Stardust City Rag is available to watch on CBS All Access (or Amazon Prime for those not living in North America). With this episode we have reached the halfway point for the first season of Star Trek: Picard and it finally feels like the story is moving along. Bringing Jeri Ryan in for a guest appearance has breathed new life into what has so far been a well written if somewhat slow-paced show. Another character from Voyager has a prominent role in this episode. Icheb, another former Borg, serves as a story hook for Seven of Nine. It is not surprising that this episode of Star Trek: Picard relies so heavily on Voyager characters as the script was written by Kirsten Beyer. If that name seems samiliar, it is because she authored several of the Voyager relaunch novels. As usual for this series of reviews, expect spoilers.

Plot

It seems to be a tradition for episodes of Star Trek: Picard (in the first season, anyways) to begin with a flashback and Stardust City Rag is no exception. However, this particular flashback is not about Jean-Luc nor is it about Starfleet. This scene begins 15 years ago with former Voyager crewman Icheb laying on an examination table while a ruthless woman named Bjayzl removes his Borg implants. It is a grisly scene and apparently Bjayzl did not give him any anasthesia given his screams from the excruciating pain. Icheb’s crewmate and motherly figure Seven of Nine bursts int o rescue him but she is too late. Too many Borg implants had been torn from Icheb’s body and he pleads for Seven to kill him. She complies after tearfully apologizing to him.

After that disturbing scene we catch up with Picard and the crew of the La Sirena. As you may recall from the previous episode, Seven had beamed aboard after sacrificing her own ship to save the La Sirena. Now we have a chance to learn what Seven has been up to in the years following Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant. It turns out that she did not join Starfleet. Seven instead joined the Fenris Rangers, a group that some may call vigilantes. The rangers keep the peace in the now lawless areas of space that border the former Romulan empire.

It turns out that the man Picard is searching for – the elusive Bruce Maddox – is indeed on the planet Freecloud. He is being held by Bjayzl, the woman we saw savagely remove Borg implants from Icheb’s body. The crew concocts a plan to pose as traffickers. They will offer Seven of Nine to Bjayzl. It seems that Seven’s body is especially valuable because the Borg assimilated her as a child and she has more functional implants than any other reclaimed Borg.

Stardust City Rag is a rather unusual episode of Star Trek because most of the main characters are being quite deceitful. Picard dons an eyepatch and poses as a smuggler. Rios takes on the role of a fixer and even Seven of Nine has a hidden motive. This is a vengeance mission for her. She wants to kill Bjayzl for what she did to Icheb and other reclaimed Borg.

Raffi takes the opportunity to visit her son on Freecloud. He is a grown man now with a child of his own and he has some serious resentment towards Raffi for abandoning him after Picard’s resignation from Starfleet. In his eyes she is a nutty conspiracy theorist and Raffi angrily maintains that her theories are solid. It is kind of heartbreaking to watch the young man walk away from her. Her life has been ruined by the choices she made after the destruction of Romulus.

And the most surprising deception of all comes from Agnes Jurati. she typically comes across as a jittery but ultimately sweet natured scientist but there is also an air of mystery around her ever since she was approached by Starfleet Intelligence way back in episode 2. It turns out that Agnes is Bruce’s lover and though it breaks her heart she kills him after he is rescued by Picard and the crew.

This is almost anti-Trek. This episode is the most violent we have ever seen from the franchise and just about every main character has a hidden agenda. It is kind of a breath of fresh air after years of being lectured about how humanity has evolved in the future.

Performance

While this new series is about the story of Jean-Luc Picard, Stardust City Rag is all about Seven of Nine. She is the main character this time around and has changed dramatically since the days of Voyager. Back then Seven had a stiff posture, a clipped style of speech and was often dispassionate even in a crisis situation. Years have gone by and now Jeri Ryan infuses Seven of Nine with a more agrressive attitude and far more emotion. Seven has found something to be passionate about even if it has nothing to do with Starfleet.

Patrick Stewart also deserves a nod for his portrayal of a trafficker. He wears an eye patch and speaks with a cringey stereotype of a French accent. Interestingly enough, Rios gives a fairly straight performance while undercover which is ironic since he is the most roguish character on the show so far.

Cinematography

This is certainly one of the most colorful episodes of Star Trek ever produced. The world of Freecloud is bright and colorful. It reminds me of a cross between the more urban areas of Tokyo or Hong Kong and the futuristic visuals seen in movies like Serenity and Blade Runner.

Verdict

StarTrek has had its share of controversial episodes before. In the Pale Moonlight was a story that explored concepts that were the antithesis of Federation ideals. Stardust City Rag is an episode that takes similar risks and I think this is exactly what Star Trek needed. In my opinion this is the best episode of the series so far.