Star Trek: Picard season 1, episode 5 marks the halfway point for the series and a turning point for the narrative.
The divergent storylines are about the merge following the events of Star Trek: Picard season 1, episode 5, “Star Dust City Rag.” Pulling from all corners of the Trek universe, tying a cohesive narrative together is no small task. And while “Star Dust City Rag” does give some star players a chance to shine, the use of one returning character falls a bit flat in comparison to the Trekkiness afforded to others.
Seven of Nine arrives via transport in the final moments of season 1, episode 4 delivering a single line. “You owe me a ship, Picard.” In order to fill out the narrative of Seven of Nine’s history since Voyager, the episode shakes up the structure and focuses on a single timeline (for the most part) and tells a rather straightforward series of events. Balancing a ton of backstory with story advancement comes at a cost for some characters, including the aforementioned guest.
Stick a feather in your cap and try to act cool, because it’s time to head to Freecloud — which I was delighted to learn is an actual, physical place even if it does present itself as a cyber dreamscape.
‘Star Trek: Picard’ season 1, episode 5 recap
Where has Seven of Nine been?
Putting Picard behind a paywall means that there are certain things that the show can get away with that would otherwise raise some flags with censors on a network. This is not just about letting a few F-bombs slip into the Trek Universe, but also some more gruesome visuals of torture and violence.
In episode 4, Elnor sliced a man’s head right off of his body and we were privy to watch it slide, in almost slow motion, off of his neck. Green blood does not detract from the camera sticking on that shot for the duration of the man’s demise. And Jonathan Frakes, who returns to direct episode 5, does not shy away from a full display of torture and disassembly of a former Borg in this week’s outing.
The episode opens up to a flashback 13 years ago, when Seven of Nine was off in search of her comrade, Icheb. The captured officer lies completely awake and conscious on a slab still in his Starfleet uniform, as he is taken apart for parts. Icheb, who came to his own in the Federation after being rescued by Seven of Nine and the crew of Voyager from the Borg, is more than a former rescued member of the Borg Collective.
Seven of Nine arrives to rescue him, but not before we witness the mechanical and cruel removal of his eye piece. His injuries too grave, Seven of Nine does not hesitate to end his pain and suffering; she shoots him while holding his body close to her chest. Their bond is not evidently clear on the surface, but as it serves as the tipping point of the next phase of her life, we are to take her reference to him as her “child” there as a bond that she felt to him, made stronger by their unique shared history as former Borg. She is a protector, a guardian, a mentor, a friend.
The episode quickly catches us up to the near-present, laying a seemingly unconnected bread crumb with the introduction of Bjayzl, a powerful dealer on Freecloud who has Bruce Maddox in her possession. Bearded, disheveled, and listless, this Bruce Maddox is exactly who I thought we would run into at this juncture of the season. But, he turns out to be a red herring for the series’ progress.
Returning to the ship, Raffi and Rios play catchup with the history of Seven of Nine, a scene that might have worked better ahead of Picard and Seven of Nine’s reunion. Raffi reveals that Picard was once assimilated by the Borg and that Seven of Nine and he probably crossed paths, though it was not during their time together. As Rios pieces together that she is that Fenris Ranger, the pure fever-dream assembly of their mission is starting to take shape. Stay on your toes, Rios, you don’t know the half of what is coming down the line.
So yes, Seven of Nine has spent her time since the death of Icheb burying her feelings as a Fenris Ranger, using the position as an outlet that will allow her to fight for justice outside of the system. She fits right in on La Sirena. The Federation will not allow any of the members assembled to achieve any modicum of success if they choose to color in the lines.
Picard may resemble the great, acclaimed Admiral in the mirror, but people are very quick to point out how the mighty have fallen. His shortcoming in both episode 4 and episode 5 is that he “gave up.” When he presented the ultimatum to Starfleet in the flashback of episode 3, there he retreated to his chateau and as he plainly said, prepared to die. Though he has privately not let himself off the hook for his behaviors, Seven of Nine is not going to sugar coat her rebuttal to his judgement of her joining up with the “lawless” Fenris Rangers. At least she was choosing to do something. “The only thing worse would have been to give up.”
You are all lying
Picard finds that he is not exactly in a place for arguing with her, but that does not prevent him from harboring his judgement of the corner of the world she chose for herself. But just as she is about to request being beamed off at the nearest possible exit, Picard pitches his predicament — he needs to find Bruce Maddox and hopefully save a young woman (and yes, okay, the universe) in the process.
Seven is sold on the mission only when one name spills over in conversation — Bjayzl, the woman who has Maddox captive on Freecloud.
My sweet child Elnor is slowly becoming my favorite new character to join to the team in Picard. And to be honest, I related to him the most in this episode. While all of the information of trading for Maddox and his value to the Tal Shiar, who can and who cannot speak for a trade, I too did not put together the entire plan straight away. But the basics boil down to the following: Bjayzl has Maddox, she needs a trader to handle the high-powered Tal Shiar, Raffi was able to infiltrate the systems of Freecloud to build an *almost* ironclad identity for Rios to take on, he needs to wear a pimp suit and Picard needs to be a pirate, Seven of Nine will be traded for Maddox, and Agnus will beam everybody back to safety. Got it? Elnor does — everyone is lying.
In more than one way, Elnor is completely correct. Everyone has their own motivation for getting to Freecloud and only Rios and Picard are aligned at the end of the mission.
The drugged-leader, pirate Picard, and the silent assassin
With everyone assigned their task, it is up to one man to make the entrance believable or else the reptilian guard, known as Mr. Vup, will literally smell fraud — Enter Pimp Rios. The outfit, and it is some outfit, can only mask so much, and it is up to Rios to ditch the broody, existential spaceman for one evening to make an impression as a trader. The pilot takes that to mean bopping along to the music, ordering a drink with TWO umbrellas (calm down, sir) and sweet talking his way into getting Picard and his entourage a visit with Bjayzl.
Accomplishing his bit of the mission, with a little help from a stress-responsive drug cocktail to calm down his nerves– the pitch of handing over Seven of Nine leaves the door open to Picard to beam down for the delivery as the true face of the deal.
Picard and his whole accent arrive on Freecloud ready to strike a deal, but Bjayzl is less interested in his mutterings and far more intrigued by the woman standing before her. Reunited at long last.
Going down in a blaze of fire
“When they are assimilated as kids, they get more parts.” That should be the line tells you all you need to know about Bjayzl and her relationship with Seven of Nine. But there is far more going on there than just a woman after another for spare parts. The Borg hold an interest for Bjayzl, as is evident by the reveal of her identity as the mastermind behind the disassembly and death of Icheb. But the reason she went after Icheb in the first place is because Seven of Nine let his identity slip in a moment of personal connection.
The intimacy of their give and take is palpable, and Seven of Nine’s reaction to being confronted with Bejayzl stirs up the more human emotions of betrayal of trust and twisting of affection. Bjayzl is not forthcoming with the nature of their relationship either, but toys with Seven by bringing up her “nobility” and “save the outcast” attitudes of earlier days. Seven calls her “Jay,” to which Bjayzl calls her Annika, her pre-Borg identity.
What frustrates me most about this reunion is that so much is left unsaid. That could be written off as Seven of Nine burying her humanity, but from what we see, she is not likely to come back to the crew. So why build an episode around her return and this traumatic confrontation of feelings to have her departure literally go out in a blaze of fire?
Picard gets Maddox and Seven of Nine safely off the planet in exchange for letting Bjayzl walk away with her life. But Seven of Nine is not going to return to order and duty under Picard, nor should she. Is the alternative better? Seven’s delivery of “he was a son to me” justifies the kill enough in my book, but the unexplored depths of this encounter left a lot to be desired.
Revenge is not a path that Picard wants to see Seven of Nine trend. The two have their humanity back, but it is something that they need to work on every single day. Picard worked back as a leader in service of others, Seven of Nine took a similar route. And now to tarnish it with a rash decision? Why? She asks him if he feels as though he has his humanity back, to which he says yes. But the real answer is a whispered “no” that he utters after she asks a second time.
She seems to take his advice but transports herself back to Freecloud and takes Bjayzl’s life before turning on her second wave of guards. Though we can assume Seven on Nine will not be on the mission to the Borg Cube, she will be on standby for Picard should he ever need a ranger.
The family reunion
The departure from Starfleet was not the only catalyst that sent Raffi into isolation from the rest of the world, but it certainly did not help direct her actions. We catch a glimpse of the Raffi that her son remembers in the flashback episode featuring Picard’s dismissal from Starfleet. She is wound up on the synths activation to perform such drastic actions on Mars and feels closer to breaking open another crack in the mystery. That mystery was in part kept in check by her duties as a member of Picard’s crew, a duty that she no longer was obligated to report for after her utility was erased when the rescue missions ceased.
Enter Gabriel Hwang, her son and reason for being compelled to get to Freecloud. On the planet to receive medical care at their reproductive center for his pregnant wife, Pel, Gabe has made a life for himself that is completely devoid of his mother’s influence. He recaps his childhood for us when he is faced with Raffi outside the center. She was never around — physically perhaps, but not emotionally or mentally. She was caught up in the finding answers for the attack, linking it back to the Federation, ignoring both him and his father. “It sucked to be your kid.”
To him, this was not a matter of the universe’s position on the use of synths, this was about a kid whose life did not matter to his mother. He asks her if it was worth throwing her life and his away, to which she cannot give an answer before his very pregnant wife appears. There is no apology, no promise of being clean and ready to be a part of his life, that will get him to open the door for her return to his life.
This moment is heartbreaking and sets up Raffi’s return to the ship. Rios refers to her as the “stowaway” and while it will be nice to return to her struggle, and the information that her son spilled for us, for now, we are just going to let her be.
What is the nature of your medical emergency?
As much as the holograms may like to act as independents, Picard episode 5 restricts their free will with displays aggravated stalling at the hands of Agnes. The first appearance of an EMH occurs when Agnes is alone on the ship waiting for the command from Freecloud to beam everyone back up. She is panicking and the EMH responds to her rise in blood pressure and promptly offers her a sedative. The machinery is not the only thing that is setting the doctor off, the impending reunion with Maddox is weighing heavily on her. Sitting in her quarters, she watches videos of Maddox baking cookies from scratch (the ones from the replicator just aren’t the same). It becomes apparent, very quickly, that the two were far more than just colleagues.
Maddox’s return to “Aggie” is one that is fraught with urgency from several parties. Picard needs answers about Dahj and Soji, and he gets some details about their programmed lives and the protocols that Maddox installed. Agnes, however, needs some time alone, but not to reconnect with an old love, but to destroy the mind behind the new wave of synthetic life. Agnes is just as responsible for their creation as Maddox, a piece of information he tells her and it visibly turns her stomach.
Whatever the Federation has on the synthetics and their activation is compelling enough to turn Agnes not only against her own work, but her passion for Maddox. Perhaps acting on the will of the Tal Shiar, she kills Maddox and dismisses the frustrated EMH. “I wish they hadn’t shown me” is a line to dwell on for speculation of the events to come. But how long will it be before someone picks up on Agnes’ act — she really is not great under pressure as we have seen.
Maybe the EMH will spill the secrets or at the very least his activation record log might…
Final thoughts on Picard 1×05
- I enjoyed the entrance to Freecloud being a barrage of ad pop ups that were seemingly catered to the person they were interacting with. A great nod to internet ad culture as well as the nature of the planet. Hilarious that Elnor was sad he did not get one, I’m positive they simply didn’t know what to serve someone with no footprint in the universe.
- WHO PROVIDED THAT COVER?! QUARK?!!
- Elnor got a disguise! He is part of the team! But let’s not forget that he can also kill every single person in that club with the flip of his hair!
- That French accent should never leave the vineyard.
- Why are we burying the Seven of Nine story under so many layers? Can we bring out the true nature of a relationship for once? It’s 2020!
- As we head to the Borg cube, I’m glad that the storylines are finally coming together. I just hope that whatever the Federation showed Agnes was worth pushing her character down this path for…
Star Trek: Picard will release new episodes on CBS All Access in the U.S. on Thursdays, on CTV Sci-Fi channel in Canada on Thursdays, and on Amazon Prime elsewhere on Fridays.