On the way to Freecloud, Picard insists on stopping off on Vashti, at the Romulan refugee camp he helped to settle fourteen years previously. His plan is to recruit one of the Qowat Milat, an order of Romulan warrior nuns whose fighting skills could prove invaluable on the journey. However, the people of Vashti haven’t forgotten that Starfleet reneged on its promise to help them fourteen years ago, and Picard is now far from welcome there.
When Picard started, it felt as if plot and character developments were coming thick and fast. And yet, after four episodes, it now seems as if we’ve hardly got anywhere. Picard has spent a lot of time assembling his crew, and yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of their personalities. Elsewhere, Soji’s contribution to every episode is “investigates some Borg drones”, but little has progressed. There’s an entire subplot involving the Romulan siblings Narek and Rizzo trying to extract intelligence from Soji, but so far this amounts to the pair having clandestine conversations in dark corridors. Everything looks very pretty, and the music is great, but we’re forty percent of the way through the season now, and things feel like they’ve barely kicked off.
While watching Picard, it’s hard not to draw parallels with other popular sci-fi and fantasy franchises. Let’s cover the most obvious ones.
- Star Wars: Rios and La Sirena obviously play a similar role to Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope, getting drawn into the story simply because the other characters need to hire a decent ship with a competent captain. True, his holograms are no Chewbacca, although the hospitality one does feel a bit C3PO. We even have a variation of the line “ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster” during the fight in the Vashti marketplace.
- Dune: The all-female order of warrior nuns is obviously rather similar to Dune’s Bene Gesserit. Elnor is somewhat equivalent to Paul Atreides, the only man trained in the ways of an otherwise all-female order.
- The Fellowship of the Ring: Obviously a lot of fantasy quests parallel Tolkien, but Picard is definitely giving off that vibe. Elnor is Legolas, the pointy-eared warrior. Rios could arguably be Aragorn. Does that make Picard Gandalf? Only time will tell.
Now that Romulan warrior Elnor has joined the crew, let’s take a moment to go over the characters once more, including my hopes for how they might develop in future episodes.
- Picard: of course Picard’s character is well established from TNG, but we can still talk about the new insights this series brings. In particular, it’s interesting to contrast Picard’s friendship with young Elnor with his famous awkwardness around children during TNG. Rather than feeling like a forced change of direction, it does feel like a natural maturation and development of the character.
One thing that still doesn’t sit right with me, however, is how Picard is portrayed as just having abandoned those he was close to after the Mars incident. Last episode we learnt that he basically just cut off ties with Raffi, and it seems like he did the same with Elnor and his other contacts on Vashti. Obviously the events of fourteen years ago were pretty hard on him, but as yet I feel the emotional link between that distress and his subsequent withdrawal hasn’t been adequately portrayed. In the past, we saw Picard face the most horrific things, and yet always return to the captain’s chair of the Enterprise for more. He’s entirely within his rights to have had enough – especially after losing his commission – but I want to see that explicitly explored on screen, rather than largely implied.
- Agnes Jurati: Given her little speech on the monotony of space travel, Jurati could easily fit into the Hoshi Sato role – that of someone who is highly skilled in her specific field, but with a very “everyday person” reaction to the realities of space exploration. I’ve enjoyed the scenes she’s been in so far.
- Raffi Musiker: Raffi seems tough and capable, and I hope we get to see more of that beyond her just enabling the plot. I’d like to see her in some situations with real jeopardy, but where she can employ her intelligence and resourcefulness to find a way out – essentially, something along the lines of the scrapes Kirk and Spock were always getting themselves in. I also very much enjoyed her pragmatic “a boy with a stick” comment when Elnor joined the crew.
- Cristobál Rios: So far he’s easy on the eye, but I hope there’s going to be more to him than the current vibe of “maverick bad boy who demonstrates his hidden depths by reading books”. I’d quite like it if the various holograms went away so we could just focus on Rios himself as a character.
- Elnor: There’s not much to say about Elnor as yet – he’s good at wielding a sword and can cut people’s heads off.
- Soji Asha: I quite like Soji, and am also keen to uncover the mystery behind her existence, but at present it’s a little bit undermined by the knowledge that most of her past and memories are a fabrication. Data’s personality was formed through his years of experience, whereas the fact that Soji seems to have emerged fully formed from somewhere makes her much less interesting.
- Picard’s line about a house full of women being an unsuitable place for Elnor to grow up didn’t feel very progressive or 24th century – and it also just plain rankled. Yes, it would be good for any child to see both male and female positive role models, but can we give it a rest with the tired stereotype that having to live in a house filled with women is the worst thing ever for a boy, and that they can never fulfil his innate needs to play with trains, footballs and swords? I can fully get behind the idea that being raised by a clandestine religious order might not be the best environment for any child, but let’s make it about that instead of a gender issue.
- Picard enjoyed fencing with Elnor, a hobby he also indulged in back in the TNG days.
- When Picard pauses the holoprogram, why does the fire continue to flicker?
Summary – Absolute Candor: The Fellowship of Dune Wars