“Maps and Legends” takes Picard into the world of espionage, or, an original Trekkie is still loving the new series
I don’t know if I really want to do an episode-by-episode review of Star Trek: Picard in part because more than one fan writer that I admire are already doing that, and I’m not sure I’m adding much to the conversation. On the other hand, I have been a Star Trek fan since at least 1966, when the original series was being broadcast for the very first time on NBC.
For a bit of context: my sixth birthday happened between the airing of the third episode of the original series (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and the fourth episode (“The Naked Time”). I don’t know how regularly we watched the first season. My very vague recollection is that Dad insisted that we watch “Daniel Boone” on Thursday nights, and if the promo for “Star Trek” came on before Mom realized the “Bewitched” was happening over on ABC, then she might feel conflicted about whether to switch over (because both she and I loved Bewitched, but also loved sci fi). I also know that between Star Trek and Bewitched in the 1966-67 TV season is the reason that I remember the first half of every Batman two-parter (which for two years aired on Wednesday, then the second half on Thursday), but often never caught the second half until years later in syndication.
The point is, I have been a Star Trek fan for more that 53 years (and I started reading only-available-through-obscure-snail-mail-subscriptions fanfic 47 years ago) and sometimes I feel as if I’m not holding up my end of the fandom elder bargain by not weighing in more often.
This is complicated by the current streaming environment. A lot of people who would love to sample the new Trek series are reluctant to sign up for yet another streaming service—and I really understand! It irritates me that all the people who love Trek can’t easily access this series.
Side Note: if you happen to be in a position to come visit my husband and I in the suburb where we live just north of Seattle, we are more than willing to host a viewing party. You can come over and watch episodes on our 4K TV and (older) surround-sound set up, because I love sharing this sort of thing… and as many of our friends will attest, we love cooking for large groups, so… I guess I should keep posting at least some sort of review.
Okay, so first, once again, I start with the non-spoilery review: I don’t just like this show, after seeing episode 2 I can safely say that I love it. This episode takes several interesting turns away from Standard Plot Points and continues to allow the actors a lot of room to flex their acting muscles. There is a particularly awesome use of an editing trick where we keep cutting back and forth between three characters discussing an issue, and another place where two of those characters are actually gathering evidence at a distant location that works really well.
This is a really good episode. The series continues to be extremely engaging. Before I more into spoiler territory I want to mention one more thing. While in the first episode it was unclear whether the main thrust of the series would be the mystery or action/adventure, if this episode is indicative, the series is diving deep into epsionage/intrigue. I have a really strong suspicion that the overall arc is going to be more heist/capter/espionage-flavored, aka Leverage/Ocean’s Eleven than space battles. But I might be wrong. Still, this episode is much more Alias/Leverage/Mission: Impossible than any variant of Battlestar Galactica.
And I think that’s a good thing.
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on. Don’t read any reviews I link below, either, because they also have spoilers.
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This episode leaned heavily into the espionage/intrigue angle of the story line. I enjoyed the trick of cutting between two conversations: one between Picard and his two Romulan employees at the vineyard, the other with Picard and one of those same Romulans but in a situation where they were more equal as they looked for evidence in Dahj's apartment. There was a lot of extremely witty dialogue in both of these sequences, and the editing choice made what was essentially two really big expository dumps really easy to swallow because neither of them felt like exposition in the way they played out.
Another thing I really liked was how Jean-Luc came into the office of Star Fleet's Flag Officer Commanding in Chief with his request to be reinstated, given a crew, giving permission to investigate this thing he was just bringing to her attention, and his willingness to be demoted just a teensy bit if that might be useful… and instead he got a proper dressing down. For me, this was an important story point because it demonstrated that the writing staff/show runners weren't just throwing fan service at the wall. We will leave for others to discuss whether Star Trek: the Motion Picture might have benefited from a bit more realism along this line than what it got. The bottom line was this was an extremely emotional scene, but also a very real one. And I think it makes whatever Jean-Luc is able to accomplish in the rest of the serious much more worthwhile.
Since I’m a mega-fan, I’ve looked at a lot of the supporting information and the comics, and I know that the two Romulan characters that Picard employs at the family vineyards are former Romulan Secret Service agents who happened to fall in love with each other and came to be loyal to Picard because he tried to save the Romulans after the Federation backed out of the evacuation. There are lots of hints of that in this episode and last episode, but it isn’t all clear to anyone who hasn’t followed all of that extra stuff. I think the dialog and acting of the characters implies all of that, but I wish it was a bit more was explicit.
I’m a little irritated that even though we got to see the Hot Romulan shirtless this week, the shot was framed in such a way that we still don’t know whether certain details in his intro shots indicate tatoos an his arms, or something else coming out of his sleeves.
I’m a little disappointed that the showrunners showed us two Federation traitors in the high command so quickly after Jean-Luc failed to convince the CnC that his intel was worthwhile. There are so many ways the story can still twist where we don’t expect it to, and as a writer I recognize that sometimes you want the reader to believe the protagonist, and if they hadn’t revealed the two traitors in the ranks right away, they would have left open the possibility that Picard was hallucinating half of this, so it’s probably okay that they revealed this so soon.
I still love this show and can’t wait for the next episode. I think if it continues down the espionage route it will be a much better story for all of us.