Star Trek: Picard is, for the most part, what we all thought it would be.
A study of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), 20 years removed from the bridge of the Enterprise. It’s a study in how a legend returns to a normal life and finds it’s just not for him.
Or rather he’s pushed to find it’s just not for him.
But despite all those things, Star Trek: Picard is, well, Star Trek. The enlightened science fiction standard bearer. Known for rich, science-driven stories that serve as a framework to ask moral and ethical questions.
And with each passing week, while still enjoyable, it’s becoming clear that that’s just not for Star Trek: Picard.
As with the previous three episodes of Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor” begins with a flashback to fourteen years earlier.
Picard visits the planet Vashti, where he and Starfleet have been relocating Romulan refugees in advance of the supernova. We find that Picard has grown attached to a group of Romulan nun/monks. An ancient order of Romulan warriors, sworn enemies of the Tal Shiar (the Romulan secret police).
The Admiral has become particularly close friends with a young boy named Elnor. But when Picard gets word about the Synth attack on Mars, he leaves the planet and doesn’t come back.
In the present, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) is apoplectic upon learning Picard ordered a detour to Vashti en route to Freecloud. The planet where the team hopes to find Synth expert Bruce Maddox. Picard hopes to enlist the help of one of the monks, but Romulan imperial loyalists are wise to his presence in their space.
On the planet, Picard reunites with a now-grown Elnor (Evan Evagora) and discovers that neither Elnor nor the rest of the planet are particularly happy to see Picard back. Elnor reluctantly agrees to come with Picard, as his cause meets his order’s criteria: It’s hopeless.
Over at the Romulan Borg Cube, Soji (Isa Brionnes) uncovers video of Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky) explaining facets of ancient Romulan myth. In particular, the story of the Romulan version of Armageddon, and the Destroyer – the person who will bring about the end of all things. In “The End Is The Beginning,” a psychotic Ramdha referred to Soji as “the Destroyer.”
Narek (Harry Treadaway) continues to try to piece together if Soji might somehow know the location of more Synths like her, but his sister Narissa (Peyton List) is getting impatient. And suspicious of how close Narek and Soji are becoming.
Back at Vashti, the Romulan loyalists have caught up to Picard’s crew. But the ship is saved by a pilot who flies in for the rescue and loses her ship in the process. Seven Of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
Star Trek: Picard continues to ride the inertia of a talented cast.
Newcomer Evagora doesn’t have much to work with, but he offers a strong presence to the series. A quiet spiritualism of sorts not seen since the days of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Evagora plays this part on Star Trek: Picard with a quiet, smoldering anger. And yet he balances that with an obvious love of Picard.
Some reviews have been critical of Hurd’s performance as Raffi. But I find that she, too, balances a number of different emotions while still delivering a single, cohesive performance. Her every line to Picard speaks of the old Starfleet officer, loyal to her boss to the core. But every word to Picard also smacks of Raffi being ashamed of herself for giving in to sentimentality. She remembers the lurch Picard left her in, and she hasn’t forgiven him. But her time serving with her won’t let her abandon him.
And while we aren’t finding the character of Captain Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera) doing anything particularly interesting Cabrera does get to have some fun. Captain Rios has a number of emergency holograms (medical, tactical, navigation) that all look like Rios. But with different personalities. And different accents. I know he’s only been around for one and one-quarter episodes, but I am hoping Cabrera gets to flex some of that charm with the actual flesh-and-blood human he plays, though.
Brionnes hasn’t added a lot of depth to Soji, but the writing hasn’t helped her much (we’ll get there). Treadaway, though, is doing a good job of bringing that classic Trek moral and ethical duality to Star Trek: Picard. He conveys being torn between the mission and the girl.
Writing And Presentation
Here’s where things get a little clunky with this week’s Star Trek: Picard.
The direction is great. It’s visually interesting, and veteran Trek director Jonathan Frakes (Riker from TNG) does a lot to keep a pretty simple narrative visually engaging. And the episode’s pacing is handled very well. Frakes and his editors know just when a scene has done its job. Then they move on.
There are some problematic bits when it comes to the writing of “Absolute Candor.” While it’s the most character-driven episode of Star Trek: Picard to date, it doesn’t serve the supporting cast well.
Which is fine. The show is called Star Trek: Picard. Not Star Trek: Picard And These Other People.
But it is frustrating to have a talented cast with relatively little to do. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) barely registers in this episode. And while Hurd and Cabrera both have flashes of brilliance, they don’t get to do much with it. Considering Star Trek: Picard only has 10 episodes in its first season, that’s not much time to give them something to do.
And while I appreciate the slow burn approach to any storytelling, Star Trek: Picard might be overdoing it. If the storyline of Narek trying to extract information from Soji is going to go anywhere, it needs to start moving now. It’s been three weeks of the same suspicious banter between the two. And all we, as the audience, have to show for it is a couple nuggets of information. Both of which we got this week.
Showrunner Michael Chabon, who wrote “Absolute Candor,” is no stranger to telling a strong story. But his reverence for Star Trek and its universe is leading him down borderline fan-service rabbit holes.
The big shocker of the episode, the arrival of Seven Of Nine, was handled very well. And it’s a very cool way to reintroduce her to the series. It leaves us asking how she went from Voyager to deep-space-superhero.
So for all the issues with “Absolute Candor,” we at least have one interesting thread to pick up on.
After “Absolute Candor,” it’s clear that the biggest problem Star Trek: Picard faces is itself. Or, more accurately, the weight of its titular character.
The buzz and the excitement leading up to the show wasn’t just about the return of Captain Picard. Those memories of Star Trek: The Next Generation stirred up more than nostalgia for the man. It stirred up nostalgia for moral and ethical drama. Anchored by good, complicated plots.
We’re getting all the allegory of Star Trek. There’s a fair bit of strong action. But what we’re missing are those complex stories that science fiction carries in infinite abundance. Standing in for a truly complicated sci-fi story is a mystery plot. It’s a crutch too many shows and films lean upon.
I’d hoped my beloved Star Trek would be spared that.
Nevertheless, good acting and strong pacing can overcome a lot. But I’m starting to worry that Star Trek: Picard might be squandering a lot of potential.
All images courtesy of CBS.
'Star Trek: Picard' - Absolute Candor
- More backstory to the people Picard left behind
- Very cool way to reintroduce Seven Of Nine
- Jonathan Frakes is a treasure when it comes to directing 'Trek'
- Harry Treadaway's Narek continues to come into his own
- A contrived mystery plot does not a story make
- World-building within worlds within worlds ...
- Fun actors and characters without much to do