It’s not giving too much away that we are introduced to more of Rios’ holographic helpers, and that they – shocker – look like him. Even after a few episodes, it’s a joke that’s not worn out its welcome – and I’m actually curious what more we’ll see in the future.
“Absolute Candor”, if I’m being honest, is a damn fine episode.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
The absolute (Ha! Eh…) best part of this episode is the relationship between Picard and Elnor. The recurring use of flashbacks, not quite Lost style but habitually at the start of every episode, has been a great device for catching us up on the past and intersecting it with current story lines. Although brief, the montage of Picard’s friendship with the young, orphaned Elnor hits all the right notes, both moving and heartwarming. It pushes home the fact that Picard never had children (sorry, TrekLit fans…).
The unfortunate conclusion of the scene – Picard being made aware of the attack on Mars – ties in thematically to the show’s motifs and Picard’s intervening years. Elnor and the people of Vashti are another tragic piece that Picard lost when he succumbed to the despair of defeat. There’s something elegant and haunting in how, in response to Raffi’s objections to going to Elnor’s world, Picard responded that he may never get a chance to return. Patrick Stewart delivers the line with perfect gravitas.
He also performs wonderfully in showing us the difficulty in Picard revisiting another failure. Vashti has fallen into poverty and corruption, save for the few closest to Picard. Segregation and other social ills have taken root, and Picard once again must confront the consequences of his inaction. There are some ballsy moments, such as Picard throwing down the “Romulans only” sign. But his attempt at shoehorning in his more enlightened views come across as naive, almost pathetic, when he tries to get service at the restaurant (to no avail). It’s a vulnerable moment, and it shows some of the fallacy in Picard’s approach. It’s beautifully human and aching.
The culmination of this particular story thread, with a firefight against an old ass Bird of Prey, is buoyed by yet another holographic assistant (resembling a drunk / hungover Rios) which makes for some decent humor in a tense situation, as does Dr. Jurati’s fish (way, waaaaaay) out of water dialogue throughout the episode. She comes across as this series’ Tilly (from Star Trek: Discovery) and I’m not minding it as long as Jurati develops a strong identity and doesn’t devolve into merely a trope. The jury is still out on that.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Soji and Narek’s story thread on the Borg cube, and there just doesn’t feel like there was enough there to really justify any scenes this week. We are greeted with more of Narek being enigmatic, Soji trying to figure out what’s up with the assimilated crew of the Borg ship and Narek’s sister Rizzo showing up and being insulting and creepy. It just doesn’t move the needle enough and I would have rather seen more time spent on Picard and Elnor.
“Absolute Candor” is a fine episode. Like last week with Picard / Raffi, this week’s dynamic of Picard and Elnor forms the bulk of what makes the episode work. Picard is finding a good balance of humor, action and drama, and this week is no different. Another strong building block for the show, and given the last minute reveal (which I think most called in advance), next week will hopefully see the show kick up the octane just a little bit.