Here there be spoilers!
So much happens in “Maps and Legends” that I find summarizing the plot incredibly difficult, in large measure because the plot itself is all over the place. We seem to have roughly three plot threads going without counting the cold open’s flashback to the destruction of Utopia Planitia. The first, of course, centers around Picard’s attempt to investigate Dahj’s death and find her missing twin sister. He and Laris investigate Dahj’s apartment where Dahj’s digital assistant, despite a thorough purge, yields information indicating that the twin sister is currently off-world. Laris suspects that the Zhat Vash, a deep cover, anti-synthetic life cabal within the Tal Shiar, is responsible for Dahj’s assassination, and Picard becomes even more convinced that he must rescue her sister. In preparation for this search, Picard asks his old friend Moritz Benayoun from the Stargazer to certify him healthy enough for interstellar travel under Starfleet’s auspices. Benayoun solemnly informs him that a slight issue with his parietal lobe is likely going to kill him, but he certifies Picard for travel regardless. Picard’s next move is to go to Starfleet to request a ship and a temporary reinstatement. To say that his exchange with Admiral Kirsten Clancy is volatile is a great understatement, and Picard leaves without a ship. He then goes to someone who hates him, who with the gift of a particular bottle of wine, is willing to talk to him.
The second plot thread concerns Soji Asha and her life onboard the Borg cube, which she refers to as “The Artifact.” Asha has clearly entered into an intimate relationship with Narek. He’s a bit secretive about what it is he actually does, but she shrugs off his reticence with shocking ease and goes to work. She meets Naáshala Kunamadéstifee at what appears to be some sort of checkpoint. After a suitably frightening spiel, Asha and Dr. Kunamadestifee head to their designated work areas. As it happens, Dr. Asha contributes to the Borg Artifact Research Institute by reclaiming various parts of deceased drones. However, unlike her Romulan counterpart, she accords the drones with touching respect.
As the third and final plot element, the episode reveals the existence of some sort of Romulan plot. The aforementioned Admiral Clancy contacts a Commodore Oh, who may or may not be Vulcan, to inquire if Picard’s theories had any basis in fact. Oh assures Clancy that they do not, and once she terminates the call with Clancy, Oh summons a Lieutenant Rizzo to her office. The following conversation with Rizzo reveals that Rizzo is an undercover agent on some sort of mission. Rizzo offers to take care of Picard, but Oh assures her that she will address Picard should doing so become necessary. She therefore believes Rizzo should focus on taking advantage of the second opportunity to extract information from something. Rizzo states that her best man is on the job, and skipping over some more scheming, it just so happens that her “best man” is actually her baby brother Narek. Rizzo tells him that she is en route to the Artifact and that if he has no further information regarding the nest of abominations, she will step in and take over.
As the foregoing indicates, “Maps and Legends” drops a huge amount of information on us. I have to admit that the episode’s reveal of existence of Romulan deep cover agents in Starfleet seems to have come extremely early. I almost feel as though this is the script equivalent of skipping dinner and drinks. A little more romancing and teasing out that reveal might have been nice, but you know shows these days, always moving so fast along their story-arcs. That Narek is up to no good shocks precisely no one, but the show seems to imply that Narek and Rizzo are part of the Zhat Vash.
We find out from Laris that the Zhat Vash are apparently a super secret cabal deep within the Tal Shiar. In fact, the Zhat Vash is to the Tal Shiar what the Tal Shiar is to literally everyone else, and assuming Laris is correct, the Zhat Vash exists solely to eliminate all forms of artificial life. The name itself serves as a reference for “the dead,” as in, only the dead can keep secrets. I confess that I found this set up to be a little convenient and a touch over the top, but I am interested to see where the show takes it. Certainly, Data’s continued existence throughout all of TNG would seem to indicate that the Zhat Vash is not nearly so effective at its task as Laris seems to believe it to be. Laris implies that the same hatred for synthetic life that drives the Zhat Vash percolated throughout Romulan culture, which somewhat contradicts Admiral Jarok from TNG. In “The Defector,” Jarok tells Data that he knows several Romulan cyberneticists who would love to study him, which feels like a far cry from loathing his very existence. Laris gives Picard this overwrought description of the Zhat Vash that feels a bit ridiculous, and even Zhaban qualifies the Zhat Vash as being a myth or Tal Shiar boogeyman. Laris sticks to her guns, and apparently, the series will as well.
That said, I really, really love Laris as a character. We discover in this episode that both she and her husband Zhaban formerly served in the Tal Shiar, and moreover, it’s apparently a family affair, which is a great touch. Laris goes with Picard to Dahj’s apartment and manages to recreate some of the events that predated Dahj’s death using an illegal Romulan forensics technique. When Picard informs her that the technique’s results are unreliable, she blithely informs him that that’s exactly what the Romulans wished the Federation to think. Corrected, Picard stands back and lets her work. When she finds that even the traces she uses to create her reconstruction have been removed, she is undeterred. She moves to Dahj’s digital assistant and is the one who taps into the system’s heuristics in order to sift out instances in which the computer mistook the sister for Dahj and tracks down packet identifiers that indicate the transmissions’ origins. As an aside, so much of what Laris does with the computer is only barely science fiction, and I certainly appreciated the effort the writers invested in treating that part of the investigation as being something real. Star Trek admittedly hand-waves a lot of its technology as being so far advanced that it’s nearly magical. The writers could have done that here, but they don’t. The episode is stronger for it.
The episode is also stronger for its use of Kirsten Clancy. Admittedly, we know as viewers that Picard is correct, and therefore, Clancy’s insistence that he isn’t sets her as an antagonist. However, given what she knows, her reaction makes sense. Picard’s assumption that she will provide him with whatever resources he needs based solely on his allegations is an example of hubris. He doesn’t bring her proof. He doesn’t particularly ask for her help; he simply demands a ship from her. These demands really are quite presumptuous, especially in light of Picard’s meltdown during the FNN interview. As an actor, Stewart conveys not only Picard’s intense desire to do right by Data but also a certain desperation. From Dr. Benayoun, we know that Picard now lives on borrowed time, and that becomes a driver for Picard’s insistence that he must do this. However, Clancy knows nothing of this issue, so what she sees is a retired admiral coming to her for ships and resources that he wants to use on wild goose chase. Clancy therefore dismisses not only the need for the mission but also Picard’s need for this mission to be his, and objectively, her decision makes a certain amount of sense. However, despite all of that, she still reaches out to Commodore Oh just to be sure that Picard’s claims are outlandish.
Without more information regarding the plot binding Rizzo, Narek, and Oh together, I am unwilling to speculate too much. I still think Narek and now Rizzo have a personal vendetta at work here, but I’m waiting to see how that manifests.
Lastly, while I know that the issue with Picard’s parietal lobe comes from “All Good Things..,” I do not care for it. The inclusion serves to establish a ticking clock for the rest of the season’s events that I don’t think is necessary because we have more than enough moving parts in the series now to create urgency. Furthermore, it’s a tad cliché, so I hope that the rest of the season will recast the issue as something more interesting. Still, I continue to look forward to this week’s episode.
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- I have to admit, I do like that the episode features a great deal of the Romulan language. We have heard comparatively little of it over the years, so it feels fresh here.
- We’re clearly going to see more out of Agnes Jurati, so I’m glad to see her again in this episode. Plus, I, too, value her appreciation for a good cup of Earl Grey.
- The sequence at the shipyard was fantastically done, and it keeps the episode grounded in the historical context established in “Children of Mars.” Everything that takes place during the episode, ties back to that event, though we do not yet know how. I look forward to finding that out.