Two episodes in and I’ve already found my most favourite characters in the show – Laris and Zhaban. Any scene with the two of them is just a joy to watch. They are the best and I sure hope that they will get a Short Trek dedicated to them somehow or even a spin-off show! I’m totally okay with a CSI: Romulans show! Give it to me! #TeamLarisAndZhabanForever
Alas, I am not reviewing the Laris and Zhaban show, but this episode is still pretty awesome. We’ve calmed down a bit from the booming start and the story gets to breathe some more.
I didn’t know if we would ever see the Mars attack from 14 years ago, but having seen it now, wow did they sure know how to pack a punch. If I didn’t already have a phobia of robots taking over, I think I’m starting to now. I’m sure glad I convinced my parents not to buy an Alexa lest it one day decides to take over the house. But beyond the horror of the event, it’s clearly shown that the synths didn’t just turn homicidal and go, rogue, someone made them do it, someone changed them deliberately. But who did it? Was it an inside job? Was it the Tal Shiar? The possibilities are endless at this point. Anyone could have a reason, anyone could be a suspect.
This scene also makes me wonder about the status of synthetic life in the Federation. In the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”, Picard had posed the question about creating synthetic life and how the proceedings regarding Data’s legal rights could affect generations of future synths and their rights, and how it could create a slave race. But here we see the synths packed away and doing labour, being deliberately treated as not people, but instead plastic people. So, the question is, have these synths been deemed different than Data? Was Data more alive and more real? And has the Federation laid down a legal line of distinction between these synths and Data? I don’t have the answer to it, but perhaps the show will answer that as the season goes on.
Whatever may have been decided about the synths, watching F8 kill all the people and then kill itself was very brutal. Some have criticized the violence in modern Trek, but I much rather they show things as they are instead of hiding it or whitewashing it as if nothing bad ever happens. Besides, older Trek has had its shares of brutality and violence. This moment of the Mars attack was appropriate to convey for the story and it was necessary.
Back on the chateau with my favourite people, a game of Romulan CSI was afoot. Laris, Zhaban, and Picard look over the security footage which has erased all traces of Dahj and the Romulan assassins. It’s brought up that even the Tal Shiar wouldn’t be this bold as to operate openly on Earth. There’s a fun back and forth between Laris and Zhaban over the existence of an older cabal called the Zhat Vash. Laris thinks that’s who has been doing all this clandestine work, while Zhaban believes that it’s just a boogeyman myth used to frighten new recruits and children. But whoever they are, they sure cover their tracks quite well as Picard and Laris can’t seem to find much in Dahj’s apartment. But Laris realizes that if the girls were twins, then it’s possible that the computer may have at some point flagged Soji for Dahj by mistake, something that even the most diligent scrubbers could have overlooked. And she’s right! They find out that Soji is off-world, which complicates things.
Picard, of course, is not deterred by this. He intends to go off-world and tries to get his doctor from the Stargazer to certify him to Starfleet as fit for interstellar service. But poor Moritz Benayoun, played by the ever-amazing David Paymer, is there to deliver some bad news. That little abnormality in the parietal lobe, something that Picard was made aware of years ago during TNG, though possibly treatable, is likely leading to death. But this seems to spur on Picard more than ever, he still wants to go back out into the cold knowing. And nothing will stand in his way. Well, except an Admiral Kirsten Clancy, the CNC of Starfleet, who is not too impressed by the tale Picard spins about Bruce Maddox, new synths, and secret Romulan death squads. And in perhaps one of my most favourite moments of the show, she just rips into Picard about his “sheer fucking hubris”, and the thing is, she’s entirely in the right.
There is a huge amount of hubris with Picard, that sense of moral superiority has been on display before in previous Trek shows and films, but you actually see it being addressed here without someone letting him walk all over them. He had just attacked and insulted the Federation and Starfleet all over the news holos days before. He gives no apologies to anyone about it. And he simply waltzes into Starfleet thinking they will just hand him a ship because he’s Jean-Luc Picard like he’s owed it, and even had the audacity to say he’s okay with being demoted to captain if his rank is too conspicuous. Talk about someone who did not read the room at all. It’s no wonder that Admiral Clancy went a little ballistic. How many good people did Picard categorically and broadly insulted with his interview? And he’s okay with being demoted? He’s retired, he has no rank anymore, if anything, it’s Starfleet who has the control about his rank, not him.
She was right to say how dare he would lecture her. She and Starfleet were the ones who had to deal with the problems and the fallout, governing isn’t always easy and sometimes you make the pragmatic choices that everyone will hate you for it but that’s how things are, sometimes because there are no easy or right answers, just the ones you can learn to live with. Picard has always been a little easy to be a saint in paradise. And to be quite honest, as he lectures the Federation about their principles, what about his own? If he truly believed helping the Romulans was a duty, surely, he would have continued to fight for that even after he left Starfleet? He could have gathered other people to help. But what had Picard done instead? He went home. He did nothing. So, while the Admiral is harsh in saying that he should go do what he’s good at and go home, she’s not wrong. That’s what he did before. And she shouldn’t have to grant his request after what he had said and done. I understand that Picard’s heart is certainly in the right place, but it was honestly secondhand embarrassment watching him go about it in all the wrong ways.
Dr. Jurati visits Picard at home. He catches her with the Isaac Asimov book “The Complete Robot” and funnily comments on how he’s never really cared for science fiction because he just didn’t get it. Just as well, he was always a Shakespeare sort of guy. He’s pleased to find that Jurati takes Earl Grey tea and they talk about Dahj. Jurati gives him the ancillary information about Maddox that Starfleet left untouched after Maddox disappeared. She also comments on how Dahj was accepted into Daystrom, and that she was a little too perfect in hindsight as a candidate. They have no record of her attending school and it looks like her entire identity was constructed about 3 years ago. Jurati points out that the important question is about what is Dahj after at Daystrom, or better yet, where is her sister and what is Soji after, leaving something for Picard to ponder.
Eventually, when he’s thinking alone in his study, he gets out his old communicator badge and calls Raffi, his former first officer during the Romulan evacuation, begging her not to hang up and that he needs her help with a ship and a pilot. Needless to say though, his adventure to the stars was not received very well by Laris, who was about as ballistic as Admiral Clancy was in that meeting at Starfleet HQ. She reiterates that she doesn’t want him to die and that only the Tal Shiar could ever protect him from the Tal Shiar, which prompts Zhaban to say that Picard cannot leave without him and Laris. The reaction from Laris had me wheezing with laughter as she smacks Zhaban in the arm and proceeds to call him an idiot because Picard can’t leave at all. Honestly, I could watch an entire show just about the three of them arguing and bantering because their dynamic is so well done and so expertly played by all the actors involved. Even though the anger, you know that Laris cares deeply for Picard and Zhaban, even if she storms away after telling Picard to go and to take Zhaban with him so they can die together.
Zhaban says that as much, that Laris is just afraid for Picard. Of course, Picard knows that, but he also doesn’t want Laris and Zhaban with him, he wants them to stay at the Chateau. Zhaban notes that he does need protection and bring up the names of his former Enterprise crew members – Riker, Worf, La Forge. But since the loss of Data, Picard is very reticent about asking his old crew members to help. He doesn’t want anyone he cares about to die for him, the trauma of Data’s death has never left him, and he knows the others would go help him in a heartbeat even if there are serious danger and death. What he needs is someone who hates him and has nothing to lose, and Picard has already made the call.
Raffi is certainly very angry at Picard and wants nothing to do with him when Picard arrives at her home. At least not until he mentions secret Romulan assassins operating on Earth and shows that he’s brought some wine. But I imagine that one still won’t be an easy conversation, after all, she was pointing a weapon at him. She is definitely mad. Picard may have to grovel.
But Earth isn’t the only place with a bit of drama. Back on the Borg Cube, or the Artifact as Soji calls it, we see that Narek and Soji have advanced in their relationship after their first meeting. They’re sleeping together and joking around with Narek teasing Soji about if she’s a subversive, meanwhile, Soji finds beauty in imperfection and sees the Borg Cube as lost and vulnerable. I know that Narek is up to no good, but the chemistry between Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway do make these scenes enjoyable. They’ve both got this playful edge about them in their interactions, which I find to be quite adorable. And quite frankly, I do like it when a female character is presented as having a sexual agency to have a relationship however she wants at her own choice without being judged. It’s a rather refreshing thing to see on TV.
Fun time in bed is cut short though when they have to go back to work. Soji meets a new person, Dr. Naashala Kunamadestifee of the Trill Polytech. It’s exciting to see a trill character and I sure hope nothing bad happens to her, especially after the dramatic Romulan guard talking up a storm about the Cube and safety and how if their badges start to glow green, then it’s time to run. I definitely agree with Soji when she comments that Romulans are into drama. Naashala also notices Narek and finds him hot. I giggled. One day, I might stop calling him President of the Emo-Spock Fashion Icon Fan Club.
Narek meets up with the ladies and spins some fancy language about how the cube is a graveyard, and some come here as ghosts while others pin their hopes on the resurrection, like Soji. He’s smooth, and the truth is told, if I didn’t know he had nefarious intentions, I might have bought it. Who knows, maybe Romulans are just into these sorts of flowery language. Narek eventually joins Soji during her work on a procedure removing Borg implants from an ex-Borg. One of the Romulans calls the ex-Borg “the Nameless” which Soji points out that she hates, though Narek seems impressed by what he saw, especially with Soji speaking to the unconscious ex-Borg in Romulan, saying “you are free now, my friend.” Is Narek slowly falling in love? Who knows? But I’m definitely falling in love with Soji and her kindness.
Later when Narek is in his room, he’s greeted by Lieutenant Rizzo on the holo who comes with some concerning news. Firstly, Admiral Clancy informed Commodore Oh, a Vulcan at the head of Starfleet Security, that Picard came to see her and spinning tales about secret anti-Synth Romulan operations on Earth. Oh is very distressed and certainly not pleased by the mess of what happened with Dahj or that Picard has gotten wind of what’s going on. Secondly, Rizzo doesn’t want to lose Oh as an ally and that if his approach with Soji doesn’t work, then she will un-approve it and go her own way. After all, Oh had made it very clear that everything is at stake, for both of them. Lastly, Rizzo will be coming to supervise her “baby brother” and his operation personally, which Narek is not happy with. She announces that if he’s made no progress when she gets there, she will go her way because another disaster will consume them both and she doesn’t want that. This moment brings some answers and questions. Whatever plot there is, Admiral Clancy is likely in the dark about. Commodore Oh is probably not even a Vulcan and is just a Romulan pretending to be a Vulcan. Rizzo is certainly not a human and is Narek’s sister. But how much does anyone else at Starfleet know about Commodore Oh’s connection to the Romulans and possibly the Zhat Vash? That’s still up in the air. There could very well be some huge conspiracy that she is a part of, Rizzo was pretending to be a human in Starfleet after all.
The plot thickens as we end the second episode, a lot of information was thrown at us, but I love that the pace is allowing the information to settle between episodes. The viewers can think and to really stew with what we have learned. And there’s always something upon rewatch to really catch. I let out an excited squeal when the Discovery version of the Enterprise popped up in the holo at the ceiling above the reception area at Starfleet HQ. It was nice also seeing the Enterprise D, but I have such an attachment to the Discovery-Enterprise and its beautiful updated design. Once again, I would watch an entire show about Laris and Zhaban, so Mr. Kurtzman, please start that spin-off!
But I really want to single out Ann Magnuson as Admiral Clancy, and not just because she sang in a band called Vulcan Death Grip, which is so cool, but also just how much screen presence she had in that scene against Picard. A lesser actress might not have been able to bring that fortitude and power to match Patrick Stewart, but she never backed down. That scene was simply electrifying to watch, and I find myself rewinding it so many times to watch it again and again. I really hope we get to see her in later episodes!
Next week we come to the end of the beginning of this little three-act “pilot” and it’s so exciting to see where this could all be leading to! And as I adore both Michelle Hurd and Santiago Cabrera, I can’t wait to officially meet their characters!
Thursday can’t come fast enough!
Star Trek: Picard airs Thursdays at 00:01 PST on CBS All Access in the USA, 21:00 pm on CTV SCi-Fi/Crave TV in Canada and airs Fridays on Amazon Prime Video Internationally.