Star Trek: Picard
It’s hard to nail down the pacing of Star Trek: Picard. On the one hand, the series spent the better part of six episodes bringing Jean-Luc Picard to the Artifact, a destination we knew he needed to reach from episode one. On the other hand, Picard has started chewing through story elements that at first seemed as if they were going to take a whole season to play out. One moment Jurati and Rios have started flirting with each other. Two episodes later … whoa. Narek seemed to be playing the long game with Soji, but in this installment he tells her his true name, takes her into a forbidden Romulan inner sanctum, then tries to do her in. To be clear, he’s not happy about it. Picard may be unpredictable, but it can be counted on to put tears in the eyes of its murderers and would-be murderers.
In the former camp, Jurati seems troubled this episode. That’s understandable given that the previous episode ended with her killing Bruce Maddox, the AI genius who was also her lover in happier times. She clearly didn’t want to kill him. But she felt like she had no choice thanks to some knowledge imparted to her by an unknown party (though almost certainly Commodore Oh). How’s she dealing with what she’s done? Not well, really. She lies about Maddox’s death to Picard who notes, “This is hard for you” but doesn’t seem to doubt her story. Elnor knows something is up, telling her, “He can’t see you’re also haunted by something you’d like to forget.” That’s putting it mildly. So what to do? Jurati chooses to spend a sleepless night wandering around and seeing what’s up with the shirtless, soccer-playing Rios, who doesn’t question why she’s coming onto him and just goes with it. So now the La Sirena has someone working against them in their midst, someone who may have softened up the ship’s captain. This may not end well.
Then again, the whole adventure might not end well. Elnor did sign up because he thought it met the standard of a lost cause, and he clearly means to see it through to the end. It may not have immediately seemed like La Sirena needed another crew member prior to Elnor boarding the ship, but Evan Evagora has quickly proven otherwise. Elnor’s naïveté made the funny parts of the comparatively breezy (if still dark) “Stardust City Rag” even funnier, and it brightens up this grimmer outing as well. Elnor hasn’t really had much to do beyond following Picard around like a duckling imprinted on its mother and shedding copious amounts of blood, but he’s been a lot of fun in both roles. And, given that this episode splits him off from the good captain, it looks like the next episode will show what he can do on his own (or by Hugh’s side, at least).
Of course, that development comes at the end of a long, eventful episode, one that finds Picard — with great discomfort — boarding a Borg cube. Well, former Borg cube, one now populated with xBs like Hugh. All keep the scars of their Borg existences both inside and out. Even Picard, who bears no physical traces of his time as Locutus, remains deeply affected by his mechanical bondage. He has great sympathy for those pressed into Borg servitude, telling Hugh, “After all these years you’re showing what the Borg are underneath. They’re victims, not monsters.” But he still hates the Borg as a whole, scoffing at the suggestion they might have changed. “They don’t change,” he says. “They metastasize.”
They’re also, as of this episode, the least of Picard’s problems. First he has to get permission to board the Artifact, permission he obtains by way of Raffi burning her bridges with an old contact. Then he has to navigate around the Romulans as he makes his way to Soji. Fortunately, he has Hugh to help him. (They even exchange a hug, another sign that Picard has grown easier with his affections in his golden years.) And though he hasn’t previously said anything, we learn Hugh has Narek’s number, sniffing him out as a Tal Shiar spy even though he can’t quite figure out his interest in Soji.
Hugh can’t quite wrap his head around what Picard tells him about her origins, either. Then again, neither can Soji, who in this episode gets a crash course in her secret origin after Narek first tells her about her 70-seconds-and-done sleepytime phone calls with her mother (or “mother”), then uses the for-Romulans-only meditations technique Zhal Makh to put her in touch with her dreamscape. In the process he completely freaks her out when she sees an image of herself as a wooden puppet on a surgeon’s table, and tricks her into revealing her planet of origin. (It looks unpleasant.) Then Narek, with some regret, attempts to kill her, in the process activating her robotic powers. All in all, it’s a pretty eventful date for the two young lovers.
In the end, Picard and Soji escape by way of some secret Borg technology, telling the rest of the La Sirena crew to meet them at Nepenthe. It ties up the episode’s immediate action but raises as many questions as it answers, like what’s going on on Soji’s planet of origin? How many synths like her are there? She’s activated her powers but seems to have no memory of her past. Will that change? Does knowing Narek’s true name, Hrai Yan, give her any sway over him? Will his feelings for her factor into future encounters? So far, Soji and Dahj (R.I.P.) have been the most mysterious elements of the show, and for as much time as we’ve spent with them, we haven’t learned that much about them. Maybe, now that Soji and Picard are finally together, that will change in the next next episode, which seems likely to give him a chance to question her and vice versa. If not, it wouldn’t be the first time Picard has messed with the expected pace of its storytelling.
• All this talk of the Borg, and yet the Borg themselves remain out of the picture. That probably won’t last. Even if we don’t encounter any proper Borg this season, the time spent on the Artifact has complicated Picard’s exploration of the difference between humanity and the machines it creates. There is, we already know, a middle ground.
• Speaking of which, what about that moment when a fellow xB says, “Locutus?” to Picard as if spotting an old high school buddy in an unexpected place? Will that have future significance? Was it just an odd moment?
• Also, the image of the episode — directed by Mja Vrvilo from a script by Nick Zayas — has to be Picard looking shaken as an image of himself as Locutus overlays his face.
• The Soji segments of this series have evoked Blade Runner from the start, but never more than in this episode. In the film, Replicants use photographs and mementoes to reinforce implanted memories, just as Soji surrounds herself with pieces of her childhood (including her stuffed Squoodgy). But it turns out they’re all around three years old. That may also be her age. Another connection: the inside of the Artifact is lit much like the inside of the Bradbury Building in Blade Runner, all shadows sliced by beams of light.
• Soji’s “mother” has the episode’s creepiest moment when she glitches from one maternal expression to another, a break in the illusion that makes her caring face look less than human.
• We’ve never encountered Nepenthe in Star Trek, but its name is probably significant. In turns up in Homer’s Odyssey as the name of a drug that causes forgetfulness and cures sorrow.
• Raffi is drinking and vaping again and she doesn’t care who knows it. Star Trek had dealt with addiction in the past — most memorably via Deep Space Nine’s ketracel white, most embarrassingly in The Next Generation’s first season just-say-no episode — but never quite like this. Raffi has substance abuse issues, but she’s also a fully functional crew member. For the moment, at least. One side or the other will have to give in the future, but for now she’s striking a balance.
• We don’t really see Soji’s father. Wild theory: Could it be Data? If so, how? If not, then who? (To be fair, he doesn’t sound much like Data and his hair looks nothing like Data’s, but who knows?)