Since Zhaban/Jamie Mcshane is listed on IMDB as appearing in episode 8, I want to quickly write about a theory I’ve been considering since early in the season. Could Zhaban, who we know is a former member of the Romulan secret police known as the Tal Shiar, also belong to the even more secret Romulan spy agency, the Zhat Vash? It’s possible that he’s been living with Picard for the last 14 years as a deeply embedded spy, watching for a synth to arrive.
I don’t want to believe this of the kindly caretaker and vintner either, but hear me out.
**SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard through episode 7 and related materials follow.**
In the Countdown comics that take place during the Romulan rescue mission, Laris and Zhaban are young Tal Shiar agents who are secretly embedded on a remote colony planet with an enslaved, sentient indigenous species. The Romulan colonizers seek to have Picard save only themselves, but abandon the indigenous species to the supernova. Laris and Zhaban have been placed on the planet, unbeknownst to local Romulan authorities, and decide to help the indigenous species and Picard.
It turns out that Zhaban has been given secret orders by the Tal Shiar, which he has kept from Laris. He’s already helped the colonizers to act against Picard and now his orders require him to betray Picard at the last moment. Zhaban doesn’t go through with his orders, but he says that until that point, he believed Picard and the Federation were conspiring against the Romulans.
This shows that he’s capable of keeping even deeper secrets than Laris realized, and that he could still be an embedded spy who doesn’t fully trust Picard or the Federation.
In episode 3 of Star Trek: Picard, Laris tells Picard about the Zhat Vash, who she learned about from Zhaban’s drunk mother. Zhaban discourages her from telling Picard the story, but he can’t really stop her. We can hypothesize from the great age and secrecy of the Zhat Vash and the fact that Narissa and Narek are siblings who seem to have been raised as part of the spy group that they recruit from among the families of their agents- the better to keep the circle small and secret.
Zhaban’s mother may have been feeling Laris out for recruitment, but decided that she wasn’t a good fit. That doesn’t mean that Zhaban wasn’t already an agent of the Zhat Vash. Mom may have at least wanted to give Laris some warning of what she was getting herself into.
There have been a few times that Zhaban’s actions could be viewed as suspicious, if one were inclined. In episode 1, he said he’d gone over the interview contract with the reporter 3 times, but then she ignored the contract like she had no idea she wasn’t supposed to ask about Picard’s separation from Starfleet. What did the contract really say and did Zhaban really go over it with the reporter?
In episode 3, his description of the travel food he’s packed serves as a distraction while the Romulan assassins enter the house. When he hears them coming, he says that they must have turned off the alarm. It’s equally likely that he turned off the alarm on his way in.
Then Zhaban doesn’t do much during the fight, leaving the heavy lifting to Laris. They capture one of the assassins. During questioning, it becomes clear that the assassin is not associated with Narissa, Narek and Commodore Oh.
He’s likely from a different Zhat Vash cell. He doesn’t know that Dahj is dead, while Oh’s cell are the ones who killed her. He assumes that Picard doesn’t know what Dahj really is.
Laris points out that the hostage is a northerner, like Zhaban, and unlike Laris, Narissa, Narek and Oh. The assassin yells, “She’s the end of all! She’s the Destroyer!” He kills himself by biting down on one of the green acid capsules, spitting some of it onto Zhaban, and no one else, as if he were the real target, and then disintegrating. Zhaban is rescued when Laris pulls his sweater off before the acid reaches his skin.
All of this leaves me wondering just what the real intentions of the assassins were. Agnes showed up toward the end of the fight and coolly offed one, something that goes against what we’ve seen from her since. Were they meant to set up Agnes as a valuable ally to Picard so she could get on the ship? Were they an attempt to make Chateau Picard seem unsafe so Laris and Zhaban would get on the ship?
Zhaban was eager to go along when the trip was first brought up. Laris and Picard agreed they should stay home. Does Zhaban come from a separate, more fanatical Zhat Vash branch that is more impatient than Narissa and Oh? Or were the assassins after Zhaban and Laris because of their defection from the Tal Shiar/Zhat Vash, but Picard was in such a hurry to leave that he didn’t think about that angle?
We know that the Zhat Vash are thousands of years old, yet are such a closely guarded secret that most Romulans don’t think they are real. We’ve watched the elaborate plot Narek played out with Soji and heard descriptions of the Romulans’ love of secrets, puzzles and subterfuge. We’ve seen that there are Tal Shiar and Zhat Vash who have been secretly embedded in the Federation for many years, with Commodore Oh having reached the rank of Federation Security Chief.
We know that Laris and Zhaban are former Tal Shiar, just as Narek and Narissa “publicly” pose as Tal Shiar while secretly also being Zhat Vash.
And we know that Picard has been off his game during the time that Laris and Zhaban have been staying with him. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to wonder if Zhaban is also secretly an agent of the Zhat Vash, who loathe artificial life, sent to monitor the man who was best friends with Data, one of the galaxy’s most famous androids.
Image courtesy of CBS AllAccess.