Ten “comfort episodes” of Star Trek for difficult days

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1.
Phew. That was a lot!

The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.

The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.

So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.

Number 1:
A Piece of the Action
The Original Series Season 2

Captain Kirk as you may not have seen him before!

The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!

When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.

Spock and Dr McCoy with Tommy guns.

The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.

Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.

Number 2:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dr McCoy and Scotty in 1986.

Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!

There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.

HMS Bounty makes it home.

There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!

Number 3:
Relics
The Next Generation Season 6

Cheers!

I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.

With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.

Star Trek’s first two engineers teamed up for this adventure.

When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.

Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!

Number 4:
The Magnificent Ferengi
Deep Space Nine Season 6

Aren’t they magnificent?

The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.

We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!

Quark and Keevan.

At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.

The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.

Number 5:
Message in a Bottle
Voyager Season 4

Two Emergency Medical Holograms!

Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!

Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.

The Doctor and his fellow EMH.

I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.

The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!

Number 6:
Carbon Creek
Enterprise Season 2

Vulcans… in the fifties!

Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.

Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.

Cheers!

There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!

All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.

Number 7:
Ephraim and DOT
Short Treks Season 2

Ephraim and DOT.

It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.

Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!

A well-earned hug.

Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!

Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.

Number 8:
Nepenthe
Picard Season 1

Picard and Riker embrace.

If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!

After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.

Kestra and Soji.

There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.

Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.

Number 9:
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

Tendi and Dr T’Ana.

First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!

But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.

The USS Cerritos and the USS Archimedes.

Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.

All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.

Number 10:
Kobayashi
Prodigy Season 1

Dal and Jankom Pog with a holographic Dr Crusher.

The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.

There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.

Uhura!

It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!

The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!

So that’s it!

The original USS Enterprise.

Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.

The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.

So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.

The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Et in Arcadia Ego: What went wrong?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, in particular the two-part episode Et in Arcadia Ego.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 approaching, I wanted to take a moment to step back to the Season 1 finale. Et in Arcadia Ego was the two-part ending to the show’s first season, and after the preceding eight episodes had masterfully and slowly built up an engaging story, it unfortunately ended in a way that was, at best, underwhelming. On this occasion I want to look back at Et in Arcadia Ego and ask “what went wrong?”

I think we can summarise the finale’s issues in a single word: rushed. The two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego were overstuffed with plot, partly as a result of the deliberately slow pace of the rest of the season, but also in part because of the decision to introduce new characters, a new faction, and whole new storylines at the last minute. As a result, Et in Arcadia Ego had to rush through far too much narrative in far too little time, leaving significant chunks of it on the table by the time the credits rolled on Part 2.

The final scene of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.

In my view, most of the damage was done in Part 1 and the first half of Part 2. By the time we got into Picard’s speech over Coppelius and his stint with Data in the digital afterlife, Et in Arcadia Ego picked up, and the issues with pacing and the editing of certain scenes abated. Those latter emotional sequences went a long way to salvaging the finale, and Picard’s time with Data – giving the character the proper send-off that he hadn’t got in Nemesis – meant that the story found a second purpose, one which I think many Trekkies appreciated.

There was also some fantastic acting in the second part of Part 2, with Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, and Jeri Ryan all putting in exceptional, deeply emotional performances as their characters dealt with the apparent death of Admiral Picard in different ways. The way Elnor broke down crying at the loss of his surrogate father figure is one of the most emotional moments in the entire season, and both Evagora and Hurd excelled in that moment.

A heartbreaking moment.

But as the credits rolled on Part 2, after Picard had laid Data to rest and been reborn in a new synthetic body of his own, I was left feeling that, despite the emotional high points as the finale drew to a close, the nicest thing I’d be able to say about Et in Arcadia Ego is that it was a mixed bag; an underwhelming end to what had been an otherwise excellent first season. At worst, I might even call the entire finale disappointing because of its underdeveloped characters and storylines that seemed to go nowhere.

The basic premise of Et in Arcadia Ego was interesting on the surface. After discovering that there are more synths than just Soji, we as the audience had been led to assume that they’re a peaceful civilisation who are being unfairly targetted by fanatical Romulan zealots. But instead we learn that the Zhat Vash were, in a sense, right. The beacon they discovered on Aia did warn of a powerful civilisation of super-synths who would murder organics, and not only that, but Soji’s evil twin Sutra planned to contact them. The synths turned from damsels in distress needing to be saved into a civilisation acting out of self-preservation, but nevertheless needing to be stopped from inflicting mass murder – or possibly even mass genocide – on the galaxy.

Soji’s “evil twin,” Sutra.

It fell to Picard to try to dissuade the synths, to show them that not every organic is hostile to them, and that if they would trust him – and trust the Federation to do the right thing – they would be safe. After a season in which the Federation was not painted in the best possible light this was a cathartic moment, and I understand what Et in Arcadia Ego was trying to do here.

Particularly in Part 2, Et in Arcadia Ego successfully hit some of those story beats, and the emotional high points surrounding Picard’s death, Data’s second death, and the desperate last stand over Coppelius felt great. In fact, I’d argue that the second half of Part 2 came close to rivalling the rest of the season in terms of the emotional side of its storytelling, and if we were looking at that part of the finale in isolation – or if the rest of the two-part story had been up to that level – we wouldn’t be having this conversation today!

Data in the digital afterlife.

On the technical side of things, before we get into story complaints, Et in Arcadia Ego was a very rushed, poorly paced episode. As a result of trying to cram several episodes’ worth of story into not enough runtime, there were some utterly ridiculous editing choices. At one point, Commodore Oh was stood on the bridge of her Romulan vessel, and appeared to speak a line to absolutely no one.

This line was very generic, too, and the entire scene – if we can be so generous as to call a clip that lasted a few seconds a “scene” – just came across as laughable, not intimidating or concerning. There were also a couple of places where two scenes were very poorly spliced together – at the beginning of Part 2, for example, a speech Picard made to Soji was heard only in voiceover, with Dr Jurati on screen silently watching the synths building their beacon.

Commodore Oh’s generic “evil villain” moment.

The gold makeup used for the Coppelius synths – Sutra in particular, as she was featured most prominently – was just awful. It looked like something out of The Original Series, and I don’t mean that in any way as a compliment. If I’d seen characters on The Original Series so poorly made-up I’d have written it off as a limitation of the medium at the time, and tried to get on with the story. Characters like Bele and Lokai from Let That Be Your Last Battlefield look similarly ridiculous by today’s standards, but with all of the improvements made over the last fifty years… I can’t excuse how poor practically all of the synths looked.

The problem of a lack of diversity in outdoor filming locations plagued Picard Season 1, but it came to a head in Et in Arcadia Ego because it was the finale. In short, the ten-episode season attempted to depict locations on Earth, including France and Japan, as well as the planets of Vashti, Nepenthe, Aia, and Coppelius using outdoor filming locations within a few miles of Los Angeles. And this was painfully obvious as the season wore on, leading Picard Season 1 to feel smaller and less visually interesting as a result. If Coppelius needed an expansive outdoor filming shoot, then other worlds could – and should – have been created on indoor sound stages if long-distance location shoots were out of the question.

Look, it’s California… oops, I mean Coppelius!

Both parts of Et in Arcadia Ego ruined the surprise appearance of a returning actor from The Next Generation. Brent Spiner’s role in Part 1 was telegraphed in the opening credits before his character had appeared on screen, but most egregiously the mistake was repeated in Part 2, where the return of Jonathan Frakes’ Acting Captain Riker was spoiled in the opening credits. The scene where Riker arrived at the head of a massive Starfleet armada to defend Coppelius was treated on screen like a huge surprise, but the fact that he was coming had been telegraphed in advance by the opening credits.

How difficult would it have been to credit special guest stars at the end instead of at the beginning? This also happened with Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine in the episode Absolute Candor earlier in the season – a character who appeared right at the end of the episode, in that case, and whose arrival was also treated as a surprise. For fans who don’t follow all of the ins and outs of Star Trek, the fact that any of these characters were coming back was supposed to be a total surprise, and both halves of Et in Arcadia Ego treated their returning guest stars in this way. But their unnecessary inclusions in the opening titles detracted from it. Riker’s arrival in particular felt far less impactful than it should’ve been; by the time the story reached the point of Picard standing alone against the Romulan armada, it was obvious that Riker was coming to save the day.

This shouldn’t have happened in the opening titles.

Speaking of the two fleets, the fact that both the Romulan and Starfleet armadas were comprised of a single starship design each seriously detracted from the way they looked. The copy-and-paste fleets were big, which was visually impressive at first glance, but the longer they remained on screen the more obvious it was that the CGI animators had literally copied and pasted each ship dozens of times.

Fleets seen in past iterations of Star Trek were almost always comprised of a variety of different starship types, and there was the potential to use this moment as fun fan-service, perhaps bringing back Romulan warbirds and scout ships from The Next Generation era, as well as Federation starship types like the Defiant-class, Sovereign-class, and Galaxy-class. Heck, Picard Season 1 had already made a brand-new CGI Galaxy-class model for the premiere, so it couldn’t have been too much extra work to include it here.

The Romulan and Federation fleets were copy-and-paste jobs and looked the worse for it.

As a final point on the technical side of things, I’m sorry to say that, despite a great performance as Soji across the rest of the season (and as Dahj in the premiere), Isa Briones was not convincing as Sutra, the central synth villain. Her performance was incredibly hammy, and while the character was written sufficiently well that her basic motivation – to protect the Coppelius synths from an outside attack – should have been understandable and even potentially sympathetic, the “I’m evil for no reason and I love it” performance was so bad that it detracted from the character.

Although Sutra being so easily shut down in Part 2 meant that the character as a whole felt like a waste, and was not the angle I would’ve wanted the show to take, in a way I was glad that we were spared too much more of what has to be the entire season’s single worst acting performance.

Sutra with Admiral Picard.

In terms of story, let’s talk about the big picture first of all before we get into smaller narrative complaints. The super-synths that Sutra and Soji planned to contact were so barebones as a faction that they don’t even have a proper name. Their “admonition” – i.e. the vision that the Zhat Vash encountered from their beacon – was superficially intimidating, and the mechanical tentacles that we saw approaching the beacon at the climax of the story likewise looked frightening… but without knowing more about this faction, it was difficult to remain invested in this story.

We didn’t know what the super-synths would’ve done had they arrived. Would they have sought to exterminate all organic life everywhere, or just in the vicinity of Coppelius? Having exterminated, would they have taken the super-synths to live with them in “dark space?” Was their offer to help even genuine or was it an elaborate trap to conquer the Coppelius synths and steal their technology? We have so many open questions, and because it seems that Star Trek won’t be returning to the super-synths any time soon, they’ll be left open and this aspect of the story will remain less than it could have been.

Some mechanical noodles were all we got to see of the super-synths.

In monster movies – which Et in Arcadia Ego’s super-synths were, to an extent, trying to emulate – we don’t always know everything about the monster. We might not know where Godzilla came from or why the Xenomorph in Alien is going on the rampage, but we at least have some perspective or frame of reference to understand why they should frighten or unnerve us – we’ve seen for ourselves how destructive and deadly the monster can be. The super-synths were barely glimpsed, and while their beacon was interpreted by the Zhat Vash as being dangerous, what we as the audience saw of it on screen was ambiguous at best. Because of that, the super-synths are more mysterious than frightening, and with no frame of reference to go on to showcase their level of technology, weapons, or danger, they’re less interesting and less frightening than they should’ve been.

During my first watch of Et in Arcadia Ego, I referred to the super-synths as the “Mass Effect Reapers” because of their similarities to a faction from the Mass Effect video game series. On re-watching the episodes, those similarities are really hammered home, even to the point where the vision contained in the Zhat Vash’s beacon and the beacon encountered by Commander Shepard in the first Mass Effect game contain striking visual similarities. I can’t believe that this is entirely a coincidence, and while I don’t want to accuse anyone of “ripping off” anyone else… it’s at the very least noteworthy that this aspect of the storyline of Et in Arcadia Ego – and thus of Picard Season 1 as a whole – is not original.

We could play a game called “Mass Effect or Star Trek: Picard?” with some of these sequences.

In the episode The Impossible Box, Narek walked Soji through a complicated series of steps to help her understand a dream she’d been having. His motive was to find out the location of her homeworld – Ghoulion IV or Coppelius. At the end of Soji’s dream, she looked up to the sky and saw two red moons and a lightning storm, leading Narek and Rizzo to conclude that they had enough information to locate Soji’s homeworld.

We subsequently learned that the Romulans had a fairly narrow search area and only needed to look within a few different star systems, so it seems reasonable that only a couple of pieces of information might be enough to go on if there aren’t that many possibilities. But when we finally reached Coppelius a couple of episodes later, the red moons were present – but where were the thunderstorms? This had been an absolutely essential part of the plot of The Impossible Box, yet the weather on Coppelius was sunlit and beautiful – some might say almost California-like. There were literally only two bits of information conveyed in The Impossible Box that Narek and Rizzo used to pinpoint Soji’s home planet… and one of them was completely disregarded in Et in Arcadia Ego.

This moment told us two things about Soji’s homeworld. Et in Arcadia Ego ignored one of them.

Speaking of being completely disregarded… what happened to poor Narek? I know Narek wasn’t everybody’s favourite character in Season 1, but I felt he was interesting as a character who didn’t fall into the obvious trap of being a clichéd “spy with a heart of gold” who falls in love with his target. Narek remained loyal to the Zhat Vash cause, even though his relationship with Rizzo was complicated and despite his feelings for Soji.

For Narek to simply be abandoned by the story of Et in Arcadia Ego is disrespectful – not only to actor Harry Treadaway, who had put in a great performance – but to us as the audience. We’d been following Narek’s story since the second episode of the season, and as he approached what should’ve been his moment of triumph, and then his moment of defeat, he just vanished from the story altogether.

This was the last we saw of Narek.

At the very least it would’ve been worth following Narek’s story to some kind of conclusion. I’d have liked to see how he reacted to Soji shutting down the beacon – would seeing that have finally broken his Zhat Vash brainwashing? Would he have tried to apologise to her and the rest of the synths? Or would he have stayed true to his mission even while being taken into custody by Starfleet or the synths?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and while there is supposedly a scripted but unfilmed scene in which Narek was handed over to the Federation, that hardly seems like rock-solid “canon,” does it? Picard Season 1 didn’t actually feature that many characters in a big way, so for one of the principals to simply be dropped with no explanation midway through the finale is indicative of the fact that this two-parter had far too much narrative to cram into its runtime. It was poor, and whatever viewers might’ve thought of Narek and the earlier scenes and sequences in which he starred, getting some closure on one of the season’s most important characters was necessary.

Narek had been a major character throughout the season.

In an overstuffed story with some very serious themes, there were some very odd choices. Dr Jurati and Picard making jokes while launching La Sirena into orbit felt out-of-place, but thankfully that didn’t last very long. What did last a long time, though, in the context of the story, was the very odd campfire scene with Narek, Raffi, and Rios.

This scene was a complete waste of time. As the audience, we already knew what the Zhat Vash prophecy and philosophy was by this point, so re-telling it in a “ghost stories by the campfire” cliché was unnecessary fluff in an episode that simply didn’t have so much as a second to spare. Secondly, this scene messes with the timing of the entire episode. Narek seemed to be in a mad rush to attack the synths’ compound and stop their beacon, and if we’re to believe that Raffi and Rios had been persuaded too – which appears to have happened in a very short scene aboard La Sirena that really needed to be extended – then the characters themselves shouldn’t be wasting time camping out. It’s also the only scene in the entire episode to take place after dark, which was obviously done to make the campfire more visually dramatic… but the rest of the story seems to have taken place over the course of less than one day, so when did this night occur and why didn’t anyone else on Coppelius experience it? In short, it wasn’t just an unnecessary scene, but one that breaks the continuity of the whole story.

The campfire.

After the campfire scene we came to the poorly-scripted bomb plot. Using grenades donated by Narek and a football that Rios had aboard La Sirena, the trio planned to smuggle a bomb into the synths’ compound and blow up the beacon. I didn’t understand why the synths’ compound was suddenly being guarded as the group approached – except, of course, to ramp up the drama. From the synths’ point of view Raffi and Rios were no threat; they’d been on friendly terms when they parted, so why hassle them?

Dr Soong joined in after they arrived at Coppelius Station, but even he couldn’t salvage what was an illogical and stupid “plan.” Dr Soong had two aces up his sleeve: the video evidence that proved Sutra, not Narek, was responsible for murdering Saga, and his “magic wand” weapon that could apparently disable synths at the push of a button. He used the latter once, on Sutra, and then disappeared entirely from the plot until after Picard’s “rebirth.”

Dr Soong was able to “shut down” Sutra… but then made no further contributions to the plan to attack the beacon.

After the remaining trio made a stupid full-frontal attack against the much larger group of synths, it fell to Rios to try to throw the bomb-ball into position… but, naturally, Soji was able to clear it with seconds to spare.

This entire operation was so stupid, and was clearly written to ensure that the heroes’ plan would fail, meaning it would be up to Soji and Picard to save the day. And I won’t dismiss Picard’s speech and the emotional impact of Soji’s decision to stand down – both of those aspects felt great. But they were, unfortunately, sabotaged by this awfully-scripted bomb plot which made no sense, and the immediate disappearance of everyone involved in its aftermath.

Soji was able to easily stop the bomb plot.

Here are just a few of the questions this sequence raised: why didn’t Dr Soong show the footage of Sutra to the other synths? Why didn’t Dr Soong use his “magic wand” on Soji? Why didn’t Rios and Raffi try to talk to Soji and explain the dangers of the super-synths? There was so much wrong in this one sequence, and it was contrived in such a way as to skip over any and all of these points to get to the standoff between Soji and Picard, and Picard’s convincing speech. Unfortunately the route to that otherwise powerful moment felt so unnatural that it detracted from it.

After the bomb plot and the speech, things took a turn for the better, and much of the remainder of Et in Arcadia Ego hit those emotional high points, and as the rushed, almost panicked pacing and editing gave way to a slower-paced story of laying Data to rest and restoring Picard to life, things did improve.

Picard’s “death” marked a turning point in the story.

Unfortunately, though, Et in Arcadia Ego ended with many questions left on the table. Having arrived just in time to save the day, is the Federation now committed to leaving an entire fleet in the Ghoulion system to defend Coppelius? If not, it seems like there’s nothing to prevent the Romulans from returning next week and obliterating the synths from orbit. Or perhaps the synths will need to be evacuated and taken to a new, safer location. If so, we saw no indication that Starfleet plans to help with that.

There was also no attempt made to explain Bruce Maddox’s visit to Freecloud, which had been a huge story point in the first half of the season. Maddox’s lab on Coppelius clearly hadn’t been “raided by the Tal Shiar,” and if we’re to understand he set up a second lab somewhere else for some unknown reason, why didn’t he return to Coppelius if it was destroyed; why go to Freecloud instead? This opens up a pretty big plot hole in the entire season, as Maddox now has no reason to go to Bjayzl – a dangerous woman to whom he owed money – other than “because plot.” Maddox was there simply to allow the rest of the story to unfold, and that just isn’t satisfying at all.

Why did Dr Maddox go to Freecloud?

And this is just one way in which Et in Arcadia Ego damages the entire first season of the show. With so much rushing around in the final two episodes, with brand-new characters, new civilisations, new factions, new antagonists, and whole new storylines being dumped into the show with two episodes remaining, it makes going back and reflecting on the rest of the season somewhat difficult. Was the deliberately slow pace of episodes like Maps and Legends too much? Should the side-stories on Vashti and Nepenthe have been cut down… or skipped altogether?

Nepenthe was, for me, one of the most enjoyable episodes of Star Trek that I’ve seen in a very long time, and spending time with Picard, Riker, and Troi after so long felt absolutely magical. We caught a glimpse of their retirement, the family life that they deserved to have after their rollercoaster relationship and the tragedy of the loss of their first child. And it was wonderful. But in retrospect, all of that time with Kestra and Soji bonding and Picard catching up with his old friends, cooking pizza in an outdoor oven and hanging out in a cabin in the woods just feels wasted. There was too much plot left for Picard Season 1 to get through, so either stories like Nepenthe needed to be cut down or, realistically, the season needed to be extended. One of the advantages of streaming over traditional broadcast television is that things like schedules don’t mean much – it’s far easier to add an extra episode or a few minutes here and there if necessary. Discovery did exactly that in its first season… why couldn’t Picard?

Picard and Riker’s reunion in Nepenthe.

That’s the real tragedy of Et in Arcadia Ego: the way it makes eight genuinely wonderful episodes feel worse in retrospect. We aren’t quite at the level of something like Game of Thrones, where a truly awful ending has made going back to re-watch earlier seasons feel downright unpleasant, but we’re in the same ballpark.

The sad thing is that the synths’ storyline wasn’t bad. Dr Soong wasn’t a bad character, and if he’d had more time on screen I think we could have got more of a nuanced portrayal that showed us a man doing his best to work around the synth ban and keep his people safe. We could’ve learned why he wanted to build a golem for himself – was he dying? Was he trying to become immortal? What drove him to pick up his father’s work? All questions that Et in Arcadia Ego left on the table.

Coppelius Station – home of the synths.

Likewise with Sutra. Despite the crappy makeup and the poor, hammy performance, there was the kernel of an interesting character at Sutra’s core. Her presence turned the synths from a group in need of rescue into a potential danger, and that concept – had it been executed better over a longer span of episodes – could have been interesting.

The super-synths, despite their similarities to the Reapers from Mass Effect and their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances on screen, had been the driving force for the entire season’s plot, and learning more about who they were and what drove them, whether their offer to help was genuine, and whether they had any connection to other Star Trek factions were all points that could’ve been explored. The super-synths, while hardly an original faction in a broader sci-fi environment, were something new to Star Trek, and as Trekkies I think we have a great curiosity about the Star Trek galaxy and the races present within it. Finding out more about the super-synths would have been fun.

I’d like to know more about the super-synths.

There was also the standoff over Coppelius itself. We’ve already covered how the copy-and-paste ships didn’t look great, but as a story beat this entire sequence was rushed. After Picard and Dr Jurati made their “last stand,” Acting Captain Riker showed up at the last second, positioning his fleet in between the Romulans and Coppelius. And then he opened hailing frequencies to talk to Commodore Oh.

Within moments, the zealous Zhat Vash commander had been convinced to withdraw rather than fight it out… and I think that fails as a convincing narrative beat. The Zhat Vash had been portrayed for the entire season as having an almost-religious zeal; a crusade against synthetic life born out of fear of total annihilation. And in mere seconds, Commodore Oh appeared to abandon that crusade. When faced with opposition, she chose not to fight but to withdraw.

Riker’s appearance – and the entire standoff – was too short.

The two fleets looked surprisingly well-matched, and I would have thought that Commodore Oh would have had a chance, at least, of going toe-to-toe with Acting Captain Riker. It wasn’t like the Federation armada had the Romulans horribly outnumbered. And all it would have taken, from her point of view, was for one ship to break through the blockade and fire on Coppelius Station – a single quantum torpedo would probably have done the job.

Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash simply don’t seem like the types who would come this close to achieving their life’s ambitions – and remember that Oh had been embedded in Starfleet for literally decades – only to be scared away by a few Starfleet ships or convinced to change their lifelong aims by one speech and the beacon being shut down. At the very least, this was yet another sequence which needed much more time to unfold. Heck, I could have happily spent an entire episode on the standoff, with negotiations taking place between Federation and Zhat Vash representatives. The Zhat Vash needed to be talked into withdrawing; I don’t believe that seeing Picard’s speech and Riker’s fleet was anywhere near enough motivation for Oh to take her entire fleet and withdraw, and if it was, we needed to spend a lot longer getting to that point, seeing her agonise over the decision, perhaps facing down mutinous members of her own organisation, and so on.

Commodore Oh’s decision to withdraw was horribly rushed.

So we come back to the crux of why Et in Arcadia Ego didn’t succeed as a finale: it contained plenty of interesting characters and storylines, but didn’t have enough time to pay off most of them in anywhere close to a meaningful way. And as a result, it doesn’t feel like most of Picard Season 1’s storylines came to an end at all. Some, like Narek’s, were just completely abandoned; unceremoniously dumped with no explanation given. Others, like Dr Soong’s, were completely undeveloped, leaving him along with Sutra and several other characters feeling like one-dimensional plot devices instead of real people.

The disappointing thing, at the end of the day, isn’t that the ideas and storylines here were bad, it’s that none of them were allowed to play out in sufficient depth. With the possible exception of laying Data to rest, every single storyline that Et in Arcadia Ego brought into play or introduced for the first time were underdeveloped, cut short, and/or not sufficiently detailed. Some individual scenes and elements were less successful in their own right – like the performance of Sutra or the campfire sequence – but taken as a whole, what I wanted from Et in Arcadia Ego was more – more time for these characters, ideas, and narrative elements to play out. It feels like practically nothing in Et in Arcadia Ego saw justice done, and when I had been invested in the story, the characters, and this return to the 24th Century after such a long wait, that was disappointing.

Dr Soong.

As we approach Season 2 of Picard, which kicks off in just one week from today, I hope that the show’s writers and producers have taken on board the feedback that they surely received about Et in Arcadia Ego. The show’s second season can’t afford to repeat the mistakes made by the ending of its first, and if Picard is to end with Season 3, as some news outlets have been reporting, then it’s going to be even more important for the creative team to consider the problems of Et in Arcadia Ego and make sure that the series as a whole won’t end in such disappointing fashion.

There were successes along the way – great moments of characterisation with Admiral Picard, the “heroic last stand” story that always gets me no matter how it’s told, and of course saying a proper goodbye to Data after eighteen years. The emotional moments present in the latter half of Part 2 went some way to making up for earlier disappointments.

I can’t call Et in Arcadia Ego a failure. It brought together storylines that, even two years later, I find fascinating. The disappointment stems from the fact that those stories weren’t able to play out properly due to unnecessary time constraints, a rushed pace, and, in retrospect, eight preceding episodes that spent too long reaching this point. With Season 2 now upon us, I’m hoping for much better things from Star Trek: Picard!

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

Captain Proton? No thanks…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and Star Trek: Voyager.

There have been a number of interesting-sounding pitches and concepts over the years for potential Star Trek series and feature films, and we recently looked at the possibility of a Starfleet Academy series. That sounds like something with potential, and you can check out my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.

But not all Star Trek pitches are created equal, and another potential series has been touted in the last few months by former Star Trek: Voyager actor and director Robert Duncan McNeill. He recently confirmed on social media that he’s pitched a Captain Proton show to ViacomCBS, though details about what the potential project would entail are light. Having touched on this idea on a couple of occasions in other contexts, I wanted to give the pitch more of an airing and put my thoughts in order.

A Captain Proton show has been proposed.

You’ve probably already figured out from the title of this piece where I come down on a Captain Proton show: I’m not in favour of it and I can’t really see a way to bring it to screen successfully. I’d even go so far as to say that I highly doubt ViacomCBS will consider this pitch for very long, despite the known name attached to it, and though there are a few reasons why – which we’ll go into detail about – it boils down to one simple question for Trekkies. And here it is:

Out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of?

There are many characters, locations, starships, and themes that the franchise could return to one day. Off the top of my head here are five: a visit to the Enterprise era to see more of the Federation’s early years, the return of Benjamin Sisko from the realm of the Prophets, Neelix’s adventures at the Talaxian colony, Pavel Chekov’s days as an admiral or elder statesman, and John Harriman’s missions as captain of the Enterprise-B.

Maybe one day…

You can probably think of dozens more; characters and concepts that the Star Trek franchise could happily revisit. I would bet actual money that, for 99% of Trekkies, Captain Proton wouldn’t even enter the top fifty on their lists of things that they’d be interested in returning to. And I’m in that same boat. The ten Voyager episodes which either featured or made reference to Captain Proton were fun – but the concept is simply not strong enough nor memorable enough to carry an entire series on its own.

I like retro sci-fi – the likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and other older shows and films from long before Star Trek: The Original Series was even conceived are what Captain Proton paid homage to and gently parodied so well in Voyager. As one element of a larger series, a series with a much bigger picture and broader scope, Captain Proton worked. It slotted in well and gave the cast something different to do – and a chance to really ham it up and over-act.

Captain Proton was a pastiche of classic sci-fi films and serials like Flash Gordon.

But that’s the nicest thing I can say about the Captain Proton stories and sequences that we saw in Voyager. Out of that show’s 170 episodes, Captain Proton is far from being the most memorable aspect even among stories set on the holodeck; I’d go so far as to suggest that the Irish village featured in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk left more of a lasting impression. Those episodes certainly had far more depth than any Captain Proton story.

There’s a lot that we aren’t privy to when it comes to the recent Captain Proton pitch. Is it intended to be a 1930s-inspired black-and-white series, featuring the cardboard sets and overacting we’d expect from such a sci-fi serial? If the show wants to be purely about Captain Proton, either treating him as if he were real or showing us as the audience a kind of “show-within-a-show” look at Captain Proton through the eyes of a holodeck audience, then it has to be considered dead on arrival. A retro-inspired sci-fi aesthetic might be cool, but every other aspect of such a show would feel so terribly out-of-date that it would become a laughing stock.

A laughing stock indeed…

On the other hand, if the Captain Proton series is actually intended to be a look at Tom Paris as he writes new Captain Proton holo-novels years after the USS Voyager returned to Earth, then perhaps there’s a bit more meat there; more of an actual concept with the potential for characterisation and drama.

I’m still not sure that it would work, but at least the latter concept has a bit more going for it. Firstly, it could be developed as a tie-in or crossover with Star Trek: Picard – or any other show or film set in that era. With Seven of Nine now a regular member of the Picard cast, the potential for a reunion with Tom Paris and perhaps B’Elanna Torres as well would be of some interest. Paris and Seven didn’t have a lot to do together during Voyager’s run, but Seven clashed frequently with B’Elanna, especially during her first year or so aboard the ship. There’s potential, perhaps, to revisit that relationship and see how things have evolved over the years – we know from Picard Season 1 that Seven of Nine has changed and become far more human in that time.

Seven of Nine has returned in Star Trek: Picard.

But I think that’s about as far as a Captain Proton show could go, and I don’t think we necessarily need a standalone project in order to bring back characters like Tom and B’Elanna. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the best fit for Picard, but they could certainly make an appearance in a future episode or film. Tom Paris has already had a cameo in Lower Decks, and while that was a bit of a nothing-burger from my perspective, I’m not totally against the idea of the character making future appearances in Lower Decks or any other Star Trek project.

When Michael Dorn revealed he’d pitched a Captain Worf series a while ago, I felt that the character might not be strong and well-rounded enough to carry an entire series on his own. And unfortunately Tom Paris is in that same category. Paris was an excellent character, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed what he brought to Voyager. But he was frequently used as comic relief – making a joke to lighten the mood in a tense situation. The spotlight episodes he got showed off the altruistic side of his personality, his love of retro things, and his piloting skills. And we also got to see his relationship with B’Elanna develop over the show’s run.

B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris eventually got married.

Tom Paris is far from one-dimensional. But he’s also not the kind of character who could easily play the main role – and if the intention behind this pitch is to create a Tom Paris series I fear it would end up meeting the same fate as Joey, the short-lived spin-off from popular sitcom Friends.

Tom Paris has a satisfying character arc already. Voyager began with him at rock bottom – a prisoner and an abject failure. He failed as a Starfleet officer, then failed on his first mission as a member of the Maquis. Out of everyone on Captain Janeway’s crew, Paris had the least to lose and the most to gain after getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but even so he rose to the occasion to become a dependable and honourable member of the crew, quite literally guiding the ship home.

Tom Paris has had a truly satisfying character arc already.

So we’ve already seen Tom Paris’ character arc. By getting lost in the Delta Quadrant he found meaning and purpose in his life, he found the love of his life, and he gained redemption for his past misdeeds against Starfleet, against the Maquis, and even against his father. If his career path glimpsed in Endgame is any guide, his future is one of artistry and leisure, putting his adventures behind him to focus on doing the things he loves.

In short, we know Tom Paris quite well, and any addendum to the story that we’ve already seen play out would risk feeling tacked-on. At worst it could upset and even undermine aspects of his character arc across Voyager’s run depending on what direction the story was taken. Having spent seven years with Tom Paris – albeit in a supporting role – I’m quite content to say that his time in Starfleet ended with Voyager’s return to Earth and he’ll spend the rest of his days happily married, working on holo-novels and playing with classic cars. I don’t think we need to see any of that to believe that it happened – and it’s deeply satisfying after the long and arduous journey that the USS Voyager took to know that at least some of the characters we came to know and love did in fact get their “happily ever after.”

Promotional photo of Tom Paris.

Unlike Seven of Nine, who had so much to gain personality-wise as she spent more time away from the Borg Collective, Tom Paris’ characterisation feels settled. As we saw in scenes set in the future in Endgame, he didn’t change much in the years after his return from the Delta Quadrant – and we wouldn’t have expected him to.

All of this assumes that Tom Paris was supposed to play a role in this pitched series at all, and that may not be the case. But regardless I think it’s worth considering that what makes for an enjoyable and lovable character – which Tom Paris certainly was – doesn’t necessarily translate to a character being suited to take a lead role. This is true of Worf and it’s true of Tom Paris – both played outstanding supporting roles, but neither should be tapped to lead their own spin-off.

Worf is another character about whom a series has been proposed.

After having spent years playing the same characters, I can fully understand why Robert Duncan McNeill and the rest of the Voyager cast enjoyed their sojourns to the world of Captain Proton. It was a chance to take on a different acting challenge, and to revel in a style of cinematography, acting, and storytelling that just doesn’t get produced anymore.

But there’s a reason why the likes of Forbidden Planet and Flash Gordon were superseded: technology, acting skills, and storytelling improved. Some of those improvements in the world of sci-fi actually came from Star Trek: The Original Series blended different genres and styles together, kept a tight focus on its main characters, told stories with real-world parallels and morals that audiences could relate and respond to, and depicted a vision of the future and outer space that was far more positive and hopeful than negative and fearful.

These kinds of serials were outdated by the middle of the 20th Century.

Retro can be fun. But to make a straight-laced Captain Proton television series wouldn’t just feel retro – it would feel regressive. Such a show would be a massive backwards step, trying to ignore multiple generations’ worth of improvements in everything from narrative and world-building to acting skills and cinematography.

More than that, a Captain Proton series would have incredibly limited appeal. Many fans of Voyager would be hard-pushed to remember Captain Proton, and even those that do and have fond memories of the episodes would be surprised at the very least to hear talk of a Captain Proton spin-off show. Beyond that minuscule niche, a Captain Proton series might appeal to fans of classic, retro sci-fi. But such folks are few and far between, and when Captain Proton already felt incredibly dated in the 1990s, the number of viewers who would genuinely appreciate the parodies and references is positively microscopic.

It almost certainly is for Captain Proton.

Even if Captain Proton were less about the retro sci-fi and more about Tom Paris, I don’t think that would work well either. There must be a queue of characters from past iterations of Star Trek lining up for their prospective returns to the franchise, and while Paris was a fun character during Voyager’s run, he simply isn’t strong enough or deep enough to carry a whole series. His recent cameo in Lower Decks kind of embodies that – the character could have been swapped out for any other, or a generic stand-in, and the episode would have been functionally the same.

At the end of the day, this concept comes down to the simple question I posed at the beginning of this article: out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of? Or to put it another way: if you could choose only one thing from a past iteration of Star Trek to bring back, is Captain Proton what you’d choose? For the vast, vast majority of Trekkies, the answer would be a resounding “no.”

I don’t believe ViacomCBS will do more than give this pitch a cursory glance out of respect to its creator. Both possible formulations have major drawbacks, and from a corporate point of view neither seems to hold much appeal even to Star Trek’s fanbase – let alone a wider television audience. At the end of the day that’s what sells companies on making a new film or television series: how much money would it make? An incredibly niche project focusing on either a single character or one tiny aspect of a show from the 1990s (that ViacomCBS hasn’t even been bothered to upscale to full HD) doesn’t fit the bill. Captain Proton is dead on arrival – and I’m sorry to say that it’s for the best.

The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Voyager and all other titles and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five of my favourite Starfleet uniforms

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser for Season 4, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2, and Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the franchise.

This is going to be a controversial list! Practically every Trekkie I know has their own take on which Starfleet uniforms are the best – and why! Even if we can agree on some of our favourite episodes and films, the aesthetic of Star Trek has always been a world unto itself. Some of the best uniform designs may not feature in the best stories, and likewise some of the best individual episodes and films may not have their casts in the best uniforms, so the two aren’t necessarily connected – though a truly bad costume can, in some cases, detract from an otherwise-decent story.

There have been a wide variety of uniforms used across Star Trek’s 55-year history. Most designs incorporate at least some elements of the original – the costumes designed for The Original Series by William Ware Theiss in the mid-1960s. Gene Roddenberry’s brief for the uniforms was that they were to be “simple, utilitarian, and naval” in style, reflecting his vision of the future and of Starfleet. The very first uniforms, seen in The Cage, Charlie X, and a couple of other early Season 1 episodes, arguably best fit the “naval” aspect of the brief, with toned-down colours and a slightly thicker rolled collar. It was only partway through Season 1 that the typical uniform in its three bright primary colours was rolled out.

Captain Pike in The Cage, sporting the first ever Starfleet uniform.

Colour is a hugely important factor when discussing Starfleet uniforms. Since The Next Generation went off the air, most Star Trek projects have tried to move away from big bold blocks of colour, opting for smaller coloured patches or other ways to express differences in division and rank. Partly this is an attempt to make the uniforms look “modern,” but also I think there’s a feeling among at least some folks that the brightly-coloured shirts and tops of The Original Series in particular, but also The Next Generation, look rather childish or even camp, detracting from the serious messages present in many Star Trek stories.

That said, even the attempts to design sleeker, “cooler” Star Trek uniforms have almost universally resulted in garments that aren’t exactly serious by today’s standards! Recent attempts like the Discovery uniforms are still very sci-fi; hardly the kind of thing you’d see someone wear out on the street – unless they were on their way to a Star Trek convention. I guess what I’m trying to say is that trying to design a “cool Star Trek uniform” may simply be an impossible task!

The cast of Discovery Season 1 in their all-blue uniforms.

So I’m all in favour of embracing the campiness – at least to a degree. Once you get lost in Star Trek, things like uniform colours don’t take you out of it, or at least they don’t for me. I’m not really a fan of attempts to make uniforms that look too much like things that we already have in the real world. There obviously has to be a line between something plausible and something completely outlandish, but in sci-fi that line can be further away than some folks seem to think!

Several generations of Starfleet uniform have become truly iconic; instantly recognisable emblems of the franchise that hardly anyone with even a passing knowledge of popular culture could fail to identify. This has been helped by internet memes, with Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Captain Kirk, Captain Janeway, and even Voyager’s Doctor all re-entering popular culture years after their respective series went off the air.

Captain Picard’s facepalm is a popular meme – and reminds people about The Next Generation and the uniforms the crew wore.

We also need to give some of the new variants time. A uniform – or any aesthetic element of a series or film – doesn’t become an icon overnight, so the 32nd Century uniforms we saw in the Discovery Season 4 teaser, the uniforms in Picard Season 1, and whatever the Strange New Worlds crew end up wearing need time to grow on us! Some Trekkies have already taken to some of the new styles, which is great, but for a lot of folks it takes time to even get used to a whole new look – let alone learn to love it!

As I always say, this whole list is entirely subjective! If you hate all of these uniforms and love others, that’s 100% okay. As with practically every aspect of Star Trek, it’s a big galaxy and there’s room for fans with different tastes and preferences. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at five of my favourite Starfleet uniforms!

Number 1: The Motion Picture – Admiral’s variant

Kirk wearing his admiral’s uniform – perhaps the only decent one in the whole film!

I can understand why fans were unimpressed with The Motion Picture uniforms on the whole. They represent an attempt – the first real attempt – for Star Trek to try something new and step away from the bold primary colours of The Original Series, but ended up being understated at best, bland and forgettable at worst. The dull colours, t-shirt design, and lack of any distinctive features all meant that these uniforms only ever saw one outing.

But there was an exception! Kirk’s uniform as an Admiral, which he wore for the first part of the film prior to taking command of the Enterprise, is undoubtedly one of my favourites. It’s understated, for sure, but I love the smooth lines between its grey and white sections, the high angled collar, and how the gold Starfleet insignia stands out without being too flashy or over-the-top.

A lot of the criticism of The Motion Picture’s uniforms is absolutely fair. But there’s something about Kirk’s variant that I absolutely adore. I’d suggest that it’s the most “uniform-looking” costume in the whole film, and with its shoulder epaulets and wrist braiding, it’s a unique blend of The Original Series and future, more military-inspired uniforms – some of which we’ll look at further down the list.

Number 2: The Next Generation – Season 3-7 variant

The cast of The Next Generation in Season 4.

I’m not calling today’s list my “all-time” top uniforms, but if I were putting Starfleet uniforms in a ranked list these uniforms would have to be near the top. Excluding variants like the acting ensign uniform Wesley Crusher wore, Troi’s “casual” outfits, and Picard’s jacket, the standard uniforms that were introduced beginning in Season 3 of The Next Generation hit all the right notes for me.

These uniforms have a high collar, which gives them a more “serious” feel than the previous crew-neck style. They retain the large blocks of colour across most of the top, yet the colours are ever so slightly toned down when compared to the bright colours of The Original Series, which I’d argue makes them appear a bit more serious and less camp. With the collars and pants being black, the coloured blocks on the top are striking and draw the most attention, and it’s easy to tell at a bare glance which officer represents which division.

It was a surprise when The Next Generation swapped the red and gold colours over – The Original Series had used gold for command and red for security/engineering. But there’s no denying it works well, and Picard and his crew honestly look fantastic in these uniforms.

Number 3: First Contact and Deep Space Nine Seasons 5-7

Data, Worf, Geordi, Riker, and Picard in Nemesis.

Though reportedly “uncomfortable” for some of the actors, I really like these uniforms. Until Star Trek: Picard premiered last January, they were also the most up-to-date uniforms in Star Trek’s internal timeline – at least if you exclude far future variants! These uniforms shrank the division colours down, retaining only a coloured undershirt poking up through the collar, with the rest being black and grey.

To me, this design says “new Star Trek” – even though the uniforms haven’t been new for almost 25 years! When the franchise was off the air, and even after it returned with prequels, these uniforms still represented the furthest forward Star Trek’s timeline had got, and I guess it’s for that reason I have more of an affinity to them. They’re modern-looking, swapping out big blocks of colour for greys and blacks that are more toned-down, and I guess the intention was to give them a more military style.

First Contact and Insurrection are two of my favourite films, and the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine – where these uniforms were also worn – saw the Dominion War story arc play out, which happens to be my favourite part of that series. I have very positive associations, then, between these uniforms and the narratives they were present in!

Number 4: The Wrath of Khan uniforms – a.k.a. the “monster maroon”

Kirk and Spock showing the “monster maroon” jacket in its open and closed positions in a publicity photo for The Undiscovered Country.

Speaking as we were of uniforms with a very military style, the uniforms which debuted in The Wrath of Khan were a total change from those present in The Motion Picture three years earlier. They incorporated elements of military dress uniforms, with a wide double-breasted jacket, high collar, epaulets, rank insignia, and a belt around the jacket.

In Star Trek’s internal timeline, these are the longest-serving uniforms (that we know of!) having been in service for around 75 years. I don’t personally think that they work well without the high collared undershirt, so my preference is for the Wrath of Khan variant, not those seen in The Next Generation. But the fact that they were in service for a long time is neat – and a way for The Next Generation to connect itself visually to the films of The Original Series era!

If The Original Series uniforms were campy and bright, these military-inspired ones were the complete opposite. Designed to be serious and focused while still retaining some colour, I think they look amazing. Having so many different elements could’ve made for a complicated look, but the simple use of one predominant colour helps settle things down.

Number 5: Star Trek: Picard – 2399 variant

Acting Captain Riker showing off the command variant of the 2399 uniforms.

Star Trek: Picard showed off two new uniform styles – one for flashback scenes and one for Starfleet in 2399. I would have preferred the flashback uniforms were replaced with the First Contact uniforms as they didn’t look great and were ultimately unnecessary, but the 2399 uniforms – which we saw Commodore Oh, Rizzo, and later Acting Captain Riker wear – were fantastic.

What I like most about these uniforms is that, after almost twenty years, colour was back in a big way! Enterprise had blue boiler suits, Discovery mostly showed off an all-blue look, and while neither of those uniforms are bad, I was keen to see something visually different – something more “Star Trek.” Picard delivered.

These uniforms are, in some respects, similar to the Voyager and early Deep Space Nine uniforms in that they’re mostly black with a coloured shoulder area and collar. But the lack of a prominent undershirt and the Starfleet delta detailing on the coloured sections makes them look far superior to those older uniforms! I hope we’ll get to see more characters wearing these uniforms going forward.

So that’s it! Five of my personal favourite Starfleet uniforms.

Boimler and Riker on the bridge of the USS Titan wearing First Contact-era uniforms.

Aesthetic, colour, and costume style are very much subject to personal taste, and I know there can be a range of opinions on all of these things. Despite that, with the exception of Kirk’s uniform from The Motion Picture, I think a lot of Trekkies would put at least one or two of these uniforms on their own lists of favourites!

There really aren’t many Starfleet uniforms that I passionately dislike. Most serve a purpose, and it’s usually at least understandable what the intention behind the design was. Enterprise’s boiler suits, for example, were clearly inspired by modern-day naval, submarine, and astronaut uniforms, and were designed to be a bridge between more typical Starfleet uniforms and 21st Century attire.

I didn’t put the Kelvin uniforms on the list this time. But they are pretty neat!

Voyager and Enterprise kept consistent uniforms during their entire runs, but every other Starfleet crew has had at least one change of uniform. Changing things up keeps the aesthetic of Star Trek interesting, and while I can understand why some folks lament changes of this nature, without radical departures from “normal” uniforms we wouldn’t have got to see some of the best and most visually interesting ones. I like that the Star Trek franchise is bold enough to continue to shake things up.

The teaser trailer for Discovery’s impending fourth season showed off another new uniform – a more colourful variant of the 32nd Century uniform that we saw worn by Admiral Vance and others. Though we really only had a few seconds of footage, I liked what I saw and I think these new ones have the potential to join a future list of this nature!

Regardless of what your favourites might be, and whether or not any of them made this list, I hope it was a bit of fun. I’ll never miss a chance to talk about Star Trek!

The Star Trek franchise – including all titles on the list above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. All Star Trek shows and films mentioned above may be streamed on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom. Availability may vary by region. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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

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

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

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

Lore in Datalore.

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

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

Commodore Oh infiltrated Starfleet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lore in Descent, Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commodore Oh.

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

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

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

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 – one year later

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

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

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

The opening title card.

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

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

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

Jean-Luc Picard.

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

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

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

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

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

The opening shot of the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh the Borg returned.

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

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

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

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

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

Commodore Oh.

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

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

Picard in the Season 1 premiere.

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

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

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

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

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

La Sirena.

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

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

The surface of California… I mean Aia.

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

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

Jean-Luc Picard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picard shut down the remaining part of Data permanently.

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

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

Dr Jurati beams the crew of La Sirena aboard.

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

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

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

Star Trek: Picard + Star Trek: Discovery crossover theory: Control and the Romulans

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the most recent seasons of Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery. There may be further spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

While Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was ongoing earlier in the year, I postulated a number of theories about what was going on in the show. One theory that I had related to Control – the rogue artificial intelligence from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Specifically, I speculated that the Zhat Vash’s hatred and fear of synthetic life may have stemmed from a run-in with Control, or that the Romulans may have been trying to compete with Starfleet in a mid-23rd Century AI arms race. It seemed possible that Control could have attacked Romulan ships or settlements in the time between its takeover of Section 31 and its defeat by the USS Discovery, or that if the Romulans developed their own AI that it would have similarly gotten out of control and attacked them.

This theory came back with a vengeance after Picard reused a couple of CGI sequences from Discovery in the latter part of the season, particularly as those sequences depicted Control attacking – and ultimately destroying – all organic life in the galaxy. While Picard and Discovery had thematic similarities in their most recent seasons, insofar as both stories looked at the creation of synthetic life and how that synthetic life could go rogue, there was no broader crossover. The Zhat Vash were not motivated by either their own rogue AI from the mid-23rd Century or by an attack from Control.

This CGI sequence of a planet being destroyed was created for Discovery… and recycled in Picard.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to drop the idea of there being any connection between the Zhat Vash in Picard and Control in Discovery. My theory started with the idea that Control could have been the reason for the Zhat Vash… but what if it’s the other way around? What if the Zhat Vash are responsible for Control going rogue?

There was no explanation given for why Control decided to lash out and attack its creators. It wanted to acquire the data from the planetoid-sized lifeform known as the Sphere, believing that data would help it achieve true sentience. But that isn’t a reason to go on to commit genocide; something inside Control made it want to kill. Remember that Dr Gabrielle Burnham – Michael’s mother – arrived in a future timeline where no sentient organic life existed in the known galaxy; Control had wiped it all out. Why did it want to do that?

Dr Gabrielle Burnham.

We could try to argue that Control’s murderous rage is somehow a result of Starfleet denying it access to the Sphere data. But Starfleet and the USS Discovery only came to possess the data because of the time-travelling interventions of Dr Burnham; we don’t know how Control came to acquire it in the “original,” pre-intervention timeline. There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that when the Sphere died, it broadcast its data as far and wide as possible and that’s how Control acquired it. It’s also possible that Starfleet received the transmission and Control gained access to it from there. However, neither of these scenarios involve Starfleet actively trying to prevent Control accessing the data, meaning that it wasn’t Starfleet who started the fight with Control.

So if Control had no reason on the surface to attack its organic creators, why did it do so? It could simply be a programming error; Control was programmed to prevent war, and perhaps that got twisted around so that it decided the only way to prevent the Milky Way’s organic civilisations from fighting was to exterminate all of them. This kind of basic AI programming mistake is one that’s not uncommon in science fiction, and arguably something we need to consider out here in the real world as we develop our own AIs!

Control assimilated Captain Leland and went on a murderous rampage.

So that’s one possibility. But here’s where the Zhat Vash could come in: what if they are responsible for corrupting Control’s programming? We saw in Picard that the Zhat Vash know enough about synthetic life to hack into Federation synths and change their programming. That’s what they did on Mars, causing F8 and the other synths to go rogue and destroy Admiral Picard’s rescue armada. If they had that capability in the 24th Century, it isn’t much of a stretch to think they could have been capable of something similar in the 23rd Century too.

We also know that the Zhat Vash are “far older” than the Tal Shiar. Let’s look at what we know for sure to try to pin down a rough estimate of how old they could be. The Romulans split from the Vulcans somewhere around the 4th Century AD, and by that time were capable of interstellar flight. By the 2150s the Romulans were involved in covert operations on Vulcan, trying to start a war between Vulcans and Andorians. While it was never stated outright in Enterprise that the Romulan operatives we saw were working for the Tal Shiar, it’s not an unreasonable assumption. The Zhat Vash sent Commodore Oh to infiltrate the Federation sometime around the discovery of Data, which took place in the year 2338. When Raffi asked La Sirena’s Emergency Navigational Hologram about the octonary star system, he described the Romulan star charts that depicted it as “ancient,” which seems to suggest they’re more than a century old at least. It was the discovery of Aia, the planet in the octonary star system, and the beacon that resided there that led to the creation of the Zhat Vash.

Raffi and the ENH discuss the octonary star system.

Put all of that together and we can assume with reasonable confidence that the Zhat Vash existed by the mid-23rd Century. We also know, thanks to what we saw in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine, that Romulan intelligence was far better than Starfleet’s – they knew a lot more about the Federation than the Federation did about them.

There’s a question of just how secret Control was. Section 31 was much more out in the open in Discovery than it was by the time of Deep Space Nine, but even so it seems logical to assume that Control would be a top-secret project within an already-secretive organisation. Still, when most Starfleet flag officers used Control regularly, word of its existence would get out and it was generally known within Starfleet that an AI existed. Thus any Zhat Vash or Tal Shiar operative would have come to know about Control.

Section 31 HQ was heavily-guarded, but perhaps not impenetrable for a Zhat Vash spy.

Okay, so let’s slow down. Even if we’re confident that the Zhat Vash existed by Discovery’s era, and had commenced their anti-synthetic crusade, and even if they had operatives within Starfleet who would have made them aware of the existence of Control, that doesn’t mean they could just walk up to Control’s data servers and start messing around. Right? I mean, Control was based at Section 31 headquarters, which as we saw in the show was incredibly well-protected. And we saw no evidence of such an operative. Did we?

How about Admiral Patar, the Vulcan Starfleet admiral who was killed by Control at Section 31 headquarters? We know that Commodore Oh spent decades embedded within Starfleet, waiting to make her move at just the right moment. We also know she was able to attain a very high rank, and it’s only one short step from being a commodore to being an admiral. It’s at least possible. Admiral Patar had the means to access Control. She spent time at Section 31 headquarters right around the time Control went rogue. She was a Vulcan, and thus was biologically indistinguishable from a Romulan – meaning she could have been an undercover Romulan operative. Enterprise depicted Romulans undercover on Vulcan a century earlier, meaning that they had infiltrated Vulcan by that time and were able to do so with relative ease. The pieces fall into place for Admiral Patar to be a Romulan operative – or to have been replaced by one – even if the evidence is only circumstantial. Even if it wasn’t Patar, there may well have been other Vulcans working at Section 31 headquarters, any one of whom could have been a Romulan spy.

Admiral Patar on the USS Discovery’s viewscreen.

Once they had access to Control’s systems and specifications, the Zhat Vash could have figured out how to mess with Control’s programming and turn it hostile. Perhaps they only intended for it to attack the Federation, forcing them to shut it down permanently. Or perhaps they hoped it would cause wider chaos so they could force the kind of galactic ban on synthetic life that we saw in Picard. So the question of what they had to gain by such a move is obvious; it’s the same basic goal as they had for staging the attack on Mars.

If the Zhat Vash introduced a glitch in Control’s programming that would turn it murderous, they obviously didn’t intend for Control to go on and wipe out everything. That wasn’t the goal; that’s what they were trying to prevent. However, as I wrote earlier, it’s possible for even well-intentioned AI to get out of control or to act in a way its creators and programmers couldn’t anticipate. Perhaps that’s what happened with Control, and by the time it had assimilated Captain Leland, killed off most of Section 31’s leadership, and got a fleet at its command, there was no way for the Zhat Vash to stop it. If their sole operative had been killed when Control wiped out Section 31’s headquarters, the Zhat Vash may not have even been aware that the mission was not going to plan until it was too late.

Control commandeered a small armada of Section 31 vessels.

So that’s my crossover theory for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard – the Zhat Vash hacked or reprogrammed Control, and that’s what made it go rogue. There’s enough circumstantial evidence for this theory to be possible, and it would explain why Control went from being a useful tool for Starfleet to a menace capable of wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. However, there’s no concrete proof. All we really have are two shows with similar themes, and a bunch of unrelated pieces that could be made to fit together – but also may not fit at all!

As I always say: it’s just a fan theory. Unless we get some confirmation on screen in future – which seems unlikely given both Picard and Discovery are almost certainly moving on to new stories in their upcoming seasons – we have to consider it as unconfirmed at best. I consider it plausible (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written an article about it!) but it may prove to be a complete miss… just like many of my other Star Trek: Picard theories!

This post was edited 31.03.21 to replace header image. Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. Discovery is available internationally on Netflix; Picard is available internationally on Amazon Prime Video. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 9: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1

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

So I suppose I should just come right out and say it: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 is my least-favourite episode of Star Trek: Picard so far. We’ve had some great episodes this season which really hooked me in, took me on a rollercoaster journey, and got me feeling happy, nervous, excited, nostalgic, tense, and emotional. This week I really didn’t get any of that for the bulk of the episode. There were a handful of good moments sprinkled throughout, but the pacing of the episode as a whole felt off – it seemed to rush from point to point with no time permitted for any story thread to properly develop or be explored.

For an episode that was supposed to be the first part of the culmination of the entire season, it ended up falling flat on its face. And that is pretty disappointing. Every Star Trek series – and every season of every series – has had duds: episodes which misfired, told bad stories, or for various reasons failed to hit the mark. The problem that Star Trek shows have today is that when the whole season is one continuous story, a dud episode can have ramifications for the entire season instead of being a one-off rotten egg. I hope that Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 next week manages to pull things back – and there is precedent for that, as Star Trek: Discovery’s second season episode Perpetual Infinity pulled off a great recovery from The Red Angel a week prior, which is my personal pick for Discovery’s worst episode.

The Artifact emerges from transwarp.

Aside from the pacing and rushed feel to the story, my second main point of criticism is the aesthetic of parts of the episode. I’ve mentioned before that every location in Star Trek: Picard so far has been a barely-disguised California, and Soji’s homeworld – variously called Coppelius and Ghoulion IV – was another example. I come back to what I said last week about the use of indoor sound stages: with special effects and CGI being so good nowadays, a lot more can be done with that format than in previous decades. If it’s a choice between seeing five planets that all look the same because they were all filmed within fifty miles of Los Angeles, and seeing different-looking planets that were perhaps smaller in scale because they were filmed on sound stages I’ll always prefer the latter.

The second visual aspect that I felt simply did not work was the makeup used for most of the synths. The yellowish-gold tinted skin the actors were sporting didn’t make them look like Data-type androids; they looked like humans wearing cheap and bad makeup. It was something that would’ve felt at home in The Original Series, and if I’d seen those characters in an episode from the 1960s I’d have dismissed the amateurish look as a product of the limitations of the time. But Star Trek: Picard’s aesthetic has been so good until now overall that I legitimately wonder how they managed to make the synths look so bad. Was it because they were largely filmed outdoors in natural sunlight? Because earlier looks at Data in Picard’s dreams or F8 and the other synths in flashbacks to Mars looked far better. Whatever it was, the makeup ended up being a huge distraction, because every time Evil Soji or any other synth was on screen it was all I could look at. I actually had to rewind the episode a few times because I’d missed some line of dialogue or other.

I found the makeup used for the synths (Sutra pictured) to be of poor quality and a significant distraction.

I wish we’d seen something, either this week or last week, to make it obvious that Seven of Nine and Elnor were on their way, because the Artifact arriving at Coppelius mere moments after La Sirena was a story beat that I felt didn’t work in the moment. Ironically, after last week’s scenes on the Artifact being some of my least-favourite, I greatly enjoyed seeing Picard and the crew return there this week – albeit that the sequence was far too short. I wanted to spend more time there as Picard learned of Hugh’s death – which actually didn’t even appear on screen – and mourned him. But even in what I suppose was my favourite sequence there were issues – the length, as I mentioned, is one. But what was up with the ex-Borg calling Picard by his Borg designation of “Locutus”, which is the second time that’s happened now, only for Picard to basically ignore it and get back to what he was doing?

Elnor learned of Picard’s illness off screen too, which would have been another scene I’d have wanted to see – one which could have added some genuine emotion to an episode which was largely devoid of it. Some more time spent on Hugh’s death would’ve been nice too; Picard mentioned it in a single line of dialogue but Soji didn’t even acknowledge his sacrifice, despite their friendship and despite his death being a direct consequence of aiding her escape.

We could’ve spent more time here.

When we learned last week of the “Mass Effect Reapers” hiding out somewhere beyond the galaxy, waiting to show up and destroy all life, it seemed for sure that the climax of the story couldn’t simply involve hiding from that and avoiding pulling the trigger – somehow, Picard and co. would have to confront the wider threat. And we saw in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 the way in which that trigger will be pulled: Soji’s evil twin, Sutra.

Villains can be hard to get right. Rizzo, for example, took a while to hit her stride after coming across as a fairly one-dimensional character in her earlier appearances. The story has since fleshed her out a little more, providing her with background and motivation, as well as even the smallest shred of pity for what she’s been through. Sutra has very little of that, and unfortunately Isa Briones, who had done an admirable job portraying Soji and Dahj, didn’t really manage to pull off a convincing performance as an antagonist. Sutra’s motivations are understandable, sure – she wants to save her people from what seems to be an existential threat. But overall, the way she was portrayed strayed way too far into the kind of “I’m evil and I love it” attitude that felt so awkward and inauthentic about Rizzo in her earlier appearances.

I called this phenomenon the “24th Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz” – and I get that that’s a niche reference, so let me explain. In the cartoon show Phineas and Ferb, Heinz Doofenshmirtz is a wannabe evil scientist. He builds machines usually designed to get petty revenge on his brother or other people he feels wronged him, and he’s tied his entire identity to being evil for the sake of being evil. That’s what Rizzo felt like, and that’s what Sutra feels like now – she hasn’t bothered to consider any other options, she went straight into arbitrary arrests and plotting genocide. Perhaps she’s meant to be a parallel for Rizzo and Commodore Oh, but both of those characters feel far more complex. And I’m afraid the point must be reiterated: both of those acting performances were much better.

This is basically Sutra.

The premise for her actions is understandable, though – just as Rizzo, Narek, and Commodore Oh being motivated by their interpretation of the vision is understandable too. As a story point, I’m not really criticising Sutra’s basic motivation and desire to protect her people from harm. And the way it has been established that both Starfleet as an organisation and Picard as an individual are people she and the synths might find difficult to trust was well-established over the course of the prior eight episodes.

Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 has tried to pull off a last-minute plot twist with Sutra. Instead of the synths needing to be rescued from Romulan aggression, Sutra’s plan is to summon the “Mass Effect Reapers” and become the aggressor herself. But if the story of Star Trek: Picard has wanted to say that the ban on synths was wrong, and that even Starfleet and the Federation need to be more accepting of different kinds of life besides their own, what message does it send when the Romulans, who have been the season’s antagonists the whole way, are actually right?

The entire premise of the Romulans’ desire to exterminate synthetic life is that if they don’t, the synths will trigger this apocalyptic event – the arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers” – and kill everyone in the galaxy. That’s a powerful motivation, and covers all manner of sins because, as the episode itself tried to address, there’s a calculus involved even when dealing with matters of life and death. If one’s intention is to save a trillion lives, it can be easy to justify ending 90,000. This is what the Romulans did on Mars. Star Trek: Picard – and Picard himself within the show – are trying to present this kind of ends-justify-the-means thinking as abhorrent, but that message has become incredibly confused thanks to the insertion of the character of Sutra and the revelation that she plans to do exactly what the Romulans fear that synths will do.

Sutra plans to do exactly what the Romulans fear.

In yet another example of the episode racing from point to point, the name of this faction Sutra is planning to summon is not even mentioned. I’m calling them the “Mass Effect Reapers”, because, as I mentioned last time, they serve a very similar purpose to the antagonists in that video game series. But who are they? There’s only one episode left not only to find out who they are and what motivates them, but also to defeat them.

One visual element that I loved were the “orchids” – some kind of planetary defence system which resembles giant flowers. It wasn’t clear whether they were crewed ships or just automated, but they looked absolutely stunning and the CGI work to bring them to life was fantastic. However, as a concept I’m not sure they really make sense. Firstly, they seem to be single-use things, which seems like waste of time and resources. Secondly, and most importantly, they don’t actually serve a useful purpose when it comes to defence – in fact, they achieve quite the opposite. By capturing ships and dragging them – intact – to the surface of the planet, all the orchids manage to do is bring any enemies directly to the planet’s surface. If the ambition is to disable an attacking ship that plans to strike from orbit then that could be useful in the short-term, but all it really does is shift the problem for the synths to one they have to deal with on the ground. In the case of the Artifact, for example, it was dragged out of orbit and crashed on the planet’s surface – but if it were a fully-operational Borg cube the synths would then have to deal with tens of thousands of drones literally on their planet. Not to mention that no synths showed up at the crash sites of either La Sirena or the Artifact to apprehend their crews.

This would be a very bad outcome in the event of an invasion, yet it’s what the orchids are designed to do.

If the aim was to demonstrate that the Coppelius synths are basically unprotected, then why not leave them unarmed? Picard and his crew were going to land or beam down anyway, and it would’ve been possible within the story to get everyone to the planet’s surface without the use of a kind of planetary defence system that really doesn’t achieve what it should. At best it moves the problem from space to the ground, and at worst it could actually aid the synths’ enemies in a potential invasion event. In short: cool visuals, but an illogical concept.

I’m okay with the idea of Dr Soong – Data’s creator from The Next Generation – having a son, and that character following in his father’s footsteps to work on building synths. It might not have been my first choice of storyline, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, not for the first time, the presence of the actor’s name in the credits telegraphed the arrival of the character before we knew he would be appearing on screen. This happened in Absolute Candor, when Jeri Ryan’s name showed up in the credits, despite her character only appearing in the final thirty seconds of the episode. Spoilers are commonplace online, and because in the UK we get Star Trek: Picard 24 hours after its US premiere I have learned to be careful where I go online on Thursdays and Friday mornings! But for a show to spoil itself in its own opening titles is just plain silly – what would be wrong with crediting Brent Spiner in the end credits and making his inclusion in the episode and the reveal of his new character a genuine surprise? This has happened twice now, and it’s just not nice to know someone is coming before they show up on screen.

This shouldn’t happen – it’s a massive spoiler.

There’s also the question of the payoff to Soji’s dream – is Dr Soong supposed to be the figure in her dreams? There was the tiniest flicker of a hint at that: Dr Soong is wearing a similar outfit to the faceless figure Soji has dreamed about, and Soji seemed to do a double-take on seeing him, almost as if she recognised something about him. Yet neither of those things were acknowledged.

I did like, however, that Dr Soong is not a synth. When we’d heard of the existence of other synths I speculated that maybe some would share Data’s appearance in the way that some shared Soji’s appearance, but I’m glad to have gotten a human character instead. It was unexpected and interesting – and hopefully the plot thread of Dr Soong transferring himself into a synthetic body will be explored further.

Unfortunately, like all of the various competing stories in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, this was barely touched on and needed much more development. In a way, this encapsulates the problem with introducing a whole new civilisation and cast of characters in the final two episodes. There simply isn’t enough time remaining for Dr Soong and Sutra and the other synths to all have their own stories that are as detailed and interesting as those stories we’ve already seen playing out for the past eight episodes. Given how rushed this episode felt, and how it tried to cram so much into a 45-minute runtime, some elements – like Dr Soong’s desire to become a synth – could’ve been dropped to give more screen time to other, more important story beats.

And I think we’ve come to the crux of my complaints about Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1. The episode introduced several new major characters, a new antagonist, a new location, new obstacles for Picard and his crew to overcome. Yet it’s supposed to be the first part of the finale, and finales are meant to bring everything that’s already happened to a head and begin to wrap up the story. It’s simply too late now to open up whole new plotlines and for dumping whole news sets of characters onto the audience. The only story thread that feels somewhat concluded is Picard’s redemption in the eyes of Elnor – and that had arguably already happened in The Impossible Box.

Elnor and Picard are reunited… briefly.

The story of Star Trek: Picard has been, at points, meandering. The diversions to Vashti and Nepenthe in particular were close to standalone stories, taking Picard on a personal journey through parts of his past. And they were good stories, giving Picard the chance to redeem himself with Elnor, a character he’d been a kind of substitute father to, and to draw on the advice of two of his former crew: Riker and Troi. And of course for us as the audience to see those characters return was a nostalgic treat. Yet the revelations in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 that Sutra actually wants to fulfil the Romulans’ prophecy and bring about the end of days, and that Dr Soong is hoping to transfer himself to a new body make those episodes feel, in retrospect, like wasted time. If there was all this important plot to get through before the season ended, we should have been spending our time here, having Picard and his crew arrive on Coppelius earlier to allow more time for these “main” story beats to be properly and fully explored.

As it is, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 feels like an episode that should mark the halfway point in the story and in the season. Sutra needs time to explore the vision in more detail, figure out who to contact and how to contact them, rally her people to her newfound cause, demonstrate to the audience precisely what the implications of summoning the “Mass Effect Reapers” will be, who that faction even is, work out a plan, and above all, develop as a character and let us get to know her. Dr Soong needs more screen time too – he needs to explain what this vaguely-hinted-at illness is that means he needs a new body, show how and why he’s failed at successfully building it so far despite being surrounded by hyper-intelligent synths, demonstrate what Dr Jurati can do to help that means he needs her support, and show us as the audience whether he’s a “good guy” or a “bad guy” because right now he’s ambiguous. Ambiguity in characters is fine, and it’s even good in some cases as it ramps up the tension and mystery. But when a character’s motivations and goals are unclear simply because they haven’t had sufficient time in the story for us to know anything about them, well that just isn’t very interesting. Worse, it can be frustrating.

Instead of taking its time, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 tried to cram everything I listed above into about thirty minutes of screen time. I’d absolutely argue, based on what we saw this week, that there’s several episodes’ worth of story there, and that’s what I mean when I say the episode felt so poorly-paced and rushed.

It’s unclear whether Dr Soong will turn out to be an ally or an enemy.

There were several other moments that could have been spread out across multiple episodes. Picard and his crew trekking from La Sirena to the Artifact and then to Coppelius Station, for example. Instead we got a single drone shot of them walking and that was it. For an older man hiking over rough terrain, initially several kilometres away from where he needed to go, Picard isn’t exactly going to be speedy and we could have had several scenes with ample time for character development both on the way to the Artifact and on the way from the Artifact to Coppelius Station. There was certainly scope for more time spent with Seven of Nine, Elnor, and the xBs. It’s totally unclear what will happen to them now – are they marooned on Coppelius? Can the Artifact be repaired again and get back into space? What are their objectives? Is Seven of Nine their leader? Are the xBs even thinking for themselves? Have they got over their assimilation experiences? How many survived? So many unanswered questions, and given how much time we spent on the Artifact in earlier episodes, to just try to brush it all away and move on to this new story about Sutra, Dr Soong, and the attempts to trigger armaggeddon and/or fight the Romulans leaves a lot of things unresolved.

There’s also a point of consistency, and it connects to something I wrote in my review of The Impossible Box. When Narek finally got Soji to explore her memories, she provided two clues to the location of her homeworld: electrical storms and two red moons. We saw the red moons in the episode, but where was the storm? Narek and Rizzo took it to mean that the planet had “constant” storms, and even Kestra used this information to ask Capt. Crandall to find the planet’s location in Nepenthe. I felt that two clues did not provide much information to go on when locating a planet, especially as lots of locations can have occasional lightning storms rather than suffer from them continuously, but for one of the two established features of Coppelius to be ignored entirely – and for that point, which had been important in earlier episodes, to not even be given lip service just adds to the sense that there was too much to cram into Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1. Otherwise the show’s creators are being inconsistent – setting up story points that work in one episode but are ignored in others. Another example of this is from Stardust City Rag where Maddox said his lab had been destroyed. Picard was literally sat in Maddox’s room this week, and it didn’t look destroyed to me. Is that going to be explained properly, or are we just going to have to live with the fact that these inconsistencies exist and only served to drive the plot and get the characters to the right place at the right time for other story beats to unfold?

Picard’s illness was something that the story had set up way back in Maps and Legends that I’d been waiting to see some development on. We finally got that this week, as Picard suffered a blackout. His scene explaining to the crew that he had been diagnosed was one of the few emotional moments in the episode, and in particular I was moved by the reactions of Dr Jurati and Raffi. The “I love you” moment with Raffi later in the episode was both awkwardly funny and touching – and the pay-off to a relationship that had been built up and explored over multiple episodes. That scene was probably my favourite; a diamond in the rough.

Commodore Oh on the bridge of her ship.

Other points I liked were: seeing Commodore Oh on the bridge of her ship at the end of the episode, the Artifact emerging from transwarp, seeing Picard and the crew all together on the bridge of La Sirena, Picard’s speech about his illness, Raffi calling Narek Soji’s “asshole Romulan ex”, the synthetic cat and butterflies, and the costumes the crew of La Sirena wore after leaving the ship. None of these moments, however, could redeem a bad episode.

So I know this hasn’t been a typical review. I usually like to spend more time on each episode and break down more of the scenes in detail than I have here, but honestly I just want to see the back of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, and going back and re-watching it several times in order to pull out a few more points just doesn’t hold much appeal to me right now. I’m looking forward to the finale with nervous anticipation. I’m hopeful that the story can be concluded in a satisfactory manner, and that the currently-unresolved plot points will be wrapped up. Just because Part 1 didn’t hit the mark, that doesn’t mean Part 2 will necessarily be a disappointment as well, and I remain hopeful that I’ll enjoy next week’s outing a lot more.

Remember to stay tuned for the theory post in the next few days, as I check a few more off the list!

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

Links to my other episode reviews from Star Trek: Picard Season 1: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8.

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.

You can find my reviews for the rest of the first season of Star Trek: Picard by following these links: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7.

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 Generationa 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.

You can find all of my reviews for the first season of Star Trek: Picard by following these links: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 1, Episode 4: Absolute Candor

Spoiler Warning – There will be spoilers ahead for Absolute Candor – the fourth episode of Star Trek: Picard – as well as for all previous episodes in Season 1. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

What a wild ride Absolute Candor was! After a trilogy of episodes directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper kicked off the series, Star Trek legend and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Jonathan Frakes stepped up to direct this outing for Picard and his new crew – and he’ll also be directing next week’s instalment too.

Before we go any further, if you’ve missed my other reviews for Star Trek: Picard, you can find the first three episodes here: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. I hope to continue this series and review every episode this season, as well as an overall retrospective of the season when it’s concluded, so stick around over the next few weeks for those, as well as for my theories on what may happen as the story unfolds.

After the first three episodes set up a lot of story points and mysteries, Absolute Candor felt like the first episode so far to begin the task of exploring and unravelling them. That’s not to say it answered everything – we still have far more questions than answers right now. But some details are beginning to come into focus, especially regarding Picard’s history between when we last saw him in Star Trek: Nemesis and when we met him again in Remembrance at the beginning of this season.

As with the last two episodes, Absolute Candor opens with a flashback sequence. But rather than seeing Mars this time, as Maps and Legends and The End is the Beginning showed us, this time we’re with an out-of-uniform Picard on a planet called Vashti, in the Beta Quadrant. It’s clear quite quickly that this sequence takes place before the attack on Mars – Picard is still working very hard to relocate as many Romulans as possible with time ticking down to the supernova. He’s clearly very popular with many of the Romulans on Vashti, though if he’s working I’m not exactly sure why he’s not in uniform. Picard, at least as we remember him from The Next Generation, was quite a stickler for such things as uniforms – though perhaps as an Admiral he had more leeway in this matter.

Elnor hugs Picard in a flashback sequence.

Vashti is presented as a kind of “frontier outpost”; it’s dusty, it’s bustling with Romulans, and Picard is in his element here. At least, the town setting on Vashti looks like this. The next setting Picard visits – a convent or nunnery – has a very obvious Japanese inspiration. This blend of aesthetics keeps the two parts of Vashti distinct from one another, with the serenity and safety of the convent contrasting with the unpolished nature of the pioneer town. This contrast will come into play later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We saw a Romulan using the same style of cards that Ramdha (the Romulan Soji wanted to talk to in the last episode) was using, and their inclusion was a nice way of tying things together, as well as adding to the “wild-west” vibe that the town on Vashti has going for it.

Picard has struck up a relationship with Elnor, a young boy who has been taken in by the nuns. He brings him a gift – a copy of the book The Three Musketeers – and promises to teach him how to fence. His dislike of children is referenced here by the nuns and Elnor, but he reassures the boy, saying he is “very fond” of him. There’s a grandfatherly element to Picard that we haven’t really seen before – obviously emphasised by his age. In The Next Generation, we saw him take on a semi-fatherly role to Wesley – after dismissing his “no children on the bridge” rule – so this is hardly out of character. He also kept the “Captain Picard Day” banner from his time aboard the Enterprise-D, again showing that his attitude to children has considerably softened over the years.

Fencing lessons.

Midway through the promised fencing lesson, Picard gets a call on his combadge (the GenerationsDeep Space NineVoyager style is back for this sequence) from Raffi. And we know what this must be before anything happens; she’s about to tell him of the attack on Mars. Because we knew this – it had even been included in the montage of previous episodes that played at the very beginning – I don’t think we needed Picard’s line in response. Shock like this can be hard to play right, and it’s no criticism of Sir Patrick Stewart that the line, in which he says “what do you mean synths have attacked Mars?” just fell flat and didn’t really work. A simple facial expression would have conveyed everything we needed to know; the line was unnecessary and detracted from the scene.

Everyone is concerned, and Picard promises to get to the bottom of it and return soon, saying that their work must continue, and then the credits roll. Having seen Seven of Nine feature prominently in the trailers, Jeri Ryan’s name being included in the credits wasn’t a surprise. But, given her role in the episode, it was a bit of an unnecessary spoiler – especially for people who may have skipped the trailers. Seven of Nine only shows up right at the end of the episode. She’s an anonymous pilot flying a small ship, and that whole scene is structured around keeping her identity hidden until the last possible moment, making her appearance on the bridge of La Sirena a surprise – but as this was the last scene in the episode, and we’d seen her name in the opening credits, the element of surprise was lost which was a shame, I felt.

Picard reacts with shock when he learns of the synths’ attack.

After the credits we’re back in the present day, and after a brief shot of La Sirena in space we get a conversation between Dr Jurati and Capt. Rios. It seems like this may be Jurati’s first time in space, and more than anything she just feels bored while the ship warps to their destination. I mentioned last time how the comment Raffi made at the end of last week’s episode about Dr Jurati not being subject to any kind of security check could be some foreshadowing of her being a double-agent, and this conversation, innocent though it may have seemed on the surface, could also be seen as her probing Rios for information in a disarming style. I’m not sure exactly why yet, but I have a feeling she isn’t to be trusted.

Raffi interrupts the awkward conversation to demand to know where the ship is going – apparently Picard wants to make a stop at Vashti before heading to Freecloud, though he seems to have only told Rios of this, as Raffi and Dr Jurati had no idea. The next scene was confusing for a moment, as Picard appears to be back on the vineyard – but apparently it’s just a holoprogram that Zhaban requested that the “hospitality hologram” on La Sirena recreate for Picard. As with every hologram on the ship, it’s been reprogrammed to have Rios’ appearance.

“Mr Hospitality” on the holodeck.

There’s a close-up shot of Dahj’s necklace on Picard’s desk – presumably a recreation as part of the holoprogram, but this isn’t clear. As I said in my review of Remembrance, I really feel this is a weak prop. The visually unimpressive design just makes it blend in, and for something that was supposed to be so noticeable, and that’s supposed to be a symbol for creating androids, it just looks bland. For a one-off item I could forgive that, and it would be little more than a minor costuming/prop nitpick. But the necklace keeps cropping up, as it did here in the close-up, and I wish it looked better given its role in the story thus far.

Raffi interrupts Picard’s conversation with the hologram, demanding to know why he’s insistent on going to Vashti. It’s clear Picard has been out of touch with goings-on in the galaxy for some time; Vashti will not be the way he remembers it. Rios and Dr Jurati join in as Picard calmly explains that he wants to return to the convent we saw in the flashback – because the nuns there are warriors, and he hopes one of them can be persuaded to join their crew for the mission. He suspects they are being tracked – though interestingly he refers to their opponents as the Tal Shiar, not the Zhat Vash. He will do so again later in the episode when talking to Elnor, and I have a feeling this will come back to be a point in future episodes. Whether Picard doesn’t believe in the existence of the Zhat Vash, or whether he simply doesn’t want to go to the trouble of explaining to everyone what they are isn’t clear.

Raffi attempts to persuade Picard to head straight for Freecloud and abandon the mission to Vashti.

We get two little hints in this scene that may come into play in future episodes. First is that Raffi makes a comment about how Picard’s decision to go to Vashti makes her “seriously question [his] mental state” – could this be a hint about the terminal condition that Dr Benayoun mentioned in Maps and Legends? Secondly, Picard calls Raffi out on her keenness to get to Freecloud, but Rios says she seems apprehensive about it. What is Raffi planning to do on Freecloud? We know she said at the end of last week’s episode that she’s going there for her own reasons, but here we get a hint that she may not be looking forward to it. Why that is isn’t clear at this stage either.

Vashti, according to Raffi and Rios, is in a bad way, seemingly outside of anyone’s jurisdiction with warlords controlling the planet and the space around it. Picard is surprised by this, and his lack of awareness of the situation shows us, as mentioned earlier, just how out of touch he is with the state of play. Rios mentions a warlord who has control of an “antique bird-of-prey” – and anyone who’s seen the trailers will have spotted that ship, sporting a design not seen since The Original Series.

The nuns, Picard says, are the best fighters he’s ever seen – and enemies of the Tal Shiar. The “Way of Absolute Candor” is mentioned here for the first time, and it appears to be almost the complete antithesis of Surak’s Vulcan teachings. The Qowat Milat, as the nuns are called, believe in “total communication of emotion”. Raffi makes one last attempt to convince Picard to ditch the Vashti idea and head straight for Freecloud, but Picard says that he “may never pass this way again” – another reference to his condition. While this is, in a sense, a side-quest to Picard’s main objective of finding Maddox and Soji, he is taking advantage of his return to space to travel to Vashti to revisit Elnor.

“I may never pass this way again.”

Travelling in space in Star Trek has never really been treated as a big deal. It was something routine, even if some individuals we met had never done so – like Joseph Sisko in Deep Space Nine. But in Star Trek: Picard we’ve had several instances that show us space travel is not just as easy as getting on a starship and taking off. Picard’s appeal to Admiral Clancy in Maps and Legends was brutally shot down, but not before she could say he couldn’t be trusted to take people into space. Next we have Dr Jurati, who is seemingly on her first space voyage, and now Picard himself, who, granted, has been a kind of self-imposed exile in La Barre, but it seems as though travel to Vashti isn’t easy. It took Picard contacting Raffi to track down a pilot who would even take them to Freecloud, when surely everything we’ve seen in prior Star Trek suggests that interstellar travel should be commonplace – and simple. It’s a surprise in terms of the way space travel has been handled thus far in the series, I think, and it’s less in line with past Star Trek and more like something we might expect to have seen in a different kind of science fiction series. I know there are perfectly valid story reasons for why Picard couldn’t just buy, rent, or otherwise acquire a shuttle or runabout – like how they have the Zhat Vash on their tail – but the tone is not what I expected, I have to admit. And it’s the kind of nitpick only some returning fans might have that doesn’t really detract from the story. But when you stop and think about it – surely it should have been easy for Picard and the others to go to Freecloud or Vashti or anywhere else they might’ve wanted.

Next, we get a scene aboard the Artifact, where Soji is watching a video of Ramdha from before she was assimilated, while playing with a similar deck of cards to those Ramdha was using in The End is the Beginning. Last time Ramdha called Soji “the destroyer”, and Soji hears that name again, this time in Romulan. Apparently “Seb-Cheneb” (which seems to be the Romulan name for “the destroyer”) is related to a day called Ganmadan – “the annihilation”. How this ties into Soji’s background and why Ramdha accused her of being Seb-Cheneb isn’t known at this point, but Soji is clearly disturbed by the implications.

Ramdha as she appeared prior to assimilation, seen on a holo-recording.

After this brief scene we’re back on La Sirena, now in orbit of Vashti but without permission to approach the planet’s defences. Picard says they should simply tell whoever is running the show down on the surface that it’s him – expecting that will allow them to transport to the surface. But apparently Raffi and Rios have already tried that, and it’s clear that the Romulans on Vashti don’t want anything to do with him any more.

After bribing the Romulans, Picard is able to beam down to Vashti. The atmosphere is so different from its appearance in the flashback; the once-bustling town is squalid and run-down, with hard-up refugees glaring at Picard. It’s clear that some of them recognise him, and one whispers something into a communicator. Given that Raffi becomes concerned later in the episode when Picard has been identified by the inhabitants, it makes very little sense as to why they’d let him beam down, alone and unarmed, into the middle of the town.

Regardless, Picard tries to speak to some of the locals, who all ignore him. I liked the use of the phrase “jolan tru”, which returns from its appearance in The Next Generation two-part episode Unification – which saw Picard and Data go undercover on Romulus to find Spock after he travelled there. While “jolan tru” isn’t as iconic in the franchise as the Klingon word “qapla!”, it’s nevertheless a neat little throwback. It would have been easy to disregard that and create a new word or greeting in Romulan, but I’m glad they brought back this element from Picard’s past adventures.

This isn’t the “homecoming” that Picard would have wanted, and despite repeated warnings from Raffi and Rios about the state of Vashti and his own lack of popularity there, the Romulans’ reaction to his presence clearly hurts and disappoints him.

In this scene, I feel like Vashti was channelling Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’s depiction of Paradise City on the planet Nimbus III. That settlement, in a barren desert, was supposed to be a symbol of “galactic peace” – cooperation between the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. But, much like Vashti, it quickly fell into disrepair as the project was sidelined. There was great hope, both for Vashti and Nimbus III, to be successes, but both ultimately failed and became what we saw on screen. Whether the throwback was intentional or not I can’t say, but I definitely picked up a similar tone when Picard was on Vashti.

Sybok’s followers approach Paradise City on Nimbus III in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Picard travels to the convent, where he meets the nun from the flashback sequence. The nuns are perhaps the only people on Vashti who aren’t unhappy to see Picard return – though she does remark he’s “got old” since their last encounter. And I want to give a little credit here to hair and makeup. My reviews often focus on plot and story at the expense of other elements of a production – it’s something I’m trying to work on! But the way Picard appears in the flashbacks and in the up-to-date sequences does differ – and part of that is his hair. In the flashbacks, Picard has sported a close-cropped version of his grey-white hair that we remember from The Next Generation, and is notably completely bald in the rest of the show. This subtle change does age and de-age him somewhat in the two sequences, as well as differentiating them from one another. It’s subtle, such that it was hard to put my finger on at first, but I think it works well without having to rely on excessive makeup or expensive (and imperfect) digital techniques to make him look younger for the flashback scenes.

As Elnor appears – now a fully grown man – Picard reacts with shock. Before we can see what happens, however, the action cuts back to the Artifact. Ramdha isn’t dead, but she’s been sedated or placed in stasis, and Soji has paid her a visit. Narek stops by – he seems to have been tracking her movements – and she tells him something which I think is important – she felt like Ramdha had “seen” her. Even though she doesn’t know why, as she is unaware of her true nature, she felt like Ramdha had some kind of insight, something that she saw or recognised in Soji that is true. And not to spoil my next theory post, but I have a feeling there may be more Soji and Dahj lookalikes out there somewhere – one of which Ramdha may have encountered. That’s one explanation, anyway, but I don’t want to sink too much into theory-crafting right now!

At a canteen or mess hall on the Artifact, Soji and Narek sit down and discuss what happened last week. She asks him flat-out if he’s been following her, and it seems that this sequence takes place immediately after last week’s episode, as Soji says she “just now” visited the disordered Romulans. She presses him, asking if he works for the Tal Shiar. He says no, of course, but she is unconvinced. We can’t trust Narek at this point, so when he says he doesn’t know what happened to the Romulan vessel or to Ramdha, we – like Soji – don’t believe him. He plays his cards close to his chest and clearly knows more than he’s letting on. In this scene, I wonder if the blue drink they were sharing was meant to be Romulan Ale? This drink has appeared a number of times in Star Trek and it would be a nice reference if it were!

Soji and Narek share a drink on board the Artifact.

Narek tells Soji he wants to show her a “Borg ritual”, and for a moment I wondered if he might actually know something about Borg behaviour or even their origins. But it turns out it was a joke/metaphor, as the two slide in their socks along an uninhabited part of the Artifact. Narek presses her on her background – she learnt to speak Romulan “some time before May 12, 2396” – which is give-or-take three years before the events of the series. Given that Dr Jurati believed that Dahj only had around three years’ worth of genuine background – everything in her records before then seemed to have been made up – this fits with what we know. Could the 12th of May 2396 be Soji and Dahj’s activation or creation date? Narek pushes Soji too hard for information, saying he knows she wasn’t aboard a ship she claims to have been on around that time, and she takes offence and leaves, pushing past him on the way.

Back on Vashti, Picard explains to the nun that he wants someone to join his cause. Elnor offers him a meal, then storms off, clearly upset at Picard’s reappearance just like the Romulans in town had been. It’s here that we learn – contrary to my expectations, I have to admit – that Picard did nothing to aid the Romulans either on their homeworld or on Vashti after the attack on Mars. After his resignation, he simply went home to the château. No wonder the Romulans are so upset – Picard had been the face of the Federation when they promised to help, and after only a tiny fraction of that help had been delivered, they reneged on it and Picard simply disappeared. He seems never to have returned to Vashti after the flashback sequence at the beginning of the episode, even abandoning Elnor.

An awkward reunion.

The nun calmly scolds Picard – “because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one”, she tells him, and it’s true, Picard even admits it himself. The attack on Mars is not the issue in and of itself, it was merely the catalyst for what really happened to Picard – Starfleet and the Federation broke their commitment, and when he threatened to resign in protest, instead of recognising the error of their ways and doing things his way, they simply accepted his resignation. This moment is what broke him. The attack on Mars set the stage, but Picard was reminded thereafter not just of Starfleet’s petty factional politics, but of his own unimportance to the organisation he’d dedicated his life to.

He can’t go back and undo it, building up a new fleet and saving lives. It’s too late for that – and it is a regret that he will have to live with. I’m sure we will see more of Picard wrestling with those feelings in future episodes, but for now at least, the nuns give him a chance to begin to make things right for at least one Romulan – Elnor. The shot of Elnor standing outside the convent, holding a thin-bladed sword with the reddish-coloured leaves in the background was clearly inspired by Japan. Elnor is, in this moment anyway, a samurai warrior.

Elnor with his sword on Vashti – definitely a Japanese-inspired look.

Picard and Elnor sit together, and it’s an awkward conversation as Elnor clearly feels aggrieved by Picard’s abandonment. He had seen Picard as a father figure, clearly, and his disappearance from Elnor’s life left him with the nuns. Picard steers the conversation away from the past to his mission to find Maddox and Soji, but Elnor says that, as Picard is only interested in him now that he finds him useful, he’s inclined to abandon him the way he was abandoned, and storms off.

Dejected, Picard heads back to town. Rios tells him that he’ll have to wait seven minutes before they will be able to transport him through the planet’s defences – and alarm bells started ringing immediately for me! This whole sequence was so well-constructed. The seeds were sown in earlier scenes: having to bribe his way to the surface, the cold reception he received from the townspeople, the nun confirming he abandoned the rescue project, Raffi on board the ship finding out that he’d been spotted and identified, and now finally the fact that he’ll have to wait alone for rescue. A lot can happen in seven minutes – Picard is clearly in danger.

His stubbornness gets the better of him back in the town, and he sits down at a table in one of the saloon-type places, much to the ire of the Romulans who were already there. One confronts him, as we knew was sure to happen, and it turns out that he had once been a Senator – before the supernova.

We get a little more information here about the rescue armada. Some of the ships were already in service at the time of the attack on Mars, and over a quarter of a million Romulans had been relocated to Vashti at the time of the attack. Rather than waiting for the whole fleet to be complete, Picard and Raffi had been working in the meantime. The Senator – and the other Romulans – detest Picard, both for his own failings and for the decision made by the Federation to pull out of helping them. The former seems fair, but the latter does not as we know how hard Picard fought to convince Starfleet to rebuild the fleet and continue to help.

Picard is confronted by an impoverished former Romulan Senator.

The Romulans throw him a sword and push him into the street to duel – we saw Picard showing young Elnor how to fence, and we’ve also seen him fence on at least one occasion in The Next Generation, but Picard is clearly outmatched here by the towering Romulan. He refuses to fight and tries to talk his way out of the situation, when Elnor shows up. He says “choose to live” – and we assume he’s speaking to Picard, encouraging him to pick up the sword he’d thrown down. But as the Romulan lunges for Picard, Elnor steps in and kills him. His statement was a threat – not to cross an assassin of the Qowat Milat. As another Romulan prepares to pull his disruptor and shoot Elnor, he and Picard are beamed aboard La Sirena.

We do have to again examine Picard’s frame of mind here. He berates Elnor for killing the Romulan Senator, but it’s obvious that he would have killed Picard in a heartbeat. The state of the galaxy, and Picard’s own relationship with the Romulans and other factions is not what it was fourteen years ago – yet he doesn’t seem to have fully grasped that reality yet. Elnor stepping in was the only option in that fight – the only other outcome was Picard’s death. As a great diplomat, as well as a former friend to the Romulan people, it must be hard for him to accept that his words mean nothing to them any more.

Elnor has committed himself to Picard’s cause – and now the whole crew is finally assembled. The last main character has slotted nicely into place, and four episodes in, we finally have the whole cast! This slower-paced introduction of the main characters has been spectacularly successful. Instead of trying to dump them all at once in the first episode, we’ve taken our time and got to know more about each of them as the show introduced them, and that’s really been a great way to handle it.

As Dr Jurati meets Elnor, she finally finds out the answer to a question she – and we as the audience – had from earlier: what was the Qowat Milat’s criteria for signing up? The answer – they only volunteer for lost or hopeless causes.

Elnor and Dr Jurati meet aboard La Sirena.

Narek receives a visit from Rizzo back on board the Artifact. She teases him about his “robot girlfriend”, and half-strangles him to get him to tell her the only useful piece of information he’s found so far – he believes, as Ramdha did, that Soji is Seb-Cheneb or “the destroyer”. He cautions her, pleadingly, about avoiding another activation – as happened to Dahj in Remembrance. But Rizzo tells him that the endgame is the same – they plan to kill Soji when they find out where she and Dahj came from. She gives him one more week to get more information out of her, before she will take action. I’m sure that the “one week” timeframe is no coincidence – it’s a reference to something happening in the next episode!

The episode closes with a final scene aboard La Sirena. The bird-of-prey mentioned earlier, and seen in the trailers, is fighting Rios’s ship, trying to push them into the planet’s defence grid which will destroy them. We get to see the scale of La Sirena better here – it’s much smaller than the bird-of-prey, and is thus more manoeuvrable. However, it takes the intervention of another ship to disable the bird-of-prey and save La Sirena – and as that ship is about to be destroyed, Picard makes the decision to beam its pilot on board. The pilot is, of course, revealed to be Seven of Nine.

Seven of Nine’s appearance was unfortunately telegraphed well before she beamed aboard.

Overall, I really enjoyed Absolute Candor. The Qowat Milat are an interesting and unique faction within Star Trek, at least that I’m aware of, and Romulan society – both pre- and post-supernova – is being explored in much richer detail than we’ve ever seen before. Unlike with the Klingons in Discovery, who many have argued overwrote some aspects of Klingon culture and design that had been present in past iterations of Star Trek, nothing we’ve seen of the Romulans so far contradicts what we already knew – it merely advances the story of the faction and adds to our knowledge and understanding. In that sense, the Romulans were a much better choice for Star Trek: Picard’s main faction than the Klingons were for Discovery. Whereas the Klingons’ history and culture had been explored in depth thanks to Worf and B’Elanna being main characters, and the Klingons’ prominent role in many episodes and films, the Romulans, despite being a known faction, were much more of a blank slate for the new creators to work with.

Having the full cast together is great, and now that we’re four episodes in we really should be expecting that. Elnor has two very clear influences, at least in my opinion. This episode played up a distinctly Japanese aesthetic for him – the way the convent was styled and his weapon in particular. The way he fights is reminiscent of samurai stories and martial arts films, further adding to that. But there’s also what I think is a pretty clear nod to Tolkein-esque elves in his appearance – particularly his clothing and his hair. Elnor’s look borrows much from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies – though Elnor is more emotional and less stoic than most of the elves in those films.

I enjoyed a number of the little nods and winks to returning fans: the TOS bird-of-prey, the use of the phrase “jolan tru”, the older style of combadge in the flashback sequence, the bottle of what looks like Romulan Ale on the Artifact, and the comparable state of Vashti and Nimbus III. It’s so clear from practically every moment, whether Picard is on screen or not, that this show is 100% a Star Trek show, and I really needed that. Discovery had plenty of great Star Trek-y moments too, but sometimes those could get drowned out by other elements of the plot. And the Kelvin films similarly had some highs and some lows when it came to feeling like a genuine part of the franchise. Picard, thus far at least, has had very few low points in general, and oozes that elusive Star Trek quality in every single scene.

I loved the return of the TOS-era bird-of-prey.

It was great to see La Sirena in her first real firefight. Rios is clearly a good captain and a skilled pilot – but I’m a little concerned that the ship was so easily outmatched by a vessel a century-and-a-half old. I’m not sure this bodes all that well for future battles, but with Seven of Nine and – possibly – others tailing Picard, perhaps they can count on some additional support.

One of my friends, who I know isn’t a Star Trek fan, texted me yesterday to show me that they were sitting down with family to watch the latest episode. Apparently it has become a big deal for them to watch it together and they’ve loved seeing Picard’s new adventures. I know this is one person and it’s anecdotal, but I really get the impression that Star Trek: Picard is breaking through to new and old fans alike in a way that Discovery never really did. And that’s fantastic news – as someone who loves Star Trek and wants to see more of it, I’m always thrilled when it seems to be a success.

Seeing Seven of Nine again, after such a long hiatus, was great as well, even though she was only on screen briefly. We’ve seen Hugh back, of course, but many returning fans will have much more of a connection to Seven of Nine than to Hugh. The first few episodes have all been about bringing the crew together and setting up mysteries – and this time I finally feel that we’ve turned the page and are now beginning to get some more information about what’s been going on. There’s still so much to learn in the next few episodes, and I can’t wait for next week, where Jonathan Frakes will be back to direct Stardust City Rag. What a great name for an episode!

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