Any complaints about the slow pacing of Picard episodes fall apart with this episode which is all about stuff happening and often gory & disturbing stuff. We are off to Freecloud, the physical equivalent of the Galaxy’s Dark Web, full of criminal gangs and dubious trade practices. However, this is an episode full of plot twists and stuff happening, so big spoilers in this review after the fold.
The cold open is highly disturbing and even more so if you catch the references. A man in a Starfleet uniform is being tortured but we rapidly learn when Seven of Nine comes to rescue him, that he is a former Borg who is being harvested for his implants. Astute observers (not me, I had to look it up) will connect the name of the victim with a Borg unit rescued by Voyager and looked after by Seven of Nine in the final season. It’s another example of how Picard uses connections with past episodes that add depth if you are aware of them but which don’t alienate viewers who aren’t familiar with the connection.
This is an episode very much not set in the quasi-utopia of the Federation. Instead we travel from the lawless Wild West of the former Romulan Neutral Zone to the quasi-libertarian lawlessness of Freecloud, a cross between Blade Runner, Las Vegas and the bad-guy’s ship from Star Wars: Solo. At the centre of the action is Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan) who is apparently running a criminal organisation from her glamorous nightclub. And who is she lending money too? Doctor Bruce Maddox, former Starfleet scientist who has now oddly turned into a man who looks distractingly like Jordan Peterson. Betrayals and double crosses ensue.
Although criminal activity doesn’t sit well with the genteel presentation of Federation society, there’s nothing new about Federation space having its own less-than-legitimate sub-culture: Harry Mudd and Cyrano Jones being the obvious original examples. Murdering people for body parts is a far more gruesome example.
Meanwhile, Picard goes into heist mode. Jean-Luc’s D&D party is now complete with the temporary addition of a ranger: none other than Seven of Nine. There is a hint of a past history between she and Picard but the nature of it (other than both being ex-Borg) is unclear. Assuming TV series elapsed time and in-show elapsed time are similar, it’s been 19 years since the USS Voyager made its way back to Federation space, for most of that time Seven of Nine has been part of the Fenris Rangers, a self-appointed law-enforcement group patrolling the ruins of the Neutral Zone.
Seven of Nine has business on Freecloud, as does Raffi who discovers that Bjayzl has Maddox. Meanwhile, we learn that Agnes had a romantic relationship with Maddox and her motivations for rescuing him are more complex than simply unravelling the mystery of Dhaj’s murder.
Everybody gets to play dress up: Patrick Stewart gets to play Jean-Luc acting badly as an OTT French trader in stolen people. Chris Rios gets to wear a very big hat. Elnor gets to be the sweetest Romulan ever. Seven of Nine gets to be badass at the don’t-you-wish-she-had-her-own-show level.
This is another Jonathon Frakes episode and I think of Frakes as a safe pair of hands who produces solid rather than remarkable episodes. This episode is a cut above though. The heist plot and it’s focus on the righteous revenge of Seven of Nine is misdirection from the apparent side plots with Raffi and Agnes.
Raffi ostensibly says goodbye to the Sirena crew at Freecloud. We learn that she has tracked down her adult son who is at a (presumably dodgy in some respect) fertility clinic. There we learn how Raffi’s obsession with the synthetic revolt on Mars destroyed her family and left alienated from the people she loves. The reunion does not go well. Notably, her son’s wife is Romulan.
Agnes is suffering so much anxiety that her minor role in the heist (operating the teleport on the ship) causes the medical emergency hologram to activity. Except…that’s not it at all.
Skip back a couple of episodes and recall that Agnes was visited by Starfleet security. It was only after this visit that she arrived in the nick of time at Picard’s châteaux to blast a Romulan assassin. We were never shown the conversation between her and Commodore Oh, which was a hint that Agnes may now be directed by Starfleet security (which in turn may be infiltrated by the Romulan secret police, which is actual infiltrated by the Romulan doomsday cult etc etc).
Only towards the end of the episode does Agnes reveal to Maddox (who is already close to death) that she has been shown something terrible about their work on synthetic life. Something so terrible that she must atone for it, which she does by murdering Maddox (or at least hastening his death).
Luckily for the plot, this is only after Maddox has told Jean-Luc the location of Soji: on the abandoned Borg cube in Romulan space. Speaking of which, this was a Soji-free episode and I assume that next week will be more Borg-cube centric.
- I’d speculated that Chris Rios himself might be a hologram but this episode suggests not as he does leave the ship.
- Patrick Stewart is having far, far too much fun.
- I’m maybe getting lost in the layers here but Agnes knowing where Soji is presumably doesn’t help Commodore Oh, because she already knows where Soji is? I guess Agnes doesn’t know that…
- Elnor doesn’t get to do anything other than act befuddled but this itself is charming.