Picard: Stardust City Rag

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.

Stray observations

  • 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.

16 thoughts on “Picard: Stardust City Rag

  1. This was a lively one, and no mistake… I’m not terribly squeamish, but I must admit the opening scene, complete with explicitly gory eyeball removal, very nearly put me off my lunch.

    After a lot of Picard as troubled and guilt-ridden elder statesman, it’s nice to see Patrick Stewart cut loose with an outrageous fake French accent. A very good actor playing a very bad actor is bound to be entertaining….

    Besides some very strong scenes with Michelle Hurd, and Seven of Nine being generally badass as all hell, I’m actually impressed by the way the story’s gone – for four episodes, it’s been Picard saying “I have to find Bruce Maddox”, and now he’s found Bruce Maddox, and now Bruce Maddox is dead, so the story clearly has to take some new turns and head off in a new direction (presumably a Borg Cube shaped direction, at least at first.) I’ll be interested to see how Dr Jurati’s face-heel turn pans out, as well.

    The publicity paragraph on Amazon Prime confirms the ship’s name as “La Sirena”. Still waiting for someone on the show to confirm that…. Oh, and I never thought Rios himself was a hologram – the first time we saw him, he was having a shard of metal pulled out of a bleeding shoulder wound, which isn’t a very hologram thing to do.

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    1. I forgot about that metal and Cam just had me convinced that hes a hologram 😉 Especially because apparently he saw his captain die, meaning he was not the captain of his Federation ship.
      I enjoyed the episode despite not a lot gained, except to let Picard know, what we know already, i.e. the location of sister (and that everyone seems to know about it, despite it being secret). I hope Seven will show up again at some point, she really steals the show.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It was the shard thing that got me thinking. He’s in Earth orbit ie the safest least eventful section of federation space and on an intact spaceship, how has he ended up with a shrapnel shoulder? Trying too hard to look corporeal…

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    3. It gets confirmed on their arrival at Freecloud: “La Sirena, this is Freecloud Orbital Control…”.

      I was impressed by Jeri in this episode. She really is very competent at what she does. I could see her as a leading lady in a meaty action thriller right away (meaty as in: not just fights and explosions, but some character work as well).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Just a side note: Im watching Picard in the OV, but the names are in German (Im watching on German Amazon Prime). So far the episode titles were pretty much straight translations (to the point that the German title of absolute candor sounded a bit clunky imho).
    The German title of this episode though is “No Mercy”. My first thought was that Cam has just used a non-title-headline, before I realized the english title may just be completly different.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had to look away at the start – I am not good with super realistic gore at all, especially traumatic gore. I did like that they didn’t take the fluffy, happy routes with either Raffi or Seven of Nine’s subplots. I guess the former was necessary in order to get Raffi back on the ship, but they could have easily gone with the ‘Jean Luc makes an uplifting speech and Seven instantly sees the error of her ways’ and they didn’t.

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  4. 1. It was a glorious mess.

    2. Jeri Ryan FTW!

    3. I really don’t mind all of the many places where I could predict down to the scene beat exactly what was going to happen next for the following ten minutes, including the murder by Agnes. Because they did it with more than adequate panache.

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  5. I wrote my review (which I’ve scheduled to post Monday my time, so not visible yet) I hadn’t looked at any others. And my three impressions right afterward were, 1) Wow! This was fun! 2) This was a bit rushed and should have been more than one episodes, and 3) Dammit! Jeri Ryan needs her own show! Why isn’t The Fenris Rangers already announced!?!?!

    Also, this was my second favorite episode (episode 2 with Laris’s “Cheeky Feckers” scene still being number 1).

    After reading some other reviews and then going back to rewatching… I decided this episode wasn’t as rushed as I thought, most of the other impressions remain that same… but it’s now competing in my affections for episode 2…

    …I still really wish they would show us SOMETHING about what Laris and Zhaban are dealing with back on Earth.. because I don’t see how, after defeating a Romulan Death Squad and now that it has been confirmed that Jurati has been turned (presumably by Commodore Oh), I can’t imagine that there haven’t been more incidents at Chateau Picard…

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  6. There is no such thing as Patrick Stewart having too much fun.

    That being said, it’s not exactly the first time that Picard has gone undercover or done big bluffs, so his gleeful incompetence was maybe a little unconvincing. Elnor has now officially become the Groot of the group.

    I was very impressed by Ryan’s performance, having Seven be Seven but also having clearly been through a lot and having lost most of the Borg stiffness of her speaking style and body stance — but still not feeling human. Her situation echoes the Federation as a whole. With long term peace with the Klingons, the Romulans shattered and destroyed, the Borg put to bay, the Federation should be thriving and expanding. Instead, it’s declining and shrinking, leaving a frontier that is fragmented and lawless.

    It will also be interesting to see the programming of the Emergency Psychology Hologram — if it now keeps patient confidentiality about Aggie, or if it will tell Rios and the others that Aggie let Bruce die.

    Liked by 2 people

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