With the debut of the fourth episode of Star Trek: Picard, we’re past the opening act of the show and are now in the thick of things. Each episode thus far has opened with a flashback or a dream sequence disguised as a visit to the past, and “Absolute Candor” is no different. This time, we see Jean-Luc’s interactions on a new Romulan settlement planet, called Vashti, which is a thriving, vibrant colony.
He clearly is at home with these people, among the Romulans he’s working to save. He visits the Qowat Milat, a sect of Romulan warrior assassin nuns (quite possibly the coolest thing ever), where he visits with Elnor, a young boy being brought up there. The sect is female-only, so he doesn’t quite belong, and it’s clear that he sees Jean-Luc as a sort of father figure. And it’s heartwarming to see Picard so at ease with a child when we know he isn’t usually overly fond of children.
In the movie Generations, Jean-Luc grapples with the death of his brother Robert and his nephew, René, (first introduced so well in The Next Generation episode “Family”) coming to terms with the fact that he’ll be the last of the Picards. Perhaps he sees Elnor as a sort of son, the offspring he’s never had. Either way, it’s rare to see Jean-Luc as jolly as he was among Zani (played by the excellent Amirah Vann) and the other Romulans. It’s so sad to watch it, knowing that this happiness cannot last— while on Vashti, Jean-Luc gets the call from Raffi that synths have attacked Mars. He promises to be back soon, but viewers know that won’t happen.
We jump to the present day, and it’s absolutely wonderful. One of my favorite parts of Star Trek is the found family aspect — the fact that crews come together and become incredibly important to one another, as close as family. It’s lovely (and pretty hilarious, given Dr. Jurati’s delightful combination of awkwardness and forthrightness) to watch it happening in real time on Star Trek: Picard.
It turns out that the Qowat Milat and Elnor have haunted Picard all these years (one of the many things, it seems), and so before he goes on his quest to find Bruce Maddox on Freecloud, he wants to stop at Vashti. Jean-Luc says it’s to ask for help, but it’s hard to deny that it’s also likely to ask for forgiveness for never returning. Ríos warns the crew, though, that it’s not the sunny place that Jean-Luc left.
And indeed, when he lands on Vashti, greeting Romulans with “Jolan True,” Jean-Luc is met with suspicion and hostility. Except, of course, by Zani and the other Qowat Milat. And he reunites with Elnor, who is looking more Elf-like than ever with his long hair and sword.
Back on the Borg cube, Soji hasn’t been able to get Ramdha’s words — calling her the Destroyer — out of her head; and Narek’s motives are more confused and conflicted than ever. Is he still on mission, trying to get her to reveal the location of his fellow synths? Or is he actually falling in love with her? Are his probing questions about the Borg knowledge she shouldn’t have and her passage aboard the Ellison, intended to help Soji understand her true nature? It’s incredibly complicated, and I imagine even Narek doesn’t have clear answers to these questions. Is he playing both sides? Have his feelings for Soji overwhelmed his initial mission, or is he still on his original course?
One thing that this show is making Jean-Luc grapple with is his own irrelevance after years of commanding the flagship of the Federation. But it’s more than that — this episode demonstrates that in some ways, he chose to make himself irrelevant with his actions after the synth attack. “Perfect [is] the enemy of the good” is completely apt here: Because the Romulan evacuation couldn’t happen the way Picard wanted it to, he decided to stop pursuing it altogether. And it hurt a lot of people. That’s something Jean-Luc has to come to terms with, and it catches up with him in a brutal way at the Romulan restaurant and the events that follow.
The Romulans have traditionally been an inward-looking people, refusing to ask for or seek out help. The fact that Starfleet promised to help and then abandoned them has had a significantly negative impact on Romulan culture, at least on Vashti. It’s increased their natural suspicion, to the point where they are rejecting all outsiders. Jean-Luc walks into the middle of that, quite literally, and it almost doesn’t end well for him.
Picard also will have to eventually confront the way he abandoned Elnor as a child. He’s going after Data’s daughter, yet Jean-Luc never came back for Elnor and that realization is a lot for the young Romulan to deal with. When Elnor asks, “Why do you need me?” it’s clear that he wants more than the “you’re young and a good fighter” answer that Jean-Luc gives him (especially considering he initially refuses the request before later coming to Picard’s rescue.) He wants to matter to Jean-Luc, and it’s hard to blame Elnor for that.
The episode closes with a pretty spectacular fight between an old Romulan Bird of Prey and Vashti’s security net, which almost get the best of Captain Ríos until an unexpected ally comes to their aid — none other than Seven of Nine.
It’s clear from the way Jean-Luc greets her that they’ve met before, but how? Why? And what is she doing at Vashti? Does she know about the reclamation project aboard the Borg cube? Is there a bigger connection here? Her stunning and dramatic entrance brings up nothing but questions, but it’s incredible to be along for the ride.
Swapna Krishna (she/her) writes about tech, science, and sci-fi. She’s a contributing editor at SYFY FANGRRLS and has been published at Engadget, Gizmodo, Mental Floss, the Los Angeles Times, and more. You can find her on Twitter @skrishna.
Star Trek: Picard streams on CBS All Access in the United States, in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and OTT service Crave, and on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories.