With episode 5, season 1 of Star Trek: Picard reaches its halfway point and finishes its set up. I love the show so far. The characters and storylines are complex and modern. The cast is excellent and balanced between men and women, humans and aliens, and is diverse in other ways as well. 😉 The show is following the Star Trek model by exploring topical and moral issues, using space and aliens as a metaphor. But it’s putting its own twist on that model, as each series needs to do, by focusing on the characters’ journeys and the effect that certain huge events have had on them.
ST:P is particularly focusing on issues involved with differences such as ageing, illness, addiction, mental illness, failure, loss and disability, which are issues that Star Trek has tended to avoid, since it takes place in a more successful society than ours. These are all issues which are especially relevant in our current world, so they are important for fiction to explore. Jean Luc Picard is a perfect choice as the lead character, since he has faced loss before and has always been an introspective man.
While all of the episodes have been good, I vastly preferred the style and flow of episodes 1–3, the episodes directed by Hanelle Culpepper. I hope the rest of the season is more like those episodes. Episodes 4 & 5 have been choppy and have prioritized Picard: The Nostalgia Trip over conveying information necessary to understanding the plot and characters and moving them forward.
Watching Picard fence or play French pirate has been amusing, for sure, but meanwhile, the other actors had to race through some crucial plot points in this episode so quickly that they practically stumbled over their lines. And we didn’t have any scenes on the Artifact this week. Much of the character and world building is left to the tie in novel and comic books. I have no problem with adding extra media to the universe, but it should be extra, not crucial to the story.
After 5 episodes of build up, the onscreen version of Bruce Maddox turned out to be nothing more than a human MacGuffin who was quickly discarded after he revealed information the audience has known since the beginning of the season. Unless the Bruce who died was a synth, that was a waste of time. There were many ways for Agnes to tip her hand as an antagonist and possible spy that were less clunky and repetitive than what we were given. And most of us had guessed from the beginning, as we were meant to, that she wasn’t what she seemed.
I’m interested in following the story that was created for this series and the new characters, rather than reviewing more Star Trek greatest hits every week. I love Picard himself and Patrick Stewart’s fresh take on him. Hugh and Jonathan Del Arco also bring something new to the table.
But I don’t want to see every possible former Star Trek actor/character brought onto this show for a visit if it doesn’t serve the story. Much as I love Jeri Ryan and Seven, I didn’t feel like what we saw of her story this week needed an entire episode devoted to it, especially if all of the other new characters who were introduced were going to be dead by the end of the episode. I realize Seven will be back, so I’m not complaining that she was the focus of the episode. It’s the way her introduction was handled.
This was a fan service episode and the overall story arc suffered for it. On the other hand, if Bruce Maddox, Bejayzl and Mr Vup also return, I retract the complaint.
The episode begins with a flashback to eight years ago, in an illicit chop shop that specializes in carving up Borg and former Borg in order to sell their parts on the black market. Former Star Trek: Voyager character Icheb is now a Starfleet officer who has fallen into the hands of heartless butchers.
A woman removes his eyeball while he’s awake on the table. As she continues to cut him open, she says that she’s looking for his cortical node. Voyager viewers already know that many years ago he donated his cortical node to Seven of Nine to save her life, so the butcher won’t find one.
Seven shoots her way into the room, hoping to rescue Icheb. He tells her that he’s too far gone to be saved and asks her to kill him now, rather than allowing him to continue to suffer. Icheb is the closest thing she’ll ever have to a child, so this is the most heartbreaking thing Seven’s ever had to do, but she does it.
This is the first opening flashback that hasn’t had anything to do with the Mars attack. Instead, we’re shown special guest star, Starship Voyager crew member and former Delta Quadrant Borg drone Seven of Nine’s worst nightmare. In episode 4, we met Picard’s surrogate son, Elnor, a Romulan whose life he saved, who has also saved his life. This week, we see the death of Icheb, a Borg whose life Seven helped save, when then saved her life. Let’s hope Elnor and Picard’s story has a happier ending.
Cut to Stardust City, Freecloud, 2 weeks ago- Bjayzl, who ran the Borg chop shop 8 years ago, lounges in a piano bar, wearing a sheer evening gown straight out of an earlier Trek show.
She’s approached by Mr Vup, a male Beta Annari, a sentient reptilian species. He’s covered in thick prosthetics, giving him crocodile skin. Vup announces that Bruce Maddox is there. At first Jay wants to kill him, then she decides to toy with him instead.
Maddox tells her that his lab has been destroyed by assailants who used some kind of molecular solvent. They almost killed him as well. His work is completely destroyed, so he won’t be able to pay back her loan. She asks who he thinks did this. Vup growls. Bruce accuses the Tal Shiar. Bruce collapses. Jay poisoned him into unconsciousness. She plans to sell him to the Tal Shiar.
A molecular solvent sounds like it would be particularly thorough, making it hard to tell what was taken and what was left behind. Bruce has disappeared before when the going got rough. Maybe after Dahj was killed he knew they were coming for him and destroyed the lab himself?
On the La Sirena, Picard watches an ad for Freecloud. It provides maximum secrecy for security and financial transactions while providing minimal interference in personal freedoms. What happens in Freecloud stays in Freecloud, and anything can happen there.
Seven joins Picard in his holo study. She questions why he’s back out in space. They clash over his opinion on vigilantes, since the Fenris Rangers qualify in his mind. She pointedly tells him that she’s helping people, rather than giving up. He tells her that he’s trying to keep someone alive. She’s prepared to listen.
Raffi and Rios remind viewers that both Seven and Picard used to be Borg.
Agnes watches a video of herself and Bruce making chocolate chip cookies. He likes to feel like things are real, so he replicated the ingredients for the cookies, then baked them himself. Agnes and Bruce were lovers before he left her. She turns off the video and wipes away a tear.
When they reach Freecloud, everyone gets an advertising holo, except Elnor. Rios gets a fuel efficiency ad. Picard gets an ad for high tea. Raffi gets a drug ad. Agnes gets a robotics ad that she has to punch to delete. Elnor doesn’t have an online presence so there’s nothing for advertisers to target.
Raffi finds Maddox through the deal Bjayzl wants to make selling him to the Tal Shiar. They’re looking for a “facer” to act as negotiator. Bruce Maddox is likely to fetch too high a price for them to simply outbid the Romulans, so Seven suggests they offer to trade her to Bjayzl for Maddox. Jay is still involved in the Borg not so spare parts business.
Facers are flamboyant characters, so Rios dresses in full 70s pimp gear. Picard gets to dress as a modern pirate to match, complete with black eye patch and overdone French accent. It’s clear that Picard took part in some community theatre productions during his retirement in La Barre.
Mr Vup’s species has an especially strong sense of smell, which means they can tell when someone is lying, so Raffi doses Rios with an injection of one of her homebrewed potions that includes beta-blockers, anxioletics and benzos. If it doesn’t kill Rios, it will keep him so relaxed that his body won’t react to lying.
Down on the planet, Vup can’t tell that Rios is lying, but he’s not a fan of surprises either. It takes him a minute to appreciate the idea of negotiating with an unexpected third party. He comes around after Rios shows him Seven’s scan.
Picard, Elnor and Seven beam down to complete the deal. Seven is wearing trick handcuffs and carries a pattern enhancer that will allow her to signal the ship to beam her and Maddox back up. Elnor goes as himself. He’s disappointed, but he’s still used to Absolute Candor, so it’ll take him a minute to learn the ways of subterfuge that come naturally to most of his people, should he decide to take part in more undercover missions.
Agnes is left behind on transporter duty. For some reason, she doesn’t see herself as capable of pushing a few buttons in response to a request. She’s close to having a panic attack over it. Or is she panicking over what she knows she’s going to do after everyone returns to the ship?
Down in Bjayzl’s bar, as he’s showing her off to Vup, Picard goes into a rant about what a disgusting creature Seven is because she’s a former Borg. Guess he’s not quite past the self-loathing. Vup is excited because she has so many functional implants. Picard overacts like he’s a cartoon villain. He asks to see Maddox before they complete the deal.
But suddenly we’re back on the ship, and it’s before everyone went down to the surface. Raffi is saying goodbye, because she’s leaving the ship to go be with her son, who lives on Freecloud.
What? Way to bring the momentum of your episode to a halt, guys. It’s really okay to put some things in chronological order. We could have watched Raffi say goodbye ten minutes ago, then remembered it later. As it is, you’ve got us moving from Picard’s ridiculous pirate impression to Raffi’s maternal heartbreak.
It was already bad enough to go from Seven’s maternal heartbreak to Picard’s pirate impression. The tonal shifts wouldn’t work no matter how the script was edited, but this episode is edited in probably the worst possible way, since it appears that the production is mocking Seven and Raffi’s lowest points. Not to mention Icheb’s horrific death.
We have two mothers who have lost their children and Picard yelling at one of them that she’s disgusting in a fake voice while the other is about to be rejected for a second time. Raffi lost her husband and son because Picard hired her to help the Romulans. It wasn’t his fault, but having him yell at Seven in the background is extremely tone deaf.
Raffi finds Gabriel at a family planning clinic. He and his wife, Pel, are having a baby. He’s not happy to see her. She tells him that she’s clean and wants to be there for him and her granddaughter. He’s filled with anger and doesn’t believe that she’s ready to put her issues aside for her family. He’s cruel as he brings up her conspiracy theories about the attack on Mars and demands that she tell him that she doesn’t believe any of them are true anymore.
Raffi won’t give up her theories, even for her son. She knows the attack wasn’t what it seemed and lives were at stake. He can’t forgive her for becoming consumed by her theories and the need to prove them. He feels she ruined his childhood and her marriage with her obsessions and addictions. When Pel is done with her appointment, Gabe introduces her to Raffi, then says that his mother was just passing through town. It’s a dismissal from his life.
When he talks about the conspiracy, Gabe says that Raffi believes it wasn’t really the synths and it involved the Conclave of Eight. The thing is, anyone who knows Raffi knows that she’s always right about this type of thing. You only dismiss her if you don’t want to know the truth for your own reasons.
Once Rafi says a tearful goodbye to Pel and Gabe, we jump back to Picard doing a circus style reveal of Seven the former Borg to Bejayzl. The real trick of the evening is that Bejayzl and Seven already know each other, which Seven neglected to mention to the crew of the La Sirena when they created this plan. Bejayzl was in charge of the chop shop which horrifically butchered Icheb, Seven’s adopted son, so this is a revenge mission for her, which Picard slowly realizes as Bejayzl expresses her delight that her purchase turned out to be Seven.
So we have 2 mothers who have been separated from their children by circumstances involving space travel, the Romulans and the ruthless underbelly of the Federation that exploited their situation. Raffi quietly returns to the ship, beaten for now. Seven is just getting started.
And suddenly we’re up on the La Sirena. Agnes is nervous about using the transporter. The EMH appears to ask her about her psychiatric emergency, since she’s on the verge of a panic attack. Rios phones home to make sure she can beam them out quickly, since the deal is about to go south. Having to deal with 2 versions of Rios snaps Agnes back out of herself and gets her functioning adequately. She dismisses the EMH.
Did everyone get that? Agnes isn’t good in a crisis and isn’t comfortable with using transporters, which should be second nature to her, like using an elevator. I don’t believe she’s a synth, but she could be from a very different culture.
Also, EMH’s no longer have any authority in a medical crisis, probably since the AI/synth ban. Any human can override the doctor’s medical decisions.
Back down to Bjayzl and Seven, who are having what appears to be a bit of a lovers’ quarrel. They stare deeply into each other’s eyes and Seven refers to herself as the one who got away. Yes, it’s ostensibly in reference to her Borg technology, but Seven is right. If she’d wanted Seven’s tech more than Seven as a person, Bjayzl would have locked her up so tight there was no way she could get out. Their whole discussion could be interpreted as Bejayzl killing Icheb just as much out of jealousy because he was the person Seven loved most as because she wanted the Borg tech.
Bejayzl wears spider webs on her arms and employs a crocodile man. I have no problem believing she’s a spider woman who wants to either possess someone completely or destroy them completely. Or both, in succession.
Seven uncuffs her hands and grabs Bejayzl by the throat. The men on both sides finally figure out that the rules of the game have changed. Maddox was thrown on the floor behind them at some point, injured but alive. Picard is miffed that he’s not really in charge. Bejayzl taunts everyone and explains what’s really happening.
She looks a lot like Deanna Troi. Could she be from an evil twin of Deanna’s homeworld, Betazed?
Picard decides to play Starfleet negotiator and prompts Seven to explain the details of her story, in the hopes that he can talk her out of a revenge killing. She tells him about her relationship to Icheb, who was on leave from Starfleet at the time of his death so that he could help the Fenris Rangers keep peace in the areas of the Beta quadrant that are full of poverty stricken Romulan refugees who were abandoned by Starfleet after the Mars attack.
Bejayzl knew about Icheb because of she got close to Seven through working with the Rangers. Icheb’s death is because Bejayzl is evil, and not Seven or Picard’s fault, but if they had made different choices, he might still be alive.
Vup activates a weapon, so Rios shoots him before he can shoot Seven. Picard tries to convince Seven not to murder Bejayzl in cold blood. Rios urges them to leave before Bejayzl’s reinforcements arrive. Seven tries to send the others back without her, but Rios notes that she’s found Bejatzl once, she should be able to find her again. He draws attention to the pattern enhancer in his hand, as a reminder that she can help get the team to safety, then come back. Bejayzl agrees to trade Maddox for her own life.
Once they return to La Sirena, Agnes takes Bruce to sick bay.
Rios gives Seven the pattern enhancer. Picard tries to offer her a ride, but she says that the Rangers have sent a Corsair for her. She asks for a couple of giant assault phasers instead. She tries to cover, but he understands that she’s going straight back down to kill Bejayzl. She gives him a Rangers calling card, in case he ever needs help, then asks if he feels like he’s regained his humanity since his time with the Borg. He says, “Yes.” She asks, “All of it?” “No. But we’re both working on it, aren’t we?” She replies, “Every day of my life.”
She beams down and starts shooting. Bjayzl was surprised she left at all. Seven wanted to leave Picard with some of his illusions, like that there’s still room for mercy and hope in the galaxy. She vaporizes Bejayzl. Or does Bejayzl beam out at that moment?
Bejayzl’s army reaches the room and Seven strides toward them, firing with both hands.
Maddox has massive abdominal injuries. He tells Picard that he figured out that Dahj was dead when the Tal Shiar came for his lab. “Her embedded mom AI wouldn’t have activated her unless she was in grave danger.” Picard confirms Soji’s existence, name, and location. He knows of the Artifact already, but he doesn’t understand why Bruce would send Soji there. Bruce says he sent both women to look for the truth. About what?
Bruce: “The ban. There are lies upon lies. They’re hiding something.”
But he isn’t sure who. It isn’t just the Romulans. He sent them to find out if the Federation was involved as well.
Agnes, who is an MD as well as a robotics researcher and a representative of the Federation who helped build the Mars synths, sends Picard away at that point, saying he’s not stable enough to continue speaking.
Picard goes straight to Rios, who says that the Artifact is in Romulan space, which will double his fee. Picard agrees to the new price. Laris and Zhaban must have done alright with the harvest.
Rios mentions that they have a stowaway. Picard knocks on Rafi’s door and welcomes her back to the ship. She tells him to go away.
Agnes looks even paler than normal, which shouldn’t be possible. She tells Bruce that she thought she’d never see him again. He’s warm and friendly toward her, but it’s clear that their relationship didn’t end on the best terms, then he took their shared work, an away with it and cut her out.
He tells her that Dahj and Soji are perfectly imperfect. “I did it, Aggie. Soong and I. And you. Your contribution was essential.” Nice of him to credit her last, then. She replies, “One more thing I have to atone for.” Then she pushes buttons on his medical panel in order to kill him quickly. The EMH appears again, asking the same questions, and she deactivates it again.
As Bruce is dying, Agnes says, “I wish you knew what I know. I wish I didn’t know what I know. I wish they hadn’t shown me. I’m so sorry.”
How would Dahj’s death have told the Tal Shiar where Bruce’s lab was? He was absolutely not telling the whole truth, if that was even the real Bruce Maddox.
This episode was about three mothers and the deaths of three relationships. All three involved revenge and a lack of forgiveness. Raffi lost her son again and neither can forgive the other for the ways they are unable to understand each other. He’s getting his revenge on her for missing his childhood by keeping her from her granddaughter. Seven needed revenge for both her own stolen childhood and Icheb’s, since she was also taken by the Borg and used for parts. She’ll likely never get over her own anger toward her parents, the Borg, Starfleet and the world.
And Agnes is by all rights the mother of Dahj and Soji, but Bruce took that opportunity away from her. Or did he force motherhood on her when she didn’t want it? Or both? I’m not sure he deserved death, but she definitely has a right to her anger with him, as do Dahj and Soji. Bruce used all three as if they weren’t sentient beings who deserve the freedom of self-determination.
My first impression was that Bjayzl was the one who destroyed Bruce Maddox’s lab and tried to kill him, since she wanted him killed on sight, though I know it makes more sense according to the story for it to have been the Zat Vash or the Tal Shiar. Soji appears to have Borg technology/nanites in her (her Borg badge lit up at one point just from her own reactions), so Bjayzl was likely one of the private investors in Bruce’s work who also provided the Borg tech for him to work with.
But then why did Bejayzl order Mr Vup to kill Bruce when he came to Freecloud?
If Bruce’s lab was destroyed 2 weeks ago by the Tal Shiar, that suggests that it’s not the synth nest Narissa and Narek are searching for. Unless The Tal Shiar haven’t shared information with the Zhat Vash, which is entirely possible.
Seven has become a hard drinking Han Solo with a heart of gold type, complete with leather bomber jacket and cantina where she shoots her arch nemesis in cold blood. Do we think she actually watched Star Wars Episodes 4 & 5 to create her persona for Star Trek: Picard Episode 5 and beyond? And will she be encased in carbonite at the end of the season or just reactivated into a Borg (along with Locutus and Hugh)?
Raffi appreciates what Seven is doing. She may have found her future calling, after this is all over. It sounds like the Fenris Rangers make frequent visits to Freecloud and aren’t too picky about the habits of their people. They also take care of their own. Sequel series, here we come.
I was getting some vibes from Seven and Raffi and the handcuffs and the idea of being Rangers together, but then I tend to ship everyone with everyone.
We aren’t given any indication of why Agnes crumbles under the slightest pressure and doesn’t appear to understand how a transporter works. One asumes she’s been using them to get around Earth throughout her life, the same way Picard does, even though she hasn’t been to space.
Or so she wants us to believe. I’m starting to wonder if Agnes isn’t remotely who or what she says she is. Obviously she’s a Romulan/Zhat Vash spy. What if she’s been one all along, since she began working with Bruce Maddox? What if in episode 1 Oh was meeting her in the park for a regular check in, rather than recruiting her for the first time?
Major Spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Novel- The Last Best Hope
In the companion novel, which covers the years 2381, when the Romulan rescue mission begins, until just after the Mars attack in 2385, Agnes works with Bruce Maddox at the Daystrom Institute, but she also remains mysterious. He keeps her at arm’s length throughout their relationship and keeps their relationship a secret.
It’s her idea to use a single positronic neuron, which is what I believe he’s referring to when he mentions her contribution to Dahj and Soji at the end of the episode. That’s why she was able to explain the way they worked, even though she had nothing to do with their creation. The key development was her idea and he essentially stole it, then created the synths without her.
But the Romulan mission interferes with their work, so they aren’t able to make much while they’re together at the institute. The novel doesn’t cover the period after he disappears, so I don’t know if they were in contact after that, but the implication, between the show and the novel, is that they weren’t.
There are some hints in the novel that she might have been turned before the Mars attacks. Bruce begins ignoring her, both in their work and personal lives. Since she’s at the Institute solely to work with him, that would be a major blow. She was already an MD and had come to the Institute to take a few classes in robotics. He talked her into changing the course of her career to work on a doctorate with him. If the Zhat Vash or some other terrorist group were watching the robotics department for an opportunity to turn someone, they might have seen one in the way cavalier way Bruce treated Agnes. She would have had the ability and opportunity to reprogram the A500 synths who came off the factory floor.
I have a theory that the uprising was triggered using the replicators on Mars. Season 2 of the series Short Treks is oddly obsessed with replicators connected to disobedience and subversion, combined with the replicators being in use when the synth actually clicked into rebel mode.
The novel pays an odd amount of attention to how much Agnes eats and what she eats, unlike any other character. It means something. Her last scene is at a cafe, when she meets Bruce for the last time, right after the uprising, and she brings a copy of the book Frankenstein. In this episode, we get a scene of her watching herself and Bruce making cookies using both a replicator and an oven. She was also picnicking in episode 1 when Oh found her at the park.
Mason Gooding, from Booksmart, drips cruelty and hatred as Raffi’s son, Gabriel. As the child of an addict, I’ve felt every bit of his side of it. As a mother, I feel her heartbreak as well. That scene is difficult to watch, but I give credit to both actors for their performances.
As far as I can tell, the Conclave of Eight that Gabe mentions in his list of resentments hasn’t been mentioned before this series, so it’ll come up again as the conspiracy is explored.
It’s not clear whether Pel is a Romulan or a Vulcan, but my money is on Romulan.
“Listen. No human society will be perfect, because no human will ever be perfect,” [Picard showrunner Michael] Chabon says. “The most we can do — and as Star Trek ever reminds us, must do — is aspire to perfection, and work to make it so. Norkon forden perfectunun, as a wise Yang once said. Until that impossible day, s–t is going to continue to happen. And when it does, humans are going to want to swear… The absence of swear words in Star Trek was never a matter of Federation principle, it was a matter of FCC rules. Writers of previous eras had no choice. They were censored. Swearing is one of humanity’s most ancient, sensible, and reliable consolations. Personally I would consider any society that discouraged, banned or abandoned the use of curse words to be a f—ing dystopia.”
Hear that, WordPress and Google? Censoring curse words is one sign of a dystopia.
Images courtesy of CBS AllAccess.