Star Trek: Picard 1.04 Absolute Candor
One of the strongest aspects of Star Trek: Picard's approach to storytelling is its rich world building of the Romulan mythos. A people broken and scattered by the supernova has opened up new insights into this key Star Trek race and following the introduction of the synthetic-hating secret police to the secret police - the Shat Vash - Absolute Candor introduced audiences to a group of assassin nuns, the Qowat Milat, led by Amirah Vann's Zani.
Giving us first proper insight into the fourteen-year old crisis from the Romulan perspective, the opening flashback introduced the group and young Elnor, a Romulan boy with no family and no home, brought into the care of the Qowat Milat and finding affection in the visiting Admiral Picard, who seemingly has got over some of his dislike of children since his days on the Enterprise. Fourteen years later and the safe haven of Vashti has become a place of outlaws and dissension, where renegades have commandeered a classic Terk-era Romulan Warbird and haunt space while the Qowat Milat try to protect the people below. It's a fascinating insight into how the tragedy on Mars really screwed things up and the perfect place for Picard to work through his guilt, as Raffi so pointedly observes.
The established connection to young Elnor in the flashback sets up the introduction of Casey King's older version nicely, the latest member of the crew on Picard's desperate mission to stop the Shat Vash. A sort of Romulan Legolas, King brings plenty of prowess as the adult trained by the warrior nuns, while still displaying a great sense of earnestness and vulnerability portayed in the younger version played by Ian Nunney. His connection to Picard, the quiet rage at his abandonment (like Raffi) and his wry attempts to save the former Admiral from the angry populace make for another fine addition to an impressive cast.
Arguably, this is already looking to be the best crew roster we've seen on Star Trek. Michelle Hurd's Raffi is superb, full of grit and intelligence, able to navigate a dangerous situation while calling out Picard or his insanity (and nicely filling the void left by Laris). Santiago Cabrera is clearly having fun playing different holographic characters (this week we got the Emergency Hospitality Hologram and something akin to a drunk Russian weapons expert). Interesting is the captain's ability to follow Picard's orders, that Starfleet training still embedded deep within. Alison Pill's Agnes Jurati is a great juxtaposition to these grizzled veterans, with boundless energy and charm that makes for an endearing character.
There was also a good dash of action and drama this week; Picard's face off against the former Romulan senator was packed full of tension and raw emotion, while the fire fight with the old style Romulan warbird was a fun nostalgic touch (as was the delightful mention to Data's cat Spot). My only real frustration was with the introduction of Seven of Nine. I'm delighted she's back and can't wait to see how she has developed since her stoic days on board the USS Voyager. By the addition of Jeri Ryan to the title sequence did signpost her reveal as the mysterious pilot rather obviously.
While I am still fascinated by the concept of the Romulan experimentation on board the Borg cube, I'm finding the disconnect in Soji's relationship to Picard is becoming one of the weaker aspects of the series. Perhaps it's because Dhaj was the more interesting of the two, but it feels Soji's story works because of everything around her - the manipulation of Narek, the mystery of the Romulan ship assimilated by the Borg. Given the slow and steady pace of the season, it feels as if Picard's journey is nowhere close to intersecting with hers. Still, I suspect the threats at the hands of Narek's sister may still give this storyline some momentum as we head into the next couple of episodes.
Absolute Candor was another strong episode, directed with flair by Star Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes, adding some great action, some doses of nostalgia, building Picard's new crew and ending with a crowd-pleasing cliff-hanger. Even it's faults are minor nit picks. Star Trek: Picard is continuing to be everything we hoped it would be and more...