Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Picard's Romulan Retcon: Why The Villains Hate Androids

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Picard episode 2.

Star Trek: Picard has retconned the Romulans so that they bear an ancient hatred of androids and all artificial life. The new CBS All-Access series starring Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard has already proven itself to be primarily concerned with the role of synthetic lifeforms in the Alpha Quadrant. The former Starfleet Admiral's restless retirement was upended by the arrival of a woman named Dahj Asha (Isa Briones) begging for his help; Picard soon discovered Dahj is a human-like artificial being who is the 'daughter' of the late Commander Data (Brent Spiner). Sadly, Picard failed to protect Dahj from being assassinated by the series' Romulan villains, who are part of a heretofore unheard of cabal of the Tal Shiar called the Zhat Vash.

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The Romulans are the oldest enemy of the United Federation of Planets and they're among the Star Trek franchise's original alien antagonists, going back to their first appearance in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Balance of Terror". Revealed to be a more sinister offshoot of the Vulcans and sharing their distinctive pointy ears, the Romulans have plagued Starfleet in every Star Trek series and many of the movies as well, especially Star Trek: Nemesis. Meanwhile, the Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar, was first mentioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation but was explored more fully on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In Star Trek: Picard, the Romulans have taken on a greater significance, since the Romulan supernova first mentioned in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek movie plays a key role in Picard's backstory. As ruthless and treacherous as the Romulans are, however, the villainous race hasn't been portrayed as haters of artificial lifeforms - until Star Trek: Picard.

In Star Trek: Picard's second episode, "Maps and Legends", Jean-Luc begins investigating the history of Dahj and why she was targeted by a Romulan death squad. Luckily, his two Romulan caretakers of the Chateau Picard vineyard, Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) are former members of the Tal Shiar and were able to shed some light on Dahj's assassins. As Laris explained, the evidence points to Dahj's killers being members of Zhat Vash, an older and even more dangerous version of the Tal Shiar that bears an unassuageable hatred of all artificial lifeforms - hence, they marked Dahj and her twin sister Soji, the most advanced synthetic beings known, for termination. Laris further clarified, asking Picard (and the audience) if we've ever noticed that the Romulans never utilized cybernetics, androids, or A.I. and that even their computers are only used for numerical functions.

In the new light Star Trek: Picard sheds on the Romulans, their race has always hated synthetic beings, which may be accurate to an extent but it still feels like a retcon. After all, many Romulans encountered Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and they never showed any particular animosity towards the android. In fact, Data joined Picard on an undercover mission to Romulus to find Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the "Unification" two-parter and they didn't display overt hatred or intolerance towards the mechanical Starfleet Officer. However, Laris is also referring to a particular sect of Romulans in the Zhat Vash, and their existence was founded upon a pure hatred of synthetics that eclipses the general Romulan population's mistrust.

The details of why the Zhat Vash despise artificial beings so much aren't yet clear but it may have something to do with the Borg and the fact that the Romulans possess a derelict Borg Cube in the Beta Quadrant. Designated the Romulan Reclamation Project, it's surely no coincidence that Soji Asha is working undercover as a cyberneticist "reclaiming" Borg technology for the Romulans. It's possible that the Romulans' history with the Borg goes back further than anyone realizes and the Zhat Vash's hatred of synthetics comes from surviving a cataclysmic past encounter with the Borg. Since Star Trek: Picard revolves around the future of artificial lifeforms in the Federation, the Romulans' newly-revealed hatred of synthetics makes sense to establish them as more villainous than ever.

Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on CBS All-Access and Fridays internationally on Amazon Prime Video.


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