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.
See more Star Trek: Picard news and analysis at TrekMovie.com.
That’s super cool. Greatly enjoyed the more varied side of the Romulans in Picard, it was in fact one of my favorite elements. It contributed well to worldbuilding for me. Hope Chabon stays with Star Trek Picard beyond the second season!
His leaving as showrunner is not a good sign, unfortunately. I thoroughly enjoyed Picard (yes, including the finale) and think his writing had a good deal to do with that.
He’s leaving the show because CBS gave him another show.
He did however stay in the writers room for Picard season two while working on developing his novel for television.
So, we can expect at least an episode or two penned by Chabon.
Matalas is a high quality writer too. There’s dialogue in 12 monkeys that really stays with one.
That’s good to know.
This aspect of “picard” was…poorly excecuted.
Really? I think the updating of the Romulans was awesome. It made things richer and more interesting and found a way to thread the needle with the many many different Romulan looks we’ve seen throughout the years.
No, in fact, they nailed it!
Why do you place Picard’s name in quotes?
I’m guessing it’s to distinguish the show from the character.
I disagree. The romulan aspect was the best thing about Picard. I’ve always felt the Romulans were the true enemy of TNG and not the Borg.(we got both in Picard, I’m not complaining)
They also served quite well as a surprise explanation on why the vulcans in ENTERPRISE acted so a-holelike or aholy.
I’d like to see Chabon do a coffee table book on the origins of Romulus, Q’onos, Vulcan and other alien worlds in Star Trek.
MAKE IT SO!
So is that why Picard has two Romulans in his house? Are they in a relationship?
And is that why there’s no Beverly around?
The “3rd” could have died on Romulus.
Or Picard is the 3rd.
It was implied that the two were in a relationship, but there was no indication they were married.
I believe – half-humorously, half-salaciously – these revelations mean Picard was in a threesome.
If the filmed story ever makes this relationship explicit – even if it was not a sexual one as indicated by Chabon’s notes – Picard’s eventual reunion with Beverly will be even more interesting.
Within Season One, Picard must have understood Narek was a bit deeper and insightful than he appeared. Did Picard operate on the Romulan’s level of secrecy? Or Has Picard has become so aware of the Romulan’s culture that he believes he can’t trust most of them? Why was Starfleet soooo stupid not to make Picard’s insights into Romulan culture a part of their intelligence team?
Maybe an aside, maybe not: since Picard believes he will “never return home again.” This means his legacy – his vineyard – is left to the Romulan couple.
Okay… but why are the Romulan siblings seemingly incestuous? (Or at least very flirtatious.)
My guess is they could be related by marriage only, and not actual blood relatives. Possibly step brother/step sister.
They probably watched one too many bootleg holotapes of Game of Thrones.
Actually Akiva Goldsmith said somewhere he originally wanted them to be having sex and even see them together basically as a couple. But others shot it down (thank god) but he still fought for them to at least imply they COULD be having sex and that’s why it’s there. So no, it’s not anyone reading too much into something, they literally were suppose to be incestuous with each other, just not say it outright basically. How this guy got to be so involved in Star Trek I will never know? He has come up with some of the dumbest ideas with these shows.
He’s running SNW… I’m really worried. I’m still remaining positive but I have serious doubts.
He’s buddies with Kurtzman. I don’t know how these charlatans have embedded themselves so deeply into Star Trek, but it’s nothing short of a tragedy.
This is one of the most comically overdramatic things I’ve ever read.
You must be new around here and haven’t seen many other of my comments on here! X
OK, so he wanted them to have an incestuous bond. Fine with me. Akiva, just one question please:
What that has to do with the story as told? All the bad guys in Picard season 1 are so 2 dimensional, that you have to wonder whether the story/script didn’t start as something completely different and it ended you this way after numerous rewrites that laundered the whole thing became nonsensical in parts. You don’t have to get your villains to twirl a mustache, to make sure the viewers get that they’re the villains. Especially since in the end they kinda turn out to be in the right 100%. The coming of monster-AI as revealed by the Admonition was a genuine concern for life in our galaxy, so the Tal Shiar within Tal Shiar (let me get to that in a second) was IN THE RIGHT to act. Just consider – Discovery crew acted on the same threat and they come up as the good guys. I know there’s a difference in methods, but – Romulans be Romulans.
Overall, as for the whole Chabon fancition – I’m sorry, but the fun is in the secret. The most compelling races are of course those with rich backstory, but, c’mon – this is Romulans, who are SECRETIVE. That’s their allure. In TNG and DS9 it was a point that we (Starfleet) had to forcefully drag shreds of information about their peoples, customs, technology, politics, etc. out of the darkness, often at a cost. In Picard and this Chabon write-up we’re spoon-fed with details via regular, run-of-the-mill exposition. Revealing things about Romulans this way is informative, but not fun.
Imagine what it’d be like if we weren’t promptly informed about Narek’s intentions in no less, than episode 2! What it’d be like if we were kept in the dark, like Soji, until episode 6 when he tries to kill her and only then we’d learn he’s working with his sister. Wouldn’t that work better? I realize this comes with some problems, because you pretty much don’t need the sister anymore in the story, as she does nothing but harass Narek for the first 4 episodes, and then she’s venting the ex-B’s only to be offed by 7 of 9. She’s so paper thin that she’s almost a non-character, story-wise.
He was also the guy who was acting like a giddy teenager when talking about klingons having two members. In fact wasn’t he the guy who was responsible for that whole two-membered klingon debacle?
Because the show runners watched too much Game of Thrones.
Yah, it seemed to be the shiny new titillating thing Akiva wanted to put in for no necessary plot reason. (I recall he also is responsible for the Klingon peeing against the wall in Discovery’s S1 finale.)
And yet he seems to have been the one that Chabon relied on to keep them on track to land the key plot point of the season’s conclusion (i e. Picard’s choice to become a synth to model good synth choices). Chabon’s talked about how Goldsman was the one telling him to “remember the object” of the series.
Again this seems to be a case of not having anyone able or willing to coral the big egos and keep things coherent.
I’m hopeful that Terry Matalas will have insisted on locking down the plot of the final two seasons of Picard the way he did 12 monkeys. Certainly with Covid, he’s had the opportunity to reshape the scripts since he became showrunner in the Spring of 2020. Coherence is his strength and that is the thing Picard most lacked.
Goldsman and SNW will be interesting. It’s episodic so if there is weird and trippy titillation, it won’t be a constant.
There is a second showrunner listed so there may be a balancing voice, but Goldsman will surely get what he wants unless it crosses a line for Anson Mount.
Er, that link doesn’t actually take us to Chabon’s post “Some Notes on Romulans”; it only takes us to the previous TrekMovie article about Chabon’s thinking about the Rikers.
Umm… the “Some notes on Romulans” hyperlink keeps taking me to the page on Riker and Troi on the Titan…
Insert *it’s a fake* meme.
Wow, I really dig the inspiration for the cloaking device and warbird.
Yes, I do, too!
The link isn’t working, but the link to Chabon’s blog is circulating on Twitter. Mixed bag. Some aspects are interesting, but the thing that most catches my attention is there doesn’t seem to be way the QM as presented in the notes could exist while the Tal Shiar do. (At least not in a technologically advanced setting; I could see them fitting in very well in a tradition similar to Japanese warrior-monk monasteries, where dislodging them would mean nothing short of going to war with a small military state.) I guess they could be a cultural holdover allowed to exist because of their traditional link to the ruling class, but that’s kind of a letdown.
It’s all fine, but don’t love it so much that I’d agitate to have Chabon take the lead again. Mostly I wish more effort had gone into the three Romulans we saw most of. If the Lannister twins had been combined into one character concept, we might have had one, interested well-rounded protagonist for the season.
Antagonist. Geez, brain.
It’s interesting stuff, but it shows that he doesn’t know the Romulans well, in my opinion. Some of that is contradicted by past episodes, especially the bit about marriages always being threesomes.
Nah, it’s easily explained in that we just didn’t see the third partner in past eps, and also that the Romulans didn’t want to publicize this practice with outside cultures. They’ve always been very private about their personal lives. So plenty of room for canon creativity here.
which episodes contradict it? I don’t recall seeing many or any Romulan marriages or relationships explored onscreen in Star Trek.
The bit about Romulan marriages is interesting, but I wonder how consistent it is with what we know of Vulcanoid biology. The Romulan “hijra” from Vulcan did not take place that long ago — a few thousand years, at absolute most, and probably more like 2,500. That’s not enough time for significant evolution to occur in a species (even if you buy Stephen J. Gould’s theory about evolution occurring in spurts). So Romulans have to have at least some vestige of pon farr, even if they control it pharmacologically or have found a way to mitigate it with Vulcanoid telepathy. We’ve never seen Vulcans pairing up in threes.
Moreover, the flirting scenes between Spock and the Romulan commander in “The Enterprise Incident” showed courtship rituals that were very similar to what we saw between Vulcan couples in “Amok Time” and “Journey to Babel.” So again, query how consistent the threesome idea is with Vulcanoid biology, which Romulans definitely share to some degree.
And that telepathy is a question also; can Romulans mind meld, or even do the neck pinch? TNG “Gambit” suggested that the Romulan government was indeed interested in telepathic experiments.
“a few thousand years, at absolute most, and probably more like 2,500.”
Yet in the U.S, in twenty years we’ve gone from a largely homophobic country to legalizing gay marriage, plus acceptance of trangenders, etc. And then we have the Mormons who went from polygamy to monogamy in less than a century.
So 2500 years is easily no big deal for that practice to become a standard.
Neither homophobia nor polygamy are regulated by biological processes like Pon Farr, so I don’t think these are good examples. Perhaps going from omnivore to vegetarianism would be a better one.
Those are social changes, not biological ones. And indeed “Amok Time” suggests that pon farr is various much impervious to social changes; it is more powerful than modern Vulcan’s commitment to logic.
Just speaking for myself, but getting a second wife to call mine and my first wife’s bullsh** seems inefficient. That’s what couples therapists are for. And their loyalty is assured by fees and licensure. Aaand they can see 35-40 couples a week. Romulans if nothing else should be appreciative of efficiency.
It’s fascinating, but Chabon joins John Logan, Kurtzman and Robert Orci as yet another high profile writer who took a shine to the Romulans and planned great things for them, only to see a fraction of that promise achieved onscreen. Compare how the Romulans have been fleshed out since Nemesis to the Klingons post-The Search for Spock, the Borg, the Bajorans, the Cardassians or the Dominion. It’s pretty woeful IMO, and knowing all this love was put into their backstory just makes that more frustrating to me.
I’ve sometimes wondered if the Romulans would’ve been a better choice in Voyager than the Maquis as the “other” crew in the series. Certainly it would’ve provided more drama and given them an opportunity to flesh out Romulan culture by being forced to live with them. But on the other hand, I do like Chakotay, Torres and Paris in the show as it was. Just a thought anyway.
Absolutely. Frankly, the Maquis were not that interesting outside of the Cardassian DMZ. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the less successful VOY characters were Maquis.
Yeah I just don’t get it either. The Romulans has always been one of the most fascinating species in Star Trek and yet they were always shown to be very one dimensional in pretty much everything, especially TNG IMO. I didn’t have an issue with how they were portrayed on the show, only that they were ONLY portrayed in one way most of the time. It was the same in TOS obviously but I cut them some slack because they were basically in two episodes and I thought they were set up great at least, even if they were basically there to be the bad guys; but lots of potential obviously. DS9 we at least saw them working with the Federation for the first time in the Dominion war (admittedly through some very manipulated means ;)) but they basically played the boogeyman for most of the franchise and little else.
And then what’s odder is that they were cut off at the knees twice in the films as they were supposed to be in both TSFS and Insurrection. They finally gave them their big moment in Nemesis but made it about the Remans…ugh. They’re the worst! ;)
So I was happy to see them on Picard and FINALLY given some real development just like the Cardassians, Bajorans, Borg, Klingons and others got over and over again. It was literally why I was happy they kept the Hobus star explosion canon because we literally got to go in Romulan territory in a real way and explore it. For the most part it was good IMO, but yeah they still dropped the ball in others. I liked the stuff with the Qowat Millet group or the ex-Tal Shar characters living with Picard. That was thinking outside of the box.
But then we still got the same one dimensional Romulans yet again with the incest siblings and Romulans secretly up to no good. There was a lot of potential there for sure, probably the most we ever seen them develop but it still went back to the same stuff we seen over and over again. We’re right back to the Romulans are evil and you can never ever trust them. Maybe we will see more of them in season 2. I wouldn’t mind that at all, but I’m not holding my breath to be anything different.
Also why I loved that they finally reunited them with the Vulcans on Discovery. Now we have the potential to see a really different side of them and got a taste of that in Unification III (and why going forward is great because you CAN do stuff like this).
For sure. Picard is the deepest we’ve delved into their society since Unification or Face of the Enemy, with Unification III having some nice tantalizing threads they could pull on further. But for all their screen time since TNG, we’ve learned surprisingly little compared to what we gleaned through Worf, Ro, Kira, Garak, Dukat, Odo and Seven. Trek never investing in a Romulan recurring character made them very surface. They started as a stand-in for Cold War China, then were mostly just surface villains. We learned so little about their culture, religion, socio-politics, history… some of that was by design, but after being the villains in two movies, it is striking how much Michael Chabon was able to retcon – they are almost a blank canvas. And then again, frustrating how little of that materialized onscreen. Lots of promise with the Qowat Milat and Picard’s friends at the chateau, but the follow-through was tepid IMO. The scenes on the cube with the siblings were like the scenes on Romulus in Nemesis – stopped everything dead.
Also that Romulan liaison officer in the DS9 “The Search.”
Had she stayed on, it might have been interesting. Would certainly have created tension a la Ro or Seven. I have no idea if that was the plan or if Martha Hackett was given a choice between her and Seska.
Agreed. On screen the warrior nun “please choose to live” stuff felt like a misfired Orientalist fantasy. Watching the cafe scene you just had no idea how Trek got like this.
I also don’t like the idea of turning the Romulans into a Decepticon-like people whose whole culture is based on trickery. It’s not a very IDIC way of envisioning an alien people.
Give me the soulfulness of John Ford’s Final Reflection canon for Klingons.
I am very critical of “PULITZER-AWARD WINNING” Michael Chabon – it’s really important you’re reminded of this every day. He won a Pulitzer, you know? Do not dare to question his ability as a Star Trek writer!!!
Whilst I think Star Trek Picard was nothing short of an… ummm… unmitigated disaster and do think Chabon has to own some of that, the above extracts do show some promise and vindicate him… slightly. There are some decent ideas there.
I just want to know if the Brother and Sister made out.
I know that Star Trek Online is fairly niche, even among Star Trek fans, but IMO they did a great job expanding on Romulan/Reman culture far better than anything Picard or Discovery has given us of a post-Nemesis galaxy.
STO’s Romulan material has been largely in place since at least 2013, with a portion dating back to late-2010. After the Hobus supernova destroys Romulus, The Romulan Star Empire shatters into sects, allowing for the birth of the (largely peaceful) Romulan Republic. I feel like is one of the few hopeful things that has come out of any post-Nemesis Trek media.
I fully understand that writers/producers have no interest in dipping into STO lore, but I wanted to point out that it’s out there and was pretty well developed already. Hundreds of thousands (or if you believe what you read online, millions) of fans over the years have been exposed to that lore, it would have been interesting to see that lore expanded on instead of a parallel development being built up from scratch, especially if a bunch of it will never see the light of day anyway.
I’m all for this. Chabon is expanding the Romulans in a similar way to how Ron Moore expanded on the Klingons. Or how Ira Behr expanded on the Ferengi. I say let him go at it.
Immaculate. Chabon’s one of the best gets in modern Trek. I hope he remains in the writers room for Picard’s likely third season.
One of the best aspects of Picard is the expansion of the Romulan culture.
Since I first watch TOS back in the 60’s when it came out on TV, I was intrigued by the Romulans more than the Klingons. Not that I did not enjoy the TOS Klingons, Kor is my favorite of all time, Perhaps it has to do with he was the first I saw, or that he appeared twice more (later in his life) on DS9 or that he was part of the Star Trek slot machine that came out in 2008 in that Klingon on ship battle bonus with his quotes from “Errand of Mercy”. Romulans always seemed to get passed over after “Balance of Terror”. Its good to flesh out the Romulans more. We shall see where it all goes in S2 of PICARD.
Chabon is unstable imo. Too much trust given for Picard. Hence season 1
Four names? Hm…is Chabon a secret T.S.Eliot/Cats fan? Makes me think immediately of the poem “The naming of cats” by T.S.Eliot “I tell you a cat must have three different names…”, check it out for some levity :D