“Maps and Legends”
Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 2 – Debuted Thursday, January 30, 2020
Written by Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Hanelle Culpepper
The game’s afoot, with Picard trying to figure out what happened to Dahj, where her sister is, and why a group of Romulans wanted her dead. Strong performances by the entire cast help move this middle episode of the first third along, with lots of entertaining small moments and a steady march towards the bigger story.
[WARNING: Spoilers from here on]
Episode 2 gets off to a good start, filling in some background on what happened at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards 14 years ago, and making the tragedy more personal by introducing us to a bunch of working stiffs forced to skip the holiday of First Contact Day and then brutally killing them off. It also raises some interesting questions reminiscent of “The Measure of a Man” and Captain Picard’s whole issue with Bruce Maddox’s plan: It does appear that Starfleet has created androids that do grunt work and don’t require being treated as individuals.
“You can’t offend them, they’re not people,” one of the technicians says. Isn’t this exactly what Picard was worried about? Here’s hoping we learn more about what led to the creation of these androids, and where else they might have been working, as well as what went wrong.
Now that we’re in episode 2, they’re starting to pack the information in. We’ve got Romulans inside Starfleet, working towards their own agenda, spying on Starfleet admirals and running their own operations. It’s one thing to take in that Starfleet succumbed to the complexities of politics when making decisions about Romulan relocation, but now we have real bad apples inside the organization itself, which is somewhat disappointing. Even when we saw something a little similar in other Treks (like Star Trek VI, with Admiral Cartwright and Valeris) the culprits were usually operating on their moral convictions (whether we agreed with them or not), and weren’t just out to keep their own secrets.
It’s also a bit confusing as to why Picard went to Admiral Clancy in the first place, since he spelled out that they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Surely, he must have friends still in Starfleet who could help pave the way for him? I know it’s a time saver to jump to it, but it could’ve been done with a line of dialogue: “Admiral Shelby insisted I meet with you, against my better judgment.” Something like that would’ve worked nicely, plus it would be nice fan service to hear about what happened to Shelby after “The Best of Both Worlds.” That said, the sequence of Picard going to Starfleet Command, having to get a badge to visit, and the scene of him heading back down on the escalator with the Admiral’s “request denied” ringing in his ears really resonates.
In fact, all the scenes Patrick Stewart is in are strong. The actors who play his Romulan friends/aides continue to do great work, I enjoyed his talk with Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill continues to get great lines), his detective work with Laris, and the little taste of what is about to unfold with Raffi (Michelle Hurd) leaves you wanting more. The shuttle taxi was a nice touch, as was his bottle of wine and his knowledge of exactly the words to pique her interest.
His conversation with his doctor, played by he’s-on-every-show-ever David Paymer, is particularly poignant. They don’t even have to say “Irumodic Syndrome” for us to know that’s what they’re talking about. For fans new to the franchise, none of the poignancy is lost without the background information, but for TNG viewers, we know all about how bad things could get from the series finale, “All Good Things…” That shot of Jean-Luc’s reflection in the clock as it loudly ticks is a reminder that yes, time is the fire in which we burn.
We’re getting to know Soji now, getting clearer on her job as well as her sense of compassion and her curiosity, some very 1990s-era Starfleet qualities. She and Harry Treadway’s Narek make for a hot couple, even if they do, as so many TV couples do, put their underwear back on immediately after having sex. They also don’t seem to need to shower, brush teeth, or use the bathroom after sex and before heading off to work, so good for them. TV sex is so clean!
We then find out that Narek is not what he seems; he knows who Soji is and is on a mission to find out where the rest of her “fellow abominations” are. He’s also working with his sister, the undercover Lt. Rizzo, who has had her ears operated on to remove their telltale points. The plot thickens…
Both Rizzo and the Commodore she reports to are campy villains, almost to the point of twirling their mustaches. Unfortunate. But this may help Narek become more interesting in the long run, as he works both sides of the Soji fence.
The explanation for why the Zhat Vhaj exists seems somewhat contrived. They may have tried to do too much in creating this new (old) ultra secret Romulan cabal that is conveniently founded on… their anti-synthetic life form ideology. The whole explanation felt overly complicated and occasionally made up on the spot, and their super double secret agenda is still a little muddy, making it the least interesting part of the episode.
I’m looking forward to learning more about The Borg Reclamation Project, the Romulans’ goals for it, and how they help those released from the Collective. The Ready Room aftershow has a clip from next week’s episode that’s different from the one on All Access, and it includes Hugh, so it looks like we’ll be delving into this sooner rather than later.
And like episode 1, this is directed beautifully by Hanelle Culpepper. The framing is always perfect, the visuals help tell the story, and while it’s striking, it’s never heavy-handed. The writing is strong, and even as its heating up, the pacing is still on point. I especially enjoyed Orla Brady as Laris this week! The episodes feel really short, which proves just how fun they are to watch. I have my nitpicks (like why would replicated meals be bad when they perfected that technology ages ago?) and my happy distractions (Picard’s clothing in particular; I loved his sweater and his brown jacket), but big picture-wise, I’m hooked.
- The episode title, “Maps and Legends,” is the name of a non-fiction book by Michael Chabon and a song by R.E.M.
- Admiral Clancy’s first name is Kirsten. No doubt a nod to Picard co-creator, writer for multiple CBS Trek shows, and Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer.
- This is the first time an officer holding the rank of Commodore has been seen in a 24th century Trek production.
- Number One seems to be busy elsewhere during this episode! Michael Chabon and Hanelle Culpepper did mention on The Ready Room that the dog wasn’t that easy to work with, so perhaps that’s why. Still, he is missed.
- Prolific character actor David Paymer plays Doctor Benayoun. Despite being in a wide variety of movies and TV shows since the ’80s, this is his first time appearing in a Star Trek production.
The Ready Room
Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman is the guest this week, and basically just explained what we’ve already seen, without talking much about making it. There’s a makeup special feature at the end which was fun, but since CBS is producing this, why not do a piece about the changes in the Romulans’ look across the franchise, wrapping it up with how they’re doing it on Picard? There’s a legacy here, so why not embrace it? Wil Wheaton is still doing a great job, but I do wish they’d swap out those chairs for something more comfortable.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released on CBS All Access in the USA Thursdays at 12:01 AM PT/3:01 AM ET. In Canada it airs Thursdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel at 6PM PT /9PM ET and then is made available to stream on Crave. For the rest of the world it streams Fridays on Amazon Prime Video. Episodes are released weekly.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news at TrekMovie.