Star Trek: Picard – Season 1 Episode 3
“The End is the Beginning”
Star Trek: Picard finishes assembling the necessary pieces for Picard to head into space and begin his mission.
Pacing is a difficult thing to master in TV and film as there has to be the perfect balance between making a narrative meaningful to the characters experiencing it while keeping the story going so that audiences don’t lose interest. Many pieces of media are criticised for being too fast or too slow so the writers need to be aware of an audience attention span and keep their interest long enough for them to keep going with what they’re watching. Star Trek: Picard has so far enjoyed a more measured pace with the priority being immersing viewers in the character of Jean Luc Picard while setting up the mission he is driven to pursue. For the most part it has been working really well because what appears on screen is really interesting for the most part but this episode proves that there is a limit.
I was fine with two full episodes taking place before Picard sets off into outer space but having barely under three episodes of setup felt a bit much, particularly when that setup starts to feel a little repetitive. When Picard’s current stage in life was new and unexplored it was really compelling as there were a lot of unanswered questions surrounding what happened to him in the years since Star Trek: Nemesis to place him in his current situation but everything has now settled and it feels like it’s time to get on with the actual story of the season.
Not that this episode is bad. It’s far from that but there’s a lot here that could have been condensed or skipped entirely. One such example is an extended flashback sequence featuring Picard and newcomer Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) discussing the aftermath of the attack on Mars depicted in the previous episode. It’s a good scene for showing the relationship that existed between those characters at that time. Raffi is shown to be someone Picard trusted and was comfortable around. Their interaction suggests a relationship that goes beyond their ranks. Prior knowledge of Picard as he was depicted before isn’t essential but as someone who knows the character well this gains extra significance because he wouldn’t allow himself to get close to just anyone as he prefers to maintain a personal or professional distance from those he works with. The fact that Raffi earned that closeness says a lot about her and it’s great to watch them play off one another. Michelle Hurd does a great job with the material. She gives Raffi a lot of personality and helps sell a lived in working relationship between her and Picard. Patrick Stewart is predictably great as well and they collectively make this relationship a compelling one.
Where this scene suffers is in what is being talked about. There is very little information here that hasn’t been delivered elsewhere. We already know that Picard argued in favour of continuing the Federation’s commitment to the Romulan evacuation and resigned when they refused and we already know that synthetic life forms were banned following the attack so a scene set 14 years earlier reminding us of those facts isn’t needed. Raffi’s perspective is an interesting one as it suggests she has an inherently suspicious nature through her theory that the Tal Shiar are involved. Picard dismisses this because he sees it as counter intuitive for them to sabotage an effort to save their own people but Raffi has information to support her theory. We also learn that she was fired from Starfleet following Picard’s resignation though it’s not clear why that is.
It would perhaps have been more effective to show Picard arguing in favour of continuing the plan to evacuate the Romulans because it would have given more of the perspective that was given last week where a difficult decision regarding what was best to do for the good of the Federation was made. The show is called Picard so his perspective is going to be the prevailing one but it’s good to see both sides of an argument as it shows that things aren’t as simple as Picard would like them to be. He’s a man bound by his conscience and will follow it no matter what obstacles are in his way though he wasn’t in a position to consider that bigger picture because his focus was such a narrow one. It’d be interesting to explore that failing within him as there seems to be a lot about the galactic stage that he doesn’t understand.
His resistance to the idea of a cover-up orchestrated by the Federation is a confusing one. He acts as if such a thing would be completely unthinkable but that runs counter to his own personal experiences. In Star Trek: Insurrection he actively fought to prevent a cover-up orchestrated by the Federation and sanctioned by Starfleet so he should be aware that it’s not unheard of and therefore not surprised that it might be happening again. A better reaction from him would have been disgust as it was in Insurrection. His reaction as it is in this episode makes Picard seem more naive than he actually is.
There are other fairly redundant scenes that do little more than fill the episodes run time. One such example is Narek and Narissa’s conversation which is largely a repeat of their scene from last week. It might be fine if greater insight into their characters and/or their relationship had been delivered as a result of this conversation but they both come out of the interaction about the same as they were when they entered it which is not much use for us as viewers.
Soji doesn’t receive a great deal of development though does feature in some really interesting scenes. Her conversations with Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) who recognises her empathy for the liberated Borg drones and wants to encourage that are really well done. For those that don’t know, Hugh was a Borg drone introduced in a particularly strong episode of TNG called “I, Borg” where he was given a name and reasserted his individuality when separated from the Borg Collective. Very little of that backstory is featured here but his presence at a derelict Borg Cube helping to liberate others from the Collective makes sense as it’s something that would be very close to him on a personal level. He’s impressed by Soji because she sees them as people and wants to help them reconnect to the people that they were before the Borg took their individuality away from them.
Hugh acts as a vehicle to allow Soji -and by extension the audience- to get an idea of what rehabilitation looks like after being freed from the Collective. Soji mostly interacts with Ramdha (Rebecca Wiscky) who isn’t in her right mind and seems detached at best. She spends her time arranging cards and eventually makes cryptic comments that reference twins, a destroyer and strongly suggests that Soji had something to do with the current status of the Borg Cube. The Zhad Vash attacker that Picard, Laris and Zhaban interrogate also refers to Dahj as being “The Destroyer” which is naturally a fairly ominous statement that hints to there being more to the flesh and blood Android twins than we know at this point.
This is a great example of a scene that moves the narrative forward while focusing on characterisation as it reinforces Soji’s respect for the former drones and her desire to help them become people again no matter how hard that road may be. The hints of greater significance to Soji’s role within the story the show is currently trying to tell and a deeper mystery surrounding her existence builds further intrigue as well. Her enhanced Android abilities are briefly triggered when she reacts to the weapon being drawn which will likely draw attention to her. It’s similar to what triggered Dahj as she reacted in a similar way when her life was put in danger.
There was a great deal of speculation over whether Soji was Dahj’ twin or part of another set of twins. This question is answered in this episode when Soji contacts her mother to ask about Dahj’ well being. There’s definitely something suspicious about her mother who lies to her about Dahj before doing something that sends her to sleep. My theory is that her mother is an artificial intelligence of some sort designed to confirm the implanted memories that form the identity created for the flesh and blood Androids. All of this amounts to a little bit of progression though not a great deal of it. I still find Soji engaging and enjoyed her scenes in this episode though more needs to be done to move her on in her personal story as the last two episodes have been spent with her in the Borg Cube with slight progress made on the development of both her character and her background. I look forward to seeing more of Hugh and he he fits into the overall story but even he wasn’t used extensively in this episode and didn’t feel essential to the narrative that played out.
Despite the pacing issues and other missteps there were still plenty of good things within this episode. The depiction of Raffi in the present day feels like a natural progression from what was seen of her in the flashback. She has become bitter and isolated living her life in a trailer in the desert. She strongly dislikes Picard because he apparently never bothered to contact her after they both left Starfleet which strikes me as odd though it’s possible there’s more backstory that we don’t have access to at this point. If it is simply that he cut ties with her for his own reasons then that supports the suggestion that Picard might not be in full control of his faculties and has become prone to making bad decisions based on a mind that is failing him. His outburst during the interview in the first episode keeps coming up as a huge mistake on his part and it has been made clear that he has made no effort to make up for it perhaps because he lacks the humility to admit that he was wrong to publicly attack Starfleet in such a way. He wouldn’t have to say he was wrong but he would have to admit that he chose the wrong forum to air such a grievance. I’m hoping that none of this is accidental and his impaired decision making will be directly addressed throughout the remainder of the season as I find the idea of Picard being a shadow of the man he once was without realising it within himself interesting.
Michelle Hurd is especially good at conveying the vulnerability within Raffi associated with feeling abandoned by someone she placed her trust in. She confronts Picard directly about ignoring her for 14 years and is visibly hurt that he didn’t bother to check in on her ever to say hi. Raffi also resents the fact that Picard’s retirement is a luxurious exile on his Vineyard where hers is a cobbled together small shack in the middle of the desert. She is far from emotionally stable and, based on what we see here, she’s right to blame Picard for that. He does understand why she’s upset and gives a sincere apology for that but Raffi’s too bitter to accept it and refuses to join him on another crusade because she’s afraid that history will repeat itself. She does help him find a pilot to take him on his mission but it appears to be as far as she’s willing to go at this point.
Raffi is established as having something of an addictive personality throughout the episode. She is shown smoking snakeleaf -whatever that is- and freely admits that she’s developed something of a dependency for it. This personality trait is further reinforced when she takes the information Picard has given her and begins to investigate it. Despite her issues with him on a personal level she can’t pass up a good mystery and Picard knowingly feeds her habit by giving her more information. He knows that she wouldn’t have been able to resist it and takes advantage of that fact. The moment itself is played for laughs but it could be the beginning of a really concerning power dynamic in their relationship that doesn’t paint Picard in the best light. I’m all for seeing him as a flawed old man long past his best as it gives him something to work on to be a better person. It looks as if part of his arc will be reclaiming what he lost about himself and that’s definitely compelling.
This episode introduces another character; Cristobel Rios (Santiago Cabrera); the Captain of a civilian ship. His introduction was strong. Like Raffi he has a lot of personality and plenty of attitude cultivated by a life that hasn’t gone his way. It’s notable that he spends all of his time alone on his ship except from an EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) that looks like him and constantly gives him a hard time about his life choices. The EMH was a clever way of including all of the exposition around his history without making it feel too out of place. Rios is doing an unhealthy thing and running from his past because he’s too afraid to face it. He’s haunted by the image of his dead Captain and has no love for Starfleet after wiping the existence of the ship he served on from records. He feels abandoned and forgotten by Starfleet which has led to him feeling resentful of the organisation he was once a part of.
Picard sees something he recognises in Rios and instantly connects to him. He makes observations about the pristine condition of his ship and the regulation presentation of his belongings which tells Picard that Rios may not be a member of Starfleet any more but he does still live by the lessons he was taught when he was. When Picard tells him that he’s Starfleet he means that he sees him as an embodiment of the Starfleet he once knew and respected rather than what it has become now. There’s a really powerful moment where Rios looks out of a window at the stars before cutting to Picard looking at those same stars. That tells us that they’re connected through their values and desire to explore.
There are further elements to the background mysteries present in this episode. Commodore Oh approaches Jurati about her meetings with Picard but we don’t see the rest of the meeting. This casts Jurati in a suspicious light, particularly when she saves Picard’s life during the attack on him at the Vineyard. She then insists on joining him on his mission. It’s entirely possible that leaving out the rest of the conversation is a red herring designed to cast suspicion on Jurati before eventually revealing that she can be trusted though I’m unsure what that would really gain other than misdirecting the audience. Raffi’s disbelief that Picard didn’t ask her to run even the most basic background check on Jurati is amusing while also further suggesting that Picard’s mental faculties are impaired. I am glad that Jurati is joining the mission even if she is a double agent as I find the character engaging and she has a great dynamic with Picard but the setup feels somewhat clumsy if it is indeed a setup.
Picard heading back out into space is treated with all of the reverence it deserves. Ending the episode with a variation of the TNG theme playing as they get underway and having him say “Engage” makes for an electrifying moment that builds excitement for what comes next wonderfully. Picard is back in the element he belongs and that’s definitely a good thing. I really liked his conversation with Laris where he talks about trying his best to belong at the Vineyard but never actually feeling as if it was his home. He does acknowledge that there are things about that life he will miss but his longing to be among the stars wasn’t something he could silence and it was only a matter of time before he would find himself out there again. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of Laris and Zhaban as I really enjoy their relationship with him but I am also glad that Earth is in the rear view mirror and the unknown is ahead. It’s how it should be.
An oddly paced episode that has some strong character moments but doesn’t quite justify further delaying the beginning of Picard’s mission. The flashback scene between Picard and Raffi does a really good job establishing the close connection that once existed between them but it also features a lot of repeated information that was already well covered in previous episodes. Raffi is immediately interesting and their relationship is well realised thanks to excellent performances from both actors but the content of their conversation adds little to the overall plot. There are other redundant scenes such as Narek and Narissa’s conversation that feels like a repeat of what was said in the previous episode. Soji doesn’t receive a great deal of development as such though her traits such as empathy for the liberated Borg Drones are reinforced in really interesting ways. Her interactions with Hugh provides a vehicle for Soji to further witness the rehabilitation while also dropping more hints towards the role she will play over the rest of the season. Hugh isn’t used all that well overall but it was good to see him active within the story.
Despite the pacing issues there was plenty of good stuff within the episode. Raffi is a great character who has a complex relationship to Picard that doesn’t paint him in a great light. She talks about being ignored by him after they both left Starfleet. She hasn’t forgiven him for that and refuses to help him though ends up doing so because she seems to have an addictive personality that Picard doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of. I like that Picard’s flaws are shown through Raffi and I hope it is something that will be addressed in greater detail over the remainder of the season. The introduction of Rios was strong and using the EMH was a great way to detail the necessary exposition without it feeling too forced. Rios is damaged but is connected to Picard through the values that they both share. Picard sees the old Starfleet that he respects within him and is encouraged by that. The suggestion that Jurati might be a double agent of some sort following a conversation with Commodore Oh that isn’t fully featured is clumsily handled though Picard’s unconditional trust in her does point towards his declining faculties. The end of the episode where Picard finally heads back out into space is really well done from the music to the use of the iconic “Engage!” catchphrase. The discussion he has with Laris about never belonging on the Vineyard and wanting to be out among the stars is also great and it’s encouraging to see that Earth is finally in the rear view mirror.
- the immediately lived in Picard/Raffi relationship
- Raffi feeling justifiably abandoned by Picard and being unwilling to forgive him
- Raffi as a complex and damaged character
- lots of focus on Picard being flawed and the suggestion that his mental faculties are in decline
- reinforcing Soji’s empathy for the liberated Borg Drones
- the return of Hugh
- Rios immediately coming across as an engaging and complex character
- the quick connection Picard feels with Rios
- an excellent ending
- the flashback scene repeating information that is already known
- the redundant scene between Narek and Narissa
- the clumsy handling of suggesting that Jurati might be a double agent
- an unnecessarily long time spent getting Picard back into outer space
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