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.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2, and for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I’m in two minds about Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2. On the one hand, the entire second half of the episode was incredibly emotional, with hit after hit after hit that left me in tears. But on the other hand, much of the first half of the episode followed on directly from Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 and was a waste of space.
I think overall, I stand by what I said in my review last week: that many of the story points in this two-part season finale were rushed and underdeveloped. Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 had, at points, the same issue of blitzing through potentially interesting story beats, and the disappointing thing isn’t that any of the storylines were bad, it’s that they had potential to be so much more than they were. Despite the second half of the episode going a long way toward redeeming the entire two-part finale, I think when the dust settles and I’m thinking more clearly and less emotionally, the overall picture will be, at best, mixed. There just wasn’t enough time remaining for many of these points to be fully explored, and realistically that meant that either some story threads needed to be cut entirely, or the season needed another couple of episodes to explore them fully.
Where the second half of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 succeeded was that it slowed down, and the rushed pacing, the jumping between storylines, and the obviously-cut down scenes did largely abate. This gave way for a more emotional story to develop and play out over several slower, touching sequences, which brilliantly played on elements of the story that had been spread out over the preceding nine episodes – beginning right back in the first episode of the season, and indeed the first sequence of the first episode.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 begins right where Part 1 left off last week, where Sutra let Narek escape and locked Picard up. Narek travels to the Artifact’s crash site and manages to sneak aboard, passing Seven of Nine, Elnor, and a handful of xBs who seem to be working on repairing the crashed vessel. The establishing shot of the Artifact was actually really pretty, and the closest the planet of Coppelius or Ghoulion IV came to not looking like California for the whole episode.
Narek is searching for something on the Artifact when Rizzo appears from nowhere and surprises him. I’ve mentioned several times that Rizzo has grown on me as a character in her appearances over the course of the season. Her transformation from an uninteresting and one-dimensional villain into an actual fleshed-out character has been great to see, and it’s hard to imagine the story of Star Trek: Picard’s first season without Peyton List’s occasionally over-the-top performance. Seeing Rizzo and Narek reunited showed us that they were real people underneath it all, and given it was almost sure to be Narek’s last meeting with his sister, their hug was strangely touching. After being attacked by the xBs at the end of Broken Pieces, I’d assumed Rizzo had beamed over to one of the Romulan ships near the Artifact, but it seems that she remained aboard during its short-lived mission to Coppelius and survived the crash-landing. I hadn’t expected that – partly because it wasn’t communicated clearly, it must be said – so it was a surprise to see her. But we did get to see a brief moment of vulnerability and emotion from Rizzo – in that moment, she was genuinely relieved, happy, and even slightly overwhelmed to see Narek, and that moment played out perfectly.
The next scene has to be one of my least-favourites. Not for its dialogue, which was a conversation between Picard and Soji as he tries to convince her to try things his way instead of following Sutra, but for the editing. The best moments with Picard, both in this series and in his previous Star Trek appearances, have been a combination of what he said and his presence while saying it. With this scene cutting away from Picard and Soji in large part, with what should’ve been one of his trademark speeches heard only in voiceover, something significant was missing that made the words he said far less impactful to us as the audience. We needed to see Picard as well as hear him for his speech to have its full effect. And back to what I said at the beginning, this feels like a consequence of both parts of the finale having just too much to cram in to two episodes. Before the opening titles, the episode needed to show this conversation, as well as convey – through Dr Jurati seeing it firsthand – the construction of the beacon that Sutra planned to use to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”. Instead of there being enough time for both scenes, they ended up smashed together, with the voices of Picard and Soji on top of Dr Jurati silently watching the beacon. For me it simply didn’t work, and both scenes were the worse for being amalgamated.
The opening titles once again ruined the surprise appearance of a character. For the third time this season, an actor’s name was included which telegraphed the arrival of a character whose appearance was supposed to be unexpected: this time it was Jonathan Frakes, who reprised his role as Riker. What was the point of that? In all three cases where this has happened – Seven of Nine in Stardust City Rag, Dr Soong in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, and Riker this time – the appearance of the character was treated in the episode as a surprise. Everything from the camera work to the music built up the suspense of who we were about to meet – yet the opening titles had already spoilt it. Riker’s appearance at the head of Starfleet’s armada was supposed to be something that would make the audience go “wow!”, but instead it was telegraphed ahead of time, so the arrival of his fleet and then seeing him in person when he hailed the Romulans had lost the crucial element of surprise. I just do not understand this decision. How hard would it have been to credit Jonathan Frakes at the end and leave Riker’s appearance a genuine surprise? It was poor, and it detracted from what should’ve been one of the episode’s more powerful moments. It was still nice to see Riker on screen and back in uniform – we’ll deal with that scene in more detail later – but it was such a shame that it wasn’t the surprise it should’ve been.
After the opening titles we see why Narek went to the Artifact – among the many things the Romulans didn’t have time to evacuate were a set of bombs, and he plans to use them to destroy the orchid-ships before the Romulan fleet arrives. This is a pretty tense scene in contrast to his reunion with Rizzo, as we see that there’s still tension between them and they’re of unequal status – despite being very shaken by recent events, Rizzo is still the superior officer. She really doesn’t have a choice in letting Narek go, as there are two jobs to do – destroying the orchids and activating the Artifact’s weapons – and two of them. Narek called himself a “Zhat Vash washout”, and clearly his history with the secretive organisation is complicated. We’d seen a couple of hints at that in earlier episodes, but nothing as major as what we got here. Unfortunately, as with many points across the two-part finale, it was left undeveloped. Narek has had multiple appearances across Star Trek: Picard’s first season for this aspect of his background to be explored, and given that we’re less likely to see him return for Season 2 than anyone else at this point, I would have thought that if the series wanted to properly explore his Zhat Vash background that this would’ve been the last opportunity. As it is, we got a couple of throwaway lines about Narek and Rizzo’s family: their parents, apparently, died as a result of working for the Zhat Vash, but again, how or why is not explained in any detail. Narek and Rizzo part for what would be the final time.
Out of all of Star Trek: Picard’s villains, the dynamic between Rizzo and Narek was by far the most interesting. As brother and sister there’s always going to be an element of sibling rivalry to what they’re trying to do, and Rizzo made clear in every scene together where the power lay in that dynamic. They played off each other well, with Rizzo pushing Narek to the brink of mutiny at times. But throughout it all, his commitment to the cause never wavered, and was stronger than both his fear of and disdain for Rizzo, as well as his clear feelings for Soji.
Technology in Star Trek has always been flexible to suit the needs of the story, and I appreciate that’s something that has happened going back to The Original Series. Even with that caveat, I didn’t like like the magical do-anything macguffin that’s used in the next scene by Raffi and Rios to fix La Sirena’s engine. It strayed too far into the realm of magic for me, especially with its “just believe it will work” spiel. While we’ve seen similar things in Star Trek before, and perhaps in some contexts it could’ve worked, it just felt forced at this moment; a way to send Raffi and Rios on a mission to La Sirena so they could be there for other story elements to unfold, but done in such a way that they didn’t need to spend more than thirty seconds fixing the engine – which they went back to do.
In fact, at several points in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 did I get this feeling that the story was being forced down a particular path. Scenes would be included not because they fit the natural flow of the story, but because they either looked “cool” from a visual standpoint, or because they moved characters around to get them to be in the right place for other things to happen. In this example, Raffi and Rios had to leave Coppelius Station – under the guise of fixing La Sirena, they were moved out of the way so Picard could be apprehended, and placed in the right location for Narek to find them later, so they could plan their (stupid) attack on the synths’ beacon. It all felt just a little too much like it was driven by a room full of writers, and not a natural way for the characters to go. We’d also see the attack I mentioned be done in a very stupid way to get the plot to a specific climax, as well as the campfire scene with Narek which will come later as other examples of characters being forced into specific situations which didn’t really make sense in the context of the episode. It was constructed in such a way as to allow the plot to unfold, and unfortunately we’re supposed to just brush off some of the contrivances to make it happen.
While we’re talking about contrivances, I can’t wait any longer to talk about Star Trek: Picard Season 1’s big plot hole. I’ve been flagging this up for several weeks as a potential issue, and unfortunately it was left unresolved at the end of the season. So a plot hole is what it’s become: why was Maddox on Freecloud? Finding Bruce Maddox was the driving force behind the first half of the season’s story, and when Picard finally encountered him on Freecloud, he made it very clear that the reason he was there, and had put himself in danger by contacting Bjayzl, was because his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar. With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, he went to see Bjayzl as a last resort – and ended up paying for it with his life. Yet Maddox’s lab clearly wasn’t destroyed. He wasn’t kicked out by Dr Soong and the synths, who continued to speak very highly of him. If he’d set up a lab elsewhere that had been destroyed, he could’ve returned to Coppelius. And as it sits right now, there’s no reason for Maddox going to Freecloud other than “because plot”. And that’s a mistake – Maddox was such an important figure, especially in those early episodes, that the reason he put himself in danger should have been given a proper explanation. It’s disappointing that the story and the season have ended with this gaping hole left unexplained.
After Raffi and Rios have used the magical macguffin, we get a scene with Dr Jurati and Dr Soong. At the end of last week’s episode, Dr Jurati had promised to aid the synths – but this was clearly a ploy to avoid being locked up and to be able to help Picard. I liked the dynamic between Soong and Jurati – he clearly hates her for killing Maddox, yet he needs her help. And his barely-contained loathing breaks the surface in the way he talks to her, as Brent Spiner delivers the lines in a style not dissimilar to how he portrayed Lore in The Next Generation. Again, though, as with too many points in the finale, this didn’t really have time to properly develop, and this scene between them, and one brief moment last week, is all the time they had alone together.
Both Brent Spiner and Alison Pill delivered amazing performances with the limited material they had – I especially liked Dr Jurati’s “I’m not their mother, asshole” line – but I would have liked to have seen more of this relationship. There was the potential for it to go from bad to worse, then for the two of them to form a hate-filled unlikely alliance, before finally coming to terms with what happened. Dr Jurati had been essentially brainwashed by Commodore Oh, and they had both lost someone they cared about in Maddox – I would have liked to see that explored some more, especially because the on screen presence and chemistry the two actors had was definitely one of the finale’s high points.
Back at La Sirena, Narek has arrived and is trying to get the attention of Raffi and Rios by throwing rocks. He shows off his grenade collection and insists on meeting with them. At the meeting, Elnor arrives – we’d seen him following Narek as he left the Artifact. Speaking as we had been of two characters who loathe one another, Elnor and Narek feel that even more strongly. Elnor’s anger at Hugh’s death was on full display, but everyone had to stow their feelings as they discussed the synth problem. Narek is still in Zhat Vash mode, seeking out allies for his mission to blow up the synths’ ships. Staying with the theme of parts of the story being rushed, Raffi and Rios’ decision to believe him almost straightaway wasn’t great. While it was nice to see Narek finally interacting with someone other than Soji or Rizzo – the only two characters we’d seen him spend any significant time with – it came too late in the story to really have much impact, and like other points in the finale, was rushed. Narek really didn’t have to do much at all to convince the others that the synths – who they’d just met and were on friendly terms with – were a galaxy-ending threat, and they didn’t consider any other possibilities for why they couldn’t contact Picard at Coppelius Station other than Narek’s reasoning that the synths were jamming their commuications. It’s just another part of the finale where more time was needed – time to allow the three non-Zhat Vash characters to come around to Narek’s way of thinking. As it is, it felt like an instant turnaround – 180 degrees from trying to save the synths to trying to blow up their ships and beacon.
At the beginning of Stardust City Rag, we got a fairly brutal scene where Icheb has his eye torn out. The graphic sequence was shown in full, and it was grotesque but at the same time it was something that as the audience, we couldn’t look away from. In the next scene in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2, Dr Jurati takes the eye out of Saga, the deceased synth from last week, in order to use it to unlock a door and spring Picard from his captivity. But we didn’t get to see the eye removal, as the camera instead cut to Dr Jurati’s face for the majority of the scene. And unfortunately, this didn’t look great. Alison Pill undoubtedly gave it her best shot, trying to look both disgusted and like someone who was trying to figure out how to disconnect sensitive electronics, but it would’ve been better to either see the entire process or to jump-cut from her starting the procedure to having the eye successfully removed. As a story point I did like using the eye, and I liked the eyeball prop when we saw her use it later, but the removal itself was just a bit of a waste in my opinion.
The campfire scene where Rios, Raffi, and Elnor sit and listen to Narek’s Zhat Vash stories wasn’t great. In principle it was good to have them together, but by this point in the story, we as the audience are familiar with the Zhat Vash prophecy. And ghost stories around the campfire is just such a cliché that the scene felt so forced. And it didn’t make sense in context. The ship had been fixed – why sit around outside it? And with such urgency to get to Coppelius Station to destroy the beacon, couldn’t they have talked en route? Or flown La Sirena closer to the synths’ compound? It was just so obvious that the director or creators of the show had decided that a campfire scene would look cool that they shoehorned it in, even though doing so made little sense.
The campfire story itself was fine, but as I said there wasn’t much in there that we as the audience didn’t already know. In an episode with so much story left to conclude, and thus where every minute matters, a lot of this campfire scene was really just wasted time. Conversely to that, the next scene with Commodore Oh – which barely even qualifies as a “scene” because of how short it was – had been very obviously and badly edited down to just a few seconds, and simply fell flat in the moment. Who was she supposed to be talking to when she said “At last, our great work is nearly at an end”? There was no one else present in the scene, she was just standing on the bridge of her ship in her evil villain cloak doing an evil villain pose spouting a generic evil villain line. Given how tightly it was cut, there was almost certainly more to this scene that didn’t make it into the final episode, but this line simply did not work on its own.
The visual effect of the Romulan fleet at warp was good, however, and I did enjoy seeing that. The design of the new style of Romulan vessel was great, and I could see it being a natural evolution of the Romulan Warbirds from The Next Generation and the advanced warship used by Shinzon in Nemesis, and the fact that some elements of those designs made it into the new Romulan ships was good and shows that the show’s creators were paying attention to past iterations of Star Trek. However, one thing I didn’t like – and this also applies to the Federation fleet that we see later in the episode – was that all of the ships were identical. Past fleets that we’ve seen, while arguably smaller in scale, were almost always comprised of multiple classes of ships, and the fact that the animators and CGI artists had essentially copied-and-pasted the ships meant that the large fleet was less visually impressive that it could’ve been. It was good to see the number of Romulan ships en route, though.
Narek is back in the next scene, a mere few seconds later, showing off the bombs he retrieved from the Artifact. While the episode hasn’t communicated this very well, it seems that a significant amount of time has passed. When Narek arrived it was daylight outside La Sirena, but then the campfire scene seemed to take place after sunset. Yet this scene is in daylight again – and as I said before, considering the urgency of the mission to stop the synths bringing about the end of the galaxy, which everyone seems to agree on, they don’t seem to be moving very fast toward that goal as they’re still talking aboard La Sirena.
I did like the creative way that they were able to sneak the bombs into Coppelius Station; that was a fun story beat, especially when Rios seemed to be playing with the ball in front of the synths. There was a second where it felt like he might kick it too hard and it would explode! The scene a few episodes ago where Rios had been kicking a ball around on La Sirena also paid off here. And if I’m not mistaken, at least one of the synths on guard duty looked like F8 – the synth from the flashbacks to Mars that we saw earlier in the season. However, the next part of this is yet another example of a plot contrivance – the guards let Raffi, Elnor, and Rios into their compound with Narek, but then seem to leave them alone to do their own thing instead of following them or taking Narek back into custody. It would’ve been better to skip the part about hiding the bombs in the football and have them sneak in another way, or leave the compound unguarded altogether (who are they guarding it from, after all?)
I’ve already mentioned that the eyeball was a neat prop, and the way Dr Jurati figured out how to use it to access Picard’s room and spring him from custody was great. Picard is clearly suffering here from the unnamed brain condition that we saw the first real indication of last week. And while I liked that this had been set up way back in the second episode of the season, it was really only in the two parts of the finale that Picard goes from experiencing no symptoms to full-on dead in a matter of hours or a couple of days. And while we have no frame of reference for how futuristic diseases might run their course, as a story point I feel this would’ve worked better if we’d seen a couple of other instances of his health starting to fail in previous episodes. I know we’ve seen him snap and seem to be quicker to anger at a couple of points, and that we saw his PTSD-breakdown when he first arrived aboard the Artifact, but for the most part Picard has seemed in good health for his age – until the finale, when his condition seemed to rapidly accelerate from nowhere.
Dr Soong learns, in the next scene, that it was Sutra and not Narek who killed Saga, and is visually shocked and heartbroken at the revelation. I’m glad that Dr Soong turned out to be someone who was on Picard’s side in the end. Brent Spiner can portray villains wonderfully, as he did with Lore and another Dr Soong in Star Trek: Enterprise, but as a fan, seeing his new character at odds with Picard wouldn’t have been my preference, given that it’s been so long since we saw the two actors together in Star Trek.
The guards of Coppelius Station seem to have just allowed Raffi, Rios, Elnor, and Narek free rein inside the compound, and they’re planning their attack on the beacon when Dr Soong intervenes. For a moment they thought they’d been caught, but Dr Soong plans to help take down the beacon having learned of Sutra’s betrayal.
Picard and Dr Jurati made it back to La Sirena – though how the two groups managed not to cross paths or spot each other isn’t clear. I mean, there can only be one direct route to the ship after all. But that is a minor nitpick compared to others in the episode. This scene, between Picard and Dr Jurati, was very powerful, and the first point in the episode where I really started to feel things turn around. I loved Picard’s line that “fear is an incompetent teacher”, and their plan – to launch La Sirena into space and make a last stand against the Romulans as a way to show Soji and Sutra that not all organics are evil is a good move – perhaps their only possible plan under the circumstances short of using La Sirena’s weapons to destroy the beacon. They’re banking their hopes on Starfleet having received Picard’s message and already being en route, because at best they’ll be able to stall the Romulans for a few minutes. This is basically a suicide mission, and they both know it. The genius of putting these two characters together, as opposed to say, having Picard teamed up with Rios or Elnor, is that they both have nothing to lose. Picard’s at death’s door, and Dr Jurati is facing a lengthy spell in prison, so of all the characters who could try to make a last stand, it makes sense for them more so than any others – except perhaps Raffi.
The Romulan fleet is only seven minutes away, so Picard launches La Sirena and shakily leads the ship into orbit, with Dr Jurati along for the ride. The action then cuts to Coppelius Station, where the rest of the crew are planning to attack the beacon.
Attacking the beacon makes sense in the story, but the way it was executed was so bad, and the plan was clearly designed to fail. They storm in and make a huge fuss, then Dr Soong uses another macguffin to deactivate Sutra, but because the other synths are still all-in on using the beacon and summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers”, the rest of the crew scramble around, punching and kicking before being wrestled to the ground. Dr Soong, having deactivated Sutra with his magic wand, doesn’t do anything. He stands motionless in the background while Rios makes a desperate throw to get the bomb into position, but Soji catches it and throws it away.
So many things wrong here, but the overall problem is this – the fight was clearly written in such a way that the “heroes” lose. And that was painfully obvious in the way it was carried out on screen. But let’s break down some individual failings. Why did Dr Soong not show the assembled synths the video of Sutra killing Saga? That single piece of evidence would have swayed most of them to his side. Why did he not use his magic wand on Soji after disabling Sutra? Why did the crew launch a full-frontal attack against a force of massively superior synths instead of sneaking around or causing a distraction? Why try to fight the synths at all? And finally, probably my biggest complaint about the synth storyline in the finale as a whole: what was the point of Sutra?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that we should’ve seen more of Sutra this episode. The awful makeup and hammy performance meant I wanted to see as little of her as possible – in that sense I got my wish – but for an antagonist who’d played such a large role last week, and who did have, as I pointed out, a motive that was at least partly understandable, she was just completely sidelined by a story that raced through far too many points and left her completely undeveloped. Sutra had the potential to be interesting, at least in theory. Her presence turned the synths from damsels in distress needing to be saved to antagonists needing to be dissuaded or defeated, and that concept, if executed better, could have been interesting. Unfortunately, as I’ve already said, it would’ve needed several more episodes to work effectively – and a better performance from the central synth villain.
Given that Star Trek: Picard has been at least as much Soji’s story as Picard’s, I feel it would have been better on the whole to ditch Sutra and simply have Soji and Dr Soong be the principle drivers behind contacting the “Mass Effect Reapers”. It would have cut an extraneous character, allowed more time for some of the others to be explored, and we wouldn’t have had to sit through that awful performance last week. Soji did need someone to guide her turnaround last week, to allow her to convincingly side with the synths. But I don’t think that needed to be Sutra, and with a few tweaks here and there the story could’ve arrived at the same place without her – and it would have been better for it, especially considering she did nothing whatsoever this week.
The next scene with Dr Jurati and Picard was hit-and-miss for me. The jumps in tone from deadly serious suicide mission to cracking dumb jokes just didn’t work, and while Dr Jurati has occasionally provided moments of comic relief throughout the season, this was not the moment for humour and it just ended up detracting from what could’ve been a much more powerful scene. I did like, however, that La Sirena was not flying smoothly in the exterior shots we saw, indicating that Picard is still getting back into the swing of things. We have seen him pilot spacecraft before – shuttlecraft most often, but also the Enterprise-D itself in the episode Booby Trap from the third season of The Next Generation – so we know he’s at least basically capable and should understand the principles involved.
Seven of Nine and Rizzo fight aboard the Artifact as Rizzo has tried to bring the Cube’s weapons online. She’s targeting La Sirena, which does raise the stakes somewhat, and the fight itself was decently exciting. There was never any real doubt as to who the victor would be, however, and Rizzo finally gets her comeuppance for killing Hugh as Seven of Nine sends her falling to her death with a well-placed kick. The two traded barbs during the fight, and we really saw Rizzo in a way that I talked about a couple of weeks ago: as a racist. That aspect of the Zhat Vash and Romulans – that their actions are a veiled analogy for hating another group of people because they’re different – is something the show found a balance between hinting at and overplaying, and I think, taken as a whole, the balance was probably about right.
The visual effects and CGI in the episode were great, as we’ve already discussed, and the sight of the orchid ships launching to meet the Romulans, and overtaking La Sirena, was visually impressive. I still feel that the way the orchids operated last week was pretty dumb, but this time they don’t seem to be dragging intact ships to the planet’s surface; what exactly they’re doing in the fight other than getting shot at and serving as a huge distraction isn’t really clear.
The magical macguffin is back; Rios and Raffi apparently left it aboard La Sirena. Dr Jurati figures out that it can be used to produce holographic duplicates of the ship, which they can use to distract the Romulan fleet. Again, I really didn’t like this tool, and the fact that it seems to be magical and can be used for anything one’s heart desires was not great, even by the standards of Star Trek technobabble. While in principle what Dr Jurati hoped to do was a good idea, and I did like the name-check of the Picard manouvre from The Next Generation, the macguffin spoilt it really. And I felt that the moment where it created holo-duplicates of Dr Jurati’s face was a rare miss in the episode’s visuals.
However, Picard’s conversation with Soji, in which he explains that he’s basically laying down his own life to defend the synths was incredible and very powerful – the first of those emotional hits I mentioned at the beginning of the review. There’s something about a noble last stand that always gets to me, and this was a great example of it! It was an absolute desperation play, as Picard hopes against hope that Starfleet will arrive in time. If Starfleet didn’t get there, the “Mass Effect Reapers” would be the synths’ only hope of survival.
The shot of La Sirena standing alone against the Romulan fleet was incredibly powerful too – part of that last stand feeling that I mentioned. The next part of the story has hits and misses, though. And I know this is kind of a nitpick, but what were the other synths and Dr Soong doing while Soji was activating the beacon? Did no one try to stop her or at least question what she was doing – especially given that they all heard what Picard had to say – nor try to contact the Romulans and reason with them? Several of the next few scenes played out as if Soji were the only one there, yet there were a dozen or more synths plus all of the other main characters.
Soji succeeds in activating the beacon just as the Romulans finish dealing with Picard and Dr Jurati’s last stand. The timely arrival of Starfleet – led, as the opening credits made clear, by Riker – prevented them from attacking the planet, and the two fleets enter a tense standoff. It was great to see Riker back in uniform again, and the last-minute arrival of the fleet saved Picard as well as the synths. However, as with the Romulan fleet earlier, all of the ships were the same type and I do feel that the copy-and-paste look detracted somewhat from the otherwise-impressive sight of so many Starfleet vessels – which, I believe, are based on a design from the Star Trek Online video game (but I could be mistaken in that). Until we’d seen his name in the credits, I wasn’t sure if we’d see Riker back in action this season. I was pleased that we did, and it definitely felt good to see Starfleet as the good guys again, after Picard had been forced to work around their obstinance for the majority of the season.
Though this moment had been telegraphed ahead of time and sadly was robbed of some of its impact as a result, the musical score as the ships emerged from warp, coupled with Riker’s appearance a few moments later, did still feel good – just not as good as if it had been a genuine surprise.
We got to see a better look at the command variant of the new Starfleet uniforms – which still have that Starfleet logo pattern in the coloured section – and again, as I said at the start of the season I do like the new uniforms. Especially compared to Star Trek: Discovery’s all-blue look I think they look great, and the combadges complement the look nicely.
Commodore Oh, throughout her appearances this season, hasn’t seemed like someone who would listen to reason. The Zhat Vash have been presented as the most committed of all Romulans to the anti-synthetic cause; both she and the organisation are zealots. And zealots seldom back down, even when facing significant opposition. Picard uses what is basically his dying breath to talk Soji down from summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers”, who hadn’t yet emerged through the aperture created by the beacon. This speech was really the climax of the episode, and the emotional hit of the words Picard spoke, combined with knowing he was suffering greatly as he spoke them, matched the high points other episodes of the season hit. It was the kind of speech Picard could’ve given at any time in The Next Generation as he focused on the rights of all life to exist, and for the need to demonstrate that the synths aren’t what the Zhat Vash feared them to be.
It was enough to sway Soji, who closes the aperture before the “Mass Effect Reapers” could come through or even send a message. Their mechanical tentacles did look menacing, but that’s all we go to see of them. Faced with Soji having stood down and Riker staring her down with a large fleet, Commodore Oh withdraws, and this is something which I feel was out of character. Are we supposed to believe Picard’s speech swayed her? Or simply seeing Soji stand down one time would be enough to override years of Zhat Vash indoctrination? Even if it was good enough for Oh, did everyone on the fleet agree? From her point of view, what is there to prevent the synths rebuilding the beacon in twenty years – or twenty minutes? While Picard’s climactic speech was beautiful, Commodore Oh’s decision to withdraw, like so many other points in the finale, felt rushed. And no sooner had he arrived than Riker, too, was gone – warping out of the system accompanying Oh’s fleet. Couldn’t they have left a ship or two behind? Considering what came next, Riker’s presence would have been incredibly emotional.
Picard bids Riker a solemn “adieu”, before succumbing to the effects of his condition – perhaps combined with whatever medication he was given earlier by Dr Jurati.
Picard’s death – or rather, his “death” – in this moment was the emotional climax of the story, after the plot had reached its own zenith a moment earlier. And it was a very powerful sequence. Soji transports Picard and Dr Jurati to the synths’ location, and Picard dies, surrounded by his crew and knowing that he did right by Soji and her people. His final act was one of sacrifice – making a last stand to defend the synths, righting a wrong from fourteen years ago where he had been unable to prevent the ban or aid the Romulans. The emotion on the faces of the characters – especially Raffi, as Michelle Hurd put in her best performance of the season – was heart-wrenching to witness. Surrounded by his friends, and with a few last words to (most) of them, he passes away, killed by the nameless condition that we assume to be Irumodic Syndrome.
Of all the characters we’ve met across the season, Rios and Seven of Nine arguably had the least connection to Picard on a personal level. Aside from a few scenes when they first met, I can’t recall a significant moment with Rios and Picard together. While there’s always sadness when someone passes away, especially under such circumstances, putting Seven of Nine and Rios together wouldn’t have been my first choice in the immediate aftermath, simply because they didn’t have the connection that, say, Raffi or Soji had with Picard. Nevertheless, the scene between them was touching, and they both spoke highly of the fallen Admiral. I liked the idea of sharing a bad drink because it was all they had access to, and it emphasised that they’re both a long way from home and that this is, for the moment at least, the end of the journey.
The real heartbreaking scene was when Elnor broke down and was comforted by Raffi. Elnor, who had been so strong and powerful, was weak and vulnerable having regained and then lost his surrogate father figure, and Raffi, who was devastated too, trying to comfort him was just incredibly emotional. Both actors put in amazing performances here, and as sad as this scene was, I loved it.
When Picard awoke, for a moment I was half-expecting to see Q! That was never going to happen, of course – it would be a complete bolt from the blue for anyone who hadn’t seen The Next Generation, for one thing – but it would have bookended Picard’s story in the Star Trek franchise if this had been his final appearance and he was to stay dead, tying into themes from Encounter at Farpoint. Instead, Picard finds himself sat opposite Data. And I know there will be criticism of Data’s appearance given Brent Spiner’s age, but a combination of lighting, makeup, and what I assume are digital effects made him look decent here, and I didn’t find the way he looked offputting, especially when compared to the way the gold synths had looked last week.
At no point was I convinced that Picard would stay dead, but that in itself didn’t rob any of the scenes surrounding his death of any of their drama or emotion. As a story point, though, killing a character in such a dramatic and emotional way only to immediately revive them can end up feeling like a bit of an anticlimax, and there was an element of that here I’m afraid. Not in the moment, and not in Picard’s scene with Data in the digital afterlife, but certainly after his revival there was part of me left thinking “well, what was all that for?” In a sense, restoring Data’s mortality and finally providing him with the closest thing to humanity that he could get, Picard did have a reason to travel to the digital afterlife. No one could have known that Data was trapped in a kind of purgatory, nor that saving parts of his mind from the information transferred to B4 would mean that some essence or facet of his personality would be forever entombed in this realm. That action – saving Data and finally laying him to rest – gives Picard a reason for this temporary death, and as a story it was, overall, a success.
Data takes on the role of what I guess you’d say was a god or grim reaper figure from classical literature, explaining to Picard that he’s in the afterlife and that he died. This was another incredibly emotional scene, as Picard got to express twenty years’ worth of sadness and regret to his long-lost friend. Maybe I’m seeing what I want to see, but I seemed to get hints at Data’s study in the set design, notably the room he occupied in All Good Things, the finale of The Next Generation, in which he was still alive and working as a professor. In fact, while we’re talking about set design, I felt that this room was one of Star Trek: Picard’s best and most evocative. I’ve written before that the outdoor filming scenes, supposedly taking place in France, in Japan, and on several alien worlds, all looked suspiciously like California, and that has been a let-down at points. But the interior sets have been fantastic. I love the way La Sirena looks – inside and out, in that case! – and the Troi-Riker cabin was everything it needed to be. The Artifact is something I really haven’t written about as often as I should’ve, because the subtle updates to the Borg vessel have been fantastic. I loved the shifting walls that were present at times, and the way that, despite being claimed by Romulans and some area being declared “safe”, it was still definitely a Borg vessel. Bjayzl’s club on Freecloud was maybe a tad cliché, but it still did a great job feeling like a futuristic, alien club. The nunnery on Vashti was incredibly reminiscent of something from Japan, and I loved that style when it appeared in Absolute Candor. And finally, Coppelius Station and the Daystrom Institute both conveyed the look of being futuristic in a similar but not identical way to locations in previous iterations of Star Trek.
In this case, the room was clearly artificial, but in a way that conveyed a sense of limbo or purgatory. By the furniture and decor being greyed out, there was the sense that, like in a computer when a file or programme is inaccessible, things weren’t quite right. And the fact that the only colour came from the two figures of Picard and Data, our focus as the audience was drawn to them and all attention focused on them – in the same way as you might expect if seeing a very minimalist stage production.
Part of the criticism of Star Trek: Nemesis at the time it was released surrounded how Data’s death was handled in the story. Aside from the criticisms of the story beat itself, the main ones were that he didn’t really get a chance for any goodbyes, and that in a relatively short space of time, Picard and the crew were laughing and joking on the way to their next adventures. We saw earlier in the season – indeed, from the very beginning – that Data’s loss weighed heavily on Picard, and that his friends Riker and Troi remembered him fondly and held his legacy dear, but in this moment, the second criticism was addressed, as Data got to say goodbye properly. Partly this was to Picard, but partly it was to the audience – to us. In a way, this righted what some fans had considered an eighteen-year wrong.
The conversation they had about dying was interesting – and it did, in a way, capture that elusive sense of “Star Trek-ness” that Star Trek: Picard has been so keen to restore to the franchise in the aftermath of Discovery and the JJverse films. Both of those, despite what some have argued, had moments where they “felt like Star Trek”, but not every moment. For all my criticisms of the plot and various scenes in Star Trek: Picard’s finale, it did always feel like Star Trek – and this scene with Data, talking about life and death, was just one part of that, but it was a particularly powerful part.
Picard walks out of the room into a bright white light, and awakens in a new synthetic body, donated by Dr Soong. I wish we’d seen more of Dr Soong and learned why he built himself a synthetic body. There seemed to be hints last week that he was sick or possibly dying, but these were vague and underdeveloped – like many points in the finale – so we don’t really know the stakes or what kind of sacrifice Dr Soong may have made. Did he condemn himself to death by giving Picard the “golem”, or will he just build another one next week now he knows how to do the mind-transfer?
Soji, Dr Soong, and Dr Jurati explain to Picard a number of caveats – his new body is the same as his old one, he won’t have any enhanced strength, speed, brainpower, or anything that would change him in any way. He’ll be identical to how he was, just without the terminal brain condition. And it was around here that the sense of “well what was the point of all that?” kicked in. The Data storyline was great, and I loved that Picard got to say goodbye, that we as the audience got to say goodbye to Data, and that Picard got to do his friend a final favour of letting him die properly. But for Picard’s own character, the death-and-rebirth story didn’t really do much of anything. He’s back to how he was before he died a few minutes later, and all of the emotion from his goodbye to Riker to the reaction of all of the characters was, in retrospect, at least slightly wasted.
We get a touching sequence as Picard fulfils his promise, unplugging Data and letting him finally die. Data prepares his room in the digital afterlife, and lies down to await the inevitable. Picard appears to him in his old uniform – whether Data was imagining him or dreaming isn’t clear, but it is clear that his final thoughts were of his friend. Getting a proper goodbye with Data wasn’t even something I knew that I wanted – but now that I’ve seen it, I can see how it was missing from Nemesis and that it really was something cathartic and beautiful to see. Picard’s speech, the music, the change in lighting in the digital afterlife, and finally Data fading away were all amazing to see, and it was another deeply emotional moment. Picard may have come back to life, but Data won’t – he can’t. This marks the final goodbye to a character we first met in 1987, and who we spent a lot of time with.
The crew reassembles aboard La Sirena – and they’ve had to find extra chairs for the bridge. Seven of Nine seems to have joined the crew, though whether that’s temporary isn’t clear at this stage. They set off to destinations unknown, and we learn that the ban on synthetic life has been overturned. The season ends with Picard giving the order to “engage!”, and La Sirena jumps to warp. The familiar Star Trek music sting kicked in at this moment, making the final scene of the episode another stirring and emotional moment.
Taken as a whole, the episode was certainly mixed. There were high points which equalled or even went beyond the heights reached by other episodes of the season – even Remembrance right at the beginning. And there were some beautiful, deeply emotional moments which still pack a punch on a third, fourth, and fifth viewing. But there were some mistakes and disappointments too, and too much undeveloped story that was left behind as La Sirena warps off to a new destination and – presumably – a new story in Season 2.
There are key points left hanging as of the end of the episode. The first is: what happened to Narek? He obviously wasn’t present aboard La Sirena at the end, but he’d been a major character who we’d spent a lot of time with and he just seems to have been abandoned by the story about halfway through the episode. It’s not clear if he returned to Romulus, remained in captivity with the synths, was handed over to Starfleet, or even if he joined La Sirena but just didn’t sit with the others on the bridge. I don’t expect to see him return for Season 2 at this point, but just ditching him with no goodbye and no end to his story was just a bit strange.
Obviously I’ve already mentioned the Bruce Maddox plot hole that was left unresolved, but that’s a major annoyance so it’s worth bringing up again. There’s also Dr Jurati – she did still murder someone, so why is she free to go with Picard? Was her conviction expunged? Is she a fugitive? Will this come back to haunt her in future? It would have been nice to see some resolution to that point – unless, of course, it’s something planned for next season, in which case I’m content to wait.
Next are the “Mass Effect Reapers”. The Zhat Vash were right, in a roundabout way. The relic on Aia does tell of a race of synthetic monsters from far beyond the stars. That race are out there – is Starfleet going to try to contact them and make peace? Will the synths from Coppelius contact them and tell them not to hurt anyone? Are the “Mass Effect Reapers” content to just go back to waiting for someone else to contact them, or are they now aware of Starfleet, the Romulans, and the Milky Way galaxy’s various species? What steps will everyone have to take in case they return? What’s to stop another synthetic race from contacting them, or even the Coppelius synths changing their minds and asking for their help after all? Building a beacon didn’t look too hard or time-consuming. And what of the relic on Aia? Is it still active? Will it be shut down? Are the Zhat Vash still hell-bent on killing other synths, even if they leave Coppelius alone?
Finally, we have Dr Soong and the synths. They’re under Federation protection now, but what will happen to them? Will they stay on Coppelius? Will they continue to make more copies of themselves? Without Data’s neurons, can they make more synths? And without Dr Maddox and Dr Jurati, can Dr Soong continue to work? What’s to stop the Romulans coming back next week and nuking their settlement from orbit? Are they protected in any way? Will they have to leave Coppelius and settle somewhere safer? I didn’t expect every single one of these points to be addressed, but some hint and what’s to come next for the synths would’ve been nice given how they were such a large part of the finale and the story of the season overall.
If I had been tasked with salvaging the story of the finale, the first thing I’d have done would have been to get at least one more episode for the season – perhaps two. Then I’d have interspersed some of the storylines present on Coppelius with the other active stories much earlier in the season, allowing more time for the development of characters like Dr Soong, Sutra, and even Saga. Beginning with perhaps episode six or seven – roughly the halfway point of a twelve-episode extended season – I’d have introduced the audience to Coppelius and everyone resident there. I’d have done more to build up the stakes by exploring the “Mass Effect Reapers” in more detail, too. A name for the faction would have been good, but also a basic motivation as well as some indication of their level of technology. Finally, I’d have spent more time on the climactic stand-off between Commodore Oh’s fleet and Riker’s Starfleet armada, and tried to find a convincing way to end the Zhat Vash threat, like having other Romulans mutiny against Oh when the synths deactivated the beacon. I think that by spending some more time with some of the characters, and by introducing them earlier, the finale would have been more enjoyable. But there’s no salvaging that awful gold makeup. That would have to go!
I guess what I’d say about the two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego is this: it did provide a satisfactory conclusion to many parts of the story of Star Trek: Picard’s first season, but it left a lot on the table and it was rushed, poorly paced, and incomplete. When I think about the season as a whole, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 is by far the worst episode, and while Part 2 went some way to rectifying that, and did manage to pull out a passable end to the story, it wasn’t an especially great episode either, with some definite low points to counteract the emotional highs.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 stumbled across the finish line, scraping together the bare bones of a conclusion, but leaving a lot of unanswered questions and at least one gaping plot hole. That doesn’t mean that Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 was a failure; it did manage to elicit some powerful feelings and bring together some of the dangling story threads. But I don’t think we can call it a rousing success either, and a story that started out incredibly strongly ten weeks ago has finished with a weaker and less enjoyable pair of episodes than I would’ve wanted.
All that being said, I’m satisfied with the season as a whole. My gripes about specific points in both parts of the finale don’t detract from what has been, overall, a wonderful story and a great return to the Star Trek universe as the 25th Century is about to begin. I hope that Star Trek: Picard can now serve as a jumping-off point for other Star Trek shows set in and around the same era, moving the franchise forward into the future – where it should always have been trying to go.
Stay tuned for the conclusion to my Star Trek: Picard theories for Season 1, as well as later in the year when I hope to do a retrospective look at the season. When some time has passed and the dust has settled, it should be a good to go back and take a second look. Rewatching earlier episodes while keeping in mind some of the story elements from the finale should be an interesting experience, and I will undoubtedly see more hints and foreshadowing that I missed when I first saw them.
Now that Star Trek: Picard has concluded, don’t think that the blog is going away! There will be lots more to come as I have numerous articles in the pipeline. I half-expected to see a release date for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 announced, but despite all the hype around Star Trek: Picard, ViacomCBS have chosen not to take advantage of this opportunity to plug Discovery. Even if the release date isn’t for a couple of months, putting it out there now would have been a great move. Regardless, whenever it airs, I hope you’ll come back to see me review and break down those episodes too.
See you next time!
All ten episodes of Star Trek: Picard’s first season are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 and the preceding eight episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
So I suppose I should just come right out and say it: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 is my least-favourite episode of Star Trek: Picard so far. We’ve had some great episodes this season which really hooked me in, took me on a rollercoaster journey, and got me feeling happy, nervous, excited, nostalgic, tense, and emotional. This week I really didn’t get any of that for the bulk of the episode. There were a handful of good moments sprinkled throughout, but the pacing of the episode as a whole felt off – it seemed to rush from point to point with no time permitted for any story thread to properly develop or be explored.
For an episode that was supposed to be the first part of the culmination of the entire season, it ended up falling flat on its face. And that is pretty disappointing. Every Star Trek series – and every season of every series – has had duds: episodes which misfired, told bad stories, or for various reasons failed to hit the mark. The problem that Star Trek shows have today is that when the whole season is one continuous story, a dud episode can have ramifications for the entire season instead of being a one-off rotten egg. I hope that Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 next week manages to pull things back – and there is precedent for that, as Star Trek: Discovery’s second season episode Perpetual Infinity pulled off a great recovery from The Red Angel a week prior, which is my personal pick for Discovery’s worst episode.
Aside from the pacing and rushed feel to the story, my second main point of criticism is the aesthetic of parts of the episode. I’ve mentioned before that every location in Star Trek: Picard so far has been a barely-disguised California, and Soji’s homeworld – variously called Coppelius and Ghoulion IV – was another example. I come back to what I said last week about the use of indoor sound stages: with special effects and CGI being so good nowadays, a lot more can be done with that format than in previous decades. If it’s a choice between seeing five planets that all look the same because they were all filmed within fifty miles of Los Angeles, and seeing different-looking planets that were perhaps smaller in scale because they were filmed on sound stages I’ll always prefer the latter.
The second visual aspect that I felt simply did not work was the makeup used for most of the synths. The yellowish-gold tinted skin the actors were sporting didn’t make them look like Data-type androids; they looked like humans wearing cheap and bad makeup. It was something that would’ve felt at home in The Original Series, and if I’d seen those characters in an episode from the 1960s I’d have dismissed the amateurish look as a product of the limitations of the time. But Star Trek: Picard’s aesthetic has been so good until now overall that I legitimately wonder how they managed to make the synths look so bad. Was it because they were largely filmed outdoors in natural sunlight? Because earlier looks at Data in Picard’s dreams or F8 and the other synths in flashbacks to Mars looked far better. Whatever it was, the makeup ended up being a huge distraction, because every time Evil Soji or any other synth was on screen it was all I could look at. I actually had to rewind the episode a few times because I’d missed some line of dialogue or other.
I wish we’d seen something, either this week or last week, to make it obvious that Seven of Nine and Elnor were on their way, because the Artifact arriving at Coppelius mere moments after La Sirena was a story beat that I felt didn’t work in the moment. Ironically, after last week’s scenes on the Artifact being some of my least-favourite, I greatly enjoyed seeing Picard and the crew return there this week – albeit that the sequence was far too short. I wanted to spend more time there as Picard learned of Hugh’s death – which actually didn’t even appear on screen – and mourned him. But even in what I suppose was my favourite sequence there were issues – the length, as I mentioned, is one. But what was up with the ex-Borg calling Picard by his Borg designation of “Locutus”, which is the second time that’s happened now, only for Picard to basically ignore it and get back to what he was doing?
Elnor learned of Picard’s illness off screen too, which would have been another scene I’d have wanted to see – one which could have added some genuine emotion to an episode which was largely devoid of it. Some more time spent on Hugh’s death would’ve been nice too; Picard mentioned it in a single line of dialogue but Soji didn’t even acknowledge his sacrifice, despite their friendship and despite his death being a direct consequence of aiding her escape.
When we learned last week of the “Mass Effect Reapers” hiding out somewhere beyond the galaxy, waiting to show up and destroy all life, it seemed for sure that the climax of the story couldn’t simply involve hiding from that and avoiding pulling the trigger – somehow, Picard and co. would have to confront the wider threat. And we saw in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 the way in which that trigger will be pulled: Soji’s evil twin, Sutra.
Villains can be hard to get right. Rizzo, for example, took a while to hit her stride after coming across as a fairly one-dimensional character in her earlier appearances. The story has since fleshed her out a little more, providing her with background and motivation, as well as even the smallest shred of pity for what she’s been through. Sutra has very little of that, and unfortunately Isa Briones, who had done an admirable job portraying Soji and Dahj, didn’t really manage to pull off a convincing performance as an antagonist. Sutra’s motivations are understandable, sure – she wants to save her people from what seems to be an existential threat. But overall, the way she was portrayed strayed way too far into the kind of “I’m evil and I love it” attitude that felt so awkward and inauthentic about Rizzo in her earlier appearances.
I called this phenomenon the “24th Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz” – and I get that that’s a niche reference, so let me explain. In the cartoon show Phineas and Ferb, Heinz Doofenshmirtz is a wannabe evil scientist. He builds machines usually designed to get petty revenge on his brother or other people he feels wronged him, and he’s tied his entire identity to being evil for the sake of being evil. That’s what Rizzo felt like, and that’s what Sutra feels like now – she hasn’t bothered to consider any other options, she went straight into arbitrary arrests and plotting genocide. Perhaps she’s meant to be a parallel for Rizzo and Commodore Oh, but both of those characters feel far more complex. And I’m afraid the point must be reiterated: both of those acting performances were much better.
The premise for her actions is understandable, though – just as Rizzo, Narek, and Commodore Oh being motivated by their interpretation of the vision is understandable too. As a story point, I’m not really criticising Sutra’s basic motivation and desire to protect her people from harm. And the way it has been established that both Starfleet as an organisation and Picard as an individual are people she and the synths might find difficult to trust was well-established over the course of the prior eight episodes.
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 has tried to pull off a last-minute plot twist with Sutra. Instead of the synths needing to be rescued from Romulan aggression, Sutra’s plan is to summon the “Mass Effect Reapers” and become the aggressor herself. But if the story of Star Trek: Picard has wanted to say that the ban on synths was wrong, and that even Starfleet and the Federation need to be more accepting of different kinds of life besides their own, what message does it send when the Romulans, who have been the season’s antagonists the whole way, are actually right?
The entire premise of the Romulans’ desire to exterminate synthetic life is that if they don’t, the synths will trigger this apocalyptic event – the arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers” – and kill everyone in the galaxy. That’s a powerful motivation, and covers all manner of sins because, as the episode itself tried to address, there’s a calculus involved even when dealing with matters of life and death. If one’s intention is to save a trillion lives, it can be easy to justify ending 90,000. This is what the Romulans did on Mars. Star Trek: Picard – and Picard himself within the show – are trying to present this kind of ends-justify-the-means thinking as abhorrent, but that message has become incredibly confused thanks to the insertion of the character of Sutra and the revelation that she plans to do exactly what the Romulans fear that synths will do.
In yet another example of the episode racing from point to point, the name of this faction Sutra is planning to summon is not even mentioned. I’m calling them the “Mass Effect Reapers”, because, as I mentioned last time, they serve a very similar purpose to the antagonists in that video game series. But who are they? There’s only one episode left not only to find out who they are and what motivates them, but also to defeat them.
One visual element that I loved were the “orchids” – some kind of planetary defence system which resembles giant flowers. It wasn’t clear whether they were crewed ships or just automated, but they looked absolutely stunning and the CGI work to bring them to life was fantastic. However, as a concept I’m not sure they really make sense. Firstly, they seem to be single-use things, which seems like waste of time and resources. Secondly, and most importantly, they don’t actually serve a useful purpose when it comes to defence – in fact, they achieve quite the opposite. By capturing ships and dragging them – intact – to the surface of the planet, all the orchids manage to do is bring any enemies directly to the planet’s surface. If the ambition is to disable an attacking ship that plans to strike from orbit then that could be useful in the short-term, but all it really does is shift the problem for the synths to one they have to deal with on the ground. In the case of the Artifact, for example, it was dragged out of orbit and crashed on the planet’s surface – but if it were a fully-operational Borg cube the synths would then have to deal with tens of thousands of drones literally on their planet. Not to mention that no synths showed up at the crash sites of either La Sirena or the Artifact to apprehend their crews.
If the aim was to demonstrate that the Coppelius synths are basically unprotected, then why not leave them unarmed? Picard and his crew were going to land or beam down anyway, and it would’ve been possible within the story to get everyone to the planet’s surface without the use of a kind of planetary defence system that really doesn’t achieve what it should. At best it moves the problem from space to the ground, and at worst it could actually aid the synths’ enemies in a potential invasion event. In short: cool visuals, but an illogical concept.
I’m okay with the idea of Dr Soong – Data’s creator from The Next Generation – having a son, and that character following in his father’s footsteps to work on building synths. It might not have been my first choice of storyline, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, not for the first time, the presence of the actor’s name in the credits telegraphed the arrival of the character before we knew he would be appearing on screen. This happened in Absolute Candor, when Jeri Ryan’s name showed up in the credits, despite her character only appearing in the final thirty seconds of the episode. Spoilers are commonplace online, and because in the UK we get Star Trek: Picard 24 hours after its US premiere I have learned to be careful where I go online on Thursdays and Friday mornings! But for a show to spoil itself in its own opening titles is just plain silly – what would be wrong with crediting Brent Spiner in the end credits and making his inclusion in the episode and the reveal of his new character a genuine surprise? This has happened twice now, and it’s just not nice to know someone is coming before they show up on screen.
There’s also the question of the payoff to Soji’s dream – is Dr Soong supposed to be the figure in her dreams? There was the tiniest flicker of a hint at that: Dr Soong is wearing a similar outfit to the faceless figure Soji has dreamed about, and Soji seemed to do a double-take on seeing him, almost as if she recognised something about him. Yet neither of those things were acknowledged.
I did like, however, that Dr Soong is not a synth. When we’d heard of the existence of other synths I speculated that maybe some would share Data’s appearance in the way that some shared Soji’s appearance, but I’m glad to have gotten a human character instead. It was unexpected and interesting – and hopefully the plot thread of Dr Soong transferring himself into a synthetic body will be explored further.
Unfortunately, like all of the various competing stories in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, this was barely touched on and needed much more development. In a way, this encapsulates the problem with introducing a whole new civilisation and cast of characters in the final two episodes. There simply isn’t enough time remaining for Dr Soong and Sutra and the other synths to all have their own stories that are as detailed and interesting as those stories we’ve already seen playing out for the past eight episodes. Given how rushed this episode felt, and how it tried to cram so much into a 45-minute runtime, some elements – like Dr Soong’s desire to become a synth – could’ve been dropped to give more screen time to other, more important story beats.
And I think we’ve come to the crux of my complaints about Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1. The episode introduced several new major characters, a new antagonist, a new location, new obstacles for Picard and his crew to overcome. Yet it’s supposed to be the first part of the finale, and finales are meant to bring everything that’s already happened to a head and begin to wrap up the story. It’s simply too late now to open up whole new plotlines and for dumping whole news sets of characters onto the audience. The only story thread that feels somewhat concluded is Picard’s redemption in the eyes of Elnor – and that had arguably already happened in The Impossible Box.
The story of Star Trek: Picard has been, at points, meandering. The diversions to Vashti and Nepenthe in particular were close to standalone stories, taking Picard on a personal journey through parts of his past. And they were good stories, giving Picard the chance to redeem himself with Elnor, a character he’d been a kind of substitute father to, and to draw on the advice of two of his former crew: Riker and Troi. And of course for us as the audience to see those characters return was a nostalgic treat. Yet the revelations in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 that Sutra actually wants to fulfil the Romulans’ prophecy and bring about the end of days, and that Dr Soong is hoping to transfer himself to a new body make those episodes feel, in retrospect, like wasted time. If there was all this important plot to get through before the season ended, we should have been spending our time here, having Picard and his crew arrive on Coppelius earlier to allow more time for these “main” story beats to be properly and fully explored.
As it is, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 feels like an episode that should mark the halfway point in the story and in the season. Sutra needs time to explore the vision in more detail, figure out who to contact and how to contact them, rally her people to her newfound cause, demonstrate to the audience precisely what the implications of summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers” will be, who that faction even is, work out a plan, and above all, develop as a character and let us get to know her. Dr Soong needs more screen time too – he needs to explain what this vaguely-hinted-at illness is that means he needs a new body, show how and why he’s failed at successfully building it so far despite being surrounded by hyper-intelligent synths, demonstrate what Dr Jurati can do to help that means he needs her support, and show us as the audience whether he’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy” because right now he’s ambiguous. Ambiguity in characters is fine, and it’s even good in some cases as it ramps up the tension and mystery. But when a character’s motivations and goals are unclear simply because they haven’t had sufficient time in the story for us to know anything about them, well that just isn’t very interesting. Worse, it can be frustrating.
Instead of taking its time, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 tried to cram everything I listed above into about thirty minutes of screen time. I’d absolutely argue, based on what we saw this week, that there’s several episodes’ worth of story there, and that’s what I mean when I say the episode felt so poorly-paced and rushed.
There were several other moments that could have been spread out across multiple episodes. Picard and his crew trekking from La Sirena to the Artifact and then to Coppelius Station, for example. Instead we got a single drone shot of them walking and that was it. For an older man hiking over rough terrain, initially several kilometres away from where he needed to go, Picard isn’t exactly going to be speedy and we could have had several scenes with ample time for character development both on the way to the Artifact and on the way from the Artifact to Coppelius Station. There was certainly scope for more time spent with Seven of Nine, Elnor, and the xBs. It’s totally unclear what will happen to them now – are they marooned on Coppelius? Can the Artifact be repaired again and get back into space? What are their objectives? Is Seven of Nine their leader? Are the xBs even thinking for themselves? Have they got over their assimilation experiences? How many survived? So many unanswered questions, and given how much time we spent on the Artifact in earlier episodes, to just try to brush it all away and move on to this new story about Sutra, Dr Soong, and the attempts to trigger armaggeddon and/or fight the Romulans leaves a lot of things unresolved.
There’s also a point of consistency, and it connects to something I wrote in my review of The Impossible Box. When Narek finally got Soji to explore her memories, she provided two clues to the location of her homeworld: electrical storms and two red moons. We saw the red moons in the episode, but where was the storm? Narek and Rizzo took it to mean that the planet had “constant” storms, and even Kestra used this information to ask Capt. Crandall to find the planet’s location in Nepenthe. I felt that two clues did not provide much information to go on when locating a planet, especially as lots of locations can have occasional lightning storms rather than suffer from them continuously, but for one of the two established features of Coppelius to be ignored entirely – and for that point, which had been important in earlier episodes, to not even be given lip service just adds to the sense that there was too much to cram into Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1. Otherwise the show’s creators are being inconsistent – setting up story points that work in one episode but are ignored in others. Another example of this is from Stardust City Rag where Maddox said his lab had been destroyed. Picard was literally sat in Maddox’s room this week, and it didn’t look destroyed to me. Is that going to be explained properly, or are we just going to have to live with the fact that these inconsistencies exist and only served to drive the plot and get the characters to the right place at the right time for other story beats to unfold?
Picard’s illness was something that the story had set up way back in Maps and Legends that I’d been waiting to see some development on. We finally got that this week, as Picard suffered a blackout. His scene explaining to the crew that he had been diagnosed was one of the few emotional moments in the episode, and in particular I was moved by the reactions of Dr Jurati and Raffi. The “I love you” moment with Raffi later in the episode was both awkwardly funny and touching – and the pay-off to a relationship that had been built up and explored over multiple episodes. That scene was probably my favourite; a diamond in the rough.
Other points I liked were: seeing Commodore Oh on the bridge of her ship at the end of the episode, the Artifact emerging from transwarp, seeing Picard and the crew all together on the bridge of La Sirena, Picard’s speech about his illness, Raffi calling Narek Soji’s “asshole Romulan ex”, the synthetic cat and butterflies, and the costumes the crew of La Sirena wore after leaving the ship. None of these moments, however, could redeem a bad episode.
So I know this hasn’t been a typical review. I usually like to spend more time on each episode and break down more of the scenes in detail than I have here, but honestly I just want to see the back of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, and going back and re-watching it several times in order to pull out a few more points just doesn’t hold much appeal to me right now. I’m looking forward to the finale with nervous anticipation. I’m hopeful that the story can be concluded in a satisfactory manner, and that the currently-unresolved plot points will be wrapped up. Just because Part 1 didn’t hit the mark, that doesn’t mean Part 2 will necessarily be a disappointment as well, and I remain hopeful that I’ll enjoy next week’s outing a lot more.
Remember to stay tuned for the theory post in the next few days, as I check a few more off the list!
The first nine episodes of Star Trek: Picard’s first season are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Stardust City Rag, as well as for the rest of Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
First of all, before anything else, I just want to say how much I love this episode’s title! Stardust City Rag is just such a fun episode name, quite possibly one of my all-time favourite episode names in all of Star Trek. It just has such a fun sound, which was reflected in parts of this episode’s tone. Jonathan Frakes (who played Commander William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation and had directed several episodes of Star Trek: Discovery) returned for his second and final stint as director this season, and I really enjoyed what he brought to the table. In fact I’d say this was definitely the better of his two episodes this season.
There was a dichotomy in Stardust City Rag between two very different tones that both played into the same story. There was the fun, somewhat campy tone present in some of the nightclub sequences, with Picard and his crew dressing up in over-the-top costumes, and then there was the deathly serious tone that followed Seven of Nine, Raffi, and finally at the end, Dr Jurati.
Stardust City Rag also gave us our first confirmed theory – if you look back at my theory posts, you’ll see that after Episode 3, The End is the Beginning, I called out Dr Jurati for her possible betrayal. And in this episode we got to see that theory bear fruit, though not quite in the manner I had expected. To have her exposed as a double-agent and betray Picard’s trust at only the halfway mark through the season was also a surprise – after what she did and the fact that La Sirena’s EMH witnessed it, she won’t be able to maintain her cover. What will happen to her next is an open question, and she notably did not feature in any of the clips shown in the trailer for next week’s episode.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The Dr Jurati revelation was only one of several huge story points that Stardust City Rag had to offer. And more so than any episode so far, I feel that this episode advanced the plot in a major way. From the scenes glimpsed in last week’s trailer, I wasn’t sure I would like Stardust City Rag, despite its fun name. The silly game of dress-up and the nightclub setting made it look like we were in for a kind of “Picard meets Ocean’s Eleven” jokey heist story, and honestly I was kind of uninspired by that concept.
While there was certainly that element to the episode, it was hardly all Stardust City Rag had going on; the “heist” portion of the story took up perhaps a third of the runtime. And that’s definitely a positive, in my opinion. I think if the whole episode had been dedicated to that, with Picard putting on an accent and the characters all dressed up, I think we could have ended up with a bit of a farce, and that’s really what I was concerned about heading in.
Stardust City Rag begins, as every episode aside from the premiere has, with a flashback sequence. This time, we’re on a planet called Vergessen – German or Dutch for “forgotten” – thirteen years before the events of the series. This places it around one year after the attack on Mars and Picard’s resignation, and three years before the supernova. The sweeping aerial shot of Vergessen shows what looks to be a largely uninhabited planet, with The Seven Domes occupying what appears to be a river delta or area of marshland. The sequence looks to be conveying that Vergessen is, as its name implies, forgotten about and hidden – somewhere out of the way, perfect for illegal activities.
And then we get what is probably the most graphic sequence to date in Star Trek: Picard – and arguably in the whole franchise. A young man in a torn Starfleet uniform is being hacked apart. Returning fans will recognise him as Icheb from Star Trek: Voyager – he was one of several young Borg who were taken on board by Capt. Janeway toward the end of Voyager’s stay in the Delta Quadrant. The implant by his eye – an inverted L-shape – was instantly recognisable, despite it having been removed. An unidentified woman pulls out Icheb’s eye, looking for his cortical implant. And the hacked-apart bodies of others, presumably drones, hang around the facility. After the brutal butchering, Seven of Nine arrives and kills the scientists, but it’s too late to save Icheb, and she is forced to put him out of his misery by shooting him – leaving her clearly devastated.
There was always a sense, I felt, that with television storytelling increasingly following a route trailblazed by series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, Star Trek: Picard was going to kill off characters sooner or later. The brutality with which Icheb was treated, and the fact that we really didn’t get to spend any time with him before seeing his demise, was genuinely shocking and unexpected, though.
The way the sequence was shot also did a good job of disguising that Icheb had in fact been recast for his role in Star Trek: Picard. I felt he was instantly recognisable – credit to the makeup and prosthetics teams, no doubt – and it was only after the credits rolled that I realised it was a different actor.
This sequence set up was was, at least in part, an episode about Seven of Nine. My relationship with Seven’s character has been somewhat complicated. In her initial appearances on Star Trek: Voyager, she absolutely did what the producers of that show had wanted, and shook up what was in danger of becoming a stale formula. Her background as an ex-Borg gave a different dimension to her character than any we’d seen until that point, and she played a very different role in the show than Kes had.
I’d argue that Kes, sadly, never really got her character fully explored and developed, especially as toward the end of her tenure as a series regular she’d started to develop her mental abilities. And I think it would have been very interesting to see how Voyager would have handled her as she rapidly aged – Ocampans had a very short lifetime of only around nine years. But we’re getting off topic. I felt that too many of Seven of Nine’s episodes – of which there were more than a fair number in the second half of Voyager – followed almost exactly the same formula. She’d learn some lesson or other about “what it means to be human”, overcoming her Borg-inspired nature to accomplish something for the crew, but then by the next episode she’d seem to forget it all and be back to her usual Borg self, only to learn another, very similar, lesson in humanity. It just felt like, having gone to all the trouble to swap out Kes for Seven of Nine, Voyager’s showrunners and writers didn’t really know what to do with her aside from that formula. And it got annoying and repetitive at times.
Fortunately, Seven of Nine has finally regained a lot more of her humanity, and been able to hold onto it. Even in the flashback at the beginning of the episode – which takes place around eight years after the end of Voyager – she’s much more expressive and emotional than I think we ever really saw her in that series. And it makes a lot of sense! She’s had a lot more time to work through her assimilation and de-assimiliation experiences, and build up her memories and personality than she had when we were familiar with her. For me, seeing Seven of Nine like this, finally embracing her humanity instead of constantly forgetting about it, was cathartic. It scratched an itch that I’d had since Voyager was on the air back in the late 1990s and early 2000s to really see some character development and to see her break out of her Borg past. It’s just a shame it had to come at the expense of Icheb! That’s not to criticise that story point – I think it makes a lot of sense for Seven of Nine’s story to see her lose Icheb, and honestly, I don’t think anyone really expected his character to be returning in a big way in Star Trek in future, so he fits the bill for someone to kill off. But as a fan, it’s always heartbreaking to see a known face killed off!
The action then jumps to the present day, or rather, two weeks before the present day. We’re on Freecloud, in a place called Stardust City, and the owner of a nightclub gets word that Bruce Maddox is here. She initially wants him killed, but changes her mind and meets with him. Maddox looks dishevelled with his messy hair and unkempt beard; a far cry from the Starfleet officer returning fans will remember. Again it’s worth noting that Maddox has been recast just like Icheb was, and for most people that wouldn’t even really notice, but having recently re-watched Maddox’s original appearance in The Measure of a Man in The Next Generation (you can see a write-up of that episode by clicking or tapping here) I did notice and while I wouldn’t say it took me out of it, it was a brief adjustment to get used to the new actor, because unlike Icheb in the flashback mentioned above, Maddox gets a lot of screen time.
It emerges that Maddox’s lab has been destroyed – raided by the Tal Shiar. He’s in debt to the nightclub owner, and she drugs him, hoping to sell him to the Tal Shiar to recoup the money she spend on him. It’s worth noting here that the Zhat Vash are never mentioned in this episode. I noted last time that I suspect Picard’s decision not to tell his crew – especially Elnor – about the Zhat Vash might become an issue. And given Maddox’s work in the realm of synthetics it seems at least possible he would have known about the faction. But no one from Maddox to Picard to the nightclub owner ever mentions the faction. While I understand they’re meant to be secretive, having a named antagonist and being consistent with that does help casual viewers in particular to follow everything that’s going on.
It’s at this point that I’d like to look in more detail at Maddox’s role in the story thus far from the production side, because I really think it’s been nothing less than a stroke of genius. Maddox fills two roles – he’s a signal to returning fans from The Next Generation era that this is one continuous story in the Star Trek galaxy, while at the same time being the kind of character that his presence in that one episode from 1989 is in no way something a new fan would need to know about. If we compare him to Dr Benayoun – the character from Maps and Legends who delivers to Picard the news of his illness – their roles are identical. Maddox, to the uninitiated new fan, is just a character from Picard’s past like Dr Benayoun, and seeing their interactions in the past isn’t necessary to know that. For returning fans, he’s someone we may remember from TNG and that ties the two shows together. Using a character like Bruce Maddox was completely unexpected, but it works so well. And I love it.
After the credits roll, La Sirena is in orbit of Freecloud. Picard is in his holo-study, looking at a video about the planet they’re visiting. Freecloud is presented as a neutral place, probably not under any jurisdiction other than its own. It’s the kind of place we’ve seen in Star Wars – a somewhat shady-feeling place where various transactions, legal and illegal, can take place without the intervention of the Federation or anyone else. The economy of the 24th Century has always been a little ambiguous, but Freecloud is a symbol of unchecked capitalism – seemingly anything can be bought and sold here, much like the Dark Web of today.
Seven of Nine joins Picard in his study, and it turns out she works for the Fenris Rangers – they were mentioned last time, and seem to be a kind of vigilante group, trying to maintain order in some of these fringe systems. It was pure coincidence that Seven of Nine met Picard when she did – or at least so it would seem. A very, very lucky coincidence, if that really is the case! They share a drink, and this is where we get Seven’s lines from the trailer about Picard “saving the galaxy”. She is definitely much more human than returning fans will remember from Voyager, and as I said already, I really appreciated that.
While Picard and Seven chat, we get some exposition from Raffi and Rios – no doubt meant to fill in new fans and those who don’t remember much about Picard or Seven because of how long it’s been! It was interesting to note that they both mention Picard’s status as a former Borg, especially given where they will have to head if they want to meet Soji in future episodes. Seven of Nine agrees to be dropped off on Freecloud, but asks Picard what he plans to do and he tells her, in a roundabout way, that he’s trying to help Soji. Intrigued, she stays to listen.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the change in colour and presentation of Seven of Nine’s Borg implants, most notably her eyepiece. I felt that it looked “wrong”, and not like it had done in Voyager. But the more of her I saw in this episode, the more I think it’s designed to look like the metal has been worn down over the years. Whereas it had been shinier in the past, by now she’s been out of the collective for a long time and the metal has seen a lot of wear and tear, giving it a duller, less polished appearance.
Dr Jurati is in her cabin, watching a holo of herself and Maddox from presumably before the ban on synthetics. They share a kiss at the end, and Jurati is emotional at looking back on this part of her life, which I think sets up nicely what is to come later. It was a very brief scene, but one which was important to their stories. We did get to see a little of Maddox’s post-TNG personality, too. I’d say that the scene showed him as a kind of stereotypical scientist, with an idiosyncrasy around the replicator. Maddox in The Measure of a Man had seemed, I would argue, much more confident than the version of the character we see here, though granted it is twenty-plus years later in this holo-recording. But for all intents and purposes, comparing Maddox’s role in The Next Generation to Star Trek: Picard is kind of irrelevant. As mentioned above, he could be subbed out for a new character and the story would be identical, so his characterisation here doesn’t matter – whether he’s the same as the Maddox we remember or not, his role is less that of a character and more a plot device.
In the next scene, on the bridge of La Sirena, we get another example of the lighter, comic tone that was present in parts of the episode, as each crew member (except for Elnor, for some reason) gets their own holo-pop-up advertisement as they dock at Freecloud. This was a little bit of fun, and it seemed to give us the name of La Sirena’s ship class – apparently she’s a Kaplan F17 Speed Freighter. And although he was almost entirely in the background, it was one of Elnor’s three opportunities to have a line in Stardust City Rag. If I could criticise the episode in one way, it would be that, after all the fuss and trouble Picard and the crew went to last week to recruit Elnor, this week he was absolutely wasted and contributed nothing to the story or to the various storylines that played out.
After closing their little pop-up ads, the crew learn that Maddox is a prisoner, and that the nightclub owner is looking for someone to represent them in a deal with the Tal Shiar. Seven of Nine knows about the nightclub owner – her name is Bjayzl – and explains that, among other things, she “butchers ex-Borg for parts”. As we’ve seen with Soji’s work on the Artifact, there is apparently a roaring galactic trade in Borg components. Precisely why that is – and who the buyers might be – is unclear. I wonder if the parts may all be going to the same buyer, but we’ll save the theory-crafting for my theory post (keep an eye out for that in the next few days!)
Seven of Nine offers to be bait in a trap to rescue Maddox – offering herself up for “sale” to Bjayzl to get the crew close enough to spring him out. Because of what had happened with Icheb earlier, this was clearly a ploy on her part to get close to Bjayzl.
We’re then treated to a very pretty shot of La Sirena arriving at Stardust City, and I’m in love with the CGI work here. There was a real sense of a living, breathing, fast-paced gambling city – a futuristic Las Vegas. Yet at the same time, I was getting the impression that Stardust City was playing on Star Wars’s Coruscant and even Mass Effect’s Citadel in terms of presentation – there was a somewhat claustrophobic feel to its mass of neon-signed buildings and streets. I thought I saw another Ferengi Alliance emblem on first viewing, but when I went back and re-watched it I couldn’t spot it. There were a couple of nice references, though: Mot’s Hair Emporium refers to Mot, the Enterprise-D’s Bolian barber, whose name Picard once borrowed when dealing with mercenaries! And of course, Quark’s Bar can only refer to the Ferengi we all remember from Deep Space Nine! There was also a dancing girl seen as La Sirena flew in, and I have a feeling this is lifted from a previous iteration of Star Trek… I’m just not sure which one.
This next sequence cuts between the crew arriving in Stardust City and preparing for their roles back on La Sirena. This is the dressing-up part of the story that featured prominently in last week’s teaser trailer. Rios is taking point, offering Seven of Nine for sale, and he has to really convince Bjayzl’s “reptiloid”, who can apparently smell lying because of his enhanced senses. Picard and Rios get the best costumes, dressing very flamboyantly as apparently is custom on Freecloud. More so than on the bridge, Elnor was completely wasted here, and may as well not have been included. In fact, this episode could have taken place before the mission to Vashti and Elnor’s presence or lack of presence would have not mattered in the slightest. There was scope, too, for him to do something – even just as comic relief. His lack of understanding of the dressing up side of the mission was at least somewhat amusing, if a little “Vulcan” in the way it came across, but it was really just wasted and I would have liked to have seen more of Elnor both here in the preparation phase as well as down in the nightclub.
Dr Jurati is ordered to operate the transporter while the others rescue Maddox – and it felt like this was setting her up to either deliberately trap them away from the ship or mess up somehow and cause a problem. In that sense, I think it was a nice little misdirect given that it got a certain amount of attention during this sequence. The crew are given a transport enhancer – a much smaller device than the tripods from the TNG-era – and we also learn from Seven of Nine that, after the supernova, the Neutral Zone “collapsed” – the border between the Federation and Romulan space is now much less stable, hence the issues on places like Vashti. She and the Fenris Rangers are self-appointed police officers trying to keep order, but Picard says she is playing at being both “judge and jury”, and calls her a “vigilante”.
There was definitely a “heist movie” feel to this sequence. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared it might be, and was actually amusing in parts and tense in others. Each of them (except Elnor, really) is given a role to play. Rios is the point man, Picard is the con man, Seven is the bait, Elnor is… muscle? I guess. And Dr Jurati, operating the transporter, is the getaway driver! Raffi won’t be participating, as Freecloud was her destination and she plans to attend to her own business while the heist occurs.
Again, the sequence is cut in a jumpy way, cutting back-and-forth between before and during the heist. After Rios has convinced the reptiloid to meet Picard and Seven, and Picard has “given him his payment”, we get a scene between Picard and Raffi, as he sends her off to do whatever she came to Freecloud for. I never really got the sense that this would be the last Picard, or us as the audience, would see of her. That’s not to criticise what was a well-constructed scene, it just didn’t feel like a permanent goodbye to a character we only met three episodes ago.
We follow Raffi as she arrives at a family planning clinic on Freecloud, and tracks down a young man. He was too young to really be a love interest for her (no offence to Michelle Hurd) and it turns out that he’s her son. Due to a combination of overworking during the supernova crisis and her drug issues, she had become estranged from him some time ago. Star Trek has always been good at using its science fiction setting to highlight real world issues, and we got a great example of that here. As America, and much of the western world, faces an opioid epidemic, there will be many families who have seen someone disappear into a void of drug addiction, and Raffi’s story mirrors that. Family breakup due to drug abuse is not something that’s often front and centre on our screens, yet it is a real problem for a lot of people in a lot of communities.
The heartbreaking scene shows her son’s inability to forgive her – her attempt at getting clean and reconciling coming far too late, and her ramblings about the “conspiracy” to attack Mars seeming to indicate to him that she hadn’t really gotten over her problems anyway. Raffi is about to become a grandmother – her son and his Vulcan partner are having a baby, hence the family planning clinic. I doubt this will come back into play as a story beat, but it may be important for Raffi’s character going forward, and I suppose it could come back around next season in a bigger way. And we got a typical “Vulcan” haircut here for the first time in the series, I think. The Romulans used to style their hair similarly to Pel in this scene, but modern Romulans, like Narek, have abandoned that style. It was nice to see it back on a side character, as again this shows us a little of the Star Trek of old!
Raffi’s son – Gabriel – insists that she’s “just passing through”, and the couple depart, leaving Raffi clearly devastated. Back at the nightclub, Picard sees Maddox for the first time, and he is still alive, though clearly in somewhat of a bad state. The deal seems to be going as planned when Seven of Nine launches into a personal conversation with Bjayzl – alerting Picard and Rios to the fact that things may be about to go off the rails. Rios calls Dr Jurati on the ship, but her mental state has activated the EMH, who asks her about her “psychiatric emergency”. She confirms she still has a transporter lock, but that they haven’t activated the pattern enhancer. At this point, Dr Jurati’s state of mind could simply have been a result of nervousness about the important role she was assigned, but it definitely felt that there was something more – she was too anxious.
Seven of Nine disrupts the plan by grabbing Bjayzl, who orders her security people to stand down. Elnor, Rios, and Picard secure Maddox, and Seven is convinced to stand down and allow herself to be transported back to La Sirena with Maddox and the others – after being warned that if she harmed Bjayzl, it would put a target on Rios, Elnor, and Picard as well as on her. As I mentioned, this is the moment where I thought Dr Jurati could either turn on the crew or make a mistake, but the transport went smoothly and they were beamed back on board.
Seven told Picard about what happened to Icheb, and that Bjayzl only knew about him because they had once been on friendly terms – and Picard, true to the way we remember him, gently tries to dissuade her from seeking revenge. I liked this moment; the interaction between two familiar characters, yet two characters who hadn’t before been on screen together, was a great way that Star Trek: Picard tied together two of the TNG-era series. The dialogue, and the acting performances by Jeri Ryan and Sir Patrick Stewart were absolutely on point, and sold this complicated tale of hate and revenge perfectly. Picard has always been diplomatic, and we see here that, despite being away from the action for a long time, he’s lost none of his edge in that regard.
Bjayzl, for her part, was actually fairly one-dimensional as far as villains go. If we knew more about her motivations for wanting Borg parts, or at least who her buyer was, maybe she’d come across a bit better. As it stands, because we don’t understand exactly how or why this trade in Borg parts operates, she reminded me of the villain from the film Solo: A Star Wars Story whose name I had to look up (it’s Dryden Vos). Despite being portrayed very well by the actress, Bjayzl just fell a little flat for me, and I would have liked to have seen more of her past, her interactions with Seven of Nine, and as I said, why she became so interested in ex-Borg.
This ties into something that has come across a couple of times in Star Trek: Picard so far. A slightly longer series – perhaps twelve or fourteen episodes, like Star Trek: Discovery – would have allowed for more screen time for some of these characters, and thus a little more explanation and depth. When Game of Thrones cut its final two seasons down in length it started having similar issues, and I think the same thing has happened in a way here. I know we’re only halfway through, but there have been several points, like the Bjayzl storyline, that would have been nice to see a little more of.
After the crew are beamed away by Dr Jurati, there’s a reunion between her and Maddox on the transporter pad. Seven of Nine departs to rejoin the Fenris Rangers, but takes two of La Sirena’s phasers on her way out. Picard activates the transporter, but she returns to Bjayzl’s club – finally completing her revenge. Again, Bjayzl felt quite one-dimensional, and the scene played out like many we’ve seen before, where a villain reacts with fear when cornered. However, from a storytelling point of view she was really just a foil for Seven, and a way to show to us as the audience how much Seven has grown since Voyager. In that sense, it was a success, and as I mentioned earlier, finally getting to see Seven of Nine really embracing her human side, after all the lessons she received from Capt. Janeway and the Doctor (and others) was great. I wouldn’t have expected that she’d show up in Star Trek: Picard when the series was announced, but I’m glad that she did. Though the episode leaves things ambiguous as to whether or not Seven made it out of the club after Bjayzl was killed, I think we can be confident that she did. Hopefully this won’t be her final Star Trek appearance.
Maddox is being treated in La Sirena’s sickbay – the first time we’ve gotten to see this set. It was nicely designed space, somewhat of a cross between sickbays we’ve seen in the TNG and Discovery eras, with a lot of holo-screens and less reliance on physical panels. Maddox is in a bad way, but it seems like he’ll recover, and he talks to Picard about Dahj. We get final confirmation here that Maddox is responsible for their creation, and that he sent them on a mission to discover what really led to the ban on synthetics. Dahj went to Earth to poke around the Daystrom Institute, and Soji is on the Artifact – so there must be something linking those two locations. Could the Borg be somehow tied to what happened with the synths on Mars? Maddox mourns Dahj as if she were his own daughter – which, in a sense, she was. And crucially, he tells Picard where to find Soji, setting the stage for the second half of the season.
Picard exits the sickbay, leaving Maddox alone with Dr Jurati. As they reminisce, it’s clear something is wrong. The way the music slowly changes was perfect here, building up Dr Jurati’s sinister intentions. Picard speaks to Rios about travelling to the Artifact, and also we get confirmation that Raffi is back on board – though she’s not coming out of her cabin after what happened with her son. Maddox tells Dr Jurati that her work with him was essential to Soji and Dahj’s creation, describing them as the product of his work, Dr Soong’s, and hers.
Jurati says that it’s “one more thing to atone for”, as she does something to the bio-bed, setting in motion Maddox’s death. La Sirena’s EMH tries to intervene but Jurati deactivates it, and tells Maddox that she knows too much about – presumably – the consequences of creating synthetic life. It seems as though she’s killing him because of what he represents: someone who can create these synths, and there’s something too dangerous about that. In that sense, she is fully subscribed to the Zhat Vash/Commodore Oh ideology about how synthetic life is inherently bad. And I got a hint – just a glimpse, really – that maybe this is related to what we saw in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season last year. That story dealt with a rogue AI that planned to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy – could this be what the Zhat Vash conspiracy is trying to prevent? Some existential threat caused by synthetics? It’s hard to justify Dr Jurati’s actions otherwise.
Maddox dies, and Dr Jurati is genuinely devastated by what she’s done. If this was her mission – to find and kill Maddox – then she’s succeeded, but her cover is surely blown now, as La Sirena’s EMH witnessed what she did. What will happen to her after this is now up in the air, but she clearly cannot be relied on or trusted by the rest of the crew again. Alison Pill’s performance as a conflicted person, yet ultimately able to perform her task despite her personal emotional attachment to Maddox, was pitch-perfect. She’s been phenomenal in the role of Dr Jurati this season so far, and I hope we get to see more of her – perhaps even giving Jurati a chance at redemption.
So that was Stardust City Rag, probably my second-favourite episode of the season behind Remembrance. There was so much going on, and everyone except Elnor was involved in a big way. We got a resolution to Raffi’s side-quest, and I think now she will be fully on board with what happens next, now that she no longer has that distraction. Devastating as it was for her to be unable to reconcile with her son, I think some of that energy that she has for getting to the truth of what happened on Mars can now be fully unleashed.
Dr Jurati is much more in question – will she be put in the brig, turned over to some authority, or dealt with somehow by Picard and Rios? Murder is a serious crime, and though there probably is no death penalty, it would be enough to see her imprisoned in the Federation, and she and Maddox were Federation citizens. I really want to know why she did it – what is this huge secret that she knows about synthetics? Is she allied with Commodore Oh? Surely she must be… but how? And why?
Picard now has a destination to find Soji – but getting on board the Artifact surely won’t be an easy task. Rios is up for it though, and at the end of the episode in his conversation with Picard, there was a hint at least that he’s starting to believe in the cause too.
The storyline has moved on in a huge way. With Maddox out of the picture, and Dr Jurati having committed a heinous crime, it’s now up to Picard, Raffi, Elnor, and Rios to save Soji. Only Picard is truly invested in this goal, but the others may be starting to come around.
It was a shame that Elnor was underused in Stardust City Rag. I would have liked to have seen him do something – anything, really – after the time and effort made to recruit him last week. But with limited runtime there’s only room for so many characters, and the main thrust of this episode was about Seven of Nine.
What could have been an uninteresting episode from my point of view has turned into one of the best so far, and I really enjoyed the shifting tones and multiple storylines presented in Stardust City Rag. It was a rollercoaster ride, and when the credits finally rolled, all I could think of is that I wanted more! It’s going to be an arduous wait for next week’s episode – The Impossible Box.
Stardust City Rag, and the rest of Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard can be streamed now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and in other countries and territories. Star Trek: Picard – and the rest of the Star Trek franchise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning – There will be spoilers ahead for Absolute Candor – the fourth episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for all previous episodes in Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
What a wild ride Absolute Candor was! After a trilogy of episodes directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper kicked off the series, Star Trek legend and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Jonathan Frakes stepped up to direct this outing for Picard and his new crew – and he’ll also be directing next week’s instalment too.
After the first three episodes set up a lot of story points and mysteries, Absolute Candor felt like the first episode so far to begin the task of exploring and unravelling them. That’s not to say it answered everything – we still have far more questions than answers right now. But some details are beginning to come into focus, especially regarding Picard’s history between when we last saw him in Star Trek: Nemesis and when we met him again in Remembrance at the beginning of this season.
As with the last two episodes, Absolute Candor opens with a flashback sequence. But rather than seeing Mars this time, as Maps and Legends and The End is the Beginning showed us, this time we’re with an out-of-uniform Picard on a planet called Vashti, in the Beta Quadrant. It’s clear quite quickly that this sequence takes place before the attack on Mars – Picard is still working very hard to relocate as many Romulans as possible with time ticking down to the supernova. He’s clearly very popular with many of the Romulans on Vashti, though if he’s working I’m not exactly sure why he’s not in uniform. Picard, at least as we remember him from The Next Generation, was quite a stickler for such things as uniforms – though perhaps as an Admiral he had more leeway in this matter.
Vashti is presented as a kind of “frontier outpost”; it’s dusty, it’s bustling with Romulans, and Picard is in his element here. At least, the town setting on Vashti looks like this. The next setting Picard visits – a convent or nunnery – has a very obvious Japanese inspiration. This blend of aesthetics keeps the two parts of Vashti distinct from one another, with the serenity and safety of the convent contrasting with the unpolished nature of the pioneer town. This contrast will come into play later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We saw a Romulan using the same style of cards that Ramdha (the Romulan Soji wanted to talk to in the last episode) was using, and their inclusion was a nice way of tying things together, as well as adding to the “wild-west” vibe that the town on Vashti has going for it.
Picard has struck up a relationship with Elnor, a young boy who has been taken in by the nuns. He brings him a gift – a copy of the book The Three Musketeers – and promises to teach him how to fence. His dislike of children is referenced here by the nuns and Elnor, but he reassures the boy, saying he is “very fond” of him. There’s a grandfatherly element to Picard that we haven’t really seen before – obviously emphasised by his age. In The Next Generation, we saw him take on a semi-fatherly role to Wesley – after dismissing his “no children on the bridge” rule – so this is hardly out of character. He also kept the “Captain Picard Day” banner from his time aboard the Enterprise-D, again showing that his attitude to children has considerably softened over the years.
Midway through the promised fencing lesson, Picard gets a call on his combadge (the Generations–Deep Space Nine–Voyager style is back for this sequence) from Raffi. And we know what this must be before anything happens; she’s about to tell him of the attack on Mars. Because we knew this – it had even been included in the montage of previous episodes that played at the very beginning – I don’t think we needed Picard’s line in response. Shock like this can be hard to play right, and it’s no criticism of Sir Patrick Stewart that the line, in which he says “what do you mean synths have attacked Mars?” just fell flat and didn’t really work. A simple facial expression would have conveyed everything we needed to know; the line was unnecessary and detracted from the scene.
Everyone is concerned, and Picard promises to get to the bottom of it and return soon, saying that their work must continue, and then the credits roll. Having seen Seven of Nine feature prominently in the trailers, Jeri Ryan’s name being included in the credits wasn’t a surprise. But, given her role in the episode, it was a bit of an unnecessary spoiler – especially for people who may have skipped the trailers. Seven of Nine only shows up right at the end of the episode. She’s an anonymous pilot flying a small ship, and that whole scene is structured around keeping her identity hidden until the last possible moment, making her appearance on the bridge of La Sirena a surprise – but as this was the last scene in the episode, and we’d seen her name in the opening credits, the element of surprise was lost which was a shame, I felt.
After the credits we’re back in the present day, and after a brief shot of La Sirena in space we get a conversation between Dr Jurati and Capt. Rios. It seems like this may be Jurati’s first time in space, and more than anything she just feels bored while the ship warps to their destination. I mentioned last time how the comment Raffi made at the end of last week’s episode about Dr Jurati not being subject to any kind of security check could be some foreshadowing of her being a double-agent, and this conversation, innocent though it may have seemed on the surface, could also be seen as her probing Rios for information in a disarming style. I’m not sure exactly why yet, but I have a feeling she isn’t to be trusted.
Raffi interrupts the awkward conversation to demand to know where the ship is going – apparently Picard wants to make a stop at Vashti before heading to Freecloud, though he seems to have only told Rios of this, as Raffi and Dr Jurati had no idea. The next scene was confusing for a moment, as Picard appears to be back on the vineyard – but apparently it’s just a holoprogram that Zhaban requested that the “hospitality hologram” on La Sirena recreate for Picard. As with every hologram on the ship, it’s been reprogrammed to have Rios’ appearance.
There’s a close-up shot of Dahj’s necklace on Picard’s desk – presumably a recreation as part of the holoprogram, but this isn’t clear. As I said in my review of Remembrance, I really feel this is a weak prop. The visually unimpressive design just makes it blend in, and for something that was supposed to be so noticeable, and that’s supposed to be a symbol for creating androids, it just looks bland. For a one-off item I could forgive that, and it would be little more than a minor costuming/prop nitpick. But the necklace keeps cropping up, as it did here in the close-up, and I wish it looked better given its role in the story thus far.
Raffi interrupts Picard’s conversation with the hologram, demanding to know why he’s insistent on going to Vashti. It’s clear Picard has been out of touch with goings-on in the galaxy for some time; Vashti will not be the way he remembers it. Rios and Dr Jurati join in as Picard calmly explains that he wants to return to the convent we saw in the flashback – because the nuns there are warriors, and he hopes one of them can be persuaded to join their crew for the mission. He suspects they are being tracked – though interestingly he refers to their opponents as the Tal Shiar, not the Zhat Vash. He will do so again later in the episode when talking to Elnor, and I have a feeling this will come back to be a point in future episodes. Whether Picard doesn’t believe in the existence of the Zhat Vash, or whether he simply doesn’t want to go to the trouble of explaining to everyone what they are isn’t clear.
We get two little hints in this scene that may come into play in future episodes. First is that Raffi makes a comment about how Picard’s decision to go to Vashti makes her “seriously question [his] mental state” – could this be a hint about the terminal condition that Dr Benayoun mentioned in Maps and Legends? Secondly, Picard calls Raffi out on her keenness to get to Freecloud, but Rios says she seems apprehensive about it. What is Raffi planning to do on Freecloud? We know she said at the end of last week’s episode that she’s going there for her own reasons, but here we get a hint that she may not be looking forward to it. Why that is isn’t clear at this stage either.
Vashti, according to Raffi and Rios, is in a bad way, seemingly outside of anyone’s jurisdiction with warlords controlling the planet and the space around it. Picard is surprised by this, and his lack of awareness of the situation shows us, as mentioned earlier, just how out of touch he is with the state of play. Rios mentions a warlord who has control of an “antique bird-of-prey” – and anyone who’s seen the trailers will have spotted that ship, sporting a design not seen since The Original Series.
The nuns, Picard says, are the best fighters he’s ever seen – and enemies of the Tal Shiar. The “Way of Absolute Candor” is mentioned here for the first time, and it appears to be almost the complete antithesis of Surak’s Vulcan teachings. The Qowat Milat, as the nuns are called, believe in “total communication of emotion”. Raffi makes one last attempt to convince Picard to ditch the Vashti idea and head straight for Freecloud, but Picard says that he “may never pass this way again” – another reference to his condition. While this is, in a sense, a side-quest to Picard’s main objective of finding Maddox and Soji, he is taking advantage of his return to space to travel to Vashti to revisit Elnor.
Travelling in space in Star Trek has never really been treated as a big deal. It was something routine, even if some individuals we met had never done so – like Joseph Sisko in Deep Space Nine. But in Star Trek: Picard we’ve had several instances that show us space travel is not just as easy as getting on a starship and taking off. Picard’s appeal to Admiral Clancy in Maps and Legends was brutally shot down, but not before she could say he couldn’t be trusted to take people into space. Next we have Dr Jurati, who is seemingly on her first space voyage, and now Picard himself, who, granted, has been a kind of self-imposed exile in La Barre, but it seems as though travel to Vashti isn’t easy. It took Picard contacting Raffi to track down a pilot who would even take them to Freecloud, when surely everything we’ve seen in prior Star Trek suggests that interstellar travel should be commonplace – and simple. It’s a surprise in terms of the way space travel has been handled thus far in the series, I think, and it’s less in line with past Star Trek and more like something we might expect to have seen in a different kind of science fiction series. I know there are perfectly valid story reasons for why Picard couldn’t just buy, rent, or otherwise acquire a shuttle or runabout – like how they have the Zhat Vash on their tail – but the tone is not what I expected, I have to admit. And it’s the kind of nitpick only some returning fans might have that doesn’t really detract from the story. But when you stop and think about it – surely it should have been easy for Picard and the others to go to Freecloud or Vashti or anywhere else they might’ve wanted.
Next, we get a scene aboard the Artifact, where Soji is watching a video of Ramdha from before she was assimilated, while playing with a similar deck of cards to those Ramdha was using in The End is the Beginning. Last time Ramdha called Soji “the destroyer”, and Soji hears that name again, this time in Romulan. Apparently “Seb-Cheneb” (which seems to be the Romulan name for “the destroyer”) is related to a day called Ganmadan – “the annihilation”. How this ties into Soji’s background and why Ramdha accused her of being Seb-Cheneb isn’t known at this point, but Soji is clearly disturbed by the implications.
After this brief scene we’re back on La Sirena, now in orbit of Vashti but without permission to approach the planet’s defences. Picard says they should simply tell whoever is running the show down on the surface that it’s him – expecting that will allow them to transport to the surface. But apparently Raffi and Rios have already tried that, and it’s clear that the Romulans on Vashti don’t want anything to do with him any more.
After bribing the Romulans, Picard is able to beam down to Vashti. The atmosphere is so different from its appearance in the flashback; the once-bustling town is squalid and run-down, with hard-up refugees glaring at Picard. It’s clear that some of them recognise him, and one whispers something into a communicator. Given that Raffi becomes concerned later in the episode when Picard has been identified by the inhabitants, it makes very little sense as to why they’d let him beam down, alone and unarmed, into the middle of the town.
Regardless, Picard tries to speak to some of the locals, who all ignore him. I liked the use of the phrase “jolan tru”, which returns from its appearance in The Next Generation two-part episode Unification – which saw Picard and Data go undercover on Romulus to find Spock after he travelled there. While “jolan tru” isn’t as iconic in the franchise as the Klingon word “qapla!”, it’s nevertheless a neat little throwback. It would have been easy to disregard that and create a new word or greeting in Romulan, but I’m glad they brought back this element from Picard’s past adventures.
This isn’t the “homecoming” that Picard would have wanted, and despite repeated warnings from Raffi and Rios about the state of Vashti and his own lack of popularity there, the Romulans’ reaction to his presence clearly hurts and disappoints him.
In this scene, I feel like Vashti was channelling Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’s depiction of Paradise City on the planet Nimbus III. That settlement, in a barren desert, was supposed to be a symbol of “galactic peace” – cooperation between the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. But, much like Vashti, it quickly fell into disrepair as the project was sidelined. There was great hope, both for Vashti and Nimbus III, to be successes, but both ultimately failed and became what we saw on screen. Whether the throwback was intentional or not I can’t say, but I definitely picked up a similar tone when Picard was on Vashti.
Picard travels to the convent, where he meets the nun from the flashback sequence. The nuns are perhaps the only people on Vashti who aren’t unhappy to see Picard return – though she does remark he’s “got old” since their last encounter. And I want to give a little credit here to hair and makeup. My reviews often focus on plot and story at the expense of other elements of a production – it’s something I’m trying to work on! But the way Picard appears in the flashbacks and in the up-to-date sequences does differ – and part of that is his hair. In the flashbacks, Picard has sported a close-cropped version of his grey-white hair that we remember from The Next Generation, and is notably completely bald in the rest of the show. This subtle change does age and de-age him somewhat in the two sequences, as well as differentiating them from one another. It’s subtle, such that it was hard to put my finger on at first, but I think it works well without having to rely on excessive makeup or expensive (and imperfect) digital techniques to make him look younger for the flashback scenes.
As Elnor appears – now a fully grown man – Picard reacts with shock. Before we can see what happens, however, the action cuts back to the Artifact. Ramdha isn’t dead, but she’s been sedated or placed in stasis, and Soji has paid her a visit. Narek stops by – he seems to have been tracking her movements – and she tells him something which I think is important – she felt like Ramdha had “seen” her. Even though she doesn’t know why, as she is unaware of her true nature, she felt like Ramdha had some kind of insight, something that she saw or recognised in Soji that is true. And not to spoil my next theory post, but I have a feeling there may be more Soji and Dahj lookalikes out there somewhere – one of which Ramdha may have encountered. That’s one explanation, anyway, but I don’t want to sink too much into theory-crafting right now!
At a canteen or mess hall on the Artifact, Soji and Narek sit down and discuss what happened last week. She asks him flat-out if he’s been following her, and it seems that this sequence takes place immediately after last week’s episode, as Soji says she “just now” visited the disordered Romulans. She presses him, asking if he works for the Tal Shiar. He says no, of course, but she is unconvinced. We can’t trust Narek at this point, so when he says he doesn’t know what happened to the Romulan vessel or to Ramdha, we – like Soji – don’t believe him. He plays his cards close to his chest and clearly knows more than he’s letting on. In this scene, I wonder if the blue drink they were sharing was meant to be Romulan Ale? This drink has appeared a number of times in Star Trek and it would be a nice reference if it were!
Narek tells Soji he wants to show her a “Borg ritual”, and for a moment I wondered if he might actually know something about Borg behaviour or even their origins. But it turns out it was a joke/metaphor, as the two slide in their socks along an uninhabited part of the Artifact. Narek presses her on her background – she learnt to speak Romulan “some time before May 12, 2396” – which is give-or-take three years before the events of the series. Given that Dr Jurati believed that Dahj only had around three years’ worth of genuine background – everything in her records before then seemed to have been made up – this fits with what we know. Could the 12th of May 2396 be Soji and Dahj’s activation or creation date? Narek pushes Soji too hard for information, saying he knows she wasn’t aboard a ship she claims to have been on around that time, and she takes offence and leaves, pushing past him on the way.
Back on Vashti, Picard explains to the nun that he wants someone to join his cause. Elnor offers him a meal, then storms off, clearly upset at Picard’s reappearance just like the Romulans in town had been. It’s here that we learn – contrary to my expectations, I have to admit – that Picard did nothing to aid the Romulans either on their homeworld or on Vashti after the attack on Mars. After his resignation, he simply went home to the château. No wonder the Romulans are so upset – Picard had been the face of the Federation when they promised to help, and after only a tiny fraction of that help had been delivered, they reneged on it and Picard simply disappeared. He seems never to have returned to Vashti after the flashback sequence at the beginning of the episode, even abandoning Elnor.
The nun calmly scolds Picard – “because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one”, she tells him, and it’s true, Picard even admits it himself. The attack on Mars is not the issue in and of itself, it was merely the catalyst for what really happened to Picard – Starfleet and the Federation broke their commitment, and when he threatened to resign in protest, instead of recognising the error of their ways and doing things his way, they simply accepted his resignation. This moment is what broke him. The attack on Mars set the stage, but Picard was reminded thereafter not just of Starfleet’s petty factional politics, but of his own unimportance to the organisation he’d dedicated his life to.
He can’t go back and undo it, building up a new fleet and saving lives. It’s too late for that – and it is a regret that he will have to live with. I’m sure we will see more of Picard wrestling with those feelings in future episodes, but for now at least, the nuns give him a chance to begin to make things right for at least one Romulan – Elnor. The shot of Elnor standing outside the convent, holding a thin-bladed sword with the reddish-coloured leaves in the background was clearly inspired by Japan. Elnor is, in this moment anyway, a samurai warrior.
Picard and Elnor sit together, and it’s an awkward conversation as Elnor clearly feels aggrieved by Picard’s abandonment. He had seen Picard as a father figure, clearly, and his disappearance from Elnor’s life left him with the nuns. Picard steers the conversation away from the past to his mission to find Maddox and Soji, but Elnor says that, as Picard is only interested in him now that he finds him useful, he’s inclined to abandon him the way he was abandoned, and storms off.
Dejected, Picard heads back to town. Rios tells him that he’ll have to wait seven minutes before they will be able to transport him through the planet’s defences – and alarm bells started ringing immediately for me! This whole sequence was so well-constructed. The seeds were sown in earlier scenes: having to bribe his way to the surface, the cold reception he received from the townspeople, the nun confirming he abandoned the rescue project, Raffi on board the ship finding out that he’d been spotted and identified, and now finally the fact that he’ll have to wait alone for rescue. A lot can happen in seven minutes – Picard is clearly in danger.
His stubbornness gets the better of him back in the town, and he sits down at a table in one of the saloon-type places, much to the ire of the Romulans who were already there. One confronts him, as we knew was sure to happen, and it turns out that he had once been a Senator – before the supernova.
We get a little more information here about the rescue armada. Some of the ships were already in service at the time of the attack on Mars, and over a quarter of a million Romulans had been relocated to Vashti at the time of the attack. Rather than waiting for the whole fleet to be complete, Picard and Raffi had been working in the meantime. The Senator – and the other Romulans – detest Picard, both for his own failings and for the decision made by the Federation to pull out of helping them. The former seems fair, but the latter does not as we know how hard Picard fought to convince Starfleet to rebuild the fleet and continue to help.
The Romulans throw him a sword and push him into the street to duel – we saw Picard showing young Elnor how to fence, and we’ve also seen him fence on at least one occasion in The Next Generation, but Picard is clearly outmatched here by the towering Romulan. He refuses to fight and tries to talk his way out of the situation, when Elnor shows up. He says “choose to live” – and we assume he’s speaking to Picard, encouraging him to pick up the sword he’d thrown down. But as the Romulan lunges for Picard, Elnor steps in and kills him. His statement was a threat – not to cross an assassin of the Qowat Milat. As another Romulan prepares to pull his disruptor and shoot Elnor, he and Picard are beamed aboard La Sirena.
We do have to again examine Picard’s frame of mind here. He berates Elnor for killing the Romulan Senator, but it’s obvious that he would have killed Picard in a heartbeat. The state of the galaxy, and Picard’s own relationship with the Romulans and other factions is not what it was fourteen years ago – yet he doesn’t seem to have fully grasped that reality yet. Elnor stepping in was the only option in that fight – the only other outcome was Picard’s death. As a great diplomat, as well as a former friend to the Romulan people, it must be hard for him to accept that his words mean nothing to them any more.
Elnor has committed himself to Picard’s cause – and now the whole crew is finally assembled. The last main character has slotted nicely into place, and four episodes in, we finally have the whole cast! This slower-paced introduction of the main characters has been spectacularly successful. Instead of trying to dump them all at once in the first episode, we’ve taken our time and got to know more about each of them as the show introduced them, and that’s really been a great way to handle it.
As Dr Jurati meets Elnor, she finally finds out the answer to a question she – and we as the audience – had from earlier: what was the Qowat Milat’s criteria for signing up? The answer – they only volunteer for lost or hopeless causes.
Narek receives a visit from Rizzo back on board the Artifact. She teases him about his “robot girlfriend”, and half-strangles him to get him to tell her the only useful piece of information he’s found so far – he believes, as Ramdha did, that Soji is Seb-Cheneb or “the destroyer”. He cautions her, pleadingly, about avoiding another activation – as happened to Dahj in Remembrance. But Rizzo tells him that the endgame is the same – they plan to kill Soji when they find out where she and Dahj came from. She gives him one more week to get more information out of her, before she will take action. I’m sure that the “one week” timeframe is no coincidence – it’s a reference to something happening in the next episode!
The episode closes with a final scene aboard La Sirena. The bird-of-prey mentioned earlier, and seen in the trailers, is fighting Rios’s ship, trying to push them into the planet’s defence grid which will destroy them. We get to see the scale of La Sirena better here – it’s much smaller than the bird-of-prey, and is thus more manoeuvrable. However, it takes the intervention of another ship to disable the bird-of-prey and save La Sirena – and as that ship is about to be destroyed, Picard makes the decision to beam its pilot on board. The pilot is, of course, revealed to be Seven of Nine.
Overall, I really enjoyed Absolute Candor. The Qowat Milat are an interesting and unique faction within Star Trek, at least that I’m aware of, and Romulan society – both pre- and post-supernova – is being explored in much richer detail than we’ve ever seen before. Unlike with the Klingons in Discovery, who many have argued overwrote some aspects of Klingon culture and design that had been present in past iterations of Star Trek, nothing we’ve seen of the Romulans so far contradicts what we already knew – it merely advances the story of the faction and adds to our knowledge and understanding. In that sense, the Romulans were a much better choice for Star Trek: Picard’s main faction than the Klingons were for Discovery. Whereas the Klingons’ history and culture had been explored in depth thanks to Worf and B’Elanna being main characters, and the Klingons’ prominent role in many episodes and films, the Romulans, despite being a known faction, were much more of a blank slate for the new creators to work with.
Having the full cast together is great, and now that we’re four episodes in we really should be expecting that. Elnor has two very clear influences, at least in my opinion. This episode played up a distinctly Japanese aesthetic for him – the way the convent was styled and his weapon in particular. The way he fights is reminiscent of samurai stories and martial arts films, further adding to that. But there’s also what I think is a pretty clear nod to Tolkein-esque elves in his appearance – particularly his clothing and his hair. Elnor’s look borrows much from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies – though Elnor is more emotional and less stoic than most of the elves in those films.
I enjoyed a number of the little nods and winks to returning fans: the TOS bird-of-prey, the use of the phrase “jolan tru”, the older style of combadge in the flashback sequence, the bottle of what looks like Romulan Ale on the Artifact, and the comparable state of Vashti and Nimbus III. It’s so clear from practically every moment, whether Picard is on screen or not, that this show is 100% a Star Trek show, and I really needed that. Discovery had plenty of great Star Trek-y moments too, but sometimes those could get drowned out by other elements of the plot. And the Kelvin films similarly had some highs and some lows when it came to feeling like a genuine part of the franchise. Picard, thus far at least, has had very few low points in general, and oozes that elusive Star Trek quality in every single scene.
It was great to see La Sirena in her first real firefight. Rios is clearly a good captain and a skilled pilot – but I’m a little concerned that the ship was so easily outmatched by a vessel a century-and-a-half old. I’m not sure this bodes all that well for future battles, but with Seven of Nine and – possibly – others tailing Picard, perhaps they can count on some additional support.
One of my friends, who I know isn’t a Star Trek fan, texted me yesterday to show me that they were sitting down with family to watch the latest episode. Apparently it has become a big deal for them to watch it together and they’ve loved seeing Picard’s new adventures. I know this is one person and it’s anecdotal, but I really get the impression that Star Trek: Picard is breaking through to new and old fans alike in a way that Discovery never really did. And that’s fantastic news – as someone who loves Star Trek and wants to see more of it, I’m always thrilled when it seems to be a success.
Seeing Seven of Nine again, after such a long hiatus, was great as well, even though she was only on screen briefly. We’ve seen Hugh back, of course, but many returning fans will have much more of a connection to Seven of Nine than to Hugh. The first few episodes have all been about bringing the crew together and setting up mysteries – and this time I finally feel that we’ve turned the page and are now beginning to get some more information about what’s been going on. There’s still so much to learn in the next few episodes, and I can’t wait for next week, where Jonathan Frakes will be back to direct Stardust City Rag. What a great name for an episode!
Absolute Candor – and the previous three episodes of Star Trek: Picard – are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for The End is the Beginning – the third episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for all previous episodes. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Mysteries continue to deepen in Star Trek: Picard, and The End is the Beginning has certainly left us with more questions than answers at this point. It was, overall, a solid episode that was at least on par with last week’s Maps and Legends. Visual effects were outstanding as usual, and we got proper introductions to two more main characters. I think there’s only one remaining who we haven’t met.
As happened last week, The End is the Beginning opened with a look back in time. We briefly saw the rogue synths’ attack, including what I believe were a couple of new clips of Mars, before the action cuts to Admiral Picard – in full uniform – outside Starfleet Headquarters. He meets Raffi, the woman who pointed a phaser at him at the end of the previous episode, and it’s revealed that she was a Starfleet officer. Judging by her rank pips I believe she was a commander, and she’s wearing the gold of either engineering or security.
Though we did see, in Picard’s dreams, uniforms from The Next Generation films and Deep Space Nine, it would have been a good opportunity to see them again here, I think. Starfleet uniforms have gone through a number of revisions, but the uniforms used here, fourteen years prior to the series, are different from the uniforms we saw starting in First Contact and running through the next two films and the back half of DS9. While I understand that each new show and each new creative team wants to give Star Trek a refreshed look and put their own spin on things, for this short scene I feel that they could have used those older uniforms – there was no real reason not to and it would have been a nice little tie-in to past iterations of Star Trek, as well as to Picard’s personal history.
Picard and Raffi were obviously close – she calls him “JL”, which is something we haven’t seen anyone really do before. The incredible effort to save Romulus may be part of the reason for this familiarity, or she may simply be a kind of aide-de-camp who he’s worked with since his promotion. Picard had friends and friendly relationships with his crewmates in The Next Generation, but there was always a formality to those relationships within the command structure of Starfleet. His crew, for example, weren’t on first-name terms with him in the way that some of Kirk’s crew were. So this is a new direction for his character in a sense, but it shouldn’t be all that unexpected under the circumstances. From a production point of view, having Raffi be on first-name terms with Picard is one way to immediately convey to us as the audience how close their relationship was at this moment in time. And when taken like that I felt that it worked – though I can already predict it will be a point of criticism for some.
As the scene unfolds, it’s clear what has just happened – this is the immediate aftermath of Picard’s resignation. Raffi doesn’t realise it at first, and watching her digging around for alternative solutions was heart-wrenching because we already knew what the outcome was before Picard said a word. It was nice to see Picard in uniform as an Admiral in this flashback scene, albeit that it was right after he had resigned. I wonder if we’ll see his argument with Clancy and others in future episodes, but I don’t actually think we need to because this scene conveyed everything we needed to know. Picard was his usual calm self, having recovered from the argument we know to have happened inside the building behind him. But he was a defeated man in this moment, and the way he shuts down any suggestion of doing something on his own to keep his promise to the Romulans shows that. Personally I believe that he did ultimately do something to contribute to the rescue effort – Laris and Zhaban’s loyalty could be seen as an indication of that – but in this moment that’s clearly something he can’t even fathom.
The synthetics were described as having suffered a “fatal code error” – but given this scene was taking place in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and that it’s been stated in previous episodes that what happened to them wasn’t clear, I don’t think this answer is as conclusive as it sounds. It would lend credence to my theory that Dr Maddox – who Picard is planning to look for – somehow accidentally caused the attack. However, we saw another brief look at the eyes of F8, the synthetic we met last week, and again it looks like he’s receiving new data or downloading something, which I think is indicative of a hack. Given some of the comments later in the episode from Raffi in particular, the hack theory seems more and more likely. The culprit, however, remains unclear.
The Vasquez Rocks have been a filming location in several iterations of Star Trek. Most notably it was the site where Kirk fought against the Gorn captain in the episode Arena from The Original Series, but the location has also been used to represent Vulcan, including in the reboot film series, as well as serving as various locations in The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise. It was interesting to set Raffi’s home in such an identifiable location, and it was a nice homage and not to past Star Trek stories without being too in-your-face. Star Trek: Picard has been good at this, at least so far, managing to throw in little nods and winks to returning fans without letting nostalgia overwhelm the plot.
Raffi is now no longer a member of Starfleet. Whether this happened immediately upon Picard’s resignation – as she suggested in the previous scene – is unclear, and I don’t see why it would. An officer, even an aide-de-camp as it seems she may have been, could be reassigned, and unless she tendered her own resignation there’s no reason why Picard’s resignation or the attack on Mars would have led to her losing her commission as a Starfleet officer. Regardless of the reason, however, she’s clearly had a rough few years. It was mentioned in some of the pre-release marketing material that Michelle Hurd’s character – who we now know is Raffi – had a drug problem. She seems to ingest a drug called “snakeleaf”, which looked to me to be a 24th Century marijuana – complete with the possible side-effect of paranoia. If this comes back into play in future episodes perhaps we’ll learn more.
After a conversation in which Picard is trying to get her help to solicit a ship and pilot, she storms off. And in this moment, for a few seconds before finding his resolve and going after her, I think we see Picard finally hit rock bottom. He’s been on a downward slide since we first got reacquainted with him in Remembrance, but after losing Dahj, after trying and failing to get Starfleet to help, and having nowhere else to turn Raffi seems to have let him down too. And for a brief moment, Sir Patrick Stewart shows us, with little more than a facial expression and body language, Picard’s absolute rock bottom. In that expression was a man ready to quit, utterly defeated, depressed and dejected. How he manages to find the energy to press on and go after her – Picard is in his mid-late ninties after all – is beyond me, but he does.
The action then cuts to the Artifact, where Hugh the ex-Borg is keeping track of Soji. He’s impressed by the care she showed to the Nameless Borg last week, and it turns out he’s in charge of something called the “Borg reclamation project”. I was wrong in last week’s review and subsequent articles, by the way. The Borg Soji and her Romulan colleagues are removing the implants from aren’t dead – they’re alive, just unconscious. And it would seem that after their implants are removed they can be reawakened, free of their connection to the Collective.
Hugh describes these former Borg – the XB’s – as the “most despised people in the galaxy”, and it’s implied that those on board the Artifact aren’t permitted to leave by the Romulans. I don’t think this applies to Hugh, though. Soji has been asking for an interview with a Romulan XB, and after seeing her work with Nameless, Hugh decides to grant her request.
I enjoyed Jonathan Del Arco’s performance. He was recognisable as Hugh to returning fans – and to anyone who’d seen the pre-release marketing material – but as mentioned above, there was nothing that new fans or people who aren’t as attuned to Star Trek would miss by not knowing or remembering who Hugh was. When I heard a few months ago that Hugh would be returning in Star Trek: Picard I confess I was more than a little surprised. He appeared in two or three episodes of The Next Generation, and while those episodes were good they weren’t necessarily the show’s finest offerings, and Hugh was very much a minor character – with no offence intended to Jonathan Del Arco. So his return caught me off-guard when I heard about it, because I could think of half a dozen or more side characters from The Next Generation that I felt might be more interesting to see return. However, what we saw of Hugh was genuinely impressive. And to see that he’s using the individuality he recovered to help other Borg overcome their assimilation was wholesome – it’s something Picard would be proud of, no doubt.
Back at Vasquez Rocks, Raffi tries to tell Picard – presumably not for the first time – that she believes Starfleet and the Romulans conspired to attack the rescue armada. Picard is disbelieving, but he does say that Raffi had a unique talent for seeing connections that other people couldn’t. Based on last week’s episode with Commodore Oh and Lieutenant Rizzo, this could well be part of the conspiracy she’s referring to. I don’t believe it’s been thrown into the story as a misdirect – this is another piece of the puzzle to understanding what happened on Mars and what may be still happening with the Zhat Vash and Starfleet. Raffi does come across as somewhat paranoid, jumping from point to point quickly while swigging a bottle of wine. Michelle Hurd did a great job conveying a character who has lost everything and has been addled by years of substance abuse. Yet it’s clear that beneath the surface, Raffi still has a keen mind.
The scene concludes with her telling Picard she knows a pilot, Chris Rios, and that he will be in touch. Apparently she’d already set this up before the two of them had a conversation – or at least that was the inference I picked up.
At the Daystrom Institute, Commodore Oh pays a visit to Dr Jurati in person, wanting to know about Jurati’s visits from Picard. There was something ominous about this scene, and though we don’t see much of it unfolding, it was clear that Dr Jurati was caught out and was about to spill the beans. From a costuming point of view, this was definitely one of the weakest points in the series so far. Commodore Oh is wearing sunglasses – fairly modern-looking ones at that – and she just looks absolutely ridiculous. Far from looking like an investigating FBI or CIA agent – which was clearly the intention – the combination of Starfleet uniform, Vulcan ears, and sunglasses just looked stupid. If that was the aim, which it shouldn’t be when dealing with the most important named villain we’ve seen in the show thus far, then great. Mission accomplished. But I’m sure the intention was not to make Commodore Oh look ridiculous, so it has to go down as a costuming fail, I’m afraid.
Back aboard the Artifact, Hugh flashes his credentials to the Romulans to get Soji access to the XB she wants to interview – a Romulan named Ramdha. The room they enter, which is under pretty heavy guard, contains a few Romulans, who Soji describes as “the disordered”. And I have to take somewhat of an issue here – the people in the room all appear to be mentally ill; the camera pans around and we get a few close-ups of some of the Romulan inmates taking part in pretty stereotypical “mentally ill person” activities that any number of television shows portray when they want to get across the idea that a group of people are psychiatric patients. We see someone drawing dark shapes very intently, another waving aimlessly in the air, and several muttering away to themselves. While it gets its point across as a brief scene in a television show, it’s an incredibly stereotypical picture of mental health.
Soji finds the individual she wants to talk to – apparently Ramdha is an expert in Romulan mythology and legends, and Soji believes she can help Romulan XBs with her knowledge reacclimate to life outside of the Collective. When we’ve seen individuals in prior iterations of Star Trek liberated from the Borg, including Hugh, we’ve never seen significant psychological conditions as these “disordered” seem to have. Hugh mentions that these are “all the Romulans ever assimilated”, so it could be a uniquely Romulan trait. It could also be related to the Borg cube’s “submatrix collapse” which is evidently what disabled the ship years prior to the events of the series.
Back at Vasquez Rocks, Raffi is deep in research, clearly trying to find out all she can about Maddox, the Romulans and everything else Picard told her about. Picard calls her and sends her his data on Maddox, and after this brief scene is over we finally see the ship – the ship that will be a significant part of the series. It’s been said before that in the Star Trek franchise, the ship is almost like an extra crew member. It’s the setting for many episodes, it’s something distinct and recognisable, and it has a name, a design, and a personality all its own. I must’ve missed the ship’s name, but apparently it’s called La Sirena – Spanish for “the mermaid”.
La Sirena is different from any Federation or Starfleet ship we’ve seen so far in Star Trek. That’s not a controversial statement, it’s just a matter of fact. Firstly, there’s no “SS” designation, nor any other apparent designation or numbering scheme. Then there’s the design of the ship itself. There’s no saucer section or obvious warp nacelles; the engines appear to be built into the main hull. And La Sirena is an unusual design – a main body with two large “arms” either side, and a number of fins and other details near the engines at the rear. I would say it’s very much a modern-day science fiction vessel design, taking almost everything “Star Trek” and ignoring it in favour of inspiration from other franchises. In particular, I’m seeing elements of Mass Effect and Battlestar Galactica in its design, perhaps with a dash of Star Wars for good measure. It’s designed to look as “cool” as possible – if you remember in Voyager when Tom Paris was designing the Delta Flyer and he wanted tailfins and other aesthetic elements, but Tuvok shot him down saying the Delta Flyer wasn’t a “hot rod”. Well, Chris Rios built or bought himself a 24th Century hot rod.
I actually love this design. The red detailing on the hull, the modern sci-fi-inspired shape, yet the familiar blue hue of Starfleet warp engines combine to make a truly unique and utterly distinctive vessel. When Sir Patrick Stewart was conducting one of his many interviews prior to Star Trek: Picard, he said that the set built for La Sirena was the biggest starship set he’d ever seen used before in his time working on Star Trek. So I think we’re going to see a lot more of this beauty before the show is over.
A couple of years ago, Santiago Cabera – the actor who portrays Rios – was in a series called Salvation. This was my first encounter with him as an actor, and I adored his performance in that underappreciated show. When I heard he was going to play a role in Star Trek: Picard I was genuinely thrilled – and he’s only the third actor since Scott Bakula and Sonequa Martin-Green that I was familiar with before they took Star Trek roles! Not that that really matters, at the end of the day!
He gets a fantastic opportunity over the next few scenes to show off his range – Chris Rios has apparently configured all of the holograms on his ship to look just like him. When Picard materialises on the (very large) transporter pad, after a brief swelling of the music to signify his return to space – an emotional moment in itself – he’s greeted by who we assume is Capt. Rios. Only it isn’t – it’s his Emergency Medical Hologram. The real Rios is sitting on the bridge, suffering a wound to the shoulder. The EMH is easily able to treat it and he’s fine, though after refusing a dermal regenerator he will probably have a scar. The effect of the shrapnel lodged in his flesh was, in contrast to much of the rest of the scene which relied on CGI, a wonderful example of practical special effects. And both the effects artist and makeup artists should be congratulated, because the overall look was incredibly realistic – and it looked like a very painful injury that he suffered at some unknown location for an unknown reason.
After briefly pausing over the Captain’s chair, Picard takes a seat at either the helm or conn position, and talks with Rios about the mission and where they may be headed. The two also discuss Rios’ background – Picard notes from the way the ship is maintained and organised that Rios was a Starfleet officer. He confirms this, and talks briefly about a ship he was on that was seemingly lost – but Starfleet covered it up. Another hint there that all is not well in Starfleet, tying into the conspiracy we’ve seen glimpses of.
The music score here was fantastic. Picard tells Rios that he can tell he’s “Starfleet to the core”, and the familiar theme pipes up as his speech comes to a close. But when Rios tells Picard “don’t try to get inside my head”, the theme turns sour and discordant, full of minor chords and it grinds to halt. We got that moment of the classic theme and Picard together, only for it to fade away. I loved that, and even though music can be hard to put into words I hope that point came across.
Raffi is continuing to dig into Maddox, and soon manages to find her way to some part of the Starfleet “internet” called Freecloud. It isn’t clear exactly what this is, but Raffi seems to know exactly what it means in this short, dialogue-free scene. We got a couple of these with Raffi in The End is the Beginning, and it shows her as a self-reliant person. A loner, perhaps, but also someone who can be dedicated to something – arguably obsessively so – when she sets her mind to it.
Rios has another conversation with one of his holograms – this one is the ENH, or Emergency Navigational Hologram. They discuss Picard and his virtues, and Rios is adamant that he doesn’t want to get involved again, to get too close to Picard or anyone else because his former captain – on the ship Starfleet erased from their records – ended up killed. His death clearly still haunts Rios. This is a setup we’ve seen before, and there’s a Han Solo-esque feel to Rios in this scene. He’s a good person at his core, an ex-Starfleet officer, but someone who’s gone through something traumatic and his response has been to try to shut himself off from his feelings. But his heart of gold will come back into play later in the story – at least, if Star Trek: Picard follows convention!
Picard has returned to the vineyard and has packed a bag. Laris and Zhaban, to my surprise I must admit, aren’t going to accompany him. They’re going to stay and tend the grapes, and Laris has seemingly got over her anger and/or fear at Picard’s departure that she expressed so strongly last week. As Zhaban gives Picard a bag of provisions for the trip, the trio come under attack by assassins from the same group who attacked Dahj in the premiere.
This was a genuinely heart-stopping moment in The End is the Beginning. As Picard takes cover, Laris and Zhaban show off their Tal Shiar skills by fighting off the attackers – though at any moment either of them could have been killed. I didn’t expect them both to survive the fight, but they did. Which is good – I don’t think I could’ve taken losing one of them so soon! As the fight ends and the three gather themselves, one Romulan is left stirring in the corner and raises his weapon – only to be shot by Dr Jurati, who has apparently entered the château while the fight was ongoing.
Alison Pill hasn’t had much to do so far in Star Trek: Picard, but here we really got to see an acting performance from her. She portrays Dr Jurati’s fear and adrenaline rush just pitch-perfectly, and her reaction to using the Romulan weapon, killing someone, and talking with Picard afterwards was absolutely one of the high points of the episode. It was absolutely on point and I can’t fault anything about her role in this scene.
Meanwhile, back on the Artifact, Soji is finally able to get Ramdha to talk to her a little. They talk briefly about Romulan mythology – though apparently Ramdha dislikes that term, instead calling what she does “the news”. Soji likes this idea, and hopes to use some of what Ramdha is doing to help the other Romulan XB’s.
While Picard and the others interview the sole surviving Romulan attacker, Ramdha turns on Soji, saying she “remembers [her] from tomorrow”. Soji and Hugh seem to attribute this to her psychological state, but she becomes increasingly agitated and aggressive, and the scenes cut back and forth a couple of times between the Romulan captive at the vineyard telling Picard Soji and Dahj aren’t what he “thinks they are”, and Ramdha accusing Soji of being “the destroyer” and asking her if she is the sister “who lives or dies”. The editing here, while fast-paced, was absolutely incredible, and the blending of the two scenes was fantastic and raised the tension significantly.
Soji seems to come close to having an “activation” similar to Dahj’s in Remembrance. She asks Ramdha a series of rapid-fire questions about her role on board a Romulan vessel and the Borg cube’s submatrix collapse – perhaps this is part of what she was programmed to learn about. Ramdha manages to pull a weapon, and though Soji is able to disarm her before she hurts herself, everyone involved is clearly shaken. Soji, upset by Ramdha’s comments about her sister, calls her mother – the same woman Dahj spoke to in the premiere – and asks about Dahj by name. Her mother tells her a lie – that Dahj is okay – and Soji collapses into unconsciousness. Whether this was simply a result of exhaustion or whether the “mother” said a word or phrase that triggered her to shut down/rest is unclear – but my money’s on the latter.
The Romulan attacker spits acid at Zhaban, just like the others did to Dahj, though Zhaban is unharmed while the Romulan disintegrates – apparently this acid is both a weapon of last resort and a kind of suicide pill. Something vaguely comparable would be old-fashioned cyanide capsules – many Nazis in Germany when defeat was looming used cyanide in glass capsules to commit suicide – biting on the capsule to release the fast-acting poison. I’m certain this was at least part of the inspiration for this device.
With the Romulan dead, Picard and his friends didn’t actually learn anything. His words were little more than incoherent warnings about Soji and Dahj – but I’m taken by the threat that Soji “isn’t what we think she is”. We’ve been working on the assumption that she’s synthetic – could this be a clue that she isn’t? I speculated in my first theory post that Soji and Dahj might actually be genetically enhanced humans and not androids, so that remains a possibility. It could also be a reference to Soji and Dahj being some kind of weapon – the “activation” and Dahj’s fighting skills, as well as Soji’s hidden knowledge and aggressive pursuit of it could point to that.
Before we get on to the end of the episode I want to nitpick. This is something I thought of last week but dismissed, but because Picard, Raffi, and the others still don’t really have a destination I feel like I have to bring it up at this point. Picard knows Dahj Asha’s full name. Dr Jurati had access to her application to the Daystrom institute, which included school transcripts. Could it really be so difficult to find out her sister’s name given what they already know? With the information they already have it should be a hop, skip, and jump to find the family, to find Soji’s name, and to figure out that she’s a scientist aboard the Artifact – after all, those people’s names must be recorded somewhere. Raffi in particular has a unique way of finding out information, and Laris and Zhaban are ex-Tal Shiar. I would have thought between them they could figure it out with a little effort. I know it’s a nitpick. And it isn’t a huge deal, it doesn’t harm the story. But it’s a little annoyance in the back of my mind, I must confess.
After Soji awakens from her nap/shutdown, Narek pays her a visit. He’s obviously heard or seen what happened and wants to check in with her. In this scene they embrace, and Narek says hes “falling in love” with her. Narek’s intentions here are unclear – in the next scene he’s with Rizzo, now returned to her Romulan appearance, and they’re talking about “staying on mission” and figuring out what Soji knows. But Narek could just as easily have meant what he said to Soji – or perhaps this is some foreshadowing of something more between them to come in future episodes. Either way, I have a feeling Narek may abandon his mission and his cause in order to be with Soji and keep her safe.
Narek and Rizzo meeting in a dark, shadowy hallway had all the earmarks of a classic spy drama. And I loved the way the scene between them was shot. A Borg cube clearly has a lot of corridors and dark areas where no one is present – absolutely the perfect environment for two clandestine operatives to meet.
Dr Jurati insists on going with Picard to track down Maddox and Soji, insisting he needs her expertise as the greatest expert on synthetics on Earth. Picard and Jurati beam up to La Sirena, where Raffi has also joined the crew – but she insists she’s only hitching a ride to Freecloud – apparently the place where her research led her – for her own purposes, and not as part of Picard’s mission. Rios is just the pilot, and Raffi is going her own way, so Picard definitely needed Dr Jurati’s company as she’s currently the only person who’s actually going with him for the right reasons! Though there was a hint, albeit a small one that I could be misinterpreting, that Dr Jurati isn’t all she appears – Raffi seems to think it’s a mistake to let her join the mission without even a “basic” security check. Could that come back to bite Picard? Time will tell.
The episode ends with Picard giving the order to “engage!” to the indifferent-looking Rios and Raffi, and La Sirena warps out of sight as the credits start to roll.
The End is the Beginning was another great episode. Again, perhaps not on par with Remembrance, but definitely a really enjoyable episode of Star Trek that moved the story forward – while uncovering a whole host of new mysteries for the show to unravel later.
It was great to see Hugh again – I hope we’ll see more of him before the season is over. And we got to learn a little more about the origins of the Artifact – it’s interesting to me that it basically experienced the Borg equivalent of a computer glitch and just broke down. The Romulans didn’t defeat it, they just claimed its wreckage. And as I mentioned, seeing La Sirena and finally getting a good look at the ship’s design was amazing. I love it, and I can’t wait to see more inside and out!
Picard finally has his crew together, and they’re warping off to Freecloud. What this place is, and what they’ll find there, is something we won’t know until next time. And what’s going on with Soji – is she activating, or close to activating? Is Narek on her side or the Zhat Vash’s side, and will he switch sides before the end? What will happen to the XBs? Are they all “disordered”, and what happens to those that aren’t? So many questions!
We had some great visual and practical special effects in The End is the Beginning. I love the look of the holographic computer panels on La Sirena – they’re suitably advanced from what we’ve seen in The Next Generation – and again similar to tech we’ve seen in other science fiction franchises like The Expanse or the Mass Effect series – but while retaining a Star Trek feel. That line can be hard to walk, but for me anyway, the designers nailed it.
My only real criticism is of the way the “disordered” were portrayed. I just feel that the way people with mental health issues are portrayed on television is generally pretty poor and very stereotypical, and this just leaned right into all of those stereotypes. I don’t know exactly what I’d have done differently to convey the same message while avoiding that pitfall, but I’m sure something different could have been managed. But aside from that sequence, and the utterly ridiculous decision to put sunglasses on Commodore Oh, the episode was a joy from start to finish.
I still have far more questions than answers, and Star Trek: Picard has managed to create such a rich world populated by interesting characters who each feel genuine. That’s absolutely fantastic, and just where I wanted to be at this point in the series. The way the new characters have been introduced has been amazing – giving each of them space and time to shine without overcrowding the series was a fantastic idea and deserves credit. The producers of Star Trek: Picard – including Sir Patrick Stewart himself – have put so much care and attention to detail into this series, and that absolutely shines through.
I can’t wait for next Friday already! Live Long and Prosper!
The End is the Beginning – the third episode of Star Trek: Picard – is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories, as are all of the previous episodes from Season 1. Star Trek: Picard and the rest of the Star Trek franchise are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Maps and Legends, as well as for the previous episode of Star Trek: Picard and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise. If you haven’t seen the episode yet and don’t want to know what happened, now’s your chance to jump ship!
A week seems like a long time when you’re waiting for something, and waiting for the release of Maps and Legends, the second episode of Star Trek: Picard, seemed to take forever. After Remembrance had been so stunningly good last week, I was hoping that Maps and Legends would manage to be just as enjoyable. In case you missed it, you can find my review of Remembranceby clicking or tapping here.
Though I don’t think it hit quite the same highs as last time, Maps and Legends was nevertheless a solid episode that advanced the story – albeit at a slower pace than Remembrance. There were some great performances again, especially from Sir Patrick Stewart, and we learned a lot more about the synthetics and the Romulans.
The episode opens with a step back in time – to fourteen years prior to last week’s episode and the rogue synths’ attack on Mars. We get a better look at the rescue armada – Picard’s fleet that was under construction – than we did in the Short Treks episode Children of Mars from a few weeks ago. Unlike in that short episode, where the few ships that we briefly glimpsed looked very similar to vessels of the Discovery era, my impression of the ships being built in orbit of Mars was that they were much more in line with the 24th Century. And I’m glad, because while some elements of Discovery’s visual style crossing over is inevitable given that the two shows are being produced simultaneously, the two eras are separated by one-and-a-half centuries from an in-universe perspective, so we shouldn’t really be seeing that many similarities in things like starship design.
To pick out a couple of specific examples, I felt that the tapered look that the warp nacelles on the rescue ships had was reminiscent of the Enterprise-E. This would make sense as the Enterprise-E would have been active in this era – the attack on Mars having taken place around six years after the events of Nemesis. Secondly, the red impulse engines mounted on the “saucer” section of those vessels is a familiar element of Federation starship designs, and has been seen on many vessels across all iterations of Star Trek. I’m assuming, anyway, that the glowing red sections were impulse engines – that’s what they look like to me. Unlike the vessels in Children of Mars, these ones felt like they definitely were late-24th Century Starfleet ships. This could be simply a change in the viewing angle, but they looked like an altogether different design to me.
Oh, and while we’re breaking down this briefest of scenes, the CGI work was absolutely excellent. The ships really felt like they were hanging there in orbit of Mars, and the whole shot, though it only lasted a few seconds, did a great job establishing the scale of the fleet. Previous iterations of Star Trek have, on occasion, struggled with such large numbers of ships – a consequence of the days when they had to use hand-built scale models.
The action starts with a crew working on Mars. The synths we’d seen in the trailer – who I speculated might’ve been deactivated as part of the purge on synthetic life in the aftermath of the attack – turned out to actually be workers on Mars from this time period. They were in some kind of storage – presumably sent there to rest in between shifts.
Unlike Data, these synthetics were far less “human” in the way that they acted and behaved. Dr Jurati told us last time that no one had ever been able to recreate the process used to build Data – and that’s apparent from looking at these synths. Even when we first met him in The Next Generation’s premiere, Encounter at Farpoint, Data had a personality. He had the desire to expand his programming and become more human – almost akin to a craving or a desperate want. He came close to achieving his goal in Generations, seven years later, when an emotion chip was installed allowing him to feel sensations like amusement, fear, and disgust. The androids we met in Maps and Legends, though, are missing all of that. They have clearly been programmed to be interactive – they respond when spoken to, answer questions, fake a smile when told a joke – but they lack any personality or character of their own. Clearly Maddox’s work was incomplete at this stage.
It’s also interesting to note that, as of Nemesis, no Data-esque androids were known to exist aside from the few examples made by Dr Soong (Data’s creator). Work on these synths must’ve been well underway by then, however, to have teams of them deployed to Mars only a few years later.
A few days ago I wrote an article detailing six of my own pet theories for Star Trek: Picard. And one of the theories I had, based on what we saw in Remembrance, was that the synthetics on Mars were hacked. While this is still very much an unconfirmed theory, we may have seen some more evidence in Maps and Legends that points to it being true. The work crew are going about their day, when their android – F8 (is that a play on the word “fate”?) – seems to malfunction. He stops, appears to process something – perhaps downloading or receiving a transmission – then starts working feverishly on one of the computer terminals. He may have been the one responsible for taking down Martian defences, or at least one section of them. Mere moments later, after F8 has turned on the work crew, killing them and two guards, the “stingray ships” arrive and the attack on Mars unfolds.
Whatever happened to F8 had to also have happened to other synthetics simultaneously – the attack unfolded in a matter of seconds. He wasn’t physically interfered with, so whatever altered his programming had to have been a transmission coming from somewhere else, or perhaps an innate flaw in his programming that activated for some reason. It also seems that the rogue synths killed themselves in the aftermath of the attack. F8 fires a phaser into his own head, presumably destroying his positronic brain. If something similar happened to all the synths it would explain why no reason for the attack has been discovered: they left no evidence behind. The fact that F8 killed himself is another hint, in my opinion, that he and his fellow synths were hacked. This would be the hacker trying to conceal the evidence of their crimes.
After the opening titles we’re back at Château Picard, where Laris and Zhaban are talking with Picard about who might’ve been responsible for killing Dahj. They initially suspect the Tal Shiar (the Romulan intelligence agency), but Laris has another idea – an older, much more secretive Romulan faction called the Zhat Vash. Romulans, according to Laris, don’t work with androids, AIs, or any other synthetics because of a deep-seated fear and loathing of them, and the Zhat Vash hate synthetics even more passionately than other Romulans. They may have been responsible for the attack on Dahj as part of their crusade against synthetic life. This is a fascinating idea, but I didn’t feel that the way this information was conveyed – a single scene with one character dumping a lot of expository dialogue – was particularly strong.
We were always going to learn more about the Romulans in Picard, with the show being so tied up in the aftermath of the supernova, but this was especially interesting to me notwithstanding how it came across on screen. In the Romulans’ appearances throughout Star Trek, they’ve never indicated that they hated or feared artificial intelligence, yet apparently it’s a Romulan trait going back hundreds of years or more. The Romulans have always been a paranoid race, and this fits in nicely with what we already knew about them. Whether there’s a reason for this fear – such as an historical attempt at building their own AIs that went awry – is unclear. It’s possible that the synths’ actions in destroying the rescue armada has given the Zhat Vash additional motivation to hunt down any remaining synthetics – as well as perhaps covert support from elements within the Federation, but more on that later.
The scene at the vineyard is spliced with another taking place at Dahj’s apartment in Boston. Picard and Laris travelled there to look for clues – but whoever attacked Dahj has since been back and completely cleaned everything. Laris uses some kind of illegal scanning device to recreate some of the events leading to Dahj’s death, but the holo-recording she manages to piece together cuts out abruptly – thanks to the way the apartment has been surgically cleaned up. They are, however, able to confirm the existence of Soji – who is now confirmed 100% to be Dahj’s “twin”. Soji is offworld, but they don’t know exactly where.
I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t certain until this point that Dahj was the “sister” that Soji referred to in the previous episode. For some reason I was thinking that there might be others, and that they may have been two members of a larger group. But Dahj’s last name – Asha – was spoken in Maps and Legends and it’s the same as Soji’s.
The action then returns to the Romulans’ Borg cube, where Soji and the Romulan she met at the end of the last episode, Narek, have wasted little time in becoming intimate. He’s incredibly secretive, giving non-answers to most of the questions Soji asks him, and it turns out “Narek” may not even be his real name – when asked, he says it’s “one of” his names. Does that mean it’s one part of his full name, or does it mean perhaps that he has numerous aliases?
The Borg cube, incidentally, is occupied by the Romulans, but it’s hinted that they may not have been responsible for its damage. The Borg Collective is also implied to still be active, as the cube is disconnected from the rest of the Collective – “a graveyard” as far as the Borg are concerned, according to Narek. So the events of Voyager’s finale, Endgame – in which a time-travelling Janeway infects the Borg Queen with a virus and equips Voyager with anti-Borg armour and technology – doesn’t seem to have wiped out the Collective as a faction in the Star Trek galaxy. Good to know!
Picard meets with his doctor at the vineyard, and apparently the two know each other from having served together on the USS Stargazer. I liked this inclusion, it was a reference to Picard’s past but without being too distracting or overt. However, it would have been a perfect opportunity to bring in someone from Star Trek’s own past, like Dr Pulaski or Nurse Ogawa – both of whom Picard served with on-screen in The Next Generation. But that’s just a creative decision, and having Dr Benayoun be someone new was a perfectly valid choice.
Dr Benayoun brings bad news. Picard had asked him to certify to Starfleet that he was fit and well to return to active spacefaring duty, but the doctor has discovered something in Picard’s scans that may be a terminal illness. There are hints that this could be the “Irumodic Syndrome” mentioned in The Next Generation’s finale, as Picard says he was warned something like this might be coming, and Dr Benayoun refers to the collection of conditions that may be present as “syndromes”. As with the Stargazer reference, this was a nod to The Next Generation for returning fans that in no way interfered with or got in the way of the overall story. The news of his impending illness pushes Picard even harder to unravel the mystery of Dahj – before it’s too late.
He travels to San Francisco, to Starfleet Headquarters. We saw this in the trailers, and Picard has made an appointment with Admiral Clancy – who is seemingly in charge of Starfleet. He asks to be reinstated to track down Dr Maddox and learn what happened with Dahj, and offers to be demoted to Captain for the mission if it will sway her. Apparently she and Picard had tussled before, during the Romulan rescue attempt, because she angrily refuses his request. They debate the Romulan issue, and it emerges that some member worlds of the Federation (it’s not stated which ones) threatened to secede from the Federation if help was provided to the Romulans. Admiral Clancy felt – and still feels – that calling off the rescue mission after the attack on Mars was the right thing to do because it preserved the Federation.
Though I doubt we’ll learn exactly who may have been threatening to withdraw, it would be interesting to know. Could the Vulcans be among those uncomfortable with helping the Romulans, perhaps? After multiple attempts by the Romulans to forcibly conquer them, perhaps the Vulcans decided to leave them to their fate. Pure speculation, but I can’t help wondering.
This scene was, frankly, a little clichéd: the hero asking for help and getting turned down by a superior officer who believes everything is fine the way it is is a trope seen throughout fiction. Sir Patrick Stewart was passionate, however, and we’re seeing more and more of the Picard we remember coming to the surface after his time away from Starfleet. Guest star Ann Magnuson – who played Admiral Clancy – gave a solid performance too, and the argument that the two characters have really emphasises how Picard is now seen – and sees himself – as an outsider to Starfleet.
This is a significant shift in tone from practically anything we’ve seen in Star Trek before. In other series like Deep Space Nine and Voyager, non-Starfleet main characters have felt like they were largely on the same page as Starfleet, sharing the same basic ideals and goals. Even someone like Quark, arguably the most non-traditional main character in Star Trek to date, had a longstanding association with the Federation, and the Maquis in Voyager were so quickly absorbed into the crew (a consequence of the writers not really knowing what to do with the Maquis-Starfleet conflict after the first few episodes) that they don’t really count as being anything different from a thematic perspective. To be fully on the outside – a rebel, if you don’t mind thinking about it that way – is something we haven’t really seen before. Putting together a non-Starfleet crew, as Picard is with Dr Jurati, Raffi, and others we’ve yet to meet, is also something new.
Picard leaves the meeting dejected, and the action returns to Soji aboard the Borg cube. We learn that the cube has been named “the Artifact”, and as we’d seen in both the trailers and the previous episode, is under Romulan control. Interestingly, however, the Romulan Star Empire isn’t named, and instead the cube is controlled by the Romulan Free State. In the video game Star Trek Online, the Romulans broke into two factions: a continuation of the Empire and a democratic state called the Romulan Republic. Whether something similar has happened here, or whether the Romulan Free State has replaced the Empire as a result of the supernova is unknown, but the Free State clearly has resources and a powerful military judging by their security guards.
Soji assists a newbie on the Artifact – a Trill doctor – as they get ready for work. Part of the cube – seemingly the part where Soji and her crewmates live – has been rendered entirely safe and free of any Borg activity. There are even private rooms which have been built into the cube. But beyond this area Soji, the Trill doctor, Narek, and others all have to take extra precautions – including wearing a grey combadge-like device. This device serves as a warning system, with a Romulan guard telling Soji and the assembled crew to get out of danger if the grey badge flashes green. It may also be some kind of shield or even a cloaking device to keep wearers safe from residual Borg activity – we’ve seen similar technology in Voyager.
Though the guard seemed to be revelling in his role, and the other Romulan security personnel clearly take their jobs very seriously, this scene gave me the impression of a tourist trap. We’ve all been somewhere like that, I’m sure, where the tour guide or someone from the local area tells a gaggle of tourists to be extra careful because where they’re going is dangerous – but of course it’s all a play to make them feel more excited. Whether that was intended isn’t clear but that’s the impression I got!
I can’t help but feel that the Trill doctor isn’t long for this world, though – perhaps she’ll end up assimilated before long. There was just too much “everything will be fine” from Soji for that particular cliché not to play out!
The Romulans, counter to what we might have expected, seemingly allow researchers and doctors from other factions – including the Federation – access to their Borg cube for study. Soji is assisting in disassembling some of the drones who remain on the Artifact. Their components are collected by the Romulans and, presumably, studied in more detail. How exactly this fits into their “no AI, no synthetics” mantra is unclear, but as the Borg are known to have technology far more advanced than the Federation, perhaps they’re hoping to learn more about that. Soji is clearly uncomfortable with the callous way the Romulans are treating the Borg drone she’s helping with, even though it appears to be dead.
The Borg drone – Nameless – being disassembled was suitably gory for an episode of Star Trek. The removal of his eyepiece revealed some raw flesh, and the whole makeup and prosthetics departments should be complimented for their work here. Indeed all of the visual effects here, from the holo-screens projected in mid-air through to the look of the Borg bodies and their components, were absolutely on point. The scene really got across the look and feel of a disabled Borg ship being pulled apart.
Another of the scenes from the trailers was Soji and others in the red jumpsuits aboard the Borg cube. I know some folks online had speculated that it was a prison, but it seems that this isn’t the case. There are also scans on the Artifact to presumably detect Borg activity. This ties into what I said last time about Soji and Dahj being able to register as fully human on scans, but clearly Soji has been able to get aboard the Artifact, a militarised, secure facility, without raising any alarms. How exactly that’s accomplished is still unknown.
Back at the vineyard again, and Picard meets with Dr Jurati. They discuss Dr Maddox and the synths, and she seems sure that Dr Maddox would have modelled Soji and Dahj on Data’s painting to pay homage to him. She’s also researched more about Dahj – and it seems she may have only existed for three years or so. Her credentials and background have been faked, and prior to that time there’s no record of her existing. Dr Maddox is mentioned again, but Dr Jurati can’t speak to his motivations for creating Dahj and Soji.
However, it seems that Dahj may have been looking for something at the Daystrom Institute. Soji is aboard the Artifact, the Romulan-occupied Borg cube, and Dahj had been accepted to work/study at Daystrom. Picard and Jurati seem to suspect that they have been programmed to look for something – something common to these locations, or two separate somethings perhaps. Whatever it may be, however, it clearly isn’t all that time-sensitive given that Dahj had been active for three years and had only just made her way to the Daystrom Institute. Whoever built and/or programmed them – Picard and others assume it’s Dr Maddox but that could be a deliberate misdirect – evidently has time to wait.
Picard is is then seen putting on his old Nemesis-era combadge, and contacts someone called Raffi – immediately asking her not to hang up on him, showing that they clearly have some history!
Starfleet combadges have changed since Nemesis, featuring a design similar to that seen in TNG-era shows’ depictions of the future, which was a nice touch. The new combadge is an understated design, a hollow silver outline over a dark background, combining elements of The Original Series, Discovery, and the TNG-era shows all in one, with the most obvious influence being the future combadge we saw in those 24th Century shows. The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all featured this same design when they set episodes in the future, so to use a visually similar combadge here is a great way to tie Picard to the rest of the franchise from a design standpoint.
At Starfleet Headquarters, Admiral Clancy contacts someone called Commodore Oh, who appears to be a Vulcan, to discuss Picard’s visit. She is clearly alarmed by the idea that Romulan agents may be operating on Earth, and Oh says she will investigate. However, Commodore Oh is working with a Lieutenant named Rizzo and they are responsible for the attack on Dahj – though killing her before they could interrogate her was clearly a mistake. Furthermore it’s revealed that Rizzo is a Romulan disguised as a human, and is very close with Narek – she refers to him as “brother”, though whether this is literal or not is unclear. Narek is, however, implicated in this plot, and his relationship with Soji seems a facade simply to get close to her. Rizzo – which is probably not her real name – says she will travel to the Artifact to complete their mission with Soji. What she plans to do isn’t clear, but it seems like Soji is in real danger.
It’s possible that Commodore Oh is a Romulan agent. That’s heavily implied by Maps and Legends, but it could also be the case that she’s a Vulcan who’s simply cooperating with the Romulans. While it may be easy enough for a well-organised intelligence agency to have one of their operatives disguised as a lieutenant, I think it would be much harder to create the fake identity of someone of such high rank as Commodore – not least a Commodore who is in charge of what looks like a whole department of Starfleet security and/or intelligence. That, to me at least, suggests she may be a Vulcan who’s simply decided to work together with this Zhat Vash faction, who are mentioned by name.
When Picard proposes to go back into space, looking for Soji and answers, Laris refuses to go, saying he’ll get himself killed. Zhaban suggests Picard contact his old crew – Riker, Worf, and La Forge are all mentioned by name – and have them join him on the mission, but Picard, seemingly still haunted by what happened to Data, won’t put them in danger. He travels to see Raffi, another new main character played by Michelle Hurd, and she points a phaser at him and tries to get rid of him. By telling her about the “Romulan assassins”, he manages to persuade her to at least hear what he has to say.
There was a lot going on in Maps and Legends, but the action was mainly taking place on the vineyard and on the Artifact. I had expected, as we’re now two episodes into a ten-episode series, that Picard may have left Earth before the end of the episode, or that we might’ve met more than one of the other new starring characters. I think that’s why this episode feels slower-paced than last time. Star Trek: Picard is clearly working towards bringing this crew together and getting off Earth, but it’s a slow build.
The Romulans having a fear, mistrust, and hatred of synthetic life, while wholly new to Star Trek, does fit in with their paranoid nature and I think it’s an interesting element to the faction. The fact that we’re no longer using the term “Romulan Star Empire”, and instead the “Romulan Free State” is also a point of note, but since the Tal Shiar are confirmed – by Zhaban and Laris – to still exist, I wonder how “free” the Free State really is.
The only part of the episode that I wasn’t so keen on was Laris’ exposition dump regarding the Zhat Vash. While this faction is clearly going to be an important element to the story, simply having one character talk about them instead of letting us, as the audience, learn more about them through seeing them on screen, interacting with others, or even seeing our characters find evidence for them, fell a bit flat. Exposition is always hard to get right, and in an episode with limited runtime it can be hard to avoid it feeling like just a pure information dump. While it’s helpful to know who we’re dealing with – the antagonists now have a name, at least – the scene was just a little clumsy in my opinion.
That’s really my only significant criticism. There are other nitpicks, but they’re all very minor things that in no way detract from the episode or the story. Maps and Legends was a good follow-up to Remembrance, and the show feels like it’s coming together. Hopefully next time we’ll get to see more of the new crew, and possibly even give them a destination. If this Lt. Rizzo is already preparing to head to the Artifact, they don’t have a lot of time if they’re to get there first to help Soji.
There were a couple of uses of the word “fuck” in Maps and Legends. Though we’ve seen swear words before in Star Trek, both of these instances – by Laris in Dahj’s apartment and by Admiral Clancy – felt scripted and forced. I’m not sure if it had more to do with the way the lines were written or delivered, but I didn’t think that either felt natural. Instead the uses of “fuck” felt artificial, as if a team of writers had sat around and said “hey we’re allowed to use the F-word! So where can we put it?” It’s nothing to do with foul language “having no place in Star Trek”, because we’ve seen it used before and it’s generally okay when it’s done right. I just felt that neither of these uses were done right. It’s worth noting that times have changed since The Next Generation and other Star Trek shows were on the air. CBS All Access and Amazon Prime Video don’t have to be as constrained when it comes to their use of language, and television audiences are far more accepting of it too. As I said I don’t think that the use of such language in Star Trek is an issue in itself, but the way it was done here fell flat for me.
Toward the end of The Next Generation’s first season there was a conspiracy in Starfleet by parasitic organisms to infiltrate and take over the Federation. Picard and his crew stopped that before it could proceed. There was also the Khitomer conspiracy seen in The Undiscovered Country, which involved both undercover Romulan agents and some Starfleet personnel working together. I got the impression that the Commodore Oh-Lt. Rizzo-Narek grouping of characters was drawing inspiration from both of those sources, and I liked that. A few of the components of those characters’ actions are comparable to those previous Star Trek adventures, and whether the showrunners were conscious of that or not, it adds a nice little extra element to the story. Without being a copycat or even being particularly overt, using the feel or concept of those stories is a nice way to tie some of these things together. And thematically, it brings Picard in line with something we’ve seen before, which is again a nice little tie-in to the rest of the franchise.
I liked Picard’s line about science fiction during his conversation with Dr Jurati. In case you didn’t know, Sir Patrick Stewart came very close to turning down The Next Generation in 1986-87, and though he’s now inseparable from the franchise – as indeed he also is from the X-Men film series – he’s not by nature a science fiction fan nor an actor who would’ve chosen such roles. In the context of a science fiction series a main character saying they were never interested in sci-fi is funny in itself, but knowing that little bit of background information makes it even more amusing, and I’m sure it was put in as an acknowledgement of Sir Patrick!
Overall I had a great time with Maps and Legends. It was a good follow-up to Remembrance – even though it wasn’t quite as spectacularly good as that episode had been. The Zhat Vash add an extra dimension to the Romulans, and their motivation for attacking synthetics, which I had assumed to be vengeance for lost lives in the supernova, is a little clearer. But there’s still plenty of mystery – who really built Soji and Dahj? Where are they now? What were they created for? Who’s in charge of the Zhat Vash? Is Commodore Oh a Romulan? Who is Raffi, and how does she know Picard? So many questions – hopefully we’ll start to find some answers soon!
Santiago Cabera was in a television series a couple of years ago called Salvation, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When I heard he was going to be in Picard I was very pleased, and it looks like we might finally get to see his character next week, so I’m looking forward to that as well.
Stay tuned over the next few days, as I’m sure there will be much more to talk about before next week’s episode, The End Is The Beginning.
Maps and Legends, the second episode of Star Trek: Picard, is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Discovery, and for other iterations of the franchise.
I don’t wear t-shirts very often. That’s just a personal style preference, I guess. But as I waited for Amazon Prime Video to make Star Trek: Picard’s premiere episode available here in the UK, I was wearing my Star Trek: Picard t-shirt which I’d managed to get a few days ago. As I watched the clock tick awfully slowly to the moment I expected the episode to go live, both of the promotional posters for Picard – the vineyard Starfleet logo and the one with Picard and his dog – were hanging framed on my wall. And my Jean-Luc Picard action figure stood proudly in my glass display cabinet. Suffice to say, I’m a fan.
I was a little concerned going into Remembrance, and I haven’t really discussed this on the website before. The director of Picard’s premiere, Hanelle M. Culpepper, had directed what I considered to be Star Trek: Discovery’s worst episode by far – Season 2’s The Red Angel. That episode failed hard, with incredibly cringeworthy attempts at humour, complete mischaracterisations, and the kind of stupid, paradoxical time travel storyline that really just encapsulated why I don’t like time travel as a concept – and was a great example of how it’s hard to get right.
Some – perhaps even most – iterations of Star Trek have started with premiere episodes that weren’t especially great. In fact the only real exception to this is Deep Space Nine, whose first episode, Emissary, was fantastic. So in addition to my concerns about the director, there was precedent for Star Trek shows to have underwhelming starts. As excited as I was for Picard, there were those two factors gnawing away in the background making me nervous!
Finally, after hitting “refresh” for what must’ve been the hundredth time, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 1 was there! I was one click of the mouse away from Remembrance, and finally being back with Jean-Luc Picard for the first time in eighteen years – since I saw Star Trek: Nemesis at the cinema with my dad. I was still a teenager then. A lot has happened in my life since, and as Sir Patrick Stewart has told us in many interviews over the last couple of years, a lot has happened to Picard in that time too. I clicked “play”.
I’ve never been particularly impressed with Amazon Prime Video. When I watch something on Netflix, it’s always in 1080p high definition with no problems. On YouTube, for certain channels I’m able to watch videos in even higher quality – 1440p, a half-step between HD and full 4K. But Amazon Prime Video, at least in my experience, has tended to suffer from dips in quality where a high definition stream will suddenly and unexpectedly drop down to a much lower quality for a time. Obviously this is annoying, but luckily that didn’t happen on this occasion. I am disappointed, however, that Amazon Prime Video didn’t get the Short Treks episode Children of Mars. While I was able to watch it by “other means” – I even reviewed it – I think that it should have been made available to viewers outside the United States, preferably a few days ago prior to the start of the series. But we’re getting off topic again.
Remembrance begins with a dream sequence. We saw clips from this in the trailers – indeed, a significant portion of the content from the trailers was taken from this episode. Set to a forties- or fifties-inspired song, the camera pans over a nebula, and then we see the Enterprise-D, beautifully rendered in CGI. And sat in what I believe is Ten-Forward (though it may have been another observation lounge) are Picard and Data, playing cards. Data is wearing his First Contact-era uniform, which confirms this is a dream and not a flashback as that uniform was never used while the Enterprise-D was in service.
In the first trailer for Picard, I’d been a little concerned that Brent Spiner looked, to put it bluntly, too old to convincingly play Data. Indeed, Spiner himself said he felt he’d aged out of the role by the mid-2000s – which is why he opted not to appear in Enterprise’s finale These Are The Voyages along with Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes. Whatever makeup and/or digital effects have been applied to him, however, definitely looked better in the finished episode than they did in the trailers, and if we also remember that Data’s scenes are all taking place in Picard’s head, I think the way he looks is fine. It arguably wasn’t on the same level of digital de-ageing that we’ve seen in films like The Irishman or Captain Marvel, but it was good enough here not to be immersion-breaking.
Picard and Data continue their card game, and suddenly the Enterprise is in orbit of Mars. And just as in the Short Treks episode Children of Mars from a couple of weeks ago, the planet comes under violent attack, which finally jolts Picard awake. He opens the curtains and we see Château Picard – the Picard family vineyard in La Barre, France. The action then cuts to Dahj – the new character played by Isa Briones. She’s in her apartment in Boston when she and her boyfriend come under attack by unknown assailants. He is quickly killed, but the attackers place a device on her head and check to see whether or not she has been “activated”. She hasn’t, so they attempt to abduct her, but the violent nature of the attack causes whatever activation they were checking for to occur – and she quickly kills all three of them. For a military-esque team who knew what they were looking for, they went down remarkably easily against their target! But that’s very much a nitpick and not something that in any way hampers the story.
As Dahj mourns her boyfriend, she sees Picard’s face in her mind, and then the title sequence kicks in. The Next Generation had a memorable theme, taken from The Motion Picture a few years earlier, and aside from The Original Series’ theme, that piece of music is arguably the most iconic in the franchise. Picard’s theme is hard to explain in words, as music often is, but the best way I think I can describe it is that it’s somewhere between Discovery’s theme and the themes used on Deep Space Nine and Voyager. It’s slower in tempo and less adventurous in tone than The Next Generation’s theme, perhaps even reminiscent of something from The Lord of the Rings. The title sequence, as Discovery’s also does, runs through a few artistic designs of elements from the series – we see the vineyard, the damaged Borg cube, a planet breaking apart that I assume is Romulus, and what looks like DNA, before the sequence ends with Picard himself facing the camera. Obviously because I haven’t heard the theme more than a handful of times it doesn’t give me the same feelings as I might get from other Star Trek themes, but it is instantly recognisable as part of the show and it’s a perfectly creditable piece of music. The whole opening sequence is great, actually, and I wonder if they’ll do what we’ve seen in Discovery where they occasionally change up elements of the opening sequence to reflect what’s happening in that episode.
As the titles end we’re back at the vineyard, and Picard is with Number One – his pet dog. We briefly meet two Romulans who seem to be Picard’s assistants, and learn that he’s preparing for an interview to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Romulan supernova. In the 2009 film Star Trek it’s left unclear which star destroyed Romulus – Spock simply describes it as “nearby”. In this episode we learn that it was in fact the main star in the Romulan system. This closes what has been, for some people anyway, an annoying “plot hole”, as a supernova in one system shouldn’t have been able to travel far enough and fast enough to destroy a planet in another system based on our current understanding of supernovae in science. Hopefully that clears things up for those folks!
The interview Picard agreed to, however, turns into an ambush, as the interviewer aggressively pushes him on why he wasted resources to help “the Federation’s oldest enemy”, how he feels about “synthetics” like Data, and finally, why he quit Starfleet.
It turns out that the rogue synths, seen attacking Mars in Children of Mars, were in fact androids of Federation origin, though why they went rogue and attacked Mars is still unclear more than a decade later. We also learn more about Picard’s rescue armada – it was planned to be 10,000 ships capable of evacuating 900 million Romulans from their homeworld. Not only was the entire fleet destroyed by the rogue synths, but Mars even more than ten years later remains “on fire” – and presumably uninhabitable.
Sir Patrick Stewart had warned us heading into the new series that Picard may not be the same man we remember, but here in the interview he definitely was. He defiantly states that he left Starfleet because Starfleet tried to call off the rescue after the attack on Mars, something he felt was dishonourable and criminal, and that the lives at stake were simply “lives” – not “Romulan lives” as the interviewer coldly puts it. This reminded me so much of Picard’s staunch defence of Data in The Measure of a Man from The Next Generation’s second season. Picard has always argued in favour of the rights of life forms, and here he defends not only the Romulans but synthetic life too. Though he may have retired, he did so because he felt Starfleet no longer upheld its own ideals. He didn’t run away, and I’d argue that his decision to leave 100% re-emphasises that he is the character we remember. His morality and his code of ethics, at the very least, remain absolutely intact.
Picard ends the interview, clearly enraged by what he’s heard from the interviewer, and the action then cuts back to Dahj, who sees Picard’s interview on a screen and travels to find him. She’s clearly shaken, and despite the intrusion Picard welcomes her to his home. His Romulan assistants patch up her wound, and she’s invited to spend the night, but not before Picard is able to examine a necklace that she’s wearing. It’s a fairly plain silver necklace with two interlocking rings – I hadn’t actually noticed it until Picard asked for a closer look. Because the necklace was so plain I think this moment, of all the moments in Remembrance, felt forced. I understand it’s important to the plot, but I’m sure with a modicum of effort they could’ve made the necklace a little more visually interesting – as it is it looks like a piece of cheap costume jewellery from Claire’s Accessories! Again, however, this is really just a nitpick, and the necklace is only seen a handful of times across the episode so its appearance doesn’t really matter.
Picard dreams again about Data, this time painting a picture – another scene from the trailers. Picard looks at the picture Data is painting – a portrait of a woman – and jolts awake to learn Dahj left in the night. Clearly inspired by the dream, he heads to San Francisco – but not to Starfleet Headquarters. Instead he heads to an archive, which holds (among dozens of TNG-era artifacts) a copy of the painting. In the dream it was incomplete, but the copy at the archive is fully complete and the woman Data painted thirty years ago is revealed to be Dahj.
Meanwhile Dahj is on the run, seemingly in Paris. She contacts her mother, who tells her to go back to Picard – even though Dahj never mentioned him. She then experiences another “activation” and hacks into Starfleet to track Picard down, and the two meet up outside the archive.
Picard thinks that Dahj is a synthetic – an android – and may be Data’s daughter. Data did attempt to create a “child” – Lal – in The Next Generation episode The Offspring. But Dahj is clearly not Lal – and believes herself to be human, perhaps suffering from a mental illness. The two are interrupted when Dahj believes they’re about to come under attack – and she’s proven correct. Another group of masked assailants appears – clearly the same faction as earlier – and they’re revealed to be Romulan. Shortly after the reveal, Dahj is killed. One of the attacking Romulans appears to spit something acidic at her, and his weapon overloads in a huge explosion which renders Picard unconcious. RIP Dahj!
Picard awakens back at the vineyard, and his Romulan assistants tell him that in the footage of the explosion there was no indication of anyone else being present – no masked Romulans, and no Dahj. Picard thinks she may have had some kind of cloaking device, and travels to the Daystrom Institute, which had been conducting research into androids – before such research was outlawed seemingly galaxy-wide.
He meets Dr Jurati, played by Alison Pill, and she explains that Bruce Maddox – presumably the same character from The Next Generation episode The Measure Of A Man – had been working on developing sentient androids which appeared to be human. Picard describes Dahj as a “flesh-and-blood” android. Here it’s also disclosed that B4 (from Star Trek: Nemesis) lacked the capability to take on Data’s memories and that despite Data’s attempts to copy his programming to B4, that information has been lost.
The necklace comes back into play – it’s a symbol used by Dr Maddox, which Dr Jurati recognises. And she reveals that, for some reason, part of the creation process for androids like Dahj means they’re made in pairs – so there may be another Dahj, another “daughter” of Data, somewhere out there.
The action then cuts to a Romulan base where we immediately meet Dahj’s twin, wearing the same necklace. She meets a Romulan – Harry Treadaway’s character – and they have a short conversation, before the camera pans out revealing that the Romulan base is aboard the Borg cube we’ve seen in the trailers, and the episode ends.
I feel that the trailers kind of spoilt that moment, because it would’ve been apparent from the decor of the Romulan base that it was inside the Borg cube to anyone who’d seen the trailers, yet the episode itself treated the reveal that the Romulans were on this Borg cube as a pretty big deal. In that sense I think the creative team and the marketing team may have not been working in tandem as well as they should’ve!
Overall I was incredibly impressed with Remembrance. It was a very strong start for the series – setting up enough mystery to drive the plot forward. There were some looks back, and some “easter eggs” for long-time fans, but these complemented the plot rather than interrupting or overwhelming it. The emblem of the Ferengi Alliance pictured for a couple of seconds, the LCARS computer displays at Picard’s home, a TNG-era Batleth in Picard’s archive, the First Contact and TNG uniforms worn briefly in dream sequences, and many others that I’m sure I’m forgetting seasoned the episode with just enough nostalgia to say “hey, you’re definitely watching Star Trek”, but without drowning out the plot or any of the new characters.
Picard always had to find a way to get that balance right, and I think that if the season continues in a similar way to Remembrance, they’ve managed to pull it off.
The Romulans are clearly in a very bad situation. Picard initially intended to save 900 million lives – but after Mars was attacked and his fleet destroyed, it isn’t clear how many he was ultimately able to rescue before the supernova hit. Whether the Borg cube is their headquarters isn’t clear, but it just might be. If that is the case, it raises the question of why they didn’t settle on one of their colonies – the Romulan Star Empire was known to control other worlds and a significant amount of territory.
Dahj being killed off was a shock, and it was a story point put in purely for that reason – shock value. Though by the end of the episode it’s revealed she has a “twin”, the character we met who set in motion the events of the series is gone, and – barring any technobabble explanation for how she survived being disintegrated – isn’t coming back. That’s a new one for Star Trek, and it’s something you’d expect to see in a show like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Dahj’s twin looks much more settled than Dahj did, but whether she too is going to be “activated” is unclear.
Indeed, it’s unclear what exactly was “activated” in Dahj. It’s apparently some part of her synthetic programming, something designed to keep her safe, but why it would direct her to the retired Admiral Picard instead of, say, sending her back to Dr Maddox if she got into trouble or came under attack is unclear.
I wonder if we’re going to see Dr Maddox in the flesh later in the series. Brian Brophy – the actor who portrayed Maddox in The Measure Of A Man way back in 1989 – wasn’t mentioned as being in the cast, and according to his IMDB page doesn’t seem to have had many film or television roles since the turn of the millennium. It’s possible, of course, that the character has been recast.
Remembrance played out like a the beginning of a classic adventure story. The protagonist – Picard, in this case – is living a quiet, rural life. His life is disrupted by a mysterious newcomer – Dahj – and he becomes embroiled in the mystery, setting the stage for the adventure to unfold as he chases down the solution.
It also had a very “Star Trek” feel, and moreover, it did feel like a continuation of the Star Trek story as a whole. For all of the high points of Enterprise, Discovery, and the Kelvin-timeline films, what was missing from those stories is a sense that things were moving forward, that the overarching narrative of the entire franchise was progressing. Prequels and mid-quels (or however we’re to describe Discovery) can be great, but pressing forward into the future is what Star Trek has always been about – at least, when it was at its best. Picard feels like a return to that, and a significant part of that is Sir Patrick Stewart’s performance.
I mentioned that he spoke passionately and angrily about helping the Romulans and about the ban on synthetic life, and that was absolutely pure Picard. The man we met in 1987’s Encounter At Farpoint was on full display in that moment, and his willingness to help Dahj, even before he knew who she was, shows he’s the same compassionate person we knew, even despite what happened with Starfleet and the Romulans.
There are parallels to Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi in the sense that both men have left the institutions to which they belonged and from which they seemed inseparable. Both sought solitude and a quiet life – as Picard says, he felt he wasn’t living, merely “waiting to die”. And ultimately, both found a reason to come out of isolation, finding an inspiring cause once again.
So what are the mysteries Picard aims to solve over the rest of Season 1? Part of it surely has to be the reason that the synthetics went rogue and attacked Mars. A cause has never been identified, yet surely we’re on course to learn they were hacked, attacked, reprogrammed, etc. by some nefarious villain. Next is Dr Maddox – is he out there, somewhere? Is he going to feature in later episodes, or will we only know him through Dahj’s twin? What are the Romulans doing on the Borg cube? And how do the ex-Borg Seven of Nine and Hugh fit in to all of this? At this point we have absolutely no idea – and that’s compelling me to come back next time and find out more.
When Discovery premiered, I felt that The Vulcan Hello and Battle At The Binary Stars were not a very strong start, and that’s for a variety of reasons. Remembrance stands in absolute contrast to that, and ranks up there with Deep Space Nine’s Emissary as one of the best premieres in all of Star Trek. It crammed a lot into its 44 minutes without any of it feeling rushed, without any of it feeling overwhelming.
The introduction of the series’ main characters has felt deliberate, and we’ve only met three out of six so far – one only very briefly at the end of the episode. This is incredibly positive – a show that throws a huge cast of characters at you in episode one can be difficult to follow. Picard has clearly had a lot of thought put into every aspect, including the pacing.
Hanelle M. Culpepper, whose work on The Red Angel had me feeling a little nervous as I mentioned, really excelled. Each shot, each camera angle, and the way each scene unfolded all felt meticulously organised and planned. A lot of care was taken with Remembrance to get the look and feel just right, and it shows.
It’s hard to pick out a significant point to criticise, really. I was thoroughly enjoying myself from start to finish, and while I can (and did) find a few very minor nitpicks, taken as a whole, Remembrance was incredible. A worthy successor to The Next Generation, and a fantastic way to rejoin Picard and the Federation in the late 24th Century.
Remembrance, the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and a number of 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.