Star Trek Picard: Stardust City Rag

"Murder is not justice. There is no solace in revenge. You had your humanity restored to you, don't squander it now."

If you ever wondered what happened to those Borg kids on Voyager, maybe you should sit down.

The Borg have always inspired dread, partially from the fact they are relentless monsters that cannot be bargained with or even resisted once they get their hands on you. Part of what makes them frightening are the aspects of body horror associated with their invasive cybernetic modifications. Body horror that until now has been relatively bloodless. That eye scene was gnarly, but it shows a careful change in the dynamic of the Borg.

After multiple appearances throughout TNG and Voyager, the once mighty villain became almost banal and toothless. Their menace all but vanished. This series has been slowly turning them into victims, not the Borg, but the people they assimilated. By altering our focus from mindless drones to people violated in the most violent way imaginable, the Borg are starting to feel like a plague instead of a physical threat that you can fight and kill with conventional weapons.

This subtle shift, at least for me, is restoring the Borg back to the status they held when first introduced. They are this creeping thing, a presence to be feared and hated. Yet the people they have taken are pitiable, broken… and valuable. The parts that enhanced them as Borg are now prized as materials sold on the black market. An eye is literally worth its weight in gold pressed latinum.

That’s the biggest take away I had with this episode. Whatever the mystery they are building, a part of it is about returning the Borg to what they once were. Which is why Seven of Nine fits so well into this episode. She is the epitome of what a former Borg can aspire to; she is strong and independent and even founded her own vigilante group to help stabilize a part of space that was deeply corrupt and criminalized.

This version of the future is not rosy; there are some very bad people, including our antagonist for the episode, Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan). She felt almost like a twisted version of Deanna Troi combined with Quark. Greedy, but very level headed and oddly empathetic. She could sneak her way into the good graces of those around her, including Seven who may have been romantically entangled with her. It makes for a compelling villain that I wish wasn’t killed off quite so quickly. Although I have no doubt that Seven will make it out alive, because she’s too important a character to kill off screen.

Speaking of character deaths, I was not expecting Maddox to die. While his death was a bit surprising, I wasn't so surprised that Jurati was the one that pulled the proverbial trigger. She has felt off since Commodore Oh in sunglasses came to visit her. This does feel like she is someone forced to do something they don't want to do because they were tricked into believing something. In other words, I don't believe she is evil.

I am starting to feel the crew begin to gel. Of course, they really just came together fully in the last episode, and Raffi hasn't technically joined yet; after what happened with her son, both her motivations and where Picard found her suddenly make sense. She became obsessed with a conspiracy theory about the Synth attack on Mars and lost herself and her family to that search and substance abuse. It's funny how everything we learn about our characters makes them even more interesting and relatable, like there are some actual writers behind this show. Figure that.

Bits:

The new Maddox is played by John Ales, replacing Brian Brophy who played him in "The Measure of a Man."

In a blink and you'll miss it, in the hologram of Picard's chateau there is a framed picture of Picard posing with Samuel Clemens.

Picard's fake accent was likely a nod to the fact the character has never had a native French accent. Considering how silly it was, it was probably the right choice all those years ago not to use it.

Rios' ship is named in this episode: "La Sirena."

Rios casually drops two numbers as names: 99, which is a character from Get Smart, and 11, a character from Stranger Things.

Icheb's missing cortical node is a nice nod to continuity since he donated his to save Seven's life in an episode of Voyager. Icheb was also recast, this time played by Casey King instead of Manu Intiraymi.

The music at the beginning of the episode was Scott Joplin's "Solace," one of my favorite pieces of music.

Freecloud featured a couple of interesting places, one of which did stand out – Quark Bar.

The annoying holographic ads were both perfect and terrible, as was Elnor's disappointment in not getting one.

Quotes:

Seven: "After they brought you back from your time in the Collective, do you honestly feel that you've regained your humanity?"
Picard: "Yes."
Seven: "All of it?"
Picard: "No. But we're both working on it, aren't we?"
Seven: "Every damn day of my life."

Picard: "Something to drink? Tea? Glass of wine?"
Seven: "Bourbon. Straight up."

Raffi: "Rios, you seriously really need to sell this. You can't do your broody, existentialist spaceman routine. Your personality needs to match your clothes. You need to show a little panache."
Seven: "You need a feather in your hat."

Mr. Vup: "Let us not waste time. Your references are sound. Mr. Quark of Ferenginar was especially satisfied with your handling of his trouble with the Breen."
Rios: "Yes, that was quite a foofooraw."

Elnor: "I don't know how to not be Elnor."
Picard: "Then be Elnor."
Seven: "An Elnor who never talks."

Elnor: "Are we still pretending?"
Picard: "No, Elnor. I think everyone has finally stopped."

Seven: "Picard still thinks there's a place in the galaxy for mercy. I didn't want to disillusion him. Somebody out here ought to have a little hope."

3 out of 4 Duel Wielded Phaser Rifles

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Excellent review, JD. I really loved the fact that Seven of Nine has become a vigilante -- it made a lot of sense. That photo you chose also emphasized that Seven *and* Picard were mutilated by the Borg, even though Picard's eyepatch was fake.

TJ said...

I forgot how much I missed Seven. And her relationship with Icheb on Voyager was a lovely one, she was indeed a mother figure to him. I didn't want Icheb to die!! I wished they had cast Manu Intiraymi, but he was probably not available?

This episode reminded me of Farscape and the episode where Zahn (in pirate gear) and Chiana were robbing a bank!

Mark Greig said...

TJ, Manu Intiraymi does very little these days except post truly horrible comments online such as defending rapists and attacking their victims for coming forward.. I don't think there was every any chance of him being brought back for this show.

sunbunny said...

Anyone else get a distinctly Musketeery vibe from the feather in Rios's hat?

CoramDeo said...

I always found Icheb to be Season One-Wesley levels of annoying, and I am very glad not to have to see Manu Intiraymi in Star Trek again, so I felt no sorrow at his death, except of course the sorrow that comes from empathizing with Seven.

I love that Seven is far from perfect here, and I can't wait to see where she goes from this point on.

JD, I wonder if Brian Brophy turned down an offer to appear, and as a result they replaced him and cut the role short. He's been nothing but a Macguffin this whole show.

skyemaidstone said...

That scene as the end with Picard and Seven gave me chills. Brilliant acting from both of them. Shame Seven isn't a main character but I guess that might distract from the main cast a bit too much. A fine actress anyway.

This episode seems to have generated much vitriol on other message boards/forums with the tired old argument "This is not Star Trek - It's too violent/dark etc etc". The same thing that were said about DS9 at the time. Yawn.

I'm still really enjoying it. Bit of a cringe moment with Steward doing his French Evil Villain thing.

The Jurati plot is fascinating and I agree the crew seem to almost be becoming a crew. I'm reminded vaguely of the Roci crew (although they're nowhere near that level yet) and I didn't even notice that there was no action on the borg cube this week. I do find that plot rather dull so far.

Nice review JD.

BrianN said...

Ill give that "too violent/dark" argument...sort of...and I think DS9 is the best ST for that reason. To me at least, psychological torture always trumps visuals of torture. Early Borg's greatness was because of this and lovecraftian overtones...like in horror movies, the monster is scarier before you see it. I could have gone with 7 busting into the compound with people screaming in the background, then we see the chopped up Icheb. The Borg didnt need gore in the beginning to be scary (although the chopping up Picard part helped, but it was more body horror and not gore)

Bjayzl completely had me fooled several times that she was Troi's messed up clone or something.