Monday, 3 February 2020

Picard: Maps and Legends

Where Remembrance succeeded in welcoming back old friends, episode two is far less forgiving.

Taking us back 14 years to 2385 (thereby confirming the series is set in 2399) and the synth attack on Mars before returning us to the present to witness Picard get an ear full from the admiralty while out on the reclaimed Borg Cube, Sonji and Narek are building relations and there might be some interference from third parties.

Universe building is something we hear a lot about in the Star Trek franchise these days and was a big part of the repeated delay for launching Discovery. Picard has now taken that matter further in the way it is approaching the latter days of the 24th Century. For one, the ambiguity of the synth attack seen in both episode one and Children of Mars gains meat to the bones and throws up far more questions than the pretitles manage to answer. It’s also our second ever mission to Mars in Star Trek following Enterprise’s sojourn there in its fourth season.

If you’ve been paying attention to IDW’s Countdown triple issue you would also know that there’s more to Picard’s Romulan assistants at the vineyard than just being refugees from the Hobus supernova disaster. 

Even in these two examples, Picard excels itself above Discovery with a more detailed and personal plot which makes you think about the possibilities and plays off cliches to surprise the audience.  The introduction of an illegal Romulan thingamyjig that can scan and replay events looks like it will open up the plot in a classic deus ex machina however it ends up twisted to reveal a much darker secret and a greater threat in existence. 

The opening minutes detailing the spark and subsequent attacks on Mars demonstrate the differences between Data and the synths created by Maddox. These are more "able" to display emotion although they're not quite to the level that Lore appeared in his multiple appearances. Their features are distinctively derivative from the Soong androids and the "F-8" moniker is one of those winks at whimsicality Noonien was fond of with his children. 

Stewart is, again, unsurprisingly magnificent in the lead role but with the added, aging vulnerability has somehow made Jean-Luc more approachable and human than before. His personal mission to find ‘Data’s daughter’ might seem insane but his regret has become a drowning factor and one that has consumed him for two decades unless he can act. Tragically and in a sublime canon reference back to All Good Things, this might not be possible due to readings found during a medical scan.

To bring such a point back all these years later shows how much the writers are in tune with the basic material and even suggests that there’s a beat before date for the series should it continue beyond season two. 

A highlight here has to be the brutal conversation - make that confrontation - between Picard and C-in-C of Starfleet, Admiral Clancy. It’s a moment where you realise how passionately Picard stands by what he sees as the core beliefs of Starfleet which were ‘abandoned’ when it closed itself away to heal the wounds of the synth assault. Ok, there’s a f-bomb in here but who gives an f? It flows naturally and adds to the tense engagement between the pair. To be fair I do see her point that Jean-Luc has just wandered in, demanded a ship and crew right out of the blue after his chosen absence from Starfleet. Of course, the perception of whether or not you believe Starfleet did the right thing in its withdrawl significantly affects if you see Picard as right or not and for once he might not be the one on the right side of the fence.

Then there’s the Romulan part of the Picard equation. Emo-Narek might as well scream Tal’Shiar it would be less obvious although you do have to give it to this series that such a point is blatantly out in the open from the beginning thus avoiding unnecessary revelations and making way for more important development. The Cube in which he and Dahj twin Sonji are working is revealed to be reclaiming individuals from the Collective. The drones are separated from the Hive mind but still appear to be dangerous. Some marvellous makeup here and the similarities with the ‘upgraded’ Borg from First Contact are striking; no big jumps in redesign as we had with Discovery’s Klingons.

Being Romulans you do suspect there’s more to this reclamation (5248 days since an assimilation!) than them doing ex-drones a favour. What precisely is going on in this Cube would seem to have eluded us and this saving of former drones may just be a front for something more devious.

Talking of Romulans, it does actually seem Picard’s concerns about Starfleet are warranted if not for his reasons. Commodore Oh (first commodore for fifty years of the franchise) is a Romulan posing as a Vulcan while Lt Rizzo, her aide, turns out to also be a physically altered Romulan and, in a slightly cringy move, the older sister of Narek. So it all links in nicely although the Kurtzman take on the galaxy has now managed to ret-con in the little known/never spoken of until this moment Zhat Vash.

Maps and Legends continues the hints and hat tips to previous Trek's with the return of a familiar combadge and the name drops of Riker, Worf and La Forge (latter of which confirms he's not been killed on Mars for those, again who've been following Countdown) and even ends with a more than familiar set location. While some of the Romulan segments do feel a little ham-fisted and moustache twirling, the writers have chosen wisely to skip the expected twists and focus more on Picard's journey to the truth, to Dahj's sister and to make good for an old friend who once gave his life for the admiral.

The choice to purposely age Picard with both the hints at his poor health and perhaps space "unworthiness" coupled with the display of him almost out of breath while evading Romulans in Remembrance has helped reformulate the character of Jean-Luc. He's not the grand speech giver, the thoughtful diplomat or on occasion the phaser rifle toting action hero but much more vulnerable and one whose emotions rise to the surface much more quickly than they ever did before.

With the brief introduction of Raffi at the end of the episode, we come another step closer to completing the new Picard crew however we're still a couple missing. A third installment on Earth for Jean-Luc is certainly due next week and the choice to stretch out his time on Earth is somewhat unexpected. Unexpected I might add although welcome and for once it seems that we have a Star Trek series that is trying to be different and push to new territory.

What are your thoughts on episode two? Any theories so far?

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