Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) have had a pretty hard time since leaving Starfleet. At the start of Star Trek: Picard Episode 3, "The End is the Beginning," we learn the heartbreaking origin of why Raffi and Jean-Luc stopped working together 14 years before. Now, just as we left them at the end of Episode 2, they're drinking a bottle of red wine under the hot 24th-century California sun at the Vasquez Rocks and Picard is desperate to reconnect. Raffi clearly missed Picard, but she's also furious he's been out of touch for so long.
Of all the new Trek characters in Star Trek: Picard, Michelle Hurd's Raffi stands out as the person who clearly mattered to Jean-Luc, but not for science-fictional reasons. There's a complex connection between these two, defined by fragility and tenderness that longtime Next Generation fans could probably never imagine Picard having with most of the old Enterprise crew.
**Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, Episode 3, "The End is the Beginning."**
"Raffi is also the only one who calls him 'J.L.' They have a kind of intimate relationship," Michelle Hurd tells SYFY WIRE. "I get to explore a lot of firsts with Raffi."
Unique among the cast of Star Trek: Picard, Hurd's Raffi is the only person — other than established Trek characters — who has a past with the titular Starfleet hero. But, the wrinkle is, a huge part of that past has yet to be revealed. Of the three episodes of Picard that have aired, the last two have begun in flashback. At the top of "The End is the Beginning," we learn in part why Raffi is so angry at Picard for waltzing back into her life after a long absence. When their plan to rescue the Romulans was dashed by the Synth Revolt on Mars, Picard resigned from Starfleet and Raffi was fired. And now, 14 years later, they're drinking together, but Raffi is not happy.
"For me, it’s easy to see why Raffi is the way she is," Hurd explains. "She has lived a challenging life, and she’s doing her very best to get up every day and meet the day. She struggles with past decisions, she’s haunted by things she’s done. She’s trying to make amends, and even if she wasn’t trying to make amends, she has vices that deaden the pain."
In almost every way, the fact that Raffi is a damaged character, who seems to be battling addiction, is something fairly new for the Star Trek franchise. Somewhat infamously, back in 1967, Harlan Ellison's original script for the beloved Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever," would have featured a drug addict aboard the Starship Enterprise. And while that concept was written out the final version of the episode back then, it seems now, Trek has finally come around to having a regular character that faces something so serious.
"What I love about playing this character, is that there are all kinds of people who struggle with addiction, and the devils that are on people’s shoulders are there for a reason," Hurd says. "You could write people off as alcoholics or drug addicts or whatever; but for the majority of people, there was a core event that subconsciously or consciously changed their path and they started to have to lean on vices. But, when people are going through these battles, they are still valuable. They are still vital to our world. They still have a voice. They deserve respect. They deserve for us to reach our hand out to help. Or knock on the door."
In Picard, the issues between Raffi and Jean-Luc are 100 percent connected to the fact that he did not knock on her door in the intervening years. For all intents and purposes, Raffi was Picard's new Will Riker, a trusted "number one" by his side during a difficult time in his career. But, for one reason or another, he pushed her away. Will those questions be answered? What is she guilty about? Is there still a lot more to Raffi's backstory?
Hurd laughs and responds simply with: "Mhm. That's all I can say for now. Mhm."
Charting Raffi's course over the totality of Star Trek: Picard wasn't something Michelle Hurd did alone. Just like Picard needs Raffi to help him out of his current jam, Hurd says she relied on and collaborated with showrunner Michael Chabon to craft all aspects of Raffi's character.
"I’m giddy to say this, but we have a beautiful connection. I adore Michael [Chabon]. He and I know and breathe Raffi together. When I’m doing a scene, I’m able to ask him if we’re taking the character in the right direction and my favorite answer is when he tells me something very different from what I thought we were going for. So those conversations can open up a hidden world."
Hurd also reveals that although Raffi's backstory was created when she auditioned for the part, that Michael Chabon actually changed aspects of her character based on seeing Hurd perform during the first table-reading for the series. "I was so drawn to her [Raffi]. She was so full of complexities and imperfections and struggles," she says. "Real human dilemma, but after we did the table read, Michael came over to me and said, 'now you've shown me who Raffi really is.'"
Hurd also views her journey to Star Trek as something that started in childhood and connects her experience of joining the final frontier to her bi-racial background.
"My father was an actor. And that was back in the day — when it was challenging to be a black actor. I remember sometimes he didn’t even allow us to see the work he was doing because the roles were like a butler or an Uncle Tom," she recalls. "So, when I got this job, I flashed back to my apartment building — Westbeth Artist Housing in New York — the family was sitting around and watching [the original] Star Trek. Because Star Trek was one of the first shows to be inclusive and have an interracial kiss on television. A black woman and a white man. My father’s black my mother’s white! We saw ourselves represented there. It’s very impactful for children to see themselves. It was a realization for me. Because Star Trek had meant more to me and my decisions and my family than I had realized."
And Hurd's childhood connection to Star Trek isn't just limited to the serious, important stuff, too. Unique to any Trek series before it, the vast majority of the principal cast of Star Trek: Picard does not dress in the requisite matching Starfleet uniforms that pervade all previous versions of the franchise. And yet, because Raffi was Picard's confidant in this pivotal flashback, Michelle Hurd was once again in a unique position. Other than Patrick Stewart, she's the only non-guest star, regular cast member who gets to rock a Starfleet uniform, a fact with Hurd relishes.
"Yep! I made that known," Hurd says with a laugh. "Putting on the uniform made me giddy. It was transformative. I can't explain it."
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 has six episodes left. New episodes air on Thursdays on CBS All Access.