The second episode of Star Trek: Picard, “Maps and Legends”, written by series’ creators Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman and directed (once again) by Hannale Culpepper has been released on CBS-All Access and Amazon Prime (overseas). This particular episode plays like a procedural drama; more “CSI: Starfleet” than Star Trek at times.
Maps and Legends.
Opening on the planet Mars of 2385 (14 years before Picard’s present of 2399), we finally see the Federation’s “9/11” that led to both the abandonment of Romulan refugee rescue operations (following the destruction of their home system) and a complete ban on the construction and development of artificial life forms, aka “Synths” (like Picard’s late friend Data).
On “First Contact Day” of April 5th of that year, we see human workers on Mars working alongside Synth workers, though in a decidedly inequitable relationship (exactly the kind of exploitative relationship Picard forecast for Data’s ‘race’ if Starfleet developed more like him). The cybernetic beings are derisively referred to as ‘plastic faces’ in a chillingly racist taunt that feels very out of character with TNG’s original vision of the 24th century. One android, F-8 (Alex Diehl), goes rogue, lowering planetary defense systems, allowing a planet-wide attack with other rogue Synths which killed thousands. This devastating attack was also chronicled in the Short Trek mini-episode, “Children of Mars” released a couple of weeks ago.
On Picard’s chateau in present day La Barre, France, Picard is still examining the circumstances around the death of the mysterious organic-Synth woman Daj (Isa Briones), who died seeking Picard’s protection. All visual records of her existence, including her death near Starfleet Command Headquarters, has been erased from the visual logs. Picard consults with his two loyal Romulan friends, Laris (Orla Brady) and her husband Zhaban (Jamie McShane), both of whom used to work for the Tal Shiar (the Romulan Secret Service).
Beaming over to Daj’s now vacant apartment in Boston, Picard and Laris go over the scene of the crime (this is where the episode gets pretty thick in CSI-style technobabble). Former Romulan operative Laris goes over the visual logs and deleted records with her unique skillsets and manages to recover fragment records of both Daj and her late boyfriend, who was killed by Romulan assassins. Now they have evidence of her existence, however fragmentary. Daj certainly existed.
Back at the chateau, Laris tells Picard of an even more secretive, more powerful agency that oversaw the Tal Shiar, called the “Zhad-Vash”; they are ‘ghosts’… thought to be more legend than reality, but Laris is convinced that the Daj coverup reeks of their handiwork… much to Zhaban’s chagrin. Picard believes her, and plans to go to Starfleet Command and procure a starship in order to find out the truth. Laris and Zhaban warn him he won’t be safe against the Tal Shiar or the Zhad-Vash, but Picard plans to call in a few favors…
Aboard the “Romulan Reclamation Site”, where Romulan and human scientists are working in secret to reverse-engineer technology from a damaged, dormant Borg cube, the late Daj’s twin sister Soji (Isa Briones) is having a secretive relationship with the young Romulan Narek (Harry Treadaway). Both are not inclined to make their clandestine affair public, for both their sakes. Narek doesn’t seem to be entirely trustworthy, either…unlike the more gregarious Soji, who is most likely being used by Narek for some nefarious purpose relating to her artificial origins. As Laris told Picard earlier, the Romulans are deeply distrustful of artificial intelligence, and have never allowed AI or androids within their society…
Picard receives a visit from his old medical officer (pre-TNG) and friend, Dr. Maurice Benayoun (David Paymer), in the hope that he will certify him fit for duty. Maurice tells Jean-Luc that in most of his scans, he seems perfectly healthy for a man of his age, but there is some doubt regarding the parietal lobe of his brain (possibly early traces of his irumodic syndrome, alluded to in TNG’s “All Good Things…”).
The next morning, Picard beams in to San Francisco, home of Starfleet Command. Walking into the familiar building fills Picard with nostalgia, as he sees large holographic images of various starships named Enterprise (including Pike’s version of the 1701, and Picard’s 1701-D), hovering in the space above the foyer. Picard tells a young man at the desk he has an appointment with the Starfleet CIC, Admiral Kirsten Clancy (Ann Magnuson). There is an awkward moment as the young man doesn’t seem to recognize the Starfleet legend, prompting a mildly irked Jean-Luc to spell out his last name. Realizing his tactlessness, the young man sheepishly gives Picard a visitor’s badge.
Picard’s meeting with Admiral Clancy goes terribly. Assuming his legendary status in Starfleet would get him a ship with no questions asked, Picard forgets the effect his recent disastrous interview had on his reputation within Starfleet (“such f–king hubris” the admiral exclaims), especially when he accused the organization of moral cowardice in discontinuing help of the Romulan refugees following the Syth attack on Mars. The admiral tells Picard to do what he does best, “Go home!” Note: Admiral Clancy’s name of Kirsten is an obvious nod to aforementioned writer/producer Kirsten Beyer, who was a Star Trek novelist before she landed her producing/writing gigs on both “Discovery” and “Picard”…
His request denied with extreme prejudice, an angered Picard leaves Starfleet, though still determined to learn the truth about the death of Daj, and the location of her twin sister. The story thus far reminded me very much of “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” (1984), which also featured a Starfleet hero, Kirk, whose request for a starship to learn the truth of his loyal friend Spock’s death (dismissed by the admiralty as “Vulcan mysticism”) was similarly denied. At least Admiral Morrow didn’t drop the f-bomb when talking to Kirk.
I had a couple of nits with the Admiral Clancy scene which I’ll go into later on, but for now, suffice it to say I thought the scene as written and played was a bit of overkill. Clancy could’ve just denied Picard’s request without the handwringing melodrama, or the f-bomb. Given that she was talking to a Federation hero who’d saved the universe on multiple occasions, she could’ve denied his request with a bit less venom (again; see Admiral Morrow turning down Kirk in Star Trek III). Moving on…
Back aboard the reclaimed Borg cube, Soji tries to calm a newbie on the project who is worried about working on the dead/dormant Borg, as well as their own live Romulan coworkers, who love to play up the drama of their working environment, such as the radiation badges they wear. The affable Soji assures her she’ll be fine.
Soji runs into Narek, but keeps it cool and professional. Coworkers with benefits. When he presses her about seeing her again, she brushes it off, saying he has to make an appointment with her supervisor, blah, blah, blah. As she walks away, Narek sinisterly adds, “Actually, I don’t have to.”
Consulting with the Daystrom Institute’s Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), whom he met last week, Picard and the cyberneticist are also trying to piece together the mystery surrounding Daj’s existence and death…as well as the location of Daj’s surviving “twin” sister, Soji, who is currently harvesting Borg implants from dead and dormant Borg drones aboard the Borg cube. Feeling overwhelming empathy for the Borg drones on the lab tables in front of her, Soji removes a cranial implant, speaking to the dead Borg in an alien tongue, “You are free, my friend.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch–er, chateau, Picard tells his two Romulan friends that he’s determined to call in favors and get back into space to find Daj’s sister, and solve the mystery of his dear departed android friend Data’s progeny. Laris thinks he’s gone mad. Her husband Zhaban offers to come with him. Laris tells him they’ll both do no such thing! Against their wishes, Picard pulls out his old Starfleet comm-badge, walks outside, and looks up into the starry night sky. He then taps it in activation, calling out to his ex-first officer (again, post-TNG), Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), pleading with her to listen…
Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), an apparent Vulcan-human hybrid, consults with a young human Starfleet officer named “Lt. Narissa Rizzo” (Peyton List). Oh is concerned about Picard learning the truth about Daj’s murder, and through dialogue with Rizzo, it appears that the two of them are actually Romulan operatives (dun, dun, DUUUUNNN!) who’ve infiltrated Starfleet Command, and are planning some sort of action against Picard…
Picard catches a shuttlecraft Taxi to a remote patch of desert somewhere (not 100% sure if it’s supposed to be Earth, or another Earth-like planet). There, he finds the small mobile home of his ex-first officer (again, post-TNG) Raffi Musiker. Musiker, like Picard in his French chateau, seems to be in her own self-imposed exile from the rest of the world. Apparently, Picard and his last “Number One” didn’t part company on the best terms, as she pulls one hell of a mean-looking weapon on her ex-captain. She tells him to go back and catch another taxi home. With Picard’s arms up in surrender, she notices that he brought a bottle of vintage Chateau Picard wine, which is an apparent weakness of hers, and she grudgingly accepts the peace offering…for now.
The location of Musiker’s home is the real-life Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park (nicknamed “Kirk’s Rocks”), northeast of Los Angeles…the shooting location of many Star Treks, including TOS’ “Arena” and TNG’s “Who Watches the Watchers?” as well as the TOS film, “The Voyage Home” and 2009’s “Star Trek”).
Back aboard the Borg cube, Narek is visited by a hologram of the duplicitous “Lt. Rizzo”, and he makes a comment about how ridiculous she looks with “rounded ears.” Apparently the Romulan operatives in Starfleet Command are working in conjunction with their counterparts in the Borg cube. To what end, isn’t exactly clear yet, but it has something to do with Soji…
Sussing It Out.
“Maps and Legends” is less of a story and more a series of connective threads between stories. It’s the glue by which more intriguing parts of the overall arc will be conveyed later. This is an unavoidable consequence of serialized storytelling. The connecting threads are certainly necessary, but as an episode it feels like it’s alluding to something better just over the horizon. “Maps…” is certainly not a bad installment, and the feature film-quality direction by Hannale Culpepper (who also directed last week’s outstanding first episode, “Remembrance”) makes it look gorgeous. However, this episode suffers the issues of being a middling chapter of a novel where events happen, but not those grand events that come to define the story.
The beginning portion of the story where Picard and Laris go to Daj’s apartment in Boston feels a bit too “CSI Starfleet” at times, with a heavy reliance on technobabble. Not to mention the total ease with which Picard and Laris just beam over to a crime scene, which, from the looks of it, hasn’t been fully cleaned up yet, either. Did Laris use her former Tal Shiar skills to pull that off, or do citizens of the Federation just go wherever they want to go, without restrictions, even to the scene of a very fresh multiple homicide? I don’t know if the Boston investigation scene/flashback was left vague on purpose, or if it might be revisited later on (doubt it), but there were bits of technobabble they could easily deleted in favor of fleshing out the basic mechanics of this scene. What they found at the apartment was almost less interesting to me than how they got into the damned place so easily.
Once again, we see Picard return to Starfleet Command… once again shot at the Anaheim Convention Center, right across from Disneyland, I kid you not. I go to this location often for WonderCon, as well as other events, such as the Star Wars Celebration (in 2015, and later this year). I gotta say, the architecture of the location is perfect as the retro-futuristic Starfleet HQ, and the production team is careful to dress it up very subtly…keeping the overall look and feel of the site intact. Last week’s “Remembrance” also saw the exterior of the Convention Center’s Arena auditorium as well (as the Quantum Archive), where most of the biggest panels and screenings of the conventions are usually held.
The beautiful holographic images of changing Federation starships high above the foyer was quite an eye-catcher. Right before we see Picard’s old ship, the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, we also catch a glimpse of the original Constitution-class Enterprise, NCC-1701.
The Constitution class appears to look like Pike’s newer version of the ship, as seen in Star Trek: Discovery for much of its second season. This implies that this is how the Constitution class always looked in this timeline, with the window viewscreen, and slightly swept-back warp nacelle pylon supports (among other subtle changes). If this is so, it falls in line with my personal belief that every Star Trek episode or film, post-“Star Trek: First Contact” (1996), is part of a subtly altered version of the TOS timeline.
More on this pet theory of mine here: https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2018/01/17/the-issue-of-star-trek-and-its-continuity/
I had a couple of issues with Picard’s scene with Admiral Clancy. To be honest, that f-bomb she dropped felt a bit out of place…as if the writers threw it in to sound ‘edgy.’ Now, I certainly have nothing against a solid curse word or two (thousand), but it’s a matter of placement. “Your damned hubris” might’ve worked just as well, and might’ve felt more “Star Trek.” Granted, Picard’s disastrous interview in “Remembrance” last week didn’t do him any favors at Starfleet Command, but I find it hard to believe that single interview cost him so much good will…especially since his heroic old starship still lights up the foyer of Starfleet Command. It’s not as if Picard left after betraying Federation to an enemy, or something so shameful. Picard disagreed with leadership and resigned in protest. That was it.
Resigning in protest hardly merits Picard’s newfound status as a Starfleet pariah, especially after saving the Federation on so many occasions…
A nice bit of gallows-humor in the Borg cube “Romulan Reclamation Site” B-story, with a workplace sign stating “This Facility Has Gone 5,843 Days Without An Assimilation.” This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, so I thought it was worth mentioning.
In fact, the work environment aboard the Borg reclamation site is portrayed like shift workers punching in at a nuclear power plant, or some other risky, blue-collar job. They don’t quite feel like researchers…just a group working in secret to strip the Borg of their technology and reverse-engineer it. Clearly whatever they’re doing isn’t Starfleet sanctioned (or is it?). Perhaps it has to do with the dreaded Starfleet Black Ops unit Section 31? What little they’ve shown so far has certainly made me curious to see its (intended) end result.
While this episode didn’t quite have the impact of last week’s “Remembrance”, “Maps and Legends” succeeds in telling its portion of the 10 episode arc, if not as a fully satisfying whole. I had a few minor issues with the writing, as the episode has a written-by-committee feel to it at times. On the plus side, the actors are strong in their roles; Isa Briones continues to impress, as does the headstrong Orla Brady (I love her Irish accented Romulan, Laris…she’s charming as hell, in my opinion). Producer Hannale Culpepper’s smooth direction is so wonderfully cinematic that even a lesser installment in this series looks better than many current science fiction movies playing theatrically. I’m still looking forward to the next installment of “Star Trek: Picard,” of course, but I’m going to have to remind myself that each episode is but one chapter in a 10-chapter novel, and temper my expectations accordingly. I’m guessing it’ll all flow much better once I can stream the 10-part story at once (ala Netflix), rather than week-to-week.
Images: CBS-All Access/Trekcore.com