The first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard have carefully laid the groundwork for a future where the Federation, tired and beaten back by tragedy after tragedy, is embroiled in an existential crisis. Now, one of its most tireless advocates, the veil lifted from his eyes, is ready to do something about it – and has found a crew of likewise heroes to do so.
“The End is the Beginning” is perhaps the episode most Star Trek fans have been really waiting for from Picard. Now unburdened by having to establish the uneasy status quo Jean-Luc has found himself in, our titular hero finally begins to do what he does best. Although “Remembrance” and “Maps and Legends” both reminded us why Picard is the hero he is in the first place – his unwavering passion and commitment to Star Trek’s highest ideals, even in moments of crisis so profound that the institutions that enshrined those ideals have wavered – the most recent episode really begins to put that into practice. The former Admiral goes about forming a new crew that can help him save Soji Asher from whatever dire fate the Romulan’s secreter police, the Zhat Vash, have planned for her. Picard – and, well, uh, Picard – does so not by pulling together familiar faces from the Enterprise for one last mission, as one might expect.
As Jean-Luc himself reminded us recently, he’s reached a point in his life where he can’t ask those he loves most to potentially lay down their lives for him any more, and he especially can’t do so by asking them to operate outside of the bounds of Starfleet, the institution that brought them together in the first place. Jean-Luc needs a crew that speaks to what Picard as a show is, and here, he gets himself one: picking up a team of equally dismayed and broken souls who, like him, have been cast aside by the Federation’s retreat into fearful isolation.
Perhaps the most fascinating of all these recruits is the one that Jean-Luc paradoxically has both the easiest and uneasiest relationship with: Raffi Musiker, who we briefly met at the climax of the last episode but is used here in some fascinating ways to puncture the mythos behind Jean-Luc’s time in command at Starfleet. Having served as his first officer in the run-up to the Romulan evacuation and attack on Mars, Raffi is, on the surface, a kindred soul to Jean-Luc – in many ways broken by her dismay at how Starfleet retreated in on itself, and chose fear over compassion, and frustrated that she can see the patterns behind these tragic events that her commanders could not (save for Picard).
Raffi bitterly rails against the privilege Jean-Luc’s position provided him, even with his conscious uncoupling from Starfleet. Image: CBS
But the time between her exit from Starfleet – much less magnanimous that Jean-Luc’s – and the present is where Raffi and her former comrade in arms diverged, and that divergence is a vital perspective Picard brings to the table. As an uneasy Raffi lays into him, despite her rank, despite her association with him, she was not given an ounce of the privilege Jean-Luc was in her break from the career she’d dedicated her life to. Picard got to retire, an act of bluster that he couldn’t even see Starfleet taking the bait on. Raffi got fired. Picard got to retreat to a lavish family estate, write his books, and crucially have the choice to step away from galactic affairs, up until the time and place of his own choosing (and even then, he makes mistakes, from flaring up at the press interview to, as Raffi notes, haughtily waltzing into a potentially compromised Starfleet HQ and telling them everything he knows). Raffi got a revoked clearance and not much else but a cramped little prefab out in the Vasquez Rocks (already famous in Trek fandom), forgotten almost immediately, even by Jean-Luc himself.
Her anger at Picard retreating into his own mythos, his own stature, is palpable, but it’s one that’s also going to be crucial to Star Trek: Picard going forward, even if by the end of the episode she is begrudgingly on board for at least part of the big venture. Because what else is the series right now but a love letter to the romantic image of this admirable man we’ve conjured up in our heads in the decades since The Next Generation? He’s the man who still holds the very ideals of Star Trek high, the man who kept his eyes to the stars and to the worlds beyond his own while the Federation itself looked away. If Picard is to be so enamored with its titular hero, it needs someone to occasionally puncture that image with a cold hard truth or two. Would anyone else be able to get away with this than Jean-Luc Picard?
It’ll also be important because Picard’s other two pickups this episode are perhaps much more enamored with his history than Raffi currently is. Operating on her info to find an off-the-books captain and ship for his mission to find Maddox, he crosses paths with Cris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), captain of La Sirena, and perhaps tellingly, a man who has a lot in common with Picard as well. Like the ex-admiral, this ex-XO was rewarded for a lifetime’s service in Starfleet with an indelicate exit, his cruiser scrubbed from the records after an incident that led to its loss and the death of its captain, a trauma that still lingers for Rios despite the cool-headed, distance persona he projects. Unlike Raffi however, and as Picard himself immediately notes, there is still a love for Starfleet order and duty deep within Rios’ core, made evident in his spotlessly maintained ship even as he nonchalantly bleeds all over it while a holographic facsimile tuts at him.
Rios’ lingering trauma over the loss of his own captain immediately clashes with – as one of his other holo-facsimiles needles him with – his hero worship of Picard. Rios couldn’t let the man himself know that of course, hence his devil-may-care attitude when Picard actually comes to him with the request to commandeer his ship, the projection that he doesn’t care for authority or what Starfleet once made him. In private, it’s as clear to us as it is the navigational hologram that Rios can’t help but be smitten by the thought of someone of Picard’s stature, representative of that Starfleet honour he still feels deep down, coming to him for help. Even if the inevitable clash between that worship and the doubts created by the loss of his former captain will no doubt rear their ugly head at some point.
Dr. Jurati finds herself drawn into Picard’s quest, enamored in spite of the horrors she’ll face. Image: CBS
Lastly, we find someone perhaps in between the two sides Raffi and Rios represent: Dr. Jurati. She, like Rios and Raffi, has likewise been unceremoniously abandoned by the Federation, isolated at Daystrom in the wake of the ban on synthetic research. But unlike them, her decision to join Picard is not driven by the man himself, or his legacy, but simply because Picard’s stature has put her on the radar of some very dangerous people. Having been visited by Commodore Oh, Jurati realises that whether she’d want to be or not, she’s been pulled into the orbit of Picard’s mission. And only realises just how dangerous all that really is when she comes to his chateau after the fact and immediately finds herself in a bloody firefight with invading Zhat Vash assassins, forced to pull a trigger she really hoped was set to stun but, well...absolutely was not set to stun.
If Raffi and Rios represent a cynical and romantic view of Picard as a figure of mythos, respectively, Jurati represents an innocent, unfiltered perspective. She doesn’t really know who Jean-Luc is, she is not familiar with or drawn in by his legacy. She’s just a research scientist that he happened to seek out, and has now been thrust into his world of conspiracy, morality, and more Romulan assassins than you shake a disruptor at. She’s spent her career in a lab, not on a starship: she is a citizen of the Federation, not a Starfleet officer. And now, she’s been invited into this ethical push-and-pull between Starfleet as it is in 2399, and Starfleet as what Jean-Luc thinks it should be – without having the baggage of knowing the image of Picard the Hero.
But as well as representing that unfiltered lens on our protagonist, as Jurati tells both Picard and Raffi at the episode’s climax, she also represents a Star Trek ideal of her own: scientific curiosity. Jurati ultimately joins the crew aboard the La Sirena not out of some sense of duty, either to Starfleet’s fallen ideals or Picard himself, but because there’s this strange, wonderful, incredible synthetic being out there being persecuted. She wants to save Soji not just because that’s a noble thing to do, but because she is curious about what Soji represents in terms of the advancement of synthetic life. If Picard is then the heart of Star Trek here, then Jurati fulfills another key role in this new crew: Star Trek’s mind, its intellectual wanderlust, the science behind the boldly going.
Aboard the artefact, Soji begins to unravel mysteries about her work and herself. Image: CBS
Interspersed throughout this crew-building is the ever-present reminder that the time bomb Picard and his new friends are now sitting on is about to start ticking louder and louder. As Soji romantically intertwines herself with Narek aboard the Borg Cube “artefact,” the access she’s been granted by his own status among the Romulans aboard it leads to her being given a rare opportunity by her actual boss: Hugh (the returning Jonathan Del Arco, at long last!), the former Borg Drone partially liberated from the Collective in TNG’s “I, Borg.” Hugh ultimately returned, his individuality intact, but now it seems like Jean-Luc or Seven of Nine before him, he is now free of the Collective altogether, and working to liberate fellow drones like himself.
It’s a noble idea, but a seemingly desperate one if, instead of turning to the Federation, he and his scientists have had to get in bed with the Romulan remnant. It’s a decision that puts Soji in immediate danger, not just because of Narek’s true nature as a Zhat Vash agent, but because her intellectual curiosity aboard the cube is rewarded by Hugh with a one-on-one meeting with one of the former drones liberated by the Romulans: Rahmda, who, it turns out, may have more to do with the Zhat Vash than either Soji or Hugh would ever know. Pushed by Soji’s repeated, surprised questioning, as facts about Rahmda’s former life before assimilation come to her seemingly out of nowhere, the Romulan briefly snaps out of her post-liberation malaise to screech a dire prophecy at Soji – a prophecy mirrored by a Zhat Vash agent Picard, Laris, and Zhaban attempted to interrogate after the attack on the chateau – of destroyers and mysterious sisters, before trying to kill herself.
For now, Rahmda’s trauma is passed off as that of a damaged psyche trying to adjust in a post-assimilation world. But for both Soji and the audience, her outburst raises some chilling questions. What does what’s left of the Romulan Star Empire want with what appears to be the only assimilated Romulans around? Why are they exploiting Borg tech, and if the Zhat Vash hate synthetic life so much, why are they so fascinated by cybernetic ones? And perhaps, of more immediate concern, as Narek, Narissa, and Soji herself begin to question: after Rahmda’s outburst, how much of Soji is beginning to realise, like her twin before her, that something’s not quite right with herself?
Lookin’ sharp, J-L. Image: CBS
These are questions we’ll have to wait to see the answers to, of course. For now, the stage is set. The Zhat Vash are circling ever tighter around Soji Asher. Jean-Luc has his mission, a ship, and a new crew. As Rios grants him the honour to say the word we’ve waited three episodes for the actor to say, with a point to the stars and a smile on his face, Star Trek: Picard is, at last, ready to engage. It is a moment of nostalgia, the TNG fanfare swelling in the soundtrack to remind us of the moment, of its place in Picard’s ever-growing legend.
It’s fanservice, but also a reminder: As he and his new friends warp into the unknown, we’ll have to see how they all consider and clash with just how much of that legendary image of Jean-Luc will carry the day, or be punctured by the harsh reality of the tumultuous present it finds itself in.
- While we’ve already been introduced to the Starfleet uniform of 2399, this episode’s flashback opening takes us back to an in-between era of Federation fashion where it seems like whatever hapless designer Starfleet hires to do its uniform updates every few years was like “Look, you guys didn’t like the grey shoulder pads, okay, I get it, how do I make these 2360s tunics interesting again???” It’s a very militaristic feel: sharp-angled, deeper shoulder cuts, the trimming for various ranks (we got up close with Picard’s Admiral iteration at Destination Star Trek last year), and that classic Voyager/DS9 badge. It’s lovely, but I think I prefer 2399's own spin on that old 2360s uniform. There’s a bit too much going on here.
- Vasquez Rocks is a staple of Star Trek filming – from the original Trek, site of Kirk’s infamous Gorn fight, to even the Kelvin Timeline movies – so it was as funny as it was lovely to see them just show up here as...themselves. No longer an alien vista in the last 24th century!
- Okay, sure, Commodore Oh’s a Zhat Vash in disguise. But those shades? Those shades. I need more Starfleet security chiefs walking around with “deal with it” shades.
- We’re very briefly introduced not just to Rios in this episode, but La Sirena’s holographic crew, which are, uh...just Rioses with various accents? Which is both delightful – because you get to hear Santiago Cabrera have several arguments with himself in different voices – and, given the context of what Star Trek has already told us about synthetic labour in this time period, and its prior exploration of holographic rights through Voyager’s own EMH, also deeply disturbing. Is it just one hologram, with different personalities and accents depending on the duty it’s called up for (there was an EMH and an ENH)? Or multiple? And if so, why are they all Rioses? What’s that even like for their personalities, if they’re left on like Voyager’s Doctor?
- I’ve previously stated my undying love for Laris and Zhaban before, but can we please take a moment to appreciate how quickly they both switch from excitedly showing Picard the cheeses they bought for his trip, to preparing for a Tal Shiar home invasion, getting in a brutal shootout with said Tal Shiar, and then just casually preparing an interrogation? I love them. They have no chill, and yet also all the chill. The true MVPs of this show.
- Oh, no, the Jamie/Cersei vibes off of Narek and Narissia at the end of this episode are very real, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready yet for this level of horny Romulan. Maybe it’s for the best one was embedded on Earth and the other on the Borg artefact.
Featured image: CBS