HOUSTON, WE HAVE SPOILERS!
At this point, if you’re not liking (or loving) STAR TREK: PICARD, then I really just don’t get it. Not to say you’re not entitled to your opinion, but it’s just beyond my ken trying to figure out if we’re even watching the same show!
I enjoy this series as a Trek fan, as a sci-fi fan, and simply as a television viewer. I love the story, the characters, the acting, the writing, the VFX (just enough lens flare not to drive ya nuts!), the costumes, the make-up, the sets, and even (especially!) the music.
This eighth episode had a little something for everyone…even the complainers. So if you’ve been criticizing the show on social media, did you at least like any of the following…?
YOU WANTED ACTION? YOU GOT ACTION!
Okay, I’ll admit that a good portion of this eighth episode featured the crew members of the La Sirena just sitting around and talking to each other. The ship wasn’t getting shot at, Elnor wasn’t cutting off people’s heads, and no one was being murdered.
But meanwhile, back on the Borg Cube Artifact, it was Fast and Furious 7-of-9! (Let’s all pause a moment to appreciate that pun.) For those viewers complaining that episodes of Picard are “too” slow, these cutaways to Seven-of-Nine and Elnor must certainly have felt like a welcome pick-me-up! The stakes were high, the tension palpable, the urgency immediate, and the action thrilling. The bad guys were nefariously plotting and preparing, the good guys were struggling to come up with a workable defense, and our “hero” Seven was forced by circumstance into making an impossible choice.
And let’s hear it for the “head fake” of leading us to the edge of having Seven release the Borg hounds and then—SWOOSH!!!—having Narissa space them all in five seconds. So much for that idea! Granted, in retrospect, that “plot twist” saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in make-up and wardrobe costs that would have been required to turn the end of the episode into Borg War V (or whatever we’re up to…”Descent,” First Contact, “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero,” feel free to add any Borg-heavy episodes to that list). But even knowing that the decision was as much cost-savings as anything, the moment was still unexpected (for me, at least), and it definitely left Seven in a very scary place.
Let’s see what other goodies were on the menu this episode…
PUTTING TOGETHER THE BROKEN PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
One of the marks of a compelling storyline is the creation of little mysteries that keep us guessing. The writers succeed when our questions are answered satisfyingly and believably.
While Picard has pulled back the curtain in little bits here and there over the previous seven episodes, there were still WAY more questions than answers. And some of those answers threatened to be either disappointments or frustrations. For example, some fans were dreading that we’d discover that the “revenge of the synths” would trace itself back to Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Control” artificial intelligence (A.I.) who basically became SkyNet during the show’s second season. But mercifully, that turned out NOT to be the case. The “Admonition” was a signal left behind 200-300 centuries ago (LONG before Discovery) as a warning that A.I.s inevitably reach a point where they evolve to become threats to all sentient life forms in the universe. Maybe Control crossed that threshold, but at least so far on Picard, that hasn’t been part of the revelations.
What has been revealed, however, were a satisfying number of answers that weren’t overly predictable and were fairly believable within the scope of Star Trek (no magic mushroom drives or using Khan’s blood to cure death).
This episode filled in a LOT of blanks. First of all, fans had been debating whether Commodore Oh (should we just call her “the big O”?) was a Romulan spy or a Vulcan sympathizer inside of Starfleet. After all, Romulans look just like Vulcans (and they pulled this trick before in the TNG episode “Data’s Day”). But then again, Oh also could do a mind-meld, so maybe she was just a Vulcan colluder.
Turns out that Oh was bOtH a Romulan and a Vulcan—although how Raffi determined that fact is unclear (sloppy writing…but not nearly enough to ruin the episode). And not only that, but it turns out that Oh is sorta the brains of the whole Zhat Vash operation and brought Narissa and her Auntie Ramdha into the Sisterhood of the Traveling Panics. (Oh, Jonathan is on fire today!)
And speaking of Auntie Crazy Romulan, that was an unexpected bit of reveal that I really liked. We met her living La Ramdha Loca in the XB Recovery Ward a few episodes back when she tried to kill Soji. Most of us watched the scene wondering why Ramdha suddenly went into a murderous rage. Well, not only have we tied up that loose end but also a few others…like how the Romulans ever managed to defeat a Borg cube. Apparently, having the “Admonition” in her brain acted like a virus and gave the Borg on that cube the equivalent of a nervous breakdown when they tried to assimilate Crazy Auntie’s Tal Shiar vessel. So…that was cool! Very tight writing, Mr. MICHAEL CHABON! And add in some extra points for a little character development by revealing that Auntie Frizzy Hair took in Narissa and Narek when they were children after their parents died.
And now we know for certain that it was Oh and the Romulans who glitched the Androids of Mars and made them commit unspeakable synths (unspeakable sins…get it?—or am I just trying too hard now?). Of course, we kinda suspected this, but now Raffi knows and feels vindicated, so that’s nice.
However, where things went a little wrong for me in the reveals were twofold…although they might still be explained. First, I still have no idea why “The Admonition” causes such insanity. Sure, it’s hard to convey through quarter-second quick cuts the horror of whatever it was folks were seeing. But wasn’t it something from 20,000 years ago? Or did it predict the future…which is why we glimpsed Data and one of the Mars Androids for a fleeing moment? The latter seems hard to believe. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of the Nazi Holocaust, and while those images and stories will haunt me forever, they don’t make me want to tear my own face off or bash a rock down hard onto my skull….or kill Bruce Maddox, for that matter.
However, the scene with the admonished sisters (no brothers, huh?) did provide some interesting insights into Narissa. She watched the galactic carnage and horror like a toddler watching Sesame Street. So my suspicion is that she’s not quite right in the head to begin with, and maybe the experience pushed her even further into sociopathy. That kinda explains her arrogant sadism and seduction of her brother Narek. In other words, she might have been F’d up before “The Admonition,” but now she’s really F’d up!
AND SPEAKING OF F-BOMBS…
If you like the swearing on Picard, then this was your F-ing episode! Three-of-a-kind F-bombs is the best poker hand yet. That said, while two of them bothered me as indulgent and unnecessary, I have to admit that when Admiral Clancy said, “Admiral Picard, with all due respect and at long last, shut the fuck up!” I actually didn’t mind it. In those five seconds, with Picard rudely interrupting his superior officer and not letting her get a word in edgewise, I kinda wanted him to zip it, too.
The entire scene played out very well thanks to two accomplished actors delivering their lines flawlessly. And of course, the reason Picard needed to disengage was because Clancy was about to give him the squadron of starships he was asking for in order to protect the synth planet from the Romulan attack.
And if you believe that…!
C’mon, you don’t think Clancy is giving Picard all those ships to STOP the synths from being obliterated, do you??? Synths are illegal and this planet has—what?—hundreds? thousands? millions? Imagine the U.S. finding a warehouse full of nuclear warheads in downtown Tehran…what would we do? That squadron is gonna have orders to fire everything. Picard is simply there to show the starships where the target is and get the synths to trust him so they don’t suspect anything. And even if this directive ain’t coming from Clancy herself—Oh, we all know who WILL give that black flag order. Just you watch!
Okay, let’s turn to happier thoughts…
A COMEDY TONIGHT!
It’s not that Picard hasn’t had its funny moments. There’s the banter (yes, Star Trek: Discovery, you CAN have banter!) between Picard and his Tal Shiar housekeepers/bodyguards, between Picard and Raffi, between Raffi and Rios, between Rios and Agnes, between Picard and Riker/Troi, and even Picard himself doing ‘ees outRAGEzhuos Franch ahkzent! But “Broken Pieces” gave us a tour de force series of scenes featuring the insanely talented SANTIAGO CABRERA playing Rios and his many-accented holograms.
Yeah, I know it’s a kinda hokey idea to have five emergency hologram replicas of the ship’s captain, but I actually loved the idea from the get-go. Considering that cars are already driving themselves right now in 2020, why not have a holographic crew to save on salaries, oxygen, food and water stores, etc.? Whatever the rationale, the comedic opportunities from Rios’ holograms to steal the show have been utilized to the fullest. Granted, three of the accents are from the same 250-mile diameter of isles (English, Scottish, and Irish), and one of them doesn’t even speak English (odd when there’s this thing called a universal translator in everyone’s head), but I adore them all just the same. And of course, the Scottish one is the engineer…AYE!
Watching the uptight and impatient Raffi trying to play detective during the hologroup therapy session was priceless and SO much fun. But then, when it was time for the real Rios to please stand up—or rather, mope on the floor—we ended up getting so much amazing backstory.
And here’s where the complainers got a little of what they’ve been wanting and a little of what they didn’t. One of the things missing from Picard (very noticeably and purposefully) is the old, familiar Starfleet. Picard, Raffi, and Rios are the ex-Starfleet officers in the “Picard Squad.” But we’re not used to seeing such damaged people in the service. Before this, the most troubled folks we saw in Starfleet uniforms were guys like Benjamin Sisko (lost his wife), Tom Paris (lost his integrity), and Reginald Barclay (lost his confidence). But in the end, they were all good, brave, decent people who ultimately got their acts together. But in order for them to do that, they and we needed to know where the damage came from. We know where Picard made his mistake, and we’ve gotten a look into Raffi. Now it’s Rios’ episode.
Hearing the story of Rios’ former CO will likely make those who disliked and hated this show feel those feelings even more so because Starfleet captains don’t execute orders like that. But remember that this was an order from the Big O, likely made with a little Section 31 help, I’d wager! What was Captain Vandermeer to do? He had to protect his ship and crew. Either two synths died or two synths plus his entire crew (and he himself) died. The math was miserable and provided only one logical solution. Damn Oh for forcing Vandermeer to make it! But writing a truly loathsome villain is part of the job when it’s done right. Lovable villains are harder to root against.
By the way, for anyone who is curious about the name of Rios’ old ship, Ahmad Ibn Majid was a 15th century Arabian cartographer who literally wrote the book on sailing and navigating the oceans. Called “The Lion of the Sea,” he mapped out a safe route from Africa to India for European sailors to follow, avoiding dangerous waters, harsh weather, and other nautical perils. And now you know.
One last bit of comedy relief came toward the end when Picard heroically takes the center seat, confidently deciding that they will do as Soji wants. Picard is back in command, and we’re ready to cheer as the familiar TNG music begins to play and Picard activates the controls. But psyche! It’s the second fake-out of the episode as Picard admits, “Actually, I don’t know how to work this.” My own parents can’t use an iPhone…so I totally get that scene (even though it’s Jean-LucPicard)! Getting old sucks big time when technology doesn’t wait around for you.
AND FOR THE TRIVIA-MINDED TREKKIE…
There is an art to hiding Easter eggs. When I watch Discovery, I often feel like the Star Trek references are hung like ornaments on a Christmas tree. “Hey, look at this tribble! There’s a Gorn skeleton! Surprise, we’ve got Harry Mudd!” Things got more subtle in season two, but Picard has so far done a much better job of actually hiding the Easter eggs rather than hanging them on an Easter tree.
Two excellent examples came during this episode, and both of them might well have blown right past you. The first is when the ENH (Emergency Navigational Hologram) is searching for any memories of Jana and says, “It’s like my knowledge of Medusan astrogation techniques…totally gone!” Anyone here remember the TOS episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” where the Medusan ambassador Kollos melds with Spock to use the former’s knowledge of astronavigation to rescue the USS Enterprise? Last week it was the Kzinti. Two weeks before, it was Quark and Mr. Mott. This week, the Medusans. My egg basket is overflowing!
And the second Easter egg happened while Picard and Rios were discussing the latter’s former CO, who himself served as XO to a former Starfleet Academy classmate of Picard’s. Remember the name of that officer? Marta Batanides. Think back to the TNG episode “Tapestry” where Q takes Picard back to his old academy days? Remember his female classmate? Yep, that was her name! Now that’s the way you hide an Easter egg.
I keep seeing detractors online complain that the writing on Picard is horrible. “6th grader fanfic level” one person called it. I wanted to prove them wrong last week, but I ran out of space. So this week, I’ve got a few hundred words left. So let’s call out some of the more intelligent quotes:
“And now, the windmills have turned out to be giants.” – In the the early 17th century Spanish novel by MIGUEL de CERVANTES, the main character Don Quixote de la Mancha is an “ingenious gentleman,” much like Jean-Luc Picard himself. Quixote is also nuts. He’s lost his mind, much as Picard will soon do as his Irumodic Syndrome slowly takes him into a state of aging dementia. A relic from a long-lost time of knights and honor, Quixote rides his exhausted horse Rocinante, charging at a series of windmills, trying to impale them while believing them (in his own mind) to be giants. The true message of this literary classic is that Quixote is keeping hope and nobility alive in a world that has moved on from such outdated nonsense. His knightly deeds are seen as comical and pointless, easily dismissed as folly and hallucination. So when both Picard and Admiral Clancy use the word “quixotic,” and Picard points out that the windmills have turned out to be giants, there’s a LOT to unpack there!
“You’re my favorite holo.” – This line does more than simply sound funny. It reminds viewers with short memories/short attention spans that Rios has multiple Emergency Holograms throughout the ship. Sure, most of us remember this, but writers aren’t supposed to assume the audience knows anything going in. So if a viewer was confused that the guy in Sickbay looks just like the captain and now the navigator, this one line explains it without explaining it. Clever!
“Well, I’m done murdering people…so…that’s a good thing.” – How do you solve a problem like Jurati? Poor Agnes murdered someone. And even though Elnor and Seven-of-Nine have done some killin’ of their own, Agnes killed a good guy. How can the writers find a way to keep her on board and not have every character remain suspicious of her? I mean, it’s a long road back to redemption, but they really only had three episodes to redeem her. So this line, delivered in a perfectly contrite and awkward way by ALISON PILL, helps move the character back to a better place on the chess board…especially since she promises to turn herself in.
“Annika still has work to do.” – Wow. Even WIL WHEATON grasped the deep significance of that line on this week’s READY ROOM. Seven calls herself “Annika,” even though she seemingly had abandoned that name. What work does Annika still need to do? Work saving the cube? Saving Picard or Soji? Or saving herself?
“It took her all of five minutes to hack my ship, Picard. And now, maybe there’s a whole planet of them. Raffi said the Romulans called it ‘The Destroyer.’ What if they’re right?” – Anyone who thinks this show only exists to preach the liberal agenda to those out there who hate Donald Trump, here is the line that shows the other side of the argument. Synths are indeed F-ing scary! Sure, Data was nice, and so is Soji. But so were the Androids of Mars…you get what I’m sayin’? There’s a lot of franchises out there where the A.I. turns on the humans and kicks our asses—Battlestar Galactica, Westworld, Lost In Space, Transformers, The Matrix, Terminator…to name but a few. This has all happened before, and it looks like it’ll happen again and again. Do we really need to make “better” people? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t.
“And we have powerful tools, Rios: openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity. All they have is secrecy and fear, and fear is the great destroyer.” – And of course, if you don’t like Donald Trump, then there’s your line. Star Trek has never shied away from commenting on current hot-button issues—from the war in Vietnam to racial prejudice to homophobia to xenophobia. So if you’re the kind of fan who likes Kirk and Picard making high-falutin’ preachy speeches, here ya go. And if you don’t like what Picard has to say, well, as I said at the beginning, everyone is entitled to an opinion.
SCENES WITH IMPACT
And finally, so I don’t end this blog in a heated political debate, I’d like you to watch the following scene…
Now watch it again and notice how carefully ISA BRIONES has studied BRENT SPINER’s physical acting to be able to shift into a gentle echo of Data as she delivers the line, “He loved you.” That is Data telling Picard, not Soji.
Also, as you rewatch the scene, listen to what Picard says about how he would have hoped Data would remember Jean-Luc Picard. His words don’t describe a commanding officer or even simply a friend. They describe a parent, a father. Think of Data as an autistic child, capable of love but unable to show it outwardly. Think of Picard as the parent who helped raise that child and later lost him. Now rewatch that scene and try not to cry.
6th grader fanfic level, my ass! The many (master)pieces of “Broken Pieces” are why I love this show so much!