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“Dominion” Addresses the Debate at the Heart of ‘Star Trek: Picard’

9 Minute Read
Mar 31 2023
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Star Trek: Picard has loads of lingering questions. And while “Dominion” pushes forward on some, its strength lies in a much larger question.

With only four episodes remaining, there’s a lot to wrap on the final season of Star Trek: Picard. The biggest mysteries involve the Dominion, Jack’s potential involvement with them, and how a newly minted “Old Man Data” fits into the mix. There are, of course, lots of other factors in play. Riker and Troi are Vadic’s prisoners. And apparently, the Dominion stole the remains of Picard’s human body.

“Dominion” certainly spends time deepening all of these mysteries. And it answers the question “just how compromised is Starfleet?” Short answer: A LOT. It is A LOT compromised. But there’s a larger statement here about Starfleet — namely that has never been the reliable institution it purports itself to be.

But before we get to that…

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To Boldly Recap “Dominion”

Seven of Nine reaches out to Captain Tuvok to see if he can help the Titan. Unfortunately, Tuvok is not Tuvok – he’s a changeling. And with that knowledge Picard and Beverly Crusher consider less-than-savory options. Crusher suggests she may be able to create a biological weapon to fight back. But that would be tantamount to genocide.

On the Titan, Geordi and Picard discuss this new android which is basically two personalities: Data and Lore. We hear a little from both those brothers. Data seems to suggest that there’s more to Jean-Luc and Jack’s Irumodic Syndrome than meets the eye. And naturally, Lore still seems to really dislike humanity. Also still disliking humanity is Vadic who once again gets instruction from Dominion leadership to find Jack Crusher or die.

On the subject of Jack Crusher, he seems to be able to read minds which he accidentally finds out while flirting With Sidney La Forge. And while he’s sensing people’s feelings, Jack goes to Picard and tells him he wants to surrender himself. Jack feels guilty that Riker is being held hostage. And while Picard is totally against giving up Jack, he is not against trapping the Shrike into thinking they can get to Jack.

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Starship Thine

The Shrike shows up and encounters a powered-down Titan. Apparently, they lost in a fight with a Vulcan ship under Dominion control. It’s a ruse of course and Vadic’s away team finds themselves behind force fields shortly after the beam aboard.

Everything is going to plan until two things happen. Thing the first is that Lore starts to take control of the ship. And thing the second is that Vadic reveals her tragic backstory. It turns out the reason she and her crew are different from other Changelings is because of Starfleet. Vadic was a POW post-Dominion War. It turns out the scientists at Daystrom changed her physiology in order to make her a better killer. She shows them by killing the chief scientist and taking on her form.

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Despite Geordi’s attempts to plead with the Data side of the android, Lore remains largely in control and lowers all forcefields. Long story short: Vadic and her team escape, make their way to the bridge, and take over. But not before Picard and Crusher both admit that their own moral compasses are slipping and that they’re basically ready to kill before they themselves are killed.

Also, Jack helps Sidney by taking over her mind and body to help her fight off a changeling. But it’s all for nothing (at least for now). While Data takes control of the android body, Vadic is already the new captain — and she’s setting a course to bring Jack to where he belongs.

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To Boldly Review “Dominion”

“Dominion” is the strongest episode of Star Trek: Picard and weirdly it’s because it brings back elements of the first season people were originally lukewarm on. Back in season one, the question being examined was “is Starfleet still good?” Season three asks an even larger question: was Starfleet ever good?

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine remains a favorite for a lot of people and one of the biggest reasons for that is the Dominion War. Specifically, people love that the Dominion War reveals the imperfection of Starfleet. Earth locks itself down and takes its own people’s rights away over a few changelings. And Starfleet creates a genocidal virus to wipe out changelings and win the war. You can love Sisko and the gang and still know that this is a dark point in Federation history.

Star Trek: The Next Generation exists in stark opposition to “DS9” because Picard and his crew, with rare exceptions, always do the right thing. And even when Starfleet is in error, it’s usually because of one, bad leader. Corruption is always easily corrected. Star Trek: Picard from its inception takes that certainty, that unwavering good, and calls it into question.

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In “Picard” season one, that idea gets lost with a focus on alternate universe robots. This time the message is much more clear and more harmonious. And even more importantly, with “Dominion” we’re finally getting more time with our NEXT next generation.

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Referencing With Purpose

Last week I felt like the references to Trek’s past felt tacked on. “Dominion” is completely the opposite. Right from the start, we got a cameo from Tim Russ as Star Trek: Voyager favorite Tuvok. And what’s great here is that his presence serves both a narrative and a subtextual purpose. This isn’t Tuvok at all – it’s a changeling. And this changeling makes it clear that the real Tuvok wishes he was dead so bad is his suffering.

Narratively, this shows us how bad things are. Even if you don’t know who Tuvok is, this scene is unsettling. If you’re a Trekkie, it’s a bit of fan service. Not only do people like Tuvok, but Tim Russ, himself a massive Trekkie, is someone fans have loved for a long, long time. But having him play a changeling is a wonderful flip of the script. Yes, the cameo is there, but it’s not just giving fans a jolt of serotonin. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is nostalgia twisting the knife.

Similarly, we get this wonderful scene in the observation lounge that’s straight out of TNG. Crusher presents an option to defeat the Dominion but it requires a kind the same kind of genocide attempted on “DS9”. Here, nostalgia is a trick, an almost bait and switch. Because ultimately both Picard and Crusher are willing to kill Vadic in the name of their own survival.

More than that, Crusher and Picard choose the darker path right after they find out Vadic and here people were abused by the Federation. These unflappable, unwavering good people, in a moment of weakness, opt for more cruelty. Was Starfleet ever good? The answer gets foggier by the moment.

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Datalore: Together Again

There’s this really funny bit in “Dominion” where Alandra asks Geordi if Lore is always “so arch”. And something I really love is that Lore basically points out that if you’re stuck dealing with humanity all the time when you’re an android super genius, you might be a little arch, too. Now mind you he’s rewriting history here. Humanity didn’t make Lore summon the Crystalline Entity. Humanity didn’t make Lore kill his own father. And humanity didn’t make Lore gaslight the Borg.

But there’s always been this lovely duality between Lore and Data. Lore’s “archness” stems from a rejection of humanity. Data’s benevolence stems from his embracing humanity. Lore is not wrong to find humanity lacking. Conversely, there are times when Data puts too much faith in humanity’s ability to do the right thing.

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And you can see in “Dominion” that both of them are right about aspects of humanity. Yes, Picard and Beverly resist going full nuclear on Vadic – at first. But to Lore’s credit, these two legacy heroes ultimately seem to land on justifying murder right after they find out the Federation tortured Vadic. As “arch” as Lore is absolutely played during his every TNG appearance, on this occasion we see for the first time that he’s kind of got a point.

The old guard still clings to Starfleet and the Federation as something which must be protected at all costs. Beverly and Jean-Luc are so stuck on keeping a certain status quo that it doesn’t occur to them that their dogmatic approach actually puts Jack in more danger. And I mean that as a compliment. Because…

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Jack and Sidney Are the Future

Something I struggled with during last week’s episode “The Bounty” is that it focuses so much on the references and the legacy characters. It’s comfort food first, storytelling second. But in “Dominion” we have this uncomfortable story that plainly shows our legacy characters making choices that, by their own admission, are unethical.

Something I really love about Jack in “Dominion” is that he is willing to sacrifice himself because he doesn’t see the ethics in putting Riker’s life on the line. And that dovetails nicely with Sidney calling Seven by her actual name. These are two young people whose primary instincts seem to be empathy regardless of what the people in power want. Jack doesn’t care about Starfleet. And Sidney doesn’t respect Shaw more than she respects Seven’s right to be who she is.

Jack’s hearing thoughts is partly a continuation of the season arc, but it’s especially telling that the person’s thoughts he hears are Sidney’s. And even though it’s scary for both of them, they still join hands and work together to survive. Beverly, Jean-Luc, and Geordi would die to save their kids – and that’s noble. But I think “Dominion” is saying “hey, that’s not necessary”.

Seeing Tim Russ is wonderful. Getting those tendrils connecting “Picard” to the Dominion War is enticing. Those scenes where Geordi finally gets to reconnect emotionally to Data are so potent to lifelong fans.

But the strength of “Dominion” is not in its references. Its strength is in acknowledging that these legacy heroes are too stuck in their own history to see what’s right sometimes. And you need people like Jack and Sidney to carve a new path forward.

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Questions, Queries, and Quibbles

My questions and my quibbles are, in a few situations, one and the same. For example, where are Worf and Raffi? It feels a little convenient to have them off the board.

Also, and this is a little nitpicky I know, but I’m not sure about this supposed plan with Picard’s body. Assuming Picard is correct and the Dominion aims to use Jack and Picard’s DNA to make a new Picard for Frontier Day and this destroys the Federation somehow, doesn’t that seem a bit overwrought? More than that, Picard was on the outs with Starfleet only two seasons ago. Is he really so powerful again that he can blow the whole thing up?

All that being said, the big outstanding questions are all character based which I love. We didn’t see Riker and Troi here. What have they been up to on the Shrike other than not cooperating? It feels like we’re heading to a big moment with them and I’m looking forward to it.

And naturally, the biggest question of all is about Jack’s true nature and what it has to do with his and Picard’s Irumodic Syndrome. Is there something Picard does not know about himself? Is it Locutus-related?

After what I still maintain was a misstep with “The Bounty” we are solidly back on track with a compelling story that feels like it’s asking whether or not the Federation should exist at all. Good question!

4.5/5 stars

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Lina Morgan
Author: Lina Morgan
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