Picard was filmed in blocks with the first three episodes acting as the first act so I am going to review episodes two and three together and that is something this show's storytelling makes easy, because they are telling one long story. The first three episodes feel very narrative and again Michael Chabon's influence is clear, these episodes have felt like book chapters, each scene setting up more story for the middle and closing acts, and building more of the back story of the newer characters. What a breath of fresh air to have a story take its time and not crash all over the universe in five seconds. Star Wars is absolutely exhausting when you compare it to Picard. That's not to say there isn't lots to take in, and when an action scene occurs it feels shocking in contrast to everything else, the stakes feel high with people at risk, Picard is vulnerable, human life fragile. The intrigues also increase, who is Commodore Oh, why hasn't Lore been mentioned? And what exactly are the Romulans up to with the Borg cube. Former Borg drone Hugh is back played with understated humour by Jonathan Del Arco, in a beautifully melancholic performance. I recommend you read this article about the influences that went into the characterisation of Hugh.
Starfleet seems to have been infiltrated by the remnants of the Tal Shiar and they are determined to find out who Soji really is and find the "nest" as they believe there are other flesh and blood synthetics running about. The choice to jettison the term android almost completely is a curious one, the term synthetic puts me in mind of other science fiction stories like Blade Runner. Picard spends most of episodes two and three contemplating a return to space and this involves some flashbacks as to why he left Starfleet. In short the synths attacked, he wanted to continue his rescue of the Romulan people, Starfleet said no and he resigned. He has then spent 14 years brooding, cut off from the people who looked up to him and we're relying on him to do something more. I am conflicted about this characterisation, as whilst Picard is high minded, it seems out of character that he would essentially sulk for the best part of 15 years. On the other hand he helped save millions of people yet he is being blamed for not saving everyone, which seems pretty unreasonable. I am choosing to read his exile as self-imposed because he put so much expectation on himself to do everything and he simply couldn't, his own human frailty and the isolationism of the Federation meant he could do no more, so he gave up.
We meet Raffi a former colleague of Picard who helped him with the Romulan relief effort and is one of several people we're going to meet who feel let down by Picard. But after Starfleet turn Picard down in his request to be recommissioned, he turns to Raffi who helps him find a ship Captained by the roguish Rios, played with charm by Santiago Cabrera. He is a little two dimensional at present but has an intriguing back story that has only been hinted out, he is ex-starfleet and in one of the best scenes in episodes two and three, Picard calls him out and suddenly Picard is the man we knew, completely in charge of the situation at home aboard a star ship. He essentially tells Rios, I don't buy this Captain Mal crap, you're Starfleet through and through now be a good chap and follow my orders. "Sir, yes Sir."
Hugh is the assistant director of the artefact AKA the Borg cube and he takes Soji to meet some of the disordered, their name for the other former Borg drones, who cannot be fully healed, they visit the mental health ward for the only Romulan's to ever be assimilated and Soji talks to a character named Ramdha. She calls Soji the Destroyer not the first time we have heard her called this. Narek the sneaky Romulan who is befriending Soji to find out the truth about her remains the most undeveloped part of the story so far but the chemistry between the actors Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway just about carry it along, though it feels a little bit like Twilight in places.
Rios has a number of EMH that look like him, this allows Cabrera to play several characters with relish, one particular one with an Irish accent who asks Rios whether he is excited to be working with Picard, "the chief contact for the Q continuum, Captain of the Enterprises D and E and the man who even worked with the great Spock." These are cute references but are probably not throw away, they all link in some way to the story we are being told, it also puts us firmly in the TNG universe for any of those still worrying this is some alternative reality caused by the JJ-verse, relax guys and gals, all is as it should be. I am also hopeful Q may yet make an appearance.
Before Picard leaves for space we find out that he has a potentially terminal illness that might be related to the condition discovered by Crusher in TNG finale All Good Things, more excellent continuity from the writers. Picard says goodbye to his Romulan housekeeper Laris but not before an explosive scene where Romulan assassins turn up and there is a shoot out in Picard's study. Picard gets to shoot some people and Laris and Zhaban show some serious fighting skills to protect their friend. They capture one of the assassins and of course Picard refuses to kill him but wants some answers from him and then he will let him go. The assassin manages to release the same acid that killed Dahj and it kills him and Zhaban just manages to escape.
Picard is looking for Bruce Maddox the antagonist from classic TNG episode Measure of a Man and Raffi thinks she's located him on a place called Freecloud and by the close of episode three his new crew, which includes cybernetics expert Dr Jurati is warping off to Freecloud, and to the strains of the TNG theme our redoubtable Captain utters his most famous line "Engage."
Riker himself Jonathan Frakes is helming the middle act so I'll be watching and expecting to meet a few familiar faces as Picard and his new crew go in search of Soji and try to work out her real connection with Data. I will be reviewing episodes 3 to 6 as a batch in a few weeks, in the meantime join me in Ten Forward for a Romulan ale. I would also recommend the excellent Vulcan Hello Podcast as a companion to watching Picard. It is hosted by Scott McNulty and Jason Snell.