Star Trek: Picard review: “Stardust City Rag” and “The Impossible Box” (S1, E5 & E6)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

One of the things that really strikes you as you watch the grittily-grounded storytelling of Star Trek: Picard is how it is, like Star Trek: Discovery before it, willing to admit that the future may not be as squeaky clean shiny as we’d like to believe.

It makes sense – while humanity might indeed make impressive leaps technologically and socially in the centuries to come – assuming climate change, viruses or zombies don’t send us down the Dodo route first – there’s very little chance, short of lobotomising everyone at birth, that we will all become kum bay yah-chanting, peppermint tea peaceniks between whom not a cross word is ever spoken.

And really, who’d want that anyway?

After all, fallibility and flaws may not always be a lot of fun and may cause a quadrant or two’s full of problems more often than they don’t but at least there’s some personality, some sense that things are alive, are happening and have some energy and zest.

Bottomline – while perfection sounds nice, it’s not all its cracked up to be, even in an idealised future free from poverty, war and violence.

In the two latest Picard episodes, “Stardust City Rag” and “The Impossible Box”, everyone on Picard’s team and even those without are forced to confront the fact that while things may be better in the 24th century, they are far from perfect.

Sometimes this is okay, sometimes it’s most certainly not.

Take the experience of one Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the famous ex-Borg or “xB” as they are now known among the evil nanite-decontaminated set, who came back to the Alpha Quadrant at the end of Star Trek: Voyager facing an uncertain future.

Fast forward quite some years and she is doing well enough thank you as a legendary member of the Fenriss Rangers, vigilantes with a heart of gold who do their best to keep law and order ticking along in the Qiris sector of the Beta Quadrant, within which sits the planet Vashti, on which a sizable number of Romulan refugees were settled (rather unhappily as it turns out).

In the power vacuum of the Qiris Sector, people like Seven, who is far more confidant and self-assured than she once was – Bourbon straight up, please! – and her “son” Icheb (Manu Intiraymi (2376-2378) / Casey King (2386) / Mark Bennington (2394)) play a key role in keeping the peace and ensuring some justice is served.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

And yet for all the peace she may have found keeping the peace, she is also desperately sad, lost and vengeful, after Icheb is kidnapped and plundered for Borg parts by Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan), a Freecloud-based businesswoman with a nasty line in “xB” parts trafficking.

She is also the person, unfortunately, whom Picard (Patrick Stewart), Cristóbal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and Seven need help from to get Dr Bruce Maddox (John Ales) back in one piece, the better to locate missing advance Synth Dr Soji Asha (Isa Briones) who is in mortal danger from the Romulan Tal Shiar.

When we say “help” we actually mean she is holding him hostage, brutalising him and making his life a living hell because he can’t pay back an exorbitant amount of money she had loaned him to set up a lab that got trashed by, yep, the Romulans.

So, she’s just an all-round, wonderful being isn’t she?

Not so much really and Seven is determined to make her pay for the death of Icheb, playing Picard who thinks she is simply on Freecloud to help him.

Not so much really and as everything goes to shit in a way previous incarnations of Trek were averse to showing, it becomes abundantly clear that while Seven may have found purpose and resolve, she has also found heartbreak too.

So too Rafaella “Raffi” Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who, after inadvertent betrayal by Picard many years earlier over the aborted Romulan rescue initiative, took to drinking and drugs and anything that could potentially fill the great big void in her ex-Starfleet soul.

Newly clean thanks to her initially reluctant mission to help Picard on his grandly quixotic mission to save Data’s “daughter”, she hopes to re-bond with her estranged son who is married to a Vulcan/Romulan and expecting his first child with her.

Raffi is in a good place but Gabriel wants none of it and so she descends back into addiction at about the same time Seven is going Full Metal Jacket on Bjayzl, taking her and much of Freecloud out with her.

So, the future is not all it’s cracked up to be and yet, nor is, so Soji discovers the past.

Pushed by Narek (Harry Treadaway), her Romulan lover/manipulative spy/radioactive cloud releaser, to explore her recurrent troubling dreams, Soji discovers that every single photo and artifact and item from her life is only 37 months old.

She is, in other words, coming to appreciate that she’s a construct, a made-up being, an unsettling development that Narek cynically uses to get the information he and his sister Narissa / Lieutenant Rizzo (Peyton List) need to … well, we’re not sure what really but it’s bound to be bad seeing as they and their compatriots have so far taken out Soji’s “sister” Dhaj and Dr Bruce Maddox who, though rescued from Bjayzl’s “xB”-dismembering clutches is killed by, of all people, his colleague and former lover and member of Picard’s team aboard the good ship La SirenaSPOILER ALERT! … Dr Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill).

Yup, good old Aggie, who finds herself comfortably carnally-ensconced with Rios actually kills of Maddox in the sick bay when no one’s looking and seems all sweetness and girl next door loveliness, is a stone cold killer.

Quite why and for whom and under what kind of duress we’re not sure – she appears genuinely, tearfully remorseful after the deed so clearly it was something she did quite reluctantly (and yet, she still did it, sooooo …) – but the deed was done by her, adding another level of intrigue to a series not short of it and happy to keep piling on the questions even as it does dispense some answers.

By the end of “The Impossible Box”, Soji and Picard have walked through a Borg spatial trajector (good for 40,000 light years give or take from the Borg Artifact) to the planet Nepenthe, aided by Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), there’s a body count (not counting the additional deaths at Elnor’s hand; played by Evan Evagora), Narek turns out to be far better at irradiating than expressing love and Star Trek: Picard has taken another big leap to explaining what on earth (or not, as the case may be) is going on in the not-so-blissful surrounds of the far-flung future.

Suffice to say that Picard is sticking resolutely and with mostly good effect – both episodes occupied that weird middle ground between things beginning and things being concluded where many shows fall prey to more than a little inertia; in other words, good but not stellar though they had excellent moments both – to a far nuanced, gritty vision of the future where things are better but not perfect, a Star Trek I can really get behind because while it admits we are capable of advancement, it is honest about the fact that we don’t always get it right and likely never will, good intentions notwithstanding.

Coming up episode 7 “Nepenthe” …

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