The episode opens, after the ‘previously on…’ recap, with yet another flashback to what’s rapidly becoming “Star Trek: Picard”’s version of “Discovery”’s Klingon boobs in its ubiquity: the attack on Mars. It’s interesting that the series keeps coming back to this and the events which followed without really touching on the critical, very “Star Trek” question at the centre of it: the Federation basically created a slave race for their own convenience and everyone was totally cool with it?
I mean, the “Star Trek: Voyager” episode “Author, Author” hinted that this was already the case but both the EMH Mark-I’s and the Utopia Planitia shipyards clearly have a degree of sentience so their very existence is deeply troubling from the get-go. If they had no sentience, then they were tools and the Federation’s reaction to the incident on Mars makes no sense at all. If they were even semi-sentient then the banning of them raises marginally less ethical problems than their involuntary enslavement does in the first place.
This flashback, though, we also get to see something of the fallout from that cataclysmic if morally conflicted event. Except we don’t. We don’t get to see what “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would have shown us: Picard, full of righteous passion and eloquent arguments pleading his case before the impassive and hostile Admiralty, demanding Starfleet take the moral high road, threatening his resignation if they don’t. No, in the Kurtzman era of Trek, we merely get told about this scene and instead get to see his adjutant, Commander Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) go into a massive huff when she’s called in front of the CinC. It’s kind of implied she’s about to be fired, which is 100% not how military service works but then Kurtzman, as one of the architects of the Kelvinverse’s slapdash attitude to academy graduation and musical captain’s chairs – has never demonstrated even a remote grasp of command structures and progression.
It has to be said, though, that if Picard hadn’t resigned over the principle of Starfleet doing a “Batman Begins” with the Romulan Star Empire, I’m pretty confident he would have quit in disgust at the shoddy tailoring standards to which the Federation have sunk. The Starfleet uniforms Picard and Raffi wear in the flashback are ill-fitting, cheap-looking and appallingly tailored. They’d embarrass in a fan film, let alone one of the franchise’s premier flagship TV series.
Bring us back to the ‘present’ day, we’re at Raffi’s trailer in the shadows of Vasquez Rocks (which, when the caption appears on screen, feels like a fourth wall break). I mean, sure it’s been used repeatedly but to finally acknowledge that it’s on Earth not, say, Cestus III, feels like a tiny betrayal. Speaking of betrayal, there’s no clear indication of how Raffi ended up as twenty-fourth-century trailer trash in the first place. Clearly the ‘economics of the future’ Picard boasted about to Lilly Sloane aren’t actually all that different after all.
It’s abundantly clear that Raffi hasn’t got anything better to do so, of course, she’s going to join old man Picard on some damn foolish crusade, especially as she’s nursing a grudge that somehow the Romulans were behind the series of events which led to her being ‘fired’ from Starfleet rather than reassigned or demoted or some other more credible outcome.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy on the Romulan occupied derelict Borg cube, a sort-of familiar face appears as an older and pinker Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) works with Soji to help the reclaimed Borg drones. Of particular interest is a Romulan survivor called Ramdha, one of the last to be assimilated by the cube and who may hold vital information, not just about the cause of the Borg collapse but also the Romulan agenda. We’re getting perilously close to sliding into prophecy territory now, as Soji’s presence provokes an extreme response from her patient, indicating that the Romulan’s aversion to synthetic lifeforms is intimately linked to their activity with the Borg.
Back on Earth, we get a brief scene of Commodore Oh indulging in some more shady behaviour which in turn appears to lead to an attack on Picard and co at his vineyard – a boneheaded move if ever there was one because not only is the attack unsuccessful thanks to his Tal Shiar-trained home helps, but nothing is going to screw Picard’s courage to the sticking place than a bit of brute force intimidation.
We’re also introduced to the final member of our new main cast: the dashing ex-Starfleet officer, Cristobal ‘Chris’ Rios. Rios has the one thing Picard needs: a ship but Captain Rios is a little reluctant to take the job on. There’s an amusingly narcissistic touch to Rios as it seems all of his ship’s emergency holographic programmes are basically versions of him with different accents.
It’s still a little too soon to tell whether this show will really be any good or not, because for every promising aspect, there’s a counterbalancing red flag as the show boldly goes where “Discovery” went before. So we have puerile inclusions of ‘edginess’ like swearing – and smoking – and even vaping which distract from rather than enhance the proceedings. It also feels like we’re also about to lose a couple of the best characters so far – Laris and Zhaban – while the canine Number One’s participation in things has clearly been massively exaggerated by the series’ pre-publicity, so it’ll be interesting to see how this new crew shakes out. At least, hopefully, we’ll now be freed from the need to introduce every character with some kind of flashback as a lazy way to make them matter.
Nevertheless, by the close of the episode, it becomes clear that the first three hours of the series have achieved their objective, introducing new post-Nemesis “Star Trek” status quo and assembling the characters we will now follow over the next seven episodes. The pilot is finished and “The End is the Beginning” does what it says on the tin: the story proper is about to begin. In that, at least, it’s a successful episode, with a much better balance of character, action and exposition than last week. Make it so[me more of this, please]!