Where “Remembrance” was full of both action and exposition, the second episode of Star Trek: Picard takes a step back and goes full exposition. It’s rather impressive how little actually happens in this episode—seriously, there’s, like, twelve minutes’ worth of plot movement here—but we do learn a great deal, and it’s all fascinating—
—though I’m not entirely sure all of it is convincing.
It’s interesting, I haven’t seen anybody mention “All Good Things…,” The Next Generation‘s final episode, on any of the lists of TNG episodes to watch before starting Picard. (I may have just missed it.) Yet “Maps and Legends” makes two overt references to “AGT.”
The first comes when Picard talks to Dr. Benayoun, his former medical officer on the U.S.S. Stargazer (Picard’s first command). Picard wants to be medically certified to travel through space again, but Benayoun says there’s one catch: damage to his parietal lobe that is very likely to develop into one of several nasty brain-injury syndromes. Picard mentions that “a long time ago” he was warned of this possibility, and that’s a direct reference to “AGT,” where we saw a possible future in which Picard is retired from Starfleet, living on the family vineyard, and has Irumodic Syndrome (which is, basically, Space Alzheimer’s). It’s good to see this is being remembered, and also lends a sense of urgency to Picard’s actions, as he doesn’t know when his brain is going to start to betray him.
Indeed, it may have already. While he’s joking, Benayoun does mention irrational anger during live interviews as a symptom of this condition. It also casts a doubt on everything he’s doing, truthfully.
The second reference is more subtle. After Picard has been rejected by Starfleet Command to be reinstated (more on that in a bit), Zhaban suggests contacting Riker, Worf, or La Forge to help him out. (Why the three men are mentioned and not Troi or Crusher is—irksome.) Picard refuses, because he knows they’ll follow out of loyalty, but he won’t let them take that risk. And he’s been down this road before, in that alternate future (which he’s the only one who remembers), going on a rogue mission after he’s retired from Starfleet—and that ended with the ship getting blown up in a temporal anomaly. Better to not let history repeat itself. (Somewhere, Q is laughing his ass off at this.)
Picard is forced to try alternative transportation for his mission—which is, oddly, not to find Dahj’s twin, but rather to find Bruce Maddox, who apparently created these twin androids—after he is (justifiably) refused by Starfleet.
I’ve already seen several instances online of people talking about what a creep Admiral Kirsten Clancy is for being a big meanie to Picard, and oh look, it’s another bureaucratic admiral getting in the way of Our Hero Jean-Luc—but let’s step back a second and look at it from Clancy’s perspective. Here’s a retired admiral who quit in a huff ten years ago, and just recently insulted Starfleet on intergalactic television. He shows up and asks to be reinstated, even “generously” offering to be demoted to captain, in order to find Maddox. He doesn’t apologize, and his attempts to be humble are suspect to say the least.
If it had been me, my response would not have been anywhere near as measured as Clancy’s “sheer fucking hubris.”
And it’s not like Clancy ignores Picard completely. She’s not willing to reinstate him and give him a ship, and I don’t blame her in the least, but she does have the head of Starfleet Intelligence, Commodore Oh, look into it.
We also get more background on the situation with the Romulans, and here’s where I’m not convinced, as I said above.
While the Romulans have traditionally been enemies of the Federation, going back to when we first met them in “Balance of Terror,” and going back further in the timeline to the Earth-Romulan War mentioned in that episode (and which would’ve been the subject of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fifth season had it not been cancelled instead), their most recent relationship with the Federation as of the late 24th century is not as an enemy. The Romulans allied with the Federation and the Klingons against the Dominion, and then a few years after the end of the war, the Romulan Senate was turned to pixie dust by a usurper who was then blown up, leaving the empire in chaos. The last time we saw William T. Riker prior to his upcoming appearance on this show, he was about to take command of the U.S.S. Titan and was going to spearhead relief efforts in Romulan space. (Those last bits happened in the same movie where Data died, so it’s not like this is some obscure story the writers may have forgotten about…) And that was before their sun went nova.
For that reason, I’m having trouble buying Clancy’s comment to Picard that fourteen member species were threatening to pull out of the Federation if they continued to aid the Romulans. They were hardly a threat at that point—they went from ally to victim of an expansive coup to victims of a stellar catastrophe. Clancy also mentions that after the attack on Utopia Planitia, they were short of ships—but Utopia Planitia is where the ships are built, its destruction wouldn’t affect their current ship strength, and certainly shouldn’t impact an existing rescue armada.
I’m glad that Picard is making good use of the Romulans, at least. Laris tells Picard of a legend, the Zhat Vash, a shadow organization within the Tal Shiar, the Romulan secret police. (As hinted here, and as revealed in the Star Trek: Picard: Countdown comic book, Laris and Zhaban are former Tal Shiar.) Their mission statement is driven by fear and loathing of any artificial life.
Obviously, the Zhat Vash is real, because there’d be no point in spending so much time explaining them if they weren’t, and we find out quickly that they’ve infiltrated Starfleet Intelligence. Commodore Oh is either a Vulcan who sympathizes with the Romulans or a Romulan passing as Vulcan—and regardless, one of her subordinates is a Romulan agent surgically altered to look human, and another is Narek, who’s on the Borg Cube seducing Dahj’s twin, Soji.
The Cube itself is an interesting notion: it’s been completely cut off from the Collective, and is now a research outpost, where the Romulans are experimenting on former Borg drones in stasis, and in which scientists from around the galaxy are invited to do research. Soji is one of the latter, and she and Narek also fall into bed together.
Oh was in charge of the attack on Dahj, and the commodore isn’t thrilled that Dahj was killed, so the plan is to take Soji alive. But what the long-term goal here isn’t clear, as it’s only episode two.
The acting in “Maps and Legends” is beyond stellar (pun intended). Isa Briones plays Soji as much more relaxed and friendly than Dahj’s tormented waif-fu wielder, which is encouraging. Michelle Hurd creates a very cranky impression in a too-brief introduction (in her house which is at the foot of Vasquez Rocks, which may be the best Easter egg ever) that has me champing at the bit for next week to find out what, exactly, her history with Picard is. Allison Pill and Jamie McShane retain their strong performances from last week, and Ann Manguson gives Clancy a passion and outrage that matches that of Sir Patrick Stewart when they devolve into an argument. (Manguson fronted a band in the 1990s called Vulcan Death Grip, which is just delightful.)
Two great character actors show up here: David Paymer gives Benayoun his usual relaxed snideness, and Tamlyn Tomita does a superlative job with Oh. When talking to Clancy, Oh is the perfect Vulcan, speaking with equanimity and calm, but when she’s talking to Rizzo, the equanimity is still there, but the calm isn’t, as her frustration at how things have gone wrong is palpable.
But this episode is owned by Orla Brady as Laris. From her clear recitation of the legend of the Zhat Vash to her CSI-on-steroids in Dahj’s apartment to try to reconstruct what happened (and realizing how well things have been scrubbed) to her almost maternal concern for Picard’s safety and anger that he would put himself in such danger, Laris dominates this episode in a lovely way. Her banter with McShane remains strong as well.
Points to screenwriters Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman and director Hanelle M. Culpepper for structuring the forensic scenes and Laris’s lecture on the Zhat Vash so cleverly. Individually, each scene would be stultifying, especially back to back, but by intercutting back and forth between them, it keeps the viewer interested and keeps either the lengthy scientific study or the lengthy conversation from getting too dull.
I was worried that they were going to rely on the stunt casting to hook viewers throughout the early episodes, but they’re holding Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Jeri Ryan, and Jonathan delArco back, which is good. This second episode relies solely on moving the story forward, albeit only a few inches, and doing more to establish the background both of the last twenty years of Trek time.
To the latter end, the episode opens with another dramatization of the attack on Mars (firmly established as happening fourteen years prior to the episode, in 2385, which is also six years after Nemesis and ten years after the end of the Dominion War), but unlike the long-distance look we got in “Children of Mars,” we instead are at Ground Zero, where it’s clear that somebody took over one of the the worker synths on Utopia Planitia, which then lowered the shields, took charge of the orbital defenses and turned them on the planet. Oh, and then shot itself in the head…
There’s an interesting story here to be told, and so far they’re telling it interestingly. Still iffy on the recent Romulan history, but I’m willing to wait and see, especially if Romulan infiltration is as high up as the head of Starfleet Intelligence……
Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote a first-person Picard story for the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit in 2007 called “Four Lights.” It was a serious challenge to write the entire story in Picard’s voice…