This Star Trek: Picard review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 2
If the premiere of Star Trek: Picard was focused on reintroducing us to Jean-Luc Picard, then the second episode is all about expanding that reintroduction to this rich world. It’s the first episode written by showrunner Michael Chabon (alongside co-creator Akiva Goldsman, who also penned the first episode with James Duff) and his experience as a mystery writer shows. This episode is plot heavy, but it rarely feels like it, delivering massive amounts of information mostly without making it feel like a slog. This first season of Picard is no 26-episode season of The Next Generation; it has 10 episodes to tell its story, and “Maps and Legends” is very much aware of that fact. Let’s get to it…
Much of Episode 2’s work is done in reintroducing us to the Romulans as they are now, post-destruction of Romulus. While we got a glimpse of Romulan life in the form of Picard’s mysterious companions and that Romulan Reclamation Site cliffhanger, Episode 1 mostly consisted of different people telling us about the Romulans rather than getting to meet them for ourselves. To be fair, there are still quite a lot of people telling us about Romulans in this episode, though some of them are Romulans. The most central is Laris, one of the two Romulans Jean-Luc lives with, who conveniently knows a heck of a lot of information about secret Romulan organizations.
The Tal Shair are a Romulan intelligence agency akin to our CIA, but Laris informs us that there is another, even more secret organization known as the Shat Vash. This league of secret assassins, who Dahj had the great misfortune to meet in the Picard premiere, operate with almost zero outside accountability; they’re not even on the Federation’s radar (or at least, if they are, Jean-Luc doesn’t know about them). Per Laris’ suspicions, they were formed around a very specific paranoia: a fear and hate of all forms of synthetic life.
If anyone is going to stop the Shat Vash, it’s not going to be the Federation. The organization has its own paranoia when it comes to synthetic life. In the episode’s opening moments, we are granted a flashback to the synthetic attack against the Utopia Planitia Shipyards, which occurred 14 years prior to the events of Picard. During the event (explored from a different perspective in Short Trek “Children of Mars”), an android known as F8 takes over control of the shipyard’s weaponry, destroying the complex along with everyone in it. In the process, he kills his co-workers/handlers and then himself, presenting some intriguing questions…
First of all, what was the motivation for the attack? The fact that it went down on First Contact Day, when the shipyard was operating with only a skeleton crew, suggests that it wasn’t simple vengeance as the timing suggestions some valuing of human life. Could it have been a specific attempt to stop the Romulan rescue mission? As we learn from Laris in this episode, the Romulans hate all things synthetic. Could the hate and fear be mutual?
It’s also interesting that F8 killed himself before the attack could destroy him. I would say he was doing so to destroy any evidence that might have remained in his mainframe, but the attack seemed pretty thorough. Was it an action motivated not by strategy but by emotion? Did F8 feel horror at his ability to kill his co-workers? The final act cements the attack more definitively as a murder-suicide, which has intimate conontations. Was this not an organized revolution but rather the actions of one rogue android who could no longer stand being treated as a thing by the humans he worked alongside? All part of the mystery Picard will continue to explore.
“Maps and Legends” expands beyond Laris’ fairy tale about the Shat Vash to give us a direct line into their organization. As some may have suspected, Narek is not all he seems to be, an active member of the band of assassin spies who is at the Romulan Reclamation Site undercover with Soji Asher, sister to Dahj. And get to know her, he does! The flirty vibes we got at the end of last week’s episode have evolved into something more; the two begin the episode in bed together and, folks, they’ve got great chemistry. Too bad Narek is a super secret spy and possibly also killer.
Narek is handled by big sister Narissa (played by the always welcome Peyton List), who is also undercover (with round ears!), though with Starfleet (as Lieutenant Rizzo). It’s implied here that Narissa was directly behind the attack on Dahj in the first episode, which puts her squarely in the Secret Killer category, something she gets reprimanded about by her superior Commodore Oh. Oh is the Vulcan Head of Starfleet Security, and therefore has people to answer to—mainly, Admiral Clancy.
It’s telling that, while Clancy may not like Picard, she still respects him at least a little bit… enough to do check in with Commodore Oh regarding Picard’s claims of the Romulan assassin squad and their active campaign against synthetics. It’s not a very smart move, as it makes Oh that much more apprehensive about the situation, but it tells us a lot about how the current Starfleet leadership views Picard: angrily dismissive to his face, but angrily respectful behind his back.
While Clancy’s treatment of Picard may be downright sacriligeous to our eyes and wildly undiplomatic for a Starfleet Admiral, Clancy does have some points. Starfleet probably shouldn’t just give Picard, who has been out of active service for a few decades at this point, a ship and a crew; it does take a certain degree of hubris on Jean-Luc’s part to even ask. It’s the kind of hubris (paired with the offer of an excellent vintage) that allows Picard to show up at the door of “someone who hates [him] and has nothing to lose,” per Zhaban’s description.
That person is Raffi (Michelle Hurd), who presumably has access to a ship Picard can use to set off across the galaxy in search of Dahj’s long lost sister. It’s his stated goal to anyone who will listen: Laris and Zhaban, Starfleet Command, the Shat Vash (listening in illegally). He is done “mothballing” alongside his grapes. “You really want to go back out into the cold, knowing.” “More than anything, knowing.” Jean-Luc Picard, he who stops to gaze at the stars, has never done anything with his eyes closed.
Those last quotes are pulled from a conversation between Picard and his physician, who informs Jean-Luc (in a frustratingly opaque manner—OMG, you’re his doctor, tell him what he has!) that the parietal lobe damage incurred by the transition back from assimilate Borg has finally caught up with him. He has an undisclosed amount of time. I don’t love this additional stakes-raising move. Picard’s mortality is central enough because of his age without having to impose a more imminent deadline.
“They’re not humans.” I was feeling some serious sympathy for F8, pre-massacre. We’ve all had shitty co-workers.
Patrick Stewart is giving Chris Evans a run for his money when it comes to the on-screen sweater game.
“That’s exactly what we want you to think.” I think I love Laris?
The Not-Borg Cube is known as “The Artifact,” and is apparently above board, managed by an organization called the Borg Artifact Safety Institute. Here, we are properly introduced to it through a newly-arrived character. The Romulans seem to be scavenging the thing for tech while also pulling out any Borg survivors and removing their Borg technology.
Dahj updates: She came into existence three years ago. Before that, she seemingly didn’t exist.
“As far as the Borg are concerned, this is a graveyard.” Kinda makes me think the Borg are eventually going to show up. Maybe in Season 2?
Um… would we synonymize vulnerability and “brokenness”?
Um, is Soji wondering where her sister is? Do they not chat often?
Those Starfleet Command transporter gates are very cool.
In Picard’s conversation with Clancy, we get a bit more context for Starfleet’s decision to withdraw help to the Romulans during the supernova. Apparently, 14 species threatened to withdraw from the Federation should Starfleet go ahead as planned. Not a good reason to leave an entire planet to supernova, but relevant context.
“The pitiable delusions of a once great man, desperate to matter.” Damn.
Director Hanelle Culpepper, who also helmed the pilot, kills it again. How about that shot of Picard as reflected in the clock? A little on the money, but I am here for the visually-ambitious.
“I didn’t know Romulans could be so hot.”
Speaking of audience surrogates, Agnes reads Asimov and drinks Earl Grey.
Death: the only reliable keeper of secrets, y’all.
Zhaban asks Picard about getting his old ‘Generation crew back together. Picard says he doesn’t want to get another one of them killed because of their loyalty to him, which is understandable. He’s gonna get some strangers killed instead.
“Of course. If it’s important to Jean-Luc Picard, it must be important to the whole galaxy.” Damn, Laris has Jean-Luc’s number. It feels important to note who Picard chooses to keep at his side, confide in, and seek counsel from. The people he chooses to surround himself with are no doubt an active decision to keep his hubris in check, and is the kind of thing that separates a Jean-Luc Picard from other powerful men.
I’m over recent Star Trek storylines that see female leads (Michael on Discovery and now Soji here) being tricked into bed by secret dude spies who are withholding information relevant to sexual consent. A very relevant question: Was Narek at all involved in Dahj’s death?
Narissa on Narek (to Narek): “There is no one whose survival means more to me… beside my own.” I appreciate her honesty and clarity of priorities.
I loved getting to learn more about Laris and Zhaban in this episode, and am kind of bummed they won’t be coming along on the journey. On the other hand…
We must protect the grapes!