Star Trek Picard (PIC) Season 2
The year 2401: An intruder with tentacles wreaks havoc on the bridge of the USS Stargazer as Admiral Picard, Seven of Nine, Agnes Jurati and Captain Rios are present. The admiral eventually orders the self-destruction of the ship... 48 hours earlier: In the Château Picard, one day before Picard is to hold an address at Starfleet Academy, he and Laris discover they have feelings for each other after Zhaban's death. The next day, the admiral speaks to the cadets. He meets Raffi, who is in Starfleet service again, and Elnor, who is leaving for his first assignment on a starship. The USS Avalon discovers a rift in space-time, and so does La Sirena, under the command of Seven of Nine. The Stargazer is sent to investigate, and Captain Rios receives support from Jurati, who was on a diplomatic mission together with Soji to promote tolerance for synthetic lifeforms. Jurati isolates a message coming from the anomaly that says "Help us, Picard." In the meantime, Picard visits his old friend Guinan in her bar in Los Angeles, as he needs someone to talk about his feelings, and the missed opportunities in his life. Back in the château, Admiral Whitley replays the words recorded from the anomaly to him. Picard leaves without a chance to say goodbye to Laris. On the Stargazer, he meets up with Seven of Nine and hails the anomaly. A Borg ship emerges, upon which a Starfleet armada arrives as a line of defense. But no fight ensues yet. The Borg wish to negotiate with Picard. Against Seven's objections that it may be a deception, the admiral is willing to talk. A beam cuts through the shields and allows a Borg, apparently the Queen, to beam over to the bridge of the Stargazer. The Queen says the Borg want peace but then her tentacles tap into the Borg-enhanced systems of the new ship, thereby gaining access to the other ships of the armada. The crew fires but doesn't break through the Queen's shielding. As every other option is exhausted, Picard orders the self-destruct. The countdown goes down to zero and ends in a big explosion... Picard wakes up in the château, but the interior has changed. And instead of Laris, he is greeted by a synthetic servant. His old nemesis Q appears, reaffirming that the "the trial never ends".
The second season of Star Trek Picard begins with an episode that brings back friends, foes and other acquaintances from classic Trek, most notably Guinan, the Borg and Q. For me, this alone is no reason to rejoice. If the series harks back to old characters and concepts, this should be meaningful and not just for the sake of nostalgia. It should open up new possibilities. Given the serialized nature of the show, it is certainly too early to judge whether it was worth it, but I think the story arc has potential.
"The Star Gazer" appears to be full of action, but it actually isn't. Much of the screen time consists of exposition and of character-building scenes. Only the last ten minutes, as the crew of the Stargazer faces the anomaly and then the Borg, are really thrilling. The fight against the Borg lasts no more than a few minutes. The non-linear narration, with a teaser that shows what would happen at the end (and which was released a couple of days ahead of the episode) is a trick to catch the viewers' interest, to keep them at it during the calm middle part and, quite bluntly, to increase the amount of action in the episode. This is detrimental in my view because it makes much of the character interaction that follows after the teaser seem less relevant. It also takes away the suspense that would lie in a gradual build-up of a new menace.
Although I was skeptical after the teaser had given away major plot points, I overall enjoyed the story about the new Borg threat. I am not so positive about the character developments, some of which have taken a wrong turn in my view.
If I were to summarize it in one sentence, the purpose of this season opener is to show how an orderly world gets turned upside down, by the Borg and/or Q. In this regard, it is counterproductive that, already before the disaster, some aspects of this world don't feel right. Failings of the first season are glossed over. It also becomes clear that some characters have not come out clean and still or again have serious issues. Especially the latter may seem realistic and "modern", but as I will explain in the following, the new or continuing edginess is neither realistic nor beneficial for the story. The notable exception is Raffi, who has apparently overcome her addiction and paranoia, otherwise she probably wouldn't be in Starfleet again. But I am afraid this positive development may be deceptive as well.
Probably most obviously and most annoyingly, Agnes Jurati is not only out of prison (if she ever was in prison) but appears to be the same unstable person she was in the first season. So she killed Bruce Maddox and was cleared of the charge because of "alien-induced temporary insanity"? I am certain that she acted on her own and was fully aware of what she was doing at every time in the first season, including "Stardust City Rag". And if she had been insane, there is nothing that would indicate she really recovered, except for her own words that she is "done murdering people". Even if we buy into the reasoning for her acquittal, would the Federation send a cranky person like her, a mad scientist, to diplomatic missions? Where she would get drunk, embarrass herself and harm her cause? If we assume in Jurati's favor that she fell for the booze only this one time and was merely awkward on her other missions, it would still be preposterous.
For similar reasons, I don't see how Soji could be a good representative of Synths. In "Et in Arcadia Ego II" she was the push of a button away from destroying all life in the galaxy (at least if we give credence to the idea of the enormously powerful "intergalactic Synth civilization", whose tentacle monster was underwhelming after all). What did she tell the Deltans, without lying? "I was convinced I had to kill you all, but Picard talked me out of it" or perhaps "Sorry, I was temporarily insane too"?
I also wonder what is wrong with Seven of Nine. There are raiders on her ship with phasers, and how does she care to defend her cargo and herself? With wrenches and fists! The whole scene of her and the Spanish-speaking hologram fighting the intruders is gratuitous anyway because we can take for granted it will have no consequences. I could still accept this attempt to spice up the episode with some more action, if it were not for Seven using brute force instead of cunning or technology, which is just dumb.
As Picard is concerned, I would have expected and would even have appreciated him to struggle with his synthetic body. But there is nothing like that. His new existence is only alluded to. It may still play a role in following episodes, but right now it feels like a reset button was pressed. In this regard, it is also a bit underwhelming that Picard's biggest concern seems to be that he has been alone for his whole life and now struggles with his feelings for Laris. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of Picard in love and I expect it to pervade the whole season. I also recognize that "missed opportunities" is likely one of the big themes of the following episodes. Yet, all this is not existential and pales in comparison to the bigger picture, especially in light of the teaser that unfortunately forestalled something far more significant that would happen. Even Picard's talk with Guinan is just about this rather trivial topic and is overall less relevant than I would have hoped for, as much as I love to see the two interact again.
Another gripe with Picard's character may seem like a minor issue because it is alluded to only briefly in a flashback. We learn that Picard had a violent childhood. While this too will probably not remain gratuitous, especially since it apparently fueled the French boy's desire to travel to the stars, I have an uneasy feeling about characters that are increasingly appropriated by the actors playing them. I already addressed in my season 1 reviews that there is a lot of Patrick Stewart in Picard now, concerning the actor's outspoken mistrust of real-world leaders. I cherish that Stewart, who had a violent father, creates awareness for domestic abuse. But he should do that in interviews, and not blur the border between the real world and the fictional universe, which only weakens the impact of the statement in my view.
Yet, I am overall pleased with Picard as a character in this episode. He is visibly happier than he was in "Remembrance". He has friends, he has duties, he has a life again. And although everyone seems to tease him a bit like it happened it the first couple of episodes in season 1, I think we can take and Picard does take it easy this time. Well, except for what Q says, of course.
On the visual side, "The Star Gazer" is the perhaps best looking Trek episode in 17 years. There are familiar starship designs and new ones that fit into the lineage (even though I'm not a fan of the unnecessary STO variations of canon ships). We can enjoy fly-bys of the Stargazer that last several seconds and that show the hull details, which are more realistic than the ones on the Discovery, for instance. The interior of the Stargazer and the graphics on the screens aptly pick up design elements that are familiar from TNG, DS9 and Voyager. Fans of classic Trek feel at home in the second season of Picard. The many memorabilia in the Château Picard and in Guinan's new bar are the icing on the cake.
The title sequence of season 2 was not only updated with new imagery, hinting at the involvement of the Borg. The music was modified too, adding dramatic drums and violins to the previously calm instrumentation. Although the music was composed by Jeff Russo, it sounds similar as the Abramsverse theme by Michael Giacchino now. I criticized the Picard theme of season 1 as being rather unremarkable. The update attempts to make it sound more exciting, but it also takes away the optimistic mood that was still present in the season 1 version.
On another note about the music in the episode, familiar Trek themes play on various occasions in the episode, apparently to appeal to the viewers' nostalgia. Less would have been more!
The 25th century has arrived, and I immediately feel at home. The season premiere fulfills my expectations as the build-up of the storyline is concerned (and my expectations were comparably high). It is only sad that so many teasers, or rather spoilers, had been officially released before the episode aired that it was very clear which direction the plot would take. The return of the Borg, the futile attempt to fight them, Q's appearance and the alteration of reality - everything was known in advance, although at least some of these plot points could have been kept secret and would have been big surprises. But even if I imagine that Q and the Borg had appeared against my expectations, "The Star Gazer" would overall be just above average, suspenseful and with a good deal of action but also with some character development that fails to convince me.
- This is the first time since "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" that Deltans are seen and are explicitly referred to.
- As it is a bad custom in modern Trek, there are new Starfleet uniforms as a new season begins. While any attempt to bring order to the in-universe chaos is doomed to fail, I can understand the real-world rationale for this very change. The uniforms of the first season looked like an awkward imitation of the DS9/Voyager style and no one seemed to like them.
- Q welcomes Picard "to the very end of the road not taken", which sounds a bit like what he already did in TNG: "Tapestry" when he created a timeline in which the captain had made different decisions for himself.
- Nitpicking: Seven, now in command of La Sirena, detects the anomaly. After another Starfleet ship has reported the phenomenon, the Stargazer is sent to investigate, under the command of Rios, the former captain of La Sirena. The message is meant for Admiral Picard, who has ties with the captain of the Stargazer, as well as to a former ship of that name. That's at least one coincidence too many, although we may argue it has all been manufactured by Q.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Well, I am very happy to be Chancellor of the Academy, thank you very much." - "Mm-hmm. Sure. It forces you to focus on Starfleet instead of, you know, you." (Picard and Raffi)
- "I'm gonna need some tea. Earl Grey, piping hot." - "Perhaps something stronger." (Guinan and Picard)
- "Do you recall what I said to you when last we parted ways? The trial never ends." - "What the hell are you doing here?" - "You've been talking a lot about second chances. Well, my friend, welcome to the very end of the road not taken." (Q and Picard)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Seize today, for we know nothing of tomorrow" (Romulan proverb)
- "Look up at the stars, Jean-Luc." (Picard's mum)
- "You look positively positronic." (Jurati, to Picard)
- Remarkable scene: Q quickly changes his appearance to match Picard's aging. This is exactly the explanation I expected for John de Lancie not being digitally de-aged in the series.
- Remarkable songs:
- The song playing during the grape harvest is "Time Is on My Side" by Irma Thomas.
- The music that Picard hears when talking with the Borg Queen is "Non, je ne regrette rien" by Édith Piaf.
- Remarkable starships:
- The Borg-enhanced titular ship USS Stargazer is apparently the third Starfleet vessel of this name, as per the display of models in the observation lounge, and all three are four-nacelled. The first Stargazer was supposedly commissioned in the 23rd century. It was designed by Bill Krause.
- The diverse Starfleet armada makes up for the big mistake of the copy&paste fleet in "Et in Arcadia Ego II". We can see many familiar canon classes, but also ships that were taken from Star Trek Online (and are canon now). I have mixed feelings about the latter because many STO designs are variations, or rather imitations, of canon classes with different proportions and/or sizes, precluding that they are actually related in-universe.
Q shows Picard around in the château, which has changed. In this reality, Picard is a brutal general of the "Earth Confederation", a fascist regime that has subjugated or eradicated many other planetary populations. Seven wakes up, looks in the mirror and is startled that her Borg implants are gone. She is now the "President of the Confederation". Her husband, a Confederation magistrate, appears, saying that she is to hold a speech on the occasion of "Eradication Day". Seven reacts quickly and plays along. Rios finds himself on La Sirena, fighting Vulcan insurgents. He is relieved when Seven contacts him through a secured channel and calls him back to Earth under "presidential orders". Raffi rescues Elnor during an insurgence in Okinawa and takes him to San Francisco. They meet with Picard and Seven aka "President Annika Hansen" under the pretext of the interrogation of the Romulan "terrorist" and proceed to Dr. Jurati's lab. Jurati is supposed to prepare a special prisoner for execution on Eradication Day: the Borg Queen. Picard concludes that the timeline has been changed. The Borg Queen, with her transdimensional perception, reveals that the divergence happened in the year 2024, in Los Angeles. She agrees to help the crew perform a slingshot maneuver to travel back in time. When Rios attempts to beam them up to La Sirena, he doesn't manage to penetrate the transport inhibitors. Communication subsequently fails too. Time is pressing because no one else but Picard is expected to execute the Borg Queen on stage. Jurati works on restoring communication and Raffi takes down the security measures, so Rios eventually manages to activate the transporter, just as a firefight ensues because Picard hesitates to shoot the prisoner in front of a booing crowd. After Picard, Seven, Raffi, Elnor, Jurati and the Borg Queen have been beamed up, La Sirena breaks orbit. Against Rios's objections, Jurati hooks up the Borg Queen to the systems of the ship to control the time jump. But the fleet of the Confederation is already on their heels. Hansen's husband manages to beam over with two soldiers and shoots Elnor...
Several months ago, I was skeptical when I saw the leaked pictures of Jean-Luc Picard and company in front of a building with fascistoid decoration. I doubt Star Trek needs yet another story that is all about going back in time to fix a temporal incursion, much less if this story lasts for a whole season. I also don't think we want to see still more Nazis. And if there is anything in recent Trek that I am absolutely fed up with, it is the Discovery-flavored Mirror Universe with its ludicrous hyperbole of evil. Until "Penance" aired, I was confident that the writers' room of Star Trek Picard would come up with a new idea, or at least with a new spin on one of the aforementioned clichés. I was hopeful that Q would create a half-way realistic what-if scenario, perhaps like in TNG: "Tapestry", one that would show how personal developments and galactic history can take a wrong turn, one that may be somewhat educational because we imagine it could happen. I also envisioned that the new timeline Picard wakes up in would only gradually turn out to be a creepy dystopia. But I was mistaken. The "broken time" in this story arc is practically identical to Discovery's Mirror Universe as the concept, the spirit and the look of the fascistic regime are concerned, the only tiny difference being that this is the Confederation and not the Terran Empire. In particular, the motif of crew members, who suddenly find themselves in the roles of their grotesquely barbaric Mirror counterparts, is totally the same here, just as the cheap voyeuristic pleasure it strives to evoke in the fans. There is almost zero originality in the scenario.
I am perfectly aware that we should not expect a fair trial whenever Q sets up one. He famously tampered with time in TNG: "All Good Things", playing by his personal laws of temporal mechanics. At least, there was some logic in it after all, and Captain Picard was eventually able to solve the puzzle. But as hard as I try, the setup of the "Confederation" makes no sense at all as a time travel incident. It has to be a scam. Maybe a point of divergence in 2024 might explain why Earth's leaders and population become obsessed with killing aliens. However, it is unrealistic that the hatred and the empire entirely built upon it would survive three centuries of war (quite unlike Nazi Germany, for instance). The idea that the very same familiar people, only with extremely different personalities, populate the new timeline is a gross violation of the second law of thermodynamics as well as of genetics. Also, in an actual altered timeline, places and technologies wouldn't be the same after over three centuries of divergent development. This all is solid proof that Q set the crew up and that there is actually no point in going back in time, to fix something that, for all intents and purposes, can't be responsible for selectively altering certain aspects of history. As already mentioned, especially the concept of meeting one's evil counterpart is the Mirror Universe all over again, and not anything that we could attribute to time travel.
On another note about the authenticity of the scenario, Q makes it a point that the fascist empire pollutes the atmosphere of Earth and has to clean it in regular intervals. It is a preachy narrow-minded 21st century stance that the same people who are racist would not care for the environment either. Furthermore, it is something that Q normally wouldn't care for. Although he occasionally gets personal, he is generally interested in the grand scheme, as evidenced in both "Encounter at Farpoint" and "All Good Things". He would not bother to reprimand humanity for polluting their planet, and not even for disrespecting other species. Well, we may argue that he created exactly the kind of dystopia that Picard would despise the most, as a penance for whatever Picard did wrong by Q's actual standards that he does not reveal. Perhaps at least this aspect of the premise may make more sense in the following episodes, and at latest in the resolution.
In addition to being uncreative and unrealistic, the setting of the Confederation is also very repulsive. It is obvious that the skull collection, the idea of the "Eradication Day" in front of a cheering crowd, the ship named "CSS World Razer" or other gruesome trivia are included for the shock effect, and for some kind of guilty pleasure. I can only speak for myself, but the mere idea of "our" Picard (not the Mirror version!) as a merciless killer in service of a fascist government is so off-putting that I need to dissociate myself from the story, rather than only from the person that Picard is or would be in this reality, or from some details of his history. The much-maligned movie "Nemesis" already sort of showed Picard's "road not taken" in the character of Shinzon. The clone stated his personality was shaped by the milieu, and that Picard would have become just like him if they had switched places. We also notice that the two have quite a few things in common in the movie. "Nemesis" raised some psychological and philosophical questions, although it ultimately shied away from answering them. "General Picard", on the other hand, is just evil for evil's sake. And yes, objection noted - we don't even see the "real" man. But whether he actually exists or Q made him up (I very much prefer the latter), I have no desire to get to know this pulp villain.
It has been a while since I last wrote a rant about a Star Trek episode. So as a sort of belated disclaimer, it is possible that the further course of the story arc will prove a few of my numerous complaints wrong or premature. It all may become somewhat more philosophical again, and less about Earth becoming a cruel xenophobic empire. Perhaps it is my fault that I don't take it with a grain of salt, but I am convinced that "Penance" wants to be serious rather than cringe, also considering the obvious real-world intent to warn of a new rise of racism. This season may become real fun as it progresses (like most time travel stories so far), but it is overshadowed by the idea of "our" Picard becoming a murderous villain. I hope that this will not harked back to, that the crew will manage to escape to the past soon and that "Penance" will remain the only failure of the season.
Although I loathe the premise of the "Confederation" and its altered personal histories, there are quite a few things I like about "Penance". The straightforward storytelling without sidetracking deserves praise. It is also worked out very well how each of the characters reacts to the alternate reality. The interaction between Picard and Q in the unusually long teaser is awesome, both in terms of their dialogues and of the acting. I imagine that if I were in Picard's place, I would react just like him, arguing that I'm "too old for this bullshit". In a way, the admiral speaks through the fourth wall and addresses my objections regarding the premise. And Q's unusual hostility makes me hopeful that there may be indeed a deeper significance than "I turned you into Nazis".
The actual star of this episode is Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, however. She owns all the scenes she appears in, beginning when she notices in the mirror that her eye implant is gone and works off a list of tests to verify she is not dreaming (including Euler's Identity, my all-time favorite equation). It is priceless how Seven quickly adapts to the new situation, which even brings a certain sense of humor into this otherwise bleak episode. I also think it is not just because of the hairdo and makeup that "President Annika Hansen" appears as very austere and also old compared to Seven of Nine.
Speaking of humor, I should not forget to mention Alison Pill as Agnes Jurati. Although I have a couple of problems with the character that I voiced in last week's review, I am glad whenever Pill throws in her comedic talent. Her hastily made up monologue to explain to the Magistrate what is happening in the lab is one of the highlights of the episodes.
Also on the positive side, I kind of like the idea that the Borg Queen, the archenemy of the Federation and particularly of Picard and Seven, is the key to finding the point of divergence and to traveling to the past. Yet, it would have had more of an impact if her convenient presence had not been fabricated by Q, like pretty much everything else in the story. I also wonder why Guinan is not involved when it comes to sensing that there is something wrong with time, thinking of "Yesterday's Enterprise". But I hope she still appears, and perhaps she is the "Watcher" that Picard is supposed to look for?
I don't know why the writers' room went overboard with the depiction of Q's reality. Was it is because they were anxious to create a contrast as great as possible to the "real" timeline of Picard, which itself had many dystopian traits in the first season? Was it due to a lack of imagination that an undesirable future could be any different than the Mirror Universe? Or just for the dumb voyeuristic effect of everyone being a Nazi? The people in charge have to answer this question for themselves.
Anyway, as much as I dislike the idea behind "Penance", the episode gets almost everything right in terms of storytelling and of the involvement of the characters. The lowbrow starting position may be acceptable in retrospect, after setting up the greater scheme of things. I hope the rest of the season focuses on the crew's efforts to repair history, and not on them either fighting Nazis or dressing as Nazis.
- Although everything looks and feels like the Mirror Universe, the "Confederation" scenario is said to be the result of a temporal incursion.
- Picard mentions the slingshot maneuver as one of the "cruder methods of time travel", already performed by Kirk's crew in "Tomorrow is Yesterday" (here still inadvertently), "Assignment: Earth" and "Star Trek: The Voyage Home".
- The second law of thermodynamics forbids that technological progress of three centuries is nearly identical in two timelines with totally divergent political developments. It also absolutely precludes that the very same people are born after a divergence of three centuries. Furthermore, it is impossible that these people could be extremely different personalities despite being genetically identical. In other words, the whole scenario of the "Confederation" has to be a fake created by Q at its core, and definitely not the result of a temporal incident.
- Annika Hansen was assimilated in 2350 according to the Borg Queen, but it was actually around 2356.
- Remarkable dialogue: "I am no longer your pawn!" - "Oh, you undersell yourself, Jean-Luc. You are more than just a piece. Why, you're the very board upon which this game is played." - "Q, I am too old for your bullshit!" - "Old, yes! How unfair time is. So many wrinkles... so many disappointments." (Picard and Q)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "You see, I thought to myself. I thought, 'I really must-see Jean-Luc', so I simply sought out the nearest explosion." (Q)
- "This world is a lie. The fiction of the what-if of what was." (Borg Queen)
- Remarkable guest star: The unnamed magistrate is played by Jon Jon Briones, father of Isa Briones, who does not appear in this episode.
- Remarkable "fact": "General Picard"'s skull collection includes Gul Dukat, General Martok, Sarek, a Ferengi, a Saurian, a Borg, and an unknown species.
A firefight ensues on La Sirena, in the course of which the magistrate and his men are killed. Jurati finishes connecting the Borg Queen to the ship, who then takes control, destroys the pursuing Confederation vessels and performs the time jump. In the year 2024, La Sirena loses power, and Picard barely manages to crash land the ship near the Château Picard. Due to the power loss and Picard's unwillingness to disconnect the Borg Queen because she is still needed, Raffi can't tend to Elnor's injury. He dies. As they assume the Watcher that the Borg Queen mentioned is an alien who could be identified by the use of anachronistic technology, Raffi, Seven and Rios use the barely operational transporter to beam to Los Angeles. But Rios materializes mid-air and gets injured when he falls on the street. Seven and Raffi proceed to Markridge Tower, the highest point in Los Angeles, without him, where they only briefly detect a sign of advanced technology but locate Rios's communicator as well. In the meantime on La Sirena, Jurati has entered the mind of the Borg Queen in order to reactivate her, monitored by Picard who is afraid she may be assimilated. When Picard notices that the two start to become one, he pulls the plug. The Borg Queen regains consciousness and brings the ship's power back online. She demands the ship as a price for her revealing the coordinates of the Watcher. But Jurati already accessed that data while they were connected. Rios has been taken to a hospital that treats patients without IDs and without money. Teresa, a young doctor, treats him. When the immigration authority raids the building, he returns in the guise of a doctor because he left his commbadge behind. But the officer recognizes the ruse and arrests him and Teresa.
As much as I normally like surprises, in the case of "Assimilation" I am glad that the episode is very much as I expected. Just as I hoped after viewing "Penance", Picard and his crew quickly leave the unoriginal, implausible and disgraceful slight variation of the Mirror Universe behind. After the successful slingshot maneuver, they find themselves in a time that is both more fun and more relevant than the excessively dystopian scenario fabricated by Q. I write this with a big sigh of relief, as an extended stay in the "Confederation" would very likely have repeated the damage that Discovery's season 1 Mirror Universe arc did to the spirit of Star Trek.
It is just too convenient that all phasers are suddenly set to vaporize and the magistrate and his henchmen are gone as fast as they appeared at the end of "Penance", not even leaving behind bodies that would have to be disposed of. It is also lame that the Confederation vessels of the Steamrunner class and the Nova class keep firing at La Sirena but almost always miss, whereas the Borg Queen can increase the firepower and/or targeting accuracy so much that the pursuers become cannon fodder and each of them is destroyed with a single shot. The escape is way too easy. But I shouldn't complain too much about it because I am only glad there is no further "Confederation" for now. Elnor's death, on the other hand, is unusually daring, even though it is to be expected that he will be alive again, in some other timeline.
Like already in "Penance", the character development is consistent and consequential, and not without some nice twists. Unlike we might have guessed after her history in season 1, Raffi does not like the 21st century. This may have to do with Elnor's death and with her being welcomed by a mugger just after beaming to L.A., but overall I would have expected her to fit in better. Seven of Nine, on the other hand, has visibly more fun although her attitude about Earth's past is basically the same as Raffi's.
Rios has the most notable part in this episode, after he has suffered an unfortunate transporter accident right at the beginning of his mission. It could have become silly that Rios is taken to a hospital where he loses his commbadge and might thereby contaminate the timeline, exactly as Jurati foreshadowed. But the story strikes a very good balance between the dramatic and the comical aspects of his misfortune.
The reactivation of the Borg Queen is the second highlight of the episode, with Jurati almost getting assimilated, while a very concerned Picard is standing by to pull the plug. I think Alison Pill's performance is stronger whenever she is at Patrick Stewart's side, and she pulls off a great scene. I like that the mental connection is not visualized by something like Jurati walking through rooms or meeting the Borg Queen in a white limbo. I think it pays if a scene relies more on the actors than on sets and effects.
"Assimilation" is further proof that the character interaction is more natural and the lines of dialogue are more to the point than in Star Trek Discovery, which suffers from heavy-handed writing still in its fourth season. This may have to do with Picard's overall faster pace, which simply leaves no room for filler scenes. If this were Discovery, the crew would spend a whole episode to discuss the mission, to tend to side projects, to speak about a trauma that has been bothering them all along and to affirm each other of their trust. The only discussion in "Assimilation" that feels a little bit plodding is the one about the importance of the Borg Queen for the mission. Everything else is well-dosed. But Picard also has a much better timing for scenes in which the character do actually talk about their feelings, as it happens right after Elnor's death (when it is only understandable that Raffi is angry, also about Picard and his past history with Q that brought about the mess) and when Rios talks to Teresa (because he has the time for it while being treated).
This episode is pleasant viewing because we can relate to the characters. But it also draws on the rich history of time travel stories in the franchise, which are cited on various occasions, both visually and as story concepts. I especially dig the visualization of the time travel in the form of a clear homage to "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" and the subtle reference to the Sanctuary District from DS9: "Past Tense". In case the crew stays in the past for a longer time, I think this approach will wear out quickly, however. Anyway, I also like Teresa as a character in the tradition of Edith Keeler or Gillian Taylor.
Speaking of harking back to themes of the past, it has a long tradition in Star Trek for time travelers from the future to criticize the ignorance or indifference about ecological and social issues in our time. Even though it is a tad too much on the nose, the comments on climate change and about immigration laws are fitting in this regard.
"Assimilation" is an episode with well-written and well-played characters that strikes the right balance between Elnor's tragic death, the creepy reactivation of the Borg Queen and the weird experiences of the time travelers. It skillfully includes references from Star Trek's history in the latter regard. Still, it will be desirable for the story to leave the beaten path and to explore new aspects of the old trope of fixing a temporal incident. Overall, this episode feels a tad too much like it only sets up bigger things to come, but its writing is commendable, among the best of the series.
- Continuity: This may not be quite the real year 2024. In accordance with the revised history of early space travel, there appears to be planned manned mission to Europa. Also, there are Sanctuary Districts just as in DS9: "Past Tense". When the history of the early 21st century was written for DS9, Voyager and Enterprise, the year 2024 was still more than two decades away. It came with some predictions that, for all we know, have not come true. Star Trek Picard's timeline does not revise history yet again but maintains the option that everything depicted in golden-age Trek holds true, while allowing the interpretation that the timeline is nearly identical to the one we live in. In a way, the same was already done when the revision of the TOS timeline was underway. In VOY: "Future's End I", for instance, we see a model of Khan's DY-100, although the premature existence of early interplanetary travel is not directly addressed.
- Why do power failures always occur when a ship or shuttle is just below the threshold where a crash is inevitable? Shouldn't the crew have thoroughly checked the systems and the status of the Borg Queen before getting so close to Earth?
- If this crash landing were a real crash landing, Picard would not be able to pick eastern France as a landing site instead of Los Angeles, on the other side of the planet.
- No one home at Château Picard? We will probably still learn what this place is like in the 21st century, but leaving a swath of destruction in the woods near a French village definitely raises a lot of attention and was a bad choice. In this regard, it is curious why Rios should be worried about leaving behind his commbadge.
- Seven reroutes power from life support to the transporters. Although the cliché has a tradition, life support realistically provides orders of magnitude of power too little to operate the transporter.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Whoa! Are you a superhero?" - "Can you keep my secret?" (Girl and Seven, after Seven has materialized)
- "It's only a partial assimilation." - "Halfway to Hell is still not a recommended destination!" (Jurati and Picard)
- Remarkable quote: "Computer, dictate the file logged 'Shit_I_Stole_From_The_Borg_Queen'." (Jurati)
- Remarkable scene: As Rios is telling her about his childhood at the Academy, Teresa uses the opportunity to straighten his dislocated finger.
- Remarkable observation: Butterflies appear in several forms in this episode. Jurati tells Rios to "look out for butterflies", apparently referring to the butterfly effect. He recalls her words when he leaves behind his communicator in the clinic and decides to return. The clinic is named "Las Mariposas" and has a stylized butterfly as a logo. Very curiously, the same logo can be seen on cargo containers on La Sirena. It was also pointed out by fans that the Borg Queen hangs in front of La Sirena's engine core with her arms spread like a butterfly.
- Remarkable music: As the crew arrives in L.A., we can hear a present-day cover of "California Dreamin'". I would have preferred the original by The Mamas and the Papas from 1965 but I can understand that the song is supposed to express the vibes of the 21st century.
- Remarkable fact: Rios says that his mother worked at Starfleet Academy and that he tried out a flight simulator when he was only eight years old. An alarm went off, indicating that he broke the high score. When he climbed out, the jaws of the captains and admirals were on the floor.
- Remarkable director: Lea Thompson, who directs this episode, has time travel experience. She played Marty's mum in the "Back to the Future" series.
As the heating aboard La Sirena is offline, Picard and Jurati visit the Château Picard, which has been abandoned since the Nazi occupation, for some 80 years. They find evidence of the number 15, which they think refers to 15 April 2024 and denotes the day the change in the timeline becomes irreversible. Three days are left until then. Rios has been taken to a detention center of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is going to be deported, unlike Teresa, who has valid papers and is free to return home. While Seven and Raffi keep following his trace, Picard beams to the coordinates that the Borg Queen involuntarily revealed to Jurati. He materializes in 10 Forward Street and enters the bar, where he meets a young Guinan who does not yet know him. Guinan has been living on Earth for quite some time but is disappointed about the planet's development and is preparing to leave. As Picard doesn't want to reveal his whole story, she doesn't trust him, however. Raffi and Seven break into a police car and use the computer to locate Rios. When officers approach the car, Seven drives off. As they are being chased by the police, Jurati persuades the Borg Queen to repair the transporter. Jurati beams them to the road where a bus with Rios is underway. In the meantime, Picard tells Guinan his name and can get her to take him to a Watcher. The Watcher appears in various host bodies, to ensure that they are not followed. Picard eventually encounters a person who looks just like Laris but with human ears. Q too is in the year 2024, but when he snaps his finger, something doesn't work the way he expected...
Last week, our heroes luckily escaped from the ridiculously evil "Confederation" and began to explore the strange old world of 2024. Although I thought that "Assimilation" already set up the most important aspects of the mission, it looks much like a filler episode in hindsight. What happens in "Watcher" is both more relevant to fixing the timeline and more surprising. Yet, that doesn't mean I would rate this week's episode higher. On the contrary, in my view it falls short of "Assimilation" (where the journey was the reward) for several reasons.
"Watcher" continues along the same lines as "Assimilation" as the crew's trouble in the 21st century is concerned. But as clearly as Rios was in the focus last week and as well as his chemistry with Teresa carried the story, he now is imprisoned and incapacitated all the time. Many of his lines are rather corny because the writers apparently didn't have a concept of what he could do or say while behind bars. Seriously, didn't they have a better idea than him talking to a guard about Picard being a "flesh-and-blood robot", lamenting that nobody can explain it to him? This is like an expression of embarrassment about the show's own premise through the fourth wall. Seven and Raffi, on the other hand, still have some fun (the former more than the latter). Yet, it boils down to standard situations that are not overly interesting. The encounter with the punk in the bus is hilarious but is off-topic and doesn't really count. The car chase was much needed to stir up things. I enjoyed it, but I can't get over how reckless it was to break into a police car right in front of a police station in the first place and then drive off. Butterflies anyone? I also don't think the interaction of Jurati and the Borg Queen is so great, as wonderfully creepy as Annie Wersching's performance may be. We may read a lot into their exchange of threats/pleasantries. However, I have a bad feeling that Jurati has been or will be secretly assimilated just like she was under the influence of the mind meld in season 1.
Only Picard shares a couple of scenes with young Guinan that are really meaningful, and not governed by the question what the character could do in this very episode. Actually, every new clue in "Watcher" is found by Picard or in his presence. I firmly expected the coordinates stolen from the Borg Queen to be the ones of Guinan's bar (and the bartender to be the Watcher). It comes as a surprise that Guinan is played by a new actress (Ito Aghayere). My reservations about the time travel issues as mentioned in the annotations aside, I can accept her as the younger version of Whoopi Goldberg's iconic character. Well, if only this Guinan were not so disappointed with, and ultimately unfair, about Earth, which is too ostensibly in the focus.
When Guinan appeared on TNG, she was neither conceived to be a "black" character, nor played by Whoopi Goldberg like one, nor perceived by the fans as one. She was Guinan, an alien whose exact origin and whose true nature remained a secret. It is odd and perhaps inappropriate that in the time travel episode "Time's Arrow" the racism that a black woman would have experienced in the 19th century was simply blanked out. But I don't think that going to the other extreme is a good choice either. Unlike the person of 1893, the one of 2024 complains about racism, so badly that she wants to leave the planet. In a way, the narrative is that racism is always becoming worse. In an episode that is quite preachy anyway, Guinan's lack of memory or lack of patience is the icing on the cake.
Considering that WWIII is at most three decades away, the spotlight on Guinan's complaints about the state of Earth and on Picard's assurance that it will improve is even less understandable. Picard probably refers to the Bell Riots that change the situation of homeless people in US cities for the better. But with the prospect of hundreds of millions dying in a worldwide nuclear war if history is restored, this is a very narrow-minded and short-sighted view.
This episode has many traits of a mystery show, rather than of the Star Trek I know. I genuinely dislike the concept of Watchers, who are among the normal population to protect/patronize/misuse us, although it may turn out that we already know them from a classic Trek show. I hate numerology and I personally never assign a significance to numbers, even if I run across them more than once. There could have been a less clumsy and contrived way to let Picard know when exactly the timeline split happens than placing items with the number 15 in the Château Picard. It will still be explained why the Watcher looks just like Laris or why Laris is a Watcher. But this incredible coincidence, just as so many other aspects of the storyline, reeks of Q's mumbo-jumbo to impress/dumbfound/test Picard. Even if I put aside my anger about the "Confederation" for a moment, season 2 begins to overstrain my ability to suspend disbelief. Finally, speaking of Q, what happens in the last minute when his finger snapping doesn't work? I don't understand a thing. There is too little information in the scene for an appetizer or a cliffhanger.
Overall, "Watcher" continues seamlessly where "Assimilation" left. It comes with interesting revelations and with some decent action. Yet, it is let down by its heavy-handed writing: too much moralizing, too many coincidences and instances of mystery-mongering and too little of a concept what to do with the characters except for Picard.
- Château Picard has been abandoned for 80 years, yet there is still a bottle of good wine, a valuable encyclopedia, a rifle and other items? Although clearly everything was fabricated by Q, it is a stretch.
- The number 15 could mean anything or nothing. There is no reason to assume it refers to April 15, especially since the exact date of arrival in the year 2024 was more or less random. But for some reason Picard assumes that Q would take him to a time right before the event and would additionally give him broad hints.
- Why doesn't Guinan know Picard, although they already met in TNG: "Time's Arrow II", more than a century earlier? The more or less official explanation by Terry Matalas is that the future from which Captain Picard traveled back to the 19th century does not exist any longer, and so would the time travel in the TNG episode, so the two actually meet for the first time in "Watcher". But would he forget about the incident too, or would Q make him selectively forget about it? Also, whereas Q eluded the grandfather paradox of Picard not existing in the "Confederation" by turning him into "General Picard", a new problem comes to pass in the official theory because not just Picard's but all known time travels from the 23rd or 24th century to a time before 2024 never happened. As much as some may argue that nothing of note was changed by Kirk, Picard or Janeway, the year 2024 of "Watcher" may not be the year 2024 in the original timeline. This would be unprecedented in Star Trek because so far traveling back in time to the point of divergence always (explicitly or implicitly) led to the original/previous timeline, with the option to restore it from this point to the future. Ironically, transparent aluminum, an invention famously enabled by time travel, seems to exist in 2024, although it is hard to recognize in a newspaper. Also, we may muse the punk in the bus stopped the music because of his experience with the Vulcan nerve pinch.
- Why is Guinan played by actress Ito Aghayere (33, although some sources list her as being 29)? The probable real-world reason is that the people in charge did not want to de-age Whoopi Goldberg (66) after the mixed reactions to Brent Spiner in season 1. And since characters are being recast all the time in modern Trek, no one thought it would be a big deal if there are two different looking young Guinans. In-universe, on the other hand, it could point to an older Guinan traveling back to the 19th century in TNG: "Time's Arrow II", an episode in which the character was played by Whoopi Goldberg (36). This may also solve the problem of Guinan not knowing Picard because in the TNG episode she would have had a reason not to reveal to the younger Picard what she knows about already meeting him. Then again, in a logical sequence, the events of "Watcher" have not yet happened at the time of "Time's Arrow II", so there would be no problem at all. Summarizing, there is a good chance that the two meet for the very first time in "Watcher", either with or without an additional time travel, either without or with an inconsistency about Guinan's look, either without or with an unprecedented effect of a timeline that gets erased in both directions from the point of divergence.
- Assuming that Guinan really doesn't know Picard, it is odd that she would suddenly trust him only because he tells her his name. He already said he is from the future and gave her proof that he knows her well. Her sixth sense of Ak-kelt proves that something wrong with time after all. So why does the name, rather than the face or other circumstances that Picard alludes to, change so much?
- Picard begs Guinan to stay on Earth. I doubt it, but she may have told him how long she actually spent on the planet and Picard just wants to make sure that this will not change. But if he does not know for how long after 2024 she was on Earth, isn't it a very bad idea, knowing that WWIII is barely three decades away?
- Jurati says, "Cloaking doesn't matter right now." Seriously. She tells everyone to be extremely cautious but then thinks hiding a butterfly of 80 meters is not important.
- I begin to doubt that the Borg Queen could know details about the timeline split, or actually about side aspects of when and where it happened. Why would she file the coordinates of Guinan's bar as relevant but not anything that leads directly to what would happen? Like so much else in the storyline, this looks like Q is responsible for Picard getting just enough information to make a bit of progress.
- I don't remember Guinan vomiting when the timeline changed in "Yesterday's Enterprise" or on other occasions. While it is a nice idea to name and to elaborate on the Ak-kelt as the El-Aurian ability to sense changes to the timeline and it isn't necessarily inconsistent, it came across as more decent in TNG.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I can just imagine a little Picard wandering around here saying, 'Milk, chocolate, hot.'" (Jurati, in the Château Picard)
- "Why does the past hurt so much?" (Rios, as a cop uses a stunstick on him)
- Remarkably cheesy quote: "You have ten seconds to get out of here before I lose my very tenuous grip on my need to put my boot through your face." (Watcher, in the shape of a girl, to Guinan)
- Remarkable scene: Kirk Thatcher as a punk in a hilarious parody of his famous appearance in "Star Trek: "The Voyage Home"
- Remarkable references:
- There is a Floyd's Barber Shop in 2024 L.A., just like there was one in 1930 New York (TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever").
- The tech company Brynner Information Systems is mentioned in a newspaper (DS9: "Past Tense").
- The same newspaper also has a headline about transparent aluminum ("Star Trek: "The Voyage Home").
- The building in front of which Q sits is the "Jackson Roykirk Plaza" (TOS: "The Changeling").
The woman that Jean-Luc Picard meets is not Laris but actually Tallinn, a Supervisor of the kind of Gary Seven. She has been watching over NASA pilot Renée Picard for 24 years. Renée Picard is just a couple of days away from going on the groundbreaking Europa Mission to the moons of Jupiter. But a psychiatrist in Tallinn's surveillance records strives to talk her out of it, attesting that she suffers from anxiety. Picard recognizes the man as Q. While Jurati is in the château, the Borg Queen sends an emergency call to the French police. In California, Raffi and Seven stop the bus that is taking Rios to Mexico, stun the security personnel and free the captain. Dr. Adam Soong is a renowned geneticist, who has been involved in illegal experiments. Yet, he did that to find a cure for his daughter Kore, who suffers from a genetic defect that would lead to damage to her blood and her respiratory system once she left her protected environment. Q approaches the scientist, saying he could help his daughter, in exchange for something Soong has to do for him. Kore injects the serum and can go outside for the first time, but the effect is only temporary. Q tells Soong that for the cure he wants him to remove an "obstacle" named Picard. A flic arrives at the château but doesn't spot Jurati, who is sleeping there. He then discovers La Sirena and gets entangled by the Borg Queen. Jurati takes a gun from the château and has no other choice but to shoot the Queen. Raffi, Seven and Rios, who have returned from L.A., help her take the policeman outside, who has survived and whose memory of the events she has erased. In order to protect Renée, Picard, his crew and Tallinn decide to go to the NASA gala that she has to attend before the flight. Since the event has very high security precautions, Jurati goes first, to enter her team's credentials into the database. She is arrested for behaving strangely and confined to the surveillance room, which is according to plan. However, it turns out that before her death the Borg Queen transferred part of her consciousness to Jurati's mind...
The two first episodes set in the 21st century, "Assimilation" and "Watcher" (both directed by Lea Thompson), were as if made from one piece, although the former was clearly superior to the latter. They usually focused on the characters and always took the due time before switching to the next scene. "Fly Me to the Moon" (directed by Jonathan Frakes) is a setback in this regard. The directing and editing often comes across as hectic, although there is comparably little action in this episode. There are too many flashbacks and flashforwards, sometimes even nested, as well as cuts in rapid succession back and forth between two scenes.
The character actions and interactions in "Fly Me to the Moon" are a mixed bag, although there is overall an improvement over last week. Raffi and Seven don't have a lot to do except for freeing Rios, which is rather effortless. Picard's part too is smaller than usual, and he does not do much more than stating obvious conclusions or objections. Essentially the same applies to Tallinn (Laris?). It is not quite unexpected that Jurati is the regular character with the strongest involvement. Yet, as intense as her interaction with the Queen is and as well as the Borg horror theme still works after more than 30 years, I don't think it is a good idea to repeat the stunt of season 1 to make her the victim of a mindfuck. It also doesn't sit well with me that Jurati gets assimilated more or less voluntarily because, well, she is so lonely and longs for the Borg Queen's company. This motive doesn't become more plausible only because it was foreshadowed last week. And if any proof was still missing that it is a lame idea, the dead Borg Queen is suddenly sitting by Jurati's side just like until recently Gray was Adira's ghost.
It feels as if guest stars Brent Spiner as Adam Soong and John de Lancie as Q are bit more in the focus than the regular cast. Everything about them starts off as quite mysterious, but in the course of the episode we get an idea of how these two could be involved. Although their part of the story, a father's deal with the devil to cure his ill child, reminds me very much of what happened in "Star Trek Into Darkness", I increasingly enjoyed it. I also like that the interaction of Soong with his daughter is conceded the due time. Renée Picard, on the other hand, remains more or less undefined. She has a decent amount of screen time and we can hear her say something now and then. Yet, most of the time everyone is just talking about her and her future accomplishments. This feels a bit odd and may be meant to raise our anticipation of really getting to know her.
"Fly Me to the Moon" answers a couple of questions from last week's too enigmatic episode and provides more clues as to how the timeline got altered. We now know that Q tried to keep Renée Picard, who happens to be related to Jean-Luc, from going on the Europa Mission but for some unknown reason couldn't accomplish it by simply snapping his fingers. He is apparently so desperate that he has to enlist the help of a mortal being, who happens to be an ancestor of Noonian Soong, to get rid of her. Meanwhile a woman, who happens to look like Laris, is watching over Renée Picard. We also see that, without Jean-Luc Picard's interference, Q would be (or already was, depending on the viewpoint) eventually successful in altering the future. What we don't know is how one woman's absence could possibly change the future the way it was shown in "Penance". I couldn't believe my ears when Seven of Nine seriously suggested that without Renée (surely the most important human being of all times), hope would be gone forever, and everyone would hate everyone else! I had to rewind the scene to confirm I didn't mishear this bit. Fortunately Rios and then Picard put the possible importance of the astronaut into perspective. Still, my apprehension is that Seven will be right about it in the end and that there will be no better explanation than that everyone on Earth becomes a Nazi because of Renée Picard's absence, butterflies and things.
The biggest problem with the credibility, not just of the episode but ultimately of the whole season, is that as much as times change, many people stay the same. I will spare my readers of another rant about the Nazi scenario in "Penance". There are enough issues with the characters of the 21st century as well. First of all, there is Renée Picard, who is related to Admiral Picard, although she probably isn't a direct ancestor. I think we deserve a very good excuse for why she couldn't be any other person. This contrived ancestor worshipping just has to pay off at a later time, unlike in VOY: "11:59". Secondly, we have a woman who looks like Laris but who isn't Laris. What's more, she is Renée Picard's watchdog. No matter whether Tallinn is another incarnation of Laris (she has equipment with Romulan lettering) or whether the likeness is another colossal coincidence we are meant to accept, I simply don't buy into the concept, especially since Tallinn more or less ruled out that Q is responsible. As if this were not enough, Raffi experiences practically the same when she mistakes one of the immigrants for Elnor, and we are actually shown Elnor for a second. The Soongs complete the list of familiar characters that
were implanted into always existed in the 21st century. We already knew for quite a while that Brent Spiner would appear. So far his role is the usual one of another clone (the third one in airing order!) of Noonian Soong. Well-played but totally self-referential. Moreover, Adam Soong follows directly on Altan Inigo Soong, as if the series couldn't be made without a mad scientist from the long line of his family. On the other hand, I don't mind that Isa Briones appears as Kore Soong, which is a no-brainer considering how Dahj and Soji were created based on a picture ingrained in Data's memory. While the real-world reason for all this may be to keep the actors busy, in-universe this chain of coincidences is hard evidence of heavy manipulation - except that the story will likely continue to insist on it being an authentic timeline. So far, only in "Star Trek (2009)" the character relations were similarly fabricated, and even Discovery fared better in this regard.
Although the Supervisors, as obscure as they used to be, exist in canon Trek, I dislike the idea that humanity can only grow up with the support of advanced aliens watching over them. "Without us, you'd all become f*cking Nazis." I think the fact that someone else is pulling the strings diminishes the pride that all crews in classic Trek used to display in the accomplishments of their planets and of the Federation. It ultimately calls into question a fundamental concept of Star Trek, that sentient beings, whether they are biological or artificial, can exceed and are even meant to exceed their "original programming".
"Fly Me to the Moon" aptly introduces new characters and especially shines with the story about Q and Soong. It also provides the right amount of story progress to satisfy our curiosity while keeping up the suspense. On the technical side, the only real flaw is its artificially increased pace. However, in light of the many contrived characters and relationships the story of the whole season is dangerously close to tipping over and becoming absurd. I have little hope that this all can be resolved in a half-way satisfactory fashion. But I don't want to devalue this otherwise decent episode for something that will happen at a later time, as inevitable as it seems.
- The smoky gate and the alternative designation of the Watchers as "Supervisors" in "Watcher" already gave away that we are dealing with the same human special agents that take care of a still immature humanity on behalf of aliens as in TOS: "Assignment: Earth". The TOS episode was meant as a pilot episode of a possible spin-off and is mentioned for the first time after over 50 years. The heavy vault door, the mid-century furniture including an old-style TV and the fact that Tallinn dislikes time travel are further continuity ties. We only have to wonder why the Supervisors never showed up in other time travels to Earth's past.
- The Shenzhen Convention is apparently an international ban on genetic experiments on humans. Its existence is further proof that this is not the same year 2024 as in the real world.
- Likewise, Soong's drone-based protective shield against sunlight (much like a forcefield) is far more advanced than today's technology.
- In "The Star Gazer", Jean-Luc Picard said Renée Picard was a great-grandcousin. She is related to him but she is not exactly his ancestor as it is stated in "Fly Me to the Moon".
- It is very unlikely that NASA would send a French astronaut to spearhead a crucial mission.
- Renée Picard's French passport contains several errors. It has her birth date listed American-style as "11 22 1996" (the US release date of "First Contact", directed by Jonathan Frakes!). The issue date and expiration date, on the other hand, are correctly European-style. Also, the accents on "Préfecture" and "Béziers" are the wrong way round. Furthermore, if there are accents on these two words in capital letters (they might be omitted in this case), there should also be one on "Renée" and one on "Châteauneuf". Finally, "Républicique Française"? Ahem.
- The Borg Queen perfectly imitates voices but speaks French with a heavy accent.
- Jurati takes Chekhov's gun from Château Picard to kill the Borg Queen. Why didn't she take a phaser with her?
- The casual mention of the nanoprobes being inactive in "Penance" may explain why Jurati wasn't assimilated in "Assimilation". But if this is so, how could it happen in "Fly Me to the Moon"?
- Does it have a significance that a character is named after the Estonian capital, or is this another coincidence?
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Dr. Soong, in 17 seconds, you're going to take a seat." - "How do I know?" - "You drove an hour to meet a total stranger, not for mystery or intellectual curiosity, but because you're a father, and you're desperate. [Soong sits down] There. 17 seconds, right on the tick." (Q and Adam Soong)
- "He's all right now. I repaired most of the internal organs." - "Most?" - "Yeah, his spleen's in a box over there." (Jurati and Raffi)
- Remarkable quote: "Do you have any idea how many crackpots contact me about my work? I get everything from basement-dwelling Nazis to rich heiresses who want me to clone their fucking cats." (Adam Soong)
Admiral Picard is lying on the floor. He is severely injured and unconscious. 34 minutes earlier: Jurati manages to disable the security personnel and upload the crew's fake credentials into the database, upon which they are admitted to the party. At the event, Picard and Tallinn observe how nervous Renée Picard is. They intercept a message to her psychiatrist Q, in which the astronaut says she would tell Musa, the mission commander, that she quits. Picard tries to call Jurati so she can distract Musa, but she is troubled by the Borg Queen in her mind. He decides to talk to his ancestor nonetheless but runs into Adam Soong, whose mission is to keep Renée from going on the Europa Mission and who reports the admiral to the security personnel. Jurati uses a nanoelectric pulse to disable the power supply of the building. She goes to the stage to sing, which provides the diversion that the admiral needs to follow Renée Picard and speak to her. The endorphin rush in Jurati's body, however, allows the Borg Queen to take control of her. As the two Picards are taking a walk outside, Adam Soong drives by in his car and tries to run over Renée. But the admiral shoves her aside and ends up lying on the floor. As neither the biobed on La Sirena nor a real hospital that would ask for an ID is an option, Rios takes Picard to Teresa's clinic. Teresa manages to stabilize him after a cardiac arrest. Despite his bodily functions and his brain activity being normal, Picard remains unresponsive, however. Soong returns home to his daughter Kore, trying to justify his actions without being specific about what he did. Kore discovers files on her dad's computer with childhood photos she doesn't remember. She eventually runs into video diary files, in which Soong speaks about failed attempts to procreate. She herself appears to be his latest and the so far only successful creation. Against Raffi's objections that Picard needs time to cope with whatever is troubling him, Tallinn prepares to enter his mind with a neuro-optic interceptor. In the meantime, Jurati is strolling around the streets...
This episode, like "Fly Me to the Moon", was directed by Jonathan Frakes. Although he doesn't bother us with hectic editing this time, I don't think he does the story a favor with no less than three flashforwards that show Picard unconscious on the floor. As already in "The Star Gazer", foreshadowing what would happen is a suspense killer, and it is almost indecent to zoom in on the ailing admiral so long and so often.
The other problem in the flow and the visualization of the story is how the Borg Queen appears as Jurati's ghost. As I already anticipated in last week's review, it is the exact same theme as with Adira and Gray on Star Trek Discovery. And although Alison Pill and Annie Wersching play in a higher acting league, it is just unimaginative. We would have deserved a more original twist, or at least a different way to visualize it. Well, and Jurati singing "Shadows of the Night", as wonderfully as she performs it, strikes me as being out of character, even though the Borg Queen's influence may and will serve as a convenient excuse for her strange behavior.
Speaking of ideas that are just repeated in Picard's season 2, the revelation that Kore is a product of genetic engineering is yet another big disappointment. Almost the exact same happened to Dahj in "Remembrance" and to Soji in "The Impossible Box", not to mention that it is the same actress and her creator is played by the same actor as well. By now, the season has become Star Trek's version of "The Force Awakens": a storyline that more or less reiterates a plot we are already know, with characters that are more or less identical. If it were something new, Kore's discovery of her true nature would be an awesome twist and could make a difference. But in "Two of One" it doesn't have a significance because it happens all the time to Soong's descendants. Soong and Kore, as credible they are in the confines of this season, are only stock characters in a larger context.
Another cliché will probably be a main plot point in the next episode, as we know that Tallinn is going to enter Picard's head. Much the same already happened when Jurati accessed the Borg Queen's brain in "Assimilation", for essentially the same reason to wake up an unconscious person - not to mention the many times a Vulcan-style or generic mind meld was shown on Star Trek before. But I will hold my judgment until next week.
On the bright side, Tallinn manages to step a bit out of Laris's shadow in this episode and shows that she really is someone different, as little sense as this makes. I hope that it will still be explained in some fashion that she looks like Laris, considering that Picard and she herself allude to the likeness. Anyway, I like her interaction with Picard. It is credible how her long experience as a Supervisor make her act with much deliberation but also dedication.
Renée Picard comes across as likable because of her uncertainty but there is not yet much beyond that about her, which may also have to do with Admiral Picard speaking most of the time. I wonder if the story will further develop her character in the four remaining episodes or if it is really just about her going on that mission, without the need to know more about her or for her to be more active. Anyway, Picard's motivational speech, in which he encourages her to overcome her fears and doubts, is a clear highlight of the episode. A young woman in trouble normally wouldn't confide in an elderly man who happens to cross her path, unless he is as trustworthy and caring as Picard and unless this man is played by Patrick Stewart. Scenes such as this are an important reason why I watch the series, although they can't quite make up for the deficiencies of the story.
Overall, with the exception of Jurati, "Two of One" continues to handle the characters well. Another positive example I would like to mention is Raffi's banter with Rios at the bar. We know that she has not really arrived in the 21st century. She notices that Rios has fun, which is obvious, but also (correctly) suspects that he is more than just fond of Teresa.
"Two of One" continues in much the same vein as "Fly Me to the Moon", but in a more straightforward and less confusing fashion. The many issues I have with the storyline persist, though. Additionally, I just don't like the hackneyed ideas of the Borg Queen as Jurati's ghost and of Kore as an artificially created being who discovers her true identity. Other than that, there is little progress regarding the mission of saving the future or finding out about Q's motive. But I really appreciate the character moments in this unusually calm episode, for which the NASA event provides a well-designed stylish backdrop.
- Why would anyone else's passport show up when Rios tries in vain to validate his RFID tag (just because it happens to be the same birthplace)? Shouldn't there be an error message such as "Not in the database"?
- What was the plan regarding the security personnel? That they remain asleep the whole night, without anyone noticing it? And what about Jurati stepping out again? Wouldn't someone of the other personnel recognize the party crasher on the loose?
- If Q really couldn't do it himself and needed Soong to act for him, wouldn't he get him a gun, poison or a virus that could be used to disable Renée Picard?
- Kore has free access to her dad's lab and computer. It speaks in her favor that she never touched his personal files but it is hard to believe she never read the news or googled him.
- It appears that Queen Jurati does not need a device but emits the EM pulse just with her Borg powers (with the nanoprobes that are inexplicably active again, to be precise, but that don't transform her into a Borg the way it happened previously on Star Trek).
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "She does seem to check her mobile device quite a bit." - "Oh, we all do that." (Picard and Tallinn)
- "We're the good guys." - "Good guys never say that." (Rios and Teresa)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "And who is watching over you?" (Picard, to Tallinn)
- "21st-century Earth isn't what I thought it would be. Everything's so intense. All the cars and the honking and shouting. It's dirty. Music everywhere. Ah. The food is amazing. The cigars..." (Rios, to Raffi)
- "Fear is fear. It doesn't speak in riddles. Fear means... you're smart. You understand the risks. So what are you afraid of?" (Picard, to Picard)
- Remarkable references:
- The passport that initially shows up when Rios tries to gain access has a very high density of Easter eggs. The name is Karl Leonard Kelley, obviously combining the real and role names of Karl Urban, Leonard McCoy and DeForest Kelley. The man was born in El Paso, like Gene Roddenberry. The date of birth is 11 March 1964, the day Roddenberry wrote his first Star Trek pitch. The date of issue is 23 Jan 2020, the day when the series premiere "Remembrance" aired.
- Shout-out to the ship from the Enterprise opening credits, the OV-165. The orbiter vehicle is equipped with areospike engines that consume less fuel.
- We also see Jackson Roykirk's Nomad probe on a display and as a model.
- Shout-out to Mae Jemison, NASA astronaut who appeared in TNG: "Second Chances".
Raffi and Seven have returned to La Sirena on the search for Jurati. Picard is still unresponsive, as Tallinn prepares to enter his mind. He imagines to be in a counseling session in his ready room. The male Starfleet counselor addresses Picard's fear of enclosed spaces and his unwillingness to let people in. When requested to tell a story, Picard recounts a childhood memory of when he was with his mother and they were pursued by monsters. The story ends with him being alone in the dungeon after his mother has been dragged away. Tallinn has entered his head and arrives in the dungeon where she meets the terrified boy. Rios notices that Picard's condition deteriorates but Teresa can't help him. He has no other option but to let Raffi beam over a neural stabilizer in Teresa's presence, upon which he has quite a few things to explain. In his mind, Tallinn urges Picard to get at the bottom of his childhood trauma. The counselor turns out to be a manifestation of his father Maurice, whom the admiral remembered as being abusive, so much that he believed his mother often ran away because of him. But the truth is somewhat different. Picard's mother suffered from paranoid delusions. One time she took her son into the tunnels underneath the château. The boy got stuck in a wooden access cover. His father found him hours later. When Picard wakes up, Tallinn reveals to him that she is Romulan. Rios beams to La Sirena, accompanied by Teresa and her son. In the meantime, Raffi and Seven have traced Jurati's movements but not yet found her. They discover CCTV footage of her smashing a window. Seven concludes that Jurati is under the control of the Borg Queen and seeks excitement because that would produce endorphins and stimulate nanoprobe production, eventually transforming her into the new Queen. Picard wonders what his experience while being unconscious had to to with the current mission to fix history. He remembers something that the counselor said about knowing one's enemy and decides to confront his nemesis Q. Guinan knows a way to summon members of the Continuum. However, instead of Q, a police officer enters the bar to arrest Picard and Guinan...
I was apprehensive about this episode because I think the foreshadowed trope of someone walking around in someone else's brain is hopelessly overused. What's more, this season's overarching story has not managed to keep its focus so far, and the last thing it needed in my view was still more sidetracking. So I watched "Monsters" with initial dismay, as Picard was talking to a counselor in his mind, in a scene that had no apparent relevance for what was happening in the real world. When Picard began to tell the story of the "queen", the "prince" and the "monsters", adding another contrived layer of abstraction (like a dream in a dream), he almost lost me.
However, about halfway through the episode, it occurred to me that I liked some aspects about it. It may be clichéd that the brain is shown as a real place inhabited by real people. It may not be scary at all, although it probably was the intention to give it a sense of horror. It may be an awkward time to heal Picard's haunted soul. It will still have to be explained what kind of significance this all has in the story arc. But it doesn't leave me cold how Picard delves into his childhood, in the arguably most personal journey of exploration he ever made. And considering how often his old trauma was visualized or alluded to in previous episodes of the season, the revelation of the true circumstances is the perhaps first reward in the story arc, irrespective of how relevant it actually is in Q's game.
In my review of "The Star Gazer", I was skeptical of the idea that Picard's father was abusive. Patrick Stewart had experienced domestic violence in his youth, and in my opinion this unnecessarily blurred the difference between the actor and the fictional character. I am very surprised that "Monsters" turns the narrative on its head. Although it is an old tradition in the franchise that memories turn out to be false, I would never have expected Picard's father to be innocent in this regard (although he arguably could have cared more for his son). This is a rather daring twist considering how it contradicts Mr. Stewart's personal experiences.
James Callis, well-known to sci-fi fans as Baltar from the BSG reboot, gives a memorable performance as Picard's counselor/father. I think he disappears a bit suddenly, but I understand that something like a tearful farewell to his over 90-year-old son would not have been appropriate. We're not in Star Trek: Discovery after all.
The mystery-mongering about Tallinn continues. So she is not Laris, but she is Romulan (as the shape of the ear piece gave away even before she revealed her real ear). An ancestor of Laris, as Picard muses? The Soongs and Picards are staples of 2024 L.A., so why not just one more? And why not one more person who looks exactly like their descendants, given that this is also true for the various Soongs, their clones and androids? No! Because coincidences don't make more but less sense the more there are of them. There still has to be a much better rationale for all this but I am afraid we won't get one. Unless of course the admiral wakes up in his château and the whole season was nothing but a dream or a holographic simulation.
It was foreseeable that Rios would not restrain himself and would eventually tell Teresa the truth. It is no surprise either that when he explains he is from Chile and only works in outer space, the wording is much the same as in "Star Trek IV". This season borrows heavily from Star Trek's pool of time travel episodes and movies as the story details and the character archetypes are concerned. Yet, I wonder if there will still be some sort of twist regarding Teresa and her role in the whole game. I mean, besides falling in love with Rios.
Speaking of unexpected twists, there will likely be none about Renée Picard. She does not appear again in "Monsters" and is mentioned only once. As I mused last week, Renée Picard may not be so important after all, and essentially only a pawn in Q's game of chess that is all about Jean-Luc Picard right now. Unfortunately Q, Soong and Kore, who all did a good job to give this season at least some momentum, are absent just as well.
The imminent disaster of Jurati becoming the new Borg Queen was conjured up pretty early this season and strikes me as the most gratuitous plot thread, perhaps ahead of the many fabricated coincidences that we are meant to accept. Considering how big a deal Seven makes of it, we see rather little of the emerging Queen Agnes, which I think is good. And so it is Guinan who provides the arguably cringiest moment of the episode when she tries to summon Q with silly mumbo-jumbo, including an old bottle (because Q is some kind of genie after all?) and screaming.
Summarizing, the plot thread about Picard's childhood trauma takes a while to become at least a bit interesting. It still needs to gain a real significance beyond Q wanting to tell Picard that "there is no better teacher than one's enemy." "Monsters", more clearly than already "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Two of One", plods along and is only saved by strong performances, this time of Patrick Stewart and James Callis. The rest of the episode consists mostly of standard situations with nothing special about them. Speaking of standard situations, it is just lame that Picard and Guinan are arrested in the end.
- Picard's father Maurice aka the therapist played by James Callis wears a uniform that is apparently supposed to be the "colorless" style introduced in "First Contact", but without the slight padding in the gray top portion.
- Guinan makes the same defiant gesture with her hands as in TNG: "Q Who".
- Nitpicking: Would anyone in the year 2024 lend the slightest credence to the authenticity of a video of someone materializing out of nothing, something that any idiot can fake on a smartphone?
- Remarkably familiar dialogue: "Are you from outer space?" - "No. I'm from Chile. I just... I work in outer space." (Teresa and Rios)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "You hold everyone at arm's length. Lest... what? Perhaps there's a version of yourself you're hiding. Something you're afraid others will see. A darker version, perhaps? A secret shame? A guilt?" (Maurice)
- "You didn't even say the good swear words." (Teresa's son, after stealthily listening to the "bad words" his mother announced to say to Rios)
- "You lived longer than I did, but I got to keep my hair. Not exactly a fair trade, is it, son?" (Maurice)
- Remarkable appearance: The singer in the bar in L.A. is Sunny Ozell, Patrick Stewart's wife.
Guinan and Picard are being interrogated by Agent Wells of the FBI. He accuses them of being alien saboteurs of the Europa Mission, whose launch is only hours away. Raffi and Seven continue to follow Jurati's trail of destruction. They find a dead man that she apparently attempted to link with in vain. Seven recognizes that she also ripped open a cell phone because she needs the lithium ions in the battery for her nanoprobes. Raffi and Seven arrive at a parking lot where several car batteries have been opened. Jurati attacks but does not kill them. Q appears to Kore in her AR glasses and announces a delivery. She finds a small box in the airlock of her sealed environment, containing a tubule labeled "Freedom" - the serum to heal her condition. Guinan is taken to another room of the FBI basement where Q appears to her. She recognizes that he is dying. Q mentions that "it's the escape that counts" and that humans "are all trapped in the past", which does not make sense to her. But as she contacts Picard telepathically, she relays the latter message, upon which Picard gets Wells to talk about a childhood experience, an encounter with Vulcans that frightened him and that made him want to find aliens ever since. He also tells the agent the truth about himself and his mission. Wells agrees to release Picard and Guinan, even though this costs him his job as he would have to admit that he faked the evidence about the suspects being possible aliens. Rios attempts to activate the transporter but it is offline, so the away team is stuck. Raffi and Seven know from of the smartphones's search history that Jurati is headed for Soong. The scientist is heartbroken because Kore has left him after taking the serum. Jurati appears and promises that he will be famous and powerful if only he prevents Renée Picard from going on the Europa Mission where she would make a discovery that would render his work obsolete. He arranges a meeting with a group of mercenaries, upon which she begins to assimilate them.
I labeled the plot twist at the end of last week's episode "lame", as Picard and Guinan were arrested by the police. I was still hoping this would maybe open up new story opportunities. But to my disappointment the whole plot is both gratuitous and contrived. It is gratuitous because nothing noteworthy happens while Guinan and Picard are in the FBI basement. We very likely won't see Agent Wells again. Q could just as well have appeared instead of Wells when Guinan tried to summon him in "Monsters". It is also contrived because Agent Wells is obsessed with aliens since an encounter with Vulcans in his childhood. This is yet another one of those coincidences that we are meant to put up with and that almost definitely will not appear as more reasonable after the season finale. What's more, the shot of the Vulcans at the beginning of the episode (it was already in the season 2 teaser) is anticlimactic because it is nothing but a memory of a character with no further relevance.
Well, at least it makes a bit more sense now that anyone in the year 2024 takes video footage of someone appearing out of thin air seriously. However, it is a worrying phenomenon of this season that every explanation for a small puzzle comes at the expense of an even bigger new problem.
It also doesn't make sense that Guinan would somehow know that Q's words about humans being stuck in the past have a special significance and that Picard, in turn, would know that they specifically apply to Wells. Guinan's and Picard's conclusions are incredibly far-fetched, which is another symptomatic issue of season 2. I also don't think that it was a good idea to establish that Guinan could link to Picard telepathically, which is an ability she never had (or at least never used) on any occasion in TNG. In a better screenplay, Guinan and/or Picard would have talked with each other and someone would have concluded based on real evidence that Wells is plagued by some traumatic event from the past. Oh well, and in a still better screenplay, there would have been no sidetracking with a contrived character like Wells at all...
Not everything is bad about the FBI interrogation. There are qualities in its details, such as the humor of Guinan laughing about the allegations of being an alien or the empathic way that Wells and Picard listen to each other once they decide to open up themselves. Perhaps I should appreciate these moments more. Is my anger about the absence of logic and of relevance in the plot disproportionate?
The plot thread about the emergent Borg Queen does not really fare better in my opinion. So she walks around in her red dress, attacks people and sucks out metal ions from batteries. And because she still is Agnes "I'm done murdering people" Jurati after all, she only kills unimportant people from the 21st century and spares the lives of her friends. This is just as formulaic as it is farcical. It is another one of those coincidences that she too would seek the help of Soong of all people, although we may make up reasons why only his research could provide her with the materials she needs to evolve and although it serves to justify the statue of him we saw in the evil timeline in "Penance", probably in a predestination paradox.
Seven and Raffi continue to make their way through L.A. a bit like in those buddy movies from the 1980's. I like how Seven remains pragmatic most of the time, whereas the part of being bitchy falls to Raffi. This works well for me, and it is only realistic that Raffi would finally break down after Seven's criticism of her behavior. Yet, I don't understand why Seven would call Raffi "manipulative" because that is not the impression I have of her. I also don't get how the sudden flashback to Raffi talking with Elnor is supposed to fit into this context. What's more, it lasts several minutes and is very distracting at this point of the story. A brief shot would have sufficed to visualize her feeling of guilt about persuading him to return to Starfleet, but this entire scene feels more like the fulfillment of a contract with Evan Evagora on guaranteed screen time.
Besides Q, Soong and Kore are among the strongest characters of this episode. It may be a bit predictable but it is insightful how Kore, in a well-played scene, accuses her "dad" of caring more for his work and his legacy than for her, and how helplessly he reacts. We can see in his face that he is aware she is right and that he would wish it weren't so. As I already mentioned in my review of "Fly Me to the Moon", this all could be still more meaningful if this season's story weren't so fabricated and if it didn't follow the pattern that all Soong generations are essentially the same person anyway. At least, after "Mercy" I have raised my expectations that Q has a really good motive for acting the way he does, although it likely won't make much sense what he does. Watching John de Lancie as Q is always a pleasure, even if the lines he delivers are enigmatic and incoherent.
Rios does not have a lot to do in this episodes, although we see him quite frequently as he checks the systems of La Sirena and enjoys his time with Teresa and Ricardo. As I already mentioned in last week's review, it would be great for Teresa to still have an important role in the story, besides falling in love with Rios. I think I like her so much because she is the only guest character who doesn't feel contrived.
With only two episodes left in the season, we should expect some more things in the story to add up and to pave the way for the big finale. But that just doesn't happen in "Mercy". The episode comes with further gratuitous complications and provides only vague hints about how everything could fit together. My hope that it may make sense eventually has further waned.
On an even more general note about season 2, of the so far eight episodes only one took place in the familiar 25th century, one was set in the bleak "Confederation" timeline and six in the 21st century, still with equipment of the "Confederation". I sorely miss the familiar visuals and Star Trek vibes in this season. And the two final episodes will show if this loss of connection is perhaps the even bigger fault of this season.
- Seven says that Jurati needs the lithium ions from the smartphone battery. But she later sucks out conventional car batteries that don't contain lithium.
- El-Aurians were never shown so far to have telepathic powers.
- So Kore is on her own without money and without ID, which is troublesome enough, but she also leaves her shoes behind...
- Why would the Borg Queen want to enable a future in which the Borg are exterminated by humans, by supporting Soong? Well, she may reckon that assimilation will be complete before humans can even think of going into space.
- It would make a bit of sense if the soldiers were Soong's genetic experiments, which would explain the loyalty to him. But they seem to be just ordinary mercenaries, of the type that cardboard villains always manage to hire in no time whenever needed, complete with weapons.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "You're dying." - "Another quality I sincerely loathe about your species. Empathy." (Guinan and Q)
- "How long till the launch?" - "I'm sensitive to the space-time continuum. I'm not a clock." (Picard and Guinan)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "It's 2024. People have trouble with revolving doors. They can't handle a Borg Queen." (Raffi)
- "Mercy is not a Borg quality." (Seven)
- "Four cakes!" (Ricardo's first replicator order)
- Remarkable fact: Kore was created with somatic nuclear cell transfer and gestated in a proprietary medium.
- Remarkable guest star: Jay Karnes, who plays Agent Wells, could be seen as Lt. Ducane on the eponymous Wells-class ship in VOY: "Relativity".
The Borg Queen in Jurati's body activates La Sirena's transporter remotely and beams herself and the Borgified mercenaries aboard the ship. Rios, Teresa and Ricardo escape to the château. Picard, Tallinn, Raffi and Seven arrive and prepare for the attack of Soong's troops. Aboard La Sirena, however, the Queen does not succeed in launching the ship as intended. Before her assimilation, Jurati encrypted the command console with a code she did not memorize. Moreover, she prepared an emergency combat hologram in the form of Elnor. When Rios is hit by a bullet outside the château, Picard beams him, Teresa and Ricardo into Tallinn's apartment and locks him out from the system so he can't return. While Seven and Raffi are trying to find the way back to the ship on their own, Picard remembers the tunnels underneath the château from his childhood. After a while, Soong discovers the secret entrance and follows them with his mercenaries. Seven and Raffi arrive aboard La Sirena and join forces with the Elnor hologram. He has the code for the ship's command functions, which allows them to beam away the attackers, leaving the Queen as the only Borg on the ship. A fight ensues, in the course of which the Queen pierces Seven with a tentacle. Inside the Queen's mind, Jurati suggests to form a new kind of Borg Collective, one that has mercy and that honors the individuality of its members, just like Seven of Nine. The Queen repairs Seven's wounds with nanoprobes, thereby also restoring her Borg implants. Picard and Tallinn make it back to the surface but Soong finds them in the solarium of the château. In the meantime, Rios has gained access to the transporter again. Although Teresa asks him to stay, he beams into the solarium to support Picard. His mercenaries are dead or disabled now, but Soong himself can escape. Picard remembers that it was (or will be) in this very room that his mentally ill mother hung herself. He blames himself for unlocking the bedroom door that day, against his concerned father's request. The Queen demands the ship in exchange for saving Seven's life. She leaves with the enigmatic comment that to succeed, "there must be two Renées, one who lives and another one who dies."
With "Monsters", we've already had an entire episode dedicated to Jean-Luc's repressed childhood memory. Although I wouldn't have explored the secret about his father and mother in such a depth, after my initial skepticism the journey into Picard's mind didn't feel completely out of place in that episode. The conclusion also left me halfway satisfied and somewhat surprised. I can't say the same about the rest of the story as it is told in "Hide and Seek". First off, it wouldn't have called for a sequel because our curiosity was pretty much satisfied after "Monsters", which was designed like a final stroke to what plagued Picard in this season. As traumatic and tragic as it is that the boy felt guilt for allowing his mother to commit suicide, it is an extra chapter to a story that didn't need one. And regarding the timing, it couldn't be worse in an episode that is otherwise all about running and fighting. Seriously, if I am being pursued by heavily armed mercenaries, a childhood memory is the last thing I would be bothered about. But in Picard, having the right feeling is more important than doing the right thing now, which reminds me of a certain other series in the franchise.
I generally appreciate how the writing of Star Trek Picard honors the characters and how great actors like Patrick Stewart turn even the less effective stories into something special. Yet, I'm afraid to say that the extensive exploration of Picard's childhood comes across as underwhelming. Star Trek likes to tell this kind of stories (such as in TNG: "Dark Page"), but I don't think it has enough potential to make it a central theme of the season.
I know from reading various reviews and comments that many fans enjoy the story about the strange alliance between Jurati and the Borg Queen. Perhaps it has become popular because otherwise the season is devoid of real highlights or remains without consequences? Anyway, I never liked the idea, and in my view it becomes the more cringeworthy the further it progresses. "Hide and Seek" is a new low point in my book. So the Borg are evil because they just seek company? And no one can understand this better than Jurati, who herself is lonely? And it would be so much cooler if everyone loved instead of feared them? And because it makes so much sense, they join forces and decide to build a new Collective that brings love and peace to the galaxy? Give me a break!
As absurd as her transformation to a space hippie is, when Jurati's tear falls from the Borg Queen's eye and when she has mercy with Seven of Nine, the story gains a significance for the characters again. Seven - the prime example of a person who uses her Borg abilities not to assimilate but to help others. For a moment, I was emotionally invested in the idea. But then it occurred to me that the analogy of Seven being the model for the new Borg doesn't really work. Seven had a long and sometimes painful way to rediscover her individuality. It was only possible because she was severed from the Borg. Although she occasionally referred to the crew of Voyager as her new "Collective", they just provided Starfleet rules and personal advice, the rest was all up to herself. It is a flawed idea that it would be possible to apply the recipe to the lost souls of the galaxy and that it would be desirable to create a "universe of Sevens" or to "build a better Borg". Once there is collectivism or an ideology, it defies the very idea of individuality. The new Borg would become much like the old ones, just like many "salvation" movements in human history actually were or became toxic, with methods such as authoritarianism, brainwashing, gaslighting, peer pressure etc.
After seeing Elnor in the episode trailer, I was alarmed that there would be yet another unlikely coincidence that no one bothers to explain. To my relief, this Elnor is only holographic. However, as already his appearance in "Mercy", the role as an "emergency combat hologram" is gratuitous and looks more like an excuse to give Evan Evagora some screen time. Well, perhaps it will have been an apt twist in hindsight if Elnor doesn't come back next week and if Raffi had a chance to say goodbye to him in the form of his hologram?
At this point, I wonder how "At least they refrain from screwing it up even more" could become something that reviews of the Trek shows since 2017, and not only my reviews, are anxious to put emphasis on.
After nine of ten episodes, it is a bit disappointing how small the role of Captain Rios is. It seems that Raffi and Seven get all the action scenes, whereas Christobál is repeatedly incapacitated or otherwise stays out of harm's way. As heartwarming his interaction with Teresa is and as much as this action-loaded episode needs to slow down once in a while, it feels like it is the same all over again as in "Mercy". Yet, if I'm not mistaken, it may serve to foreshadow that Rios will suddenly decide to stay in the 21st century in the finale.
And this takes me to the most problematic issue. Picard and company are running out of time. Only one episode is left to make sense of the whole mess of a temporal incident that realistically can't be one, to explain what's up with Q, to reveal Tallinn's identity, to defeat Soong and save the Europa Mission, to show what happens to Rios and Teresa, possibly to show what happens to Kore, and, of course, to return to the 24th century and reveal if the Federation, Elnor and Soji still or again exist. Save for the send-offs for Queen Agnes and for Teresa (both of which are probably premature anyway), "Hide and Seek" does nothing to lay the ground for the season finale. The episode spends a lot of time on further exploring Picard's childhood trauma that has no further bearing on the story but to show him a place to hide from the Nazis. Other than that, it consists of lots of dumb shooting and fighting against the soulless minions of Soong, who for some reason has mutated to a forgettable wannabe Hitler. A lot of the potential that was in this season's premise has either been wasted or is exhausted by now.
On a final, perhaps conciliatory note, it is rather obvious now that the Borg Queen from "The Star Gazer" is Queen Agnes in a predestination phenomenon. I also have an idea what "two Renées, one who lives and another one who dies" may mean. Since this is not the year 2024 in the original timeline but already affected by a temporal incursion (we remember that Guinan does not know Picard), perhaps both paths of a possible future may have to be enabled because of the predestination. But we will see in the season finale whether the writers still have something intelligent up their sleeve or whether everything will be resolved with a deus ex machina. Unfortunately the writing of the season so far and the lack of time strongly suggests the latter.
- Continuity: Picard says he used to imagine his maman as an old woman, drinking tea with him. This refers to the vision he had in "Where No One Has Gone Before". In other words, he provides an explanation for the retcon through the fourth wall.
- We are supposed to assume that when the Borg Queen assimilated the first mercenary last week, the others were waiting in a line, eager to get their shot of nanoprobes...
- There would have been many ways and enough time to disable the transporter hardware so the Queen couldn't use it to beam aboard, which was Rios's concern already last week.
- Why does the Borg Queen need La Sirena anyway to sabotage the Europa Mission? Couldn't she simply beam to the launch site and sabotage it (just like Gary Seven in "Assignment: Earth")?
- Why does the holographic Elnor have a mobile emitter similar to the Doctor's on Voyager and unlike the holograms on "our" La Sirena? Sure, the technology of the Confederation may be different, but the emitter is a piece of 29th century technology and its appearance is a gratuitous anachronism.
- Why does the holographic Elnor hide from the Borg, although he is effectively invulnerable?
- Speaking of being invulnerable, Raffi and Seven are protected by plot shielding when they run though the vineyard that is swarming with enemies shooting at them.
- The Borg that are beamed into the tunnel underneath the Château Picard materialize in the walls and are literally petrified. Is "Override all safety measures, merge with wall" a transporter setting that can be selected from a menu?
- Does it have a significance that they materialize just before Picard's eyes or is this, you guessed it, another coincidence?
- So Picard incidentally finds the exact same key he would use to open the bedroom door and release his mother, some 400 years later? Sure, Q placed it there, but this is further evidence that every one of the countless coincidences of the season could and maybe should be a sham.
- Are we seriously meant to believe that in the 24th century mentally ill patients would be either left to their own or locked up in a room?
- Is there any reason why the Borg Queen would have to restore Seven of Nine's implants exactly as they were? After all, her stomach was injured, not her head or her hands. Also, the transformation to a normal human being without Borg implants (but for some reason still with the same personality) definitely was a forgery by Q and not something that actually happened to her in a physical sense. She may have been re-reverted by Q (or by the timeline change) just as effortlessly. The sole reason for Seven to be reassimilated with nanoprobes is the symbolic impact. It was to be expected that the reset button would be pressed regarding her appearance but not so gratuitously.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Did you know that space is so vast, so infinite, it takes billions of years for that tiny pinprick of light to make that lonely journey from its star to our eyes? The brilliance you see in the night sky, Jean-Luc, that exquisite light, it's just an echo, really, of a star that has long since faded. Like me." (Yvette Picard)
- "There are moments in time we wish we could travel back to. Memories, pieces of life better lived in reverse. In those moments, tragic endings might rewind into joyful beginnings." (Picard)
- Remarkable model ships: We can see Picard's Promellian battlecruiser in a bottle, an Excelsior class, a Miranda class and the so far conjectural NX class refit, which is canon now.
- Remarkable fact: Seven applied for Starfleet but was turned down, probably because she was Borg. Janeway wanted to fight for her admission, threatened to resign, but Seven gave up and joined the Fenris Rangers.
After La Sirena has lifted off with the Borg Queen aka Jurati, Tallinn intends to make sure on her own that Renée Picard goes on the Europa Mission. The admiral anticipates that she wants to sacrifice her life and joins her. At the launch site, she convinces him to let her fulfill her lifetime's mission. Tallinn proceeds to the quarantine section to talk to Renée Picard. In the meantime, Seven, Raffi and Rios have arrived in Soong's house where they discover drones that are about to launch, apparently programmed to destroy the rocket. They are wired to explode if they are tampered with. But Raffi thinks she can take over control of them. Soong himself is at the launch site and demands to speak to the astronauts. Renée Picard approaches him, saying that a strange woman stalked her. Soong shakes her hand, thereby infecting her with a lethal neurotoxin. But the woman he poisoned was actually Tallin in disguise. She dies in Picard's arms, still witnessing the successful launch of the rocket. In the meantime, the drones have lifted off, and thanks to Raffi's rewiring Rios manages to have them collide with each other. Back in his house, Soong witnesses how the real Renée reports how her mission is on track, and then how all of his files are being remotely deleted by Kore. He pulls a folder from his drawer, labeled "Project Khan". Kore receives a message to meet with a person, who turns out to be Wesley Crusher. He invites her to become a Supervisor or Traveler. At the château, Picard puts back the key behind a brick, for him as a boy to be found in the future. Q tells him that it was the right decision to make. He confirms that he is dying but that he doesn't want to die alone. He is going to send Picard's crew back to the 24th century, which will probably kill him. But Rios chooses to stay behind with Teresa and Ricardo. Picard hugs Q, and finds himself back on the Stargazer, as the Borg Queen is tapping the systems. He halts the countdown for the self-destruct. The Borg Queen turns out to be Jurati. She needs control of all ships to create a shield strong enough to block the eruption of a massive anomaly. The admiral puts Seven in command and orders all ships to stand down. It turns out that in this timeline Elnor is alive and back on the Excelsior, to Raffi's delight. The shield bubble created by the fleet holds and saves the lives of billions. Jurati's Borg apply for provisional membership in the Federation to guard the anomaly, which they rate as a threat. At Guinan's bar, Picard learns that Rios and Teresa lived a happy life together, and that Ricardo worked out a method to clean up Earth's atmosphere based on an alien organism found by Renée Picard on the Europa Mission. The admiral returns to his château. Laris is preparing to leave but he asks her to stay.
After last week, I thought that a miracle would have to happen in the finale for the storyline still to make sense. "Farewell" isn't quite the big eye-opener that would have been required to that end. It doesn't even give us really new answers, at least none that were already obvious (Q is dying, the Europa Mission is saved, Soong gets defeated) or that we could predict (Jurati is the Borg Queen from "The Star Gazer", Rios stays in the 21st century, Picard makes his peace with Q). Still, it aptly ties up many loose ends in some fashion. Every notable character appears once again, including Kore, Guinan, Elnor and Laris, and many places get revisited, including Guinan's bar, the Stargazer and the 24th century château. And all this happens in just 48 minutes!
"Et in Arcadia Ego II" saved season 1, mostly because of its emotional side, which made up for the many weaknesses of the story. "Farewell" accomplishes a similar feat regarding season 2. Tallinn's self-sacrifice, as unnecessary as it was, touched me. The farewell that Rios bid to his friends almost brought a tear to my eye, which then actually happened when Picard hugged Q. They really got me!
On a more critical note about Q, his motivation and his actions, why would he put Picard through such a hardship and bring him into situations the old admiral barely survives? If I understand correctly, all that Q wanted was to play one last game, in which Picard was supposed to explore his past and make the right decision for his future. But his ulterior motive, as revealed in "Farewell", was to assure himself of admiral's friendship. Q should have learned enough about humanity to know that you don't torture your friend. And even though we may argue that he was like this all along since "Encounter at Farpoint", his previous two scenarios arranged particularly for Picard to learn something about himself, in "Tapestry" and in "All Good Things", didn't include something like Borg shooting at him. And why was Q so unusually aggressive towards Picard in "Penance"? This all remains unanswered.
Q ostensibly helps Picard to make peace with his past, by letting a repressed memory about the suicide of his mother resurface. He tests the admiral by literally giving him the key to change something about these events or let them happen regardless. Picard makes the right decision in Q's judgment and puts the key back where he would find it as a boy, centuries later. As painful as it is, his mother's death is a part of Picard's history that shaped his personality. So far, so good. But is this a new realization about Picard, about a man who was faced with a decision like this as often as no one else we know of? Who made the hard call a dozen times over? Such as in "Yesterday's Enterprise". Agreed, it is very personal in this case, but so was his choice in "Tapestry" when he allowed his heart to get pierced by the Nausicaans. Picard didn't have anything still to prove to Q!
On the topic of what actually happened this season and why, Q evidently saved Picard's life when he transferred him, together with Rios, Seven, Raffi, Jurati and Elnor, to the "Confederation" at the end of "The Star Gazer". Maybe Picard should be and actually is grateful for this act of receiving a second chance to make the right decision pertaining to the Borg Queen. On the other hand, all of this is part of a big predestination phenomenon, which only comes about because of Q's interference. Q definitely is responsible for the whole mess in the first place. In the end, there is only one timeline that matters, with a causality loop in which Jurati appears as the Borg Queen in the 24th century before she gets assimilated in the 21st century. It is dissatisfying how an increasing complexity was attributed to the temporal mechanisms that in the end does not matter and is not even true. The last red herring to that end was Jurati's puzzle of "two Renées, one who lives and another one who dies" in "Hide and Seek", which now turns out to have a banal solution. Anyway, the "Confederation" was just some intermediate "disposable" branch, or a sham that Q himself created to scare the hell out of Picard - although at least the Borg Queen obviously wasn't a fake. I think Raffi is damn right when she accuses Q of killing Elnor. Whether Q designed the timeline as being ultimately predestined or whether this is a "natural" phenomenon as in some other Trek episodes such as "Assignment: Earth" or "Time's Arrow" is still another question that remains open.
Despite the serious issues I have with his motive and methods, I like the idea that Q can evolve (or de-evolve?) to a person with compassion. Yet, the impact is somewhat diminished considering that Q only changes his mind in the face of death. Anyway, change has always been the spice of Star Trek, and should be embraced. I am generally positive as well about the transformation of the Borg to a new species that cares for the needs of individuals. I only wish it had been brought about in a less awkward way.
As already mentioned, "Farewell" does not really explain what exactly happened and why. The numerous coincidences in this season may have been fabricated by Q, but we are simply not supposed to ask further questions. The mystery of Tallinn's identity, for instance, remains unexplained. But there is still a chance we learn something about who Laris actually is in the next season. If we don't, their likeness will have been a stupid plot contrivance.
This season of Picard is anything but subtle when it comes to fan service. The writers saved the two most blatant references for the season finale. The pleasant surprise is the return of no one else but Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher. I wish someone had taken a photo of me when he appeared behind Kore. I guess I couldn't close my mouth for a minute or so. And even though it is a bit of a stretch that the Travelers and the Supervisors/Guardians are all the same organization, I was overwhelmed with joy. The other major connection revealed in "Farewell" is that Adam Soong is obviously responsible for the creation of the Augments, which is ostentatiously shown by him opening a drawer with a folder named "Project Khan". Although it doesn't seem to be a bad idea for Adam Soong to be the creator of the superhumans that his descendant Arik Soong would revive, I think this is just too obtrusive. For some reason, the creators of modern Trek are obsessed with Khan, and although I don't expect him to return yet again in PIC, the character of La'an Noonien-Singh bodes ill for SNW in this regard.
The Picards, the Soongs, the Khans and Laris/Tallinn are part of the small galaxy syndrome, a pattern that pervades particularly the recent Star Trek. Everyone is likely to be related or to have previously met everyone else. Anyone may appear anywhere and any time if deemed useful. All this is done to get across, well, something. Maybe to insinuate that there is a grand scheme of things in the galaxy we are not meant to understand, aka destiny. Classic Star Trek used to be about moving on, about exploring new worlds and new civilizations. In a way, this self-referenced season of Picard was just as much a prequel/retcon/reboot as DIS or SNW. At least, the creation of a new kind of the Borg and the discovery of a new threat opens up fresh story opportunities for season 3.
Although "Farewell" inherits a ton of problems from the muddled storyline of season 2, it efficiently ties up most loose ends. The episode comes with a good deal of action and great visuals but excels in its character interactions, especially as the emotional impact of the various farewells is concerned. We may say that after plodding along for several weeks, the season saved the best for last. Although I have several issues with the plot logic and the motives of the characters, this may well be the best live-action episode of Trek in the past 18 years (although the bar was low).
- Wesley was established to roam space (but not necessarily time) with the Traveler in TNG: "Journey's End." We last saw him in "Star Trek Nemesis" at Deanna and Will's wedding.
- Wesley establishes that the Supervisors (TOS: "Assignment: Earth") and the Travelers are the same organization.
- This episode establishes that Khan did not rise to power and escape from Earth in the 1990's (only the date on the proposal is 1996), thereby corroborating the revised Earth history of the 21st century.
- The reason why Guinan didn't know Picard in "Watcher", according to Terry Matalas, is that the timeline was also changed from the 2024 into the past, due to time travels to Earth's past not taking place (or taking place differently). This is not how time travel used to work in Star Trek. Also, according to this line of reasoning, the future that Picard knows would have been inaccessible from this already changed year 2024. Still, the events of "Farewell" almost definitely create the desired future, without Q snapping his fingers. The bullet holes in the château are exactly as Picard remembers them. He also puts the key into the wall, for him to find in the future, although this may be rather symbolic.
- How did Soong get back from La Barre to California in time to poison Renée Picard? Two episodes ago, the time to launch was stated to be 19 hours. Soong then assembled his mercenaries, got them assimilated and transported to France, besieged the château and pursued Picard and Tallinn for some time. Perhaps Soong had already arranged for a helicopter to Paris (1 hour), to board a plane that was already waiting headed for L.A. (11 hours). Maybe he could land somewhere near the launch site and he had already prepped the drones as a backup plan, so it was only a short ride and passing a few controls (1 hour). Did her really have so much time left?
- So Soong is allowed into the quarantine section against all regulations, just because he donated a lot of money, and despite his bad reputation?
- Why does Tallinn have to sacrifice herself? There would have been plenty of other ways to stop Soong. What happened to her weapons? To her transporter? To her ability to control bodies, as seen in "Watcher"? And why does Queen Agnes anticipate it would be the only solution for her to die?
- Soong poisons Tallinn, who then collapses and somehow manages to escape, without anyone noticing, to an unmonitored area of the launch site. She then still witnesses the launch before she dies in Picard's arms. This all seems to take a few minutes. But astronauts are suited up and in their seats hours before the lift-off. If Tallinn really died so much later, it would also have been impossible for Soong to be there in time to intercept Renée Picard, hours before the launch.
- Doesn't Soong have backup hard drives that are not accessible through the internet?
- How could Jurati know of the anomaly that would open? Did she also travel to the future?
- Jurati purportedly had 400 years to prepare for the encounter with the Federation, and she doesn't come up with something better than to try to take over a fleet of starships with brute force, to avert a disaster that is only seconds away? This makes little sense, unless we assume she was never free in her decision because of the predestined timeline, which somehow forced her to repeat what already happened in "The Star Gazer".
- What has Jurati been doing all the time? Did she stay out of harm's way (and away from the other Borg, who are still hostile) for 400 years?
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "And you are...?" - "That's a very long and complicated story." - "Honestly, I've got nothing pressing." - "Ok. A long time ago, I was known as Wesley Crusher. But now, I am a traveler of all of space and time." (Kore and Wesley)
- "Farewell, mon capitaine. It's time for me to go." - "But not alone. Isn't that the point of all this?" - "See you out there." (Q and Picard)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I never fit, you know? Nothing stuck. I mean, I was living alone on a cargo ship with five holographic versions of myself. Not very encouraging. But then, I met you. I never had a family in any real way. You changed all that. All of you did. This is where I belong. Jean-Luc... I'm home." (Rios)
- "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you sooner. I just knew that if I guided you right, set you straight, you'd circle around eventually. And I also want to thank you for setting me straight first." (Guinan, to Picard)
- "There are moments in our lives we fear to relive and others we long to repeat. While time cannot give us second chances, maybe people can." (Picard)