This review contains spoilers.
1.2 Maps And Legends
If the premiere of Star Trek: Picard was focused on reintroducing us to Jean-Luc Picard, then the second episode is all about expanding that reintroduction to this rich world. It’s the first episode written by showrunner Michael Chabon (alongside co-creator Akiva Goldsman, who also penned the first episode with James Duff) and his experience as a mystery writer shows. This episode is plot heavy, but it rarely feels like it, delivering massive amounts of information mostly without making it feel like a slog. This first season of Picard is no 26-episode season of The Next Generation; it has 10 episodes to tell its story, and “Maps and Legends” is very much aware of that fact. Let’s get to it…
Much of Episode 2’s work is done in reintroducing us to the Romulans as they are now, post-destruction of Romulus. While we got a glimpse of Romulan life in the form of Picard’s mysterious companions and that Romulan Reclamation Site cliffhanger, Episode 1 mostly consisted of different people telling us about the Romulans rather than getting to meet them for ourselves. To be fair, there are still quite a lot of people telling us about Romulans in this episode, though some of them are Romulans. The most central is Laris, one of the two Romulans Jean-Luc lives with, who conveniently knows a heck of a lot of information about secret Romulan organisations.
The Tal Shair are a Romulan intelligence agency akin to our CIA, but Laris informs us that there is another, even more secret organisation known as the Shat Vash. This league of secret assassins, who Dahj had the great misfortune to meet in the Picard premiere, operate with almost zero outside accountability; they’re not even on the Federation’s radar (or at least, if they are, Jean-Luc doesn’t know about them). Per Laris’ suspicions, they were formed around a very specific paranoia: a fear and hate of all forms of synthetic life.
If anyone is going to stop the Shat Vash, it’s not going to be the Federation. The organization has its own paranoia when it comes to synthetic life. In the episode’s opening moments, we are granted a flashback to the synthetic attack against the Utopia Planitia Shipyards, which occurred 14 years prior to the events of Picard. During the event (explored from a different perspective in Short Trek “Children of Mars”), an android known as F8 takes over control of the shipyard’s weaponry, destroying the complex along with everyone in it. In the process, he kills his co-workers/handlers and then himself, presenting some intriguing questions…
First of all, what was the motivation for the attack? The fact that it went down on First Contact Day, when the shipyard was operating with only a skeleton crew, suggests that it wasn’t simple vengeance as the timing suggestions some valuing of human life. Could it have been a specific attempt to stop the Romulan rescue mission? As we learn from Laris in this episode, the Romulans hate all things synthetic. Could the hate and fear be mutual?
It’s also interesting that F8 killed himself before the attack could destroy him. I would say he was doing so to destroy any evidence that might have remained in his mainframe, but the attack seemed pretty thorough. Was it an action motivated not by strategy but by emotion? Did F8 feel horror at his ability to kill his co-workers? The final act cements the attack more definitively as a murder-suicide, which has intimate conontations. Was this not an organised revolution but rather the actions of one rogue android who could no longer stand being treated as a thing by the humans he worked alongside? All part of the mystery Picard will continue to explore.
“Maps and Legends” expands Laris’ fairy tale about the Shat Vash to give us a direct line into their organisation. As some may have suspected, Narek is not all he seems to be, an active member of the band of assassin spies who is at the Romulan Reclamation Site undercover with Soji Asher, sister to Dahj. And get to know her, he does! The flirty vibes we got at the end of last week’s episode have evolved into something more; the two begin the episode in bed together and, folks, they’ve got great chemistry. Too bad Narek is a super secret spy and possibly also killer.
Narek is handled by big sister Narissa (played by the always welcome Peyton List), who is also undercover (with round ears!), though with Starfleet (as Lieutenant Rizzo). It’s implied here that Narissa was directly behind the attack on Dahj in the first episode, which puts her squarely in the Secret Killer category, something she gets reprimanded about by her superior Commodore Oh. Oh is the Vulcan Head of Starfleet Security, and therefore has people to answer to—mainly, Admiral Clancy.
It’s telling that, while Clancy may not like Picard, she still respects him at least a little bit… enough to do check in with Commodore Oh regarding Picard’s claims of the Romulan assassin squad and their active campaign against synthetics. It’s not a very smart move, as it makes Oh that much more apprehensive about the situation, but it tells us a lot about how the current Starfleet leadership views Picard: angrily dismissive to his face, but angrily respectful behind his back.
While Clancy’s treatment of Picard may be downright sacriligeous to our eyes and wildly undiplomatic for a Starfleet Admiral, Clancy does have some points. Starfleet probably shouldn’t just give Picard, who has been out of active service for a few decades at this point, a ship and a crew; it does take a certain degree of hubris on Jean-Luc’s part to even ask. It’s the kind of hubris (paired with the offer of an excellent vintage) that allows Picard to show up at the door of “someone who hates [him] and has nothing to lose,” per Zhaban’s description.
That person is Raffi (Michelle Hurd), who presumably has access to a ship Picard can use to set off across the galaxy in search of Dahj’s long lost sister. It’s his stated goal to anyone who will listen: Laris and Zhaban, Starfleet Command, the Shat Vash (listening in illegally). He is done “mothballing” alongside his grapes. “You really want to go back out into the cold, knowing.” “More than anything, knowing.” Jean-Luc Picard, he who stops to gaze at the stars, has never done anything with his eyes closed.
Read Kayti’s review of the previous episode, Remembrance, here.