Star Trek #1496: Stardust City Rag

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Picard and crew free Maddox from Freecloud.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Seven's back in action!

WHY WE DON'T: The mole's identity even if it makes sense.

From the trailer, it looked like this was going to be "the comedy episode", and while the moment they focused on there - the crew getting into character as flamboyant "facers" - was played for laughs (indeed, Picard doing a broad French accent was quite fun), Stardust City Rag leaned much more into heist/action tropes and drama. The crux of the episode is our heroes' attempt to get Bruce Maddox off Freecloud, one of those "hives of villainy" the other franchise likes to put on screen, where the cyberneticist is being held by his loan shark who wants to sell him to the Tal Shiar. I find it interesting that there's a specific criminal culture to tap into, and the reptilians with a nose for lies are a nice addition to the world of Trek. (Also look in the background for Quark's Bar - has it moved or is it a franchise? - Orion slave girls and other Easter Eggs.) Most of this is a fun romp. Rios and Picard putting on a show. Elnor only getting late that it's a trick (because he's been conditioned never to lie). Agnes being so anxious it summons the emergency counseling hologram. And Bjayzl is a stylish villain because, yes, panache does count for a lot on this planet.

What brings the drama is Seven's role in all this. The intriguing mention of Fenris rangers in the previous episode is better explained as Seven is of their number. In this lawless part of space, they are a vigilante group fighting for those who have no one else to defend them. The episode in fact begins 13 years prior, showing the fate of Icheb, one of the Voyager kids, now a Starfleet officer, being vivisected for Borg implants. Seven liberates him but the butcher gets away. That butcher is Bjayzl, and it will be revealed she was a ranger herself, and learned of Icheb through Seven. This is a dark extrapolation of what we saw in the Romulan reclamation project - if Borg tech is a valuable commodity, there are pirates who will want to butcher de-assimilated drones for it. And apparently, people who were Borged as children have more tech inside them. On that premise, Seven puts herself up as bait to be traded for Maddox before the Tal Shiar can show up for him, but of course, it's really an excuse for her to get her revenge on Bjayzl. This is where the episode kind of grinds to a halt, albeit momentarily. There's a Mexican standoff, more guards are coming, and Picard drops the act and tries to save Seven's soul, and I don't think it really works as a scene, not after what we've seen the crime lord do. Picard seems like an old fool in this circumstance, and I much prefer Rios, who defuses the situation logically, then gives Seven the option to go back down and execute her personal mission (which she does). Nice exchange between the two former Borg before she leaves, and then she's off, which I think is a little surprising. With a Cube being the next stop (thanks Bruce), you'd think the writers were setting her up to be part of the team as a resident expert. Star Trek: Picard could eventually be in danger of becoming a show about the Returning Guest Star of the Week, but I also wonder if we'd mind.

Meanwhile, there's another drama going on, but I simply don't care about it. I have yet to get a grip on Raffi. The reason she wanted to go to Freecloud is that her son and his expecting Vulcan wife are there, and she wanted to reconnect after years of estrangement. The scene exposes Raffi as an addict who destroyed her family not only with substance abuse, but her quest to uncover the conspiracy of the synth attack. Her kid doesn't want anything to do with her, so she'll rejoin Picard's crew regardless. It kind of felt like it was always going to be the case, so it's just a little character moment hopefully endears Raffi more to the audience, but to me comes out of left field and seems to belong to some other kind of drama. And is she really "clean"? Depends what she was taking, but Picard did bribe her with a bottle of wine at the start of this thing. There's possibly a thematic link between this scene and Seven asking Picard if he thinks he regained his humanity entirely, and their taking it one day at a time, but it's under-explored.

The really shocking bit, of course, is Dr. Jurati's murder of Bruce Maddox. Do we agree with this turn of events? On a purely selfish level, Agnes has been such a delight that making her a traitor and a mole is destructive to the show we've been enjoying. From a plotting standpoint, it helps explain the failed Romulan attack on Picard's chateau. If it seemed a little ridiculous that Jurati would show up and save the day, we now understand that it's because the task force was always supposed to fail, and that Commodore Oh wanted Picard to lead her to Soji, through Jurati. But having been shown images of Agnes and Bruce in a relationship, can we buy that she would cause the death of her mentor and partner while no one's looking, even through tears and heart-stopping anxiety (and will the EMH say something)? I guess it depends on what Oh showed her. She's been "turned" and "radicalized" by information on the synths we don't yet know. This moment may look different once this crucial knowledge has been revealed (and whether or not it was true, because we're not trusting Oh, are we?).

LESSON: The replicator's chocolate chip cookies recipe sucks, yo.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: By turns fun and shocking, and it's great to catch up with arguably the best character to come out of Voyager.


LondonKdS said...

I've seen a post on Tumblr suggesting that a tie-in novel to this show reveals that Maddox was exploitative and abusive towards Jurati during their past romantic relationship, which was while she was his postgrad student and lived up to all the negative stereotypes of such relationships. I agree with the Tumblr post that this should probably have been explained in the actual show.

Siskoid said...

There's already a tie-in novel? Even if that's the case, Star Trek tie-in media, while now having a better claim to canonicity than before, has never really been canon. That isn't at all part of this episode, which goes out of its way to have a cute romance flashback, and a warm reunion where Maddox shares credit for his discoveries with Jurati. In no way does abuse seem to play a role in her action.

Tony Laplume said...

I was too distracted by Quark's (I assume franchise, because the character's dedication to DS9 was in the end his defining trait) and Mott's (in my mind there should also have been a Chell's) to notice anything about the Orions.

LiamKav said...

I was trying to get my head around the age difference between Jurati and Maddox. She looks the same age that Bruce did in Measure of a Man, and that episode is set in 2365, 34 years before this one. That's a hell of an age gap.


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