SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A FAKE VINEYARD AND NOT SO FAKE XENOPHOBIA AND LINGERING REGRET …
In the normal course of things, humanity in general, and Star Trek in particular like their heroes to be bright, shiny and above reproach.
It fits nicely with the idea that, all evidence to the contrary, that we are capable of more and of better, that we can produce leaders who get it right every time, accent on the “right” and who do so with nary a hint of human fallibility.
But what if the leader we want isn’t the one we get, and what if, not-so-hypotheticals racing as you like a mad herd of cattle stampeding through a canyon, the leader himself (yes, we’re not talking Picard here, and no we are not being misogynist, just series specific) is becoming all too acutely aware that he may have once being the hero of all humanity but is simply the object of disappointment, vitriol and long-festering regret?
Throughout the two episodes that comprise the third and fourth instalment that is the slow-burning masterful storytelling of Star Trek: Picard, the once-infallible architect of Earth’s salvation from the Borg, the man who built bridges to the Klingon Empire and who saved the day time and again and was roundly thank for it by once and all finds that perhaps he does have star-clad feet of clay after all.
His first inkling that he has erred and erred egregiously is his reunion with Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), a onetime Starfleet intelligence officer who was Picard’s right hand woman during the frenetic evacuation of the supernova-threatened Romulan homeworld.
He knows full well she is furious with them, ever since he unilaterally resigned from Starfleet in protest over the organisation’s decision to cease and desist saving the Romulans when the synth revolt on Mars took out the fleet that was going to do the job.
In retrospect, Picard’s gambit of “Keep the evacuation going or I’ll resign my commission!” may have been a parsec or two too far, Picard has always reassured himself that he was acting rightly and nobly on principle.
No doubt he did but what if he was, even subconsciously, consumed by his own greatness, and didn’t expect the Starfleet powers-to-be to accept his offer; was his ultimatum of 14 years previously not so much an act of noble intent but a fit of tantrumesque pique?
What if Picard is, gasp, as human as the rest of the 24th century’s denizens? (Well, the ones who are human anyway.)
As he tries to convince Raffi to come on board his mission to find the second synth twin, Soji Asha (Isa Briones) and the man who created them Dr Bruce Maddox, he comes to understand that not only does his last ever Starfleet Number One have a nasty drugs and red habit courtesy of him (Chateau Picard being her red drop of choice rather ironically) but that she sees his great noble act in far less stellar terms.
In fact, she sees what he did as an act of self-serving rashness that served no other purpose than to burnish Picard’s own sense of self; granted he was doing it for the right reasons but his execution was cruelled by the idea that was he so indispensable to Starfleet that no one would even think of accepting his resignation.
But they did, and when they did, it took her down along with him, along with any chance of the evacuation succeeding in any kind of form.
Quite how Picard sabotaged his own mission of saving as many Romulans as possible was brought home to him again and again in “The End is the Beginning” and “Absolute Candor” as person after person gave a massive reality check, the kind of which you suspect Picard was not expecting.
If it wasn’t the Romulan warrior nuns of the Qowat Milat, with whom he worked closely transferring refugees to the desert planet of Vashti in the Beta Quadrant, admonishing him for tossing away the good when he was denied the perfect – in other words, rather than spitting the evacuation dummy, he should have tried to salvage some sort of operation, no matter how imperfect – it was the Romulan boy Elnor (Evan Evaogora) who treated him as a beloved grandfather and who was bereft when Picard retreated to his vineyard and forsook the people on the planet, and most importantly, his surrogate grandson.
If that wasn’t bad enough, in the 14 years since he turned tail and ran back to France, Vashti had become a hotbed of Romulan nationalism, a nasty, virulent form of extreme nationhood taking root in the fertile soils of resentment that festered easily in a people who felt themselves forgotten and abused.
Picard is shocked by this, of course, once again only (initially at least) seeing the good of what he has done and not the messy fallout, but it becomes plain to him, engendering a heartfelt apology that unsurprisingly no one wants to hear, that by walking away, he has left a lot of people down.
And not in that “Oh gosh, how could you” kind of way but the dagger through the heart kind of way where everything good and wonderful that could have come forth from his unarguably noble intentions fell to blistering, almost (but not quite) irredeemable pieces.
He has failed and failed miserably it turns out but as Star Trek: Picard ramps up its intriguing, conspiracy-laced and engrossing story, its humanising of the great man Picard makes him even more relatable and good than he was in his previous incarnation in Star Trek: Next Generation.
Granted, he was allowed some fallible humanity here and there, and he was served up his fair share of humbling anguish too, but by and large he was the lord and the master, the saviour and not the man with feet of clay who wants to do the right thing.
But very human he is and very human is made out to be, adding a richness of character to Star Trek: Picard that makes his quest to save Soji all the more poignant and meaningful.
He has a lot of making up to people to do, and while that wasn’t the impetus for his race across the galaxy, it’s effectively what his mission has become, from an existential point of view at least.
But it is also a race to save Soji, who is not only reeling from the pronouncement of an ex-Borg, a Romulan academic specialising in her people’s myths named Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky), that she is “The Destroyer”, a figure from Romulan mythology who will destroy everything but is being worked by an agent of the Romulans named Narek (Harry Treadaway) to get the information they need to track Maddox and his, in Narek and his hardline sister Rizzo (Peyon List)’s eyes, misbegotten synthetic creations.
Narek, who is clearly becoming more conflicted about as his mission as he actually, rom-com trope-like, falls in love with Soji, and Rizzo, who is a Romulan spy in Starfleet working for the imposing head of security Commander Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), belong to a cabal even more fearsome than the Tal Shiar, the Zhat Vash, who have a teeny-weeny millennia-spanning hatred of all artificial lifeforms.
There’s a hint that they are behind the events on Mars and that someone in Starfleet is colluding with him, adding a great big conspiracy element to the proceedings on Star trek: Picard but for now all Picard wants to do is save Data’s “daughter” Soji and try to make up for the benighted events of 14 years ago where, rash ultimatums aside, it looks like our favourite ex-Enterprise captain may have also been right royally played.
This heady mix of full speed ahead adventuring, helped along by Picard’s new mixed-bad crew of Raffi, Cristóbal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), Dr Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) and Elnor, existential realisation and deeper, darker conspiracies is giving a huge amount of heft and heart to Picard which is shaping up to be, like its contemporary Discovery, a damn fine show that, while it keeps the fire of Star Trek idealism alive, is not afraid to get down and dirty in the trenches of life which is, if we’re really honest about it, where all the good stuff happens anyway.
Coming up in Star Trek: Picard … “Stardust City Rag” where dressing up seems to be the order of the day …