Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Analysis Part 1- Outsiders, Twins and Broken Pieces

SStar Trek Picard S1E10 Soji & Picard

I have several pages of leftover notes from Star Trek: Picard S1 that didn’t make it into my recaps last spring. To celebrate the holidays and production starting soon on S2, I’m going to attempt to wrangle some of them into a few analysis posts on symbolism, mythology and whatnot.

So happy end of 2020, everyone! May you all have received your COVID vaccinations by this time next year! Preferably many months sooner!

Jean Luc begins the season amongst his vineyard’s vines, flowers and fireplaces, surrounded by organic life and symbols that his life is real and truthful. Well, technically he starts with a dream about Data which includes many hints at the season to come, from Blue Skies and the starry nebula, to the five Queens (for five synth daughters) in Data’s poker hand and the Mars attack while Picard laments that he hasn’t finished his tea and doesn’t want the game to end yet.

A Season of Outsiders

The common thread running through Picard, his friends and acquaintances this season is that they’ve been failed by “the system” and now live outside of it. Even the emissaries of Starfleet turn out to be outsiders in some way.

The head of Starfleet security, Commander Oh, is actually not only a Romulan spy, but the deepest, darkest sort of spy, a member of the Zhat Vash. We discover that Oh has developed a network of spies embedded throughout the Federation. Oh also has the grim job of shepherding recruits through the Admonition, which kills or maddens most who witness the message first hand. Neither spymaster nor grim reaper lends itself to making friends.

The commander of the rescue fleet, Will Riker, was also an outsider, since he was only a reserve officer who normally lived a quiet life on a seemingly remote planet. (Transports only traveled there once a week- hardly a bustling center of the galaxy.) Will and Deanna were also made outsiders by the manner in which they lost their son. Deanna, at least, seems to have some hard feelings over the fact that Federation policy couldn’t be bent for medical, life saving reasons.

Even Kirsten Clancy, the head of Starfleet, feels like an outsider. We meet her seated alone in a large white room and the scene proceeds to make her seem almost cornered by Picard as he yells at her about her perceived inadequacies. Then she meets with Picard as a hologram in his study, as if he’s now the superior officer, and he yells at her some more, even though she’s giving him what he wants this time. In between, we discover that Cmdr Oh, one of her most trusted officers, has been betraying her from the start.

Clancy’s story is of so little interest to the showrunners that we aren’t shown how this betrayal affects her (or Starfleet) in S1. Our only clue is the fact that she puts a reservist in charge of the rescue fleet- one who may have been away from fulltime duty for a while, but whose loyalty to Jean Luc and Starfleet is beyond reproach.

Is it possible that once Oh’s betrayal and the full story of the Mars conspiracy came to light, Clancy wasn’t sure who else she could trust among her senior officers? I’d like to see more Federation and Starfleet politics in S2. Clancy is a tough but fair-minded character who did the right thing in each situation. She reminds me of Katherine Janeway. Characters who do the right thing rather than the expedient thing usually end up as outsiders in politics.

In his interview with the reporter in the episode 1, Picard compared the rescue of the Romulans to the WW2 Battle of Dunkirk, but this isn’t really right. At Dunkirk, the British mustered every private boat, large and small, captained by their citizen owners, to take part in a massive retreat, so that a battle that was a certain defeat felt like a win because they lost many fewer soldiers than expected. The British people quite literally rescued themselves.

On the other hand, as Romulans have pointed out to Picard, when they faced extinction, they felt like he took control of the rescue operation and took the opportunity for them to save themselves by creating their own Dunkirk away. He didn’t, really, because the Romulan government refused to tell its people how bad the situation was until it was too late and many of them refused to believe it when they found out (this story turned out to be even more timely than intended).

But Picard did also step in and control the rescue operation, which took away any opportunity for a home grown hero and plan to arise, leaving the Romulans weakened and many of them feeling like permanent refugees. They were spread out in small groups over large distances, too distrustful and demoralized to reorganize. Somehow, the evacuation and then the Mars attack left the Romulans and Picard in the same situation- weakened, confused, outsiders in places where they should have been powerful insiders.

The Federation isn’t as broken as Picard and the Romulan Empire, but it’s much weaker than it was before, with some areas that are lawless and others that are poverty-stricken refugee zones. Though the Zhat Vash seem to be responsible for the attack, it’s hard to see how they benefit from destabilizing both governments if their only concern is preventing the proliferation of synthetic life. It seems like they’d be more successful by taking control of stable governments.

Perfectly Imperfect, Terrible Twins and Broken Pieces

Probably season 1’s most enduring symbol is that of imperfectly paired twins, from Dahj and Soji, who were meant to be separated, to Narissa and Narek, who are each other’s opposites, yet fiercely devoted to one another (and who are either symbolic or real twins). One of the first symbols we’re introduced to is Dahj’s necklace, the conjoined circles which represent twins born through fractal cloning. The other is her orchids, the beginning of a series of flowers and plants which help define organic and synthetic life forms.

But actually, we’re introduced to the concept of the twins through Data’ poker hand, though that’s not clear at the time. The fact that Data’s 5 daughters (Lal, Jana, Sutra, Soji and Dahj) are represented by 5 identical cards- the Queen of Hearts- and thus as quintuplets, rather than as 2 sets of twins and a singlet, as they were in life, is something to consider. It could mean nothing or it could mean there’s some important underlying character trait or ability carried by all of his descendants that will eventually come into play. Picard himself is now, in a sense, a descendant of Data, so if all of Data’s descendants inherit this trait, by accident or design, he will have it as well.

Since the new synths are made by cloning Data’s positronic cells, they could inadvertently be carrying something programmed in by Noonian Soong and not noticed yet. Or it could be something added by anyone who’s had access to Data’s programming along the way, from Geordi to Maddox. We know that the fractal clones are made in pairs, which means the golem who became Picard should also have a twin.

If I understand what we’ve been told about the process, it’s only the positronic matrix/brain and nervous system which are cloned together, so the brains are twins but the bodies don’t have to match. In other words, outwardly, the twins can appear to be fraternal twins, with bodies that don’t match. His twin could be someone we already know, such as Altan Soong, Chris Rios or Agnes Jurati, or it could be a character we’ll meet next season. Or it could be an identical twin. Will Ryker has a twin roaming the universe. Why not give one to Picard? Far from just a silly TV trope, the evil twin as a way to explore alternate potentials is as old as mankind and the story of Cain and Abel.

Ramdha was obsessed with the Romulan mythological twins and seemed to recognize Soji as one of those who were predicted, asking if she was the one who lived or the one who died. I find it interesting that Ramdha herself raised a pair of siblings of uncertain origin and unique talents. One of those siblings is fascinated by synths and the other seems to hate them, but also survived the Admonition intact, then mused about becoming a Borg.

Like Soji and Dahj, Narissa is an exceptional fighter. We only saw Narek fight once, very briefly in episode 10, but he pulled out an amazing acrobatic move that hardly seemed human. Both Narek and Narissa’s fates were uncertain at the end of the season, but I hope very much they’ll be back, along with Ramdha, since they’re three of the most intriguing characters on the show.

My wild theory is that Narek and Narissa are synths the Romulans made as weapons against the synths they knew were coming and as part of their own study of synths. Though I think the Romulans might think of them as extremely genetically engineered Romulans, maybe one step before Soji-style synths and created from a different evolutionary direction.

Like Data, Chris Rios also has a set of five artificial offspring. His are the holographic crew of La Sirena, who each have a separate personality based on a piece of his own. They are: medical, named Emil, English accent; navigation, named Ian, Irish accent; tactical, named Emmett, Chilean Spanish accent; engineering, named Enoch, Scottish accent; and hospitality, named Mr Hospitality, American accent. Mr Hospitality is so selfless that he didn’t choose a real name for himself. He’s a great organizer and second in command when necessary, but not a leader.

Emmett is depressed and doesn’t actually want to hurt anyone, so he almost never fires his weapons. He often seems to doze through conversations, but gives insightful answers to questions and doesn’t like to take unnecessary risks (his “naps” are tactical, playing to a stereotype, but allowing him to take in information while everyone else ignores him- he’s crazy lke a fox). Emil is sharply observant as well, but can also be strangely passive. Both he and Emmett have wicked senses of humor.

Ian is intelligent, inquisitive, honest, analytical and the best problem solver. Scotty Enoch is hardworking and cheerful. He and Ian got the sides of Chris that are able to throw himself into his work and put aside his emotions. They’re all dealing with various sides of the trauma and abandonment Chris has been through. Some of them are pieces he might want to get rid of, like a tendency toward depression, giving away too much of himself and alcoholism.

I’m not sure how much of the holos’ passiveness is a consequence of the synth ban- maybe holos are still allowed, but their freedoms are severely restricted. Or maybe Chris restricted their authority. Or maybe they are passive because he feels he pushed his old captain too hard, causing his suicide, so now he holds himself and the holos back. maybe a little of all 3.

When you put all of the pieces together, they show someone who has been through a lot and is struggling, but who is holding it together enough to get through life. The show went out of its way to show us that Chris Rios is a live human and revels in his carnality, courting injuries, drinking, smoking, having sex, singing, playing soccer. Though he suffers, he avoids numbness and chooses to feel as much as possible instead, while having also avoided deep attachments for several years.

He also spread parts of himself out among the holos, maybe to force himself to confront the aspects of his personality he doesn’t like. Then he deleted the memories that can’t be changed and that are connected to a classified event. And that he wants to avoid thinking about.

His accent is closest to Emmett’s and he seems be most comfortable with Emmett out of all the holos as well. He gets along with some of the others, while some annoy him, but he’s always relaxed around Emmett, despite the fact that Emmett often appears in a battle situation. A running theme for the season was “broken pieces”. Rios’ 5 holos are the broken pieces of himself, with Emmett as the most broken of all, but also the one who’s not pretending to be okay. Chris doesn’t have to pretend to be okay with Emmett.

Brokenness is also what Chris and Agnes see in each other. There’s an understanding between them that they don’t have to pretend to be more than they are. Just seeing someone else for who they are and allowing that person to see the real you can create a powerful bond, especially for people who don’t feel good about themselves deep inside. Agnes was included in the broken pieces imagery when she used the repair device on La Sirena to show Picard dozens of images of her head. She doesn’t appear to have a twin, but the synths are arguably her children. She’s a dark, conflicted stepmother to them and the black widow who killed her mate and their father, Bruce Maddox. Agnes’ evil twin lives inside herself. That’s even scarier than facing one who’s been externalized.

Almost every time we saw clusters of repeated identical images they were dangerous or at least a clue to danger: the 5 queens in Data’s poker hand, who turned out to be 5 female synths; the room full of F8/A500 synths who attacked Mars (and were later repeated on the synth planet); the giant orchids and the clusters of genetically engineered living orchids that we saw here and there; the Borg still resting in their alcoves and the lights that signified their life signs, both signifying the potential for either their own or other’s deaths; the identical sets of twins on Coppelius, who were innocent, but understood the value of protecting their own self-interest; Rios’ holos, who were each missing key parts of themselves; Agnes’ many floating faces, which reflected her ability to switch sides at will and play impartial scientist, loving creator or deadly spy; the Romulan fleet and Will Riker’s rescue fleet, which showed that illusion and belief are powerful and not all that different from each other.

Some of the images I’ve listed were on the main characters’ side, but there were signs that they could be or had been manipulated away from their benign intentions. Rios’ holos had all been tampered with. Starfleet was swayed by the Zhat Vash’s agenda and had made major policy decisions for more than a decade based on their enemies’ wishes. Synths like F8 were forced into attacking the Mars facilities. The Borg can be seen as relentless villains or as traumatized victims- Picard saw them as both over the course of the season. I’m still not sure about Agnes’ true intentions long-term.

She’d been a victim of a Zhat Vash mind meld that was used to blackmail her into murder and deceit. Chris is also a Zhat Vash victim. Is he the victim of an abusive mind meld as well? If Sutra can perform mind melds then Jana may also have been able to. Chris’ memories of what happened may have been altered. Or a Zhat Vash spy may have found him after he returned from his mission done something to him then.

Chris also tells Soji that he doesn’t have a family, though he mentions memories of his mother. She dismisses him, as if he’s never had a family, so he wouldn’t understand her need to return to a family she doesn’t even remember. Instead, he’s saying he’s already lost his entire family, so if anything he understands her need more powerfully. But she is too young and inexperienced to understand the implications of his answer.

Soji looks like she could be the daughter of Chris and Agnes, with Picard as the grandfather. Picard is associated with broken pieces in the opening credit sequence, where he’s gradually put back together. Even if a synth twin doesn’t show up, he is twinned by virtue of there having been an organic version and a synth version. Who will this new version turn out to be?

There have actually been several versions of Picard before: young, reckless Ensign Picard; confident, Starfleet insider Captain Picard; Locutus of Borg; Kamin of Kataan, iron weaver and husband of Elaine, in the simulated life on a long dead planet he experienced in the ST:TNG episode The Inner Light; overconfident Admiral Picard, who tried to single-handedly save the Romulans, flew too close to the sun, had his wings singed and fell to Earth; older, beaten and depressed Hermit of La Barre Picard; feisty, reckless, newly rejuvenated Elder Picard, who had nothing to lose by setting off on a Quixotic quest to save Dahj’s mysterious sister; and now super synth Picard, who is not quite an outlaw, but who I suspect will continue to fight for the underdogs on the margins of the Federation rather than returning to the comfort of his Starfleet days when he was the ultimate company man.

In his interview with the reporter in the episode 1, Picard compared the rescue of the Romulans to the WW2 Battle of Dunkirk, but this isn’t really right. At Dunkirk, the British mustered every private boat, large and small, captained by their citizen owners, to take part in a massive retreat, so that a battle that was a certain defeat felt like a win because they lost many fewer soldiers than expected. The British people quite literally rescued themselves.

On the other hand, as Romulans have pointed out to Picard, when they faced extinction, they felt like he took control of the rescue operation and took the opportunity for them to save themselves by creating their own Dunkirk away. He didn’t, really, because the Romulan government refused to tell its people how bad the situation was until it was too late and many of them refused to believe it when they found out (this story turned out to be even more timely than intended).

But Picard did also step in and control the rescue operation, which took away any opportunity for a home grown hero and plan to arise, leaving the Romulans weakened and many of them feeling like permanent refugees. They were spread out in small groups over large distances, too distrustful and demoralized to reorganize. Somehow, the evacuation and then the Mars attack left the Romulans and Picard in the same situation- weakened, confused, outsiders in places where they should have been powerful insiders.

The Federation isn’t as broken as Picard and the Romulan Empire, but it’s much weaker than it was before, with some areas that are lawless and others that are poverty-stricken refugee zones. Though the Zhat Vash seem to be responsible for the attack, it’s hard to see how they benefit from destabilizing both governments if their only concern is preventing the proliferation of synthetic life. It seems like they’d be more successful by taking control of stable governments.

Picard’s ongoing theme is sacrifice, which leads to being broken, which requires healing. Two of the strongest symbols are flowers and butterflies, which both represent growth, the life cycle, eventual transformation and rebirth, possibly even reincarnation. Blue butterflies, in particular, represent reincarnation. The blue butterfly landed on Picard’s hand, briefly turned red, then back to blue. It was foreshadowing that his life as a flesh and blood human was almost over, but he would be reborn as a synth, his own twin.

It will be up to season 2 to reconcile the two Soong’s competing opinions about butterflies and love. Altan missed butterflies, so he made his own replacements. Data said that what makes butterflies valuable is their mortality. To Data, they are precious because he knows he will lose them. Altan made butterflies that are his forever. Of course, Data thought that he was immortal, and wanted to be human (mortal), while Altan is human and wants to be immortal, so I suppose they were each thinking about their own deaths as much as they were thinking about love and loss.

Picard is now the compromise butterfly. He has a sturdy new body that’s programmed to live a reasonable amount of time, then quit. He is no longer broken, but he is an outsider in ways he hasn’t begun to face yet.

Image courtesy of CBSAllAccess.

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