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'Star Trek: Picard' gets more 'engaging' in episode 2

Here's your chance to beam out to avoid spoilers for episode 2 of "Star Trek: Picard."

Last week's premiere episode of "Star Trek: Picard" might not have been amazing, but it did leave us wanting more  — and that's half the battle right there. However, we're pleased to say that episode 2, entitled "Maps and Legends," is already a marked improvement on the first installment of the new "Star Trek" series. 

We open over the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, in the year 2385, 14 years ago and it's clear we're going to get a glimpse of history. It looks gorgeous and we learn it's First Contact Day (April 5) and everyone has the got day off … apart from this particular crew of engineers. Among their team is a synthetic and they try unsuccessfully to share a joke with it. Given they've clearly all worked with the synthetic for a while, some of the conversation is evidently for our benefit, but thankfully the exposition is kept to a minimum. 

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Jean-Luc Picard travels out to a favorite "Star Trek" location to visit an old friend in episode two of "Star Trek: Picard." (Image credit: CBS)

During their lunch break something triggers the synthetic and it starts furiously tapping away on the computer terminal. When the crew realizes something is wrong, the synthetic breaks out an industrial-style beam weapon and murders them, while screens on the wall show the colony being bombed both from orbiting satellites and from attack ships. Then, strangely, the synthetic turns the beam weapon on himself. This is clearly symbolic of something, although exactly what remains to be seen. Roll opening credits. 

Back at the Picard vineyard (now positively identified as the Sunstone Villa & Winery, in Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) look over security camera footage of the incident where Picard and Dahj (Isa Briones) were attacked.

Laris looks at Zhaban and says it’s too audacious for the Tal Shiar…and must be the work of the Zhat Vash.

The Tal Shiar is the intelligence agency of the Romulan Empire. Its purpose was guarding the security of the Empire, from threats both interstellar – including the United Federation of Planets the Klingon Empire – and domestic, like traitors within the Romulan population itself. It was first mentioned in "The Next Generation" episode "Face of the Enemy" (S06, E14).

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Jean-Luc's Irish-Romulan carer Laris is fast becoming one of our favorite characters in the show. (Image credit: CBS)

The Zhat Vash is something new. This is the rumored deep state version of something similar actually hidden within the Tal Shiar. The Secret Police of the Secret Police. This is the first time in "Star Trek'' that this has been mentioned … and it sounds similar in name to the V'draysh, which if you remember, was the name of the organization that Craft (Aldis Hodge) came from in the brilliant "Short Trek" episode "Calypso." The events of this episode take place in the 33rd century and writer Michael Chabon, confirmed that "V'draysh" is a syncope of "Federation," but is it also the result of a combination of words?

Picard and Laris beam into Dahj’s former apartment snoop around for clues. Apparently, Romulan methods of molecular reconstruction are outlawed in the Federation, but Laris has a device and tells a tale about one of her early missions, indicating she is a former Tal Shiar agent. She tells a story about how she had heard that at the very heart of the Zhat Vash was a deep, unassuageable loathing … of androids and any form of synthetic life. 

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We see a hologramatic reconstruction of Dahj’s last moments with her boyfriend, who's been positively identified as a Xahean, the same race as Queen Po from the "Short Trek" episode "Runaway" and the "Discovery" Season 2 finale "Such Sweet Sorrow" (S02, E14).

And then we get the second f-bomb ever in "Star Trek" history, but unlike Ensign Tilly’s totally unnecessary outburst in the "Discovery" episode "Choose Your Pain" (S01, E05) – which incidentally got the Canadian broadcasters into trouble – this at least is more suitable. Laris is continuing to explain the history and motives of the Zhat Vash to Picard and scan Dahj's apartment when, with her charming Irish lilt, she gasps, "Cheeky f***ers, they've overwritten the particle residuum." 

The question of Jean-Luc's health that was first raised in "All Good Things" is finally answered. (Image credit: CBS)

In essence, the Romulans have done a pretty good job of removing any traces of evidence. This whole scene and in particular how it cuts to and from the interior of Picard’s château to the interior of Dahj's apartment is effective and well edited. Moreover, unlike the first episode, the background incidental music is kept to a minimum during important scenes, thus ensuring the dramatic effect is not drowned out. The profanity is something we'll return to in just a moment, for reasons that will soon become clear.

Laris believes that she may yet be able to find a clue and they scroll through Dahj's personal communication logs to see if there's any record of Dahj speaking to her twin sister Soji (also played by Isa Briones). Again, this scene is one of the better examples of the use of technobabble; it shows an effort by the writers to create an explanation that satisfies both the technical requirements to keep the story moving and the constraints of believability. For the most part anyway.

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With the limited amount of information available, Laris is able deduce that the calls made to Soji were to an off-world location. And we cut to the Borg cube.

A long tracking shot follows providing us with a little more insight into the goings on inside the Romulan reclamation site, together with a conversation Narek (Harry Treadaway) and Soji are having about the mighty and omnipotent nature of the cube, as a voiceover. It seems the two have hooked up and this profound, philosophical conversation is pillow talk. A bedside alarm goes off and the two get dressed but it’s decided that their relationship must be kept secret.

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Iconian Gateway-style instantaneous transporters are all the rage in the 24th century; clearly no one takes buses anymore. (Image credit: CBS)

And then we get to one of our favorite scenes so far. We return to château Picard, it’s evening and Jean-Luc is relaxing outside when an old crewmate from the USS Stargazer Dr. Moritz Benayoun (played by the brilliant David Paymer) enters. One of the story elements of "The Next Generation" epic series finale, "All Good Things" parts 1 & 2 (S07, E25) was that Picard had developed a degenerative neurological disorder called Irumodic syndrome. It was widely discussed as to whether this would be referenced in the new show and now we know, yes. 

The purpose of the scene is so that Dr. Benayoun will certify Picard for interstellar travel and Irumodic syndrome isn’t mentioned specifically, it’s "just that one little abnormality in the parietal lobe." However, it's one of the best scenes so far, Paymer breathes so much life into his character as he does with almost every character he plays; we very much hope this isn't the last time we get to see him.

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We return to San Francisco and we see what appear to be Iconian Gateway-style instantaneous transporters. Picard has an appointment with the Starfleet CNC (commander in chief) Fleet Admiral Kirsten Clancy (Anne Magnuson) and the nice touches include the holograms of the USS Enterprise 1701 (Constitution Class) and 1701-D (Galaxy Class) starships in the main reception atrium. Then there’s the amusing "May I have your name sir?" scene that we saw in the trailers. 

From the moment the meeting begins with Fleet Admiral Clancy, she’s on the offensive. Picard explains that he believes Dr. Maddox is using neurons from the late Cmdr. Data to create a new synthetic. "And the Romulans are involved," he says.

If looks could kill …  Jean-Luc arrives for his appointment with the Starfleet Commander in Chief. (Image credit: CBS)

Picard goes on to explain that if there's a chance that some part of him still exists, then they have an obligation to investigate further. He requests that she reinstate him, temporarily, for one mission and if rank is an issue, he’d be content with a short reduction to captain.

"Sheer f***ing hubris," she says, almost spitting with contempt. "You think you can just waltz back in here and be entrusted with taking men and women into space?! Don’t you think I was watching the holo the other day..?!"

And here we have our second f-bomb in one episode. So, it becomes clear that this is the direction "Picard" is going – towards a more adult "Trek" and we have no problem with this whatsoever. In fact, we encourage it. But …i t's a path that must be followed all the way to the end, if quality and continuity are to be maintained. Any temptation to default back to a safe zone must be resisted otherwise the very nature of this show will become a convoluted mess.

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Jean-Luc Picard travels out to a favorite "Star Trek" location to visit an old friend. (Image credit: CBS)

We learn a little more of the socio-political status of the Federation 20 years ago. According to Clancy, even before the synthetics attacked Mars, 14 species within the Federation threatened to pull out if ties to the Romulans weren’t cut. It’s an interesting situation and it’s written well, with solid performances from both Stewart and Magnuson. Ultimately however, the two clash and his request is denied. 

Back on the Borg cube Soji is readying herself to start her shift and we see more of the reclamation site facility, which according to a sign, has gone 5843 days without an assimilation, (that’s almost exactly 16 years). There's a lot of Romulan security and a nicely written conversation between Dr. Naashala (Chelsea Harris), Narek and Soji that explains why the Borg collective won’t try to reestablish a connection with this cube, suggesting the Borg are far from defeated. 

We return to château Picard and Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) has paid a visit to update us on the plot. If Maddox is using Data's neurons to make synthetics it would make sense to model them after the painting Data made, she explains. Picard agrees … although we're not sure if we do. It also seems that the entire identity of Dahj Asher was created about three years ago.

5,843 days without an assimilation. Soji begins her shift on the Romulan Borg cube reclamation site. (Image credit: CBS)

We cut back to the Borg cube and Soji looks to be continuing the dissection/autopsy of a Borg drone in a laboratory along with many others. The subject is patient 8923/3, one of the "nameless." This is a really nice touch since the Borg more than likely assimilated from a number of species across the galaxy that might not be known. A Romulan scientist removes the ocular processing core and as she steps away from the table, Soji walks over to the corpse, looks down and says softly in an alien language, "You are free now, my friend," suggesting that she knows the identity of the alien race. 

We cut back to La Barre and a roaring fireplace. Much of this episode has alternated between the Picard château and a varying location, with the vineyard providing a solid anchor as other elements of the story have been explored. Picard pulls out an old "Next Generation" communicator badge and begs the person on the other end not to hang up as he asks for help. The "Star Trek" theme plays in the background and it will almost certainly get a lump in your throat as it feels like the adventure is beginning, for real.

Back to Starfleet HQ in San Francisco and Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) is talking to Fleet Admiral Clancy about Picard’s recent visit. Oh’s Vulcan ears perk up when she hears the name Maddox and once again when the Clancy mentions Romulans. She summons someone named Lt. Rizzo and we return once again to the château Picard. Jean-Luc is having the inevitable confrontation with Laris and Zhaban over his harebrained idea to get a ship and find Maddox. Laris is fast becoming one of our favorite characters.

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Soji seems to be able to identify an alien species that no one else can and even speaks its language. (Image credit: CBS)

We return to Commodore Oh in her office, which looks like a tech start-up is based there and Lt. Rizzo (Peyton List) enters. There’s some confusing dialogue here that’s awkward and clumsy and lets down the rest of the episode. Rizzo is to all intents and purposes summoned by Oh and ordered to continue doing what she’s doing. The entire purpose of this scene is to tell us that Rizzo carried out the attack on Dahj on the orders of Oh and that they know about Soji and have "put their best man on it." So, 007 then..? There's also way too much lens flare in this scene.

And then we cut to Santa Clarita, California and without a doubt the most recognizable natural geological rock formation in contemporary pop culture, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. They rose to superstardom after "The Original Series" episode "Arena" (S01, E19), but they've appeared in every "Star Trek" series – with the exception of "Deep Space Nine" and "Discovery" – plus "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," "Amazon Women on the Moon," "Westworld" and countless others. 

Picard lands in a taxi, which looks a lot like a "Discovery"-era Class C shuttlecraft and there’s already been a lot of discussion on this since it was seen in the trailer. That would make it over 140 years old and while there’s a whole host of possible reasons, it seems unlikely the VFX team would overlook this detail. The reasoning will emerge soon, no doubt. 

A hippy-like character, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) steps out of her 24th century equivalent of an Airstream caravan brandishing a rifle and tells Picard to get lost. He turns to walk away … and she notices he's carrying a bottle of wine. 

Beware Starfleet Admirals bearing gifts. Picard brings what’s evidently a vintage from the Picard vineyard. (Image credit: CBS)

"Is that the '86..?" She asks. He turns around slowly, grinning and immediately we love the chemistry between these two. 

To end the episode we get one last plot reveal as a hologram of Rizzo appears in Narek’s quarters and he kindly informs us of her disguise including the fake ears. So, Rizzo is a Rommie and not only that, he’s her brother! In that case, it’s highly likely Oh is too and not Vulcan (or possibly a conspiring Vulcan). Rizzo prattles on about how his method [of pumping Soji for information] hasn’t yielded the location of "the nest" and the "other abominations" yet and threatens to come to the reclamation site and take over. And here endeth the second episode.

This installment really feels like the second act of a movie that might conclude with next week's episode; it was nicely paced and the discovery of these new events and information – for the most part – felt like a natural progression of the story. Comedy is used sparingly so that when it is used, its effect is positive. 

Somehow the scenes with Patrick Stewart felt more authentic in this episode and not forced, as many did last week. Providing "Picard" now stays on the adult "Trek" path that it started down with this episode, then we could really be in for a treat.

Section 31 ✓

  •  Dr. Moritz Benayoun could be such a great character to explore further 
  •  The glare Picard gives the Starfleet receptionist is priceless 
  •  Good to see Vazquez Rocks making a cameo; it should get its own cast credit 
  •  La Forge is mentioned by Zhaban, so clearly he wasn’t on Mars during the attacks. 
  •  We want a spin-off series of young Laris when she was in the Romulan Tal Shiar. 

 Section 8  

  •  Engineers talking about synthetics like they haven't worked with them for years. 
  •  Everyone seemed to view Picard's reaction in the interview last week as negative. 
  •  Again Lore wasn't discussed, despite being pertinent, now feels like a plot twist set-up. 
  •  So far, the sole purpose of Dr. Agnes Jurati is just to provide exposition. 
  •  The scene with Commodore Oh and Lt. Rizzo is confusing, clumsy and nonsensical. 

 Rating: 8/10 

The 10-episode "Star Trek: Picard" series will air on the paid subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the U.S., and in Canada on Bell Media's Space and OTT service Crave. New episodes will air each week, with episode three arriving on Thursday, Feb. 6.

CBS and Amazon Studios have announced that the new show will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries worldwide within 24 hours of its premiere on CBS All Access and Space in the US and Canada, respectively.

CBS All Access subscription is the home of "Star Trek: Picard," "Star Trek: Discovery" and a host of other original and archival CBS television shows. Subscriptions start at $5.99 a month. You can try CBS All Access for a week free here

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  • Leftyricardo55
    I'm watching Picard and am provisionally impressed by the storyline so far, as with Discovery it's taking several episodes to find their stride. Sort of like Voyager where 7 of 9 didn't even show up till the 4th season.
    Reply