Marking halfway point of the first season of Star Trek: Picard, “Stardust City Rag” proofs to be a dynamic episode that combines both a healthy amount of humor with dark and mature plot beats, all while moving the overall narrative of the series along at a brisk pace.
This episode begins with a flashback (now seemingly a standard introduction for Picard episodes) as we are taken to 2386, where a Starfleet officer with Borg implants is being horribly tortured by an unknown captor working for someone named Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan), a businesswoman who is after Borg tech. (Families who watch this show with kids should be warned about this, as it’s a truly a gruesome scene, with arguably the most unsettling imagery we’ve seen yet in a Star Trek episode). Before the officer can be tortured further, Seven of Nine comes to his rescue, and it’s here that we learn the Starfleet officer is actually Icheb (now played by Casey King instead of Manu Intriaymi), known to Voyager fans as a Borg rescued from the collective by the Voyager crew. Seven tries to remove Icheb from his captivity, but his wounds prove too severe, forcing Seven to end his suffering then and there.
Flash forward 13 years, and Bjayzl learns that Bruce Maddox (another recast character, now played by John Ales instead of Brian Brophy), the man who is responsible for creating the “daughters” of Data and whom Picard is currently searching for, is on Freecloud. She originally orders Maddox killed, but quickly changes her mind and instead drugs him.
Aboard the La Sirena, Picard and crew arrive at Freecloud and determine Maddox is there, but that they will need some creative and colorful disguises to come face-to-face with him. This unusual plot point is the reason why “Stardust City Rag” could be considered this series’ “silly” episode; every Star Trek show seems to have one, from The Original Series‘ “The Trouble with Tribbles” to Discovery‘s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” The Picard cast, especially Patrick Stewart, seems to have a bunch of fun inhabiting these alter egos, and those looking for some laughs will get some thanks to Picard’s one-eyed overly-French persona. However, it’s in this setup that Picard‘s creative team chooses to make Elnor, who is supposed to be a hardened Romulan warrior, into the dumb tough guy stereotype, as he can’t seem to wrap his head around the plan the La Sirena crew is concocting. For a show (and franchise) that adroitly maneuvers around casting characters into established stereotypes, treating Elnor in this way seems out of place and unnecessary.
While Picard, Elnor, Seven, and Rios try to retrieve Maddox, we get a deeper look into Raffi’s personal life, as she tries to make amends with her estranged son, Gabriel Hwang (Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Gooding, Jr.). She urges him that she is free from drugs, and willing to make the effort to reestablish herself in her son’s life, which now includes his pregnant wife. Gabriel has none of it, and urges her to leave. Defeated, Raffi returns to the La Sirena. With just a few minutes dedicated to this subplot, Michelle Hurd proves again that she can absolutely own whatever scene she is in. Portraying the emotion that comes with an estranged mother-son relationship is no easy task, but Hurd makes it believable and sympathetic. She is quickly becoming Picard‘s rising star.
Also owning her scenes is Jeri Ryan, who is tasked with portraying a character who was already complex and layered, but now carrying the weight of revenge against Bjayzl for Icheb’s death. Ryan expresses pain and suffering just as well as she expresses badassery, and she is largely responsible for making this episode as good as it is. While she utlimately departs the La Sirena at the end of the episode, it’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ll see her again, as Seven gives Picard a means of contacting her should he need assistance. Let’s hope that moment comes soon.
Ultimately, the crew gets Maddox back to the ship, but it’s in the last couple minutes that we get a twist few will see coming. After learning earlier that Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) was romantically involved with Maddox, we see her at his bedside as he is recovering from substantial wounds while held captive. But after discussing the “perfectly imperfect” Dahj and Soji, Jurati states that there is one more thing she has to atone for, then turns off Maddox’s life support. She cryptically laments that she wished Maddox knew what she knew, and that she wished she didn’t know what she knew. Jurati’s actions seismically shift how we intercept her character and what the doctor is ultimately capable of, and it’ll be interesting to see how she explains Maddox’s death to the crew.
Taken together, returning director Jonathan Frakes ably juggles bits of humor with some seriously dark moments, and it’s for this reason that “Stardust City Rag” will likely be one of the most memorable Star Trek: Picard episodes. Taking a week off from the drama aboard the Artifact was a wise move, as that plot seems to have run its course until Picard and crew arrive there, which it looks like they will do next week.
- Does the La Sirena not have pop-up blockers?
- There are a few Star Trek Easter eggs in this episode, including:
- Rios’ mention of Quark, the well-known Ferengi bartender from Deep Space Nine.
- The lovely inclusion of the Voyager theme as Seven leaves the La Sirena.
- Bjayzl’s offering of Tranya to Maddox. Tranya is the preferred drink of Balok seen TOS‘s “The Corbomite Maneuver.”
- Mr. Mot is apparently still cutting hair in 2399, as we see a sign for his business on Freecloud.
- This episode was written by the show’s co-creator Kirsten Beyer, who is known for writing several Voyager novels and being a staff writer for Star Trek: Discovery.
- This is Jonathan Frakes’ 21st directorial effort in the Star Trek franchise.
Star Trek: Picard continues next week with the sixth episode of the first season “The Impossible Box.”
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are released every Thursday on CBS All Access in the United States and broadcast on CTV Sci-Fi Channel, prior to streaming on CraveTV, in Canada. The series is available Internationally through Amazon Prime Video every Friday.
The first season of Star Trek: Picard stars Patrick Stewart as he returns to the role of Jean-Luc Picard, alongside Isa Briones (Dahj/Soji), Santiago Cabrera (Cristobal “Chris” Rios), Michelle Hurd (Raffi Musiker), Alison Pill (Agnes Jurati), Harry Treadaway (Narek) and Evan Evagora (Elnor). The series will also guest star Star Trek: The Next Generation alum Jonathan Frakes (William Riker), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Brent Spiner (Data), Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh the Borg) along with Star Trek: Voyager‘s Jeri Ryan (Annika Hansen/Seven of Nine).
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