Monday, February 24, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E5 "Stardust City Rag"


We start with a flashback to 13 years ago and a planet called Vergessen (which means "forget" in German). A young ex-borg is being seemingly tortured by a person and we find out this ex-borg is named Icheb. It can only be the Icheb of course. Seven of Nine storms in but she is too late, the wounds are going to kill him so she mercy-shoots him tearfully. This scene is important to understand a lot about Seven of Nines motivations for the episode, as we will soon find out. Also, what a tragic way to end that character.

Icheb, before he meets his unfortunate demise.

Jump forward to "two weeks ago" on the planet Freecloud, and we finally get to see the infamous Bruce Maddox. My theory that Bruce Maddox is actually Data somehow unfortunately seems wrong, this Bruce Maddox looks nothing like Data and seems painfully human. Maddox seeks up a woman named Bjayzl (another name that really irks me for some reason) and asks her for protection. Bjayzl, who also has a Beta Annari in her employment, doesn't seem too happy about having someone who is the target of the Tal Shiar under her roof and orders Maddox killed. She changes her mind within two seconds though and instead decides to auction him out.

Seems like if the Tal Shiar are after him an auction could be more hassle than it is worth? Is she hoping that the Tal Shiar will try to buy him off her, when they don't really seem the type to haggle but rather just grab what they want? To be fair, Bjayzl is portraid as a woman with a lot of power and influence, so it is quite possible the Tal Shiar can't just take something from her. We will soon find out however that taking things from Bjayzl is actually not that difficult.

Raffi finds out that Bjayzl is auctioning out Maddox and tells Picard that there just is no way they're going to get him now. Seven of Nine has a plan however, since she knows that Bjayzl deals in off-the-market borg technology and Seven of Nine is sort of a prize within that community. The Seven of Nine of this series is quite different from the one we left in Voyager. She is now part of the Fenris Rangers, which were mentioned in the previous part (though I didn't mention them in my post as they didn't seem important) who police the local area. Think of them as a wild west vigilante group. Picard asks Seven how she can take the law into her own hands and Seven cleverly answers "the law?". It's an overall pretty good dialogue but we've gotten to see too little to explain how Seven could've ended up here. The short scene in the beginning of the episode, where it seems like ex-borgs are basically being hunted for their parts (a pretty likely scenario), isn't enough to fill in the gap between the Seven in Voyager and the Seven we are just watching. But the night is still young and we now know that this series likes to give you tidbits thrown in here and there. We'll see how many of them will be about Seven though.

Annika isn't who she used to be.

We also get to see a short scene where Agnes watches some clips of her and Maddox. Turns out that Agnes actually used to be Maddox' lover. Is that really why she wanted to tag along? Nope, we're soon going to find out that Agnes has been hiding more than this.

We also see why Raffi wanted to come along to Freecloud. Apparently her estranged son lives here and she is trying to patch things up with him. Estranged because of her substance abuse and prioritizing trying to prove the Tal Shiar conspiracy on Earth rather than spend time with her family. The son, who has a Romulan or maybe Vulcan wife who is expecting a child, isn't interested in her trying to make things good again and asks her to leave. But we knew that that was going to happen, because Raffi wasn't really going to leave the crew. This gives us some insight to who she is as a person though and especially all she has been struggling with since Picard left her. It's told with few words and pointers, a lot has to be surmised and I like that.

Seven and Raffi come up with a plan to retrieve Maddox. Seven knows that Bjayzl would want to get her hands on her technology, so she suggests they are going to use herself as payment, outbidding the Tal Shiar for Maddox. Everyone gets to play dress up. Rios goes as the "introducer" or "interfacer", a role that seems entirely superfluous in the end (except for throwing in a reference to Quark from DS9). Picard dresses up as some sort of crazy, French accent-having pirate-looking guy who wants to trade Seven for Maddox. Picard hams it up like he's in a comedy all of a sudden and it's pretty hilarious to see. Picard had some funny moments in TNG too but for the most time he is fairly stoic and serious. I like that they expand a lot on his personality in this series but I will get back to this in a bit.

Not the first time Stewart dons the funny-mantle. Hopefully not the last.

Bjayzl presumably understands why the Tal Shiar are after Maddox but seems to have no wonders about who this crazy pirate guy is and how he managed to capture Seven. As Seven is brought up to Bjayzl and they start talking it becomes increasingly clear that they share quite a past, so Bjayzl if anyone should know perfectly well not only that Seven wants to kill her for all the ex-borgs she has killed (including Icheb) but also that she possesses superhuman qualities. Yet Bjayzl goes up and stands right next to her, with full faith that the tiny constraints around Sevens hands are going to be enough. Well, of course they aren't. Seven puts her hand around Bjayzls throat and threatens to kill her right there.

Rather than just doing that though, they talk. A lot. And Bjayzl, or someone on her team, manages to convince Seven that if she kills Bjayzl the rest of the people with her (namely Picard, Rios and Elnor) will have bounty hunters after them. Seven agrees to let Bjayzl go as long as they get to take Maddox with them. Said and done.

Back on the ship though, she tells Picard she needs to leave, asks to bring two rifles with her, beams back down and kills Bjayzl anyway. At least they did that, which was a pretty cool way to end it. Before she does that though she has a very interesting conversation with Picard. She asks him if he thinks he has regained his humanity after he was in the collective and he answers "yes". "All of it?" she asks. Short pause and Picard answers "no".

Maybe it changed Picard more than we think?

Now we're with Maddox in the sickbay. Picard has a conversation with him about where Soji is and the camera cuts to Agnes, who is taking care of him but standing at a distance. The way the scene is played out made me scribble down "Agnes is actually the bad guy?". She just seems odd there somehow, and I guess it was well done because as soon as Agnes is left alone with Maddox in the sickbay again she goes on to murder him. So apparently Agnes was an undercover agent for the Tal Shiar all along (I am assuming that is who she is working for, she could also just be crazy).

I find the character revelation pretty good because to be honest, Agnes hasn't really added much to the series otherwise. Of course, the writers already pointed this out two episodes ago when Agnes asked to be taken along for the ride. When Picard agrees, Raffi rightfully questions the fact that he doesn't actually know anything about her. "So we're letting strangers onto the ship now?" she basically asks. Picard pretty much just shrugs it off. Yet again we see how his arrogance (or is it aloofness? His absolutely certainty that he is doing the right thing at all times?) is hurting people around him.

Which brings me to the point I was starting to make earlier in the post. I like that they are developing Picard. I can see how it can anger some people, and I can also understand that you just don't want people to tamper with your darlings. The best way to see it is that there is the old Picard and the new Picard. The same way a sequel to a game doesn't change anything about the original game, yet some people still are angry about the fact that a sequel is made at all (same thing about movies actually). Development needed to happen. There was almost no reason to have this series if Picard was going to be exactly the same as he is in TNG. Also, who doesn't change over the course of 30 some years? Some people don't, but Picard clearly has. If some of the hints about what has going on during those 30 years is anything to go by, he has a lot of reason to have changed his mindset about certain things, though his core ideals are clearly very much intact. And I find that to be the most important thing. When I see this Picard I still see the Picard from TNG, but aged. Definitely not wiser, but different. Water has flown under his bridge and he has seen things.

Overall the show still balances right between "oh, not so great" and "hah, that was cool!". I am very much enjoying it still though and I am interested to see where they are taking things. Oh and in case you were wondering, Soji had no scenes in this episode.

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