"Maps and Legends" is an episode that further sets up the premise of this season and offers some good context, fleshing things out that "Remembrance" had me wondering about and giving them more shape. It does this leisurely and methodically, which feels like a step in the right direction after the many narrative gaps and shortcuts seen in Discovery. That being said, this episode often feels like expositional piece-moving ahead of the story that still awaits us.
The Peak TV cliché "It's a 10-hour movie" has been applied to this series in Patrick Stewart's press statements, and by that calculation, the first three episodes would be Act One. We're still just getting started here, and by the end of "Maps and Legends" we're still just getting started. While "Remembrance" gave us the nostalgic feels, this seems like an episode that's easing us into the world of Picard that will be. Gradually.
The FX-heavy cold open shows us the uprising of the synthetics on Mars, where it appears a switch was flipped, causing all the synthetics to turn on the colony. Given that a cause was never discovered for why this happened, the synthetics ban doesn't seem wholly unjustified as a defensive reaction — although if you think about it, any sort of reliance on advanced technology and AI, whether that tech is packaged into artificial humanoid bodies or not, would subject you to the same risk.
This ties into the backstory explained to us by Picard's Romulan housekeeper Laris (Orla Brady), who explains how the fearsome Tal Shiar intelligence agency (she was once one of them), and the even more secretive/mysterious Zhat Vash organization that operated behind them and that dates back thousands of years, regarded artificial life. The Zhat Vash held a deep-seated hatred and fear of them, leading Romulan culture to be almost completely devoid of AI and androids.
It seems pretty likely given the variables here that the Zhat Vash hacked the synthetics on Mars and sparked the uprising (this somehow feels like a Romulan tactic), but what doesn't make sense is the timing, which happened just as the Federation was undertaking a mission to save Romulan survivors from the supernova. Why disrupt your own rescue? Perhaps there are Forthcoming Reasons For This.
The first act plays like an investigation out of a CBS procedural, with Laris helping Picard conduct some sci-fi forensics in Dahj's apartment. The evidence there, as well as on the rooftop where Dahj was killed, points to a very elaborate Tal Shiar-like cover-up. I like that Laris and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) take on increased importance as not just throwaway extras at Chateau Picard, but as actual characters and our resident Romulan experts who help guide our hero. It also helps that they are played by solid actors.
Aware of this plot, Picard goes to Starfleet Command in hopes of getting a ship to take on a mission to search for Soji Asha and perhaps Bruce Maddox, the presumed creator of Dahj and Soji. To say Picard's discussion with Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson) does not go well would be an understatement. The admiral lets him have it. The fireworks here are the episode's dramatic high point, thanks to Patrick Stewart. But the trend of insufferable Starfleet admirals will apparently continue into the 25th century, and I don't have a clear idea of whether what we see from Starfleet Command here represents the organization or Federation as a whole.
Clancy begrudgingly passes Picard's concerns to Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), a Vulcan (I assume, until she maybe turns out to be a Romulan?) who is aware of the plot because she's in on it. I sure hope this turns out to be more imaginative than yet another iteration of the annual organization-penetrating mole that became so tiresome on 24. Commodore Oh recruits her top undercover operative, Lt. Rizzo (Peyton List) to keep tabs on Picard, and so I guess the spy games are afoot.
Meanwhile, aboard the disabled Borg cube, which has been permanently severed from the collective, the Romulans are undertaking a project to free the Borg drones on the ship who have been stranded there. A sign aboard the cube says "5,843 days without an assimilation," which is (1) amusing and (2) almost exactly 16 years. This is potentially interesting, provided it's going somewhere and not just serving as an intriguingly familiar setting. Why go to such dangerous lengths to free Borg drones? Does this truly arise from a deeply ingrained Romulan philosophy of anti-synthetics that simply can't turn away? Or something more sinister?
We see here that Soji and Narek are now sleeping together, which I guess is forbidden. But since Narek knows what Soji is (which even she doesn't, I assume) and is merely using her to track down "the others," the games of deceit will no doubt pile up. And, oh yeah — Lt. Rizzo is actually a Romulan and Narek's sister.
"Maps and Legends" is an episode of slowly established intrigue, political and otherwise. It's very much inconclusive and as a result in some ways less than satisfying, but it points to a slow-burn approach that suits its hero as well as the television era he originates from. But these sorts of serial groundwork-laying episodes, while necessary, do not always feel vital.
Some other thoughts:
- Any guess as to the origin of the Borg derelict? Perhaps some remnant of the ship disabled by Hugh's introduction into the collective in "I, Borg" before Lore came and "rescued" them as explained in "Descent, Part II"?
- Speaking of Lore, is he going to be mentioned at any point?
- Looking for a clean bill of health to travel on a starship, Picard asks his old friend Dr. Benayoun (David Paymer) from the Stargazer days. Physically, Picard's in great shape, but some disturbing cognitive test results come back. The doc says it could be one of a few "syndromes," but what are the chances this turns out not to be Irumodic Syndrome? I like how this scene plays as character texture (these two go way back and the doc is very emotional about the news he delivers) rather than just plot exposition.
- The synthetics on Mars revolted on First Contact Day, April 5, 2385. Current day on this series is 14 years later, sometime in 2399, the very end of the 24th century.
- A nice touch: The Golden Gate Bridge is cladded over with solar panels. After all, cars don't need to drive on it.
- The f-bomb in this episode felt gratuitous and unnecessary. I just really don't need it in my Star Trek, even if it comes from wrong-headed, holier-than-thou admirals. It just feels forced and unnatural. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
- Picard treks out to the reclusive domicile of an old Starfleet acquaintance (notably not a "friend") named Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), presumably the first stop in a "getting the band together" effort to embark on this personal mission. They don't even really have a conversation here; tune in next week.