Star Trek: Picard made five major changes and updates to the Romulans under the purview of showrunner Michael Chabon. In season 1 of the Star Trek: The Next Generation sequel series, Patrick Stewart returned to his iconic role as Jean-Luc Picard but without the classic Star Trek ship USS Enterprise. In Star Trek: Picard, the retired Starfleet Admiral was called back to save the galaxy by unlocking a Romulan conspiracy intended to wipe out the android children of Commander Data (Brent Spiner).
The Romulans and their insidious culture were central to Star Trek: Picard, which followed up the storyline of the destruction of Romulus via supernova that occurred in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie. In fact, Captain Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) chided Picard that his choice to lead the United Federation of Planets’ failed effort to rescue the Romulan people would leave him “a**-deep in Romulans” for the rest of his life – a hilarious prediction that proved prophetic. Indeed, by the end of Star Trek: Picard season 1, the head of Starfleet Security, Commodore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) was exposed as a Romulan general and a conspiracy that resulted in an attack on Mars by rogue synthetics that led to all artificial lifeforms being banned by the Federation for 15 years was proven as a Romulan plot. Jean-Luc himself was reborn in a new android body after his ordeal with the Romulans ended in Star Trek: Picard season 1.
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In Star Trek: Picard‘s era of 2399, the Romulans managed to take control of a damaged Borg Cube and turned it into the Artifact. The Romulans oversaw the Borg Reclamation Project where a team of scientists was able to safely strip Borg technology from assimilated drones and return them back to their original states, although they will forever bear the scars of their time as Borg. One of the scientists, Dr. Soji Asha (Isa Briones), was targeted by a Romulan spy named Narek (Harry Treadaway), who knew she was one of the androids secretly created from the positronic neuron of Data. Yet Narek fell in love with Soji (in his twisted Romulan way) while his sister Narissa (Peyton List) helped Commodore Oh under the guise of Starfleet Lieutenant Rizzo.
Star Trek: Picard season 1 explored and expanded the Romulan culture in ways that Trekkers hadn’t seen since TNG and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series introduced new concepts like the Qowat Milat, a sect of Romulan warrior nuns, debuted new Romulan starship designs and created new Romulan mythologies that Star Trek: Picard‘s conflicts were built around. Chabon recently penned an essay titled “Some Notes on Romulans” that dives deeper into the background he created for the Romulans. While much of it can’t be considered canonical since it hasn’t (yet) appeared on-screen, many of Chabon’s ideas that fleshed out what fans knew (or thought they knew) about the Romulans have indeed played major roles in Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery season 3.
Romulans Hate Androids And Artificial Intelligence
Star Trek: Picard began with the murder of Dahj, Soji’s twin sister, by Romulans. This kicked off one of the biggest updates to Romulan culture as Star Trek: Picard established that Romulans have an unassuageable hatred of artificial lifeforms. This was even hammered home by Laris (Orla Brady), a former member of the Tal Shiar, who asked Jean-Luc, “Have you never noticed the complete absence of any form of artificial life in Romulan culture?” This seemingly rhetorical question drove Trekkers to rack their memory banks and go back and watch prior Romulan-focused Star Trek episodes. After all, Data himself once visited Romulus in TNG‘s “Unification” two-parter but wasn’t met with overt signs of hatred.
However, Star Trek: Picard revamped Romulans to have despised all forms of artificial intelligence and synthetic beings for thousands of years. Star Trek: Picard also introduced a faction that even predates the Tal Shiar, the Zhat Vash, which was a cult led by Commodore Oh that was dedicated to wiping out all synthetics. The Zhat Vash masterminded the Mars attack and the synthetics ban. Ultimately, the Zhat Vash feared an ancient secret of a race of synthetic beings who would destroy all organic life in the galaxy, which Picard and his friends prevented in the season 1 finale.
Romulans Have Several Names And Secretive Private Lives
As Narek seduced Soji, some fascinating new facets of Romulan culture were revealed: Romulans have multiple names that serve different purposes. Each Romulan uses a name the Empire knows them as, another name for close family, and yet one more secret “true” name that is revealed only in the most intimate of moments. In Narek’s case, he told Soji his true name is Hrai Yan in order to get her to trust him. But since he was really plotting to execute her, this may have been a lie. Michael Chabon’s essay actually expands this to Romulans having four names.
Star Trek: Picard also introduced a shared mythical framework for Romulans – they see the events of the past as “news” according to Soji – and that Romulan homes are actually entered by the back door. The front of a Romulan home is a purposeful deception meant to fool the uninvited. As Chabon elaborates in his essay, the Romulan life is built on a foundation of cover stories, deceit, and concealment in order to protect their true private lives.
The Tal Shiar’s Structure
The Tal Shiar, alternatively known as the Romulan secret police, was introduced in TNG and has become a cornerstone of Star Trek, just as the Cardassians have the Obsidian Order and the Federation has Section 31 as their own black ops agencies. Star Trek: Picard posited the possibility that the Tal Shiar is a mask for the older Zhat Vash, but most members of the Tal Shiar think of the Zhat Vash as a ghost story.
Chabon posits that the Tal Shiar is actually more like an elite warrior corps than a network of spies. In any case, the Tal Shiar is so adept at obfuscating their true structure and functionality that even Federation experts on the Romulans like Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) don’t have, and will probably never grasp, the full picture of the Tal Shiar.
The Importance Of The Qowat Milat
Perhaps Star Trek: Picard’s most radical addition is the Qowat Milat, a sect of Romulan warrior nuns who practice “absolute candor”. Elnor (Evan Evagora) is the rare male accepted into the Qowat Milat, and they became close with Picard when he relocated them to a new planet following the Romulan sun’s supernova. Another fascinating trait of the Qowat Milat is that they will only bind their swords to those they feel are a lost cause.
According to Chabon, the influence of the Qowat Milat is more far-reaching than Star Trek: Picard revealed. The Qowat Milat is an indelible force in the Romulan government. Chabon specifies, “It is whispered that no one becomes Praetor without the approval of the Qowat Milat… Furthermore, the Romulan Empress is always drawn from, or trained by, the Qowat Milat sisters“. The political influence of the Qowat Milat manifested in Star Trek: Discovery season 3, which revealed that Gabrielle Burnham (Sonja Sohn), the mother of Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), joined the Qowat Milat in the 32nd century. Gabrielle certainly had sway in the political process of Ni’Var, the combined Vulcan and Romulan homeworld, which canonizes Chabon’s concepts.
The Inspiration For Romulan Starships And Cloaking Device
Star Trek: Picard introduced new versions of the Romulan Warbird as well as debuting the Snakehead, the small fighter piloted by Narek. Chabon’s essay described how Romulan starship design was influenced by the animals and plants the first settlers found when they took over the planet Romulus. The warbird was inspired by a native predatory bird that has optical properties that allow it to vanish in a clear blue sky. The warbird’s illusion is said to be the inspiration for the most Romulan of technologies: the ship-cloaking device.
While the Romulans have always been an important part of Star Trek, the additions to the canon made by Chabon and team make for interesting progressions that will echo throughout the universe moving forward. It’s certainly something that will likely be continued into Star Trek: Picard season 2 and Discovery season 4.
Next: What To Expect From Star Trek: Picard Season 2
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