Trailers for CBS All Access’ last series, Star Trek: Picard made it clear that the show would revisit a lot of established Star Trek: The Next Generation characters and lore. In its first episode, for example, we got a heaping helping of life on Chateau Picard, Jean Luc’s familiar ancestral home.
But we also met two new characters, Picard’s housekeepers, who are of a decidedly unusual origin for a retired Starfleet admiral. As of yet, the show hasn’t explained much about who Laris and Zhaban are, but that’s the subject of Star Trek: Picard - Countdown, IDW’s three-issue tie-in miniseries that wraps up today.
So in case you haven’t been reading it, here’s how Laris and Zhaban met Jean Luc Picard.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for the first episode of Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access, as well as Star Trek: Picard - Countdown.]
Laris and Zhaban are Romulan, which is among the biggest early markers that something quite significant has changed in galactic history by the time of Picard’s first episode, “Remembrance.” During Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Federation and the Romulan Empire were in a prolonged Cold War, seemingly on the knife’s edge of pan-galactic conflict at any moment.
How did Jean Luc Picard, the Federation’s most famous diplomat and military commander, come to welcome two Romulans into his home? It starts with scientific predictions that Romulus’ sun would soon go supernova, destroying the heart of Romulan civilization. As shown in “Remembrance,” Picard was at the forefront of a massive diplomatic and logistical effort to relocate Romulan citizens.
Where “Remembrance” leaves that effort to the mists of history, Star Trek: Picard - Countdown goes into specifics, showing that not all Romulans were ready to embrace the Federation’s overtures of peace and aid.
Picard meets Laris and Zhaban on the planet Yuyat Beta, where he was imprisoned by the Romulan Governor Shiana for delaying the evacuation colony’s population of 10,000 Romulans — after discovering that there was an undisclosed native population of sentients numbering in the millions; sentients that the Governor intended to be left behind.
However, native rebels working with Laris and Zhaban broke Picard and his first officer out of prison. The two revealed that they were not merely colonists in charge of a Yuyat Betan winery: They were deep cover agents of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan intelligence service. In their time on Yuyat Beta, they’d fallen in love and gone native. But, in a typically tricky Romulan way, that turned out to only be a partial truth.
In this week’s final issue of Star Trek: Picard - Countdown Laris and Zhaban turned out to still be fully fledged Tal Shiar agents. They were just one of many agent pairs embedded in the Romulan colonies, awaiting Picard’s arrival on some Romulan colony. While Governor Shiana tried to hijack Picard’s ship, the Verity, to evacuate her people, they took the opportunity to gain his trust.
Once Picard offered Laris and Zhaban sanctuary on the Verity, they were to destroy it, as part of a campaign of anti-Federation sabotage. You see, while the Romulan Council embraced the Federation’s help, the Tal Shiar went rogue, believing the whole thing was a Federation hoax to weaken the Romulan empire.
But in the process of befriending Picard, Laris and Zhaban saw him show more care and interest in Romulan lives than their own superiors (the nearly-abandoned Yuyat Betans were, after all, citizens of the Empire). In the end, they double defected from both the Council and the Tal Shiar, and returned control of the Verity to Picard.
So, if you follow, the spies were only pretending to have gone native — until they met Picard, and actually did. But that meant that Laris and Zhaban were now persona non gratis to both the Romulan Council and its insubordinate intelligence agency, a pretty terrible reward for following their principles. They needed a place to hide.
And Picard, being Picard, knew somewhere they could do just that. They even had winemaking experience! Fast forward a few decades, and we see them settled in quite happily on Chateau Picard. We also know that idyllic life probably won’t last — the first episode of Star Trek: Picard offered plenty of action and intrigue when it premiered last week — but it would be folly to think that a couple of former Romulan secret agents don’t have a few tricks up their sleeves.