Star Trek: Picard sess Jean-Luc Picard once again running afoul of the Romulans. Picard once championed Starfleet's efforts to save the Romulans from the destruction of their homeworld, a mission that led to Picard leaving Starfleet. Now he's going up against the Tal Shiar and the Zhat Vash. But some fans have noticed that the Romulans of Star Trek: Picard don't all look alike. Some have more alien features than others. While taking questions from fans via Instagram, showrunner Michael Chabon explained the reason for the differentiation, saying that it's a physical difference determined by where on Romulus the individual comes from.
"If you are referring to the forehead ridges, they are a facial feature common to the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere of Romulus," Chabon writes. "Denizens of the Southern Hemisphere have smooth foreheads. There is an entire, quite scabrous vocabulary of mutual insult in the Romulan language based around this anatomical divergence."
This difference between Romulans from the north and the south was noted in the third episode of Star Trek: Picard, "The End is the Beginning." Two Romulans live with Picard at his vineyard. Zhaban has the forehead ridges. Laris does not. When they capture a Zhat Vash agent and he refuses to answer questions, Laris points to prisoner's forehead ridges as proof that he's a "stubborn northerner" like Zhaban.
This distinction helps clarify why the Romulans have looked different in various versions of Star Trek. When they first appeared in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Balance of Terror, they had no ridges. Instead, they looked the same as Vulcans. Star Trek: The Next Generation added the forehead ridges. That became more confusing when Romulans in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise also had forehead ridges. An episode of Enterprise explained why TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons looked so different, but there was never an explanation for the changes in Romulans. Confounding matters further, the Romulan villain of The 2009 Star Trek movie, Nero, also lacked forehead ridges.
Picard and Chabon's explanation rights these inconsistencies by explaining that the forehead ridges are not a universal trait of Romulans. For reasons not explained, those who settled in the southern hemisphere of Romulus maintained their Vulcan anatomy. Those that settled in the north evolved forehead ridges. By the time Kirk's crew sees a Romulan for the first time — or even by the time the Romulans are scheming against Earth in Enterprise — the distinction is well established
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard stream Thursdays on CBS All Access.