Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 5 Review: The Plot Thickens

The strongest element of the new season of "Star Trek: Picard" is, to perhaps reiterate a previous review, pacing. For every starship battle, there are a few quiet moments of introspection wherein characters are permitted to converse, to philosophize, to reveal things about their characters to indicate that they have undergone growth since their appearances in older Trek shows. "Picard," while crammed with incidents, isn't operating in panic mode, meting out its information in a palatable way. In the fifth episode, "Imposters," Picard (Patrick Stewart), Capt. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), and Capt. Shaw (Todd Stashwick, still great), have discovered there are Changelings on board the U.S.S. Titan-A, and that the villainous shapeshifting aliens have something to do with the apprehension of Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers). 

While the characters investigate and converse, the Titan is under repairs from its battle with the Shrike in the previous two episodes, and Capt. Shaw has contacted Starfleet to arrest Picard and Riker for essentially hijacking his ship. How refreshing that, in Trek's world of protocol, someone should face the consequences of their actions. Also refreshing: Picard and Riker are resigned to their fate. They knew they were breaking rules, and, now that the main action has settled down, are ready to turn themselves in. Previous seasons of "Picard" were so eager to stay in panic mode that they never even considered things like protocol and consequences. With the new season, order has been restored. 

That doesn't mean, however, that "Picard" is free of nostalgic cheap shots, or a mystery that, so far, seems potentially a little silly. 

But to address the first point ...

The return of Ro Laren

When Starfleet is called in to arrest Picard and Riker, they send a ship called the U.S.S. Intrepid, full of security personnel. The leader of the investigative task force is none other than Cmdr. Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes), a semi-regular character on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in its fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons. Ro, only an ensign in the NextGen days, was a spiky character, constantly butting heads with her superior officers and often quick to anger. Her final appearance was in an episode called "Preemptive Strike" (May 16, 1994) wherein she was asked to go undercover and infiltrate an anti-Federation terrorist group called the Maquis. As it so happened, the Maquis had legitimate grievances with the Federation — their home colonies were traded away to the Cardassians without their consent — and Ro ended up defecting. Her reappearance in a Starfleet uniform baffles and angers Picard, and the two bicker once again. 

Picard has lost his cool somewhat in his old age. He is less willing to wait for results and eager to discuss difficult topics. When he is confronted with Ro, he immediately grills her on why she defected to the Maquis all those years ago. Ro, meanwhile, has gone through changes of her own and perhaps refreshingly, doesn't bother to fill in Picard on everything. Audiences can see that she no longer wears her Bajoran earring and that her Bajoran nasal ridges are less pronounced. Something certainly has happened. Forbes re-occupies the role with ease, fitting handily back into scenes with Stewart. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

While the return of Ro is appreciated, there is a whiff of nostalgia bait about her appearance. As stated in previous reviews, this season of "Picard," while predicated on the eventual reunion of the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," has been largely good about keeping its insider references at a tolerable ebb. There have been a few glory shots of old props and costume — the season opened with Picard receiving a transmission on his old NextGen-era communicator badge, something he likely would not still possess — but those have been mercifully few and far between. Ro feels like the first time in the series when a character was included just to make Trekkies enact the famed Leonardo DiCaprio meme from "Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood." 

There will be far more nostalgia bait in the following episode — and to an embarrassing degree— but we'll come to that in due time. 

In the B-plot, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Worf (Michael Dorn) have been investigating who broke into the Daystrom Institute and stole an unrevealed super-weapon from inside. Having beheaded a dangerous Ferengi gangster, Raffi and Worf are now the "alphas" of the local criminal world, and request to see an even more dangerous crime lord, this time a Vulcan. The Vulcan crime lord argues that a utopia cannot exist without crime and violence, so his criminality is logical. I had kind of wished he had gone into that a little further. Although a dangerous criminal, Worf and Raffi beat him easily. 

The mysterious visions

If two people can take down all major crime bosses using swords, all within the span of maybe a few hours, perhaps crime isn't as big a problem as "Picard" would have us believe. Or perhaps next time, the crime bosses can scatter, rather than all congregating in a single city. Perhaps that's worth looking into, boss.

Meanwhile, there is another mystery afoot: why do evil shapeshifters want Jack Crusher? It was explained in previous episodes that these Changelings, ordinarily made of liquid, have learned how to approximate internal, biological organs, making them less medically detectible. Why the Changelings are attacking Starfleet at this particular juncture, and why they want Jack hasn't yet been explained. Cmdr. Ro, however, does explain that Starfleet has been deeply infiltrated and that Changelings are more prevalent than anyone might suspect. This will be before a rather dramatic exit for the character.

The hints audiences are given as to Jack's value have come in the form of frustratingly oblique visions that Jack has been experiencing for the last few episodes. The visions include creepy red tree roots, and the appearance of an old-fashioned red door. This may be the door used by the Guardian of Forever in a recent episode of "Star Trek: Discovery," but likely not. When Jack has the visions, he "activates," and becomes an ultra-violent killing machine. He takes out four Changelings on his own. This plot wrinkle is pretty dumb, and reeks of the "mystery box" storytelling that made the first two seasons so insufferable. Clarity is more important than mystery.

One can hope the mysteries are resolved with wit and grace. One can hope the nostalgia stays tolerable. As the plot thickens, though, it seems things can go either way.