Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 8
Star Trek: Picard answers one of the major mysteries as well as a few of the other lingering questions posed throughout the season.
This shows strengths lie more in its characterisation rather than its storytelling. The previous episode was almost the perfect example of this with the bulk of the scenes living up to what the suggested promise of the show was in the first place while the plot centric scenes don’t generate the same level of interest. It says a lot when I’m more content to watch scenes featuring old friends being around one another exploring the bond that exists between them without much material plot movement than scenes designed to move things towards the conclusion of the plot that the season is built around.
Criticisms have been lobbied at this show for taking too long to get where it needs to go. In some cases those criticisms are justified because the time that is taken to move things along isn’t used very well. Scenes are basically repeated episode after episode and the reveals often aren’t all that interesting when they do come. This episode acts as the clearest example of many things this show does badly and it becomes this by doubling down on a plot that turns out to not be all that interesting or worth waiting for.
We get a lot of answers in this episode that many people -including myself- have been waiting for. The opening flashback details a ceremony attended by the Zhat Vash known as “The Admonition”. It involves opening the mind up to a vision of destruction left behind by a civilisation that was wiped out hundreds of thousands of years ago. The vision depicts synthetic life forms rising up and destroying those who created them and the imagery is enough to drive most in attendance mad to the point that they claw off their own skin. The only attendees that come through it relatively unscathed are Commodore Oh and Narissa. Ramdha is also there and isn’t as badly affected as everyone else but is still driven bad enough to cripple a Borg Cube. More on that later in this review.
This scene answers why the Zhat Vash actively try to stop the development of synthetic life, reveal them to be behind the attack on Mars while also eventually leading to explain why the Borg Cube was crippled. It’s a lot to pack into a single scene while also being largely bereft of emotional context. We do see Narissa weeping over what we saw which increases her expressed emotions to two but it does nothing to endear the character to us in any way. I mentioned in my previous review that there was a real opportunity to portray Narissa as a character driven to do terrible things because she believed they were necessary to stop an Apocalyptic event. That is still what the writers are driving at to some degree but the execution is so poor. A brief depiction of her weeping as well as a quick on the nose monologue about how Ramdha raised her and Narek after their parents died does nothing to add depth to what remains a shallow character. Peyton List still has very little to work with and Narissa is in no way altered by any of these additions. She remains cartoonishly evil and an uninteresting antagonist. In general she exists to manufacture threat during any scene set in the Borg Cube and there appears to be little interest in expanding her role beyond that.
The reveal that the Zhat Vash exist based on fear of history repeating itself and orchestrated the attack on Mars in service of that objective is a really underwhelming reveal that didn’t need to take this long to come out. There’s nothing surprising about it which isn’t essential but it makes me wonder why it was left a mystery for so long if the answer was that simple. The worst of it is that there’s nothing more to it than that. Narissa and Commodore Oh having direct involvement in those events as part of their plan only makes the universe feel smaller as it appears that there are a small number of people in the galaxy taking action who all know one another with any action they take directly impacting the others. This shouldn’t be the case in a politically complex galaxy where vast numbers of people should have influence.
It’s also a massively unoriginal story that is lifted almost directly from the Mass Effect video game series and the reboot Battlestar Galactica. Both detail synthetic life evolving to a certain point and destroying organic life as their central narrative. The implication here is that it’s a destruction that operates in endlessly repeating cycles which was also the case in the two given examples. I’m not saying that Star Trek shouldn’t take inspiration from other popular science fiction properties but in this case nothing interesting is being done with these ideas other than reusing them in far less compelling ways. It would seem that Star Trek as a franchise has moved to lagging behind rather than blazing the trail which is incredibly disappointing.
Apocalyptic plots are becoming very tiresome in general and don’t really have much place in Star Trek as a franchise. The Borg by themselves could be considered a coming Apocalypse and the supernova that destroyed Romulus is an Apocalyptic event that occurred before this show began. The Borg are an omnipresent threat that could appear at any time but aren’t treated with any immediacy most of the time and the supernova is something that has already happened that didn’t result in a post Apocalyptic landscape for most of the galaxy. Even the impact on the Romulans as a species remains largely unexplored so I still don’t think it fits the Apocalyptic description.
The suggestion is that if the development of synthetic life isn’t halted then it will result in the destruction of all non synthetic life in the galaxy. That sort of a threat is unfathomable which is probably why it affected the attending Zhat Vash members so profoundly. The death toll is unthinkable and it’s impossible to make those stakes relatable on their own. This is where investment in the characters has to come in with the decisions and motivations enhancing the ludicrously high stakes to turn them into something person. All life in the galaxy is a nonsense statistic that doesn’t really mean much other than being a high body count for dramatic purposes so ideally there should be something personally at stake for Picard as well as those around him.
At this point I’m struggling to see what that is. He set off on this mission with the goal of rescuing Soji before she suffers the same fate as her sister Dahj because he strong believes that the two androids were made from a part of Data. That was good enough to start the plot and get him back into space but the more time that passes the less personally involving this mission feels. It took too long for Picard and Soji to meet which means there isn’t a lot of time to create a meaningful connection between them. The previous episode was about his relationship with Will and Deanna with Soji spending most of her time with Kestra so there was limited interaction between them. This episode largely sidelines Picard as well as Soji so has a similar problem in that there’s little time for a bond to form.
That’s not to say an attempt isn’t made. Soji asking Picard about his connection to Data made for a really sweet scene that was brilliantly played by Patrick Stewart. The longing and affection felt by Picard as he described Data to Soji was evident and incredibly heart-warming as was Soji’s out of the blue declaration that Data loved him. It was a brief yet powerful reminder of a large part of Picard’s motivation to get back into space while also serving as an indication of how strong the Picard/Soji relationship could be if the right amount of time was spent on it.
Picard also has a really sincere moment with Rios when talking about his former Captain and their shared outlook on Starfleet principles in general. The ban on synthetics is seen by Picard as a betrayal of everything that Starfleet and the Federation stand for because it means that they gave into fear rather than working to build something better. It’s a very idealistic way of looking at things that matches up with who Picard is as a character while ignoring the fact that the reality likely won’t be as simple as his idealism makes it seem. Picard is a hopeful man who believes that people can live harmoniously if they demonstrate the best parts of themselves which is certainly a nice sentiment that runs counter to the bleakness of the universe that he currently lives in. Rios tempers this by pointing out how easily Soji hacked the systems on his ship with more than a little trepidation in his voice indicating that he’s less inclined to hope for the best. The two characters create an interesting contrast and the conversation they have is really memorable.
Rios is problematic in this episode following the reveal that he’s connected to the main plot purely by accident. The only reason he happens to be involved is because Picard needed a ship and Raffi sourced him as someone who owned one who would be up to the task. Having it turn out that he knew a woman that looked exactly like Soji who was murdered by his former Captain is an utterly ridiculous coincidence that has no credibility whatsoever. This does nothing to enhance Rios’ character as he’s still a damaged man with a tragic backstory; the only difference is that his backstory now has a connection to the ongoing plot. It didn’t need to and doesn’t add anything.
The idea that his Captain was ordered to kill the visitors to his ship otherwise his entire ship would be destroyed allows for a really strongly acted scene between Raffi and Rios where he opens up to her about these events. It’s as if he has never told the story to anyone and is significantly unburdened by doing so. It’s great to see these connections form between the characters and the actors making use of the opportunities granted to them by the material they are asked to deliver but the effectiveness is undercut by the fact that the events themselves are ludicrous.
Knowing what I do about Star Trek and the various Captain characters that have turned up over the years I find it difficult to believe that a Captain would blindly accept an order to kill two people. It’s clear that the action weighed heavily on Rios’ former Captain as being confronted about it prompted him to commit suicide but even at that it’s a difficult thing to believe regardless of the threat associated with failing to carry out the order. Rios has previously mentioned a dead Captain in his past though I assumed it was either an attack or an accident that he perhaps blamed himself for rather than this nonsense. Once again the universe feels smaller because of this and there is no justifiable reason to link Rios to the main plot other than to force his tragic backstory into the episode. It’s a really bizarre choice that I can’t even begin to understand.
Rios isolating himself and leaving Raffi to puzzle through his emotional issues by conversing with his various holograms is a mixed bag. Santiago Cabrera is no doubt a talented actor who has a lot of fun bringing these different characters and personalities to life but the extended plot became tedious very quickly and only seemed to exist because it was supposed to be amusing. I was definitely amused in placed and found myself intrigued when it was mentioned that Rios had set up his holograms in this way but claimed it was an accident as an indication that the persona he outwardly presents isn’t a true reflection of who he is. The holograms having certain information mission sets up something that doesn’t really go anywhere but could have been interesting. I think the intention was for the holograms to each represent a deeper insight into an aspect of Rios that he keeps hidden from others but it wasn’t taken far enough.
Jurati’s actions become fully known to the others and it doesn’t really make a lot of difference all things considered. The knowledge provides another opportunity for Raffi to yell at Picard because he chose to trust someone that ended up betraying them which results in Picard being rendered speechless once he’s forced to acknowledge that he made a mistake. He also expresses disappointment that she lied to him while working to understand why she felt that she had to behave in the way she did. Picard understands that yelling at her will get them nowhere so attempts to get answers through a measure of compassion while making it clear that he doesn’t see her actions as being justifiable.
There are no surprises here either with the conversation playing out more or less as expected. Jurati talks about a psychic block put in her mind to prevent her talking about what Commodore Oh showed her but she overcomes that without any trouble which made me wonder why it was there at all. This scene isn’t enough to clarify the reasons for the decisions that she made but it is a strong example of Picard attempting to appeal to her Humanity and encourage her to make things right.
Jurati also has a brief conversation with Soji where she expresses admiration for everything she is. When taken on its own this is a great scene that acts as the culmination of Jurati was set up to achieve. She wanted to meet a Humanlike synthetic and now that she has she is very excited by the opportunity. Unfortunately this character has been handled so inconsistently throughout the season that this event loses a lot of its meaning as it’s tainted by the fact that Jurati is a murderer who very recently wanted to stop the development of synthetics after being shown a vision of destruction. This one scene isn’t enough to make up for that and her change of heart is difficult to accept.
As per the norm the action on the Borg Cube was very weak. Seven’s return to help Elnor could have been good but there wasn’t enough time to develop a proper bond between these two characters. Their scenes together largely amounted to Seven saying and doing dangerous things while Elnor told her he was worried about her which hardly makes for compelling character interactions. Seven seems to have difficult choices ahead of her when it comes to taking control of the Borg Cube. For one thing she has to interface with it which means putting herself back into a nightmare that she thought she had escaped from. There is also the beginnings of a moral debate when she talks about adding the drones that are in stasis into a mini Collective that can be used to deal with the Romulans. She talks about this meaning she would be enslaving them and taking away their right to choose what it is they do with their lives which isn’t something she’s comfortable with doing. She is also afraid that if she exposes herself to that kind of power then she won’t be able to give it up. There’s a lot of potentially great Seven specific stuff in those ideas that could have been explored.
Bizarrely the episode opts to do nothing with any of them. The in stasis Borg Drones are blown out into space so that they can’t be used meaning that Seven never gets to experience being the Queen to her own Borg Collective and her fears about being unable to give up the power of the Cube once tapping into it go nowhere because she easily disconnects from it. It’s baffling that the episode would spend time building up these ideas only to do absolutely nothing with them, This renders Seven’s appearance almost pointless as she only exists to activate the Borg Cube presumably as backup for Picard and crew once they reach the synthetic homeworld. There’s no tangible emotional connection to any of it which makes for another highly disappointing collection of Borg Cube scenes.
A bad episode that offers underwhelming answers to the central mysteries, fails to connect the plot to the characters in a satisfying way and contains some baffling reveals. The answer to the mystery of the Zhat Vash as well as the attack on Mars is very underwhelming and raises questions as to why it was left as a mystery for so long. Narissa and Commodore Oh’s connection to this provided ample opportunity to develop them as characters though this isn’t made use of. Narissa remains as bereft of depth as usual despite some clear potential. It’s also less than inspiring to have another Apocalyptic plot in a science fiction show when that sort of threat doesn’t really suit Star Trek as a franchise. It would be forgivable if it enhanced Picard and the other characters in some way but that doesn’t happen. This episode highlights the disadvantage to keeping Picard and Soji apart for so long. It means that there’s no time to develop a proper bond between them. The scene where Picard talks to her about Data is really well done but it’s the only example and it’s not enough to make up for all the time they don’t have.
Tying Rios to the main plot makes for a painfully unrealistic coincidence that only serves to make the universe smaller. It adds nothing to his character that couldn’t be accomplished through him not having that connection. The circumstances around the suicide of his former Captain are difficult to accept in the context of the wider universe. Rios would have been better served by a backstory unique to him that formed the basis of his character. The scene where he opens up to Raffi is really well acted but doesn’t make up for how ludicrous the plot surrounding it is. His many holograms as a representation of what he has lost within himself works to some degree but doesn’t go far enough and only seems to exist as an amusing distraction more than anything else. Jurati is also poorly served in this episode with a randomly disappearing psychic block and a near instant change of heart. Her scene with Soji is great on its own and could have been a well earned culmination of everything Jurati is supposed to represent but she has been handled so inconsistently that this doesn’t work either. Seven’s arrival on the Borg Cube is a string of missed opportunities. There could and should have been a better dynamic developed between her and Elnor, the potential ethical debate surrounding enslaving in stasis Drones to use against the Romulans had lots of potential and the notion that she might not be able to give up the power of the Cube once she taps into it were all great ideas that go nowhere. The episode also fails to properly explore Seven’s feelings about interfacing with Borg technology after her escape. All of these failings render Seven’s appearance pointless.
- the scene where Picard talks to Soji about his connection to Data
- the scene where Jurati admires Soji
- strong acting from Santiago Cabrera both as his holograms and when Rios opens up to Raffi
- Picard and Rios discussing their values and what Starfleet/the Federation is supposed to stand for
- an underwhelming answer to the Zhat Vash and attack on Mars mysteries
- an Apocalyptic scenario with little to no emotional grounding
- failing to make use of the opportunity to develop Narissa
- Rios being connected to the main plot
- decisions that generally make the universe feel smaller
- no time to develop a proper bond between Picard and Soji
- Jurati continuing to be poorly served
- Seven’s appearance being rendered pointless by doing nothing with what she was dealing with
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