We begin with another flashback – Fourteen years ago, outside Starfleet Headquarters, not long after the attack on the Mars. A dejected Admiral Picard exits the building to find Commander Musiker waiting for him. They pressed him on resources, manpower – but he was prepared: “With reserve duty officers and mothball ships” they would be able to continue the evacuation of Romulan space, though at a much smaller scale. It would be even better if they could use synthetic labor… but that certainly won’t be happening: All synthetic lifeforms have been banned effective immediately, active units must be disassembled, and all research stopped. Raffi is horrified – Synths don’t just go rogue. Starfleet says there was a fatal code error, but Raffi thinks the Tal Shiar is behind it. Although, why would the Romulans destroy a fleet intended to help them? She doesn’t know that – yet – but she does know that billions are going to die in the blast of a supernova, and they had nothing to do with the attack.
Picard laments that his leaders are not thinking, only reacting: “I never dreamed that Starfleet would give in to intolerance and fear.” So he gave Starfleet an ultimatum: Either they accept his revised plan for evacuation or he would resign. So he resigned. Raffi can’t believe it, looking for a “last, desperate, wild solution.” But that was it. And that’s when Raffi gets summoned by the CNC, and she’s pretty sure she’s out of a job.
In present day, Picard is catching Raffi up on the last two episodes. Just like Starfleet, Raffi thinks Picard has a lot of nerve asking for her help. She saw his interview, too – in his chateau with his antiques – and she’s living in what is effectively a trailer in Vasquez Rocks, and is growing some 24th Century plants (“snakeleaf”) for her 24th Century vape pen. Economic disparity still exists, and her last fourteen years have been a “slide into humiliation,” while he’s been sequestered away on a vineyard, and she harbors a lot of resentment for that. Plus, it would have been nice if he’s reached out even once in the last fourteen years, without needing anything in return. She takes the wine bottle and storms off into the desert.
On the Cube, Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) watches some security footage of Dr. Soji Asha speaking a language she shouldn’t know, and commends her for her excellent work. XBs are despised, seen as either property to be exploited or a hazard; the Romulans see them as both. He implies that they’re making a pretty penny off the Reclamation Project. But Hugh sees that Soji is different, which pure intentions, and he’s granted her an interview with Ramdha. Ramdha is a Romulan XB who was the foremost expert on ancient Romulan myth. And Soji believes that a “shared mythical framework” can be used therapeutically.
Picard finds Raffi not too far away, drinking right from the Chateau Picard bottle. He understands her anger, and attempts to apologize, but then quickly shifts back to his theories. The Tal Shiar “synth hunters” could not be operating on Earth without Federation complicity. Raffi has long thought that there were Romulan operatives working from inside Starfleet command, but she was referring to their involvement the attack on Mars. And she claims there’s evidence that several high-ranking Starfleet officials allowed that attack to happen, in order to put an end to the rescue mission. Picard still doesn’t understand why the Romulans would sabotage their own rescue, and that’s why he needs Raffi’s help. But she refuses. She’ll get him a pilot, but she will not go with him.
At the Daystrom Institute, Dr. Jurati (Allison Pill) gets a visit from Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita), Director of Starfleet Security, to discuss her recent conversations with Admiral Picard.
Hugh, who turns out to be the Executive Director of the Borg Reclamation Project, takes Soji to see Ramdha. They enter a room full of “The Disordered,” all Romulans, and possibly the only Romulans ever assimilated.
Raffi is inside, reading something on a PADD, when Picard contacts her again. Assuming she’s already doing research, he’ll be sending all the information that the Daystrom Institute had on Bruce Maddox.
Picard beams aboard a ship, where he is greeted somewhat tersely by the man he believes to be Rios. But that’s just an EMH, identical to his captain, who’s treating the actual Rios (Santiago Cabrera) for a piece of shrapnel that’s lodged in his shoulder. Rios invites Picard to sit during these ministrations, and he briefly contemplates the center seat before choosing to sit next to Rios at the Conn, after moving a copy of Miguel de Unamuno’s “The Tragic Sense of Life” out of the way. The two have a brief conversation about the mission, and Picard clocks that Rios is also former Starfleet, and also bitter about it.
On the surface, Raffi is engrossed in her research, which leads her to something called Freecloud.
On La Sirena, Rios’s Emergency Navigation Hologram (who also looks exactly like him), reports that navigation sensors are back a maximum range, and teases him that he might be a bit starstruck by Picard. Turns our that Rios is actually haunted by the last “grand, heroic captain” he had, who he saw killed in action.
In France, Picard looks out over his vineyard, preparing to leave once again. He confesses to Laris, “I tried my best to belong to this place, but I don’t think I ever truly felt at home here.”
Ramdha (Rebecca Wisocky) continues to create a pattern with a deck of Romulan cards, each of which has a name and presumably a meaning (reminiscent of Tarot cards, perhaps?), and she lays down a card with the image of a door, but Hugh says the card’s name is actually “false door.” Romulan homes have a false front door that isn’t used; you have to go around back (growing up, this was not uncommon in my neighborhood either). Soji site down behind Ramdha, and “requests entry” in Romulan. Ramdha finally acknowledges her.
As Picard prepares to leave the vineyard, Romulan assassins attack the chateau. Laris and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) morph into Tal Shiar mode, and they have hidden weapons all over Picard’s house. Just when they think they’ve fought them all off, another assassin enters, but is shot from behind… by Dr. Jurati, who’s a little shaken up that she just killed someone. While Laris and Zhaban deal with the intruders – collecting their weapons, tying up one that isn’t dead and trying to revive him – Jurati recounts her visit with Commodore Oh. Jurati says she told the truth, but left out one important detail. And that’s when our Romulan friend regains consciousness.
Soji, identifying herself as an anthropologist, continues her attempts to forge a connection with Ramdha, who isn’t responding to an of her questions until Soji asks if the imagery on the cards has a connection to Romulan mythology. Ramdha hates that word. She prefers “the news.” Soji loves it, the idea that the XBs could create a mythology “shared narrative framework” to deal with their trauma which is routed in history but relevant to the present. That’s what she really wants to do. And that’s when something in Ramdha recognizes Soji, and says “I remember you from tomorrow.”
Soji presses on, telling Ramdha that she was on the very last vessel that this Cube ever assimilated – which is news even to Hugh – and during that assimilation, something went wrong. Ramdha places her cards down faster as her eyes tear up, but Soji grabs her hand to ask “What caused the sub-matrix collapse?” Ramdha turns over a card with two women, who look remarkably like Dahj and Soji, and asks, “Which one are you? Which sister are you? The one who dies or the one who lives?” Ramdha gets up, and grabs a weapon from the belt of a guard and points it at Soji, calling her “The Destroyer.”
Simultaneously, in France, Picard attempts to interrogate the assassin that they’ve captured. Picard wants to know why they killed Dahj, and where her sister is. The Romulan answers, “You’ll never find her before we do.” Laris punches him. Laris is awesome. But when he hits the floor, the Romulan says “She is the end of all! She is the Destroyer!” Then he spits acid on Zhaban (who quickly removes his cardigan, avoiding any harm) and then disintegrates.
Ramdha turns the pistol on herself, aiming it at her temple, but Soji runs to stop her. She and Hugh are able to gain control of her, and as he walks Ramdha out of the room, Soji sees that all of the “Disordered” Romulans are staring at her.
Back in her room, Soji calls her mom to ask if Dahj is okay. Mom says she just spoke with her today, and as she starts to tell a story, Soji falls asleep. She’s woken when Narek visits, to check on her after today’s incident. Soji is shaken – five minutes before her discussion with Ramdha, Soji didn’t know anything about the ship she was on. “Do you believe me?” To distract her and avoid the question, Narek tells her that he’s falling in love with her.
Rizzo – or rather Narissa (Peyton List) – has returned to the Borg Cube and snags Narek as he leaves Soji’s room. Soji hasn’t provided much information yet, but Narek is sure that she doesn’t know what she truly is. And to avoid a repeat of what happened on Earth, he wants to keep it that way.
Now that things have calmed down a bit at the chateau, Jurati reveals the the one thing she didn’t tell Commodore Oh is that she’ll be joining Picard to look for Maddox and “the other Dahj.” Picard gets a hail from Rios, who warns him that “it’s about to get hotter.” They have to leave right away, so Jurati makes her case for why she should be there. IMO, she should have started with the last reason she gave: “I’m Agnes P. Jurati; I’m the Earth’s leading expert on synthetic life.” Time to go.
Picard and Jurati beam aboard to find Raffi at the Ops station. She’s found Maddox. And in exchange for that information, she wants to come along. But she’s not joining his “crew,” she’s just hitching a ride to Freecloud, where Maddox happens to be. Everyone’s agreed, and Picard gives the command we’ve all be waiting for: “Engage.” Jurati is awestruck and Raffi rolls her eyes.