An old man and a young woman meet for the first time and yet there is a near instant recognition of each other. He is Jean Luc Picard. Formerly of the Enterprise and of Star Fleet. She is Dahj Asha, a synthetic organic being, a ‘synth’, constructed not born.
Dahj does not know what she is. Her memories have been fabricated. She is later killed by Romulan ‘Tal Shiar’ agents in an attempt to abduct her.
Picard discovers that Dahj was, in some sense, a ‘daughter’ of his old, and dead, friend, the android, Data. He also discovers that Dahj has a twin sister, Soji, a scientist working on a project in Romulan territory. She is in danger and Picard thinks that he must reach her before the Tal Shiar do.
The Tal Shiar have already found her, but are using a different tactic. Seduction rather than abduction. A Tal Shiar agent has seduced her into a romantic relationship.
I am a long time Star Trek Fan. I loved the original Star Trek (ST:TOS), Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG), Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (ST:DS9) and Star Trek: Voyager (ST:VGR). I did not watch Star Trek: Enterprise so will not comment on that, but I did watch and really disliked the recent Star Trek: Discovery (STD) series; because, posing as a prequel, it was wholly ‘revisionist’ and totally messed up the Star Trek mythos for me.
I looked forward to seeing ‘Star Trek: Picard’ because it
promised to be a return to the continuity of ST:TOS and ST:TNG but I was
apprehensive because it was in the same creative hands that has made a mess
I have a lot of respect for Sir Patrick Stewart as an actor and for Picard as a character, but the Picard portrayed in the first four episodes of Star Trek: Picard (ST:P) is not the Picard I remember. It is not because he is older but because he is portrayed as what I can only call, with absolute candor, an old fool. Sorry.
There is some hope, I think, in the supporting characters; specifically the ‘crew’ that Picard has gathered around him as he boldly goes to save Data’s second daughter. Currently they are not well drawn and I do not even remember the names of the ensemble members introduced in the first three episodes. There is Raffi a former Star Fleet colleague of Picard, there is the captain of a starship that Picard charters, and there is a young, but leading, expert on artificial life forms.
It is only Elnor, who we meet in Episode 4, ‘Absolute Candor’, who is given a proper introduction.
We meet Elnor where Picard met him, fourteen years previously, as a boy on Vashti, a Romulan resettlement planet. After a disaster that has destroyed the Romulan home world Starfleet Admiral Picard is helping to resettle Romulan refugees.
The boy is an orphan in the care of a sect of warrior assassin nuns called the ‘Qowat Milat’.
Martial nuns and monks are a favourite sci-fi/fantasy trope but that is not necessarily a bad thing if they have a ‘gimmick’ of some sort; a practice or ability or belief system that makes them stand out from the crowd. The gimmick of the QM (I’m not going to keep repeating ‘Qolat Milat’) is their ‘Way of Absolute Candor’. What this means is that they are completely open about their feelings, thoughts and motivations. They are Romulans but the ‘Way of Absolute Candor’ is wholly opposed to the mainstream of Romulan culture; which has been presented, in the Star Trek mythos, as distinctly Machiavellian.
The QM appear to have some governance role on Vashti as we see Picard negotiating with them. As well as promising on behalf of the Federation to help with the resettlement on Vashti, Picard promises to find more suitable guardians for Elnor, with whom he has struck up an unlikely friendship.
When we first see Picard with Elnor, the relationship has already been established. Elnor reminds Picard that Picard that had promised to spend more time with him when he next returned. The leader of the nuns chastises Elnor saying that to extract a promise from another makes them your prisoner and you their jailor. This may have been intended by the writers as a foreshadowing given that Picard is seen to make many promises that he does not or cannot keep.
The seven year old Elnor has, in his mind, adopted Picard as a grandfather and Picard, though reputed to have an aversion to children, returns the affection. There are touching scenes of Picard reading to Elnor and using sticks to fence with him.
Picard’s time on Vashti, and the Federation mission, end abruptly when he is recalled because of a rebellion of ‘synths’, androids, that have destroyed Terran colonies on Mars.
Picard beams up, promising to return; but on Earth he loses
his Starfleet admiralty and is, effectively, grounded. When he returns, in the present, to Vashti,
he finds a planet that is resentful towards the Federation for making them
believe in unfulfilled promises. We are not given any explicit detail with
regard to what has happened on Vashti but the settlers there are living
impoverished lives. This should be remarkable in an age of starships and matter
replicators but the writers do not remark on it. Perhaps the impoverishment of
the planet is deliberate as it is now controlled by warlords.
Though the Federation is resented by most of the settlers, the Qolat Milat remain friendly towards Picard who has returned to ask a favour. Picard wants to enlist a QM warrior to his cause and the QM Mother Superior (?) directs him to the now grown Elnor who she says is a formidable fighter but who cannot become a member of the QM order because he is male.
Elnor listens to Picard’s story and then asks Picard why he had forgotten him.
“I never forgot you.” says Picard
“You did forgot me and only return now because you need
my help” replies Elnor.
Elnor is right. Although it would no doubt have been difficult for Picard to return to Vashti, a man of his resources could surely have found a way to keep in touch. But, we have already learned that Picard is a bit of a dick who abandons close friends. In an earlier episode Raffi, who was fired from Starfleet when Picard offered his resignation, asks why he never looked her up after that.
Elnor walks away saying that Picard left him when he needed Picard and now he will do the same to Picard.
It has been remarked by others that the grown Elnor looks a lot like the portrayal of a certain Elven Lord of similar name in the movie ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The Romulans in ST:P are aesthetically Tolkienesque Elves though they are also presented as multi-racial.
Later, in town, Picard finds that as multi-racial as the Elves, I mean Romulans, are, segregation exists between Romulans and non-Romulan settlers on Vashti.
Picard sees and tears down a ‘Romulans Only’ sign in front of a run-down bar. He then confronts a group of Romulans and start talking about how the Federation has let them down and how he plans to put things right.
Picard, once an advocate of the ‘Prime Directive’ of non-interference, now cannot stop poking his nose into other people’s affairs. This provokes the Romulans and a former Romulan senator tells Picard that the Federation’s help had made Romulans dependent. He then challenges Picard to a sword fight.
In the middle of the fight Picard throws away the sword he was given and the senator is about to kill him. Picard tries to talk to the man, but is clearly getting nowhere. At this point Elnor shows up, draws his sword and warns the man to back off. Instead, the senator moves in to kill Picard. Elnor somersaults into actions and strikes his head off; then he warns the crowd that he is sworn to Picard’s cause.
One of senator’s friends pulls out a blaster. But, before we can see how much good swords are against blasters, Elnor and Picard are beamed up to the ship.
I imagine that there may be perfectly good and interesting reasons why people are using swords in an age of blasters but, unfortunately, those reasons are never given.
On board ship Picard introduces Elnor to the crew and then shouts at him for killing the Romulan duelist ‘ unnecessarily’
“That man didn’t have to die” says Picard. He thanks Elnor for having decided to serve his cause but says that Elnor must always follow his lead and act only on his directions.
But this is wrong, remarkably wrong. It was Picard who had provoked the fight by throwing his weight around like a colonial governor in the old British Empire. He had assumed an authority that he never had. If Elnor had tried to restrain the man, his friends would have joined in and Picard and Elnor would have died or Elnor would have had to kill more of them to defend himself and Picard.
Once a brilliant tactician, leader and diplomat, it appears that Picard has become an old fool given to shouting and imagining that he has more responsibility and authority then he has in reality. My first, and probably correct, reaction to these scenes was that the writers were making Picard act in a way completely inconsistent with his past and also, completely stupid. But there is a small possibility that this is actually brilliantly written and that Picard’s actions will be revealed to be a consequence of a terminal brain abnormality that we learned about in an earlier episode. In this case Patrick Stewart may be reprising, with Picard, the cognitive decline of his Charles Xavier character in ‘Logan’. Such a denouement would be poignant and magnificent. I think it is beyond the capabilities of the writers but I may be quite wrong, we will see.
The last scene is a space battle. A Romulan Warbird attacks Picard’s ship, and would have destroyed it except for the intervention of a third craft that disables the Romulan ship before being destroyed itself. Picard’s pilot beams the pilot of the rescue ship onboard. She turns out to be ‘Seven of Nine’ from ‘Star Trek: Voyager’.
Despite reservations, Episode 4 was the best of the ST:P series so far. I especially liked the ‘absolute candor’ concept and found myself thinking that if the Qolat Milat and Elnor were being absolutely candid they would have a lot to say about Picard’s dickish behaviour but, being really generous to the writers, it is feasible that the QM and Elnor were able to perceive Picard’s condition and vulnerability and were being kind. Too, a community committed to a practice of absolute candor would be trained in that discipline. It would, primarily, be a way that they had learned to practice with each other and they would be cautious about being ‘absolutely candid’ with those, not of their community, and not explicitly asking for such candor. There is a difference between being candid when you asked a question and offering candor unasked for and where it may be disruptive.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that Elnor having been trained and supported to acknowledge and to be open with his thoughts and emotions would be more comfortable than most with his own internal states and, too, more sensitive than most to the internal states of others.
Sometimes I find in sci-fi ideas that resonate with me as
being potentially useful with the real world. Absolute candor is such a
resonant idea. We often seek through meditation and other spiritual or
psychological practices to find enlightenment and a sense of harmony but it is
possible that enlightenment and harmony can only be fully experiences as a
I may follow up on these thoughts in another essay looking at ‘absolute candour (I’ll use the English spelling) in the real world’.
Returning to this episode review, my assessment of Elnor and his attitude towards Picard is supported by the reason he gives Picard for joining his quest. He says that he has listened to Picard and found his cause to be worthy. What makes a cause ‘worthy’ for the Qoulat Milat is that it should be hopeless.