This Star Trek: Picard review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 4
Up until this point in Star Trek: Picard, we’ve heard about the Romulan refugee crisis, we’ve seen its repercussions and its complications, but we hadn’t seen it represented in any real way. This week’s episode, titled “Absolute Candor,” makes things personal as we flash back not so much to the Federation goings on 14 years ago, but to the Romulans refugees on the ground who were some of the hardest hit by Starfleet’s decision to stop their evacuation and relocation efforts. We’ve yet to really dive into the messiness or horror of this massive humanitarian crisis, but “Absolute Candor” is an intriguing start.
Some of Star Trek: Picard‘s strongest moments thus far has come in its 14-years-prior flashbacks, filling in much-needed context for how the Federation and how Picard have changed in the years since we’ve spent time with them. We’ve witnessed Picard’s anger regarding Federation’s fail to act during and following the Romulan supernova, but now we get to understand it past a values-level reaction. The Romulan refugee crisis isn’t just an exercise in ethics to Picard; it’s personal.
Meet Elnor, the cutest little grump of a Romulan kid you ever did meet. He lives on the planet of Vashti, where he and many other Romulans were evacuated to. His placement with an order of Romulan warrior-nuns called the Qowat Milat is meant to be temporary—hanging with a bunch of women is (apparently) no place for a boy. (I guess gender isn’t over in the future.) Whenever Picard visits Vashti to get help from the Qowat Milat, he makes time to spend with Elnor, bringing him the gift of literature (this time, The Three Musketeers). He reads aloud to him, and practices fencing together. It’s downright adorable, and a far cry from the Picard who only interacted with children when he was trapped with them in a turbolift shaft.
Of course, that all changes when Picard resigns from Starfleet in protest of their decision involving the Romulans and, much like we’ve seen implied with Raffi, Picard neglected his relationship with the Qowat Milat and with Young Elnor, not seeing them again for 14 years.
Surprise! Young Elnor has grown. He is an expert swordsman (those nuns know how to fight—guess it wasn’t so bad growing up with a bunch of ladies after all?), and has spent more than a decade stewing over Picard’s abandonment. You can understand the kid. First, his whole planet is destroyed (potetially along with his family?), then the seemingly dependable guy who has stepped into the role of surrogate father just ups and leaves without so much as a goodbye.
It isn’t just Elnor Picard abandoned all those years ago. The Vashti town that once warmly greeted him has hung up “Romulans Only” signs in their local establishment. A righteous Picard, fresh off Elnor’s rejection of the offer to come along on their dangerous mission, tears down the sign and stomps on it. It’s glorious, if not totally stupid. It feels very different to watch an older man make this kind of brash, risky statement; it’s usually a young, fit dude who rouses the rabble. It’s pretty inspirational, if not the aforementioned stupid. (But hasn’t Picard always had this reckless righteousness in him?)
Manhandled into a duel by a former Romulan senator who once saw Picard speak and is bitter about how hollow his words ended up being, Picard would probably have died and this would have been the end of this show. They would have had to change the title. But! Elnor steps up, like a mysterious hero in a samurai flick, fights in JL’s honor and promptly chops the other dude’s head off. Refreshingly, Picard later yells at him for it (once they’ve safely beamed back to Rios’ ship). You can’t just go chopping people’s head’s off, Elnor! I hope this isn’t going to be a problem.
Most of all, that man did not deserve to die, says Jean-Luc. At least not without having tried a few other problem-solving techniques. This valuing of life not only when it is convenient for the narrative, but always is the kind of choice a lesser show might not have made, and sets a character like Picard apart from other protagonists going on swashbuckling adventures.
Elsewhere in the episode, Soji and Narek go on a date and it’s the stuff of teen film legend. They slide down the abandoned halls of the Artifact in their socks (Narek’s idea!) and makeout in the hallways. It’s fun and life-affirming and the kind of scene this relationship could have used a few episodes ago. But, hey, better late than never. It makes the questions of what everyone’s true intentions are much more interesting when we believe that there is any kind of genuine connection between these two. It makes us wonder if, when Narek plants “a seed of doubt” in Soji’s mind, if he is not only doing it for his evil Romulan agenda but also because… he cares about Soji? (If he does, he is going to have to seriously step it up if this show expects me to find this dysfunctional relationship anything close to romantic, which I think is what it’s going for?
In general, “Absolute Candor” is the fastest and smoothest we’ve seen this show move since the pilot, which is even more interesting because it spends a fair amount of time flashing back to the past. Still, in the process, we learn more about Picard’s relationship to the Romulan refugee crisis, his pattern of having completely checked out when he resigned from Starfleet, and we get a whole new crew member for his ragtag band who already has a complex and meaningful relationship with JL.
And it all ends with what is the most badass character return of the series thus far: Seven of Nine, sweeping in to save Picard and his shipmates from a mysterious Romulan Bird of Prey. It’s good to have you back, friend.
Someone finally mentioned Spot. More than anything, this endeared Elnor to me.
Star Trek: Picard has never felt more like Michael Chabon’s Short Trek than in Soji and Narek’s sock-sliding scene.
“Absolute candor” sounds like “radical honesty,” no? Either way, very healthy and evolved.
This episode was the first not to be directed by the excellent Hanelle Culpepper. Instead, we had the excellent Jonathan Frakes (aka the original Number One) behind the camera. Is anyone else sad that Number One the human didn’t get to direct Number One the dog?
“One impossible thing at a time.”
“I may never pass this way again.” What a line. What a delivery.
Um… so this show definitely wants us to think that Soji is someone named “The Destroyer”…
Describing a place as “used to be home”: “of a sort, for a moment” is very relatable to me.
I want to watch the Romulan Warrior Nuns show.
“Because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one.” Ouch, but succinct.
“One whole seed… impressive.” Narek’s interactions with his Super Evil Sister are so over the top and I honestly can’t decide if it works or not.
Now I want Soji to start a band called Little Robot Girl.