May 27, 2020
Star Trek: Picard “Stardust City Rag”
Previously on Star Trek: The Previous Generation: The Gang pick up Seven of Nine who rescued them from a warlord they encountered while recruiting a Romulan ninja nun to serve as hired muscle while they pick up Dr. Bruce Maddox in hopes that he can help them find Data’s lost daughter Soji in the house that Jack built.
Not one, but two flashbacks begin this episode. One takes place thirteen years previously (or, one year after the rogue synth attack on Mars), on a planet called Vergessen in the Hypatia system, named for the German word for “forget” and a fourth-century scientist who was lynched as a witch. (One thing about having a Pulitzer-winning novelist as your showrunner is that sometimes your stray details get a little “literary”.) Inside a special Science Dome, a perky woman in surgical garb gruesomely yanks a cybernetic eye out of a fully conscious ex-Borg. It’s hard to tell from his mangled face, but the ex-Borg is Icheb, a recurring character on Voyager. Last we’d heard of him, he had made it back to Earth and entered Starfleet Academy, back when Star Trek wasn’t oppressively bleak.
Suddenly, the woman and her assistant are cut down by phaser fire and Seven of Nine rushes in to cradle Icheb in her arms. She offers to carry him out but he’s not going anywhere, and she tearfully mercy-kills him.
The next flashback takes place on Freecloud, or “Stardust City” to be more precise, only two weeks previously. A woman in future-showgirl attire with the jaw-crunching name of Bjayzl is informed by a hulking lizard creature that Dr. Bruce Maddox is here to see her. She receives him at a table, offering him some tranya. Dr. Maddox tells her that his lab back on Earth was blown up by (who he believes to be) the Tal Shiar, and he’s been in hiding. He regrets to inform her that he can’t pay back the large loan he took out from her. Suddenly he chokes, having been drugged by the liquor. “Making a deal with the Tal Shiar is always a pain in the ass,” grumbles Bjayzl.
After the title sequence, La Sirena finds itself on its way to Freecloud, a libertarian paradise, sort of a combination of Switzerland and Las Vegas, where one can hire armies, stash money in untouchable accounts, and indulge in all the hedonism your degenerate mind could want, far from the prying eyes of the freedom-hating Federation. Picard talks with Seven in his holo-study. She’s been working for the “Fenris Rangers”, a paramilitary organization that works to keep order in the power vacuum created by the Romulan collapse and the Federation’s newfound isolationism. Which means that this party now has an elf and a ranger. (And a wise old man who starred in the X-Men franchise.) Picard chastises Seven for becoming a vigilante.
Raffi, meanwhile, is surreptitiously looking up a man named Gabriel Hwang while she and Rios talk about how Picard and Seven are both ex-Borg. Jurati is back in her room looking at holos of Dr. Maddox baking cookies. She and Maddox used to be romantically involved, it seems. She watches as he describes replicating all the ingredients of cookies and then baking them himself, rather than just replicating cookies; the result may be imperfect, but it’s his own.
They finally settle into an orbit over Freecloud, and every member of the crew is molested by holographic pop-up ads personalized to their metadata; Rios is made aware of a mechanic, Picard a tearoom, and Dr. Jurati a robot boxing match.
Raffi waves away an ad for a drug den and logs into the dark web, and finds Dr. Maddox mentioned on a job board for “interfacers”. She learns that Bjayzl has Dr. Maddox in captivity and is looking for a go-between to sell him to the Tal Shiar. They probably don’t have enough money to outbid the Tal Shiar. Luckily, Bjayzl, according to Seven, is heavily involved in the black market Borg tech trade, has an unquenchable obsession with finding new specimens, and would likely be willing to trade Dr. Maddox for a healthy ex-Borg with lots of intact implants. Like, for example, Seven.
The gang gets into character. Rios and Picard are given fake IDs and eye-searing outfits to blend in with the other ‘facers.
Rios goes to Bjayzl’s nightclub and meets with Mr. Vup, a huge reptiloid alien with the ability to smell lies. Luckily, Raffi has previously injected Rios with a drug cocktail meant to simulate the smell of a truthful person, and Rios passes the initial background check with the help of a glowing reference from a “Mr. Quark of Ferenginar”. Rios shows a holo of Seven to Mr. Vup, who is taken aback: “That many implants in a living specimen… impossible.” They then bring Seven to the club, accompanied by Elnor and Picard, who’s dressed in an ascot, leather gloves, an eyepatch, and a beret perched awkwardly atop his bald head. Seven has smuggled in a transport pattern enhancer to allow them to beam through the shield once the moment arrives.
Meanwhile, Raffi tracks down Gabriel Hwang at an OB-GYN clinic. He’s her son, as it turns out. That was her big secret errand. She lies about being sober and promises that she’s putting her life back together, offering to be a mother to him again (and a grandmother to his little girl on the way). Gabriel protests that it was never the drugs that pulled the family apart—it was Raffi’s Mars trutherism. Raffi snaps at him that she’s not crazy, and there was a conspiracy there. A door opens and Gabriel’s pregnant Romulan partner comes out. Gabriel asks Raffi to leave and she does.
Back in the nightclub, Picard, having finally seen a bruised but alive Dr. Maddox, whips the hood off of Seven. “You weell not see many more like hair,” Picard promises in a cartoonish French accent. (That’s not my editorializing; the closed captions literally describe it as “cartoonish”.) “When zey get assimilated as keeds, more of ze ‘ardware remains inside zem.”
Bjayzl addresses Seven, and it becomes clear pretty quick that Seven’s enmity is not one-sided. She says as soon as she heard there was a mysterious and valuable Borg for sale, she’d hoped it would be Seven, addressing her by her given name, Annika. Bjayzl’s bodyguards whip out phasers and surround the Fellowship.
Meanwhile, Jurati is on the ship freaking out because she’s supposed to beam everyone out at the crucial moment, but she’s never beamed anyone before. The Emergency Medical Hologram (the tastefully-dressed one with smooth British elocution) pops into existence and asks her to state the nature of her psychiatric emergency. Apparently, Rios has it set to appear unbidden whenever it detects someone with an elevated heart rate and/or cortisol levels. This will be important later. Jurati waves away the EMH’s offer of a sedative, and makes him vanish when Rios gets on the radio.
“Something’s not right. We may have to abort,” says Rios. Jurati has a lock on them and promises to hit Energize as soon as the pattern enhancer turns on.
Meanwhile, Bjayzl is taunting Seven. “Are you still still angry with me because I carved up your little friend for parts?” she asks. “Or because you trusted me?” She taunts Seven until the latter gets so angry she rips through her restraints and grabs Bjayzl by the throat, warning her goons to lower their weapons.
Picard slowly realizes she was only trying to get in a room with Bjayzl. “Are we still pretending?” asks Elnor. “No,” Picard says, glancing significantly at Seven. “I think everyone has finally stopped.”
Picard demands to know what the hell is going on, and Seven explains how thirteen years previously, Bjayzl posed as a Fenris Ranger to get the scuttlebutt on some Borg tech, stripping Icheb, the closest thing Seven had to family, and trying to do the same to Seven, so in turn Seven is going to kill her. “You had your humanity restored to you,” Picard says. “Don’t squander it now.”
While this is going on, Mr. Vup is retrieving a hidden phaser from his sleeve, and is about to use it before taking a laser through the neck from Rios. Seven tosses him the pattern enhancer and tells them to go, but leave her behind. Rios protests that killing Bjayzl will put a bounty on all their heads. He encourages her to look at the “math” of the situation. Seven finally relents and Jurati is signaled to beam five people up.
Jurati is pleased with herself for getting the beaming right, but turns horrified once she sees Maddox. They carry him off to sickbay while Seven prepares to head out to meet up with the Rangers. She takes a few guns for the road and leaves Picard a calling card. She asks Picard a personal question: “When they brought you back from your time in the Collective, did you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?” “Yes,” replies Picard. “All of it?” challenges Seven. “No,” says Picard, “but we’re both working on it, aren’t we?”
With that, Seven beams back out. Only she’s not meeting up with the Rangers; she’s beaming right back down into Bjayzl’s club, where she shoots her two closest bodyguards. The bartenders and the musician beam out, but the boss stays behind. That makes sense. Bjayzl expresses surprise that Seven didn’t kill her earlier. “Picard still thinks there’s a place for mercy in the galaxy,” says Seven. “I didn’t want to disillusion him.” With little further ado, she shoots Bjayzl with two full-powered phaser bolts, disintegrating her. Bjayzl’s second security wave shows up, and it’s Rampage Time.
Back on La Sirena, Dr. Maddox is lying on an operating table while the computer treats his wounds. He’s suffering massive abdominal hemorrhaging. Picard wakes him and Maddox asks about Dahj, receiving the sad news that Dahj is dead. Maddox says he embedded an AI subroutine in Dahj which detected she was in grave danger, causing her to instinctively go to Picard for help.
He further says that Dahj has a sister, Soji, who is on the Artifact. He programmed the androids to apply to both the Daystrom Institute and the Borg reclamation project, in hopes that one or both would figure out the truth. Raffi is right. There is a conspiracy. The attack on Mars, the synth ban, the Borg: they’re all connected somehow. The Romulans and the Federation are involved. There are “lies upon lies.”
Jurati ushers Picard out of the room so she can catch up with Maddox. They tearfully reunite and Maddox asks if she saw Dahj. He declares Dahj and her sister “perfectly imperfect” and congratulates her for helping make it happen.
“One more thing I have to atone for,” says Jurati, and begins pressing buttons. The EMH pops up because she’s freaking out again. She quickly deactivates the hologram, but not before it sees her press the button that will stop the “hematic microrepair treatment” to Maddox’s organs, killing him.
“I wish you knew what I know,” she cries. “I wish I didn’t know what I know. I wish they hadn’t shown me. I’m so sorry.” Maddox gasps and finally flatlines.
Next week: The holograms unionize. The conspiracy begins to take shape thanks to clues found in Maddox’s cookie recipe. Picard decides he’s going to become a Beret Guy.