Time Travel in Star Trek: Picard (PIC)

"Move backward to go forward. Shatter to mend. The past is now." (Borg Queen, PIC: "Assimilation")


Season 2

The whole second season of Star Trek Picard is a time travel arc that involves several different temporal phenomena. Some of them can be attributed to tampering by Q, some are the results of the characters' actions. The rest, and most notably the numerous coincidences in the story, remains unexplained.

Here is a recap of the sequence of events in the chronological order that the characters (and the viewers) experience, ordered by episodes:

In a simplistic approach, the events of season 2 are the result of a predestined timeline, plus some limited tampering by Q. The cleaned up sequence of events would be as follows:

This sequence of events seems to include a predestined history. The Borg Queen aka Jurati appears on the Stargazer before she actually comes to existence. The unassimilated Jurati is even present to witness the arrival of her future self, at least when it happens "for the first time" in PIC: "The Stargazer". Jurati would be actually assimilated only after having been saved by Q and transferred to an alternate timeline and after having traveled back to the year 2024.

Simplistic interpretation As we try to sketch up the timelines in such a simplistic view, there are four events in which either a change occurs or in which characters travel through time or from one branch to another. After a normal passage of time until 2401, Q magically transfers Picard and company to their alternate Confederation bodies of the same time (1). They then travel back to 2024, prior to the point of divergence, and still on the original timeline (2). Tallinn saves Renée's life and thereby restores the future of the original timeline (3). Q transfers everyone to 2024 and brings Elnor back (4).

The diagram already takes into account that the encounter with the Borg Queen in 2401 changes from "The Star Gazer" to "Farewell". Not only the outcome is different but also the involved people (Jurati and Rios are not present on the bridge any more whereas Raffi is). Even the ships in the fleet differ on close investigation, although this may be a matter of artistic license, rather than an intentional change that is supposed to have a significance. The causality loop is not quite as well closed as we would like it to be. Still, we can recognize the broad strokes of a predestined history.

There are a couple of problems with this interpretation, however. If we leave aside the severe issues with the plausibility of the Confederation and the countless other coincidences that I will address later, there are two issues with this idea. The first is the question what created the Confederation timeline in the first place. We know that somehow Soong must have murdered Renée on Q's behest. But this never happens, and it technically cannot happen if everything is preordained, as opposed to time travels where the past was first changed and then reverted, such as in TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever" or "Star Trek: First Contact".

The second issue is that the Guinan of the year 2024 doesn't know Picard, although he traveled to the year 1893 and met her San Francisco in TNG: "Time's Arrow II". The official explanation for this problem is that Guinan does not know Picard because it is a timeline in which his previous time travel has never taken place. This is not consistent with the punk on the bus in "Watcher", who appears to remember what famously happened to him in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" and with the existence of transparent alumimum according to a newspaper in the same episode. Anyway, if we focus on the Guinan problem, there are two possible interpretations what actually could have happened under this condition.

In the first view, whatever caused the timelines to diverge in 2024 also altered the past because time travels from the new future would not happen or would happen differently. General Picard of the Confederation has a completely different history than Admiral Picard of the Federation. He wouldn't have a reason to go back to 1893. This reasoning seems to make a lot of sense, but it does not comply with the effects that temporal incursions used to have in Star Trek. Irrespective of whether the time travel was predestined or whether its outcome was open, the past before the point of divergence remained untouched (a bit like certain characters remained unaffected because someone had to repair the damage). What's more, if the past were different as well, it would be useless to return to the time of the point of divergence. Even though we may claim that Picard's trip to year 1893 never caused any considerable change, it amounts to quite a bunch of "butterflies" of the kind that are frequently cited in PIC season 2. Their effects would accumulate over time, by the power of the second law of thermodynamics. His absence would have consequences, just as the non-existence of the Roswell incident (DS9: "Little Green Men") or of the whale incident ("Star Trek: The Voyage Home"), to name just two other examples. So if Soong's murder of Renée Picard in 2024 had also changed the past, the original point of divergence from where the crime could be prevented would not exist any longer or would be inaccessible by means of a normal time travel. Yet, when Picard arrives, everything appears to be "normal". There are differences between Trek-2024 and the actual year that I will still comment on. But as the point of divergence is concerned, it still lies ahead. Renée Picard exists, she is a NASA astronaut, she is scheduled to go on the mission exactly as in the original timeline, and Q and Soong are after her to prevent just that.

Side note The idea that time travel could affect the past of the point of divergence is actually not totally new. In 2016, Simon Pegg suggested that Nero's incursion in "Star Trek (2009)" altered the past, apparently in an attempt to explain why the movie universe is wildly different from classic Trek and to justify even more creative freedom for future movies.

There is a second way to interpret the phenomenon of temporal changes that extend to the past. Perhaps, rather than creating a new timeline that also alters the past, the timelines exist concurrently, as opposed to one forking off from the other. For some weird reason, these two timelines intersect or touch in the year 2024, allowing to cross over and thereby change the future in either direction. This too does not comply with how temporal mechanisms used to work in Star Trek. It could explain how the incursion in 2024 may be bidirectional and reversible. But it would ultimately require separate universes because for the sequence of events to work, Q and Soong would have to alter the future (or switch over to the Confederation timeline) at a time when Picard and company still exist in the original timeline.

Two concurrent timelines There are two timelines, each of which has its individual past. This gives us five events in which either a change occurs or in which characters travel through time or from one timeline/universe to another. After a normal passage of time, Q appears in 2024, and Soong kills Renée Picard for him (0). In 2401, Q magically transfers Picard and company to their alternate Confederation bodies (1). They then travel back to 2024, prior to the point of divergence, but still on the Confederation timeline (2). Tallinn saves Renée's life and thereby enables a transition to the original timeline (3). Q transfers everyone to 2024 and brings Elnor back (4).

This is a bit more complicated than in the simplistic view. It accounts for the problems of the necessary first incursion (event 0) and of Guinan not knowing Picard, but at the expense of the very difficult explanation how to cross over from the altered year 2024 back to the original timeline. We may include the time travel from TNG: "Time's Arrow" into the considerations, which is only enabled in an intact original timeline, and which itself curiously is a predestined sequence of the event, whereas there are some doubts about the surrounding temporal phenomena in PIC season 2.

On another note about Guinan, there is still the option that she may have been lying to Picard in PIC: "Watcher". She herself is not involved in time travel business but she knows the Watchers. In TOS: "Assignment: Earth", the Watchers aka Supervisors were no time travelers, as Gary Seven explicitly stated. But their nature and mission was redefined and extended in PIC season 2. Wesley is a Traveler and somehow also a Supervisor aka Watcher; he is most definitely a time traveler when he appears in 2024, and he reveals it to Kore. Tallinn also may have some sort of connection to the future. So if Guinan knows the Watchers, her senses would tell her that something is wrong with time. The tricky nature of temporal mechanics may be the reason for her to be cautious when the familiar face of Picard appears in her bar.

Irrespective of which of the basically two timeline diagrams we prefer, they both attribute the temporal effects partly to character actions and partly to Q magic. But what about the many inconsistencies and peculiarities of the story? The vast number of coincidences? Is Q responsible? Or are there other ways to make sense of them?

In PIC: "Penance", it appears much like Q sets Picard up with the "Confederation" scenario. He famously already 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 we may try, the setting of the "Confederation" is implausible as the result of a time travel incident. The point of divergence is in 2024, and was followed by centuries of Earth's racism and war against aliens. 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. In "Penance", Q makes it sound like he wants to punish or test Picard. Considering that it usually would be in his power, he couldn't create a more horrific scenario for Picard than one in which he is an important figure in a fascist empire.

We know that Q tampers with time because he effectively sets off the Confederation timeline when he hires Adam Soong to kill Renée Picard. He is selective about it. He may have chosen a different point of divergence, to create another, perhaps less terrifying future to transfer Picard to. But he deliberately lays the foundation of one in which Picard would become a particularly fearsome and hateful figure. Still, it is extremely hard to believe that, after this one incursion, Q lets the new timeline evolve freely. The second law of thermodynamics makes it hard for Picard, Seven and Jurati to even exist in the new timeline. But the fact that they are all key figures of the Confederation is so preposterous that it has to be a sham. It is safe to say that even if the general scenario is authentic, Q fabricated the characters.

Even if we leave the issue of the design of the Confederation aside (which is a disposable branch of time in spite of everything), Q is definitely guilty of causing the whole trouble in the first place. He creates scenario in which Picard would be faced with a decision in the year 2401 that wouldn't exist without Q's temporal incursion in 2024. Well, Q evidently saves Picard's life when he transfers him, together with Rios, Seven, Raffi, Jurati and Elnor, to the "Confederation" at the end of "The Star Gazer". But that is just part of the plan. We have to wonder anyway why he 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 wants is to play one last game, in which Picard is supposed to explore his past and make the right decision for his future. But his ulterior motive, as revealed in "Farewell", is 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 is Q so unusually aggressive towards Picard in "Penance"? This all remains unanswered.

Besides the whole Confederation scenario and the roles that the characters play in it, there are many more strange convergences and coincidences. Some were definitely created by Q, such as the multiple occurrences of the number 15 in the château in "Watcher", "Chekhov's gun" that he placed there for Jurati to shoot the Borg Queen in "Fly Me to the Moon" or the key that he left for Picard to find in the solarium in "Hide and Seek". But some of the most blatant coincidences remain unexplained at the end of the season:

Some more coincidences are of a kind that we are likely to accept in a normal Trek story. For instance, the coordinates that Jurati receives from the Borg Queen are those of Guinan's bar, which may make sense if the Queen somehow had data about aliens on 21st century Earth and possible contacts of Watchers. Likewise, it is plausible why Ricardo, Teresa's son, chose to work on cleaning Earth's atmosphere because he clearly had a strong motivation. It is more difficult to explain why Soji and Dahj look just like Kore but it is not absurd, considering that her image would be somehow engrained in Data, and may have been passed on from one Soong generation to the next. We also may make up an explanation why no one else but Wesley Crusher appears to Kore to hire her for the Travelers aka Supervisors aka Watchers.

It is easier to see how the time travel affects the single characters than to assess the complete picture. Here are some interesting observations:

One final topic that should be addressed is that the year 2024 as shown in PIC season 3 is certainly not the year 2024 in the real world. There are several differences that go beyond the existence of new people, places and small gadgets. Today's actual technology would neither allow the prolonged Europa Mission to Jupiter's moons nor Soong's shield generator (the prototype of the atmospheric cleaner of the future Confederation). Also, some existing Trek facts are referenced in season 2, such as Jackson Roykirk and his space probe Nomad (TOS: "The Changeling") or the Sanctuary Districts (DS9: "Past Tense"). In TOS, the prospect was that interplanetary travel would be common by the 1990's (TOS: "Space Seed"). But the late 20th and early 21st century technology was retconned in TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT, in a way that space travel sees only moderate progress, effectively aligning Trek history with the real world. Star Trek Picard accounts for the latest developments (or rather lack thereof) by introducing a divergence. Without giving an explanation whether this is the result of a still different time travel, it shows that spaceflight is more advanced in Trek's 2024 than in the real world.

Classification: past incursion with additional tampering and a predestination phenomenon that isn't a complete loop


by Paddy Sinclair

One of the issues we face, regardless of the how's and why-for's of the Prime/Confederate Timelines is what is the cause of "predestination" part of Q's scenario, i.e. Jurati becoming the Borg Queen and turning up in 2401 causing the demise of Picard and Q's intervention to "test him".

Whilst speculative, I would posit that this was due to unintended consequences around a temporal incursion at a key point in time on Q's part. This would give as an original (unseen) version of the Prime Timeline which is where Q's interference would started from.

In that version, 2401 is nearly indistinguishable from the one we saw, only the Jurati/Borg don't exist, so don't trigger the circumstances of Q's test, and to the best of our knowledge Jean-Luc Picard does not travel back to 2024 to place Renée Picard back on her path.

Original timeline

  1. Renée, despite some wobbles is fit for the Europa Mission, and is uniquely placed to discover the microbes and all that comes from that.
  2. Adam Soong loses his daughter Kore, and in some bitterness looks over the files for Project Khan for something else to remembered to history for - history clearly forgets his role in the coming Eugenics War even if he was actually a major architect.
  3. Ricardo is likely still involved with implementing the climate solution offered by the microbes.

So from that practically identical timeline, Q does what Q does and turns up to test Picard one more/last time (it might not be his "last" time, as it was when we saw it for reasons that follow...)

Q noticed a delicious little tipping point in history in 2024 that hinged on an ancestor of Jean Luc's and just getting Renée to not embark on the Europa mission was sufficient to the cause, and he snaps back, psyches her out of it and the Confederation Timeline is constructed, with Soong an unwitting beneficiary.

Q's first interference

  1. Renée wobbles and is unfit for the Europa Mission, and her absence means that the microbes are overlooked somehow. The Europa mission being a bust puts a lid on space exploration for a while given the looming conflicts, no one goes to look on Europa for life anytime soon.
  2. Adam Soong loses his daughter Kore, and maybe looks over the Project Khan files but does dedicate himself to trying to sort out the looming climate crisis seeing it as an opportunity to create a legacy - he succeeds and ironically the Confederate timeline might have the nicest version of Soong...

Q originally snaps our heroes across to the Confederation timeline somewhat after the point at which we see things happen (for reasons that will become clearer hereafter).

Things transpire pretty much as we see then, but our heroes don't quite behave as Q had expected BUT Q didn't foresee them involving the Borg Queen, and her own machinations and their solution to that. So Picard and crew are stranded in the past without La Sirena and hence no way to get home but remain in past keeping out of the way, so when the corrected timeline ripples down and reasserts itself, Jurati/Borg turns up before he'd originally snapped out heroes across looking for a Picard that doesn't know to trust her and he paradoxes his test of Picard into an alternative timeline. The one we're familiar with.

Timeline as seen in season 2

  1. Renée having been saved from attempts to disable her, is uniquely placed to discover the microbes and all that comes from that.
  2. Adam Soong is more than bitter this time, because he knows that he has lost his opportunity to be remembered by history AND he knows Kore resents him for it having erased all his other research files. He is likely the worst version of Soong and still forgotten to history.
  3. Ricardo is mentored by Rios and possible develops the climate solution earlier.

Q then has to act again to fix his own interference, perhaps at a deep personal cost so that he is now definitely dying if he wasn't before, and possibly why he's now pissy at Jean-Luc. He snaps them across to the handily prepared Confederation Timeline version earlier than he did before (so a clean reset on the original scenario, so we are still in fact going back to the "original timeline").

He knows they'll solve things and he knows the Borg factor and that once they "fix things" he'll have to drop them back in slightly ahead of where he snapped them out so that they can solve his unintended part of the test, and whatever catastrophe creating the Jurati/Borg brought to the 2401 with them.

The differences between this version and the previous one are minimal, as Q manages to patch things up.

And thus now the predestination aspect is set up.


See Also

The Fleet in PIC: "The Star Gazer" and "Farewell" - identification of all ships and information on the designs



Man screen caps taken from Cygnus-X1.net. Thanks to Stephen Duignan for discussion about the subject. He came up with a logical sequence of events that made me reconsider the possible existence of a timeline that extends to the past.


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