Review: Star Trek: Picard — S01E05: Stardust City Rag [2020]; Piracy on the High Stars

Cᴏɴᴛᴇɴᴛ Iɴᴅᴇx —

a (delayed) review by the Crow.

RIP Leonard Nimoy
(1931 — 2015)

Captain‘s log, Stardate 97757.96: I am very aware of the muted irony in my posting this review today — the day that the new episode is released. As of this writing, I have not yet watched the latest episode (if it’s at all available yet, here), but a review of the episode will be posted immediately following my — customary second — viewing later tonight.

As some of you are aware, we have been working hard behind the scenes to return to a more regular posting schedule. However, the 2nd Annual Oscine Awards still require further work, and up until we can finally “host” the ceremony, all that will appear on The Corvid Review is the next episode of Star Trek: Picard.

With that said, let us head straight into episode five of Star Trek: Picard, after which I shall speculate — rather lightly, given the time on the clock — on what might come to pass in the second half of the season.

As I said: space-pirate

Picard 0105
Stardust City Rag

SPOILER LEVELS at RED ALERT

One of the things that has been catching my attention of late is how much “filler” Star Trek: Picard seems to have under its belt. While the episode is — by itself — a welcome addition to any television series, it comes following the coat-tails of two episodes which (arguably) are filler through-and-through. With half the season now over, one would do well to wonder how much “actual” plot Star Trek: Picard has under its sleeve. Considering that the next episode’s preview promises much to do with the central plot of the series, there is no need to worry yet, but it is curious nonetheless.

Stardust City Rag is a “rest” episode which harkens back to some of the most relaxed — and fun — moments in Star Trek‘s history (as well as to a very specific episode of Firefly). A rather good example of such an episode from recent times would be Star Trek: Discovery‘s Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad. It’s a quirky romp through a revenge plot centred around Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) — who, I might add, possesses the cortical node mentioned at the beginning of the episode; as opposed to “buddy” Icheb (now played by Casey King). Starring fun characters — especially one Mr Vup (Dominic Burgess) — the revenge plot acts as a framing device for Picard and his crew to rescue Dr Bruce Maddox (played now by John Ales).

While fun, quirky, and chock-full of more “faces” than we signed up for, the episode comes with a number of detriments. And those detriments hold it back by quite a margin.

But before we address those concerns, let us discuss the high points of Stardust City Rag.

Image unrelated to text so far. Enjoy the feather.

To discuss the “Frenchmen” in the room: Stewart and Cabrera knock their performances out of the park. Picard and Rios on the other hand, do not. Rios is backed up by drugs which add flavour to the feather in his cap (see above) and manages to get through his performance by the end, but Picard — on the other hand — delivers a performance worthy of John Travolta as seen in Battlefield Earth. His accent, as well as his demeanour are so over-the-top that they could make Nicholas Cage blush; and every scene of his as his “space pirate” persona are worth becoming glued to the screen for. Seven of Nine receives an action sequence which can be best described as “briefly badass”, and Mr Vup is an adorable psychopath. Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan) is an… interesting villain (with a very silly name); while certainly dangerous, I think she has been cut a little short on the larger scale of things. Maddox is quite alright in the few scenes he’s in; and the less said about Gabriel Hwang (Mason Gooding), the better. I would slap him across the face — with the back of my hand, no less — on behalf of Raffi, but I’d need a ride to Freecloud, first. And on that note: no one should believe a word Raffi says about being “clean”, either.

The episode is decked to the gills with visual spectacle which holds up rather well for the most part. I prefer most of the visual trickery of Star Trek go into realising worlds rather than sparkly space-battles (cough-Into Darkness-cough-Discovery). Now that Mr Vup has debuted the species, I would be interested in knowing more about the fine populace of Beta Annari and how they smoke their meat. Picard with an eyepatch has been a long time coming, and Rios did need a feather in his hat.

Outside of the events which occur on Stardust City: The touch with Maddox and his cookies was a nice nod to Dahj and Soji’s situation. Jurati finally reveals herself to be the plant we all knew she would be (to the audience), which is better shown now than later. A little more mystery is thrown over the “dread secret” the show is hinging upon. Nothing more is said about the “rest of them” mentioned in the previous episode. And to finish up: we are finally given a break from Narek and Soji (thank Q!).

All-in-all, this sounds like a stellar episode so far. So wherefore lies my problem?

Take us to Red Alert, Number One.

Picard’s continued lack of suspicion in Dr Jurati — given her very suspicious appearance at his Château — still annoys me. The fact that she escaped the suspicion of both Laris and Zhaban at the same time is more annoying, still. But this is the story we live in, now. Picard might be waning in his vigilance, but ex-Tal Shiar agents? You’ve got to be joking. I’ll chalk this up to the writers’ missing a little bit of form, or being pressed for time with introducing secondary plot elements. We can ignore it for now.

A more pressing concern is that the episode — and Picard in general — dismisses its titular character out-of-hand far too much. This hasn’t been much an issue so far — since Picard deserved the ire he received from Elnor in the previous episode very much, and I’m willing to allow that a 90-year-old man in 2399 may be as prone to error as Picard is shown to be (the mention of his “condition” being key, here). However, there is a deeper point to be made. There is a scene near the end of this episode where Seven and Picard engage in a short bit of dialogue regarding revenge which skirts briefly on the concept of justice. This happens after Rios tells Seven that her idea of killing her way out of a grudge isn’t worth it, even though he “understand[s] the impulse”. And the next thing we are shown is Seven completely disregarding the entirety of the previous scene and going guns-blazing into the sort of Hollywood glory Tarantino would be rather chuffed with (read: with showing in excruciating detail).

What has gone missing is the opportunity to return even Trek to the kind of rumination that endears it to its followers. The few lines we are given could have led to a debate — however short — about the nature of morality and where the thin blue line is drawn. These are the moments in Star Trek that fans yearn for, these reflections set against a far-flung — and colourful — projection of present reality that forms a vision of what we could be. Granted, Star Trek has not always adhered to these levels, but that level is what it is best known for. And the worst thing about the problem — as relates to this episode — is that it could have been solved within the confines of the scene with little alteration to the dialogue. We could have had our Seven-rides-into-the-sunset scene while maintaining the supposed “Trek-DNA”. Much like my argument for Into Darkness holding back a potentially better movie, it is the relapse into delivering a moment of visual spectacle that annoys me. At the end of the day, Picard once again lets the moment slip him by.

I just hope that these moments which slip the retired admiral by are leading up to the mother of all scoldings by the end of the series.

Another issue I would like to point out is that this episode serves as a better introduction to Elnor as-he-is in the now than the previous episode did. And that previous episode was meant to be our introduction to him. Instead, his few lines in this episode establish him far better as a character than Absolute Candor.

Add to all of the above the scenes concerning Raffi’s subplot. While a necessary amount of exposition to further ground her character, they feel far too distanced from the rest of the material we are given to watch. Once the arc is resolved, she hasn’t moved much in the story; instead, she is returned to a state much like the one we originally found her in. Hopefully, this is here to set up a major pay off by the time the season is over. A constant issue with short seasons (which I abhor, in this case, but otherwise support) is the limited time afforded to writers to establish character arcs. I’m not saying the writers here are necessarily failing, but with Raffi and Picard’s case, I expect — nay, demand — a payoff.

Jurati seems to be getting the short end of the stick, in this regard. The growing attraction between her and Rios, when mixed in with her dynamic with Maddox, and her final act in this episode, seems like it has been delivered far too quick and leaves me rather unsatisfied. Projecting a few things about her character, the gravity of the decision she makes in the final moments of the episode seem like she has been more-than-convinced by whatever Admiral Deal-With-It “showed” her. The whole affair puts me in mind of a mind-meld, rather than simple dialogue.

Moving on: as far as the “pop-up” sequence is concerned, the less said about it, the better. I’ve heard it said that Picard seems very distanced from the world of Star Trek we have known thus far: the post-scarcity world in which social divisions have ceased to mean anything (at least in the “core” worlds). While it can be extrapolated that the Federation — and not just Starfleet, as Picard so boldly stated — may have changed, this example (the pop-ups) is one I won’t be addressing directly, since it’s hard for me to pinpoint where exactly Freecloud is. It very well may not be a part of the worlds most seem to be assuming it to be. I am — of course — greatly pleased to know that Quark has franchised his enterprise.

It is also revealed that the Artifact is not a secret. I had always assumed it to be so, and this raises a number of interesting questions. Up until the next episode, I shall leave all speculation of it out, since answers are indeed coming. Once Jurati is dealt with, that is.

Now, let us speculate (a little) on what’s going on in Star Trek: Picard: The main questions that we need to answer are: What is the “dread secret” of the Zhat Vash? Why did the ban occur? What is the true nature of the Asha sisters? Why did the synthetics on Mars commit suicide immediately preceding their inevtiable deaths? What is the true nature of the “others” mentioned in that single line from the last episode?

First, let’s look at the Asha sisters. So far, we are led to believe that even a single positronic element from Data could be used to recreate beings similar to him. That said, Data is not the only being with a positronic brain. B-4, we can dismiss out of hand. However, where Data was destroyed quite comprehensively, Lore is quite intact. That makes Lore a suitable candidate for being the “source” as far as the sisters are concerned. I have also been keeping the door open that Picard and the Borg Queen — as well as Maddox and Jurati — may technically all qualify as parents in one way or another, but as far as the series is concerned, the question of their origin is beginning to look as if it has a different purpose.

And that is where we have to bring up that line from Absolute Candor. The line about “others”. Does this refer to synthetics? Or something else? It is easy to expect Soji to become a catalyst for the revival — in a profound manner — for the Borg, or a successor to the Borg. However, it is also important to note that the mere existence of synthetic life is opposed within the story. And the Borg are not entirely synthetic. The reclamation project stands as a testament against that notion.

It could be likely that synthetic life — if left unchecked — could result in a collision with the so-called dread secret down the line. Maybe the secret — whatever it is — is protecting itself from annihilation at the hands of snythetics; or, that synthetics will make up whatever future the dread secret will create. I have long been suspecting some form of time-travel to be involved in Star Trek: Picard, and while I might be wrong on the point, possible hints have been dropped. Again: please keep in mind that this is purely an alternate hypothesis derived from what has been presented in the show.

I won’t go into further detail at this juncture, given how short time is, but I will list out a number of contenders for the “enemy”, if there truly is one, that will rear its head by the end of the season:

  • The Borg — as stated above; their origin might play a role in this storyline, just as their possible evolution might. I expect time-travel to be involved in the latter scenario
  • Lore, somehow evolved — it is quite likely that Maddox might have sought Lore’s remains out
  • CONTROL — which I would very much dislike, even though Picard should be aware of it thanks to his mind meld with Sarek in the eponymous Next Generation episode. I did not enjoy the CONTROL story at all, and would like to see it ignored wholesale, but it remains a very possible contender, especially considering I expect some form of time-travel to appear in Picard
  • A — yet unknown — ancient, or future, malevolent force
  • The aliens from Conspiracy — bear with me up until the next review on this point

(And — of course — let’s throw the Q Continuum in there, because why not?)

It could, of course, be the case that there is no enemy, and the conflict in the series is purely an ideological one. Again: this is speculation, and it’s a little difficult to tell at this point. Within the next two episodes, I do expect to have a firm grip on where the story is headed, if not immediately following tonight’s viewing.

To quickly return to the question of whether or not Stardust City Rag is a good watch, I would say it’s recommended viewing, but not a particularly great example of what Star Trek can be.

Here are some additional screenshots from the episode that have gone unused in this post:

I shall see you soon with a review of the latest episode.

Until then, LLAP

— Crow out. 


Final Ratings

THE CROW: 4.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 9/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKERNA/10


See Also

the corvid review - star trek month star trek discovery season 2 - kepxwzr

5 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek: Picard — S01E05: Stardust City Rag [2020]; Piracy on the High Stars”

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