I have to admit that when the caption came up identifying Raffi Musiker’s home in the third episode of Star Trek: Picard as Vasquez Rocks, I squeed, loudly. I mean, it obviously was shot at the iconic rocks that have been used in pretty much every single Trek production at some point or other, but it’s always been to represent an alien landscape of some sort. For the first time, it’s been used as itself, and to have the caption was just delightful.
Yes, it’s a dumb, nerdy pleasure, but when you’ve got a 54-year-old franchise, dumb, nerdy pleasures are part of the fun.
I find “The End is the Beginning” to be a particularly apropos title, because truly, the end of this episode feels like it should’ve been the end of the first episode. The leisurely storytelling model of modern television instead has it at the end of the third, but it’s not like it’s a surprise that Picard’s going to wind up in charge of a ship, so why wait so long to get there?
Part of the reason is that there’s yet still more exposition to provide, and this time a lot of it relates to the Romulans and the Borg.
The first evidence of the Borg actually goes back to the first appearance of the Romulans on The Next Generation in its first-season finale, “The Neutral Zone,” though the 1988 writer’s strike messed with the plans to introduce the cyborgs. Instead, the formal introduction of the Borg in the second-season’s “Q Who” had only a passing reference to the notion that the Borg were likely responsible for damaging the outposts along the Neutral Zone in that prior episode.
But the link between the Borg and the Romulans has been there from jump, if anyone wanted to mess with it, and apparently the show-runners of Picard do, because the dead Borg Cube that’s being used by a bunch of Romulans for research isn’t just that. There is a whole ward full of Romulans who used to be Borg but unlike, say, Hugh (from “I, Borg,” who seems to be helping run things here) or Seven of Nine or Icheb or the other ex-Borg from later seasons of Voyager (the former of whom is supposed to be appearing at some point this season), they are all somewhat binky-bonkers, cluck cluck, gibber gibber, my-old-man’s-a-mushroom, etc.
It is good to see the wonderful Jonathan delArco again as Hugh, though he’s not really introduced as such, and is more of an Easter egg, as nothing is done to relate him back to the TNG episode he debuted in (one wishes that the “previously on” had taken a page from Discovery’s “If Memory Serves” and showed clips from “I, Borg” and “Descent Part 2” to establish who Hugh is, but oh well).
Just like her twin sister, Soji Asha finds herself discovering things about herself she knew nothing about. While questioning one of the Romulans—who was a philosopher before she was assimilated—she finds herself asking questions about things she thought she had no knowledge of, including the specifics of how this Cube came to be deactivated after attacking a Romulan ship. (We also get some interesting takes on Romulan mythology, including that this Romulan at least dislikes that particular word, thinking that “news” is more appropriate than “mythology,” an interesting anthropological take.) And then when Soji talks to her mother, it’s a very strange conversation, one which literally puts Soji to sleep, and when she wakes up, she seems to have no memory of the conversation. As with Dahj’s talk with the same mother, one wonders if said mother is even real, or an AI construct designed to keep the twin androids ignorant. (But also to help, since the mother sent Dahj to Picard in the first place.)
Once again, Picard makes use of parallel scenes, jumping back and forth from one to the other, by way of leavening the endless exposition, though in this case it doesn’t have the time confusion of the scenes last week, going back and forth between Picard, Zhaban, and Laris interrogating the Tal Shiar operative who attacked Château Picard and Soji questioning the Romulan. In both cases, we get a lot more questions, but also in both cases, Soji and Dahj are referred to jointly as “the destroyer.”
What that actually means, we don’t know yet, but it’s fun to see Zhaban and Laris in action. (We also find out that Romulans with ridged foreheads are “northerners,” which explains why we’ve seen Romulans of both types over the decades, an amusing retcon.) Picard himself is once again mostly hiding under a table, as his one attempt to get physical with the Tal Shiar attack team goes poorly for him (though he does get some shots off with a phaser).
It isn’t just physicality that Picard has lost with age. The episode opens with a flashback to shortly after the Mars attack that was dramatized in both “Children of Mars” and “Maps and Legends,” and we find out that Musiker—who is played with superlative complexity by Michelle Hurd—was Admiral Picard’s aide, a brilliant strategist. However, when Starfleet decided to abandon the Romulan relief efforts in the wake of the Mars attack, Picard threatened to resign if they went through with it—and Starfleet called his bluff.
Picard’s response to their actually accepting his resignation—which he did not expect—was to go back to the life that he rejected as a child. As established in “Family” (as well as “Tapestry“), Picard rejected the life of a vintner that was the family business, and instead went to the stars. When the stars were taken away from him, he went back to the vineyard, but his conversation with Laris on the subject makes it clear that it isn’t taking. He doesn’t have the same connection to the creation of wine that his father and his brother had, and leaving right when harvest is starting pretty much proves it.
But his resignation had other consequences. Musiker lost her security clearance when Picard resigned, and while it’s not clear what the road was from that to living alone in Vasquez Rocks tending a garden and vaping, it’s obvious that Picard’s leaving Starfleet destroyed Musiker’s career.
The vaping is problematic, as is the cigar-smoking of Cristóbal Rios, played with tired rakishness by Santiago Cabrera. (Cabrera is much more fun as the various Emergency Holograms that service his ship than he is as the fourth-rate Han Solo that is all Rios seems to be so far. I particularly love the Emergency Navigational Hologram fangoobering Picard.) Prior to this, the only smoking we ever saw on Star Trek was in time-travel episodes or outside the Federation. Gene Roddenberry, in fact, specifically rejected NBC’s request to have characters smoking to satisfy the sponsors. Seeing Musiker vape and Rios puffing a cigar looks completely incongruous.
Less problematic is the obvious class differences, something rarely seen in even contemporary fiction, much less science fiction. It’s easy for Picard to resign Starfleet because he has a big family château to go back to. Musiker had no such fallback position. The Federation is supposed to be a utopia, but while you can theoretically do whatever you want, what if what you’re best at is taken away from you? It doesn’t help that Picard himself obviously cut himself off from everyone, as he didn’t even stay in touch with Musiker until he needed her for this mission. (Ever the admiral’s aide, Musiker still provides him with Rios.)
The conspiracy within Starfleet is still going strong. Commodore Oh visits Dr. Jurati to find out why Picard talked to her and Jurati, thinking nothing was amiss, told her. Not coincidentally, the Tal Shiar strike team showed up right after that. Jurati shows up at the château also, arriving just in time to kill one of the attackers, an action that shakes her to her core. She came along because she wants to join Frodo—er, that is, Picard on his quest. She’s the leading expert on synths, and he can use her expertise, and while it’s not mentioned, she probably also wants to find Bruce Maddox, since he was her mentor.
There’s been a lot of exposition, a lot of establishment of things, and a lot of questions being asked in these three episodes, but rather little forward motion, and since the season is only going to have ten episodes, they really need to get a move on. What’s the connection between the Borg and the Romulans? How did Musiker fall so far? (It’s likely that it has something to do with the fact that she said she had proof that the Tal Shiar had infiltrated Starfleet, and since we know that the Tal Shiar has in fact infiltrated Starfleet, that Oh had something to do with her fall from grace.) What is Oh’s (and Rizzo’s and Narek’s) endgame? Will Brian Brophy actually show up as Maddox, reprising his role from “The Measure of a Man“?
Let’s hope that the action starts next week. We’ve had enough set up. Time for some answers.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is also rewatching Star Trek: Voyager for this site. He’ll be reviewing each episode of Picard on Fridays throughout the first season. Look also for his rewatches of Star Trek The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as his reviews of each episode of Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks.