Sometimes, before I try and write a review of something, I read other reviews first. Other times, I studiously avoid doing so. It very much depends on whether I am clear on what I am going to say, even if what I am going to say is “I’m confused”. Episode 3 of Picard is a transitional episode as the story shifts from the Earthbound plot that is pulling Picard back into Starfleet machinations and onto a space-based quest.
What reading reviews after the episode gave me was a missing a piece but the missing piece nicely illustrates the thought that is being put into the story. On the Romulan project investigating the Borg cub artefact, we meet a new character Hugh, who is both a senior member of the project and also a former Borg. I thought he worked very well as a character: nominally important but aware of his fragile status within a Romulan dominated project. It was only on reading reviews that I learned that he wasn’t just Hugh-random-new-character but Hugh, the isolated Borg from The Next Generation episodes I, Borg and the Descent two-parter. I hesitate to call it a shout-out to past episodes, because it was done in such a low-key way. Rather, Picard appears to be picking up dangling threads of stories as a way of showing Jean-Luc as a man with unfinished business. The show connects with less-lauded or even disliked aspects of the past (notably Star Trek: Nemesis) in a way that is subtle and carries with it no requirement to have seen those episodes/films.
Those Hugh episodes were also Data episodes and also episodes in which questions about machines-as-humans and humans-as-machines were central. Cleverly, Picard is picking out from the chaotic hodge-podge of Star Trek storylines and creating a new text where these questions are a common narrative theme in Jean-Luc’s past. The added depth being the core unresolved conflict within Star Trek between it’s liberal, utopian elements versus the setting of a military vessel that is part of a military organisation. Outside of science fiction, what clearer space is there to examine the ethics of turning humans into machine-like people than within the military’s desire to have people who will obey orders.
In a flashback to the past, we see the day Jean-Luc resigns from Starfleet as a grand gesture and as a final gambit to force Starfleet to find a way to save the Romulan population. That gambit fails but the personal impact falls less on Jean-Luc and more on Raffi Musiker, a Starfleet officer who was helping him with his plans. Back in the show’s present Raffi is embittered and living in isolation in the desert — angry at Jean-Luc for abandoning her and angry at Starfleet for wrecking her career. However, Jean-Luc’s wine and confirmation of Romulan agents working within the Federation are the hooks needed for him to re-enlist her help.
Our other new character is Chris Rios, who currently is just framed as disreputable but capable starship pilot straight from the big book of space opera cliches. I’m going to trust that a show that has so far be more subtle in its character development has some more subtle elements planned for him.
The reviews I read all seemed impatient at the pacing of Picard. It isn’t rushing along, true, but it fits nicely into the pace of a mystery/thriller. A Star Trek: TNG episode would rattle along more quickly but would only pick up on one (at most two) of the Bad-Starfleet, synthetic-people/Data, Borg, Romulan story themes at a time. Taking its time with exposition and slow reveal of plot and character is working for me. Even so, I’m glad Jean-Luc is in space now.
- Nobody seems worried that holographic people have complex personalities. I get that this is just a contradiction that spilled over from different gimmicks in past Trek but I’m also not sure if the show is intentionally pointing at the pervasive use of hologram-people in the Federation or whether they just haven’t thought through the implications. If Robert Picardo turns up in the final episode as the hidden figure running everything…
- Laris and Zhaban are exactly the people I would choose to run a vineyard. Good at estate management and other core competencies like fending off trained assassins and interrogation techniques.
- The show implies that the Borg attempts to assimilate Romulans was bad news for both parties. Thinking back, weren’t the Borg hinted at as being the cause of disappearing colonies near the neutral zone? I can’t find a reference to that, so maybe I’m mixing things up.
- Of course, Jean-Luc himself is a de-Borgified person.
- Yes, I’m calling Picard ‘Jean-Luc’ now because it’s just confusing to call him Picard when the show is called Picard and me having to remember which Picard’s to italicise.
- I’m not calling him JL and I’m surprised he put up with that from Raffi. In a surprise twist, it turns out she was actually fired from Starfleet for repeatedly making up new names for senior officers.