Full spoilers follow for this episode.
In Episode 4 of Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor,” the Admiral (retired) has finally made it off Earth, and as a result the series has picked up the pace a bit. While still mired at times in reams of back story and explanation, this segment benefits from a few different things, including the bulk of Picard’s team all onscreen together — at last — and bouncing off each other in fun ways, a banger of a cliffhanger ending, and the always ace direction by Trek vet Jonathan Frakes himself.
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The episode picks up 14 years ago on the planet Vashti, at a Romulan Relocation Hub where Picard and Raffi helped to relocate a group of refugees during the Romulan crisis. In particular, Jean-Luc is close with a sect of warrior nuns and the young orphan boy they’ve taken in, Elnor. It’s a nice concept that the Admiral would have such affection for the child when one considers that when we first met him on Next Generation, Picard made a big deal of how uncomfortable he was around children. His character evolved over the seven seasons of the show, thanks in part to his relationship with Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher, and here we see how much further he’s come.
It’s tragic, then, that the Mars attack means that Picard has to leave Elnor and his people. And though he promises them that he’ll be back soon, his resignation from Starfleet shortly thereafter means that he can’t fulfill that promise. (Or won’t, anyway.)
So when Picard finally returns to Vashti looking for a warrior to accompany him on his trip, it is, of course, the on-the-cusp-of-manhood Elnor (Evan Evagora) who winds up getting the job. But Elnor’s resentment of Picard, who took 14 years to return, not to mention his “absolute candor” in dealing with others (a trait of the sect that raised him), brings another edge to the band of misfits Picard is leading on this show. Nobody seems to like each other that much here!
And yet, we get a very fun scene on Rios’ ship La Sirena where everyone slowly gathers in a holographic recreation of Picard’s office from the vineyard. A lot of the humor comes from Michelle Hurd’s Raffi, who knows Picard — sorry, J.L. — so well that she can also call him on his B.S. in a way that nobody ever would back in the old days of Star Trek. “You want to go to Vashti? Are you out of your goddamned mind?!”
Picard’s relationship with the older Elnor actually doesn’t get a lot of time to develop this week, but what we do have works, particularly a nice moment where the Admiral tells his young charge about Data. Elnor remembers hearing about the android from Picard back in the day, and in particular his orange cat Spot! It’s a simple moment but it feels genuine. Of course, a kid would remember the orange cat.
On the other hand, I worry that this show is doing the “quest” type of story where each week we need to uncover another piece of the bigger puzzle, or worse, find some tool or person who will help solve the big mystery. Right now, Picard’s trying to get to Freecloud where Raffi believes android expert Bruce Maddox is in hiding. This week was all about bringing Elnor into the fold as part of that journey, but the danger here is that the story could just become about collecting things in order to unlock the boss fight in the end. See The Rise of Skywalker for a particularly acute example of this syndrome.
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Star Trek: Picard also seems to suffer from not having very strong single-episode stories to tell within its bigger seasonal arc. What exactly is this week’s segment about beyond getting Elnor onto the team? It would seem to be Picard’s admission to himself, and to the people of Vashti, that he wronged them all those years ago when he gave up on the relocation effort. But this is pretty much all taken care of in a few sentences near the end of the episode. It’s nice character shading, but it also kind of gets lost in the episode’s load of Romulan backstory.
Meanwhile, over on the Borg cube, Soji and Narek are still doing their dance, and it currently feels as though the nasty Romulan loverboy might actually be falling for his target. But his also-nasty sister is giving him such a hard time about completing his mission that Narek could be facing a choice soon — the mission or the girl. Frankly, this is all so one-dimensional that it’s hard to care about what’s happening here.
The episode culminates with a Frakes-brand action climax as the La Sirena crew faces off with an Original Series-era Bird of Prey, until a mysterious ship arrives to save the day. And then, in a classic Star Trek emergency beam-out moment, Picard is suddenly face to face with… Seven of Nine! Now we’re getting somewhere.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- It turns out space is super boring.
- The use of the Romulan greeting “jolan tru” is a nice callback to Next Generation’s Romulus two-parter “Unification,” among other Trek stories.
- Patrick Stewart is apparently so reluctant to wear the Starfleet uniform that even in the flashbacks here he goes with a safari look (with combadge!) rather than the red and blacks.
- “I hate that f#@king hospitality hologram.”
- Speaking of which, I didn’t realize last week that there were two different EMHs on Rios’ ship. Actually, an EMH and an ENH (Emergency Navigational Hologram). And now there are two more — hospitality and a weapons officer (Emmet), all with different personalities and accents! And they’re all hilarious.
- Picard blew up on personal com traffic on Vashti this week, which is kind of like what happens when Patrick Stewart tweets about one of his rescue dogs on Earth!
- There’s so much back story and exposition on this show, and yet I’m still not clear on how many Romulans survived, and how many perished, in the supernova incident.
- When Picard makes his stand against the racist Romulans on Vashti — presumably believers in the “Romulan Rebirth” movement that Raffi mentions — it also allows for Elnor to show off some sweet sword-fighting skills. “Choose to live!”