Picard and Seven
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Star Trek: Picard went to some places where no Star Trek has gone before.

Nor did it need to go there.

The fifth episode of the series, “Stardust City Rag,” was advertised as a fun, costume-filled romp. With disguises and intrigue, creatures and action.

And it delivered on all of the above.

For the most part, Star Trek: Picard made for a fun show this week. But there was a pall hanging over the entirety of the episode.

It was a cloud that, for the first time since CBS All Access became home to new iterations of the franchise, made me wonder. Is this really Star Trek anymore?

Seven on Freecloud in 'Star Trek: Picard'

The Plot

Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew have tracked Bruce Maddox down to Freecloud. It’s a wretched hive of scum and, well, you can fill in the rest.

The crime lord Bjayzl (Nacar Zadegan) is holding Maddox with plans to sell him off to the Tal Shiar. Picard’s team, along with the newly-recruited Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) have to extract Maddox before Bjayzl can make the sale.

And they decide to use Seven as the bait. Borg implants fetch a big price on the black market in Star Trek: Picard‘s late 24th century.

Meanwhile, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) sets off to find her estranged son, who’s living and working with his Romulan wife on Freecloud. But her son, Gabe, is less-than-happy to see her, as Raffi still sees Romulan conspiracies everywhere. But Raffi isn’t the only one with an ulterior motive for visiting Freecloud.

Turns out Seven is out for revenge, as 13 years earlier, Bjayzl was responsible for the death of Icheb – Seven’s fellow former-Borg from Voyager. And Icheb’s death, which Star Trek: Picard shows in unnecessarily grisly detail in flashback, is a turning point for the episode.

When your episode begins with doctors digging around in someone’s skull – without anesthetic – and calling them “buddy” while they hunt for cybernetic implants? It’s hard to go back to just having fun.

But there is still fun to be had with Rios (Santiago Cabrera) dressed up as an intergalactic pimp. And Picard himself looking like a Bond villain is a nice touch – complete with eyepatch and overblown French accent. Then there’s poor Elnor (Evan Evagora), who’s mined for some genuine laughs as he doesn’t quite understand the whole “acting and disguise” thing.

Ultimately, Maddox is recovered. And Seven elects to strike back out on her own rather than stick around the La Sirena. But it’s far from a happy ending, as Agnes (Alison Pill) also has an ulterior motive, leading to Star Trek: Picard‘s first betrayal.

Rios in disguise on Freecloud in 'Star Trek: Picard'

The Acting

When it comes to playing Seven of Nine, Jeri Ryan hasn’t missed a single beat.

She’s a little more in touch with her human side on Star Trek: Picard than she was during her time on Voyager. But she hasn’t lost that cold, analytical approach that made the character so unique.

Stewart’s scenes with her make it seems as though they have a long, storied history. And they really don’t. Picard probably knows everything about Seven just from his time as an Admiral. Where they connect is their shared history of having been assimilated and then rescued from the Borg.

Ryan always seemed to play Seven as a survivor – someone struggling with adapting to life without abuse. Now she plays that angle with an additional layer of survivor’s guilt. Her performance is heartbreaking in ways it wasn’t during the days of Star Trek: Voyager. She really makes us feel the scale of her loss.

On a lighter note, the rest of the crew is having a blast in their costumes and assumed identities. Cabrera in particular has a lot to play with as the point-man of the operation. Rios may be former Starfleet, but it’s clear he’s not used to playing make-pretend. And Stewart chews the scenery like a madman in his guise as the one-eyed French bounty hunter.

As mentioned, Raffi’s story trends too heavily to the melodramatic, but Hurd handles it about as well as she can.

Pretty much everyone is on their A-game this week, but make no mistake. This was Jeri Ryan’s episode of Star Trek: Picard. And it was good enough to make me hope someone somewhere is drawing up the contracts for Star Trek: Seven.

Seven aboard the La Sirenna on 'Star Trek: Picard'

Writing And Presentation

The script is written by Star Trek: Discovery veteran Kristen Beyer. And, for the most part, it’s pretty good.

It departs somewhat from the formula Star Trek: Picard has employed to this point. “Stardust City Rag” is all A-story; there’s no bouncing back and forth between Picard’s goings-on and the events on the Artifact.

I guess you could consider Raffi’s attempted reconciliation with her son to be something of a B-plot. But it did write them out of having to explain why she would keep helping Picard after this first mission – she’s got nowhere else to go.

The scene was written a little too melodramatic. And it’s a little hard to weave a traditional dysfunctional-family story centered around Romulan/Synthetic conspiracy theories without coming across as preposterous.

Seven’s arc in the episode is handled well, and her place in the galaxy as a vigilante speaks to her desire to see order in all things. A leftover trait from her time in the Collective.

The direction from Jonathan Frakes – a Trek vet in front of and behind the camera – is solid. This episode really pops, and the pacing is excellent. The 45-minute running time flew by. Well, 40 minutes of it did.

We’re gonna have to talk about that first five minutes of Star Trek: Picard.

Picard, Seven, and Elnor

The Breakdown

In a franchise where ‘Chain of Command,’ the “there are four lights!” episode, exists? Torture for the sake of exposition and backstory doesn’t have a place.

It isn’t enough to ruin this episode of Star Trek: Picard. But for Star Trek to veer into Saw territory smacks of an approach that doesn’t trust its viewers to empathize without making the scene grotesque.

Star Trek has never had to go to places like that to elicit sympathy for a character. And it didn’t need to this time, either. I’m all for show-don’t-tell, but surely Star Trek: Picard could’ve found a better way to show. It’s fair to say I’m not squeamish, but I would argue this was more out-of-place for Trek than the occasional f-bombs the series drops.

“Stardust City Rag” was still fun, where our heroes got to be clever and over-the-top. And we were able to touch on just enough of the plot nitty-gritty to move the show back toward Soji (Isa Brionnes) and the Artifact.

But those five minutes aren’t something I can just make myself get over. I’m trying. Star Trek never needed guts and cheap tricks to provoke a response. And this is still Star Trek, because it molded a human story out of barbarity. The franchise still has its soul.

I worry the longer Kurtzman-and-company have the reins, though, it’ll be a fight to hold onto it.

Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on CBS All Access in the United States. It is available on Amazon Prime Video the following day in the rest of the world.

All images courtesy of startrek.com.

'Star Trek: Picard' - Stardust City Rag

7.4

Acting

8.5/10

Writing

6.2/10

Direction

8.0/10

Entertainment Value

7.0/10

Pros

  • Jeri Ryan plays Seven of Nine beautifully
  • Strong direction and pacing
  • Having one major story keeps the episode streamlined
  • The silly aspects were genuinely fun

Cons

  • That opening didn't need to be that dark - or upsetting
  • Five episodes looking for Maddox just for that ending?
  • I have faith, but there's potential for this show to go off the rails
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