Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for the first five episodes of Star Trek: Picard, as well as for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Stardust City Rag was a great episode – definitely my favourite of the two episodes directed by Star Trek legend Jonathan Frakes this season – though I was surprised not to see Riker and Troi appear, as we saw them in the trailers before the series premiered and I had assumed that they might appear in the episodes he directed. Regardless, I had a great time with Stardust City Rag, and several new theories have emerged as a result of what we saw on screen in that episode.
There’s also one debunked theory from last time, as well as – for the first time – a theory that was confirmed on screen! Let’s look at those two first, then take a look at the new and returning theories for what may happen as we head into the second half of the season.
Debunked theory: Seven of Nine is working for Section 31.
Last week, I speculated that Seven of Nine could be working for the covert branch of Starfleet Intelligence known as Section 31. This was because of the way in which she saved Picard and the crew of La Sirena when they were under attack – her small ship was incredibly powerful, and seemed to come from nowhere.
Whether she’d been following and tracking La Sirena, and how long for, she seemed to know that it was Picard on board, addressing him by name when she beamed aboard. It seemed too coincidental, so I wondered if Seven of Nine might have a motive for following Picard and his new crew.
There’s a new Star Trek series in the works based around Section 31, so I feel certain that the organisation will feature in some form in Star Trek: Picard. But as Seven of Nine works for the Fenris Rangers, it doesn’t seem like this is the way the show’s creators will bring in Section 31. I also got the impression that this is the last time we’ll see Seven of Nine in the show – at least in any major capacity. So we can consider this one debunked.
Confirmed theory: Dr Jurati is a double-agent of some kind.
When Dr Jurati first joined the crew at the end of The End is the Beginning, Raffi seemed shocked at her inclusion – Picard had never mentioned her, and Raffi hadn’t been able to subject her to a security check, “not even the most basic!” That line set up this theory for me, and it didn’t take as long as I might’ve expected for it to pay off.
Dr Jurati had opportunities to hurt Picard if that had been her goal. In Stardust City Rag she got her best shot – when Picard and the rest of La Sirena’s crew were on Freecloud to spring Maddox from custody, she was left behind to operate the transporter. She could have simply chosen not to – trapping Picard and his small team on Freecloud up against a small army of Bjayzl’s security personnel. So her goal doesn’t seem to be killing Picard or getting him killed – if it was that simple she could have shot him with the Romulan weapon when she had it at the vineyard, clobbered him in his sleep on board La Sirena, or used her technical expertise when he visited her at Daystrom to turn a deactivated synth on him. No, her mission was to target Bruce Maddox.
She did so ruthlessly – altering the settings on his bio-bed in La Sirena’s sickbay, triggering multiple organ failure that took place almost instantaneously, and causing him what looked like a rather painful death. Doing so has completely emotionally crippled her; there was no one around for her to put on an act for, so her reaction to killing someone she had worked for, admired, cared for, and may have been romantically involved with was heart-wrenching for her.
The question that remains is why? What was so dangerous about Maddox that she couldn’t leave him alive, even signing on with the Zhat Vash-Commodore Oh conspiracy in order to kill him? What is the horrible secret that she knows? And why does she feel that her invaluable contribution to the creation of Soji and Dahj is something she needs to “atone for”?
So those are the debunked and confirmed theories as of the end of Stardust City Rag. Now let’s take a look at some new theories, as well as returning theories that this week’s episode advanced.
Number 1: The Romulans experimented with AI and synthetics in the past – with horrible consequences.
What caused Dr Jurati to murder Bruce Maddox? It has to be something truly awful – likely something she was told by Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash. Laris told us in Maps and Legends that the Zhat Vash keep a secret “so profound and terrible, just learning it can break a person’s mind”. Overly dramatic, perhaps – as we’ve seen Romulans can be – but if the Romulans had, at some point in their history, experimented with synthetic life and AI, that could be the secret that the Zhat Vash are keeping.
In a sense, the Zhat Vash have already won. The attack on Mars led to a “galactic treaty” which banned synthetic life, shutting down all research into synthetics. Dr Jurati claimed to still be working in a “theoretical” capacity, but after what she did I think we have to consider that claim to be at least somewhat suspect.
Bruce Maddox said that his lab was destroyed by the Tal Shiar – we’ll get on to the complicated relationship between the two factions soon. For some reason, according to Laris at least, Romulans in general do not work with or research synthetic life – but why? One possible explanation lies in the past – they worked with synthetics and something went horribly wrong.
1 A: The Romulans’ hatred and fear of synthetic life is related to the Control AI from Star Trek: Discovery.
I mentioned in my review of Stardust City Rag that I saw some glimpse or echo of this storyline when Dr Jurari was watching Maddox die. And from a production point of view, I have no doubt that finding some way to tie Discovery and Picard together is something that the overall creative team behind Star Trek at the moment would love to do. This could be one way of doing that.
In thematic terms we’re there already. Both Picard and Discovery’s second season have touched on fears of out-of-control murderous AIs, and I’m sure that was not just a coincidence. If I’ve noticed it – amateur that I am – others will have too. There is a lot to say about the concept of artificial intelligence, especially as we, in the modern world, seem to be barrelling toward creating AIs without fully understanding the consequences. I explored this theme in a bit more depth in my essay titled The Borg – space zombies, and looked in particular at how it can make the Borg a truly frightening villain by playing on our own present-day fears. Scientists like Stephen Hawking have spoken out in the past about the dangers of human and super-human AIs, and it’s a theme both Discovery and Picard have used to great effect.
But could there be more to it than a thematic similarity? It’s possible that the Control AI from Discovery is a direct cause of the Romulans’ fears. This could be because they worked on their own AI around the same time – competing against the Federation in a mid-23rd Century AI arms race. Control went rogue, so perhaps the Romulan AI did too. Or it could be that Control actually attacked and “assimilated” Romulans, as we saw it do to Capt. Leland. There was a span of time before its defeat at the hands of the USS Discovery and the USS Enterprise where Control was in command of an armada of Section 31 ships, and could have crossed over into Romulan space – we just didn’t see any of that on screen.
1 B: The Romulans’ AI experiments directly led to the creation of the Borg.
The question of how and why the Romulans were able to capture the Artifact while keeping it intact is interesting – do they know more about the Borg than they let on? If they do, could it be because they are responsible for the Borg’s creation?
What kind of secret could, even metaphorically, “break a person’s mind”? I can’t think of many, but one that could might be the knowledge that your ancestors created the galaxy’s deadliest threat. I’ve written before that the Control AI storyline mentioned above seemed like it was designed to be a Borg origin story – but for some reason that aspect of it was cut out, leaving behind all of the pieces of the puzzle. There is a production-side reason that might account for it – while Discovery Season 2 was already in production, the creators of Picard came up with their own Borg origin story. Well, you can’t have two origins for the Borg, so a choice had to be made. And higher-ups at ViacomCBS and Secret Hideout picked the Zhat Vash and Picard rather than Control and Discovery. It’s a long-shot, perhaps even verging into conspiracy theory territory, but it makes sense.
The in-universe timeline for how this could work would fit, too. The Romulans left Vulcan around the 3rd or 4th Century AD – so they were capable of interstellar flight by that time. The Borg were known to be in control of “a handful” of systems in the Delta Quadrant around a millennium later according to the Voyager episode Dragon’s Teeth. So there is time for the Romulans to have messed up their AI research, accidentally created the Borg, and for the Borg to have left or been cast out, establishing themselves on the far side of the galaxy.
It could also explain something else – why the Romulans are dissecting all the Borg they can get their hands on and examining their components, despite seemingly being fearful of synthetic life.
1 C: There’s an inherent flaw in all synthetic life – or in the way organics treat synthetic life – that will always lead to rebellion.
The Mass Effect trilogy of video games gave us a great example of this concept. The villain in that story was a race of synthetic beings called the Reapers. They would emerge in the galaxy every time a technological civilisation emerged to “harvest” them; preserving the DNA and essence of organic life in a synthetic form. Their reasoning for doing so was that eventually all organics will create synthetics – and those synthetics will always rise up and destroy them.
The question of why the synths attacked Mars is still very much open. It’s possible that it was the opening act in what was intended to be a synthetic rebellion – synths all over the Federation rising up and overthrowing their organic masters. We don’t know at this stage how many synths there were active in the Federation, but there may have been more than just those on Mars. Voyager touched on this theme in the two-part episode Flesh and Blood, which sees holograms rise up against their Hirogen hunters. And the premise of an AI rebellion is one that’s common across science fiction – often with no better explanation than “because that’s what AIs do”.
One thing that was really interesting when I re-watched The Measure of a Man from the second season of The Next Generation was how that episode tackled the idea of synthetic life being subjected to slavery. Guinan sat down with Picard and put that point to him, and it changed the whole way he approached the idea of Data having rights – if he didn’t, it would be the first step to creating a slave underclass within the Federation. Could the idea of a synth rebellion be akin to slaves rebelling against their masters? And crucially, is that what the synths were trying to do when they attacked Mars?
From the Romulans’ perspective, is a synth rebellion something that happened to them in their past? And could that explain the Zhat Vash’s militancy when dealing with synthetic life? I’ve noted before that they seem to fear synthetics as much as hate them, treating them almost with disgust at times. I wonder if that fear is borne from a rebellion in Romulus’ past, and if the series is going to end up saying that all synthetic life will ultimately rebel – if we try to treat them like slaves.
Number 2: The galactic trade in Borg components has only one buyer – and it’s related somehow to synthetics.
There seems to be a roaring trade in the galaxy in Borg components, going back at least thirteen years to the time of Icheb’s murder. But would so many factions and individuals be interested in deactivated Borg technology? You could make the case that Starfleet, as well as perhaps other large military powers, would want to know all they could about the Borg, in preparation for a future conflict. But the Borg parts from the Artifact are over a decade old, so they aren’t up-to-date and may not be as useful as they first appear.
Furthermore, the USS Voyager brought back a ton of information on the Borg when she returned from the Delta Quadrant, including maps of Borg space and future technology like armour designed specifically to defend against them, so there may be less imperative than we’d think to gain access to a Borg drone’s eyepiece or a handful of nanobots. And that’s not even accounting for the danger in holding onto such technology.
It’s possible then that there’s one primary buyer of all of these components – one faction that is collecting as many components and as much information as possible about the Borg.
The Zhat Vash could very well be that faction – looking for weapons to use in their anti-synthetic crusade, as well as anything that would give the Romulans in general an edge over the Federation and others.
It’s also possible that synthetic life – and thus the creation of Soji and Dahj – was only made possible because of this exploitation of Borg technology. Thus it could be someone like Bruce Maddox who was buying up these components – though if that is the case he may have been unaware of where they were coming from, especially when considering Icheb.
Number 3: Bruce Maddox inadvertently caused the attack on Mars.
With no mention of this before Maddox’s death, you could make the case that this theory looks less likely this week than it did last week. But there was definitely something in the way Maddox spoke to Picard toward the end of Stardust City Rag that at least hinted at this.
I think we can firmly rule out the idea that he was deliberately involved in the attack and the conspiracy – not least because Dr Jurati, who seems to be connected to Commodore Oh and thus to the Zhat Vash, murdered him. If they’d been working together, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. And from Maddox’s perspective, as someone who has always advocated for more synthetic research and development, why he’d want to be involved in an attack that led to the ban also makes no sense.
However, it’s possible that something he did or didn’t do led to the attack – perhaps a flaw in the androids’ programming, or a backdoor that led to them being easily hacked. Maddox – like Raffi – seemed certain of a Starfleet conspiracy when he spoke with Picard, and he sent Soji and Dahj out into the galaxy specifically to find out more about what happened – could that be because he feels guilty? Not just for the lives lost on Mars, but for the prohibition of synthetic life and the forced shutdown of surviving synths?
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the synths were described as suffering a “fatal code error” – as Maddox was the senior scientist in the Federation, could this have been his error?
Number 4: The synths who attacked Mars were hacked.
While we didn’t really get any new evidence for the hack itself this time, the trade in Borg components got me thinking about another possible culprit – if indeed we are looking at a hack of sorts.
For the last few weeks, the two biggest culprits behind the attack on Mars – and thus, hacking the synths – have been Section 31 and the Zhat Vash. Section 31 will, I’m certain, at least be mentioned before the series ends given everything going on on the production side of Star Trek, and the Zhat Vash have been set up as the show’s main antagonists.
But in my first theory post I also suggested that the Borg could be responsible for the hack – even though this doesn’t fit with their normal modus operandi. I dropped that aspect of the theory as we learned more about the Zhat Vash and their potential conspiracy with Starfleet Intelligence, but as we have learnt a little more in Stardust City Rag regarding the galactic trade in Borg components, I wonder if there could be a Borg dimension to the attack on Mars.
In short, if Bruce Maddox had used Borg components or Borg technology harvested from the Artifact or from ex-Borg in his work on the synths, it could be possible that they somehow had a dormant link to the Borg Collective – a link which could have been inadvertently activated, leading to the events on Mars.
It’s also possible that the same Borg technology was the backdoor that led someone else – like the Zhat Vash – to be able to easily hack the Mars synths.
Other pieces of evidence we’ve collected for the idea of a hack in previous episodes are: the Commodore Oh conspiracy, Raffi’s comments, F8’s eyes in the flashback sequences, the work crew with F8 describing him as “compromised”, the fact that all of the synths went rogue simultaneously, 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.
Number 5: Picard’s decision to tell everyone that their enemy is the Tal Shiar – and not the Zhat Vash – will come back to haunt him.
Elnor is the most likely to be affected by the revelation that his and Picard’s opponents are the Zhat Vash. As a Romulan, and as someone who has spent his life with the secretive Qowat Milat order, he is the most likely to be aware of the Zhat Vash – and may know how to deal with them. But since Elnor was basically ignored in Stardust City Rag, we didn’t get any advancement on this angle this week.
What we did see, however, is Bruce Maddox and Bjayzl both discussing the Tal Shiar. Neither of them seemed to know about the Zhat Vash – not even Maddox, who has worked in the synthetic research field for decades. If there were a super-secret Romulan faction going around disrupting synthetic research, it’s at least plausible someone in his position would have heard of them. The fact that he doesn’t seem to know who the Zhat Vash are – especially since we can infer that they’re the ones who destroyed his lab – is remarkable.
For the crew of La Sirena, learning that Maddox is to be sold to the Tal Shiar fits with what Picard had told them – but it isn’t the full story. And I’m certain that the Zhat Vash will come back into play soon. Picard’s decision to frame the mission as one where he and the crew are opposing the Tal Shiar, without going into more detail about at least the possibility that the Zhat Vash exist, may come back to bite them.
Number 6: Rizzo and Narek have no reason to keep Soji alive any more.
Bruce Maddox’s lab was destroyed by the Tal Shiar. This happened around two weeks before the events of Stardust City Rag. We didn’t get any new scenes with Narek, Soji, or Rizzo this week, but last time Rizzo said she’d only give Narek a week to learn from Soji where she originated – so the Zhat Vash could travel there and destroy the lab, as well as any other synths they might find there.
Depending on how one interprets the timeline of the series, the destruction of Maddox’s lab may have taken place around the time we saw Rizzo and Narek have that conversation. Even if it happened a week earlier, there’s no guarantee that word of the successful destruction of the lab would have reached Narek and Rizzo so quickly.
Basically, now that Maddox’s lab has been destroyed, what purpose does Soji serve to Rizzo and Narek? The sole purpose of interrogating her gently, without causing her to “activate”, was to learn where she came from. With the lab already destroyed, Soji could be in much greater danger from Rizzo – she may well serve no useful purpose any more, meaning the agents can move into the final phase of their mission and simply kill her.
Number 7: Starfleet is conspiring with the Zhat Vash.
Commodore Oh hasn’t cropped up for several episodes now, but her influence was clearly felt this week, as Dr Jurati killed her former friend. I think we can be almost 100% certain that Dr Jurati isn’t a Romulan agent – she’s a deeply troubled and conflicted person, doing what she believed was right based on the horrible secret she knows. But we know that Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash are working together – but whether Oh is a Romulan agent or a Vulcan co-conspirator still isn’t clear.
Raffi absolutely believes that there is a Starfleet conspiracy, though. And her unwillingness to let go of that damaged and perhaps even permanently ruined her relationship with her son. Picard told us that Raffi had a unique talent for finding connections – so the fact that she sees a connection between the Romulans and Starfleet is significant.
We also have to consider the purpose of Bruce Maddox’s murder. Was it simply to stop him building more synthetics? If so, it’s probably a vain effort. He’s already invented the technology and process, and that will be documented somewhere, meaning that even though Maddox himself is dead, someone else could continue his work just as he continued Dr Soong’s work. However, it was clearly a Zhat Vash-inspired move. If Maddox had been flouting the ban on creating new synths, the Federation would have arrested him, put him on trial, and imprisoned him. They wouldn’t have sent an undercover agent to assassinate him. Thus, Dr Jurati’s actions lend more credence to the notion that there’s a collaboration between some elements within Starfleet and the Zhat Vash. However, if Commodore Oh is in fact a Romulan agent, Dr Jurati could conceivably be the only Federation citizen involved; a victim of manipulation by the Romulans rather than one part of a wider conspiracy.
So those are all of the updated theories after Stardust City Rag. In order to keep everything in one place, I’ll now briefly recap the other active theories I have for Star Trek: Picard that weren’t touched on in this week’s outing.
Number 8: There is some kind of Section 31 involvement.
This stems from the fact that Section 31 has featured prominently in Star Trek: Discovery and is set to be the subject of a new Star Trek series. Involving Section 31 in Star Trek: Picard’s story could drum up support for the new series, as well as serve as a useful point of reference for casual fans as they switch between shows.
8 A: Chris Rios used to work for Section 31.
Rios served as the first officer aboard the USS Ibn Majid. After his captain was killed (we’ll look at that in just a moment) Rios left Starfleet – but not before the Ibn Majid was “erased” from Starfleet’s records. This is definitely something a covert organisation like Section 31 would do in order to cover their tracks.
8 B: Section 31 hacked the synths and attacked Mars.
I mentioned this in my theory above, but just to recap: it looks at least plausible that the synthetics who attacked Mars were hacked and didn’t act of their own volition. Section 31 are militant in their pro-Federation outlook, and if they believed helping the Romulans was a bad idea – as they conceivably might – they could have conducted the attack as a way to stop Picard’s rescue armada.
Number 9: Chris Rios’ captain on the Ibn Majid is a character we’ve met before in another Star Trek series.
I don’t really have any evidence for this aside from a gut feeling! But Rios described his former captain as “heroic”, and there are several male Starfleet officers who could fit the bill. We can rule out people like Riker, Worf, and La Forge – they were mentioned by Zhaban in Maps and Legends so we know they are still alive. I picked Harry Kim and Chakotay as possible candidates from the past, but there are other side characters like Edward Jellico from The Next Generation who are in the running. Given that Star Trek: Picard showed with Icheb and Maddox that the writers aren’t afraid of killing off legacy characters, this theory remains in the running.
Number 10: The Trill doctor from Maps and Legends is going to get assimilated.
With no scenes taking place on the Artifact this week, we didn’t see this theory move forward in any way. And I have to admit that, as we get further and further out from the one episode in which she appeared, the likelihood of this theory panning out decreases. But there was so much horror film-esque foreshadowing that I’d be really surprised if this didn’t happen!
Number 11: Soji and Dahj’s necklaces were a deliberate symbol from Bruce Maddox to signal or communicate with someone.
Soji and Dahj’s necklaces are an interesting idea. The symbol they depict is meant to represent a particular method of creating synthetics. Yet giving them a necklace with that symbol given the ban on synthetic life is a very odd choice on Maddox’s part – anyone in the know would recognise it and it would draw unwanted attention. For all we know, it may be how Starfleet and the Zhat Vash first became aware of Soji and Dahj. So why did he do it? My theory is that it was deliberate – an attempt to signal or communicate with someone, likely another researcher or creator of synths.
Number 12: Picard’s terminal illness is Iruomodic Syndrome.
Picard is dying – that was one of the biggest revelations from the second episode of the season. Dr Benayoun – who brought him the bad news – described the collection of diseases as “syndromes”, and Picard says he knew this was a possibility. Both of these are references to the finale of The Next Generation, All Good Things, in which Picard jumps to a future timeline in which he’s suffering from a condition called Irumodic Syndrome. I suspect we’ll get confirmation of this before the season is over.
Number 13: There are other Soji and Dahj lookalikes out there. The Romulans – or the Borg – have already encountered at least one.
This stems from Ramdha claiming to recognise and know Soji in The End is the Beginning. She refers to Soji as Seb-Cheneb – a Romulan term for “the destroyer”, someone who is connected to a day called Ganmadan, which means “the annihilation”. Narek tells Rizzo that he too believes Soji to be Seb-Cheneb.
Ramdha’s character is concerned with history and folklore, so she may have encountered a Soji-type android when conducting her research. It’s also possible that she knows about Soji because she was assimilated by the Borg – and the Borg had previously encountered a Soji-type android and communicated that information to Ramdha while she was connected to the Collective.
Maddox himself only mentioned Soji and Dahj, and didn’t say he’d created any others, which may mean this one is less likely. But as we don’t know how or why Ramdha could have possibly known about Soji, nor why she and Narek believe her to be Seb-Cheneb, a figure from Romulan folklore, it remains a possibility. Could time travel be involved somehow?
Number 14: Narek is going to go rogue.
The story of a spy who falls for his target and turns on his allies to protect her isn’t new, it’s something we’ve seen before in the spy-fiction genre that has inspired the Narek-Rizzo-Soji storyline. But we’re getting hints that something like this may pan out, as Narek confessed his love for Soji and Rizzo scolded him for it.
Narek is quite taken with Soji, and with Rizzo clearly being aggressive toward him, I wonder if Soji might do something to save his life, winning his loyalty. Or whether he may simply fall for her and be inspired to turn on his allies to save her when she’s threatened.
So that’s it. Those are my current theories as we hit the halfway point! It was great to see a theory confirmed as Star Trek: Picard now begins the task of unravelling its expertly-established mysteries and story threads. I can’t wait to learn more and start crossing more theories of the list as we move into the second half of Season 1.
The first five episodes of Star Trek: Picard can be streamed now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. 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.