Since it seems that I’m doing episode by episode reviews of Star Trek Picard, my previous reviews are here.
I initially misread the episode title as “The End of the Beginning”, which would have been highly appropriate, because this third episode of Star Trek Picard seems to be the end of the set-up period and the start of the adventure proper.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
The episode opens once again with the fateful attack on Mars by hacked androids fourteen years before. A frustrated Picard exits Starfleet headquarters, where he meets up with a Starfleet officer named Raffi Musiker (a name that brings to mind an elderly Jewish man rather than a black woman, but who cares? The character is great), a more clean-cut version of the angry woman who threatened Picard with a shotgun at the end of the previous episode. They seem to be quite close to the point that Raffi calls Picard “JL”. It turns out that Raffi had been working with Picard on organising the Romulan evacuation project, a project which Starfleet had just shot down, because following the attack on Mars, where the evacuation fleet was being built, Starfleet claims they no longer have sufficient ships to pull off the evacuation. Picard suggests refurbishing decommissioned ships and using android labour (it seems they really ran out of prisoners), but all androids have been banned following the attack on Mars (which is officially reported to have been a fatal coding error) and so Starfleet just shoots down Picard’s proposal.
Raffi no more believes in the “fatal coding error” than Picard does, but then a “fatal coding error” makes no sense in the universe whose androids are explicitly based on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. How exactly do you mess up the three laws so badly? Oops, we accidentally forgot to encode the first and third laws and we left the second open to a hacker attack?
As for who is responsible for the hacker attack, Raffi believes that it’s the Tal Shiar, the Romulan secret police. The ordinary secret police, that is, since we learned last episode that there is an even more secret secret police called Zhat Vash. Picard points out that it makes no sense for the Romulans to sabotage their own rescue mission. However, that mystery has to wait, because Picard has more bad news. For he tried to force Starfleet to go along with his plan by threatening to resign, if they didn’t. We all know how that went, considering that Picard is retired and living at his vineyard in the present of the series.
With Picard retired, Starfleet has no more need for Raffi (apparently she was his aide or something) and promptly fire her, too, and revoke her security clearance. This is also why Raffi is still angry at Picard fourteen years later. Because while Picard had a beautiful family vineyard to return to (even if he admits that he’s never been truly happy there, because he belongs among the stars), Raffi doesn’t come from generations of wealth (and the Picard family must come from generations of wealth to be able to hold on to an estate like that through centuries of upheaval) and so has to settle for a habitation container at the foot of Vasquez Rocks (even namechecked in a caption, probably so we know we’re on Earth and Gorn is not waiting around the corner). It’s been pretty obvious for a while now that the post-scarcity utopia of the Federation isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be and here is yet more evidence. Yes, even after Starfleet fired her, Raffi didn’t exactly starve and her container home looks pretty comfortable. But even in the post-scarcity Federation, inherited wealth still get you a much more comfortable life.
Picard manages to keep Raffi from shooting him by offering her a bottle of wine and his theories regarding the Romulans, which at least get her to listen to him. But Raffi isn’t just angry at Picard, because he got to spend his retirement on a French vineyard, while all she got was a container at the foot of Vasquez Rocks, she’s also angry, because he abandoned her and never even called to see how she was doing for fourteen years. And even now he only shows up because he needs a ship, not because he actually cares about how Raffi is doing. Who isn’t doing too well and also seems to have developed a drug habit (I’m assuming that those leaves she’s smoking are a drug, which would be a first for Star Trek). There are some excellent performances by Sir Patrick Stewart (from whom we expected nothing less) and Michelle Hurd (whom at least I have mainly seen in supporting roles such as cop wife, cop boss, cop of the week or secret agent mother so far, so I didn’t really know what to expect from her) in this scene. And am I the only one who got vibes from that scene suggesting that Picard and Raffi were more than just colleagues? Or that at least Raffi hoped that they would someday be? Though Dr. Beverly Crusher might have warned her that Picard may be an excellent captain, but is pretty crap as a romantic prospect.
Raffi also berates Picard for sharing his conspiracy theories regarding organic androids and the Romulan super-secret police with Admiral Clancy and points out that Picard wouldn’t have made such a mistake in the past. More hints that Jean-Luc Picard is no longer as sound of mind as he used to be? Though she is angry at Picard, Raffi does give him the name of a pilot with an unregistered ship who might be able to help. And so we get to meet the second new member of the main cast for this episode, Captain Cristobal Rios, played by British Chilean actor Santiago Cabreras, whose performance I enjoyed quite a bit in the BBC Musketeers series of a few years ago. That Santiago Cabreras is handsome and shirtless in his very first scene doesn’t hurt either.
Cabreras plays Cristobal Rios as a typical Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds/Eric John Stark type intergalactic outlaw, a character type that is extremely common in space opera, but that we have never seen in Star Trek so far except as a guest character. Also between Cristobal Rios and Poe Dameron, is the hotshot pilot and outlaw captain character type now associated with Latino actors? And will someone finally make an Eric John Stark movie or TV series?
When we first meet Rios, he’s not only shirtless (and has a piece of shrapnel sticking in his shoulder), he’s also chomping on a cigar in best Logan and pre-Samuel Jackson Nick Fury fashion. Which is, come to think of it, the first (or rather second, considering that we saw Raffi smoking narcotic leaves earlier in the episode) instance of a character smoking in all of Star Trek, as far as I recall. Which is certainly interesting, considering that Star Trek originated in the smoking-heavy 1960s. It’s also notable that people are drinking proper alcohol on screen in Star Trek now rather than synthehol, which always sounded incredibly unappetising.
It turns out that Captain Rios is another Starfleet reject, cast out because of his involvement in a mission so secret that neither the mission nor the ship ever officially existed. Hmm, do I smell Section 31 there? Also, if Starfleet keeps forcing out good officers like Picard, Raffi and now Rios, it’s no wonder they’re in dire straits. I also find it interesting that the main crew of Star Trek Picard consists of people that the new dystopian Starfleet sidelined and cast out, fighting back against what the Federation and Starfleet have become. If you have to do a dystopian Federation/Starfleet story, this is a much better approach than whatever Discovery was trying to do.
Though Santiago Cabrera also gets to play another character, namely Rios’ emergency hologram, which looks like a more cleaned up version of Rios and may well be what Rios looked like when he was still a Starfleet officer. So emergency holograms don’t all look like Robert Picardo these days or maybe it was always possible to customise them? Also the Federation ban on synthetic lifeforms apparently does not extend to holograms, even though at least Voyager‘s doctor was very much alive. Either that or Rios deliberately flaunts the Federation ban. He certainly seems the type. Whatever, hologram Rios is delightful and totally fangirls Picard, who almost sits down in the captain’s chair aboard Rios’ ship, before he realises that this is no longer his seat and that Rios will probably throw him out, if he tries to sit in it.
Picard returns to the vineyard once more to pack his things and say good-bye to Lharis and Zaban, whose attempts to mother him (they even got him real baguette from the market, because a replicator just doesn’t cut it) are very endearing. “A middle aged couple of Romulan ex-spies have adopted Picard” is not at all what I expected this show to be and yet I love it. Furthermore, Lharis and Zaban get to show off their Tal Shiar fighting skills, when Chateau Picard is suddenly attacked by the same masked Romulan death squads that also attacked and eventually killed Dahj. Picard mostly hides behind a desk and leaves the fighting to those younger than him, though he does get off a few phaser shots. So does Dr. Agnes Jurati, who shows up in the nick of time to shoot the last Romulan with a phaser she’s taken from one of his comrades. “M…maybe it was set on stun”, Dr. Jurati stammers, clearly in shock, whereupon Lharis informs her that Romulan phasers don’t have a stun setting.
As for why Dr. Jurati put in such a timely appearance, she came to inform Picard that Commodore Oh, head of Starfleet intelligence and – as we, but not Picard and Dr. Jurati know – a Romulan Zhat Vash agent pretending to be Vulcan, paid her a visit and that Dr. Jurati told her everything about Picard’s theories and why he visited her except for one thing. Because Dr. Jurati has decided that she is coming with Picard, because she wants to find her former boss Bruce Maddox and meet Dahj’s sister, since she did not get to meet Dahj. She’s not taking no for an answer either, so Picard takes her along.
Of course, the timing of the Romulan attack just after Dr. Jurati talked to Commodore Oh is mightily convenient. Even more convenient is that the lone Romulan survivor would rather kill himself via the same acid spit trick that the Romulans used to kill Dahj – after screaming that Dahj and Soji are “the Destroyer”. Destroyer of what? That will have to wait. Though I have to say how much I appreciate that the interrogation of the Romulan went off without torture or threats of torture, because the good guys foregoing torture has become so rare these days. Zaban does seem to briefly consider what the US administration euphemistically calls “enhanced interrogation methods”, but Lharis stops him and says that they don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Lharis also remarks that the Romulan prisoner is a “stubborn Northerner”, just like Zaban. Because – to quote the Ninth Doctor – lots of planets have a North and Romulus is one of them.
The episode ends with Picard finally getting aboard Rios’ ship (Does it even have a name? Cause I don’t recall it being mentioned) with Dr. Jurati in tow, only to find that Raffi is coming along as well, because she just happens to travel in the same direction (Yeah, right). “Engage”, Picard says and the adventure proper can finally begin.
Meanwhile, aboard the decommissioned Borg cube the Romulans are dismantling, Dahj’s sister Soji is talking to another familiar face, Hugh, the former Borg, who appeared in The Next Generation episodes “I, Borg” and the two-parter “Descent” (both reviewed by Camestros Felapton here). Hugh is still played by the same actor, Jonathan Del Arco, too, which is a nice touch. Apparently, Hugh has now been promoted to director of the Borg reclamation project, though he is sceptical of the Romulans’ motives. Considering that Jeri Ryan will also reprise her role as Seven of Nine and that Picard himself spent one memorable episode as Locutus of Borg, Star Trek Picard is shaping up to be the place for deborgified former Borg to be.
We also learn just why there is a dead Borg cube floating around in Romulan space. For this particular Borg cube assimilated a Romulan ship, only to find that Romulans are indigestible to Borg. And so the cube was disconnected from the Borg continuum and left to float dead in space, until the Romulans took it over and proceeded to dismantle the cube and deborgify the Borg. Several former Borg are still wandering around the cube, but the deborgified Romulans are kept locked up. Their minds also seem to be damaged, unlike Hugh or Seven of Nine who recovered pretty quickly.
Soji has now been granted an interview with one of the deborgified Romulans, an anthropologist named Ramda, who is now reduced to laying tarot spreads or playing solitaire with some neat triangular playing cards. Soji tries to get through to her by using Romulan mythology as a shared framework, but Ramda is pretty far gone. She insists that she met Soji tomorrow. Soji displays some more knowledge that she shouldn’t have about how Ramda was assimilated – just as Dahj displayed knowledge she shouldn’t have. Then Ramda uncovers a card showing two women and declares that she now knows who Soji is, namely “the Destroyer”. She also asks which twin Soji is, the living or the dead one, before grabbing the phaser of a guard and attacking Soji.
Soji is understandably upset about the encounter with Ramda and retreats to her quarters to call her mother to ask of Dahj is okay, since no one has informed Soji about her sister’s death yet. “Yes, Dahj is fine”, the mother – the same image to which we saw Dahj talking earlier – assures her, before literally making Soji fall asleep. By now, it’s pretty obvious that the “mother” is fake and used to control and help Dahj and Soji, when necessary.
Narek, the hot Romulan, finds the sleeping Soji and wakes her with a kiss. He also tells a distraught Soji that he is falling in love with her. Is he lying? And if so, whom is he lying to, Soji or himself?
Narek also gets a visit from his sister and fellow Zhat Vash agent Narissa, who has restored her Romulan appearance after posing as a human Starfleet officer named Lieutenant Rizzo. Narek assures Narissa that he’s still on top of things and that she should let him deal with the problem in his own way, but Narissa is sceptical. Oh yes, and there are also some definite incest vibes between Narek and Narissa, because apparently every SFF show must have incest these days.
There have been a couple of complaints about the glacial pace of Star Trek Picard and in some ways this is true. Because Star Trek Picard doesn’t move very quickly and in the olden days, the events of the first three episodes would have been crammed into a ninety minute pilot. And it’s true that not very much happens in this episode and that the overall plot has only moved forward to by inches. Nonetheless, Star Trek Picard is thoroughly entertaining and I never feel bored, while I’m watching. And the various mysteries are intriguing enough that I will keep watching.