Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Season One, Episode Two – “Maps and Legends”
Written by Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
I’ve read some criticism of Picard that is worth some thought. Longtime fans of the Star Trek franchise are disturbed at the portrayal of the Federation as xenophobic and exclusionary. This isn’t very reassuring when you look at Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of a utopian multi-species society where all peoples were accepted. But, I think it is worth examining what happens over time when such an organization goes through changes in leadership and the landscape upon which they operate shifts. The reticence of the Federation to aid the Romulans makes sense because they have little trust in this adversary. They allowed their ambition to give them an excuse to step back. Maybe there was thought among some of the leadership that this would enable new worlds to leave the Romulan Empire and join the Federation.
I think it could be good to examine what happens when a utopia changes over time, how long-standing conflicts can warp the original ideals. It’s pretty damn close to home. The Federation sees itself as the bastion of egalitarianism in the galaxy but how do others outside that sphere perceive them? Picard has had regular conflict with orders from Starfleet in The Next Generation but The Federation is a different thing. A real-world analogy would be the difference between defying orders from your nation’s military and then outright reject your country. Picard still lives within the Federation, but this episode makes it clear that at least Starfleet reviles him now.
Outside the show, there has been a prequel comic book that tells a story during the Romulan refugee crisis. This is considered canon, and therefore it has me disliking some of the direction of the show more. In this comic, Picard pays a visit to Commander Geordi LaForge, who is stationed at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards on Mars. It’s not shown in the book, but his location implies that Geordi was killed during the synthetic attack that we see in this episode’s opening. I’m just uncomfortable with Geordi, who had a stronger friendship with Data than Picard, being sidelined in such an unceremonious way.
Not much happens in this episode in terms of information about the situation. We see the synthetic attack. We watch Soji on the Reclamation Cube and see they are de-Borgifying the inhabitants? That’s about it. Picard does some detective work and learns about a covert cabal of Romulans against synthetic life. Then he gets chewed out by Starfleet and connects with an old ally who we are seeing for the first time. This is a very different type of Star Trek show than you had with The Next Generation. It’s the product of an era that wants serialized long-form arcs built for binge-watching. It’s almost like another TNG movie as Picard was always the main protagonist of those.
The one big reveal is that the Tal Shiar has infiltrated Starfleet since the destruction of Romulus. That’s pretty big, and it appears they have even had cosmetic surgery to look like humans. It’s a single scene that’s meant to work as a tease into next week’s episode. Am I enticed by this particular plot? Not really. It’s still so underdeveloped that I don’t feel invested in it yet. I am much more interested in exploring Picard’s tension with the society he lives in and what his ultimate decision will be. I suspect by the end of this, he will have a place outside of the Federation, becoming part of a more straightforward culture. Maybe he’ll embed himself with the Nameless, the Freed Borg.
There is a tendency to lean into the plot here that we lose a sense of character. The investigation scene near the start is incredibly exposition-heavy and foreshadows the rest of the proceedings. I wouldn’t say I’m excited for episode three after this, but I am still intrigued to find out precisely what the state of the displaced Romulans is. It seems like there is not centralized Romulan government but various factions spread out in the galaxy. I hope the ultimate use of the Cube isn’t just to make a Death Star-like weapon to attack Starfleet with but something actually intelligent.