Star Trek: Picard S1/E5 Review: ‘Stardust City Rag’
Can you recover your humanity? That’s the question at the heart of the halfway point of Star Trek: Picard’s inaugural season. Despite the pulpy setting on INSERT CASINO PLANET HERE, ‘Stardust City Rag,’ by novelist Kristen Beyer, features some of the most sober moments in modern Trek history.
Last episode, it might have felt like the series was needing to kick it up a gear. In this one, the series’ storyline accelerates into high gear. The episode begins with a flashback, as all of them have, and we get a sad, horrific glimpse into the recent past of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). She is too late to rescue Icheb, a very deep cut cameo from a character introduced way back on Voyager in the episode ‘Collective,’ Seven and the Voyager crew rescued the teen, along with others, from the Borg Collective. Thirteen years before the events of Picard, Icheb has become a Starfleet officer. His fate is terrible – kidnapped and harvested for his Borg implants. Seven can’t save him, and puts him out of his misery. Her anguish is underlined in her referring to him as her ‘child.’
His death, at the hands of a campily named character Bjayzl (bedazzle? Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!), forms the crux of what is one the darkest turns by a Starfleet character since perhaps Captain Sisko’s gambit in the legendary ‘In The Pale Moonlight.’ Getting there is decidedly less grim. The crew arrive at Freecloud, and apparently forgot to turn on their Ad Blocker. Most of the crew of the La Sirena get a tailored holographic offer, delaying a bit the reason they’ve come: to find Bruce Maddox. Maddox returns in this episode, now played by John Ales (Brian Brophy played him in ‘The Measure of a Man,’ way back in 1989). Maddox brings the revelations with him – the first is he and Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), his colleague at the Daytrom Institute, were lovers.
Maddox is being held by Bjayzl, and the crew engage in some Ocean’s 11 planning the heist/while showing the heist hijinks to get him out. This includes some truly campy costumes, as the episode leans full tilt into some 70s casino planet flair. Lightening the mood is a good idea at this point in the show, especially considering what comes next. Seven offers to trade herself for Maddox, given she’s a living goldmine of Borg implants, but everyone quickly realizes she has other goals in mind. Like revenge.
Jeri Ryan does a tremendous job in her return to Seven of Nine. No longer stilted or robotic, she’s much more human in speech and movement, though perhaps not in character. Seven intends to kill Bjayzl for what she did to Icheb – despite Picard’s moralistic pleas – and only acquiesces when she considers the consequences of her actions on Picard and his crew. Or, she appears to. In the episode’s best scene, she shares a brief exchange with Picard, where she asks him if he’s recovered his humanity from his experience with the Borg. Yes, he says, emphatically. Fully? she asks. He’s less sure now. No, he says, though we’re working on it. Every damn day, Seven says, and then beams back down to Freecloud with a pair of phaser rifles and executes Bjayzl and her entire gang.
The fun doesn’t stop there. With Maddox secure, we discover he did in fact create Dahj and Soji. He did so to find the truth behind the ban on synths, following the Attack on Mars. Maddox likens himself to Soong, and then his lover Jurati likens herself to Seven and kills him. You don’t know what I know, she says, confirming suspicions that Commodore Oh got to her in episode three. I wish they hadn’t shown me.
Picard and crew are off to the Borg Cube to find Soji. The Federation and Romulans both appear to have had a stake in the attack on Mars. Data does have daughters, it seems; Maddox was able to successfully harness Data’s unique positronic pathways to create synthetic life.
A lot happened in this episode, but a couple things that deserve a mention:
- A Mr. Quark evidently is still out swindling the galaxy somewhere.
- The Neutral Zone collapsed after the Romulan sun went nova.
- Seven has been a member of the Fenris Rangers, a group dedicated to law and order among the abandoned Romulan people and their colonies, since the Federation scuttled Picard’s armada.
- Raffi momentarily leaves the crew to find her son on Freecloud, who is married to a Romulan woman with a daughter on the way.
- No check in on Game of Thrones, I mean, the Borg Cube / Romulan siblings storyline this week.