The opening of the fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard, “Stardust City Rag,” is brutal and unexpected. Viewers see a graphic scene that is, by all accounts, torture — only it becomes clear that information isn’t the end goal. It’s a former Borg, one in a Starfleet uniform, who’s held captive on that table, as a woman removes his eye and searches for his cortical node. The unique ridge on his nose gives some hints as to who he might be, a suspicion that’s confirmed when Seven of Nine shows up and says his name: Icheb.
As becomes clear later in the episode, Icheb was the oldest of a group of Borg children that Voyager rescued in the Delta quadrant (which occurred in the Voyager episode “Collective”). While all of the other kids were eventually resettled with their families, Icheb remained aboard Voyager with Seven and returned to the Alpha Quadrant. (Incidentally, Icheb no longer had a cortical node because he forced the Doctor to give his to Seven when hers was malfunctioning, endangering his own life to save hers in “Imperfection.”)
It’s clear that Icheb is in a bad way — the Borg implants he needed to survive had been forcibly removed — and he begs Seven to end his misery. She agrees, using a phaser to end his life, and it is, quite simply, brutal. But the horrifying nature of it is necessary to understand what Icheb was put through and how it affected Seven — but it’s a scene that will stay with me (and disturb me) for a long time to come. It’s also evidence that Hugh was correct in his statement that former Borg are the most despised people in the galaxy.
The story jumps forward in time to Bruce Maddox, who’s aboard Freecloud, and a woman named Bjayzl who has been sheltering him and giving him room to work. The Tal Shiar attacked his lab with the same disintegration agent we’ve seen before, the one that they used on Dahj — the question is, did they get the rest of the androids (the ones that the Zhat Vash are convinced exist) or are they elsewhere? Either way, Maddox has become a nuisance, but Bjayzl decides that she’d rather sell him to the Tal Shiar than kill him.
Aboard the ship, it turns out that Seven of Nine is a ‘Fenris Ranger’ — a sort of outlaw/vigilante who functions as judge, jury, and executioner, which seems like a great fit for her. It’s so interesting to learn that she’s chosen a profession that centers on her helping people, because much of Seven’s journey after being rescued from the Borg was developing her humanity and individuality. Seven had the opportunity and burden to choose what she was going to care about and what was going to matter to her. It’s fitting and beautiful, then, that her choice was other people.
La Sirena arrives at FreeCloud, and after a delightful turn of events by earnest Elf-Romulan Elnor, Seven offers herself up in exchange for Bruce Maddox. She’s a little too eager, and the connection to the episode’s beginning becomes clear: Bjayzl clearly was behind Icheb’s butchering, and Seven likely wants revenge.
But first, a costume party! The clothes that the Sirena crew wears are delightfully ridiculous, complete with a feather in Rios’s hat, and it injects some welcome levity, and the atmosphere of a heist, into a dark episode. As the main crew tries to broker a deal to trade Seven for Maddox, Raffi heads to a clinic where we discover her son lives; he delivers a hard and firm rejection at her attempts to reconcile. (For more on Raffi’s history and her family, I highly recommend picking up Una McCormack’s new novel The Last Best Hope.) We learn at the end of the episode that she’s rejoined the crew aboard La Sirena.
Back on the ship, Agnes’s anxiety seems to be spiraling out of control. It’s not necessarily a red flag, given that we now know that she and Bruce were in a romantic relationship so she’s invested in the outcome of their mission. But there’s more going on here, as will soon become clear.
Bjayzl reveals that she and Seven had a previous relationship — perhaps even an intimate one — and Seven was once much more idealistic. She’d regained parts of her humanity she thought were lost forever, even going by her former name, Annika. But Bjayzl’s betrayal, and literal gutting of Icheb, took that away from her and now Seven feels like she has nothing left except this chance to take her revenge. However, she agrees to the trade of Bjayzl’s life for Maddox’s and returns to La Sirena.
Then, of course, Seven reneges on the deal, returns to Freecloud, murders Bjayzl, and shoots her way out. As you’d expect. But I have a feeling that, given she handed Jean-Luc a way to contact her, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Picard.
Before she leaves, though, she asks Picard a simple question — whether he feels like he regained his humanity after being rescued from the Borg. It’s a fascinating question, especially because some of the best character work on Star Trek: The Next Generation has come from Jean-Luc grappling with his violation at the hands of the Collective and how they used him (“The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I and II,” “Family,” and Star Trek: First Contact are great refreshers on this front). He quietly admits that, even now, he feels like a part of his humanity is missing, but the key is to continue working on it.
Bruce Maddox is in pretty bad shape back aboard La Sirena, but Picard manages to get the location of Soji from him: the artifact. Maddox sent her there, and Dahj to Daystrom, to find the truth about the synth attack on Mars and the subsequent ban on artificial intelligence. But before he can disclose any more, Agnes tells Jean-Luc that Maddox needs to rest and she’s left alone with her former lover.
And then the twist: Agnes discontinues Maddox’s treatment, sealing his fate. He dies. At this point, it’s clear that she’s a double agent, and that there was much more to that meeting with Commodore Oh than we were privy to. But the way Jurati says, “I wish you know what I know, I wish they hadn’t shown me,” it seems that she’s been let in on some deep intelligence and asked to work against Picard.
The question is what comes next? It’s not like Jurati is going to be able to hide what she’s done, not unless she deletes the EMH or its memories. And Picard already has Soji’s location — was Jurati trying to prevent Maddox from revealing additional information? It seems strange that the Zhat Vash would order Jurati to end Maddox without getting the information about where any additional synths might be located — in which case Commodore Oh may not have the same goals as the secret organization.
In any case, the plot has significantly thickened on Star Trek: Picard, and the only thing that’s clear right now is that La Sirena will likely be heading to the Borg cube, and to Soji and Narek, over the next episode.
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.