Star Trek: Picard: “Absolute Candor”

The fourth and fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard operate as a pair of sorts. Where the first three episodes concerned Picard learning that he had something he needed to do and arranging to be able to do it, these episodes see him and his band leaving Earth and learning where they need to go. They’re more adventurous – in the literal plot sense – than the first three, but they’re also a little awkwardly dropped into the story: Whereas the second episode “Maps and Legends” felt like it was moving pieces into place for the purposes of the plot, these two have a similar purpose but to get to their goal they’re developed in the context of a pair of smaller stories.

(My review of episodes 2 & 3 is here.)

Onward to the spoilers!

“Absolute Candor” opens with a flashback to Picard visiting the planet Vashti during the Romulan resettlement, where he’s the role model for a Romulan boy named Elnor. But then he gets recalled in the wake of the synthetics attack on Mars, and we know he doesn’t return until he convinces Rios to take him there, over Raffi’s objections. Vashti is now a lawless area, but the warrior nuns that raised Elnor are still a small glow of light on the planet. Elnor (Evan Evagora) is now himself a warrior, and after Picard has a run-in with the locals who feel he abandoned them, pledges himself to Picard’s cause.

I’m not sure whether Elnor’s resemblance to a Tolkien-like elf warrior is deliberate, but certainly fandom has noted it. It’s pretty silly in one sense, but kind of appropriate in another inasmuch as Picard has been gathering a rag-tag group of heroes and anti-heroes in a mold similar to The Lord of the Rings. His mini-arc here – anger at Picard, followed by acceptance of his role to join him – is also right out of that style of storytelling.

What I find more interesting is the group that raised Elnor – the Qowat Milat – who practice “absolute candor”, a faith of always telling the truth. This is the sort of nonsense which Star Trek: The Next Generation was rife with, which played okay in the 1960s, felt kind of dumb in the late 80s, and felt absurdly simplistic halfway through Babylon 5 in the 90s. Dr. Jurati punctures this bubble with a satisfying quip, but more importantly Picard’s friend Zani, the leader of the group, gives Picard a knowing smile when she says that their building is a place of truth. This suggests that the Qowat Milat have their ideals, but they’re willing to make the right compromises of them for the right reasons.

This is the first visceral example of Picard’s sense of failure towards the Romulans, and in that way it doesn’t disappoint, as the best part of Elnor’s appearance is what he brings out in Picard. Picard also runs into the conflict of his desire to do the right thing vs. the reality of events getting away from him, as the local Romulans aren’t welcoming of his effort to confront their racism.

Finally, the old Romulan warbird they face down is pretty neat (even if the actual fight is kind of silly – why didn’t they just jump to warp?) – the sort of detritus that a local warlord would use for their own purposes even if it’s dreadfully obsolete by modern standards.

The next episode, “Stardust City Rag”, moves the story forward in that we finally find Bruce Maddox, who tells Picard where Soji is. Getting to that point is wrapped up in the story of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). I’ve watched about three episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, which was all I could take, so I have no particular attachment to the character. But based on what I know about her – a former Borg drone who re-learned how to be human and who came back to the Alpha Quadrant with the Voyager – this is a pretty satisfying extrapolation of the character. Since she wasn’t truly Starfleet it makes sense that she struck out on her own (well, with another former drone, whose demise is shown in flashback in this episode), building her own family yet ending up alone, self-sufficient, and ruthlessly practical given the high-risk environment she lives in. This episode is uses old classic Trek format of “build the story around a strong guest star, where their story helps illuminate something about the main characters”. Except that here Seven is the main character. Whether or not she’s the hero former Romulan space needs – well… Picard can’t save everyone. His powerlessness has been a theme of the series, and it doesn’t bode well for how things are going to go with Soji.

We also get another glimpse into Raffi’s life, and how badly she’s screwed it up. Presumably there’s more that will be explored here, but just knowing how badly damaged she is – and knowing that it happened in the wake of the Romulan resettlement project – puts her relationship with Picard in a starker light.

Finally, the adventure on Freecloud as first seems to show just how out of her depth Dr. Jurati is, but then when we find out that she and Maddox were co-workers and lovers, and then she kills him, we see that she’s here for a reason, and clearly not the reason she gave Picard. I’m not quite sure how she’s going to get away with it as I’d expect Rios’ ship would tell him that someone did something to Maddox. I’m curious how they play that in the next episode, since it’s pretty clear that the Federation is a surveillance society at this point (not that that’s really inconsistent with past series).

Things are starting to get ugly in this series, and we didn’t even see the Borg cube in “Rag”. That thread has been the weak link in the story so far, but it looks like the characters are going to meet up next week, for the second half of the story. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, I expect the fireworks to start soon.

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