Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Episode 4- Absolute Candor Recap

Star Trek: Picard S1E4 Elnor, Agnes, Jean Luc
A Lost Cause

OMG, JERI RYAN IS IN THE OPENING CREDITS!!!!

Picard insists on a side trip to a Romulan refugee planet on the way to Freecloud to pick up Bruce Maddox, but the neighborhood has gone downhill since the last time he was there 14 years ago, on the day the synths attack Mars. The Romulans are still a little bitter and in a stabby, slicey mood. The crew get to know each other better and get used to the ship. Picard picks up yet another Romulan assassin, a Borg pilot and we meet two more emergency holograms.

Recap

As always, we begin with a flashback/nightmare having to do with the synth attack on Mars. This time, we find out what Picard was up to on the day of the attack 14 years ago. He was visiting the Romulan resettlement planet Vashti, in the Beta Quadrant, where he was working with a group of warrior nuns, the Qowat Milat, who were in charge of the resettlement effort.

Picard is a hero on Vashti, seen as the man who is saving the Romulan people, and everyone greets him accordingly when he arrives. The leader of the Qowat Milat, Zani, greets Picard and encourages Legolas Elnor, a young elfin orphan boy who is staying with her until a suitable home can be found, to stop hiding and say hello to their guest.

In addition to being some of the fiercest fighters in the galaxy, the nuns practice the way of Absolute Candor, which requires them to express the truth at all times, including about their feelings. It’s the exact opposite of most Romulans, who value secrecy and subterfuge.

Picard plans to spend a few days with Zani and Elnor, especially since he and the boy have grown close. But the next day, he receives a communication from Raffi while he’s teaching Elnor fencing. The synths have attacked Mars. Picard leaves, promising he’ll return soon.

Apparently he was big on making promises in those days, and he ended up keeping very few of them. The Qowat Milat don’t believe in promises- they feel the promise becomes a prison.

Picard makes sure to note how awful it is for a boy to be raised by women. Mind, we met Elnor when he was running through a village full of men. He’s not isolated from men. He’s simply fed and tucked in at night by women, poor thing.

I miss you already, Hanelle Culpepper. You can feel the sigh of relief in this episode that such strict adherence to politically correct standards is no longer required.

Noted scientist Dr Agnes Julati has now been turned into a bored child who can only amuse herself for a few hours. She pesters Rios while he’s trying to read his book and admits that she used to pester her dad while he read his paper books, too. Rios tells her he’s busy being dark and existential and will probably try to kill himself again later.

She tries to decide if she finds that attractive or if she wants to pursue one of the emergency holos instead. The doctor holo seemed to have a good head on his shoulders and doctors probably still make a good living, even in the 24th century.

Glad I was right about the romantic chemistry between them, anyway.

Raffi discovers that Picard wants to stop at Vashti before they go to Freecloud and that doesn’t fit with her itinerary, so she yells some more.

Picard is in his study, which was beamed up intact from the vineyard. Oh, darn it’s just a holo version, made from scans Zhaban faithfully recorded for Picard’s comfort. Though Jean Luc couldn’t wait to escape the place, he’s now living on someone else’s ship and needs to feel like he’s the boss of something. He will rule his imaginary study like the king he was meant to be, from behind his fake ancestral desk, just wait and see.

Currently he’s consulting with the first of tonight’s EH’s, the emergency hospitality hologram, who admits to Jean Luc that there aren’t many hospitality emergencies on La Sirena. I find that hard to believe. Rios spends too much of his time brooding and having shrapnel in his shoulder and all to be easily available for hospitality emergencies.

They’re interrupted by Raffi, who’s still yelling- she has one setting. Rios and Dr Agnes Jurati follow. They have a snarky argument that involves Absolute Candor. Picard is informed that the Romulans hate him now and Vashti’s sector is now run by a Romulan Godfather in Space who has his own vintage Bird of Prey. Picard explains that he’s too old to fight and he needs to pick up a Qowat Milat assassin to help him out. If one will accept the mission. There’s a whole thing where they have to choose your cause as worthy.

Raffi sees through him and knows this is also about Elnor. She tries to convince him to wait until another time. He tells her that he’s old and in the middle of a dangerous mission. There is no later for him.

Soji analyzes an old interview Ramdha did on a Romulan talk show. She’s asked about Ganmadan, the Day of Annihilation. Everything, everywhere, including all life, will be annihilated “when the shackled demons break their chains, and answer the call of The Destroyer.”

The shackled demons could be the Borg, some unknown group of synths, or the Romulans themselves, who are feeling pretty shackled these days. The camera superimposes Ramdha’s face in the video over Soji’s face as she watches, blurring the potential identity of the Destroyer.

The Romulans aren’t interested in letting Picard beam down onto Vashti. Planetary security is standard, but effective, with a net of defensive weaponry that circles the planet. It only opens up to allow entrance for one minute every half hour, and the opening moves to a new spot each time. They have to bribe their way in.

When Picard gets to the surface, the people are poor and unhappy. Public spaces are segregated, with zones set aside for Romulans only. Zani is still in charge of the Qowat Milat and is happy to see Picard. Elnor has grown into a young man, still living with the nuns, and they have trained him to be a Qowat Milat assassin, a qalankhkai. Except their rules are strict and as a guy, he’s not really allowed to be a qalankhkai. He’s very talented, but doesn’t really belong there, as always.

Present day Ramdha is now unconscious and being treated by a medical drone for injuries sustained in an off camera suicide attempt. Soji stands over her and puts her hand on Ramdha’s hand. Narek stands in the doorway and says, “Poor Ramdha, she’s always been a bit of a tormented soul,” surprising Soji, who didn’t hear him arrive. Soji asks if he knows Ramdha personally. He doesn’t answer- he never answers her direct questions. Instead, he says that he’s not surprised that Ramdha tried to take her own life.

Well, given that she believes Soji is the Romulan Horsewoman of the Apocalypse, the harbinger of the destruction of the universe, it actually seems like a sensible move.

Soji feels close to Ramdha, even though she knows Ramdha doesn’t like her. She feels like Ramdha saw the real her. Narek puts his hand on Soji’s hand and looks her in the eyes. He says, “I see you, Soji.”

Soji must not buy it, because in the next scene, they’re sitting in a Romulan bar, having a drink, and she’s telling him that while she normally trusts everyone at first, she doesn’t trust him.

Lol. She didn’t even take him back to her room to have this conversation in private. She totally expected it to turn into a break up conversation.

He asks for another chance. She asks if he’s been following her. He gives her another not-straight answer, telling her not in the way she means it. That’s true. He’s been watching her closer than she means it, since as a spy he has access to all the surveillance devices, which she’s figuring out.

She points out that, on a Romulan facility which is extra obsessed with safety and security, he goes anywhere he wants, whenever he wants and he has no discernable identification or rank. He says he’s not Tal Shiar but admits he wouldn’t say if he was, so while she had to ask, it was also pointless.

Moving on to what Soji needs and the way he can earn his way back into her good graces, if that’s what he wants, she asks what he knows about Ramdha’s ship, the Shaenor. He says he doesn’t know anything, but he might know someone who has access to the classified files.

Then he takes her to another part of the cube, saying he’s going to teach her a secret Borg ritual. On the way, he asks how she learned Romulan. She says a professor who was a friend of her father’s taught her. He assumes it was in Seattle, before 5/12/2396, when  she left for the Beta Quadrant aboard the Ellison.

The Borg ritual turns out to be sock surfing in a ventilation return. They have some sweet fun together for a few minutes and then make out. He ends the date by informing her that Terran passenger lists are public record and she’s not on the passenger list for the Ellison on that day. She angrily wonders why he’s questioning her story and walks away. He asks if she’s ditching her inquiry into the Shaenor as well. He tells her that he’s just researching in order to feed an insatiable curiosity, the same as her.

The population of Vashti realizes that Picard is back at the same time that Kar Kantar, the warlord in charge of the sector, enters scanner range. Raffi tells Picard they’re all about to be in trouble, but he’s under the impression that he’s still the captain of a huge starship and tells them to make do until he’s ready to leave.

On the planet, Zani gives him a hard time for simply giving up when Starfleet turned him down. He admits that he allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

I defended him when Raffi urged him to find another way after Starfleet accepted his resignation, since he said he’d exhausted his options. Listening to Zani makes me wonder if there were others out there who were willing to help, but were waiting for him to lead them. Without the confidence he would have inspired, maybe everyone else melted away, too.

Zani asks about Picard’s cause, then urges him to take Elnor with him as his qalankhkai. Elnor needs to choose to bind his sword to Picard’s cause, so first he wants Picard to tell him what they are fighting for. Picard starts the story with Data’s death. Elnor remembers Picard’s stories about Data, especially his cat, Spot.

But he also wonders if Picard would have grieved in the same way for him, or if Picard only cares about him now that he is useful. He is angry, but after thinking about it for a few minutes and rescuing Picard from a fight with another Romulan, he decides to go along. Picard spends the few minutes inciting trouble with the Romulans, which leads to a duel with a former Romulan senator, who Elnor decapitates just before they beam up to La Sirena.

The Romulan senator accuses Picard and the Federation of purposely stopping the Romulans from saving themselves from the supernova in order to weaken them as a people, so there are some dangerous conspiracy theories circulating that could eventually lead to war.

Once the senator is dead, Elnor announces that he’s now Picard’s protector and anyone who attacks him should prepare to die. Picard takes personal credit for every bad thing that’s happened to the Romulans in the last 15 years and apologizes, which, given the conspiracy theory, isn’t helpful.

Picard apparently didn’t understand that he was hiring a personal assassin and gets mad at Elnor just as they’re beamed up to the ship. He orders Elnor to wait to be told to kill someone before he kills someone. He asks Elnor why he decided to bind himself to the cause and Elnor says it meets the requirement for worthiness- it’s a lost cause.

Narissa Rizzo wakes up her brother in the middle of the night to harass him a bit more about his lack of progress. She says he’s been studying Soji’s kind his whole life, waiting for her, The Destroyer, to arrive. He asks her Soji’s questions about the Shaenor, but she refuses to answer, since he hasn’t done anything nice for her lately. He says he’s planted a seed of doubt in Soji’s mind that will lead to her questioning her identity. He doesn’t want to move too quickly, since if he does, he might activate her, the way Dahj was activated. They need to find out where she came from so they can kill all of the androids and Soji is their only chance.

Narissa suggests that Soji is also handling him in order to further her own agenda and he’s falling for it, while also falling deeper into his obsession with the androids. He’s studied them all of his life, and now that one is in front of him, he can’t bear to let her go. She once again threatens to resort to her own violent methods if he doesn’t work fast enough.

Kar Kantar catches up to La Sirena and attacks without warning, leaving the ship trapped between the Bird of Prey and Vashti’s lethal security net. Rios calls up Emmett, the emergency tactical and security hologram, who must be his favorite, since he has a name separate from his designation. Emmett is a perpetually hungover version of Rios who never went to Starfleet academy, but is also an excellent, tactician, obviously.

A dogfight ensues. A small fighter ship appears and helps La Sirena. Emmett and Rios marvel over the magnificent fighter pilot. The Bird of Prey destroys the ship, so they rescue the pilot, who turns out to be 7 of 9, the human woman and ex Borg drone who was a crew member on Star Trek: Voyager.

Seven and Picard recognize each other. She tells Picard he owes her a ship, then she collapses.


Commentary

Of course she does.

At least Seven’s nose wasn’t bleeding, but then, that would have affected her hotness, and this isn’t Netflix.

It’s incredibly offensive that everyone on the ship laughs when they’re first told that the Qowat Milat are warrior nuns. That offense is multiplied when they assume that the unknown pilot is male and it turns out to be 7 of 9. The production clearly thought it would be cute and forward thinking to highlight that 7 is a woman who’s a great pilot. It’s not. It’s forward thinking to give women jobs and not need to congratulate yourself for doing the right thing. CBS and its subsidiaries have a long way to go.

The editing in this episode is disjointed. We spend too much time with Picard in his study and on Vashti, but then Kar Kantar’s attack just starts without any build up and Ramdha’s suicide attempt/Narek sneaking up on Soji are referred to but not shown or explained. It seems like there was probably more in the script, and hopefully shot, for those sequences, but they were edited out in favor of showing more of Picard hanging out, not furthering the plot. Jonathan Frakes is usually a better director than this. This episode felt like it was trying too hard to be “fun” and the “real Star Trek” and didn’t get the pacing right.


Picard Is at Its Best When the Characters Drive the Show

ST:P is at its best when it lets Picard be the old, disillusioned man that he is. Picard was always a philosopher and the best TNG episodes were character-oriented rather than plot driven. This show does well when it finds the same sweet spot, but at the same time doesn’t wallow. We need to see the characters revealing and working through their issues. ST:P seems to be settling into weekly themes/challenges which affect several of the characters, allowing them to address both personal issues and the systemic corruption and stagnation the characters face.

In episode 4, Picard had to face his tendency to try to save everyone, which leads to making promises he can’t keep and disappointing people. We’ve seen what that lead to in the past, and as he ages his ability to help others will only continue to weaken. He’s faced with being the one who has to be taken care of, physically, but he also still has wisdom to share. In this episode he accepts his aging body and hires Elnor. Elnor still needs father figure, so it’s a fair trade.

But Picard also starts a political debate he can’t finish, leading to the death of the former Romulan senator. Picard blames Elnor for the man’s death, but it’s really on his hands, and he’ll eventually need to face his lifelong tendency toward rash action. He’s faced it in a TNG episode, where he realized that his risk taking might have lead to certain poor conseqiences but had also gotten him to his current position.

It’s time for him to reexamine the negative effects his decisions have had on others and make some amends. As a starship captain, he always flew off to the next planet at the end of the episode, so he didn’t have to face the consequences of what he left behind. It would be satisfying to watch a powerful man who’s always seen himself as good take a closer look at his decisions and their results. The MCU Avengers tried to do this, and instead they did more damage to the world. Can the powerful men of Star Trek actually make amends?


Torn Between Two Worlds

Like Picard in 2385, Narek and Elnor are also young men who are stuck in between two worlds, as Picard once was stuck between the Federation and the Romulans. They want to stay with both and save both, but can’t, so they may also be making promises they can’t keep. We don’t know what’s going on with Agnes and Soji, but there are hints that they may be stuck between two worlds as well.

Narek trained all of his life to be ready for the Destroyer, but now that she’s here, he doesn’t want to let her go. I get the sense that he’s planting seeds to help Soji as much as he is to further the Zhat Vash cause. I’ve raised the issue in the past about how unethical and misogynist it is to keep her unaware of her own nature, especially since her own people are doing the same thing. I think Narek is fascinated by her and can’t sort his feelings out, whatever they might be.

But it’s clear that the Soji personality is genuine, and is a type of person that Romulans can be drawn to, though they rarely encounter them. The Qowat Milat were introduced at this time to show viewers that some Romulans rebel against the secrecy that’s considered normal in their society. Laris and Zhaban did the same when they left the Tal Shiar, though we haven’t been told their story.

The writers are laying the groundwork for both Ramdha and Narek to be different from most Romulans. Narek will have difficult choices to make about where his loyalties ultimately lie. Ramdha is also caught between two worlds, that of the Borg and the Romulans. I’m not convinced that the Disordered are actually as insane as they seem. They strike me as people who are being held in a rigid clinical situation that’s making them worse instead of better, possibly on purpose in order to silence them. Possibly simply because Romulan culture is rigid.

Elnor is essentially Luke Skywalker, the lost, unique Chosen One from a lost group of fierce spiritual warriors, who has to go up against the Zhat Vash, a secret group of evil spiritual warriors all by himself, with nothing but a hastily assembled, ragtag group of misfits to assist him, including a disappointing, elderly father figure and the mercenary ship’s captain with a heart of gold. I guess Raffi is the extremely quirky old friend and crewmate of the captain and 7 of 9 is royalty who becomes a rebel leader. I don’t know that Luke Elnor is the star of this show, but they called him Picard’s surrogate son on The Ready Room.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Soji ends up as Elnor’s girlfriend eventually, after Narek’s treachery is exposed. Or maybe it will be a reconstituted Dahj and Narek will switch sides to join La Sirena’s crew eventually as the faux Vulcan. To early to tell on that one, but they’re really pushing Narek’s romantic side. Of course they’re also really emphasizing hidden identities, having two sides and twinning, too. Elnor could be Narek and Narissa’s lost younger half brother.

I just really hope they let Raffi stop yelling all the time soon. Maybe she could do something besides harangue the other characters and get high. Does she have a personality of her own besides “gets high” and “is efficient”? Rios now has 5 personalities. Surely he could spare one.

With the introduction of the way of Absolute Candor, the second side of the Romulan psyche becomes more clear. One side prefers Absolute Secrecy, to the point that the Zhat Vash is a myth and they promote the idea that their secrets would break your mind. Absolute Candor fits with Ramdha’s interpretation of mythology as the news, and the Qowat Milat fit with the attitude that even old grudges and lost causes must be acted upon. Nothing is ever settled for a Romulan. The Zhat Vash lie in wait and act slowly, after spreading a wide net of secret agents in disguise. The Qowat Milat act now and independently. They don’t believe in promises. But do they believe in prophecies?

Agnes Julati could be a Zhat Vash secret agent. I don’t believe that she’s Commodore Oh, but I think there’s a reason why we’ve never seen her interact with anyone else in her scientific field, we didn’t see her conversation with Oh, and she needed to study up on all of the recent research in her field. Like Narissa Rizzo, she might be two people at once. It makes no sense for her research lab to even exist, with the current ban on synthetic life forms. That suggests that it’s there as a trap for anyone who’s interested in breaking the ban.

Was the Shaenor carrying some of the Qowat Milat and was Ramdha one of them, in addition to her academic work? Did they have a way to disable the Borg or do they have a practice which caused a bad reaction between them and the Borg? The Qowat Milat would seem disordered to other Romulans before they became Borg, never mind after.

What will Soji do when she finds out the truth about herself? Data fought hard for his independence from every entity and governing body that sought to control him in any way. If her brain is made from his, it’s likely that she has the same independent streak. She’s certainly shown that with Hugh, Ramhda and Narek.

Soji is nice, caring and polite, just as Data always attempted to be, but she makes her own decisions and pays close attention to the people around her. I’m anxious for her to know the truth about herself and react to it, since it appears her own people are ruthlessly using her. Narissa seems to think that Soji comes from a nest of self-determined synths, but everything we know about Soji and the Mars uprising suggests the opposite.


Potential alternative eventual Picard retirement scenario #1:

Picard cleans up Vashti and the surrounding neighborhood, then convinces Zani to give up her life as a Romulan nun and settle down with him. Or maybe he lives in a hut on the edge of the Qowat Milat property and she visits him at night, but they swear they’re just good friends. Star Trek loves those separate but together couple arrangements.

Elnor, Narek and Soji serve as their surrogate children. Elnor takes up with Seven, because all of that time with nuns has given him an appreciation for a fierce older woman. Rios becomes the new pirate king of the Beta Quadrant, with Raffi as his #1 and Agnes as his queen. Agnes loves AIs so much and Rios loves himself so much that the crew occasionally catches them in the middle of love-ins with various EHs. In Picard’s study. On his desk. Picard pretends not to know, but secretly films them.

The emergency hospitality hologram refuses to take part, except to help Picard with the films. Obviously the whole thing was Emmett’s idea, but it started over EH poker night and a bet made between the doctor and the navigator.

Ramdha always wins at poker night. She didn’t spend years messing around with the pixit cards for nothing, but everyone is also pretty sure she and Raffi have some sort of psychic cheating system going on that involves Raffi going into a snake leaf trance in their room during the game. The others just can’t figure out how to catch a pair of psychic cheaters and how Raffi is reading the minds of emergency holos. Maybe it has something to do with Ramdha being the Destroyer after all. She destroys everyone’s chances of ever winning at poker again.

Narissa swans around the ship looking surly, has an ongoing semi secret affair with Emmett which they both publicly deny forever, and shares the position of tactical and security with him. Or maybe Narissa gets the old Bird of Prey and semi retires, but brings it out a few times a year for skirmishes with La Sirena to keep everyone in fighting shape. They pretend these fights are real, of course. Romulans never do anything halfway.

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