Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
With Discovery taking an unplanned six-week break, we’ve got a little time to settle in and collect our thoughts. The first half of Season 4 has seen some progress toward unravelling the mystery of the dark matter anomaly, but there are still plenty of questions! From this point, the story could go in many different directions, and could potentially make significant connections and crossovers with past iterations of Star Trek. Today, we’re going to consider one such possibility.
In the episode But To Connect, which served as the mid-season finale, Ruon Tarka returned. Tarka is a Risian scientist who had been working on the DMA and who had collaborated with the USS Discovery’s own Paul Stamets in the episode The Examples to build a working scale model of the anomaly. We learned more about him this time, including what he claims to be his motivation for wanting to destroy the DMA while preserving the machine at its centre: he wants to use it to travel to a parallel universe.
During a conversation with Book, Tarka claimed that he had “a friend” while he was forced to work for the Emerald Chain. This friend wasn’t mentioned by name, but appears to have been a major motivating factor for Tarka to find a way to cross the divide between universes; to “punch through” as he put it.
This could all be obfuscation on Tarka’s part; a made-up story to help him sink his talons into Book and manipulate him into doing his bidding. Tarka’s plans relied on Book: he needed him to either convince the delegates to approve the use of his weapon, or to use the stolen spore drive to deliver the weapon without Federation help. So we have to acknowledge that possibility.
But I was struck by the way this conversation deliberately kept Tarka’s “friend” hidden from us as the audience. Book asked who the friend was, but Tarka quickly waved away the question. That makes me wonder… who is this friend? And could it be someone we’ve met before – maybe in Discovery, but maybe in a past iteration of Star Trek?
So today we’re going to consider a few possible candidates for Tarka’s friend. Who could this person be, and if they survived their imprisonment with the Emerald Chain, might we be about to meet them?
I can’t decide right now whether Discovery is setting up Tarka to be the main villain for the rest of the season, or whether Captain Burnham and the crew will resolve this storyline within an episode or two before moving back to the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C. Either possibility feels just as likely, so we could perhaps see the Tarka storyline rumble on for much of the second half of the season.
But we’ll have to set that aside for now! I’ve put together a list of candidates for being Tarka’s friend and we’ll go through them one by one. Just remember one thing: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will actually be included in Star Trek: Discovery. This is speculation and theorising from a fan – and nothing more.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Friend #1: Aurellio
Let’s see… Aurellio is a bona fide scientist. He worked for the Emerald Chain. He and Tarka know one another. And although Aurellio has been mentioned several times this season, we haven’t seen him. Could he be the mysterious friend?
I don’t think so, not unless Tarka is even more devious than we think! Although we haven’t seen Aurellio this season, we’ve heard multiple times that he’s working with Starfleet, and he even built the new spore drive that Book and Tarka used in But To Connect. So unless Tarka has somehow managed to fake Aurellio’s entire existence… I think we can rule him out.
But on the surface, Aurellio fits the bill in some respects! We don’t really know of any other ex-Emerald Chain scientists, so it’s an outside possibility that Aurellio is involved in all of this somehow.
Friend #2: Altan Inigo Soong
Dr Soong is the son of Data’s creator, and was encountered by Admiral Picard on the planet Coppelius in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 – the first part of the Picard Season 1 finale. As a human from the 24th Century, he shouldn’t still be alive almost eight centuries later, but Dr Soong had plans to transfer his consciousness into a synthetic body. This process was mentioned earlier in Discovery Season 4, as it was used to give Gray a physical body.
If Dr Soong was ultimately successful, it’s possible that his synthetic form survived to the 32nd Century, and he could therefore be Tarka’s friend. He was already a skilled scientist when Picard met him, and with centuries of time to develop his skills he could have proven invaluable to an organisation like the Emerald Chain.
Now we get into abject speculation, but if Unknown Species 10-C turns out to be connected to the super-synths from Picard Season 1, this could give Dr Soong an additional motive for wanting to escape to a parallel universe: he might be aware of the threat they pose to the galaxy and all organic races.
Friend #3: The Doctor
Nothing that Tarka said about his friend implied that they’re organic – so the Doctor being a hologram shouldn’t count against him! I’ve speculated before that a backup copy of the Doctor could still be alive in the 32nd Century, as we saw in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness. While the Doctor wasn’t a scientist per se, after decades living and working with the Kyrians in the Delta Quadrant he may have broadened his skills.
If the Doctor was re-activated to find a galaxy ravaged by the Burn and all of his friends long gone, he might well want to escape to an alternate reality – there’d be nothing left for him in the prime timeline.
Perhaps the Emerald Chain intercepted his ship while he was on his way from the Delta Quadrant, or perhaps this is a different copy or version of the Doctor altogether from the one we saw in Living Witness. Because of the Doctor’s nature as a hologram, he could have easily survived this long.
Friend #4: Control
Captain Leland, who had been “assimilated” by the Control AI, was killed at the end of Season 2, and the existence of life in the 32nd Century seems to suggest that Control was permanently shut down shortly after the USS Discovery left. But what if that didn’t happen, or if the shutdown of Control was incomplete?
So far this season we’ve had more mentions of Control – and a greater discussion of the implications of its rise – than we got in the entirety of Season 3. Could that be setting up something big later in the season? Could Tarka’s friend actually be someone that the Control AI “assimilated?”
If so, perhaps Control plans to abandon this universe to find one more easily attacked and dominated – and Tarka may find that his friendship with whomever it is was little more than a ruse.
Friend #5: Another Ruon Tarka
There are multiple parallel universes – perhaps an infinite number! At least some of those universes contain alternate versions of everyone we’re familiar with: the Mirror Universe and the alternate reality of the Kelvin films being just two examples. So what if Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is, in fact, a parallel universe version of himself?
Tarka was confident that the parallel universe he intends to reach is better than the post-Burn reality he currently inhabits. But how could he possibly know that unless he’d either seen it for himself or met someone from that reality? Though in theory anyone from that universe could be Tarka’s friend, I think someone with the self-assuredness and arrogance of Tarka would be more inclined to trust his own counterpart.
We know that Tarka isn’t bound for the Mirror Universe – at least based on what he told Book. But here’s a spoiler for my next theory post: what if he’s trying to reach the Kelvin timeline? His unnamed friend could be his Kelvin timeline counterpart.
Friend #6: Michael Burnham
We’re sticking with the parallel universe theme here. If an alternate version of Captain Burnham had somehow crossed into our universe, perhaps she’d been captured by the Emerald Chain and forced to work with Tarka. She might have warmed up to him, telling him of her true origin in a different, better universe.
Burnham has a keen scientific mind, and had she ended up in Emerald Chain captivity they might well have tried to put her to work as a scientist. Discovery has also put Burnham at the centre of big storylines before, such as by making her the Red Angel in Season 2.
The counter-argument to this would be that everyone we met from the Emerald Chain, including Osyraa, Ryn, and Aurellio, didn’t recognise Burnham or claim to have seen her before. It’s possible that they never met her or that she was working in a different lab, but it could also be seen as a mark against this theory. Tarka also suggested that his friend was male, which could also rule out Burnham.
Friend #7: Dax
Thanks to the inclusion of Gray and Adira, we’ve spent some time with the Trill over the past couple of seasons. Trill symbionts are particularly long-lived, and there’s evidence to suggest that Gray and Adira’s symbiont, Tal, may have been alive in the 24th or 25th Century. It isn’t impossible, then, for the Dax symbiont to have survived to the 32nd Century.
Dax was one character I felt could make a comeback in Season 3. Early trailers dropped hints about the Trill, and bringing back Dax could’ve been a great way for the show to give fans a nod and a wink – but without needing to bring back an actor from the past. The nature of Trill life means that Dax would be in a new host by now – and thus the character could be recast in an easy and inoffensive way.
In Deep Space Nine we saw Dax mostly as a scientist thanks to Jadzia, and while Dax had many different roles over the course of their lifetime, returning to a scientific field is a possibility – certainly if a millennium’s worth of knowledge could be put to use. Dax is also aware, thanks to their adventures with Sisko and others, of the likes of the Mirror Universe.
Friend #8: Soji
Due to her synthetic nature, Soji is also someone who could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century. With centuries’ worth of accumulated knowledge under her belt, and a desire to help her people, Soji may have continued the Soongs’ work on cybernetics at some point after her adventures with Admiral Picard.
We haven’t yet seen any Coppelius synths in Discovery’s 32nd Century, and I’d be curious to see what became of them. If they survived and were able to continue to build new synths, there could be a thriving population by now. Many of the synths looked alike, so it’s possible that Tarka’s friend may have a familiar face even if they aren’t a character we’ve met before.
It would be great to get a proper crossover between Discovery and Picard, and this could be one way of doing it. The only drawback is that, because of the difference in time periods, having a character like Soji appear in Discovery would potentially be a limitation on future Picard stories.
Friend #9: A Borg (or ex-Borg)
Where is the Borg Collective? We haven’t heard so much as a whisper since Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century. It’s possible that the Borg have been defeated somehow in the centuries since they last tried to conquer the Federation, but it’s also possible that they’re the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C!
Perhaps Tarka’s friend is a Borg, ex-Borg, or even the Borg Queen, and the Emerald Chain had somehow kept Borg in captivity. It could be that Tarka is the one being manipulated, and his efforts to stop the DMA will allow the Borg to gain control of the power source at its centre.
We saw in Picard Season 1 that Borg technology and components were deemed valuable, such that a black market had sprung up. The Emerald Chain is exactly the kind of immoral faction that might have dealt in harvested Borg implants, and that could explain why they kept Borg captives.
Friend #10: Gabriel Lorca
Captain Lorca commanded the USS Discovery during the show’s first season – but this character was later revealed to be from the Mirror Universe. The prime timeline version of Captain Lorca has never been found, and despite Admiral Cornwell and others believing that he wouldn’t have survived for long in the Mirror Universe, it’s at least possible that he did.
Or perhaps we’re dealing with another alternate version of Captain Lorca, someone native to the parallel universe that Tarka is attempting to reach.
Regardless, it could be fun to see the crew’s reaction to encountering their old captain! And it would be neat to welcome back Jason Isaacs to Discovery – his performance was one of the highlights of an occasionally rocky first season.
Bonus Friend: Literally anyone!
Thanks to technobabble, practically any major character from Star Trek’s past could have survived to the 32nd Century. Stasis fields, time-wormholes, transporter accidents, pocket universes, warp bubbles, and many, many different phenomena could be brought in to explain the reappearance of practically anyone.
We already saw an oblique reference to one such method in the episode Stormy Weather. The crew placed themselves in the ship’s transporter buffer in order to survive their dangerous escape from the void – a method employed by Montgomery Scott in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could it be that this was more than just a callback to that classic episode, and was the setup for something that will come into play later?
With the exception of those few main characters who had been killed off outright – Captain Kirk, Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, and a couple of others – basically anyone could fill this role as Tarka’s friend and make a triumphant return to Star Trek!
So that’s it.
I could be completely over-reaching with this one, but I felt that there was something about the way Tarka refused to name his “friend” in But To Connect that could be significant. Why keep that individual hidden – unless there’s something that’s going to surprise us when they’re ultimately revealed?
We’ve seen the Abronians in cryo-sleep this season, and we’ve seen the crew of the USS Discovery put themselves in suspended animation in the transporter buffer. The DMA also contains a wormhole, a phenomenon that has been used to travel through time in past iterations of Star Trek. Gray used the “Soong method” to acquire a synthetic body. And there have been multiple mentions of parallel universes. Any of these could be hinting at the return of a major character, perhaps someone who used one of these methods to either survive to the 32nd Century or to cross over from their native universe.
So that’s my theory. Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is someone we’ve met before, perhaps someone from Star Trek’s past who we wouldn’t expect to see! Unfortunately we’ve got to wait at least six weeks to see if I’m right!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A significant portion of Season 1 was occupied by recruiting the crew, but after they came together basically to do one job – find Soji – and accomplished that objective, the big thing that Season 2 needs to do is find a truly convincing reason for keeping the crew together. Rios seemingly worked as a commercial pilot, and the others have lives of their own too. Now that Soji is safe and the super-synths have been called off, what exactly is preventing everyone from drifting back to their old lives?
Right now, I see that as perhaps the biggest challenge and point of interest. What will bind this disparate crew together after their mission is complete? Unlike a Starfleet crew they don’t have a new mission or new orders, and they aren’t just going to fly around aimlessly in La Sirena looking for adventure. So finding a convincing reason for keeping them together – or reuniting them if they’ve already separated as of the beginning of the season – will be key.
As I said last time, it’s very early in the process to be considering what may or may not be included in the upcoming season. At time of writing filming hasn’t even commenced; Picard is filmed in California, and while production is in theory able to resume it’s a slow process. There have been suggestions that February may be the goal for filming to begin – but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been given a timeframe that didn’t pan out, so watch this space. I’m not claiming any “insider information,” nor saying that anything on my list is certain to happen. This is guesswork at best – educated guesswork in some places, perhaps, but nothing more.
With those big caveats out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Number 1: A Galaxy-class ship.
Season 1 showed us a beautiful CGI rendition of the Galaxy-class Enterprise-D. But this ship was only seen in Picard’s dream and didn’t make a real appearance – despite the Federation fleet in the season finale presenting a good opportunity to do so. One lesson I hope the team behind Picard has learned is that the two fleets we saw during the standoff over Coppelius looked less impressive for being comprised of only a single starship design each – and bringing more ships into the show would be something great to see.
Obviously Picard himself has connections with several different classes of ship: the Sovereign-class from his time aboard the Enterprise-E, the Constellation-class from the Stargazer, and we even saw him on a Deep Space Nine Danube-class runabout once. But no ship design is more greatly associated with Picard than the Galaxy-class, and while the Enterprise-D is gone, there were others, including those which served in the Dominion War.
In an alternate timeline seen in the Voyager fourth season episode Timeless, Galaxy-class ships were still in use in the 2390s, which is close to the time in which Picard is set. An updated Galaxy-class Enterprise-D was also seen in The Next Generation’s finale All Good Things in sequences set in the 2390s.
In addition, Excelsior-class ships from the late 23rd Century were shown to be in use for decades, and the Galaxy-class ship seems like such a versatile vessel that it would make sense to see them still in use. La Sirena will clearly continue to be the home for Picard and his new crew, and I’m not suggesting they be given their own Galaxy-class ship somehow! But it would be wonderful to see Picard’s reaction to a real-life Galaxy-class ship, triggering memories of his time aboard the Enterprise-D.
Number 2: Confirmation of Narek’s fate.
The two-part Season 1 finale had some issues. From my point of view, the biggest problem was that the final two episodes had far too much story to cram into a relatively short span of time; new characters, new antagonists, new storylines, and a whole new civilisation were all introduced right at the end of the season.
One of the consequences of this was the abandonment of some previously-important storylines. Narek, who was a major character across the rest of the first season, was symbolic of this, as his character was simply dumped without any explanation or resolution midway through the finale.
I know that Narek wasn’t everyone’s favourite character in Season 1, but I found him genuinely interesting. He looked certain to play out a relatively common trope in thriller stories: the spy with a heart of gold who abandons his mission after falling in love with his target… but to my surprise – and great enjoyment – he didn’t go down that route and remained loyal to the Zhat Vash crusade.
There are several possibilities for what happened to Narek after his attempt to destroy Soji and Sutra’s beacon. He could have been recovered by the Romulans, he could have been handed over to the Federation, he could have remained a prisoner of the synths on Coppelius, or he could even have renounced his wicked ways and joined Picard’s crew. The latter may seem less likely, but as we didn’t see or hear anything about Narek after the beacon attack it would be great if Season 2 could give us the rest of the story – even if it’s just by way of a line or two of dialogue.
Number 3: Riker and Troi.
Though I believe Riker actor Jonathan Frakes will be returning to Picard in the director’s chair, we don’t yet know whether Riker and/or Troi will return in Season 2. However, I would argue that their post-The Next Generation storylines have more to give, and I would love to see them both back.
One thing I was very keen on in the run-up to Season 1 is for the show to avoid being The Next Generation Season 8, and by only including a few classic characters in a few episodes, I would say the show accomplished that goal. But there is still a lot of interest from fans about the fates of many characters we knew and loved in past iterations of Star Trek, and the already-established Troi-Riker family could be a stepping stone for telling some of those stories too.
It would also be interesting to see whether the events of Season 1 have brought either Riker, Troi, or both back to Starfleet on a permanent basis. Riker described himself as “acting captain” in the Season 1 finale, so perhaps he will return to his family home on Nepenthe. But maybe not!
If Season 2 is to feature Starfleet more significantly than Season 1 did, we will need at least one Starfleet character to be portrayed on screen. Someone Picard knew and can work with would be a good bet, as he could call on them to help out, cashing in favours. However, I did also like the way Raffi used her Starfleet contacts in Season 1, as well as the introduction of Admiral Clancy.
Number 4: Revisiting an event from Picard’s past – such as the Stargazer or the Borg.
Season 1 saw Picard confront his past with the Borg as he boarded the Artifact. But there’s scope to further explore his history with the Borg, especially if the faction were to come back in a major way. Nothing we saw in Season 1 suggested that the Borg threat has gone away, and the super-synths we met in the finale could possibly have a connection to Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains.
The inclusion of Seven of Nine and the ex-Borg could also contribute to a Borg story. Perhaps the ex-Borg would work together with Picard to use knowledge or technology from the Artifact to defeat another Borg threat. The Borg would also be a reason for Picard’s new crew staying together instead of going their separate ways.
Alternatively we could revisit an event from Picard’s past that The Next Generation hinted at but didn’t explore in detail. We know Picard commanded the USS Stargazer and that Jack Crusher – husband to Beverly and father to Wesley – was killed. But the specifics of that event have never been shown on screen.
The inclusion of Dr Benayoun in Season 1 connected to Picard’s time aboard the Stargazer, and a storyline looking back at this time could bring back this character. It would also be a way for Dr Crusher and even Wesley to be included – perhaps something that happened around the time of Jack Crusher’s death is going to be relevant to a new event or storyline.
Number 5: Development of Seven of Nine and Raffi’s relationship.
The Season 1 finale showed Raffi and Seven of Nine had become close, and the possibility for the two to enter a relationship would be something really interesting for Season 2 to look at in more detail. We know that Seven of Nine and Chakotay had a relationship toward the end of Voyager, and that Raffi has a son from a previous relationship. But this could be a great opportunity for some more LGBT+ representation – in this case, perhaps, bisexuality.
Both characters saw significant development in Season 1 – Raffi by finding her son and Seven of Nine by avenging Icheb. Seeing Seven of Nine finally break out of the repetitive, emotionally stifled character she was in Voyager was genuinely cathartic, and giving her even more opportunities to show off her humanity and emotional side would be fantastic.
Both characters have experienced the loss of either a child or child figure, and that could strengthen their bond. They’re different people, and having gone through very different life experiences have responded differently to loss – Seven by becoming obsessed with revenge, and Raffi by falling into addiction.
They could help each other overcome these issues. Seven of Nine could help Raffi through recovery from her drug and alcohol addictions, and Raffi in turn could help Seven move on from the loss of Icheb and the murder of Bjayzl. There’s a lot of scope for very interesting and emotional stories in this pair of characters.
Number 6: Foreshadowing of the Romulan-Vulcan reunification seen in Discovery Season 3.
Discovery’s third season confirmed that Vulcans and Romulans had managed to set their differences aside – for the most part – and come back together. Though Discovery said this happened “centuries” after Spock’s first visit to Romulus, perhaps we could see some movement in that direction in Picard.
The attack on Mars and its aftermath has arguably left Federation-Romulan relations – and by extension, relations between the Vulcans and Romulans – at an all-time low. However, the unmasking of the Zhat Vash and their role in the attack may have led ordinary Romulans to look upon the Federation less harshly, and if there have been reforms to Romulan society – as was hinted at by the use of the name “Romulan Free State” instead of “Romulan Star Empire” – maybe the beginnings of reunification have already been seen.
Picard had a heavy focus on the Romulans in Season 1, and at least one Romulan character – Elnor – will return in Season 2. Thus the show is the perfect vehicle to show the path forward, bridging the gap between the secretive Romulan Empire of The Next Generation’s era and the reunified Ni’Var of Discovery’s 32nd Century.
The return of a character such as Tuvok could also be a part of this; seeing Elnor working closely with a Vulcan could set up his character for a future role in the reunification process, for example. With Seven of Nine already confirmed to be coming back, bringing one of her Voyager colleagues on board would be great to see.
Number 7: Spend more time with Starfleet.
Season 1 made good on its promise of taking Picard away from Starfleet. While two members of the new crew are ex-Starfleet officers – as well as Picard himself – they operate outside of the organisation. I wouldn’t want to see that change; Picard has done what no other Star Trek show ever really did by focusing entirely on a non-Starfleet crew and that’s been fantastic. But there is scope to see more of Starfleet at the beginning of the 25th Century.
After Season 1 saw Picard and his crew largely working against Starfleet, from him being denied access to a Starfleet ship to Raffi and Rios breaking all the rules to gain access to the Artifact, it would be great to see some cooperation. The Season 1 finale gave us a taste of that with Riker and his armada, but there are more ways Picard and La Sirena could work with Starfleet while still remaining separate.
Alternatively – or perhaps additionally – we could see more of the story of Season 2 unfold from Starfleet’s point of view. Admiral Clancy was our major Starfleet character in Season 1 and she could certainly return. But this could also be how another legacy character is introduced, and Picard could work alongside them for some reason.
Having at least one major character being a Starfleet officer, and depicting events within Starfleet, would be something I think I’d like to see Season 2 do, provided it could balance that with keeping La Sirena on the outside. Starfleet and the Federation have always been a huge part of Star Trek, and while it was great to see that they’re still the “good guys,” spending more time with them next season would be fantastic.
Number 8: Consequences for Dr Jurati.
Though she did so under the influence of a mind-meld, Dr Jurati still murdered Dr Maddox in Season 1. Star Trek has done some great courtroom drama stories over the years, and I think it would be really interesting to see Dr Jurati arrested and even stand trial. Would the mind-meld be a suitable defence in the eyes of the law? We’ve never seen such a case in Star Trek.
This is another storyline that the finale rushed and ultimately failed to do justice to. At the beginning of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 Dr Jurati is still expecting to turn herself in and be arrested for murder, as Picard insisted she would be. However, by the end of Part 2 she seems free to remain aboard La Sirena and has even formed a relationship with Rios.
The question of Dr Jurati’s culpability is potentially interesting. Despite still being under the influence of the mind-meld she refused to try to harm Soji, pushing through Commodore Oh’s brainwashing. If she could stop herself from harming Soji, how did she harm Dr Maddox – someone with whom she was intimate?
Even if the legal side of things is only briefly addressed, such as a line of dialogue telling us that the charges were dropped, Dr Jurati may suffer psychological effects from what she did. She murdered someone she was very close to, and threatened to sabotage Picard’s mission. Even if he and the others have forgiven her, will she be able to so easily forgive herself? She has already attempted suicide once, and this is an angle the show could look at in more detail as well.
Number 9: The return of Dr Soong.
Even if Season 2 takes Picard away from Coppelius for the most part, it would be great to catch up with Dr Soong – a character who felt underdeveloped in the Season 1 finale. We never learned why Dr Soong wanted to transfer his mind to a synthetic body, nor what the consequences are for him of giving that body to Picard.
I picked up a hint or two in Season 1 that Dr Soong may be sick or dying, so perhaps donating the synthetic body he planned to use to Picard has condemned him to death. Alternatively, however, he may simply be able to build a new one now that he understands the mind-transfer process.
A story on Coppelius could also show us what impact the loss of Data’s neurons may have on Dr Soong. Without them, is he able to build new synths, or build another golem for himself? The finale left these questions unanswered, and while I don’t expect Season 2 to spend all of its time tying up loose ends, it would be nice to see some of these points addressed.
Dr Soong is of course played by Data actor Brent Spiner, and welcoming him back to Star Trek was wonderful in Season 1. It would be great if a role could be found for him in Season 2, even if it was only for a single episode.
Number 10: Guinan.
This is a total cheat since we already have confirmation that Guinan is coming back, but I wanted to include it anyway. Sir Patrick Stewart invited Guinan actress Whoopi Goldberg to join the show for its second season months ago, so it seems like Guinan will have a significant role in the season. Whether she’ll be a recurring character or make an appearance in a single episode isn’t known at this stage, but she will certainly be back.
Picard and Guinan’s relationship was touched on in The Next Generation, but never fully explained. There’s certainly scope to learn more about how they came together, why their relationship goes “beyond friendship, beyond family,” as well as what the impact of Picard’s reclusion had on Guinan. What has Guinan been doing since we last saw her? We simply don’t know – so it will be interesting to find out!
Number 11: Foreshadowing the dilithium shortage seen in Discovery Season 3.
This is the second “foreshadowing Discovery” entry on this list, and I don’t expect (or want) Picard Season 2 to spend all of its runtime doing that. However, this is another way that we could potentially see a connection to the events of Picard’s sister show.
For some unknown reason, by the 28th or 29th Centuries dilithium supplies in the galaxy were beginning to run low. This is what prompted Starfleet to begin seeking out new sources of the important fuel, ultimately culminating in the Burn, as well as the people of Ni’Var withdrawing from the Federation believing their alternative propulsion experiments caused the Burn.
Though the dilithium shortage depicted in Discovery’s recent season is centuries away, the beginnings of it could be seen in Picard… somehow. Perhaps dilithium supplies were already beginning to run low but the Federation was keeping it quiet, or perhaps they discovered a major cache of dilithium similar to the Verubin Nebula’s planet some time in this era which kept them going for centuries.
Even a single line of dialogue noting that a starship is on a mission to seek out new sources of dilithium would be a subtle nod to fans of Discovery, and a minor way in which the two shows could be connected.
Number 12: A broader look at the galaxy as the 25th Century dawns.
Despite bringing back a few legacy characters – not all of whom survived – and spending a lot of time with the Romulans, Season 1 didn’t paint a very broad picture of the state of the galaxy. We know that the Federation is doing well, despite the attack on Mars and the effects of the Dominion War years earlier. But what of other factions? And is all well in Starfleet?
There are so many races and factions that Season 2 could look at that I don’t know where to begin. But rather than a repetition of Season 1, with its relatively narrow focus on one faction and a handful of events, it would be great if Season 2 could expand the map and look at a few different places and peoples – even if that means doing so in less detail.
Right now, Picard is the only Star Trek production set in this post-Nemesis era. I wouldn’t be surprised if more shows, miniseries, and films were announced, but for the foreseeable future we only have Picard to show us the galaxy and what’s been going on in the years since Nemesis. Obviously the attack on Mars was a significant event, but there must be other things that happened in that twenty-year span.
As I mentioned in my last piece, a personal favourite story arc of mine is Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War, so I would be fascinated to learn anything about Bajor, Cardassia, DS9, the Gamma Quadrant, or the Dominion. But given Picard’s lack of connection to those events (except for a link to Bajor via Ro Laren) perhaps that isn’t on the agenda this time. Still, anything we could get to look at the bigger picture of the galaxy would be wonderful.
Number 13: Looking at current events.
One thing Picard Season 1 did very well was show how Picard’s mental health was suffering as a result of his rejection by Starfleet. I think a lot of people who’ve been through almost a year of lockdowns and isolation could watch the Season 1 premiere, Remembrance, and empathise much more with the isolated, lonely Admiral Picard than they could when it was first broadcast.
Star Trek has never shied away from using its sci-fi setting to tackle real-world issues, and the biggest right now is of course the pandemic and its associated effects. Season 2 may have had a complete draft written before the pandemic hit – production was meant to take place last year, after all – but there has been plenty of time to change things up and include contemporary themes. Not every series has to use the pandemic as inspiration, and in many ways people come to sci-fi and fantasy to escape the real world – something that’s arguably even more necessary right now – so maybe this won’t happen.
Number 14: The return of Laris and Zhaban.
Laris and Zhaban – Picard’s Romulan assistants – served a fairly typical adventure story role in Season 1. They were the safe reminders of home that Picard had to leave behind when setting off on his quest; a role filled by the residents of Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings, for example.
But they were also more than that. The decision to make them Romulans did serve a purpose – without them, Picard would never have learned of the Zhat Vash, for example. But given Picard’s complicated history with the Romulans after abandoning his efforts to help them evacuate their homeworld, the question of why these two ex-Tal Shiar operatives were so steadfastly loyal to him raised its head.
Maybe this is simply a minor plot contrivance, but I don’t want to just overlook it and say it’s fine. What did Picard do to win their trust and loyalty so strongly that they’d follow him to isolation on Earth? And why did they choose not to follow him into space when he set out to help Soji? It wasn’t to attend to the grape harvest, surely.
Some further development of these two characters would be welcome, and while I know they did feature in a novel, most folks don’t read those and it arguably isn’t canon – Star Trek, unlike Star Wars, has always drawn a line between what happens on screen and what happens in apocryphal works. So their backstory in relation to Picard is still, in my opinion at least, an open question that Season 2 could address.
Number 15: The Artifact will come under Federation control.
Though parts of it have been picked over by the Romulans for decades, the opportunity to study a largely-intact Borg vessel does not present itself every day. Unless the Borg have somehow been defeated off-screen between the events of Nemesis and Picard – which I very much doubt given their popularity among fans – the Federation will surely want to avail itself of this opportunity.
The Artifact crash-landed on Coppelius at the end of Season 1, but with the planet designated a Federation protectorate they now have access to the wreck. Who knows what Federation scientists could learn about the Borg if not constrained by the Romulans. The Artifact may not play a big role in Season 2, but I would argue it is incredibly important to the Federation. That may even be the cynical reason why they chose to send a fleet to defend Coppelius.
Number 16: The appearance of Section 31.
If you followed my reviews and theories during Season 1, you may remember that I thought of numerous ways that Section 31 could’ve been included. This stemmed from the production side of Star Trek: Section 31 had recently been a major part of Discovery, and there’s an upcoming Section 31 series in development. For those reasons, Section 31 seemed like a way that all three Star Trek projects could’ve had a familiar theme.
It didn’t happen in Season 1, of course, and with Discovery completely ignoring Section 31 in its third season perhaps you could argue that it’s less important this time around. But I don’t necessarily agree. The Section 31 series is still coming, with pre-production having already begun and Michelle Yeoh’s departure from Discovery setting the stage.
In addition, Discovery introduced us to the enigmatic Kovich in Season 3, played by famed director David Cronenberg. If you followed my Discovery theories, you’ll know I’ve posited the idea that he is an operative of Section 31 – or maybe even its leader in the 32nd Century.
As a result, Section 31 remains one way that many of the ongoing Star Trek projects can find common ground, despite being split up along the timeline. It would remind fans of each series that they’re watching one part of a greater whole, and connecting the Star Trek franchise together will hopefully help fans of one show jump over to others that are currently in production. I know of many people who have either watched Discovery or Picard – but not both. Finding more ways to connect the shows and bring the franchise together will be important to Star Trek’s future – and vital to its ongoing success.
Number 17: Fallout from Picard’s newfound synthetic status.
There had been a widespread ban on synthetic life for over a decade as a result of the attack on Mars. Though we learned in Season 1’s closing moments that the ban has been rescinded, the attack, its aftermath, and the ban may have lingering effects on non-synthetics. Will Picard face discrimination and hate as a result of his synthetic nature?
Perhaps, given the reaction in some areas of the fandom to Picard becoming a synth and the whole death-and-rebirth narrative, Season 2 will seek to downplay Picard’s status. But it would be interesting to explore the ramifications. We’ve talked about Riker, Troi, and Guinan possibly being major characters in the story – how will they react to Picard being synthetic? Can Troi read synthetic minds? Would Guinan feel he’s no longer the same person given her sensitivity to such things?
There are real-world analogies that anti-synthetic discrimination could be used to show. Star Trek has, on many occasions in the past, looked at the complex issues of race relations in the United States, and in the wake of the events of 2020 and ongoing efforts to ensure racial justice and equality, this could be something the synthetic storyline highlights.
There are also interesting legal and ethical questions that the show could address. Most significantly: is Picard the same person as he was, or is he legally and morally a distinct person now that he has a synthetic body? Will Starfleet, for example, consider him to be the same retired Admiral, or will he no longer have those privileges?
Number 18: Making peace with the super-synths.
Although she stood down and turned off the synths’ beacon on Coppelius, Soji did nevertheless contact the super-synths (the villains I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” for their similarity to that video game faction). There may yet be consequences for having done so, because the super-synths might not simply return to dark space to wait for another faction to contact them – they may already be en route to the Milky Way galaxy.
Even if the super-synths themselves don’t initiate a conflict, from Starfleet’s point of view it makes sense to reach out and tell them what happened. By explaining Starfleet’s position – that they value synthetic life and will not seek to harm the Coppelius synths – perhaps a conflict could be avoided. Making the attempt seems like something Starfleet would do, at least.
There’s a lot of potential to make the super-synths more than a plot device and one-dimensional incomprehensible villain. They could, as previously suggested, connect to the Borg. They could also be expanded upon as we learn more about them, their name, their motivations, and so on. We know precious little about the super-synths right now, and it would be great to learn more. Was their offer to help the synths genuine – or was it a trap?
Soji, as the instigator of contact with the super-synths, could be just the person to help pacify them if they turn out to be on the warpath. That could be why she needs Picard and the crew of La Sirena: to seek out the super-synths and prevent a war.
Number 19: Shutting down the beacon on Aia.
Now that the Zhat Vash have been exposed, we don’t really know what will become of their anti-synthetic crusade. The decision to have Commodore Oh withdraw so quickly in the Season 1 finale is not one I particularly liked; the Zhat Vash were presented as zealots who would stop at nothing to achieve their goal of wiping out synthetic life, and despite Soji closing the portal, from Oh’s point of view she could just open another one.
However, criticisms aside, it makes sense that Starfleet – or at least Picard – would want to find the octonary star system and shut down the beacon on Aia. Not only would this prevent the Zhat Vash from continuing to use it, but it would also avoid the possibility of other synths accidentally finding it and using it to contact the super-synths.
This should be a priority for Starfleet, at least in my opinion! Though we may not see it for ourselves, this could be something communicated in a line or two of dialogue, just noting that the beacon has been shut down.
Alternatively it could be a major storyline, with Picard and La Sirena setting out to find Aia and continue their fight against the Zhat Vash. I’m not sure if this would be the right way to go – it feels like an epilogue to Season 1 rather than the main event for Season 2. But it could make for an interesting episode!
Number 20: The return of Dr Crusher (or another major character from The Next Generation era).
Dr Crusher was the only major character from The Next Generation who wasn’t confirmed to be alive in Season 1. We saw Troi and Riker, of course, and thanks to Zhaban we heard about Worf and La Forge too. But despite how close Picard and Dr Crusher were – they had even married in an alternate timeline – no mention was made of her.
The question of what became of their relationship is an open one. In the aftermath of Picard’s resignation and retirement, did Dr Crusher visit him? Were they married, or romantically involved? If so, could the wedding of Troi and Riker (that we saw in Nemesis) have been the prompt for them to revisit their relationship?
Picard was clearly single in Season 1, so if he and Dr Crusher had been romantically involved it’s clearly something that has already ended. But his new lease on life – thanks to a new body and overcoming his depression – could mean he wants to renew things or at least contact her.
Alternatively we could learn that Dr Crusher has died, or that she and Picard never got together. They could even have had a major falling-out and may not have spoken in over a decade. Such a storyline could see them coming back together, moving on from whatever caused the fight.
So that’s it. I didn’t plan to write this at first, but writing up some preliminary guesses for Discovery Season 4 was so much fun that I wanted to do the same thing for Picard Season 2 as well!
Picard Season 2 will – fingers crossed – begin filming some time soon. I wouldn’t bet on seeing it on our screens in 2021, though, just because of how much time post-production will take. So it may be a while before we see Picard, Raffi, Elnor, Rios, Dr Jurati, and Seven of Nine! But that doesn’t mean speculating and guessing about what may be coming is any less enjoyable.
These are not even theories – I want to call them guesses rather than anything else. So please, please don’t get carried away thinking that any of these are destined to happen. We all need to remember to take such theories and predictions with a pinch of salt at the best of times, and guesswork this far out when we know less than nothing about the upcoming season is almost silly! So as fun as this was to put together, let’s all try not to get too excited about anything listed above.
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 titles 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are further spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery (including the Season 3 trailers) and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s been a little over six months since Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard came to an end. The series set up a number of mysteries, and while many of them were completely resolved by the first season finale, some weren’t. Some of these may be addressed in future – in fact, that’s something I’d really like to see – but assuming the series follows a similar pattern to Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and his new crew will likely warp away to a different adventure next time. That may mean that we never learn the truth behind these mysterious unresolved story threads.
Many television series nowadays set up mysteries or unanswered questions early on that become important later, and I don’t mean to come across as impatiently banging on the table demanding we get answers to everything now! Part of the fun of watching a series like Star Trek: Picard – at least for me – is the theorising and speculating, trying to figure out the puzzles that the producers and writers have created.
One small caveat: it’s possible that some of these points have been addressed in non-canon sources (like comic books) but I’m not counting that. Star Trek, unlike Star Wars, has always drawn a clear line between official canon and unofficial sources. Occasionally we will see points from unofficial material make its way into Star Trek, but unless we see these points resolved on screen, the potential exists for the writers of Season 2 – or indeed of any future Star Trek production – to overwrite anything published in a novel, comic, video game, etc.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the list!
Number 1: Who are Laris and Zhaban, and what is the nature of their relationship with Picard?
The first few episodes of Season 1 introduced us to Laris and Zhaban – Picard’s assistants at his vineyard in France. Laris and Zhaban are Romulans, and not just any Romulans but former Tal Shiar operatives. I assumed, before we learned what happened to Picard’s planned rescue armada, that he had won their loyalty by saving them (or their families) from the Romulan supernova. But now we know that Picard only evacuated a minuscule number of Romulans, most of whom wound up on the planet Vashti. Those refugees detest Picard for abandoning them – even though the decision was taken by the Federation rather than him personally.
So the question remains: why are Laris and Zhaban so loyal to Picard that they’d give up everything to become housemaids and winemakers on Earth? Even if he saved their lives during the evacuation, very shortly afterwards he gave up on helping their people and their cause. Not only do they seem 100% fine with that, but they appear to have made no effort to help either, despite being operatives of the Tal Shiar.
A related point would be why didn’t Laris and Zhaban accompany Picard when he left the vineyard to go back into space? Picard seems to convince them to stay behind by telling them he needs them to attend to the grape harvest – but if you stop to think about it, this doesn’t make much sense. If they’re staying with him out of sheer stubborn loyalty – for some as-yet-unidentified reason – why would they allow him to head off on a dangerous mission unaccompanied?
And finally, now that Picard seems to have a ship and loyal crew, what will happen to Laris and Zhaban back on Earth? Are they just going to remain behind as custodians of the vineyard while Picard is away? That’s certainly a possibility, but it still raises the question of why he has such steadfast loyalty from them.
Laris and Zhaban filled a story role in Season 1, not only by introducing Picard (and us as the audience) to the idea of the Zhat Vash’s existence, but also by being representations of Picard’s home and safe harbour that he has to leave behind as he goes on his adventure. They serve the same role as some of the Hobbiton Hobbits in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels in that regard. As a story point and character archetype that’s fine, but in the Star Trek galaxy, given everything we learned about Picard and the Romulans, some explanation would be nice!
Number 2: What happened to Soji’s Trill friend after Maps and Legends?
Maps and Legends (the second episode of Season 1) introduced us to a Trill character: Dr Kunamadéstifee. The two sequences in which she featured appeared to have a lot of horror film-style foreshadowing, leading to a theory I held onto for almost the whole of the season that she was going to meet an unpleasant fate. However, after Maps and Legends the character was abruptly dropped with no explanation.
From a production point of view, it would have been beneficial to keep this character around. Soji had precious little interaction with anyone aside from Narek for much of the season, and a character like Dr Kunamadéstifee could have been a friend she could speak to, if only occasionally. Star Trek has always had guest stars who make a single appearance then don’t return, and from that point of view this isn’t odd or out of the ordinary. But it would still be nice to learn what became of Dr Kunamadéstifee – one way or the other!
Number 3: Why was Dr Bruce Maddox on Freecloud?
This is a huge point, because right now it represents a gaping hole in the story of the first season. I’ve talked about this before, but just to recap: the storyline of the first half of the season was about locating Bruce Maddox, who had been missing since the ban on synthetic life. Maddox was eventually tracked to Freecloud, and the only reason he’d travelled to the dangerous planet was because his lab had “been destroyed by the Tal Shiar.”
Obviously he can’t have been referring to his lab on Coppelius – Picard was literally sat in that room at one point, and it didn’t look destroyed to me! But even assuming Maddox had built a second lab away from Coppelius, why did he not simply return there if the new facility had been attacked? Why did he go to Freecloud instead? Dr Soong and the other synths would have welcomed him with open arms, yet he chose to go to a dangerous place and visit a woman he owed a lot of money to.
Bjayzl may not have killed him or successfully sold him to the Tal Shiar, but she contributed to his death by weakening him significantly. Travelling to Freecloud – and to Bjayzl’s club in particular – appears to be an act of desperation or of last resort, yet Maddox clearly had other options.
Right now, the only reason Maddox was on Freecloud is to enable other aspects of the storyline to make sense, and to get Picard and other characters into position. Without Maddox, Picard would have had to find a different way to track down Soji, so he’s important to the plot. Unfortunately, the lack of explanation to this point leaves a pretty wide plot hole, and because finding Maddox was the main focus of the first half of the season, it’s one I can’t overlook. It needs a satisfactory expanation.
Number 4: What will happen to the ex-Borg and the Artifact?
At the climax of the Artifact’s storyline, Seven of Nine and Elnor attempted to lead a rebellion of ex-Borg against the Romulans. However, Rizzo and the Zhat Vash were prepared and ended up killing a lot of xBs. Not all of them were killed, though, and while we don’t know how many survived, there clearly were survivors after the Artifact arrived at Coppelius. A Borg cube can easily have tens of thousands of drones aboard, and while it was suggested that Rizzo killed the majority of them, we don’t really know how many could have survived. It could easily be hundreds – or possibly more.
Seven of Nine appeared to take on a leadership role for the xBs, filling a void left by Hugh’s death. Many xBs seemed confused or traumatised by their experiences – and they will need someone to help them get through that. At the end of the Season 1 finale, though, both Seven of Nine and Elnor had rejoined Picard aboard La Sirena, and the ship then warped away to an unknown destination. Without Seven of Nine, what will happen to the ex-Borg?
The Artifact itself is likely to come under Starfleet control, at least in my opinion. Its wreckage on Coppelius is largely intact, and presumably the Federation will want to study as much Borg technology as it can get its hands on. It’s possible that something has happened in the galaxy in the two decades that we didn’t see that may have resolved or ended the Borg threat, but that was never mentioned on screen so I assume Starfleet would be very keen to get its hands on a mostly-intact Borg cube – even if it had been picked at by Romulans and may be several years out-of-date!
The ex-Borg are another matter, though. There appeared to be a wide range of races, including many non-Federation species. Some may wish to return home, but in the case of species like the Hirogen, that may not be possible. The Federation may offer them all refugee status and help them reacclimate to life outside the Borg Collective, but it still seems very strange to me that Seven of Nine has just seemingly abandoned the survivors. It’s possible that the final scenes of Season 1 took place many months later, in which case this may have been handled off-screen. Still, it would be nice to get a proper resolution, even if it’s just a couple of lines of dialogue.
Number 5: What will Starfleet do about Aia?
Somewhere beyond Romulan space – and out of reach of Starfleet – lies Aia, a planet at the centre of eight stars. The stars were deliberately moved and aligned to strongly indicate Aia’s location, and at some point in the past – perhaps centuries ago – the Romulans stumbled upon it. On Aia there’s a beacon left behind by a powerful synthetic race (I nicknamed them the “Mass Effect Reapers”) and it tells synthetics to contact them. The Romulans would interpret this information as something apocalyptic, and the Zhat Vash came to believe that any synthetic life would ultimately lead to the extinction of all sentient organic life in the galaxy.
The beacon was more complicated than that, and instead contained an instruction for synths, telling them to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” if they need help or are being persecuted by organics. Given the immense power that the “Mass Effect Reapers” appear to possess, surely Starfleet can’t risk leaving the beacon on Aia for anyone to find.
The beacon already caused massive problems – the attack on Mars and the Romulan attempt to attack Coppelius being just two examples, and there may be countless others. Leaving it alone will not only perpetuate the Zhat Vash’s conspiracy theory, but will also be dangerous. What if someone else encounters the beacon and contacts the “Mass Effect Reapers”?
I have a theory that – somehow – the Romulans have “cloaked” the octonary star system and Aia, otherwise surely with 24th Century scanning technology and telescopes the Federation would have noticed it. So it may not be as easy as just travelling there and shutting it down. Attempting to do so could even lead to war with the Romulans. However, I think it’s a risk the Federation will have to take; leaving the beacon alone is simply not an option.
Number 6: Who are the super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers”?
The “Mass Effect Reapers” – nicknamed for their similarities to a faction from a video game series – are a total unknown quantity. There are many possibilities for who they are and what their motivations are, but we only caught the barest of glimpses of them in the Season 1 finale, and in the aftermath of Picard’s “death,” no one mentioned them. Surely, however, they’re an existential threat to Starfleet – and indeed the whole galaxy – on a scale comparable to the Borg. Heck, they could actually be the Borg.
I have a theory that the “Mass Effect Reapers” may be the cause of the Burn – a galactic catastrophe seen in the trailers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. If that’s the case, perhaps Discovery will explain this faction’s backstory in more detail. If they reside in an area of space far beyond the Milky Way galaxy it could have taken them centuries to travel here, meaning the timelines match up for Discovery’s far-future setting.
Theories aside, we know next to nothing about this faction. They were powerful enough to move stars and to create a sustainable eight-star octonary system. They also appear to have altruistic motivations when it comes to synthetic life, offering to help synths in their struggle against organic oppressors. But is that genuine? Or when they arrive would they simply harvest or assimilate whoever they found? We simply don’t know, but it feels like something that could easily be a trap.
Soji was talked into closing the beacon – but whoever the “Mass Effect Reapers” are, they’re now aware of the existence of the Federation, the Romulans, and the Coppelius synths. If I were Starfleet, I’d immediately work on a plan to contact them and try to open a dialogue. Explaining what happened, and that the Coppelius synths are safe, may be the only way to avert a conflict.
Number 7: Why was Dr Soong planning to transfer his mind to a synthetic body?
When Picard and the crew of La Sirena arrived on Coppelius they met Dr Soong – the son of Data’s creator. Dr Soong was working on a synthetic body for himself, but had been unable to perfect the mind-transfer that he would have needed to accomplish that goal. He ended up donating the body – nicknamed the “golem” – to Picard, but what consequences (if any) will there be for that?
Sadly we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Dr Soong, but I felt it was at least hinted at in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 that he needed a synthetic body. Perhaps he, like Picard, is dying? The finale had a lot of story to get through and rather skipped over that point, so we don’t really know why Dr Soong wanted to become a synth. Was it a desire for immortality? Was it because of illness? Was it because all of his friends were synths and he felt left out? We simply don’t know.
With Brent Spiner set to reprise the role in Season 2, I’d say we have a decent chance of finding out.
Number 8: What became of Narek?
Narek’s story came to an abrupt end partway through Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2. After convincing Raffi and Rios to go along with his plan to attack the synths’ beacon, Narek was wrestled to the ground by a group of synths during the botched attack. After that he was never seen or referenced again.
Apparently there’s a deleted or unfilmed scene from the episode which was to depict Narek being taken into custody by the Federation. While it isn’t canon, it remains the most likely outcome. However, there are other possibilities. Narek could have been retrieved by the Romulans during their mission to Coppelius, being transported aboard a Romulan ship during the standoff. He could have been held by the synths, who have cause to hate him for unleashing the Zhat Vash upon them. He could have recanted his Zhat Vash ideology and left aboard La Sirena with Picard – though I consider this one unlikely.
There are many reasons why Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 was a mixed episode and a somewhat stumbling finale. The lack of any resolution to the story of a major character is just one of them. Though unconfirmed at this stage, I doubt Narek will return as a major character in Season 2, so unless we get some dialogue or a cameo confirming his fate, the deleted/unfilmed scene may be all we have to go on.
Number 9: Are the synths safe on Coppelius?
The timely arrival of Riker’s Starfleet armada is the only reason Coppelius wasn’t obliterated from orbit by a massive Romulan attack fleet. Soji may have listened to Picard and shut down the beacon, but Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash are fanatics and zealots, and the idea that they would have simply stood down having witnessed that and having heard Picard’s speech doesn’t make a lot of sense.
With that in mind, what’s to stop them returning at any point in the future to finish the job and destroy this colony of synths? Unless Starfleet plans to permanently base an entire fleet in the system, and perhaps build a Starbase there too, it seems like the synths can never be safe if they remain on Coppelius. Evacuating them to a new home would seem to be the safest option.
Number 10: Who knows that Picard is now a synth?
Obviously Dr Soong, Dr Jurati, and Soji know that Picard is now a synth. The rest of La Sirena’s crew must know too, as will Seven of Nine. At the very end of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 Picard basically admitted it out loud in front of all of them. But does anyone else know? What about Riker and Troi? They played big roles in Season 1, but Riker left Coppelius before Picard’s “death” so he may not be aware of what transpired.
There are potential ramifications for Picard’s death-and-rebirth. From Starfleet’s perspective, is he the same Jean-Luc Picard as before? To his friends he may seem the same, but to those prejudiced against synths after a long prohibition on synthetic life, will they treat him the same? Picard may reunite with other people from his past in Season 2 – someone like Dr Crusher or Guinan. I wonder how they will react if they learn what happened.
So that’s it. Ten unresolved mysteries from Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Some of these I fully expect future seasons to tackle, but others feel in danger of being abandoned as Picard and the crew move on to new adventures.
Overall, Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard did a good job of resolving the mysteries and storylines that it set up. But there are some that fell by the wayside and didn’t get a proper conclusion. If the plan is to continue these stories and make more of them in future seasons then I’m all for it, because that sounds fantastic. But if we aren’t going to see these storylines and characters return, doing something to bring proper closure is something I really hope the producers and writers try to do.
Star Trek: Picard is 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and the trailer for Discovery’s upcoming third season.
Ever since we first caught a glimpse of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season setting, I’ve been wondering what’s going on. According to everything we know at this stage, Burnham and the ship will successfully complete a 930-year time jump into the far future. That future looks pretty bleak, and perhaps could even be described as post-apocalyptic. If it’s true that Discovery plans to tell a story set in an era where the Federation is defeated or in decline, figuring out how that happened – and reversing it – is surely going to be the overarching story.
For now we’re going to have to set aside reservations about how a post-apocalyptic or otherwise bleak setting will work with Star Trek from a storytelling point of view. Instead, let’s look at things from an in-universe perspective and try to figure out what may be going on. I have already covered this theory back in March when I was wrapping up my Star Trek: Picard theories, so if you’re a regular reader it may be familiar to you.
In short, here’s how the theory goes: the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are the cause of Discovery’s post-apocalyptic setting. Let’s break it down, look at why it could be a possibility, and explore it in more detail.
So although I said this would be an in-universe explanation of the theory, there is one production-side reason we need to look at too. One thing that modern Star Trek shows lack is a relationship to each other. Discovery did a pretty good job of tying itself to The Original Series, and both Picard and Lower Decks have connected themselves to The Next Generation, but there’s essentially nothing beyond a couple of throwaway lines linking Picard to Discovery right now. That would have been unthinkable during the 1990s, where The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all shared characters, settings, locations, factions, and themes.
Modern Star Trek is hampered by its shows being split up along the timeline, and this makes it harder for new fans to transition smoothly from one series to another. There are no threads of consistency running between the different series, and while they are semi-independent productions they are all being produced by one overall team of people under the Star Trek Universe umbrella.
If we were to learn at some point in Discovery’s third season that the events depicted in Picard were directly related to the Federation’s decline or defeat, suddenly there would be a reason for Discovery fans who missed Picard to go back and watch it, and for Picard fans who haven’t seen Discovery to jump over and watch that show too. There would be the strong feeling that both shows genuinely take place in the same universe and the same timeline, which right now is lacking. This would help the Star Trek brand stay cohesive, and be a frame of reference for casual viewers, all while allowing both shows to provide each other a boost.
So that’s on the production side of things. But I promised you an in-universe look! First let’s very briefly recap, in case you forgot the events of the final few episodes of Picard. While investigating Soji’s origins, Picard and the crew of La Sirena came to realise that there are a race of synthetic life-forms – created by Bruce Maddox – living on a planet called Coppelius. The Romulan faction known as the Zhat Vash were searching for the synths too, because they believe that the synths will trigger an apocalyptic event. This apocalypse was revealed to them by a beacon left behind by an ancient race on a world they called Aia, and when we got a clearer look at the message the beacon contained, it was less a warning to organics than a message to the synths themselves, offering aid. A faction of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” exist somewhere beyond the galaxy, and they have promised aid to any synthetic race that calls on them. Sutra and Soji planned to contact them, and to open a portal that would have allowed the “Mass Effect Reapers” to travel to the Milky Way galaxy. They successfully built the beacon, but at the last second Picard convinced Soji to shut it down, closing the portal and preventing the arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”.
Did I miss anything? I hope not! I nicknamed this faction the “Mass Effect Reapers” because they have noteworthy similarities to another race of super-synths in the Mass Effect series of video games.
I think that the most important thing to note is that in the finale, Soji and Sutra were successful in opening the portal. Thus, the “Mass Effect Reapers” are aware of the existence of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, and also of the existence of the Federation. While Picard was able to convince Soji to stand down and close the portal, questions remain.
Now that the “Mass Effect Reapers” know of the existence of the Romulans, Federation, and synths, will they be content to go back to sitting still, waiting for another race of synths to contact them? Or did Sutra and Soji set into motion a chain of events that can no longer be stopped? Closing the portal may have prevented the imminent arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”, but it’s totally unclear what they will choose to do next.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” were presented as hyper-intelligent, arguably far beyond the Federation and Romulans in terms of technology, and thus their motivations and actions can be difficult to predict. This may be an oversimplification, but at the moment Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon, she didn’t seem to communicate to the “Mass Effect Reapers” why she was doing so. From their point of view, a portal was opened – through which they could see a race of synths threatened by an imposing fleet of starships – then before they could take action the portal was closed. If I were the “Mass Effect Reapers”, I’d want to know why. And if I were paranoid, I might be thinking that the synths who tried to contact me were under attack and that the beacon had been forcibly shut down.
If the “Mass Effect Reapers” followed this line of thinking, and their motivation is still to provide help to any synthetic race that asks for it, the logical next step would be for them to set off to the Milky Way as fast as they can. Depending on how far away they are – and the show never really explained that – it could take years, decades, or even centuries for them to travel, even if their technology is more advanced than anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. That’s assuming they set off immediately – there may have been a debate or discussion about what to do that could have lasted years or longer.
In any case, it’s not inconceivable that this extra-galactic threat could take centuries to arrive. I like to assume that Picard and/or Starfleet will travel to Aia and disable or destroy the beacon to prevent not only the Romulans from using it, but from other synths finding it in future. Even shutting down the beacon on Aia may be too late, though, because of the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” are perhaps the only faction other than the Borg who could be capable of waging a successful war against the Federation. Even if all of the powers of the Alpha and Beta quadrants were to band together, it still might not be enough against the superior technology of these super-synths, and we could certainly expect any such conflict to be long and catastrophically costly. Even if the Federation survived it would be seriously weakened. Furthermore, a large-scale attack on the Federation would result in far-flung colonies being cut off, and any news or information might be hard to come by.
This is where the trailer for Discovery’s third season comes in. We see a setting best described as bleak, as Burnham and the crew arrive in a part of the galaxy that seems far away from Earth. The Federation seems to be in decline, Starfleet is described as a “ghost”, and we’re left wondering what happened to cause all of this. We’ve seen the Federation in the far future before, both in Voyager and Enterprise, and certainly 100-200 years before Discovery’s far future setting, the Federation and Starfleet seemed to be doing pretty well, even furthering their mission of exploration to include time as well as space. Reconciling that image of the future with Discovery’s setting is something Season 3 will need to do.
As a faction we know essentially nothing about – not even their name – the “Mass Effect Reapers” are ripe for exploring in more detail. Discovery could do so in such a way that doesn’t interfere with anything Picard set up, providing not only the next part of the story, but also some background. We could learn about their leadership, motivations, and level of technology in much more detail. And it would still be a practically blank slate for Discovery’s team to use to set up the third season’s bleak and dark setting.
The question of the “Mass Effect Reapers” motivation comes into play again. There are two broad possibilities for their actions in Picard – either they were genuine in their offer to help synthetic races, or the beacon on Aia was part of an elaborate trap. Neither option bodes well for the Federation, assuming that the “Mass Effect Reapers” are now aware of their existence. If it was a trap, and the “Mass Effect Reapers” were waiting to be contacted by synths simply because that would mean advanced civilisations are present, they may now have a new target. If it wasn’t a trap and their desire to help was genuine, they may be motivated by concern for the Coppelius synths or even anger at the Federation and Romulans for intruding before communication could be established. While it’s hard to say what this faction could be planning or thinking based on such a small amount of information, these possibilities seem reasonable, and if they decided they wanted to attack or investigate, the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 could have set that in motion.
Because Picard Season 1 wrapped up in the immediate aftermath of the standoff over Coppelius and the closing of the beacon, we don’t know what happened next. However, I consider two things to be somewhere between possible and likely: the synths on Coppelius would be relocated (in order to keep them safe from the Romulans), and Starfleet would make some attempt to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” to explain what happened.
Relocating the synths feels like a necessity. Commodore Oh may not have wanted to risk war with the Federation when staring down a massive armada, but there’s no indication that she changed her mind on the necessity of exterminating synthetic life. From her perspective, Soji and Sutra building the beacon was a culmination of her worst fears, and although Soji may have been convinced to stand down, again from Oh’s point of view what’s to stop her changing her mind? Or one of the other synths building a new beacon? Leaving the synths on Coppelius would be very dangerous for them, unless Starfleet plans to permanently base a fleet in the system, so the easiest option for everyone would be to relocate them to a safer place.
However, in the context of our theory, this could be problematic. Suppose it takes the “Mass Effect Reapers” a long time to arrive in the Milky Way galaxy, and they don’t manage to travel to Coppelius for several centuries. What do they find when they arrive? No synths, but several massive interstellar civilisations and empires of organic beings. Put the two things together and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the organics wiped out the synths – especially if the last thing the “Mass Effect Reapers” saw before the portal closed was two massive fleets approaching the planet. They may take the missing synths as proof of an attack and go on the rampage.
Even if Starfleet were able to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, there’s no guarantee a successful dialogue could be opened. Setting aside other theories like the “Mass Effect Reapers” actually being the Borg, a race of super-synths that considers themselves light-years ahead of organic beings in every respect may look at humans the way humans look at ants or bacteria, and consider any attempt at communication unworthy of their time. That’s assuming Starfleet could find a way to make contact without opening another portal – it may simply not be possible, though I expect the Federation would want to try.
Taken together, all of these different factors make at least a plausible argument for Discovery taking this story beat and expanding it for the basis of its third season. It could certainly be done in such a way that wasn’t confusing and didn’t make Picard essential viewing to understand what was happening – just like Discovery did with Pike, Vina, and the Talosians in Season 2. The Cage certainly provided extra details and informed what was going on, but viewers didn’t miss anything important for not having seen it. I’m sure the same could be done here, especially if the attack by or war against the “Mass Effect Reapers” was already over. It would exist simply as backstory; an encouragement to hop over and watch Picard without making doing so a necessity.
While this theory remains a possibility, at least in my opinion, it’s hardly a certainty and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Discovery is going in a wholly different direction. Many of my theories during Picard Season 1 didn’t pan out, and this may simply be another that falls by the wayside! Nevertheless, it’s fun to craft theories and speculate, and at the end of the day that’s all this is: a bit of fun, and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek. So please take everything I’ve said today with a healthy pinch of salt.
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 other countries. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will air beginning on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States and Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films discussed 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1, including its ending. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Star Trek: Picard’s first season wrapped up at the end of March – and it feels like forever ago, what with everything that’s happened in the world since! While the season was running, in addition to reviewing each of the episodes in turn I also concocted a number of different theories for what was going on in the show. Star Trek: Picard very carefully set up a number of mysteries, and even heading into the second half of the finale, it wasn’t clear exactly how they would be resolved.
I’d argue that the first season’s two-part finale wasn’t the show at its best, and it felt as though a season which started incredibly strongly ended up stumbling a little as it crossed the finish line. There were a number of reasons for this – which I covered at the time – but it boils down to some of the show’s mysteries not being fully explained, and some storylines being dropped or left unresolved. That and the truly awful gold makeup used for the synths on Coppelius!
If you’d like to read all of my theories from Star Trek: Picard Season 1, you can find them on my dedicated Star Trek: Picard page. Click or tap here to be taken there!
This time, what I’d like to do is take a look back at some of the theories I postulated while the season was running. I’ll explain why I thought they seemed viable – and why they ended up being total misses! In a way, part of the fun of theory-crafting and speculating is knowing that you won’t always get it right… and boy oh boy did I have some seriously wrong theories!
Number 1: Dahj and Soji aren’t synthetics, they’re genetically-engineered humans.
This is a theory I first came up with right at the beginning of the series, almost from the very moment Picard begins to suspect that Dahj is synthetic. It seemed like it could’ve been a clever idea for a double-bluff – establishing Dahj and Soji as synths, only to rip that away and challenge both Picard’s and the audience’s expectations. However, it didn’t pan out that way, and looking back, this theory was kind of ridiculous!
Genetic enhancements, similar to those made on characters like Dr Bashir and Khan, could have given Dahj the incredible speed and strength that she possessed in Remembrance, so from that point of view it wasn’t wholly unthinkable. But looking back, while Star Trek: Picard did aim to be a show that kept us guessing and didn’t telegraph every aspect of its storyline, this kind of subversion of expectations would have been a step too far. We didn’t know anything about Dahj or Soji at the beginning of the series, and to take the one established fact about them and make it a lie or a misunderstanding would have been a storytelling mistake.
There was also plenty of evidence that Dahj and Soji were synthetic: Picard’s meeting with Dr Jurati, Narek’s interest in Soji, and the strong connection Picard felt to Dahj (and later to Soji) because of his friendship with Data. All of that would have made no sense in the story if we’d ended up dealing with genetically-enhanced humans!
I brought this theory back after episode 3, The End is the Beginning, based on a line spoken by one of the Romulans who attempted to assassinate Picard: “she’s not what you think she is!” This of course referred to Soji, and it struck me that, as Picard and his comrades believed Soji to be a synth, perhaps the Romulan knew that she was not. However, as the story progressed it became abundantly clear that Soji and Dahj were the synthetics that the story established them to be, and that I was barking up the wrong tree with this one!
Number 2: Section 31 will make an appearance in the show.
This theory was crafted not so much because of anything that directly happened in the plot of the show, but rather for production reasons. In short, the Star Trek timeline is seriously fractured, with shows being produced simultaneously occupying very different timeframes. When Discovery’s third season kicks off in a few weeks time, there will be four shows occupying four time periods. This complicates the franchise, and what that means is that some threads of continuity would be very helpful, especially for casual viewers.
Section 31 featured heavily in Discovery’s second season, and in addition, a spin-off based on the organisation is currently being worked on. It seemed logical that Star Trek: Picard might want to find some way of incorporating Section 31 if for no other reason than having one of those threads of continuity running through the franchise, tying things loosely together and being a frame of reference for casual viewers.
My first thought for a potential Section 31 appearance was that they could’ve been responsible for the attack on Mars and the destruction of Picard’s armada. I theorised they might have taken such aggressive action to prevent the Federation giving aid to the Romulans. This was extended to include Section 31 hacking the Mars synths as part of this plan.
I next had two potential Section 31 operatives pegged – Chris Rios and Seven of Nine. Rios because he worked aboard a Starfleet ship that was “erased” from the records, and Seven of Nine because it wasn’t clear who she worked for or why she was following Picard.
Finally, as these other theories fell by the wayside, I speculated that Section 31 may have arrived to take control of the Artifact after it was abandoned by the Romulans and later crashed on Coppelius. While I suppose you could argue that might yet happen, it didn’t happen in Season 1, and thus any real benefit of the organisation crossing over from a behind-the-scenes perspective was lost.
I maintain that this theory makes a lot of sense from a production perspective, and my final idea in particular – Section 31 taking control of the Artifact to study it – could have been accomplished without making any changes whatsoever to the season’s storyline. However, it didn’t happen!
Number 3: Soji’s Trill friend will end up getting assimilated or killed.
Episode 2, Maps and Legends, introduced a Trill doctor working aboard the Artifact along with Soji. She ultimately only appeared in one sequence, but that sequence seemed to contain a lot of horror film-style foreshadowing, and for weeks I was insistent that we’d see this character meet an unpleasant end! Aboard a Borg cube – even a disabled one – the most likely way that would manifest would’ve been her assimiliation.
After Soji helped Dr Kunamadéstifee with her uniform, the two stood together while they listened to a speech from one of the Artifact’s Romulan guards. He stated that the area they were about to enter was incredibly dangerous, and a nearby sign seemed to reinforce the possibility of assimilation by counting the days since it had last happened. This seemed as thought it could tie in with Soji working on de-assimilating Borg drones; was she about to see her friend end up on her operating table?
It turned out, of course, that I was reading too much into one side character and one short sequence, because not only didn’t Dr Kunamadéstifee end up assimilated, she was never seen again after Maps and Legends, which was a shame because she seemed like a potentially interesting character. Soji spent much of her time from episodes 2-6 with Narek, and giving her someone else to interact with was a good idea. My theory was that their friendship may have built up a little more, leading to shock and sadness for Soji upon learning of Dr Kunamadéstifee’s fate.
I suppose in theory we could say that it’s unlikely that she survived the various disasters which befell the Artifact, from Narissa executing huge numbers of ex-Borg to the ship crashing on Coppelius, but nothing was ever seen on screen to even hint at her fate.
Number 4: Commodore Oh is a synthetic.
As with Soji and Dahj being human, this was kind of an “out there” theory! But the whole point of theory crafting is to make wild guesses sometimes, and there were a couple of reasons why I considered this a possibility. First of all, it would have been thoroughly unexpected and shocking. Many recent films, games, and television series have tried to pull off genuinely unexpected twists, and had this been true, it would have been one heck of a shock!
Secondly, the premise of Star Trek: Picard’s first season had been the cloak-and-dagger factions vying to thwart or create synthetic life. The Zhat Vash and the Tal Shiar were on one side, Maddox and his team on the other. There were rogue traders, Romulans, ex-Borg, and all sorts of shadowy figures involved – any one of whom could have not been what they seemed. The show crafted mysteries for us to examine. As we learned more about the Zhat Vash and their mission, I began to wonder if they could have been infiltrated by someone who wanted to stop them harming synths. This later evolved into wondering if they’d been infiltrated by someone who wanted to bring about the very disaster they sought to prevent.
Dahj and Soji were both unaware of their true synthetic natures, which built on past iterations of Star Trek that showed synths can be programmed to not realise they’re synths. Commodore Oh could have genuinely believed in the Zhat Vash cause – but been programmed to “activate” at the opportune moment. We later learned that the Zhat Vash feared the arrival of a faction of super-synths that I dubbed the “Mass Effect Reapers” (because they were very similar to that video game faction) and I incorporated that into this theory, suggesting that Commodore Oh may be working for the “Mass Effect Reapers” to try and bring about their arrival.
Of course it was a complete bust! Commodore Oh was a Zhat Vash operative to the core, and as far as we know, wholly organic in nature! I still think she’s a fascinating character, and I wrote an article a few months back looking at her place in the Star Trek timeline. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Number 5: Picard telling everyone that their enemies are the Tal Shiar – and not the Zhat Vash – will have consequences.
One thing that Star Trek: Picard didn’t do particularly well, in my opinion, was staying consistent in how it referred to its antagonists. In Remembrance, the faction who attacked Picard and Dahj weren’t named, but in Maps and Legends we learned of the existence of the Zhat Vash – an ancient, shadowy organisation which operated within, yet were distinct from, the Tal Shiar.
Yet for several episodes, Picard and others kept referring to their adversaries as the Tal Shiar. In-universe, there’s a certain kind of logic to this. Picard may not have believed fully in the Zhat Vash’s existence, having only heard about them from one source, or he may have felt trying to explain the difference would have been too time consuming and/or made him seem too conspiratorial. However, with practically everything else in the show being done deliberately to achieve certain story payoffs, I wondered whether Picard’s decision not to be up front with his crew might have had repercussions.
Elnor was the one character who I felt seemed most likely to be affected by the revelation that it was the Zhat Vash, not the Tal Shiar, that he was up against. As a member of the Qowat Milat, Elnor was opposed to the Tal Shiar. But the Qowat Milat’s relationship with the Zhat Vash was unclear; even if they were enemies, the Qowat Milat may have had particular techniques for dealing with them. And at the very least, Elnor and his faction seemed likely to know of their existence.
However, Elnor learned in Nepenthe that he was facing off against the Zhat Vash, not the Tal Shiar, and the revelation seemed to have no impact on him whatsoever. The rest of La Sirena’s crew were equally nonplussed, and there were no consequences at all for the confused terminology – at least, not from an in-universe point of view. I think that, unfortunately, the decision to complicate the terminology around the show’s antagonists may have made it harder to follow for casual viewers. When dealing with made-up names like “Tal Shiar” and “Zhat Vash”, remaining consistent is important for the audience to be able to follow what’s going on.
Number 6: There’s a Starfleet-Zhat Vash conspiracy.
In Maps and Legends, we were introduced to Commodore Oh for the first time. It was a great shock to see a high-ranking Starfleet officer involved in Dahj’s murder, and at the time it wasn’t at all clear whether Commodore Oh was a Romulan infiltrator or a Vulcan co-conspirator. If she was a Starfleet officer working with the Zhat Vash, it stood to reason that others in Starfleet were as well – perhaps even senior admirals.
Furthermore, when we learned how Commodore Oh recruited Dr Jurati into the conspiracy – all it took was a brief mind-meld – it seemed plausible that she may have used the same technique on others. Commodore Oh had been embedded in Starfleet for more than sixty years, and in that time there’s no telling how many people she may have interacted with.
However, it turned out not to be the case. Admiral Clancy, the head of Starfleet Command, wasn’t compromised, nor were any of the other Starfleet officers and leaders seen or referenced in Season 1. As far as we know – and this could change if future Star Trek projects decide to look at this aspect more deeply – only Commodore Oh and Rizzo were involved within Starfleet, and they were both Zhat Vash operatives.
This is one theory that I’m definitely pleased didn’t pan out. Making Starfleet itself the “bad guys”, even if there were a reason for it, wouldn’t have felt great in a Star Trek series, and would have been a far darker path for the show to have taken. Seeing Riker show up in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 at the head of a Starfleet armada was a beautiful moment (though sadly one that had been telegraphed ahead of time) in large part because it proved that Starfleet and the Federation were still on the right side. The plot to kill the synths and attack Mars was purely a Zhat Vash creation.
Number 7: The Control AI, from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, is involved.
Although I initially considered it to be a bit out of left field, the episode Nepenthe really kicked this theory into high gear! My first thought had been that perhaps the reason why the Zhat Vash were so frightened of synthetic life was because they had some involvement with Control, the rogue artificial intelligence from Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. I was convinced – wrongly – that the producers behind the overall Star Trek franchise would have wanted to build a major connection between Discovery and Picard for some of the reasons already discussed, and bringing Control in seemed like a viable option for accomplishing this.
In the episode Nepenthe, we finally got to see how Dr Jurati came to be recruited into the conspiracy – she was shown a vision by Commodore Oh, one that seemed to warn of something apocalyptic. Contained within this vision were a couple of visuals that were made for Star Trek: Discovery – more specifically, they were used to show a vision Michael Burnham and Spock had of the Control AI.
At the time, I noted that there could be production-side reasons to re-use visual effects, as it was less time-consuming and cheaper than making wholly new CGI. However, for a couple of weeks I really did think that we were going to find some connection between Control and the Zhat Vash; perhaps the Romulans and Federation had been competing in some kind of mid-23rd Century AI arms race, or perhaps while Control was on the loose it had attacked Romulan ships or planets.
In a thematic sense, Star Trek: Picard’s first season and Discovery’s second season share some significant points. Both consider the potential for rogue or out-of-control artificial life, and both look at the consequences of continuing to develop AI – something that we arguably should be concerned about today! But there was no deeper crossover beyond basic themes, and the shows remain almost entirely separate from one another. The re-used visuals are what completely threw me for this one!
Number 8: The synths on Coppelius are already dead.
Star Trek: Picard’s first season had, unfortunately, one rather large plot hole. The driving force for much of the first half of the season was locating and rescuing Bruce Maddox, the Federation cyberneticist who built Soji, Dahj, and many of the other synths. Maddox was on a planet called Freecloud, a place he travelled to when he seemed to have nowhere else to turn. He ended up returning to the dangerous Bjayzl, someone he owed a lot of money to, and was captured. The reason he put himself in such grave danger was because his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar, or so he claimed.
But in the two-part finale, Picard and the crew travelled to Coppelius and saw for themselves that Maddox’s lab hadn’t been destroyed, and the Tal Shiar or the Zhat Vash had never been there. This feels like a pretty major issue, because the question of why Maddox was on Freecloud now has no satisfactory answer. The reason seems to be “because plot”, and that’s never a good thing.
However, before the finale I was still trying to square that particular circle. One of the possibilities I came up with was that Maddox was right – his lab had already been destroyed, which could mean that the synths he’d built were already dead. It would have made Narek’s mission kind of a waste of time, as his colleagues had already killed off the synths, not to mention being a rather bleak way to end the season, but it would have fit together with what had already been established.
I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this storyline, which would have left Soji as perhaps the sole survivor of her race. It would have been very dark, and would have felt like a victory for the show’s antagonists. But at the time, I was scrambling around looking for ways to make the story of the first half of the season – culminating in Maddox’s statement to Bjayzl about his lab being destroyed – fit with the second half of the season and the revelation of the existence of more synths.
Number 9: The captain of the USS Ibn Majid is a character from a past Star Trek show.
This was a pretty simple theory by my standards. When we learned that Rios had served aboard a ship called the USS Ibn Majid, which was destroyed and covered up, I began to wonder who might’ve been in command of the vessel. Rios was clearly very attached to his former captain, and I wasn’t sure if we might’ve seen – in flashback form – this character make an appearance.
From Rios’ initial comments about the character – that they were dead, male, and “heroic” – I put together a shortlist based on possible characters from past Star Trek shows who could conceivably have been starship captains in that era. I ruled out those who seemed to have no desire to sit in the captain’s chair, like Dr Bashir or Tom Paris, and obviously ruled out those who wouldn’t be eligible like Chief O’Brien. Finally, Zhaban had mentioned that La Forge and Worf were still alive, so they were out too. That left a handful of characters, including Chakotay and Harry Kim, both from Voyager. I also suggested Edward Jellico from The Next Generation two-parter Chain of Command, Solok from the Deep Space Nine episode Take Me Out to the Holosuite, and Captain Bateson from The Next Generation Season 5 episode Cause and Effect.
There were other possibilities – most of which were minor characters who made only one or two appearances in Star Trek – and there were many male officers who could, in theory, have made the cut. I liked this idea simply for the sake of continuity, as having the Ibn Majid’s captain be someone we already knew seemed like an interesting concept.
With Bruce Maddox, Hugh, and Icheb all killed off in Star Trek: Picard’s first season, it was clear that the producers has no qualms about getting rid of legacy characters! That fact also contributed to making this theory plausible. Past iterations of Star Trek has been reluctant to kill off main characters, but Star Trek: Picard did so several times. However, none of this came to pass, and instead a new character – Captain Alonso Vandermeer – was created for the show, and was only seen briefly in a photograph.
Number 10: Narek will go rogue.
Narek was a unique character, not only in Star Trek: Picard but in the whole franchise. Never before had an out-and-out villain been a main character, with their name in the opening titles. Narek was also an interesting and nuanced character in a season where – most of the time – the villains could feel flat and one-dimensional. I’m still disappointed that his storyline was unceremoniously dumped midway through the season finale; we didn’t even learn what became of him after Picard’s “death”.
But that’s somewhat beside the point. From as early as the third episode, I began speculating that somehow, Narek would be convinced to abandon his mission and join with Soji and Picard. His clear feelings for Soji seemed to offer a route for him to make this happen, but even if the show didn’t go for the “spy falls in love with his target” trope, there were other ways it could’ve happened. Narek seemed like a reasonable man; if it were demonstrated to him that the synths were not a threat, it seemed at least plausible that he might’ve switched sides.
However, as of the last time we saw him – before he just dropped of the face of the series with no conclusion to his story – he was still 100% committed to the Zhat Vash cause. In fact, he never wavered. His attempt to kill Soji may have caused him great distress, but that didn’t stop him going ahead with his mission; he didn’t even hesitate.
I actually like that Narek was unpredictable, and as a whole I like that the show set up what looked to be a familiar trope – the spy with a heart of gold who switches sides for the girl he loves – only to say that actually, Narek was still committed to his cause and his mission. However, it’s a shame that this never really got a proper payoff, as Narek disappeared. His character arc feels incomplete, and as I’m fairly confident he won’t be returning for the show’s second season, we may never learn what happened to him after the events on Coppelius.
So that’s it. A handful of my theories for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 that never came to pass! I did manage to successfully predict a handful of (more obvious) plot points across the first season, so my theories didn’t all fail as hard as those listed above. The important thing, though, was that I had fun doing this. Thinking about the series and writing up the theories was really enjoyable at the time, and it’s something I hope to do with Discovery later in the year – at least, provided it has suitable theory-crafting material to work with!
The important thing when considering fan theories is to remember that they’re just guesses and speculation. The showrunners, writers, and producers are the ones who craft the story, and they’re the ones who get the final say on how it’s going to pan out. Getting overly attached to any one theory – no matter how much we like it or how plausible it seems – really just means we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. I could point to many projects in recent years which have suffered as a result of this, but all I really want to say is that, for those of you who followed my theories during Star Trek: Picard Season 1, I hope that I didn’t cause you any disappointment or frustration when I was wrong. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun and an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy. Let’s all try to take fan theories with an extra-large pinch of salt!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is currently airing its first season – the second of three Star Trek projects in 2020. For all the problems that this year has thrown at us, having three different Star Trek shows to enjoy has been a blessing. If you missed it, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Lower Decks and I’ll soon be taking a look at episode 2, which will be available to watch (at least for viewers in the US and Canada) later today. And as mentioned I’ll be looking at Discovery when that airs in October. There’s no word on when exactly we can expect to see Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard. It has an optimistic release date of 2021, but given that California is still largely locked down and filming has yet to begin, I wouldn’t be surprised if that slips back. Regardless, whenever we get it I’ll be taking a look at the episodes and probably crafting a bunch more theories!
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 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.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Nepenthe, as well as for the first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery Season 2.
Hugh! Poor, poor Hugh. When I heard Jonathan Del Arco was returning for Star Trek: Picard, well before the show had premiered, my first reaction was “What? Really?” Of all of the characters in Star Trek’s history, I just felt that Hugh, who had only appeared in a couple of episodes of The Next Generation, wouldn’t have been my first choice when thinking about characters to bring back. But I was wrong – the way Hugh has developed as a character between The Next Generation and his appearances this season was incredible, and his death this week was genuinely heartbreaking.
Star Trek: Picard’s death toll, for legacy characters anyway, now stands at three – Bruce Maddox, Icheb, and now Hugh. In the aftermath of series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones this was always a possibility – no main character on television should consider themselves “safe” any more. But of the three, Hugh’s death hit me the hardest.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Where last week’s episode, The Impossible Box, was an edge-of-your-seat wild ride, Nepenthe was a quieter affair, but intensely emotional. Simply processing everything that happened will take some time. Nepenthe didn’t merely advance the storyline of Star Trek: Picard, it took us on a detour that looked at Riker and Troi, and thus broadened our understanding of how the overall story of Star Trek has progressed since the events of Voyager and Nemesis. In that sense, it felt like an episode that was “made for fans” far more explicitly than anything else we’ve seen so far this season, even counting Seven of Nine’s appearance.
If someone were to ask me why I’ve been so in love with Star Trek: Picard, I could give many reasons. But Nepenthe encapsulated them all perfectly. It brought back those nostalgic feelings, but it used characters and name-drops from the past in a way that made sense and tied in perfectly with the main plotline of the show. Unlike some other franchises we could mention, nothing in Nepenthe felt like fanservice, or overplayed the nostalgia card; Star Trek: Picard has been like a perfectly-cut jigsaw puzzle, with each piece of the story slotting neatly into place as the overall picture is now slowly coming together.
After the standard recap to bring us all up to speed, the episode kicks off with a flashback to just three weeks ago. We see more of the meeting between Dr Jurati and Commodore Oh from The End is the Beginning – and we see why it wasn’t shown in full in that episode. This is the moment Dr Jurati was recruited to join the Commodore Oh-Zhat Vash conspiracy, and I think we can now say with relative certainty that Commodore Oh is not a Romulan agent, but is in fact the Vulcan she has always claimed to be. While, in theory, there should be no reason Romulans can’t mild-meld, it’s never been shown on screen and that further adds to the evidence that Commodore Oh is a Vulcan. Whether her alliance with the Zhat Vash is new or not is unclear, but she is certainly fully signed up with their anti-synth crusade.
I had to go back and look at one part of this sequence several times before I could be sure, but at least part of what Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati in her mind-meld is taken directly from Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. The two shows were always close from a thematic perspective, as both were looking at the possibility of rogue AIs and how they could be a danger, but this sequence seems to suggest that there’s more to it than thematic coincidence. In Discovery, the AI named Control was trying to acquire data stored in the USS Discovery’s computer which contained many millennia of information collected by an ancient lifeform, and if it had been successful it would have used its newfound power to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. This seems to be the reason for the Romulans’ fear of synthetic life – that they will go rogue and start killing their creators. At least two of the shots of life in the galaxy being wiped out that Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati in the mind-meld were identical to the vision Michael Burnham and Spock received.
Could this simply be a case of reusing shots to save money? After all, in the past Star Trek has shown the same Klingon ship blowing up on half a dozen occasions or more, and numerous models were reused over and over again from the era of The Original Series films through The Next Generation and its spin-offs. Given that the two clips I could identify in the mind-meld were less than a second long, I suppose we shouldn’t discount the possibility entirely. However, I’m not convinced that this is the reason. CGI nowadays requires far less effort and financial investment than many practical effects – like exploding starships – did in the past. For the sake of a couple of seconds’ worth of footage it would have been relatively inexpensive and not particularly time-consuming to make something altogether new if that was the aim. So I’m getting the sense that there’s a connection between Discovery’s Control AI and the Romulans in Star Trek: Picard – as I have been saying for several weeks in my Star Trek: Picard theories series! While I will save further speculation about what this could mean for my next theory post, I wanted to acknowledge it here too.
Mind-melds have been inconsistent in the way they’re presented in Star Trek. This one was more in line with the confusing jumble of images that Spock showed to Alternate Reality Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek film, rather than the calmer, slower-paced mind-melds that we’ve seen in The Original Series and The Next Generation. Obviously we didn’t get the full effect that Dr Jurati did, because the horrors she was shown caused her to vomit up her lunch. It was enough to immediately convince her, without any further persuasion needed from Commodore Oh, to sign up with the conspiracy and do anything – even kill her former friend and love interest and betray Picard.
Dr Jurati is given a tracking device, which she has to eat – and yes that is “eat” not “swallow”, which was interesting! The action then jumps to the present day, where La Sirena is caught in a tractor beam that the Artifact has deployed. Raffi and Rios are scrambling around on the bridge trying to break free. While Raffi attempts to break La Sirena free, she hacks into the Artifact’s computer and seems to see some drawings – possibly those drawn by Ramdha or another xB. Whether these will come into play or not is unclear, but the drawings, which were a pattern of circles repeated over and over, were at least visually interesting. So many aspects of Star Trek: Picard have been brilliantly set up by the creators and writers that almost everything we see or hear on screen has the potential to turn into a story point!
Dr Jurati is clearly terrified, trying to get Raffi and Rios to tell the Romulans that they “just want to go home” as it’s not really La Sirena that the Romulans are after. The others dismiss her semi-hysterical shouting, and then we get the beginning of Hugh’s punishment for the crime of aiding Picard. I didn’t expect Hugh to turn on his friend, and he never did, but there was always the possibility, as he didn’t know that Soji was synthetic, that learning her true nature might’ve shifted something for him. However, he stands by his promise to protect Soji and Picard, even as Rizzo executes one of the xBs. Even knowing the stakes he refuses to tell her – putting his loyalty to Picard ahead of his feelings for the room full of xBs, who Rizzo orders executed when he refuses to tell her where they went.
Rizzo also confirms that the operation to track and extract information from Soji has been ongoing for several years and has involved a number of different people, which is a neat thing to know I suppose.
This was definitely an emotional scene, and as I mentioned already, Jonathan Del Arco gives an amazing performance as Hugh sees people he has worked so hard to help cruelly and coldly murdered in front of him. His reaction to their deaths was raw and heartbreaking.
Peyton List, who plays Rizzo, was also on good form. Some of her earlier performances in the series have been a tad one-dimensional in parts. Rizzo as a character is, like Michelle Yeoh’s Terran Empress from Star Trek: Discovery, someone who is basically evil for the sake of being evil – or at least, that’s how I characterised her before this scene in Nepenthe. We finally get to see Rizzo’s motivation here – helpfully informed by the earlier mind-meld sequence. Far from being evil, she’s terrified. Synthetic life frightens her, and she genuinely fears that, were Soji allowed to live, all sentient life in the galaxy – “a trillion souls” as she puts it – would be wiped out. How it is that the Zhat Vash have come to know this – or rather, believe this – is not yet clear, but again I think the Control AI from Discovery surely has a role to play somehow. This second dimension changes what has been a rather flat villain and we are finally a big step closer to understanding why the Zhat Vash are so militant in their anti-synthetic crusade – and why, despite his feelings for her, Narek felt he had no choice when it came to killing Soji.
Speaking of Narek, he boards a one-person spacecraft in the Artifact’s hangar bay and departs the cube. La Sirena is no longer caught in a tractor beam – though Rios and Raffi realise it is undoubtedly a trap. We get a great scene as La Sirena skims along the Artifact’s hull at close range, showing off the incredible level of detail that has gone into the CGI work on both vessels. Elnor, who seems to have struck up a bond with Hugh since we last saw him, opts to remain behind to help the xBs after seeing them executed, and La Sirena warps off toward Nepenthe with Narek close behind.
For the first time since the show premiered, the main cast actually felt like a crew in this moment. And I know it seems silly as they’re all split up, but leaving Elnor behind was emotional for Rios, Raffi, and Dr Jurati – they clearly think they will never see him again. Whether they’re right or not doesn’t matter right now, because in that moment there was a sense of camaraderie; a bond between La Sirena’s crewmates. This is definitely something that Star Trek: Picard has lacked when compared to other shows. Even Deep Space Nine and Voyager, which both had different interpretations of a “divided” crew, had a sense of fellowship – and finally, seven episodes in, we saw some of that here. It was a nice throwback to the way crews have been in other Star Trek shows, and I really hope we see more of that going forward as Soji joins the crew and they’re all – hopefully – reunited with Elnor in a future episode.
If you’ve been here before and read my other reviews, you’ll know I like to nitpick. And even in an episode as good as Nepenthe, there are still small things to pick at. After the credits roll, we’re with Picard and Soji as they materialise on Nepenthe – a few minutes’ walk from Troi and Riker’s house. That was some luck with the spatial trajector! I know it’s possible to get exact transport coordinates, but did Picard tell Hugh exactly where on the planet to send them? Did he know, by heart, the rough location of Riker’s house? Anyway, after they materialise they’re set upon by a girl brandishing a bow and arrow. Picard makes reference to his artificial heart – as seen in the episode Tapestry from the fifth season of The Next Generation – and it’s clear he recognises the girl. He calls her Kestra – which was the name of Deanna Troi’s sister from the seventh season of The Next Generation, specifically the episode Dark Page. It was nice to get a couple of little references in quick succession like that – and as always, neither of them got in the way of the flow of the story. Star Trek: Picard has handled its links to the franchise extraordinarily well.
While walking with Kestra to her home, Picard drops two huge bombshells on Soji. The first is that her father is Data, which means she’s an android. And the second is that Dahj has died. Soji, unsure really of what’s happened or who to trust, doesn’t really react. In this moment she doesn’t have space to process what she’s feeling, so grieving for Dahj will have to come later. Whereas Dahj seemed to have, as part of her programming, a desire to find Picard and an inherent feeling of safety in his presence, this seems to be absent in Soji for the duration of the episode. While she will, later, start to warm up to him and come around to the idea of trusting him, that feeling of safety and a desire to turn to Picard for protection does not seem to have been programmed into her in the way it was with Dahj. If I were to speculate as to why, I’d say it was probably because Dahj’s assignment was on Earth, whereas Soji’s was on the Artifact. It makes sense for Dahj to run to Picard as he was someone Maddox knew he could trust and was a stone’s throw away. On the Artifact, running to Picard would be difficult if not impossible, and Soji may have had someone else programmed into her as part of her activation, or she may have simply been programmed to defend herself. It’s also possible that, as Picard and Hugh intervened, Soji is not fully activated in the way Dahj was.
Picard was clearly expecting a different reaction from Soji. Even though he only knew Dahj for a short time, she trusted him implicitly, turned to him for help, and even saved his life. Because Soji and Dahj look identical – “more than twins”, as the show puts it – I wonder if he’s expecting her to behave in an identical manner too. When she doesn’t, it almost seems as if he doesn’t know what to do or what to say; she isn’t what he expected, and he may even feel disappointed by that, underneath the frustration of constantly messing things up.
The cabin was an absolutely lovely set, and must have been a fun location to film on for the actors. It’s rustic in its appearance, but it’s what I’d call “21st Century rustic” in that this is clearly not a log cabin from the 1800s! It makes sense as the home of a couple who know their way around technology but want the appearance of something from an earlier time, and as we’ll see that is basically exactly what the cabin is. Of all the sets used so far in Star Trek: Picard, including the vineyard, this is the one which feels most like a modern-day building, though. I liked that, because I could see how that kind of design could still be popular or could make a comeback, but I can also see that being a point of criticism for some, as it is definitely different from any other 24th Century buildings we’ve seen in earlier Star Trek shows.
While we’re dealing with the aesthetic, though, Star Trek: Picard has definitely fallen into the trap that The Next Generation and its contemporaries also fell into in that every planet visited is clearly California! We had Picard’s home in France, the town on Vashti, and now Nepenthe. While they are all different in some respects, they’re not so different that you’d be tricked into thinking they weren’t all filmed within fifty miles of each other. In a way, I think we’ve probably been spoilt by big-budget shows like Game of Thrones, which famously had filming locations right across Europe from Croatia to Northern Ireland and Iceland. Expecting something on that level was unrealistic, and to the credit of the showrunners the locations mentioned do all have a different tone – it’s just that they are all very definitely filmed in California.
The music in Star Trek: Picard has generally been great, but the music played as Picard reunites with Troi was a cut above and absolutely outstanding. Much of the emotion in any scene is tied to the music, even if we as the audience don’t realise it. And as Kestra delivers Picard and Soji to her mother we get a beautiful piece that ebbs and flows with the emotions of the characters.
Troi, as an empath, can tell that Picard is in trouble – which is of course why he came to them in the first place. However, it’s her next moment after they embrace that really got me. We know, as of Maps and Legends, that Picard is dying. And Troi wordlessly touches his face and conveys, with just a bare look, that she knows his health is beginning to fail. He tries to reassure her that he’s fine, but of course we know better.
The next scene is the one we’ve all been waiting for since we first saw Riker in the second Star Trek: Picard trailer last year: the reunion between the Captain and his Number One. Jonathan Frakes’ performance in this scene reflects perfectly what the audience has been feeling for this whole journey: the excitement and pure joy of seeing an old friend again. That’s what nostalgia is, in a way. We’re just as happy to be reunited with Picard after all this time as Riker is in this moment. The last time we saw Riker and Picard, at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, they were parting ways as Riker was moving on to take command of his own ship. A lot has happened since then as Troi and Riker seem settled in their home and with a teenage daughter to boot.
Riker’s home is not as rustic as it seems. Upon learning that Picard is in trouble and hiding out, he barks orders at the cabin’s computer: “shields up!” being my favourite, a classic Riker line from The Next Generation, delivered in exactly the way we’d remember from that show. There was also a neat little name-drop of the Kzinti – a feline-like species that featured in an episode of The Animated Series back in the 1970s! That might actually be my favourite one-line reference so far in the whole series; tying Star Trek: Picard to Captain Kirk’s lesser-known adventures.
The young actress playing Kestra does a great job in this scene as she brings a hunted “bunnicorn” to Riker to prepare for dinner. It’s clear that, having grown up in a rural setting, Kestra is much more comfortable with hunting and skinning than many would be in the 24th Century – or even in the 21st! Sometimes younger performers, especially those cast for smaller roles, can end up coming across inauthentic in their delivery of lines and the way they inhabit their roles, but none of that was the case here. She did a great job and was convincing as the daughter of Riker and Troi.
Soji takes a shower – outside, of course, to add to the feeling of a rustic cabin-in-the-woods – and Kestra pesters her with questions, all of which related to things Data enjoyed or could do: playing the violin, reading Sherlock Holmes, and finally her physical abilities like running and jumping – which we sad Dahj do in Remembrance – and being able to bend steel. Soji has just done this, when she ripped a hole in the floor of the meditation room to escape, but we also saw Data do so on several occasions, notably in Star Trek: Nemesis and in The Measure of a Man, the second-season episode of The Next Generation which introduced Bruce Maddox. Kestra is immediately accepting of Soji. Not that the others weren’t, of course, but she takes to Soji as a friend whereas Picard sees himself as more of a guardian. Soji needed that, I feel, after everything she’s been through.
The questions Kestra asked about whether she has, among other things, saliva, were reminiscent of the observations Dr Bashir made of Data in The Next Generation episode Birthright, a two-parter from the sixth season. Both Bashir and Kestra were interested less in the extraordinary things an android could do – like calculate unimaginably huge numbers in an instant – and more in the ways that their creators had tried to make them ordinary. Data could breathe and had a pulse, and Soji has normal body fluids like saliva. Whether intentional or not, and I have to assume it was given how much care and attention has gone into Star Trek: Picard at this point, I loved this little callback to Data and The Next Generation.
Kestra’s parents have clearly told her so much about Data, and again as a long-time fan I think that’s something I wanted to see even if I would never have realised it. To know that Data, who died in Nemesis almost twenty years ago, is still remembered by his friends is a great feeling – and as someone who had longed to be human, this most human of legacies is something I think he would have approved of. As Kestra keeps up her questions and discussion of Data, Soji says that, until she heard the word “android” used, she was still hoping that she might be human after all. This is a lot to take in for her, as in the last few hours her whole life has been exposed as a lie and everything has come crashing down: her boyfriend, her job, her family, and her whole identity. Now she’s stuck on a planet she doesn’t know with people she’s never met, and she feels horribly unsettled not just with them but in her own skin – or whatever the android equivalent of skin is.
It was a nice touch to see the term “android” back in Nepenthe, after previous episodes of Star Trek: Picard had almost entirely used the terms “synth” or “synthetic” when discussing artificial life. I still feel, despite the presence of holograms on La Sirena, that there must be a reason for that. The vision Commodore Oh showed Dr Jurati, and the idea of rogue AIs destroying sentient life which motivates her and the Zhat Vash, are not exclusive problems caused by Soji-type androids. As we saw with Control in Star Trek: Discovery, any kind of AI is potentially susceptible.
An emotional Deanna leads Picard to her son’s bedroom, and we learn that not everything worked out for the Troi-Riker family after we last saw them. Their son, and Kestra’s older brother, died a few years previously. As is not uncommon with grieving parents, Riker and Troi have kept his bedroom as he left it, and as it’s presumably the only other available room, this is where she offers Picard a rest. We got a nice photo of Picard – in his post-Nemesis uniform – holding Thad as a baby, and Deanna gives Picard a very unconvincing “we’re fine!” when discussing him. It’s clearly still incredibly painful for her – whether she feels the loss even more as someone who has empathic traits isn’t clear, but as an episode dealing with the loss of a child and looking at how families and parents respond to that, Nepenthe was right up there with many other Star Trek episodes throughout the years that have tackled complex emotional topics.
One thing that is clear, though, as Picard and Troi continue this conversation, is that she is uncomfortable with their presence. Not because she didn’t want to see him – she clearly does – but because of the danger their visit poses. Having lost her son, she cannot bear the idea of her daughter being in any kind of danger. Nepenthe can be a stopover for Picard and Soji, then, but any hope of a permanent shelter or even a longer stay is dashed – and Picard knows that. He probably knew it before they ever arrived, but if he had hope of staying beyond a few days it’s gone without Riker or Troi having to come out and say so.
La Sirena is up next, and the trio still aboard have realised that they’re being pursued. Narek is clearly an expert pilot, and has managed to get his ship to sit in a kind of “blind spot”, almost unnoticeable to Rios. They discuss how to throw him off their tail, and Rios performs a new manoeuvre of dropping out of warp very suddenly so that Narek will “overshoot” La Sirena without realising. Star Trek’s warp drive has always been a bit of a mess in canon, so this being a new tactic is fine. I think it’s not original in that it’s something other sci fi franchises have used in the past, but as a narrative device it worked well here, I felt.
Dr Jurati then pipes up asking Raffi and Rios if they really want to go to Nepenthe or if they can instead pack up and go back to Earth. We know, as the audience, that she’s getting cold feet about her mission, frightened of what might happen if she ended up face-to-face with Soji. But Rios and Raffi don’t know what’s going on – or how it is that they’re being tracked – so Raffi assumes she’s just frightened and takes her off the bridge. Dr Jurati made reference to a gormagander in this scene, which was a space-dwelling life-form seen in Short Treks and Star Trek: Discovery, continuing the theme of the episode tying itself into other stories in the franchise!
Riker is cooking dinner on Nepenthe when Picard walks up. He’s reluctant to tell him too much about Soji or what happened, but Riker is able to figure out much of it from Soji’s behaviour. Picard has been a man alone in his mission so far. Dr Jurati, the only person on La Sirena who we thought was on his side is actually working for the enemy, and the others are just along for the ride or for pay. Even Elnor, who had signed on for Picard’s hopeless cause, has chosen to stay on the Artifact where he feels he’s more needed. So in this moment, when he had a genuine friend offering to help, it seems strange that Picard chose not to. Of course part of it has to do with what happened to Riker’s son and the presence of Kestra and Troi – he doesn’t want to endanger them any further. But telling Riker the full truth – something he failed to do for Hugh, the only other trustworthy face he’s seen since he left Earth – was an option.
Seeing Soji immediately pick up on Thad and Kestra’s made-up language was great, and we’ve seen her in previous episodes speak Romulan and the language of the xB called “nameless”, so we know it’s a skill she possesses. What I absolutely did not like in this sequence, or rather, what I felt had not been set up at all and failed to work, was Soji’s awkward Data-esque head tilting motion. That was a Data trademark from his earliest appearances in The Next Generation, but we’ve never seen Soji behave in such an artificial way. Whatever techniques Bruce Maddox and his team used to create her, they had improved upon the formula used by Data’s creator Dr Soong, meaning we shouldn’t see her do something that looked so odd and artificial. It was clearly put in as a story point, one which Riker immediately picked up on, and I know as a single second of screen time it doesn’t seem worth commenting on, but of all the Soji moments in Nepenthe, I felt it was by far the weakest, and its inclusion was not a good decision given that it had never been set up. There were plenty of other ways for Riker to pick up on Soji’s true nature, or of course, as mentioned above, Picard could have explained the situation.
Riker gives Picard a piece of his mind – calling him out for trying to carry everything himself and not let anyone help, calling it “classic Picard arrogance”. This wasn’t an attack, it was the “absolute candor” of an old friend. (See what I did there?)
In the tomato garden, Troi offers Soji a home-grown tomato. For someone who’s only ever had replicated food, she can sense the difference right away. There’s a message here too, I think, for us as the audience. We live in a world where food is increasingly processed, and more often than not something that comes in a packet from a supermarket. Many of us in the modern world are out of touch with food production and where our food comes from, and there is a uniqueness to something grown at home that I think we can all relate to.
Troi uses the example of the tomato to explain to Soji why “real” isn’t always better. Soji says that she is not real – like replicated food as they had just been discussing. But it turns out that the illness that killed Thad was something that could have been cured using a positronic matrix – i.e. an android brain. Unfortunately, due to the ban on synthetic life, no such matrix was available to synthesise a cure, and Thad died as a result. While an interesting metaphor, and something Soji desperately needed to hear, this also adds a personal dimension to the synth ban. Not only has it gotten Dahj killed, but we now know that the ban directly resulted in the death of Troi and Riker’s son. I’d absolutely argue that this raises the stakes even higher in Picard’s coming battle against the Zhat Vash and their allies in Starfleet.
Soji finally opens up, telling Troi a little about what happened with Narek and how he betrayed her trust. Narek has really done a number on Soji. In addition to everything she’s gone through and learnt in the last few hours, she finds it impossible to really trust anyone, and that’s all thanks to Narek’s manipulations. I wrote last time that the Narek-Soji storyline can be seen as analogous to gaslighting, and again I feel we see part of that here. Having been lied to, having had her head messed with and dissected by Narek, Soji is finding it incredibly hard to trust anyone, even Picard.
Their conversation is interrupted by Picard and Riker, however, and Soji storms off after Picard tries the old “reverse psychology” technique. He should have left the counselling to, well, the counsellor, because he really just managed to make things worse. Troi gives him a second dressing-down for the way he acted, and he starts to realise in this moment what’s going on and why Soji hasn’t behaved the same way that Dahj did. He will have to earn her trust, despite going out of his way to save her.
Elnor and Hugh are racing around the Artifact with a mission – they plan to return to the “queen cell” that they used to help Picard and Soji escape, and use the “immense power” it contains to seize control of the Artifact. Unfortunately they run into Rizzo, who has been tracking them. We finally, for the first time since Picard left Earth, get a mention of the Zhat Vash and confirmation that Rizzo is indeed a Zhat Vash operative. That aspect of the show had all but disappeared as Picard and everyone else insisted on referring to their adversaries as the Tal Shiar. As I said last time, this does make a kind of sense from an in-universe point of view, but I think it could be offputting for casual viewers in particular, as following the ins and outs of various Romulan factions is not easy, and the last thing viewers want when watching a show is to not understand the basics like who’s who and what’s going on.
Interestingly, Elnor doesn’t really seem to react to this revelation, though it is clear that the Zhat Vash and Qowat Milat know of each others’ existence. I had speculated that Elnor, having been told by Picard that he was facing off against the Tal Shiar, might have reacted badly to the involvement of the Zhat Vash. He still might, if he learns that Picard knew and didn’t tell him, but in this moment he doesn’t even react at all, he simply continues the fight. After dispatching a couple of Rizzo’s guards, the two engage in a hand-to-hand battle, but Rizzo uses a hidden blade to kill Hugh. In his dying moments, Hugh tells Elnor to find an xB and use them to activate whatever is in the “queen cell” – presumably something which will allow them to work together and overthrow their Romulan guards. Rizzo beams away before Elnor can avenge Hugh’s death, but I’m sure she’ll get her comeuppance sooner or later.
Raffi and Dr Jurati are sharing cake in the back of La Sirena. One thing I liked, both with the replicator in this scene and with transporters in various episodes since the show premiered, is that the materialisation process for both replicators and the transporter is significantly faster than it had been in The Next Generation and shows of that era. The faster pace, which allows both people and goods to appear almost instantaneously, feels like a natural progression of those similar technologies, and I appreciated that. Dr Jurati breaks down on being told she’s a good person – she’s been wrestling with her feelings and emotions since she killed Maddox. In that moment she was able to do the deed, but it’s broken her and, if she survives, her usefulness as an operative to the Commodore Oh-Zhat Vash conspiracy is surely at an end. If she did plan to stick around and kill Soji, I just don’t see her being able to go through with it.
As Dr Jurati vomits up her cake – the second time in this episode that poor Alison Pill has had to throw up on screen – Raffi escorts her to sickbay. Rios informs them that Narek is still on their tail, which I’m sure could only make Dr Jurati feel worse at this point, as it’s her presence that allows him to track La Sirena.
Dinner is finally served at the Troi-Riker cabin. After Picard has been unable to contact Rios aboard La Sirena, Kestra mentions a Capt. Crandall who has a ship, and again we got a couple of name-drops, this time of the Klingon homeworld, Qo’nos, most recently seen in Star Trek: Discovery, and Tyken’s Rift, which refers to the episode Night Terrors from the fourth season of The Next Generation. Picard and Soji did leave Nepenthe at the end of the episode, but I wonder if this Capt. Crandall will come back into play in future, as Star Trek: Picard has hardly wasted a second of runtime in any of its episodes on dead ends.
Picard uses himself, or rather, his physical state, to try to persuade Soji to trust him, remembering his encounter with Dahj and getting Soji to use her newly-activated skills to assess him to determine whether he’s telling the truth.
During the conversation, Picard confesses to Soji and the others his true reason for helping her. Partly it’s a desire to help Data, to repay Data’s sacrifice by helping what Picard considers to be his offspring. But the other element to his willingness to help is that Dahj essentially snapped him out of a fourteen-year-long depression, giving him motivation and a cause again, which is clearly something he never felt he’d get. I’ve written before about how Picard has been depressed in Star Trek: Picard. The first two episodes in particular looked at that side of him and his life since Nemesis, but it’s in this moment that Picard acknowledges it for himself. It can be hard for someone dealing with depression to even realise what’s happening, and acknowledging that privately to oneself is incredibly difficult to do because it means acknowledging what society still considers to be a weakness. Picard has been depressed, and if anyone says “but the Picard I remember never would be depressed!” then I have two things to say. First is that they should go and watch The Measure of a Man from the second season of The Next Generation – a review of which can be found here – and watch how Picard acts when he seems like he’s going to lose the case. Watch him in the scene with Guinan in Ten-Forward and compare it to how he was acting in the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. Also look at his emotional, angry reaction to the Borg in First Contact and compare that to his fear and hatred in last week’s episode. This is the man we’ve known. The second thing I’d say is that anyone believing that certain people, even fictional characters, could “never” fall into depression needs to get some fucking empathy because that can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Anyone who’s lived a life has had ups and downs; Picard’s “down” was intense and long-lasting, and just because someone has been lucky in life never to suffer like that, or see someone close to them suffer, well that doesn’t mean it can’t happen or that it doesn’t happen to others. This moronic criticism plagued Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi a couple of years ago too. It was as stupid, insensitive, and ignorant about mental health then as it is now. Rant over.
Picard acknowledges for the first time how bad he’d been feeling. And though he doesn’t say it, his gratitude to Dahj for snapping him out of it and giving him something worth believing in again is a powerful motivator when it comes to helping Soji.
This was a deeply personal speech, but delivered in the calm Picard style that we remember from The Next Generation. He doesn’t raise his voice, he doesn’t try to be sarcastic or pushy or aggressive, or anything else. He gently makes his case to her, and after everything she’s been through, Soji relents and shares with Picard and the others the information she gave Narek. Last week I nitpicked this information, saying that in an area the size of the explored galaxy, a planetary body with two red moons and a lightning storm is hardly conclusive. There are other issues, too, such as the fact that nothing in her dream indicated that lightning storms were a constant presence on that world, nor that whatever caused the moons to appear red from the surface would be noticeable from space. I also said, however, that none of this would matter for the sake of the story! And in moments, Kestra has texted this Capt. Crandall and found the location of the planet – an unnamed world in the Vayt Sector.
So much to unpack here, but let’s start with Picard saying “thoughts?” to Troi and Riker. For a brief moment, we weren’t at a cabin in the wilds of Nepenthe, but on the Enterprise-D in the briefing room. That moment, as Picard asked the two for their opinions and they replied in turn could have been transposed to that setting and it would have slotted perfectly into place. I loved it as a nostalgia trip.
Next, though it wasn’t necessarily approached this way in the episode, how do we feel about young Kestra having a literally under-the-table text conversation with Capt. Crandall, who Riker describes as “unstable”? In another episode of Star Trek, perhaps that concept could be explored more. As we live in a world where almost all young people over the age of nine or ten have an internet-enabled device, what they use that technology for and who they communicate with is an issue that parents, schools, and governments will have to face.
Armed with the location of Soji’s homeworld – or at least, a good candidate for it – there’s a renewed optimism to Picard’s mission, and hope that he and Soji might be able to get there in time – though what exactly they will find there isn’t known. Troi and Riker, when they discussed Maddox around the table, seemed to imply that Soji and Dahj may not be the only synthetics living there – could there be a machine civilisation on this world for Picard to make first contact with? And how does this tie into what we already know from Stardust City Rag about Maddox’s lab having been destroyed by the Tal Shiar?
Rios takes Dr Jurati to the sickbay area of La Sirena. We get a better look at this area than last time. La Sirena is a small ship, but still larger than the Runabouts seen in Deep Space Nine or Voyager’s Delta Flyer. The rear area of the ship seems to double as a sickbay with a couple of beds and also a meeting/conference area with a table. Rios suspects they’re being tracked by Narek, which is how he keeps finding them. But he’s mistaken in his choice of who to trust – he feels that Raffi, after her time on Freecloud, may be spying on them or being tracked herself. This had been set up perfectly last week – not the suspicion of Raffi itself, but that Rios, when left with only two people on board, would turn to Dr Jurati having shared an intimate moment with her last time. He’s known Raffi longer, but he also knows she has a drug issue. He hasn’t known Dr Jurati very long at all, but they have shared a very close moment – possibly the first time in a long time that the lonely starship captain had been with anyone. His suspicion of Raffi only makes Dr Jurati feel still worse, and she comes right out and admits that she’s the one being tracked, but in that same moment Raffi calls Rios to the bridge to deal with Narek. There’s a look between Rios and Jurati that could be interpreted as him understanding what she said – or at least planting a seed for that understanding next week. In the moment, however, he has to deal with Narek and runs to the bridge.
Overwhelmed, unable to cope, and now having probably blown her cover and ruined her relationship with the only person on La Sirena she could have conceivably turned to for help, Dr Jurati uses the replicator to synthesise poison, which she uses a hypospray to inject herself with. Alison Pill was phenomenal here, no exaggeration. Without saying a word, the expressions on her face, the shaky way she raises and lowers the hypospray before finally taking the plunge and using it was riveting and disturbing to watch. Even though Star Trek: Picard is science fiction and her suicide method was a hypospray, there was something gritty, realistic, and outright disturbing to watching her try to take her own life. Suicide can be hard to portray on screen, often being overly dramatic and stylised, or worse, the “noble” suicide where a character kills himself or herself for the greater good. This scene was neither of those things. Dr Jurati made the attempt on her own life because she couldn’t live with the double guilt of what she’d done to her former friend, and that she was putting her new friends in danger. She was at the end of her rope, and felt that she had nowhere to turn to and no other option – it was an act of desperation. And it was portrayed as such. The camerawork stayed on her face and upper body throughout the scene, starting with her dash to the replicator and ending with her collapsing on the floor.
I don’t think this is the end for her – La Sirena’s EMH will make sure of that – but her crime will now surely be exposed, and it will be up to Picard, Soji, and the others what to do with a murderer and a spy.
Taking the poison does appear to have the side-effect of neutralising the tracking device, at least temporarily. Aboard his ship, Narek watches a single light blink out on his map, and is unable to find it again. For someone who had seemed to be wavering, Narek feels, in this wordless scene, like he’s once again found his faith in the Zhat Vash cause. Whether that will hold up if he meets Soji again is not clear, though.
On La Sirena’s bridge, Rios is clearly still suspicious of Raffi, but the EMH’s call notifies him that Dr Jurati is in a coma and they both seem to drop that conversation as he runs to be by her side in sickbay. Raffi remains alone on the bridge, seeming to dismiss his short investigation with an eye-roll. The action then jumps back to the Artifact, where Elnor is now alone and hiding out from Rizzo’s security forces. He spots a Fenris Rangers badge/chip and activates it – the call will bring Seven of Nine and her vigilante group to the Artifact. Elnor just has to lay low until they get there, then he can – presumably – use Seven of Nine to do whatever it was that Hugh wanted to do with the “queen cell”. In another scene with no dialogue, I really got the impression of Elnor being a man alone, trapped against impossible odds. He’s way out of his depth as a man with a sword on a Borg cube – and he knows it.
It’s time for goodbyes on Nepenthe, and we get a scene glimpsed in the trailers as Riker and Picard sit down on a wooden dock. They talk, one-on-one, about the mission, about Picard jumping back into galactic affairs, and again Picard’s “condition” – i.e. his terminal illness – is again referenced. Picard always valued Riker’s advice, and had always insisted on being given his unfiltered opinion, and just as in The Next Generation, Riker obliges here.
There was a strange kind of Americana vibe to two older men sat on a fishing dock that I feel served the scene well given their conversation. The staging, in that sense, was fantastic, even if it wouldn’t have been something we’d necessarily say was “Star Trek-y” just reading about it. Seeing the full scene unfold, however, was a different experience, and just like how in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, seeing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy camping in the wilderness was a great scene, so too was this one. The “thank you” Picard gave to Riker – not just for letting him stay but really for everything they did together – was beautiful, but tinged with emotion knowing that Picard thinks he may never get another chance to say it.
I get the sense that Riker would have signed up in a heartbeat – but Picard can’t and won’t ask him to leave his family. He has obligations on Nepenthe, and Picard is content to head off to Soji’s homeworld with the new crew he has put together.
We already knew Picard, Riker, and Troi have a great connection. And that was on full display in Nepenthe, no doubt. What really surprised me, however, was the bond between Soji and Kestra. They got together like kids whose parents are friends often do – how many of us remember something like that from our own childhoods? But the bond they forged was genuine, and when Kestra says she will miss her, she really means it. Partly, I’m sure, that’s because she lives in a quiet, rural area, and Soji represents someone new and something altogether different and exciting. But largely it is because the two young women got along really well together – Soji may have made her first genuine friend on the show thus far. The hug between them as Soji and Picard prepared to depart was no less emotional than Picard’s was with Riker and Troi.
As La Sirena enters transporter range, Picard and Soji are beamed aboard, leaving the Troi-Riker family behind. I can’t tell right now whether it’s the last we’ll see of them in the series, or whether we might get Riker steaming back in to save the day if something goes wrong. We’ll have to see as the final episodes unfold.
So that was Nepenthe. As I said at the beginning, a quieter episode in some respects, but an intensely emotional one. The theme of nostalgia was once again perfectly played and never overused, with enough screen time given to all of La Sirena’s crew to balance out the scenes with Riker and Troi. Unless the show’s creators have a surprise in mind for later episodes, which they just might, I think we’ve seen all of the legacy characters that we knew would be in the show now.
After The Impossible Box, I sat back in my seat and felt this amazing sensation that you might experience after an intense rollercoaster at a theme park. When the credits rolled on Nepenthe, I almost cried, such was the intensity of emotion than ran through almost every scene. Some of them hit particularly hard – as some of you may know if you’re regulars, my own mental health is somewhat complicated, and my history with some of the issues raised in the episode brought feelings and memories to the fore.
Overall I loved Nepenthe. Seeing Riker and Troi was a treat after so long, and finally Picard and La Sirena now have their final destination in mind. Elnor may need help first, though.
Nepenthe is available to stream now, along with the first six episodes of Star Trek: Picard, 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Impossible Box – the sixth episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for the rest of Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
After last week’s bombshell ending, I really had no idea what to expect from The Impossible Box. One great thing about online streaming when compared to broadcast television is that episodes can be adjusted in length to suit the story – they aren’t constrained by a set runtime to fill a slot. And The Impossible Box was the longest episode of Star Trek: Picard to date, clocking in at almost 55 minutes – ten minutes longer than any other episode we’ve had so far this season.
It certainly made full use of its extended runtime! The Impossible Box was an edge-of-your-seat ride almost the whole way, and the tension ramped up to an amazing climax as Picard finally met Soji. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The Impossible Box gave me that same feeling of “wow, what have I just watched” that I got during Remembrance at the beginning of the season. It was everything I’m looking for in an episode of Star Trek in 2020 – visually beautiful, tense, dramatic, exciting, and seasoned with little throwbacks to the past that complemented the plot without being overwhelming. I know I’ve said this before, but Star Wars really should sit up and pay attention to how Star Trek: Picard – and, to a lesser extent, Star Trek: Discovery – have used the theme of nostalgia, because it’s been pitch-perfect.
After a recap, The Impossible Box opens with a young Soji, carrying the stuffed animal we’ve seen in her room on board the Artifact. She’s had a nightmare and she’s looking for her father on a stormy night. This is, of course, a dream sequence, and Soji awakens from it abruptly. After Narek had essentially accused her of lying about her background and whereabouts in Absolute Candor a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised that the two of them are still intimate. Something about the way Narek presents himself clearly causes her to let her guard down – he’s either very well-trained in the art of android seduction, or he got lucky with Soji. He presses her about the dream – finding out what she was dreaming about is clearly important to him as part of his mission.
For me, the Narek and Soji storyline has been interesting. But it does feel, in this moment, as if it’s run its course. We’ve seen the same basic scene play out several times now, and while a one-week break definitely helped (Narek and Soji were absent from last week’s episode) the formula is close to overdone by this point. Breaking this cycle – as will happen from this point on – is going to be to the benefit of the series because there was definitely a danger of it becoming repetitive and thus less interesting. I’m glad, then, that this episode breaks up Narek and Soji and they’ll be able to go their separate ways, at least for the time being.
The action jumps to more or less where Stardust City Rag left off last week. Dr Jurati and Picard are discussing Maddox. The crew are aware that he’s died, but Dr Jurati has – at least so far – managed to keep her involvement secret. Given that La Sirena’s EMH caught her in the act, I’m sure she won’t be able to maintain her cover for long, though. Perhaps they’re saving that revelation for later because Dr Jurati still has something to do for the story, or perhaps it was simply to keep the already-long runtime in check, but either way it was a surprise to see her not only not get caught but brazenly talking about Maddox and lying about his death. Dr Jurati is clearly better as a spy or undercover operative than I previously gave her credit for. It seemed for a moment that Elnor might have caught on to what was going on, but he didn’t, at least not in this moment.
I’m glad to see Elnor back in this scene. After all the trouble Picard went to to recruit him in Absolute Candor, he was almost entirely wasted last week. He’s such an interesting character – as well as being good comic relief at times – that it was a shame to see him underused, and I had hoped we’d see more from him.
It’s in this sequence that we get a glimpse at the kind of fearful anger that Picard demonstrated in Star Trek: First Contact – as well as to a lesser extent in the episode I, Borg from the fifth season of The Next Generation. The latter episode introduced Hugh – who we saw briefly with Soji in The End is the Beginning. Picard’s assimilation experience, while a long time ago by now, still haunts him, and colours his feelings toward the Borg in this moment. As he said in First Contact, he wants to kill them all – and not just to put assimilated people out of their misery.
Dr Jurati seemed to push him here – whether it was accidental or on purpose isn’t clear. But what is clear is that people who study synthetics know a lot about the Borg – could this tie into my theory from last week that there’s Borg technology involved in the creation of synthetics? Again something we’ll have to look at in my next theory post, so stay tuned for that.
Clearly disturbed by their destination, Picard retires to his study. After regaining his resolve, he asks the computer for information on the Artifact, treaties, and the Borg. We’re then treated to some great camera/effects work as Picard scrolls through a few images of his past engagements with them. There was a still from the Battle of Sector 001 from First Contact in which the Enterprise-E could be glimpsed, a picture of the Romulan Senate that may be new or may have been from Deep Space Nine or Nemesis (I’m not sure on that one), an unnamed Borg drone which may have been from Voyager or First Contact, Hugh as he appeared in The Next Generation, then again as he appears in the current series, a shot of Paris which is where the Federation has its main government offices, a couple of shots of ex-Borg being de-assimilated, and finally the picture Picard didn’t want to see: himself as Locutus. The image lines up perfectly, shot from behind the holo-screen, it’s as if Picard were again Locutus of Borg – a reflection, no doubt, of how he feels as he’s forced to confront his most feared adversary – and his own memories – once again.
We then get the opening credits, and I have to say that the Star Trek: Picard theme is really growing on me. Aside from Enterprise, every Star Trek series has had an instrumental, orchestral opening. What we know of today as The Next Generation’s theme was actually written for The Motion Picture almost a decade earlier, but it’s now firmly associated with the series not the film. The Picard theme has, at the very end, a callback to that theme, and I think because we associate that piece of music very strongly with Picard himself, it works really well. It’s definitely a halfway house, somewhere between the theme used for Discovery, which I’d argue is quite toned-down and minimalist by Star Trek standards, and the theme from The Next Generation. Music is incredibly subjective – even more so in some regards than film or television – but I’d rank the Picard theme somewhere in the top half of my list of favourite Star Trek themes. It’s definitely one I’d like to come back to and I could see myself listening to it just as a piece of music.
One of the downsides presented by a shorter series is that character interaction and development can feel rushed. And while Dr Jurati and Capt. Rios had spent some time together by now, their on-screen interactions had been limited; I think there’d only been one scene so far with just the two of them. So when, after the credits, they hook up it seemed to come a bit out of left-field. It does make sense in-universe, given what Dr Jurati is going through in particular, but I’m not sure it was set up especially well as a story point. However, I can understand Dr Jurati looking around for distraction and comfort – and also, if we put our cynical hats on for a moment, a potential ally. Remember that, as far as we know, she’s the only one on La Sirena who knows this horrible Zhat Vash/Commodore Oh secret, one worth murdering for. Seeking an ally in the midst of all that seems at least plausible. Her decision to remain on board La Sirena means she’s in incredible danger of getting caught. The next time someone uses the EMH she could conceivably be found out. So there must be a reason why she’d stay aboard – perhaps to kill Soji? We’ll explore that in more depth in my next theory post.
Seeing Capt. Rios practising with a football (soccer ball if you’re out in the USA) was a nice little character moment, though. He’s someone who spends a lot of time on his ship – aside from the mission on Freecloud he hasn’t left La Sirena at all – so it makes sense he’d want things to do to fill his time. Kicking around a football is exercise and it’s also something to do during the long hours warping between systems! The fact that he was playing alone, instead of with one of his holograms or with a crewmate, also shows us that he’s a pretty self-reliant person. Football is a team sport, yet Rios is content to kick the ball around on his own. There’s an individualism to doing that, and Rios has been an isolated figure since leaving Starfleet.
Rizzo pays a visit to Narek back on the Artifact, and they discuss Soji’s dream. Rizzo seems uninterested, feeling Narek has not made sufficient progress. Narek uses a Romulan toy – similar to a rubix cube – as an analogy. This is the titular “impossible box”, and he says that he’s carefully manipulating each piece in order to unlock the prize inside – referring, of course, to his interactions with Soji.
The question of why Soji dreams was interestingly addressed. Narek speculates that it’s part of her programming trying to reconcile the two different aspects of her personality – her true synthetic nature and her programmed belief in being human. Narek intends to use Soji’s subconscious and dreams to get her to reveal where she came from – which is still the objective of their mission. Given what we learned last week about Bruce Maddox’s lab being destroyed, this was a bit of a surprise. It’s obviously possible that Maddox had more than one lab, but given the ban on synths and the fact that he was clearly out of options when he went to see Bjayzl, I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense. Basically the fact that we know Maddox’s lab has already been destroyed threatens to open a plot hole: Narek and Rizzo are trying to get Soji to tell them where she came from so they can go there and destroy the lab used to create her, and any other synthetics they might find there. But if Maddox’s lab is already gone, what’s the point of their mission, exactly?
Picard and the crew of La Sirena are discussing how they could blag their way aboard the Artifact. There is a treaty in place which means that the Borg Reclamation Project – the de-assimilation of Borg spearheaded by Hugh – is neutral and not fully under Romulan jurisdiction, even though the cube itself is. Dr Jurati suggests using her credentials as a synthetic researcher, but all of the plans have an undoing in that Picard is instantly recognisable to the Romulans – and, he believes, also to the Borg. Picard is clearly struggling with the idea of being back on a Borg vessel – despite the fact that the cube has been disabled for well over a decade, he believes that the ship or the ex-Borg will recognise him, compromising the mission.
Raffi ends up saving the day – and we learn her last name, Musiker, in the process. This had been widely reported in pre-release material, but as far as I remember at least, it was the first on-screen use of her surname. She contacts a friend at Starfleet – a captain, judging from the rank pips on her uniform – and manages to talk her way into getting Picard diplomatic credentials to visit the Artifact. This was a fun scene as Raffi talks her way around this Starfleet captain, but we see that she’s slipped back into her snakeleaf and alcohol addictions in the aftermath of her disastrous meeting with her son last week. I’m sure getting Raffi clean is going to be a feature in later episodes – but showing how addicts can relapse ties into the theme of Raffi’s story. We saw her paranoid, we saw her manage to get clean enough to try to reunite with her son, and now we’ve seen her undo that and slip back. It will be a familiar story to anyone who’s known an addict; the pattern of breaking the habit and slipping back into it is all too common. We’ve seen Star Trek look at the theme of addiction in the past – notably in Enterprise with T’Pol – and given the current opiod crisis in the United States and elsewhere, it’s a timely issue to look at. I hope Raffi’s story will have a happy ending.
Soji tells Narek about her dream, and Narek still tries to push for more details. He suggests she call her mother – we know, thanks to Maddox last week, that the “mother” is in fact part of her AI subroutines, and not a real person. Narek then drops a bombshell on her – every single call she has with her mother lasts the exact same length of time – seventy seconds. He offers to show her the logs, but really what he’s doing is attacking her sense of self. He’s trying to undermine her self-belief so that he can start extracting information from her.
After a short scene with Rios putting a drunk and drugged-up Raffi to bed, in which we see a more caring, kind side to La Sirena’s captain than we have thus far, we’re back on board the Artifact where Soji contacts her “mother”. During the call, we seem to see a bug or glitch in the “mother”, and then Soji collapses. Clearly this part of her programming – calling her “mother” – is designed to put her to sleep.
La Sirena then arrives at the Artifact and we get confirmation that Raffi’s friend was able to get Picard the diplomatic credentials needed. How she managed to pull that off given Picard’s bust-up with the head of Starfleet wasn’t shown on screen! But evidently the captain was able to issue Picard a one-day permit to access the Artifact. However, the catch is that the permit is valid only for Picard himself – no one else is allowed to go. I loved this setup, because it provides a perfectly valid reason for why Picard couldn’t have anyone else with him – forcing him to face his return to a Borg cube alone. In First Contact and in later Borg stories in The Next Generation, Picard could always count on his crew to help him get through a Borg encounter. This time, however, he has to head into the heart of a Borg vessel on his own – and it’s clearly a frightening prospect.
I didn’t like, however, Picard’s treatment of Elnor in this scene – and indeed at several other points since Elnor pledged himself to Picard’s cause. He seems to snap at him and treat him like a servant, dishing out orders as though he were an upstart ensign. Given their history, and that Picard had seemed to want to make amends, I just feel that the way he treats him isn’t appropriate. Elnor didn’t have to join the mission, after all. He could have stayed on Vashti, and despite that he seems to get little by way of thanks.
Soji awakens in her room on the Artifact and realises she has once again fallen asleep while talking to her mother. She starts rummaging through her possessions, scanning them all in turn only for the scanner to tell her each one in the same age: 37 months. This ties into what Dr Jurati said about Dahj’s background being faked before the three-year mark, and with what Narek said about Soji studying the Romulan language “some time before May 12, 2396.” 37 months is three years and one month, which gives us an approximation of how long Soji has been active. Devastated, Soji scans her necklace too – her most prized possession – and it too is only 37 months old. This scene was the culmination of Soji’s story since we first met her at the end of Remembrance. She tears apart her room, desperately looking for anything in her possession that might disprove what she now thinks about herself – that her life has somehow been faked.
She’s also a victim of Narek – his manipulations and gaslighting led her to this point. I’m not sure if the gaslighting aspect of the Narek-Soji relationship was intentional – Narek is, after all, revealing the truth to Soji in a way, as opposed to tricking her into believing outright lies – but I certainly picked up on that aspect of the relationship, and it can definitely be interpreted that way. The term gaslighting, if you are unfamiliar with it, comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, and means a person is manipulating someone else – often, but not always, a romantic partner – into questioning reality and ultimately believing themselves to be losing their mind. Narek and Soji have this aspect to their relationship, and especially in the days of online relationships, gaslighting has become increasingly common.
Picard beams aboard the Artifact, alone and in an unoccupied section. The trauma of being back on board a Borg cube is overwhelming for him at first, and he starts to think he can see and hear the Borg, including the Borg Queen. We get an updated shot of Picard as Locutus – albeit very briefly – and something about the combination of the whole Picard-Borg sequence, the music, and the digital effects used on this new look at Locutus was incredibly creepy. By the time Hugh arrives to save the day, the short sequence has us feeling almost as unsettled as Picard.
If Soji’s storyline at this point is an analogy for gaslighting in relationships, then in this moment, Picard’s is analogous to post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD victims can suffer flashbacks when exposed to sensory triggers – which is why some war veterans, for example, greatly dislike fireworks. In Picard’s case, the sights, sounds, smells, and overall sensation of being back at the scene of his worst moment – his assimilation, where he lost part of his humanity and was forced to do horrible things – was too much. He suffers auditory and visual hallucinations, flashing back to those moments where he was under Borg control. Some PTSD sufferers will tell you that they never really “got over it” – even years or decades later, they can still suffer this kind of a reaction. Picard had been away from the Borg since the events of First Contact, living quietly at the vineyard for fourteen years. But his Borg experiences still traumatise him, and we see in this moment the result of that.
Hugh and Picard share a touching reunion, and seeing an old friend seems to snap Picard out of the flashbacks. They catch up as they stroll through parts of the cube, and when Picard enquires about Soji, Hugh reveals he’s aware of Narek – the “Romulan spy”. In Soji’s quarters she’s called Narek – turning to him for comfort and reassurance as she has no one else to share her feelings with. He pretends to comfort her, and offers her a Romulan meditation technique to unlock her dreams and memories – suggesting disingenuously that she may have been hypnotised or had false memories implanted in her. Again this ties into the theme of gaslighting in relationships; manipulators like Narek want their victims to have no one else to turn to for help and support, allowing them to sink their claws in further.
On their way to find Soji, Hugh takes Picard on a detour through one of the Artifact’s de-assimilation areas. Unlike the medical facility where we saw Soji at work on unconscious Borg, the ex-Borg here are very much awake. Many are voiceless, still processing what’s happened to them, but they are having some of their implants and technology removed. Picard is shocked that de-assimilation can take place on this scale – and crucially expresses even greater surprise that it’s the Romulans who have managed to accomplish it. Again, spoilers for my next theory post, but this does tie into one of my theories regarding the Romulans and the Borg.
Aboard La Sirena, Raffi has awoken from her blackout and is recovering with Rios. He shares with her the news that Soji is still alive – but they both wonder why that is. “What does the Tal Shiar need from a synth?” asks Raffi. And it is a good question – but we already know that Rizzo wants to find out where Soji came from so the Zhat Vash can travel there and destroy any other synths and synth research that may be ongoing. Again, though, this ties into what I said earlier about Maddox’s lab already being destroyed – could there be more to it than that?
Narek takes Soji to the meditation room, and on the wooden floor, a twisted path is mapped out. Soji must close her eyes and walk the path to uncover the meaning behind her dreams. This is the moment Narek has been building toward – an unactivated Soji who trusts him completely and is willing to tell him everything she sees and learns.
While Rizzo watches on from a hidden room, Narek guides Soji through the walking meditation. He’s pushing her not to wake up, not to open her eyes, no matter what she sees or thinks she sees from her dream. This is the culmination of everything he’s been working toward, but Narek is clearly nervous. Part of that is of course to do with his mission – he doesn’t want to fail. But part of it is clearly do with how he feels about Soji; he’s never quite been able to reconcile the part of himself that cares for her with the part of himself loyal to the cause. Soji has changed his attitude to synths, in much the same way that spending time with Data changed Maddox’s view on the subject in The Next Generation episode The Measure of a Man. Despite what he’s doing – and will continue to do – Narek is conflicted.
Narek guides her through the dream that we saw in the beginning of the episode, up to the moment Soji’s father shouting at her snaps her out of it. He pushes her to continue, to look beyond what she can see in the room. Picard and Hugh are alerted to Soji being “missing”; Hugh suspects that someone – i.e. Narek – has managed to conceal her from his scans. They visit her room, seeing the mess she made while scanning. Picard could – and probably should – have explained to Hugh who she is. It wouldn’t have taken very long at all to say “she’s Data’s daughter”, and Hugh was Data’s friend too, so if anything he’d be even more motivated to help. It’s possible, however, that owing to the ban on synthetic life, Picard isn’t sure who he can trust with Soji’s secret – and he hasn’t seen Hugh in a long time.
As Soji pushes through the moment her dream should end, we get two pretty shocking scenes in quick succession. First is that Soji’s “father” has no face – or rather, his face has been digitally erased in her memory such that she cannot remember or describe it. This is clearly something done by Maddox to keep himself safe – but the figure in the dream may not have actually been Maddox. Next, Soji sees a wooden doll on her father’s workbench, only partly assembled, with her own face. This is the secret that the dream was keeping – she is aware of her synthetic nature somehow.
Rizzo and Narek don’t care, of course; they already know Soji is a synth. What they’ve been looking for is what Soji sees next – she looks up through the skylight in her dream and sees two red moons.
If I were to nitpick – and you know I must – this isn’t a lot of information to go on. Narek ends the meditation at this point, and Rizzo calls someone to ask them to find a planet with “constant electrical storms and two red moons”. Firstly, how many planets and other celestial bodies (moons, dwarf planets, and asteroids can have their own moons) must fall into that category? Even if we were to limit it to M-class worlds – and again, Soji provided Narek so little information that that cannot be assumed – there could be dozens or even hundreds of possibilities. Secondly, nothing in Soji’s dream suggested that storms are a “constant” presence on this planet. Most places on Earth suffer occasional lightning storms, and the fact that one was occurring in Soji’s dream does not mean they are a permanent fixture on that planet. Thirdly, many factors could cause the moons to appear reddish in hue from the surface of a planet that aren’t present in space. On Earth we get the “blood moon” phenomenon, a result of the lunar eclipse. In short, Soji gave Narek and Rizzo a clue – but only one single clue. While it could somewhat narrow down their search, they could still easily have lots of planets to visit, spread out across vast distances. The information Soji gave them is not conclusive and, in an area the size of the explored galaxy, surely won’t be able to pinpoint one single location. I mean it will be able to, because plot, but logically it shouldn’t be able to.
Narek abandons Soji, leaving her in the meditation chamber with his “impossible box” toy from earlier – which he has rigged to be a weapon. The box opens, releasing a cloud of red vapour – Narek describes it as “radiation”. Soji begins to choke as she tries to escape, but the radiation has the unintended consequence of causing her to activate – we now know this means her self-defence subroutines are activating – and she smashes a hole in the floor to escape the chamber.
Narek sheds a tear – he did really care for Soji. And he really had to force himself to conclude his mission, as doing so broke his heart. However, he did it – he tried to kill her. His failure in that regard is not because of anything he deliberately did to help her escape – his actions triggered her self-defence activation.
After escaping the meditation room, Picard and Hugh can detect Soji on their scanner again and race to meet her. Narek has alerted the Artifact’s Romulan guards – so it’s a race between them to get to Soji first. She breaks through the ceiling of a chamber and Picard and Hugh are there. Picard implores her to trust him, even showing her Dahj’s necklace. Having nowhere else to turn, and realising the Romulans are not safe to be around, Soji really has no choice. The three of them escape – Hugh using his knowledge of the Borg cube’s layout to lead them to a room called the “queen cell”. Here we got a nice little throwback to the Voyager episode Prime Factors from its first season. The species in that episode, the Sikarians, are mentioned, as is their “spatial trajector” technology – which they had refused to share with Voyager’s crew. The Borg have evidently expanded at least as far as Sikarian space, incorporating the spatial trajector into their vessels thereafter. Hugh is familiar with this technology and knows how to operate it, and Picard seems familiar with the queen’s chamber despite never having been in one. Here we get a look at how the Borg’s hive mind works, and how knowledge, information, and even memories and sensations can be copied and distributed to the entire collective. The Impossible Box has looked at how subconscious works with the Soji and Narek storyline, but here we see how the Borg also make use of the subconscious. Picard instantly recognised the room – that information was stored somewhere deep in his memory from his assimilation. I found that aspect to be interesting; I wonder what other Borg secrets Picard, Seven of Nine, Hugh, and other xBs could be hiding without even realising it?
Raffi and Rios are following what’s going on aboard La Sirena, and Soji uses her now-advanced hearing to let the others know that more guards are en route. Before the guards can harm her, however, Elnor intervenes – he apparently beamed aboard while no one was looking. Picard finally shows Elnor some gratitude – despite first berating him for beaming over. There was a touching moment between them as Picard says he doesn’t want to leave Elnor behind again, but with more guards on the way he has no choice, and he and Soji escape through the spatial trajector to a place called Nepenthe – which is also the name of next week’s episode. Hugh and Elnor remain behind to shut down the trajector and conceal where it sent them. Elnor should be fine thanks to his skills, but Hugh may be in serious danger from Rizzo and Narek. Has he just compromised the entire Borg Reclamation Project?
So that was The Impossible Box. As I said, I loved the episode – despite my little nitpicks. The way it approached complicated topics like abusive relationships and PTSD was classic Star Trek, using its science fiction setting to tackle real-world topics. Seeing Hugh back again, getting the chance to reunite with Picard, was also great to see. And finally Soji and Picard are together – but without the rest of the crew, I wonder what will happen to them on Nepenthe.
There were some great little callbacks to previous iterations of Star Trek: Soji had a “Flotter” lunchbox or container in her room, which is a reference to the childrens’ character who debuted on Voyager; Rios mentioned “slips of latinum”, which was of course a callback to Ferengi currency that was prominent in Deep Space Nine; we again saw the blue drink that must be Romulan Ale; and as mentioned above, there was the reference to the Sikarians and their spatial trajector. None of these points overwhelmed the episode. Even Hugh’s inclusion was well done, and crucially made sense from a story point of view. The episode flowed naturally, and we’re one giant step closer to getting to the bottom of some of Star Trek: Picard’s mysteries.
I was on the edge of my seat with The Impossible Box, and after the episode drew to a close, fifty-five minutes seemed to have flown by. The editing and the music contributed massively to this, taking what was already an amazing story up a notch or two.
Picard and Soji managed to escape, but their escape came at the cost of Hugh, Elnor, and the rest of La Sirena’s crew. Yes they have a rendezvous point, but first they need to get Elnor back – and perhaps rescue Hugh as well – before they can even think about travelling there.
It seems like next week we’ll get to see Troi and Riker, and I absolutely cannot wait for that reunion. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for Elnor, Hugh, and the others, because Star Trek: Picard has learned a lesson from shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead in that it isn’t afraid to kill off characters. With practically the whole crew in danger, I’m genuinely not sure at this point if they’ll all make it out alive.
The Impossible Box – along with the rest of the first season of Star Trek: Picard – is 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.