Star Trek: Picard
By now showrunners’ claims of making a “ten-hour movie” rather than a TV series have grown wearisome. But Star Trek: Picard suggests that rethinking television seasons as a series of two-and-a-half-hour movies might not be such a bad idea. At this point it’s not clear what shape the rest of the first season will take, but this opening block of three episodes — all directed by Hanelle Culpepper — works nicely as a long Part One to whatever comes next, slowly establishing the series’s key players and conflicts, setting up multiple mysteries (spread across the galaxy and multiple timelines), and, at the end of this episode, letting Jean-Luc Picard say “Engage” as the familiar Star Trek: The Next Generation theme swells in the background. It doesn’t conclude with a title declaring this the end of Act One, but it easily could.
First, however, the aptly titled “The End Is the Beginning” has to wrap up some old business while introducing the last of Picard’s regular cast members. And that requires another brief trip into the past.
We first met Raffi (Michelle Hurd) near the end of the previous episode, during which she reluctantly agreed to help Picard out after the promise of some intel about a Romulan conspiracy on Earth and a choice bottle of Château Picard wine. In this episode we meet a 14-years-younger Raffi, who seems far less embittered than the Raffi of the main timeline, though by scene’s end that’s started to change. Eagerly awaiting news from Picard, her boss, about their proposed Romulan rescue, she’s devastated to learn that (a) it’s been rejected, (b) all synthetic life forms have been shut down thanks to the Mars massacre, and (c) Picard has resigned in protest. She quickly comes to two conclusions: that the ultrasecret Romulan organization the Tal Shiar (with help from Starfleet) is somehow behind both what’s happened on Mars and the shutdown of the rescue mission, and that with Picard out of the picture she’ll soon be out of a job. We learn right away she’s correct on the second point. To what degree she’s correct on the first feels like it will be central to this season’s overarching story.
Back in the present (well, the show’s present, our future), Raffi’s bitterness has calcified thanks to, in her words, her “long slide into humiliation … and rage,” though she admits “snake leaf-induced paranoia” might also have played a role. Raffi drinks and vapes to excess. She also nurses hurt feelings that Picard hasn’t checked up on her, which seems legit. They were close. Now they’re decidedly not close. Will they be close again? The episode ends with her joining Picard on the ship she helped find for him, but she seems to have been drawn more by the promise of mystery than a renewal of friendship. Whether that will change also seems to like it will play a major role in how the season progresses.
Meanwhile, back on the ol’ Romulan-reclaimed Borg cube known as the Artifact, Soji has a meeting with an ex-Borg legend, none other than Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), the Borg drone at the center of “I, Borg,” the Next Generation episode in which the Enterprise rescues him from a crashed ship then contemplates sending him back with a virus to destroy the Borg. They don’t, hence his appearance in one subsequent episode and now here, in which he seems to have segued into a career as an ex-Borg expert. Not that he hasn’t encountered problems along the way. “People either see us as property to be exploited or hazards to be warehoused,” he tells Soji before noting his latest clients, the Romulans, see them as both.
This apparently extends even to ex-Borg Romulans, the center of Soji’s research in this episode. Of particular interest is Rhonda, who appears to be in a slightly less catatonic state than the other former drones. Reading clues supplied in part by what appears to be a tarotlike symbolic system, she learns Rhonda and the other ex-Borgs may be partaking in, in Soji’s words, “a shared narrative framework for understanding their trauma rooted in deep archetypes but as relevant as the day’s news.” But before she has time to process this information, Rhonda tells her she remembers her from tomorrow and asks some cryptic questions like, “Which sister are you?” “The one who dies? Or the one who lives?” All the while, back on Earth, Picard and his vineyard crew — joined by Dr. Jurati — do battle with the Zhat Vash who drops some clues of his own before killing himself. If only these two halves of the story could come together somehow.
To do that, they’ll need a starship and a pilot. One arrives in the form of Cristóbal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera). We learn a few things about him before the episode ends: He lives hard and living hard sometimes results in injuries. He likes to read. He has a grudge against Starfleet (one that Picard diagnoses as a kind of failed idealism). His last captain died tragically. And he has a “crew” of emergency holograms that look like him but have personalities of their own, giving his scenes with them a kind of Inside Out (or Herman’s Head quality) in which his internal debates take physical form. (That’s a fun element of this episode. Will it continue to be fun? TBD.)
And with that, we’re off to the stars with Picard joined by Jurati, Rios (and his holograms), and Raffi, a surprise last-minute addition. Then it’s time to say “Engage” and head into Act Two of what’s so far been a satisfying revival of a character that’s stayed true to the source material while crafting a show with its own distinct, and timely, identity around a beloved protagonist. Anything could happen from here, but the end of this episode brings Picard’s launch phase to a successful conclusion.
• How do we know Picard likes and respects Raffi on a deep level? He lets her call him “J.L.”
• There’s other business aboard the Artifact. Narek gets a visit from his sister during which they talk with a great deal of, um, intimacy. Soji talks to her mother (or “mother”) who assures her that Dahj is fine, even thinking of adopting a puppy, then somehow lulls her to sleep or into a kind of hypnotic state. Also Narek says he might be falling for her and her reaction is kind of hard to read. What’s going on with Soji? A lot, apparently.
• Hopefully Picard leaving Earth doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Laris and Zhaban (or Number One for that matter). They’ve been among the series’s most compelling characters. Each episode has revealed a little bit more about who they are, and what they do for Picard. Beyond caring for the vineyards, they can shut down intruders with extreme prejudice.
• Rios’s reading material, The Tragic Sense of Life, comes from Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo. Published in 1912, it lays out a philosophy he’d arrived at after trying out the era’s prominent movements. The thumbnail version, as I understand it, is this: Death makes life tragic but it’s admirable to seek the sort of wisdom that recognizes but supersedes this tragedy. To develop a tragic sense of life should be seen as admirable. Rios clearly aspires to reach this state. Has he found it? Will he see it in Picard?
• Is snake leaf legal in the Federation? Do the laws vary from planet to planet? Is it for medicinal use only in some regions?
• The next two episodes are directed by none other than Jonathan Frakes.