Paramount’s cack-handed marketing strikes again…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for unreleased Star Trek episodes, including casting information for Strange New Worlds Season 2 and Picard Season 3. Spoilers are also present for Picard Seasons 1-2.

Today has been First Contact Day – the 5th of April is the date in 2063 when the Vulcans will arrive on Earth, as depicted in the film First Contact. First Contact Day has become somewhat of an “event” in the Star Trek fan community, with an entire digital broadcast being dedicated to it last year. This year there was nothing quite so big on the schedule, but there were still teases and hints from Paramount Global that the corporation would do something to mark the occasion.

I’ve given up on hearing anything about an international broadcast for Strange New Worlds, so that never seemed like a realistic prospect – though it’s probably the biggest request from non-American Trekkies at the moment. But I admit that I was curious about the prospect of some kind of announcement. There are other Star Trek projects being worked on behind-the-scenes, after all… could we be set for an announcement of something like the Starfleet Academy series, perhaps?

No, as it turned out.

No news about a Starfleet Academy series today.

Instead, what we got was the second announcement in a row from Paramount Global’s marketing department that just feels exceptionally poorly-timed. A couple of weeks ago, Paramount Global had clumsily dropped the news that Strange New Worlds Season 2 would feature the character of James T. Kirk in an unspecified capacity; an unnecessary overreaction to a single leaked photograph from the show’s ongoing production.

That announcement sent fans into overdrive, and Star Trek’s social media channels were overwhelmed with toxicity for a few days, as the threadbare announcement left many things unclear about Strange New Worlds – a series which hasn’t even aired a single episode yet. Announcing Kirk’s return to Star Trek was premature to say the least, and the way in which Paramount Global handled it left much to be desired.

A promotional photo of James T. Kirk in Strange New Worlds Season 2.

The corporation had a solid couple of weeks to learn lessons from the fiasco surrounding Kirk’s role in Strange New Worlds… but, as evidenced by another announcement put out today, their inept marketing team has learned absolutely nothing. To commemorate First Contact Day, Paramount Global released a teaser for Star Trek: Picard Season 3, announcing the reunion of most of the main cast members of The Next Generation.

The teaser trailer was smooth and well-composed. Unlike the first tease for Season 2 (which was shown off at last year’s First Contact Day digital event) it showed off a couple of clips of what at least appears to be actual footage from the new season. And the announcement that closed it out was clearly designed to get a lot of fans excited. But here’s the thing: we’re only halfway through Picard Season 2 right now, so the new teaser for Season 3 not only feels wholly unnecessary at this moment, but it opens up a lot of questions about the series that Paramount Global isn’t interested in addressing.

Picard holding a familiar combadge in the teaser.

I confess that I’m intrigued by the prospect of a reunion. The Next Generation was my own “first contact” with the Star Trek franchise and my way into becoming a Trekkie in the early 1990s. I’ve been a fan for more than three decades off the back of that series, and I always felt that there was scope for Picard to show us at least a glimpse of what other members of the crew of the Enterprise-D were up to. We’ve had some of that already across Seasons 1 and 2.

But I was also keen that Picard shouldn’t try to be “The Next Generation Season 8.” There are new characters, new storylines, and other new elements in play, and for the series to do justice to all of that – and to do right by the new characters – it had to keep its focus there and avoid the gratuitous overuse of classic characters. Season 1 generally struck the right balance in that regard; Season 2 has already sidelined two major new characters and, thus far at least, has underdeveloped and regressed a third.

The main cast of Star Trek: Picard.

The Season 3 announcement made no mention of the current Star Trek: Picard cast. While we now know that Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and Marina Sirtis are joining the crew, we don’t know what that means for Evan Evagora, Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Isa Briones, or even Jeri Ryan. Part of the fun of Picard has been seeing the Admiral working with a new crew, and I feel like we don’t know some of the new characters as well as we ought to at what is now the halfway point of the series’ three-season run.

Those new characters should be given the chance to become the next generation of fan-favourites. In thirty-five years’ time, it’s my firm hope that a new group of Trekkies will be talking as excitedly about the return of Elnor and Dr Jurati as we are about Worf and Dr Crusher. In a series that already has a limited number of episodes remaining, it’s hard to see how there will be enough time to deal with some pretty heavy stories and make sure each of the new characters gets enough screen time, especially if the entire crew of the Enterprise-D is reuniting.

What will become of characters like Elnor in Season 3?

There’s also the issue of spoilers. Now I know that it always seemed like a reasonable assumption that Picard would survive and that, somehow, he and the crew would make it back to the prime timeline! But we’re literally halfway through Season 2’s story right now, and there are a lot of different directions it could go and different ways that it could pan out. To drop a massive Season 3 announcement at this time was categorically the wrong thing to do, and it risks blunting the dramatic edge of the rest of Season 2.

We now know that Picard will make it back to the 25th Century, for example, which wasn’t necessarily a given in a franchise that loves season-ending cliffhangers. We also know that Picard will successfully restore the prime timeline as of the beginning of Season 3, which again was not guaranteed as of where we are in terms of the story of Season 2. And finally, it now seems that we can safely assume that Season 3 will be the beginning of a new story, not the continuation of an ongoing one.

Jonathan Frakes as Captain Riker in the Season 3 teaser.

All of these things colour how we’ll watch the second half of Season 2 over the next five weeks. And I can’t help but feel that a significant chunk of the show’s tension and drama has been stolen by this ill-timed announcement. There will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way as Picard and the crew of La Sirena rumble with Q and Dr Adam Soong, but one way or another everything will work out – Picard will make it home, the crew of the Enterprise-D will reunite for one last mission, and then… who knows.

If this announcement had come at the end of Season 2, I’d still have some of the same concerns about the current Picard cast (well, unless they’re all killed off, stranded in the past, or otherwise clearly written out of the series) but at least it would feel like the right time to make it. The halfway point of Season 2 was not the right time for this announcement, just like the timing of the James T. Kirk announcement wasn’t right prior to Season 1 of Strange New Worlds.

The Next Generation main cast will be returning.

It seems to me that Paramount Global knew that they didn’t have anything major to announce at First Contact Day this time around. Discovery Season 5 hasn’t entered production yet, Strange New Worlds has already released teasers and trailers over the past few weeks, and while there was perhaps scope to do something with Lower Decks Season 3 or the second half of Prodigy, it was evidently decided by someone higher up that a major announcement was necessary. I don’t see any reason why that should be the case; First Contact Day this year could’ve been dedicated to the upcoming Strange New Worlds and the second half of Picard Season 2, but there we are.

Maybe I’m still sour off the back of the Strange New Worlds situation, but I’m not as excited by this announcement as I feel I should be. The timing of it just seems incredibly wrong, hot on the heels of another self-inflicted wound with the Kirk debacle. And it opens some uncomfortable questions about the fates of the current main cast members of Picard.

All things considered, I wish that Paramount Global could’ve at least waited until the end of Picard Season 2 before making this announcement. Doing so now doesn’t seem right, for the reasons outlined above. While I’m intrigued by what has been teased, right now I can muster curious interest, tinged with more than a little concern, rather than the outright excitement that this announcement was trying to generate.

Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard, Strange New Worlds, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – thoughts on the Season 2 teaser

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Nemesis, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek’s First Contact Day event took place earlier this week, and in addition to some fun panels with members of the cast and behind-the-scenes teams we got three teaser trailers for upcoming Star Trek shows. I’ve already taken a look at elements from the Discovery Season 4 teaser and the Picard Season 2 teaser, so this time it’s Lower Decks’ turn to go under the microscope! And a microscope seems appropriate considering series creator Mike McMahan called this teaser a “microscopic look” at the upcoming season!

If you missed my write-up of the First Contact Day event, by the way, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Lower Decks is not really a show that lends itself to a great deal of theory-crafting. Its episodic format and somewhat random nature mean speculating about specific storylines feels futile! Despite that, however, there are a couple of big questions raised by the teaser, and I’ll do my best to look at them in turn.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, and Mariner in the teaser.

First up, the bridge crew. Aside from Commander Ransom (who appeared to be possessed!) the rest of the bridge crew were absent from the teaser. What could that indicate? After Shaxs was killed off at the end of Season 1, it feels as though the main characters are not as “safe” as we might expect, so perhaps another member of the senior staff won’t survive the season? That could be one explanation! Alternatively, the bridge crew could’ve been kept under wraps to avoid spoiling Shaxs’ replacement, particularly if there’s a new character who’s either visually distinctive or perhaps a returning character from a past iteration of the franchise.

We’ve seen a number of guest-stars across Season 1 who had been involved in Star Trek in the past – such as John de Lancie and JG Hertzler – but it would be potentially really interesting if someone we knew well from a past iteration of the franchise were to have a recurring role. Tuvok could replace Shaxs as head of security, for example, or time-travel shenanigans could see the return of someone like Travis Mayweather from Enterprise. That could be a great twist, and bringing back a character who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the franchise right now seems like a lot of fun!

Ensign Mayweather of the USS Cerritos?

We’ve seen Prodigy go down a similar road with the return of a holographic Captain Janeway, and that series has a lot of potential. Maybe it would risk feeling repetitive coming so soon after Prodigy’s announcement of Janeway’s return, but even so I think it could be fantastic if done well. There must be plenty of ex-Star Trek stars who’d love the chance to come back even in voiceover form!

Next let’s look at Ensign Rutherford. At the end of Season 1, Rutherford’s trademark cybernetic implant was ripped out. This put him in a coma, and when he awoke he was missing all of his memories from Season 1, including meeting Tendi. In the teaser, though, his implant was back (and looking exactly the same as it did last season) and he seemed to be friends with Tendi and Mariner again – so what happened?

Rutherford’s cybernetic implant was ripped out in the Season 1 finale.

We’ve been promised that Season 2 won’t simply “reset” Lower Decks and ignore the events of the Season 1 finale, so somehow Rutherford has gotten a new implant and rebuilt his relationships with Mariner and Tendi. I hope we get to see at least some of that, because there’s potential in a “we used to be friends but you can’t remember” storyline, both from a dramatic and comedic perspective.

The implant was okay, and certainly gives Rutherford a distinctive design. Having had it removed in Season 1, though, there was potential to redesign it or do something different with Rutherford, and changing things up for him could open up new storytelling possibilities for the character. We’ll have to see what – if anything – the show does with all of that.

Rutherford’s implant is back!

That brings us to Boimler! At the end of Season 1, Boimler was promoted and transferred to the USS Titan under Riker’s command. Mike McMahan had already said that Season 2 would begin with him serving there; as mentioned there would be no “reset” to keep him on the Cerritos. And we saw in the teaser the first signs that his posting was not going well!

After cutting to Boimler, the first thing we see is him screaming loudly, panicking and unable to cope with whatever bizarre situation the Titan has got itself into. Up next, with the ship seemingly on course for a nebula, ion storm, or other spatial anomaly, Boimler doesn’t understand one of Riker’s turns of phrase, loudly exclaiming “what does that even mean?!”

Boimler’s new posting doesn’t seem to be going so well…

It seems safe to assume that, somehow, Boimler will find himself back aboard the Cerritos. But how? In one of the teaser’s other scenes, we seemed to see Boimler taking part in some kind of away mission, working on a computer while three other figures – clearly not the three other ensigns – defended him from being attacked. Did this mission happen during his time on the Titan? The absence of the other ensigns hints at that, and not seeing the three of them together at all in the teaser suggests that Boimler could remain aboard the Titan for more than just a few minutes during episode 1!

For a show that bills Mariner as its main character, we didn’t see as much of her in the teaser as I might’ve expected. She was briefly seen wearing anbo-jyutsu armour (first seen in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Icarus Factor) and again fighting off a group of Cardassians. Neither of those short sequences told us much from a story point of view – except that, at some point in the season, she presumably takes part in an anbo-jyutsu match and battles some Cardassians!

Mariner in her anbo-jyutsu armour.

The Cardassian fight looked like it could potentially be a flashback; on rewatching it I’m not entirely sure why I think that, but it was my initial reaction so I’m sticking with it! We saw a flashback of Mariner in Season 1 when she visited Deep Space Nine, so perhaps this will be something similar. And it’s worth noting that the only anbo-jyutsu match we’ve ever seen in Star Trek featured Riker – who will be making an appearance in the season. Could Mariner face off against Riker? And if so, could the “prize” be getting Boimler back?

Other things I spotted in the teaser were: a Miranda-class ship coming under attack, a mugato (the white ape-like creature with a horn) from The Original Series Season 2 episode A Private Little War, Ransom’s “possession” possibly taking place on either the Klingon or Cardassian homeworld (a guess based on the architecture in the background), Mariner’s Cardassian fight taking place in front of four lights (perhaps an homage to The Next Generation Season 6 episode Chain of Command), and the Titan seemingly coming under attack while on course for the anomaly.

It’s not easy to spot from this angle, but that’s Boimler in the upper-right, working on the computer terminal.

The only character who didn’t have much to do in the teaser was Ensign Tendi. She had one moment with what looked like a snake-alien (or perhaps just a bunch of snakes) and she had the trailer’s only real line, wondering about how Boimler is getting on. In Season 1 Tendi never really found the right fit, with different stories trying out different personalities for her. She spent most of the season in “new and eager” mode, overawed by every small detail she encountered. Attempts to move her away from that had her turning clumsy, like Boimler, or into a super-genius like Rutherford, and I never really felt that Tendi was a settled character. Perhaps her lack of role in the teaser is indicative of that trend continuing – but I hope not. It would be great for her to find a niche and settle in.

For a teaser that barely clocked in at thirty seconds, the Lower Decks team crammed a heck of a lot in! I’m sure I missed things even having rewatched it a dozen times, so be sure to take a look for yourself to see what you can spot!

The USS Cerritos.

The first season of Lower Decks was fantastic, but sadly marred by a stupid decision on the business end from ViacomCBS to split up the show’s broadcast by geography. The resultant damage to Lower Decks from lost hype and interest was a problem during Season 1, and there’s no getting away from that. However, now that an international agreement has been struck to give Lower Decks a home on Amazon Prime Video, its future feels a little more settled.

Speaking of the show’s future, a third season has now been confirmed. With all of the other exciting things going on from First Contact Day I didn’t spot that announcement at first, but it’s now official! Obviously ViacomCBS was pleased with the reaction to the show both in the USA and around the world when it finally made its international debut, and that’s great news. If the creative team can keep up the quality, it would be great to see it run for four seasons, five, or potentially even more.

Lower Decks is the only upcoming Star Trek project to have an official broadcast date: Season 2 will premiere on the 12th of August. Presumably that means the 13th of August for the rest of us! Oh well, that’s only four months away! We can start to get excited already!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available. The series is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 5: Stardust City Rag

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Stardust City Rag, as well as for the rest of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

First of all, before anything else, I just want to say how much I love this episode’s title! Stardust City Rag is just such a fun episode name, quite possibly one of my all-time favourite episode names in all of Star Trek. It just has such a fun sound, which was reflected in parts of this episode’s tone. Jonathan Frakes (who played Commander William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation and had directed several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery) returned for his second and final stint as director this season, and I really enjoyed what he brought to the table. In fact I’d say this was definitely the better of his two episodes this season.

In case you missed them, by the way, I have episode reviews for the rest of this season which you can find here: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4.

There was a dichotomy in Stardust City Rag between two very different tones that both played into the same story. There was the fun, somewhat campy tone present in some of the nightclub sequences, with Picard and his crew dressing up in over-the-top costumes, and then there was the deathly serious tone that followed Seven of Nine, Raffi, and finally at the end, Dr Jurati.

Stardust City Rag ended with a huge moment for Dr Jurati.

Stardust City Rag also gave us our first confirmed theory – if you look back at my theory posts, you’ll see that after Episode 3, The End is the Beginning, I called out Dr Jurati for her possible betrayal. And in this episode we got to see that theory bear fruit, though not quite in the manner I had expected. To have her exposed as a double-agent and betray Picard’s trust at only the halfway mark through the season was also a surprise – after what she did and the fact that La Sirena’s EMH witnessed it, she won’t be able to maintain her cover. What will happen to her next is an open question, and she notably did not feature in any of the clips shown in the trailer for next week’s episode.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The Dr Jurati revelation was only one of several huge story points that Stardust City Rag had to offer. And more so than any episode so far, I feel that this episode advanced the plot in a major way. From the scenes glimpsed in last week’s trailer, I wasn’t sure I would like Stardust City Rag, despite its fun name. The silly game of dress-up and the nightclub setting made it look like we were in for a kind of “Picard meets Ocean’s Eleven” jokey heist story, and honestly I was kind of uninspired by that concept.

“You son of a bitch, I’m in.”
From last week’s teaser trailer, I was worried that Stardust City Rag would turn into this episode of Rick and Morty!

While there was certainly that element to the episode, it was hardly all Stardust City Rag had going on; the “heist” portion of the story took up perhaps a third of the runtime. And that’s definitely a positive, in my opinion. I think if the whole episode had been dedicated to that, with Picard putting on an accent and the characters all dressed up, I think we could have ended up with a bit of a farce, and that’s really what I was concerned about heading in.

Stardust City Rag begins, as every episode aside from the premiere has, with a flashback sequence. This time, we’re on a planet called Vergessen – German or Dutch for “forgotten” – thirteen years before the events of the series. This places it around one year after the attack on Mars and Picard’s resignation, and three years before the supernova. The sweeping aerial shot of Vergessen shows what looks to be a largely uninhabited planet, with The Seven Domes occupying what appears to be a river delta or area of marshland. The sequence looks to be conveying that Vergessen is, as its name implies, forgotten about and hidden – somewhere out of the way, perfect for illegal activities.

And then we get what is probably the most graphic sequence to date in Star Trek: Picard – and arguably in the whole franchise. A young man in a torn Starfleet uniform is being hacked apart. Returning fans will recognise him as Icheb from Star Trek: Voyager – he was one of several young Borg who were taken on board by Capt. Janeway toward the end of Voyager’s stay in the Delta Quadrant. The implant by his eye – an inverted L-shape – was instantly recognisable, despite it having been removed. An unidentified woman pulls out Icheb’s eye, looking for his cortical implant. And the hacked-apart bodies of others, presumably drones, hang around the facility. After the brutal butchering, Seven of Nine arrives and kills the scientists, but it’s too late to save Icheb, and she is forced to put him out of his misery by shooting him – leaving her clearly devastated.

Icheb gets his eye brutally torn out.

There was always a sense, I felt, that with television storytelling increasingly following a route trailblazed by series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, Star Trek: Picard was going to kill off characters sooner or later. The brutality with which Icheb was treated, and the fact that we really didn’t get to spend any time with him before seeing his demise, was genuinely shocking and unexpected, though.

The way the sequence was shot also did a good job of disguising that Icheb had in fact been recast for his role in Star Trek: Picard. I felt he was instantly recognisable – credit to the makeup and prosthetics teams, no doubt – and it was only after the credits rolled that I realised it was a different actor.

This sequence set up was was, at least in part, an episode about Seven of Nine. My relationship with Seven’s character has been somewhat complicated. In her initial appearances on Star Trek: Voyager, she absolutely did what the producers of that show had wanted, and shook up what was in danger of becoming a stale formula. Her background as an ex-Borg gave a different dimension to her character than any we’d seen until that point, and she played a very different role in the show than Kes had.

Seven of Nine during her Voyager days.

I’d argue that Kes, sadly, never really got her character fully explored and developed, especially as toward the end of her tenure as a series regular she’d started to develop her mental abilities. And I think it would have been very interesting to see how Voyager would have handled her as she rapidly aged – Ocampans had a very short lifetime of only around nine years. But we’re getting off topic. I felt that too many of Seven of Nine’s episodes – of which there were more than a fair number in the second half of Voyager – followed almost exactly the same formula. She’d learn some lesson or other about “what it means to be human”, overcoming her Borg-inspired nature to accomplish something for the crew, but then by the next episode she’d seem to forget it all and be back to her usual Borg self, only to learn another, very similar, lesson in humanity. It just felt like, having gone to all the trouble to swap out Kes for Seven of Nine, Voyager’s showrunners and writers didn’t really know what to do with her aside from that formula. And it got annoying and repetitive at times.

Fortunately, Seven of Nine has finally regained a lot more of her humanity, and been able to hold onto it. Even in the flashback at the beginning of the episode – which takes place around eight years after the end of Voyager – she’s much more expressive and emotional than I think we ever really saw her in that series. And it makes a lot of sense! She’s had a lot more time to work through her assimilation and de-assimiliation experiences, and build up her memories and personality than she had when we were familiar with her. For me, seeing Seven of Nine like this, finally embracing her humanity instead of constantly forgetting about it, was cathartic. It scratched an itch that I’d had since Voyager was on the air back in the late 1990s and early 2000s to really see some character development and to see her break out of her Borg past. It’s just a shame it had to come at the expense of Icheb! That’s not to criticise that story point – I think it makes a lot of sense for Seven of Nine’s story to see her lose Icheb, and honestly, I don’t think anyone really expected his character to be returning in a big way in Star Trek in future, so he fits the bill for someone to kill off. But as a fan, it’s always heartbreaking to see a known face killed off!

Seven of Nine in Picard’s study.

The action then jumps to the present day, or rather, two weeks before the present day. We’re on Freecloud, in a place called Stardust City, and the owner of a nightclub gets word that Bruce Maddox is here. She initially wants him killed, but changes her mind and meets with him. Maddox looks dishevelled with his messy hair and unkempt beard; a far cry from the Starfleet officer returning fans will remember. Again it’s worth noting that Maddox has been recast just like Icheb was, and for most people that wouldn’t even really notice, but having recently re-watched Maddox’s original appearance in The Measure of a Man in The Next Generation (you can see a write-up of that episode by clicking or tapping here) I did notice and while I wouldn’t say it took me out of it, it was a brief adjustment to get used to the new actor, because unlike Icheb in the flashback mentioned above, Maddox gets a lot of screen time.

It emerges that Maddox’s lab has been destroyed – raided by the Tal Shiar. He’s in debt to the nightclub owner, and she drugs him, hoping to sell him to the Tal Shiar to recoup the money she spend on him. It’s worth noting here that the Zhat Vash are never mentioned in this episode. I noted last time that I suspect Picard’s decision not to tell his crew – especially Elnor – about the Zhat Vash might become an issue. And given Maddox’s work in the realm of synthetics it seems at least possible he would have known about the faction. But no one from Maddox to Picard to the nightclub owner ever mentions the faction. While I understand they’re meant to be secretive, having a named antagonist and being consistent with that does help casual viewers in particular to follow everything that’s going on.

It’s at this point that I’d like to look in more detail at Maddox’s role in the story thus far from the production side, because I really think it’s been nothing less than a stroke of genius. Maddox fills two roles – he’s a signal to returning fans from The Next Generation era that this is one continuous story in the Star Trek galaxy, while at the same time being the kind of character that his presence in that one episode from 1989 is in no way something a new fan would need to know about. If we compare him to Dr Benayoun – the character from Maps and Legends who delivers to Picard the news of his illness – their roles are identical. Maddox, to the uninitiated new fan, is just a character from Picard’s past like Dr Benayoun, and seeing their interactions in the past isn’t necessary to know that. For returning fans, he’s someone we may remember from TNG and that ties the two shows together. Using a character like Bruce Maddox was completely unexpected, but it works so well. And I love it.

Bruce Maddox with Bjayzl in her club on Freecloud.

After the credits roll, La Sirena is in orbit of Freecloud. Picard is in his holo-study, looking at a video about the planet they’re visiting. Freecloud is presented as a neutral place, probably not under any jurisdiction other than its own. It’s the kind of place we’ve seen in Star Wars – a somewhat shady-feeling place where various transactions, legal and illegal, can take place without the intervention of the Federation or anyone else. The economy of the 24th Century has always been a little ambiguous, but Freecloud is a symbol of unchecked capitalism – seemingly anything can be bought and sold here, much like the Dark Web of today.

Seven of Nine joins Picard in his study, and it turns out she works for the Fenris Rangers – they were mentioned last time, and seem to be a kind of vigilante group, trying to maintain order in some of these fringe systems. It was pure coincidence that Seven of Nine met Picard when she did – or at least so it would seem. A very, very lucky coincidence, if that really is the case! They share a drink, and this is where we get Seven’s lines from the trailer about Picard “saving the galaxy”. She is definitely much more human than returning fans will remember from Voyager, and as I said already, I really appreciated that.

While Picard and Seven chat, we get some exposition from Raffi and Rios – no doubt meant to fill in new fans and those who don’t remember much about Picard or Seven because of how long it’s been! It was interesting to note that they both mention Picard’s status as a former Borg, especially given where they will have to head if they want to meet Soji in future episodes. Seven of Nine agrees to be dropped off on Freecloud, but asks Picard what he plans to do and he tells her, in a roundabout way, that he’s trying to help Soji. Intrigued, she stays to listen.

Raffi and Rios discuss Picard and Seven’s history with the Borg.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the change in colour and presentation of Seven of Nine’s Borg implants, most notably her eyepiece. I felt that it looked “wrong”, and not like it had done in Voyager. But the more of her I saw in this episode, the more I think it’s designed to look like the metal has been worn down over the years. Whereas it had been shinier in the past, by now she’s been out of the collective for a long time and the metal has seen a lot of wear and tear, giving it a duller, less polished appearance.

Dr Jurati is in her cabin, watching a holo of herself and Maddox from presumably before the ban on synthetics. They share a kiss at the end, and Jurati is emotional at looking back on this part of her life, which I think sets up nicely what is to come later. It was a very brief scene, but one which was important to their stories. We did get to see a little of Maddox’s post-TNG personality, too. I’d say that the scene showed him as a kind of stereotypical scientist, with an idiosyncrasy around the replicator. Maddox in The Measure of a Man had seemed, I would argue, much more confident than the version of the character we see here, though granted it is twenty-plus years later in this holo-recording. But for all intents and purposes, comparing Maddox’s role in The Next Generation to Star Trek: Picard is kind of irrelevant. As mentioned above, he could be subbed out for a new character and the story would be identical, so his characterisation here doesn’t matter – whether he’s the same as the Maddox we remember or not, his role is less that of a character and more a plot device.

Dr Maddox and Dr Jurati in happier times.

In the next scene, on the bridge of La Sirena, we get another example of the lighter, comic tone that was present in parts of the episode, as each crew member (except for Elnor, for some reason) gets their own holo-pop-up advertisement as they dock at Freecloud. This was a little bit of fun, and it seemed to give us the name of La Sirena’s ship class – apparently she’s a Kaplan F17 Speed Freighter. And although he was almost entirely in the background, it was one of Elnor’s three opportunities to have a line in Stardust City Rag. If I could criticise the episode in one way, it would be that, after all the fuss and trouble Picard and the crew went to last week to recruit Elnor, this week he was absolutely wasted and contributed nothing to the story or to the various storylines that played out.

After closing their little pop-up ads, the crew learn that Maddox is a prisoner, and that the nightclub owner is looking for someone to represent them in a deal with the Tal Shiar. Seven of Nine knows about the nightclub owner – her name is Bjayzl – and explains that, among other things, she “butchers ex-Borg for parts”. As we’ve seen with Soji’s work on the Artifact, there is apparently a roaring galactic trade in Borg components. Precisely why that is – and who the buyers might be – is unclear. I wonder if the parts may all be going to the same buyer, but we’ll save the theory-crafting for my theory post (keep an eye out for that in the next few days!)

Raffi discovers Maddox is being held by Bjayzl – and is about to be sold to the Tal Shiar/Zhat Vash.

Seven of Nine offers to be bait in a trap to rescue Maddox – offering herself up for “sale” to Bjayzl to get the crew close enough to spring him out. Because of what had happened with Icheb earlier, this was clearly a ploy on her part to get close to Bjayzl.

We’re then treated to a very pretty shot of La Sirena arriving at Stardust City, and I’m in love with the CGI work here. There was a real sense of a living, breathing, fast-paced gambling city – a futuristic Las Vegas. Yet at the same time, I was getting the impression that Stardust City was playing on Star Wars’s Coruscant and even Mass Effect’s Citadel in terms of presentation – there was a somewhat claustrophobic feel to its mass of neon-signed buildings and streets. I thought I saw another Ferengi Alliance emblem on first viewing, but when I went back and re-watched it I couldn’t spot it. There were a couple of nice references, though: Mot’s Hair Emporium refers to Mot, the Enterprise-D’s Bolian barber, whose name Picard once borrowed when dealing with mercenaries! And of course, Quark’s Bar can only refer to the Ferengi we all remember from Deep Space Nine! There was also a dancing girl seen as La Sirena flew in, and I have a feeling this is lifted from a previous iteration of Star Trek… I’m just not sure which one.

Stardust City, Freecloud.

This next sequence cuts between the crew arriving in Stardust City and preparing for their roles back on La Sirena. This is the dressing-up part of the story that featured prominently in last week’s teaser trailer. Rios is taking point, offering Seven of Nine for sale, and he has to really convince Bjayzl’s “reptiloid”, who can apparently smell lying because of his enhanced senses. Picard and Rios get the best costumes, dressing very flamboyantly as apparently is custom on Freecloud. More so than on the bridge, Elnor was completely wasted here, and may as well not have been included. In fact, this episode could have taken place before the mission to Vashti and Elnor’s presence or lack of presence would have not mattered in the slightest. There was scope, too, for him to do something – even just as comic relief. His lack of understanding of the dressing up side of the mission was at least somewhat amusing, if a little “Vulcan” in the way it came across, but it was really just wasted and I would have liked to have seen more of Elnor both here in the preparation phase as well as down in the nightclub.

Dr Jurati is ordered to operate the transporter while the others rescue Maddox – and it felt like this was setting her up to either deliberately trap them away from the ship or mess up somehow and cause a problem. In that sense, I think it was a nice little misdirect given that it got a certain amount of attention during this sequence. The crew are given a transport enhancer – a much smaller device than the tripods from the TNG-era – and we also learn from Seven of Nine that, after the supernova, the Neutral Zone “collapsed” – the border between the Federation and Romulan space is now much less stable, hence the issues on places like Vashti. She and the Fenris Rangers are self-appointed police officers trying to keep order, but Picard says she is playing at being both “judge and jury”, and calls her a “vigilante”.

Getting dressed up in Picard’s study in preparation to spring Maddox out of custody.

There was definitely a “heist movie” feel to this sequence. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared it might be, and was actually amusing in parts and tense in others. Each of them (except Elnor, really) is given a role to play. Rios is the point man, Picard is the con man, Seven is the bait, Elnor is… muscle? I guess. And Dr Jurati, operating the transporter, is the getaway driver! Raffi won’t be participating, as Freecloud was her destination and she plans to attend to her own business while the heist occurs.

Again, the sequence is cut in a jumpy way, cutting back-and-forth between before and during the heist. After Rios has convinced the reptiloid to meet Picard and Seven, and Picard has “given him his payment”, we get a scene between Picard and Raffi, as he sends her off to do whatever she came to Freecloud for. I never really got the sense that this would be the last Picard, or us as the audience, would see of her. That’s not to criticise what was a well-constructed scene, it just didn’t feel like a permanent goodbye to a character we only met three episodes ago.

Saying “goodbye” on the transporter pad.

We follow Raffi as she arrives at a family planning clinic on Freecloud, and tracks down a young man. He was too young to really be a love interest for her (no offence to Michelle Hurd) and it turns out that he’s her son. Due to a combination of overworking during the supernova crisis and her drug issues, she had become estranged from him some time ago. Star Trek has always been good at using its science fiction setting to highlight real world issues, and we got a great example of that here. As America, and much of the western world, faces an opioid epidemic, there will be many families who have seen someone disappear into a void of drug addiction, and Raffi’s story mirrors that. Family breakup due to drug abuse is not something that’s often front and centre on our screens, yet it is a real problem for a lot of people in a lot of communities.

The heartbreaking scene shows her son’s inability to forgive her – her attempt at getting clean and reconciling coming far too late, and her ramblings about the “conspiracy” to attack Mars seeming to indicate to him that she hadn’t really gotten over her problems anyway. Raffi is about to become a grandmother – her son and his Vulcan partner are having a baby, hence the family planning clinic. I doubt this will come back into play as a story beat, but it may be important for Raffi’s character going forward, and I suppose it could come back around next season in a bigger way. And we got a typical “Vulcan” haircut here for the first time in the series, I think. The Romulans used to style their hair similarly to Pel in this scene, but modern Romulans, like Narek, have abandoned that style. It was nice to see it back on a side character, as again this shows us a little of the Star Trek of old!

Standing apart – Raffi meets her son and his partner on Freecloud.

Raffi’s son – Gabriel – insists that she’s “just passing through”, and the couple depart, leaving Raffi clearly devastated. Back at the nightclub, Picard sees Maddox for the first time, and he is still alive, though clearly in somewhat of a bad state. The deal seems to be going as planned when Seven of Nine launches into a personal conversation with Bjayzl – alerting Picard and Rios to the fact that things may be about to go off the rails. Rios calls Dr Jurati on the ship, but her mental state has activated the EMH, who asks her about her “psychiatric emergency”. She confirms she still has a transporter lock, but that they haven’t activated the pattern enhancer. At this point, Dr Jurati’s state of mind could simply have been a result of nervousness about the important role she was assigned, but it definitely felt that there was something more – she was too anxious.

Seven of Nine disrupts the plan by grabbing Bjayzl, who orders her security people to stand down. Elnor, Rios, and Picard secure Maddox, and Seven is convinced to stand down and allow herself to be transported back to La Sirena with Maddox and the others – after being warned that if she harmed Bjayzl, it would put a target on Rios, Elnor, and Picard as well as on her. As I mentioned, this is the moment where I thought Dr Jurati could either turn on the crew or make a mistake, but the transport went smoothly and they were beamed back on board.

Seven disrupts the plot to rescue Maddox – but it all works out in the end!

Seven told Picard about what happened to Icheb, and that Bjayzl only knew about him because they had once been on friendly terms – and Picard, true to the way we remember him, gently tries to dissuade her from seeking revenge. I liked this moment; the interaction between two familiar characters, yet two characters who hadn’t before been on screen together, was a great way that Star Trek: Picard tied together two of the TNG-era series. The dialogue, and the acting performances by Jeri Ryan and Sir Patrick Stewart were absolutely on point, and sold this complicated tale of hate and revenge perfectly. Picard has always been diplomatic, and we see here that, despite being away from the action for a long time, he’s lost none of his edge in that regard.

Bjayzl, for her part, was actually fairly one-dimensional as far as villains go. If we knew more about her motivations for wanting Borg parts, or at least who her buyer was, maybe she’d come across a bit better. As it stands, because we don’t understand exactly how or why this trade in Borg parts operates, she reminded me of the villain from the film Solo: A Star Wars Story whose name I had to look up (it’s Dryden Vos). Despite being portrayed very well by the actress, Bjayzl just fell a little flat for me, and I would have liked to have seen more of her past, her interactions with Seven of Nine, and as I said, why she became so interested in ex-Borg.

Bjayzl.

This ties into something that has come across a couple of times in Star Trek: Picard so far. A slightly longer series – perhaps twelve or fourteen episodes, like Star Trek: Discovery – would have allowed for more screen time for some of these characters, and thus a little more explanation and depth. When Game of Thrones cut its final two seasons down in length it started having similar issues, and I think the same thing has happened in a way here. I know we’re only halfway through, but there have been several points, like the Bjayzl storyline, that would have been nice to see a little more of.

After the crew are beamed away by Dr Jurati, there’s a reunion between her and Maddox on the transporter pad. Seven of Nine departs to rejoin the Fenris Rangers, but takes two of La Sirena’s phasers on her way out. Picard activates the transporter, but she returns to Bjayzl’s club – finally completing her revenge. Again, Bjayzl felt quite one-dimensional, and the scene played out like many we’ve seen before, where a villain reacts with fear when cornered. However, from a storytelling point of view she was really just a foil for Seven, and a way to show to us as the audience how much Seven has grown since Voyager. In that sense, it was a success, and as I mentioned earlier, finally getting to see Seven of Nine really embracing her human side, after all the lessons she received from Capt. Janeway and the Doctor (and others) was great. I wouldn’t have expected that she’d show up in Star Trek: Picard when the series was announced, but I’m glad that she did. Though the episode leaves things ambiguous as to whether or not Seven made it out of the club after Bjayzl was killed, I think we can be confident that she did. Hopefully this won’t be her final Star Trek appearance.

“Picard’s Eleven” are beamed aboard by Dr Jurati after a successful heist.

Maddox is being treated in La Sirena’s sickbay – the first time we’ve gotten to see this set. It was nicely designed space, somewhat of a cross between sickbays we’ve seen in the TNG and Discovery eras, with a lot of holo-screens and less reliance on physical panels. Maddox is in a bad way, but it seems like he’ll recover, and he talks to Picard about Dahj. We get final confirmation here that Maddox is responsible for their creation, and that he sent them on a mission to discover what really led to the ban on synthetics. Dahj went to Earth to poke around the Daystrom Institute, and Soji is on the Artifact – so there must be something linking those two locations. Could the Borg be somehow tied to what happened with the synths on Mars? Maddox mourns Dahj as if she were his own daughter – which, in a sense, she was. And crucially, he tells Picard where to find Soji, setting the stage for the second half of the season.

Picard exits the sickbay, leaving Maddox alone with Dr Jurati. As they reminisce, it’s clear something is wrong. The way the music slowly changes was perfect here, building up Dr Jurati’s sinister intentions. Picard speaks to Rios about travelling to the Artifact, and also we get confirmation that Raffi is back on board – though she’s not coming out of her cabin after what happened with her son. Maddox tells Dr Jurati that her work with him was essential to Soji and Dahj’s creation, describing them as the product of his work, Dr Soong’s, and hers.

Picard with Maddox in sickbay.

Jurati says that it’s “one more thing to atone for”, as she does something to the bio-bed, setting in motion Maddox’s death. La Sirena’s EMH tries to intervene but Jurati deactivates it, and tells Maddox that she knows too much about – presumably – the consequences of creating synthetic life. It seems as though she’s killing him because of what he represents: someone who can create these synths, and there’s something too dangerous about that. In that sense, she is fully subscribed to the Zhat Vash/Commodore Oh ideology about how synthetic life is inherently bad. And I got a hint – just a glimpse, really – that maybe this is related to what we saw in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season last year. That story dealt with a rogue AI that planned to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy – could this be what the Zhat Vash conspiracy is trying to prevent? Some existential threat caused by synthetics? It’s hard to justify Dr Jurati’s actions otherwise.

Maddox dies, and Dr Jurati is genuinely devastated by what she’s done. If this was her mission – to find and kill Maddox – then she’s succeeded, but her cover is surely blown now, as La Sirena’s EMH witnessed what she did. What will happen to her after this is now up in the air, but she clearly cannot be relied on or trusted by the rest of the crew again. Alison Pill’s performance as a conflicted person, yet ultimately able to perform her task despite her personal emotional attachment to Maddox, was pitch-perfect. She’s been phenomenal in the role of Dr Jurati this season so far, and I hope we get to see more of her – perhaps even giving Jurati a chance at redemption.

The way this moment was staged and shot was perfect, showing Dr Jurati alone with Maddox in the middle of the frame.

So that was Stardust City Rag, probably my second-favourite episode of the season behind Remembrance. There was so much going on, and everyone except Elnor was involved in a big way. We got a resolution to Raffi’s side-quest, and I think now she will be fully on board with what happens next, now that she no longer has that distraction. Devastating as it was for her to be unable to reconcile with her son, I think some of that energy that she has for getting to the truth of what happened on Mars can now be fully unleashed.

Dr Jurati is much more in question – will she be put in the brig, turned over to some authority, or dealt with somehow by Picard and Rios? Murder is a serious crime, and though there probably is no death penalty, it would be enough to see her imprisoned in the Federation, and she and Maddox were Federation citizens. I really want to know why she did it – what is this huge secret that she knows about synthetics? Is she allied with Commodore Oh? Surely she must be… but how? And why?

After all the work to find him, Maddox dies – murdered by Dr Jurati.

Picard now has a destination to find Soji – but getting on board the Artifact surely won’t be an easy task. Rios is up for it though, and at the end of the episode in his conversation with Picard, there was a hint at least that he’s starting to believe in the cause too.

The storyline has moved on in a huge way. With Maddox out of the picture, and Dr Jurati having committed a heinous crime, it’s now up to Picard, Raffi, Elnor, and Rios to save Soji. Only Picard is truly invested in this goal, but the others may be starting to come around.

It was a shame that Elnor was underused in Stardust City Rag. I would have liked to have seen him do something – anything, really – after the time and effort made to recruit him last week. But with limited runtime there’s only room for so many characters, and the main thrust of this episode was about Seven of Nine.

What could have been an uninteresting episode from my point of view has turned into one of the best so far, and I really enjoyed the shifting tones and multiple storylines presented in Stardust City Rag. It was a rollercoaster ride, and when the credits finally rolled, all I could think of is that I wanted more! It’s going to be an arduous wait for next week’s episode – The Impossible Box.

Stardust City Rag, and the rest of Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard can be streamed now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and in other countries and territories. Star Trek: Picard – and the rest of the Star Trek franchise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.