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Star Trek Pic - 1x0.1 - Children of Mars

Originally Aired: 2020-1-2

Synopsis:
12 year-old classmates Kima and Lil find themselves at odds with each other on a day that will change their lives forever.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 6.38

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Problems
None

Factoids
- The song played during much of the episode is "Heroes" written by David Bowie. This is Peter Gabriel's cover of the song.

Remarkable Scenes
- The gorgeous shot of Utopia Planitia.
- The escalating conflict between Kima and Lil.
- The attack on Mars and the girls bonding over it.

My Review
This is an incredibly touching story that does much to rise above the regrettable Short Trek format. Despite how compacted the story is, there is both a lot of exposition and a lot of heart packed into here. With almost no dialog, we see the portrait of the lives of two girls, the daughters of workers at the Utopia Planitia shipyards, apparently set in the 24th century during events sometime after Star Trek X: Nemesis. At first we see two pretty typical schoolgirls getting into pretty typical petty conflicts which itself is compellingly portrayed as the inevitable consequence of problems at home manifesting themselves at school. But soon their lives are turned upside down when Utopia Planitia and all of Mars itself suffers a cataclysmic attack that presumably will be followed up on in more detail in future episodes.

Like the smattering of details we get in Star Trek XI (2009) about events in the 24th century in the prime universe, we get a tiny tantalizing continuation of post-Star Trek X: Nemesis events here, but it's mostly a tease. While technically this episode could be said to be the pilot for Star Trek: Picard since it is the first episode produced in that setting, it obviously isn't the actual pilot. This is a teaser prequel of sorts. So while this story is surprisingly touching and interesting, it clearly could've been worth even more points if it were, you know, an actual episode, and not confined to this terrible format.

It should also be noted that the aesthetics of ships, technology, and sets presented here are strikingly reminiscent of Star Trek: Discovery. One could be forgiven for not immediately realizing this is an episode of Star Trek: Picard, not Star Trek: Discovery given how the production aesthetics look nearly identical in spite of the setting being more than a century apart. This is indeed an unfortunate state of affairs, but we should place the blame for this on Star Trek: Discovery, not on Star Trek: Picard. The "updated" aesthetics we see here make much more sense in a sequel than a prequel. As such, we shouldn't consider it a continuity error for Picard to borrow heavily from Discovery's aesthetics. The error continues to be Discovery's for attempting the disastrous visual reboot to begin with. When a sequel updates appearance, that's not a reboot. It's just technological and aesthetic drift over in-universe time, so it isn't fair to hold Discovery's sins against Picard.

Overall this episode is a vital shot in the arm to the Star Trek franchise. It's a sequel, not a prequel. Finally! And the story was told in a way that is touching rather than overwrought or manic like Discovery or the Kelvinverse. If this tasteful, touching story is the prototype for what we can expect from Star Trek: Picard going forward, then perhaps all good things don't have to come to an end quite so soon.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x01 - Remembrance

Originally Aired: 2020-1-23

Synopsis:
At the end of the 24th Century, and 14 years after his retirement from Starfleet, Jean-Luc Picard is living a quiet life on his vineyard, Chateau Picard. When he is sought out by a mysterious young woman, Dahj, in need of his help, he soon realizes she may have personal connections to his own past.

My Rating - 9

Fan Rating Average - 6.96

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Problems
None

Factoids
- The opening song is Bing Crosby's cover of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." Bing Crosby is TNG actress Denise Crosby's father. Denise Crosby played Tasha Yar.
- We see the Daystrom Institute for the first time, which is established to be located in Okinawa, Japan.
- Based on information presented in the story, it appears Data painted "Daughter" in 2369, during TNG's 6th season.

Remarkable Scenes
- Seeing the Enterprise-D again in Picard's dream about Data.
- Picard: "The dreams are lovely. It's the waking up that I'm beginning to resent."
- Picard having a more hostile interview than he expected, then going off on a rant about how Starfleet has lost its way after the attack on Mars and the destruction of Romulus.
- Picard finding Dahj's image in one of Data's old paintings; painted before she was born.
- Dahj sacrificing herself to save Picard just as Data did.
- Picard: "I haven't been living. I've been waiting to die."
- The Romulans taking up residence inside the wreckage of a Borg cube.

My Review
In TNG: All Good Things, the closing line is from Picard saying, "Five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit." In Star Trek: Picard, we pick up where he left off with the opening lines from Picard: "See. And raise." And Data: "Hmm. Call." The opening song is "Blue Skies," mirroring the same song closing Star Trek X: Nemesis. Data performed it in Nemesis and his brother B4 began to sing it at the end of the film as a clue that Data's attempt to transfer something of himself to B4 might have succeeded.

Now decades have passed. Picard isn't as sharp as he once was. Or as nimble. He is sometimes loopy and meandering. His once signature drink has transitioned from "Tea, Earl Gray, Hot," to "Tea, Earl Gray, Decaf." He's a sleepy figure both figuratively and literally. He drifts in and out of consciousness and his engagement with the present moment similarly wavers. His mind wanders to days gone by and it free associates between dangling thoughts, feelings, memories, and regrets.

Like the laundry list of dangling threads of Picard's life that his mind drifts to, the 24th century itself was never buttoned up as cleanly as Star Trek fans might've preferred. Star Trek: Picard sets out to course correct that on many levels by working a series of loose ends from previous stories into a new story that adds yet more depth to the already rich character of Picard and resumes the truly stellar world building of 24th century Star Trek that wound down with a whimper leaving so many questions unanswered at the conclusion of Voyager along with the airing of Star Trek X: Nemesis and Star Trek XI (2009).

Geopolitical disaster and national tragedy have now led the Federation to become fearful, tribal, and nationalist. Decades of these politics apparently consuming the Federation to some degree have caused Picard to become disillusioned with Starfleet itself, which he believes has lost its way. While it would've been nice if the story spent more time unpacking the political situation (that interview went by way too fast!), what appears to be going on is a decision was made at the highest levels to abandon a project to rescue hundreds of millions of Romulans from Romulus on the eve of its destruction from the supernova Spock told us about in Star Trek XI (2009). This errand of mercy was called off after an attack on Mars carried out by a group of androids destroyed a large chunk of the planned rescue fleet and killed tens of thousands of Federation citizens, including presumably the parents of the children seen in the previous episode Children of Mars.

It isn't terribly clear why the sentiment that the Federation shouldn't try to redouble its efforts to save as many lives as possible became so popular, but this retrenchment disgusted Picard, who resigned from Starfleet in protest. He then became a public symbol of dissent from what is presumably a relatively popular anti-foreign aid political attitude among a broad swath of Federation citizens, thus the confrontational tone during the interview. Plus Picard's long friendship with Data further smeared his public image in the minds of Federation nationalists committed to Othering androids, who pushed for a ban on their entire existence and succeeded in getting it enacted by the Federation legislature.

This is a much better approach to critically examining the rise of nationalist tribalism in the real world's early 21st century through allegory on Star Trek than Discovery's clunky first season was with the Klingons desiring to "remain Klingon." Aside from the fact that it leverages canon directly in smart ways unlike Discovery which stumbled through canon making a mess as though it were in a drunken stupor, the idea of portraying the Federation itself as flirting with reactionary politics is both chilling and an eerily familiar extension of hints the story had already given us in previous series. It was established already that the Federation previously banned genetic engineering in the same reactionary manner that creating android life has now been banned. The wisdom of this ban too has been questioned in the story, though not nearly as forcefully as it ought to have been. DS9 examined it a bit through the lens of illegally genetically enhanced Dr. Bashir, but the best exploration of it arguably came from Enterprise's 4th season's "augments" arc.

Recall the following conversation between Dr. Arik Soong—an ancestor of Data's inventor Dr. Noonian Soong—and Dr. Phlox in Ent: Borderland. Soong: "I didn't realize you shared humanity's reactionary attitude toward this field of medicine." Phlox: "On the contrary, we've used genetic engineering on Denobula for over two centuries, to generally positive effect." This line implicitly admits that genetic engineering—if properly regulated like most technologies—can be a net positive to society. Later in Ent: Cold Station 12, Archer laments that the ban on genetic engineering was the ultimate cause of his father's death, who died of a disease that genetic engineering could've cured. Archer and Phlox muse that maybe Dr. Soong had a point, but conclude that the ban was sensible because humanity's instincts hadn't caught up with its intellect.

But it turns out Dr. Soong did have a point. Now this reactionary attitude towards technology or perhaps towards change itself has come for Arik Soong's progeny's life's work as well: androids. And it of course remains to be seen whether or not sentient holograms will be caught up in the reactionary anti-artificial life fervor too. Whither Voyager's doctor? And for that matter, were the other EMH Mark I holograms we saw in Voy: Author, Author ever granted humanoid rights like Data too? While it's certainly true that humanity's instincts haven't caught up with its intellect if reactionary politics are winning the day, the right answer isn't Archer's and Phlox's resignation to the status quo. The right answer is Picard's staunch resolve to defeat the reactionaries. To reclaim the Federation and Starfleet for the cause of exploration, scientific inquiry, and cosmopolitanism. As Picard once said in TNG: The Measure of a Man, defending Data's right to self-determination: "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits. Waiting. You wanted a chance to make law. Well, here it is. Make a good one."

It is truly gratifying that a new Star Trek show is kicking off by tackling deep questions raised by some of Star Trek's best episodes, like TNG: The Measure of a Man. But rather than such questions being resolved in a bottle show in a single episode, we're dealing with an epic sweep of history here. Things turned dark decades before this episode, and the plot wasn't at all be resolved by this pilot of course. Nationalist tribalism will remain the central theme running through this entire serialized drama, not unlike how DS9 masterfully explored how a prolonged war would tear at the fabric of the otherwise utopian Federation society. Rather than the story centering on a forgettable war in a prequel that Star Trek's history barely or never recorded which ultimately turned out to be a shallow, pointless diversion with nothing of substance to say like Enterprise season 3 and Discovery season 1, the Picard show is focusing on the most profound existential questions that Star Trek has raised before and digging into them even deeper. The contrast is quite striking.

Even the scoring takes care to establish Star Trek: Picard as thoughtful and reflective about its place in the vast Star Trek universe. From the calm, pleasant opening theme relying heavily on flutes, evoking TNG: The Inner Light, to the final scene's score majestically echoing TOS: Balance of Terror in its closing melodies, this series is showing us it's putting serious effort into playing well in the sandbox of Star Trek's epic canon in a way that too much prior material by now has not measured up to. All things considered, this is without a doubt Star Trek's finest pilot episode for a series so far.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Mike C on 2020-02-02 at 2:12am:
    It's not horrible, but the writing and script is not great so far. It's better than Discovery, but all I want is a return to the classic episodic, alien-of-the-week format that Star Trek is known for. I also want less dramatic fluff/filler.

    I suppose streaming has killed that format, though. The media corporations are addicted to producing binge-watching material now. If everything in an episode is tidily wrapped up in 45-60 minutes, there's less incentive for the viewer to immediately watch the next episode.

    It would also be nice for there to be a more overall hopeful feeling to it, rather than constant conflict. That's why I loved Star Trek while growing up. There was always some kind of conflict, but it also always wrapped up in a way that filled me with optimism and faith. That doesn't seem to exist in modern Trek. It's all bad, all the time.

    Oh, and there's way too much verbal exposition so far. That's one of the hallmarks of lazy/inept writers.

    Rating: Meh/10

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Star Trek Pic - 1x02 - Maps and Legends

Originally Aired: 2020-1-29

Synopsis:
Picard begins investigating the mystery of Dahj as well as what her very existence means to the Federation. Without Starfleet's support, Picard is left leaning on others for help, including Dr. Agnes Jurati and an estranged former colleague, Raffi Musiker. Meanwhile, hidden enemies are also interested in where Picard's search for the truth about Dahj will lead.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5

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Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode firmly establishes the year as 2399.
- The Romulans have been in possession of that Borg cube for at least 16 years.

Remarkable Scenes
- The flashback to the attack on Mars.
- Admiral Clancy: "Sheer fucking hubris. You think you can just waltz back in here and be entrusted with taking men and women into space?"
- Clancy: "There's no peril here. Only the pitiable delusions of a once great man desperate to matter."
- Picard: "I never really cared for science fiction. I guess I just didn't get it."
- Soji and her team operating on former Borg drones.
- Picard: "The daughter of the man whose death I have been mourning for two decades comes to me for help and assistance. And then she is assassinated in front of my eyes by a Romulan death squad who will then will go and try and find and destroy her twin sister. And you want me to sit here worrying about what to do about the spittlebugs on the pinots?"

My Review
It turns out that bigotry towards androids had been on the rise over the preceding decades. The Utopia Planitia workers didn't regard their android coworkers as people. Their attitudes probably weren't that uncommon across the Federation. It turns out that Starfleet did exactly what Picard was afraid of way back in TNG: The Measure of a Man. They created a race of android slave laborers, not unlike the hologram slave labor race they created with the Emergency Medical Holograms in Voy: Author, Author. This progression of events is very similar to the backstory of Battlestar Galactica (2003). A quote from Commander Adama in BSG's pilot is on point here: "We decided to play god. Create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really." That is the sentiment that Federation society is expressing right now. However, Adama went on to say: "You cannot play god then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore." That is the sentiment that the narrative appears to be expressing. The Federation refuses to take responsibility for all the awful things it has done to its artificial life forms. We still don't know precisely why the synths attacked, but treating them as a slave race just as Picard warned against decades ago probably didn't help matters.

Another nice piece of exposition we got in this episode was when Admiral Clancy explained that the Federation's decision to let the Romulans fend for themselves was due to political pressure from fourteen different Federation members threatening to secede from the Federation if the rescue mission was allowed to continue. This significantly clarifies why the Federation would consider abandoning a humanitarian mission and makes it easy to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, Picard is right that it is unconscionable to let people die needlessly. He was indeed right that we shouldn't refer to them pejoratively as Romulans, but instead simply as people. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with Admiral Clancy's logic that allowing fourteen members of the Federation to secede might destabilize the Alpha Quadrant to such a degree that abandoning the rescue mission could quite reasonably have been the lesser of two evils. What if a partial dissolution of the Federation led to a war that killed even more people? If members of the European Union threatened to secede if the EU offered medical relief to a geopolitical rival during a natural disaster, would the EU accede to this demand or let them secede? It's hard to know. It would probably depend on which members were making the demand, how vital they were to the union, and what the geopolitical repercussions of secession would be.

Meanwhile we learn much more about why the Romulans appear to be taking up residence inside the wreckage of a Borg cube. It seems they captured the cube after it was severed from the collective for some unknown reason, then used it to extract Borg technology and profit by exploiting it. They've had the cube for a very long time (more than a decade!), refer to it as "The Artifact," and consider it a research institute where they invite foreign scientists to work for them, though apparently only after a great deal of vetting. Former Borg drones are aboard, slowly being "reclaimed." The narrative seems to be strongly implying there's a lot more going on here than simply a salvage operation and a science project though, so we'll have to wait and see what else all this is all about. The whole thing is quite thrilling and fascinating though!

As for Picard himself, he doesn't want to reassemble the old TNG crew because he doesn't want any of them to end up like Data. He has developed the neurological disorder that was foreshadowed in TNG: All Good Things ("Irumodic Syndrome"). It is incurable and he will soon die. We see the full extent of his falling out with Starfleet in this episode when Admiral Clancy dresses him down in a powerful way. Her "sheer fucking hubris" line followed shortly by referring to Picard's request as "the pitiable delusions of a once great man desperate to matter" certainly make that scene one of the most memorable exchanges in all of Star Trek so far, mostly because it's justly deserved. He's burned far too many bridges to be able to just be handed a starship and a crew and fly off into the sunset again. Back in the day he could crash the Enterprise-D into a planet and Utopia Planitia would get busy building a brand new state of the art flagship just for him, but nowadays he can't even get the admiralty to commission him a garbage scow. It's very effective drama. That said, it does beg the question of just what Admiral Janeway is up to nowadays. It's hard to imagine her refusing to take Picard seriously given her affinity for Voyager's doctor, a form of artificial life that was oppressed just as the androids were. It's quite unfortunate that the story hasn't addressed this question yet.

Another unfortunate detail was nearly all the exposition concerning the Zhat Vash. While none of it is necessarily irreconcilable with canon, the amount of hyperbole used to describe them evokes the worst aspects of the overwrought storytelling style of Discovery or TOS. The Zhat Vash are referred to as keeping a secret "so profound and terrible that just learning it can break a person's mind..." Uh, okay. Whatever. Also speaking of Discovery aesthetics, holo communicators are apparently back in fashion after falling out of fashion during TOS and TNG, then briefly coming back into fashion during DS9, then falling out of fashion again... until now. Whatever. That's not necessarily irreconcilable with canon either, but it is an indicator that this show is more willing to embrace Discovery's visual language than perhaps it should be. More concerning was that little holographic original series Enterprise floating in the Starfleet HQ lobby which used Discovery's TOS reboot aesthetics. While a minor detail, this is a serious cause for concern because it implies that Star Trek: Picard endorses the "visual reboot" that Discovery proffered, which we should firmly reject. Instead, we should continue to hope that Discovery can be safely confined to a multiverse set apart from the main canon, like the Kelvin films for the sake of preserving visual canon. Hopefully this is the last time this topic needs to be discussed on Star Trek: Picard!

Overall though this is another strong episode. Not as strong as the pilot, but clearly there is a lot of potential in this story!

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Star Trek Pic - 1x03 - The End is the Beginning

Originally Aired: 2020-2-5

Synopsis:
Completely unaware of her special nature, Soji continues her work and captures the attention of the Borg cube research project's executive director. After rehashing past events with a reluctant Raffi, Picard seeks others willing to join his search for Bruce Maddox, including pilot and former Starfleet officer Cristóbal Rios.

My Rating - 5

Fan Rating Average - 4.3

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Problems
- Hugh refers to the Romulans on the Borg cube as the only Romulans ever assimilated by the Borg, but this isn't true. We've seen other examples, such as Orum on Voy: Unity. Seven of Nine also assumed the personality of a Romulan Borg drone she had previously either assimilated or at least shared the thoughts of during Voy: Infinite Regress. And of course the Borg destroyed and presumably assimilated whole Romulan colonies during TNG: The Neutral Zone. Thankfully Hugh did say these were the only Romulans ever assimilated as far as he knew, so we can presume that Hugh simply didn't know of any of the others. Though that is fairly hard to believe given that he's dedicated his life's work to this and appears to have spent a great deal of time with the Romulans. A clearly bungled line.

Factoids
- The location of Vasquez Rocks is of special significance to Star Trek. It was used as a filming location for numerous alien planets in various episodes. This is the first time the location was used to portray the actual Vasquez Rocks in the story, clearly as a bit of an inside joke.
- The character of Raffi Musiker was previously introduced in the non-canon "Countdown to Picard" comic books, where she was depicted as Picard's first officer on the USS Verity.

Remarkable Scenes
- The flashback to the aftermath of Picard resigning from Starfleet 14 years ago in 2385.
- The revelation that Hugh works aboard the Romulan Borg cube.
- Rios to his hologram: "Spare me the juvenile Sunday school morality." His hologram: "And spare me the angsty teenage moral relativism."
- The Romulan attack on Chateau Picard.
- Raffi: "You're just gonna let Agnes here hitch a ride on your top secret mission?"
- Picard: "Engage."

My Review
Another solid, if slow episode. In some regards the slowness is appreciated. It's nice that they took their time furnishing Picard with a ship, particularly after the previous episode establishing clearly that Picard can't just order up a spiffy new ship on demand. Instead he has to work connections to find shady people willing to go out on a limb for him. Another nice touch was the scene when Laris remarked that chateau life wasn't right for Picard and that his real home was amongst the stars. This was a touching echo of Picard's exchanges with his late family in TNG: Family.

On the topic of chateau life, it's fascinating to see Raffi express resentment towards Picard not just because he was indirectly responsible for getting her fired from Starfleet, but also because his retirement was considerably more glamorous compared to her comparative squalor. The continued existence of wealth inequality to some degree in the Federation might seem to run counter to the utopian vision of Star Trek, but it makes a great deal of sense. We can safely assume Raffi doesn't live in poverty as we know it today. She like any other Federation citizen no doubt has free, universal access to food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic needs. But some things even in the utopian Federation would undoubtedly still be scarce. One cannot simply walk up to the replicator and say, "Chateau, vineyard, France," or "Ship, warp capable, unregistered." For Picard to be able to live on such a vast estate, he clearly had to have some wealth, or at least significantly more social capital of some kind than Raffi did. The episode makes other references to the continued existence of money as well too, such as in reference to the cost of Rios' services.

Speaking of Rios, it is curious how his "unregistered" starship can just hang out in Earth orbit without setting off any alarms. An unlicensed ship could be a powerful weapon in the wrong hands. The warp core could be jury-rigged into an antimatter bomb, and an antimatter explosion on Earth could kill tens or perhaps even hundreds of millions of people. It has always been strongly implied that the Federation heavily regulates who gets access to starships for this reason, so it isn't entirely clear why Rios can just fly around with an unregistered starship like someone joyriding in a Ferrari without a driver's license without anyone seeming to be remotely concerned about it.

It is even more curious that his ship is outfitted with a flock of emergency holograms. It seems holograms are either inexplicably not banned as androids were, or the holograms on Rios' ship are illegal. The lingering still unresolved questions about the status of holograms relative to androids are starting to get pretty conspicuous and annoying. Though one detail pertaining to continuity that is quite appreciated was the little throwaway line from Laris about Romulans with forehead ridges being "northerners." This provides us with an in-universe explanation for why some Romulans have forehead ridges and some don't: it is has to do with ethnic groups among Romulans. This inconsistency was long considered by Star Trek fans to be a similar if less severe problem akin to the Klingon forehead problem created by the transition from TOS to the original series films. The Klingon forehead problem was fixed in Ent: Affliction and Ent: Divergence. Now the Romulan forehead problem is fixed here. A fantastic example of this show playing very nicely in the canon sandbox.

Another great example of this show leveraging canon was bringing back the character of Hugh, last seen in TNG: Descent, Part II in September of 1993, more than 26 years before this episode! We don't know too much about what he's been up to since taking over the rebel Borg faction left behind by Lore, but we learn that he's now the executive director of the Reclamation Project charged with "reclaiming" the Borg drones severed from the collective, now termed xBs. It is curious that Ramdha and a ship full of her fellow Romulans were the last people assimilated by this cube before it suffered a "submatrix collapse." This sounds strikingly similar to what might have happened if the weapon that the Enterprise crew devised to attack the Borg using Hugh in TNG: I, Borg had actually been deployed. Could the Romulans have stolen this virus from the Federation? Could they have invented a similar one of their own? Hopefully we'll find out soon.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x04 - Absolute Candor

Originally Aired: 2020-2-12

Synopsis:
The crew's journey to Freecloud takes a detour when Picard orders a stop at the planet Vashti, where Picard and Raffi relocated Romulan refugees 14 years earlier. Upon arrival, Picard reunites with Elnor, a young Romulan he befriended during the relocation. Meanwhile, Narek continues his attempts to learn more about Soji while Narissa's impatience with his lack of progress grows.

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 4.6

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Problems
- How did they know to beam Elnor aboard too along with Picard?

Factoids
- This is the first episode of Star Trek to not show a character wearing a Starfleet uniform.

Remarkable Scenes
- Elnor: "Why don't you like children?" Zani: "Because they're demanding, distracting, and interfere with duty and pleasure alike."
- Elnor: "You told me stories about Data. He had an orange cat named Spot." Picard: "That's right." Elnor: "I've still never seen a cat."
- Elnor: "Why do you need me?" Picard: "Because I'm an old man and you're a young one. And you're strong."
- Picard trampling over the "Romulans only" sign.
- Elnor: "Please my friend, choose to live." Adrev ignores him and is decapitated shortly thereafter. Elnor: "I regret your choice."
- The space battle against the old style Romulan warbird.
- Seven of Nine's appearance. Seven: "You owe me a ship, Picard."

My Review
This episode starts off with a tone straight out of Firefly and closes with a green-blooded Romulan decapitation followed by a space battle featuring an old style Romulan Bird of Prey straight out of TOS: Balance of Terror; cliffhangering with Seven of Nine! Whew! Hopefully we get a good explanation for why she showed up at just the right time. Was she following Picard? In any event, the space battle was one of the best ones featured in Star Trek in quite some time. Yes of course Discovery and the Kelvin films have their fair share of action, but often their action is overkill and not well earned. Unlike those, this dogfight between the La Sirena and the old style Romulan Bird of Prey isn't overwrought in the slightest. It's just the right amount of action we needed to add a bit more fun to an already fairly strong story.

The exchange between Picard and Senator Adrev was also a highlight of the episode as a window into the Romulan feelings of betrayal by the Federation. It's understandable that the excessively secretive nature of Romulan culture would cause many of them to believe that the Federation totally failing to organize a competent relief effort in the face of both overwhelming logistical challenges and internal political turmoil might have been an intentional conspiracy to lull Romulans into a false sense of security so that they would end up in a significantly weakened position by placing undue trust in an ancient enemy, leaving Picard in the unenviable position of exclaiming something to the effect of, "It's not what it looks like!" And having Picard express outrage to Elnor about needlessly killing Adrev when presumably a non-lethal way of subduing him would've sufficed was also a nice and necessary touch. It makes sense that Elnor would do that and that Picard would react to it that way.

There are only a few wrinkles in this episode. Adding "Emmet" to the flock of Rios' holograms further compounds the annoying ambiguity about the status of sentient holograms relative to the ban on androids. Also while the ending of this episode is great fun, the pacing of the episode otherwise drags a bit at times. Even so, this is one of the stronger episodes so far.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x05 - Stardust City Rag

Originally Aired: 2020-2-19

Synopsis:
The La Sirena crew begin an unpredictable and lively expedition on Freecloud to search for Bruce Maddox. When they learn Maddox has found himself in a precarious situation, a familiar face offers her assistance.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 4.2

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Problems
- Hwang's data file described him in feet and pounds (English Imperial Units) rather than the more commonly used (and much more appropriate) metric system units used most commonly on Star Trek.

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Icheb getting butchered. Whoa.
- The chilling "Where's your cortical node, buddy?" remark refers to the fact that Icheb doesn't actually have one because he donated it to Seven of Nine to save her life in the very touching episode Voy: Imperfection.
- Raffi: "Rios, you seriously really need to sell this. You can't do your brooding existentialist space man routine."
- Raffi's son rejecting her.
- Seven: "After they brought you back from your time in the collective, do you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?" Picard: "Yes." Seven: "All of it?" Picard: "...No. But we're both working on it, aren't we?" Seven: "Every damn day of my life."
- Seven taking her revenge.
- Picard meeting with Maddox, discussing Dahj and Soji.
- Agnes murdering Maddox.

My Review
Hey guys, remember Icheb? That adorable ex-Borg who Seven of Nine thought of as a son? After Voyager made it home, it turns out he became a Starfleet officer! Isn't that sweet? He put on a red uniform and... oh shit.

The horrific demise of Icheb is not the kind of closure for a previous character many of us expected from this show, but it is appreciated nonetheless. One of many loose ends left by TNG, DS9, and Voyager tied up now for better or worse. We even got an update on what Quark is up to, apparently running a bar on Freecloud, or at least franchising the brand out. Plus the line about Quark being "especially satisfied" with Rios' fictional alter ego's handling of his "trouble with the Breen" implies that Quark was either personally recruited by Raffi to participate in the scam in this episode, or at least that Raffi felt Quark was a reputable enough businessman in this community—such as it is—to forge his name to an endorsement to make it sound credible.

Of course the most notable closure we got in this episode is for Seven of Nine, who we learn has joined a group called the Fenris Rangers, a group that sounds very similar to the Maquis in the sense that both were outlaws trying to keep order as they defined it in a place where law and order had broken down to a degree. It would've been nice to hear if Seven's experience with so many ex-Maquis on Voyager played a role in her radicalization of sorts. A particularly sad omission was we got no mention of her previous relationship with Chakotay which is an omission almost as conspicuous as the continued extremely unfortunate lack of discussion about sentient holograms—Voyager's doctor in particular—and how that relates to the ban on AI.

Indeed, Seven becoming a vigilante is second only to Icheb's unceremonious demise in terms of the most depressing things about this show so far. Seven and Icheb come to the Federation with Voyager brimming with potential, but it is squandered in a tragic and empty way. Depressing outcomes such as this driven by the Federation being demoralized and divided is exactly what Picard is trying reverse in his somewhat loopy quest to save a far flung android. You can see how committed Picard remains to restoring the upstanding and merciful Federation from 15 years ago when he insists that Seven not take her revenge. Seven's decision to let Picard think he had convinced her was quite touching, but yet another tragedy of the story is Seven was actually right to take her revenge. Not because of the principle of an eye for an eye, but because as Seven had noted, Bjayzl operated in a lawless place. If Seven didn't take her out, she was just going to keep butchering more ex-Borg. Maybe Seven could've taken her prisoner or something, but it seems likely that the Fenris Rangers lacked the resources to run a maximum security prison. Besides, Bjayzl seemed like the sort of person who could organize a sophisticated jailbreak if need be.

Another tragic element of the story was the revelation that Raffi's drug-induced bouts of paranoia described in her first scenes were far from just a bit of dark humor as the early scenes implied, but in fact turned out to be a full-blown drug addiction that drove her son to cutting her off, regarding her as a toxic family member. Raffi trots out a slate of cliched stock phrases commonly offered up by struggling addicts about having gotten clean and about having changed and having become a better person. Anyone who knows a drug addict knows how difficult it is to trust such statements, so Hwang rejecting her is an entirely reasonable if perhaps wrong choice in this instance. It is likely Raffi truly did get clean since hitching a ride on the La Sirena and it is likely her wacky conspiracy theory will turn out to be correct as well. But even so, Hwang has no reason to believe any of that until Raffi produces extraordinary evidence for her extraordinary claims.

Speaking of Hwang, the fact that he was at a fertility clinic was a very interesting detail. It's been strongly implied in many previous Star Trek series that interspecies breeding—while possible—is often quite difficult to achieve at times, so adding more texture to that long established fact is appreciated. One detail that we seriously could've done without though was the cheesy holographic advertising scene when they arrived at Freecloud. If it had happened when they were on the surface in the streets or something maybe that would've been less objectionable, but the idea of fully interactive holograms appearing inside of people's ships in orbit raises lots of difficult to resolve questions, most alarmingly related to security. So once you enter orbit of Freecloud, people can just project holograms into your ship which can gather information via interaction or perhaps listen to conversations? Sounds like a good way to spy on people or steal their data!

Of course another shocking development was finally catching up with Bruce Maddox only to see him murdered by Agnes shortly thereafter. She wishes she didn't know what she knows. She wishes "they" hadn't shown her what "they" showed her. Whatever it was she learned caused her to become ideologically opposed to Bruce Maddox's quest to carry on Dr. Soong's legacy of building ever more sophisticated and human-like androids despite having previously been a full partner with him in that endeavor in more ways than one. Hopefully we find out what terrible secrets she learned soon and hopefully it makes her shocking murder of her lover at least somewhat sympathetic somehow.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Alex on 2020-02-24 at 7:58am:
    This was the episode that made me rethink whether I really want and need to further watch this series. And the decision is rather not in favour of the series.

    Let's see, so far ST:Pic has almost more violence on screen than *all* previous Star Trek *combined*. Or is it *really* more? (That's not counting Discovery, frankly I didn't finish even season 1 and I just... I don't count it.)

    We had the series start with some brutal killings right away, people melted with acid, people melting themselves with acid, rogue plastic people shooting real people through the neck in slow burning death, and now an ex-borg butchering with all the graphic detail. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Could be. I thought Star Trek always managed to be provocative and even shocking without resorting to just plain visuals of shock-value stuff. And close to the end we have another person turned into red mist. Even if she was built up as deserving to die (right after Picard argues otherwise... so... I don't agree either)

    And in the very end when we just rescued Bruce Maddox, after all that setup and introduction (well, his older self, of course we already were introduced to him 30 years ago), he's just killed. Right away. And it showed his agony in full HD for good 30 or 40 seconds. How his blood vessels collapsed, organs failing, eyes darkening, all that.

    Just have us wait for the character's reveal for 5 episodes now and then crunch him without any mercy.
    I didn't want that. Especially (!) when it happened *right after* Picard got his next lead, his next quest mark out of the professor.

    That also brings up a few questions - if the EMH is capable of "background processing" so to speak, as to response to individuals onboard being in some alarming condition - psychologically or physiologically (interestingly the former was made to seem more immediate?) - then... what about security? Was there not one alarm signal going off on the captain's board? That someone was dying right now in sickbay? When they come in, say, 30 minutes later, for some usual business, does Agnes tell them "oh he died because injuries", won't they have any sort of security recording? Or is she gonna erase the evidence?

    Bottom line, that was pretty frustrating. First the episode turned me away with the graphic butchery (I get it, things are bad, did I really need to see that much of it?), then it admittedly built some good tension and humor, then it made my stomach turn into a knot as I was watching Raffi's scene with her son (it was painfully good, in a sad way), and then it slapped me with the killing of Bruce Maddox as if he was a scripted NPC that Picard had to meet and talk to once in order to continue on the quest.

    Was I supposed to equate and resolve the maturation of the franchise with inevitably turning darker, more shocking? Well, it sounds more like GoT than ST. And I'd rather not.
  • From Mathalamus on 2020-02-24 at 5:31pm:
    I stopped watching picard after ichebs eye was torn out. apparently, i didn't miss out on a lot after that. sorry, but i cannot consider picard to be a good trek series. its just way too different from what i think star trek should aspire to.
  • From JD on 2020-02-25 at 5:00am:
    I thought this episode was bloody excellent.
    Icheb... ouch... but there needed to be something properly serious to make Severn go vigilante.

    Some people seem to be a bit unhappy about the Star Trek Universe being a bit of a bleak place... however, we've only really seen it before through the lens of Starfleet which is always going to be absolute best of the universe.

    What we're seeing in Picard is more akin to what we saw in Gambit or the bar we saw in Unification. Hey, even DS9 was a bit of a sketchy place and that was under Federation control!
  • From Alex on 2020-02-27 at 7:15am:
    @JD

    "Something properly serious to motivate Seven"

    A valid point in itself but his death would be equally serious regardless. Actually, the eye scene was for the audience *alone*. She wasn't even in the room when that happened.

    If he were to die on some hooks with wires injected into him or something, it would be cruel, it would be motivating, it wouldn't be as shock-value-y.

    And, in the end, the most painful part for her was not being able to save him, which could've been provided without us viewers seeing that sort of stuff.

    "First Contact" had plenty of people dying in similar circumstances, but it didn't become "Saw".

    The episode could've been both fun and gut-wrenching but for me personally that was lost behind "Picard" trying to GoT the franchise. It was already sad to watch Picard being a shadow of his former self, rejected, powerless, fumbling around somewhat, his housekeeper saying he's demented. Now it went into just being too graphic. :(

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