The third episode of CBS-All Access’ “Star Trek: Picard” series has been released, and it is a strong chapter in this new series; we see Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) get back into space, and we see him assemble a new ‘crew’… former First Officer Raffi Muskier (Michelle Hurd, who is excellent), Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), and rogue (former Starfleet) pilot Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera). “The End is the Beginning” was written by series showrunner Michael Chabon and James Duff, and once again directed by Hannale Culpepper, who’s directed each of the three episodes to date.
“The End Is The Beginning.”
Beginning, once again, with a flashback to the Synth attack on Mars 14 years earlier (in 2485), we then cut to the source of the severed relationship between Picard and his former exec, Raffi, who now lives alone, vaping ‘snake leaf’ and drinking herself into a stupor in her trailer at Vasquez Rocks (yes, for the first time in Star Trek lore, Vasquez Rocks is allowed to be Vasquez Rocks instead of various alien planet locales…).
The flashback later shows us the day Picard resigned, shortly after the Mars attacks, when Starfleet abandoned its duty of helping Romulan evacuees following the supernova that destroyed the Romulan system in “Star Trek” (2009). Picard was bluffing when he told the CIC that he’d resign if she didn’t allocate more resources toward the evacuation, but he was met his bluff with a call. Thus an increasingly xenophobic, isolationist Starfleet (shades of Brexit and Trumpism) rejected his proposal and accepted his resignation. Raffi took this action by her trusted captain as a betrayal, as it also ended her career and left her alone. Picard never looked back…
Back to the present, we see Raffi rejecting Picard’s request for her help, but she listens to his warning about Romulan infiltrators at Starfleet HQ. She leaves him with the number of a guy with a ship… a former Starfleet officer named Cristobal Rios.
Meanwhile, aboard the Borg Cube “Romulan Reclamation project”, Romulans are secretly working to restore former Romulans who were assimilated into the Borg Collective. We see Soji (Isa Briones), the twin of the late Daj, who is working with reformed Borg “Hugh” (TNG returnee Jonathan Del Arco) to help the Romulans reacclimatize the Romulan former Borg, who seem to have the broadest psychic damage from their experiences of being in the Borg Collective. I’m assuming this also ties into the deep, primal Romulan fear of robotics and artificial intelligence alluded to last week…being assimilated into living machinery would be especially traumatic to such a race.
On Earth, at the Daystrom Institute in Okinawa, Dr. Jurati is enjoying a lovely afternoon outside with her ear buds blocking out the world, when she is approached by the sunglasses-wearing ‘Vulcan’ (Romulan?) Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), who wants the young cyberneticist to tell her everything about her two meetings with Jean-Luc Picard.
Two things; first, I’d previously speculated in last week’s review of S1.2 that Oh might’ve been half-human, since Oh (aka Wu in Chinese) is also a Korean last name. Seems I was wrong as Picard identities her as Vulcan. Secondly, why is a Vulcan wearing sunglasses? TOS’ “Operation: Annihilate” clearly established that Vulcans have an inner eyelid and do not need extra protection against bright sunlight. I’m assuming this is not a slip-up, and is because the Commodore is, as we already suspect, a Romulan operative working with that most secretive (and powerful) of Romulan black ops-groups, the Zhad-Vash.
Hugh, using his authority on the project, arranges Soji to have an interview with the traumatized Romulan named Rhamda (Rebecca Wisocky), who is the most lucid of her group. Soji seems to have knowledge of Romulan language, culture and even of Rhamda’s former ship that are way beyond her pay grade. Rhamda plays endlessly with her Romulan version of Tarot cards (one such flipped card face shows the twins…in this case, Soji and her late sister, Daj). Rhamda accepts her Tarot card readings as news, not mysticism, and she knows who (and what) Soji truly is, saying “I remember you…from tomorrow.”
This jolt of precognition causes Rhamda pain, and agitates her traumatized Borg returnees as well. Rhamda sees the outwardly benevolent Soji as a “destroyer”; this is in keeping with last week’s revelation that Romulans abhor artificial intelligence…something with which Soji doesn’t yet know about herself.
We also have another ‘hi mom’ chat between Soji and her “mother” (Sumalee Montano), who seems to act as the artificially conceived Soji’s control; when talking to her ‘daughter’, Soji mysteriously falls fast asleep, as if by hypnotic suggestion. This is also in keeping with the first time we meet Soji’s mother in another holographic call she made to twin sister Daj in “Remembrance”, where their mother somehow knew about Daj’s meeting with Picard when she couldn’t have. She’s also lying to Soji about her dead sister, insisting Daj is doing “fine.” I’m wondering if ‘mother’ even exists at all, or is just a holographic construct used by Romulan operatives to manipulate (and separate) the twins…?
We then have a nicely lengthy introduction to an otherwise stock character…the “lovable rogue” pilot, right down to his chomping on a cigar (not even kidding…straight from “Rogues R Us”). Picard beams aboard the vessel of the aforementioned Captain Rios, and is met by his English accented Emergency Medical Hologram (also played by Santiago Cabrera, as are all of his ship’s holographic crew), who introduces Picard to the Han Solo-wannabe pilot, as he sits in a chair while the EMH pulls a bloodied blade out of his shoulder. Don’t ask. I’m assuming it happened as part of some silly macho nonsense. Rios tells the EMH to leave the scar (this character is so cliche it’s almost painful).
Rios meets Picard, and the two arrange to work together. Picard’s intuition tells him that Rios is former Starfleet as well. He is correct, of course. Rios was an exec on a black ops vessel that was erased from Starfleet records. To say he’s bitter would be an understatement. Later in Rios’ quarters, he argues with a Irish-accented Emergency Navigator Program, who seems more starstruck at meeting Starfleet legend Picard. Rios isn’t having any hero worship (though he did read one of Picard’s books). In frustration, she switches off the babbling holographic navigator. I’m assuming his ship’s holograms all look like Rios because he’s outwardly vain (despite some evident self-loathing), but that they have differing accents because hearing his own voice repeated back to him endlessly would be maddening.
Back at Chateau Picard, as night falls, Picard is enjoying the scent of one more grape harvest with his two Romulan groundskeepers Laris (the delightful Orla Brady) and her husband Zhaban (Jamie McShane) before heading back into space, when disruptor fire from several motorcycle-helmeted Romulan operatives shatters the tranquil evening. Luckily, Picard’s two ‘groundskeepers’ are former Tal Shiar whose hidden weapons throughout the house and martial arts expertise make short work of the goon squad. A final Romulan operative is killed by a visiting Dr. Jurati, who instinctively picked up a slain operative’s weapon and fired. Jurati thought the weapon was set to ‘stun’ until Laris tells her Romulan weapons have no ‘stun’ setting.
Over Laris’ protests, Zhaban doesn’t kill a well-bound Zhad-Vash (“We are not like them”) and instead revives him for interrogation. Picard questions the stubborn Romulan (also a thick-headed “Northerner”, as Laris teases Zhaban). The Romulan finally breaks, admitting that they’re after “the other one” as well, which shares common cause with the Commodore Oh, who is equally eager to find Soji as well; this is confirmed by Jurati. This revelation comes just as the Romulan bites his acidic suicide pill, spraying acid which nearly kills Zhaban (he removes his burning garment in time) and which utterly disintegrates the captured operative. Picard comforts a shaken Dr. Jurati, who stopped by to tell Picard that she is joining him on his mission to find Soji. She promises Picard that as a foremost expert on cybernetics, her value to him will more than pay her way on his quest. Picard very much agrees.
Back aboard the Borg cube, Romulan operative Narek (Harry Treadaway) continues his seduction of Soji, trying to win her confidence by whispering to her that he is falling in love with her. Soji still seems a bit on the fence about fully trusting the secretive-by-nature Narek. I’d really like it if it is later revealed that Soji is actually playing Narek for information just as much as he is playing her… it would make her less of a late-model Disney princess and more of a proactive character, as her sister tried to be right before her untimely demise.
We then see the “Game of Thrones”-ish relationship Narek has with his sister, who was disguised as the human Starfleet officer, Lt. Rizzo (Peyton List), now going by her Romulan name Narissa. Now she is back as her true Romulan self, including the re-pointed ears, much to her brother’s relief. Narissa prefers a direct approach with Soji whereas her brother prefers his Machiavellian seduction of her instead. In a scene positively thick with incestuous innuendo, Narissa deeply inhales her brother’s body…detecting the biochemical scent of Soji all about him. It’s really twisted s#!t, folks…implicit incest is truly where no Star Trek has gone before. Yuck…
With Jurati in tow, Picard beams up to Rios’ ship, La Sirena (Spanish for “The Mermaid”). Picard walks up to the helm console to see his former Number One Raffi there waiting for him! He is delighted to have her join him, though she corrects him on that point; she isn’t ‘joining’ him… she has her own self-interests on this particular mission. Fair enough. The La Sirena is about to leave orbit when he lets Picard have one last moment to utter that famous word… “Engage!”
The La Sirena bursts into warp, over the melody of Jerry Goldsmith’s familiar “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” main title theme (later repurposed in 1987 for TNG).
Summing It Up.
I certainly enjoyed this episode, as it moves the plot significantly forward. We see the assembly of Picard’s ‘motley crew’ of Starfleet outsiders who are on a quest to find Soji and get to the heart of why both Starfleet and Romulans seem to be conspiring against her. Each of them are given solid introductions, even the terribly cliched Cristobal Rios.
Of the crew, I must say I adore Raffi Musiker, who is played to perfection by Michelle Hurd. Hurd lets us imagine an unseen life of experiences with her former captain and mentor Picard that is conveyed through the level of bitterness and anger she feels with his abandonment. The flip-side of love is usually anger (and often hate); only those we really care about can evoke such deep emotions. Her plea with Picard in the opening flashback (“I can’t do this without you”) implies that he mentored her perhaps over her entire career, and it may also explain why she lapses back into addiction in the intervening 14 years. Just as Starfleet saved the late Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) from a life of gang violence on a failed colony. Hurd says that she imagines Picard may have rescued Raffi from a life of substance abuse. It’s oddly comforting to finally see broken people in Star Trek, especially for those of us who are far from perfect. For those seeking a bit more backstory on the Picard/Raffi relationship, I highly recommend the new CBS-All Access post-“Picard” discussion series called “The Ready Room”, hosted by TNG alum Wil Wheaton (who makes a great host). The series is also streaming on YouTube as well.
I’m also a fan of Dr. Agnes Jurati, as played by Alison Pill, who played a manipulative monster in “American Horror Story”’s 7th season (the arc dealing with the election of Trump…a true-life horror story, indeed). She seems to be filling the Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) role, as seen in “Star Trek: Enterprise”; the brilliant scientist who is, despite her bravery and resolve, still a bit gun-shy about the hazards of life outside the lab (such as having to kill Romulans). Pill is a delightful actor and believably conveys high intelligence as well as a bit of naïveté. Think she could be an easy fan favorite.
The only character I’m not 100% onboard with just yet is Captain Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera). I’ve seen Santiago Cabrera in other projects (such as CBS-AA’s “Salvation”), and he is a marvelous actor. My issues are with his cliched character, and have nothing whatsoever to do with his considerable gifts as a performer. His cigar-chomping, ‘leave-the-scar’ lone-maverick character is right out of Han Solo central casting.
Rios even looks quite a bit the similarly Han Soloed Don West (Ignacio Serracchio) on the new “Lost in Space” Netflix reboot. I’d go so far as to say the two actors seem to be playing almost the exact same character, right down to their matching dark, ruggedly handsome looks. One indicator of Cabrera’s considerable talents is the ease with which he plays his ship’s various Emergency holographic characters; switching easily from English to Irish and back to Rios’ slightly Spanish-tinted American accent. Like I said, Cabrera is a very talented actor, but Rios’ introduction did him few favors. I’m hoping we will see more shades to Rios beyond his two-dimensional exterior. Oh, and please lose the damned cigar…we really don’t need smoking to make a trendy comeback, thanks…
Also nice to see Jonathan Del Arco back as “Hugh” (TNG’s “I, Borg” and “Descent” parts 1 and 2), though he is now a bitter, middle-aged ex-drone, who has lost much of Hugh’s former innocence due to what an implicit lifetime of rejection among humans. His work with the Borg cube project has earned him some measure of authority, but one gets the feeling it isn’t much.
Once again, this heavily serialized structure of storytelling can be a bit taxing for those of us who grew up with the far more episodic Star Trek of TOS, TNG and even DS9, whose own serialized structure still included primary stories as well. But, to quote the Borg, “We will adapt.” This is the direction of most television the streaming age, and Star Trek is no exception. There is so much to admire about “Star Trek: Picard”; a solid cast, and a far more confident footing than the clumsily coltish “Star Trek: Discovery,” which, after two uneven seasons to date, still struggles to find its legs, though I’m still sending best wishes to that cast and crew for Season Three (I wish Star Trek’s continued success almost by default). With the assembly of his new team, Jean-Luc Picard is back among the stars…fitting for a series still titled “Star Trek.”
“Star Trek: Picard” Images: CBS All Access