We in the early twenty-first century live in an age of constant news. Television, web sites, newspapers, magazines, all compete for the ability to inform you of things, whether politics, sports, local news, or entertainment.
In the face of all these different news sources, it’s always very impressive when a major production like Star Trek: Picard manages to surprise us with a guest star. But they did it this week, and even if it had been expected, it would’ve been welcome. And that they managed to surprise us with it, in a season that has been hyped up the kazoo, is pretty danged impressive.
I’m not saying what it is until after the cut-tag on the front page, so just to be sure: BIG HONKIN’ SPOILER WARNING!
We knew from months and months of pre-season publicity that Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner would be returning to Picard in season three and that LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, and Gates McFadden would be joining them, for a reunion of the “big seven” of TNG. There has also been speculation that maybe Wil Wheaton (who already cameo’d in the second-season finale) and/or Denise Crosby might show up.
It’s possible I missed it, but I’m pretty sure absolutely nobody saw the return of Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren coming.
Now a commander in Starfleet—having served a second prison sentence for joining the Maquis in TNG’s “Preemptive Strike,” and having survived the Dominion’s massacre of the Maquis some time prior to DS9’s “Blaze of Glory”—Ro is in charge of the investigation into what happened on Titan, and has also been instructed to take Jack into custody.
(For what it’s worth, in the tie-in fiction that was created between 2001 and 2020, Ro was established as being part of a small group of Maquis who survived the massacre and who did commando raids on Dominion targets, and after the war were granted amnesty. Ro wound up joining the Bajoran Militia, and replaced Odo as the chief of security on Deep Space 9. She was later reinstated as a Starfleet officer when Bajor joined the Federation. Also, that same amnesty was granted to Voyager’s Maquis crew after they got home…)
Ro is being a complete hardass, treating Picard and Riker like they’ve already been convicted by a court-martial instead of conducting an inquiry. Picard and Riker, meanwhile, are appalled to learn that she’s been reinstated by Starfleet after what she did. As Ro interrogates Picard, the script—by supervising producer Cindy Appel and story editor Chris Derrick—does a beautiful job of making us think that Ro must be a changeling. For one thing, we intercut between Ro’s interrogation of Picard, and Crusher and Ohk examining the corpse of the changeling that Seven shot while it was impersonating Sidney. Here’s the problem: the changeling has retained its shape even in death, which it never used to do. It isn’t until the two doctors dissect the organs down to the tiniest bit that the itty bitty pieces revert to liquid.
Crusher manages to surreptitiously get a message to Picard telling him this (under the guise of providing him with results of a medical tests, which Ro wouldn’t have the right to see), and that puts the admiral on alert. Ro takes him to the holodeck at phaser-point, and they settle in (sigh) the damn Ten Forward scenario. Again.
However, what follows is some truly great character work between two brilliant actors at the top of their game as Picard and Ro really go at it. Sir Patrick Stewart modulates beautifully from righteous anger to disappointment to sadness, while Forbes just as beautifully goes from hardass to bitter to just as sad. The moment when Picard says, “You broke my heart,” and Ro replies, “And you broke mine,” it’s cathartic as hell, because they both finally get to finish the conversation that Ro’s defection started three decades previous, and they can move on to the business at hand. It’s no mean feat to write an entire set of scenes as a sequel to a middling seventh-season TNG episode from 1994, but they didn’t just manage it, but made it absolutely sing, especially with the added tension of this new evolution of changelings that makes them even harder to detect. And, according to Ro, the changelings have infiltrated Starfleet at the highest echelons. She hasn’t been able to get to anyone higher up she trusts (Admiral Janeway is name-checked by her and Picard, and I really hope this means Kate Mulgrew will show up at some point in the back half of the season…), but she is running two intelligence operatives in the field that she trusts. (Gee, I wonder who that could be?)
The only problem I have with the Ro part of the plot is its ending, both because of what happened, and how clumsily it was telegraphed. The latter was especially frustrating after the scripting had been so good up to that point, but Ro’s goodbye to Picard was set up as a farewell. It’s no kind of shock when the two security guards set a bomb and beam off the shuttle Ro is taking back to the Intrepid, which makes you wonder why Ro didn’t see it coming.
Taken on its own, it almost works, but this is the same show that’s already killed off Data (or at least made him all dead instead of mostly dead), Hugh, and Icheb, and enough’s enough already.
However, we also find out that, yes, Ro is Worf’s handler, though that’s not made explicit until the end of the episode. Ro denies Worf and Musiker access to the Daystrom Institute to find out what else the changeling stole. So instead, at Ro’s instigation, they find out who else might have been working with Sneed to facilitate the theft. Worf scrolls through the Ferengi’s known associates, and finds a guy named Krinn. The other associates, by the by, include the previously established T’Luco; Brunt, the disgraced Ferengi Commerce Authority liquidator who was a recurring character on DS9; Morn, the Lurian who was a fixture at Quark’s Bar on DS9; Thadium Okona, the rogue from TNG’s “The Outrageous Okona” and Prodigy’s “Crossroads” and “Masquerade”; and Larell, one of the thieves from DS9’s “Who Mourns for Morn?”
I mentioned last week that I really missed seeing Worf and Musiker, and this week reminded me why. The two remain a superb pair, with the older, more mellow Worf in the hilarious position of being the calm, rational one. (I found myself reminded favorably of the period on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, when Chris Noth’s Detective Mike Logan was teamed with the hot-tempered Detective Nola Falacci, played by Alicia Witt, and Logan at one point marvels at the fact that suddenly he’s the diplomatic one for a change…)
The first thing we see of them is a sparring session on La Sirena, and it’s a magnificent scene that illustrates both characters very nicely. Musiker has no kind of poker face, grinning at one point, snarling at another. Worf, meanwhile, is efficient and calm, and constantly giving advice. It resonated with me due to its similarity to sparring sessions in my dojo, specifically when experienced black belts spar with less experienced color belts, and the former are giving advice to the latter. Worf does that here, and my favorite moment is toward the end of the fight, when he’s just standing there, looking almost bored as he parries every single shot Musiker takes.
This time, Worf and Musiker confront Sneed’s associate (and dear friend, which makes him pretty peeved at our heroes) Krinn, who is a Vulcan, and I have to admit to loving how this is played. First off, Krinn is played by a favorite of mine, my fellow Bronx native Kirk Acevedo, the latest refugee from show-runner Terry Matalas’ 12 Monkeys series to show up on Picard, following Jay Karnes and James Callis last season and Aaron Stanford and Todd Stashwick this year. Secondly, Krinn isn’t V’tosh ka’tur; he hasn’t rejected Surak’s teachings; he still embraces logic. He even wears an IDIC pendant on a necklace. No, he believes that, as he puts it, “There can be no utopia without crime, ergo an organized criminal enterprise is logical.” It’s a nice reminder of the dictum, expressed fifty-five years ago by Patrick Troughton’s iteration of the title character on Doctor Who: “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.” But Krinn’s logic works for him, and makes him a much more fascinating character than just doing an emotional Vulcan or some such.
The entire confrontation with Krinn is a game of back-and-forth. Worf has a mobile emitter (a gift from the future in Voyager’s “Future’s End, Part II” that the EMH brought home) that projects a hologram of Musiker while the real thing is in a sniper’s nest. However, Krinn sees through that and shoots the emitter while Musiker is found out. Then Krinn sets up what Musiker crankily calls, “ye olde fight to the death” between his prisoners. Krinn expects Worf to win—“Klingons rarely disappoint”—so he’s very surprised when Musiker stabs Worf, and he’s declared dead.
More excellent scripting comes when Worf “resurrects” himself and takes out Krinn’s people, throwing Krinn’s “Klingons rarely disappoint” back in his face. He starts to explain about the technique of Kahless’ that he used to slow his life signs, but he interrupts himself: “Let us skip to the interrogation—I am in desperate need of medical attention.” Krinn agrees to provide them with the means to break into Daystrom.
Worf then contacts his handler, and is rather surprised to see Picard and Riker answer. Ro, before departing, left Picard with her earring, and it’s Riker who figures out that it’s a data chip with all Ro’s investigatory work into this high-level infiltration of Starfleet by changelings, as well as the work Worf and Musiker have been doing.
Meanwhile, we’re given the illusion of learning more about Jack, but really it’s just more questions. The episode opens rather cruelly with a scene of Jack massacring the bridge crew: Sidney, T’Veen, Mura, and Esmar are all phasered. Esmar—who is Haliian, the same somewhat telepathic species as the title character in TNG’s “Aquiel”—says before they die that they know who he really is. Then Jack “wakes up”—it was a hallucination, thankfully. (I really like Titan’s bridge crew…)
The viewers, however, have yet to find out who Jack really is. He keeps having hallucinations (at another point, he imagines killing the transporter chief) and seeing weird red stuff in the walls and his eyes glow red and other wackiness. And then, when four changelings (including the two who have already killed Ro) come to take Jack away, he takes all four down without even breaking a sweat. More scary is that the episode ends with Crusher asking her son, “How did you know they were all changelings?” and Jack very quietly says, “I didn’t.”
This particular plot has yet to move me, and I really hope it’s explained and/or tied to the main plot of the big-ass conspiracy soon, because it’s just taking time away from more interesting things.
Speaking of more interesting things, we have Shaw, who is rapidly becoming the breakout star of the season. No mean feat for somebody who’s pretty much no higher than tenth on the character depth chart, after the eponymous admiral, his half-dozen old crewmates, Musiker, and Seven. But Stashwick is doing excellent work with this guy who is, at heart, just a simple Starfleet captain. He suffered major trauma as a junior engineer, and his response has been to be as by-the-book as possible going forward and to make sure that neither he nor anybody who serves under him has to go through their own Wolf 359. He doesn’t have any interest in emulating the grand adventures of the two interlopers on his ship. As they’re on their way to meet Ro, Riker tartly reminds Shaw that he and Picard have saved the galaxy any number of times. Shaw’s equally tart reply is to remind them of the events of Generations (crashing the saucer section of the Enterprise-D), Insurrection (breaking the Prime Directive to snog a Bak’u), and “All Good Things…” (creating a temporal anomaly in the Deveron system). Shaw snidely says that they have “a real chicken-and-egg thing happening” with regards to danger, while Picard wistfully says, “Those were the days…”
And in the end, after watching Ro sacrifice herself to damage the Intrepid and give Titan a chance to get away, and watching Intrepid arm itself and prepare to fire on his ship, only then does Shaw realize what’s happening. The agony is etched on Stashwick’s face, as he realizes, to his horror, that he’s going to have to become the thing he despises.
We’re halfway through the season, and we still haven’t seen La Forge or whoever Brent Spiner is playing, and Marina Sirtis has only been seen over a viewscreen. I’ve been enjoying the slow-rolling of the cast reunion, and bringing Ro in was a masterstroke, but we’re now getting to the point of diminishing returns. This whole season has been hyped as a TNG reunion, and we haven’t had much of one yet. Get on it, people!
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written three Star Trek novels that featured the character of Ro Laren: the Myriad Universes novel A Gutted World (in Echoes and Refractions) and the Deep Space Nine novels Demons of Air and Darkness and Ferenginar: Satisfaction is Not Guaranteed (in Worlds of DS9 Volume 3).