Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the first four episodes of Star Trek: Picard, as well as for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery Season 2.
Jonathan Frakes delivered a great episode with this week’s Absolute Candor, and as I mentioned in my review of the episode, it was the first time I felt that we were starting to turn the page from setting up mysteries and questions to exploring and beginning to unravel them. Picard has his whole crew assembled now, and we’ve finally met every main character. Absolute Candor also gave me several new theories for where the story could go next – as well as debunking two that I’d written about in previous weeks.
I’m absolutely okay when a theory turns out to not be true! Some people get overly attached to fan theories, but at the end of the day it’s the showrunners, writers, and creators who determine where a story will go. Theory-crafting is a bit of fun, allowing us to spend more time in a fictional world that we enjoy while we wait for the real story to unfold in the next instalment.
Let’s start by taking a look at the two debunked theories after Absolute Candor.
Debunked theory #1: Picard put together a new fleet after the attack on Mars to help the Romulans.
Based on the steadfast loyalty Picard has from Laris and Zhaban – the two Romulan assistants he has at the vineyard – I extrapolated that he’d done something between the rogue synths’ attack and the supernova to help the Romulans, even if it was wholly without Starfleet’s support.
There’s a gap of around four years between the destruction of the majority of his fleet on Mars and the supernova, and I speculated that Picard could have taken action in that time to put together a fleet and save as many lives as possible – winning the loyalty of Laris and Zhaban along the way. It would have also tied into the line from the first trailer about Picard having commanded “the greatest rescue armada in history”. While he did technically command the very large armada, the majority of it was destroyed before it was ever used, and far from saving 900 million Romulan lives – the goal stated in Remembrance – we only know of 250,000 Romulans who Picard and Raffi evacuated to Vashti. There may have been others taken to other destinations, but it’s a far cry short of what was intended.
I theorised that Picard could have used his contacts with factions like the Klingon Empire, Tamarians, Bajorans, or others we know he had worked with in The Next Generation – calling in all of his favours to put together a new armada.
In Absolute Candor, it’s revealed that after Picard’s resignation, he simply gave up on the rescue effort. “Because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one” – those were the words of the Qowat Milat nun, and Picard confirms it. He never returned to Vashti after the synths’ attack, and it seems most Romulans – at least those on Vashti – regard him with contempt, both as the face of Starfleet who betrayed them and on a personal level for failing to uphold his promises.
Debunked theory #2: Soji and Dahj are human augments and not androids.
This one was always a real long-shot, so I’m not at all surprised to see it collapse! I had theorised that Soji and Dahj might not be synthetics after all, mostly because they appear to be fully human. It isn’t just a case of their outward appearance – which obviously looks very different to Data or F8 and the other synths from Mars – but that they appear fully human on scans and sensors.
Soji in particular is allowed to access the Artifact – a restricted and heavily fortified derelict Borg cube under Romulan military jurisdiction. Given what we know about the Romulans, they must have pretty good sensors and scanners, and if Soji did not register as anything other than human, they’d have been immediately alerted to her real nature.
There was also a line in The End is the Beginning that caused me to bring this theory back last week. As Picard and the others are interrogating a captured Zhat Vash attacker, he says that Soji and Dahj are “not what you think” they are. Because everyone was, at that point, absolutely convinced that Soji and Dahj were androids constructed by Bruce Maddox, what did that line mean? I interpreted it as meaning that they may not actually be synths at all.
However, in Absolute Candor we saw Rizzo and Narek interacting on board the Artifact. Rizzo refers to Soji as Narek’s “robot girlfriend”, confirming that the Zhat Vash know that she’s synthetic. There are still questions about the exact nature of Soji and Dahj – particularly how they have been able to survive unnoticed and undetected for three years, as well as whether they may be some kind of organic-synthetic hybrid – but the idea that they’re wholly non-synthetic can be firmly debunked at this stage.
So those are the debunked theories. And not for the first time, there are several new ones to replace them! Absolute Candor gave me several new ideas, as well as advancing a few others.
Number 1: Picard’s decision to tell everyone that their opponents are the Tal Shiar – and not the Zhat Vash – will come back to haunt them.
In Maps and Legends, Laris told Picard about the Zhat Vash for the first time. And Commodore Oh also used the name in that episode, feeling that Picard was getting too close to finding out about the faction. Yet in Absolute Candor, Picard tells his new crew that they’re facing off against the Tal Shiar. And crucially, he also tells this to Elnor when recruiting him for the mission.
There are suspected to be links between the Tal Shiar and the Zhat Vash. Laris described the Tal Shiar as a “mask” that the Zhat Vash wears – but Zhaban is also implied to have been a Tal Shiar operative, and he was unconvinced that they’re real, so it’s clearly not the case that the two factions are one and the same.
When it comes to Elnor in particular, knowing who his enemy is could be incredibly important – and the Qowat Milat seem likely to know something about the Zhat Vash, and may even have techniques for dealing with them. Knowing who Picard’s enemy is may have even been a factor in agreeing to join the cause – the Qowat Milat and Tal Shiar are said to be enemies. Would Elnor have joined the crew if he knew they were taking on the Zhat Vash?
Most importantly, will it come back to haunt Picard that he wasn’t up front with everyone? Does he simply not fully believe in the Zhat Vash’s existence, as they are such a secretive faction? He has, after all, only heard about them from one person – with the only other Romulan present dismissing them as a myth. Regardless of the reason, I wonder how Elnor will react if and when he learns about the Zhat Vash.
Number 2: Narek is going to go rogue.
Last time, I speculated that Narek will end up turning on the Zhat Vash out of love for, or loyalty to, Soji. The two have been getting close since we met them at the end of Remembrance, though Narek does have an agenda.
In The End is the Beginning, he told Soji that he was falling in love with her, and shortly thereafter was rebuked by Rizzo, his superior, for getting too close. She explicitly warned him not to fall in love with her. Two references to that in a single episode seemed like foreshadowing something to me!
We saw this theme developed a little during Absolute Candor. Narek tracks Soji to the medical bay where Ramdha, the Romulan who accused her of being “the destroyer”, is in stasis or undergoing treatment. They then share a drink, in which Soji seems to hint very clearly that she’s developing feelings for him. And he takes her to a deserted part of the cube where they play and share a kiss – before he pushes her too hard for information and she storms off in a huff!
Narek was also less than keen to divulge the small amount of information he’s gleamed from Soji so far when Rizzo visited him later; she had to half-choke him to get him to confess Soji could be “the destroyer”. As she threatens she will give him one week to get the rest of the information the Zhat Vash want, he looks genuinely worried.
It’s a trope we’ve seen before, especially in spy fiction which this side of Star Trek: Picard’s story is clearly borrowing from; an agent falling for his target and renouncing his loyalty to save her. And I feel that there are hints at that already in the Narek-Soji-Rizzo storyline. It could be an elaborate misdirect, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Number 3: Dr Jurati isn’t who she appears to be, and may be a double-agent.
In what was almost the final scene in The End is the Beginning, Raffi seems incredulous at Dr Jurati’s inclusion on the mission to Freecloud – saying that she hasn’t run any kind of security check on her. Because of her knowledge of synthetics, Picard considers her important to the mission – and I’m sure that on a personal level he values her company, as she’s the only person on the mission other than himself who’s genuinely invested in finding Maddox and Soji.
But what are her motivations for doing so? And should Picard trust her? I have to admit that Raffi’s line has me seeing Dr Jurati in a whole new light. And where I thought I saw an academic who was genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing her theoretical work brought to life, what we may instead be seeing is someone who has manipulated the situation to ingratiate herself with Picard. Her arrival at the vineyard mere moments after the attempted assassination of Picard, as well as her ability to use a Romulan weapon, were examples I cited in evidence for this last time, as was her insistence on signing up.
Absolute Candor, it’s fair to say, was not a Jurati-centric episode. But the one significant scene she featured in could lend some credence to this theory, depending on interpretation. During a conversation with Capt. Rios on the bridge of La Sirena, she appears bored by space travel, despite it being implied it’s either her first time in space or at least not something she does on a regular basis. Her chat with him, while it could be perceived as social awkwardness, might also be seen as probing him for information – in a deliberately disarming manner.
She also shows a keen interest in the Qowat Milat – again with the same semi-childish wonder that Alison Pill portrays so well. But again I’m left questioning her motivation for prying so much into everything going on. Is it genuine academic curiosity from someone who seldom gets to see the stars? Maybe. Is she tapping Picard and the others for information because she’s a double-agent?
If Starfleet wanted to get a spy into Picard’s group, they have all the facts they need to do so, and with Dr Jurati being Earth’s most senior researcher into synthetics, it would make sense that Picard would reach out to her – of all people – in the aftermath of what happened with Dahj.
There’s another possibility, which is that she’s being manipulated from behind the scenes, or spied on herself. Her conversation with Commodore Oh was almost entirely off-screen – could she have been threatened or manipulated in that conversation? We know she told Oh everything about Picard’s plan to track down Maddox – was that under duress or was it an operative being debriefed by her superior? Time will tell!
Number 4: There are other Soji and Dahj lookalikes out there – and the Romulans – or the Borg – have encountered at least one already.
Why did Ramdha say she recognised Soji? Was it simply confusion due to her damaged psychological state; a hangover from her assimilation? That’s possible – Hugh and others on the Artifact would certainly seem to think so. Soji isn’t convinced, though, and neither is Narek. In fact, he uses the phrase “Seb-Cheneb” – “the destroyer” – to refer to Soji, which was the accusation Ramdha levelled against her too.
That can’t be a coincidence. In Absolute Candor, Ramdha (in a holo-recording from before her assimilation) said that Seb-Cheneb was related to a day called “Ganmadan” – or “the annihilation”. The only way this day could be in the future is if we’re dealing with premonitions and time travel, but maybe it’s a reference to something in the past.
The only way Ramdha could recognise Soji is if she’d seen her before – or someone who looks identical. Picard said that Soji and Dahj are “more than twins”; they should be absolutely indistinguishable in appearance. So if the Romulans encountered a Soji-type android in the past, or if the Borg did, that could explain Ramdha’s reaction. If the Borg had encountered a Soji-type android, their knowledge of her appearance could have been conveyed to Ramdha while she was linked to the hive mind. And if the Romulans met such an android, it could be something Ramdha was familiar with through her academic work. Ramdha may have even shared a spot on the transport ship she was on with a Soji-type android – Soji knew a lot about the ship and its crew, after all, and that information has to have come from somewhere.
Narek and Rizzo know Soji’s true nature, and Narek at least is convinced that Soji is this Seb-Cheneb figure. Given that their plan is to find out from Soji the location of her creator’s base of operations or place of origin in order to go to that place and destroy other androids, the Zhat Vash seem to believe that Soji and Dahj aren’t the only two out there. So there could be more – and they could have been flitting about the galaxy for a number of years.
Number 5: Section 31 is involved with the story… somehow.
I have several Section 31 theories kicking around, so I thought I’d roll them all into one. With the organisation having featured very heavily in Discovery’s second season, and with a new Star Trek series in production based around Section 31, it would make a lot of sense from a production point of view to include them in some way in Picard too. It would be a consistent thread running through the modern-day Star Trek shows that would tie things together and give casual viewers at least a basic point of reference.
There are several ways Section 31 could crop up, in my opinion, and we’ll look at them in turn.
5 A: Section 31 hacked the synthetics and attacked Mars.
There wasn’t any new evidence regarding the Mars hack this time, but to summarise from my previous theory posts, I consider Section 31 one of two likely culprits for the atrocity, along with the Zhat Vash. They have the means, the technical ability, and the callousness to pull it off. And in addition, if any faction within the Federation would be opposed to helping the Romulans, given the history of warfare and distrust between them and the Federation, it’s Section 31. They consider themselves above such things as law and ideology, and would do anything in order to advance their cause – even killing Federation citizens.
5 B: Capt. Rios worked for Section 31 when he was aboard the Ibn Majid.
Again, no new evidence for this this week. Last time, Capt. Rios told us about his past service as the executive officer aboard the Ibn Majid. Aside from his captain being killed (which we’ll look at in a moment), the standout bit of information from this is that the ship was erased from Starfleet records. That isn’t something we’d expect to see – but it absolutely fits with Section 31’s modus operandi.
5 C: Seven of Nine is working for Section 31.
Seven of Nine had an incredibly powerful – if small – ship in Absolute Candor. It was able to disable the attacking bird-of-prey despite that ship being a lot larger and more powerful, and come to the aid of La Sirena, which on paper looked like a bigger and more powerful spacecraft.
In addition, she was able to track La Sirena while remaining hidden, and may have been tracking Picard since his earliest encounters with Dahj in Remembrance. One organisation that we know would be able to pull off a covert track-and-protect mission like that would be Section 31. Though why they’d want to protect Picard is unclear – and it wouldn’t make sense if they’re to be an antagonist.
However, Section 31 were always interested in technology and in unique individuals. As a human ex-Borg who spent a long time as part of the Collective, and who journeyed through the Delta Quadrant, Section 31 may well have wanted to have a chat with Seven of Nine after Voyager got back to Earth. Perhaps they recruited her.
Before the end of the season, with the Section 31 series on the horizon perhaps for early next year, I think we will at least hear some mention of the organisation, even if it isn’t in any of the ways listed above.
Number 6 A: The Romulans experimented with synthetics and/or AI in the past – with disastrous consequences.
Why do the Romulans fear synthetics and AI? And why do the Zhat Vash hate them with a burning passion? We saw the synths go rogue and attack Mars beginning with the Short Treks episode Children of Mars, so the idea of rogue AI is definitely a theme running through the series – one which plays on our own fears in the modern day.
The Zhat Vash have already won, essentially. A “galactic treaty” now prohibits the development of synthetic life, and while holograms seem to be exempt from that (for some reason), the Zhat Vash should be celebrating. Perhaps they see themselves as enforcers of the ban, or perhaps Starfleet turned to them when they believed Maddox was still alive and flouting the ban by continuing his work.
But the reason for their quasi-religious zeal, and for their crusade, is unknown. It doesn’t feel like altruism; like they’re trying to save the galaxy from something. It seems to be driven by a primal fear – they’re terrified of what could happen if synthetic life became commonplace. Why that is is the key question. In the past, did the Romulans try to develop some kind of synthetic that went rogue?
6 B: Could the Romulans’ experiments with synthetics and AI have been related to or stemming from the Federation’s work with Control – the AI in Discovery?
Tying Picard to Discovery is something that I’m sure the creators want to do. It’s hard, given the 150-year time gap between the two series, but one possible way to do it would be to make the Romulans’ hatred and fear of AI be related in some way to the AI storyline from Discovery’s second season.
To briefly recap, Section 31 built an AI called Control in the mid-23rd Century, and after the Klingon war ended, Starfleet began to rely heavily on Control. The increased use led Control to develop an aggressive personality, and in its quest to become fully sentient it tried to gain access to data from an ancient lifeform that was stored in Discovery’s computer. If it had been able to do so, it would have chosen to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy, resulting in a bleak, lifeless future which Michael Burnham, Spock, and Burnham’s mother saw. The only way to prevent Control gaining this information was for Burnham and Discovery to travel into the future.
It seems logical to think that, if Starfleet were working on an AI at that time, other factions may have been doing so as well, leading to a kind of AI arms race in the mid-23rd Century. Starfleet’s AI went rogue, so perhaps the Romulans’ did too, if they’d been developing one at the same time. Or perhaps Control attacked Romulan ships and colonies in the same way it attacked Starfleet, and this is what led the Romulans to adopt their anti-synthetic position.
As Picard and Discovery were in production almost at the same moment, it would make sense to think we might see some story element cross over, and this could be one such possibility. We haven’t really seen any significant Discovery references thus far, at least not that I’ve noticed. Could they be saving it for a big reveal that Control is part of why the Romulans and Zhat Vash hate synthetics?
6 C: The Romulans’ AI/synthetic life experiments led to the creation of the Borg.
One thing I’ve been wondering since the end of Discovery’s second season is why Control didn’t end up being a Borg origin story. All of the pieces were there, and right up to about two-thirds of the way through the final episode it seemed like a strong possibility. Could the reason be that Picard’s creative team stepped in while Discovery was already in production with their own Borg origin pitch, forcing the show to change tack?
Again tied into the Zhat Vash’s hatred and fear of synthetics, could it be that the reason they’re so determined to quash all synthetic life is because their own synthetic experiments culminated in the creation of the Borg? It may explain why the Romulans were able to disable a Borg cube while keeping it largely intact, a feat not even the Federation could manage. It could also explain why “all of the disordered are Romulans” – because something about Romulan physiology is present in the Borg and thus they’re affected differently and more severely when disconnected from the hive mind.
Laris says that the Zhat Vash are “far older” than the Tal Shiar. We know that the Romulans achieved interstellar spaceflight in the early years AD in our calendar, as that’s when they left Vulcan. We also know that a millennium or so later, the Borg only controlled “a handful” of systems in the Delta Quadrant, at least according to an episode of Voyager. So it’s possible, if somewhat messy, to fit it all together. Given the Borg’s unflinching nature, however, it raises questions of how the Romulans avoided total assimilation – as well as how and why the Borg ended up in the Delta Quadrant instead of somewhere closer to Romulus.
So those are all of the theories that are either new or were developed further in Absolute Candor. As I did last time, and for the sake of keeping everything in one place, I’m going to briefly recap the remaining theories I had from previous episodes that Absolute Candor neither advanced nor debunked.
Number 7: Picard is terminally ill with Irumodic Syndrome.
This disease was first mentioned in the finale of The Next Generation, which sees Picard visiting an alternate future timeline. Dr Benayoun in Maps and Legends brought Picard the bad news that he’s dying, and referred to the collection of possible diseases as “syndromes”. In Absolute Candor, Picard made reference to his declining health, saying he “may never pass this way again” when discussing the diversion to Vashti.
Number 8: Soji and Dahj’s necklaces are a deliberate symbol from their creators – designed to communicate with other synths and/or synth builders.
Setting aside my complaints about the necklace as a prop, why would Bruce Maddox give Soji and Dahj a very obvious symbol of their true nature to wear? Surely anyone in the know would recognise it – including anti-synth factions like the Zhat Vash. It’s the equivalent of painting a big bulls-eye on both of them – unless it was a deliberate, planned action to communicate with other synthetics or synth creators. Maddox may have said “look out for someone with this necklace”, and that would make it easier for others to make contact with Soji and Dahj – perhaps even to download or upload new information to them.
Number 9: The Trill doctor from Maps and Legends is going to end up assimiliated.
There seemed to be a lot of foreshadowing of this in the only episode in which this Trill doctor has appeared so far, so I would not be surprised at all if she meets an unpleasant fate on board the Artifact.
Number 10: Bruce Maddox is somehow responsible for the attack on Mars.
If this is the case it’s certainly an accident, but I suspect that something Maddox did or didn’t do led to the synths being easily hacked or reprogrammed, the result of which was the attack on Mars. This could be why he fled – not to avoid recrimination but to try to continue his work, hoping to undo some of the damage or alleviate his guilt.
Number 11: Starfleet is conspiring with the Zhat Vash.
Raffi is convinced that this is true, and that the conspiracy dates back to at least the attack on Mars. She didn’t know the Zhat Vash existed then, so she assumed it may have been the Tal Shiar or a rogue faction. But Commodore Oh is definitely working with the Zhat Vash, and though it’s possible she’s a Romulan agent herself, my money is on her being a Vulcan collaborator. Perhaps she enlisted their support to destroy the fleet because she felt helping the Romulans was a mistake, and the Zhat Vash were happy to collaborate as it would lead to the treaty prohibiting synthetic life. Or it’s possible her involvement is more recent, and she’s working with the Zhat Vash as they have the necessary experience when it comes to hunting synths.
Number 12: The captain Rios served under on the Ibn Majid is a character we’re familiar with from a past iteration of Star Trek.
I gave a few names last time for who Rios’ captain might be. This character’s death is an important part of Rios’ story, as the death, and the brutal nature of it, scarred him and drove him away from Starfleet. The two main characters I think are contenders are Harry Kim and Chakotay, both from Voyager, simply because of Kim’s desire to become a captain and Chakotay’s command experience. There are other side characters it could be, but there are so many people we’ve met that meet the criteria – a male commanding officer – that there are too many to list!
Number 13: The synths were hacked.
We’ve got a decent amount of evidence pointing to this. There’s the Commodore Oh conspiracy, Raffi’s comments, F8’s eyes in the flashbacks, the work crew with F8 describing him as “compromised”, and the very particular way the attack was carried out. It was a deliberate strike against a well-chosen target, and rather than continue the carnage, after Mars and the fleet were destroyed, the synths simply killed themselves. I mentioned earlier that Section 31 could be responsible, but it could very well be the Zhat Vash, who have been set up thus far as Picard’s primary antagonists, at least in this season.
So that’s it. Those are my extant theories at this point, four episodes in. It will be funny to come back to this series of posts when the series has ended and we have all the answers – I bet I got far more theories and ideas wrong than I got right! Absolute Candor was the first episode which I felt began to unravel some of the mysteries, and finding out more about Picard’s background in between Nemesis and Remembrance was both interesting and heartbreaking.
The next episode, Stardust City Rag, will be the second directed by Jonathan Frakes, and it looks like we might finally catch up with Bruce Maddox. Will he be able to help?
The fourth episode of Star Trek: Picard, titled Absolute Candor, is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. All previous episodes from Season 1 are also available to watch. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.