Star Trek Picard: 1.02 Maps and Legends
Once again, Star Trek: Picard gave us a rich, absorbing 42 minutes of television, taking the next steps in Jean Luc Picard's journey back into space. Despite the dramatic opening, giving us a glimpse into the synthetic attack on the Mars Utopia Planitia Fleetyards, this was not an action-packed jump back into the Star Trek: The Next Generation of old. Those expecting the series to pick up where All Good Things and the movies left off, might be disappointed. Arguably, this is something very different to what we've seen from the Star Trek franchise before, and I'm all for it.
Anchored by the always brilliant Patrick Stewart, doing some stellar work in the evolution of his character, Maps and Legends showed Picard's first steps beyond Earth as he learned about the secret Romulan threat and coming face to face with an adversarial Starfleet that certainly wasn't ready to welcome him back after he so publically abandoned them. The episode worked not to play to convention, even though there were moments that hinted the story could follow as Star Trek: The Next Generation mark II. Picard's request to re-join Starfleet and assemble a small crew was so flatly denied by Ann Magnuson's Admiral Kirsten Clancy and her shockingly expletive-fueled attack on his hubris. When it became clear that we wouldn't be seeing Picard back in uniform, Zhaban suggested Picard recruit Geordi, Worf or Riker to help, which Picard shot down, unwilling to risk their lives and career to his personal crusade.
This is not a replay of All Good Things -Picard reunited the old crew members of the Enterprise D - though this future story line wasn't completely ignored; Picard found himself visited by his Doctor with news that he was facing the same neurological condition we witnessed in that final episode of the series. It gives Picard's journey a bittersweet sense if inevitability. We have a whole season and at least one more beyond that with the former Captain, but his end might be sad, debilitating one.
There was a lot of mystery to unravel this week; Orla Brady's Irish Romulan Laris was certainly one of the highlights, be it using her knowledge of her species's secrets to uncover the plot to kill Dhaj and all synthetic life or going head to head with Picard and calling out the futility of his mission. Brady brings a real passion and wit to her character and I'm a little gutted that she won't be joining Picard when he finally leaves Earth. She also managed the exposition-heavy dialogue superbly, revealing to Picard who the Zhat Vash, the real force behind the Romulan Secret the Tal Shair were, and their hatred for synthetic life. It is clear they are the ones that caused the devastating attack on Mars, though you have to wonder why they eliminated the one force that would have saved their people. Was their hatred of synthetics strong enough to overrule the lives of millions of Romulans?
It's great to see the real enemy of season one revealed, even if there are just hints at what their true agenda might be. The Romulans were arguably the key recurring enemy presence on Star Trek: The Next Generation and it was disappointing to see them so poorly used in the final movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Between the rehabilitation of its people in the likes of Laris and Zhaban and the hook of this new even shadier intelligence organisation, there's certainly enough material to explore this race in new and interesting ways.
While Maps and Legends may have had a slower pace then perhaps some people were expecting, the mysteries teased were enough to keep the momentum moving forward. While the relationship between Romulan Narek and Dhaj's sister Soji took a startling large narrative leap from flirty looks to a physical relationship in the space on one scene, it became more understandable once you saw that Narek is not a simple, charming 'hot' Romulan but in league with the Zhat Vash. Watching Soji's every move as she worked with the Romulans to conduct experiments on dead Borg drones, his agenda is more insidious than the plan to eliminate Dhaj last week.
Even more intriguing is the surprise revelation that Narek's sister is disguised as a human Starfleet Lieutenant Rizzo, played with cold ruthlessness by Peyton List. Does her boss, Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) know that she is Zhat Vash, the very organisation she so dismissively waved off to Admiral Clancy? I suspect so; whether Oh is Vulcan or another Romulan spy, it seems the head of Starfleet Intelligence really has her own agenda and poses as much a threat to Picard as the Romulans.
As for Picard, he is looking to recruit his own band of unlikely crew members, in his search of Maddox, the man who created Dhaj and Soji from Data's posotronic net. The delightful Doctor Agnes Jurati is already sure to be a keen ally and this episode he came face to face with a much more hostile 'ally' in Michelle Hurd's Raffi Musiker. We were used to a largely harmonious crew on Picard's Enterprises; I suspect his latest crew however, will be far more tumultuous - and make for more interesting viewing.
Maps and Legends continued the excellent world building of Picard - and Starfleet's - life twenty years beyond the events of Star Trek: Nemesis and the Romulan supernova. It's had a slow but assured pace, dialing back on some of the action but adding plenty of mystery. Given the very serialised nature of Star Trek: Picard, it's difficult to see the end goal and just how successful it all will be. But I'm sure if it keeps up this standard, we're in for something quite special indeed.