Four episodes in, Star Trek: Picard is finally finding its footing, now that Picard is free of Earth and finally has some gravity plating back under his feet. After a slow start in the first three episodes, the captain is on his ship, he assembled most of a crew, and he's on mission. And while Episode 4, "Absolute Candor," is still something of a digression as we add more characters to the proceedings, it's one that reveals more of who Picard is and finally feels like it's pushing the story to pick up some forward momentum.
Most of "Absolute Candor" continues to fill in the blanks surrounding Picard's role in the Romulan rescue from 14 years before the show started, with much of the action taking place on Vashti, a world where Picard (Patrick Stewart) helped settle Romulan refugees. Here, we get our first close look at how the Federation's abandonment of the Romulans affected actual people--the failed rescue left once-prominent and successful people stranded on a dusty, underdeveloped world, where resentment has been left to fester.
A lot of that resentment surrounds Elnor (Evan Evagora), a Romulan orphan Picard helped rescue in the lead-up to the big evacuation and left on Vashti, with the expectation of finding a better home for him later. Fourteen years later, Elnor is all grown up--and angry that Picard abandoned him, and the rest of the Romulan people.
Picard's visit to Vashti, where he attempts to recruit Elnor to the mission to save Soji (Isa Briones), shows a side of the Romulan situation we haven't seen yet, in which the legendary captain isn't viewed with so much reverence. His resignation from Starfleet meant he basically abandoned all the Romulans he had helped to their own devices. Plenty of them now view him as a man who made a lot of empty promises, an embodiment of a Starfleet that showed up to help them when they needed it in order to disarm a proud people who could otherwise have helped themselves.
Those challenges to the image we have of Jean-Luc Picard--as an accomplished leader and diplomat, and incredibly principled man--are the best aspects of the show so far, and Episode 4 leans into them pretty hard. What's interesting about Star Trek: Picard is less its continuation of the story of a beloved character and more that it is deconstructing him by placing him in a world where he doesn't fit. Picard's view of Starfleet didn't line up with reality, so he abandoned it, and that caused suffering for a lot of people, including people he cared about. Reckoning with those facts is humanizing Picard in new, fascinating ways, and those moments are the ones that make "Absolute Candor" really work.
There's also a lot of potential in Picard's relationship with Elnor, who has become a sword-wielding warrior monk in the 14 years since the two last saw each other. Elnor makes yet another member of the crew who's following Picard but maybe not too happy about it, and while their confrontations are minimal in "Absolute Candor," it's exciting to see a group of people following Picard that don't worship him the way the Enterprise crew did.
Meanwhile, the story with Soji on the Borg Cube gets a little advancement, while avoiding getting lost in the pseudo-technical side of her work. Soji's development as a person is a lot more interesting, and we're starting to see a little more humanity out of Narek (Harry Treadaway) that's helping construct him as a relatable villain and not just the shadowy figure he's mostly been up until now. The pair's moment conducting an "ancient Borg ritual" feels like it does more for both of their characters than two episodes' worth of scenes studying Borg drones managed to accomplish.
Star Trek: Picard is still in its ramping-up phase, and like Episode 3, "Absolute Candor" is another exercise is recruiting members of Picard's team, rather than actually getting on with their mission. Where it excels, though, is in challenging its characters with their own history, and continuing to develop Jean-Luc and his team in fascinating ways. A lot of what we've seen from Star Trek: Picard so far suggests more potential than what it actually shows--but with Episode 4, it feels like the show is gathering momentum in all the areas that make it an interesting addition to the Star Trek franchise.