysteries for the show to unravel later.
It was great to see Hugh again – I hope we’ll see more of him before the season is over. And we got to learn a little more about the origins of the Artifact – it’s interesting to me that it basically experienced the Borg equivalent of a computer glitch and just broke down. The Romulans didn’t defeat it, they just claimed its wreckage. And as I mentioned, seeing La Sirena and finally getting a good look at the ship’s design was amazing. I love it, and I can’t wait to see more inside and out!
Picard finally has his crew together, and they’re warping off to Freecloud. What this place is, and what they’ll find there, is something we won’t know until next time. And what’s going on with Soji – is she activating, or close to activating? Is Narek on her side or the Zhat Vash’s side, and will he switch sides before the end? What will happen to the XBs? Are they all “disordered”, and what happens to those that aren’t? So many questions!
We had some great visual and practical special effects in The End is the Beginning. I love the look of the holographic computer panels on La Sirena – they’re suitably advanced from what we’ve seen in The Next Generation – and again similar to tech we’ve seen in other science fiction franchises like The Expanse or the Mass Effect series – but while retaining a Star Trek feel. That line can be hard to walk, but for me anyway, the designers nailed it.
My only real criticism is of the way the “disordered” were portrayed. I just feel that the way people with mental health issues are portrayed on television is generally pretty poor and very stereotypical, and this just leaned right into all of those stereotypes. I don’t know exactly what I’d have done differently to convey the same message while avoiding that pitfall, but I’m sure something different could have been managed. But aside from that sequence, and the utterly ridiculous decision to put sunglasses on Commodore Oh, the episode was a joy from start to finish.
I still have far more questions than answers, and Star Trek: Picard has managed to create such a rich world populated by interesting characters who each feel genuine. That’s absolutely fantastic, and just where I wanted to be at this point in the series. The way the new characters have been introduced has been amazing – giving each of them space and time to shine without overcrowding the series was a fantastic idea and deserves credit. The producers of Star Trek: Picard – including Sir Patrick Stewart himself – have put so much care and attention to detail into this series, and that absolutely shines through.
I can’t wait for next Friday already! Live Long and Prosper!
The End is the Beginning – the third 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, as are all of the previous episodes from Season 1. Star Trek: Picard and the rest of the Star Trek franchise are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.