Star Trek: Picard S01E02 – Episode Review
Star Trek: Picard is a CBS All Access and Amazon Prime television series in it’s first season. This is an episode review of the second episode, ‘Maps & Legends’ which was written by Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsmith and directed by Hanelle Culpepper. It was released on 30th January 2020.
In the last episode, Remembrance we saw the character introduction and eventual death of Dahj at the hands of a hit squad seemingly made up of Romulans. Picard works out that she was probably the miraculous daughter of his deceased synthetic friend Data and that Dahj probably had a synthetic twin.
We find the twin, called Soji, is working on a reclaimed Borg cube that is being supervised by Romulans. We also learned in the last episode of the Mars catastrophe and the outlawing of synthetic life forms. Although other reviewers are waxing lyrical about how much more meat was put on the bones this episode, I thought it simply consolidated the story a little.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 2 Review
The show opens with a terribly written, poorly directed piece of jarring Star Trek stupidity. We again glimpse the start of the attack on the Utopia Planitia shipyard on Mars. We knew that this was done by synthetic life forms working there who set fire to the planet (literally globally) and destroying a whole host of rescue ships that were destined to support the evacuation of Romulus. Alas we didn’t learn why the attack happened. Just that the synthetics received some message electronically that made their eyes glitter a little.
I guess they will drag the reasoning out longer but the fact here is that it was the rescue ships being destroyed that played a more significant part than the destruction of the shipyard. I’ll explain why later…. see what I did there, some breadcrumbs with a promise of jam later! Annoying huh?!
The special effects for this opening sequence were pretty good but the writing dialogue was really stupid I mean real numbskull batshit bad…… There were some strange jibes and fun-making of the synthetics (especially since they seemed to be the only ones doing any work – or was that the point). Most of the synthetics ‘work’ seemed menial – something synthetics weren’t supposed to be into if I remember rightly, from the Next Generation.
Synthetics were the engineered to be engineers and designers of the bolts, not the ones doing the tightening! I guess things had changed, this was the first time I’d seen Star Trek ‘plastic people’ as they were referred to. The irritating poop humour was annoying too and the whole scene threw me into a wtf! feeling about the writing aimed at the lowest common denominator audience. Much of the scene dialogue was jarringly different. I think they felt that they could get away with it because of the excellent graphics.
Mars is effectively destroyed and then we see the opening credits. I turned to my wife and we both went ‘hmmmmmm’.
Picard Episode Review: Back to the Chateaux
When we are finally returned back to where the show left off at the last episode (at Chateau Picard), the conversation about the mystery of Dahj’s death and why it was being covered up continues. Picards loyal staff – I call them that, it isn’t clear if they are simply friends helping out, managers of the vineyard or housekeepers, help his clarify the details. Zhaban (played by Jamie McShane) and Laris (played by Orla Brady) act more as a surrogate family – seemingly the only family Picard has and it has to be said, they do it very well (i.e. convincingly).
It’s worth pointing out that CBS released three comics that give a detailed explanation of the story of Picard’s exit from Starfleet and the demise of the Romulans. They are pretty good and well worth checking out.
Zhat Vash – The Romulan Secret Service Secret Keeping Service
Through Laris and Zhaban we learn that there was a sort of black ops group within the Tal Shiar called the Zhat Vash. They certainly weren’t a particularly nice bunch and Laris certainly wasn’t a fan. It seems that their main purpose was to keep a secret. Indeed, the secret is so dangerous, that learning of it could break a persons mind.
Worse still, the secret they are keeping (and this is the opinion of Laris only at this point) is about synthetic life. Furthermore, there is a deep loathing and fear of everything artificial when it come to synthetics. Romulan culture never studies cybernetics, they never have synthetics or AI’s. They concentrated computer technology and strictly mathematical requirements.
Investigating the Dahj Apartment
Picard and Laris visit Dahj’s apartment. Laris was a bit of a ‘player’ in the Tal Shiar’ herself – she even has a couple of her old spy gadgets that she brought with her. She notices that the apartment appears to have been carefully ‘scrubbed’, electronically.
Again, we are, at this point, being drip fed information in a completely different way than we are used to in other Star Trek formula driven shows. In some shows that can be fun (i.e. Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, LEXX) but is definitely unsettling to those of us who are used to the more immediate episodic format. The more I tried to work out what was going on, the more questions I had and the less I felt like trying to ‘get into it’, I felt like I was being managed – I was being distracted rather than told the story.
After some clever reasoning and investigation,. Laris works out that Dahj’s sister not only exists, but is off-world.
Picard Episode Review: Meanwhile, On the Cube
It looks like the Romulan, Narek and the good Dr. Soki have made quick work getting to know each other and the next scene is of them flirting post-coitus in bed. They each try and glean information about each other and Soji is interested in why Narek is so secretive. His cryptic answers seem to intrigue her to asking more.
He goes to see Soji work. Interestingly, when he asks if it ok for him to see what she does, she tells him that he needs to get approval from the board of the Reclamation Project. As she walks away, he comments to himself, “Actually, I don’t.”
Picard Episode Review: The Starfleet Slapdown
After hearing from an old friend that he may have a serious life threatening brain condition, Picard is likely filled with a new sense of urgency and he heads out to Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco. He is embarrassed to find that he has to spell out his name to the young attendant to get himself a pass as he isn’t recognised. The irony sort of hits you in the face with a sledgehammer and there was no need for it. If Picard isn’t famous for saving humanity a dozen times, he’s certainly famous for bad-mouthing Starfleet in the tv interview he did a couple of days ago. Even if the young attendant was being antagonistic because of the interview, he was still disrespectful without apology.
Picard goes to see Admiral Kirsten Clancy (played by Ann Magnuson) and asks her if he can come back to Starfleet to undertake a covert mission. She doesn’t believe what he is telling her and thinks he is delusional.
Picard is dismissed without any element of friendliness or respect. He is considered a relic and someone to be distrusted. It’s interesting to see but again, the writing fucked up. If things had gotten so bad, wouldn’t Picard already know that? Wouldn’t his tactics have been to devise a strategy to first get in their good-books? I’m not sure why Picard walked into such a barrage unprepared, maybe it had something to do with the news about his condition or this new sense of urgency causing him to mess up his preparations.
It seemed to be a serious error in judgement. He was, after all, asking for a starship and crew from an organisation that he had just antagonised in front of the galaxy. He was clearly also asking for those things from someone in authority who didn’t like him. Why would someone so accomplished try that without something to ensure his success.
Picard Episode Review: The Fictitious Dahj
After Picard returns home dejected and slightly angry, he is joined by the lovely Dr. Agnes Jurati (played by Alison Pill). She explains that Dahj history was a carefully constructed fabrication and that she was, in fact only around three years old.
The only cheery part of the conversation was that Dr Agness also likes Earl Gray tea.
She also indicated that Bruce Maddox (the genius Synthetic designer that went rogue and did a runner after the Mars catastrophe) and Data were friends, “after a fashion”. It is likely that he is responsible for Dahj and Soki’s creation and that he would model them on data’s painting.
Finally she points out as the scene is artfully directed to the Borg Cube Reclamation Project. Dr Agnes asks, “Where is she and what is she after?”
Picard Episode Review: Bitchfest
Back ast Starfleet, the not so nice Admiral Kirsten Clancy is in a video-conference with the attractive but ruthless looking Commodore Oh. The thing is, if Commodore Oh is a vulcan why is she so bitchy? It doesn’t seem particularly plausible.
The two women believe Picard is an old ‘has-been’ and is stirring up trouble. They need to be careful. When the video call ended, Commodore Oh called for Lieutenant Rizzo to attend her at her office.
Commodore Oh is, in actual fact, not a Vulcan, she is a Romulan Commander. She is a member of the Zhat Vash and also the commander in charge of the whole Dahj fiasco. Her subordinate is also a genetically modified Romulan who has been made to look human. She was the one who led the team to capture Dahj and who failed to gather necessary information about Maddox before she could be interrogated.
Commodore Oh tells Rizzo that she should concentrate her efforts on ensuring that the current mission is successful. She tells Commodore Oh that she has her best man on it. We are led to assume that the best man is Narek and that the current mission is a Zhat Vash mission to find Maddox and to stop him.
A Friend That Hates Him With Nothing to Lose
At the Chateaux, Zhaban and Laris try to talk Picard out of his own mission to find Maddox. Picard tells Zhaban that he has already started looking for a crew.
Later, in a place that looks more like a desert, we are introduced to Raffi (played by Michelle Hurd). Their history has been explained somewhat in the Prologue comic but it isn’t very clear. She is a sort of friend that hates him and by the style of the way she lives, she doesn’t have much to loose.
When Picard pays her a visit, she is pretty hostile. That disappears when he explains that there are Romulan assassins on Earth. She also notices he is holding a bottle of the ’86’ wine from his vineyard.
Rizzo and Narek Meet
After the telling off that Rizzo received from Commodore Oh, she decides to pass some of the vitriol around to her subordinate, Narek. He confirms that he is ‘on the job’ so to speak and Rizzo presses for more information. She threatens that if she doesn’t receive anything soon – i.e. by the time she arrives, they will do things her way – we assume that means to use more harsh interrogation techniques. I guess the discussion was supposed to sound ominous but it just came across childish.
And there the show ended. The ending was better than the start but alas, it was equally hammed-up.
Picard Episode Review: About the Mars Thing
Regarding the cryptic clue in the introduction about the significance of the Mars attack by synthetics. I’m wondering if the synthetic attack on Mars was focussed on destroying the ships engaged to rescue Romulans. Maybe it wasn’t about causing the destruction of the shipyard and the loss of life. The most effective way to do that would be to take over the synthetics. You could then get them to use the AI’s and technology to destroy the ships. Tellingly, one of the Synthetics gestured that it was to take it’s own life as it’s mission was concluded. This was a covert mission of some sort. And it has to be said, it looked very Romulan in it’s execution.
Star Trek: Picard Episode Review – Conclusion
This show was more hurriedly put together than the last. We have some great show-running but some pretty poor writing. There were too many times when I would say to myself, “hang on a minute, that’s not right”. It was good and bad. Graphics and acting (especially Patrick Stewart – he is even better than the role he played as Karla in the 1980’s spy drama, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy & Smiley’s People – and much better than in TNG. I’m really enjoying the characters of Zhaban and Laris. Story development in that Starfleet and the Federation have been infiltrated by Romulans is a good development. Also we now know why Narek is close to Soji on the Romulan Reclamation Cube which seems plausible.
Is the Federation Doomed?
Fascinatingly, the whole patronising goody-goody Federation seems a lot less the ‘shining light of the Galaxy’. That is really refreshing and for me, was always the biggest flaw (and central selling point) in TNG. Parts of the Federation are sick from the inside and the organisation has made a number of critical errors. The Mars catastrophe for instance, was a big blot on their copybook. More recently, the rather silly comment by the admiral that The Federation can decide which species can live or die. Something unheard of in the TNG series (such things would never be uttered, even secretly). That was either bad writing or a seriously important plot point, it’s difficult to tell as the writing was so poor. There is still very little context as to why the Romulans are putting such efforts in to unlocking the secrets of the Borg.
There were two uses of the word Fuck (actually Fuck and Fucking…. just saying!). I can’t understand if that is a bit of a gimmick, or not. Some reviewers were a little miffed, some didn’t notice. Personally, I didn’t notice.
The big thing for me in this episode, is confirmation of the ‘long-view’ story format. You couldn’t skip this episode easily and expect to return to the saga without a recap. I’m definitely a fan of this approach. I just hope they can improve the scene writing and storytelling in the next episode. If John Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) could have written this it would have been marvelous. I’m sure some of you understand the irony (see the end of the page for an explanation)
Star Trek Picard is shown on Thursdays on CBS All Access, on CTV Sci-Fi channel in Canada and on Amazon Prime elsewhere on Fridays.
I’d rate this a poorly written but well recovered 7.5 out of 10.
It’s really good – Recommended!
This Picard Episode Review is copyright Tony Fawl and not for reproduction without permission.
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The Irony of an episode in this series by JMS (John Michael Straczynski)
Majel Roddenberry (the wife of the illustrious creator of Start Trek) once commented about Babylon 5. She said that that the biggest problem with the show was that it was not episodic. She meant that the use of a story arc meant people could not miss a show. If they did, they may not return. Now we see Star Trek adopting a non episodic format, not only with this, but also, arguably maybe even with the Star Trek: Discovery series.