Pardon the hyperbole, but mark this down in your captain's log: Everything you thought you knew about Star Trek: Picard is suddenly different and Trek canon will never be the same. Some brief text-on-screen in the new Short Treks episode "Children of Mars" 100 percent sets-up a new, and surprising plot element for Picard. In fact, this single Easter egg has shattered a ton of fan theories and created a new status quo for the canon of Star Trek, and Picard in specific.
It's very easy to miss, but there is one, very, very important Easter egg at the end of the latest Short Treks episode, "Children of Mars." Because there's virtually no dialogue in this episode, it's totally understandable that this very, very tiny detail could go unnoticed. However, it's big!
**Spoiler Warning: There are huge spoilers below. Even if you've seen "Children of Mars," you may consider this a spoiler, since this detail is somewhat hidden.**
"Children of Mars" follows the story of two young students Kima (Ilamaria Ebrahim) and Lil (Sadie Munroe), who both have parents who work on Mars. The thrust of the episode focuses on the girls being classroom enemies, who are united by the end because their respective parents are the victims of a huge attack on the planet Mars. Who is attacking Mars? This is where the blink-and-you'll-miss-it twist comes up.
If you look at the on-screen text during the news report from "FNN" you'll see this text: "ROGUE SYNTHS ATTACK MARS. 3000 ESTIMATED DEAD." This text appears twice in the episode and is visible during the section in which the kids see the news announcement for Admiral Picard, lamenting the tragedy of the attacks.
So, this attack on Mars did not come from Romulans or Borg. It came from "Rogue Synths," which can only refer to synthetics, which has to mean artificial life. So, now, as "Children of Mars" illustrates, an A.I. revolt actually creates the backstory of whatever happens in Star Trek: Picard.
This is huge for a few reasons. First, of all, the idea that there were enough synthetic lifeforms around to launch an attack is pretty big news for Star Trek canon. In a few of the trailers, we see Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) has access to what seems to be Soong-type androids; in other words, golden-skinned androids that look similar to Data. But during the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, Data was fairly unique. In fact, Data's uniqueness was something that Picard helped to preserve in the beloved TNG episode "A Measure of a Man."
Back then, Picard and Guinan worried that if Starfleet manufactured more androids like Data, that the good guys would be essentially sanctioning A.I. slave labor. "A Measure of a Man" happens in the year 2365. Star Trek: Nemesis, the last regular appearance of Data and Picard prior to the new series was in 2379. Now, Star Trek: Picard is set in 2399. But when does "Children of Mars," and therefore, the Synth attack take place? There's no clear date anywhere in the episode, but we do have another clue.
According to "The First Duty" exhibition at San Diego Comic-Con, Jean-Luc Picard leaves Starfleet in the year 2386, about 13 years before the new show begins. But in "Children of Mars," we see an announcement from Admiral Picard, meaning this attack on Mars happens when Picard is still in Starfleet. So, chances are, "Children of Mars" happens in 2386, or a little bit earlier, and this attack is connected to why Picard resigns from Starfleet. Plus, in other, more recent trailer for Picard, Jean-Luc mentions in voice-over that he was "haunted by his past," and in that trailer, an attack on Mars is very clearly depicted.
The Rogue Synth attack also means that sometime between 2379 and 2386, a bunch of androids (Synths) or some other kind of artificial life was either created or discovered by the Federation. Either that or the Rogue Synths are a coalition of different types of artificial life. In Star Trek: Voyager, various holograms were fighting for their rights to be recognized as lifeforms, so, who knows, maybe those holograms got together with some androids?
The other piece to this puzzle is obviously the Borg. Now, the Borg aren't A.I or synthetic lifeforms per se; but because they have a shared collective intelligence augmented by cybernetics, the Borg are certainly adjacent to A.I. We know three former Borg drones are a part of the plot of Star Trek: Picard: Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) and Jean-Luc Picard himself. We also know that in several trailers Seven of Nine tells Picard that she is helping people who have no one else to turn to. So, are former Borg being discriminated against? And, have those disenfranchised Borg formed a collation with androids?
It wouldn't be the first time. In fact, back in the TNG episodes "Descent Part 1 and 2" an entire group or Rogue Borg is led by Data's twisted brother, Lore. And although those Borg eventually rejected Lore's leadership, it still makes sense that androids and liberated Borg would be natural allies. Notably, Picard left Hugh in charge of the rogue Borg in "Descent Part 2," so now — assuming the Borg are involved in the Synth revolt — it seems possible that Picard set events into motion in The Next Generation without knowing it. And, it also seems clear that Star Trek: Picard will end up being a show about what happens with the artificial life of the Trek canon is no longer limited to one friendly android.
Short Treks "Children of Mars" is streaming now on CBS All Access.
Star Trek: Picard will begin streaming on January 23.