Star Trek’s Narek: How Picard Did the Bad Boyfriend Trope Right

Star Trek: Picard does the "bad boyfriend" trope right, by never letting Narek's role as Soji's love interest supersede his roles as an abusive boyfriend and despicable spy.

Narek on Star Trek: Picard
Photo: CBS All Access

Warning: This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale.

Star Wars fans know this song: man commits terrible acts and is ultimately redeemed. It’s especially thorny when a romantic relationship is involved, with power dynamics and emotional manipulation part of the fabric of the relationship. In Star Trek: Picard, the Romulan agent Narek and android Soji Asha flirt with this trope without ever completely falling into it. When their romantic relationship thrives, they both have power over one another in different ways. And when they break up over galactic-scale decisions, they don’t get back together. Narek isn’t the main character of Picard—Soji and Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself are, and the show knows that. In a pop culture landscape where the “bad boy” character often receives an overabundance of attention from inside the writers’ room, it’s remarkable that Picard created a satisfying romance while also dismissing the relationship as unhealthy.

Soji and Narek’s relationship is deeply entwined with the plot when they are introduced. Both of them live and work on a Borg cube. Although Soji doesn’t know she’s an android, the audience does. This makes her affinity for the ex-Borg even more meaningful. She’s a kind person who can show compassion for cyborgs specifically, in a world where androids are illegal. And she almost immediately knows Narek is suspicious.

An agent of the extremist group the Tal Shiar, Narek was assigned to the Artifact to find out more information about Soji… by any means necessary. He isn’t particularly good at the information-gathering part of his job. In the episode “Absolute Candor,” the two alternate romance with barely-disguised attempts to interrogate one another about their histories. They’re both working on finding answers about both their histories and the Borg cube. 

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This is important bedrock for the tension in the relationship because it establishes they both have information to hold over one another. Soji strongly suspects Narek is part of the Tal Shiar, while Narek has a lead on the Romulan involvement with the Borg cube that Soji is interested in. This isn’t the case of one of them having to teach the other, or one holding the cards while the other follows along. It isn’t a healthy relationship, but it is a complex one, where both characters are clearly motivated to use the relationship to get the answers that propel the story along. They’re linked by a common “insatiable curiosity.”

They’re also relatively open about being secret-chasers-with-benefits. Soji’s bad dreams lead to a pillow conversation in which she asks whether he wants to hear about her dreams: “Because you care? Or because you’re endlessly fascinated with the way my mind works?” Her dreams are a symptom of her android programming, so the audience knows the answer is, at best, both. And that’s what the dialogue confirms, with Narek replying: “Do I have to choose?” Again, just because they have effective communication about what each of them really wants out of the relationship doesn’t mean it’s healthy. 

The show doesn’t reward that relationship, either. In particular, the narrative does not pity Narek for his indecision. He has multiple chances to choose Soji over his mission or to join Picard’s team, and decides to stick with the Tal Shiar mission instead. This leads to two important resolutions in the finale: the end of the Soji/Narek dynamic, and the fate of both characters overall.  

The conclusion of Narek’s story doesn’t paint him as a hero. Even the things that made him dashing are broken down: he has lost his role as a spy and appears bedraggled and unshaven. For a viewer who had some sympathy for the pressure his sister and fellow agent placed on him, or his status as a relatively inept spy, there’s still a chance to feel for Narek. But the narrative doesn’t reward him, and it shouldn’t. He isn’t painted as a hero stymied by an irrational or naive woman, and Soji isn’t a waif blinded to wider consequences by her attraction. Nor does the show try to save Narek from himself. All of those elements could be read into the relationship with a less adept script. In their last conversation, Narek tells Soji he loves her—and quite possibly means it. He’s clearly been lowering more and more walls around her, including giving her his true name. 

She replies: “I know. What a sad and twisted thing you are. You disgust me, Narek. But not as much as I disgust myself for pitying you.” Like her thoughts, her words jump around through all the different emotions she’s feeling. The cold “I know” is more evidence of that clinical curiosity they’ve leveled at one another from the start. It’s followed by disgust for what he has done and how he has hurt her. And the pity—hateful but present—wraps up her confrontation of her own emotions.

In the end, Narek’s fate is completely unknown. Season 1 showrunner Michael Chabon stated on an Instagram Q&A that his fate was “a casualty of the editorial process” and that the intent was for him to be arrested by the Federation. Even the fact that Narek doesn’t really matter to the plot of the finale puts a pin on the priorities the writers had: Soji’s decision is what matters. For all his waffling, Narek’s tortured psyche isn’t even important enough to keep in the show. And instead of a loose end, it feels like a statement on its own. 

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With the ending rather ambiguous but Soji and Narek both still on the playing field, there’s plenty of room for fans to speculate about where their relationship might go from here, whether that means healthy re-connection, happily never seeing one again, or anything in between. The fantasy of a liaison with a smart, charming spy is still present in the show for fans who want it, but it’s not nearly as important as everything else in the finale, which includes an emphasis on totally different elements of strong friendships and romances

The separate fates of both characters reinforce the idea that Soji, not Narek, has the power to save herself and her allies in the finale. Picard’s crewmate Raffi Musiker directly calls Narek an “abusive boyfriend.” Narek agrees to help Picard’s team by providing himself as a prize to the androids who want to destroy all organic life. But he isn’t the key to their success; the whole plan falls apart, leaving it to Soji, unmoved by Narek’s opinions, to decide to stop the androids’ attack. Picard decides he is willing to sacrifice his own life for the androids, and Soji decides peace is more important than revenge. She gets what she wants—the chance to know her true history and to decide what kind of life to live for herself, with or without her enemy.