Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 5
“Stardust City Rag”
Star Trek: Picard shows the next step of the quest to find the truth about the flesh and blood Androids with a trip to a different sort of pleasure planet.
Building an entire season of television -even one that’s only 10 episodes- around a central mystery is a potentially problematic prospect as the release of information has to be paced perfectly so that the audience doesn’t feel like their time is being wasted or that things are becoming known too quickly. It’s a delicate balancing act that this show certainly struggles with at times.
Star Trek: Picard is framed through the perspective of Jean Luc Picard as indicated by the title. It’s very much an exploration of how he sees the universe he lives in and his reaction to the way it has changed in the years since he left Starfleet. This often counters the lack of forward movement on the ongoing mystery plot as there’s plenty of character development to offset the lack of plot development. Ideally there should be a balance but at least none of the episodes feel inessential.
This episode delivers the most story progression since the first one with Picard achieving the objective of finding Bruce Maddox (John Ales). He manages to do so after Raffi helps orchestrate an elaborate heist type situation to extract him before he can be handed over to the Tal Shiar. This involves Picard and Rios posing as “Facers” -basically Pimps-, Seven of Nine posing as a prisoner and Elnor posing as an Elnor that doesn’t talk. It’s in theory quite a fun scenario as it puts Rios and Picard in flamboyant costumes while encouraging them to ham it up to the extreme because that’s the expected behaviour of the people they’re pretending to be. The reality is that Rios doesn’t come across all that differently to how he normally behaves based on the limited screen time he’s had so far and Picard is too over the top. I never thought I’d write that Patrick Stewart gave a bad performance but in this case he did. Patrick Stewart clearly had a lot of fun cutting loose like this but it was cringeworthy and his Inspecter Clouseauesque accent was painful. This misstep robbed the exchange scene of much of its tension and distracted from otherwise strong characterisation.
Seven of Nine appeared at the end of the previous episode and factors into this one heavily with a strong emotional connection to the aforementioned exchange scene. The episode opens with another flashback detailing Seven being forced to end the life of former crewmate Icheb (Casey King) following a brutal butchering of him at the hands of an unknown party. She grants him the mercy of death after he begs her to. It comes to light during the exchange scene that Bjayzi (Necar Zadegan) was the one responsible and was able to gain access to Icheb after using Seven to learn vital information. Seven offers herself up as an enticing exchange for Maddox so that she has the opportunity to get her revenge.
There’s a lot of information conveyed in a fairly short exchange that both works and doesn’t. Jeri Ryan’s performance in this episode is uniformly excellent. Seven has clearly changed a lot since her time on Star Trek: Voyager but there are still hints of the former drone in her mannerisms and line delivery. It’s a performance with a lot of depth that allows her to be recognisably the same character while also being very different. There’s a lot to take from her first conversation with Bjayzi; most striking is Jeri Ryan’s performance showing an intense personal betrayal. Coupling this with Bjayzi using her Human name, Annika reveals that they had a very close relationship at one time. The implication is that there was a romantic element to it though that doesn’t necessarily matter for the purposes of what this scene needs to achieve. It’s enough that they were once close and it was apparently all a trick so that Seven would let her guard down so that Bjayzi could harvest Borg implants from former drones.
Seven is consumed by her desire for revenge as she sees it as the only possible outlet for the collections of emotions she’s experiencing. She feels guilty because role she played in the death of someone she cared deeply for, betrayed because someone she once trusted used her for information that led to that death, self loathing for failing to protect those she cares about, angry because of her inability to do anything about what happened and many other strong emotions. The fact that Bjayzi calls her Annika suggests to me that Seven felt most in touch with her Humanity when close to her and has since moved away from that following the betrayal. Going by Seven at this point suggests a backward step on her part and could be a way to represent her dealing with trauma that she’s unable to resolve internally. It’s easier to not be Human when things get tough so she reverts to detaching herself from her feelings. It’s a fascinating coping mechanism if that’s the case.
What doesn’t work about the conversation is that there’s a lot of exposition in a very short time and it’s a lot to keep up with. The audience perspective is that of Picard’s which is consistent with the rest of the show but the information is vital to understanding Seven’s motivations and it’s difficult to digest when thrown in all at once. Jeri Ryan’s acting does so much heavy lifting so it’s possible to connect on an emotional level though the situation is complicated so it’s easy to miss the entirety of what is being connected to. There also isn’t enough time to get a sense of who Bjayzi is beyond immoral criminal. It’s unclear if her connection to Seven was ever in any way genuine or if it was simply a long con so that she could gain access to Borg technology. Necar Zadegan’s performance does suggest that there is genuine affection for Seven but there’s not enough time to properly explore it.
Picard’s role in this is the moral high ground. He makes a plea to Seven’s Humanity and encourages her not to indulge in revenge because it ultimately won’t resolve anything for her. This is Patrick Stewart on top form and a strong hint at the old Picard; the man who stood his ethical ground and could confidently talk someone down from making a huge mistake. Seven is a little too far gone to be open to what Picard has to say as evidenced by her immediate return to the surface to finish what she started once everyone is safe. It takes Rios to point out that killing Bjayzi in that moment will lead to a price on all of their heads that he doesn’t think Picard and Elnor will be able to handle. Seven is rational enough to not drag others into this situation and delays her plan but doesn’t waste any time in getting back to what she set out to do. This suggests that Picard’s idealism isn’t something that’s accepted in a more cynical universe.
She talks about Picard still believing that mercy is something that still matters and not wanting to disillusion him. Seven identifies Picard as a man who still has hope which seems to be a rare thing at this point where they currently are. She certainly feels that she has lost hope though she did have it once before Bjayzi ripped it from her. She kills Bjayzi with barely any hesitation; only stopping long enough to make sure she gets to say what she feels needs to be said. It seems cold on the surface but there’s so much emotion behind everything Seven does and says in this episode which proves that her Humanity is still there but has been heavily damaged by what she has been through.
The loss and reclaiming of Humanity is a theme running subtly through the background of this episode. Raffi and Rios have a conversation early on designed to catch new viewers up on who Seven is with a few bullet points about what defined her character over on Star Trek: Voyager. That conversation also brings in the fact that Picard was also once a Borg which draws an important connection between him and Seven. It is discussed briefly before Seven leaves and it’s all about reclaiming Humanity. Seven asks him if he got his Humanity back after being freed from the collective and he tells her that he did but when she asks if he got all of it back he’s forced to admit that he hasn’t. He adds that they’re both working on it to give the negative answer a hopeful flourish. It’s such a brief moment but it says so much about how profound a violation assimilation is. Seven still has visible Borg implants which act as a physical representation of the trauma she carries with her every day where Picard doesn’t have any visible implants as an indication that he’s much further along in the healing process.
Seven’s role in the context of the universe is an interesting one. Her being part of the Fenris Rangers; an organisation that appeared in the wake of the destruction of Romulus to maintain order in what used to be the Neutral Zone. One of the major themes of this show is people reacting to institutions that have failed them. Seven joined the Fenris Rangers to protect people that the Federation had given up on because nobody else would. She does this out of a sense of duty and obligation as well as a desire to plug a gap that needed to be plugged. Picard represents a version of the Federation that doesn’t appear to exist any more where Seven is living in the world that currently exists and is working to help those that have been abandoned. In effect she’s protecting people who have been separated from a collective which is something she has a lot of personal experience with.
Raffi’s reason for joining the mission is revealed. She needed to get to Freecloud to attempt reconnecting with her son, Gabriel (Mason Gooding). Her obsessive nature and substance abuse problem created a rift between them that still persists. Raffi wants to show him that she’s putting her life back together and wants him to be part of that but he isn’t prepared to let her back in because he’s still hurting. It’s a really strong scene with excellent acting from Michelle Hurd that offers insight into what contributed to Raffi spiralling. It’s very much a problem she created which she recognises and now she’s trying to atone for it. At this point it isn’t possible because Gabriel isn’t willing to welcome her back into his life. The idea that a grand gesture and promises that things will be different won’t always be enough to repair a fractured relationship. Gabriel is able to prove that Raffi is still obsessed with the conspiracy by simply asking her about it which tells him everything he needs to know. With a baby on the way he’s not prepared to expose himself or his family to what he went through so he doesn’t accept what Raffi has to say. He also doesn’t speak ill of her to his wife, instead altering the narrative to be more neutral which says a lot about his integrity. It’s difficult to watch but feels real and offers a lot of insight into Raffi.
Interestingly, Raffi’s relationship with Gabriel mirrors that of her relationship to Picard. Gabriel doesn’t want to accept Raffi into his life because he feels abandoned by her which is exactly how she feels about Picard. This episode indicates that she’s starting to soften on that position based on their scene together where they have a really sincere moment that suggests a strong respectful connection between them. She returns to the La Sirena after failing to reconnect with Gabriel and asks to be left alone by Picard who responds with a simple “welcome back”. It’s a a beautifully understated way for Picard to show that he’s there to support her when she needs it.
As I’ve mentioned, Picard achieves one of his objectives when he finds Bruce Maddox. This leads him to learn Soji’s name and where she is which tells him where he has to go next. Picard and Maddox only share one major scene where he talks about sending the two Androids to learn the truth about something that is being hidden. There have been strong suggestions of a conspiracy that goes to a very high level and this conversation further teases it though doesn’t reveal much more than is already known other than the two Androids being sent with a specific purpose in mind. Unfortunately Maddox dies before being able to tell more but answers will most certainly be forthcoming.
Jurati is given some really strong material in this episode that Alison Pill delivers wonderfully. Her anxiety over the small part she has to play in the mission is a brilliantly Human reaction to having responsibility thrust on someone in a dangerous situation. It makes perfect sense for her as she has always worked in a lab so has no experience of anything like this. The EMH being triggered when her anxiety reached a specific level was a nice touch that paid off brilliantly when she killed Maddox. An earlier scene where she watched a recording of her and Maddox revealed that they had a romantic relationship which makes her actions later all the more shocking. The circumstances that led to her joining the crew were definitely suspicious and now those suspicions have been confirmed. What isn’t known is why she killed him and why she was instructed to do so. Did she do so out of fear or does she think that he has to die? She is cursed with knowledge that has been recently given to her which forms part of why she has to kill Maddox but it’s unclear what that is and how it will factor in. Whatever the reasoning behind it is, it clearly wasn’t easy for her to do.
Their brief conversation before Jurati pulls the plug offers impressive insight into how Maddox views Dahj and Soji. He calls them “perfectly imperfect” and is clearly very proud of what he accomplished when creating them. He wants Jurati to share in that pride as evidenced by him making sure to point out that she deserves the credit as well. She doesn’t take this as he intended and sees it as something for her to atone for.
All of this is really interesting and ties into the idea of Soji being “The Destroyer”. Based on the available information it appears that Soji will have a part to play in some sort of large scale destructive event that many parties are working to try to prevent. I’m not sure what the event is but it’s severe enough to justify a body count along the way. Based on the available information it seems that the destruction of Romulus was planned to some degree as a step towards preventing it from happening. The attack on Mars led to the Federation banning synthetics which could have been a tactic to try and prevent the creation of Dahj and Soji. Whoever is orchestrating this plot may have access to future knowledge; this is supported by what Soji was told by the former Borg Drone. Perhaps this will tie into season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery with someone from that show communicating with the past in order to warn them about what’s coming. All of this could be wrong but this is how I’ve put the pieces that we currently have together.
A strong episode that does a great job of moving the main plot forward while continuing the trend of meaningful character development. Seven of Nine is used brilliantly within this episode both on a personal level and a wider world building one. She is connected to the main plot through a prior relationship with Bjayzi who betrayed her in such a way that she has become consumed by a desire for revenge. Jeri Ryan’s performance is uniformly excellent and the scene where she confronts Bjayzi is a great example of everything that Seven is dealing with. It does contain a lot of exposition which is somewhat distracting but the performance almost saves it. Picard’s attempt to reason with her falling on deaf ears is interesting as well as it shows that his idealism isn’t accepted in a more cynical universe. The scene where Picard and Seven discuss their experience being liberated from the Borg Collective is an excellent reminder of how profound a violation assimilation is. Seven being part of an organisation that exists to maintain order as much as possible where the Federation won’t gives an idea of the state of the galaxy at this point while showing Seven’s sense of duty and obligation. The heist plot involving Rios and Picard dressing flamboyantly with an act to match really doesn’t work. Rios doesn’t act all that differently and Picard is too over the top. Patrick Stewart is clearly having fun with it but his performance is cringeworthy.
Raffi’s attempt to reconnect with her son ultimately proving unsuccessful makes for a difficult scene to watch in the best way. The fact that a grand gesture isn’t enough to repair the rift is very real and Gabriel showing his integrity by not telling his wife why his mother won’t be in their lives was a really nice touch. Interestingly, Raffi’s relationship with Gabriel mirrors the relationship she has with Picard. Their interactions in this episode suggest that she’s starting to understand that as there’s a sense that the animosity between them is disappearing. Picard finding Maddox points him to his next objective while also reinforcing that there’s a high level conspiracy at work that involves the two Androids. Jurati killing Maddox is a really shocking turn of events that creates a lot of interesting questions. It was unexpected given the attention on Jurati’s relationship with Maddox earlier in the episode and it’s clear that it’s not an easy thing for her to do. The mention of her having something to atone for and being cursed with knowledge that makes her feel that what she’s doing is necessary. It’s extra intrigue and fits in nicely with the other pieces of the ongoing mystery.
- Jeri Ryan’s uniformly excellent performance
- strong work done with Seven of Nine
- her cynical outlook in opposition to Picard’s idealism
- the subtext to Seven’s relationship with Bjayzi and what that reveals about her
- Seven’s current role being a good source of world building
- the uncomfortably real result of Raffi’s attempt to reconnect with her son
- the EMH coming into play in a really effective way where Jurati’s concerned
- the intrigue created by Jurati killing Maddox
- the cringeworthy heist sequence
- Patrick Stewart giving a rare bad performance when playing Picard pretending to be “Facer”
- too much exposition in the Seven/Djayzi relationship that starts to distract from the power of their interaction
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Ratings” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.