Following on from a terrific opening episode, Star Trek: Picard ‘Maps and Legends’ picks up with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) utilising the skills of his Romulan house guest Laris (Orla Brady) to investigate Dahj’s apartment in order to learn more about the people who had been hunting her, and to seek possible clues as to the whereabouts of her twin sister Soji (Isa Briones). Using a Romulan reconstruction technique to try to recreate Dahj’s movements in the apartment, Picard is told the scene has been completely scrubbed of anything that might be of use. Utilising a hunch, they are able to interrogate what is there to determine that the twin is definitely off-World. This leads the former Admiral back to Starfleet where he requests a ship from an organisation he has only recently freshly insulted in a television interview (or online, as the presence of television in the Star Trek Universe has always been a little inconsistent).
Finding his request denied, Jean-Luc begins the process of assembling his own team: requesting the help of Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), and also seeking out Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) – a former Starfleet intelligence officer. Throw in references to a secret cabal of assassins – the Zhat Vash – doubts over Picard’s health, undercover operatives/spies at the heart of Starfleet, and a flashback to what actually happened on Mars in 2385, and it is clear that the issues around synthetics, their uses, and their potential threat is going to drive a great deal of this season.
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The sophomore entry in the debut season of Star Trek: Picard begins with the aforementioned flashback to the uprising of synthetics on Mars in 2385. We are told this is fourteen years ago: putting us in 2399. For a little context, Star Trek: The Next Generation started in 2364, with the final episode, ‘All Good Things..’ taking place seven years later – 28 years before the events of Star Trek: Picard. In that final episode, Picard was shown a potential future – 25 years from then, and around three years before this episode – where he was suffering from a condition named Irumodic Syndrome. This was somewhat analogous, in the episode, to the early stages of Alzheimer’s, with the patient forgetful and often irrational. At the end of that two-parter, Dr. Crusher confirms to the then-present day Captain that he does have a slight brain abnormality that could lead to the development of that condition.
We learn in ‘Maps and Legends’, as Jean-Luc seeks medical clearance for space travel, that he does have an abnormality of the parietal lobe that could be about to cause one of a number of neurological disorders, with the clear inference that both his vitality, and then his life itself are very likely to be impacted, This is a brave story development, as bringing back our heroes only to expose frailties and the cruelty of the passage of time is certainly not something all viewers will want to see. It establishes a link to its parent show, without requiring prior knowledge, and, potentially, it may represent the beginning of a ticking clock on the life of our former Captain.
In clear contrast with Star Trek: Discovery (the second season specifically), this show is playing less like a series of call-backs to nostalgia, yet giving some organic links to the history that informs this continuity. Hence, we are getting liberal references to Bruce Maddox – a character who appeared in a single episode of the second series of the Next Generation – but one fundamental to the show’s depiction of the character of Data. This is not excluding new viewers, nor is it so mired in the past as to be off-putting, as Discovery felt at times. The show is attempting to build a cohesive world and story, one informed by the knowledge a viewer may bring, but not a slave to it. Stewart continues to command the screen in a way that other lead characters in our new Trek universe will struggle to match – much of this leveraging the fact that he has been playing the character for 33 years. Add to this that the character’s decision making could be seen as compromised by worsening health, and this does set up genuine intrigue and, with temper being a potential symptom, a little tension as to whether he will hold it together under stress.
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There are some minor nit-picks – some avoidable, some, less so. The lead character is still being portrayed at a lesser level of health, fitness and vitality than seems to be the case for the actor playing him. It is starting to feel a little ladled on. Yes, Jean-Luc Picard is older than Patrick Stewart, but that has always seemed more a commentary about ageing being a slower process in an advanced, more utopian future. As his illness (yet to be confirmed) seems to be one of the mind, having the character’s voice a little softer and more halting than it could be, and having his movement noticeably slower seems a little unnecessary. Anything is better than the ludicrous action man of the films, but… well, it’s just a minor problem. The plot requires a few conveniences, such as the Romulan dislike of synthetics being discussed as if it was a fact long established in this universe. In truth, no such sensibility has ever been discussed – but then we are missing 20 years of world building – again, it’s a very minor issue, as this show is already displaying a tendency to be less on the nose, and more patient than its sister show from the Captain Pike era. Where the early parts of Discovery season 2 there felt like one big tease, with little actual direction, this appears, at least for now, to be using its time to build with patience.
In truth, it is far too early to pronounce on the effectiveness of Star Trek: Picard. There is certainly work to be done in convincing audiences about the very convenient Data-cloning concept, and there are many new characters to introduce and to breathe life into. There will also be appearances from legacy characters – giving all sorts of opportunities to wallow in misplaced nostalgia, if executed badly. For now, though, this is an attractive show, feeling like an organic extension of the Jean-Luc Picard storyline, and offering genuine development of the timeline. This is promising stuff.