We open on a pretty by-the-numbers villain speech from Vadic, who swears vengeance and destruction, kills a random underling just to show how ruthless she is, but most significantly, vows to track down every friend Jean-Luc Picard has left, as the Admiral is now on the run from the entirety of Starfleet, whose leadership has been compromised by their old shape-shifting enemies, the Changelings.
Back on the Titan, as the ship makes seemingly random warp jumps around the galaxy to avoid its pursuers, Dr. Crusher investigates her son’s hallucinations from the previous episode. She diagnoses them as a terminal case of Irumodic Syndrome, a brain disease he inherited from his father. (Picard has the disease in a flash-forward in the final episode of Next Generation, and it kills him in season one of Picard, only to have him resurrected in a synthetic body soon after.)
And we finally bring our A and B stories together, as the Titan beam up Worf and Raffi. Worf debriefs them on what he’s learned of the Changelings’ plot against the Federation, and directs them to Daystrom Station, the heavily-guarded experimental weapons facility that’s been lurking at the center of most of this season’s central mysteries. The center is guarded by what Worf characterizes as, “an astonishingly lethal” AI.
Riker, Worf, and Raffi beam down to Daystrom Station, which turns out to be a Smithsonian-level collection of Star Trek easter eggs. We get brief glimpses of an upgraded Genesis Device from Star Trek III, a genetically-modified “attack tribble”, and what appears to be either James T. Kirk’s skeleton, or an attempt to clone him. And the AI turns out to be the holographic Professor Moriarty who gained sentience and matched wits with Data in an old episode of Next Generation. Calling back to some of the earlier series’ sillier moments has the danger of undermining Picard’s more serious tone, but Moriarty is dispatched with quickly, although Daniel Davis gets a few minutes of fun hamming it up as the holographic Napoleon of Crime.
And it’s all a fake-out, as the Moriarty hologram is merely a gag put on by the real AI. And while the trailers for this season tease the return of Lore, Data’s scheming, emotional counterpart, what we actually get is a bit more complicated. We’ll leave it at that so as to not spoil the surprise, but it’s an interesting way to give us another connection to Data, who was Next Generation’s best-developed character, and one the series can’t quite let go of, no matter how many times it kills him off.
And as it turns out, Daystrom station isn’t the only collection of Trek Easter eggs. With Changeling-compromised Starfleet in pursuit, Picard runs to his old friend Geordi LaForge, now Commandant of the Ship Museum, a starbase that houses relics including Voyager, the Defiant from Deep Space Nine, Enterprise-A from the original cast’s later films, and the less impressive U.S.S. New Jersey.
But Geordi won’t help. Like Riker, he’s gotten more cautious in his old age, and protective of his daughters (Sidney, who we know from the Titan, and Alandra, played here by LeVar Burton’s real-life daughter Mica). Unlike Riker, the show doesn’t take the time to lay any of the groundwork that brings us from the genial nerd we knew on the Enterprise to the uptight hardass we see here. This Geordi is stubborn, which we know because he says that he’s stubborn and his daughters each say that he’s stubborn. The writers’ golden rule is, “show, don’t tell,” but the episode just tells us several times to make sure we get the point.
And that’s the problem with “The Bounty.” There’s a lot here, and a lot of it good — some interesting plot reveals, a little bit of action, some more father-child drama from both Picard and the LaForges, some great Worf-Riker banter, and a generous helping of nostalgia. But while previous episodes like “Seventeen Seconds” and “No Win Scenario” deftly moved between all of those modes and served all of them well, this week everything feels a bit obvious and rushed.
The music swells when an old favorite is re-introduced… and then the emotional moment gets pushed aside for exposition because we have to keep the plot moving. Except we press pause on the plot for some thoughts on parenthood, but unlike the wrenching emotional depths of “No Win Scenario,” we just get a few pat resolutions so we can move on to the next thing.
Geordi is distant towards Sidney, and the show builds that up a bit, only to very quickly resolve it. He wanted her to follow in his footsteps and be an engineer; she wanted to be a pilot; he thought she didn’t want to be like him; she just wanted to fly the ships he helped build. Aww. Jack blames Picard for passing on an incurable syndrome; a few minutes later he’s thankful for the good qualities his father passed on. Aww.
It’s all sitcom-level stuff (or, let’s be honest, Next Generation-level stuff), and it only serves to make us realize how spoiled we’ve been with the last run of episodes on what had previously been a reliably uneven show. But there’s a lot of groundwork laid in this episode, as we take a few steps closer to getting the entire gang back together, and we learn what the Changelings were really after at Daystrom, but not why. Plenty of time to right the ship.
• The Bounty in the episode’s title is the stolen Klingon ship Kirk and crew fly in Star Trek IV, and while all the museum relic ships are there for nostalgia’s sake, they’re also there as an excuse to bring the Bounty onscreen for a quick but important plot point.
• As pissy as Captain Shaw has been with Picard and Riker, it’s hilarious to see him briefly starstruck by engineering legend Geordi LaForge.
• While Iromodic Syndrome works as a callback to previous storylines, and something to hang this week’s father-son drama on, it doesn’t really explain the Bourne Identity-style programming that seems to surface when Jack fought several Changelings last week. Here’s hoping that gets explored down the line and isn’t forgotten.
• Another emotional moment that gets short shrift is a reunion between Seven and Raffi. As the first episode mentioned, they broke up in between seasons, and they share an awkward moment that’s over too quickly. Although it does lead to a great moment of Worf beginning to feign enthusiasm about going on a dangerous mission with two exes, before stone facedly acknowledging, “I was practicing deception.”
• The plot continues moving towards Frontier Day, a Starfleet holiday that involves getting the entire fleet together in one location. Besides the questionable optics of a Soviet-style military parade, it seems like a baffling strategic move to put every high-profile Federation target in one place with various enemies at large, but the show at least lampshades that by having a few characters mention what a bad idea it is.