Star Trek Picard (PIC) Season 1

Season 1

RemembranceMaps and LegendsThe End is the BeginningAbsolute CandorStardust City RagThe Impossible BoxNepentheBroken PiecesEt in Arcadia Ego IEt in Arcadia Ego II

 

Remembrance

Synopsis

Several years after the destruction of Romulus by a supernova, Jean-Luc Picard is no longer in Starfleet. He lives in his family's home in France, together with two Romulan refugees named Laris and Zhaban and with his dog, Number One. Picard is plagued by nightmares about Data and the Mars colonies where a fleet was being built to save the Romulans, and that was destroyed by "Synths", synthetic lifeforms that are banned in the Federation since this attack. Picard agrees to an interview with the Federation News Network on the anniversary of the Romulan disaster, but angrily walks away as the role of Starfleet and the ban on Synthetics are brought up. In an apartment in Boston, a young woman named Dahj has to witness how masked assassins murder her boyfriend, but she suddenly activates powers that enable her to kill the attackers. She watches the interview with Picard and somehow knows she has to seek his help. Picard offers Dahj to stay in his house, but she disappears before the next morning to protect him. In San Francisco, Picard accesses his personal archive. It contains a 30-year-old painting by Data that depicts Dahj and that is named "Daughter". Dahj finds Picard, but is attacked again and killed with acid. The assassins were Romulans. Picard wants to get at the bottom of Dahj's secret. He talks to Agnes Jurati of the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, to learn that there has been research by Bruce Maddox on synthetic lifeforms that are indistinguishable from humans and that may have inherited traits from Data's positronic brain. They would have been created as twins. In Romulan space, Dahj's twin sister Soji is working in a facility on a Borg cube...

Commentary

When a still to be named new series with Patrick Stewart as Picard was announced in 2018, I was cautiously optimistic because I trust in Stewart as an actor and, to put it bluntly, because after the numerous issues with Discovery a new Trek series could only get better. Although it would have been great to continue more or less seamlessly, just with older characters, I never expected Star Trek: Picard to be a TNG 2.0. The world of television has changed too much in the past 25 years to make this a realistic option. Furthermore, we may have to put up with a certain deal of crossovers with the Abramsverse regarding the story and with Discovery on the visual side. However, I was very alarmed when the series was announced as another dystopian repurposing of the Star Trek legacy. Ultimately Stewart himself stated in an interview with Variety that he packed his personal anger about our (in his opinion) bad world into the series premise, which (in my opinion) is a poor choice no matter whether we like Trump and Boris Johnson or not.

So I watched the first episode "Remembrance" with accordingly lowered expectations and with the awareness that in this series, according to the interview with Stewart, "the world of 'Next Generation' doesn't exist anymore".

If one particular theme pervades the premise of Star Trek: Picard, it's the ruin of the benevolent and optimistic world of TNG due to the Federation's own carelessness, misjudgment, incompetence and narrow-mindedness. The attempt to reactivate B4/Data: a failure. The program to create synthetic lifeforms: a failure. The efforts to build the rescue fleet for Romulus: a failure. Picard's insistence to try and help the Romulans regardless: in vain. Spock's lone mission to save Romulus (as we already know since "Star Trek (2009)"): another failure. We may add that Picard fails once again when it comes to protecting Dahj. Well, there is hardly anything the almost 80-year-old man (in-universe Picard is even over 90) could do against heavily armed attackers, but Dahj herself says she would be safe with him, which is an error that adds to the list.

I have to concede that PIC is a more honest dystopia than DIS, the series that shamelessly glossed over its lack of ethos, especially in its first two season finales. PIC: "Remembrance", in contrast, tells us quite bluntly that Starfleet isn't Starfleet any longer and, through the fourth wall, how bad our world is. Perhaps I wouldn't make this a big deal if Stewart himself hadn't pushed his agenda so hard in the Variety interview. In any case, it is a pleasure to note that the actual story of "Remembrance" is less preachy than I would have expected.

Regarding Star Trek: Picard's look and feel, it is noticeable how it faithfully depicts the good old times only to evoke nostalgia, and only in dreams and as museum pieces. Perhaps this happens in a deliberate attempt to tell us this world is gone, also as its visuals are concerned. But I will hold my judgment until I have seen more of the series. There are some nice TNG cues such as the LCARS-style screen layouts and the TNG-era computer sounds. On the other hand, Picard also comes with several Discovery-style elements, of which the shuttles are perhaps acceptable (they don't look like 23rd century anyway), just as well as the Xahean boyfriend. But although many will rate them as an insignificant detail, the omnipresent Discovery-style split Starfleet deltas drive me crazy because they constitute a totally avoidable branding of Picard as "new Trek". As I already suspected, considering that it is a lot easier to sell PIC as being set in the same continuity as TOS and TNG than it would be with the extreme outlier DIS, the producers incorporate the latter into the new series "through the backdoor". Future episodes will show whether Picard is a hybrid of classic Trek and a reboot because of that.

Some fans may be disappointed that no one is out in space except for the very end. But "Remembrance" excels with numerous location shots, quite possibly as many as in no previous Star Trek TV production. Even if some of them are actually computer-generated (I honestly can't tell), I enjoyed this "Star Trek in sunlight".

The pilot episode can be broken down in three parts, each of which has a different pace and tone. The beginning shows the eponymous hero as a grumpy old man, who holds a grudge against Starfleet and essentially against the whole world that let him down. The only individuals he confides in, besides his dog, are two Romulan refugees (that he may have saved against orders, I'm interested to know more about them). The interview with the slick FNN journalist ostensibly angers him because he is asked inconvenient questions that were not agreed on. Yet, I think that actually Picard is unable to forgive himself and to let things go. "Offended dignity" is a more comfortable position for him than try to come to terms with himself. As Patrick Stewart emphasized almost since the first announcement of his series, Picard is a very different person now, and I suspect there is some more Stewart in him than during TNG. Although I still don't cherish the idea of designing and branding it as an "anti-Trump show", the way that Picard advocates the rights of Romulan refugees and of synthetic lifeforms gives it a positive spin after all. This is Star Trek!

The old, benign Picard is back, almost in an instant, when Dahj appears at Château Picard. It seems like he becomes some sort of grandfather for her. This is later explained as the effect of a piece of Picard's friend Data in her personality, but it would be just as plausible if the old man simply longed for a person who will outlive him and who he cares for. I like the calm middle part of the episode, in which Picard is very kind and sympathetic. His TNG time is still just a painful memory of a better time (and literally locked away in his archive for that matter), but at least not a part of a nightmare. Patrick Stewart's awesome performance carries the episode up to this point. Only in the third part the story gains a dynamic of its own.

"Remembrance" is very much like I expected until the last third of the episode, if not to say a tad too predictable. Then, all of sudden, Dahj is killed against my expectations. This, plus the revelation that she was created in a secret research project and has a shady twin sister (just like Data had Lore!?) gives the story the new spin that it urgently needs.

While it may all make sense at a later date, the way the twists are brought about doesn't work so well for me though. Let's recap Picard's talk with Dr. Agnes Jurati, which to me is a failed attempt to loosen up an info dump. He asks her whether synthetic humans of flesh and blood are possible, which she immediately negates and starts laughing. Then, bit by bit, she reveals that this might be theoretically possible, that it was an actual project of Bruce Maddox, only to confirm that they may well exist, and that for some reason there definitely has to be a twin. Jurati may have been lying to Picard at first because she was sworn to secrecy, but the writing feels like in bad crime fiction where witnesses always hold back something for no apparent reason, only to gradually reveal as much of the truth as the plot requires.

The following final scene is odd as well. It shows Dahj's twin sister Soji alive, apparently working for the opposite side, and is designed to culminate in yet another revelation, that the Romulans have somehow appropriated a Borg cube. This is definitely a nice twist, but the scene feels contrived and rushed, lacking any chemistry between Soji and the Romulan character Narek. It would have been a more exciting cliffhanger to simply show Soji on the Borg cube, without having her talk with anyone. Also, why is it that almost the very first thing Soji says to Narek, a man she knows for a few seconds and who just finds her necklace interesting although it looks rather ordinary, is that she grew up with her sister, whereas Dahj never mentions Soji to Picard, a man that she absolutely trusts, although her having an identical twin would be of utmost importance? This is just a contrivance to keep up the secret until the last moments of the episode.

The title sequence of Star Trek: Picard is comparable to the one of Discovery. It has very attractive visuals, but there is nothing space-related at all about it. The music is bland and lacks a recognizable melody. Just like the Discovery title ends with the TOS fanfare, the one of Picard closes with a few notes of the TNG theme, thereby insinuating a connection.

Star Trek: Picard comes with a tone that pleasantly differs from Discovery, although some aesthetics are the same. Also, the pilot episode of the new series doesn't get lost in attention-grabbing stunts, ludicrous plot convolutions and illogical actions of the characters as it is the unfortunate standard in Michael Burnham's series. Speaking of the characters, there are many of the main cast who don't yet appear in "Remembrance", but besides Picard (who is beyond criticism anyway) they are likable in some fashion. Dahj dies unexpectedly and perhaps prematurely, a bit like already T'Kuvma, only to make way for Soji, who could be an "evil twin". While I dislike this overused cliché, perhaps it will have more significance in the context of the series. In any case, the death of a person that Picard cared for and the secret of her origin is supposed to give him a motivation to swing into action again that is better than his "offended dignity". Overall, "Remembrance" is far from perfect but better than I would have expected after reading (perhaps too much) about the series premise. Picard has the potential become a Trek series that appeals to fans who embrace the traditional values of the franchise. More of this, please!

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Maps and Legends

Synopsis

Laris and Zhaban suspect that the Romulan Zhat Vash, an ancient cabal that loathes all synthetic life, may have killed Dahj. Picard and Laris investigate Dahj's apartment, only to notice that the attackers have eliminated all of their molecular traces. They also purged Dahj's communication logs, but Laris finds evidence that she contacted her sister, who apparently doesn't reside on Earth. Picard asks Doctor Moritz Benayoun, an old friend from the Stargazer, to attest that he is fit for interstellar service. But at Starfleet Command, Admiral Kirsten Clancy turns down his request for a ship and crew. On the Borg cube, Soji spends the night with Narek. The next day, the two start their work on reclaiming Borg drones. Agnes Jurati thinks that Dahj's whole identity was created just three years ago. Picard is determined to find Dahj's sister, who may have inherited the personality of Data, and the mysterious Bruce Maddox, who supposedly created the twins. Against Laris and Zhaban's advice, he contacts a woman named Raffi Musiker to get him a ship. Meanwhile, Admiral Clancy has apprised Commodore Oh of Picard's request. Oh is secretly involved in the operation that led to Dahj's death and that was coordinated by another member of Starfleet, Lieutenant Rizzo. Rizzo has to promise to Oh to be more careful and capture the other "thing" alive, by which she obviously refers to Soji. Rizzo appears to be human but is actually a Romulan operative in disguise. The person who is in charge of finding and investigating Soji is no one else but Narek, Rizzo's younger brother.

Commentary

The second episode of Star Trek: Picard further delves into the conflicts of the late 24th century and thereby fuels our impression that the once open-minded and benevolent Federation doesn't exist any longer. Three dystopian aspects become obvious in "Maps and Legends", which are apparently inspired by real-world developments, as already announced by Patrick Stewart. The first is the disdain for synthetic workers at Utopia Planitia prior to the disaster of 2385. It is easy to recognize that the Synthetics represent groups in our present world and time, who are marginalized because of their origin, religion or other characteristics. The story does not go as far as blaming the human shipyard workers for their own deaths, and it may well have been sabotage by a third party, rather than a rebellion. Still, there is a bitter undertone that "Mars 9/11" may not have happened, had humanity treated their own creations of artificial life with more respect. We might have expected that, after TNG: "The Measure of a Man", there was a learning process, that the Federation was better prepared for the repercussions of a series production of intelligent and possibly sentient androids. But this apparently isn't the case. The fact that no android as advanced as Data was ever created may serve as an excuse, but this mere technical limitation isn't a reason why Starfleet should forget the standards already established for and by Data.

The second dystopian aspect rooted in the real world is the isolationism of the Federation. Last week, the FNN interviewer showed her disregard for "the Federation's oldest enemy", and Picard had to correct her that "lives" were at stake, and not just "Romulan lives". Admiral Clancy corroborates the existence of racial prejudices in the Federation, and adds that 14 member planets were about the leave after the decision to aid the Romulans. I'm writing this just a few hours before the Brexit that was cited by Stewart as an inspiration for the isolationist tendencies in the Federation. However, another analogy in the European Union is probably more fitting: the refusal of some countries (namely Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) to accept asylum seekers, while other countries (namely Germany) demand their "fair" distribution across Europe. Even though the circumstances are somewhat different, there is a similar discord in the Federation of 2399 as in the EU of 2020.

Actually, in the very story, Admiral Clancy's personal attitude towards Picard is more objectionable than the rather abstract idea of disagreements in the Federation. She is extremely unsympathetic with Picard's concern from the start. She definitely has a point when she drops an F-bomb and calls his idea "sheer fucking hubris", considering that Picard publicly criticized Starfleet the other day and now demands a favor because, well, he is such a great person. But she does not even want to hear his reasoning and eventually gets insulting. The story constructs an estrangement that may seem realistic after all that has happened but that is anything but desirable and that decent people would avert. And this is perhaps a real-world analogy just as well. It seems to have become a custom, in big politics as well as among ordinary people in social media, that if you can't convince your opponent you don't try to find a compromise but just insult or demonize them.

A further worrying development in Picard may not have an exact real-world analogy. But it has been a trend in modern sci-fi/mystery shows for many years that there just has to be some sort of secret ops going on, and that many characters are not who they pretend to be. While disguising as another species is an old hat in Star Trek anyway, the "new" idea of having spies lurk behind every corner throughout a series failed utterly in Star Trek Discovery, with the L'Rell/Voq farce of season 1, with the the ridiculous character of Emperor Georgiou and with the overdone Section 31 story arc in season 2. It annoys me that Picard takes essentially the same beaten path, which impairs the otherwise decent episode. Especially the scene with Commodore Oh and Lieutenant Rizzo exemplifies stereotypical writing, in which the villain continues to run down her minion for her failure for several minutes instead of saying anything productive. Seriously, the hackneyed dialogue (including the promise "I've put my best man on it.") could have been lifted from any other show or movie that deals with secret operations. We deserve better than that!

The secret ops part of PIC does not bode well at all, although the fact that it appears to be a mainly Romulan operation and happens without the knowledge of the higher ranks of Starfleet exonerates them. Admiral Clancy may be stubborn and prejudiced, but at least she is not criminal.

In the trailers for the series, it looked much like Soji (or, as we believed at that time, Dahj) was in some sort of detention camp for artificial lifeforms. Whether this was a deliberate red herring or not, the truth is more interesting and mysterious. The Romulans "reclaim" Borg drones, which apparently means they just harvest useful parts, not really caring for the Borg that are severed from the Collective. They have turned the Borg cube into some sort of "science adventure park" that attracts many scientists, especially from the Federation where research on artificial lifeforms is illegal. This has become routine after "5,843 days without assimilation" = 16 years according to a more or less humorous sign (that can be found in a similar form in the Springfield nuclear power plant). But the existence of a "Gray Zone" and of Borg activity indicators are an unmistakable sign that something will go wrong, as per the principle of Chekhov's gun.

Jean-Luc Picard is a bit less in the focus than he was in "Remembrance", but he is still the by far strongest character. Anything else would be a surprise anyway. High praise also goes to Jamie McShane as Zhaban and Orla Brady as Laris. Their characters have grown on me already. Their kindness, paired with wisdom and reason, appears almost anachronistic in the often callous and reckless world of new Trek. Jurati is clearly a nice person as well, but she has a bit of a silly undertone (perhaps because Alison Pill grins a lot in her role?). And while Dahj as the young woman in distress was absolutely convincing, I don't get what would motivate her twin sister to help disassemble Borg drones, something that obviously troubles her. The episode introduces several more characters, of whom the villains are very disappointing because they are awfully stereotypical, as already mentioned.

The primary purpose of "Maps and Legends" is to link together the first three episodes of the series. The episode unfolds nicely but ends somewhat abruptly. Perhaps a pilot movie of one and a half hours may have been a more exciting way to show how Picard stumbles across a mystery and gathers a crew to investigate it. Well, this leaves the question of how Picard finds the rest of his crew and a ship to be answered next week. And although I'm anything but enthusiastic about the spy story, I'm looking forward to it!

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

The End is the Beginning

Synopsis

14 years ago, briefly after the attack on Mars, Picard demanded from Starfleet Command to either continue the efforts to save the Romulans or to accept his resignation. His superiors agreed to the latter. Raffi, then an officer under his command, left Starfleet as well. Although Raffi resents Picard that he let her down in the following years, she gets him in touch with Cristóbal Rios, another former Starfleet officer, who owns a ship. On the Borg cube, Soji and Hugh talk to Ramdha, a Romulan woman that was freed from her Borg implants. Soji is still unaware of her own nature and of her sister's death. To Hugh's surprise, she says Ramdha was assimilated right before the Borg cube was disabled, although she couldn't possibly know that. And worse, Ramdha says she knows Soji "from the future" and that Dahj is dead, which their mother, however, denies. Just as Picard is preparing to leave Earth, Romulan assassins intrude into the Château Picard, but Laris, Zhaban and Picard manage to kill them. Dr. Jurati appears and shoots another one of the attackers. The last survivor speaks of Dahj as "the destroyer" before he commits suicide. Ramdha says the very same about Soji. Dr. Jurati and Raffi, who has found out that Bruce Maddox is in a place called "Freecloud", join Picard's crew.

Commentary

Picard finally sets out to find Dahj's sister in "The End is the Beginning". Overall, however, the story progresses very slowly. We hardly learn anything we didn't already know from the first two episodes. This is a nice contrast to Discovery where seemingly no episode could do without two or three plot twists. But the third part of the Star Trek: Picard series premiere corroborates my impression that the story could have easily been compressed to one and a half hours, without omitting anything of note. "The End is the Beginning" feels overall even slower than "Maps and Legends", which is unusual for the end of a trilogy.

On the bright side, the unhurried pace of the episode is beneficial for the character development. Yet, only the people appearing next to Picard profit from this extra time. It is almost like the protagonist's presence lets them appear more relevant, and even everyone's acting seems to improve whenever Patrick Stewart is standing right beside them. Although they are rather clichéd, and even clichéd in the same fashion as disillusioned former Starfleet officers, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Rios (Santiago Cabrera) strike a chord with me just as they do with Picard. I only wish the writing had abstained from showing Raffi as addicted to some sort of alien cannabis, and Rios as ridiculously "manly", with the wild hair and beard, the tattoo, the cigar in his mouth, the bottle of brandy and the shrapnel in his shoulder. At least, those who always lament the "wokeness" of the new Trek have no reason to complain this time! And the Rios holograms are fun, just because they are so different than the real man.

Soji, on the other hand, continues to be boring, and is now joined by Hugh, in the so far underwhelming return of Jonathan Del Arco to the franchise after over 25 years. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to reveal a bit more about the mystery what the Romulans are really doing on that Borg cube, in addition to cannibalizing technology and tending to the xBs, the former drones, who all seem to be very disoriented. At least the latter is laudable, but it is obvious that there has to be more about this uncanny Borg science park. Even rather than a plausible explanation what is going on, I fail to see a motivation in Soji and also in Hugh. So far they are just doing their jobs. The incident with Ramdha could have changed that, but even after Soji has been told that something is wrong with her and that her sister is dead, she remains strangely composed. And her affair with Narek still isn't credible either. Narek, of course, may fake his feelings for her but if Soji is at least a bit like her sister, she should be troubled by everything that's going on, including Narek. Maybe this all will make more sense later, but currently it's just dull characters in a dull story.

The villains remain stereotypically moustache-twirling just as in last week's episode. The Romulan assassins fail to accomplish their mission once again, this time not stopped by a little girl but by an old man, two retired agents and a woman firing a disruptor for the first time in her life. What a pitiful track record! Commodore Oh (whose sunglasses and the protruding ears make her look like a caricature of a Vulcan) can be seen only briefly when she badgers Jurati. Narissa Rizzo, now with her Romulan look again, appears to have a sexual interest in her apprentice Narek (Are we still supposed to believe he's her brother?), but if insinuating just that was the intention, there could have been a much more decent way than letting her move and talk like a maneater. The scene with these two is just cringeworthy. As already mentioned, fans who miss the traditional gender clichés in modern TV have nothing to complain about in PIC.

In the two preceding reviews, I already elaborated on how PIC incorporates contemporary dystopian elements, in an effort to gain more relevance for our world and time. "The End is the Beginning" adds a (secret ops?) ship whose existence is denied by Starfleet and officers who apparently get discharged because they ask the wrong questions.

But speaking of being contemporary, there are many more aspects in the series that feel a lot like the early 21st century and not at all like the 24th century we know from TNG. There are numerous anachronisms in the form of present-day slang ("dude"), of drugs such as alcohol, cigars and joints (at least among former Starfleet officers), of fashion trends such as tattoos, of cities with illuminated advertising and of the concept of privileged people ("in your very fine château"). Oh well, and Commodore Oh wears sunglasses because it's so cool, although she should have inner eyelids if she really is Vulcan. Some of this may pass as a stylistic choice, some other aspects may be important for the story. But overall, this all is a far cry from Roddenberry's idea of a humanity that has undergone a development. The late 24th century of Picard is a mere mirror of our time, and not any longer a vision of the future. Rather than Discovery, Picard is recognizable and acceptable as Star Trek again, but the producers make the same mistakes in their obsession to let the show appear as contemporary as possible.

Summarizing, "The End is the Beginning" is nice watching with everything directly related to Picard, boring regarding the storyline on the Borg cube and obnoxious as the villains are concerned. Although the episode has only minor issues, it suffers from an unwillingness to reveal more about what the Romulans are doing on the Borg cube and to also develop the characters that are not Picard's closest allies. I hope that the series will solve the mysteries in the following, and will not protract everything to a hurried and incomplete resolution in the final episode. And just in case this rather unenthusiastic review creates a wrong impression, I am still confident that PIC may become a worthy new Star Trek. Even if some things are not quite as we are used to and as we would expect from classic Trek, this show deserves our attention.

Annotations

Rating: 4

 

Absolute Candor

Synopsis

When Admiral Picard was on a planet named Vashti to coordinate the relocation of Romulans 14 years ago, he befriended a Romulan boy named Elnor, who was being raised by the Qowat Milat, an order of "warrior nuns". The order lives by the motto of "Absolute Candor", and its members may decide to "bind their swords" to a quest - the condition being that it is a hopeless cause. Picard never kept his promise to return to Vashti after he received the message of the attack on Mars, upon which the rescue operation was cancelled. Although their destination is Freecloud, the purported hiding place of Bruce Maddox, Picard orders a detour to Vashti, which upsets Raffi. When La Sirena arrives at Vashti, no one wants to welcome Picard, who beams down and proceeds to the nuns on his own. He meets Elnor again, who is grown up now and has become a formidable warrior. On the Borg cube, Narek spends time with Soji, in his efforts to find out more about her and her kind. He expresses doubts about her story of having been on a transport to the Beta Quadrant about three years earlier. Rizzo, however, demands more results from Narek and gives him one more week until she would apply violence. On Vashti, Elnor declines when Picard asks him to join his mission. In the nearby settlement, the disappointed Picard defies a racist sign saying "Romulans only" and evokes the wrath of the local Romulans, among them Tenqem Adrev, a former senator who is angry about how the Federation made big promises to his people and didn't keep them. He challenges Picard to a sword fight. Picard throws the sword into the dust. Elnor steps in and tells Adrev to stand down. When he does not comply, Elnor kills the man. Just as one of the other Romulans draws a disruptor, Elnor and Picard are beamed up to La Sirena. Rios's ship gets into trouble when an ancient Romulan Bird-of-Prey attacks. But a small vessel appears and supports La Sirena to defeat the Bird-of-Prey. As the other ship gets hit and is about to crash into the defense shield of Vashti, Picard orders to be beam the pilot aboard. To his surprise, the pilot turns out to be Seven of Nine!

Commentary

The flashback in the teaser has already become a trademark of Star Trek: Picard by now. The teaser of "Absolute Candor" once again revisits the time around the attack on Mars in 2385. It skillfully introduces the refugee planet of Vashti, the "warrior nuns" of the Qowat Milat order and most notably the character of Elnor. But the exposition in this episode is not yet over. The following eight minutes are taken by a discussion that is only superficially about Raffi's objections to visiting Vashti instead of proceeding straight to Freecloud. More notably it is a single big info dump on the Qiris sector, the Fenris Rangers, the Romulan Rebirth movement, Kar Kantar and his Bird-of-Prey and whatnot. It is way too much information to perceive and process, especially considering that something simple like "Vashti is an unsafe place" would have absolutely sufficed to establish everything we need to know for now. I wonder if the Picard writers speculate that, in the time of streaming, viewers stop and rewind several times until they catch everything. At least, that was the way I felt compelled to watch it.

Other than discussing the situation on Vashti and the pain of living, the crew doesn't have a lot to do anyway in this episode, which is all about Picard and Elnor. In the flashback of his previous visit to Vashti, Picard is visibly a different man than he used to be during TNG, and than he would be in the present, still 14 years later. He is totally relaxed and amiable. In this regard, Zani's remark that the admiral dislikes displays of emotion and is not fond of children is almost like she was present during the first few seasons of TNG, rather than describing the charming man right in front of her. She clearly breaks the fourth wall. Picard's inner peace vanishes all of sudden as he receives the message of the attack on Mars. And for all we can tell, it still hasn't returned by 2399. The Picard that visits Vashti once again, to seek Elnor's help, may have hope again, but he has lost his easiness. It is great to see Patrick Stewart play two different versions of Jean-Luc Picard in the same location in one episode. I am glad the script gives him ample screen time for it and that director Jonathan Frakes captures this very well.

Ever since the character of Elnor (Evan Evagora) first appeared in the advertising campaign for Star Trek: Picard, fans have nicknamed him the Romulan Elf. There are many obvious similarities with other franchises and mythologies, and there is currently rather little specifically Romulan about Elnor, a problem that he shares with Narek. But in all fairness, the Romulans were never shown as more than military people who only knew their duty, or as sinister Tal Shiar agents, "Unification II" being the only notable exception. There is room for Romulans to evolve beyond what we already know and to become more diverse. So far, I like Elnor. He may have proven his loyalty to Picard by killing the man who attacked his mentor, but I hope he will become more than just Picard's bodyguard (or hired assassin, as Raffi muses).

Regarding Elnor's killing of ex-Senator Tenqem Adrev, it is shocking to witness for someone from a society that shuns violence and whose phasers are on stun by default. Although it qualifies as an act of self-defense, Picard's harsh criticism of Elnor is justified, considering that the skilled warrior may have chosen a non-lethal way to defeat his inferior opponent. We know a bit about the Qowat Milat by now, yet we can't tell which kind of moral compass Elnor was taught besides "Absolute Candor". This may still make for interesting stories, similar as with Worf on TNG. I think I shouldn't be worried that Elnor won't appear as alien enough.

That being said, Picard could have avoided the fight in the first place, by simply not provoking the resident Romulans. As laudable as his statement against racism and as understandable his attempt to explain himself may be, the interpretation is possible that Picard got himself into trouble to compel Elnor to come to his rescue.

The storyline on the Borg cube makes just a tiny little bit of progress. I think the chemistry between Soji and Narek is somewhat better than in the three preceding episodes, and after her cringeworthy appearance last week we can take the evil Narissa Rizzo a bit more seriously. At least, the characters are not talking so much in riddles this time. Still, this is all far less interesting than anything directly related to Picard. The principal problem is not the slow progress (after all, Jean-Luc Picard takes a lot of time as well, to achieve anything). Rather than that, the Borg cube story fails to captivate me because of the ongoing secrecy. We still don't know what the main purpose of the reclamation facility is. We still don't know what motivates Soji or Narek, who both are not what they appear to be.

The dog fight between La Sirena and the old Romulan Bird-of-Prey is clearly a highlight of this episode, and a pleasant contrast to the visual overkill of space battles on Discovery. Although the idea of showing an iconic but anachronistic ship on the show may be labeled as mere fan service, I like it - even more so as it proves that classic design never becomes obsolete.

"Absolute Candor" is a mostly enjoyable episode despite a long-drawn exposition and overall little progress. The introduction of another likable character, the exciting space battle and the much-anticipated return of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine is more than enough reward. I only hope Seven has a good explanation why she was there right in time for the rescue. In any case, I hope she will stick around for a while, and I am looking forward very much to seeing if and how the character has changed over the years.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Stardust City Rag

Synopsis

13 years earlier, Starfleet Lieutenant Icheb ran into a trap on a planet in the former Neutral Zone. He was captured and his Borg implants were forcibly removed on behalf of a woman named Bjayzl. When Seven of Nine, then already working for a peace force known as the Fenris Rangers, arrived for his rescue, all she could still do for him was release him of his pain. In the present, the crew of La Sirena prepares to free Bruce Maddox from the clutches of a person in Stardust City on Freecloud, who turns out to be Bjayzl. Raffi beams down to meet her son, Gabriel Hwang, and Jurati stays on the ship to operate the transporter. Rios, Elnor, Picard and Seven beam to Bjayzl's bar in Stardust City. They pretend to operate on behalf of the Romulan Tal Shiar, and on Seven's suggestion they propose a deal to Bjayzl: Seven, with her valuable intact Borg implants, in exchange for Maddox. Picard is unaware of the past dealings Seven had with Bjayzl, and to his surprise Seven grabs the woman's neck, threatening to kill her and forcing her guards to put down their weapons. Picard convinces her to relinquish her revenge, and they beam back together with Maddox. When Seven is about to leave the ship, she asks for two phasers. But instead of returning to the Fenris Rangers, she beams down and kills Bjayzl. Raffi returns to the ship after a disillusioning encounter with her estranged son and his pregnant wife. On La Sirena, Maddox is in urgent need of medical treatment. He reveals that Dahj's sister Soji exists, and that he sent her to the "Artifact", the Romulan Borg cube, to "find the truth". Jurati used to be closer to Maddox and has been involved to a greater extent in the creation of the twins than anyone knows. When she is alone with Maddox in sickbay, she deactivates his life support, and Maddox dies.

Commentary

I initially thought I would come off clear, I was willing to concede it was necessary for the story and didn't want to put special emphasis on it in my review. However, a few days later, and after watching it again, the scene in which Icheb is brutally butchered and his eye is ripped off still haunts me. A good deal of this series is about the destruction of concepts, places and characters that fans used to love, and this time they have taken it too far. I wonder if I will ever be able to watch a Voyager episode with Icheb again without this gore scene before my eyes. Thank you very much Alex Kurtzman and Kirsten Beyer!

In order to assess the rest of the episode, I have to blank out what happened in the teaser. And some of this rest isn't bad. Picard finally gets into motion, both in terms of story progress and of action scenes. Yet, "Stardust City Rag" comes with exposition, exposition and more exposition. It even surpasses last week's "Absolute Candor" in this regard. It takes about thirty minutes until Seven's back story, the new villains, the habits on Freecloud and other facts are introduced. And it doesn't really help that, as already in "Maps and Legends", a scene jumps back and forth between the preparations and Rios's actual mission on Freecloud, a trick that can barely disguise its purpose to squeeze even more details into the story, in a "tell, then show" fashion.

Conversely, other facts that are arguably more important for the narrative and to understand the characters' motivations, are only hinted at or are mentioned too late, although we can expect they were discussed among the crew just as well. For example, it remains unknown for some time why Raffi ominously searches for a man named Gabriel Hwang on Freecloud. Is she going to betray Picard? Then, all of sudden, she is seen saying goodbye to Picard and beams down to the city. At this time, Picard is well aware that Raffi is going to visit her son, and they definitely talked about it before she made the decision. But it was apparently deemed more interesting to keep this a secret, and to keep Raffi a mystery for that matter. If there is anything this show needs less of (besides one-dimensional villains), it is unnecessary mystery-mongering, especially if it concerns the main cast.

That said, after Raffi's unwarranted bitching last week, she scores points with the full tragedy of her life that is shown in "Stardust City Rag". She isn't only estranged from Starfleet because of her conspiracy theories about the attack on Mars. She even destroyed her family, and left behind an estranged son. The scene in which Gabriel repels her and she remains behind, heartbroken yet unreasonable, is one of the most credible character moments of the series so far (although the actor playing her son, unlike Michelle Hurd, doesn't deliver a strong performance). Star Trek was never a family drama, but at least this is something that works, unlike some other concepts of the series.

Speaking of nice character interaction, I am fond of the two scenes with Picard and Seven in the holo-château and just before she leaves (to secretly take revenge). We never learn if and how well the two know each other personally, which is a good thing because otherwise it would have meant still more exposition. But the two have a lot in common that is worth being discussed, just because they deal differently with their experiences. Seven is clearly a different person than she was at the time she returned from the Delta Quadrant, more than twenty years ago. This is partially due to her disillusioning experiences as a Fenris Ranger and due to Icheb's death. But I like to believe that she also made a big leap towards being more human based on positive experiences, perhaps in the years before 2385. This all may explain her informal, almost inadequate but refreshing attitude towards Picard. Well, Stewart and Ryan are two legends of classic Trek, and they couldn't possibly disappoint me in this regard.

But let me address the other elephant in the room, besides the gore scene. Seven's bloodthirsty revenge on Bjayzl casts a cloud not just over this episode but over Seven and what she means to many fans. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this episode destroyed the character, but in many ways Seven suffers the same fate as Star Trek on the whole. It used to be a tale of resourceful Starfleet crews who worked together, almost as one mind, in the spirit of peace and understanding, and despite all hardships. In the new Trek, the society is divided and the people are broken, although the hardships arguably aren't harder. Picard is apparently the only one who has not lost his moral compass, who is still honest, merciful and decent, like a relic of the old times and let down by everywhere.

Seven's decision to pursue her revenge and lie to Picard is a controversial development whose main purpose is to make her appropriately edgy for the new dark universe of Trek. Provided that she survives her rampage on Freecloud, it also sort of precludes her return to the show, other than in the role of a shady vigilante whose law is her instinct. This is very unfortunate to say the least, considering that Seven was not among the way too many PIC characters who lack a recognizable motivation or whose true motivation is concealed behind lies. Actually, I would have wished for her to become a defender of synthetic or augmented life, just as Picard is one.

But Seven's betrayal apparently still wasn't enough. There just had to be another treacherous woman in Picard's team, as if the series had to catch up with Discovery's track record in this regard. Some fans suspected since the very first episode that Jurati pursues her own agenda, and several more mused that the "coincidence" of her being present while the biker gang assaults Picard in his château is further proof for her being a Romulan agent. I didn't give too much credence to these rumors though because, a bit like with Elnor too, subterfuge is none of her business, unless Jurati is a very gifted actress, as yet another agent who has been working for the Zhat Vash all along. But Commodore Oh probably hired her as late as in the notorious "sunglasses" scene, whereas she must have been lying to Picard from the very start, a degree of pretense that I believe is unrealistic for a person like Jurati. The rumors were correct, but I still don't buy it. Also, the tears and whatever her secret knowledge is can't justify that she brutally murders poor Maddox, which is another aspect of her personality I simply don't buy, unless she is remote-controlled. On the bright side, Alison Pill can finally show that there is more in her repertoire than comic relief.

Elnor's very few contributions to the story may seem silly and redundant. As the other people on La Sirena rehearse for their undercover mission on Freecloud, he remains passive. He has difficulties to understand what is going on, much as if he were a Romulan reincarnation of Commander Data. But he is eventually the one who nails it. It is all about pretense, a concept that the student of Absolute Candor has never learned. Elnor can only be Elnor. Works for me. But realistically, shouldn't all people on La Sirena have difficulties to pretend to be someone else? Well, it is a recurring theme that Starfleet officers beam down to alien planets in disguise. Perhaps "Acting for undercover missions" is a subject at Starfleet Academy, or of regular trainings? I think Rios is convincing as a former officer, who is uncertain about what they are going to do, but is daring enough to take the challenge and perhaps even has a bit of fun with it. Yet, this assumption can't be applied to Picard's performance. I bet Patrick Stewart had a lot of fun in his scenes as an old mobster with a sinister Frenglish accent. This may be hilarious, but it is also clear that he is not in character. He is too obviously an English actor poking fun at movie clichés and at Frenchmen trying to speak English, rather than a former Starfleet admiral in disguise that strives to be taken seriously by the local criminals.

Coming back to Elnor, Picard made a big deal of his skills last week, so much that he would take a detour prior to the urgent mission to Freecloud. Now, on Freecloud, it turns out that Picard couldn't have found anyone less qualified than Elnor! I wouldn't say this is a mistake of the story or of Picard, but the irony is probably unintentional.

This episode is very uneven. Even after the horror scene right at the beginning it remains hard to watch, albeit for different reasons. The already mentioned switching back and forth between two scenes that are separated by a few hours is bad enough. But there are some more scenes that feel like they were cut short, like the directing didn't manage to create a transition, and like the writers failed to build a story flow. What a disappointing setback after the comparably well-directed and well-written "Absolute Candor"! Jonathan Frakes directed both episodes, I don't know why he didn't get this one right. There are attempts at comedy as the crew of La Sirena get dressed for their mission to Space Vegas, but this never plays out. The people in front of and behind the camera seem undecided whether there is really something comical about the crew in flashy clothes. Also, the score is quite unfitting at times: dramatic during the awkward dressing session and ominous for no apparent reason on other occasions. The chief mistake probably was to try to combine cruelty and comedy in one episode in the first place.

"Stardust City Rag" has a few scenes that I like, but it leaves me very dissatisfied. Despite Seven of Nine's appearance and her exchange of experiences with Picard, this episode has almost no Star Trek vibe, in addition to the more technical flaws of the storytelling. And although I initially wrote that the series gets into motion, this isn't really true on second thought. The killing of the much-anticipated character Maddox is anticlimactic. The whole story progress boils down to him revealing the whereabouts of Soji, and we are once again left with more questions than answers.

Overall, this episode is a mess that comes with excessive graphic violence, that makes us go through an extra-long exposition, that is almost strenuous to watch because of its lacking story flow, that suffers from out-of-character moments (also in retrospect), that introduces still more villains and traitors and that tortures, kills and discredits beloved characters just to be "edgy" and "modern". It is a setback in a series that is otherwise growing on me, and I am afraid some of its many issues are system inherent, rather than isolated mishaps.

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Rating: 2

 

The Impossible Box

Synopsis

Soji has a dream of her childhood but can't tell Narek whether it is a memory or something her mind makes up. Narek casts further doubt on her story by mentioning that each call with her mother lasts exactly 70 seconds. Soji scans photos and other memorabilia, to find that none of them is older than 37 months. On La Sirena, Jurati has covered up her murder of Maddox as a consequence of his severe injuries. The ship proceeds to the Borg Artifact. But in order not to breach the contract, Picard needs diplomatic credentials. Raffi calls a friend in Starfleet, who denies to authorize the mission. Only when Raffi mentions that the ship is already underway, Picard gets approved as a special envoy to the Borg Reclamation Project. Picard is the only one allowed to beam over to the Borg cube. He meets Hugh, the man who was once freed from the Collective by the Enterprise-D crew and who now leads the Borg Reclamation Project. Hugh confirms that Soji Asha is working in the project, but he can't locate her on the cube. In the meantime, Narek has taken Soji to a Romulan meditation room where he and Narissa plan to access her unconscious, in order to learn about Soji's origin. She recalls two red moons and electrical storms in her dreams, which for Narissa is enough information to search for her planet of origin. Narek ends the session by locking up Soji in the room and releasing poisonous gas. She "activates", and breaks through the floor. Hugh receives an alert, and he and Picard proceed to Soji's location, while Romulan soldiers too are going after her. Hugh activates a Sikarian trajector in the Queen's cell. Against Picard's explicit orders, Elnor has beamed over to the cube and fends off the Romulans, while Picard and Soji enter the trajector, their destination being a place named Nepenthe.

Commentary

"The Impossible Box" wastes a lot of potential right at the beginning, in the first scene after the customary flashback. I still don't think that serialized storytelling is the right way for a Star Trek series. But if there is one clear advantage over episodic stories, it is the possibility to start an episode with an exciting scene, without the need to establish anything new. Hence, after last week's cliffhanger of Agnes Jurati murdering Maddox, I firmly expected and hoped to be shown how she tries to get rid of the evidence of her crime, how she nervously manipulates security recordings and the EMH's memory. It would have been a no-brainer to show exactly that. But all this must have happened off-screen. The first thing we actually see is an unexpectedly composed Jurati telling Picard that Maddox's injuries were too severe, thereby leaving everything interesting about the situation and every open question that has bugged us since last week to our imagination. What a shame. Moreover, she begins to flirt with the once again shirtless Rios, which strikes me as misplaced. I believe that for a decent person who commits a crime, it would be normal too seek loneliness rather than pleasant company. Jurati is totally out of character in "The Impossible Box", unless there are reasons for her behavior that will still be explained.

After this letdown, the rest of "The Impossible Box" is both more interesting and makes more sense. It is a huge improvement over last week's "Stardust City Rag" because it works with the characters to advance the story, rather than shoehorning them into a gangster farce where they feel out of place. It also brings the urgently needed convergence of two plot threads that were mostly separate until now. Although we are still four episodes away from the season finale, this is a payoff that rewards us for the sluggish first half of the series.

The plot thread about Soji and Narek arguably profits the most from the decision to bring together or to resolve a couple of issues, although it initially doesn't look so. It once again begins with their customary whispering. For five episodes already, the two are extremely soft-spoken, almost as if opening their mouths for clear articulation would mean giving away their respective secrets. I think this is the key issue that has been bugging me about them all along, besides the lack of progress in Narek's efforts (although he claims otherwise when talking to Narissa). Whatever the situation is and whatever they are or should be feeling about it, they keep whispering. It is good to see that this so far boring plot thread ends with a satisfactory resolution and a good deal of action.

I would not have involved a newly created Romulan mysticism though. Romulans, and especially Tal Shiar agents, would use a mind probe (or an equivalent built to interface with a positronic brain in Soji's case?) to obtain the information they want. They would not rely on some spiritual mumbo-jumbo (although nothing supernatural was actually involved). And even if brute force was not an option because Soji might "activate", perhaps some more rational psychological method may have done the job just as well. Soji, who appears to be a psychiatrist herself, would almost definitely have agreed.

As for Narek's motivation to trigger Soji's "activation" and risk her escape, which is exactly what happens, we may still speculate. Perhaps the plot has not quite reached its end. Narek may still hope to see her again. If she doesn't mean anything to him, however, it wouldn't make much sense to use the apparently rather harmless gas on her. Maybe this will be explained in one of the remaining episodes.

As lackadaisically as the story deals with Jurati, whose crime has no repercussions whatsoever, as consequentially it takes care of Raffi after her son rejected her in "Stardust City Rag". She is drunk when Picard needs the credentials to visit the Borg Artifact. In a really well-played scene, Raffi talks her friend in Starfleet into granting diplomatic status to the retired admiral. It may be objectionable that characters in Star Trek Picard can be seen drinking alcohol, smoking cigars or smoking pot in every episode because it is in contrast to how people were like in TNG, and not really a great vision of the future. At least, Raffi's being an alcoholic is a part of the story and does not come across as comical. Yet, I would wish for her and everyone else to reduce their drug use on screen because, at latest when it serves to define the character, I think this form of realism distracts from more interesting issues in a science fiction series.

After the scene with Jurati and Rios that feels just wrong, the episode comes with several other character interactions that not only work a lot better but that are also full of friendship and compassion, such as between Rios and Raffi, or Hugh and Picard. The reunion of the two latter almost brought a tear to my eye. This is the return of a positivity that is otherwise largely absent from modern Star Trek, in which characters frequently have conflicts for conflict's sake. And perhaps it is a turning point in a series where everyone so far was at odds with the stubborn and uncomfortable old Frenchman, and vice versa.

There is some decent action towards the end of "The Impossible Box" when Soji "activates" and Hugh leads Picard and her to a Sikarian trajector (although the latter comes a bit too much out of the blue and is a bit too much fan service). Anyway, rather than that, I think the anticipation and the reaction of Picard to visiting a Borg cube again, decades after his assimilation, is the true highlight of this episode. His apprehensions are understandable, and his panic attack is the logical consequence. Maybe Hugh could have given him coordinates in a more pleasant section of the cube for that matter? Anyway, Picard's visit to the Artifact will be worthwhile, not only because he finally finds Soji but also because he gains new insight in the Borg.

When Picard vociferously objects to the idea that the Borg may ever change while talking to Jurati earlier in the episode, he is the same person all over again that initially didn't accept Hugh's right to live in TNG: "I, Borg" and that fought the enemy relentlessly in "Star Trek: First Contact". Picard will change his mind in the course of this episode, as he witnesses that drones can be freed from their implants and can have a half-way normal life (although the Romulans wouldn't allow the xBs to leave the Artifact). He concedes to Hugh that the Borg are victims and not monsters. This seems as if he so far misjudged the Borg. Yet, we know that Picard had already changed his view before. In "I, Borg", he eventually allowed Hugh to live and to return to his people. And ultimately his own liberation from the Collective, as well as Seven of Nine's example, should have been reason enough for him to believe that drones can and should be saved, on a larger scale if possible. Rather than fundamentally revising his opinion, I see the xBs as a reminder for Picard that the Borg are not a monolithic evil mind but are made up of former individuals, of people.

My review may make it look like "The Impossible Box" has several flaws. But almost all of them are minor, and luckily the big omission right at the beginning doesn't impair the rest of the story that doesn't involve Jurati a lot. Most notably, Picard on the Borg cube gave me goosebumps. In fact, in my opinion this is the best episode of Picard yet and the best of Star Trek in the past 15 years. In any case, it has the most Trek spirit I have seen in a long time. While not perfect in terms of the story, the episode demonstrates how a message of friendship could and should still exist, despite the still continuing efforts to turn the franchise into a bleak science fiction universe like so many others. I really hope that "The Impossible Box" sets the tone for the rest of the series.

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Rating: 7

 

Nepenthe

Synopsis

Three weeks earlier, near the Daystrom Institute, Commodore Oh mind-melded with Agnes Jurati, showing her disasters that are bound to happen in case research on synthetic life was continued. She told Jurati to join Picard's mission and gave her a transponder. In the present, after Picard and Soji have left through the trajector, La Sirena is caught in a tractor beam from the Borg cube, and Raffi is struggling to break the ship free. Meanwhile on the Borg cube, Narissa Rizzo wants to know Soji's destination. When Hugh refuses to answer, she executes several xBs. Picard and Soji arrive on Nepenthe, where they are greeted by Kestra Troi-Riker, the daughter of Deanna Troi and William Riker. Picard tells Kestra that he thinks Soji is Data's daughter, upon which Kestra speaks out that Soji is an android, thereby only deepening her identity crisis. Riker and Troi notice that Soji is related to Data without being told. They help Picard to gain Soji's trust. The two lost their son, Thaddeus, several years ago because of an illness that could have been cured with the help of an outlawed positronic brain. La Sirena suddenly breaks free from the tractor beam and leaves without Elnor, who remains on the Borg cube to help Hugh save the xBs. Narek follows the ship, which he can track thanks to Jurati's transponder. On the Borg cube, Hugh and Elnor head back to the Queen cell. But Rizzo thwarts their plan. While Elnor is fighting hand-to-hand with Rizzo, she pulls a knife and kills Hugh. Elnor's last hope now is a chip to call the Fenris Rangers. Jurati feels sick after eating some cake. When Rios accompanies her to sickbay, he reveals to her that he thinks Raffi has a tracking device that allows the Romulan ship to follow them - and triggers a reaction in Jurati, who is actually carrying the transponder. When she is alone again, Jurati replicates a dose of noranium hydride that destroys the device and allows Rios to shake off Narek, but she falls into a coma. Soji finally tells Picard, Riker, Troi and Kestra of the two red moons she saw in her dream and that may identify her place of origin. Kestra finds the location of that planet. Picard and Soji say goodbye to the Troi-Rikers and beam up to La Sirena.

Commentary

This episode is very enjoyable for the most part. But it could have been still better (if a little unhurried), if it were not for two major annoyances, both of which I can't simply set aside and move on because they are essential for the plot.

The first problem is comprised of everything related to Jurati, her story, her motivation, her very character. I already addressed in my review of "Stardust City Rag" that I don't buy the scientist could put up so much pretense after being hired by Oh and that she could brutally murder Maddox. I also criticized that in "The Impossible Box", just after this crime, she continues as if nothing had happened.

"Nepenthe" goes back to the so far mysterious encounter with Oh (who now appears to be Vulcan despite the attempts to cast doubt on her identity) in "The End is the Beginning". The flashback strives to illustrate what motivates Jurati, but is unsuccessful in this regard. It may still have been half-way plausible if Oh had either blackmailed Jurati to work for her, or if she was permanently controlling her through the mind meld. We know that mind melds can be very powerful and can have a lasting effect. Yet, the way it is depicted, Oh somehow convinces (rather than brainwashes) Jurati to become a spy and assassin (for Starfleet!!!) by showing her things that could perhaps happen. Seriously, the pictures of planets getting destroyed in a possible future that Oh transfers to Jurati in the mind meld are even less conclusive than artistic renditions of WMDs that your enemy might possess. So this meaningless mental clip show is what brings a scientist to betray everything she has been working for and to kill the man she once loved? Come on, that's absurd! At least, it ought to have been better visualized, and it ought to have been shown as something that plagues her. And even if in "Nepenthe" itself Jurati is a believable character again when she is confused and shows remorse, this can't undo everything wrong about her in "The Impossible Box", in "Stardust City Rag" and (retroactively) in "The End is the Beginning" and "Absolute Candor" as well. Jurati is a badly conceived and written character that needs much more than a bit of repair work. In some way, I am glad she is in a coma now.

The pictures of planets blowing up in Oh's fabricated vision of the future add insult to injury. This is either a link to the very similar foreshadowing of Control wiping out all life in Discovery's second season, and as such an unwelcome crossover with an unloved series. Or it is unrelated to Discovery, and a lame ploy to dramatize the situation, because in the new Star Trek (since 2009) nothing short of the actual or pending destruction of whole planets is deemed necessary to tell a story and could motivate characters.

I don't want to turn this into a rant because I overall enjoyed the episode. But let me address the second issue I have with "Nepenthe", which too is a systematic error of this series, rather than a one-time problem. Star Trek Picard leaves a frustrating trail of bodies among the good people. Dahj, Icheb, Maddox and now Hugh and several innocent xBs. We may want to include Thaddeus Troi-Riker. The boy died in the "tradition" of very common "rare" diseases and of the extreme mortality rate among the family members of Starfleet officers - but also because the late 24th century is such a jaded time. It seems that someone who shows too much friendship, compassion and kindness has to die, in a new interpretation of "No good deed goes unpunished". Killing off those who are arguably better might also be an attempt to clear the way for broken protagonists such as Raffi, Rios or the new Seven of Nine to become likable or relatable despite their many flaws. Perhaps I should be worried about Riker and Troi for that matter?

Anyway, even if we put up with the frequent deaths of moral, likable or popular characters in Picard because it might be necessary to get the story across, Hugh's tragic death remains largely pointless, other than giving Elnor some more action. Hugh is essentially a one-dimensional victim who is killed by a one-dimensional villain. I expected him to die because it is the pattern of the series, and it only surprised me that Narissa Rizzo still spared his life in the beginning, with the lame excuse that the treaty does not allow her to kill Federation citizens.

Let's come to the positive aspects of "Nepenthe". There is still plenty to like about this episode. Everything related to Riker, Troi and their friendship with Picard is simply heartwarming. I think Riker and Troi were never quite that close to the captain during TNG, but it is only plausible that they would keep a certain distance while they are serving on the same ship, a distance that isn't needed any longer. The two still have their sharp senses when it comes to understanding and feeling what other people want and need. And considering it is only realistic that they wouldn't pick up their phasers to join Picard's quest, I can only say they have aged well. Overall, "Nepenthe" brings the reunion that we all hoped for and that for many was a reason to give the series a chance in the first place. Notwithstanding the various problems with Picard I addressed in this and in previous reviews, the appearance of Troi and Riker further reconciles us with the setting and tone of the series that is so much unlike we are familiar with from TNG.

Yet, Kestra Troi-Riker almost steals the show from the TNG veterans. When she appears and Picard calls her by her name, it is immediately evident that she is Will and Deanna's daughter. She is maybe twelve years old, and it becomes more and more obvious in the course of the episode that the dream worlds created by her late brother play a major role in her life. It seems that immersing herself in these fantasies has been her way to cope with the loss and that it even helped her to understand the real world better. I like this statement in favor of fantasy literature, which sort of justifies Star Trek's existence on a meta level and defies common criticism about the alleged irrelevance of our passion. Anyway, Kestra is a well-conceived and well-played character. Actress Lulu Wilson is amazing. Also, there is very good chemistry between Kestra and Soji.

Like most Picard episodes yet and notably "The Impossible Box" with its wood and body part references, "Nepenthe" too comes with a lot of symbolism. Soji is plagued by doubts whether anything that happens and ultimately whether she herself is real. Kestra, on the other hand, has no problem to distinguish between her identity as Viveen, Wild Girl of the Woods, and real life - although I suppose escaping from escapism is something she had to learn. In some way, Soji is envious of the tomato that she takes a bite of because the fruit grew in Will and Deanna's garden and is real: "Real is so much better." I am glad that Deanna puts this somewhat technophobic statement into perspective when she mentions with bitterness in her voice how her son could have been saved with the help of technology if it hadn't been outlawed: "So, you see, Soji. Real isn't always better." Although the direct connection between the possible cure for Thaddeus and Soji's existence is contrived and although I would have preferred Thaddeus to be alive after a successful therapy, this part of the story works very well.

As for the overall story of the first season, "Nepenthe" once again brings only a little bit of progress. I am worried that only 50% of the mystery will be solved in the remaining three episodes and only 25% will make sense. Jurati exemplifies how the writers can't handle the complexity of the story they are building.

As I mentioned above, I would have enjoyed "Nepenthe" much more, had it focused on Picard, Riker, Troi, Kestra and Soji on the eponymous planet. Everything about them is well written, with dialogues to remember and great performances. And it is all about friendship and trust. Perhaps I overrate my gripes about Jurati and about Hugh, but in my view this is just a good episode, not an outstanding one.

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Rating: 6

 

Broken Pieces

Synopsis

14 years ago, eleven Romulan and possibly Vulcan women, including Oh (who is half-Romulan/half-Vulcan), Narissa and her aunt Ramdha, visited the planet Aia in a system with eight suns to experience the "Admonition". The "Admonition" is an enormously powerful warning of synthetic lifeforms left behind by an ancient civilization. It laid the foundation for the Zhat Vash. Some of these women committed suicide just after the horrible vision, the rest vowed to pursue their mission to destroy synthetic life. Oh plotted the attack on Mars to that end and Ramdha allowed herself to be assimilated to bring down the Borg cube. In the present, Narissa's people have located Elnor on the Borg cube, but he receives help from Seven of Nine. The two proceed to the Queen cell. Seven begins to reactivate the cube, while Narissa orders all xBs to be executed and prepares to blow the still dormant drones into open space. When Soji arrives on La Sirena, Captain Rios seems to know her. He is stunned and goes to his quarters without talking to anyone. Raffi does not trust Soji. She also tells Picard of her suspicion that Jurati not only carried the tracking substance but also killed Maddox. Jurati wakes up and agrees to surrender herself to the authorities on Deep Space 12. Raffi remembered seeing Romulan drawings of eight intersecting rings, which La Sirena's ENH suggests could be an octonary system, a stellar phenomenon so unlikely that it would not possibly exist naturally and might have been constructed as a warning. As Rios refuses to talk with her, Raffi tries to put the remaining pieces of the puzzle together by talking to the five holograms he created. She eventually learns from Rios himself that nine years ago, his ship, the ibn Majid, encountered an unknown alien vessel with two passengers. One of them looked just like Soji and called herself Jana. Captain Vandermeer, however, received a message from Commodore Oh to assassinate the two, otherwise his ship would be destroyed with all hands. Vandermeer complied, but when the furious Rios confronted him, the captain saw no other option but suicide. Rios then covered up the whole incident. The aliens were actually synthetic lifeforms that Oh seeks to destroy after receiving the "Admonition". On the Borg cube, Narissa blows the Borg into space when Seven tries to activate them. However, she gets overpowered by some of the surviving xBs and has to beam away. With the Romulans leaving to attack the homeworld of the Synths, Seven and Elnor take control of the Borg cube. Meanwhile on La Sirena, Soji tries to set a course for her homeworld instead of the planned one to Deep Space 12, but Rios shuts down the ship. Picard asks Rios to fulfill Soji's wish though. In order to be faster than the Romulan fleet, La Sirena enters a Borg transwarp conduit - but with a Romulan ship on the tail.

Commentary

It almost seems like in "Broken Pieces" there is more story progress than in all previous Picard installments combined. The episode puts together many of the pieces of the big puzzle. And it does so in a skillful fashion, focusing on the characters and their interactions instead of the facts and figures. It comes with some more exposition, but this time it is nicely embedded in a way that it does not impede the story. "Broken Pieces" is 55 minutes long and takes its time for in-depth dialogues, a bit like in the old Star Trek.

The big revelation in "Broken Pieces" is that Rios too is very personally involved in the mystery surrounding Soji. From the viewpoint of overall plot plausibility, I have to disapprove of this twist. The incredible coincidence that a pilot hired by Picard turns out to be an important witness makes the galaxy appear like a village. Yet, once I try to overcome my reservations it was desirable for Rios to become a part of the story in some more meaningful fashion. I can accept that, in a series full of (broken) characters whose destinies are entangled, he should be more than just the pilot. Santiago Cabrera does a great job in the role of Rios and as the various holograms created in his image, each with his own accent or intonation. I only wonder why the EEH had to be Scottish. The idea that starship engineers need to call to mind Scotty is getting old and not funny any longer.

Raffi undergoes quite a development in this episode. At first, she is stubborn and apprehensive as always, suspecting everyone to be a mole. But then she gets the clue about the octonary system, which reinvigorates her curiosity and resourcefulness. Her discussion with the five Rios holograms is priceless, although I had to replay the scene a couple of times because it was hard to understand what they were talking of, not only in the case of the Scottish accent of the EEH. And it is touching how she takes care of the real Rios and his grief, much like he did when she was feeling bad two episodes ago. The discovery of the secret of the Zhat Vash is uplifting for Raffi because after all the years in which her theories were commonly decried she finally finds proof for the conspiracy that led to the destruction of Utopia Planitia. She now provides clarity and composure in a way I wouldn't have expected from her. She also more or less takes over the lead from Picard, who so far was the unchallenged driving force of the mission.

Picard, on the other hand, takes his time to help Soji rediscover her identity and to encourage the rest of the crew, especially Rios and even the traitor Jurati. He leaves most of the investigation to Raffi. Picard once again tries to enlist Starfleet's support. But when he calls Admiral Fucking Clancy, the two once again fail to establish a reasonable dialogue, and it once again culminates in Clancy dropping an F-bomb. It is like their fruitless talk from "Maps and Legends" just repeats, which I find disappointing, also for Picard as a character who still can't overcome his grudge and who doesn't really know how to profit from the fact that he was right about everything. As if to prove that he is still useful as a leader, Picard sits down in the captain's chair, only to admit that he doesn't know how to work the controls. As pleasant as it is that Rios and Raffi more than only react to his wishes in this episode, it comes at the expense of Picard's role being reduced to mere moral support.

Seven of Nine comes back against my expectations. The circumstances of her return and her efforts to support Elnor, to reactivate the Borg cube, thereby save the xBs and expel the Romulans make sense. It is enjoyable, but the only really exciting part is when she hooks herself up to the cube again, saying the signature phrase "We are Borg", an effort to save the drones and to put up a resistance against the Tal Shiar that turns out, well, futile. Also, we don't really see how she reacts to Hugh's death, someone she may have cared for. Overall, her involvement in "Stardust City Rag" was stronger, as much as I disliked that episode.

It is a recurring theme in this series that everyone our heroes try to save has to die nonetheless, usually in a gruesome fashion. Soji is the only lucky exception so far.

Jurati is believable as someone with remorse, who is both extremely fascinated and extremely frightened by Soji as a synthetic lifeform. As I mentioned in last week's review, this doesn't explain the crooked way her normal character and her subsequent "poisoned mind" was shown in the first couple of episodes. But I am glad that Jurati is finally back on track and that Alison Pill does a fine job working out the two conflicting voices in her mind. It is curious and touching how she asks Soji about body functions that are quite normal for a human being but extraordinary for an android. I only wonder if her statement "I'm done murdering people." will hold true. The sentiment that Synths are about to destroy humanity was so strong that she assassinated Maddox. Is it completely gone by now? Really? After just talking a few minutes to the android she was determined to kill?

The "Admonition", the Zhat Vash and, for some time Jurati, were quite obviously driven by emotions and premonitions, rather than by facts. In many ways, this reflects (albeit probably not intentionally) the post-factual politics of our time, in which political leaders often ignore or conceal inconvenient facts, knowing that appealing to emotions has a stronger effect. I hope that the post-factual approach will be debunked in the series and that mystery will make way for science fiction again, although I have to admit that Picard too is driven by the vague idea to retrieve his friend Data, rather than by concrete goals.

Well, a few times in this episode, Soji appears a bit menacing, and it looks like she could really be the "destroyer". At this point of the story it seems possible that, despite Picard's awesome line that the future is not yet written and that "fear is the great destroyer" (it made my Trekker heart leap), the Romulan fear of synthetic life is justified, or that it holds at least some truth after all.

In the five previous episodes she appeared in, Narissa Rizzo was shown as manipulative, unscrupulous and sadistic for no apparent reason. It has taken too long, but "Broken Pieces" finally provides her with a motivation, although this happens mostly as a by-product of the revelation of the "Admonition". The visualization of the "Admonition" in this episode is much more impressive than it was when Oh mind-melded with Jurati. It clearly is a strong driving force. Still, it seems that the fanaticism of the Zhat Vash members must exist before any of them undergoes the "Admonition". Growing up in the Zhat Vash sect perhaps comes with so much brainwashing that young people such as Narissa see no other option but to eventually corroborate their fanatic beliefs in this ritual, even if it may kill them. It is a nice touch that Narissa still cares for her aunt Ramdha. But otherwise Narissa is such a stereotypical villain, especially as the unnecessary harassment of her brother and her exaggerated sadism is concerned, that it more or less precludes the interpretation that she is also the victim of an aggressive ideology, or of her fear.

On a further note about the state of Starfleet, until now it was absolutely inconceivable that a Starfleet officer could receive an order to murder someone. Star Trek Picard continues the deconstruction of Starfleet to an organization that betrays its ethical values. Unless Oh had her finger on the remote self-destruct button of the ibn Majid, Vandermeer would have had other options than to "obey" this blatantly criminal and invalid "order". Even if other starships were summoned to hunt down the ibn Majid and their crews were told that it was a ship full of traitors, it may not work, as the example of the Lakota and the Defiant in DS9: "Paradise Lost" demonstrates. But the root problem is that a single person in an organization (civilian or military) gains as much uncontrolled power as Oh, a recurring concept in modern Star Trek and a fact that Vandermeer may have been fully aware of.

"Broken Pieces" presents itself as an episode that answers many of the lingering questions. Although not yet everything makes quite as much sense as it should at this point, this is a satisfactory intermediate step before the season finale that will hopefully show us what Soji's world is like, if the Romulans would have to be afraid of it and what kind of work Annika still has to do. The story is about the characters and their personal involvements to a higher degree than in the previous episodes, some of which only tried to work with the characters but were inhibited by the countless secrets they were keeping. "Broken Pieces" gives an impression of how much better the traditional openness of Star Trek's storytelling could work in Star Trek Picard, and how it should have been done from the beginning. Although new aspects are added to the concept of Starfleet as a dystopia and although there is still nothing redeeming about the Romulan fanatics, the episode comes with statements that are full of compassion, of trust and of hope. At times, it is almost like watching one of the better TNG episodes with their moral lessons.

Annotations

Rating: 5

 

Et in Arcadia Ego I

Synopsis

After a bumpy ride though the Borg transwarp conduit, La Sirena arrives at Ghulion IV or Coppelius, Soji's homeworld. But Narek's Snakehead too emerges from the conduit and attacks. A Borg cube arrives as well. All three ships are brought down by defense drones looking like giant orchids that drain all power. After the crash landing of La Sirena, Picard confesses to his crew that he is terminally ill and begins to experience the symptoms. Before heading to Coppelius Station, the settlement of the Snyths, they investigate the downed Borg cube, to find many xBs as well as Elnor and Seven alive. With the long-range sensors of the cube, Raffi and Rios find out that 218 Romulan ships are on the way to attack the planet and kill all Synths. Elnor decides to stay on the Borg cube with Seven. At Coppelius Station, Picard and company run into many models of Synths that come as pairs, among them Arcana and Saga. They are greeted by Dr. Altan Inigo Soong, the son of Data's creator. There is also Sutra, the surviving sister of Jana. Sutra, who studied Vulcan culture, mind-melds with Jurati, as she suspects that the message in the "Admonition" was actually meant for Synths. Knowing that there is no means of defense against the whole Romulan fleet, Raffi and Rios leave to repair the ship to evacuate the Synths. Picard attempts to contact Starfleet, but receives no reply. In the meantime, the Synths have captured Narek and taken him into confinement. Sutra shows an odd interest in the Romulan. Briefly later, Saga is dead and Narek is on the run. Sutra says that the message in the "Admonition" was created by a powerful intergalactic race of Synths, and that it contains a subspace frequency to call them to exterminate organic lifeforms. Picard still tries to convince the Synths not to make that call, but they don't listen. Soong, Soji and Jurati are with the Synths in this regard. The Romulan fleet under the command of Oh is just one day away...

Commentary

I somehow knew since I first saw Soji in "Remembrance" that Picard would bring us another "evil twin" story, although I admit I suspected the wrong sister. My apologies, Soji! Anyway, after it had been revealed in "Broken Pieces" that Jana was a third "twin", it was unquestionable that the season finale would show us the fourth one alive, and that the likeness of the Dahj/Soji and the Jana/Sutra Synths would come with a caveat. While it is definitely just what I anticipated, Sutra's role as the "evil twin" is blatant from the start. Sutra should not have been shown as so obviously malicious and condescending - as if she were a clone of Narek's sister. But I understand that this season finale would not leave much time to introduce new characters. The same applies to Altan Inigo Soong. This is a bit sad after the long-winded mystery-mongering about everything related to Soji, and ultimately about Soji's very character, which unnecessarily went to the other extreme.

Saga, on the other hand, is further proof that in this series there is a high probability for characters to be murdered if they are simply too nice, as opposed to those who are evil, shady, broken or, in other words, ostensibly more interesting.

The Soong family never ceases to amaze us with their ingenuity and eccentricity but also with their tendency to separate and ultimately literally alienate themselves from the rest of humanity. But there isn't really more to Altan Inigo Soong than this odd kind of continuity. As already mentioned, there was no time to really develop his character, so he is much the same person as his ancestor Arik Soong and his father Noonien Soong, and I think Brent Spiner plays him with a certain routine. Soong cares more for his Synths than for human beings, he lives by his own laws and morality and he will support his "children" almost until the bitter end. They will turn against their creator, as is easy to predict. Overall, he is a rather uninteresting person so far, although I clearly enjoy every time I see Brent Spiner on Star Trek.

Just as Seven of Nine returned against my expectations last week, she earns a perhaps unwarranted redemption when she poses as the savior of the xBs and no one less but Picard passes the torch to "save the galaxy" to her. Although this all happens a bit too fast and easily and although Picard probably still doesn't know about her rampage in Stardust City, I like this wrap-up of their common storyline. It isn't a particular highlight this time but it works for me. It rather bugs me why Elnor doesn't join Picard again. The xBs don't really need him, unless he were the only one to know how to lift the Borg cube up into space again. His staying behind makes the whole trip to the crash site of the Borg cube sort of pointless.

As for Picard, he has a breakdown that I initially interpreted as being caused by the presence of the Borg cube. But as he has to confess to Jurati, it is a symptom of his neurological disorder, the Irumodic Syndrome. It was to be expected per the principle of Chekhov's Gun that his terminal illness would still play a role in the series. Yet, the timing is a bit surprising and also worrying. Fans joked as soon as the series was to start and the second season was already announced that Picard would not survive and that Rios renaming his ship "Le Picard" would justify the persistence of the series name. I hope it's not true, but this innuendo has now become a serious option.

The first part of the season finale begins with a fulminant and visually impressive space battle whose unexpectedly abrupt ending skillfully leads over to a part in which the crew members of La Sirena have time to think about the next steps and to let the viewers participate. They have developed a spirit of cooperation by now, which is exemplified by the unanimous decision to first tend to possible survivors on the Borg cube. Much of the rest of the episode is a bit reminiscent of past stories involving members of the Soong family and other hermitic geniuses, and also of TNG: "Descent" where Lore and the renegade Borg forged a plan in a similar location as Soong and the Synths are doing at Coppelius Station. It is not to the disadvantage of the overall story that we are familiar with the themes and character archetypes but, as already mentioned, Soong and Sutra could have been more interesting. Anyway, in many ways this episode exemplifies what Star Trek is about like arguably nothing in the franchise in the past fifteen years, since the end of Enterprise: a crew that explores a strange new world!

Moreover, it is almost like the old tone of Star Trek has returned. Some previous Picard episodes and essentially two complete seasons of a certain other series suffered from heavy-handed writing. "Et in Arcadia Ego I" is the so far best signal that this may change, and may be a turning point in the franchise. The episode comes with plenty of bon mots and banter, of characters who joke, sometimes with a sound dose of sarcasm, and who tease each other. The cynicism and the unwarranted character conflicts are gone - perhaps a bit too suddenly and completely, but I definitely don't miss them. There is even time left for ethical debates (especially the one between Soji and Picard) that more than scratch the surface (if a bit too much in the form of metaphors). Of course, the writers are anxious to end the first season on a conciliatory note, but there is no reason why the universe couldn't become a more pleasant place again in season 2.

Speaking of a happy ending, it doesn't really look like there will be one, especially not for Picard. Not only has he symptoms of his neurological disorder, he is also let down by Starfleet (once again, although the radio may have been sabotaged), by Soji and by Jurati. A clear throwback, but one I would not expect to persist. It is also a bit disappointing that the Zhat Vash are right about the "Admonition" after all, thereby corroborating an unfortunate old stereotype of Star Trek since the very first appearance of androids in TOS: "What Are Little Girls Made of?", that artificial life is a threat. I hope that the whole truth is still different and that Soji's remark that it may be necessary to kill in order to survive is just another red herring in this regard. The second part still needs to clarify a lot anyway, also regarding the origin and purpose of the androids.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 

Et in Arcadia Ego II

Synopsis

The Synths are building a transmitter at Coppelius Station, in order to summon an intergalactic synthetic civilization that would supposedly come to eradicate all organic life in the galaxy. Narek proceeds to the Borg cube where he meets with his sister and receives explosives to destroy the transmitter. When he leaves, Elnor follows him. On La Sirena, Raffi and Rios manage to repair the intermix chamber of the ship with the device "that fixes things" given to them by Saga. Narek shows up and tries to convince them to join him and blow up the transmitter. Raffi attempts in vain to contact Picard, which supports Narek's claim. Even though Elnor remains mistrustful, they head for Coppelius Station, with Narek as a "prisoner" and a grenade disguised as a football. In the meantime, Jurati has freed Picard, and they return to La Sirena. Soong discovers in Saga's memories that Sutra killed Saga, with inadvertent help of Narek. Picard manages to take off with La Sirena but he has no idea how to delay the Romulan fleet until Starfleet arrives. On the Borg cube, Narissa has detected and targeted La Sirena, but Seven of Nine fights and eventually kills her, thereby taking revenge for Hugh. The transmitter is ready to be activated when the angry Soong steps forward and deactivates Sutra. Soji takes over the task. Rios prepares the grenade in his football to destroy the beacon, but Soji catches it and hurls it away. The "orchids" that attack the Romulan fleet in orbit buy Picard some time. Jurati comes up with the idea to use the "thing" to project multiple copies of La Sirena to distract the Romulans. The Romulans begin to fire on the holograms. When the real ship is hit as well, the holoemitter fails. Just as Oh gives the order to resume the attack on Coppelius Station, Riker appears with a fleet of Starfleet vessels and demands that the Romulans stand down. When his neurological symptoms worsen, Picard asks Jurati to give him an injection that allows him to continue to talk to Soji, although it will kill him. He begs Soji to make a choice because that's what being alive is about, and she finally shuts down the transmitter just as some machine is about to come through a wormhole. Picard is beamed down to the surface of Coppelius where he dies. While Rios, Seven, Elnor and Raffi are mourning his death, Picard finds himself in what seems like the afterlife where he meets Data. It is actually a quantum reconstruction created by Maddox from the android's memories. Picard is in this place because his consciousness too is on a transfer. When Picard is ready to be revived, Data asks him a final favor: to shut down his simulation. Picard wakes up in a precise reconstruction of his old body, based on the golem that Soong was building and that he adapted with the help of Jurati. He returns to La Sirena together with Soji, Jurati, Seven, Raffi, Rios and Elnor.

Commentary

The season finale of Star Trek: Picard has a surprisingly slow start. Not much happens in the first fifteen minutes, although the circumstances are dramatic and time should be pressing. There is a lot of exposition once again when Narek, at a campfire(!), takes time for the whole tale of Seb-Natan, the foreteller, and Seb-Cheneb, the destroyer. This is inefficient because it could and should have been done sooner in the series instead of making it a big secret, because the story loses steam although it would be the time to act and, finally, because it has no further significance anyway. We already know well by now that the prophecy is horrible. We have witnessed the "Admonition" and its disturbing effects on people. It wouldn't have needed the introduction of still more mythical concepts to further illustrate what drives the Zhat Vash and what their irrational hatred is like, which isn't very distinct in Narek anyway. Introducing the tentacles that will emerge from the wormhole later in the episode as the "Ch'khalagu" is even counterproductive, since this phenomenon will not impress Oh and the Zhat Vash as much as we would expect. So this part of the episode is rather disappointing.

I also have the impression that the writers didn't have a good concept of how to involve Seven of Nine in the two parts of the finale, other than letting her take revenge on Narissa. The most notable thing she did last week was kicking down dead Romulans from a platform, after which Picard (undeservedly) bestowed the honor of her "saving the galaxy" upon her. This time, besides kicking a living Romulan over the edge, Seven's scenes with Elnor, still on the Borg cube, and with Rios after Picard's death are probably meant to signalize a reckoning with her past as a vigilante and a bonding with her new crew. The conclusion indicates that Seven will stick around on La Sirena in season 2. Still, unlike Soji, Rios and Raffi, she doesn't give me the impression that this is what she really wants. And her holding hands with Raffi insinuates a relationship that is contrived and comes totally out of the blue. Most about Seven in the season finale is more like "We have to make it happen somehow" than like a realistic development.

Speaking of characters that don't quite work for me, I already went into great lengths about Jurati in previous reviews. She has been a bit more believable ever since she confessed her crime. And as if it were a response to my criticism of her being out of character when she joined the crew as a mole, Jurati herself addresses her problem of being "the worst secret agent ever". Anyway, I can relate to Jurati again, also thanks to Alison Pill, who is just charming with her innocent smile. There is a major issue left, however, because suddenly everyone seems to have forgotten she murdered Maddox...

I noticed I never wrote much about Elnor in earlier reviews. But that may be for the simple reason that he was never really more than the "sword boy" for me. Maybe the role could have been a bit more significant, but it is noticeable that newcomer Evan Evagora's play does not measure up to the standouts: Alison Pill, Isa Briones, Michelle Hurd and Santiago Cabrera (let alone Patrick Stewart). Perhaps he will still grow with his role in season 2.

As for the great performances, despite the hasty introduction of the character in the first part, I am now a bit sad that Soji's sinister sister Sutra was deactivated by Soong so soon. She was perhaps the villain with the most potential in the series. In particular, I would have liked to see more interaction between her and Soji, although I understand the intention to leave the decision about life and death to Soji and to make it a sole matter of whether she is willing to trust Picard. In other words, whether she is able to have sympathy for humans as humans eventually had for the Horta in TOS: "The Devil in the Dark" and many other episodes along similar lines. When Soji makes the right decision, the episode and the whole season gains a Trek-like and conciliatory ending, and a personal victory for Picard, whose sacrifice is not in vain.

I can see the irony in the situation that Raffi and Rios leave their repaired ship to go to "Synthville" where their attempt to stop the Synths fails, whereas Picard and Jurati, the two people who would much rather have a chance to deal with the Synths but not with the ship, return to La Sirena. This setup leaves the action to Picard and Jurati, whereas the other characters (Raffi, Rios, Elnor, Narek, Soong) are mere bystanders for most of the rest of the episode. It all is thrilling nonetheless, but I would have hoped for more team spirit in this season finale.

Many mysteries were established regarding the goals of the Zhat Vash, the identity of Oh, the meaning of the ancient Romulan myths, the responsibility for the attack on Mars, the origin of Soji and the possibility to find Data alive. Many of them were answered in "Broken Pieces" and "Et in Arcadia Ego I". We now see Data again, but I would have expected to learn something about Soong's motivation to create the Synths and the golem in this final episode. It also remains unanswered who actually built the octonary system and the "Admonition". The season finale brings the story to an end but is short on answers, with the exception of the aforementioned meaningless details of the Romulan myth. We may learn more about how much Data is in Soji in the coming season but I have the impression we won't see much of the Zhat Vash any more. And regarding the "intergalactic Synth civilization" that is out to destroy all organic life, I will be even glad if it never appears again, and if there is no crossover with Discovery in this regard.

I avoid reading any Picard reviews before I write my own, but I can imagine that some fans are upset about the very idea that Picard dies and gets resurrected as some kind of android. I could see it coming in the first part, when the symptoms of his Irumodic Syndrome became obvious and when Soong showed Jurati the golem in his lab. I was prepared for the worst in this regard, but I am amazed how elegantly the story deals with this plot twist. Well, Star Trek was always about the unimaginable, and always required us to reconsider limited concepts of what is alive and what isn't, about what is natural and what isn't and about what is real and what isn't. Starfleet officers were fused to one or split into different individuals after transporter accidents, they were restored after being transformed to aliens or after rapid aging. Spock returned from the dead. Picard himself has an artificial heart, was rematerialized from a state of pure energy and was de-assimilated after his time as Locutus. He is clearly no stranger to the idea of using technology in an unorthodox way to save lives, although I bet he would have refused vehemently, had he been offered in advance to live on as a golem. Eventually, Picard becomes one with those he wanted to protect and, in a way, with his friend Data. This is meaningful, and I hope it will still play a role in the second season. Despite the track record of the franchise in such matters, it could still have become cringeworthy, but Patrick Stewart's captivating play and the unhasty writing and directing make Picard's journey back to life the emotional highlight of the season.

Furthermore, as little sense as it makes to "clone" an android from a single neuron and restore his whole memory and personality from it, as Jurati established as soon as in "Remembrance", I am content with the explanation that Maddox had that one neuron, plus the memory transfer to B-4 available to create the simulation of Data. The idea that our favorite android continues to exist in a simulation is fascinating, although it is a bit of a stretch that Picard would be able to join him there and have a conversation with him. But as already mentioned, Star Trek is about thinking the unthinkable, and the Nexus in "Generations" was much less realistic. It was great to the see the real Data (sort of) one last time! Although the make-up/CGI is not quite perfect, this is the arguably more impressive appearance of Brent Spiner in the episode, rather than in his role as Dr. Soong.

I understand that Seven, Rios, Raffi and Elnor were not told the truth so we could see them mourn the loss, while Jurati and Soong were working on restoring Picard. Yet, in that case I would have liked to witness the joy of these four when they learn their friend is alive. This is a missed opportunity and something I definitely expected to see. The happy ending is a bit rushed.

I am convinced "Et in Arcadia Ego II" would have worked better without the device that Saga conspicuously handed to Raffi with the words "It fixes things" and that can accomplish just anything by only holding it and imagining something. Star Trek shouldn't use such plot devices that are more like pure magic than like technology.

One big disappointment in this episode, but "only" on the visual side, is Riker's copy&paste fleet, which looks awfully unrealistic and boring. The subtly different nacelles are only recognizable if we freeze the frames. This is just laziness in the one field of CGI where it is least acceptable! And considering that bringing back Riker in uniform is pure fan service anyway, the makers of the episode should have given him the Enterprise-E for that matter.

More on a side note, much has been said and written about the many F-bombs in this series. If I'm not mistaken, this episode is the first time that "fuck" is used in its literal meaning in Star Trek.

The first season of Picard closes with a two-part episode whose first part could have been more exciting and whose second part could have involved many of the characters better and could have answered more questions. But the finale stands out because of its emotional impact. It also features bold science fiction concepts of a kind that are sadly missing from the Abrams movies and Discovery. Overall, the first season suffers from the slowness of its first couple of episodes, from continued mystery mongering, from a lack of character motivation and development, from stereotypical villains, from the obsession to blow up planets and kill innocent people and from the idea of the Federation as a dystopia. But the series demonstrates that new Star Trek may be recognizable as Star Trek in more than only the name and may be meaningful. There is still a lot of room for improvement in season 2, and I am confident the producers will use it. Make it so!

Annotations

Rating: 7

 


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