“I need your help, Mr. Hill. Someone is trying to kill me.” — Star Trek Picard review, “Remembrance” s1e1, “Maps and Legends” s1e2

Picard and Data play poker in 10 Forward. with an image of the two characters from a "Dixon Hill" episode of ST:TNG superimposed in background.
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episodes 1
Teleplay by Akiva Goldsman and James Duff
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 2
“Maps and Legends”
Story by Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Review by Clinton
Explosion throwing Picard back.
Someone doesn’t want Picard snooping around.

I don’t know what I was expecting from “Star Trek: Picard,” but it certainly wasn’t a Dixon Hill holo-novel. 

Still, that is what I got.

The first two episodes of this series feel like the opening act of some hard-boiled detective story, just substitute Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) as the retired gumshoe who has all but given up the will to live. Through circumstances we soon come to understand, Picard has lost his fire. He is now as disheartened as a Ferengi locked inside a root beer factory. He is a ghost of the figure we once knew. This Picard is easily winded by a flight of stairs. He sleeps ’til long after sunrise. He dreams of the past, obsessed by visions of the late Commander Data. At one point he even pines, “The dreams are lovely. It’s the waking up that I’m beginning to resent.” And yet, when presented with an intriguing puzzle to solve, Picard slowly begins to energize himself. The detective within him awakes. By the end of episode two, he is clearly a man on a mission.

Looking at it through that lens, these first two episodes in the freshman season of “Picard” have offered up more twists and turns than the Dixon Hill novels “The Big Good-bye,” “The Long Dark Tunnel” and “The Curse of the Black Orchid” combined. Or at least I imagine they do. After all, the Dixon Hill holographic novels do not actually exist. Yet.

First, there is the mysterious Dahj Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who learns that she is an android. What’s this? A confused synth? Jean-Luc may need to pull in Detective Rick Deckard from “Blade Runner” to consult on this one. After being accidentally “activated,” Dajh instinctively seeks out Picard for protection. Why? This is the first mystery Picard must unravel. In fact, Dajh is the catalyst for this entire journey. She is Picard’s Maltese Falcon. When she is literally blown to pieces before his eyes, all seems lost. That is, until he learns there is another — her twin, Dr. Soji Asha. If Picard can only find her, he believes the mystery can be solved. However, like any good film noir tale, there are powerful forces at work behind the scenes. There are lies and truths, and blurred lines that barely separate the two. These are the things that will truly test Picard’s rejuvenated mettle.

Next, consider the story’s duplicitous Romulan, Narek (Harry Treadway), a covert operative for the Zhat Vash. This cabal is so ancient, it predates the dreaded Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar. Landing at the unlikeliest of locations, a damaged Borg cube, Narek quickly uses his “bad boy” charm to seduce Dajh’s twin, Soji Asha. Why is Narek so interested in Soji? More importantly, will Narek ultimately stay true to this yet-to-be-revealed mission? Or will he develop feelings for the synthetic life form and find himself pitted against his sister, double agent Lt. Narissa Rizzo (Peyton List)? We must read the next chapter to find out more.

Narek and Soji Asha in bed.
Narek and Soji Asha

Then there is Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) of the Daystrom Institute. She appears to be an expert that Jean-Luc can count on in his quest to locate Soji Asha. But wait. Dr. Jurati once worked with Bruce Maddox, the man obsessed with deconstructing Commander Data in an attempt to create similar androids. Can she really be trusted? After all, the “synths” that destroyed the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars were created in her department at the Institute. Is she an undercover agent for Maddox? Think about it. Isn’t it the character you suspect the least the one who often ends up stabbing the hero in the back? Trust no one, Dix. Uh, I mean Jean-Luc.

Speaking of which, let’s not forget the Romulans Laris and Zhaban (Orla Brady and Jamie McShane). These household helpers at Chateau Picard have a past shadier than a cave on the Moon during a total eclipse. Yet the couple seems very eager to help Picard. Maybe a bit too eager. In Dahj’s apartment, Laris goes so far as to reveal a host of Romulan tricks while she attempts to locate Dahj’s twin. Is the long game of earning Picard’s trust part of some greater plan? After all, Laris and Zhaban are known to have once been agents of the Tal Shiar. Anything they say may be a lie. Any assistance they offer may ultimately lead Picard into a dead-end alley of pain. 

Laris with Romulan forensic molecular reconstruction device.

And Picard, like any good dime-novel detective, is out of favor with the authorities. We learn that years ago he bucked the system, trying to force the Federation in general, and Starfleet in particular, to do the right thing. Nevertheless, the Federation virtually abandoned the Romulans in their hour of need, leaving Picard no choice but to resign. Now, in an effort to get the resources needed to solve the mysteries of Dahj, the rogue synths and the Zhat Vash, Picard returns to Starfleet Command. It is here that the retired Admiral is given a profanity-laced dressing down by Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson). It’s a scene that plays out like a police captain telling a rogue copy “Turn in your badge and your gun. As of now you are off this case. Go home.”

Ultimately, Picard turns to a former ally, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) for assistance. Can she be trusted? Let’s hope so. Picard can’t do this alone.

Raffi Musiker, looking displeased.
Raffi Musiker

For good measure, there is even a potential time bomb planted in the story. Picard has a brain abnormality, also referenced in the “All Good Things” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr. Benayoun (David Paymer)  tells Jean-Luc that the defect in his parietal lobe could ultimately lead to disaster. Is this a red herring? Or will Picard’s condition have an important part to play in this story?

In the Dixon Hill holosuite novels, like any good pulp fiction, it seemed you could always expect shifting alliances, shadowy figures, plans within plans and the occasional dead body. The same might be said of this new story. There is much to be revealed over the remaining eight episodes of “Picard.” But at the end of the journey will Picard’s Maltese Falcon be made of gold and jewels, or will it be a simple lead decoy that propels the quest onward into season two? 

Next episode: “The End is the Beginning”

Random thoughts and observations:

  • In Ten Forward, Data wins the game of poker by revealing a hand made up of five Queen of Hearts playing cards. Qualities attributed to the Queen of Hearts are too plentiful to discern if there is any special significance here.
  • While the graphic novel “Star Trek: Picard – Countdown ” clearly shows Geordi LaForge working at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars, it appears he did not die in the attack. Zhaban mentions the engineer by name when listing the people who can possibly help Picard
  • Why was Dahj applying to the Daystrom Institute for a fellowship in A.I. and quantum consciousness? She would obviously have an advantage in these fields, but was there some pre-programmed motivation drawing her to that specific destination?
  • Anniversaries have played a significant role in these two episodes. Both “First Contact Day” and a 10th anniversary “Day of Remembrance” ceremony, marking the date of the loss of the Romulan homeworld, are observed.
  • Unlike past glimpses of men’s fashions on Earth, Picard’s wardrobe is rather traditional. Usually “Star Trek” future civilian fashion lacks elements such as visible buttons and traditional collars. However, for his interview with FNN, Picard sports a fairly common shirt, tie, and jacket combination.
  • The ticking clock in Picard’s study evoked memories of Admiral Kirk’s apartment, where that deskbound officer was also living a melancholy life of semi-solitude. 
  • It was hard to not be pulled out of the moment when Picard visited the Starfleet Archives and Starfleet Command, as the buildings are structures at the Anaheim Convention Center, located across the street from Disneyland.
  • Soji knows she has a twin, but Dahj made no mention of it.