With only three episodes left to tie things up, Picard's writers deliver an instalment heavy on exposition and low on incident. Surprisingly, though, this approach works well, resulting in an episode that manages to be pacey and entertaining in spite of very little actually happening.
The now-traditional flashback sequence that opens the episode reveals a great deal about the series' backstory, resolving quite a bit of mystery in one go. Oh – who it turns out is half-Vulcan, half-Romulan, which solves that one – assembles a bunch of Romulan women on the abandoned planet Aia, in the midst of the impossible star system the Eightfold Stars. Here, they receive a vision from 200,000 years ago, of a plague of AIs destroying the galaxy. Most of the women go nuts and kill themselves, except Narissa Rizzo, who seems pretty fine, and her aunt Ramdha, who goes nuts but doesn't immediately shoot herself in the head.
It's very entertaining, if not remotely plausible. I just find it impossible to believe that an ancient video of planets blowing up would be enough to make anyone bash their own head in with a rock. At least Rizzo, who's already clearly miserable as hell, isn't affected. That's what you need in an apocalypse: depressed people. We always feel like the world is doomed, so we're used to it and can just carry on.
Still, I love the idea that Ramdha isn't traumatised by her assimilation, as we suspected, but was already so damaged by what she saw that she essentially crashed the Cube and switched off all the drones.
This episode is strung together from coincidences and unlikely events. Elnor calls Seven, and there she is, just like that (although I love that big hug he gives her). They do have some pretty good chemistry together, much as Elnor and Hugh had, and it's a real shame we don't get any interaction between Hugh and Seven in this series, especially as it's implied they have already met. Seven's decision to plug herself into the cube is completely mad, but is the most exciting part of the episode, and her temporary role as the cube's new Queen provides some fantastic imagery. It puts Seven in a hard position too, making her a Borg again and turning the XB's back into drones in order to defeat the Romulans.
It turns out that Rios's dark past, by a massive coincidence, is linked to the coming of the Ais. Commodore Oh ordered his captain to murder to synths, one of whom as the dead ringer of Soji, and Rios covered it up out of fear for his crew's safety. Raffi then goes off on one about how all her conspiracy theories were true, even though she seemingly had no access to any of this information until now. Did she just happen to guess it all? To be honest, having the attack on Mars be a Romulan plot rather than the synths actually fighting for their rights is a lot less interesting.
Nonetheless, as ridiculous as this all is, it still works in a solidly entertaining way, and it's satisfying to get some answers at last. The highlight of the episode, other than Seven's Borgery, is the conference between Raffi and all the emergency holograms. We've got holograms for engineering, navigation, tactical, hospitality and medical, all played by Santiago Cabrera putting ona different accent and personality, all of which make up elements of Rios's own psyche and memory. It's a brilliant concept and a wonderful scene. I said years ago we should have a Star Trek series made up entirely of holograms running a ship. I just imagined they'd be played by Robert Picardo.
Jurati's meeting with Soji is beautifully played, although it has to be said, Agnes has gotten off very lightly after her part-time job as an assassin. She says she'll hand herself in, but that blatantly won't happen. Picard saves the episode emotionally, though, with a nice speech about how the future is theirs to make. They've two whole episodes left to make it.
Thoughts and observations:
Rios's captain, Vandemeer, was previously first officer to Marta Batanides, who was Picard's bzzie mate/love interest back at the Academy, as seen on TNG: “Tapestry.” Picard's first assignment was the USS Reliant (named for the ship in The Wrath of Khan, and previously mentioned in the extended version of TNG: “The Measure of a Man”).
I'm half-convinced that the reason Picard doesn't have a French accent is that he was replaced by a hologram years ago, and this one was set to English.
The ENH mentions Nu Scorpii as a rare septenary star system. This is a real star system, about 470 light years away. There's one more such system known, AR Cassiopeiae, about 650 light years away, but there are no known octonary systems known to science.
They really called the “Grief World” Aia? The AI-planet?
Rizzo's right hand Romulan is called Centurion Tarent. Is Michael Chabon channelling Terry Nation?