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Star Trek: Picard leans in on Next Generation canon and nostalgia, but for a deeper reason
By the end of Episode 3 of Star Trek: Picard, the first phase of the larger story is clearly over. If it seems like we've been watching Jean-Luc pack his bags for his new Bilbo Baggins-esque adventure for a while now, this is the moment in the story when he starts to really step out the door. In the latest installment, Picard dives deeper into the backstory of the Mars tragedy, brings back a very familiar face from The Next Generation and finally lets Jean-Luc drop his most famous catchphrase.
But along the way, the series introduces a new metafictional plot-point that not only redefines this series but also gives the entire Star Trek franchise a new definition.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Episode 3, "The End is the Beginning."**
Just like the opening of Episode 2, "Maps and Legends," Episode 3 starts in a flashback. Again, it's 14 years before the start of the series, in the year 2385, and the Synths have just gone ballistic on Mars. We cut to Earth where Picard is dejectedly walking out of Starfleet Headquarters. Because this is 14 years ago, he and Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) are both wearing Starfleet uniforms and we quickly learn that Raffi was Picard's primary confidant in planning the Rescue Amanda to save the Romulans from the supernova. We learned in Episode 1 that Picard had resigned from Starfleet, but here, we actually see the direct real-time aftermath of that decision. Because Picard walked away, Starfleet also fired Raffi from her position in Starfleet security.
Back in the present, Raffi is still furious with Jean-Luc for basically ruining her career 14 years ago. Picard is desperate to enlist Raffi on his new "secret synthetic girl rescue mission," but she's not really pumped that he's walked back into her life. She more or less calls Picard out for being a bad friend, and, like Admiral Clancy in Episode 2, implies that he's kind of a jerk for assuming everyone will just go along with his plans because he's famous.
Raffi also reminds Picard that she's been warning him about the Tal Shiar conspiring with Starfleet to intentionally destroy the Rescue Armada and that she has tangible evidence that the fix has been in for a very long time. Eventually, Raffi tells Jean-Luc to get lost but does give him the name of a pilot with an "unregistered starship," that can help him out with his new quest.
Meanwhile, on the Borg Cube, we meet the director of the reclamation project: none other than Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), famous to Next Generation fans as the Borg Drone rescued by the Enterprise in the episode "I, Borg" and later part of a group of renegade Borg in "Descent Part 1 and Part 2." Hugh is impressed with Soji (Isa Briones) being kind to one of the "nameless," and as such, he tells her that he's going to let her interview a Romulan patient named Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky.)
As an anthropologist, Soji is pumped to pick Ramdha's brain because she knows that this specific Romulan was an expert in mythology before she got assimilated by the Borg. Soji says that "there is ample evidence for the therapeutic utility of a shared mythical framework." Basically, she thinks understanding Romulan myths from a mythology expert that was also plugged into the Borg could be super useful to everyone.
Hugh and Soji also agree that the way the Romulans treat the "Ex-Bs" (Ex-Borg) is the worst. Additionally, Hugh is taken aback by the fact that Soji has somehow gained access to classified Romulan documents about Romulans who were assimilated by the Borg before this particular ship went offline.
Elsewhere, Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) is chilling and listening to some classical music outside of the Daystrom Institue when she is confronted by the Vulcan Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) about how much she's been hanging out with Picard. Later, we find out that Jurati basically spilled all the beans to Oh, but what's telling is that we don't see the rest of this scene, so we don't actually know what Jurati admitted to. Later, Jurati also happens to show up at Picard's house at the exact same time, so one might conclude that she's not being totally honest with everyone? There's no compelling reason to think Jurati is a double-agent (she seems good?) but even Raffi mentions at the episode's conclusion that Picard didn't run a security clearance on her.
In terms of jumpstarting the story into actual warp speed, the big news of the episode is that Picard eventually hires Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera) a former Starfleet officer who now operates off the grid with his ship called La Sirena. Rios surrounds himself with holograms of himself, including an Emergency Medical Hologram and an Emergency Navigation Hologram.
In terms of Trek canon, this is the first time since Star Trek: Voyager in which we've seen pseudo-sentient holograms, which is interesting because back in the Voyager days, holograms fought for their rights the same way Data did for androids in The Next Generation. This makes a hardcore Trekkie wonder if Picard will mix-in questions of android rights right alongside hologram rights.
By the end of the episode, Jean-Luc says "Engage!" and the La Sirena is headed to a mysterious place called "Freecloud" to try and track down Bruce Maddox. But, right before that big nostalgic send-off (complete with a new arrangement of the Jerry Goldsmith-composed Star Trek: The Motion Picture main theme song), there's an extremely pivotal scene which seems to suggest that Picard, as a series, has become a metaphor for all of Star Trek.
When Soji eventually gets to talk to the mysterious Ramdha about Romulan mythology, we get a lot of plot information about Soji being referred to as "the Destroyer," in some kind of ancient Romulan mythology. This detail is tantalizing, but will probably be worked out by the plot of the rest of the season fairly simply. Less simple is the distinction that Ramdha and Soji make between "mythology" and "the news."
When Soji makes references to mythology, Ramdha says "I hate that word," implying that there's something reductive and unfair about calling these stories "myths." Soji asks what a better word might be, and Ramdha says "the news." Excitedly, Soji says that the Romulan myths could be just a relevant as daily news. Which, is clearly, a metaphor or a synecdoche for Star Trek itself. Sorting out the details of Star Trek canon is fun, but the study of the mythology of Star Trek naturally leads to thinking about what Star Trek is really about.
From the 1960s series to the '90s heyday of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, to the contemporary shows like Discovery and Picard, Star Trek has often "ripped" its plots from the headlines of the daily news. In TOS, this happened in episodes like "A Private Little War," in which Captain Kirk openly criticized the Vietnam War. In The Next Generation, you had episodes like "Chain of Command," which focused on the horrors of torture and basic humans rights. Deep Space Nine had "Far Beyond the Stars," all about racial inequality and how science fiction can serve as a catalyst to change the world for the better. These are just a few random examples, and any serious Star Trek person can name at least two dozen more from across the entire franchise.
However, beyond a few silly puns of people almost saying "Star Trek" in an installment of Star Trek, the franchise has never before so openly incorporated its own definition into the plot one of its stories. When Soji describes a "mythology as relevant as the day's news" she's describing Star Trek itself. In Picard, a once benevolent government has turned xenophobic, while a great leader grapples with his notions of privilege and hubris. Meanwhile, the rest of the galaxy tries to figure out what happens when technology becomes such an integral part of life that the definition of humanity itself changes. All of these subjects connect to real things happening in the world right now.
Star Trek: Picard isn't changing Trek canon much with this new lens. But, by having Soji outright describe the function of Star Trek in this episode, the way the series sees itself suddenly seems a little more metafictional. Star Trek has always been aware of its political implications, but now the franchise seems more than self-aware that the mythology has to grow with the news to remain relevant as mythology.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 has six episodes left. New episodes hit CBS All-Access on Thursdays.