As always, here there be spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
In episode three, Picard definitely doubles down on the Romulan conspiracy plot, but first, we get to see a touch more of what happened to cause Picard’s rupture with Starfleet. In a flashback, we find out that after the attack on Mars, Picard went before the collective admiralty and gave them an ultimatum—either they would approve the evacuation plan he and Commander Raffi had developed or accept his resignation. Much to Picard’s shock and dismay, they chose the latter and then fired Raffi for her involvement, likely because their plan required the use of synthetic labor. We return to the present and Raffi’s rather dilapidated trailer where Raffi herself is on the verge of throwing Picard out. He presses her for a ship, and she recommends a pilot, one Chris Rios, but refuses to involve herself any further despite Picard’s insistence that he needs her particular ability to find patterns that others might not see.
From there, the episode takes us back to the Cube, Soji Asha, Narek, and happily, Hugh. Hugh, fittingly, serves as the project director, specializing in reclamation of former drones as he himself is an “xB,” and he offers Asha the opportunity to interview one of the reclaimed Romulan xB’s, Ramadha; Asha happily accepts because she wants to explore Ramadha’s knowledge of Romulan myths in order to build a shared mythological framework to aid in the reclamation process. Ramadah, apparently laying out some sort of Romulan Tarot, calls Asha the destroyer, grabs a gun from a guard, and prepares to fire. Asha, however, flings herself at Ramadha with inhuman speed and disarms her.
Back in France, Romulan commandos, believed to be members of the Zhat Vash, attack Picard, Zhaban, and Laris at Chateau Picard, but due to quick thinking by Chateau Picard’s defenders, they kill all but one of the attackers. They question the survivor, and he calls Asha the destroyer before committing suicide via acid. Dr. Jurati appears just at the exact moment of the attack and kills one of the commandos before confessing to Picard that Commodore Oh had come to her to ask about Picard’s visit to the Daystrom Institute. The attack only further cements Picard’s desire to move forward with his mission, and he agrees to take Jurati with him. They beam to Rios’s ship, La Sirena, where they meet Raffi who has determined that Bruce Maddox is likely on Freecloud.
Once again, Picard as a show refuses to rest on its laurels, moving the plot along at seemingly breakneck speed. Putting aside Raffi’s strange ability to find Maddox in an evening when others have been searching for years, much like the revelations from last episode, I would have assumed that the show would spend more time teasing out the Maddox reveal, if in fact, he is on Freecloud. In fact, the Zhat Vash attack on Chateau Picard feels as though it is intended to ramp up the tension in the episode, forcing Picard onto the Sirena, even though that’s exactly what Picard wants.
The show also turns up the creepiness factor to eleven with Ramadha. Asha drops some fascinating cultural tidbits—mostly that the front door to a Romulan dwelling is fake which says so much about Romulans as a people. Ramadha continues laying out her Tarot spread and then demands to know whether Asha is the sister who lives or the sister who dies before she scrambles for the disruptor pistol and babbles on about the “Destroyer.” Clearly, Ramadha cannot know about Dahj’s death; Soji doesn’t even know at this point, so the implication is that there’s some sort of mystic juju floating around in the half-sane Ramadha’s head. I do hope that, as they did in Discovery’s second season, they find an alternative explanation for Ramadha’s prescience, especially since Romulans seem to have lost the psychic abilities their Vulcan forebears possessed at the time of the schism.
Speaking of deep, dark secrets, Cristobol Rios apparently has no shortage of his own. Picard can “smell the Starfleet” on him, so Rios bitterly explains that he served as the XO aboard the ibn Majid, a cruiser that has since been stricken from Starfleet’s rolls. We also know from his conversation with the ENH (emergency navigational hologram) that his captain, presumably from the Majid, died violently. That Rios operates with a crew consisting of various iterations of emergency holograms therefore is neither shocking nor subtle. Thus far, Rios falls into the same category as Malcolm Reynolds, a bit of Han Solo, and other roguish captains who possess a heart of gold. I’m hoping that the writers do more with Rios, but considering the pace the show has set in the first three episodes, I’m not entirely certain they’ll have time to do so.
Finally seeing Hugh was a pleasant surprise, however. We’ve known from the very earliest press that Jonathan Del Arco would reprise his role, but still, it’s nice to see where Hugh finally landed after the events of “Descent Parts I and II.” Del Arco plays him beautifully as a version of the character who has aged into his authority without losing (at least at this juncture) the inherent goodness that made the character so wonderful in “I, Borg.” Granted, I wouldn’t put it past the writers to make him somehow nefarious, just as I suspect that Dr. Jurati will be compelled to betray Picard et al at some point, likely against her will and at the behest of Commodore Oh and the Romulan Conspiracy.
With respect to the conspiracy, I find myself a little unsettled. Star Trek: Into Darkness maps nearly perfectly to post-911 Truther beliefs, and script co-writer Roberto Orci is himself is a well-known conspiracy theorist. While Star Trek: Picard executive producer and current head over Star Trek Alex Kurtzman’s stance on the issue is, as far as I am aware, not public, he along with Damon Lindelof co-wrote ST: ID with Orci. As a result, I don’t think that opening Star Trek: Picard with an attack that not-so-subtly invokes the events of 9/11 is a coincidence. Thus, it’s very, very difficult not to see Raffi’s belief in a Romulan plot to derail Starfleet’s evacuation of their people as an extension of the same thinking that gave us Star Trek: Into Darkness. Admittedly, Raffi is not the most reliable of sources considering her self-acknowledged paranoia resulting from her snake-leaf habit, and the conditions in which she lives reflect conspiracy theorist stereotypes. However, at least as far as these three episodes are concerned, she happens to be correct. We’ll just have to wait and see how the plot develops going forward. I did appreciate that she called Picard to account for his emotional cowardice in not seeking her out until he needed something, even if I find her insistence on referring to him as “J.L.” disquieting and frankly inappropriate considering the difference in rank between the two of them.
Still, I hope we run into Seven on Freecloud. Considering the show’s pacing, I would be shocked if we didn’t, but I’m still looking forward to seeing Seven’s post-Voyager path.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Okay, everyone, if you get the opportunity to drink a fine French vintage, I need you to promise me right now that you will not under any circumstances just guzzle it from the bottle. Do not be Raffi. Be better.
- I have to admit, I find the Emergency Holograms on the Sirena to be a great touch. It’s a nod to Voyager and also tells us that Rios refuses to risk another living being. He’s simply lost too much to have a real crew, at least until Picard takes over his life.
- I am deeply disappointed that we will likely see less of Laris and Zhaban. They’ve been a great addition to Star Trek canon. In fact, they’re the source of the most Trek moment in the show. Laris stops Zhaban from outright killing the Zhat Vash agent by reminding him that she and Zhaban are no longer like the assault squad that broke into Chateau Picard. There is so much behind that moment. I believe it hints at hope that Starfleet and the ideals for which it stands are still extent in some form even though Starfleet itself seems to be failing to uphold them.
- That said, I’d really love to know just how many disruptor pistols are stashed under Picard’s heirloom furniture. Judging by the action sequence in the episode, the answer is all of them. Laris and Zhaban have stashed all of the disruptor pistols under every piece of furniture in Chateau Picard. That’s some very real Romulan paranoia right there.
- Lastly, if you didn’t get goosebumps when Picard ordered Rios to “Engage,” what are you even doing reading this blog?