STAR TREK: PICARD (S1E2) “Maps And Legends”: Wait For It…
At this point in a show’s run, you’d usually have a pretty good idea of what it is, right? I’m talking key players, character dynamics, hell, even the main setting. But as “Maps and Legends”, the second episode of Star Trek:Picard, comes to an end, it still feels like a show that’s yet to start telling its actual story. Sure, we get some idea of what Picard’s up against here—a vast conspiracy wherein a secret Romulan intelligence agency (we’ll get to it) have infiltrated the upper ranks of Starfleet (we’ll get to that too) for, well, nefarious reasons, of course. But the main cast is all still lightyears apart and the episode ends with the introduction of another key character who, until next week, we know little about beyond being someone from Picard’s past. Hell, our guy hasn’t even left Earth yet.
A Delayed Start
If these first few episodes are beginning to feel like the first act of a feature film, then that seems to be by design, as cast and crew have been trotting out the old “ten hour movie” description since day one. But the problem with that approach is that it often leads to episodes like this one, episodes that move their pieces around to a place where they’ll later be useful, but don’t deliver on anything particularly noteworthy or interesting in and of themselves. As of yet, it’s mostly just plot information the show has offered us, along with the promise that this will eventually be leading to… something.
If it sounds like I’m being too down on “Maps and Legends” that’s not because it’s necessarily a bad hour of television, but because there’s just not a lot to grapple with here. And honestly, aside from a few questionable choices, it’s perfectly fine—Stewart is excellent as ever here, doing the absolute most with a script that knows how much he can convey with his face, there’s a tense opening sequence showing the Mars attack in all its horror, and even an intriguing wrinkle suggesting that Picard’s mind is not what it was.
Running Out of Time
The latter is revealed in what’s easily the episode’s strongest scene, where Jean-Luc sits down with Dr. Benayoun (David Paymer), an old friend who we learn was stationed on the Stargazer (Picard’s first command, for those keeping track at home). He tells Picard that despite being in perfect physical health, his mind is failing him, and will eventually kill him. It could be attributed to a handful of illnesses, but given how closely the show has hewed to the TNG finale so far, Irumodic Syndrome (the disease future Picard has in “All Good Things…”) seems to be the best bet.
But it’s not just the revelation of this information that makes the scene so effective, it’s the genuine sense of warmth the two actors bring to it and especially the way the dialogue suggests how much Benayoun cares for his old friend. You really get the sense of shared history here, which is no small feat considering the two have never once shared the screen before. It’s telling that the two best scenes in both of these first episodes have been small, intimate conversations out in Picard’s garden, where it doesn’t feel like our protagonist is just learning information, but opening himself up emotionally. This is where Stewart shines brightest, in scenes where his conversations are punctuated with a sense of curiosity, of yearning, and it’s here that we truly understand why Picard wants to get back out there—this is the last time he’ll likely get the chance to do so.
He doesn’t get that chance in this episode though, instead paying visits to two more people from his past (both of whom are also new characters which, while not a major problem, is noticeable), the first of which being a rather heated encounter with Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson). Picard saunters into Starfleet HQ via a nifty transporter trick and asks plainly for a ship to investigate the situation, but the Admiral has other ideas. She blows up in his face, in what’s far and away the weakest scene of the episode.
It’s not necessarily the sentiment that feels wrong here—that Picard is asking to put lives at risk on the basis of a hunch, year’s after retiring and with his mental state not being what it is—and I can even buy the Federation’s questionable position on the Romulan situation, which seems almost designed to anger fans who’ve just not been paying attention to this franchise. It’s more that the execution of the scene comes off as a flimsy excuse for a shouting match, wherein yelling is mistaken for well-written character drama and we even get what now feels like the mandated use of the word “fuck” in these new Trek shows.
An Unwanted Visitor
The third reunion of the episode comes about when Picard pulls out his old combadge and extends an olive branch to Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd)—a former colleague living in the middle of nowhere (so much so that Picard has to take a taxi to visit her, an amusing touch) who isn’t exactly on the best terms with the former Captain. She points a phaser at him and tells him to turn back around, but agrees to hear him out upon learning of the Romulan conspiracy.
Which means we have to talk about that. It’s revealed in this episode that, according to Laris and Zhaban, the Romulan Tal Shiar is actually a front for an even more secret organization called the Zhat Vash. A bizarre and seemingly arbitrary retcon on its own, but coupled with the fact that the Zhat Vash’s entire existence is based around fear and hatred of artificial life, it’s hard not to see this as a mightily contrived and poorly thought out change. In addition to that, we also discover, in a jarringly over-directed and clumsily written scene, that Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) is a Romulan mole presiding over both Lieutenant Rizzo (Peyton List) in Starfleet and Narek on the repurposed Borg cube. And that (surprise!) these two are also brother and sister.
The old trope of Starfleet’s top brass having ulterior motives just seems a little tired at this point, does it not? Is this not an opportunity to do something entirely new, that’s not restricted to well-worn plot points? Perhaps this will lead to something more interesting, but considering this is yet another episode functioning as set up for things to come, I can only comment on what we have here. It’s fine enough, and perfectly watchable at that, but I’m looking forward to Picard actually getting started.
Star Trek: Picard airs Thursdays on CBS All Access and Fridays on Amazon Prime internationally.
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