Star Trek Picard: Stardust City Rag

Picard and crew arrive at Freecloud with an extra guest on board – Seven of Nine. Seven agrees to help them with an elaborate plan to rescue Bruce Maddox from the clutches of local crime boss Bjayzl, but it soon becomes clear she isn’t doing this out of the goodness of heart. Seven has a score to settle, and if left to her own devices there could well be a lot more bloodshed than Picard intended.

If the last episode felt inspired by classic fantasy and sci-fi, then this one seems to be drawing deeply from videogames. There are definite echoes of both Ratchet and Clank and Starfox here, not to mention probably every other franchise you can think of that involves interplanetary travel and big guns.

We’re also deep within “look, we’re not on network television” territory. We’ve already had a fair bit of profanity here and there to remind us of that – so much so that my viewing companion is eagerly awaiting the moment when Picard himself drops the c-bomb. This episode adds to that vibe, with an extremely gruesome scene right at the very start. I had been pre-warned that there would be some sort of gratuitous violence, but that hardly left me prepared for the sight of a character’s eye being ripped right out of their socket. The character in question is one Lieutenant Icheb – a familiar face from Voyager who is brought back seemingly only to get fridged.

Seven of Nine

Icheb’s death is of course used as a motivator for Seven of Nine, who is a very different person to the one we knew in Voyager. The Seven we knew back then was a coolly logical character, a scientist who felt more at home analysing data in Astometrics than socialising with other people. Over time, she started to explore her humanity, culminating in an unlikely and barely believable romance with Commander Chakotay.

The Seven we see now is a member of the Fenris Rangers, a vigilante group dedicated to enforcing justice out on the wild frontiers beyond Federation rule. She’s tough, dedicated, and determined to hunt down Bjayzl – the woman who had Icheb captured and his Borg implants forcibly extracted for resale. Seven and Bjayzl are said to have had a ‘close, personal relationship’, and it’s left to our imaginations as to whether they were friends, lovers or something else.

But how did the Seven of 2378 become the Seven we see now in 2399? Hopefully there will be books, graphic novels or even a Short Trek along in due course to fill in the gap, but for now we have to use our imaginations. Let’s try to sketch out what might have happened.

Before Picard, I had assumed that on returning to Earth, Seven would try to find a quiet place to hole up somewhere and pursue her scientific studies. Serving in Starfleet wouldn’t have suited her, although she might have dabbled in academia or independent research. She and Chakotay might have tried to have a long distance relationship, before both realised it wasn’t really working out – at which point they parted on amicable terms.

But could Seven have gone from a life like this to becoming a Fenris Ranger? I can think of two likely scenarios.

The first route involves Seven’s mentor, one Kathryn Janeway. Despite her cool and detached exterior, over time Seven realises that Janeway’s need to help others and make the galaxy a better place has rubbed off on her. She questions why Starfleet isn’t doing more good out in the lawless regions beyond their borders, and has one of her classic arguments with Janeway about it. Losing people in the Delta Quadrant has made Janeway more risk-averse, and she sticks with the Starfleet party line of not having the resources to interfere. An angry Seven decides that she will take matters into her own hands, and joins the Fenris Rangers.

The second option leans more heavily on Seven’s relationship with Chakotay. Feeling out of place in Starfleet, Chakotay, B’Elanna and some of the other ex-Maquis decide to find a new cause to fight for – founding the Fenris Rangers as a successor organisation. Due to her relationship with Chakotay, an initially reluctant Seven is talked into joining their cause. The couple still break up, but by this time Seven is invested in the cause in her own right.

I am ze evil Frenchman, Jean-Luc Picard!

All that aside, what about the episode itself? To be honest, the main plot here is hammed up to the eyeballs, with Picard – supposedly a native Frenchman – donning an awful French accent and posing as a theatrically evil salesman looking to sell Seven of Nine’s Borg implants. Along the way we also get a flamboyantly dressed Rios and deadpan comic relief Elnor, pitting themselves against the muscular Mr Vup, a man who can detect lies by scent, and the evil Bjayzl, whose name sounds a lot like “Vajazzle”. In a past era, this level of overacting would have been confined to a holoprogram, such as Dixon Hill or Captain Proton, but now such antics have spilled out into Star Trek’s reality.

Events take a darker turn towards the end, however, and not just because Seven reneges on her promise to Picard to spare Bjayzl’s life. In a twist that no one saw coming, the newly rescued Maddox gets murdered in sickbay by none other than Jurati – mere minutes after we learn that the two were once in a relationship.

What gives, you ask? The prevailing theory online is that Jurati wasn’t doing this of her own free will – perhaps she was under the telepathic influence of Commodore Oh, for example. It remains to be seen whether we, the viewers, will be able to forgive her, though. At present, it’s something of a shame, as I was growing to like Jurati and enjoy her character. As with season one Saru in Discovery, and early Hoshi, it’s nice to be able to identify with a character suffering from anxiety and uncertainty. Not only that, but Jurati’s chemistry with Rios also seems to be leading somewhere, so I hope that hasn’t all been thrown away by the demands of the plot.

Questions and Observations

  • Killing Maddox in sickbay, effectively in front of the EMH, seems like a bad move in terms of deniability. It would have made more sense to fake up a transporter accident while beaming him back to La Sirena. The main reasons I can think of for Jurati not doing this are either that she didn’t know how to rig the transporter in such a way, or that she was still undecided about killing him – perhaps even resisting her programming.
  • Freecloud is home to a couple of familiar businesses – namely outlets of Quark’s Bar and Mr Mot’s barber shop. It’s unclear whether these are run by their eponymous proprietors, or are merely licensed franchises.
  • Money seems to be a big thing in this series, even though the Federation of he 24th century is not meant to have any currency. For now, I choose to believe that the Federation itself hasn’t reintroduced money, but that we’re merely seeing its existence because we’re visiting non-Federation characters and locations.
  • While all the action is going on, Raffi takes the opportunity to track down her estranged son. He is now expecting a child with his Vulcan (or perhaps Romulan) wife, and doesn’t want his no-good junkie mother back in his life. Predictably, this leads to Raffi returning to La Sirena to continue her role as a primary character.
  • Icheb was lacking his cortical node, which astute viewers will remember was because it was removed way back in the Voyager days.

Summary – Stardust City Rag: Seven of Nine – hot even without a catsuit.

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