Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 4
Star Trek: Picard begins Picard’s mission with a visit to a planet he once had a strong connection to in order to recruit another member to his band of misfits.
In the previous episode, Picard was in no doubt about where he belonged and what gives his life meaning. Everything in his life that gave him purpose was in deep space rather than on his family Vineyard. The early part of this show was about motivating Picard to get back out into the universe and feel relevant once again. His chief motivations are getting to the bottom of a mystery, hopefully save a life from a secret society and honour the memory of Data by protecting his legacy. All of these things were well covered in the first three episodes so the show is now in a position to get moving on the adventure portion of the narrative.
The episode opens with a flashback to just before the attack on Mars to show what Picard was doing immediately before the attack. He was visiting the planet Vashti, a colony made up of Romulans evacuated prior to the disaster that destroyed their planet. It’s a really charming collection of scenes that shows how much of a rapport Picard built with the Romulan people in his efforts to save them. The people on this planet are grateful to him for everything he has done and regard him warmly. Those feelings are mutual as he is clearly very close to these people. Most striking is his relationship with the young Elnor (Ian Nunney); a Romulan child with no family. Picard takes on the role of a surrogate father to the young Romulan. He makes time to read classic Earth literature to him and teach him fencing. It’s all valuable time spent establishing a strong bond which shows how much Picard has changed over the years as he was never one to feel comfortable around children during his years commanding the two Enterprises. There were incremental signs that he was mellowing in his old age but to see him so comfortable around a child is a significant shift in his character and a welcome one. It’s an easy way of showing that people are always growing and changing.
Showing Picard’s connection to Vashti in the past has the clear purpose of offering a contrast to how it appears in the present and reminding the audience that things haven’t changed for the better in the intervening years. Picard’s visit is out of desire to right a wrong that has been preying on his mind for 14 years and he’s not going to pass up the opportunity while he has it. The other reason for his visit is to convince one of the warriors to pledge their sword to his cause in order to give them unmatched combat expertise should it be required at some point on this dangerous mission filled with unpredictable dangers.
There are red flags right from the minute they arrive with an unwelcoming planetary shield designed to kill anyone who approaches without authorisation and Picard’s name carrying no weight with the authorities. It provides a pretty clear idea of how the residents feel about their former saviour after so many years of neglect. This isn’t enough to dissuade Picard who manages to transport to the surface. There is an immediate stark visual contrast between Vashti in the two time periods. The past is vibrant, colourful and welcoming with a general positive vibe about it where the present is coated in shadow and far less animated. Even Picard’s wardrobe offers insight into how much has changed. In the past he’s dressed all in white as if he’s the shining Hero arriving to be among his people and in the present he’s dressed in black to signify the shame and guilt he carries with him at this stage in his life. I’m not normally one to pick up on the significance of wardrobe choices and this is admittedly not an especially complex visual message but it’s an effective one that gets the point across perfectly without wasting time on needless exposition.
Picard has his work cut out for him upon his return. The people either flatly ignore him when he tries to engage them or give him less than welcoming looks. The exception to that is Zani (Amirah Vann) who is willing to hear him out but pulls no punches in telling him how she feels about the situation. Her order of nuns being based on the guiding principle of “Absolute Candor” meaning always expressing the truth of emotion in all circumstances allows for those feelings to be quickly expressed. It’s a simple and interesting philosophy that runs counter to everything the Romulans have built their culture on. This adds complexity to them as a species as there would naturally be those who don’t agree with the outwardly secretive approach. There’s also an element of Picard needing to hear these things said to him because he doesn’t want to make excuses for decisions that he made that may not have been the right ones. He’s basically looking for someone to validate him feeling that he has made mistakes. Zani can do that for him and does so without malice.
Her remark about Picard being unable to save everyone so choosing to save no-one is especially cutting because that’s exactly the choice he made and he doesn’t even try to deny it when it’s mentioned. Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of Picard’s shame and remorse as he looks on one of the consequences of that decision is excellent. It’s very evident that it breaks his heart to see how Vashti has declined over the years though his fixation with facing the consequences of his decision highlights his strength of character and his desire to overcome his flaws.
Zani highlights that the now adult Elnor (Evan Evagora ) is the perfect candidate for his mission as he’s adrift and desperately seeking to belong to something. Even though he has been trained by the order of warrior nuns he can never be one of them as their order doesn’t allow men so he has the skills but there is this constant barrier to his sense of belonging because the order won’t ever allow him to truly join it.
Elnor is as damaged as almost everyone else accompanying Picard on his mission. I’ve already mentioned the barrier to his own sense of belonging created by his current living situation but there’s a lot more that will impact his general well-being. The destruction of his planet and possibly his birth family along with it will be chief among them though since it happened when he was a child it’s possible his connection to Romulus won’t be as profound as it would be for others. It is still a loss and it will weigh on him as it does everyone else. He has been fixating on the fact that Picard left 14 years ago promising to return to continue the effort to evacuate the Romulans and then breaking that promise. Elnor feels abandoned by the surrogate father figure he looked up to and had a strong connection with which has very much contributed to shaping the man he is now. He’s portrayed as distant and there’s an undertone of resentment to every interaction he has with Picard but there’s also a hint of affection in there also. It’s as if he can’t quite bring himself to truly hate Picard for what he did.
Picard’s sincere plea to have Elnor join his quest is rejected at first for exactly the reasons that you would expect. He makes reference to Picard only coming to see him when he needs something and that hurts him deeply because it makes their relationship feel transactional to him and he sees Picard as being an insincere user who exploits people for his own purposes before forgetting about them. It’s a fair conclusion considering his personal experiences and Picard can’t exactly argue that there isn’t some truth to it based on his actions and the fact that he did turn his back on the people he swore to help.
Elnor’s perspective is a more personal one because of his specific relationship with Picard but it is shared by the others on Vashti. I mentioned in my review of the first episode that the Federation is portrayed as being more isolationist than it was previously. The same applies to the Romulans on Vashti. They have put up a sign saying “Romulans Only” and treat Picard with hostility. Their attitude has a lot to do with Picard failing to deliver on what he promised and not being around to answer for it. A former Romulan Senator (Evan Parke) accuses him and Starfleet of taking advantage of the Romulans when they were at a vulnerable point in order to divide them as a species. Picard takes serious umbrage to that accusation because his motives behind the relocation of the Romulans were never anything other than sincere. No matter what actually happened he is certain of that and won’t let anyone accuse him otherwise.
The former Senator is ready to kill Picard over what he believes him to be responsible for which prompts Elnor to join in. He feels enough of a connection to Picard that he is willing to kill to ensure that he survives which feels a little predictable but is no less satisfying when it plays out. With that Picard has a new addition to his band of misfits and he leaves Vashti for what will probably be the final time but not before giving a humble speech about how he and the Federation failed them. His voice is full of sadness and regret which reinforces the awareness on his part of the mistakes that he personally made.
Elnor is potentially a strong addition to this particular mission because of his prior connection to Picard and the animosity that Elnor has towards him. Picard giving him a dressing down as soon as they beam aboard the ship because he killed. He is utterly disgusted that Elnor would kill someone like that and makes him swear that he won’t use force unless Picard explicitly orders him to. Picard has always been one to value life above all else and upholds that value at all times rather than when it’s convenient to do so. It’s very much a guiding principle and it’s great to see Picard represent a strong moral centre.
The rest of the crew work well enough as a supporting presence in this narrative that revolves around Picard. Raffi still has very little respect for Picard though feels compelled to do everything she can to help him. There’s more work to be done in order to flesh out this complicated relationship but for now I’m content to accept her as a formidable presence who can challenge Picard and get away with it. Jurati doesn’t do much in this episode beyond sit in on conversations and pass comment at different points. It makes sense here because her expertise aren’t required at this point and I do like that she leans into the fact that she bothers people out of boredom. She’s the closest thing to comic relief outside of Rios’ seemingly endless collection of holograms.
Rios remains undefined but his purpose at this point is to be the character that knows how the galaxy works at this point and has the necessary skills along with experience to navigate it. I really liked that he and Picard were constantly on the same page when it came to tactics and decisions. The running gag where Picard couldn’t stop himself from taking charge when on the bridge was a really nice touch and Rios accepting it because he knew that Picard’s choices were perfectly reasonable. The various holograms range from tedious to amusing. His Spanish speaking weapons hologram was particularly amusing especially when he didn’t bother to use the weapons after calculating that doing so would be completely pointless.
The space battle was really well done. It was exciting, visually stunning and made good use of Rios’ personality throughout. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) coming to their aid in an unknown ship before being rescued made for an excellent cliffhanger ending. It was a surprise appearance that worked and a great way to reintroduce the character. As someone who knows her well I’m intrigued by how much she has clearly changed since her last appearance and how she fits into this story.
I find myself struggling with the scenes set on the Borg Cube. They are far less propulsive than the rest of the show and the slow burn development for Soji is a little too slow. For the most part the scenes repeat information that is already known and don’t offer any greater insight into the characters involved. Soji looks deeper into Ramdha after what she said in the previous episode but doesn’t learn much more about her or what prompted her to say the things. I do like the idea of Soji feeling as if she isn’t “seen” by those around her which means it makes sense that she would be drawn to Ramdha because she does. That isn’t really supported by her background as all evidence suggests that she’s respected by those around her and Narek certainly gives her a great deal of attention so more groundwork needed to be done in order to establish Soji feeling lonely or isolated.
Her relationship with Narek has potential but is mostly uninteresting. There could be more to reveal but it’s well known that he is trying a more personal method to find out the necessary information about her origins. The only forward movement on that is him starting to point out the holes in the fiction that is her childhood in order to make her question her own life. I think the writers are hoping viewers will be more invested in their relationship but not enough has been done to really encourage that. Narek’s innate secrecy prevents a proper connection from being made meaning there will always be that distance. There is potential here but there is more focus on the mystery than the characters involved in it.
This episode marks the third time Narek and his sister have a near identical conversation about his methods not being something she agrees with. Ultimately she agrees to let him try for a little while longer but warns him his time is almost up. There’s no real threat there as it doesn’t currently feel as if she will ever act on it. Obviously she will eventually have to but the constant reminders that she doesn’t see eye to eye with him on this subject do nothing for either of them. There is also a weirdly incestuous quality to their scenes together that is both disturbing and unpleasant.
A strong episode that offers an exciting start to Picard’s mission while continuing to deliver excellent insight into his feelings and motivations. The flashback opening showing Picard’s connection to Vashti and the people there was a great way to quickly establish the importance of the location. This allowed for a strong contrast between the past and present through the presentation and attitudes displayed in both time periods. Picard’s connection to Elnor in both time periods works really well and quickly justifies how damaged the adult Elnor is while showing that Picard made mistakes in how he handled the situation. Zani bluntly telling Picard exactly what he did and his inability to deny it shows a self awareness on his part and a desire to make amends. Elnor seeing him as someone who treated their relationship as a transactional one and being deeply hurt by that also highlights Picard’s flaws. His decision to join Picard is somewhat predictable but also really effective when it happens as it occurs just as Picard proves his sincerity. It’s an interesting dynamic and Picard dressing him down for killing before making him swear to only use force when instructed was a powerful moment.
The rest of the crew work well enough as supporting players in Picard’s story. Raffi needs more work to be fully defined but for now she’s someone who has little respect for Picard and has no problems trusting him. Jurati’s expertise aren’t needed at this stage so she is the closest thing to comic relief which works in context. Rios’ has the defined purpose of knowing how the galaxy works and having the skills as well as the experience to navigate it. I like that he and Picard are on the same page when it comes to strategy and the running gag of Picard instinctively giving orders on the bridge is amusing. The space battle was really exciting and visually stunning while also making for a great reintroduction for Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine. I find myself struggling with the scenes set on the Borg Cube because there’s too much focus on the mystery and not enough focus on the characters within it. Soji’s loneliness is something that is mentioned but not supported by her background and her relationship with Narek has potential that the writers don’t make use of. It’s well established that he’s attempting to learn more about her by getting close to her but there isn’t much in the way of movement. His conversations with his sister are completely repetitive and there’s a disturbing incestuous quality to their scenes together that is just unpleasant.
- firmly establishing Picard’s connection to Vashti
- his connection to Elnor as a child brilliantly informing how they interact when Elnor is an adult
- adding texture to Romulan culture through nuns that are completely honest
- Picard acknowledging his flaws and genuinely apologising for the misguided decisions he made
- Picard’s new crew working well as supporting characters
- the running gag where Picard instinctively tries to take charge when on the bridge
- an exciting space battle
- the reintroduction of Seven of Nine
- more potential to the Soji/Narek relationship than is made use of
- the Borg Cube scenes feeling very repetitive
- too much focus on the mystery instead of the characters within it
- the disturbingly incestuous quality to Narek and Narissa’s scenes
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