Star Trek: The Next Generation re-watch – Season 7, Episode 17: Masks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly series over the next few months. In the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 disaster – the series has been withheld from fans outside of North America, if you somehow missed the news – I won’t be covering the show at all. Instead I’ll be writing up re-watches of some of my favourite episodes from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue. This week we’re visiting The Next Generation’s final season to look at the episode Masks.

First up, a brief introduction to this format. I’m not calling these articles “reviews.” It wouldn’t be fair to do so because I’ve seen Masks – and all of the other episodes we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks – more times than I care to remember! This won’t just be a recap of the plot of the episode – I will be giving my thoughts and analysis as we go. But it can’t really be an objective “review,” strictly speaking.

The episode’s title card (from the remastered version).

Masks was one of the last episodes produced for The Next Generation before production shifted to Star Trek: Generations. At this stage we’ve been with the crew of the Enterprise-D for almost seven years and we know them well – so we think we know what to expect. Season 7 tried to shake things up at various points – like in Genesis where the crew all de-evolved! And Masks is kind of in a similar vein. We’ll see the ship transformed, and Data in particular will take on several different personalities.

Masks is one of those episodes that sticks in my mind. The Enterprise-D and her crew found themselves in many wacky and unpredictable situations over the years, but there’s something about the Aztec-inspired aesthetic that really makes what’s going on in Masks feel ancient and otherworldly. It’s a story that feels at home in the Star Trek franchise; the kind of episode no other sci-fi series would even attempt.

Picard and Troi examine a D’Arsay obelisk.

The episode is also a great one for Data actor Brent Spiner, who gets a chance to show off his range as an actor. There’s always seemed to be a disconnect between the character of Data and the personality of the man who plays the role! Data is cool and logical, but Brent Spiner has an almost chaotic energy to him, full of life and with a great sense of humour. Masks isn’t the only episode of Star Trek to give him more to do – look at his roles as Lore and as various members of the Soong family for more examples – but it’s certainly an episode that gives Spiner many opportunities to shake up his regular role.

Data is such a wonderful character, and his series-long quest to become more human saw him attempt to mimic a variety of different behaviours. At the beginning of Masks we see him taking an art class, learning to sculpt and to use his imagination. Because of the largely episodic nature of The Next Generation, even in Season 7 Data is still chasing his ambition of becoming human in much the same way as he had been earlier in the show’s run. The character saw evolution across the series as a whole, but moments like these at the beginning of Masks could sometimes feel like a reset, reinforcing Data’s android nature and showing how he doesn’t fully understand some element or other of what it means to be human.

Data learning about imagination at the beginning of the episode.

I wouldn’t try to argue that Masks is an especially important episode, either for The Next Generation or Star Trek as a whole. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t groundbreaking or transformative for the franchise in the way certain stories can be – it doesn’t introduce new characters, factions, or themes that would carry over to future projects, for example, nor is it a transformative event in the lives of any of the main characters.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun episode with an interesting premise. In a way, what we have in Masks is an examination of computer viruses and the major cultural and technological differences that exist between cultures. After encountering the D’Arsay archive inside of what appears to be a comet, it transmits its information to the Enterprise-D, but that computer code plays havoc with the ship’s systems – and with Data. Though this computer virus analogy isn’t the episode’s message or primary focus, it’s not a coincidence that a story like Masks was created at this time.

There’s a timely message about rogue computer software buried in Masks.

In 1994, when the episode was initially broadcast, home computing was growing exponentially. Along with the rise of the PC came fears of computer viruses, and antivirus software was becoming a big business. Though Masks mainly considers cultural themes within the story itself, I’d argue very strongly that the premise – disruptive or even malicious software being beamed to the Enterprise-D – is a reaction to the way the home computer market was shaping up at the time.

Computer viruses continue to plague systems today, of course, but with improvements in antivirus software and better computer education, the fears most folks have of viruses has diminished. In that sense, this aspect of Masks feels like a step back in time a quarter of a century – which it is, of course! The idea of rogue computer code harming – or in this case transforming – one’s computer was certainly a relevant concern at the time, though, and although it’s one that the episode doesn’t feature prominently it’s still an interesting aspect.

Riker, Data, and Geordi tried to make sense of the mysterious symbols that began appearing on the Enterprise-D’s computer screens.

Masks also looks at how we deal with cultures very different from our own, and how we need to be careful when interpreting history. Captain Picard is at his best in episodes like Masks, getting the chance to show off one of his real passions – history. Picard is well-placed to jump into the story and find a use for his skills, and is supported at various points by Riker, Troi, and perhaps the most unusual choice – Worf. One of Worf’s lines about the sun and moon proves crucial to unlocking the mystery of the archive, and while Captain Picard definitely needed others around him in these scenes, I’m not sure I’d have chosen Worf!

The struggle that Picard and the others had of trying to interpret an unfamiliar culture is one that historians and anthropologists have long dealt with. And to me, Masks is an example of Star Trek doing what it has always done: using a sci-fi lens to examine a real-world subject. Usually the stakes aren’t so high, of course, but putting a kind of ticking clock and threat in the background gave the story an impetus it would’ve otherwise lacked; had Picard and the crew simply been trying to learn about the D’Arsay symbols and characters out of curiosity, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere.

Picard had to draw on his knowledge of history and anthropology to solve the mystery of the D’Arsay archive.

On the technical side of things, Masks was one of the first Star Trek episodes to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), using the new technology for the comet and D’Arsay archive. The remastered version, which is what you’ll find on blu-ray and streaming – didn’t preserve the original CGI model, recreating the archive from the ground up based on the original design. The DVD version, however, and other older copies (like VHS) do still have this piece of Star Trek’s history. You can also find images of the original CGI model online, of course.

A few times across The Next Generation, sped-up shots would be used to show Data working or moving faster than a human could. Out of everything present in Masks, this short sequence (which shows Data sculpting a treble clef in his art class) is perhaps the only part that feels dated in 2021. The rest of the episode’s effects hold up remarkably well, and the remastered CGI sequences look great even on a modern 4K display.

This shot of the Enterprise-D melting a comet with its phasers is pretty darn cool.

Many times across Star Trek’s long history there have been so-called “bottle shows.” These are episodes which primarily use existing sets and often don’t bring in many new characters or guest-stars, focusing on just the main cast. Though there was a set built for Masks – the temple, which would later be re-used in Deep Space Nine – the episode is mostly a bottle show, or perhaps a semi-bottle show! It focuses on a handful of characters, mostly re-uses existing Enterprise-D sets – with a few additions and changes to reflect the transformation the ship is undergoing – and feels like a very self-contained story in that respect.

Given Data’s prominent role, Brent Spiner is the star of Masks. And while we see elements of his portrayal of Lore in one of the personas that Data assumes, for the most part he makes each of the D’Arsay characters feel unique and distinctive. For an actor who spent most of The Next Generation’s run playing a very unemotional, unreactive character, I can quite understand why Brent Spiner would describe Masks as one of his biggest acting challenges on the show. I think he rises to the occasion and shows off a range that any actor would be proud of; making each persona feel separate despite only minor costuming changes is no mean feat, and he pulled it off very well. There was a risk, perhaps, that in order to differentiate each of the D’Arsay personas in such a short runtime each would have to be exaggerated to the point of pantomime caricature, but that didn’t happen in the final episode. That alone should be testament to Brent Spiner’s talents and hard work.

Data actor Brent Spiner had to take on several different personas in Masks.

There are a few lines from Masks that resonate with me from a mental health standpoint. Though the episode isn’t intended as an examination of mental illness, Data developing an android version of “multiple personalities,” as Troi puts it, does bring up some comparisons. When Data asks Geordi what it feels like to lose one’s mind is a line that very much struck a chord with me, not least because it’s a question I’ve asked myself (and doctors) in the past.

Data’s line as the episode draws to a close about feeling “empty” following the removal of the D’Arsay personalities likewise felt very relatable. It isn’t always easy to tell where the line is between one’s own personality and aspects of oneself that might be better characterised as manifestations of mental illness, and even the removal or lessening of a mental health symptom can, in some cases, bring with it a feeling of emptiness or of feeling incomplete. That’s definitely a second thing I find relatable – and I think it shows how stories which only touch on themes of mental health can still be impactful even if mental health isn’t the focus.

Data on Masaka’s throne.

The only real criticism I have of Masks is that its ending feels a little too quick – almost abrupt, really. After a slow buildup which sees the Enterprise-D progressively transformed to resemble the D’Arsay culture, Picard has a short conversation with Masaka, and then after a quick “woosh” everything is un-transformed and back to normal. A quick epilogue with Data and Picard in the ready-room closes the episode, and the final few minutes just feel a little rushed, especially considering the deliberately slow pacing of the rest of the episode.

Despite that, I enjoy Masks. It isn’t my all-time favourite episode of The Next Generation, but it’s one of those solid standalone stories that Star Trek does far fewer of since the move to serialised story arcs and shorter seasons. Masks shows off a different kind of science fiction with its slightly wacky concept of an archive transforming the ship into stone artefacts, but at the same time it’s a story that’s grounded in real-world parallels of history and anthropology. Brent Spiner puts in one of his finest performances, taking on a variety of personas that force him to step well outside of his normal bounds as Data.

So I hope this was a bit of fun. My objective at the moment is to remain connected to Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community but without providing any support or coverage of Discovery in light of the awful decision from ViacomCBS. Later this week I hope to look at an episode from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I already have dozens of other ideas for episode re-watches as we move through the holidays and into 2022.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is out now on blu-ray and DVD, and is available to stream on Netflix outside of the United States (at least for the time being). The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Dr Pulaski – a character study

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

For reasons that still aren’t crystal clear over thirty years later, Gates McFadden was dropped after Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr Crusher had been a mainstay of the show’s first season, going a long way to humanising the otherwise stoic Captain Picard, as well as bringing a family dynamic to the series. Her absence in Season 2 was an obstacle for the show to overcome, and to replace her, Gene Roddenberry and the creative team introduced a new character: Dr Katherine Pulaski.

I have to hold up my hands and admit to being a fan of Dr Pulaski. There are certainly elements to her characterisation that worked less well, and we’ll look at those in a moment, but on the whole I felt her inclusion in the series took The Next Generation to different places, places it wouldn’t have been able to reach without her. That’s my own bias coming into play as we delve into her character today.

The intention behind Dr Pulaski’s introduction was to shake up The Next Generation. Across the show’s first season there hadn’t been much interpersonal drama between the main characters – something that was a marked change from The Original Series. In Star Trek’s first incarnation, the “frenemy” relationship between Dr McCoy and Spock in particular was a source of both drama and humour, and it seems clear to me that The Next Generation lacked that in Season 1, and that Dr Pulaski was created to try to bring that element back to Star Trek.

When I think about Dr Crusher, with the possible exception of her role in the two-part episode Descent, I wouldn’t use the terms “strong” or “forceful” to describe her personality. She’s a reasonably quiet, slightly soft-spoken character, clearly very compassionate but also quite agreeable, especially when pressed by Captain Picard. To call her “bland” might be unkind, but she was never meant to be the standout character among the cast of The Next Generation.

Dr Pulaski is the polar opposite. She’s opinionated, outspoken, and occasionally brash. Though she does form firm friendships with other members of the senior staff, she’s much more of a standalone, individualist character. These are all traits that she inherited from The Original Series’ Dr McCoy, and we can see a very definite McCoy influence for practically her entire run on the series.

The role of a doctor in Star Trek is naturally a limited one, and that was especially true when the franchise was primarily interested in episodic storytelling. Dr Pulaski’s scenes are largely limited to Sickbay or dealing with medical-themed stories and events, and this naturally puts constraints on what she – and other doctors in the franchise too – can do. In episodes with a strong medical storyline, I’d argue that Dr Pulaski shines, and aspects of her personality that might otherwise come across as abrasive can instead feel determined and driven. In stories without much going on in Sickbay she’s naturally of less use to the writers, and it shows.

One of the main areas of criticism when Dr Pulaski came aboard was her relationship with Data. Designed to mimic the Spock-McCoy dynamic from The Original Series, some of Dr Pulaski’s early scenes and episodes with Data did not work as intended. She came across as patronising and looking down at Data – and that’s putting the most positive spin possible on it! At worst, Dr Pulaski was actively degrading and dehumanising in the way she spoke to and about Data, and that’s something that many fans found hard to take.

Though we’re more aware in 2021 of the need to be inclusive and attentive to the needs of neurodivergent people, non-binary folks, and other marginalised groups, even in 1988 many fans were uncomfortable at seeing Data dehumanised and talked about in the abstract. Fans had had a whole year to get to know Data, and just like we balked at Dr Bruce Maddox’s treatment of him in the episode The Measure of a Man, so too fans felt Dr Pulaski was treating Data unfairly. This is legitimate criticism, and soured many fans on Dr Pulaski almost from her first moment on the series.

Though I was perhaps a little unkind in my characterisation of Dr Crusher earlier, there were many fans of The Next Generation who liked the character and wanted her back. A letter-writing campaign began almost from the moment Season 2 premiered – supposedly with some involvement from Patrick Stewart – to convince the producers to bring back Gates McFadden and dump Dr Pulaski. Though I daresay this would’ve happened regardless of how well Dr Pulaski’s character had been received, the fact that those early episodes featured a conflict with Data that certainly went too far and crossed a line didn’t help her cause.

Despite all of that, by the time Season 2 was finding its feet, Dr Pulaski had become established as a regular member of the crew of the Enterprise-D, and had settled into her role in Sickbay about as well as she could. The fact that she was a strong and decisive personality may have been divisive among fans, but in my opinion she elevated the role of the ship’s medical officer, taking what had been a secondary position with Dr Crusher in Season 1 and transforming it into a more important role, especially in medical storylines. Even when Dr Crusher returned in Season 3, this aspect of the show continued to an extent; Dr Pulaski’s legacy on the show, despite the character being dropped with little fanfare, may be that Dr Crusher found more prominent storylines.

The comparisons with Dr Crusher are inescapable, and one other aspect that viewers felt was missing after Dr Crusher departed the series was a relationship with Picard. Dr Crusher and Picard had history as well as more than a little romantic tension, whereas Dr Pulaski didn’t have that connection with Picard – or with anyone else. Though there was a storyline in the episode The Icarus Factor involving a past relationship with Commander Riker’s father, this didn’t become a major aspect of her character, and she remained romantically un-attached for the rest of her tenure.

Though the episode Unnatural Selection is perhaps the story where she was given the most to do, where I felt we saw Dr Pulaski at her best was in episodes like Time Squared, where she tended to a second Captain Picard from several hours in the future, Up The Long Ladder, in which she takes part in a traditional Klingon ceremony with Worf, and though there are two sides to her relationship with Data on display in Peak Performance, the way she consoled him after his defeat at Strategema was sweet. In these moments we see different aspects of her character – her medical expertise, her embrace of different cultures, and through her evolving relationship with Data, her ability to overcome her own prejudice.

Perhaps the fact that Dr Pulaski had anti-android prejudice to begin with made her too unpopular with fans to be redeemable. Her occasionally blunt persona didn’t help her in that regard either. But had we met Dr Pulaski in Season 1 not Season 2, I think it’s possible for her evolving relationship with Data to have provided a deeply satisfying character arc.

The problem Dr Pulaski faced was that she joined a series that already had a full season – 25 episodes – under its belt. The characters had grown together and been through some major events in Season 1, particularly the death of their friend and colleague Tasha Yar. Yar’s own deep relationship with Data, which was jump-started by the events of The Naked Now, had gone a long way to humanising him across Season 1, and there was something charming in the “android who longs to be human” story. In Encounter At Farpoint, Riker called Data “Pinocchio,” and across Season 1 that’s how viewers came to know Data. Dropping in Dr Pulaski at the beginning of Season 2 and giving her a very prejudiced way of looking at this character we’d come to know and love was a bridge too far for many viewers, and although the relationship improved dramatically over the course of the season, her early interactions with Data remained a sore spot.

Dr Pulaski was present for all but two episodes of Season 2. However, most episodes didn’t have a major medical focus, and thus she was really a secondary character much of the time. Even so, I’d argue that she brought a lot to the show, and despite the introduction of her character not really succeeding in the way the creative team intended, Dr Pulaski certainly achieved her objective of shaking up the crew. Though she was never a villain, the introduction of Dr Pulaski showed that there can still be disagreements and interpersonal drama among Starfleet officers in the 24th Century, and that not everyone has to agree all the time. The Next Generation could, at times, fall into the trap of being too idealistic in its portrayal of characters in particular, and while there were adversaries and antagonists in Season 1 – including some from the Federation – Dr Pulaski was the first main character on the show to pull in a different direction. In that sense she arguably laid the groundwork for storylines we’d see from Season 4 onwards with characters like Ro Laren, and in particular the non-Starfleet crews we’d meet in Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

The fact that Dr Pulaski was never shy and didn’t pull her punches is something I found charming and appealing about her, particularly when compared to Dr Crusher’s Season 1 persona. She could be opinionated and even pushy at times, but she always did her best to help those in her care and didn’t bat an eyelid at the wacky situations the Enterprise-D would find itself in. Not only that, but she grew as a character across her single season on the show, particularly in terms of her relationship with Data and her understanding of different kinds of life. The Next Generation set out to seek out new life, and while Dr Pulaski’s old fashioned idea of what “life” is may have held her back at first, over time she came to recognise that Data was a valuable colleague and even a friend, even if she didn’t understand everything about him.

Had she been kept around and spent more time on the show, perhaps we would have seen those themes continue to play out. There was scope for her relationship with Worf to develop, not romantically necessarily but certainly putting them in more stories that would have allowed their friendship to grow and for both characters to learn more about the other’s culture. Her relationship with Kyle Riker could have been revisited, allowing for a more complex and nuanced relationship with William Riker on the Enterprise-D. And though she could never replace Dr Crusher in terms of having a close relationship with Captain Picard, the dynamic between the two – particularly the power play between a man who’s used to being the sole commanding officer of his ship and the doctor who’s the unquestioned master of Sickbay – would have been interesting to explore. There was scope for her to occasionally push back against Picard and other main characters, asserting herself more strongly than Dr Crusher usually would.

All of that and more would have been interesting to see, and while Dr Crusher had some great stories from Season 3 onwards, I’ve always felt at least a little sad that we didn’t get more from Dr Pulaski. At the very least it would have been nice to know how she came to depart the Enterprise-D and what her next role was going to be. Did she transfer to a different starship, return to Earth, retire? We don’t know, and I think it’s highly unlikely we will ever get any kind of solid confirmation of Dr Pulaski’s post-Season 2 life.

I found Dr Pulaski an interesting character and a welcome addition to The Next Generation, even though not every aspect of her characterisation succeeded or achieved its intended objectives. She remains an interesting character in Star Trek, particularly within the 24th Century, and I’ve always been fascinated by this single-season character. Season 2 of The Next Generation marked a change and uptick in the show’s quality – whence comes the expression “growing the beard,” a reference to Commander Riker’s facial hair! Though she wasn’t front-and-centre at every moment, Dr Pulaski played a significant role in the evolving series, helping it grow and become better than it had been in its first season. We can’t argue that the introduction of her character is somehow responsible for The Next Generation’s increasing success in that era, but we can’t dismiss it as mere coincidence either.

And perhaps that’s Dr Pulaski’s real legacy. She was a part of The Next Generation at a key moment – its powerful second season. Season 2 provided much more of a blueprint for the show’s future success – and for the successful development of Deep Space Nine and other parts of the franchise – than The Original Series-inspired first season had. Dr Pulaski, though originally intended to be a throwback to Star Trek’s first series, played a role in the franchise’s evolution as a character who wasn’t afraid to shake things up, stand up to her commander, and hold her ground. We can see elements of her personality in a number of Star Trek characters who came later, even continuing to the modern day.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all characters and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard + Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover theory: Lore

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for other iterations of the franchise.

Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard expanded our knowledge and understanding of the Star Trek galaxy in the 24th Century. As the lore of Star Trek grows (pun intended!) one thing I find fun is seeing how any new information we get can be made to fit with past iterations of the franchise, and in the case of Picard, I think I’ve hit on a theory that is plausible based on some new facts that we learned last year.

I previously touched on this theory as part of my essay on Commodore Oh a few months ago, but I thought it warranted being expanded and given its own article – so that when it’s finally confirmed on screen I can say “I told you so!” Or not. In short, this theory connects Data’s brother Lore to the Zhat Vash, the faction introduced in Star Trek: Picard.

Lore in Datalore.

Before we go any further and get into the weeds, let’s recap. Lore was introduced in The Next Generation Season 1 episode Datalore, and would return in Brothers in Season 4, as well as the Season 6 finale Descent, and Descent, Part II which opened Season 7. He was, in effect, Data’s “evil twin,” and would go on to cause havoc for Data and the crew of the Enterprise-D. We would also learn that Lore was responsible for luring a spacefaring lifeform called the Crystalline Entity to his homeworld, killing most of the citizens of the colony.

Next we have the Zhat Vash, who were introduced in Star Trek: Picard. An ancient, secretive Romulan sect, the Zhat Vash were on an anti-synthetic crusade. They believed that the development of artificial life would lead to all life in the galaxy being exterminated, and sought to wipe out synthetics wherever they found them. As part of their plan to prevent the Federation developing synths, a Romulan agent named Oh infiltrated Starfleet shortly after the discovery of Data in 2338.

Commodore Oh infiltrated Starfleet.

This theory begins with something that The Next Generation never really explained: Lore being evil. Apparently this is a flaw in at least some Soong-type androids, as we’d also see Sutra exhibiting many similar traits to Lore in the two-part finale of Picard Season 1. But is there more to it than a simple mistake, as Dr Soong believed?

Though the Zhat Vash despise synthetic life, as part of their crusade to exterminate synths from the galaxy they seem to have learned a great deal about them – including how to reprogram them. In Picard Season 1, we learned that rogue synths had attacked Mars, destroying Admiral Picard’s fleet. It was the intervention of the Zhat Vash, hacking into the synths and reprogramming them, that caused this attack. If the Zhat Vash possessed the ability to do this in the 2380s, it’s at least possible that they were able to do something similar to Lore in the 2330s.

The Zhat Vash were able to reprogram Federation synths, leading to the attack on Mars.

Lore was activated months (or possibly years) before Data, and lived with his creator on the Omicron Theta colony. Dr Soong’s reputation seems to have been known within the Federation, and his work doesn’t appear to have been classified or somehow kept secret. The Zhat Vash seem to have been able to infiltrate the Federation with relative ease, having two spies inside Starfleet that we know of, and even if a Zhat Vash operative in this era were not an especially high-ranking officer, given the openness of Dr Soong’s work and the dedication the Zhat Vash have to their cause, I think we can reasonably suggest that they would have come to know what he was doing, and thus of the existence of Lore.

As I suggested in my last crossover theory, it stands to reason that the Zhat Vash will have been deeply alarmed about the Federation and their synthetic research. In the mid-23rd Century, two Federation AIs went rogue: Control (as seen in Discovery Season 2) and the M-5 multitronic unit (as seen in The Original Series second season episode The Ultimate Computer). Although it seems to be androids that were the main focus of Zhat Vash attention, as Laris made clear, the Romulans fear all kinds of AI – so these events would certainly have upset them enough to keep an eye on Starfleet and the Federation.

A fleet of ships under Control’s command went rogue and attacked the USS Enterprise and the USS Discovery.

That makes it even more likely, in my opinion, that the Zhat Vash would have found out about Dr Soong and Lore on Omicron Theta. If they were following Dr Soong’s work on positronic brains, they may have been working on ways to shut down his research or reprogram Lore. As mentioned, none of this appears to have been classified, and while Dr Soong kept his work private, it may have been possible for the Zhat Vash to infiltrate Omicron Theta and gain access to his research.

Their main goal was to prevent the rise of synthetic life. A single android was bad enough, but what they feared most was a civilisation of them. But Dr Soong didn’t have a civilisation – he had one single operational android. From the Zhat Vash’s perspective in the 2330s, if they could force Lore to be shut down – and ideally kill Dr Soong at the same time – the Federation would be unable to replicate the work and would thus be unable to build more.

Lore in Descent, Part II.

At some point following his activation, Lore began to exhibit “emotional instability” to the point that he upset and worried the colonists on Omicron Theta. This doesn’t appear to have happened from the moment of his activation, though, which lends credence to the idea that he was reprogrammed – perhaps rather crudely in an attempt to force Dr Soong to take him offline.

However, before Dr Soong could take action to shut him down, Lore contacted the Crystalline Entity, which arrived and wiped out the Omicron Theta colony. If Lore had been reprogrammed, was this something he chose to do of his own volition? It seems a very specific action to take if he wanted to kill the colonists – he was more than capable of physically overpowering and outwitting them if he wanted to kill them.

The Crystalline Entity “feeding,” as seen in Silicon Avatar.

The destruction of Omicron Theta can be seen as a classic Romulan move. By using the Crystalline Entity, not only was Lore assumed destroyed, but so were Dr Soong, his assistants, and all of his research, setting back synthetic research in the Federation by decades. Of course we know that Dr Soong and Lore both escaped – but that clearly wasn’t part of the Zhat Vash’s plan! Perhaps they underestimated Lore.

Most importantly, though, having the Crystalline Entity wipe out Omicron Theta absolved the Romulans of any direct involvement, as well as potentially destroyed any evidence that they had ever been there. It reminds me in many ways of the false flag operation that they ran on Mars; the synths were reprogrammed and forced to go rogue, an event which so thoroughly shocked the Federation that the Zhat Vash were able to persuade them to shut down all synthetic research.

Laris first told Admiral Picard – and us as the audience – about the existence of the Zhat Vash.

With Lore being the only extant android, a “clean” attack on the colony, wiping out the entire site and all of its inhabitants, would work very well from the Zhat Vash’s perspective. Openly attacking Omicron Theta would surely have started a conflict with the Federation, and if that could be avoided through this kind of cloak-and-dagger operation, well that seems exactly like something they would seek to do.

So that’s the extent of the theory, and any Zhat Vash involvement afterwards appears to have ignored Lore. Perhaps they figured that the existence of Data showed that the Federation would not stop until they were forced to, or at least that it was no longer possible to stop Federation AI research by killing one android. This would explain why they didn’t take any aggressive action against Data during The Next Generation era, and could also explain why Dr Soong went into hiding after the Omicron Theta attack – he may have been hiding from the Zhat Vash.

Data in Star Trek: Generations. The Zhat Vash appear to have been either unable or unwilling to attack him.

This theory fits with Lore’s appearances in The Next Generation and doesn’t step on the toes of anything as far as I can see. It provides backstory to why Lore acted the way he did, and explains his motivations for doing so in a different way. It also elevates Lore from simply being an “evil twin” trope into more of a tragic character – we will never know what Lore could have been were he not interfered with.

Crucially, this theory fits with what we learned of the Zhat Vash in Picard Season 1, both in terms of their goals and their methods. It seems at least possible that the Zhat Vash are responsible for the attack on Omicron Theta and for reprogramming Lore, turning him into the malevolent adversary that Data and the crew of the Enterprise-D had to deal with.

Commodore Oh.

This could have even been the first mission of a young Zhat Vash operative named Oh. Maybe she was the one sent to Omicron Theta to deal with Dr Soong, and this entire situation is her doing.

So that’s it. That’s my theory! I doubt it will ever be confirmed, but you never know! It seems plausible to me, at least. I hope this was a bit of fun and an excuse to jump back into the Star Trek galaxy. As always, please remember not to take this theory, or any other fan theory, too seriously. Theory-crafting is supposed to be enjoyable, and the last thing we need right now is something else to argue about!

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount+) in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and The Next Generation – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 – one year later

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery.

Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? It was one year ago today that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in the United States (and a day later in the rest of the world). It’s not unfair to say that I was incredibly excited about this series, which would take the Star Trek timeline forward in a significant way for the first time in eighteen years. Though I tried hard to keep my hype and expectations in check, there was no getting around how much I was looking forward to Star Trek: Picard.

As we hit the first anniversary, I thought it could be a good moment to look back on my remembrances (ha! get it?) of the show as well as what the first season achieved, what it did well, and where it came up short.

The opening title card.

If you were a regular reader a year ago, you’ll recall from my reviews that the season started very strongly. In fact, I named Remembrance (the season premiere) the best Star Trek episode of 2020 – a year which, for all its problems, saw 33 episodes across three shows. I rank Remembrance very highly among modern Star Trek episodes, and I’d even compare it favourably to Deep Space Nine’s Emissary, perhaps placing them joint-first as the best Star Trek premieres.

The finale, on the other hand, let the season down somewhat. Carefully-established mysteries that the show had slowly build up over the preceding eight episodes felt rushed through in a two-part conclusion that dumped new characters, a new location, a new faction, and whole new storylines into play right at the very end. The season also ended with a plot hole unexplained – why Dr Maddox travelled to Freecloud – and the disappearance of main character Narek, whose storyline was dropped halfway through the second part of the finale.

So despite enjoying Picard overall, as I look back a year later at Season 1, I’m afraid I have to say that it was a mixed bag.

Jean-Luc Picard.

From the moment Star Trek: Picard was announced it shot to the top of my list of shows I was excited for. I may have talked about this in the run-up to the season, but I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed when Enterprise was announced in 1999. I wasn’t particularly interested in a Star Trek prequel, and while the show had heart and told some exciting stories, there was a sense really since Voyager ended and Nemesis had been in cinemas that Star Trek wasn’t moving forward.

Enterprise, the Kelvin reboot films, Discovery, and even Short Treks all told stories in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries, and though those stories were enjoyable and fun, there was a lot left behind in the 24th Century that was never explored. What would become of the characters we knew, of the Federation, of Starfleet, and all the other factions, races, and planets? The 24th Century had been Star Trek’s biggest era – with 517 episodes of television and four films starring three crews and a huge supporting cast of secondary and recurring characters.

Moving the timeline forward beyond Nemesis was something I really wanted to see from Star Trek.

The 24th Century was also “my” Star Trek era. The Next Generation was the first Star Trek series I watched, and it was literally my way into being a Trekkie. I have a great fondness for the shows of that era, and I consider it to be not only the time when Star Trek was at its most successful in terms of viewership (and finances) but also the closest the franchise has to a “Golden Age.” So to see that era abandoned for prequels and mid-quels wasn’t exactly disappointing, but it wasn’t something I was wild about.

So for eighteen years (Nemesis was released in 2002) Star Trek hadn’t moved forward in terms of the timeline. And even when Discovery launched and established itself with Short Treks and a spin-off, there was still no plan to revisit the 24th Century. Picard came along like a breath of fresh air, and I was incredibly excited, hyped up, and interested in what the series would bring. That was my mindset going into the premiere and each of the subsequent nine episodes.

The opening shot of the season.

Picard was not Season 8 of The Next Generation – and I didn’t want it to be. I was very keen that the new cast be given an opportunity to establish themselves within the franchise and become fan favourites for a new generation of Trekkies. What I hoped for was that, in thirty years’ time, people would be clamouring for a Dr Jurati series or Star Trek: Elnor with the same vigour I have for Picard. And I think, in that sense, we’ve begun to see at least the beginnings of that.

A lot of television shows don’t really settle in until Season 2, which is where the overused term “growing the beard” comes from. I’ve used that expression myself a few times, but in the aftermath of Discovery’s recent outing it seems to be the only phrase that critics are using to describe the show and it’s honestly put me off! But we’re off topic. There was perhaps a degree of leniency on my part going into Season 1 of Picard; a willingness to let some minor issues slide in order to see the show continue to build and grow. And as underwhelming as the Season 1 finale was, I’m hopeful that Season 2 can build on the foundation that has been laid.

The crew of La Sirena at the end of Season 1.

Though there was the mystery of Dr Maddox’s location, the Romulans’ scheme, and later the beacon to contact the super-synths, what Season 1 really was, when you boil it down, was a team-up story. Picard, over the course of ten episodes, put together a new crew and gave them a reason to work together. Establishing each member of the crew, giving them a side-quest of their own, and binding them together to follow Picard was the primary accomplishment of the season.

I’ve used the analogy of the Mass Effect video game series once in relation to Star Trek: Picard already – when it comes to the basic existence of the super-synths and their beacon. But there is a second point of comparison that is interesting to me, and may be to you if you’ve played those games. In Mass Effect 2, much of the game is comprised of Commander Shepard recruiting a crew. Each member of the crew needs to be brought on board, then later a side-mission is given in which players can earn their loyalty. Picard Season 1 played out similarly.

Elnor in Season 1. Recruiting him for the mission took up one episode.

Raffi wanted to go to Freecloud to reunite with her son. Dr Jurati had a secret plot to kill Dr Maddox. Elnor had to resolve his lingering emotional issues with Picard. Rios had to put together the pieces of what happened aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Seven of Nine wanted revenge for Icheb. Each of the main characters – at least those on the mission to save Soji – had to be recruited and then have their side-quest resolved before the story could reach its conclusion. This isn’t just a story from Mass Effect 2, it’s something many team-up stories do.

As I mentioned when considering some preliminary ideas for Season 2, finding a way to keep this crew together will be something that the next chapter of this story needs to address. Because they came together to do a single task – rescue Soji – and then continued to help the synths on Coppelius and prevent the arrival of the super-synths, they’re done. Their mission is complete, and Season 2 will have to find a believable reason for keeping them together. But that is a challenge for next time!

The super-synths were called off at the last moment.

Each character we met was interesting, and none felt unoriginal or bland in the way some secondary characters can in a story which primarily focuses on one person. We’ll deal with Picard himself in a moment, but for now: Elnor was a lonely member of an all-female sect, and also had abandonment issues after Picard’s disappearance. Rios pretended to be the roguish “Han Solo” type, but had serious post-traumatic stress following his former captain’s murder-suicide while aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Raffi was a flawed genius whose drug problem had dominated her life and cost her her most important relationships. Dr Jurati had been brainwashed into murdering someone she loved. Narek was the spy with a heart of gold – but instead of being a cliché he turned that trope on its head by sticking to his mission to the end. Dahj and Soji were different from one another – androids unaware of their synthetic nature. One was drawn to Picard, the other deeply suspicious of him.

Then we had the reintroduction of several legacy characters. Dr Maddox, who we met in The Next Generation, had continued his research after his meeting with Data, and eventually was able to develop his own line of androids. Seven of Nine had helped Icheb become a Starfleet officer, but lost him when she was betrayed by Bjayzl. Riker and Troi, who had married in Nemesis, had a family – but their son had died. Hugh was perhaps the most successful of all the legacy characters, the ex-Borg who had taken full advantage of his own liberation to assist hundreds or possibly thousands of other ex-Borg on the Artifact.

Hugh the Borg returned.

There was tragedy and drama aplenty in each of the characters we met, but none of it felt forced or contrived in the way some drama shows can. This wasn’t a soap opera, it was hard-hitting. Picard Season 1 may not have followed the traditional episodic Star Trek formula, but it had a distinctly Star Trek tone – it used its sci-fi setting to examine real world issues. It did so in a tense, dramatic, and exciting way, and expanded on themes from The Next Generation and elsewhere in the franchise, looking at basic rights such as the right to life.

The attack on Mars can be analogous to many different recent and historical events, but the reaction to it is certainly reminiscent of the western world’s post-9/11 outlook. The aftermath of a tragedy allowed a nefarious faction to push through a prohibition on certain groups of people. Islam was not “banned” after 9/11, but as recently as 2016 Donald Trump talked of a “ban on people from Muslim countries” – these restrictions were in place for much of his term as President.

The attack on Mars was a significant event in the years before Season 1 of Picard is set.

The theme of the season was in realising that we mustn’t judge whole groups of people by the actions of a few. This could apply just as much to the supporters and voters of Donald Trump in 2021 as it did to Muslims and others. The fanatics who attacked the United States Capitol a couple of weeks ago are no more representative of the 70+ million Trump voters as ISIS or al-Qaeda are of Islam. That is the message of this synthetic ban storyline: not to be so quick to judgement, and not to allow those with a pre-existing agenda to force the issue.

The Zhat Vash quietly infiltrated Starfleet, and slowly began poisoning the minds of Starfleet officers and Federation civilians. We have the literal expression of this metaphor via the mind-meld – this represents how those with an agenda are using propaganda and “fake news” to unduly influence the discourse. These themes are buried in the narrative, but they are there – and open to interpretation. This is how I see some of these storylines having real-world comparisons, but it may not be how you or someone else sees it. Fiction is always subjective, and that’s okay. If you disagree, that’s great!

Commodore Oh.

As I’ve said before, a story doesn’t just have merit because it can be seen through a real-world lens. In some cases, pushing too far in that direction can lead to a narrative being less enjoyable. So Picard balanced out some of these contemporary metaphors with a truly engaging and mysterious Star Trek story.

We saw these events from Picard’s point of view, and he’s such a great character for telling this story because he didn’t know exactly what happened and why, just as much as we as the audience didn’t know. So when the synths attacked Mars, his life, his career, and his whole world fell apart. We meet him at the beginning of the season premiere as someone who’s fallen into a major depression. Dahj would be the catalyst for bringing him out of that – but it wasn’t until the mysteries and conspiracies had been unravelled and brought to light that he could truly move on.

Picard in the Season 1 premiere.

We went on that journey with Picard. We began together, not knowing what had happened on Mars, not understanding why, and then along comes Dahj. She was equally mysterious: who was she, why was she seeking out Picard, who were the assassins that were trying to hurt her? And as we learned more about both of these elements of the story, this chapter of Picard’s life – and the lives of those around him – came into focus.

My criticisms of the season finale generally don’t stem from the fact that any of the narrative decisions were bad, but rather that I wanted to see more. We rushed through Sutra’s story, Dr Soong’s story, and the end of Narek’s story. We don’t know anything about the super-synths, and precious little about the civilisation on Coppelius. There was scope to know more if the season had been structured differently and perhaps extended by an episode or two, and that’s really where I felt things came unstuck.

Coppelius Station was the setting for the two-part finale.

From an aesthetic point of view, Picard blended The Next Generation-era elements with a style firmly centred in modern-day sci-fi. The design of La Sirena reflects this – it was clearly not a Starfleet ship. Inside and out, La Sirena has touches of Star Trek, but stands apart and very much does its own thing. Beginning with the redesign of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and carrying all the way through to Discovery, we’ve seen starship interiors with certain visual elements – angled corridors and hallways, grey or blue pastel carpeting, panels with distinctive lines, the warp core as a glowing column, and so forth. La Sirena has some hints at some of these, but is much closer to ships seen in The Expanse, for example, and other modern sci-fi properties in other ways.

Within the Star Trek fandom, starship designs and uniforms are both subjective things with a range of opinions on which are best. And before anyone rushes to judgement to say La Sirena looks bad or they dislike the mermaid-combadges, I’d say that we need to give the show time for its aesthetic to grow on us. There have only been ten episodes of Picard compared with 176 of The Next Generation, and those episodes are only a year old. Obviously nothing in Picard will feel as “iconic” yet – but as time goes by and we spend more time in this era that may happen.

La Sirena.

I adored the design of La Sirena. It felt like a runabout mixed with a hot-rod, and I think that shows to some extent the personality of Captain Rios. This is his ship, and he’s put his personal stamp on it – as we saw in a very funny (and incredibly well-acted and well-filmed) sequence with five different Rios-holograms. After the blue boiler suits of Enterprise were followed up with another all-blue look in Discovery I was also glad to see more colour back in the two new Starfleet uniform designs which debuted in Picard. The one in the “current” time (that we saw people like Riker and Commodore Oh wearing) was my favourite of the two when compared to the design seen in flashbacks, but both were neat.

The only aesthetic problem I felt Season 1 had was its outdoor filming locations and their lack of variety. We visited locations on Earth which were supposedly in France, Japan, and North America, as well as half a dozen planets, and each looked exactly like southern California. Because Picard had ten episodes and almost all of them had some outdoor filming this was amplified far more than it had been in the likes of The Next Generation, which would see fewer outdoor shoots with more episodes in between them. But as the season progressed, the fact that each planet Picard visited was a barely-disguised location within a few miles of Los Angeles detracted from the look.

The surface of California… I mean Aia.

Some locations, like the planet of Aia, were beautifully created in CGI, but then ruined when scenes on the surface not only didn’t match the CGI creation of the planet (the colour and tone are way different). What made no sense to me about the Aia scenes in particular is with so little time spent there, why not use a sound stage? Rig up a planet that looks genuinely different instead of using an outdoor filming location. We only saw two or three scenes set on Aia, all around the beacon, and I honestly just thought it was a wasted opportunity. Vashti, Nepenthe, and Coppelius all felt very samey because of the decision to shoot outdoors in the same area, and that’s just a shame to me. I would love to see some more variety in Season 2 – either by travelling to shoot on location further afield, or by using indoor sound stages that can be made to look different each time.

So we come to the man himself: Jean-Luc Picard. I mentioned earlier that he was depressed, and the way this part of his story was conveyed was heartbreaking and wonderful. I recently wrote an article looking at the characterisation of Luke Skywalker in the 2017 film The Last Jedi, because he was also depressed in that story. It was one that some Star Wars fans hated, but it resonated with me. Picard’s story in Season 1 resonated with me too, for many of the same or similar reasons as I explained in that essay.

Jean-Luc Picard.

Depression and mental health are not easy subjects to convey in fiction, and Picard itself had a scene in the episode The End Is The Beginning which unfortunately painted a pretty stereotypical picture of mental health. But Picard’s story was much better, and very well done overall. It showed that anyone – no matter how heroic they have been in the past – can fall victim to depression. Picard lost his fleet, he lost his role in Starfleet, and instead of saying “no, the right thing to do is to help so I’m going to fight on,” he collapsed. He hit a problem that he couldn’t solve, suffered a humiliating defeat, and gave up. He spent years in quiet retirement – which was more like a self-imposed exile – because of how he felt.

That is powerful in itself, as it shows how anyone – even heroes that we want to put on a pedestal – can fall victim to depression. The same was true of Luke Skywalker. But what came next is equally important – Dahj gave Picard a reason to believe in something again. Not only was there a mystery to figure out, which can be tantalising in itself, but Picard was the only one capable and willing to help Soji – so he stepped up. Where he had fallen into the lowest point of his life, he found a reason to believe and that set him on the path to recovery. I find that a powerful and inspiring story.

Dahj inspired Picard and gave him a cause to believe in.

There were two cathartic moments for me in Season 1 that I didn’t know I needed to see. The first was with Seven of Nine. During the latter part of Voyager’s run, Seven was my least-favourite character. She was annoying, arrogant, and worst of all, after learning some “lesson in how to be human” from Captain Janeway or the Doctor, she’d seemingly reset and forget it ever happened by the next episode, requiring her to “learn” the same lesson in being human many times over. She was repetitive and boring. But in Picard she had finally moved past her Borg years and embraced her humanity and emotions – even though she lost Icheb, seeing her get so genuinely angry and react in such a human way was something wonderful to see – and was performed beautifully by Jeri Ryan.

The second cathartic moment came from Data. His death in Nemesis wasn’t something I was happy about, but within the story of that film I remember feeling at the time that it worked. However, looking back I can see how, for example, seeing Picard and the rest of the crew laughing and moving on at the end of the film was perhaps not the right way to end the story. Data didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone – his sacrifice happened in a brief moment, and after saving Picard he was just gone.

Data’s consciousness remained in the digital afterlife until Picard shut it down.

Picard carried that regret with him in a far more significant way than the closing moments of Nemesis hinted at. Riker and Troi did too, and we got to see both of them express that. Picard poured his heart out to Data when he was in the digital afterlife, and the scene between the two of them was something incredible. It was something I as a fan needed to see, to put Data to rest properly after all these years.

In a sense, Picard and Data’s story is an inversion of the story Kirk and Spock went through in The Search For Spock and The Voyage Home. After Spock’s death, Kirk would stop at nothing to find a way to bring his friend back to life – even stealing the Enterprise. While Picard set out on his journey to save Data’s “daughter” from harm, what he ended up doing was bringing a final end to Data’s life. There was no way to save Data, nor to transfer whatever remained of him into a new body. The only thing Picard could to for his friend was finally allow him his mortality, and permit him to die. As Kirk might’ve said, that sounds like a “no-win scenario.” But as Kirk never really had to learn – at least until the moment of his own death – those scenarios exist every day. It might sound cool to say “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” and push to save everyone all the time, but that isn’t possible. It’s a fantasy – and Picard confronted the genuine reality of death in a way Kirk never had to.

Picard shut down the remaining part of Data permanently.

Data had desperately yearned to be more human. From his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint when he struggled with whistling through to the introduction of his emotion chip in Generations and beyond, all Data wanted was to feel less like an android and more like a human. Mortality is one of humanity’s defining characteristics – especially when compared to machines and synthetic life. By shutting down Data’s remaining neurons and consciousness, Picard gave him perhaps the greatest gift he could give – and Data achieved his goal of getting as close to humanity as possible.

As I look back on Season 1 of Picard, I can see that it had some flaws and some issues. But none of them were catastrophic, and even though there was one episode that I described at the time as a “misfire and a dud,” the season as a whole was great. It started off with what is perhaps the best premiere of any Star Trek series, and though the ending was imperfect we got some amazing story-driven dramatic Star Trek.

Dr Jurati beams the crew of La Sirena aboard.

Perhaps Season 1’s legacy will be defined by what comes next. Not only by future seasons of Picard, but by other shows and films set in or around this time period, expanding the Star Trek franchise and pushing it to new places. The Next Generation served as a launchpad for two other series and four films, and perhaps Picard has similarly laid a foundation upon which more Star Trek will be built. That’s my hope, at any rate.

Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Season 1 was an entertaining ride – with a few bumps in the road as mentioned. We got to learn a lot more about some of Star Trek’s factions – the Romulans in particular, but also the Borg – and meet some genuinely interesting new characters. Despite some leftover story threads from Season 1, Season 2 is potentially wide open to tell some new and interesting stories when it’s finally ready to be broadcast. I can’t wait for that!

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Could Voyager’s Doctor appear in Star Trek: Discovery?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Star Trek: Voyager, and other iterations of the franchise.

Star Trek: Discovery’s premiere brought back Sarek, Spock’s father who had been first introduced in The Original Series. Season 2 saw Spock himself as well as Captain Pike and Number One make appearances, so Discovery is a series that has no qualms about reintroducing legacy characters. But its 23rd Century, pre-The Original Series setting precluded the use of most of Star Trek’s characters, as the bulk of the franchise’s 780+ episodes and films take place later in the timeline.

Discovery’s move forward in time should also mean that no legacy characters could have significant roles. After all, who could possibly still be alive more than eight centuries after the events of Star Trek: Picard? I can think of one character, but not in the way you might expect!

Voyager’s Doctor – or at least a version of him – could be alive in the 32nd Century.

As a hologram who doesn’t age, we could definitely argue that The Doctor – played by Robert Picardo for all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager – might have survived this long. But that isn’t the angle I’m taking.

The 23rd episode of Season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager, Living Witness, takes place in the 31st Century. After the USS Voyager had an encounter with a species called the Kyrians in the 24th Century, some pieces of technology were left behind, including a backup copy of The Doctor. Reawakened in the 31st Century, he stayed with the Kyrians for a number of years, righting the wrongs in their historical records about Voyager and its crew.

The episode is interesting in itself, and well worth a watch, but from our point of view today what I want to consider is the episode’s ending. After living with the Kyrians for years – perhaps decades – The Doctor took one of their ships and left the planet, hoping to retrace Voyager’s path and return to the Alpha Quadrant.

A photo of The Doctor in a museum at the end of Living Witness.

We know from later seasons of Voyager that it only took them another three years or so after leaving Kyrian space to make it home – though that did involve the use of the Borg transwarp network, among other helping hands – so the journey is definitely achievable. The Doctor, unlike us mere humans, doesn’t need food or any other supplies personally, so as long as his ship was functional, even if it took him decades he would have been able to make it back to Federation space – and if it took him several decades, the timeline starts to line up for a crossover with Discovery.

One thing that I’m cautiously interested in when it comes to Discovery’s third season is the potential to learn more about what happened to some of the characters we knew in other Star Trek shows. Perhaps we won’t learn the specifics of what happened to individuals, but we may learn broad strokes about what happened to their planets and cultures, and we could infer from that what may have happened to them. The series looks – if we take its trailer at face value – as if part of the story will be about restoring a declining or defeated Federation. Characters who originated in an era where the Federation was strong and just would be well-suited to that task, and they may find an unlikely ally in this version of The Doctor.

Restoring the Federation may be part of Discovery’s third season storyline.

On the production side of things, Star Trek has recently had great success bringing back Brent Spiner as Data and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. Spiner’s role as Data is a great comparison, because both Data and The Doctor are artificial, and thus not susceptible to ageing. Brent Spiner had said as early as the mid-2000s that he felt he’d “aged out” of the role of Data, yet the makeup and visual effects used in Star Trek: Picard worked very well. Obviously if you try to compare the way he looked earlier this year to the way he looked in 1987’s Encounter at Farpoint there’s a difference, but it’s not immersion-breaking. All this is to say that there’s no reason why Robert Picardo couldn’t reprise his role too.

Digital de-ageing effects have been used more and more often in recent years, even on television, and while the technology isn’t cheap, it shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive either. So that option would be viable for the team behind Star Trek as well.

But the big question is what kind of role The Doctor could play in a 32nd Century Discovery story.

Robert Picardo in a 2017 episode of Lucifer.

If I were writing it, the way I’d see him involved would be working alongside Burnham, Saru, and the crew of Discovery to restore the Federation. They’re looking at things from a 23rd Century viewpoint, but The Doctor could fill in more than a century’s worth of gaps in their knowledge. The Federation in the 24th Century is very similar to how it was in the 23rd in terms of morals and outlook, so I could absolutely see them working in common cause.

Rebuilding or reinvigorating the Federation is a noble task, and while I’ve documented my misgivings about Star Trek taking on a kind of post-apocalyptic setting previously, one way I think it could be made to work is if at the end of the season the Federation was back up and running. The Doctor could be invaluable to Discovery’s crew in accomplishing such a task, and with Data now permanently gone from the Star Trek universe, there aren’t many others who could still be around in this era.

The Doctor could help the crew of Discovery in the 32nd Century.

Perhaps after Season 2, which brought back several legacy characters for major roles, Discovery wants to stand on its own two feet again. Indeed, part of the reason for shifting the show’s timeline so far into the future is specifically because the producers and showrunners wanted to get away from the constraints of the 23rd Century – and the fan criticisms that came as a result of using that setting. So perhaps bringing back a legacy character in Season 3 isn’t on the agenda.

But The Doctor could still appear in Season 4 – and reports suggest that pre-production is underway on Discovery’s next adventure. While I think that The Doctor could be a good fit for a “rebuilding” type of storyline for the reasons already mentioned, if Season 4 takes the show in a different direction, perhaps that would be something more suited to his medical expertise, such as curing a disease. For all we know at this stage, a disease could be involved in damaging the Federation in this time period!

If not The Doctor, there are a few other characters who could – in theory – still be active in the 32nd Century. Let’s look at them briefly:

Number 1: Soji

Spoiler warning for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, but Soji is synthetic; an android. At the end of the season, Picard was told that his new synthetic body wouldn’t keep him alive for centuries, but there’s no reason Soji should have the same limitation. In many ways, Soji would make for a better crossover character than almost anyone else, as she’s a main character in an ongoing series. The crossover would thus be between two Star Trek shows that are currently in production, providing a link between them.

We could also add into the mix the other synths from Coppelius, including Sutra (aka Evil Soji) and even Dr Soong, if he was successful in creating himself a new synthetic body (and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have been).

Number 2: Lore

Lore was said to have been disassembled after his final appearance in The Next Generation, but we learned nothing of his fate after that. I speculated during Star Trek: Picard’s first season that Dr Maddox may have had access to Lore’s components while working on Soji and the other synths, but this was never confirmed on screen. It’s at least possible that Lore survived in disassembled form until the 32nd Century.

However, with Star Trek having gone out of its way to write Data out of the franchise, and to give Brent Spiner a new character in Dr Soong, I think any re-emergence of Lore is highly unlikely.

Number 3: Benjamin Sisko

I’ve mentioned Captain Sisko so often in relation to characters who could re-appear that you may think he’s become an obsession of mine! However, his story as of the end of Deep Space Nine was deliberately written in such a way that he could come back at literally any point in the Star Trek timeline. After being saved by the Bajoran Prophets, Sisko went to stay with them for a while – and they exist outside of linear time, meaning he could essentially travel to any point in time, including the 32nd Century.

Avery Brooks, who played Sisko, hasn’t always seemed willing to reprise the role, and recently declined to appear in the documentary What We Left Behind. However, there’s no reason why the character couldn’t be recast for future appearances.

Number 4: The Dax symbiont

While still arguably unlikely, this seems perhaps the least-unlikely of all the characters we’ve looked at so far. The trailer for Discovery’s third season showed Trill characters as well as what looked like a scene set on the Trill homeworld. We know, thanks to Deep Space Nine, that Trill symbionts can live for centuries; how many centuries exactly has never been stated as far as I’m aware. That leaves an opening for Discovery to bring back Dax – as well as an excuse to recast the character.

With centuries of knowledge, Dax could be a huge help to the crew of Discovery for the same reasons we’ve already talked about. Rebuilding the Federation will be a huge task, and it will take people who knew how it worked to help out.

So that’s it. A handful of other characters to go along with The Doctor who could – but probably won’t – appear in Star Trek: Discovery’s 32nd Century setting. As the show gets nearer to being broadcast (mid-October, in case you missed that announcement) my optimism is growing. Season 2 was decent, and despite my misgivings about taking the series away from its setting and into the far future, I think it has potential to tell interesting stories. I’m cautiously optimistic!

It seems unlikely that The Doctor, or any of the other characters mentioned, will make an appearance, but from an in-universe perspective it’s not entirely impossible. We’ve seen with Star Trek: Picard that bringing back legacy characters and referencing events that took place in a past episode or story are both things that the people in charge of Star Trek are willing to consider, so it’s at least possible to think we could see someone from the past reappear in Discovery.

Most of all, this was a bit of fun. We got to look back at Living Witness, which was a unique entry in Star Trek: Voyager, as well as speculate on the fates of The Doctor and some other well-known characters from past and present iterations of Star Trek. I’ll take any excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy!

Star Trek: Voyager is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be available to stream beginning on the 15th of October 2020. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 10: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2, and for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

I’m in two minds about Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2. On the one hand, the entire second half of the episode was incredibly emotional, with hit after hit after hit that left me in tears. But on the other hand, much of the first half of the episode followed on directly from Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 and was a waste of space.

I think overall, I stand by what I said in my review last week: that many of the story points in this two-part season finale were rushed and underdeveloped. Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 had, at points, the same issue of blitzing through potentially interesting story beats, and the disappointing thing isn’t that any of the storylines were bad, it’s that they had potential to be so much more than they were. Despite the second half of the episode going a long way toward redeeming the entire two-part finale, I think when the dust settles and I’m thinking more clearly and less emotionally, the overall picture will be, at best, mixed. There just wasn’t enough time remaining for many of these points to be fully explored, and realistically that meant that either some story threads needed to be cut entirely, or the season needed another couple of episodes to explore them fully.

Where the second half of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 succeeded was that it slowed down, and the rushed pacing, the jumping between storylines, and the obviously-cut down scenes did largely abate. This gave way for a more emotional story to develop and play out over several slower, touching sequences, which brilliantly played on elements of the story that had been spread out over the preceding nine episodes – beginning right back in the first episode of the season, and indeed the first sequence of the first episode.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 begins right where Part 1 left off last week, where Sutra let Narek escape and locked Picard up. Narek travels to the Artifact’s crash site and manages to sneak aboard, passing Seven of Nine, Elnor, and a handful of xBs who seem to be working on repairing the crashed vessel. The establishing shot of the Artifact was actually really pretty, and the closest the planet of Coppelius or Ghoulion IV came to not looking like California for the whole episode.

This shot of the Artifact was great.

Narek is searching for something on the Artifact when Rizzo appears from nowhere and surprises him. I’ve mentioned several times that Rizzo has grown on me as a character in her appearances over the course of the season. Her transformation from an uninteresting and one-dimensional villain into an actual fleshed-out character has been great to see, and it’s hard to imagine the story of Star Trek: Picard’s first season without Peyton List’s occasionally over-the-top performance. Seeing Rizzo and Narek reunited showed us that they were real people underneath it all, and given it was almost sure to be Narek’s last meeting with his sister, their hug was strangely touching. After being attacked by the xBs at the end of Broken Pieces, I’d assumed Rizzo had beamed over to one of the Romulan ships near the Artifact, but it seems that she remained aboard during its short-lived mission to Coppelius and survived the crash-landing. I hadn’t expected that – partly because it wasn’t communicated clearly, it must be said – so it was a surprise to see her. But we did get to see a brief moment of vulnerability and emotion from Rizzo – in that moment, she was genuinely relieved, happy, and even slightly overwhelmed to see Narek, and that moment played out perfectly.

The next scene has to be one of my least-favourites. Not for its dialogue, which was a conversation between Picard and Soji as he tries to convince her to try things his way instead of following Sutra, but for the editing. The best moments with Picard, both in this series and in his previous Star Trek appearances, have been a combination of what he said and his presence while saying it. With this scene cutting away from Picard and Soji in large part, with what should’ve been one of his trademark speeches heard only in voiceover, something significant was missing that made the words he said far less impactful to us as the audience. We needed to see Picard as well as hear him for his speech to have its full effect. And back to what I said at the beginning, this feels like a consequence of both parts of the finale having just too much to cram in to two episodes. Before the opening titles, the episode needed to show this conversation, as well as convey – through Dr Jurati seeing it firsthand – the construction of the beacon that Sutra planned to use to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”. Instead of there being enough time for both scenes, they ended up smashed together, with the voices of Picard and Soji on top of Dr Jurati silently watching the beacon. For me it simply didn’t work, and both scenes were the worse for being amalgamated.

The opening titles once again ruined the surprise appearance of a character. For the third time this season, an actor’s name was included which telegraphed the arrival of a character whose appearance was supposed to be unexpected: this time it was Jonathan Frakes, who reprised his role as Riker. What was the point of that? In all three cases where this has happened – Seven of Nine in Stardust City Rag, Dr Soong in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, and Riker this time – the appearance of the character was treated in the episode as a surprise. Everything from the camera work to the music built up the suspense of who we were about to meet – yet the opening titles had already spoilt it. Riker’s appearance at the head of Starfleet’s armada was supposed to be something that would make the audience go “wow!”, but instead it was telegraphed ahead of time, so the arrival of his fleet and then seeing him in person when he hailed the Romulans had lost the crucial element of surprise. I just do not understand this decision. How hard would it have been to credit Jonathan Frakes at the end and leave Riker’s appearance a genuine surprise? It was poor, and it detracted from what should’ve been one of the episode’s more powerful moments. It was still nice to see Riker on screen and back in uniform – we’ll deal with that scene in more detail later – but it was such a shame that it wasn’t the surprise it should’ve been.

This shouldn’t have happened.

After the opening titles we see why Narek went to the Artifact – among the many things the Romulans didn’t have time to evacuate were a set of bombs, and he plans to use them to destroy the orchid-ships before the Romulan fleet arrives. This is a pretty tense scene in contrast to his reunion with Rizzo, as we see that there’s still tension between them and they’re of unequal status – despite being very shaken by recent events, Rizzo is still the superior officer. She really doesn’t have a choice in letting Narek go, as there are two jobs to do – destroying the orchids and activating the Artifact’s weapons – and two of them. Narek called himself a “Zhat Vash washout”, and clearly his history with the secretive organisation is complicated. We’d seen a couple of hints at that in earlier episodes, but nothing as major as what we got here. Unfortunately, as with many points across the two-part finale, it was left undeveloped. Narek has had multiple appearances across Star Trek: Picard’s first season for this aspect of his background to be explored, and given that we’re less likely to see him return for Season 2 than anyone else at this point, I would have thought that if the series wanted to properly explore his Zhat Vash background that this would’ve been the last opportunity. As it is, we got a couple of throwaway lines about Narek and Rizzo’s family: their parents, apparently, died as a result of working for the Zhat Vash, but again, how or why is not explained in any detail. Narek and Rizzo part for what would be the final time.

Out of all of Star Trek: Picard’s villains, the dynamic between Rizzo and Narek was by far the most interesting. As brother and sister there’s always going to be an element of sibling rivalry to what they’re trying to do, and Rizzo made clear in every scene together where the power lay in that dynamic. They played off each other well, with Rizzo pushing Narek to the brink of mutiny at times. But throughout it all, his commitment to the cause never wavered, and was stronger than both his fear of and disdain for Rizzo, as well as his clear feelings for Soji.

Technology in Star Trek has always been flexible to suit the needs of the story, and I appreciate that’s something that has happened going back to The Original Series. Even with that caveat, I didn’t like like the magical do-anything macguffin that’s used in the next scene by Raffi and Rios to fix La Sirena’s engine. It strayed too far into the realm of magic for me, especially with its “just believe it will work” spiel. While we’ve seen similar things in Star Trek before, and perhaps in some contexts it could’ve worked, it just felt forced at this moment; a way to send Raffi and Rios on a mission to La Sirena so they could be there for other story elements to unfold, but done in such a way that they didn’t need to spend more than thirty seconds fixing the engine – which they went back to do.

In fact, at several points in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 did I get this feeling that the story was being forced down a particular path. Scenes would be included not because they fit the natural flow of the story, but because they either looked “cool” from a visual standpoint, or because they moved characters around to get them to be in the right place for other things to happen. In this example, Raffi and Rios had to leave Coppelius Station – under the guise of fixing La Sirena, they were moved out of the way so Picard could be apprehended, and placed in the right location for Narek to find them later, so they could plan their (stupid) attack on the synths’ beacon. It all felt just a little too much like it was driven by a room full of writers, and not a natural way for the characters to go. We’d also see the attack I mentioned be done in a very stupid way to get the plot to a specific climax, as well as the campfire scene with Narek which will come later as other examples of characters being forced into specific situations which didn’t really make sense in the context of the episode. It was constructed in such a way as to allow the plot to unfold, and unfortunately we’re supposed to just brush off some of the contrivances to make it happen.

Rios with the magical macguffin.

While we’re talking about contrivances, I can’t wait any longer to talk about Star Trek: Picard Season 1’s big plot hole. I’ve been flagging this up for several weeks as a potential issue, and unfortunately it was left unresolved at the end of the season. So a plot hole is what it’s become: why was Maddox on Freecloud? Finding Bruce Maddox was the driving force behind the first half of the season’s story, and when Picard finally encountered him on Freecloud, he made it very clear that the reason he was there, and had put himself in danger by contacting Bjayzl, was because his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar. With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, he went to see Bjayzl as a last resort – and ended up paying for it with his life. Yet Maddox’s lab clearly wasn’t destroyed. He wasn’t kicked out by Dr Soong and the synths, who continued to speak very highly of him. If he’d set up a lab elsewhere that had been destroyed, he could’ve returned to Coppelius. And as it sits right now, there’s no reason for Maddox going to Freecloud other than “because plot”. And that’s a mistake – Maddox was such an important figure, especially in those early episodes, that the reason he put himself in danger should have been given a proper explanation. It’s disappointing that the story and the season have ended with this gaping hole left unexplained.

After Raffi and Rios have used the magical macguffin, we get a scene with Dr Jurati and Dr Soong. At the end of last week’s episode, Dr Jurati had promised to aid the synths – but this was clearly a ploy to avoid being locked up and to be able to help Picard. I liked the dynamic between Soong and Jurati – he clearly hates her for killing Maddox, yet he needs her help. And his barely-contained loathing breaks the surface in the way he talks to her, as Brent Spiner delivers the lines in a style not dissimilar to how he portrayed Lore in The Next Generation. Again, though, as with too many points in the finale, this didn’t really have time to properly develop, and this scene between them, and one brief moment last week, is all the time they had alone together. Both Brent Spiner and Alison Pill delivered amazing performances with the limited material they had – I especially liked Dr Jurati’s “I’m not their mother, asshole” line – but I would have liked to have seen more of this relationship. There was the potential for it to go from bad to worse, then for the two of them to form a hate-filled unlikely alliance, before finally coming to terms with what happened. Dr Jurati had been essentially brainwashed by Commodore Oh, and they had both lost someone they cared about in Maddox – I would have liked to see that explored some more, especially because the on screen presence and chemistry the two actors had was definitely one of the finale’s high points.

Back at La Sirena, Narek has arrived and is trying to get the attention of Raffi and Rios by throwing rocks. He shows off his grenade collection and insists on meeting with them. At the meeting, Elnor arrives – we’d seen him following Narek as he left the Artifact. Speaking as we had been of two characters who loathe one another, Elnor and Narek feel that even more strongly. Elnor’s anger at Hugh’s death was on full display, but everyone had to stow their feelings as they discussed the synth problem. Narek is still in Zhat Vash mode, seeking out allies for his mission to blow up the synths’ ships. Staying with the theme of parts of the story being rushed, Raffi and Rios’ decision to believe him almost straightaway wasn’t great. While it was nice to see Narek finally interacting with someone other than Soji or Rizzo – the only two characters we’d seen him spend any significant time with – it came too late in the story to really have much impact, and like other points in the finale, was rushed. Narek really didn’t have to do much at all to convince the others that the synths – who they’d just met and were on friendly terms with – were a galaxy-ending threat, and they didn’t consider any other possibilities for why they couldn’t contact Picard at Coppelius Station other than Narek’s reasoning that the synths were jamming their commuications. It’s just another part of the finale where more time was needed – time to allow the three non-Zhat Vash characters to come around to Narek’s way of thinking. As it is, it felt like an instant turnaround – 180 degrees from trying to save the synths to trying to blow up their ships and beacon.

Narek finally gets a chance to talk to other characters.

At the beginning of Stardust City Rag, we got a fairly brutal scene where Icheb has his eye torn out. The graphic sequence was shown in full, and it was grotesque but at the same time it was something that as the audience, we couldn’t look away from. In the next scene in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2, Dr Jurati takes the eye out of Saga, the deceased synth from last week, in order to use it to unlock a door and spring Picard from his captivity. But we didn’t get to see the eye removal, as the camera instead cut to Dr Jurati’s face for the majority of the scene. And unfortunately, this didn’t look great. Alison Pill undoubtedly gave it her best shot, trying to look both disgusted and like someone who was trying to figure out how to disconnect sensitive electronics, but it would’ve been better to either see the entire process or to jump-cut from her starting the procedure to having the eye successfully removed. As a story point I did like using the eye, and I liked the eyeball prop when we saw her use it later, but the removal itself was just a bit of a waste in my opinion.

The campfire scene where Rios, Raffi, and Elnor sit and listen to Narek’s Zhat Vash stories wasn’t great. In principle it was good to have them together, but by this point in the story, we as the audience are familiar with the Zhat Vash prophecy. And ghost stories around the campfire is just such a cliché that the scene felt so forced. And it didn’t make sense in context. The ship had been fixed – why sit around outside it? And with such urgency to get to Coppelius Station to destroy the beacon, couldn’t they have talked en route? Or flown La Sirena closer to the synths’ compound? It was just so obvious that the director or creators of the show had decided that a campfire scene would look cool that they shoehorned it in, even though doing so made little sense.

The campfire story itself was fine, but as I said there wasn’t much in there that we as the audience didn’t already know. In an episode with so much story left to conclude, and thus where every minute matters, a lot of this campfire scene was really just wasted time. Conversely to that, the next scene with Commodore Oh – which barely even qualifies as a “scene” because of how short it was – had been very obviously and badly edited down to just a few seconds, and simply fell flat in the moment. Who was she supposed to be talking to when she said “At last, our great work is nearly at an end”? There was no one else present in the scene, she was just standing on the bridge of her ship in her evil villain cloak doing an evil villain pose spouting a generic evil villain line. Given how tightly it was cut, there was almost certainly more to this scene that didn’t make it into the final episode, but this line simply did not work on its own.

The visual effect of the Romulan fleet at warp was good, however, and I did enjoy seeing that. The design of the new style of Romulan vessel was great, and I could see it being a natural evolution of the Romulan Warbirds from The Next Generation and the advanced warship used by Shinzon in Nemesis, and the fact that some elements of those designs made it into the new Romulan ships was good and shows that the show’s creators were paying attention to past iterations of Star Trek. However, one thing I didn’t like – and this also applies to the Federation fleet that we see later in the episode – was that all of the ships were identical. Past fleets that we’ve seen, while arguably smaller in scale, were almost always comprised of multiple classes of ships, and the fact that the animators and CGI artists had essentially copied-and-pasted the ships meant that the large fleet was less visually impressive that it could’ve been. It was good to see the number of Romulan ships en route, though.

Narek is back in the next scene, a mere few seconds later, showing off the bombs he retrieved from the Artifact. While the episode hasn’t communicated this very well, it seems that a significant amount of time has passed. When Narek arrived it was daylight outside La Sirena, but then the campfire scene seemed to take place after sunset. Yet this scene is in daylight again – and as I said before, considering the urgency of the mission to stop the synths bringing about the end of the galaxy, which everyone seems to agree on, they don’t seem to be moving very fast toward that goal as they’re still talking aboard La Sirena.

I did like the creative way that they were able to sneak the bombs into Coppelius Station; that was a fun story beat, especially when Rios seemed to be playing with the ball in front of the synths. There was a second where it felt like he might kick it too hard and it would explode! The scene a few episodes ago where Rios had been kicking a ball around on La Sirena also paid off here. And if I’m not mistaken, at least one of the synths on guard duty looked like F8 – the synth from the flashbacks to Mars that we saw earlier in the season. However, the next part of this is yet another example of a plot contrivance – the guards let Raffi, Elnor, and Rios into their compound with Narek, but then seem to leave them alone to do their own thing instead of following them or taking Narek back into custody. It would’ve been better to skip the part about hiding the bombs in the football and have them sneak in another way, or leave the compound unguarded altogether (who are they guarding it from, after all?)

I’ve already mentioned that the eyeball was a neat prop, and the way Dr Jurati figured out how to use it to access Picard’s room and spring him from custody was great. Picard is clearly suffering here from the unnamed brain condition that we saw the first real indication of last week. And while I liked that this had been set up way back in the second episode of the season, it was really only in the two parts of the finale that Picard goes from experiencing no symptoms to full-on dead in a matter of hours or a couple of days. And while we have no frame of reference for how futuristic diseases might run their course, as a story point I feel this would’ve worked better if we’d seen a couple of other instances of his health starting to fail in previous episodes. I know we’ve seen him snap and seem to be quicker to anger at a couple of points, and that we saw his PTSD-breakdown when he first arrived aboard the Artifact, but for the most part Picard has seemed in good health for his age – until the finale, when his condition seemed to rapidly accelerate from nowhere.

Rios with the bomb-ball.

Dr Soong learns, in the next scene, that it was Sutra and not Narek who killed Saga, and is visually shocked and heartbroken at the revelation. I’m glad that Dr Soong turned out to be someone who was on Picard’s side in the end. Brent Spiner can portray villains wonderfully, as he did with Lore and another Dr Soong in Star Trek: Enterprise, but as a fan, seeing his new character at odds with Picard wouldn’t have been my preference, given that it’s been so long since we saw the two actors together in Star Trek.

The guards of Coppelius Station seem to have just allowed Raffi, Rios, Elnor, and Narek free rein inside the compound, and they’re planning their attack on the beacon when Dr Soong intervenes. For a moment they thought they’d been caught, but Dr Soong plans to help take down the beacon having learned of Sutra’s betrayal.

Picard and Dr Jurati made it back to La Sirena – though how the two groups managed not to cross paths or spot each other isn’t clear. I mean, there can only be one direct route to the ship after all. But that is a minor nitpick compared to others in the episode. This scene, between Picard and Dr Jurati, was very powerful, and the first point in the episode where I really started to feel things turn around. I loved Picard’s line that “fear is an incompetent teacher”, and their plan – to launch La Sirena into space and make a last stand against the Romulans as a way to show Soji and Sutra that not all organics are evil is a good move – perhaps their only possible plan under the circumstances short of using La Sirena’s weapons to destroy the beacon. They’re banking their hopes on Starfleet having received Picard’s message and already being en route, because at best they’ll be able to stall the Romulans for a few minutes. This is basically a suicide mission, and they both know it. The genius of putting these two characters together, as opposed to say, having Picard teamed up with Rios or Elnor, is that they both have nothing to lose. Picard’s at death’s door, and Dr Jurati is facing a lengthy spell in prison, so of all the characters who could try to make a last stand, it makes sense for them more so than any others – except perhaps Raffi.

The Romulan fleet is only seven minutes away, so Picard launches La Sirena and shakily leads the ship into orbit, with Dr Jurati along for the ride. The action then cuts to Coppelius Station, where the rest of the crew are planning to attack the beacon.

Attacking the beacon makes sense in the story, but the way it was executed was so bad, and the plan was clearly designed to fail. They storm in and make a huge fuss, then Dr Soong uses another macguffin to deactivate Sutra, but because the other synths are still all-in on using the beacon and summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers”, the rest of the crew scramble around, punching and kicking before being wrestled to the ground. Dr Soong, having deactivated Sutra with his magic wand, doesn’t do anything. He stands motionless in the background while Rios makes a desperate throw to get the bomb into position, but Soji catches it and throws it away.

So many things wrong here, but the overall problem is this – the fight was clearly written in such a way that the “heroes” lose. And that was painfully obvious in the way it was carried out on screen. But let’s break down some individual failings. Why did Dr Soong not show the assembled synths the video of Sutra killing Saga? That single piece of evidence would have swayed most of them to his side. Why did he not use his magic wand on Soji after disabling Sutra? Why did the crew launch a full-frontal attack against a force of massively superior synths instead of sneaking around or causing a distraction? Why try to fight the synths at all? And finally, probably my biggest complaint about the synth storyline in the finale as a whole: what was the point of Sutra?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that we should’ve seen more of Sutra this episode. The awful makeup and hammy performance meant I wanted to see as little of her as possible – in that sense I got my wish – but for an antagonist who’d played such a large role last week, and who did have, as I pointed out, a motive that was at least partly understandable, she was just completely sidelined by a story that raced through far too many points and left her completely undeveloped. Sutra had the potential to be interesting, at least in theory. Her presence turned the synths from damsels in distress needing to be saved to antagonists needing to be dissuaded or defeated, and that concept, if executed better, could have been interesting. Unfortunately, as I’ve already said, it would’ve needed several more episodes to work effectively – and a better performance from the central synth villain.

Given that Star Trek: Picard has been at least as much Soji’s story as Picard’s, I feel it would have been better on the whole to ditch Sutra and simply have Soji and Dr Soong be the principle drivers behind contacting the “Mass Effect Reapers”. It would have cut an extraneous character, allowed more time for some of the others to be explored, and we wouldn’t have had to sit through that awful performance last week. Soji did need someone to guide her turnaround last week, to allow her to convincingly side with the synths. But I don’t think that needed to be Sutra, and with a few tweaks here and there the story could’ve arrived at the same place without her – and it would have been better for it, especially considering she did nothing whatsoever this week.

Soji working on the beacon.

The next scene with Dr Jurati and Picard was hit-and-miss for me. The jumps in tone from deadly serious suicide mission to cracking dumb jokes just didn’t work, and while Dr Jurati has occasionally provided moments of comic relief throughout the season, this was not the moment for humour and it just ended up detracting from what could’ve been a much more powerful scene. I did like, however, that La Sirena was not flying smoothly in the exterior shots we saw, indicating that Picard is still getting back into the swing of things. We have seen him pilot spacecraft before – shuttlecraft most often, but also the Enterprise-D itself in the episode Booby Trap from the third season of The Next Generation – so we know he’s at least basically capable and should understand the principles involved.

Seven of Nine and Rizzo fight aboard the Artifact as Rizzo has tried to bring the Cube’s weapons online. She’s targeting La Sirena, which does raise the stakes somewhat, and the fight itself was decently exciting. There was never any real doubt as to who the victor would be, however, and Rizzo finally gets her comeuppance for killing Hugh as Seven of Nine sends her falling to her death with a well-placed kick. The two traded barbs during the fight, and we really saw Rizzo in a way that I talked about a couple of weeks ago: as a racist. That aspect of the Zhat Vash and Romulans – that their actions are a veiled analogy for hating another group of people because they’re different – is something the show found a balance between hinting at and overplaying, and I think, taken as a whole, the balance was probably about right.

The visual effects and CGI in the episode were great, as we’ve already discussed, and the sight of the orchid ships launching to meet the Romulans, and overtaking La Sirena, was visually impressive. I still feel that the way the orchids operated last week was pretty dumb, but this time they don’t seem to be dragging intact ships to the planet’s surface; what exactly they’re doing in the fight other than getting shot at and serving as a huge distraction isn’t really clear.

The magical macguffin is back; Rios and Raffi apparently left it aboard La Sirena. Dr Jurati figures out that it can be used to produce holographic duplicates of the ship, which they can use to distract the Romulan fleet. Again, I really didn’t like this tool, and the fact that it seems to be magical and can be used for anything one’s heart desires was not great, even by the standards of Star Trek technobabble. While in principle what Dr Jurati hoped to do was a good idea, and I did like the name-check of the Picard manouvre from The Next Generation, the macguffin spoilt it really. And I felt that the moment where it created holo-duplicates of Dr Jurati’s face was a rare miss in the episode’s visuals.

However, Picard’s conversation with Soji, in which he explains that he’s basically laying down his own life to defend the synths was incredible and very powerful – the first of those emotional hits I mentioned at the beginning of the review. There’s something about a noble last stand that always gets to me, and this was a great example of it! It was an absolute desperation play, as Picard hopes against hope that Starfleet will arrive in time. If Starfleet didn’t get there, the “Mass Effect Reapers” would be the synths’ only hope of survival.

Picard speaks to Soji and asks her to reconsider.

The shot of La Sirena standing alone against the Romulan fleet was incredibly powerful too – part of that last stand feeling that I mentioned. The next part of the story has hits and misses, though. And I know this is kind of a nitpick, but what were the other synths and Dr Soong doing while Soji was activating the beacon? Did no one try to stop her or at least question what she was doing – especially given that they all heard what Picard had to say – nor try to contact the Romulans and reason with them? Several of the next few scenes played out as if Soji were the only one there, yet there were a dozen or more synths plus all of the other main characters.

Soji succeeds in activating the beacon just as the Romulans finish dealing with Picard and Dr Jurati’s last stand. The timely arrival of Starfleet – led, as the opening credits made clear, by Riker – prevented them from attacking the planet, and the two fleets enter a tense standoff. It was great to see Riker back in uniform again, and the last-minute arrival of the fleet saved Picard as well as the synths. However, as with the Romulan fleet earlier, all of the ships were the same type and I do feel that the copy-and-paste look detracted somewhat from the otherwise-impressive sight of so many Starfleet vessels – which, I believe, are based on a design from the Star Trek Online video game (but I could be mistaken in that). Until we’d seen his name in the credits, I wasn’t sure if we’d see Riker back in action this season. I was pleased that we did, and it definitely felt good to see Starfleet as the good guys again, after Picard had been forced to work around their obstinance for the majority of the season.

Captain Riker, back in uniform.

Though this moment had been telegraphed ahead of time and sadly was robbed of some of its impact as a result, the musical score as the ships emerged from warp, coupled with Riker’s appearance a few moments later, did still feel good – just not as good as if it had been a genuine surprise.

We got to see a better look at the command variant of the new Starfleet uniforms – which still have that Starfleet logo pattern in the coloured section – and again, as I said at the start of the season I do like the new uniforms. Especially compared to Star Trek: Discovery’s all-blue look I think they look great, and the combadges complement the look nicely.

Commodore Oh, throughout her appearances this season, hasn’t seemed like someone who would listen to reason. The Zhat Vash have been presented as the most committed of all Romulans to the anti-synthetic cause; both she and the organisation are zealots. And zealots seldom back down, even when facing significant opposition. Picard uses what is basically his dying breath to talk Soji down from summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers”, who hadn’t yet emerged through the aperture created by the beacon. This speech was really the climax of the episode, and the emotional hit of the words Picard spoke, combined with knowing he was suffering greatly as he spoke them, matched the high points other episodes of the season hit. It was the kind of speech Picard could’ve given at any time in The Next Generation as he focused on the rights of all life to exist, and for the need to demonstrate that the synths aren’t what the Zhat Vash feared them to be.

Commodore Oh decides to withdraw.

It was enough to sway Soji, who closes the aperture before the “Mass Effect Reapers” could come through or even send a message. Their mechanical tentacles did look menacing, but that’s all we go to see of them. Faced with Soji having stood down and Riker staring her down with a large fleet, Commodore Oh withdraws, and this is something which I feel was out of character. Are we supposed to believe Picard’s speech swayed her? Or simply seeing Soji stand down one time would be enough to override years of Zhat Vash indoctrination? Even if it was good enough for Oh, did everyone on the fleet agree? From her point of view, what is there to prevent the synths rebuilding the beacon in twenty years – or twenty minutes? While Picard’s climactic speech was beautiful, Commodore Oh’s decision to withdraw, like so many other points in the finale, felt rushed. And no sooner had he arrived than Riker, too, was gone – warping out of the system accompanying Oh’s fleet. Couldn’t they have left a ship or two behind? Considering what came next, Riker’s presence would have been incredibly emotional.

Picard bids Riker a solemn “adieu”, before succumbing to the effects of his condition – perhaps combined with whatever medication he was given earlier by Dr Jurati.

Picard’s death – or rather, his “death” – in this moment was the emotional climax of the story, after the plot had reached its own zenith a moment earlier. And it was a very powerful sequence. Soji transports Picard and Dr Jurati to the synths’ location, and Picard dies, surrounded by his crew and knowing that he did right by Soji and her people. His final act was one of sacrifice – making a last stand to defend the synths, righting a wrong from fourteen years ago where he had been unable to prevent the ban or aid the Romulans. The emotion on the faces of the characters – especially Raffi, as Michelle Hurd put in her best performance of the season – was heart-wrenching to witness. Surrounded by his friends, and with a few last words to (most) of them, he passes away, killed by the nameless condition that we assume to be Irumodic Syndrome.

Picard succumbs to his condition.

Of all the characters we’ve met across the season, Rios and Seven of Nine arguably had the least connection to Picard on a personal level. Aside from a few scenes when they first met, I can’t recall a significant moment with Rios and Picard together. While there’s always sadness when someone passes away, especially under such circumstances, putting Seven of Nine and Rios together wouldn’t have been my first choice in the immediate aftermath, simply because they didn’t have the connection that, say, Raffi or Soji had with Picard. Nevertheless, the scene between them was touching, and they both spoke highly of the fallen Admiral. I liked the idea of sharing a bad drink because it was all they had access to, and it emphasised that they’re both a long way from home and that this is, for the moment at least, the end of the journey.

The real heartbreaking scene was when Elnor broke down and was comforted by Raffi. Elnor, who had been so strong and powerful, was weak and vulnerable having regained and then lost his surrogate father figure, and Raffi, who was devastated too, trying to comfort him was just incredibly emotional. Both actors put in amazing performances here, and as sad as this scene was, I loved it.

Raffi and Elnor grieve for Picard.

When Picard awoke, for a moment I was half-expecting to see Q! That was never going to happen, of course – it would be a complete bolt from the blue for anyone who hadn’t seen The Next Generation, for one thing – but it would have bookended Picard’s story in the Star Trek franchise if this had been his final appearance and he was to stay dead, tying into themes from Encounter at Farpoint. Instead, Picard finds himself sat opposite Data. And I know there will be criticism of Data’s appearance given Brent Spiner’s age, but a combination of lighting, makeup, and what I assume are digital effects made him look decent here, and I didn’t find the way he looked offputting, especially when compared to the way the gold synths had looked last week.

At no point was I convinced that Picard would stay dead, but that in itself didn’t rob any of the scenes surrounding his death of any of their drama or emotion. As a story point, though, killing a character in such a dramatic and emotional way only to immediately revive them can end up feeling like a bit of an anticlimax, and there was an element of that here I’m afraid. Not in the moment, and not in Picard’s scene with Data in the digital afterlife, but certainly after his revival there was part of me left thinking “well, what was all that for?” In a sense, restoring Data’s mortality and finally providing him with the closest thing to humanity that he could get, Picard did have a reason to travel to the digital afterlife. No one could have known that Data was trapped in a kind of purgatory, nor that saving parts of his mind from the information transferred to B4 would mean that some essence or facet of his personality would be forever entombed in this realm. That action – saving Data and finally laying him to rest – gives Picard a reason for this temporary death, and as a story it was, overall, a success.

Data takes on the role of what I guess you’d say was a god or grim reaper figure from classical literature, explaining to Picard that he’s in the afterlife and that he died. This was another incredibly emotional scene, as Picard got to express twenty years’ worth of sadness and regret to his long-lost friend. Maybe I’m seeing what I want to see, but I seemed to get hints at Data’s study in the set design, notably the room he occupied in All Good Things, the finale of The Next Generation, in which he was still alive and working as a professor. In fact, while we’re talking about set design, I felt that this room was one of Star Trek: Picard’s best and most evocative. I’ve written before that the outdoor filming scenes, supposedly taking place in France, in Japan, and on several alien worlds, all looked suspiciously like California, and that has been a let-down at points. But the interior sets have been fantastic. I love the way La Sirena looks – inside and out, in that case! – and the Troi-Riker cabin was everything it needed to be. The Artifact is something I really haven’t written about as often as I should’ve, because the subtle updates to the Borg vessel have been fantastic. I loved the shifting walls that were present at times, and the way that, despite being claimed by Romulans and some area being declared “safe”, it was still definitely a Borg vessel. Bjayzl’s club on Freecloud was maybe a tad cliché, but it still did a great job feeling like a futuristic, alien club. The nunnery on Vashti was incredibly reminiscent of something from Japan, and I loved that style when it appeared in Absolute Candor. And finally, Coppelius Station and the Daystrom Institute both conveyed the look of being futuristic in a similar but not identical way to locations in previous iterations of Star Trek.

Data in the digital afterlife.

In this case, the room was clearly artificial, but in a way that conveyed a sense of limbo or purgatory. By the furniture and decor being greyed out, there was the sense that, like in a computer when a file or programme is inaccessible, things weren’t quite right. And the fact that the only colour came from the two figures of Picard and Data, our focus as the audience was drawn to them and all attention focused on them – in the same way as you might expect if seeing a very minimalist stage production.

Part of the criticism of Star Trek: Nemesis at the time it was released surrounded how Data’s death was handled in the story. Aside from the criticisms of the story beat itself, the main ones were that he didn’t really get a chance for any goodbyes, and that in a relatively short space of time, Picard and the crew were laughing and joking on the way to their next adventures. We saw earlier in the season – indeed, from the very beginning – that Data’s loss weighed heavily on Picard, and that his friends Riker and Troi remembered him fondly and held his legacy dear, but in this moment, the second criticism was addressed, as Data got to say goodbye properly. Partly this was to Picard, but partly it was to the audience – to us. In a way, this righted what some fans had considered an eighteen-year wrong.

The conversation they had about dying was interesting – and it did, in a way, capture that elusive sense of “Star Trek-ness” that Star Trek: Picard has been so keen to restore to the franchise in the aftermath of Discovery and the JJverse films. Both of those, despite what some have argued, had moments where they “felt like Star Trek”, but not every moment. For all my criticisms of the plot and various scenes in Star Trek: Picard’s finale, it did always feel like Star Trek – and this scene with Data, talking about life and death, was just one part of that, but it was a particularly powerful part.

Picard walks out of the room into a bright white light, and awakens in a new synthetic body, donated by Dr Soong. I wish we’d seen more of Dr Soong and learned why he built himself a synthetic body. There seemed to be hints last week that he was sick or possibly dying, but these were vague and underdeveloped – like many points in the finale – so we don’t really know the stakes or what kind of sacrifice Dr Soong may have made. Did he condemn himself to death by giving Picard the “golem”, or will he just build another one next week now he knows how to do the mind-transfer?

Picard is reborn in a new synthetic body.

Soji, Dr Soong, and Dr Jurati explain to Picard a number of caveats – his new body is the same as his old one, he won’t have any enhanced strength, speed, brainpower, or anything that would change him in any way. He’ll be identical to how he was, just without the terminal brain condition. And it was around here that the sense of “well what was the point of all that?” kicked in. The Data storyline was great, and I loved that Picard got to say goodbye, that we as the audience got to say goodbye to Data, and that Picard got to do his friend a final favour of letting him die properly. But for Picard’s own character, the death-and-rebirth story didn’t really do much of anything. He’s back to how he was before he died a few minutes later, and all of the emotion from his goodbye to Riker to the reaction of all of the characters was, in retrospect, at least slightly wasted.

We get a touching sequence as Picard fulfils his promise, unplugging Data and letting him finally die. Data prepares his room in the digital afterlife, and lies down to await the inevitable. Picard appears to him in his old uniform – whether Data was imagining him or dreaming isn’t clear, but it is clear that his final thoughts were of his friend. Getting a proper goodbye with Data wasn’t even something I knew that I wanted – but now that I’ve seen it, I can see how it was missing from Nemesis and that it really was something cathartic and beautiful to see. Picard’s speech, the music, the change in lighting in the digital afterlife, and finally Data fading away were all amazing to see, and it was another deeply emotional moment. Picard may have come back to life, but Data won’t – he can’t. This marks the final goodbye to a character we first met in 1987, and who we spent a lot of time with.

The crew reassembles aboard La Sirena – and they’ve had to find extra chairs for the bridge. Seven of Nine seems to have joined the crew, though whether that’s temporary isn’t clear at this stage. They set off to destinations unknown, and we learn that the ban on synthetic life has been overturned. The season ends with Picard giving the order to “engage!”, and La Sirena jumps to warp. The familiar Star Trek music sting kicked in at this moment, making the final scene of the episode another stirring and emotional moment.

The assembled crew of La Sirena – ready for Season 2!

Taken as a whole, the episode was certainly mixed. There were high points which equalled or even went beyond the heights reached by other episodes of the season – even Remembrance right at the beginning. And there were some beautiful, deeply emotional moments which still pack a punch on a third, fourth, and fifth viewing. But there were some mistakes and disappointments too, and too much undeveloped story that was left behind as La Sirena warps off to a new destination and – presumably – a new story in Season 2.

There are key points left hanging as of the end of the episode. The first is: what happened to Narek? He obviously wasn’t present aboard La Sirena at the end, but he’d been a major character who we’d spent a lot of time with and he just seems to have been abandoned by the story about halfway through the episode. It’s not clear if he returned to Romulus, remained in captivity with the synths, was handed over to Starfleet, or even if he joined La Sirena but just didn’t sit with the others on the bridge. I don’t expect to see him return for Season 2 at this point, but just ditching him with no goodbye and no end to his story was just a bit strange.

Obviously I’ve already mentioned the Bruce Maddox plot hole that was left unresolved, but that’s a major annoyance so it’s worth bringing up again. There’s also Dr Jurati – she did still murder someone, so why is she free to go with Picard? Was her conviction expunged? Is she a fugitive? Will this come back to haunt her in future? It would have been nice to see some resolution to that point – unless, of course, it’s something planned for next season, in which case I’m content to wait.

Next are the “Mass Effect Reapers”. The Zhat Vash were right, in a roundabout way. The relic on Aia does tell of a race of synthetic monsters from far beyond the stars. That race are out there – is Starfleet going to try to contact them and make peace? Will the synths from Coppelius contact them and tell them not to hurt anyone? Are the “Mass Effect Reapers” content to just go back to waiting for someone else to contact them, or are they now aware of Starfleet, the Romulans, and the Milky Way galaxy’s various species? What steps will everyone have to take in case they return? What’s to stop another synthetic race from contacting them, or even the Coppelius synths changing their minds and asking for their help after all? Building a beacon didn’t look too hard or time-consuming. And what of the relic on Aia? Is it still active? Will it be shut down? Are the Zhat Vash still hell-bent on killing other synths, even if they leave Coppelius alone?

The “Mass Effect Reapers” are still out there.

Finally, we have Dr Soong and the synths. They’re under Federation protection now, but what will happen to them? Will they stay on Coppelius? Will they continue to make more copies of themselves? Without Data’s neurons, can they make more synths? And without Dr Maddox and Dr Jurati, can Dr Soong continue to work? What’s to stop the Romulans coming back next week and nuking their settlement from orbit? Are they protected in any way? Will they have to leave Coppelius and settle somewhere safer? I didn’t expect every single one of these points to be addressed, but some hint and what’s to come next for the synths would’ve been nice given how they were such a large part of the finale and the story of the season overall.

If I had been tasked with salvaging the story of the finale, the first thing I’d have done would have been to get at least one more episode for the season – perhaps two. Then I’d have interspersed some of the storylines present on Coppelius with the other active stories much earlier in the season, allowing more time for the development of characters like Dr Soong, Sutra, and even Saga. Beginning with perhaps episode six or seven – roughly the halfway point of a twelve-episode extended season – I’d have introduced the audience to Coppelius and everyone resident there. I’d have done more to build up the stakes by exploring the “Mass Effect Reapers” in more detail, too. A name for the faction would have been good, but also a basic motivation as well as some indication of their level of technology. Finally, I’d have spent more time on the climactic stand-off between Commodore Oh’s fleet and Riker’s Starfleet armada, and tried to find a convincing way to end the Zhat Vash threat, like having other Romulans mutiny against Oh when the synths deactivated the beacon. I think that by spending some more time with some of the characters, and by introducing them earlier, the finale would have been more enjoyable. But there’s no salvaging that awful gold makeup. That would have to go!

I guess what I’d say about the two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego is this: it did provide a satisfactory conclusion to many parts of the story of Star Trek: Picard’s first season, but it left a lot on the table and it was rushed, poorly paced, and incomplete. When I think about the season as a whole, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 is by far the worst episode, and while Part 2 went some way to rectifying that, and did manage to pull out a passable end to the story, it wasn’t an especially great episode either, with some definite low points to counteract the emotional highs.

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 stumbled across the finish line, scraping together the bare bones of a conclusion, but leaving a lot of unanswered questions and at least one gaping plot hole. That doesn’t mean that Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 was a failure; it did manage to elicit some powerful feelings and bring together some of the dangling story threads. But I don’t think we can call it a rousing success either, and a story that started out incredibly strongly ten weeks ago has finished with a weaker and less enjoyable pair of episodes than I would’ve wanted.

All that being said, I’m satisfied with the season as a whole. My gripes about specific points in both parts of the finale don’t detract from what has been, overall, a wonderful story and a great return to the Star Trek universe as the 25th Century is about to begin. I hope that Star Trek: Picard can now serve as a jumping-off point for other Star Trek shows set in and around the same era, moving the franchise forward into the future – where it should always have been trying to go.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to my Star Trek: Picard theories for Season 1, as well as later in the year when I hope to do a retrospective look at the season. When some time has passed and the dust has settled, it should be a good to go back and take a second look. Rewatching earlier episodes while keeping in mind some of the story elements from the finale should be an interesting experience, and I will undoubtedly see more hints and foreshadowing that I missed when I first saw them.

Now that Star Trek: Picard has concluded, don’t think that the blog is going away! There will be lots more to come as I have numerous articles in the pipeline. I half-expected to see a release date for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 announced, but despite all the hype around Star Trek: Picard, ViacomCBS have chosen not to take advantage of this opportunity to plug Discovery. Even if the release date isn’t for a couple of months, putting it out there now would have been a great move. Regardless, whenever it airs, I hope you’ll come back to see me review and break down those episodes too.

See you next time!

All ten episodes of Star Trek: Picard’s first season are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

You can find my reviews for the rest of Star Trek: Picard Season 1 here: Episode 1: Remembrance, Episode 2: Maps and Legends, Episode 3: The End is the Beginning, Episode 4: Absolute Candor, Episode 5: Stardust City Rag, Episode 6: The Impossible Box, Episode 7: Nepenthe, Episode 8: Broken Pieces, Episode 9: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1.

Star Trek: The Next Generation re-watch – The Measure of a Man

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for The Measure of a Man from TNG Season 2.

When I was compiling two lists of episodes to watch prior to the release of Star Trek: Picard, I only included The Measure of a Man, from The Next Generation’s second season, as an afterthought in one of my “honourable mentions” sections. Despite having seen some androids briefly in one of the trailers, and even after having seen Mars come under attack in the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, I still wasn’t convinced this episode would be important. I wound up including it in my second list of episodes, but not because of androids or Bruce Maddox, but because of how it showed an aspect of Picard’s character – his staunch defence of the rights of different life-forms.

We now know, of course, that Maddox has a key role in Star Trek: Picard, though whether he’s actually going to appear in person or is merely a narrative force is unclear right now. And of course we’ve learnt a lot more about synthetics and the development and subsequent prohibition of synthetic life. Thus, at this point, The Measure of a Man warrants a re-watch and a closer re-examination.

Watching an episode so long after its original airdate, and after we’ve seen so much Star Trek content that was produced subsequently, it’s worth trying to stay objective and be aware of where the three characters we’ll be focusing on are at this point in the timeline. Obviously Maddox was a guest star, and aside from a reference in the fourth season, was never seen or heard about again until Picard premiered. But Data and Picard are arguably different than we might remember considering how early we are in The Next Generation’s run. This episode aired before Q Who introduced the Borg, before Picard was assimilated, and before Data had really developed a strong personality that extended beyond his original programming.

Data plays poker with his crewmates in the opening scene from The Measure of a Man.

The Next Generation operated differently to Discovery and Picard – it was much more of an ensemble show with each crewmember having their own stories and episodes, rather than focusing primarily on one character’s story. So Data and Picard, by this point in the show, still have significant parts of their backstories unexplored.

The episode opens, as many episodes of The Next Generation did, with Picard narrating his captain’s log. Nothing too exciting – the Enterprise-D is due to dock at a starbase, pick up and drop off some members of the crew, and switch out some science experiments that have presumably been running in the background. On board, we see Data, Riker, O’Brien, La Forge, and Dr Pulaski playing poker. Data seems confused by some of the “superstition” that the others apply to their playing – he can’t quite grasp the concept of “luck” in a game of chance. Again, it’s worth remembering how early we are in Data’s story! This might be the first game of poker he’s played, and just as he struggled with the others feeling lucky or unlucky, he was completely unprepared for bluffing – it’s such an illogical way of playing, after all.

In this moment, Data is still very much a machine, regarding the game as “simple”, based around mathematical probability and assuming that everyone will play logically. Having this sequence be the setup for an episode about taking him apart to find out what makes him tick is an interesting choice; we see Data at his most mechanical, but we also see in him an adaptability and a desire to learn and grow. The costuming choice to give Data a poker visor was also a great call – he’s approximating and mimicking human behaviour, but without fully understanding it.

Seeing Data easily outmanoeuvred by Riker – despite holding a better hand – emphasises how much he still has left to learn. Riker wasn’t betting on the strength of his cards, he was simply betting that Data would fold – Data thus missed a key element of playing poker. But he learns from this experience, much like a child would.

As an interesting aside, the next shot shows the Enterprise-D approaching Starbase 173. The model used for the Starbase was in fact a re-use of the Regula One station from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and is virtually unchanged in its appearance (except for, I believe, its scale in relation to the Enterprise-D). This model was itself a re-use from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. With CGI generally being so good nowadays, it’s almost hard to imagine a time when a single model would have to be re-used over and over again – and The Measure of a Man was not the last appearance of this model by any means.

Aboard the station, Picard is reunited with Phillippa Louvois, accompanied by a very romantic soundtrack. He seems very surprised to see her, and she is clearly an old flame of his – someone who he didn’t part with on good terms judging by their conversation! But the passage of time can be a great healer, and where other people may have held a grudge, Picard is amused, and maybe even happy to see her again. The credits roll, and then we’re back with Picard and Louvois, sitting down to have a longer conversation.

Louvois holds the rank of captain – putting her on equal footing with Picard – and her uniform matches his. She’s not the first woman captain featured in The Next Generation – there was at least one other in Season 1 – but she gets a significant amount of screen time here. She explains that she’s the JAG (judge advocate general – i.e. a military judge, or in this case a Starfleet judge) for this sector, and the way she talks about it makes it seem like a remote part of the Federation, far from any other Starbases. It’s the frontier!

The Enterprise-D at Starbase 173.

We find out about Louvois’ history with Picard – she was the officer responsible for his court-martial after his previous command was lost. We’ve seen the Stargazer before in The Next Generation, in the episode The Battle, and we also know that Dr Crusher’s husband was serving on the Stargazer under Picard’s command when he was killed. Louvois says that a court-martial is “standard procedure” when a ship is lost, but Picard accuses her of being overly aggressive in her prosecution of him – and says that’s why she left Starfleet for a time. There’s a very complicated history here. Louvois calls Picard out on his arrogance – which to be fair, he actually was in this scene. But the chemistry and sexual tension between them is noticeable – there’s much more to their relationship than something professional or friendly.

After the awkwardness of seeing Picard called a “damn sexy man”, an Admiral approaches and Louvois excuses herself – but not before taking the opportunity to try to embarrass Picard in front of their superior. The Admiral introduces Commander Bruce Maddox, but they don’t immediately discuss Maddox’s proposal as the Admiral wants a tour of the Enterprise while it’s visiting his new Starbase. Maddox joins the Admiral on the tour, and they visit the Enterprise’s bridge. There is some discussion of the Starbase’s location being near the Neutral Zone, but the focus is clearly on Maddox, cutting to a close-up of him staring at Data.

Maddox interrupts the small-talk about the Romulans and the legacy of past starships Enterprise, clearly impatient. The Admiral tells Picard that Maddox is here “to work on your android”, then promptly leaves the bridge. Data, Picard, and Maddox have a conversation set to a backdrop of very tense music. Clearly all is not well. Maddox, it turns out, opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet Academy some years prior, claiming Data was not a sentient being and was thus not eligible. Picard asks what Maddox plans to do and he replies calmly that he is “going to disassemble Data.”

The way Maddox has been set up thus far is of someone who is impatient and impersonal – arguably lacking in empathy. He refers to Data as “it”, a term one might use for an inanimate object. Data is, anatomically speaking, male. In the second episode of The Next Generation’s first season, The Naked Now, Data sleeps with Tasha Yar and though we don’t see it on screen it’s confirmed that he is, for all intents and purposes, male. So Maddox dehumanising Data in this way, while subtle, shows us the kind of person he is.

Maddox explains his reasoning in the next scene – seeing Data when he first applied to the Academy sparked a desire in Maddox to learn more about the work of Dr Soong, Data’s creator. His intention is to dismantle Data, learning how he functions, in order to recreate him and produce copies. Maddox believes himself to be close to a breakthrough, and Data is intrigued at the prospect, in part no doubt because he’s been essentially alone as the only one of his kind. Riker, on the other hand, seems much more concerned. Data asks Maddox a technobabble-laden question, and when Maddox replies that he hasn’t been able to get the basics of a positronic brain working, Data’s tone changes from interest to concern – and after a couple more questions from both Riker and Picard, Data pipes up and says that Maddox’s research is inadequate. Picard says he will not allow Data to undergo the procedure, but Maddox has a trump card – Data is to be reassigned under his command.

Maddox makes his case to Picard – as well as to Riker and Data – in the briefing room of the Enterprise-D.

In the next scene, Data arrives in Picard’s ready room and the two have a conversation about what to do regarding Maddox. Data says he will not undergo the procedure, but Picard is playing devil’s advocate – wondering aloud whether there is merit to Maddox’s idea. Data uses the example of La Forge’s visor, and claims that his status as a non-human is why Picard would even consider letting Maddox experiment on him. Picard dismisses him but is clearly troubled by the implications. He gets to work reading Starfleet case law regarding officer transfers.

After what must be some time, Picard visits Louvois in her office aboard the Starbase, and is clearly very angry about Data’s forced transfer. The usual calmness we associate with Picard is gone, replaced by a firey demeanour borne perhaps from a combination of frustration at the legalese he’s been trying to wade through and his previous conversation with Data. After all, Data did essentially say that Picard and Maddox are being racist (or species-ist) in their treatment of him. Louvois gives Picard a “nuclear option” for getting Data out of the procedure – his resignation. There’s no other way to stop the transfer, and as Picard doesn’t trust Maddox, this seems to be the only way. Again the complicated past between Picard and Louvois complicates their conversation, but the advice she gives him is sound. And as she’s the senior officer in the sector for legal matters, that should be it.

Back aboard the Enterprise-D, Data is packing his belongings, and pauses briefly over a hologram of Tasha Yar. Maddox enters the room while Data has his back turned, and picks up a book that Data had been reading. Barging in without ringing the door chime is another way Maddox demonstrates to the audience that he doesn’t regard Data as warranting the same rights or respect as a human or other life-form. He tries to reassure Data that his knowledge and memories will remain intact despite the procedure, but Data retorts that the facts may remain, but the feelings associated with them will be lost. He then uses the example of the poker game from earlier in the episode – that the moment-to-moment reality, the essence of his experiences, is not just a case of data and facts. Maddox, Data claims, does not have the necessary expertise to preserve Data’s memories and personality.

It’s at this moment that Data explains that he has resigned. Maddox becomes angry and tells him that one way or another he will serve under his command – and undergo the procedure. It’s clear that Maddox’s attempts at gentle persuasion were all for show; this is how he really feels. Believing Data to be a “thing”, an object not a person, he pays lip service to Data’s feelings while not understanding them or even recognising their existence. In the next scene, Picard and Maddox are in Louvois’ office, where Maddox has started a legal process to prevent Data leaving Starfleet, saying that as a non-sentient being he cannot resign of his own volition.

Maddox presents the argument that if he’s successful, every Federation starship could have its own Data on board, allowing for much greater exploration and potentially even saving lives. He’s “sick of hearing about rights” – a shocking statement in and of itself – and selfishly makes the point that this is his life’s work, and he doesn’t want it to be ruined by what he sees as the ignorance of Picard and Louvois. Data, in Maddox’s view, is “just” a machine, and because of that does not have the right to either refuse to undergo the procedure or to resign.

While Picard listens in, Maddox makes his case to Capt. Louvois.

Picard has a great line here: “Starfleet is not an organisation that ignores its own regulations when they become inconvenient.” In Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, this is essentially his own reasoning for leaving Starfleet. He felt that they had an obligation to help the Romulans and failed to do so – ignoring their own regulations, and a promise made, because it had become difficult in the aftermath of the attack on Mars.

Maddox manages to convince Louvois that there may be law to support the notion that Data – like the Enterprise’s computer – is not a “person” in the legal sense, but is merely the property of Starfleet. Picard urges her to use the same passion she showed at his court-martial. Though Maddox and Picard don’t interact much here, as they mostly direct their remarks to Louvois, it’s clear that they have very quickly developed a loathing for one another. Picard feels Maddox is essentially ignoring Data’s rights as a sentient being, and Maddox believes that Picard doesn’t understand the issue and is unfairly getting in the way of his work.

Back aboard the Enterprise, Data is attending a farewell party. Riker, Troi, Worf, Pulaski, and Wesley are all present in Ten-Foward, and Data receives several gifts from his friends, but La Forge is sat alone, away from the group. He’s feeling very down about the whole situation. In this moment, we see Data at his most human – La Forge is arguably his best friend among the crew, and when he says he will miss him, he really means it.

Louvois summons Riker and Picard to tell them that, according to her research and legal precedent from 300 years ago, Data is legally the property of Starfleet and not a person. Picard challenges her ruling, but the fact that the Starbase is new and she has no one working with her threatens to cause a problem. The solution is that Picard and Riker will take on the role of advocates – Picard arguing for Data and Riker against him.

This is the point in the episode which is the most questionable, I feel, as a point of plot. Riker is chosen to prosecute Maddox’s case as a senior officer, but Maddox himself is of equal rank to Riker and would be a better candidate – especially as Riker states very clearly that he can’t advocate a position he fundamentally disagrees with. I’m no expert on the law, let alone on military law, but surely there must be someone else who could have taken on the position. Or, if not, it should have been possible to send for lawyers from elsewhere – Maddox’s experiment is not time-sensitive and could have waited for the case being resolved. As it is, however, Riker and Picard agree to proceed with the case.

La Forge wishes Data good luck at his going-away party aboard the Enterprise-D.

As the scene ends, I think we see the real genius of setting up Louvois as having history with Picard. If he’d been facing off against a random, faceless judge or JAG, we would know the stakes but we’d be confident in his abilities and ultimate victory in the case. But knowing Louvois is a “hardball”, someone who prosecuted Picard aggressively in the past regarding his conduct on the Stargazer, it raises the stakes and there’s a real sense in this moment that Picard and Data could lose. Because we’ve always seen Picard to be a rule-following officer, an exemplar of Starfleet’s code of conduct, and an all-round upstanding captain and diplomat, knowing that Louvois went after him in the past makes her seem all the more aggressive in her handling of the law. We get the sense that things could end badly, that the one factor Picard has no control over in the case – the judge – is someone who will work hard against him and Data. This information, conveyed only in a few brief lines of dialogue in their earlier two encounters in the episode, has set the stage and told us all we need to know.

Data again visits Picard in his ready room, and Picard explains the ruling and the challenge he’s making to it. He offers Data the opportunity to select another officer to provide his defence, but Data declines – an important moment given the earlier conversation they had in the same room. We then see Riker studying the law in preparation for the case, feeling pretty rotten about what he has to do. He looks up Data’s technical schematics, smiling to himself as he thinks he’s found something – then his mood and the background music turn sour as he realises the implications. Riker doesn’t want, after all, to win the case. And getting caught up in it for a moment and allowing himself to feel excitement at a breakthrough ends up making him feel worse about the task.

At the hearing, Riker calls Data to take the stand. Could Data have refused, as he’s essentially being compelled to serve as both evidence and a witness for his own prosecution? I think that’s a matter of law again! And if he did refuse to take the stand, would there have had to have been another case to answer the question of whether he has the right to refuse to testify? Regardless, Data takes the stand and his commendations and decorations from Starfleet are listed by the Starbase computer (notably not the usual computer voice). Riker asks the simple question “what are you?” to which Data responds that he is an android. Riker pushes him for the definition of the word, which includes a sentence that androids “resemble” humans, but are obviously not, in fact, human. He then pushes Data on his creator, making the point that Data was artificially made.

None of this, really, seems relevant to the hearing. Data’s nature is known to all parties and his defence does not depend on proving himself to be anything other than an android. But for dramatic effect it’s important, as essentially the fact that Data was man-made is the entirety of the prosecution’s case against him. Interestingly, and completely unrelated to the events of the episode, Data states that his total memory capacity is “800 quadrillion bits”. If a 24th Century “bit” is assumed to be the same as today’s computer bits, that would put his memory at 800 petabits, or 100 petabytes as there are eight bits to one byte. While this is a lot of memory, it’s not as huge as it may sound even by today’s standards. It’s roughly an order of magnitude less than the most up-to-date estimates of the size of the data stored on the internet, for example. And that’s something which is growing all the time. It is, however, much greater than the capacity of a human brain or memory – though the comparison is an inexact one as we don’t store and process memories and information in the same form. But there are computers and servers in the world today which can store as much or more information that Data can – something which would obviously have been hard to conceive when The Measure of a Man aired in 1989, before the invention of what we know of as the internet today.

Riker looks up Data’s schematics in preparation for the hearing.

As Riker continues with his demonstrations, Maddox is seen smiling to himself – he seems to think the two of them have the case sewn up. Data is forced to bend a steel rod to demonstrate his physical prowess to the hearing, and Riker then removes his forearm and hand – apologising to Data as he does so. Riker then tries to explain that Data was made “to serve human needs”; that is his sole purpose. Of course, having already seen Data with his “brother” in the first season episode Datalore, we know this isn’t really true. Lore was a companion to the colonists on Omicron Theta, and Data was designed to be so too. Riker has also fallen into the habit of referring to Data as “it” in this moment, and as he continues his speech about Data he walks behind him – hitting a hidden “off switch”, which we’d previously seen Data show to Dr Crusher and others in the aforementioned episode Datalore.

Picard and Louvois are both shocked by this, and Riker sits back down. He clearly thinks that this is a case-winning move, and the look of shame and self-loathing on his face confirms that. Maddox smiles, smugly. Picard requests a recess and tells Guinan, back on board the Enterprise, that Riker’s words in the hearing “almost” convinced him of Data’s status.

Guinan’s response, that if Data is ruled to be merely property, it could pave the way for “whole generations of disposable people” warrants a closer look. And we have to step back and consider The Measure of a Man and its place in our own history. In 1989, we’re 25 years out from the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act which put an end to legal segregation in parts of the United States. In living memory for a significant portion of the audience was segregation – itself a hangover from the days of slavery. And this line, delivered in a very calm manner by a black woman, absolutely references slavery without her ever using the term by name. The implication for Picard is clear – if he loses the case, and androids are ruled to be property and not people, it’s the first step to the creation of a slave underclass in the Federation.

This moment changes the way Picard approaches the case. The word “property”, he believes, is merely a euphemism for slavery. And he returns to work with a renewed sense of purpose. Again, given his state of mind in the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard, I’d direct anyone who says that Picard “would never get depressed” to look to this moment and others from The Next Generation to see how he can become defeatist and sit in self-pity. It took Guinan here to give him the kick he needed, just as it took Dahj to snap him out of how he’d been feeling in Remembrance.

During a recess in the hearing, Picard is counselled by Guinan.

Back at the hearing, Picard says that humans are simply “machines of a different type” to Data, and his mechanical status is not relevant to the case. Picard asks Data to return to the stand, and presents him with the bag he packed earlier in the episode – demonstrating that Data has a semi-emotional attachment to things like his medals and a book gifted to him from Picard. The final item from Data’s bag is the hologram of Tasha Yar, and after some gentle prompting from Picard, Data discloses he and Yar had been intimate – to the surprise of Louvois and Maddox.

Maddox then takes the stand, and Picard runs him through three tests for sentience. This is also, by the way, the first time the Daystrom Institute is named on screen. Maddox lists three criteria for sentience – intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Picard proceeds to quiz him on why these apply to him – a human – and not to Data. Maddox is forced to concede that Data is intelligent and that he’s self-aware, as Data’s intelligence was never in question and he’s clearly aware of his place in the hearing and the potential consequences it could bring.

Maddox then talks briefly about his plans to disassemble Data – to rebuild him and thousands more like him. Picard challenges that by doing so, he will be creating a race of beings – a race that meet two of Maddox’s own criteria for sentience. If there’s even a chance that Data could meet the third, would the Federation have created a race of slaves? This is where we see Picard at the most passionate he gets, not just in the context of this episode but in almost all of his appearances in Star Trek to date. Aside from the emotional reaction he has to the Borg in First Contact, I can’t remember seeing him more energetic and involved. He cares for Data’s rights, but his conversation with Guinan shifted his whole perspective on the case, and now he has an even greater passion and reason to win. He admits to the court that he doesn’t know whether Data has consciousness, nor what that would mean if a race of Datas were created from Maddox’s work. But the implication he makes, as Guinan did earlier, is clear – they’re on a cliff-edge, with slavery at the bottom.

Picard also turns on its head the Starfleet mantra – “to seek out new life”. “There it sits,” he says as he gestures to Data. As he concludes his speech we see Riker smile for the first time since the hearing began. He’s never seen Picard so animated, and he clearly thinks the argument is a case-winner. And in short order he’s proven right. Louvois says she must allow Data the freedom to explore his life and consciousness for himself, and without explicitly ruling on his “personhood”, she rules that he is not the property of Starfleet and that he has the right to choose.

Bruce Maddox takes the stand.

Maddox and Data have a moment of semi-reconciliation at the end of the hearing, as Maddox cancels the order to have Data transferred, and Data tells him to keep working and suggests that he may be able to agree to the procedure in future when more work has been undertaken. Maddox, disappointed by the ruling no doubt, appears to have had his opinion and perspective on Data shifted at least slightly by Picard’s argument – emphasised by his use of the word “he” right at the end.

Picard invites Louvois to dinner – as they reconcile too. Back aboard the Enterprise, Riker has declined to attend a party in Data’s favour, feeling that he came too close to costing his friend his life. But Data reminds him that if he had refused to participate, the ruling would have been made against him, and the episode ends with the two of them heading to the party.

So, when considering Star Trek: Picard, what do we get from The Measure of a Man? Obviously we see Dr Maddox, some thirty-five years prior to the events of the new series. We see his attitude toward androids – he considers them to be tools, not people. But we also see his attitude shift right at the end, swayed by Picard’s argument and the time spent with Data over the course of the episode. Maddox, despite moments of smugness, isn’t a classic villain. Instead, the episode shows what is basically a difference of opinion. Maddox, having studied androids from a theoretical standpoint for years, but with no practical real-world experience in living and working with Data holds the opinion that Data cannot be sentient. But Picard, Riker, and others, despite not having the same technical background as Dr Maddox believe Data to be their friend despite his synthetic nature. The episode thus shows the difference between theory and practice – and why practice is usually better and more appropriate!

Maddox obviously continued his work, as Data encouraged him to do. In the episode Data’s Day from Season 4, he dictates a letter to Maddox, confirming this. However, by the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, which takes place around fifteen years later, Data is still believed to be the only extant android – Lore having been disassembled. The discovery of B4 – an earlier version of Data – in that film is thus presented as a big deal. However, as we now know from Short Treks and Star Trek: Picard that teams of androids – albeit rather basic ones from a personality point of view – were working on Mars only a few years after Nemesis, Maddox must have been quite far along in his work by that point. It’s also possible that the discovery and disassembly of B4 provided Maddox with some of the missing pieces of the puzzle that he’d hoped to gain by dismantling Data.

Watching The Measure of a Man divorced from all thought of Picard is difficult, especially as we’re partway through the first season of the new show. But taken as a standalone episode, it’s an interesting piece of drama, the kind Star Trek has always been good at. Without any battles, explosions, or really any action at all, the episode manages to be riveting, especially in the hearing scenes. And of course it’s a great example of Star Trek using its science fiction setting to talk about real-world issues. In this case the issue was slavery rather than artificial intelligence, but looking back on it knowing the way technology has changed since, it can absolutely be viewed through than lens too.

Maddox was, aside from his single reference a couple of years later, a one-off character who served a fairly one-dimensional purpose for most of the episode. Bringing him back in a big way for Picard is something I absolutely was not expecting, and whether we get to see him on screen or not, his influence is all over the show. The Measure of a Man is not required viewing for Picard. The new show is structured and written in such a way that the role Maddox takes in the story could be swapped out for any other name and the story would be identical. But it does provide interesting background and backstory.

The development of a “race” of androids was clearly successful in the years after Nemesis.

Having had Maddox’s name dropped multiple times across the first three episodes, I would be surprised to learn we aren’t going to see him at all. A single reference would’ve been a cute throwback to The Measure of a Man and Data’s Day; a wink to returning fans. But with him being set up as perhaps the creative force behind Soji and Dahj, and with tracking him down being the driving force for the current storyline, I think he practically has to appear – at least in some capacity, even if it’s just in recordings – before the end of the season.

The legal precedent laid down in this episode was clearly not applied throughout the Federation. In the Voyager episode Author, Author, not only does The Doctor – a sentient hologram – have to undergo a very similar legal hearing, but we learn that thousands of Emergency Medical Holograms are being used as labourers in mines and on vessels across the Federation. And of course, in Picard we see that Maddox had been somewhat successful in creating his “slave race” of android labourers. There are disturbing implications there, which I wonder if the show will touch on in later episodes.

I enjoyed going back to The Measure of a Man. I wouldn’t like to guess how many times I’ve seen it already; as with most of the rest of The Next Generation and its spin-offs I’ve watched and re-watched it on a number of occasions.

The fourth episode of Picard premieres tomorrow here in the UK – though if you’re in America you may have seen it already! I’m looking forward to seeing if Picard and his new crew stay on Maddox’s tail as they head to Freecloud.

The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard – are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The biggest “problems” with Remembrance… that aren’t problems at all!

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, as well as potential spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

I don’t read a lot of reviews. Maybe you could tell from the amateurish way that my own review of Remembrance (the premiere of Star Trek: Picard) was written! But I do check in with Star Trek on social media, and I sometimes watch a couple of folks on YouTube who discuss the franchise. In the aftermath of Remembrance last week, some people seem to be pulling at the threads of the story expecting it all to unravel.

There are a few points that I saw being raised multiple times, especially in comments on other sites and on social media. Makes me glad to not have comments enabled here, really! I thought I’d go through and take a look at a few of the complaints people had, because they’re all nonexistent as far as I’m concerned.

Remembrance was a stunningly good episode. Sir Patrick Stewart was outstanding as Picard, despite an eighteen-year absence from the role. And the three new actors who took starring roles – Harry Treadaway, Alison Pill, and Isa Briones – were on top form. I could nitpick a handful of very minor things (and I did), but that’s always the case with practically every work of fiction. And in case you missed it, Star Trek’s canon has always been a bit of a mess – just look at warp factors as one example.

So here’s a list of a few criticisms folks have thrown out regarding Remembrance – along with my own deconstructions and why I don’t think they’re relevant.

Please don’t take this as a personal attack – if you didn’t like Remembrance that’s okay. Even as Star Trek fans, we like different kinds of stories within the franchise – and that’s okay too. Entertainment is always going to be subjective, and we don’t all enjoy the same things. This isn’t meant to insult or attack anyone; if anything it’s a response to general points I’ve seen made, and it’s really just an excuse for me to get my own thoughts in order.

That said, if you can’t tolerate disagreement, now’s your chance to jump ship!

Number 1: Wasn’t it the “Hobus” star that went supernova?

The planet Romulus is destroyed in a supernova.

Short answer: no.

Longer answer: I spent a while going back and looking at 2009’s Star Trek to see where this word came from. Even I knew the word “Hobus”, and although I didn’t remember where I’d heard it spoken, it surely had to come from the 2009 reboot film, right?

Wrong – no one in that film uses the word “Hobus”. It was only ever mentioned in the Countdown comic book series that preceded the film. Since those comic books aren’t canon, it doesn’t count.

In the film itself, Spock simply says that “a star” went supernova, and that he raced to get there in time before it destroyed Romulus. For some people – probably some of the same people now getting upset about “Hobus” – this was always a bit of a plot hole in Star Trek, because supernovae can’t really destroy planets in nearby star systems, nor threaten “the galaxy”. At least that’s our current understanding of the phenomenon.

In 2009’s Star Trek, Spock never uses the name “Hobus”.

In that sense, changing the star that went supernova to be in Romulan system actually closes a plot hole rather than opens one.

And even if we’re so attached to the word “Hobus” that we can’t let that slide, it could simply be the Romulans’ name for their star, in the same way that we call our star the Sun or Sol. Thus it’s possible to have your cake and eat it: Hobus was the name of the star in the system containing Romulus, and it went supernova.

Number 2: How many Romulans are there?

A Romulan crew seen in Balance of Terror from The Original Series. The exact Romulan population – and even a guesstimate – is unknown.

Some people seem to be confused by the “900 million” number given by the FNN interviewer when discussing Picard’s evacuation of Romulus. I can kind of see why; it seems like a low number on the surface given that there were 50 million people just living on Earth’s moon in the 24th Century.

I tried looking for sources on the population of the Federation as a whole for some kind of guide. There’s nothing “official”, only non-canon sources like reference books which don’t really count. But there’s no reason to believe it would be a small number – tens or hundreds of billions people could easily be in the ballpark. So the population of the Romulan Star Empire, which controlled a large expanse of space, should be somewhere in the region of tens or hundreds of billions too, right?

Data and Picard went undercover on Romulus during the events of The Next Generation’s two-part episode Unification – and they saw a populated, but not overcrowded, city.

Well there are a couple of issues here. First is that we have absolutely no idea. We’ve only ever seen a handful of Romulans on screen all at once, and even their biggest fleets at the height of the Dominion War weren’t huge – so it’s conceivable that their population wasn’t as large as their territorial expansion would suggest. That could be for many reasons, like their empire containing a large number of uninhabitable worlds. Pure speculation, but it fits with established canon.

Secondly, and most importantly for this discussion, nobody said that Picard was evacuating the entire Romulan Star Empire – it was probably just Romulus and Remus and any bases or stations in that system. Add to that the fact that the Romulans have their own shipyards and their own fleet, meaning they could conduct a significant portion of any evacuation themselves. Starfleet wasn’t doing the entire thing while the Romulans sat on their hands – they would have been constantly evacuating as many people as possible while the fleet was being built. The 900 million figure is what Picard was able to contribute – and based on what he said about arguing with Starfleet Command, I bet he wanted to have more capacity on that fleet.

Thirdly, 900 million people could easily have been the population of the Romulus system – with billions of other Romulans spread throughout their Empire.

A combination of factors is actually the most likely – the Romulans were evacuating as many people as they could, but they needed extra support. The Federation, under Picard’s command, could get 900 million Romulans out of danger, which was a contribution to the effort but not the entire thing by any means. 900 million may have been the leftover population of Romulus by the time the fleet was being built.

See? It doesn’t have to be a problem at all.

Number 3: Too much politics!!!

If someone told me they’re upset by the intrusion of politics and political themes in Remembrance, I’d ask them one question: “have you ever seen Star Trek before?” Since its 1960s origins, Star Trek has used its science fiction setting to highlight real-world political issues.

In The Hands Of The Prophets from the first season of Deep Space Nine was a deeply political episode tackling the issue of religion in schools – a clear metaphor for the teaching of creationism and evolution.

If someone first watched the show while very young these things would go over their head, which is perfectly understandable. And if they watched it two decades or more after its initial airdate, many of the issues raised wouldn’t be obvious because they’re no longer current affairs. They were important socio-political issues at the time, but may no longer be something we’d even think about. So it’s easy to miss if someone didn’t watch each series when they were originally broadcast.

Let’s look at a handful of examples of where the Star Trek franchise has brought in potentially controversial political themes:

The Doomsday Machine (TOS, 1967) This episode featured Kirk and Spock discussing nuclear weapons and how good it was that they were never used, as well as looking at the concepts of superweapons and mutually assured destruction – both massive topics during the Cold War.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (TOS, 1969) This episode looked at racism and the consequences of holding on to hate for a long time. It was an attack on racist attitudes held by some in 1960s America.

Ethics (TNG, 1992) This episode dealt with the concept of ritual suicide in other cultures, disability and suicide, the concept of moral relativism, and the ethics of experimental medical procedures.

Relics (TNG, 1992) This episode looked at how we treat older people, and how people can make valuable contributions regardless of age.

Melora (DS9, 1993) This episode dealt with disability and how disabled people can be treated differently, looked down on because of their condition, and underestimated.

Jetrel (Voyager, 1995) This episode looked at the consequences of using chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction – and the toll it can take not only on the victims, but the perpetrators too.

Rejoined (DS9, 1995) This episode is famous for featuring one of the first female same-sex kisses on American television. It touched on homosexuality and LGBT+ issues.

Death Wish (Voyager, 1996) This episode dealt with the concepts of suicide and euthanasia, as well as whether a “right to die” exists or should exist.

Stigma (Enterprise, 2003) This episode looked at the stigma of living with a disease that only “undesirable” people would have contracted. It was an allegory for the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Damage (Enterprise, 2004) This episode tackled addiction, and the long-term effects it has on people.

The Original Series could be incredibly political. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, from Season 3, was intended to me a metaphor for race relations at the time.

So there’s a few episodes from all the iterations of Star Trek prior to Discovery that dealt with contemporary issues. There are literally hundreds of other examples, including smaller points in episodes about other topics. This could be a full article in itself, but anyone suggesting politics “has no place in Star Trek” hasn’t been paying attention.

As a final note on this, I didn’t really think that Remembrance got particularly political. The section of the interview regarding the evacuation of Romulus could be taken as allegorical for the modern-day migration crises facing Europe and the United States, and it could also be taken as a critique of isolationism as a broader concept. That’s really the only point that was “politically charged”, and even then it wasn’t the focus of the episode. That scene was there to provide some backstory.

The only other point where I think people have seen the episode through a political lens is the rooftop fight scene, where Dahj takes on the attackers while yelling at Picard to take cover. For some people with preexisting biases, perhaps they took this as “Strong Woman has to defend Old White Man” – she’s strong, he’s not, so it must be a feminist political point – or so goes their argument. But Picard is an old man, even by 24th Century standards – and more importantly he’s unarmed. Dahj, by contrast, is a newly-activated butt-kicking machine – probably literally a machine. Picard would have been useless in that fight, so she was the only one of the two characters who, in the context of the story, could have made a stand. It was just a fight scene – not a political attack on one group or another.

Sometimes we all need to deactivate our political lenses when watching something that’s designed to just be entertainment. If we turn every single thing into a political fight, there’ll be no room for entertainment or anything else.

Number 4: Technology is wrong – it’s not advanced enough!

So firstly, the episode took place entirely on Earth. As a result, we don’t get to see as much technology as we would if we were on board the Federation’s newest flagship. Secondly, Château Picard – the setting for much of the episode – is deliberately rustic. Picard’s family, if you recall from The Next Generation, were quite traditionalist. Picard was the first in his family to have left the solar system, and the way the house is built and decorated reflects the past deliberately. But even here at the Château, we see an updated LCARS display, a food replicator, holo-screens, and other trappings of the 24th Century.

An updated LCARS panel and a food replicator at Château Picard.

The transporter – as used by the attackers anyway – also seems to have been updated. Whereas the transporters of the TNG era took several seconds to fully materialise, in Remembrance the attackers appeared practically instantaneously – the transporting process now taking less than a second.

There’s also the archive. How exactly it works isn’t clear, but I’d speculate that the all of the items are held in some kind of transport buffer, able to be materialised at will. That’s a pretty impressive feat, and not something we’ve seen before, at least not on this scale.

We’re also looking at Earth a decade after the attack by rogue synthetics. The synths were living technology – and perhaps as a result of their actions, people are less enthusiastic about trying out new technology.

Sisko’s Creole Kitchen in New Orleans wasn’t a high-tech establishment – clearly a lot of people on Earth in the 24th Century appreciated that.

Finally, when we’ve seen Earth in other iterations of Star Trek, technology was never front and centre then either. Sisko’s restaurant in New Orleans is a good example – where was the technology there? We hardly saw any. It’s possible that the Federation likes to keep Earth looking as pristine as possible, at least in some regions, without too much tech everywhere. These could also be aesthetic choices by citizens of Earth to hide as much of their tech as possible. And of course, it’s also possible that, since the TNG era, miniaturisation has occurred, allowing formerly large devices – like the computer panels that took up a whole wall that we saw on starships at that time – to be much smaller.

Number 5: Picard is depressed.

Well, yes.

He lost a very close friend in Data, who sacrificed himself to save Picard. That isn’t something you can just snap your fingers and get over. It came only a few years after his brother and nephew died, too, with that loss (seen in Star Trek: Generations) affecting him greatly as it meant he was the last living member of his own family – and the end of his family line.

I’ve lost friends and family in my life, and I still think about them, I still visit their graves, and I’m still sad about them no longer being here even decades later.

Picard and Data, mere moments before Data’s death. The loss of his friend has clearly weighed heavily on Picard in the years since.

In addition to his personal loss, he went through a series of traumatic events. Firstly, the attack on Mars destroyed his fleet and killed over 90,000 people – many of whom he will have known. It’s even possible that Geordi La Forge was among those killed – he was working on Mars in the Star Trek: Picard Countdown comic book series (which is confusingly not the same Countdown as the 2009 series mentioned above), though whether this is fully canon or not is unclear. Next the Romulan supernova hit, and despite his best intentions it seems clear that he wasn’t able to save as many lives as he hoped. Finally, he’d been a Starfleet officer since he was very young – we’re talking six or seven decades of service, practically his entire adult life. And in an instant it was all over – he resigned in protest at Starfleet’s decision to pull out of helping the Romulans. No one stopped him – perhaps this is part of what he meant by his “offended dignity” remark.

We were warned a number of times that Picard might not be the same way we remember him, and in that sense it’s true. He’s missing a part of himself because of what he’s been through. But at the same time, the man we knew is right there under the surface. The way he speaks with passion and anger during his interview, defending the rights of Romulans and synthetics alike was absolutely pure Picard, and anyone who thinks otherwise must’ve skipped episodes like The Drumhead, The Measure Of A Man, Who Watches The Watchers, and countless others because the way he reacts in that moment is absolutely the way we would expect him to.

I felt the same way when I read so much criticism of Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi too, and the two characters and their situations are somewhat comparable. But anyone saying “my childhood hero would never ever become depressed!” clearly has no understanding of depression and mental health. They’ve almost certainly never experienced it in their own lives or within their own families or peer groups, because if they had – and they were capable of basic empathy – they’d know that depression can afflict anyone. Sometimes it’s a result of circumstances – in Picard’s case, the loss of his friends and his treatment by Starfleet. In Luke Skywalker’s case, it was one moment of weakness that had disastrous consequences. But sometimes depression comes out of nowhere and hits you like a ton of bricks. Anyone who’s lived a life will know that there are good moments and bad moments. If we’re lucky, the bad moments don’t last long. But for Picard, his bad moment clearly has.

Picard’s mental and/or emotional state has been a point of contention for some viewers.

This is a much broader point. Life happens – and the way a person is at age twenty isn’t the same way they’ll be at forty, and the way they are at forty will change again by the time they’re sixty or seventy. We haven’t seen Picard in two decades – in which time he’s been though some really difficult experiences. It’s no wonder he’s stepped back.

But the point of these kind of stories isn’t that he’s a depressed old man, it’s that something gave him a reason to get involved again. There’s a mystery to unravel, a long-lost friend’s family to find – and suddenly Picard has motivation and confidence again. It took the extraordinary events of Remembrance to remind him that he can still make a difference. And a similar story plays out in The Last Jedi – Luke eventually realises that he can’t just sit around and die, he has to take action because there’s a cause worth believing in.

This is a twist on a very classic adventure story setup. I mentioned this in my review, but Remembrance plays up some of the elements present in classics of the genre like The Hobbit – Picard is living a quiet, rural life, with no plans to leave his home or do anything significant. But his life is interrupted by someone new, who drags him into a mystery and sends him on an adventure. The added twist is that Picard used to be an adventurer of sorts, but he ended up depressed and back at home before someone reignited that spark within him and gave him something to investigate and a cause to get involved with.

It’s an incredibly positive message: anyone can fall victim to this kind of mindset, but there is hope. Under the right circumstances, someone who has lost their way and who has been feeling down for a long time can find a way out of it. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, even for someone who had arguably lost all hope and was “just waiting to die”.

So that’s it. A few criticisms of Remembrance that I’ve seen people throwing around. Some were glorified nitpicks, like the Romulan population or the supernova’s name, and others were more to do with the themes and concepts the story established. But in both cases I’ve provided my rebuttal just based on my own viewing of the episode.

As I said before, this isn’t meant to call out anyone or criticise anyone. It’s totally okay to dislike the episode, it’s totally okay to have a different opinion to me on all of these points. Entertainment is subjective, and we all have different opinions about an episode or film. Some of these are informed by our own experiences in life.

For me personally, I hadn’t considered any of the above points to be problematic while viewing Remembrance, and a couple of them caught me completely by surprise when I saw people were upset.

I had expected the biggest criticism to be along the lines of “this is completely different from The Next Generation“, and while I’m sure there are people who don’t like the concept of the series, I haven’t seen a great deal of criticism centred around that point thus far.

Friday can’t come soon enough for me, though! Roll on episode two – Maps and Legends.

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. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.