And we’re back to hiding. This time in a scrapyard, as the Titan floats among a sea of derelict ships, while Changeling-controlled Starfleet ships continue to hunt for them. And we see another old friend, as Seven contacts her old Voyager crewmate Tuvok — now a captain — to see if Starfleet has any information on Riker being apprehended. But she and the Titan crew are suspicious. He correctly answers questions only Tuvok would know, and analyzing his voice doesn’t raise any red flags… but Seven keeps pushing, and Tuvok trips up on his Vulcan history and his history with Seven. He’s a fake. He won’t tell them whether the real Tuvok is alive or dead, and just to rub salt in the wounds, he transforms into Riker and taunts Picard, saying his old friend is “as good as dead. Just like you.”
We, the audience, know that Vadic has both Riker and his wife, Deanna Troi, and they’re alive because they haven’t yet given up the information Vadic wants. But Picard and crew have no idea whether they — or any of their other friends around the galaxy — are still alive, who’s been replaced by a Changeling lookalike, and who they can trust. Which is why the Changelings were such a terrific threat on Deep Space Nine and were a smart choice to bring back here. Throw even a few of them into the mix, and you can’t trust anyone at all. As Picard gravely intones, “We’re on our own.”
And it’s not enough to simply stay hidden and survive. Most of the fleet is assembling near Earth for the Frontier Day celebration, and the Changeling’s plan is coming into focus. They stole Picard’s mortal remains (the Admiral died at the end of season one and his mind was transferred into a synthetic body), in the hopes of impersonating him down to the DNA level, so they can sabotage the Frontier Day festivities undetected.
The only person who can help them is the reconstructed Data, who was being used as a knowledge repository by the secret facility Picard’s body was stolen from. The problem is, Data isn’t himself. Starfleet reconstructed him in part by using Lore, an earlier model who was completely amoral (and a recurring villain on Next Generation). Data and Lore’s personalities are fighting for dominance in the same robot body, and while that’s as silly as it sounds, Brent Spiner sells it remarkably well, snapping between the two androids on a dime.
In his current state, Data can’t provide any answers. But we, the audience, get some. Vadic is still taking orders from the mysterious floating head that her hand shapeshifts into. The head isn’t happy that she hasn’t been able to get any information out of Riker or Troi, and threatens “you and your kind” if she fails, meaning the head isn’t a Changeling, although it’s not clear what exactly it is. But the head isn’t interested in Picard; he’s still after Jack, telling Vadic, “We must have the boy.”
The boy in question is still hearing voices, and as he flirts again with Sidney LaForge, he realizes he can hear her thoughts. Data suggested that Picard’s Irumodic Syndrome may have been a misdiagnosis, and Jack also clearly has more going on than Space Dementia. He starts to tell Picard, but before they can get into it, something he says sparks an idea. A trap Picard can lay for Vadic.
The Titan uses one of the other ships in the scrapyard to stage a firefight that left both ships apparently crippled. One of Vadic’s anonymous henchaliens immediately susses out that it could be a trap, but she doesn’t listen. Jack has slipped out of her grasp again and again, and she’s finally got him, and is too focused on that to hear any other concerns. She and a few of her crew take a shuttle to the apparently-derelict ship, but Jack’s waiting to greet them. He leads them on a chase through the darkened ship, where Seven throws up forcefields to trap them one by one until they have Vadic pinned down. It’s a little bit of a cheat to have someone as cunning as Vadic walk blindly into an obvious trap, but it’s still a fun sequence, and satisfying to see our heroes get the upper hand for once.
Except they don’t have it for long. Jack and Sidney are also trapped, and after a moment, so are LaForge and his other daughter, Alandra. But not by Vadic. Lore has taken over not just Data’s body, but the ship’s computer, shutting down transporters, locking doors, and eventually setting Vadic’s minions loose on the ship. As Geordi says, he just loves the chaos.
But for the moment, Vedic is imprisoned, and Beverly finally gets to confront the woman who’s been hunting her son, and she and Picard confront her about her plan to use his likeness against Starfleet. But like all good villains, Vadic feels completely justified. Starfleet won the war against the Dominion, the Changeling’s empire, by poisoning her people with a virus (in the final episodes of Deep Space Nine), and offering a cure in exchange for surrender. But she correctly points out that Starfleet chose to let the virus run its course, and Odo (the gruff, morally upstanding Changeling who was part of DS9’s crew) decided on his own to deliver the cure.
Starfleet was willing to commit genocide to repel the Dominion’s invasion, and in Vadic’s mind, genocide in return is no less than they deserve. (Ignoring that the Dominion’s plan to enslave the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, etc. wasn’t exactly morally upright itself.) But it’s more personal for Vadic. It turns out, her group of Changelings learned to better mimic human biology and escape detection because humans taught them how. She and her group were imprisoned at Daystrom Station and subjected to gruesome experiments, so Starfleet could create more powerful Changelings to weaponize to their own ends.
One of the things that made Deep Space Nine the best of the 1990s run of Trek was that it was willing to explore the difficult choices that war forces on even the most well-intentioned people. (“In the Pale Moonlight,” in which Captain Sisko has to make one moral compromise after another for the sake of saving billions of lives, is routinely cited as the best episode the franchise ever produced.) But the series also introduced a dark side to the Federation’s idealism for the first time. In one of the series’ best running storylines, Section 31 — a secret, unaccountable black ops intelligence division — was shown to be doing the morally-questionable dirty work necessary to keep the Federation safe, while letting Starfleet keep its hands clean.
While the Changelings are a terrific villain to revive, bringing back some of DS9’s darker themes is an even better narrative choice. As much as Picard is about anything, beyond bringing a beloved character back for more, it’s been about interrogating the negative qualities that go hand-in-hand with Jean-Luc Picard’s heroism. His arrogance, his emotional distance, his unwillingness to see things outside of the prism of Starfleet and its ideals. All of these things helped make him a great captain, but what kind of man have they made him into? These questions are no less present as we also examine them on a grander scale. The Federation has promoted peace and stability, exploration and knowledge, tolerance and cooperation. But all of that has a cost that Picard would rather forget. Except Vadic’s determined not to let him.
• No Worf and Raffi this week, as they’re on some side mission that’s explained quickly and forgotten even more quickly. No Riker and Troi either, as Picard and crew are in no position to mount a rescue. While it’s a smart creative choice to not try and shoehorn every character into every episode, Marina Sirtis was terrific in her season one appearance as Troi, and it’s a shame she hasn’t been on screen for more than 15 seconds at a time thus far in this season.
• Beverly openly weighs the morality of simply killing Vadic and ending all of this, and at one point asks Picard if they’ve lost their moral compass. It’s another iteration of the episode’s themes, but it goes by very quickly. There’s a lot going on in this episode, nearly all of it good, but Bev could have used a little more time.
• Geordi came into this season late, but LeVar Burton gets a terrific moment this week as Geordi makes an emotional plea to whatever of Data remains in Lore, talking about how important their friendship was to him, and how gutting Data’s death was to him. As much as this season of Picard has too much going on to give every character a lot of screen time, it does make sure everyone gets a few great moments when they are on screen.
• Tuvok and Seven mention their former captain, now Admiral Janeway, and how hard she is to get ahold of. Now sure whether that’s a teaser for a late-season appearance, or an acknowledgement that they couldn’t get Kate Mulgrew to reprise the role. (Which would be odd, because she reprises the role as a voice actor on Star Trek: Prodigy)
• I can’t help but feel bad for Data, who gets several scenes of being reactivated, asking where he is and why he’s still alive, only to be pushed aside with, “never mind that, we need your help!” I realize the show has to move things along, and we can imagine that Geordi catches him up off-camera, but it wouldn’t have killed Picard to include a scene where he comes to terms with being revived in this new form.
• Speaking of Section 31, Michelle Yeoh’s character on Star Trek: Discovery tangles with the shadowy organization, and a spinoff show has been in the rumor mill for a few years now. With a Best Oscar win for Everything Everywhere All at Once, Yeoh’s stock has risen dramatically, but it’s not clear whether that means Paramount is more likely to greenlight a series with her in the lead, or whether she’ll be fielding too many movie offers to have time for Star Trek. (And as this article went to press, Variety announced that Paramount is beginning production on a new Trek series set at Starfleet Academy, due to start filming in 2024, and likely air after Discovery wraps that year. So that probably puts Section 31 on hold.)
• This episode isn’t loaded down with Easter eggs like last week’s, but we do get one: Chin’Toka Scrapyard, where Titan is hiding out, was the site of a battle in the Dominion War, hence all the disabled ships. As the characters wrestle with the legacy of that war, they’re literally surrounded by its wreckage. It’s the best use of this kind of deep-cut reference, to parallel onscreen what’s happening in the episode metaphorically.
• Vadic says several times she wants to bring Jack “where he belongs.” We don’t get any hint as to where that might be, and while Jack’s telepathic link to Sidney is new, it doesn’t get us closer to finding out what exactly is going on with him or what his connection to the Changelings is. We’ve got three episodes to go, so we’ll find out soon.