Welcome back, dear reader, as we continue to review Star Trek: Picard with Season 1 Episode 5, “Stardust City Rag.” What a fun episode. I don’t care what anybody says about “post-scarcity society,” that was a great hour of Star Trek. I think the timing was perfect to add a little levity. And come on, who doesn’t love a flamboyantly French pirate?
“Every damn day of my life”
So, this was a different episode. No Borg cube. No Starfleet. No Romulans. You could almost say that this wasn’t even a Picard episode. It was a Seven of Nine episode. Or perhaps a backdoor pilot for an upcoming Fenris Rangers series? We can only hope.
We start with a flashback from her past. It’s only a year after the synthetic ban, and ex-Borg are being harvested for their parts. It looks like the implication here is that those two are causally connected. Obviously the ex-Borg are reviled, but this seems to be taking their othering to a new level. For those who did not watch Voyager, Icheb was one of a group of children rescued from the Borg that Seven had taken under her wing. Her “children.” Icheb in particular had followed in her footsteps and had joined Starfleet. He was on leave working with the Rangers when he was taken by Bjayzl.
This shows just how badly deteriorated things have gotten following Starfleet’s withdraw following the Mars attack—creating the power vacuum mentioned last episode. The Fenris Rangers are attempting to bring law and order to the sector, or vigilante justice depending on your point of view. So refreshingly in this episode, Seven’s beef isn’t with Picard directly, so much as it is with what he represents to her—the high and mighty Starfleet, more concerned with saving the galaxy than saving individual people. Over the course of the episode though, Picard wins her over. To some degree, she admires him for still having hope, and she doesn’t want to disillusion him. She left him her calling card though, so hopefully we’ll see her again next season.
“One more thing I have to atone for”
Maddox is so front and center in this episode, it’s a wonder that just last week we were still unsure if we would even see him in the series. And no sooner do we have him than he is dead and gone now. Before he died though, he passed on an expositional treasure trove of information.
Maddox went into hiding because the Tal Shiar (though more likely the Zhat Vash, just he doesn’t know of them) destroyed his lab. It’s implied that Bjayzl funded that lab through a loan that Maddox can now no longer repay. Perhaps she was funneling him Borg parts to make something for her.
Dahj’s “embedded Mom AI” activated her because she was in grave danger. He passes on the sister’s name and location, which we already knew but Picard and company did not. A lot of people are complaining that the show moves too slow, but it looks like we’re going to connect Picard and Soji in person next episode, and perhaps even whisk her away from the Artifact before the Zhat Vash closes in. Makes you wonder how Riker and Troi are going to factor into this.
Maddox is the one who sent the sisters, one to the Institute and one to the Artifact, to “find the truth” about the Federation’s synthetic ban. He says it’s not just the Romulans behind it, the Federation is involved as well. This maybe explains something Rizzo said to Narek, about Commodore Oh having been “a useful ally for a long time.” So Commodore Oh is really a Vulcan, not a Romulan in disguise, and she is really Starfleet, but in cahoots with the Zhat Vash.
This also explains a scene from one of the previews where Commodore Oh appears to be conducting a mind meld with Dr. Jurati. Oh would apparently be the one who showed Agnes something she wished they hadn’t shown her. I assume that was the “secret so profound and terrible just learning it can break a person’s mind.”
Note also that he makes no mention of any other synths. Just Dahj and Soji, no mention of the “others” or the “nest.” In the video of Maddox making cookies for Agnes, he explains to her that he doesn’t like the replicator cookies, because there’s an alchemy to baking them by hand. This obviously hints at the process of making Dahj and Soji. Made from the same synthesized elements that Soong provided, but uniquely hand made to form the twins. This would seem to imply there is no Maddox-works synth factory, stamping out an army of Dahj / Soji clones. It would also seem to imply the “others” are not synthetics of Maddox’s doing. More likely something older, dating back to the origins of the Zhat Vash.
The Last Best Hope
We talked last week about the tie-in novel, Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope, but I was not yet all the way through reading it. That said, just about everything it established has now been revealed through the last two episodes. The Qowat Milat, Maddox and Jurati’s affair, Raffi’s family. Granted, the novel expands on each of those areas and flushes out their background stories in a much more satisfying manner. We get the origin of the A500 synthetics, the details on the 14 planets who were going to separate from the Federation, and we actually get the full scene of Picard’s resignation. If you’re inclined to give it a try, I’d encourage you to do so. If not, you can certainly live without it now.
There was, of course, one important question raised by the other tie-in multimedia, the Short Treks episode “Children of Mars” and the Countdown comic. Did Geordi die in the Mars synth attack? The definitive answer is finally revealed at the end of the novel. He was on a shuttle back to Earth to talk to Bruce Maddox at the Institute, with a handful of other fortunate Mars workers. So the writers did not insanely kill off a beloved Star Trek character off screen. OK, maybe that was a given.
- I missed this, but turns out The Daystrom Institute of Advanced Robotics is named after Dr. Richard Daystrom from ST:TOS S2E24 “The Ultimate Computer.” He was a scientist who invented the M-5, an artificial intelligence capable of running a starship by itself (that did not turn out so well, naturally).
- This is a deep cut. The chop doc in the flashback scene asks Icheb “Where’s your cortical node, buddy?” She got her answer when Seven busts in, gun a-blazing, because Icheb had donated his cortical node to Seven in ST:VOY S7E2 “Imperfection.” (Source: Reddit)
- Captain Rios’ holo-ad was for “The Red Bolian.” Bolians are a race that has been featured before in TNG, DS9 and Voyager, except they are notably blue in color.
- Speaking of Bolians, one of the neon signs on Freecloud was for “Mot’s Hair Emporium.” Mot was the Bolian barber aboard the Enterprise in TNG.
- Quark, from DS9, is name dropped twice in this episode (which is extremely appropriate for their trip to Las Vegas planet). One of the neon signs on Freecloud advertises “Quark’s Bar.” “Mr. Quark of Ferenginar” is also used as a fake reference for Rios’ cover story.
- Tranya, the drink that Bjayzl offers Maddox, has a history dating back to ST:TOS S1E2 “The Corbomite Maneuver.”
- When Seven beams back down to Free Cloud to exact revenge, the musical cue is the Voyager theme.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- What is the “conclave of eight?”
- Dr. Jurati gets a holo-ad promoting violence against robots. Foreshadowing much?
- In general, the holo-ads were targeted towards each recipient. Rios gets something for his ship. Picard gets an ad for high tea, what else. Raffi gets an ad for a snake weed peddler. Jurati gets a recruitment ad for the Freecloud Institute of Entertainment Robotics—apparently the seedy underbelly version of the Daystrom Institute.
- Could Gabe’s wife be Tal Shiar and/or Zhat Vash? Infiltrating Raffi’s family to keep an eye on her activities or establish blackmail leverage for future use, perhaps?
- Some fans are up in arms about the recasting of both Bruce Maddox and Icheb in this episode. I’m more freaked out by how much the actress playing Bjayzl looks like a young Deanna Troi. What are they up to with that casting?
- Rios left the transport pattern enhancer chip on purpose, knowing what Seven would do.
- I mentioned that perhaps the harvesting of Borg parts is related to the Federation’s ban on synthetics. However, even the Romulans are harvesting Borg parts. It’s just that they are actually doing it humanely. Perhaps the market for these parts is the same though, whether ethically harvested or not.
The best lines of this episode:
- “Seven, the ex-Borg Fenris Ranger from the Delta Quadrant.”
- “I don’t know how to not be Elnor.” “Then be Elnor. An Elnor who never talks.”
- “You need a feather in your hat.”
- “Defiled is what you are! Damned! Cursed!”
- “After they brought you back from your time in the Collective, do you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?” “Yes.” “All of it?” “No.”
- “It’s hopeless and pointless and exhausting, and the only thing worse would be giving up.”
- “They’re perfect. Perfectly imperfect.”
In The News
Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to Star Trek: Picard or just Star Trek in general:
- I’ve mentioned these here and there before, but let me just say that the two after show podcasts that you absolutely must be listening to are Deadline’s Star Trek: Picard Podcast (clever name) and CBS All Access’ The Ready Room with Wil Wheaton. Both have been featuring really great interviews with folks both behind and in front of the camera on the series.
- Only one more thing to mention this week: Happy Birthday Jeri Ryan! Born February 22, 1968 (52 years old).
That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below, or catch me on the r/Picard sub on Reddit as u/catnapspirit. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of Star Trek: Picard throughout Season 1 and beyond, as well as covering Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek in general.