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The fourth episode of Star Trek: Picard feels a bit like a side-quest in a video game — entertaining enough, but doesn’t do much to progress the overall story.
With the gang on the way to Freecloud to find Dr. Bruce Maddox, Jean-Luc Picard unilaterally decides to stop at Vashti, a planet first introduced in the opening scene as a Romulan relocation site. There, he hopes to hire a Quwat Milat warrior — a sisterhood of Romulan nuns with supreme fighting skills attuned to The Way of Absolute Candor.
Upon arrival to Vashti, however, Picard discovers it to be no longer the sanctuary he left it as two decades earlier. On a planet now filled with poverty and racial strife, he is almost universally hated by the Romulans he helped save from their dying homeworld.
Despite this, Picard still must find an “assassin” — as Raffi so eloquently puts it — and escape alive to continue his quest to find Soji before the Tal Shiar.
Let’s get to it.
1. Elnor feels very Worf-ish
We meet a young Romulan by the name of Elnor, a boy who has been temporarily placed with the Quwat Milat until Picard can find him a more suitable home for him, in the first scene of the episode. However, when the synths attack Mars, Picard is rushed away by Starfleet, which turns Elnor’s stay with the sisterhood from “for now” to “permanent.”
When Picard returns to Vashti, Elnor is resentful of the old admiral and initially denies to join his mission. Later, after some badassery we’ll get to later, Elnor agrees to bind his sword to Picard’s cause.
Although the first scene has a major father/son tone to it, Elnor kind of mimics Worf’s role in Star Trek: The Next Generation now that he’s older.
Outliers in their home societies? Check.
Prone to violence? Check.
Willing to fight against their own species? Check.
Maybe Elnor’s character will evolve this season, but right now it feels like Elnor is fulfilling the role of Picard’s weird, outcast sidekick.
2. This Soji/Narek romance is . . . weird
Let me just say I’m not a fan of it. It’s weird. It feels forced.
It’s been three episodes of will-they-or-won’t-they and I can already see the writing on the wall. After Dahj is killed by Romulan special forces after being “activated,” Narek somehow convinces his command to let him seduce her Android twin, Soji, in an effort to…
…find out where she came from so the Romulans can totally eliminate synthetic life from the galaxy?
And now that Narek has a pretty strict timeline to accomplish his goal, I’d say it’s more likely than not he ends up falling in love with Soji “for real” and protecting her from the Romulans long enough for Picard to arrive. Unless there’s a shocking twist, it feels like the writers kind of got lazy with this storyline.
And I have to be honest here. Narek’s sister’s idea — good, old fashioned torture — seems like a better one than literally sleeping with the enemy for weeks on end. And don’t get me started on how weird that sibling relationship is.
What was Romulus? Space Alabama?
3. Jonathan Frakes continues to bring it
“Two Takes” Frakes, famously remembered for playing First Officer William Riker in TNG and directing episodes in both seasons of Star Trek: Discovery to critical and fan acclaim, tried his hand at Picard this week.
“Absolute Candor” was, by far, the most hardcore episode of any Star Trek series to date. Frakes gives us a shot of Picard pulling down a “Romulans Only” sign outside a bar, walking over it and, eventually, ending up in an old fashioned duel at high noon. Elnor reenters the picture here after initially rejecting Picard and we really see his Quwat Milat training put to the test.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’ve seen a full-on decapitation in Star Trek before.
I’m not sure if I speak for other Trekkies, but the first half of that scene made me cringe. Upon first watch, it appears Picard deliberately puts himself in a stupid and unwinnable situation just so the writers can prove he still has his old values. But, as the scene progresses, it ends up really providing some perspective from the Romulan side explaining the cold welcome.
I don’t like the Picard we’ve seen so far — the one that has seemingly fallen out of grace on all sides of the conflict. It’s such a stark contrast of the universally revered captain we knew in TNG. But this scene was the first of the series that really made me go, “Hmm, those Romulans might have a point.”
4. SEVEN OF NINE
The time between seeing Jeri Ryan’s name listed in the opening credits listed as a special guest appearance and actually seeing her on-screen caused me to forget she’d be in this episode.
When the mystery ship appeared, saving Picard and crew from the old Klingon Bird of Prey, I knew the pilot wouldn’t just be a random, new character. We’ve already been introduced to a lot of those recently. Regardless, I sat there wracking my brain trying to figure out who it would be.
And then, BAM!
I’m not sure how long Ryan, who played the former Borg Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, will appear on the show nor do I care. It’s just so cool to see multiple Trek series colliding like this. Not to mention, Ryan was stupendous in her first go-around as the character.
5. Few callbacks, but one stands out
The fourth episode of Picard featured noticeably fewer callbacks to previous series, perhaps signaling an end to the fan-service the writers have (wisely) provided to get older Trek fans into the new show.
Obviously the return of Seven of Nine was the biggest. However, that’s not the one that caught my attention. The one that did, however, happened so fast, you might have missed it.
It was the only redeeming element of the Soji/Narek scenes of this episode. When they’re walking through the underbelly of the old Borg Cube, Narek mentions something about a Borg ritual — to which Soji correctly responds, “The Borg didn’t have any rituals.”
“That’s what everyone thinks,” replies Narek.
Soji, understandably confused and unaware she’s in the middle of a giant pickup line, cocks her head to the side, the same as her “father” did so many times in TNG.
Given that the show is named Picard, it’s awfully Data-heavy. It makes me wonder if the writers are just trying to create Data nostalgia so we bond with Soji easier or if they’re setting up a return of everyone’s favorite Android.