Well, after last week’s episode, ‘The End is the Beginning’, Star Trek: Picard finally has our lead character head out into space. As soon as he has done so, however, we have our new crew take a detour to the planet Vashti. Through flashbacks to 2385 (the year of the synth attack on Mars, and the destruction of Romulus, and 14 years before the events of this show, we see that this is a Romulan refugee settlement. At the end of his time in Starfleet, we see Jean-Luc spent some time there as a liaison to the survivors, forming a close bond with a young boy named Elnor (played by Ian Nunney as a child, Evan Evagora when he appears later as an adult). In having placed the boy with some nuns, Picard feels a responsibility to Elnor, often visiting, bringing him books and spending time with him. Having promised to return to Vashti soon, Jean-Luc gets word of the attack on Mars, which leads to his resignation from Starfleet, and prevents him from continuing to visit the boy.
Back in the present time, our crew visit in order for an invitation to be extended for Elnor to join the mission. Although declining at first, Elnor eventually acquiesces and, one assumes, will be with us for the rest of this journey. At the same time, Soji (Isa Briones) continues her work on the Borg Cube, while seeking to find out what more about the Romulan ship that was assimilated. Narek (Harry Treadaway) is, on the face of it, helpful, but he continues to have contact with Starfleet mole, Rizzo (Peyton List), where it is clear his sole goal is to learn the location of the remaining synthetics: something he is being given very limited time to accomplish.
None of that synopsis includes reference to Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who makes her first appearance in this episode. She is not too central to this episode, but will be coming into play going forward; it is fair to say that if a Star Trek fan is tuning into this episode simply to see her, disappointment will follow.
This is the issue with the episode as a whole. As a stand-alone episode, a quick read of Wikipedia would do, as the whole running time is mostly about getting the next member of the crew. Around 35 minutes in, and perhaps only 10 minutes from the end of the instalment, it occurred that relatively little had happened at all. Jean-Luc had collected his old contact – now an adult, and very capable with a sword – we’d seen a rather unnecessary beheading, the pressure on Narek to get information from Soji was reiterated, and Seven appeared. As a self-contained piece of entertainment it felt more of the padding nature common to some parts of the 26 episode seasons we used to get in the 90s.
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That said, this is the first episode of the season to be directed by Jonathan Frakes. Frakes has a 33 year history with Star Trek, as The Next Generation‘s Will Riker; as the director of two of the feature films, and as helmer of possibly the best episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season – ‘New Eden’. It is likely no coincidence that ‘Absolute Candor’ is Patrick Stewart’s strongest performance of the four parts aired to-date. We get a real feel for the guilt he feels from abandoning a tribe of people who are accustomed, through their culture, to being very clear on how this seeming betrayal made them feel – the ‘candor’ of the show’s title. Stewart is able to essay the subtle differences of a man of his 14-years-younger self and demonstrate his real enjoyment of reading to the young Elnor, teaching him fencing, and watching the boy settle into his new environment.
As such, ‘Absolute Candor’ is a transitional episode; we have left Earth behind, but we are yet to get to the real bones of the mission. Because of this, for a while in the early parts of the episode, it did feel like it was going to be pure filler: there are 10 episodes, perhaps we only need 7-8, so let’s stop here for a detour. As it is, it continues to build the crew, to expand our understanding of exactly what happened to Jean-Luc Picard, and what emotional price did he pay for his decisions. It brings back Jeri Ryan, and continues to tease good things to come. It really is time to get on with it now though.