May 1, 2020
Star Trek: Picard “Maps and Legends”
Previously on Star Trek: Picard: Romulus is blown up, the Romulan people are scattered, and rather than celebrate the effective end of hostilities with its oldest enemy, the Federation is less chill than ever. After a freak terrorist attack, they’ve banned all synthetic life forms: no androids, no robots, no constructs, bionics, synths, automatons, golems, tin men, or Tamagotchis. Picard’s quiet retirement has been interrupted by the secret android Dahj, who’s being pursued by mysterious and powerful Romulans and who may be Data’s “daughter”. She was killed in an attack, but has a twin sister (also a droid) named Soji who lives on an old Borg cube.
This week’s title card shows the Utopia Planitia Shipyards on Mars, fourteen years ago. A computer announces that First Contact Day celebrations are going on. A man in work clothes opens up a cargo bay full of androids standing perfectly still in rows. With their pale, gaunt faces, light eyes, and futuristic red jumpsuits, they look remarkably like bald David Bowies.
The androids are bargain-bin models, with jerky movements, unconvincing facial expressions, and limited capacity for informal language. One of the androids, “F-8”, walks into a break room with a bunch of human employees, who josh him, tell him some off-color jokes, and test his proficiency with idioms such as “Hell yeah!” Someone mildly disapproves, and someone else says “You can’t offend them—they’re not people.”
Suddenly, F-8’s irises change color briefly, the universal symbol for “bot gone bad.” He walks over to a computer console on the wall and begins some rapid hacking, releasing the planetary defense grids. A man tries to stop him and his neck is instantly broken. F-8 finishes his operation, grabs a torch from the wall (keeping hot tools in the break room! Where’s OSHA when you need it?) and murders everybody. He holds the device to his own head as the bombs start falling.
Back at Chateau Picard, Picard & Friends are going over the security footage from Starfleet Archives on the day of Dahj’s murder. Zhaban and Laris are former members of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan secret police (as security-conscious and paranoid as the Federation supposedly is right now, they’re perfectly willing to give visas to two known spies so they can work for a high-ranking military leader). The two are marveling at the care taken to erase Dahj—not only does she not appear on camera, but all molecular scans are clean too.
Laris and Picard beam over to Dahj’s apartment, and Laris pulls out a Romulan “molecular reconstructor” banned in the Federation for making plots too simple. She waves a beam of light around the room and blurry holograms of Dahj and her boyfriend appear on their couch, doing the exact things they did in the minutes before his death, to the point of audibly speaking their lines. This is one of those pieces of Trek technology that’s so overwhelmingly ridiculous, you just have to clock it and instantly forget about it (you know the show is going to, anyway).
But the reconstructions disappear the moment the assassins arrive. Laris muses that they must have flooded the room with “antileptons” in case someone did exactly this. Based on what she knows of Romulan secret ops, Laris says there must be some clue they deliberately neglected to clean up, because a too-clean room is suspicious in itself. She finds this clue in Dahj’s call logs. After some computer fudgery, she finds Dahj has indeed been calling her twin “sister” Soji, and the logs are too scrambled to figure out where Soji is, but it’s somewhere other than Earth.
Back home, Zhaban and Laris begin telling Picard that about the “Zhat Vash”: a secret, scary, and badass organization for which the Tal Shiar itself is only a cover. The Zhat Vash is thousands of years old, with moles inside all the galaxy’s major governments, and their guiding ethos is the pure hatred of all synthetic life. They’re afraid of synths, but why, no one can say.
Cut to the abandoned Borg cube—referred to by the characters as “the Artifact”—where Dahj’s twin sister Soji and that scruffy Romulan devil Narek, both introduced in the last five minutes of the pilot, have already plowed. Their pillow talk reveals that the cube falls under the jurisdiction of the “Romulan Free State” who are researching its technology for profit. The Artifact has been severed from the Collective, but still contains many half-alive Borg drones in stasis, who are being examined and probed.
Suddenly, an alarm rings and Soji has to go to work, and Narek does too, to a job he still hasn’t divulged, as is a bit of a pattern with him, being Romulan and all. “Is everything Romulans do a secret?” Soji asks. “Ooh, I’m not at liberty to divulge that,” Narek snarks. He sees her off by asking her in Romulan if she can keep a secret, to which she responds “Yes,” in English. “Good,” he says, and leaves.
Enter Chateau Picard, at night, and Picard gets a visit from an old Starfleet buddy, Dr. Moritz Benayoun, played by beloved character actor David Paymer.
Picard called him for medical certification to go back into space. Moritz says Picard is in great shape, except for those vague brain abnormalities mentioned in “All Good Things…” Moritz has taken another look at Picard’s brain, and there are several possible prognoses, none very good. “A few are treatable,” says Moritz, “but they all end the same way.”
Picard takes the news stoically with a sip of whiskey, and repeats his request for medical certification. “You want to go back out into the cold? Knowing… ?” Moritz asks, shocked. “More than ever,” says Picard. “Knowing.”
Picard travels back to San Francisco using special outdoor beaming doorframes that look even more horrifying than regular transporters.
Picard checks in, and not having an active Starfleet commission, gets a visitor’s badge, which he scowls and pins on his left breast as though it’s a dead bird. He goes to see Admiral Kristen Clancy, who by her expression is already so done with Picard’s shit. He explains that he believes Bruce Maddox is using Data’s brain to create humanoid synthetics, and that the Romulans are involved somehow. He’s requesting a temporary reinstatement, a warp-capable ship, and a crew to help him investigate, and he’s willing to be demoted to captain to do it.
“The sheer… fucking… hubris,” Clancy seethes. (Only took them two episodes to drop an f-bomb; this ain’t your fuckin’ granddad’s Star Trek, bitches!)
“Don’t you think I was watching the other day along with everyone else in the galaxy?” she asks, referring to his angry TV interview. Picard tries to apologize but she plows ahead. “Even before the synthetics attacked Mars, fourteen species within the Federation said ‘cut the Romulans loose or we’ll pull out’. It was a choice between letting the Federation implode, and letting the Romulans go.”
“The Federation does not get to decide if a species lives or dies,” implores Picard.
“We absolutely do,” says Clancy. “Thousands of species depend upon us for unity. We didn’t have enough ships left. We had to make choices.” She belittles his story as “pitiable delusions of a once-great man desperate to matter” and orders him out. Request denied.
Back on the cube, everyone’s getting ready for their workday.
A Romulan with a Kid N’ Play haircut is giving a safety speech to a multi-species group in protective jumpsuits and gray badges. The Romulan says that as far as they can tell, there’s lots of Borg technology that they’re still kind of iffy on, and of course the Borg drones are a thing, so he says simply “If your badge turns green… run.”
Narek meets Soji and asks if he can observe her research today. Soji says he needs permission from the director. “Actually, I don’t,” he says cryptically.
Back at Chateau Picard, Picard catches Dr. Agnes Jurati from the Daystrom Institute flipping through an old volume of Asimov. “I never really cared for science fiction,” Picard admits. Settling down with some Earl Grey (hot), Dr. Jurati says that Dahj was indeed accepted at Daystrom; she did some research into Dahj’s credentials and suspects her identity was created from whole cloth and is no more than three years old. Jurati says their main areas of investigation should be: Dahj’s plans at the Institute, and of course, this mysterious sister of hers. “Where is she?” Jurati asks. “And what is she after?”
Where she’s at is the cube, and what she’s after is Borg body parts. A Borg lies on an exam table, and Soji is directing other technicians as they attack the body gruesomely with different tools, removing first his mechanical arm, then his mechanical eye.
Soji objects to the technician calling the drone “The Nameless”, on the grounds that his species had a name, they just don’t know it. The technician looks huffy as she carries the eye away to be bagged and tagged. Soji leans over the body, and in Romulan says, “You are free now, my friend.” Narek looks shocked.
It’s night again on Chateau Picard. Picard strolls around his study contemplatively, getting his old Starfleet badge out of his desk, strolling outside, and pinning it on. He taps it and makes it make the beedle-deet noise, calling someone named Raffi. “Don’t hang up,” he pleads. “I need a ship.”
In San Francisco, Admiral Clancy is having a conversation with a Vulcan officer, Commodore Oh. She’s telling Oh about Picard’s crazy ramblings about Romulan anti-synth ops, and despite her defiant attitude towards Picard, she privately thinks there could be something to it. Oh promises to look into it and then calls a Lieutenant Rizzo into her office.
Back at the chateau, Laris is so shocked at Picard’s announcement that he’s going back to space that she drops a tea tray. She says he’ll only be safe if he stays on Earth with them; the Romulans probably know by now he’s investigating them. Zhaban offers to go with Picard, but he refuses, as the grape harvest is in a month. Very French priorities here. Zhaban suggests Picard call Riker, or Worf, or La Forge, but Picard refuses that too. He’s still broken up over Data and doesn’t want anyone to sacrifice themselves out of loyalty to him.
“So you need someone who hates you and has nothing to lose,” Zhaban says. “I’ve already made the call,” answers Picard conspiratorially.
When Rizzo gets into Commodore Oh’s office, Oh informs her how Picard came to Starfleet with information about Dr. Bruce Maddox, the Zhat Vash, and secret synthetics. This happened, she says, because Rizzo’s made a shamble of the mission: destroying the target, leaving a witness, etc. Rizzo asks if Oh wants Picard “taken care of”, and Oh chides her impatience. “There is a certain aptness of the word ‘undercover’, which you have yet to fully absorb,” she says. “We have one more opportunity. Do not squander it.”
“I’ve got my best man on it,” Rizzo says.
Picard takes a taxi shuttle out into the desert, and comes upon the 24th century equivalent of a van down by the river. The inhabitant, Raffi, played by character actor Michelle Hurd, points a gun at Picard and tells him to leave. They have a history, it seems. Poor guy just can’t catch a break today. Picard has brought news of Romulan assassins operating on Earth, and also a bottle of Picard ’86. Raffi stands down and lets him inside the trailer.
On the cube, Rizzo appears via hologram in Narek’s quarters, who asks her sarcastically how life in Starfleet is, and says her “round ears” make her look like a “plucked wakka”. (You know, considering that ship’s scanners can identify your species from space, and you have to get your DNA completely sequenced every time you beam, an awful lot of people on Star Trek are able to go undercover as other species simply by putting on a new forehead.) “Rizzo” is unamused and asks Narek how his operation is going. “I’m on top of it,” he says. Rizzo glances at Narek’s disarrayed bed and says “So it would seem.”
She asks if the “machine” has revealed the location of its “nest” or its fellow “abominations”. Narek is silent. Rizzo promises to come out to the Artifact, and if no information has been gathered by that time, she’ll be forced to try “her approach”. Oh yes, and Narek is her brother. The end, good night everybody.
Wait, really? Yes. They’ve really got to learn how to do endings on this show; that was even more abrupt than the last one. So, let’s see, what are we hoping to see next week? What Narek’s actual job is? Why the Zhat Vash hate synthetic life so much? A single thing about this Raffi character they introduced so clumsily? Beam back down next week for “The End is the Beginning”.