Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 8: Broken Pieces

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Broken Pieces, as well as for the previous seven episodes of Star Trek: Picard. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and the trailers for Season 3.

Not for the first time this season, I came out of an episode of Star Trek: Picard almost shellshocked. “Wow” was all I could think – Broken Pieces was another stunning episode, one which advanced the story, explained a lot of the background to the series and the motivations of its villains – and finally blew a lot of my theories out of the water!

We’ve hit the point in Star Trek: Picard’s ten-episode first season where the unravelling of the mysteries which had been beautifully set up in past episodes needed to step up a gear. With only two episodes left after Broken Pieces, we couldn’t really head into a two-part finale with too much backstory left unexplained. Now was the moment for Star Trek: Picard to explain how its various elements would come together – and the revelations packed a powerful punch.

In a flashback dated to fourteen years ago, we see Commodore Oh, Rizzo, Ramdha, and some other Romulans on a planet at the centre of eight stars. Oh explains what the planet represents – it was a beacon, a warning left behind by an ancient civilisation to warn others against creating synthetic life. Until this point, I had been working on the assumption that Commodore Oh was a Vulcan, someone working in league with the Zhat Vash rather than a Romulan. But here, we finally saw that theory disintegrate – Oh is a Romulan, and she’s been playing a very long game when it comes to her mission.

The Zhat Vash initiation ritual.

The Romulans stand in a circle, at the centre of which is a glowing green ring. The energy had an almost Borg-like tint to it, which could, I suppose, be a hint at some connection, but regardless it was an outstanding visual prop. Dealing with completely alien technology can be difficult – it can be hard to make something that’s simultaneously simple yet unusual in appearance, but this ring was unlike technology we’ve seen in Star Trek before – it seemed to float in place, giving the appearance of being a solid object while in fact being pure energy. As a relic of a long-lost race, it makes sense that it would be something different, and it succeeded here in the way it came across.

As I noted last time, however, the lack of diversity in filming locations has been notable in Star Trek: Picard, and the planet of Aia was another example. Filming outdoors instead of on sound stages has been the preferred option for Star Trek (and for television shows in general, it must be said) for a long time now, but if long-distance travel and multiple on-location shoots are prohibitively expensive, I feel like using indoor spaces with the technology available to filmmakers today can be a viable option. In the case of Star Trek: Picard, the fact that all of the planets visited are clearly California is magnified by the fact that it’s a shorter season than, say, The Next Generation had during its run. That means that, over the course of a handful of episodes, we’ve visited several locations on Earth, the planet of Vashti, the planet of Nepenthe, and now this Aia – seeing all in fairly quick succession hammers home the point that they were all filmed within a few miles of each other, relatively speaking. And yes, we’ve been spoilt by bigger-budget shows like Game of Thrones, which was able to pay for filming locations across Europe, but I’m not really advocating that. Look at an episode like The Siege of AR-558 from the seventh season of Deep Space Nine. The main setting, the planetoid AR-558, was filmed on indoor sound stages, with the episode not being the worse for it – it’s generally regarded as one of Deep Space Nine’s best.

I would hazard a guess that this is not the first time Commodore Oh has led new Zhat Vash recruits through this particular ritual. It seems like it was the initiation into the secretive organisation. Laris, way back in Maps and Legends, described the Zhat Vash as keeping a secret so dark and powerful that it can “break a person’s mind”. And the initiation ritual shows this happening. With the exception of Rizzo, all of the Zhat Vash initiates, including Ramdha, cannot handle the information – or perhaps the manner in which it is conveyed – and lose their minds. Several of them immediately commit suicide, and Ramdha collapses. Rizzo is shaken, but otherwise unaffected.

I hinted at it there, but I would wager that the Zhat Vash initiates weren’t driven insane by the actual facts of the case, but rather by the manner in which it was conveyed. Similar to the mind-meld last week, it was a confusing jumble of thrown-together imagery, seeming to show, among other things, the extermination of whole planets, and which culminated in the face of a synthetic life form, which seemed to merge into Data’s face! While we only saw it for a second, this white synth seems to be the figure the Zhat Vash are so frightened of: Seb-Cheneb, or “the destroyer”.

What I liked about this look, brief though our glimpse of it was this week, was how it managed to be both similar and different to robots we see today. The shiny white look has been common in robotics, even in robotic toys, for a few years at least, and there was something eerily familiar about that which I felt emphasised what has been the theme of Star Trek: Picard’s first season: the potential danger in AI.

Is this the face of Seb-Cheneb?

We also see the genius in making the Romulans the villains of this new series. If someone else had encountered this star system, with its eight planets and cryptic warnings of synthetic armageddon, they may have chosen to share it with others – to put the word out so that the civilisations of the galaxy could share the knowledge and decide what to do about it. This would be especially the case for civilisations allied or friendly with the Federation, or of course the Federation themselves. However, the Romulans are so secretive, so paranoid, and have been throughout their appearances in Star Trek, that their choice to keep the secret to themselves and work to stop synthetic development using underhand methods fits in perfectly with what we know of them.

In the present day, aboard the Artifact, we get a scene with Rizzo and Ramdha. Ramdha seems to have been an adopted family to Rizzo and Narek – the latter two now confirmed as “actual” brother and sister instead of in a metaphorical sense. This was potentially interesting, but given that Rizzo has left the Artifact now, and that she’s almost certainly going to be dead by the end of the season, the revelation that they were adopted family came too late to be of much interest – this is, after all, their first scene together aside from the flashback. In one of the few moments where I feel Star Trek: Picard could have benefited from a longer season, the relationship between Rizzo and Ramdha was sadly underdeveloped, and when considering the characterisation of the two of them – Ramdha having very little screen time, and Rizzo being fairly one-dimensional – finding out that they’re related didn’t really add anything. If they hadn’t been related – barring any developments in future episodes, at least – nothing in the storyline of either Broken Pieces or Star Trek: Picard as a whole would have been different. It would also have been potentially interesting to see Narek acknowledge his relationship to Ramdha, especially given Soji’s interaction with her being a key moment in his relationship with her.

We then learn that – at least in Rizzo’s opinion – Ramdha is responsible for the damage sustained to the Artifact. When she was assimilated, the information she’d received from the relic on Aia was absorbed by the cube and disseminated among its drones and computer systems. Something about the information, the way it was presented, or Ramdha’s intense reaction to it seems to have caused a kind of Borg allergic reaction, and the cube suffered the “submatrix collapse” that we heard about in prior episodes as a direct result. Again, this comes from Rizzo, who may not be a reliable source, but if she’s right it seems that Ramdha broke the Borg cube by her reaction to learning that secret.

Elnor comes under attack in Hugh’s office. In an edge-of-your-seat fight sequence he manages to hold his own for a time against an overwhelming number of Romulan guards, but eventually has to be rescued by the timely arrival of Seven of Nine – his distress call to the Fenris Rangers last week summoned her to the cube. We’ll come to what happens to the ex-Borg and other residents of the Artifact in a moment, but as a general point, I felt that, with Soji leaving the Artifact and Hugh dead, the Artifact storyline had kind of run its course. The main characters had escaped, and while there were consequences for Hugh (it’s been a week and I’m still sad about that!) it seems like there’s kind of no reason to hang around. Equally, Seven of Nine’s storyline, both in the context of Star Trek: Picard, and I’d argue in Star Trek as a whole, had drawn to a neat conclusion in Stardust City Rag. She got her revenge for Icheb’s murder, concluding her arc in the show, and she finally got to display her human side and to retain her humanity instead of losing it again with each new episode as we’d seen in Star Trek: Voyager. The stories this week on the Artifact, with the killing of most of the ex-Borg and those drones still in stasis, and with the return of Seven of Nine, almost feel like the beginning of a whole new show rather than wrapping up Star Trek: Picard’s loose ends. The story had moved on, away from the Artifact and in the direction of Soji’s new homeworld, and thus aside from the Ramdha/Rizzo storyline and saving Elnor – who we could argue should never have been left there by the writers in the first place – there’s no reason to linger here.

Elnor embraces Seven of Nine.

It’s hard to judge because the story hasn’t yet concluded and there may turn out to be great reasons for Seven of Nine’s return and keeping the Artifact in play, but I got the sense that this part of the story – especially in regards to Elnor – was playing out like Littlefinger’s story in the seventh season of Game of Thrones insofar as the writers had got him stuck in a place where they didn’t really know what to do with him or where to take him. Elnor has been Star Trek: Picard’s most underused character in my opinion. He’s been the butt of a few jokes and had a couple of decent choreographed fight sequences, but other than that he’s been practically ignored. Even his great moment of reconciliation with Picard, who tells Elnor in The Impossible Box that he doesn’t want to leave him behind again, lasted all of ten seconds and was immediately glossed over by other elements in the story. Perhaps it’s because Elnor was the character I was most interested in seeing before the show premiered, but I really feel that he’s been massively underutilised by the show thus far, and even his scenes with Seven of Nine this week felt like a footnote or a wholly different story rather than being connected to the main arc of the show.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. After a touching hug between Elnor and Seven of Nine, the credits roll. Usually I don’t have much to say about the opening titles (which, yes, I always seem to end up calling the “credits”) other than the theme is pleasant and has definitely grown on me over the course of the season. But the last two episodes, at least in the versions I saw on Amazon here in the UK, seem to have missed cast members out. I’m not sure if this was deliberate or not, but it’s usually the case that the main cast are credited in the opening titles and it’s surprising to see someone excluded. It may be something unique to a version here, it may be that names were cut to allow others to fill the space, or there may be another reason. Either way I thought it was noteworthy. NB. When I went back to re-watch the episode while writing this review all the main cast appeared in the title sequence. It’s possible I missed it the first time around, or it may have been corrected/updated later – I initially watched the episode almost as soon as it was made available.

Soji and Picard have beamed aboard La Sirena (from the Troi-Riker cabin on Nepenthe that we saw last week) but Rios is immediately troubled by Soji – he seems to recognise her and becomes agitated, staring down Soji and ignoring Picard at first. Picard, taking Riker’s advice from last week, plans to contact Starfleet. Rios, clearly very unnerved by something about Soji, promises to set course for Deep Space 12 (a very subtle nod to the naming of the main station in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) but says after that Picard will be on his own.

In this scene, perhaps buoyed by his time with Riker and Troi and his success in rescuing Soji, we see Picard much more assertive and in command than we have thus far in the series. It’s like he’s regaining more of his lost confidence and sense of self with every episode, and in the context of what I said last time about the show’s examination of depression and mental health, that is a positive message. Far from being the bleak look at Picard’s character that some people seem to have assumed, Star Trek: Picard is really a story of hope, and how someone who’s become depressed can – at least in some circumstances – overcome that and find motivation again. The same basic premise is true of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as he overcomes his depression and self-isolation to find a cause worth believing in. This could – and perhaps should, once Star Trek: Picard has concluded – be a whole essay in itself, because there are many similarities and I feel both stories share the same kind of positive message.

Raffi isn’t happy with Soji’s arrival either, given her paranoid nature and what happened with Dr Jurati last week. She tries to stop Soji coming aboard, lecturing Picard on not checking up on Dr Jurati. When Picard tries to exit the conversation and lead Soji away, Raffi points a phaser at them. The news that Dr Jurati had a tracking device doesn’t sway Picard, but the accusation that she killed Maddox does, and he and Raffi meet with La Sirena’s EMH in sickbay. He explains the situation, even that he was deactivated and that Maddox’s injuries would not have killed him if he’d continued to be properly treated, but this doesn’t change Picard’s mind at first.

Picard, Raffi, and the EMH discuss Dr Jurati.

What was great about this sequence was that it was Raffi – known conspiracy theorist and drug addict – who’s explaining what happened with Dr Jurati. Raffi’s character had been set up this way over basically the entire season, making Picard’s disbelief realistic. I’ve written before that, from Picard’s point of view, Dr Jurati was the only person on his new crew who was there because she wanted to be; she was the only one besides himself interested in finding and helping Soji. Rios was along for pay, and moments ago announced his intention to ditch Picard at Deep Space 12. Raffi made it very clear to Picard that she was on board purely to get to Freecloud and not for the sake of his mission, so Dr Jurati was Picard’s closest ally among his crew. The truth that she is in fact a “Tal Shiar agent” as Raffi puts it is too much to take in in this moment, and every aspect of that had been beautifully established. Taking away Picard’s only genuine ally is also an interesting story beat, and leaves Picard two possible directions from the point of view of the writers. He can suffer as a result of learning Dr Jurati had betrayed him and fall back into his depression, or he can use what happened to further cement his drive and motivation for Soji’s sake – he is now the only person he can rely on to help her get home and potentially avert genocide.

With growing confirmation that a machine civilisation is present on Soji’s homeworld and not just a handful of individual synths, genocide is precisely what we’re talking about. This is the ultimate purpose of the Zhat Vash conspiracy, and as someone who has studied history, the parallels are disturbing. The obvious historical analogy that springs to mind when examining the Romulans and Zhat Vash is Nazi Germany. We have a small cult (the Zhat Vash) who have a crusade against a species or race of sentient beings, and this small group is controlling the Romulan state and dragging them along. It also forces a reexamination of the Romulans’ treatment of the xBs – they were detaining them in a giant prison camp and, under the guise of “helping” them, performing experiments and harvesting their valuable components. Finally, as we’ll see in a moment, they committed mass murder of the xBs. Rizzo in particular had always had a genocidal streak to her character, but it was hard to tell if that was just a result of being a fairly one-dimensional villain. When considering her plans for the synthetics’ homeworld, however, if we continue our Nazi Germany analogy, this is Commodore Oh and Rizzo’s “final solution”. There are other historical genocides which one could look at for comparison – sadly there have been many throughout history – but let’s not get bogged down in historical analogy right now, as I believe the point has come across.

Admiral Clancy – the no-nonsense commander-in-chief of Starfleet – is back in the next scene, and I really love her character. Even when she was shutting Picard down in Maps and Legends when he was trying to get Starfleet on his side, she has an air of authority – exemplified by Ann Magnuson’s performance – that simply is what we’d expect from someone in such a senior position. While she had been dismissive of Picard’s earlier request, she’s clearly listened to everything he had to say and is now prepared to help. Despite what Picard and Rios had felt up until this point, Starfleet did not abandon its own values – it had been corrupted from within by a single individual. Commodore Oh, now revealed as a spy, had been the driving force behind Starfleet’s own anti-synthetic agenda, but Admiral Clancy is not prepared to see a whole race of sentient life forms wiped out, regardless of the galactic treaty that bans synthetic life. However, in this moment, Picard doesn’t know the truth about Commodore Oh. Could he and Clancy have inadvertently tipped her off? Sending a fleet to Deep Space 12 – the closest station to Soji’s homeworld – will surely raise eyebrows in Starfleet, and Commodore Oh is sufficiently well-connected that she would undoubtedly come to know about it. And as I have mentioned previously, her ability to recruit people into the conspiracy with a simple mind-meld means that there may be hundreds or even thousands of compromised Starfleet officers. By the way, how cool is it that Romulans – who are biologically the same race as Vulcans – can mind-meld now? I loved that, even though it completely threw me off last week!

Admiral Clancy appears via hologram.

Admiral Clancy commits to sending a group of ships to rendezvous with Picard at Deep Space 12, from where they will travel to Soji’s homeworld to warn and defend the synths from the impending Romulan attack. After everything we’ve seen over the course of the series about Starfleet seemingly succumbing to conspiracy, corruption, and losing its own values, it was amazing in this moment to see “old school” Starfleet back. Admiral Clancy and others may have forgotten for a time what Starfleet and the Federation represented – seeking out strange new worlds and new civilisations – but in this moment she found her way again. And as the head of Starfleet, from a thematic if not a literal point of view at least, the whole organisation has rediscovered its purpose too. I was reminded of Picard’s speech about Data in The Measure of a Man, which referenced Starfleet’s mandate to seek out new life: “there it sits”, he exclaimed, gesturing to Data. How Starfleet treated synthetic life in that episode – whether to deny Data his rights and create a race of synthetic slaves – is something Star Trek: Picard has examined in much more detail. In the view of Picard and Admiral Clancy, the synths on Soji’s homeworld have rights – the right to exist chief among them.

On the bridge of La Sirena, Raffi is talking to one of Rios’ holograms – but doesn’t realise it at first. He confirms that Rios did recognise Soji – but he thinks that her name is Jana. This would seem to confirm a theory going back several weeks that there are other Soji-type androids in existence: Rios has encountered one already. Taking advantage of the navigational hologram, Raffi asks him about the symbols she noticed the Borg drawing on the Artifact (we saw that last week when she was trying to hack the Artifact to break La Sirena free of its tractor beam). They speculate that it may be a star system containing eight stars – but none are known to exist and it would be incredibly unlikely to be a natural phenomenon. The “octonary”, as it is termed, is believed to have only been documented on some very old Romulan star charts – of course this is the system we saw in the flashback sequence at the beginning of the episode, where the planet Aia is located.

Raffi begins to put the pieces together. The Conclave of Eight – who she believed were responsible for the attack on Mars – refers to the meeting place. And as we know from the earlier scene with Ramdha (or rather, we can reasonably infer) the ex-Borg are drawing that symbol because it was the power of Ramdha’s insanity and singular focus on this one location that caused the Borg cube to become disabled. At the very least, one of the last things the xBs would have seen while assimilated was Ramdha’s experience of the place, and that’s why some of them have been obsessively drawing it. While it wasn’t clear in earlier episodes, Soji was told that all of the “disordered” or insane xBs were Romulan, so it may be that there’s something different about how Romulan minds process the information contained on Aia that leads to insanity. Given that other xBs that we saw seemed to be in a better state, perhaps that means that the vision on Aia is something Picard and his crew will be able to properly experience and process – but more on that in my next theory post!

Raffi shows the octonary symbol to the ENH.

Rizzo doesn’t take long to piece together that Elnor now has Seven of Nine as an ally. I liked seeing her work it out in that short scene; the fact that she’s switched-on and aware of everything going on reminds us, despite what we just witnessed in the flashbacks and with Ramdha, that Rizzo experienced the vision very differently. Her insanity, such as it is, manifets not in a loss of control, as we saw with some of the others as they went mad and killed themselves, but in a desire for greater control. She barks orders to her subordinates, has a disturbing, almost incestuous relationship with her biological brother Narek, and is single-minded in her devotion to the cause so much that she has become, as we already noted, genocidal. This is Rizzo at her most interesting. Last week, the notion that she was terrified of synthetic life added a second dimension to what had been a one-dimensional villain, and this week we see not only more of the reason for her fear, but we get to see that the vision she experienced “broke her mind” to quote Laris. It just didn’t break in the same way as other Zhat Vash initiates’ did. Any story needs a compelling villain, and while we have had Commodore Oh as a behind-the-scenes, low key villain, and Narek as an insidious will-he-won’t-he spy, the transformation of Rizzo from an “evil for the sake of being evil” 24th Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz to someone with a backstory, an understandable fear-driven motive, and the tiniest element of pity for what she went through, is fantastic for the overall story of the series. It elevates what could have been a fairly bland character and fleshes her out a lot more.

The Elnor and Seven of Nine scenes were, as I have already mentioned, not my favourite part of the episode, so I’ll probably gloss over those, but just to briefly recap they went to the queencell (where Hugh used the spatial trajector to help Picard and Soji escape) and seem to have essentially reactivated many of the Artifact’s Borg systems. The cube begins to regenerate itself – and the CGI shots of the cube undergoing regeneration were stunning. There were elements from Q Who, in The Next Generation’s second season, where the crew of the Enterprise-D first witness a cube regenerating, but obviously the effects are so much better in 2020 than they were in 1989 and we see the regeneration in much more detail. It also makes perfect sense that the Artifact could be so easily reactivated – after all, drones that were 90+ years old were able to be reactivated in the Enterprise episode Regeneration, and the Artifact has not been derelict for anywhere near as long.

The Artifact’s reactivation causes Rizzo to go nuclear – planning the extermination of the xBs and the Borg currently in stasis. There was yet another hint at the Nazi Germany analogy I mentioned earlier as Rizzo suggests gassing the Borg. Along with the other genocidal themes present in her character, the fact that her immediate suggestion was to gas them was tied to this and another shocking statement from this villain.

Picard and Soji share a meal aboard La Sirena, and Soji is clearly wrestling with her newfound status as a synth. We don’t know precisely how much time has passed since she first learned the truth in Nepenthe, but it can’t be more than a few days and it’s obviously a lot to process. She, unlike Raffi and several other characters in the last few episodes, calls Picard by his last name. I feel like this is setting up their relationship for some future development, getting her to a point by the end of the season where she’ll be able to join Raffi, Riker, Troi, and others and call him “Jean-Luc”.

Soji makes a big point about how Picard can’t know what it’s like to not know things about herself and to feel like pieces are missing. Picard agrees, but actually he can know at least part of what that must feel like because of his own experiences with the Borg. He lost his humanity for a time, though not in the same way as Soji has lost hers. When he tells her that her memories feel like “something that happened to someone else”, I go the impression that he was drawing on that experience as Locutus. The Battle of Wolf 359, in which Picard was instrumental in helping the Borg destroy a Federation fleet, was something he remembers but he remembers it through the prism of his assimilation and to him, I’d absolutely argue that those events feel like “something that happened to someone else” – kind of like a waking nightmare. He can empathise with Soji because of that.

Soji and Picard share a meal.

As Picard has reacquired his confidence and self-belief since meeting Dahj in Remembrance, we’ve seen more of what you could call “old” Picard coming back. The Picard who talks things out calmly and diplomatically, who uses words carefully to make the best of a situation and who knows just what the right thing to say is, even under difficult circumstances. And in this conversation with Soji we get another example of that, as he tries to reassure her that she does have a past and a legacy.

Their conversation then turns to Data in what was a very emotional scene. Picard talks a little about him, and about how he hopes that Data thought of him. Just as Kestra showed us last week that Riker and Troi had kept their friend’s memory alive throughout the last twenty years, so too has Picard. Data has had a huge influence over this season’s story despite not being present except in dreams, and that has been touching to see. Soji draws the conversation to a close by telling Picard that Data did love him – something he really needed to hear from her.

Speaking with La Sirena’s engineering hologram gives Raffi more clues about the octonary star system, and that it would be a great way for a civilisation to leave behind a warning to others – the unique nature of the star system would be like a beacon, drawing in spacefaring civilisations to see what it was about.

Raffi tries to get a drink in her quarters, simultaneously excited by the notion of unravelling a fourteen-year-old mystery and massively disturbed by its implications. However, she is prohibited from replicating alcohol and La Sirena’s hospitality hologram pops up. We learn that Rios scanned himself when he bought La Sirena, and that’s why the holograms all have his appearance – they also all have some of his memories and personality traits, though he has made some deletions to that information. The hospitality hologram suggests to Raffi that she check in on Rios as he may need company. In Rios’ quarters he goes through his Starfleet belongings – neatly stowed in a footlocker – and pulls out a picture of his former captain. I had speculated that the character may have been a legacy character from a past iteration of Star Trek – a wild guess, more than anything – but this wasn’t the case (though for a brief moment I thought it looked like Chakotay!) Rios also pulls out another picture – a drawing of himself and… a Soji-type android!

The revelation that Rios had encountered a Soji-type android was genuinely not something I was expecting. While his backstory had seemed interesting and I was keen to learn more, by this late stage in the season I was beginning to wonder if it was something that might not be explored until Season 2. However, learning that he’d met another synth just like her was fascinating – and makes me wonder how many more there are on Soji’s homeworld. There could potentially be millions – if each new synth that was created could build more copies of itself there’s no limit to that kind of exponential population growth.

Soji’s arrival brought up memories for Rios of his deceased captain.

Seven of Nine and Elnor continue their plans to retake the Artifact, planning to use the Borg in stasis as a mini-collective which Seven of Nine will direct from the queencell – giving them orders and directions to replace the hive mind of the Borg collective. I was a little concerned in this scene that we’d see a reversion of Seven’s character progress that I’d been so thrilled about in Stardust City Rag. To briefly recap, for those of you who didn’t read that review, when Voyager was on the air my opinion of Seven of Nine was not especially high. Having gone to all the trouble of replacing Kes at the end of Season 3, it seemed that the writers didn’t really know what to do with their new ex-Borg. There were a disproportionate number of Seven-centic episodes in the latter part of Voyager’s run, and many of them followed a similar formula: Seven learns a lesson about being human, overcoming her Borg nature. But by the next episode she’d forgotten it all and would have to learn another, often similar, lesson. This got kind of stale for me, so seeing her embracing her humanity – and retaining it – in Stardust City Rag was cathartic and just a fantastic thing to see. So when she was getting ready to plug herself back into the Borg – albeit not the main collective – I was concerned that the show was about to repeat Voyager’s mistakes.

This next sequence, in which Raffi tries to puzzle together what happened to Rios, is one of my favourite not just in the episode but in all of Rios and Raffi’s scenes in Star Trek: Picard so far. Using all five of La Sirena’s holograms, each of whom have a slightly different set of information from Rios himself as a result of the “self-scan”, she’s able to figure out what happened to his former captain – and how it connects to the Soji-type android.

Some Star Trek episodes in the past have given actors a chance to run around and play different characters or versions of the character. In the Voyager episode Renaissance Man, for example, The Doctor disguises himself as various members of the crew – played by their original actors. We also have examples from The Original Series like Mirror, Mirror, in which the cast play evil versions of themselves, or The Enemy Within in which William Shatner got to show off two sides to Kirk’s personality when they were manifested as separate beings. The duology of episodes The Naked Time and The Naked Now – from The Original Series and The Next Generation respectively – also let the cast run wild. Santiago Cabera was the only actor I was familiar with heading into Star Trek: Picard, and he was someone I was really excited to see brought into the franchise. He gave a great performance in a series called Salvation a couple of years ago, and when he was announced I felt he would be a great addition to the cast. The explanation of Rios’ backstory, and how his former captain killed two synths on Commodore Oh’s orders, was absolutely fascinating in itself as it ties Rios to the show’s story and, I’d argue, gives him a strong motivation to stay and help and to do whatever he can to prevent further harm coming to Soji’s people.

But in this sequence, what I loved most was Cabera playing all of these roles, using different accents, costumes, and hairstyles to give each hologram a different appearance. Each hologram has its own personality – a blend of parts of Rios’ own with the original underlying technology used in the holograms. The way this scene was acted – and it must have taken a huge amount of effort, editing, and incredibly skilled cinematography to bring five versions of Rios together – was outstanding. As well as being entertaining in parts and of course informative, it was a real joy to watch, and showed off exactly why the show’s creators hired the perfect actor for the part. Just as a final point – making the engineering hologram Scottish was a nice little nod back to The Original Series, and even though it probably wasn’t the best of Cabera’s five different accents, it was nice to see that.

La Sirena’s holograms.

Dr Jurati is finally awake, and the first thing she does is ask Picard if her suicide attempt/poisoning was successful. He replies that it was, and that they were no longer being tracked by Narek. In another example of Picard getting his confidence back, he calmly yet sternly tells her that upon their arrival at Deep Space 12 she will turn herself in. He doesn’t ask her if she’s responsible – despite earlier questioning whether she did it on purpose – he simply and flatly tells her that that is what she will do, giving her no choice in the matter. I saw echoes of another encounter Picard had with the Romulans, in The Next Generation episode Face of the Enemy, where he gives Federation defector DeSeve a similar calm yet stern dressing-down.

Picard asks her the million-dollar question: why did she do it? As the audience, we already know her basic motivation by this point – Commodore Oh showed her a vision, one taken from the relic on Aia, of what would happen if synthetic life were allowed to exist. But knowing that didn’t make watching the tense scene between the two of them any less thrilling, as Dr Jurati struggled against the brainwashing she’d suffered and attempted to justify her actions. We learn a little more about the Zhat Vash’s mission – they feel that humanity’s synthetic research – spearheaded by Maddox – has arrived at a threshold. Their fear is that, if Soji and her people are allowed to exist, the visions contained in the relic will come true – or rather that they will be repeated, as the Zhat Vash believe they are something that happened in the past, several hundred thousand years ago.

By this point, I was getting a nagging feeling that this storyline is beginning to feel familiar. We’ll hear Dr Jurati later in the episode say that the Zhat Vash believe that when a certain level of synthetic life is reached in the galaxy, “something shows up” and wipes out not only the synths but also those who created them. This is the fundamental premise behind a science fiction video game series that I’ve mentioned on the blog several times: Mass Effect. Played out over a trilogy of games from 2007 to 2012, the Mass Effect series follows a human commander as he tries to stop the coming of the Reapers – an extragalactic machine species who periodically show up and harvest all sentient life once they have reached a certain level of technological development. The reason the Reapers do this is because they, despite being synthetic themselves, believe that it is the nature of synthetic life to destroy organic life, and that by harvesting the DNA of technological races before that can happen they will be somehow preserved. Furthermore, an ancient race left behind beacons which showed the hero of the franchise a not dissimilar vision than the relic on Aia showed the Zhat Vash – kicking off the plot. I’m okay with similar themes in science fiction, and the plot of Star Trek: Picard and how it has been delicately written and carefully unravelled has been a significantly different experience than the plot of the Mass Effect games – but the overall motivation of the villains seems to be rather similar, as is the way the knowledge of what happened was communicated down the centuries, and I’m sure I won’t be the first person to notice this.

Promo screenshot for Mass Effect 2. The storyline of Star Trek: Picard has some notable similarities to the video game series.

Rios, in his quarters, has been hiding away and drinking, but he shows Raffi a picture of his old captain, Alonzo Vandermeer, and tells her how close they’d been. Rios thought of him as a father figure, which we had already some hints at when we first met him, but they go into a lot more detail here. Seeing Soji has brought up a lot of bad memories for Rios of Captain Vandermeer’s death, and he’s finding it hard to cope.

The scenes switch back-and-forth between this exchange in Rios’ quarters and a conversation between Soji and Dr Jurati. While both sets of characters are going through very different things, what’s happening is actually comparable. Soji is, simply by her presence, inspiring Dr Juarti to push through her brainwashing and overcome what she had been tasked with doing. Raffi is helping Rios overcome his past too, getting both psychologically damaged characters to a point where, later in the episode, they will be able to “snap out of it” and refocus on their joint mission to aid Soji’s people.

Rios goes into detail about what happened with Captain Vandermeer – and how his actions protected his ship – the USS Ibn Majid – from being destroyed by Starfleet. The reason it was covered up, seemingly by Commodore Oh, was to keep the secret of the synthetic civilisation. Captain Vandermeer killed the two synths – including one who resembled Soji – to save his crew, but couldn’t live with what he’d done and committed suicide shortly thereafter, in front of Rios.

Seeing Soji reawakens in Dr Jurati her love and appreciation for synthetic life – she’s incredibly curious about her, asking her questions about some of her most human-like qualities, such as whether she sleeps. Poor Soji must be getting tired of this after all of the questions Kestra was asking last week! But the Kestra comparison is a good one, because both she and Dr Jurati have a childlike wonder about Soji – Kestra of course is a child, but Dr Jurati is an academic, a researcher who never thought she’d ever see her research in practice, yet right before her eyes sits Soji.

After a scene in which we see Rizzo at her coldest, murdering ex-Borg and the Borg still in stasis by the thousand, we’re back aboard La Sirena. Soji and Raffi have worked their magic on Dr Jurati and Rios, and the crew assemble to discuss what they’ve learned and piece together the timeline, location of Soji’s homeworld, and try to come up with a plan. Each character, sitting around a table, tells the others what they know, in a neat scene that tied together a lot of Star Trek: Picard’s story points going right back to the first episode – and even its Short Treks prologue/prequel. By the time they’ve put all the pieces together – the Zhat Vash infiltration of Starfleet going back to Data’s activation before The Next Generation, the attack on Mars, the USS Ibn Majid making first contact with Soji’s people, the murder of Dahj, and finally arriving at the present day – the only thing left to do is to travel to Soji’s homeworld.

There were a couple of hints that not everyone under Rizzo’s command aboard the Artifact are okay with her rampage. She disarms one of her troops, snatching his gun in a scene that seemed to say “I’m worried you’re going to use that on me”. When she returns the broken weapon later in the episode, the young Romulan stares at it almost in disbelief at what it had been used for. I doubt this will come back into play, given that the Zhat Vash seem fully okay with exterminating the synths, but it was a nod to the fact that not all Romulans are signed up to their ideology. If we were to continue our Nazi Germany analogy, this soldier could be an example of those Germans who were not paid-up members of the Nazi party.

The briefing room of La Sirena, with its plain metal table, is very different from that of Enterprise-D and Enteprise-E!

I’m still somewhat confused by the Bruce Maddox storyline from Stardust City Rag, and I keep bringing it up because it threatens to become a plot hole. Maddox specifically told Bjayzl that his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar. We can assume there was Zhat Vash involvement with that, but even if there wasn’t, the question remains where was Maddox undertaking his work? Riker theorised that it was on the planet we have now termed Soji’s homeworld; that he went there when the synth ban came into force and stayed there, working, ever since. But if that’s true, why did he go to Bjayzl, who he knew was dangerous as he owed her money? The synth civilisation, in everyone’s opinion, is expected to be thriving on Soji’s homeworld, but if Maddox’s lab was there and was destroyed, what happened to the other synths? And why did Rizzo and Narek waste their time continuing to mine Soji for that information if their colleagues had already visited and destroyed the lab? If Maddox left the planet to work elsewhere – the simplest explanation, I guess – why did he do that instead of continuing to live among his synthetic creations? Given that it seems as though he had a lot of input in the creation of Soji and Dahj, and the direction of their offworld missions, I doubt the synths forced him out. So why did he leave? And if he didn’t leave, how did the synths survive the attack? This one aspect of the story opens up a lot of questions that I hope have an answer and a satisfactory explanation.

Dr Jurati begins by apologising – not so much for Maddox’s death, though that is part of it – but for letting down her newfound crew and family. I mentioned last time that La Sirena’s crew were finally starting to come together instead of feeling like individuals all doing their own thing, and as they sit down to put everything together we see more of that. Partly the revelation about Dr Jurati shook them up, but in the aftermath they seem to have pulled together. It’s a shame that Elnor missed out on this scene, being stuck in his side-quest with Seven of Nine, because his input, as an outsider who doesn’t know a great deal about the issues being discussed or the history of it all could have been played in such a way as to be helpful for casual viewers or for those who are just getting into Star Trek for the first time.

Soji becomes angry with herself for falling for Narek’s ruse, because it’s clear that she has now exposed the location of her homeworld to the Zhat Vash. It also explains how Narek and Rizzo were content with Soji’s description of her homeworld, despite what seemed on the surface to be a very small amount of information: they already knew what sector of the galaxy they needed to look in after the USS Ibn Majid’s encounter with the synthetic emissaries.

There is an interesting dimension to Soji that is worth exploring. The “emissaries” that Rios met and that Captain Vandermeer killed were reported to Starfleet – and Rios says that Vandermeer must’ve known they were synthetic. In fact the only way the order to kill them makes sense is if Vandermeer knew and reported that to Commodore Oh. One of the things that has been unclear about Soji and Dahj so far is why they were programmed to believe themselves to be human. Only one other android in Star Trek has behaved that way – Juliana, the wife of Data’s creator, in The Next Generation seventh season episode Inheritance. The reason she believed herself to be human is that she was human – a human mind transplanted into an android body. But we’re getting off-topic. Why were Soji and Dahj programmed to be human? It’s a safe bet, based on what we learnt in Broken Pieces, that Maddox realised how dangerous the galaxy was for synths with people like Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash after them. After their initial emissaries were killed, it makes sense that they’d try to keep their true nature hidden.

Soji storms off to the bridge, sets up a forcefield, and changes La Sirena’s course. As Rios points out, she took control of the ship very easily; her abilities and skills far exceed anything a human is capable of. The fear the Zhat Vash and others have is not exactly unfounded – Soji could kill them all without breaking a sweat. However, after a conversation with Picard he allows her to pilot the ship to part of the Borg transwarp network – a shortcut to her homeworld.

Picard, continuing his theme of regaining his confidence, sits in the captain’s chair in what I felt was the episode’s most iconic scene. Reclaiming his position as the captain – if only symbolically – was a big moment for him, considering how far from that role he seemed at the beginning of the series. A character journey from depression and isolation to being in charge is a great story, and one which I loved seeing Picard go through.

Picard takes a seat in the captain’s chair.

Rios is initally angry at Soji’s actions – he feels that flying into the transwarp network without careful preparation would put the ship at risk. Soji could have simply pressed ahead and ignored him, locking him out of his own ship, but instead she draws on her humanity and asks him – politely but firmly – to take her home.

As the Romulans abandon the Artifact, leaving it to Seven, Elnor, and the remaining xBs, Rizzo is cornered and attacked but manages to beam away – her comeuppance will have to wait. With the xBs in control of the Artifact, even though they’re few in number I would not be surprised at all to see Elnor and Seven in contact with Picard and La Sirena in the finale – perhaps the repaired cube warps in to save the day somehow during a climactic battle. Finally, the episode ends with La Sirena jumping into the transwarp network – with what appears to be Narek’s ship close behind!

There was so much to process in Broken Pieces that it’s taken me longer than usual to pull my thoughts together. Seeing the crew work together to fit the various pieces of the puzzle together was great – but I did miss seeing Elnor with Picard and the rest of the crew, because, as someone who suffered as a result of the attack on Mars, he has as much stake in this as anyone else.

It’s great to have a proper timeline assembled as we approach the finale. There are still questions to answer – like what exactly will happen if Picard and his crew are victorious and allow the synths to continue to live. The Zhat Vash seem to believe that synthetic life in and of itself will not be the doom of everyone in the galaxy; contrary to what I said last time, this is not a situation like Discovery’s second season where the Control AI was going to wipe everything out. Instead, what they seem to believe is that someone else, another race or faction, will show up once that threshold is crossed to bring about their destruction. So even if Picard and co. are successful, presumably they will have to deal with the implications of that.

I wonder if some aspect of this synthetic-inspired doom is going to tie into Discovery’s third season, due for release later this year. The trailers for that seemed to depict a kind of post-apocalyptic future: could the Zhat Vash visions and the relic from Aia be related to that? Stay tuned for more on that and others in my next theory post, which I hope to have up before the first part of the finale on Friday.

All that’s left to say is that I thoroughly enjoyed Broken Pieces. Some story elements were better than others – Elnor and Seven of Nine on the Artifact being my least-favourite, I’m afraid. However, I’m hopeful that, as with practically everything else this season, there will be a solid reason why we spent that time with them and that they will have a role to play in the finale in some way.

The first eight 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.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 7: Nepenthe

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.

Counsellor Troi returns in Nepenthe for the first time since Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002.

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.

This image, and at least one other, were recycled from the visions shown to Michael Burnham and Spock in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.

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.

An xB is executed on Rizzo’s orders.

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.

“Adios, kid.” Rios and the crew of La Sirena agree to leave Elnor behind.

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.

Kestra leads Picard and Soji to her home on Nepenthe.

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.

A hug eighteen years in the making. Picard and Riker are reunited.

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.

Kestra leans down to talk to Soji.

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!

La Sirena in space – what a cool shot!

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.

Soji’s awkward head tilt.

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.

Replicating chocolate milk has gotten a lot faster since The Next Generation!

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.

Picard convinces Soji to trust him – at least a little.

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?

Texting under the table – helpful in this instance, but possibly troubling.

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.

Dr Jurati tries to take her own life.

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.

Riker and Picard on the dock.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icheb gets his eye brutally torn out.

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

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

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

Seven of Nine during her Voyager days.

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

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

Seven of Nine in Picard’s study.

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

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

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

Bruce Maddox with Bjayzl in her club on Freecloud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Maddox and Dr Jurati in happier times.

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

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

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

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

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

Stardust City, Freecloud.

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

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

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

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

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

Saying “goodbye” on the transporter pad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bjayzl.

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

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

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

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

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

Picard with Maddox in sickbay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 3: The End is the Beginning

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for The End is the Beginning – the third episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for all previous episodes. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

To get it out of the way before we start, I have reviewed the first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard already. You can find the first episode here, and the second episode here.

Mysteries continue to deepen in Star Trek: Picard, and The End is the Beginning has certainly left us with more questions than answers at this point. It was, overall, a solid episode that was at least on par with last week’s Maps and Legends. Visual effects were outstanding as usual, and we got proper introductions to two more main characters. I think there’s only one remaining who we haven’t met.

As happened last week, The End is the Beginning opened with a look back in time. We briefly saw the rogue synths’ attack, including what I believe were a couple of new clips of Mars, before the action cuts to Admiral Picard – in full uniform – outside Starfleet Headquarters. He meets Raffi, the woman who pointed a phaser at him at the end of the previous episode, and it’s revealed that she was a Starfleet officer. Judging by her rank pips I believe she was a commander, and she’s wearing the gold of either engineering or security.

Though we did see, in Picard’s dreams, uniforms from The Next Generation films and Deep Space Nine, it would have been a good opportunity to see them again here, I think. Starfleet uniforms have gone through a number of revisions, but the uniforms used here, fourteen years prior to the series, are different from the uniforms we saw starting in First Contact and running through the next two films and the back half of DS9. While I understand that each new show and each new creative team wants to give Star Trek a refreshed look and put their own spin on things, for this short scene I feel that they could have used those older uniforms – there was no real reason not to and it would have been a nice little tie-in to past iterations of Star Trek, as well as to Picard’s personal history.

Picard and Raffi in their Starfleet uniforms.

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.

F8 – is he downloading new orders?

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.

Picard hits rock bottom.

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.

Soji and Hugh talk aboard the Artifact.

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.

Commodore Oh’s ridiculous shades.

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.

La Sirena (with the brightness turned up a little). Ain’t she a beauty?

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.

Wearing shirts was mandatory when Picard was in command! Here he meets Chris Rios for the first time.

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.

Picard takes on an intruder at his home.

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.

The Romulan attacker commits suicide by dissolving himself.

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.

An atmospheric shot of Narek and Rizzo.

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!

Hugh!

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.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 2: Maps and Legends

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 Remembrance by 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 end of the opening titles features Picard looking at the camera.

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 scale of Picard’s planned rescue armada was huge – there were going to be 10,000 ships.

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.

We saw the briefest of glimpses from this scene in the trailers – but now we know these were some of the rogue synths on the day they attacked Mars.

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.

Laris tells Picard about the Zhat Vash.

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!

We now know that the Romulans call this Borg cube “the Artifact”.

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.

Dr Benayoun brings Picard bad news.

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.

Admiral Clancy and Picard have a heated argument.

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 Trill doctor getting ready for her first foray into the Artifact. Will she make it 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.

Picard makes tea for Dr Jurati at the Château.

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.

Starfleet combadges in Picard (left) and Voyager’s future (right).

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.

An evidently complicated relationship between Picard and Raffi – considering she points a weapon at him!

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.

Lt. Rizzo arrives to meet Commodore Oh.

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.