February 26, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 5, "Stardust City Rag"

Hey. We finally get to the action!

On second viewing (I watch each episode twice--once for myself, and once to write up notes for review), this episode isn't as frantic as it would first seem. The pace is a bit faster (especially at the end), but there are still some meaty character moments. This episode was the first not written or co-written by Michael Chabon, but his steady, deliberate unfolding of the story is still holding.

As seems to be the usual modus operandi, we open with a flashback to thirteen years ago. This definitely comes with Content Warnings. In fact, if you're eating dinner or are squeamish about eyeballs, you had best fast forward through this or turn your gaze away, as this scene of an eye extraction on a former Borg drone is pretty gory. I'm surprised director Jonathan Frakes went there, but it soon becomes evident that this scene's purpose was there to set up the stakes for Seven of Nine. She barges into the chamber to rescue the young man on the table, and we find out this is Icheb, the former drone she more or less adopted aboard Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant. He is too badly damaged to save and begs her for death, and she accedes to his wishes.

Jeri Ryan is the guest star of this episode, and we find out what Seven of Nine has been up to since Voyager's return. After the fall of the Romulan Empire and the subsequent lawlessness in the former Neutral Zone (where the Freecloud system is apparently located), she joined a group called the Fenris Rangers to try to keep some sort of order. (This leads to a clash with Picard, who berates her for "taking the law into your own hands," as if this isn't what he's doing.) She is still onboard the La Sirena--Rios' ship, finally given a name--when they arrive at Freecloud, and when she learns they are looking for Bruce Maddox--and more importantly, who on Freecloud has Bruce Maddox--she promptly volunteers to help them.

This person holding Bruce Maddox, as it turns out, is a mercenary named Djayzl, who made a name for herself by her illegal harvesting of Borg implants. She has been on the Fenris Rangers' most-wanted list for some time, and as we soon learn, she has a personal connection to Seven in more ways than one. Our heroes set up a sting using Seven as bait, which provides some delightful character moments, particularly Patrick Stewart's black beret, eyepatch, and godawful French accent. Raffi is shown to be a master planner, and it's no wonder Picard depended on her so heavily during his Starfleet days. Elnor suddenly realizes, "It's a lie--everyone's behaving as if they're someone else," so he is told by Picard and Seven, "Then be Elnor, Elnor who never talks." Agnes has to stay on board the La Sirena to beam the group out following the sting and if they get into trouble, and she is shown to be growing more and more nervous and upset as the episode goes on--for entirely different reasons than her being a somewhat ditzy klutz, as we'll see at the end. Rios is stuffed into a flamboyant green costume and a ridiculous red hat, and the whole bunch beams down to Freecloud to wrest Bruce Maddox from Djayzl before she can trade him to the Tal Shiar.

As we find out when Seven is shown to Djayzl (who looks uncannily like a young, TNG-era Deanna Troi), they have a past. In fact, they're obviously ex-lovers. What Seven hasn't told Picard is that Djayzl is the one who kidnapped Icheb and extracted his implants "without anesthesia,"and she has been looking for her for quite a while. She fully intends to kill Djayzl, and Picard and Rios only narrowly manage to talk her out of it. Djayzl, knowing that Seven isn't bluffing, trades her life for Bruce Maddox, and everyone beams back aboard the La Sirena.

While this is going on, Raffi also beams down to Freecloud, to the Stardust City Reproductive Health Services, where she meets up with a young man called Gabriel, who we discover is her estranged son. Fourteen years ago, Raffi was so caught up in her conspiracy-mongering and subsequent drug abuse that she tore her family apart, and her son has never forgiven her. When his very pregnant Romulan wife emerges from the clinic, Gabriel introduces them and sends his mother away. This is a very good scene, well acted by Michelle Hurd.

Aboard the La Sirena, Agnes is getting more and more upset, to the point where the EMH appears and asks her, "What is the nature of the psychological emergency?" The first reveal about Agnes, earlier in the episode, is a brief memory hologram of her younger self, joking with a younger Bruce Maddox about chocolate chip cookies--and kissing him. Another pair of former lovers. When everyone returns with an injured Bruce Maddox, Agnes is pressed into medical duty (though I can't quite understand why, as she's a cybernetist), and is overseeing his treatment in sickbay. Picard manages to talk to him long enough to confirm that Soji is the dead Dahj's sister, she is aboard the reclaimed Borg cube in the former Neutral Zone (where our crew will be heading in the next episode), and Maddox sent the two of them out into the world "to discover the truth," both about the Tal Shiar and Starfleet. Agnes sends Picard away, claiming Maddox needs his rest, and she and Maddox talk. Maddox asks her if she saw Dahj, and says the twins are "imperfectly perfect," also declaring that Agnes' "contribution was essential." (Uh oh. I wonder if that contribution perhaps included Agnes' eggs?) "One more thing I have to atone for," Agnes says, wiping tears from her eyes. "I wish you knew what I know. I wish they hadn't shown me." She is again so upset that the EMH appears. She deactivates it--and kills Maddox.

(So. Agnes was indeed a plant, as many suspected. Was she possibly put under telepathic compulsion by Commodore Oh? I suspect we will find out. In the meantime, I wonder how she is going to hide this.)

There is another wonderful little scene I must mention, between Picard and Seven before she beams away from the La Sirena, ostensibly to a Ranger ship who has come to fetch her. We are reminded that Seven is not the only ex-Borg in this show, as she asks Picard, "After you returned from the collective, do you honestly feel you regained your humanity?"

"Yes," he says.

She presses him: "All of it?"

"No," he admits, "but we're both working on it."

"Every damn day," Seven declares. She beams away, taking with her a couple of phaser rifles from the La Sirena's weapons stock (and since Picard let her have them, I wonder if he guessed what was about to happen). Only she doesn't join the Ranger ship--she returns to Freecloud, where she confronts Djayzl.

"Picard still thinks there's a place in the galaxy for mercy," she says, explaining why she didn't tell Picard she was coming back. "I didn't want to disillusion him."

Then her reason for returning is revealed: "He was a son to me, Jay," she informs Djayzl, referring to Icheb. "This is for him." And she disintegrates Djayzl, and marches out to meet the oncoming security team, weapons blazing.

Whew. This made me long for a new Star Trek series entitled Seven and the Fenris Rangers (which is also the name of my next band). Seriously, Jeri Ryan was fantastic in this. Her ultimate fate isn't shown, and I hope we see her again.

So. Things are starting to wind up. We don't see anything of Soji and Narek, but that will obviously be remedied in the next episode. Starfleet's withdrawing into its ill-advised isolationist bubble has had some far-flung consequences, and I'm glad this show is exploring them. This clearly isn't Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, but it really can't be, not anymore. For better or worse, the world has changed,  and this is the story for that world.

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