Star Trek: Picard airs new episodes Thursday’s on CBS All Access in North America. Internationally, episode air on Amazon Prime Video the following day.
The crew’s journey to Freecloud takes a detour when Picard orders a stop at the planet Vashti, where Picard and Raffi relocated Romulan refugees 14 years earlier. Upon arrival, Picard reunites with Elnor (Evan Evagora), a young Romulan he befriended during the relocation. Meanwhile, Narek continues his attempts to learn more about Soji while Narissa’s impatience with his lack of progress grows.
With the former Admiral Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) now out in space I went in to “Absolute Candor” with high expectations about the trajectory of the story. I instinctively felt like Star Trek: Picard was done with all the setup and moving on to the real meat of the story.
On the whole I was correct, but “Absolute Candor” still finds a way to set up even more plot threads as the complex narrative continues to slowly knit itself together.
When we last left Picard and the crew of the La Sirena they were bound for Freecloud in their hunt for scientist and synthetic junkie Bruce Maddox. But where we pick up it seems that the crew has taken a detour to make a stop at the planet Vashti, much to Raffi’s (Michelle Hurd) distress.
As with previous episodes, “Absolute Candor” tantalisingly teases out Picard’s history with the planet and its Romulan residents. We learn through the course of the first act that Picard and Raffi helped settle Romulan refugee’s here during the supernova evacuation efforts.
Flaskback scenes clever paint a very different picture of the Admiral during this period. We see a Picard older than we left him in Star Trek: Nemesis but warmed by his experience helping the Romulans. These scenes also introduce the Qowat Milat, Romulan warrior nuns. Yes I really did say nuns. Through the course of the episode we learn that they bind themselves to a hopeless cause as part of their discipline.
The Qowat Milat are harboring a young boy, Elnor, with whom Picard has formed a bond. He brings the young Elnor a book, The Three Musketeers, and the two indulge in some fencing.
All these scenes are expertly constructed to show us how Picard was prior to the disaster on Mars. It cleverly fills in more of the gaps and tugs at the heartstrings when seeing how cold he because in the intervening years after his exit from Starfleet.
It’s at this point when “Absolute Candor” pulls its first twist. As Picard and the young Elnor fence, he receives a call from Raffi and we learn that this is the moment he learned of the attack on Mars. It’s an incredibly heavy moment which arrives during a time of true levity for the episode and the series as a whole.
Another piece of the puzzle has arrived.
In the present we get to glimpse more of the relationship between Picard and Raffi. There’s more of an understanding between them now and so the dialogue and interplay is more balanced. He understands she isn’t (currently) in this mission for the long haul and she understands she needs Picard to further her goal.
As the two heatedly discuss returning to Vashti it brings about the second emotional turning point in the episode. Picard has a rare moment of weakness in regards to his health and explains to her that this might be his last chance to return to the planet. Though only a passing phrase in their conversation it lands heavily on the audience that Picard is almost thinking of this mission (and conversely Sir Patrick may be thinking the same of the show) as his victory lap or his last chance at redemption.
Of course all of this plays in brilliantly to the political undertone of the show. When the La Sirena arrives at Vashti things have radically changed. A Romulan underground threatens the delicate balance of peace, non-Romulans are no longer welcome and there are plenty of political factions and greed within the populous. Picard is no longer the welcome saviour, now he’s the unwelcome outsider.
All of these build up serves as the introduction for the adult Elnor, played by Evan Evagora. Unlike the other Qowat Milat, the adult Elnor holds a grudge against Picard for what he see’s as being abandoned by him.
This new facet of Romulan culture feels different to everything we’ve seen before. I really appreciate that Star Trek: Picard is digging further in to their culture but some of the setup around the Qowat Milat feels very Klingon to this Trek fan. The devotion to honour feels a little like the path well trodden for the franchise.
No spoilers for the third act from me as the culmination of the plot is something which I feel the audience needs to earn. It’s as exciting as it is well crafted. I will say the closing moments of “Aboslute Candor” finally show off a good space battle and that the episode has one final twist to unfold!
Elsewhere there’s plenty going on over on the Borg cube with Soji (Isa Briones) and Narek (Harry Treadaway) but honestly it felt dull this week. The scenes of them sliding along a Borg corridor in pure glee felt strangely out of place and unecessary. Whilst I understand Narek is trying to lure Soji to trust him, the moment just felt sloppy amongst what was an incredibly tight narrative.
Hats off to Peyton List for being possibly the most delightfully evil Romulan we’ve ever met though. Here’s hoping she’s the daughter of Denise Crosby’s Sela!
“Absolute Candor” features another tightly woven narrative that saunters from a poignant opening through to an exciting conclusion.
Star Trek: Picard is set to star Patrick Stewart, Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Isa Briones, Harry Treadaway, Alison Pill, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco and Evan Evagora. The series debuts on CBS All Access on January 23, 2020 followed by a release on Amazon Prime in the UK and internationally on January 24.