As showrunner for the first season of Star Trek: Picard, Michael Chabon developed some intricate backstories for various storylines. A lot of what he developed never ended up on screen, but it helped inform the writers and production team as well as contribute to the worldbuilding. Recently, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author has taken to sharing some of these backstories online. We’ve seen this previously with how he filled in the story of Riker and Troi and their family life on the USS Titan, and now his latest release goes into depth on the Romulans.
Chabon’s Romulan thesis
Romulans were a major part of the first season of Star Trek: Picard. Even though they were introduced in the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series and have been featured throughout the franchise since, they’ve remained enigmatic and haven’t had the same level of fleshing out that some other familiar Star Trek races have like Vulcans and Klingons. In Chabon’s latest post on Medium titled “Some Notes On Romulans,” he lays out more about Romulan society, making that enigmatic nature a central element, starting off with this:
Their culture is an endless series of variations on themes of concealment, the covert, the hidden: masks, pseudonyms, conspiracies, layers of deception, cover stories.
The rest of the excellent post reads like everything you always wanted to know about Romulans but were afraid to ask. He covers how their secretive philosophy impacts everything from architecture to art to religion to government and more.
In one example, he shows how Romulan tendencies impacted the development of their most iconic technology and their preferred ship nomenclature:
Legend holds that the basis of Romulans’ ﬁxation on deception and the hiding of secrets is the unusually high proportion of mimetic (camouﬂage-using) native animals and plants that the ﬁrst settlers of Romulus found on arrival, snakes that look like ﬂowering vines, ﬂowers like lizards, mammals that alter their coloration according to patterns in light falling on them. Best known of these to outsiders, of course, is the so-called “warbird” after which Romulans have long patterned their military starships. The plumage of this raptor has unique optical properties that mimic the wavelength of ambient light, causing the birds to “disappear” against a clear blue sky, a phenomenon that is said to have inspired the most celebrated, and most Romulan, of all Romulan technologies: the cloaking device.
One of the new elements of Romulan society that Chabon introduced in Picard was the order of Qowat Milat warrior nuns who believe in “absolute candor,” which he describes as a “radical inversion of mainstream Romulan belief.” Even though they hold a completely different point of view, the writer revealed they still hold some sway at the highest levels of Romulan society:
It is whispered, however, that no one becomes Romulan praetor without the approval of the Qowat Milat, and furthermore that the Romulan Empress is always drawn from, or trained by, the Qowat Milat sisters. Fierce, brash, forthright, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, hold nothing back, and always call a spade a spade. In short, there could be no stronger ally than a Qowat Milat sister: unless, of course, your mission actually requires you to engage in subterfuge and deception.
Romulan marriage is… complicated
Chabon lays out how the Romulan obsession with secrecy includes each individual having four names, with one being their “innermost name,” revealed only to a trusted few. Among those trusted few would be those involved in a marriage, which he reveals is complex:
Romulan “marriages” (the word translates as “trust bond”) are always threesomes (in any conﬁguration of genders) because at every moment each partner in the marriage serves as Veriﬁcator to the other two (in Romulan the verb “to verify” is related to verbs meaning. “to police” and “to monitor”), verifying the trust bond of the two others, who are known by a Romulan word that literally translates as “conspirators.” In practice the threesome may or may not cohabit/reproduce — there is great variability here.
According to Chabon, Romulan society has “ﬂexibility and liberty in many social matters, such as sexual orientation, gender fluidity” and there is no concept of adultery , as Romulans can have other sexual partners outside their “trust bond.”
While much of what Chabon lays out was not seen on screen, it is likely influencing other elements of Picard and beyond. We saw the Qowat Milat again in season three of Star Trek: Discovery for example. And many aspects of Romulan secrecy worked their way into James Swallow’s recent novel Star Trek: Picard – The Dark Veil, which also drew on Chabon’s backstory for the Rikers.
Check out “Some Notes On Romulans” for even more details from Michael Chabon.