“Stardust City Rag” Begins Quite Bloody and Ends With a Bang, or Picard Goes On a Caper

"Stardust City Rag" -- Episode #105 -- Pictured (l-r): Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard; Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine; Evan Evagora as Elnor; of the the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: PICARD. Photo Cr: Trae Patton/CBS ©2019 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Stardust City Rag” — Episode #105 — Pictured (l-r): Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard; Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine; Evan Evagora as Elnor; of the the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: PICARD. Photo Cr: Trae Patton/CBS ©2019 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

My episode-by-episode reviews of Star Trek: Picard continues with the fifth episode, in which Jean-Luc’s motley crew try a bit of undercover shenanigans. This was another very enjoyable episode. As if trying to counter the criticisms that the first four episodes went too slowly (which I know isn’t actually the case, because the whole series was completed before the first episode aired, but…), this episode’s weakness is that it felt rushed. There are several things I wish they’d spent a little bit more time on. And I admit I was a bit surprised at just how gory the opening scene was—definitely not for the faint of heart!

A few non-spoilery observations (and let me nerd out about David Bowie for a bit): The name of the planet where most of the action happens this time is called Freecloud, and that made me think of an old David Bowie tune, “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” which was the B-side of the original single release of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “Space Oddity,” in case you don’t recall, is the song with the lyrics, “Ground control to Major Tom,” and is a song that is much beloved by real world astronauts. Alas, “Space Oddity” was not a track on Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, however, since the title of this episode is “Stardust City Rag” I can’t help but hope that the name of both the planet and the city are hat-tips to Bowie.

There are two homages to the character of Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One happens in dialogue, and another is in the background of another scene. There are probably many other Easter eggs I missed, but if you’re setting an Star Trek episode on a lawless planet that seems to be one giant casino, how can you not make some mention of Quark?

Final non-spoilery thing: this isn’t related to tonight’s episode, but have I mentioned that the orchestral soundtrack of the series is available to purchase? I bought it from the iTunes store more than a week ago and have probably listened to it far more than I should. The theme song of the series is just so, so good!

I can’t think of anything more I can say without spoilers, therefore…

Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.

Seriously, don’t scroll further!

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Turn back now!

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Okay, if you’re still reading, it’s your own fault!

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Spoiler-filled Review:

This episode starts with a flashback again, but thank goodness it is not yet another take on things that happened right around the time of the Utopia Planitia shipyards disaster. This flashback goes back only 13 years, to a planet I don’t think we’ve ever heard of before, where someone is cutting apart a former Borg for their parts. However, unlike the operations we’ve seen on the cube that the Romulans capture, the person doing it this time seems to be a very sadistic person who is taking delight in the fact that the person is not under anesthetic. It’s an extremely bloody scene with a lot of screaming and squishy sound effects!

The sadist person flees with the tech, leaving the guy dying on the table when 7 of 9 gets there. He’s obviously someone she knows, and she is trying to reassure him that she can get him to safety and he’ll be all right, but he knows that isn’t true. It is a very heart-wrenching scene!

We then jump to almost the present (four weeks before the current storyline) where in a very decadent bar on the planet Freecloud an alien (who is not of a species I recognize) tells a women who seems to be in charge that Maddox is on the planet. Bruce Maddox is the character from one of the Next Generation episodes who tried to get Data declared property so he could experiment on him, and is the scientist that Jean-Luc in the present is trying to find because Jean-Luc believes that Maddox is the person who created Dahj and Soji. Important lady first tells her underling to kill Maddox, then changes her mind. We then see Maddox brought to the lady where he explains that his lab was destroyed by the Romulan secret police—before he succumbs to some kind of roofie that the important lady put in his drink.

Then we come to the present, where 7 of 9 and Jean-Luc have the conversation, snatches of which we’ve seen in the trailers. This scene all by itself was worth the wait of a week. Seriously, I could watch Jean-Luc and 7 of 9 discuss anything for hours. The two actors are very good and seem to be extremely comfortable slipping back into their characters. So comfortable that I suspect one of the reasons that at another point the writers had two other characters discuss the fact that Jean-Luc and 7 of 9 have never met before was slipped in to remind the viewers of that fact. Anyway, among the things we learn is that 7 of 9 is a member of the group called the Fenris Rangers that we’ve heard mentioned a time or two in earlier episodes. We also learn some of the details about the Romulan territory and such I was wondering about in my review of the last episode: the planets the crew has visited since leaving Earth are in what was formerly the Neutral Zone between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. Since the collapse of the Romulan Empire, the neutral zone has become even more lawless, leaving the mercenary/vigilant Fenris Rangers to try to maintain the peace.

Before I move on I just have to say, Jeri Ryan packed volumes into the simple line, “All right, let’s have another,” and then Patrick Stewart packed at least as many volumes in the half smile he gave in return and that’s part of the reason that we need many, many, many more scenes with these two together!

Finally we jump to Jean-Luc and the crew coming into the Freecloud system. We get a very amusing few moments as, once Captain Rios opens the ship systems to planetary flight control, almost everyone on the bridge is treated to personalized holographic advertisements on the planet. Rafi and her mad leet skills quickly learn that the important lady mentioned above is trying to find someone to help her negotiate selling Maddox to the Romulan Secret Police. 7 of 9 has some comments here to indicate that the important lady is a crime boss, and it was only during this section of the show that I realized that said crime boss/important lady was played by the same actress who was sadistically killing the guy in the first scene and that she’s the same character. Sometimes I miss these things!

Anyway, after other options are discarded, 7 of 9 proposes that they pull a con job on the crime boss/important lady (whose name is apparently Bjayzl — but honestly, I couldn’t quite tell what name any of the characters was saying while watching the episode) whereby they offer to trade 7 herself for Maddox, since Bjayzl has a particular penchant for acquiring and reselling Borg tech.

The next bit is where things started to get choppy. They kept jumping back and forth between members of the motley crew beam down in various disguises, intercut with Raffi explaining why they have to disguise themselves and what fake backgrounds she has constructed for each. There are several fun bit in here, including parts where poor Elnor, raised to never lie and still technically a teen-ager with no real world experience is trying to follow the ins-and-outs of the plot. It was also really fun to see Rios in the pimp costume and totally slipping into the character.

Now, we all know that these sorts of caper/heist stories require something to go wrong, and thing definitely do go wrong, but it would have been nice if the plot had gotten further along before we found out that 7 of 9 wasn’t being totally honest with Jean-Luc and so on. Also, the way that they go wrong was, well, just a little too easily sorted out. I know, I have spent far too many hours of my life watching and re-watching the original Mission: Impossible tv series and Leverage, but honestly this episode felt as if a trailer for a good caper episode had been squeezed into the middle of another king of drama/intrigue show entirely. And since Jeri Ryan also played played a recurring character in Leverage it was impossible not to think how the writers of that show would have handled this episode.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still a helluva a lot of fun. I mean, Stewart was clearly having a blast playing Jean-Luc doing a really bad French accent! And Ryan was as awesome as can be, but well, things were rushed.

The B plot, on the other hand, I think benefited from the rush. After setting up the heist, Raffi went off to do her own thing (two episodes ago she had said she was going to do and would not be helping Jean-Luc beyond getting him to Freecloud) was even more rushed. Raffi hitched along on the ride because, we discover, she has tracked down her estranged son—who is on Freecloud with his wife and expecting their first child. There is a short, tense scene in which Raffi tries to convince her son that she’s over her addiction issues and is ready to be the mother he hasn’t had. Gabriel, her son, is having none of it, and quickly sends her on her way, though he does introduce her to his very pregant Romulan wife.

I expect that some viewers will complain that this subplot was rushed. I should confess that my own experience with an addicted parent (and a few other family members who struggled with substance abuse and related issues) may be coloring my perceptions too much. But having the allegedly former addict swoop in and claim to have changed is seldom a sign that they actually have changed, so I, for one, am glad that they didn’t draw this plot out.

Dr. Jurati had a lot of meaty scenes this time. I really wish that they had moved at least one of her scenes to the previous week, because that would have allowed at least one of the longer plot arcs to have gained progress in that episode. I understand that if they had down that, the actor playing Dr Maddox would have to be paid for an additional episode, but as it is, the reveal that Jurati and Maddox were romantically involved along with the confirmation the Commodore Oh has convinced her to side with the forces of evil—er, I mean, the conspiracy between some of Star Fleet and the Romulan Secreter Police—contributed to the rushed feeling of the episode.

I am a little puzzled that both Jean-Luc and Captain Rios had no qualms about leaving Maddox in the sickbay under the care of Jurati… who is a doctor of Aritificial Intelligence, not medicine. And I hope that at some point the Emergency Medical Hologram finds a way to alert the others to Jurati’s erratic behavior.

I was also a little disappointed the Jean-Luc didn’t realize what 7 or 9 was going to do after beaming off the ship the last time. On the other hand, that very short but intense scene where they both admitted that recovering one’s humanity after having been part of the Borg is an unending task, maybe he can be forgive for being distracted.

Jean-Luc finally knows that the second android is at the Romulan-captured Borg cube, and we’re on our way. Next week: the Borg Cube!


Some reviews from other people:

Picard: Stardust City Rag.

Star Trek Picard does the “Stardust City Rag”.

Streamin’ Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 5, “Stardust City Rag”.

My reviews of previous episodes:

“Remembrance” paints picture of a future full of regrets to be righted.

“Maps and Legends” takes Picard into the world of espionage, or, an original Trekkie is still loving the new series.

“The End is the Beginning” takes Star Trek: Picard into space at last.

“Absolute Candor” delivers sword fights and a space battle for Star Trek: Picard.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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