By Nick Schager
February 20, 2020 at 09:00 AM EST

Picard finds the mystery man he’s been looking for and gets to don an absurd disguise in this week’s installment of Star Trek: Picard (“Stardust City Rag”), which is arguably the most streamlined, and confident, episode to date.

Thirteen years earlier at The Seven Domes on Planet Vergessen, a doctor brutally extracts an eyeball from her Borg captive. This torturous operation is ended by Seven of Nine, who blasts those working at this Borg slaughterhouse. Unfortunately, she’s too late to save her comrade, whom she refers to as her “son,” and then kills in an act of mercy.

Freecloud’s Stardust City is a neo-Vegas, all holographic projections of towering dancing beauties, fighting robots, and gambling iconography. In a swanky lounge, Mr. Vup (Dominic Burgess) — a giant, unfriendly lizard man referred to later as a “sentient reptiloid” — tells crime boss Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan) that Bruce Maddox (John Ales) is in the establishment. Though Bjayzl initially orders Maddox killed, she reconsiders and instead has a chat with the scruffy-bearded doc, whose unkempt appearance and harried demeanor are in keeping with the story he has to tell — namely, that his lab was destroyed by the Tal Shiar, prompting him to flee for his life. Maddox apologetically tells Bjayzl that he won’t be able to repay her loan. Bjayzl has already set a new plan in motion, which begins with poisoning Maddox via booze.

Onboard the La Sirena, Seven finds Picard in a holographic recreation of his chateau den. He states that he admires the goals, courage, and tenacity of the Fenris Rangers, a squad of galactic vigilante do-gooders that Seven joined once the Federation, post-Mars crisis, gave up on aiding planets and people in need. Picard chides Seven for “taking the law into your hands.” However, he can’t argue with her retort: “What law?”

Seven isn’t interested in receiving a lecture about her “judge and jury” conduct since she believes doing nothing and giving up would be far worse. She agrees to be dropped off on Freecloud. Yet upon hearing that Picard is trying to help “someone who has no one else to help her” — and will likely die without his assistance — she signs up for his mission.

Credit: Trae Patton/CBS

Raffi researches a man named Gabriel Wong (Mason Gooding) and then has a conversation with Rios in which they discuss — more for the benefit of newbie Star Trek viewers than for narrative purposes — the “notorious” Seven, and the fact that Picard used to be a Borg. “This is some strange cargo you brought me this time,” Rios tells Raffi with a smile.

Jurati watches a home movie of herself and Maddox baking cookies, which ends in a kiss — a key revelation about her personal connection to this saga. After the crew dispatch holographic advertisements from Freecloud (Jurati has to virtually knock out a robot pugilist), Raffi announces that she’s found Maddox on an online message board for illicit transactions. Apparently, Bjayzl is looking to broker a deal for Maddox with the Tal Shiar.

Seven informs the crew that Bjayzl butchers ex-Borgs for their implanted parts. She suggests a plan in which the heroes trade her — whom Bjayzl covets more than anyone — for Maddox.

For this scheme, Rios dons a fur-shouldered coat, open-necked shirt, gold chains, sunglasses, and a giant wide-brimmed hat decorated with a feather to pose as the confident middleman for the deal. He beams down to the Freecloud nightclub and negotiates with Mr. Vup, who can smell a lie. That would be a problem if not for the fact that Rios has already received a beta-blocker injection that masks any chemical scent indicating deception. Rios tells Mr. Vup that rather than working on behalf of the Tal Shiar, he’s actually been hired by a third party with a different offer for Maddox — namely, Seven.

Wearing an eye patch and sporting a ludicrous French accent for his performance as Seven’s “seller,” Picard beams down with Elnor and a handcuffed Seven, who’s earned the respect of Raffi for trying to aid the downtrodden when no one else would. Raffi, meanwhile, leaves Picard and company for good — or so she thinks — and travels to the Stardust City Reproductive Health Services center. There, she finds her son, Gabriel. Gabriel remains furious about the fact that Raffi prioritized her “crackpot” theory about an “Enclave of Eight” and a conspiracy about the synthetics’ attack on Mars over her family. She defends those convictions but pleads with him to give her another chance, saying she’s cleaned herself up. It doesn’t work, and though Raffi gets to briefly meet her daughter-in-law — who’s pregnant with her granddaughter — her reunion abruptly ends there.

Bjayzl taunts Seven about carving up her comrade, and mocks her for wanting to “save the outcast, rescue the forgotten.” Seven responds by reminding Bjayzl that she was able to escape the villain’s clutches (“I’m the one that got away”). Breaking free from her handcuffs, Seven grabs Bjayzl by the throat. The jig is up, and Picard demands answers from Seven about her relationship to Bjayzl. Seven obliges, recounting Bjayzl’s slaughter of her friend, and Picard proclaims, “Murder is not justice. There is no solace in revenge.”

Rios kills Mr. Vup (who was making a move to attack) and warns Seven that if she assassinates Bjayzl, Picard and Elnor will wind up with a bounty on their heads. Conceding this point, Seven offers Bjayzl her life in exchange for their safe passage back to their ship with Maddox. Bjayzl agrees, and Maddox is taken to the sickbay, where he’s cared for by Jurati.

Picard is happy with Seven’s choice and allows her to take two blasters as she departs La Sirena. On her way out, she asks Picard if, after being brought back from the Borg collective, he feels he’s regained all of his humanity. “No. But we’re both working on it, aren’t we?” he replies, to which she says, “Every damn day of my life.”

Seven beams back to Freecloud, and everyone in the lounge bolts except for Bjayzl, who says Seven is “sentimental” for risking her own life to protect her friends. “Picard still thinks there’s a place in the galaxy for mercy. I didn’t want to disillusion him. Somebody out there ought to have a little hope,” Seven states, before vaporizing Bjayzl and taking on the vanquished enemy’s hostile security forces.

In the sickbay, Maddox confesses to Picard that he knew Dahj was dead as soon as the Tal Shiar raided his laboratory. He informs Picard that Soji is on the Artifact for the same reason her sister was sent to Earth — to uncover the truth about the ban on synthetics. Maddox claims that the ones hiding that truth are also hunting Soji, and he believes those nefarious forces aren’t just the Romulans, but also members of the Federation.

Rios accepts Picard’s request to fly into Romulan space (to visit the Artifact), and then asks him about their “stowaway” Raffi, who’s sulking in her room following her disastrous meeting with Gabriel.

His health improving, Maddox is thrilled to see Jurati and asks her if she got to meet Dahj on Earth, referring to the synthetic (and her sister) as “perfectly imperfect” and crediting Jurati for her essential contribution to their creation. As with Raffi and Gabriel, however, their reunion is an unhappy one, as Jurati murders Maddox while tearfully admitting, “I wish you know what I know. I wish I didn’t know what I know. I wish they hadn’t shown me. I’m so sorry.”

Captain’s Log:

  • This is the first episode without any action set aboard the Artifact, and the results are propulsive, suggesting that the show is best when focusing on straight-ahead space adventure.
  • Rios’ undercover outfit is so swanky and so contrary to his usual “broody existentialist spaceman routine” (as Raffi puts it), that it proves one of the series’ highlights.
  • Though he’s often in the thick of things here, Picard doesn’t actually do much in this episode; it would be nice if, when plans go sidewise, he wasn’t such a passive bystander.

Related content: