This Star Trek: Picard review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 5
If last week’s episode championed radical honesty (at least on the surface level), “Stardust City Rag” was all about the lies we tell ourselves and one another to get through the day and get what we want. For JL and friends, lies are a necessary part of the job when they all go undercover in an attempt to rescue Bruce Maddox from the clutches of Bjayzl, a crime lord on Freecloud who is planning on selling him to the Zhat Vash. But it’s the deceptions the team isn’t all in on that end up putting the group in danger—and making for one hell of a plot twist-y third act.
Our first lie comes from Seven of Nine, who is less than truthful with Picard about her true intentions for wanting to nab Maddox. Sure, she’s always in for a heroic rescue mission (after all, she’s spent at least the last decade and a half trying to save those who have no one else), but she also wants to get revenge on ex-girlfriend Bjayzl, who manipulated Seven’s emotions in order to get information about other former Borg. She used that information to capture and pull apart Icheb, whom Seven thought of as a son.
In a flashback to 13 years prior, we see Bjayzl’s people ripping Icheb’s implants from him without so much as a sedative. Seven gets there in time to put him out of his misery, holding him close as she puts a phaser to his chest and pulls the trigger. It’s no surprise that, more than a decade later, Seven is still looking for revenge for the betrayal and act of greed—Bjayzl seemingly just did all of this so she could sell the Borg parts. In this context, I can’t say that Seven makes the wrong decision here. Picard preaches the need for mercy and law, but there doesn’t seem to be any system ready to step up and make sure Bjayzl doesn’t continue to prey on the most vulnerable for profit. The Federation sure as hell isn’t doing it.
While Seven’s deception was unexpected if not surprising, Agnes’ decision to kill Maddox, implying she has motivations outside of what she is ostensibly on the mission to do (meet Soji and help out), was straight-up shocking. The episode’s direction began to hint that something might be up with Dr. Jurarti when she was listening to Maddox’s confessions about Soji’s location in the foreground, all skulky-like, but the implication that the two had been in a romantic relationship prior to Maddox’s disappearance, was a good fake-out.
Though the two did seem to be in a romantic relationship, there has apparently always been more to Agnes than she has let on. Is she working with the Zhat Vash? If so, how long and for what reasons? What does Bruce mean when he thanks Agnes for her contribution in creating Soji and Dahj? And what did “they” show Agnes that made her regret ever helping and made her want to kill Bruce? We have some theories about all of this over in this article, but the fact that Agnes seemed emotionally-distressed when killing Bruce makes this so much more interesting to me, and it so much more chilling than if she had just murdered Maddox stoically in cold blood.
Elsewhere in the episode, Raffi ditches the mission (after more or less setting up the plan) in order to find her son Gabriel. Gabe is living on Freecloud, and is about to have a child with his Vulcan partner. Raffi surprises Gabe while he is in the waiting room at a reproductive health facility, apologizing for not being a better parent and implying she would like to be a part of his life now—she came all of this way to prove it to him. But one grand gesture does not a stable parent-child relationship make and, when Gabe provokes her into talking about the conspiracy behind the attack on Mars, Raffi quickly reveals that she is not as dispassionate about the event as she initially made herself out to be.
While Raffi may be proven to be right about a conspiracy at the heart of the attack on Mars and the ban on synthetics, that doesn’t mean Gabe isn’t also right in his experience of Raffi having neglected him as a child. It sounds like Raffi had a substance abuse disorder and became obsessed with her conspiracy theories—not a healthy combination. Unable and/or unwilling to get the help she needed, Raffi seemingly peaced out on her responsibilities as a parent and is only now trying to make amends.
I’m rooting for Raffi, but I also don’t blame Gabe for not letting himself believe Raffi’s offer. A pattern of actions speak louder than a one-time exclamation of wanting to do better. It’s nice to see Raffi back with the team on Rios’ ship (and isn’t JL’s “Welcome back” the perfect, unobstrusive way to show support to someone who doesn’t want to chat?), but if she’s serious about wanting to repair her relationship with her son—if that’s even possible at this point—she’s going to have to try harder.
So much about this episode worked, and all of it was seamlessly woven together. The theme of deception was particularly effective, as was Jean-Luc and Seven’s discussion of the struggle to reclaim their humanity following their time with the Borg. Past that, Star Trek: Picard continues to represent different paths people have taken in the face of the Federation’s institutional failure. Picard went and hid with his grapes. Raffi perhaps went too far the other way, sacrificing her interpersonal relationships in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. And Seven has been out there, day in and day out, trying to help in whatever way she can.
I’ve written before about how I view the Star Trek franchise through the lens of institution as theme, and Star Trek: Picard is a very topical look at what happens when the institutions we built to support us fail us in devastating, perhaps even unforgivable ways. I’d love to see a Star Trek series that is able to imagine what the dream of institutional utopia even looks like for modern audiences, so fantastical does that feel at this point in our culture, but if we can’t have that, this might be the next best thing?
You don’t hire Alison Pill and not use Alison Pill.
The Zhat Vash sure are taking their sweet time coming to pick Bruce Maddox up.
I don’t love Star Trek‘s continued overrepresentation of toxic romantic relationships. Like, is anyone in this galaxy in a happy, healthy romance? Where are the Miles and Keikos of this world?
We didn’t check in with Soji and Narek in this episode, but I didn’t particularly miss them? Probably because this episode was so goddamn good.
Elnor is lowkey adorable in this episode, feeling left out that Freecloud doesn’t even bother peddling its debauchery at him, and that no one trusts him with a secret identity.
I don’t want Seven of Nine to go…