Lots and lots of spoilers for the whole series, so if you haven’t been watching but intend to, this is a review best avoided. In short this is a bridging episode that joins the dots of the story so far as the series heads into the two-part finale.
For those following the series, the revelations aren’t big surprises although there are some additional connections that may feel superfluous. This isn’t a particularly strong episode but it has its moments and there is a lot to discuss.
Much of the episode is about getting Jean-Luc’s quest party around a tabel on the La Sirena to have a meeting. Crew meetings, if you recall, are Picard’s super-power and last episode Riker re-instated their TNG-power by holding one over a dinner of pizza. This episode everybody but Elnor (we’ll get back to him) reveal what they know or have worked out.
A surprise piece is Rios. That he is also unwittingly enmeshed in things is a surprise and while his freak-out at seeing Soji was a twist, the backstory is basically filler for the episode. Raffi has to interrogate all his holograms (and OK, I’ll concede now that Rios himself isn’t a hologram) but eventually Rios just has to tell his backstory anyway. Santiago Cabrera has an absolute blast being the multiple Rios’s including an inevitable Scottish engineering hologram but as fun as that is, it’s mainly stuffing.
Which gets us to the plot. In the opening flashback we learn the source of the Zhat Vash’s fanaticism. On a planet in a system with an unfeasible eight suns (and that’s a plot point) is a glowing ring. Touch that ring and you are treated to a horrific psychic vision. We don’t see the details but it is sufficient for initiates (all women?) to respond with deep horror and many kill themselves. The only initiate to remain standing (but still horrified) is Narrisa (aka creepy Romulan sibling) but we also learn that the Romulan anthropologist/folklorist who lost her mind on the ruined Borg cube is her aunt and also Zhat Vash.
The vision has been placed there by a long dead civilisation as a warning. The warning appears to be that when synthetic AI beings reach a specific level of development something bad happens, something very bad. Which introduces the genre theme of the episode: horror.
Aboard La Sirena, Doctor Jurati confesses as much as she is capable of. Raffi has all her existing homework on the Zhat Vash. Rios, it turns out, was an officer on a secret Starfleet contact mission where the Captain murdered two emissaries from an unknown system, one of whom looked exactly like Soji. The orders for the Captain came from Commodore Oh (who we saw in the opening flashback is Zhat Vash). Soji, now activated has access to more memories and confirms what she knows, including what she learned on the Borg cube. Meanwhile, as an aside, we learn that Narrisa’s aunt is responsible for wrecking the Borg cube via a psychic backlash of the horrific vision when the Borg accidentally attempted to assimilate a Zhat Vash ship. Oops.
Rios’s involvment doesn’t make a lot of sense except as an extraordinary coincidence and/or Oh has been sending out lots of Starfleet missions to murder androids. However, I’ll give it a pass. The rest ties together very neatly. The Borg cube and Zhat Vash’s and the synth’s interest in the Borg cube derives from an accident. Oh’s influence on Jurati and Jurati’s extreme distress comes from Oh transmitting the power of the horror vision (and again Alison Pill acts the hell out of Jurati’s guilt and fragility. Raffi already had the pieces and Soji fills in the blanks.
One arguable flaw is why the Romulan’s didn’t just tell everybody else? After all, if horrible things happen when you develop androids, the best idea to stop that is tell people. Except…that’s not what Romulan’s do. Secrets are advantage and the series has hammered home the role of secrets in Romulan culture. If the Klingon’s had first discovered the eight-star system then they would have loudly demanded everybody slaughter their synths on pain of a bat’leth beheading but they didn’t. Instead, the cosmic warning fell into the biggest flaw in Romulan culture.
What we don’t know is what the horrible thing is. Back on La Sirena, the comparison is made with the development of warp-drive. Reach a certain point and voila! Somebody makes contact. For Earth and warp-drive it is a friendly passing Vulcan. For androids it’s something bad, something unspeakably bad. The implication it isn’t androids as such that result in the destruction (i.e. this isn’t a Terminator scenario or the genocide depicted in The Orville) but something who is summoned by the presence of synthetic life. Something cosmic and Lovecraftian, the very sight of which will drive you mad (unless you are already a Romulan psycopath). What we do know is that the Romulans were behind the android catastophe on Mars but we had already guessed that.
Meanwhile, the Borg cube has its own tale of horror and genocide. Narrisa begins to slaughter both XBs and the remaining unconverted Borg units that are still in stasis. Elnor is still being chased by Romulans but is rescued by the timely (and unexplained but we’ll go with it) arrival of Seven of Nine.
Seven and Elnor take over the Borg Queen’s chamber and Seven must face another horrific choice: let the Romulans slaughter the inhabitants of the cube or take over. I found the casual murder of the Borg horrifying and dislikable aspect of the episode even though it was intended to show how evil Narissa is. Yet, this wasn’t even close to the amount of on-screen Borg deaths we’ve seen on Star Trek. The end of the Best of Both Worlds… has a whole Borg cube explode because Picard and Data send the units into a sleep cycle. True, that was a desperate circumstance but the horror felt here reflects how much work Picard has done to show that the Borg units are victims.
The horror of Seven of Nine reconnecting to a Borg consciousness (although a limited one) and her knowing that she might not be able to let go is horribly well done. Again, there’s that Lovecraftian element of summoning up a power too terrible to contemplate while events conspire that we the viewers desperately want Seven to take on the power of the Borg to stop the murder.
Romulans, Starfleet, Picard’s rag tag crew and maybe even a renegade Borg cube are now all heading to the same place in what looks like the Battle of the Five Armies set-up.
- Medical is English RP, Hospitality is English RP, Engineering is Scottish (as is traditional), Piloting is Spanish and Navigation is Irish. It’s like the traditional coloured shirts of Trek but with accents.
- Elnor gets some great one liners. I doubt now we are going to get any major character development for him this season but he remains a delight and a good foil for Seven of Nine.
- Narek wasn’t in this episode but Harry Treadaway has been bugging me as an obviously familiar actor but I haven’t seen the things he’s listed as being in on IMDB. Mystery now solved. He’s the twin brother of LUKE Treadaway (which I guess everybody already knew). Luke was in Attack the Block and a whole pile of other things.
- Raffi being vindicated is doing a lot for her mental health.
- I hope nice things happen for Jurati now. Even a secondhand shot of whatever psychic compulsion the Zhat Vash is on is sufficiently exonerating I think.
- Speaking of which, it’ not stated that Rios’s former captain had the same psychic blast from Oh but I assume that was the case given the murder-suicide.
- Sadly my Rios is a hologram theory has gone into retirement. With it the idea that the show will get to grips with the difference in how AI is portrayed between hologram people and android people.
- Star Trek: Discovery had it’s own things going on with AI last season. Of course it’s not impossible that the baddy AI called Control is also the horrific thing in the Zhat Vash vision but there’s no reason to think so. The story is pointing at something that hates synthetics rather than another AI.
- Also Ariam in Discovery was a cyborg rather than a synthetic although she was pretty far gone down the actually-a-robot route. Presumably cyborg hiveminds are also fine with whatever demonic power hates synthetics, as whatever-it-is hasn’t eaten the Borg.
- There’s a nice shot of mermaid trinkets in Rios’s cabin. The sirens, of course, also had the power to drive people mad but it was a seductive song rather than a horrific one.