Star Trek: Picard
Remember last week when, by episode’s end, it felt like we had a fully assembled crew and were ready to speed into the heart of the mission? Not quite, apparently. First, Picard and the rest of the La Sirena crew have to make a stop on a planet that’s home to some old friends and bad memories. As part of that stop, he has to take on another crew member with whom he has a history. And, at the end of the episode, maybe another in the form of a Very Special Guest Star From Another Series. Fortunately, none of it feels like wheel-spinning, and the moments of downtime allow some fun dynamics to begin developing among the rest of the cast.
But first, another flashback. It’s starting to feel as if each episode will fill in a new detail involving the events of 14 years ago, when the synths turned deadly and torched Mars, the Federation abandoned its plans to rescue the Romulans, Picard resigned, and Raffi started her bitter descent into a life of drinking and snake leaf. Here we drop into life on Vashti, home of a Romulan Relocation Hub and, honestly, it looks pretty great. There’s a bustling market, laughing kids run through the street, and when Picard shows up (dressed in a sharp white suit and Panama hat) he’s greeted like a hero. The Romulans seem worried, but he assures them the Federation will help. They have his word.
Picard’s first stop: a visit to Zani (Amirah Vann), a member of the Romulan order of nun-assassins known as the Qowat Milat. (This series is introducing a lot of wild, fun new ideas into Star Trek canon.) In addition to being at once murderous and spiritual, the Qowat Milat have adopted the practice of “absolute candor,” a very un-Romulan tenet that both gives the episode its title and makes Picard uncomfortable when Zani speaks of his discomfort with children in front of the young, family-less Elnor (the only male living among the Qowat Milat). But Picard really does seem to like Elnor. Picard gives him a copy of The Three Musketeers, helps him with his fencing, and generally seems to have gotten past a well-established urge to flee whenever he has to interact with anyone under drinking age. Then the bad news of the synth attack takes him away with the promise to be back soon (even though the Qowat Milat opposes promises on principle). It won’t be one he can keep.
Then we’re back aboard La Sirena, where Jurati is bored with space and decides to strike up a conversation with Rios, who just wants to read another chapter in The Tragic Sense of Life. Jurati has all sorts of questions, however, including why he only has Klingon opera aboard. (“Long story.”) He seems annoyed, but there’s a bit of a spark there, and Alison Pill and Santiago Cabrera play it well.
Picard feels the ship needs to make a stop, and though Raffi disagrees, the captain won’t be swayed. He has unfinished business and, in his own words, knows he may not pass this way again. Lest Rios’s reading a book about “the existential pain of living with the consciousness of death and how it defines us as human beings” wasn’t reminder enough, this is a series about final journeys, and Picard can hear the clock ticking.
Things aren’t so hot on Vashti these days. In fact, there’s a power vacuum in that corner of space, one that allows a “petty warlord” with a Klingon Bird of Prey to run things. Picard makes it to the surface where, in a bit of absolute candor, Zani tells him he’s gotten old. That might be a little unfair, but Elnor, who’s still working for the Qowat Milat, clearly has aged. He’s now a strapping young Romulan (played by Evan Evagora) with some complicated feelings about Picard. Nonetheless, he both signs up to join Picard and saves his life — via a graphic beheading — from some Romulans angered by Picard’s apparent betrayal of the Romulan cause (and by his taking down a “Romulans Only” sign and trying to talk to them). Picard and Elnor still have some issues to work through, clearly, but Picard can now count Elnor as a member of the crew. One sour note, however: Elnor’s signed up because Picard’s quest meets the Qowat Milat’s “lost cause” requirement.
On the Artifact, Soji watches old videos of Ramdha, the assimilated Romulan who accused her of being the Destroyer before attempting to kill herself, and it seems like Ramdha has long had the apocalypse on her mind. Or, in her words, “Ganmadan,” also known as the Day of Annihilation. It’s the day when “all the shackled demons break their chains and answer the call of the Destroyer,” a belief that seems to make Soji uncomfortable.
Also making Soji uncomfortable: Narek’s habit of following her around and the way he seems to have total access to the artifact and know things about her he shouldn’t. Nonetheless, she follows him into a darkened ventilation corridor where they slide around and make out and he suggests she might not have lived the life reflected in her records.
There’s a lot he doesn’t know, however, most of it related to the assimilated Romulan ship the Shaenor. Specifically, why is Shoji fixated on Ramdha? What’s the deal with the Shaenor in the first place? And why did everyone aboard lose their minds? In the meantime, he’s not moving fast enough with whatever plan his sister Rizzo has cooked up, beyond planting the first seed of doubt (presumably the question of whether she’s actually done everything her records reflect).
Then, as the episode nears its end, one last twist: caught in a dogfight with the Bird of Prey, Rios nearly loses the battle until he’s bailed out by a mysterious ship with a “magnificent pilot,” whom they rescue from certain death by beaming aboard. It’s another face Picard recognizes: Seven of Nine (and, yeah, her appearance was kind of spoiled by the opening credits, but it’s still a cool moment). What’s Seven’s deal these days? A cut to credits indicates we’ll have to wait to find out.
• No Laris or Zhaban this week. Hopefully we’re not done with them.
• We meet another of Rios’ holograms this week, the Emergency Hospitality Hologram, who might be the best one yet. He helps Picard recreate his Earth study in the holodeck (a choice that, in true Star Trek tradition, both reflects Picard’s character and saves money by reusing a preexisting set). He’s so nice of course Rios hates him. Best touch: the way he makes himself disappear as soon as Rio walks in the room.
• This is the first episode directed by Jonathan Frakes, and it’s got some nice bits of flair, particularly the way the hologram of Ramdha maps onto Shoji’s face as she talks about the Destroyer. It’s not subtle, but it works. He also maintains a consistent look between previous episodes and Discovery, employing a lot more shadows and noir-inspired shafts of light than previous series used aboard starships (if the Artifact counts as a starship).
• They’re really going for a whole Jaime-Cersei thing with Narek and Rizzo, aren’t they?