If last week’s premiere kept up a breakneck pace for most of the episode, this week’s entry throttles just about everything back. “Maps and Legends” gives us some breathing room to flesh out the framework the series is building, to mixed results.

Warning: spoilers head.

After all the hype and excitement over the Picard premiere, this week’s episode almost seems like a letdown. “Maps and Legends” is a slow burn of an episode that sheds some light on various aspects of the Picard landscape.

We kick off with a flashback to Mars 14 years prior and the day of the Synthetics uprising. From there, we transition to the present day, to some CSI: Trek Edition with Picard and Laris investigating Dahj’s apartment (where I find the science used here a bit sketchy but okay). There are theories about a shadowy shadowy version of the Tal Shiar, a disappointing meeting between Picard and a Starfleet admiral, more of what is going on with the Borg cube and more shady Starfleet business.

There are some nice moments – Picard seeing his former Stargazer crew member (I took it as his former Chief Medical Officer) was cool, and I’m a sucker for any Stargazer lore. Laris’ concern and doting on Picard makes for an interesting dynamic, and I really want to know more about her and Zhaban’s loyalty to him. As former Tal Shiar themselves, they prove valuable in moving the plot forward in a non-contrived manner.

Things happen in this episode, and it’s mostly low-key build-up. More puzzle pieces are added to the board (like further insight into what the Romulans are doing on the Borg cube, and the interesting assertion that the Borg still exist). The fact that there appears to be more shady Starfleet shenanigans is trope that I’m tired of seeing (but hey! They subverted it this time, because it’s not an Admiral who’s being shady but a Commodore), but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this story thread.

The key moment in this episode is Admiral Clancy’s meeting with Picard, and the clear hostility she (and really, by proxy, Starfleet) harbors towards him. Fourteen years is a long time for Picard to have been gone, and I’m getting the subtext here is that Starfleet is just not the same idealistic place that Picard and company once were a part of. And I don’t know how I feel about that.

As I previously hinted, Picard as a series feels very reactionary to today’s socio-political climate, and this scene really hits it home. It’s honestly a bit depressing, because seeing this much of the real world seep into the storytelling speaks volumes about where we are in life, and that even our escapism entertainment is unable to avoid it. It’s cynical, and while I get that the story arc is probably tied into Picard bringing some sort of change or redemption to the Federation, it left me a bit sour.

But then again, it’s entertainment that’s making me feel something, so it’s doing its job.

“Maps and Legends” has us looking at the road ahead, but not too far, and with not a lot of certainty. It’s a solid episode but not one folks will talk about ten years from now. There are just not enough deep character moments to make it memorable, and it’s too early in the game to have earth-shattering twists. This is a building block – nothing Earth (Mars?) shattering.

Rating: C+