Jack Crusher asks Picard, "Is there anyone you know who is still the person you knew?" It's a question central to this season — and perhaps this series — that I think is especially useful to consider as we catch up with characters whom we haven't seen in over 20 years. I've heard complaints that Picard and Seven are unrecognizable compared to who they were 20 years ago. I don't necessarily even agree with that, but to a certain degree, isn't that the point?
The question is asked about halfway through "Disengage," which is an efficient, straightforward, tried-and-true Standoff Situation. In this scenario we have the heroes and villains in close proximity, and the villains provide a deadline that, if not met, means the unleashing of firepower that promises annihilation. It's certainly not the newest or freshest idea on the block, but as a way of establishing the core conflict with the key players, it does so with an adequate amount of interest and tension.
Opening with a flashback to "two weeks ago," we see Beverly's son Jack (Ed Speleers) on a mission to deliver medical supplies in a war zone. When some Fenris Rangers stop his ship for inspection, he tries to bribe them with weapons. They accept, but then call for the "marked woman" to inform her that they have "found him." Fast-forwarding to now, Picard and Riker find themselves in dire straits, trapped on Crusher's ship with no way out and the enemy vessel closing in. The only hope for escape comes from the Titan, if Seven can first guilt Shaw into entering the nebula to mount a rescue, at great risk to his crew. Throughout the episode, Shaw actually makes a number of valid points about not putting his crew in jeopardy to save the lives of two officers who have gone rogue to save a man whose true motives remain unknown, but Shaw is portrayed as such an insufferably feckless asshat that it's really hard not to hate him (which, admittedly, is the point).
Once Shaw comes to his senses and our people are back aboard the Titan along with the Crushers, the question becomes what to do with Jack. The villain captain, a woman named Vadic (Amanda Plummer, daughter of Christopher Plummer, who also once played a flamboyant Trek villain), wants Jack turned over to her for unknown reasons. Her ship, the Shrike, is armed to the teeth with every weapon imaginable ("and then some") and flies the flag of no government. Vadic is a colorful and intriguingly promising villain that seems equal parts intelligent and unhinged, and she has a nice little speech explaining the name of her ship, and how the bird it's named for attacks its prey with systematic scalpel-like precision that reduces the prey to a helplessly weakened state.
Jack's true motives also remain unclear, although Starfleet's files on him uncover a half-dozen aliases and illegal — although not morally corrupt — activity. The question of whether or not to protect him is mostly academic. Of course we're not going to turn him over, despite Shaw's insistence that it's the prudent move. But it remains an open question (not answered here) why Vadic wants him. Despite the rather obviousness of the plot's trajectory, the story is able to keep the tension sustained and Jack's motivations unknown while the drama plays out on the bridge of the Titan, which I just love the design of, despite the implausible darkness (which does admittedly make all those wonderful LCARS displays just pop).
The big moment comes when Crusher wakes up and arrives on the bridge and gives Picard a look from across the room. With this look, Picard knows what Riker earlier had suspected and pressed Picard to consider — that Jack is actually his son. And with that, Picard springs into action and gives the order to Engage. Hopefully this will ultimately pay off, because for all the parallels this is surely intended to conjure of Kirk, Carol, and David Marcus, it seems there would have to be a much bigger reason for why Beverly would keep such a secret from Picard.
The parallel plot with Raffi trying to figure out her next move after the attack on the Starfleet recruitment facility (resulting in at least 117 confirmed dead, although the scale of the disaster seems like it must surely be far more) doesn't fare quite as well, thanks largely to an early scene that does itself zero favors by trapping the character in Hopelessly Contrived Exposition Central. The dialogue is at its worst when it's having Raffi explain recent events and how they make her feel with such clunkiness that you can almost sense the writers are just trying to get it out of the way with the least effort possible so they can move on to the next scene. It's completely unnatural and unnecessary. Do better along these lines, please.
Despite being warned by her secret-identity handler not to go back and ask more questions lest she gets herself killed, Raffi hits the streets to do some more undercover prodding, which takes her to the back alleys of an alien city which may or may not be the one from last week but certainly looks the same, where she has a meeting with the estranged father of her son who may have a contact who has more information. He gives Raffi a rather contrived and unfair ultimatum: Give up all this obsessive underworld/undercover nonsense to have a chance at having a possible relationship with her son and granddaughter, or take the information that he has. You'd think he'd be a little more understanding given that she works for Starfleet Intelligence and there was just this massively brazen attack on a Starfleet facility (not to mention how her previously dismissed conspiracies about the synthetic uprising at Utopia Planitia not being what it seemed later turning out to be right), but whatever.
This leads us to a scene where Raffi tries to con a Ferengi gangster named Sneed (effectively played by Aaron Stanford as a criminal lowlife who definitely has a Ferengi sensibility to him) into explaining who actually ordered the attack, since the alleged mastermind, a Romulan dissident named Lurak t'Luco, was merely a fall guy whom Raffi claims to work for. Sneed cons Raffi into doing drugs to prove she's not an undercover agent — erasing years of sobriety to pile on more angst to a character who doesn't at all need it — and then reveals just how in over her head she is when he shows that he has t'Luco's head as a trophy.
But then Worf gets the Worfiest of entrances, storming the scene in the nick of time to save Raffi (it turns out he's actually her mysterious handler), slicing and dicing through the guards with his mek'leth. It's a great and fun entrance. Worf's awesome entrance aside, this entire plot feels completely divorced in tone and practicality from everything else, and I'm hoping now with his appearance we can just get everyone working together in one place (or at least one combined plot) so we can be out of this half-assed underworld, which feels too contrived to fit in with everything else.
Despite these issues, I'm still thoroughly enjoying this. Hopefully they can keep it up.
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