Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and the teasers, trailers, and announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation and Voyager.
Today I’m updating one of my big Star Trek: Picard Season 3 theories and adding a second part to it! This addition is based on what we saw in the recent New York Comic-Con trailer, and if you’re a regular reader you may have seen me allude to it in my recent articles about who Captain Vadic could be and who else might be joining her on the villainous side of the season!
First of all, a recap. A few months ago I put together a theory that, if it were to pan out, would tie together all three seasons of Star Trek: Picard – which is something that hasn’t really happened so far. Seasons 1 and 2 told largely standalone stories, and it’s a distinct possibility that Season 3 will also go in its own direction – the likelihood of which was arguably raised when most of the main cast members from Seasons 1 and 2 were dumped.
But the theory that I came up with tied together Seasons 1 and 2 in a big way, and potentially set the stage for Season 3 as well.
In brief, my theory says that the super-synths from Season 1 (the faction who left the beacon on Aia and who Soji and Sutra attempted to open a portal for in the season finale) are also responsible for the anomaly that the Borg Queen and Picard joined forces to stop at the end of Season 2. After being unable to arrive at Coppelius, the super-synths used the anomaly to try to attack the Federation and/or the Romulans, perhaps in retaliation or perhaps as some kind of preemptive strike prior to an invasion.
Nothing that we saw on screen in either season would rule out the super-synths as being responsible for both attacks, and as we know so little about this faction and their objectives and motivations, it feels plausible to me that they might have left the beacon on Aia as a trap – that their real intent was not to help synthetics, but to use the presence of synthetic life as an indicator that a quadrant or galaxy was ripe for the conquering!
Enter Captain Vadic and her “rogues’ gallery.” After what we saw of synthetic life in Seasons 1 and 2, I don’t think we can entirely rule out an artificial background for Captain Vadic, even though she appears to be organic at a glance. But that’s neither here nor there, really. One thing that I find absolutely fascinating about the characters we saw joining her crew is this: they’re both artificial life forms. Professor Moriarty is a sentient hologram and Lore is, of course, an android.
I had speculated back when I made my original theory that the villain Picard and the crew would have to face in Season 3 would be the super-synths; tying together all three seasons of the show and giving Picard a truly powerful adversary to defeat. This theory now expands to include Captain Vadic – she could be their pawn, she could be a synth, or she could be someone who experienced the beacon on Aia and became obsessed with the arrival of the super-synths.
We’ve spoken before about some of the similarities between Picard Season 1 and the Mass Effect video game series, in particular the first game, and I think we can draw upon Mass Effect once again to add to this theory. In the world of Mass Effect, the Reapers – a race of sentient machines from far beyond the Milky Way galaxy – could exert influence over organic minds through a process called “indoctrination.” Indoctrinated servants of the Reapers could work on their behalf, but would eventually begin to worship the Reapers themselves before going mad.
Captain Vadic could be someone who has been indoctrinated – or brainwashed, if you prefer that term – by the super-synths. Perhaps this happened when she encountered their beacon, or maybe it happened on some other occasion – possibly during the standoff over Coppelius. Either way, Captain Vadic came to worship the super-synths and wants them to arrive in the Milky Way galaxy. Picard prevented that from happening – at least once and maybe twice – so that could explain why Captain Vadic has such a personal grudge against him and his crew.
This could also set the stage for the story of the season. Season 1 ended with Picard preventing the arrival of the super-synths, and Season 2 ended with Picard and the Borg Queen stopping the anomaly – which, as we’ve discussed, could be a super-synth weapon. Season 3 may begin with Captain Vadic on a quest for revenge against Picard, but it could also see her – and her gallery of rogues – planning to build a new portal to allow the super-synths to invade. This could be what Picard and the crew have to stop, it could even be what Dr Crusher was doing on her mission in space when she had to send a distress signal.
If I’m right, the super-synths could be behind the attack on Starfleet Command that we saw in the most recent trailer, too. We saw some kind of beam coming from above completely destroy one of the main Starfleet buildings, and that beam was superficially similar (in colour, at least) to the Season 2 anomaly. Could that be another piece of the jigsaw puzzle?
So there are really two additional components to my super-synths theory! And the story could go in either direction. It seems possible that Captain Vadic has been driven mad by the beacon on Aia, like the Zhat Vash were, but redirected her madness into some kind of devotion to or worship of the super-synths, perhaps through a process not dissimilar to Mass Effect’s indoctrination. That could explain why she wants to attack Picard and the Federation – they were responsible for preventing the super-synths’ arrival.
Alternatively, Captain Vadic could be seeking to build her own portal to allow the super-synths to travel to the Milky Way, and this could be what Picard and the crew have to prevent. Captain Vadic could be a synth herself, or she could be an organic under their thrall who’s doing their bidding.
With Professor Moriarty and Lore on her side – both of whom are malevolent artificial life-forms – Captain Vadic could be attempting to bring about a full-scale assault on organic life in the Milky Way galaxy, or seeking revenge for an arrival that was thwarted by Picard and the Federation. I could quite see Lore and Moriarty supporting this kind of “synthetic supremacy” crusade, and who knows – maybe the ultimate twist will be that the super-synths never intended to help artificial life-forms, but rather intended to destroy, conquer, or assimilate them.
So that’s my addendum to my earlier theory!
What I liked about the super-synth idea in the first place was that it would tie together all three seasons of the show in a big way, connecting everything from the attack on Mars and the Zhat Vash plot through to the Season 2 anomaly, Dr Jurati becoming a Borg Queen, and beyond into Season 3. Star Trek: Picard would be transformed from a disjointed sequence of standalone stories into one continuous story – albeit one that got sidetracked!
And at the very least, what we’ve seen of Captain Vadic and her “rogues’ gallery” – at least so far – hasn’t ruled any of that out. It’s still a viable theory, and it still seems at least possible to me that Season 3 will pan out this way. The decision to show Captain Vadic seemingly working with two artificial life-forms could even be a hint toward the idea of her working for the super-synths in some capacity.
There are other possibilities, of course, and as has happened in recent seasons of Star Trek, the show could go in wildly unpredictable directions! But I think it’s possible to tell this kind of story in a way that would still keep Season 3 approachable for newcomers and casual viewers. Because the super-synths and the Season 2 anomaly were only on screen for such a short time, and because so little was revealed about them in the first two seasons, Season 3 has a near-blank slate on which to build. The connection back to Seasons 1 and 2 would be fun for returning viewers, but wouldn’t necessarily hamper the enjoyment of anyone who missed those seasons or for casual viewers who may not remember every event that unfolded.
But as I always say: I have no “insider information,” and all of this is just for fun! I like writing, I like Star Trek, and writing up these Star Trek theories is fun for me – and that’s the spirit in which I hope you’ll take this theory. No fan theory, no matter how fun or plausible it may seem, is worth getting upset about, and it’s highly likely that Star Trek: Picard Season 3 won’t include anything that we’ve talked about today. I’m totally okay with that, and I hope that the new season will tell a fun and exciting story regardless of whether any of my fan theories come to pass!
So that’s all for today. After thinking about Captain Vadic a lot over the last couple of weeks I thought it was worth adding this addendum to my earlier super-synths theory. I’m really looking forward to Picard Season 3, which is now less than three months away from being broadcast! If we get any major news or new trailers between now and then I hope you’ll check in as I’ll be sure to provide some analysis.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world beginning on the 17th of February 2023. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Deep Space Nine Season 3, Voyager Season 7, and Discovery Seasons 3-4.
The new season of Star Trek: Picard kicks off later this week! After a two-year wait since Season 1 ended, it feels so good to finally be just days away from another adventure with the crew of La Sirena. During Picard Season 1 I wrote up a list of theories that was updated after each new episode, and this season I wanted to do something similar. Because news, information, and teasers have trickled out about Picard Season 2 over the past couple of years, I have a few theories already – and this week we’re going to start my Picard Season 2 theory list by looking at each of them in turn.
Several of these theories have had longer write-ups elsewhere on the website, and you’ll find links to some of those articles as we go. As always, a caveat: I have no “insider information,” nor am I trying to claim that anything listed below will be part of Picard Season 2! If you followed along last season, or if you’ve been keeping up to date with some of my Discovery theories, you’ll know that I get things wrong! For me, that’s part of the fun, and taking time away from the real world to dive a little more deeply into Star Trek is something I find enjoyable. But no fan theory is worth getting too attached to or too upset over!
With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Theory #1: The season will end on a cliffhanger.
This one really comes from what we know about the production side of things! Picard Season 3 is already in production, and filming appears to have kicked off almost the minute work was done on Season 2. That leads me to think that the two seasons could form one continuous story – or, at the very least, that the final act of Season 2 will set up the story of Season 3.
Star Trek has a track record of cliffhangers going all the way back to Season 1 of The Original Series with the two-part episode The Menagerie. There have also been a number of season-ending cliffhangers, including in The Next Generation, with the most famous, perhaps, being The Best of Both Worlds. So I think it’s at least possible that Picard Season 2 will draw to a close in this fashion!
Theory #2: The USS Stargazer will make an appearance.
This is a theory that the very first Season 2 teaser kicked off almost a year ago! The image above, taken from that teaser, was a lingering shot of a model of the USS Stargazer in Picard’s study, and while we’ve seen glimpses of what appears to be a new USS Stargazer in some of the most recent clips and teasers, I think it’s still plausible that the original vessel will show up at some point.
Time travel is on the agenda, and while we know for a fact that Picard and the crew of La Sirena plan to visit the year 2024, that may not be their only destination. If the damage to the timeline is connected, somehow, to an event in Picard’s past, maybe it will be necessary to visit his time as captain of the Stargazer as part of that storyline. The Stargazer could also be seen in flashbacks, or even as a museum ship!
Theory #3: There will be some kind of crossover with Star Trek: Discovery.
One thing that I find a little odd right now is the scheduling of Picard and Discovery. For the next three weeks, the two shows will be broadcast on the same day, which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider that 1) they’re shows with relatively short seasons, and 2) Paramount+ is a streaming platform. Does that mean there’s a glimmer of hope for some kind of larger-scale crossover than either show has attempted so far?
I suspect I’ll be proven wrong on this one, and that it’s simply due to the inexplicable nonsense that we’ve come to expect from Paramount+ and parent company Paramount Global. Someone has evidently decided that “Thursday is Star Trek day,” and that’s inflexible no matter what. That still doesn’t explain why Picard Season 2 couldn’t be delayed by a measly three weeks, though – especially with the constipated international rollout of Paramount+ potentially meaning that Strange New Worlds will premiere in the USA weeks or months before Paramount+ arrives in Europe. But we’re off topic!
In short, one possible explanation for the odd scheduling could be because the two shows are planning some kind of crossover event; if so, I’d love to see it! And with time travel on the agenda, anything is possible, right? At the very least, I hope that Picard Season 2 will put in more of an effort to connect with Discovery than happened in Season 1.
Theory #4: There will be a reference to Gabriel Bell or Sanctuary Districts.
According to the latest trailer, Picard Season 2 will be paying a visit to the year 2024… but it isn’t the first Star Trek production to visit that specific year! If Picard Season 2 wanted to visit “the modern day,” why not pick 2022 – or 2021 or 2023? 2024 feels like it could hold some kind of significance, and though there have been a couple of other references to events in the 2020s, the Deep Space Nine third season two-part episode Past Tense has already taken us to 2024.
The biggest event that we know of took place in California – the Bell Riots. I don’t necessarily expect to see the Bell Riots depicted all over again, but we could get some kind of reference to Gabriel Bell – the man who led the riots. There could also be mentions of “Sanctuary Districts,” which were areas built to house homeless people that became overcrowded prisons.
Given the current problem with homelessness in some American cities – including in California – it could be an interesting point of social commentary to revisit some of the themes tackled by Past Tense. That episode’s depiction of the 2020s feels a little too close for comfort to the state of the real world, in some respects!
Theory #5: The Borg Queen will be necessary for time travel.
One aspect of the Picard Season 2 story that I can’t place right now is the inclusion of the Borg Queen. In a story that seems not to be all about the Borg, what role might she play? To answer this question I wonder if we need to step back to the events of First Contact. In that film, the Borg Queen was present during a mission to assimilate Earth in the 21st Century… so could it be that Borg Queens have a special ability to travel through time that other Borg lack?
If so, perhaps the Borg Queen will be necessary to facilitate time travel, or at least to precisely calculate a destination in time. The explanation could be that time travel is possible but imprecise, and the Borg Queen has some kind of unique ability to hone in on a specific point in space-time that makes precise jumps through time possible. This wouldn’t be entirely inconsistent with the way time travel post-The Original Series has been depicted… so watch this space.
When the Borg Queen was initially teased, I had a bunch of ideas for ways that the Borg as a whole could be included. But when the season’s time travel story seemed to take up such a significant part of the marketing campaign I dropped most of them in favour of this one!
Theory #6: Dr Jurati will unleash the Borg Queen.
Sticking with the Borg Queen, we’ve seen several teases and clips that seem to show the Borg Queen on the loose. If the Borg Queen was originally a captive – as the trailers have seemed to suggest – the question of how she was able to break free raises its head. It’s of course possible that the Borg Queen is smart enough and powerful enough to break out of her confinement on her own, but she might also be able to convince someone to help her.
Dr Jurati is the cyberneticist that we met in Season 1, and she has a real love for all things synthetic. She wasn’t able to carry out her mission of harming Soji because her love and curiosity about synthetic life overwhelmed her Zhat Vash mind-meld, and I wonder if her innate fascination and sympathy for synthetic life could make her a target of the Borg Queen.
If so, perhaps Dr Jurati is able to be convinced to (literally or metaphorically) loosen the Borg Queen’s restraints, accidentally letting her loose on La Sirena.
Theory #7: The captive Borg Queen is the same one from First Contact.
At the end of First Contact, Picard and Data managed to stop the Borg Queen. The Queen’s organic components were destroyed by plasma coolant in the Enterprise-E’s main engineering, but her synthetic parts – including her skull and part of her spine – remained intact. Picard appeared to break them at the end of the film, signifying the “death” of the Borg Queen.
However, the Borg Queen returned on several occasions, most notably in Voyager, seeming to confirm that there are multiple Borg Queens, or that the Queen is able to move her consciousness into a new body at will. It’s possible, then, that the captive Borg Queen in Picard Season 2 was found elsewhere, such as aboard the Artifact. But it’s also possible that the Queen from First Contact was not totally dead, and has been revived or reactivated in the years following the events of the film.
Theory #8: Elnor will be assimilated.
This theory stems entirely from a clip glimpsed in two of the recent trailers! In the image above, Elnor can be seen clearly injured with Raffi by his side. What’s interesting to note, though, is the eerie green light – green is a colour that has a strong association with the Borg. Could it be that Elnor has been attacked by the Borg Queen and is in the early stages of being assimilated?
That was definitely how I interpreted the clip on first viewing! I can’t tell if it’s taking place in La Sirena’s sickbay or somewhere else, though. Regardless… I hope that poor Elnor survives whatever’s happening to him! There are ways of surviving or reversing Borg assimilation, so there’s hope for Elnor even if the worst comes to pass.
Theory #9: Q is not responsible for changing or damaging the timeline.
The teasers and trailers for Season 2 seem to place the blame for whatever’s going on firmly at the feet of Q. But I would argue that the role of an out-and-out villain doesn’t really fit with Q’s prior characterisation, where he’s been challenging and adversarial, but usually to make a point or to push Picard to solve a mystery. Q’s god-like powers would also make him ill-suited to fill the role of the season’s overarching villain; with a snap of his fingers he could undo any victory Picard could hope to win.
I’ve always felt that Q sees himself as a friend, ally, and guide to Picard – and to humanity in general. That doesn’t fit with becoming a super-villain, and with so much teased about Q in pre-release marketing material, I have to assume that there’s more going on than meets the eye. We can’t have been introduced to the entire plot already, surely?
Theory #10: Q shielded Picard and the crew of La Sirena from changes to the timeline.
One way in which Q could be involved would be to protect Picard – and his new crew – from changes to the timeline. There are many reasons why he might do this, and it could apply regardless of whether Q changed the timeline himself or not. If the entire timeline has been changed going back centuries, there has to be a reason why Picard and the crew of La Sirena are seemingly the only ones unaffected – and one explanation for that could be “Q’s magic.”
This would be in line with how we’ve known Q to operate. Episodes like Tapestry and All Good Things saw him use his powers to place Picard in an alternate life while retaining his original memories, and to move between three different time periods. Such a power is something we know Q can use, and it would explain two key things: how Picard and the crew of La Sirena remained unaffected, and how Q is involved in the story.
Theory #11: Who is responsible for damaging the timeline, then?
If Q isn’t the one who changed the timeline, the obvious question that raises is “who did it?” In the days ahead I might put together a longer list of suspects, but for now I have a few suggestions!
In theory, it could be any one of a number of different Star Trek factions. We’ve seen the Klingons having access to time travel in the early 25th Century, for example, in the Voyager episode Endgame, and various time travel stories and stories depicting powerful alien races could all theoretically yield suspects. But considering what we know about Star Trek: Picard specifically, in my view the main suspects are as follows:
The Borg. We know the Borg have the ability to travel through time, and that they’ve weaponised that ability on more than one occasion.
The Zhat Vash. While the Zhat Vash may not have been shown to possess time travel tech, they were the primary antagonist last season, and arguably were not defeated in the Season 1 finale.
The super-synths. The super-synths from the Season 1 finale are a wildcard; we don’t know much about them except that they seem to be technologically powerful. Travelling back in time might be on their agenda – but erasing the prime timeline could result in the erasure of the Coppelius synths.
The Romulan government or the Tal Shiar. With or without the support of the Zhat Vash, the Romulan government could have taken action against the Federation in response to the events of Season 1.
There are undoubtedly other Star Trek factions who could be implicated, and if we had a free choice we could suggest the likes of the Dominion or the Sphere-Builders. But I think those are far less likely when considering the elements Picard has brought on board.
Theory #12: Picard and the crew will have to actively trigger World War III to save the future.
Although the Bell Riots are the main event of 2024 that we know about in Star Trek’s internal timeline, the 21st Century was arguably dominated by another event: World War III. The war may have kicked off as early as 2026 (as suggested in The Original Series) and concluded by the mid-2050s as seen in First Contact. The “post-atomic horror” that followed was the backdrop for Q’s trial in Encounter at Farpoint.
World War III is integral to Star Trek because without it, it’s hard to see how warp drive would’ve developed and how humanity would’ve made peaceful first contact with the Vulcans. Just like the end of the Second World War brought about major technological and societal changes that ultimately made the world a better place, Star Trek’s World War III is integral to the events that led to the founding of the Federation. If it were prevented, the timeline would change dramatically.
So my theory is that the point of divergence is the outbreak of World War III – meaning that it will fall to Picard to trigger one of the worst wars in human history in order to save the future. Talk about a moral dilemma! You can find a full write-up of this theory by clicking or tapping here.
Theory #13: The “totalitarian state” will be run by Khan and the augments.
The alternate timeline that is established in Picard Season 2 will see the Federation replaced by a “totalitarian state.” This faction appears to be superficially similar to the Terran Empire from the Mirror Universe (though I hope not too similar, as I’m not the biggest Mirror Universe fan!) At the very least, this faction is not as genteel as the Federation and may be governed in an autocratic, dictatorial style.
Based on his appearances in The Original Series and The Wrath of Khan, we know that this is how Khan governed – or intended to govern – when he held power. It’s possible, then, that the totalitarian state that we’ve glimpsed in the trailers and teasers is led or inspired by Khan, and may be a society in which augmented humans hold power.
This could be supported by the introduction of a new member of the Soong family – played by Brent Spiner. The Soongs were known to have researched and studied human augmentation prior to the 22nd Century.
Theory #14: There will be a connection between the augments and Strange New Worlds.
One of the few things we know about Strange New Worlds at this early stage is that there will be a character named La’an Noonien-Singh. This new character seems to be related in some way to the iconic villain Khan, and if Khan or Khan-inspired augments play some kind of a role in the “totalitarian state,” perhaps that will set up a connection – or even a crossover – between Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds.
Theory #15: The “totalitarian state” is an isolationist power.
Rather than being one part of a Federation, or the conquering force behind an Empire, it seems possible based on what we’ve seen so far that the “totalitarian state” is only comprised of humans on Earth. This could mirror Discovery’s isolationist Earth in the 32nd Century, and it would be interesting to look at the state of the galaxy if humanity remained isolationist and refused contact with other races. There could also be an allegory about some of our current political movements.
It will be very interesting to learn more about this faction. Who exactly it is, how it rose to power, and what role the alternate timeline version of Picard played in its power structure are all open questions at this stage, and I’m very curious to see how it will all unfold!
Theory #16: Romulans are spying on Earth in the 21st Century… and could be time-travelling Zhat Vash.
In the third trailer, a young boy wearing what seemed to be 21st Century clothing was seen encountering a Romulan or Vulcan. If the Zhat Vash are involved in the new season’s story somehow, perhaps this individual is a Zhat Vash operative, and could confirm that the Zhat Vash were able to travel through time, or send a message back in time to their 21st Century counterparts. The Romulans had achieved interstellar flight centuries earlier, so travelling to Earth to spy or place operatives seems plausible for them.
Of all the scenes we’ve glimpsed so far from Season 2, the one with the young boy and the Romulan or Vulcan is the one that I’m least sure about! It doesn’t seem to fit naturally into a story about the Borg, Q, and time travel… but this is one theory that could make sense, and would connect to the theory above about Q not being to blame.
Theory #17: The Vulcans are on Earth in the early 21st Century… as stated in Discovery Season 4.
Another theory about the unnamed Romulan or Vulcan is tied into the most recent episode of Discovery. This could easily be a complete overreaction to a throwaway line, but at the beginning of The Galactic Barrier, mysterious Federation leader Dr Kovich stated that Vulcans were on Earth for decades prior to official first contact taking place.
This one line could be a reference to Carbon Creek, an episode of Enterprise that saw Vulcans crash-land on Earth in the 1950s. But the timing seems odd given the scene glimpsed in the Picard Season 2 trailers! If the character seen above is a Vulcan, perhaps there will be a connection of some kind between Discovery and Picard.
Theory #18: Guinan will be aware of the shifting timelines.
Though clips with Guinan that we’ve seen so far seem to suggest that she and Picard will meet prior to his new mission or during the very early stages of it, one thing we know for sure about Guinan is that she has a sense of when the timeline has been changed or damaged. We saw this in The Next Generation Season 3 episode Yesterday’s Enterprise most prominently, and it could come into play again here.
This could set up Guinan to be an advisor to Picard; she could be the one to tell him, for example, roughly when she thinks the timelines were changed or when the point of divergence was – potentially setting up the entire mission to the past!
Theory #19: Laris and Zhaban will join Picard’s new mission.
Laris and Zhaban – Picard’s Romulan friends who lived with him at his vineyard – didn’t accompany him on the mission to track down Bruce Maddox and Soji, despite their skills potentially being very useful. If there’s another dangerous mission in the offing, will they be left behind again? I hope not!
We’ve already glimpsed Laris in some of the trailers for Season 2, and it seems as though she will have an expanded role, which is great. Although she and Zhaban filled a narrative role in Season 1 (being the familiar faces of home that Picard had to leave behind on his adventure, similar to the residents of Hobbiton in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) it never sat right that Picard had two ex-Tal Shiar operatives on his side and just… ditched them! So maybe Season 2 will right that wrong.
Theory #20: The loose ends from Season 1 will be tied up.
Because of the rushed nature of its final two episodes, Season 1 left a lot of unfinished story elements behind. Some of these will be solvable with a line or two of dialogue, and it would be great if Picard Season 2 could at least make an effort to draw a line under some of the unresolved, underdeveloped points at the end of Season 1.
Here are the main ones, as I see it:
What will become of the synths on Coppelius, and will they have to be relocated for safety?
Did Starfleet attempt to visit Aia and shut down the beacon at the centre of the Zhat Vash’s prophecy? Leaving it out in the open seems dangerous.
Will Starfleet contact the super-synths and attempt to make peace or convince them that they pose no threat?
Why did Bruce Maddox go to Freecloud?
With the Zhat Vash plot exposed, what will become of their crusade against synthetic life?
Did Federation-Romulan relations suffer as a result of the Zhat Vash’s attack on Mars and attempted attack on Coppelius?
What happened to Narek after he was captured by the Coppelius synths?
Who controls the Artifact and what will happen to the surviving ex-Borg?
Were there legal consequences for Dr Jurati?
Theory #21: At least one character from The Next Generation will make an appearance.
With the return of Guinan and Q, as well as Voyager’s Seven of Nine, there are already a lot of returning characters in Picard Season 2! But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a well-placed cameo or two, or even an episode like Season 1’s Nepenthe that steps away from the main story to revisit classic characters.
There are so many characters from Star Trek’s past that I would love to spend more time with; listing them all here would be impossible! But if Picard is to end with Season 3, as some outlets have been reporting, it would be fantastic if the crew of The Next Generation could reunite one last time.
I have a list of possible character crossovers that I wrote back in 2020, before we got to see any teasers or trailers, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
So that’s it!
With Picard Season 2 now just days away, those are my main pre-season theories. I have no doubt, though, that Picard Season 2 will bring new and unexpected storylines into play, so I hope you’ll tune in every week to see which theories get debunked and which new ones emerge as the story gets rolling!
I’m excited to see ex-Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena return. Getting back to the 24th Century had been my biggest Star Trek wish for almost twenty years, and we’ve now got three different shows in that time period! Whatever happens this season, and regardless of whether any of my theories pan out, I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll get a fun, engaging story.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March on Paramount+ in the United States and on the 4th of March 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery.
Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? It was one year ago today that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in the United States (and a day later in the rest of the world). It’s not unfair to say that I was incredibly excited about this series, which would take the Star Trek timeline forward in a significant way for the first time in eighteen years. Though I tried hard to keep my hype and expectations in check, there was no getting around how much I was looking forward to Star Trek: Picard.
As we hit the first anniversary, I thought it could be a good moment to look back on my remembrances (ha! get it?) of the show as well as what the first season achieved, what it did well, and where it came up short.
If you were a regular reader a year ago, you’ll recall from my reviews that the season started very strongly. In fact, I named Remembrance (the season premiere) the best Star Trek episode of 2020 – a year which, for all its problems, saw 33 episodes across three shows. I rank Remembrance very highly among modern Star Trek episodes, and I’d even compare it favourably to Deep Space Nine’s Emissary, perhaps placing them joint-first as the best Star Trek premieres.
The finale, on the other hand, let the season down somewhat. Carefully-established mysteries that the show had slowly build up over the preceding eight episodes felt rushed through in a two-part conclusion that dumped new characters, a new location, a new faction, and whole new storylines into play right at the very end. The season also ended with a plot hole unexplained – why Dr Maddox travelled to Freecloud – and the disappearance of main character Narek, whose storyline was dropped halfway through the second part of the finale.
So despite enjoying Picard overall, as I look back a year later at Season 1, I’m afraid I have to say that it was a mixed bag.
From the moment Star Trek: Picard was announced it shot to the top of my list of shows I was excited for. I may have talked about this in the run-up to the season, but I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed when Enterprise was announced in 1999. I wasn’t particularly interested in a Star Trek prequel, and while the show had heart and told some exciting stories, there was a sense really since Voyager ended and Nemesis had been in cinemas that Star Trek wasn’t moving forward.
Enterprise, the Kelvin reboot films, Discovery, and even Short Treks all told stories in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries, and though those stories were enjoyable and fun, there was a lot left behind in the 24th Century that was never explored. What would become of the characters we knew, of the Federation, of Starfleet, and all the other factions, races, and planets? The 24th Century had been Star Trek’s biggest era – with 517 episodes of television and four films starring three crews and a huge supporting cast of secondary and recurring characters.
The 24th Century was also “my” Star Trek era. The Next Generation was the first Star Trek series I watched, and it was literally my way into being a Trekkie. I have a great fondness for the shows of that era, and I consider it to be not only the time when Star Trek was at its most successful in terms of viewership (and finances) but also the closest the franchise has to a “Golden Age.” So to see that era abandoned for prequels and mid-quels wasn’t exactly disappointing, but it wasn’t something I was wild about.
So for eighteen years (Nemesis was released in 2002) Star Trek hadn’t moved forward in terms of the timeline. And even when Discovery launched and established itself with Short Treks and a spin-off, there was still no plan to revisit the 24th Century. Picard came along like a breath of fresh air, and I was incredibly excited, hyped up, and interested in what the series would bring. That was my mindset going into the premiere and each of the subsequent nine episodes.
Picard was not Season 8 of The Next Generation – and I didn’t want it to be. I was very keen that the new cast be given an opportunity to establish themselves within the franchise and become fan favourites for a new generation of Trekkies. What I hoped for was that, in thirty years’ time, people would be clamouring for a Dr Jurati series or Star Trek: Elnor with the same vigour I have for Picard. And I think, in that sense, we’ve begun to see at least the beginnings of that.
A lot of television shows don’t really settle in until Season 2, which is where the overused term “growing the beard” comes from. I’ve used that expression myself a few times, but in the aftermath of Discovery’s recent outing it seems to be the only phrase that critics are using to describe the show and it’s honestly put me off! But we’re off topic. There was perhaps a degree of leniency on my part going into Season 1 of Picard; a willingness to let some minor issues slide in order to see the show continue to build and grow. And as underwhelming as the Season 1 finale was, I’m hopeful that Season 2 can build on the foundation that has been laid.
Though there was the mystery of Dr Maddox’s location, the Romulans’ scheme, and later the beacon to contact the super-synths, what Season 1 really was, when you boil it down, was a team-up story. Picard, over the course of ten episodes, put together a new crew and gave them a reason to work together. Establishing each member of the crew, giving them a side-quest of their own, and binding them together to follow Picard was the primary accomplishment of the season.
I’ve used the analogy of the Mass Effect video game series once in relation to Star Trek: Picard already – when it comes to the basic existence of the super-synths and their beacon. But there is a second point of comparison that is interesting to me, and may be to you if you’ve played those games. In Mass Effect 2, much of the game is comprised of Commander Shepard recruiting a crew. Each member of the crew needs to be brought on board, then later a side-mission is given in which players can earn their loyalty. Picard Season 1 played out similarly.
Raffi wanted to go to Freecloud to reunite with her son. Dr Jurati had a secret plot to kill Dr Maddox. Elnor had to resolve his lingering emotional issues with Picard. Rios had to put together the pieces of what happened aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Seven of Nine wanted revenge for Icheb. Each of the main characters – at least those on the mission to save Soji – had to be recruited and then have their side-quest resolved before the story could reach its conclusion. This isn’t just a story from Mass Effect 2, it’s something many team-up stories do.
As I mentioned when considering some preliminary ideas for Season 2, finding a way to keep this crew together will be something that the next chapter of this story needs to address. Because they came together to do a single task – rescue Soji – and then continued to help the synths on Coppelius and prevent the arrival of the super-synths, they’re done. Their mission is complete, and Season 2 will have to find a believable reason for keeping them together. But that is a challenge for next time!
Each character we met was interesting, and none felt unoriginal or bland in the way some secondary characters can in a story which primarily focuses on one person. We’ll deal with Picard himself in a moment, but for now: Elnor was a lonely member of an all-female sect, and also had abandonment issues after Picard’s disappearance. Rios pretended to be the roguish “Han Solo” type, but had serious post-traumatic stress following his former captain’s murder-suicide while aboard the USS Ibn Majid. Raffi was a flawed genius whose drug problem had dominated her life and cost her her most important relationships. Dr Jurati had been brainwashed into murdering someone she loved. Narek was the spy with a heart of gold – but instead of being a cliché he turned that trope on its head by sticking to his mission to the end. Dahj and Soji were different from one another – androids unaware of their synthetic nature. One was drawn to Picard, the other deeply suspicious of him.
Then we had the reintroduction of several legacy characters. Dr Maddox, who we met in The Next Generation, had continued his research after his meeting with Data, and eventually was able to develop his own line of androids. Seven of Nine had helped Icheb become a Starfleet officer, but lost him when she was betrayed by Bjayzl. Riker and Troi, who had married in Nemesis, had a family – but their son had died. Hugh was perhaps the most successful of all the legacy characters, the ex-Borg who had taken full advantage of his own liberation to assist hundreds or possibly thousands of other ex-Borg on the Artifact.
There was tragedy and drama aplenty in each of the characters we met, but none of it felt forced or contrived in the way some drama shows can. This wasn’t a soap opera, it was hard-hitting. Picard Season 1 may not have followed the traditional episodic Star Trek formula, but it had a distinctly Star Trek tone – it used its sci-fi setting to examine real world issues. It did so in a tense, dramatic, and exciting way, and expanded on themes from The Next Generation and elsewhere in the franchise, looking at basic rights such as the right to life.
The attack on Mars can be analogous to many different recent and historical events, but the reaction to it is certainly reminiscent of the western world’s post-9/11 outlook. The aftermath of a tragedy allowed a nefarious faction to push through a prohibition on certain groups of people. Islam was not “banned” after 9/11, but as recently as 2016 Donald Trump talked of a “ban on people from Muslim countries” – these restrictions were in place for much of his term as President.
The theme of the season was in realising that we mustn’t judge whole groups of people by the actions of a few. This could apply just as much to the supporters and voters of Donald Trump in 2021 as it did to Muslims and others. The fanatics who attacked the United States Capitol a couple of weeks ago are no more representative of the 70+ million Trump voters as ISIS or al-Qaeda are of Islam. That is the message of this synthetic ban storyline: not to be so quick to judgement, and not to allow those with a pre-existing agenda to force the issue.
The Zhat Vash quietly infiltrated Starfleet, and slowly began poisoning the minds of Starfleet officers and Federation civilians. We have the literal expression of this metaphor via the mind-meld – this represents how those with an agenda are using propaganda and “fake news” to unduly influence the discourse. These themes are buried in the narrative, but they are there – and open to interpretation. This is how I see some of these storylines having real-world comparisons, but it may not be how you or someone else sees it. Fiction is always subjective, and that’s okay. If you disagree, that’s great!
As I’ve said before, a story doesn’t just have merit because it can be seen through a real-world lens. In some cases, pushing too far in that direction can lead to a narrative being less enjoyable. So Picard balanced out some of these contemporary metaphors with a truly engaging and mysterious Star Trek story.
We saw these events from Picard’s point of view, and he’s such a great character for telling this story because he didn’t know exactly what happened and why, just as much as we as the audience didn’t know. So when the synths attacked Mars, his life, his career, and his whole world fell apart. We meet him at the beginning of the season premiere as someone who’s fallen into a major depression. Dahj would be the catalyst for bringing him out of that – but it wasn’t until the mysteries and conspiracies had been unravelled and brought to light that he could truly move on.
We went on that journey with Picard. We began together, not knowing what had happened on Mars, not understanding why, and then along comes Dahj. She was equally mysterious: who was she, why was she seeking out Picard, who were the assassins that were trying to hurt her? And as we learned more about both of these elements of the story, this chapter of Picard’s life – and the lives of those around him – came into focus.
My criticisms of the season finale generally don’t stem from the fact that any of the narrative decisions were bad, but rather that I wanted to see more. We rushed through Sutra’s story, Dr Soong’s story, and the end of Narek’s story. We don’t know anything about the super-synths, and precious little about the civilisation on Coppelius. There was scope to know more if the season had been structured differently and perhaps extended by an episode or two, and that’s really where I felt things came unstuck.
From an aesthetic point of view, Picard blended The Next Generation-era elements with a style firmly centred in modern-day sci-fi. The design of La Sirena reflects this – it was clearly not a Starfleet ship. Inside and out, La Sirena has touches of Star Trek, but stands apart and very much does its own thing. Beginning with the redesign of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and carrying all the way through to Discovery, we’ve seen starship interiors with certain visual elements – angled corridors and hallways, grey or blue pastel carpeting, panels with distinctive lines, the warp core as a glowing column, and so forth. La Sirena has some hints at some of these, but is much closer to ships seen in The Expanse, for example, and other modern sci-fi properties in other ways.
Within the Star Trek fandom, starship designs and uniforms are both subjective things with a range of opinions on which are best. And before anyone rushes to judgement to say La Sirena looks bad or they dislike the mermaid-combadges, I’d say that we need to give the show time for its aesthetic to grow on us. There have only been ten episodes of Picard compared with 176 of The Next Generation, and those episodes are only a year old. Obviously nothing in Picard will feel as “iconic” yet – but as time goes by and we spend more time in this era that may happen.
I adored the design of La Sirena. It felt like a runabout mixed with a hot-rod, and I think that shows to some extent the personality of Captain Rios. This is his ship, and he’s put his personal stamp on it – as we saw in a very funny (and incredibly well-acted and well-filmed) sequence with five different Rios-holograms. After the blue boiler suits of Enterprise were followed up with another all-blue look in Discovery I was also glad to see more colour back in the two new Starfleet uniform designs which debuted in Picard. The one in the “current” time (that we saw people like Riker and Commodore Oh wearing) was my favourite of the two when compared to the design seen in flashbacks, but both were neat.
The only aesthetic problem I felt Season 1 had was its outdoor filming locations and their lack of variety. We visited locations on Earth which were supposedly in France, Japan, and North America, as well as half a dozen planets, and each looked exactly like southern California. Because Picard had ten episodes and almost all of them had some outdoor filming this was amplified far more than it had been in the likes of The Next Generation, which would see fewer outdoor shoots with more episodes in between them. But as the season progressed, the fact that each planet Picard visited was a barely-disguised location within a few miles of Los Angeles detracted from the look.
Some locations, like the planet of Aia, were beautifully created in CGI, but then ruined when scenes on the surface not only didn’t match the CGI creation of the planet (the colour and tone are way different). What made no sense to me about the Aia scenes in particular is with so little time spent there, why not use a sound stage? Rig up a planet that looks genuinely different instead of using an outdoor filming location. We only saw two or three scenes set on Aia, all around the beacon, and I honestly just thought it was a wasted opportunity. Vashti, Nepenthe, and Coppelius all felt very samey because of the decision to shoot outdoors in the same area, and that’s just a shame to me. I would love to see some more variety in Season 2 – either by travelling to shoot on location further afield, or by using indoor sound stages that can be made to look different each time.
So we come to the man himself: Jean-Luc Picard. I mentioned earlier that he was depressed, and the way this part of his story was conveyed was heartbreaking and wonderful. I recently wrote an article looking at the characterisation of Luke Skywalker in the 2017 film The Last Jedi, because he was also depressed in that story. It was one that some Star Wars fans hated, but it resonated with me. Picard’s story in Season 1 resonated with me too, for many of the same or similar reasons as I explained in that essay.
Depression and mental health are not easy subjects to convey in fiction, and Picard itself had a scene in the episode The End Is The Beginning which unfortunately painted a pretty stereotypical picture of mental health. But Picard’s story was much better, and very well done overall. It showed that anyone – no matter how heroic they have been in the past – can fall victim to depression. Picard lost his fleet, he lost his role in Starfleet, and instead of saying “no, the right thing to do is to help so I’m going to fight on,” he collapsed. He hit a problem that he couldn’t solve, suffered a humiliating defeat, and gave up. He spent years in quiet retirement – which was more like a self-imposed exile – because of how he felt.
That is powerful in itself, as it shows how anyone – even heroes that we want to put on a pedestal – can fall victim to depression. The same was true of Luke Skywalker. But what came next is equally important – Dahj gave Picard a reason to believe in something again. Not only was there a mystery to figure out, which can be tantalising in itself, but Picard was the only one capable and willing to help Soji – so he stepped up. Where he had fallen into the lowest point of his life, he found a reason to believe and that set him on the path to recovery. I find that a powerful and inspiring story.
There were two cathartic moments for me in Season 1 that I didn’t know I needed to see. The first was with Seven of Nine. During the latter part of Voyager’s run, Seven was my least-favourite character. She was annoying, arrogant, and worst of all, after learning some “lesson in how to be human” from Captain Janeway or the Doctor, she’d seemingly reset and forget it ever happened by the next episode, requiring her to “learn” the same lesson in being human many times over. She was repetitive and boring. But in Picard she had finally moved past her Borg years and embraced her humanity and emotions – even though she lost Icheb, seeing her get so genuinely angry and react in such a human way was something wonderful to see – and was performed beautifully by Jeri Ryan.
The second cathartic moment came from Data. His death in Nemesis wasn’t something I was happy about, but within the story of that film I remember feeling at the time that it worked. However, looking back I can see how, for example, seeing Picard and the rest of the crew laughing and moving on at the end of the film was perhaps not the right way to end the story. Data didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone – his sacrifice happened in a brief moment, and after saving Picard he was just gone.
Picard carried that regret with him in a far more significant way than the closing moments of Nemesis hinted at. Riker and Troi did too, and we got to see both of them express that. Picard poured his heart out to Data when he was in the digital afterlife, and the scene between the two of them was something incredible. It was something I as a fan needed to see, to put Data to rest properly after all these years.
In a sense, Picard and Data’s story is an inversion of the story Kirk and Spock went through in The Search For Spock and The Voyage Home. After Spock’s death, Kirk would stop at nothing to find a way to bring his friend back to life – even stealing the Enterprise. While Picard set out on his journey to save Data’s “daughter” from harm, what he ended up doing was bringing a final end to Data’s life. There was no way to save Data, nor to transfer whatever remained of him into a new body. The only thing Picard could to for his friend was finally allow him his mortality, and permit him to die. As Kirk might’ve said, that sounds like a “no-win scenario.” But as Kirk never really had to learn – at least until the moment of his own death – those scenarios exist every day. It might sound cool to say “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” and push to save everyone all the time, but that isn’t possible. It’s a fantasy – and Picard confronted the genuine reality of death in a way Kirk never had to.
Data had desperately yearned to be more human. From his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint when he struggled with whistling through to the introduction of his emotion chip in Generations and beyond, all Data wanted was to feel less like an android and more like a human. Mortality is one of humanity’s defining characteristics – especially when compared to machines and synthetic life. By shutting down Data’s remaining neurons and consciousness, Picard gave him perhaps the greatest gift he could give – and Data achieved his goal of getting as close to humanity as possible.
As I look back on Season 1 of Picard, I can see that it had some flaws and some issues. But none of them were catastrophic, and even though there was one episode that I described at the time as a “misfire and a dud,” the season as a whole was great. It started off with what is perhaps the best premiere of any Star Trek series, and though the ending was imperfect we got some amazing story-driven dramatic Star Trek.
Perhaps Season 1’s legacy will be defined by what comes next. Not only by future seasons of Picard, but by other shows and films set in or around this time period, expanding the Star Trek franchise and pushing it to new places. The Next Generation served as a launchpad for two other series and four films, and perhaps Picard has similarly laid a foundation upon which more Star Trek will be built. That’s my hope, at any rate.
Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Season 1 was an entertaining ride – with a few bumps in the road as mentioned. We got to learn a lot more about some of Star Trek’s factions – the Romulans in particular, but also the Borg – and meet some genuinely interesting new characters. Despite some leftover story threads from Season 1, Season 2 is potentially wide open to tell some new and interesting stories when it’s finally ready to be broadcast. I can’t wait for that!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There 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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first season of Star Trek: Picard, as well as for Star Trek: Discovery and other iterations of the franchise.
The revelation in Star Trek: Picard that the Romulans had managed to plant an operative in Starfleet was an interesting one, especially because that operative – Commodore Oh – had managed to attain such a high rank. She’d been working in Starfleet since at least the time of The Next Generation and probably even before then, with the Zhat Vash deciding to make a move against the Federation from the moment they learned of the existence of Data.
There had been androids, artificial intelligences, and other forms of synthetic life present in the galaxy prior to Data, and it’s conceivable that the Zhat Vash may have taken action against those as and when they could. But Data represented a step forward in the development of synthetic life, and definitely would have been considered a threat.
There are two possibilities for how the presence of Commodore Oh could be interpreted. She may have chosen to remain deep undercover and stick rigidly to her mission, even if that came at a cost to the Romulan Empire. Alternatively, however, she may have used her position as a spy within the Federation’s ranks to relay information to the Romulans at certain points. This could have been dangerous to her mission, increasing her chances of being caught. The way Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash were presented for the most part in Star Trek: Picard were as zealots, meaning they seem like the kind of organisation who would be willing to sacrifice the lives of their own people if it advanced their ultimate objective. Indeed, we saw this with their actions on Mars.
Let’s look at the timeline first of all. As early as the 22nd Century, Starfleet had encountered what could arguably be considered examples of artificial intelligence. In the Enterprise episode Dead Stop, for example, the ship encounters a fully-automated space station which seems to act of its own volition. There was also a certain Dr Soong in Enterprise’s fourth season, and while he initially worked with genetically enhanced humans, he indicated he would begin research into synthetics.
By the 23rd Century, Starfleet had developed its own AI. Control, as seen in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, would ultimately go rogue and kill a number of Section 31 operatives as well as commandeer a fleet of ships. There was also Richard Daystrom, who build an AI capable of controlling a starship in The Original Series episode The Ultimate Computer, as well as several different androids, automatons, and AIs seen in that series.
By this point in time, the Romulans were aware of the existence of the Federation and thus might’ve known about some of these developments. The key ones, in my opinion, which may be relevant to the Zhat Vash would be Control and the M-5 computer, both of which went rogue and may have fed into their fears about synthetic life.
We should also note that there are different types of synthetic life. For some reason, the Zhat Vash seem exclusively focused on preventing the rise of androids as opposed to other forms of AI. That’s despite the fact that many of the dangers present when considering out-of-control AI – including the ability to receive the message on Aia – are common to other kinds of artificial life too. Or at least would be in theory. To use Control as an example, if it became aware of Aia and the message there, given how aggressively it pursued Burnham and the USS Discovery it seems certain that it would have taken the same action as Sutra and tried to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” (the race of super-synths introduced in the finale of Star Trek: Picard). So why the Zhat Vash are okay with some types of AI and not others, and why holograms seem to be exempt, for example, hasn’t really been covered in detail in the series so far.
However, assuming that the Zhat Vash learned of some of these events they would surely have been concerned – at the very least about the possibility of further development and the creation of android bodies for these AI systems to inhabit.
After the mid-23rd Century, we have no real information on synthetic life until Lore was known to be active on Omicron Theta in the late 2320s or 2330s. Within Star Trek: Picard itself – notably the episode Broken Pieces – the crew of La Sirena assume that Commodore Oh first infiltrated Starfleet after Lore’s brother Data was discovered and activated in 2338 – and by implication, that was the time the Zhat Vash became convinced that Starfleet and the Federation were a threat due to their involvement with synthetic life. However, I think we can reasonably assume that the Romulans, and by extension the Zhat Vash, would have at least become aware of the Federation’s other ties to and encounters with artificial life – even if they didn’t learn about these events until afterwards.
The decision to send an operative in undercover is not one that can be done on a whim – it needs careful planning. If Commodore Oh did infiltrate Starfleet beginning in the 2330s, the Zhat Vash would have needed months or years before she joined up to make preparations. Obviously killing Data wasn’t the objective, or she would have been able to do so any almost any point. Nor was her goal to stop someone like Bruce Maddox working on synthetic life, as he seems to have been free to do so for decades right up until the ban.
I would suspect that Commodore Oh may have worked behind the scenes to slow research into synthetics, perhaps trying to delay or sabotage work being done. While we don’t have a lot of evidence to go on for this, the fact that Bruce Maddox was considered by Data to be incapable of preserving his memories in the episode The Measure of a Man could, in retrospect, be seen less as proof of Maddox jumping the gun and trying to work on Data before he was ready, and perhaps as evidence that his work was being hampered without his knowledge by the Zhat Vash’s spy.
This is what I mean by the question “how does Commodore Oh affect other Star Trek stories?” There are several which we can look back on in the aftermath of Star Trek: Picard and wonder how the presence of Commodore Oh affected things.
Let’s start with the Federation’s two biggest forays into the artificial intelligence realm in the 23rd Century – the Control AI and the M-5 computer. Obviously these events took place long before Commodore Oh was embedded within Starfleet, but they may have laid the groundwork for her mission.
Both Control and the M-5 computer went rogue. Their creators – Section 31 and Dr Richard Daystrom – lost control of them, and they began to act on their own, taking aggressive action against organic life. While the Federation will have wanted to cover up what happened – as indeed we see them do at the end of Discovery’s second season – the Romulans are known to be aggressive in their espionage operations, knowing far more about the Federation than vice versa. It would not be an unfair assumption that the Romulans would have come to know what happened in one or both of these cases, and thus it may have been around the mid-23rd Century that the Zhat Vash began preparing to infiltrate the Federation.
Thinking about these two stories from the point of view of the Zhat Vash – who, according to everything we know from Star Trek: Picard will have existed at the time – the events are very concerning. The Federation is barely a century old, with humanity only becoming warp-capable less than a hundred years before that. In a comparatively short span of time, humanity has developed intelligent machines that they went on to lose control over. Humanity must appear, to the Zhat Vash, to be incredibly dangerous, pushing further into unexplored space than any other faction had done, and building an inter-species alliance that even brought an end to the Vulcan-Andorian conflict. For Romulans, who like stability and predictability, the Federation had disrupted a state of affairs that had existed for centuries in the local region of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Would it only be a matter of time before they spotted the octonary star system where Aia is located? That had to be a source of concern.
The next major event would be the activation of Lore and Data, and it’s suggested in Star Trek: Picard that it was Data’s discovery by Starfleet in the late 2330s that prompted the Zhat Vash to send Commodore Oh in undercover. Again if we try to look at this event from their perspective, the Federation’s AI research had now gone beyond shipboard computers and had culminated in the creation of a humanoid android – and it’s this type of synthetic life in particular which seems to concern the Zhat Vash. If Control and the M-5 computer were worrying and had caused them to begin planning, the knowledge that Data existed and had been accepted to Starfleet Academy would have been panic-inducing to the paranoid Zhat Vash.
We should consider the Crystalline Entity’s attack on Omicron Theta and examine it through this new lens. Lore, Data’s brother, was responsible for leading the Entity to Omicron Theta, where it wiped out all life on the planet. But was Lore solely responsible? Star Trek: Picard showed us that the Zhat Vash had the ability to hack into synthetics, and that when they did, the synths could be reprogrammed to turn on their creators. The synths on Mars may have been somewhat basic compared to Data and Lore, but the underlying technology is the same, and it’s at least possible that the Zhat Vash hacked into Lore. This could explain not only the attack by the Crystalline Entity, but Lore’s selfish and evil persona.
Sticking with the Crystalline Entity, it may have simply been a convenient way to destroy the colony while having no fingerprints of Romulan involvement. Omicron Theta was a human colony, so if the Romulans were to simply destroy it from orbit with starships, that could lead to war with the Federation. Yet it makes perfect sense that they would see Dr Soong as his work as a threat and want to take every possible step to stop him.
Next we have Dr Maddox and his work with synthetics. We know that, despite Maddox’s objections, Data was allowed to enrol in Starfleet Academy. Around this time, which was roughly the same time of Commodore Oh’s infiltration, Maddox began working on synthetic life. There are two possibilities for why it took Maddox such a long time (fifteen years, give or take, from Data’s admittance to Starfleet Academy to the events of the episode The Measure of a Man) to make much progress with his work. One is that Maddox is simply not as skilled as Dr Soong was, which is what the episode implies. The other possibility has to be that part of Commodore Oh’s mission was to hamper any synthetic research going on within the Federation, and that she, somehow, undermined his work and slowed it down.
Maddox’s research, which we now know grew to include a whole department consisting of a number of scientists and researchers, may also be the reason why the Zhat Vash chose not to simply kill Data. At the time her mission began, Data was the only known extant android, so killing him would have made sense for the Zhat Vash. It would have been difficult to get at him within Starfleet, but they did have an operative. However, the realisation that the Federation would, sooner or later, be able to recreate the work, coupled with Data being confined within Starfleet and thus unable to strike out on his own and potentially discover Aia, may have focused the mission on stopping synthetic research, slowing it down, and gathering as much information on it as possible. As a Starfleet Officer, Commodore Oh would be well-placed to do those things.
The fact that it took Maddox a further twenty years to develop F8 and the other androids present on Mars could be taken as evidence of the Zhat Vash trying to undermine his work. How they could have done this is unclear, and they may have simply got lucky with Maddox not being better at his job. One question that has bugged me in the context of Star Trek’s sensors and replicators was this: how hard could it really have been to recreate Data using what they already knew about him? This was never really addressed on screen, but perhaps we can take the fact that the Federation was unable to do so as further evidence of their work on synthetics being slowed and undermined from within.
One faction I think we can safely assume would have fed into the Zhat Vash’s paranoia about AI would be the Borg. In the 2350s, many scientists in the Federation were working on the assumption that the Borg were a myth, or at least were so distant as to not be a threat. This was during the Romulans’ 50+ years of isolation, so we don’t know whether or not they had any more evidence about the Borg than the Federation. But there are two points of note: Star Trek: Picard established that, as far as anyone knew, the Borg had only ever assimilated one Romulan vessel. But in contrast to that, the region of space controlled by the Borg was vast, and they had vessels in the Beta Quadrant (where the Romulan Empire is largely based) during the 2370s.
Starfleet’s official first encounter with the Borg, as depicted in Q Who from The Next Generation’s second season, may have gone unnoticed by the Romulans, but the Borg invasion a year later, as seen in The Best of Both Worlds certainly will not. 39 Federation starships were destroyed, and an enemy ship made it to within a stone’s throw of Earth itself. If the Romulans had remained in blissful ignorance of the Borg up to this point, they will have known by the late 2360s that they existed – if for no other reason than Commodere Oh herself relaying that information.
The reason for the Romulans’ interest in the Borg in Star Trek: Picard must surely be twofold. On the one hand, selling the disassembled components is incredibly lucrative, and with the region’s sole supply the Romulans were in firm control of this market. Secondly, however, their fear of synthetic life must have been a major reason for studying the Borg so intently. For all we know, the “Mass Effect Reapers” were meant to be the Borg. But even if that isn’t true – and the Romulans don’t seem to know either way – the Borg, with their half-synthetic bodies and single-minded focus on assimilation, must have been a major cause for concern among the Zhat Vash. This can have only been exacerbated when two ex-Borg returned from the Delta Quadrant aboard the USS Voyager – Seven of Nine and Icheb.
Icheb would later be killed – butchered for his Borg components by an unnamed doctor at a facility run by Bjayzl. But who arranged for this? And why is there such a huge demand for Borg technology in the first place? I had theorised during the first season of Star Trek: Picard that the Romulans may be keeping a majority of components for themselves, but even if that isn’t true they have been studying Borg technology extensively. Icheb’s death seems to take place around the time that the Artifact came under Romulan control, so it’s at least possible that Bjayzl’s buyer was the Zhat Vash – that they were interested in learning about the galaxy’s preeminent synthetic race.
Finally, we have B4. We know from Star Trek: Nemesis that the Romulans acquired B4 and placed his disassembled body in such a location that the Enterprise-E would be the closest ship available to respond to Shinzon. How did they know so much about Federation ship movements? Is it at least possible that Commodore Oh was relaying information to the Romulans at key moments like this? The possibility cannot be discounted – and this could even explain why, in Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise-E is assigned to the Neutral Zone. Perhaps someone in Starfleet had an inkling that a Romulan spy was in their midst.
Sticking with this theme of Commodore Oh being more of a general spy than simply a Zhat Vash agent, there are a number of Federation-Romulan encounters that she may have been involved in. Or, conversely, we can take the failure of certain Romulan plots as evidence that she was deliberately not involving herself!
For example, Sela’s attempt to interfere in the Klingon Civil War in Redemption ended in total failure – thanks in no small part to Data. A large Federation fleet deployed a sensor net to detect cloaked Romulan ships, thus preventing Romulan aid to the Duras faction. This was a major move on the part of the Romulans, and would have shifted the balance of power in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants had it succeeded. The Federation-Klingon alliance would have evaporated, and the Federation would be facing a Klingon-Romulan alliance alone. Sela’s second plan, to conquer Vulcan in the episode Unification, similarly failed, though this was due to the actions of Data, Picard, and Spock on Romulus and may not have been something Commodore Oh could have done much about – except perhaps warn the Romulans that they were coming.
We can further see this lack of involvement in Face of the Enemy, where Counsellor Troi impersonates a Tal Shiar operative and aids in the successful defection of a senior Romulan government official. A Federation defector to the Romulans is also successful in his efforts to return to the Federation in the same episode.
There is also In The Pale Moonlight from Deep Space Nine. In this story, Sisko essentially lies, cheats, and covers up murders to drag the Romulans into the Dominion War – a war that they had no need to participate in. At the end of the episode Sisko deletes the log in which he’d detailed his actions, and with his disappearance into the realm of the Prophets, only Garak remained as someone who knew everything that happened. But the trail of evidence existed, and could have been pieced together by a Romulan operative within the Federation. Sisko may have deleted his log, but as we’ve seen in other Star Trek stories, deleting data isn’t a straightforward process, and as we saw in The Undiscovered Country, it’s possible for logs to be downloaded and transmitted via subspace, even to foreign powers. Kirk’s own captain’s log was used against him in his trial in that film.
However, we could take the Romulans’ successes in episodes like Message in a Bottle – where they are able to commandeer a brand-new prototype Starfleet vessel – as evidence that someone within the Federation was feeding information to them.
So where does all of this leave us when it comes to Commodore Oh?
I feel positively certain that the Zhat Vash would have come to know about what happened with the Control AI, not least because it decimated Section 31. Whether they would have come to know about the M-5 computer is unclear, but even if they didn’t, the Federation’s research into AI would have been troubling to the Zhat Vash at least by the mid-23rd Century.
A major candidate for their interference is Lore and the attack on the Omicron Theta colony. This fits with how the Romulans and Zhat Vash operate, it fits with them knowing how to hack positronic brains, and if there was only one successful android builder (Dr Soong) and two extant androids (Data and Lore), the best course of action from the Zhat Vash perspective may have been to exterminate the colony and prevent that knowledge spreading.
When that failed, and when Dr Maddox had begun his own work on synthetic life, building up a team of scientists, eradicating the problem was clearly far less practical. Killing Data would have only set back the Federation’s research in a small way, and it may have been decided that the best course of action was to work from within to slow them down.
Commodore Oh doesn’t seem to have actively interfered on behalf of the Romulans at key points where having an embedded operative could have been massively useful to the Romulan Empire. To me, the Federation’s successes against the Romulans in these stories implies that Commodore Oh was laser-focused on her own mission, and felt that stepping outside of her mission parameters, even to save Romulan lives in the short-term, was too great a risk.
Finally, when Dr Maddox was ultimately successful in creating synthetic life on a larger scale, and the rollout of F8 and the other androids went ahead, Commodore Oh felt that the time had come to act. Destroying a fleet intended to help the Romulans was simply unavoidable, because that’s where the synths were. Mars may not have been her first choice of target, but it was the only available target, and with synthetic life research and development accelerating, the time had come to act.
That’s how I see the timeline, and when taking a step back and looking at Star Trek as a whole, I don’t feel that the creation and retroactive inclusion of the Zhat Vash and Commodore Oh causes any major plot holes. Sometimes inserting characters and factions can have this effect, but in this case, I think we can find a way for episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager to play out in such a way that is consistent. The Zhat Vash and Commodore Oh were depicted as zealots, and it would make sense that someone with that kind of single-mindedness would be 100% okay with allowing her own government’s plans to fail and to see Romulans die in order to remain on mission. The Zhat Vash were playing an incredibly long game – Commodore Oh was embedded in Starfleet for over half a century, and even by the standards of long-lived Romulans, that’s a very long time.
While Commodore Oh’s plan succeeded, in the long run the development of synthetic life couldn’t be prevented, and it will be up to future Star Trek stories to show what implications, if any, that may have for the Romulans, the Federation, and the synths themselves.
So this was a different type of article, a deeper dive into a single story point and how it can be seen to effect – or not effect – other stories in the franchise.
I liked the Zhat Vash overall, though the inconsistent way they were referred to throughout Star Trek: Picard’s first season wasn’t great, and I question their almost-immediate decision to withdraw in the finale. They brought a whole new dimension to the Romulans, and one aspect of that is that we can look back at other stories in the franchise and think about how the Zhat Vash may have been involved. As someone who loves Star Trek, this kind of theory-crafting is a lot of fun. I consider the ideas outlined above to be at least plausible, but remember to take all of these fan theories with a grain of salt!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard and all other episodes, films, and series 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.