Star Trek: Picard - What To Know About The Tal Shiar And Zhat Vash
The Romulans are very, very good at spying throughout Star Trek history.
Though Star Trek: Picard picks up years after The Next Generation, much of the new series concerns relations with the Romulans, a race that has appeared in various series as one of the Federation's longstanding enemies. The animosity between the two peoples is at the forefront of Picard's second and third episodes, "Maps and Legends" and "The End is the Beginning," and we learn a little more about who's hunting Dahj, Soji, and Jean-Luc Picard: the Tal Shiar.
What's The Deal With The Tal Shiar?
First, a bit of Star Trek history: the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire have been enemies for a long time, and throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, the two were engaged in what was essentially a Cold War. That eventually changed 14 years before the start of Picard, when a supernova destroyed Romulus. The Romulan Empire asked the Federation for help in evacuating its people from the planet, the Federation refused, and it seems what remains of the Romulan people are fairly scattered.
But as we learn in Star Trek: Picard, just because there's no Romulan Star Empire anymore (it's apparently the Romulan Free State now), that doesn't mean the old Romulan militaristic ways are gone. Apparently, some old Romulan institutions are still operational--like the Tal Shiar. For years, as we saw on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Tal Shiar were a formidable and feared organization. It's roughly the equivalent of the Romulan KGB, a powerful, ruthless, clandestine intelligence agency charged with maintaining the security of the empire. The Tal Shiar would place spies in other governments throughout the galaxy, including the Federation, while also surveilling its own people and making perceived enemies and dissidents disappear.
The Tal Shiar only answered to the highest levels of the Romulan government, and therefore could pretty much do whatever they wanted. Like real Cold War adversaries, they constantly operated in the shadows, and paranoia about the Tal Shiar helped the Romulan government control its citizens. On Star Trek: Picard, Jean-Luc's friends who live and work with him on his vineyard, Laris and Zhaban, are both former Tal Shiar operatives, as we learn in Episode 2.
But What About The Zhat Vash?
Star Trek: Picard introduces another organization to the Romulan intelligence apparatus, called the Zhat Vash. We don't know much about them, except that they operate within the Tal Shiar--a secret organization inside a secret organization. Working within the Tal Shiar gives the Zhat Vash the cover it needs to pursue its own agenda, without anyone knowing for sure that the organization actually exists. Laris and Zhaban have heard rumors of the Zhat Vash, but they don't know much in the way of concrete details about it, so even to members of the Tal Shiar, the Zhat Vash is a mystery.
Laris does give some information about the Zhat Vash, though. First, they're guarding a secret so important and profound that they will kill anyone to keep it. Second, they hate artificial intelligence and consider it to be an abomination.
So we don't know much about what the Zhat Vash are up to, but in Episode 2, we learn they have operatives in both Starfleet and the Romulan government operating on the decommissioned Borg Cube known as the Artifact. They're the folks who attacked Dahj on Earth. On the Artifact, Zhat Vash operative Narek is attempting to get close to Soji, apparently in hopes of getting information out of her. It seems the Zhat Vash think there are more androids like Dahj and Soji and are hoping to learn their location--likely to kill them all.
We still have a whole lot of questions about the Zhat Vash that haven't been answered yet--specifically, what their big secret is, and why they hate androids so much they'd risk exposing themselves, or dragging the new Romulan Free State into a war with the Federation. One thing is for sure, though: the Zhat Vash's influence goes deep, and while the Romulan people might have been weakened and scattered by the events 14 years ago, their agencies, like the Tal Shiar and the Zhat Vash, are still just as fearsome as ever.
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