Picard may be a legend, but he can’t unravel the mystery at the heart of his latest mission alone. Thus, the third episode of Star Trek: Picard (“The End Is the Beginning”) finds the former Starfleet admiral putting together a team that will hopefully lead him to Dahj’s twin Soji — and also, in the process, to answers about the apparent conspiracy involving the Romulan evacuation crisis.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2385 Mars catastrophe, Picard and Raffi meet outside Starfleet’s San Francisco headquarters. Picard tells Raffi that, in the conference he just left, he made the case for continuing to evacuate Romulans from the supernova blast radius by using reserve duty officers and mothball ships. They rejected his plan, and instead of letting synthetics handle the evacuation (as Raffi suggested), they instituted a ban on synthetics, which they claim went haywire on Mars due to “a fatal code error in the operating system.”

Raffi doesn’t buy that for a second, and says, “I smell the Tal Shiar.” She has no idea why the Romulans would want to sabotage their own rescue, and neither does Picard. Nonetheless, he’s immensely disappointed in the organization to which he’s given his life. “I never dreamed that Starfleet would give in to intolerance and fear,” he laments, and in that moment, Star Trek: Picard offers a not-so-subtle critique of contemporary democracies that refuse to help refugees out of either prejudice or cowardice.

In the face of this objectionable stance, Picard demanded that Starfleet either accept his evacuation plan or his resignation — and they accepted the latter. Raffi is stunned, and hopes Picard has “some last, desperate, wild solution — that’s what you do.” Alas, Picard’s resignation was that Hail Mary, and it failed. “I never believed they would accept it,” he confesses. Realizing this turn of events means she’s about to be fired (while Picard gets to retreat to his swanky chateau), Raffi angrily storms off to face her Starfleet fate.

In the present, Picard asks Raffi for help procuring a ship and a pilot so he can locate Dr. Bruce Maddox, who’s the key to understanding this Dahj mystery. She chastises him for tipping off Starfleet about his activity, as well as for the “unmitigated disaster” that was his TV interview. She also tells Picard he has “some goddamn nerve” for making requests after abandoning her for the past decade-plus, which she describes as “one long slide into humiliation. And rage. Also a fair amount of snake leaf-induced paranoia,” at which point she takes another drag off her high-tech vape pen.

Following another elaborate visual journey around and through the Artifact — a CGI sequence that director Hanelle M. Culpepper once again handles with aplomb — we’re introduced to Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), the executive director of the Borg reclamation project. He visits Soji and commends her on her excellent work. Hugh is a reclaimed Borg drone and states that there are no more despised people in the galaxy than those like him, who are seen as either property to be exploited or a hazard to be warehoused. Romulans, he states, view his kind as both.

Soji is different because she has compassion for those assimilated by the Borg. Consequently, Hugh grants her an interview with Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky), the foremost expert on Romulan myths. Ramdha is part of a group of assimilated Romulans referred to as “the disordered,” who mutter and shuffle about aimlessly. When Soji arrives, the once-revered author is assembling a puzzle comprised of triangular pieces featuring tarot card-like symbols.

Back at Vasquez Rocks, Picard apologizes to Raffi for abandoning her. Though she claims not to care, she listens to Picard’s talk about a unit of Tal Shiar operating on Earth, which couldn’t happen without Federation complicity. She replies that she always knew the Federation was in bed with the Romulans, and that she has concrete evidence that a high-ranking Starfleet official conspired to allow the attack on Mars to go forward. Picard tells her it’s this very ability to see things that others don’t that makes her invaluable. Such praise doesn’t convince her to join his new squad, but she does give him the name of a pilot: Rios (Santiago Cabrera).

Later that night, Picard sends Raffi everything he has on this case and beams up to Rios’ ship, where the pilot is having shrapnel removed from his arm by a hologram of himself that, we soon learn, likes to speak in different accents. At first glance, it’s clear Rios is a cigar-smoking, liquor-swilling, devil-may-care badass — he even reads a book called “The Tragic Sense of Life” — and when Rios asks if they’re going to be breaking any laws together, Picard asserts, “I’m not in the habit of consulting lawyers before I do what needs to be done.” This pleases Rios, who counters with, “I’m not in the habit of consulting anybody about anything.”

Picard’s impression of Rios as a kindred spirit is confirmed by the fact that the pilot keeps his ship in immaculate shape, thus proving he’s “Starfleet to the core. I can smell it on you.” After Picard leaves, Rios’ hologram excitedly talks about the prospect of teaming up with the iconic hero (“he’s on the side of angels”). Still tormented by the death of his last noble captain, Rios isn’t quite as enthusiastic.

“The End Is the Beginning” subsequently sets about cross-cutting between two momentous encounters, both of which culminate with a tense interview. At his chateau, Picard confides to Laris that he never truly felt at home in France; his place was in the stars. Before he can depart, Picard and his friends are attacked by Romulan assassins. They triumph in this fierce skirmish, thanks in part to the aid of Dr. Jurati, who unexpectedly shows up. They attempt to interrogate one of their attackers, who merely growls — about Dahj and her twin — “She’s not a girl…she’s not what you think she is…She’s the end of all. She’s the destroyer!” He then takes his own life.

At the same time, Soji chats with Ramdha. When questioned about mythology, Ramdha states that she prefers the term “The News” — a concept that pleases Soji. More revealing still, Ramdha muses that she remembers Soji “from tomorrow.” Soji presses her on this point, saying she’s aware Ramdha was on board the last ship assimilated by this Borg Cube — a fact that Hugh didn’t know, and can’t understand how Soji knows. Ramdha suddenly asks Soji, “Which sister are you? The one who dies or the one who lives?” and then leaps up and grabs a guard’s blaster, yelling, “I know who you are … You are the destroyer!” Ramdha tries to kill herself with the weapon, but Soji stops her.

In her bedroom, Soji calls her mom, who reports that Dahj is fine and thinking about adopting a puppy — a lie indicating that Soji’s mom (who may not even be real) is interested in deceiving her. Strangely, Soji then immediately passes out. Awakened by Narek’s arrival, she tells him she doesn’t understand how she knew anything about Ramdha’s ship. Rather than provide her with clarity, Narek instead whispers in her ear, “I may be falling in love with you,” thus solidifying his connection to her. Upon leaving, Narek runs into his sister Rizzo — who’s now on board the Artifact — and she wishes him luck in his scheming.

Jurati informs Picard that, though she spilled the beans about his plans to Commodore Oh, she didn’t tell the Director of Starfleet Security about her intention to join Picard on his quest. Convinced that he can use Earth’s leading expert on synthetic life, Picard agrees to this arrangement. The two subsequently beam up to Rios’ ship. Raffi is already there and has found Maddox’s whereabouts — he’s on Freecloud. Raffi has her own reasons for wanting to travel there, but for now, she keeps those to herself.

With the ragtag crew complete, Picard gives a trademark forward thrust of his hand and commands, “Engage.”

Captain’s Log:

  • Ramdha clearly has some sort of extrasensory sensitivity, since the last puzzle card she flipped featured two identical female twins.
  • It’s nice to know that Zhaban and Laris aren’t just friendly vineyard employees — they’re formidable bodyguards as well.
  • Rios’ book – Miguel de Unamuno’s 1912 Tragic Sense of Life – indicates that beneath his gruff, roguish exterior, he has a philosophical soul.

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