Considering how much of Picard is dependent upon past events, the series once again revisits the time around the calamity that made Picard’s present what is it, using effective snippets of flashbacks to create both context and intrigue. “Absolute Candor” further explores Picard’s role in the Romulan relocation and his relationship with the Qowat Milat, a Romulan sect of warrior nuns settled on the planet of Vashti. Combined with Soji’s investigation into Ramdha and some of the earlier exposition from Zhaban and Laris, Picard continues to expand upon our understanding of Romulan culture and how, even a magnificent civilization, can fall through no fault of its own.
One of the more interesting subjects of any Star Trek race, the Qowat Milat prescribe to the concept of Absolute Candor — the episode’s namesake — in that all emotional feeling is expressed, a vast departure from general Romulan ideology. The idea that a people could be so forthright, with no reservation is, as Lucilla remarks to her father, Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator “a pleasant fiction”. Particularly for the Romulans who, though divergent from their Vulcan kin, eschew this kind of naked emotional expression (though for vastly different reasons).
So when Picard returns and finds that Elnor (Casey King, Zach and Dennis: How It All Began), a boy who took to the former Admiral and vice versa during the relocation, has remained with Zani (Amirah Vann, Underground, How to Get Away with Murder), he sees it as a chance to not only gain aid in his quest but also, if not atone, at least face up to his broken promises. Still rather young, Elnor initially rebuffs Picard’s request, the feelings of hurt and abandonment still fresh in the young warrior’s mind. But he eventually relents, pledging himself to Picard as his qalankhkai and, in that, ridding himself of the lingering anger.
Though Elnor works past his negative emotions towards Picard, many on Vashti do not. Still holding him responsible for reneging on his devotion to the rescue effort, “Absolute Candor” is an examination that, regardless of one’s good intentions, people that experience negative consequences often find someone else to blame for their predicament. It’s fair that the Romulans of Vashti — in falling into squalor and segregation — hold the Federation responsible for some of their misfortune but Picard should be the last person to experience their ire. And yet, as the closest representation of those they deem at fault, he must bear that weight. It’s a narrative that plays out the idea that “no good deed goes unpunished” yet, as he’s wont to do, such backlash doesn’t deter Jean-Luc Picard from doing the right thing, even if it means losing all that he holds dear. It’s one of the reasons so many have loved his character for decades and Patrick Stewart continues his yeoman’s work in exuding the ideals of the once-utopia of Starfleet.
Not to be left out is Narek’s continued efforts to discover the secrets hidden within Soji. Though, as he expresses to an impatient Narissa, he’s planted a seed of doubt into Soji’s head (careful not to trigger ‘activation’) to glean whether more synths exist, it seems that his emotions for the woman oblivious to her true nature are warring with his oath to the Zhat Vash. Narissa must sense this conflict in her brother and she ends up setting a time limit for his mission: he has one week to procure the necessary information before she takes more direct action against Soji.
Similar to last week’s installment, “Absolute Candor” is another building block towards the greater narrative’s path. Like any adventure, the last two weeks has seen our protagonist gather his party members to face the daunting road ahead. It focused more on expanding our ideas of Romulan culture than it was clarifying some of the character motivations. Raffi’s apprehension/need to reach Freecloud or Rios’ curious cadre of holograms that are physical representations of him, if not aspects of his personality, and so on. The biggest question mark arrived at the end, in the form of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan, Star Trek: Voyager, Body of Proof, Bosch) who, after helping Picard’s crew deal with a sector warlord and in a stolen Bird-of-Prey, is beamed aboard the ship with a simple greeting before passing out. We’ve arrived at the season’s midpoint and with all the preliminary plot lines firmly established and the real drama begins, or should begin, to see the measured peeling off layers of motivation for the series’ principal players.
Make It So
• In only a few short episodes, Picard has solidified itself as one of the top shows (network or streaming) as it relates to fight choreography. Though Elnor’s martial prowess was showcased for a few seconds, that was promise enough to guarantee seeing more of his formidable skills thanks to his Qowat Milat training.
• Out of all the new characters in the series, none have piqued my curiosity more than Rios. His swashbuckling persona complete with mysterious past may come off as a familiar adventurer trope but it’s the execution that makes it stand out. This is in no small part to some excellent writing but most of the credit must go to Santiago Cabrera’s indubitable charisma. Even if his story doesn’t push the narrative forward, I still want to know more about him… hell, if things continue on this way, I’d even be game to check out an AllAccess mini-series delving into his past.