What happens on Freecloud, Stays on Freecloud? Picard Episode 5, “Stardust City Rag”

Picard, Seven and Elnor ‘pretend’ on Freecloud

Picard and his ragtag crew finally arrive on the famed Freecloud (not to be confused with Cloud City!). They find what Picard was searching for, but it turns out he is not the only member of the La Sirena with unfinished business casino planet.

Finally a casino planet done right?

WARNING THIS ARTICLE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR S1 EP5, “Stardust City Rag”.

The episode opens with a flashback 13 years into past to the gruesome torture of Icheb, a character familiar to viewers of Voyager or fans of Seven of Nine. The oldest of a set of partially assimilated Borg children rescued by the USS Voyager, he returned to the Alpha Quadrant with Seven and the rest of the crew after years of being lost in the Delta Quadrant and appears to have completed Starfleet Academy by the time we see him now. He is also the closest thing Seven of Nine had to a son, so naturally she shows up and tries to rescue him from the horrible process of having his Borg implants removed from his body without any sort of drugs or numbing. However, she arrives too late and Icheb’s injuries are too great. Seven plans to stay with him until the end, but Icheb asks that she mercy kill him to spare him from dying in pain.

Of course, she complies.

Damn.

Heavy start, even for those viewers who aren’t familiar with the character and his relationship with Seven as I am. I always liked Icheb and the pseudo-parent/teen relationship he had with Seven so his loss was very effective for me. Poor guy. Poor Seven. Anything that comes next for her, we know is absolutely motivated by this event. Everything that came after this moment for Seven was fundamentally changed, but perhaps not so different. Something to keep in mind for the rest of the episode.

We cut next to a lovely actress working very hard, but not actually playing the piano in what appears to be a casino or bar. The apparent owner and her reptilian thug discuss the arrival of Dr. Bruce Maddox. She first wants to kill Maddox, but upon instead decides to keep him alive, drugged, and captured, in order to make a deal (and some cash) with whoever he is on the run from. Though that turns out to be the Tal Shiar, she remains confident that a deal can be made.

In the present day, Raffi and Rios note that Picard and Seven share the background of being drones who reclaimed their humanity, while the pair discuss the state of the galaxy in Picard’s holo study. Seven is now without a ship and it turns out Freecloud is as good a place as any to drop her off. We learn that Seven joined the Fenris Rangers, the organization mentioned briefly last week when we visited Vashti. They story their money on the planet. It seems that in the absence or unwillingness of Starfleet and the Federation to maintain security in certain parts of the galaxy, the rangers step in to do their best to help the helpless in the now more dangerous parts of the universe. Seven seems super jaded, but once she finds out about Picard’s mission, she asks for another drink and seems to agree to assist.

Rios undercover in the casino.

Picard and the crew have arrived at the planet Freecloud, which seems to be a cross between the Las Vegas (casinos), Switzerland (medical care) and Cayman Islands (discrete/possibly illegal banking) of the Federation and I love it. There’s a charming scene in the arrival, when various holo projected advertisements for businesses on Freecloud appear on the La Sirena and must be batted away. (There’s lost of fun call backs in Freecloud, including a blink and you’ll miss it shot of Quark’s Bar, which I assume is a franchise at this point.)

They determine that while Maddox is on the planet, he is being held by the woman and crew we saw earlier. That makes him difficult to access without going undercover (in true Trek fashion), and without some sort of trade offer to get him in return. We learn that Icheb is not alone as a former Borg who suffer a horrible fate, due to criminals harvesting their borg implants for sale. A gruesome turn of events, and a racket I would imagine the Federation of the 90s era shows would not allow. However in the present for their undercover operation, Seven works really well as bait, as she still retains a lot of Borg technology in her body, as she was a small child at the time of her assimilation.

The mission plan quickly takes form, Rios will be the agent (complete with a feather in his hat at Seven’s suggestion), Picard will be the seller who has captured Seven and wishes to trade (complete with a sleezy over the top French accent, that honestly sounded better than when he actually spoke French), and Elnor…who, well keeps on being Elnor because he’s not quite up to par in terms of acting undercover. Agnes is left to man the strategic beam out (which makes her surprisingly nervous), while Raffi apparently has her own plans.

Raffi has trailed her son to Freecloud.

Turns out Raffi’s motivation for going to Freecloud relates to her estranged son. This B-plot section of the episode plays into how adamant she was upon boarding the La Sirena that she was just hitching a ride and not joining Picard (though she isn’t completely unwilling to assist as we see with her assistance in the undercover set up). Picard wishes her well as she beams down for what I expected to be a more drawn out sequence. Raffi’s son is on Freecloud, at a medical facility with his pregnant wife. Following her dismissal from Starfleet and descent into becoming a vaping, drinking conspiracy theorist (though not an incorrect one) she left behind Gabriel and his father.

When she tries to rectify and apologize, Raffi’s son really doesn’t take it well, especially when Raffi still refuses to drop what he views to be fringe crazy conspiracy theories. And we get it, but given what we the audience now know about Starfleet, this impasse is that much more bittersweet. Gabriel clearly doesn’t want to have any thing to do with her, and only briefly introduces his wife before sending Raffi on her way. I found the whole sequence to be rather quick, but still impactful.

Meanwhile, the undercover operation all seems to be going well, with Picard and Rios able to start negotiating a deal to ‘swap’ Dr. Maddox for Seven of Nice. Ship side, Dr. Jurati has a pretty notable panic attack regarding her role in quickly beaming them all out as she awaits the signal from Rios. It’s so bad that the EMH automatically appears assuming based on her vital signs that she is in the midst of an emergency. She’s been odd all episode (well odder than normal) and earlier on we discover that this is likely because Dr. Maddox was not only a colleague and mentor, but a former lover.

Planetside, it turns out that Seven and the leader of the crime syndicate know each other, and that the woman is directly responsible for Icheb’s murder. Seven of 13 years ago trusted her and likely introduced her to Icheb and thus to learn enough about him to kidnap him . Seven’s whole purpose in assisting in Picard’s lost cause was driven by her desire for revenge for Icheb. She turns the tables and prepares to avenger her foster son by killing the one responsible for his dead, but also does her best to allow Picard and the crew of the undercover op to escape back to the ship with an injured Dr. Maddox. She explains her reasoning for revenge and offers the transport enhancer so that the rest can peace out.

When things get tense and crime syndicate goon’s come to a stand off with out crew, Picard tries to reason with Seven that revenge is not justice, and there’s a very Picard speech about humanity. Seven is not impressed. The woman she wants to kill says she will allow them to leave with Dr. Maddox in exchange for her own life and calling things even. Rios points out that it’s sometimes better to fight another day especially when a kill now would put a bounty on the entire group and ultimately Seven joins the rest as they return to the ship with the ailing Dr. Maddox (crime lady did not treat him well). Dr. Jurati managed the transporter fortunately.

With Maddox seemingly safe in sickbay, Picard and Seven have one last discussion before she seemingly returns to the Fenris Rangers. It’s a really interesting scene with character development for Picard, Seven, and weirdly even Rios. Picard seems to think his speech worked, but Rios leaves the transport chip on the console out of view of the old man and Seven slyly takes it. Picard and Seven have one last discussion on the nature of humanity, and whether they feel it’s possible to comeback completely from being assimilated.

Their contrasting views to me relate so much to their experiences with the Borg. Picard, who was assimilated as an adult Starship Captain with a fully formed self and rescued relatively quickly, says yes, it’s possible. Seven, assimilated as a child (which dumb and reckless parents) and spending twenty or so years as a drone, is less sure. Picard returned to a world that was largely supportive and accepting, and Seven to one that always seemed to want to change her and ultimately after her return to the Alpha Quadrant brutally divested her of an important member of the new family she’d built. They both agree that they are working on it, and that perhaps in the further they will cross paths again before Seven transports away (with two guns) to the recognizable strains of Voyager’s theme song.

In no real surprise to the audience that Seven isn’t simply returning to the Fenris Rangers and obtain a new ship, but that she shows up back in the bar to face off with the leader of the crime cabal that killed Icheb. She kills the woman’s aides, as customers and staff a like flee (and the leader herself does not, to my surprise), before finally avenging her psedo-son. Picard might say this is not justice, but as an audience member I felt good about it. That’s not to say that he and the ideas he relies on are not relevant and don’t have a point. But sometimes, it just feels really good to watch people who have done horrid get what they deserve.

From Maddox Picard and Jurati learn that the Tal Shiar destroyed scientist’s lab and confirms that Soji exists and is on the Borg Cube held by the Romulans. He states that the ‘mom’ artificial intelligence would not have activated Dahj unless she was in danger, and that he sent them both to the places he did to discover the truth about the Federations synthetic Life ban. It seems he knows more about the ‘lies’ involved, but is in too much pain to continued so Picard leaves him in the EMH and Dr. Jurati’s care.

Maddox is pleased to see Dr. Jurati, and tells her that their work succeeded and that specifically her contribution was essential. The scene feels a bit off and Jurati implies that her contribution is in fact, something to atone for. And just like that she begins shutting down the essential life support and medical care the doctor is receiving, deactivating the EMH and watching her former colleage and boyfriend die.

Jurati cries and explains to a dying Maddox, “I wish you knew what I know. I wish I didn’t know what I know. I wish they hadn’t shown me. I’m so sorry…”

To be honest this was an exciting end and a great twist for the character. She’s always been a bit iffy, but us not seeing what exactly went down in the meeting with Commodore Oh, and her sudden appearance (and ability to shoot) at Picard’s chateau directly following that is suspect. She’s also acted just quirky enough to be weird on the La Sirena and the EMH inducing panic attacks are interesting. Has she been compromised with mind control? Does she think Soji is ‘The Destroyer’ also?

Has she learned the terrible secret of the Zhat Vash? What is it?

Oh, Agnes!

Picard and Seven have the Borg in common, but do not always see eye to eye…

This episode benefited from not paying any visit to Soji on the ‘Artifact’ in my opinion. While it did have some uneven moments, the pacing and overall tension of the show worked better for me without cutting to the cube. Fortunately it looks like next week the separate threads will join together and hopefully keep the pacing without the laggy feeling. Last week was a bit slow and really only introduced Elnor and some ideas, but this week had a lot of character and plot development.

Seeing Picard and Seven interact, and discuss the nature of reclaiming humanity, as well as their differing views and approaches to that, was the real treat of this episode and something I have been wanting to see for such a long time. I doubt this is the last we have seen of Seven of Nine (especially given the existence of ‘the Artifact’ and the apparent implant harvesting going on in the Galaxy), so we will likely see she and Picard interact again as the season progresses, and continue to explore their differing views on the nature of humanity.

Going into week though Dr. Jurati is the one I’m keeping my eye on the most.

What did you think of this week’s episode? What do you think will happen next? Let us know know the comments!

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