In Star Trek: Picard Episode 5, “Stardust City Rag,” Picard and the crew of the La Sirena infiltrate the hive of scum and villainy called Freecloud to rescue their quarry, Bruce Maddox. They’ll definitely finally get all their answers. False – but they’ll have a great time along the way, and so do we.
This recap of Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Episode 5, “Stardust City Rag”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
In another excellent episode of Star Trek: Picard, the mystery deepens just a bit more while we further our exploration of Picard’s character and the Star Trek universe. Star Trek: Picard Episode 5 is written by Kirsten Beyer, a Star Trek novelist who also worked on Star Trek: Discovery. “Stardust City Rag” also features the return of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the Borg drone rescued and humanized by the starship Voyager in the Delta quadrant. Beyer made her name by writing Star Trek: Voyager novels. It must have been amazing for Beyer to have written a great deal about Seven in her novels and then to finally see Jeri Ryan portray her in a story she penned. But just as Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) isn’t the same man we last saw in Star Trek: Nemesis, Seven isn’t the same women we left in “Endgame,” the Voyager finale. She’s hardened, angrier, and she’s out for revenge. Picard knows the feeling, and he’ll try to help her, just as he’ll likely work to help this hodgepodge crew aboard the La Sirena over the course of the series.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 5 begins thirteen years ago, in The Seven Domes (whatever that is). Icheb (another Borg drone whom Seven helped raise) is being vivisected by someone looking for his cortical node. Seven unsuccessfully rescues him and must tearfully kill her foster son. Someone is torturing and dismembering Borg drones and harvesting their bodies for parts. This is likely the black market version of whatever’s happening on The Artifact, the Romulan Reclamation Site.
We meet Bruce Maddox (recast by John Ales) on Freecloud. He has borrowed money from Bjayzl (Necar Zadegan) to pursue his banned synthetic research, but his lab was destroyed by the Tal’Shiar. Bjayzl drugs him after he reveals that it was the Tal’Shiar who attacked him: “Making a deal with the Tal’Shiar is always a pain in the ***.” But she’ll sell him anyway to recoup her losses. Money is still very much a thing in this 24th century.
We soon also learn that Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) and Maddox were romantically involved, which explains her investment in this operation. But it’s not all that we think. A few episodes ago, Commodore Oh (who’s clearly a Tal’Shiar or Zhad Vast spy) asked to speak with her. What truths (or half-truths or full lies) did she tell Jurati?
Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Rios (Santiago Cabrera) speculate about Seven’s and Picard’s relationship, and I love it. “Seven the ex-Borg Fenris Ranger from the Delta Quadrant.” They also remember that Picard used to be a member of the Borg Collective and a high-ranking one at that. It’s nice for the audience watching Picard who may not be as familiar with Star Trek minutiae as some of us, but it’s also a nice reminder that the people in the Star Trek universe didn’t watch the Star Trek series!
We’ve heard the name Fenris Rangers briefly in the last episode. They helped set up Vashti’s planetary defense network and have a difficult time maintaining law and order in the ashes of the Neutral Zone. “[A]n independent group of peacekeepers who try to maintain a semblance of law and order on both sides of the former Neutral Zone.” They patrol, taking the law into their own hands, helping people who need it. “It’s hopeless and exhausting and the only thing worse would be giving up.” She’s got no real vested interest in Picard’s quest; her vocation as a ranger makes it a habit for her to sacrifice herself for others—she had her rebirth on Voyager, after all. Seven has found a cause that fits her perfectly. She’s drawn to order, to control, to justice, borne from her time both in the Borg Collective but on Voyager. She sees a need for wrongs to be righted and she’ll step in, consequences be damned.
They’ve tracked Maddox to Freecloud, which is basically Vegas in Space. They must disguise themselves as colorful denizens of Freecloud to get a meeting with Bjayzl so they can trade Seven of Nine for Maddox. Seven is the perfect bait for Bjayzl because of her remaining Borg implants. Seven reveals that Bjayzl is the one behind butchering the Borg for parts, and Seven has planned this from the beginning, playing Picard to get to and kill Bjayzl in retribution for Icheb’s murder.
Picard talks her down, rescuing Maddox. He tries to reach Seven’s humanity, reminding her that cold-blooded murder isn’t the way to go (never mind that Rios just murdered Bjayzl’s bodyguard Mr. Vup (Dominic Murgess) in the rescue attempt. Seven acquiesces, borrows two phaser rifles, and asks him:
“After they brought you back from your time in the Collective, do you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?”
“All of it?”
“No. But we’re both working on it, aren’t we?”
“Every damn day of my life.”
This exchange lies at the heart of this season’s theme: humanity. Yes, Picard had to regain his humanity after his assimilation, but he’s also lost his hope after the Synth attack and his resignation from Starfleet. He lost his love for people in the process. He lost everything that he believed in. This series is a journey back to his humanity–and hopefully, there will be a parallel journey for Seven (and Raffi and Rios) along the way.
She then beams back down to Freecloud (without Picard’s knowledge) and disintegrates Bjayzl. “Picard still thinks there’s a place in the Galaxy for mercy. I didn’t want to disillusion him. Someone around here ought to have a little hope.” Then she shoots her way out. Seven needs redeeming–though this is a perfectly understandable place for her character to be.
Finally, back on the La Sirena, Maddox and Jurati are reunited in sickbay. He knows Dahj is dead, revealing to Jurati that “[h]er embedded Mom-AI wouldn’t have activated her unless she was in great danger.” I knew it–the “mother” that Soji and Dahj have been talking to is just a part of their programming, protecting them while in peril. Maddox sent Soji and Dahj out to find the truth about the Synthetics Ban because the Tal’Shiar and the Federation are in league and involved in “lies upon lies.”
Then Agnes tearfully, painfully, conflictingly kills Maddox.
Through her tears, she says wishes she hadn’t seen that “they” (meaning Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vast) showed her, that she didn’t know what she now knows. She’s clearly destroyed by the information, that she must stop Maddox, but whatever she knows (or thinks she knows) is of greater danger than keeping her lover alive. This is espionage at its best: tricking a character to do the wrong thing by making her think she’s right. That smells like Tal’Shiar to me.
Star Trek: Picard Episode 5 is another excellent episode (is this because we have two Jonathan Frakes-directed episodes back-to-back?) furthering the mystery and delving into both Seven and Picard’s characters. Moreover, we have no Narek/Soji garbage here. To be honest, this elevates “Stardust City Rag” into the stratosphere, because we didn’t need to wade through the morass of emo-spy nonsense we’ve seen before. This was a streamlined, fun episode–I want more of it!
- Seven orders bourbon, straight up, and downs it in one, like a boss.
- Casey King takes over for Manu Intiraymi as Icheb from Star Trek: Voyager.
- On the one hand, it’s great to see Sir Patrick Stewart playing a bad actor, but we also know that Picard is a good actor! We’ve seen it! But this is fun, and maybe he’s rusty…
- In an establishing shot for Freecloud (see above), we see an advertisement for Mr. Mot’s Hair Emporium. He’s done well for himself after his stint as the Enterprise-D‘s barber!
- We also see a sign for Quark’s–is he still on DS9 or is he selling franchises? I suspect the latter.
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