Star Trek: Picard 1.03 – “The End is the Beginning”

In which, to the amazement of everyone, the plot is advanced!

Team Raffi

I went into this series knowing that I would like Raffi, and fully expecting her to be my favourite character. And, so far, the only surprise is that Laris got in first and claimed a wee piece of my heart — but Raffi, man! What a character!

In the opening flashback, she’s a ball of energy — physical and intellectual. In the present day, all that energy has turned darker, transformed by anger, guilt and shame into self-loathing. Michelle Hurd’s performance was so physical, yet unstudied. Raffi is magnificent.

And, of course, she’s right to be angry: Picard didn’t intend to screw her over, but that was the outcome of his egotistical ultimatum. And for all that he, too, was dealing with guilt and grief, shame and depression, he essentially abandoned her. Just as the Federation abandoned the Romulans.

One thing I particularly like about this series is that it’s very honest about Picard’s ego, and the consequences of his self-absorption. I don’t like that so far it’s been black women bearing the brunt of it, from the journalist in the first episode to Raffi.

But I’m glad that she’s not shamed for holding a grudge. Her anger reminds me of Kira in DS9, but Kira was subjected to multiple episodes where she is essentially told #notallcardassians, and forced to bond with and forgive men who were complicit in the occupation and subjugation of her people. Raffi’s circumstances are very different, but she’s given the space her rage needs, and I hope that doesn’t change.

*loud snoring noises*

That’s my reaction to Rios.

But then, he’s never particularly interested me as a character; I read a promotional description that described him as a hotshot pilot with a secret in his past and a chip on his zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz OH WAIT I fell asleep again.

Like. Wow. A man who pretends he doesn’t care, but secretly he does? Who holds people at arm’s length because he has already Lost Too Much?

I’m sure I’ll warm to him as time passes — it occurred to me that I felt almost the same indifference towards the title character of The Mandalorian until he came to bond with and care about others, so maybe Rios just needs a Baby Yoda. But of all the regulars so far, he feels the most generic. His holograms are more entertaining, even though — like so many men in this universe — he felt the need to create them in his own image.

(My interest was sparked when he mentioned that his former ship was wiped from Starfleet records. Guys, you need to stop doing that, it’s not a good practice.)

Jurati (and Oh)

So Agnes Jurati is a ray of pure sunshine, and clearly Picard, Laris and Zhaban are on the verge of signing the adoption papers.

But, like, she’s totally been brainwashed by Oh, right? She turns up at the exact moment the Zhat Vash are attacking the chateau? She just happens to have a Romulan disruptor in her hands? How did she get that? Was some Romulan so excited he dropped his weapon?

Or did Oh engineer the whole situation?

For one thing, Picard already knows and likes Jurati — but now she’s not only involved, she’s gone and killed someone. For him. He owes her. And she wants to come with him.

It’s just a bit conveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenient, and that’s before you get to the bit where one of the show trailers had a moment where someone was mindmelding with Agnes outdoors on a sunny day.

(I’ve seen similar speculation on Reddit, and it always ends up, “So she’s going to die to save Picard from whatever she’s done.” NO. WE DO NOT NEED TO PRE-FRIDGE AGNES. IF ASH TYLER DOESN’T HAVE TO APOLOGISE FOR LITERALLY KILLING HUGH CULBER, AGNES DOESN’T HAVE TO DIE, OR APOLOGISE FOR ANYTHING, EVER. KILLED SOME PEOPLE? UNWITTINGLY BETRAYED HER CREWMATES? LEFT HER DISHES IN THE REPLICATOR? NEVER APOLOGISE, NEVER EXPLAIN!)

I guess this is goodbye to Laris and Zhaban

For now, at least.

Frankly, I’m just glad neither of them (but mostly Laris) died in the Zhat Vash attack. I assumed that Laris would fight like mirror!Georgiou — she is, after all, a retired agent of one of the most terrifying espionage agencies in the quadrant — but instead she was outmatched and vulnerable.

Which is not a complaint! It tells us a lot about her, and who she has been and who she wants to be. And I don’t need a female character to be a great warrior in order to be “strong”. But I was, you know. Worried.

But now Jean-Luc has peaced out into space, leaving these two with a pile of bodies and illegal weapons to dispose of. Does Number One eat Romulans? Or do we want to avoid the next few vintages of Chateau Picard?

More seriously, is Oh going to use this as an excuse to arrest them? I’m not opposed to this plan, because that sounds like an excellent source of angst and drama, and also they’ll be safer from murderous television writers¬† in a Federation prison. I hope.

Wait, maybe it’s not goodbye?

It belatedly occurred to me that the series trailers show Seven of Nine confronting Picard in his study — which means he’s going to go back home at some point, and (more importantly) Seven and Laris will be in the same building.

I’ve finally figured out Zhaban

He has the energy of a high school science teacher who gets really enthusiastic about the carbon cycle, and brings an acoustic guitar on biol camp to serenade his students with Simon & Garfunkel songs.

I’m not quite sure how he ended up becoming a spy, but I have to assume he was a legacy hire, and the only reason he’s still alive is that Laris likes him.

(When the Romulans attack the house, Laris arms herself with what looks like a knife or letter opener. Zhaban’s weapon of choice? A bottle of wine.)

Meanwhile, back at the cube

So I was wrong about what Soji is doing with the former Borg, but I was also a bit right: she’s not a therapist, but an anthropologist who applies her cultural knowledge in a therapeutic setting.

I’m not entirely sure how this works — surely she has to have some background in psychology, at least? — but it’s interesting! (You know who else is an anthropologist? Michael Burnham.) And it’s a fitting career choice for the daughter of a man who studied humanity in order to be more like them.

And then there’s Hugh. Thirty years after his encounter with the Enterprise crew, he has become a leader in his own right — albeit one whose authority seems precarious, being an “xB” aboard an extremely cubical artefact claimed by the Romulan Free State.

There’s more than a trace of bitterness as he describes the formerly assimilated as the most despised people in the galaxy, and wariness of Soji. It’s not that he doesn’t trust her, or respect her, but he seems weary and cautious, like a man who has seen too many well-intentioned humans who want to save the Borg. Soji is driven by compassion and empathy, and has a better understanding of Hugh’s ideas than most, but she still enjoys the privilege of being a pretty human woman, not … Hugh.

(I cannot wait for her to find out what she really is. Her “mother” is just a subroutine, right?)

Then there’s Ramdha

Anyone else looking at those pointy Romulan tarot cards and thinking about their next tattoo? Just me? Well then.

One of the things I’m enjoying about Picard is that we’re finally learning about Romulan culture. Secret false doors! Secret secret police! It’s secrets all the way down, but hey, that’s Romulans for you.

Which brings us to Soji’s secret (even from herself) mission aboard the Artefact: to find out why it suffered a sub-matrix collapse.

A web is being woven: connections between what I’m going to call the Soong-Maddox type synths, the Borg, and the Romulans. Why did the Borg assimilate so few Romulans? Why is Soji programmed to find out about the failure of this cube? Why does the Zhat Vash fear AI, and why does Ramdha believe she has seen Soji before?

Most of my early theories about Dahj and Soji were entirely wrong, but I think I was onto something when I suggested there’s more of them. Nerissa wants Narek to find the synths’ “nest”, and there’s still the five queens Data held in the dream that opened the series. That’s either three sets of twins, minus Dahj, or two sets of twins, plus Lal, the daughter Data created himself.

Where I hope this isn’t going: “Turns out the Romulans created the Borg!”

The origins of the Borg is one of those questions that keeps coming up in fandom, and my personal feeling is that it’s best left unanswered. Nothing can be as sad and terrible as the version in my head, and in any case, it’s a big universe — let them be a mysterious enemy from the Delta Quadrant, not the accidental creation of an Alpha Quadrant race.

Please.

(If nothing else, “now-homeless aliens accidentally created the AI who hates us” transforms the Romulans and Borg into the Quarians and the Geth of Mass Effect. Which brings me back to the question I keep asking: has Michael Chabon consumed any SF made in this century, and what is he bringing to the AI story that’s new?)

Romulannisters

Star Trek has traditionally done badly at creating male love interests for female characters, so I guess the tedium of Soji/Narek is par for the course. What’s new is that, instead of having any chemistry at all with his actual love interest, Narek has off-the-charts chemistry with, um, his sister?

I’m a bit weirded out, because this is generally not where I expect Trek to go. And I think it is intentional, what with the sniffing and the talk of carnal smells, and … why? WHY?

Is it to signal that the Romulan siblings are eeeeeeeeeeeeevil? Or something else?

I don’t hate it, I’m just mildly squicked. And I have no interest at all in Narek’s claims to be falling in love with Soji, or the strong probability that he is in fact developing feelings for her. Soji can do better, but also her job is more interesting than boys.

Space vaping

While I’ve been going ????????????????? at the Romulannisters, others in fandom have been very, very cross at the presence of smoking in Picard.

There are two arguments against it. One is the same as the objections to last week’s F-bomb: “How can I watch this show with my children if this sort of thing is being portrayed?”

To which I say, why are you watching this show with your children?!

I mean, obviously parents should use their best judgement, and they know what their children will understand, but the first episode literally depicts a man being stabbed and a woman being blown up, so the language and the smoking aren’t the first signs that this is not an all-ages show.

And yes, earlier Treks were more or less all-ages, but, well, should they have been? I kind of wish I hadn’t watched “Chain of Command part 2” when I was eleven! Or “Sub Rosa”, come to think of it. Or the many, many episodes where Deanna Troi was assaulted.

(The one episode of TNG I was forbidden to watch was “The Outcast”. Guess why.)

The other argument is a bit more nuanced, and I have more sympathy for it: smoking — whether tobacco or some other plant-derived drug — feels very contemporary, and it’s strange to see it in this universe.

Screencap of David Warner in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A cigarette dangles from his mouth.
No, really, let’s all take a moment to consider. *gaze*

But not unprecedented! Consider, for example, the inappropriately hot David Warner in Star Trek V.

You might think, “Liz, that’s all very well, but no one likes that movie or wants to remember it.” To which I say, you are WRONG, I love this movie, and I especially love the trio of disillusioned, cynical ambassadors consigned to exile on Nimbus III, and St John Talbot and Cathlin Dar would fit right into the tired, regretful milieu of Star Trek: Picard.

And Cris Rios is a little bit like Talbot: a romantic who works really, really hard to present himself as a cynic.

(Oh no, I’m gonna talk myself into liking him, aren’t I?)

As for Raffi’s snakeleaf vaping — sorry, Michael Chabon has told us that is an Orion flashpipe — I’d have rolled my eyes quite violently if she was literally smoking cannabis, but I think I need to interrogate why that is. Is it just too now?

Speaking of things that are a bit too contemporary…

The costumes for human men in this show: why?

There are elements of costume design in Picard that I’m enjoying, like all the knitwear, but the mens’ clothing is just so present day. It’s incredibly distracting. Collars? Ties? (Just yesterday, my boss was lamenting that his favourite men’s boutique has cut back on its range of ties because collared shirts are no longer fashionable.)

It feels lazy — much like the use of hardcover books as props — and inconsistent with the rest of the universe.

(Chabon said on Instagram that this was the sort of design that could never be improved upon. I’m guessing he’s not an ebook sort of guy.)

Other observations

  • Number One is a good boy, but a terrible guard dog.
  • I was going to complain here about his absence from the series since the first episode, but apparently that dog was not a trained actor, and was a bit difficult on set.
  • I was weirdly delighted by all the weapons hidden in Picard’s study. I choose to believe that Worf came by for a weekend, and he and Laris and Zhaban had a weapon-concealing party while Picard pretended to disapprove.
  • I have questions about the treatment facilities for “the Disordered”. Mostly, between this and season 2 of Discovery, I feel like current Trek is a little too fond of standard issue psychiatric hospital cliches.
  • Agnes appears to have taken one look at Raffi and fallen in love. Which, fair.
  • (Still no overtly queer characters, if you’re keeping track.)
  • A couple of weeks ago, I was like, “I loved Dahj, I’m not sure I’ll like Soji as much.” Now, I see someone — who is perfectly entitled to their subjective and incorrect personal opinion — say, “I don’t care about Soji at all,” and I find myself going, HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT MY DAUGHTER LIKE THIS! APOLOGISE TO HER RIGHT NOW! So that’s a reasonable position.

In conclusion

At last, the set-up is done! We’re in space, we have all but one of our regulars assembled, the mystery is clarified a little, multiple bottles of Chateau Picard have been treated with shocking disrespect. I’m happy! Three and a half former Borg drones out of five.

 

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