It’s impressive how much we find out in this episode of Picard. After seven episodes of mysteries and confusion and questions, we get some real revelations, starting with the origin of the Zhat Vash, continuing to the revelation of who’s responsible for the attack on Mars, and also including Rios’s backstory and how it relates to the whole storyline. As an added bonus we get multiple callbacks from the general (to Data’s character on TNG and to the Borg transwarp hub established on Voyager) to the specific (“Datalore,” “Tapestry“). And best of all, the first words Picard speaks to Jurati when she wakes up is that she is to turn herself in as a murderer.
I know I’ve been beating the drum pretty hard regarding Jurati’s guilt here, but I feel justified in that especially after Picard pretty much said the exact same thing I’ve been saying since the end of “Stardust City Rag.” We do find out that there are extenuating circumstances, but they don’t absolve her, they just explain her actions.
Commodore Oh is revealed in the opening flashback to be a leader in the Zhat Vash, and later revealed to be half-Vulcan and half-Romulan, which explains why she can do a mind-meld and still be a Romulan agent. (Not that that was necessary, we’ve seen Vulcans who were sympathetic to Romulan causes in the past, including a cabal of Vulcan leaders in the fourth season of Enterprise, not to mention, in a sense, Spock.) The Zhat Vash was created after the Romulans found the world of Aia, a world in an octonary star system. Thousands of years ago, a species left a telepathic warning on that world of what might happen if synthetic life went too far. The Romulans refer to this warning as the Admonition.
Fourteen years ago, Oh brought several Romulan Zhat Vash agents to Aia to the Admonition, among them “Rizzo,” as well as Ramdha, the redheaded Romulan ex-Borg we’d met on the Artifact, and who first called Soji “the Destroyer.”
Here’s where the explanation of Jurati’s actions come in: exposure to the Admonition is not something everyone comes out of intact. After exposure, one Romulan shoots herself in the head, another hits herself on the head with a rock, a third tries to scratch her own face off. While Oh likely gave Jurati a less intense version in the forced mind-meld, it was still a revelation powerful enough to cause several trained spooks to go binky bonkers.
Oh also implanted a telepathic instruction not to discuss anything she saw, which is why she kept trying to convince Rios to go home and why she injected herself with noranium hydride last week.
My favorite revelation in all this is one that goes back to the first season of TNG. In “Datalore,” it was revealed that Dr. Noonien Soong created Data, but also that Soong had been ostracized by the scientific community because he was unable to create a positronic brain. He created Data (and also B4 and Lore) on the Omicron Theta colony in secret, with Data not discovered until after the colony was destroyed approximately 28 years prior to the start of TNG, which is about 60 years prior to Picard season one. That is also when Oh was inserted into Starfleet, probably a young woman then who applied to the Academy, and she has worked her way up to the head of Starfleet Intelligence six decades later while keeping an eye on the creation of synthetic life, something at that point limited pretty much to Data.
However, the proliferation of synthetic life, as well as the existence of sophisticated androids like Dahj and Soji—and, apparently, Jana, a synth Rios encountered—has tipped Oh’s hand, and she’s now being more proactive. Oh specifically says in the flashback that Mars is the Zhat Vash’s target, making it clear that they caused the “synth revolt” that led to Mars’s destruction, leading to the synth ban.
We find out a lot of this, not only from Jurati finally coming clean, but Rios doing likewise. As soon as Soji and Picard beam on board, Rios is a mess, and he hides in his cabin for a large part of the trip.
I haven’t been kind to Rios in these reviews, but the character comes into focus nicely, mostly due to the one part of Santiago Cabrera’s performance I have liked, which are the various emergency holograms. Raffi Musikier, in her attempts to find out what the hell Rios’s problem is, winds up talking to all five holograms in a hilarious gathering in the vineyard holodeck program to find out what’s happening.
Eventually, Rios himself comes clean. The reason why he left Starfleet is because of an incident on the U.S.S. ibn Majid. First Officer Rios was appalled to learn that Captain Alonzo Vandermeer—who was like a father to Rios—ended a first contact situation by killing an ambassador and his protégé. Said protégé was named Jana and looked just like Soji—they were both synths. Vandermeer then committed suicide, unable to live with his impossible choice—Oh gave him the black-flag order to kill the synths, and said that the ibn Majid would be destroyed with all hands if he didn’t. The mission itself was classified, and Rios cashiered out of Starfleet.
Cabrera plays all six roles he has in this episode beautifully, from the Scots silliness of the engineer to the hung over exhaustion of the pilot to nerdy enthusiasm of the navigator. But for the first time, Rios himself feels like a more complete character, his rakish behavior hiding tremendous pain and suffering.
It’s also his ship, through and through. He claims he chose the self-image option on the emergency holograms by accident, but he’s never changed it, either. But the best part is when Soji takes over the ship to take it to her homeworld, and Rios is able to take control back by singing his mother’s favorite lullaby, “Arroz con Leche,” which triggers a failsafe. I have to say that the moment when Rios starts singing and then takes down the force field Soji put up to be one of the most delightful moments in Star Trek history. (Says Rios of his mother: “She didn’t like other people playing with her things, either.”)
There were lots of moments in this episode where I cheered—Picard telling Jurati that she will turn herself in to the authorities probably prompted the loudest cheer, with Admiral Clancy telling Picard to shut the fuck up being a close second—but I want to single out two moments in particular. One was when Jurati sat and talked to Soji, and realized that this isn’t an evil creature, this isn’t “the Destroyer,” this is a person. The only one who’s destroyed anything is Jurati herself. (Well, and the Zhat Vash.)
The other was when the xB’s swarmed Rizzo. Back on the Artifact, Seven of Nine has arrived to save Elnor’s ass, having been summoned by Elnor using Hugh’s Fenris Rangers secret decoder ring. (The first thing Seven asks is, “Where’s Hugh?” On the one hand, it’s nice to see that the two of them did encounter each other after Voyager made it home. On the other, I’m grumpy that we didn’t get to see Star Trek’s two best known xB’s together on screen at any point.) Rizzo starts massacring xB’s and then when Seven activates herself as this Cube’s Queen, Rizzo blows the newly activated Borg out into space. But Rizzo didn’t kill all the xB’s, and the ones who survive all attack her and overwhelm her.
Many of Rizzo’s actions were pulled into focus here, but the character was weak sauce, all together, and I honestly won’t miss her, and really enjoyed watching her taken down by the xB’s in revenge for her bloody actions. EDITED TO ADD: Several people, here and elsewhere, pointed out that Rizzo beamed out at the last moment, the second time she’s pulled that crap. Sigh. I totally missed that.
While all the action on the Artifact is fast and furious, what happens on La Sirena is very quiet and reflective. Picard’s remembrances of Data, as prompted by Soji, are lovely, and I especially like that we get the perspective of time and age. The younger version of Picard would never have even considered the fact that he loved Data. He was his subordinate and later his friend. But the older, retired admiral can look back and realized that he loved the android—and Soji is sure after listening to him talk about Data, that Data loved him, too.
There’s also a nice little bit where Picard and Rios talk about Vandermeer, whom Picard didn’t know well, but who was first officer to a classmate of Picard’s, Marta Batanides, whom we met as a young woman in “Tapestry,” and about whom Rios heard quite a bit from Vandermeer. It’s a nice touch.
Having said that, there is one thing Picard didn’t mention that he absolutely should have. Soji talks about how difficult it is to have an entire set of memories that aren’t actually hers, the entire life of “Dr. Soji Asha” that Bruce Maddox implanted in her head, but which never actually happened to her. Picard says that he can’t imagine what that’s like, but he totally can. In “The Inner Light,” Picard lived Kamin’s entire life from adulthood to old age. He also has memories of someone else’s life that aren’t his. And this was in one of the most well-regarded and famous episodes of TNG, so it’s incredibly disappointing that it didn’t come up, especially since it would’ve added texture and gravitas to the conversation between Picard and Soji, not to mention giving them something to bond over.
Soji now has the entire Borg transwarp hub network in her brain, and the episode ends with her taking La Sirena to one that will take them to her homeworld, hopefully before the Zhat Vash. The very last shot is a ship decloaking and following, likely Narek, who somehow managed to find them again. Meanwhile, while Rizzo appears to be toast, she sent a fleet of Tal Shiar/Zhat Vash ships off from the Artifact.
But the Artifact itself is now active, thanks to Seven. She becomes Queen without linking up to the rest of the Collective, which means she’s able to disengage from the Cube also—the line she has as Queen is “Annika still has work to do,” which is an interesting way of phrasing it, since Annika is the name she had before she was assimilated, and the Borg don’t usually go for names. But this is a Cube that has been deactivated and devoted to removing Borg from the Collective.
In any case, the Cube has been activated. This is toothpaste that’s going to be very hard to put back in the tube.
So we’ve got La Sirena and the Romulans all heading to Soji’s homeworld, with a newly active Borg Cube floating around for good measure. Gonna be quite a ride for the two-part season finale over the next two weeks….
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be contributing to three Crazy 8 Press anthologies later this year: Bad Ass Moms, edited by Mary Fan, a collection of short stories about mothers you don’t mess with; ZLONK! ZOK! ZOWIE! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66—Season One, edited by Jim Beard, with Rich Handley, a collection of essays about the first season of the Adam West TV series; and the third volume of the shared-world anthology series Pangaea, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, a collection of stories about an alternate Earth where there was only ever one continent.