Star Trek: Picard is, obviously, all about the return of The Next Generation’s iconic captain, and a few of his old friends from aboard the Enterprise. But it’s also brought in some new friends of Jean-Luc for us to meet—and two of them have become my surprising favourites of the entire show.
Laris and Zhaban, played by Orla Brady and Jamie McShane, form a minor but crucial part of the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard. As Romulans, they’re our primary insight into just what has happened to citizens of the Star Empire in the wake of the supernova that turned the vast majority of said Empire into ash, scattering its remnants across a tumultuous galaxy.
Their mere presence at Picard’s estate in La Barre, not just as aides for the retired Admiral in his golden years, but his closest friends, is left unstated as a quiet reminder of just how much Picard tried to do for the Romulan people before he left Starfleet—still trying to help, in whatever way he can, even if it’s just giving two refugees a home and some company.
As former agents of the Tal Shiar, they also provide important understanding into how the Romulans’ most secretive and sinister operatives really work, guiding Jean-Luc as he uncovers the mystery of the Zhat Vash—Romulus’ secreter police, attempting to hunt down and destroy advanced synthetic life like Dahj and Soji Asher. Which also means they can do everything from engage in a bit of CSI-style snooping around as Laris does in episode two, or kick total arse when, say, a group of Zhat Vash assassins come knocking on Picard’s doorstep as they did in last week’s episode.
Their third, and perhaps most vital function is that they make Picard tea, badger him to remember to eat his meals, and tidy up his scruffy suits, all while wearing what honestly might be some of the comfiest knitwear ever depicted in Star Trek history. That’s the thing about Laris and Zhaban that’s so delightful: they’re Romulans, so they have zero chill. But also? They have all the chill.
That push and pull between what we know of the Romulans—that they’re sneaking, duplicitous, always ready to plant a knife in your back regardless of how many times they insist that gosh, no, there aren’t even any knives in the room—and what Laris and Zhaban are presented as—kindly, compassionate, deeply loyal to the man who has taken them in, big fans of tea—is really what the heart of Star Trek: Picard is about. We’re presented with familiar faces and imagery, and invited to consider what time and trauma have done to that imagery. While the show primarily does that to remind us of what has changed about its titular hero (and more crucially, what has not changed about him), with Laris and Zhaban it is both humorous and a reminder of the inherent biases we have with the franchises’ presentation of non-human races as being defined by a handful of tropes.
Romulans are sneaky. They’re always up to no good. They’re the enemy—the oldest foes, as the Federation newscaster lectures Picard in episode one’s infamous interview scene. And yes, Picard itself has Romulans that are sneaky and up to no good, from Narek and Narissa to the masked assassins that chased after and brutally murdered Dahj. But it also has Laris and Zhaban, the stalwart company that Jean-Luc himself leans on for support in his most dire times, passionate and kindly people who desperately want to see the man who took them in looked after and kept safe.
But beyond that, like I said, they’re also just fun as hell.
There are few things in this new Trek series more delightful than when Laris, ex-Tal Shiar herself, investigates the Zhat Vash coverup in Dahj’s apartment and can’t help but let out a “You cheeky feckers,” unable to hide how impressed she is by their work—as horrifying as that work is. Or when Zhaban, not missing a single beat, goes from gleefully telling Picard that he’s packed him some bread, Roquefort, and some of Madame Arnaud’s terrine for the road to ducking a Zhat Vash disruptor blast and calmly telling his wife that they’ve killed the alarm and it’s time for them to get to work.
That work being kicking a bunch of Zhat Vash arse. Zhat Vass? It doesn’t matter. It’s cool as hell and, once again, they do it wearing what can only be described as the hottest fall/winter looks of 2399.
Looks can be deceiving, of course. That is, indeed, a very Romulan thing too.
Laris and Zhaban are Star Trek’s best mum and dad—there to look out for you whether the situation requires a nice mug of something warm, or a Romulan disruptor to the face. As Picard looks to the stars and leaves La Barre behind to focus on its grand quest, I really hope we don’t leave them behind in the process. They’re not just vital to the show’s heart, they’re just too much fun to cast aside at this point.