Star Trek Picard offers up space battles, stirring speeches, murder synths and meditations on life and death in part 2 of “Et in Arcadia Ego”

Welcome to my final episode by episode review of Star Trek Picard for season 1. Previous installments may be found here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

The season 1 finale of Star Trek Picard once more opens without the by now customary flashback – unless you count the “Previously on Star Trek Picard” recap – and plunges us right in medias res again by picking up where part 1 of “Et in Arcadia Ego” left off, when the Synths of Coppelius place Picard under arrest and decide to call in the advanced synthetic lifeforms who have left the message/warning on the planet with the eight suns wherein they promise to help other synthetic lifeforms by wiping out those pesky organic lifeforms.

Picard is locked up, though the Synths do give him a nice room with a view. Soji briefly visits Picard to explain her point of view, that her people – people whom she didn’t even know existed until three episodes ago – are always hunted and beleaguered and in danger and currently have a fleet of 218 Romulan warbirds coming for them, which is why it’s totally justified to wipe out all organic life in the universe up to and including Jean Luc Picard. Picard meanwhile tries to convince Soji of his point of view and is about as successful at that as he has been at convincing others of his point of view all season long, namely not at all.

The huge problem with the two part finale of Star Trek Picard becomes apparent right here, for the Synths of Coppelius simply aren’t very likable. Personally, I don’t give a flying fart whether the Romulans nuke them from orbit, because the Synths have it coming, once they decided to go all Terminator and call in the tentacled monster Synths from another universe. The Synths of Coppelius are simply genocidal jerks, so why should I sympathise with their plight again? Because the Romulans and the Federation are prejudiced against them? Sorry, but nope. Picard does his best to explain that the Synths are like children, that they don’t know what they’re doing and that being created and raised by two such morally questionable figures as Bruce Maddox and Dr. Alton Inigo Soong doesn’t help either. Which is all fine and well, but the Synths are fully willing to wipe out all organic life in the universe. Jean-Luc Picard is obviously a better person than me, because IMO the behaviour of the Synths in the last two episodes proves the Zhat Vash right.

I also find that I don’t like Soji anymore. I liked her all right in the earlier episodes of the season, when she was a bewildered young woman who was beginning to realise that her whole life had been a lie, though Soji is probably the least interesting character of the main cast. But once Soji awakened and turned all murder synth, I don’t particularly like her anymore. Yes, she may be a sort of spiritual daughter of Data, but she has none of the qualities that made Data so compelling. Plus, Data never tried to wipe out all organic life in the universe. Not even his evil twin brother Lore did that.

Dr. Agnes Jurati’s enthusiasm for the Synths of Coppelius is also rapidly cooling. At the end of part 1, she did vote for calling in the Lovecraftian monster synths from beyond, apparently unaware that this would mean her death as well. But in part 2, we learn that this was only a ruse to put Dr. Alton Inigo Soong and the Synths off guard. And so Agnes pretends to help Dr. A.I. Soong to get his android body ready to transfer Dr. Soong’s consciousness into the android body, because Dr. A.I. Soong has no intention to get killed along with all other organic life in the universe. But once Dr. Soong is busy downloading the memories of the android Arcana (supposedly murdered by Narek in part 1) as a memento for her twin sister Saga, Agnes steals the eyeball of the dead Arcana to open the retina scan coded lock and break out Picard. First Icheb and now Agnes ripping a bloody eyeball out of a dead android. Star Trek Picard‘s obsession with ripping out eyeballs mirrors the obsession of season 1 of Star Trek Discovery with cannibalism.

Agnes and Picard leg it for the La Sirena, only to find it empty. For Rios and Raffi have been partially successful in getting the La Sirena operational again thanks to a magical “visualise it and it’ll build it” tool they got from one of the Synths. However, their repair efforts are interrupted by Narek who escaped the Synth compound (with a little help from Soji’s treacherous older clone Sutra) and briefly reunited with his sister, who has been hiding out aboard the Borg Cube. I’d asummed that Narissa had been beamed aboard the Zhat Vash ship at the end of “Broken Pieces” and was now with the Romulan fleet headed by Commodore Oh, but apparently not. There is a brief hug – their last, as it will turn out – then Narek takes off with some grenades to take out the spaceship snatching orchids and the beacon the Synths built to contact the evil Lovecraftian synths from beyond.

However, Narek needs help and since the surviving Ex-Borg will be unwilling to help him after Narissa slaughtered their brethren, he heads for the La Sirena instead. Not that Raffi and Rios are particularly keen to help Narek either – after all, he is still a Zhat Vash agent and broke Soji’s heart, too. Raffi even refer to him as “abusive Romulan boyfriend”. But Raffi and Rios are at least willing to listen to Narek. Elnor, who followed Narek, isn’t particularly willing to listen, since he doesn’t like Narek, but has no choice, since Narek answers his traditional challenge “Please, my friend, choose to live” with “I very much choose to live.”

And so Raffi, Rios, Elnor and Narek sit around a campfire outside the La Sirena, while Narek tells them that the Synths are planning to call in a power that will exterminate everybody. Narek also recounts the Romulan end times myth of the Destroyer and the twins who herald his arrival in great graphic detail – after all, he was raised by his aunt Ramda, who is a folklorist.  The usually inflappable Narek seems positively haunted in this scene. Up to now, the series had mostly focussed on Soji’s understandable feelings of beytrayal, but in this moment we realise what the relationship – and I do believe that Narek has genuine feelings for Soji – means for him. Because Narek has essentially fallen in love with (and slept with) someone he has been taught from early childhood on is the ultimate monster that will bring about the destruction of everything. It’s also worth remembering that Narek (and Narissa for that matter) is the product of a seriously screwed upbringing, since the siblings were raised by Ramda who was apparently insane all along (Narek says something along those lines to Soji) and a Zhat Vash agent, too. Not to mention that the hinted at incestous relationship with Narissa doesn’t seem very consensual on Narek’s part. If Narek had ended up with the Romulan warrior nuns who took in Elnor (and did a very good job raising him) or someone like Lharis and Zaban (who did a great job parenting Picard), he would probably have turned out okay. Coincidentally, this also shows that he is not irredeemable – unlike his Ex-Borg mass-murdering sister. And talking of Narissa, she gets into a fight with Seven of Nine who throws her down one of the unprotected chasms that the Borg or so fond of (Health and safety are apparently irrelevant, if you’re a Borg). “That’s for Hugh”, Seven says, a sentiment many of the viewers will share. Though we don’t see a body, so it’s possible that Narissa will be back.

Narek succeeds in convincing Raffi, Rios and Elnor to destroy the Synths’ beacon. Raffi tries to call Picard, but gets no answer. And the Synth compound is in lockdown. So they devise a ruse to get inside. Raffi, Rios and Elnor pretend to have recaptured Narek and claim they just want to deliver him to the Synths. They also smuggle in the grenades in one of Rios’ footballs. And can I just say that I love the fact that we finally see someone playing football (a.k.a. soccer) in Star Trek. Because American science fiction, provided it includes sports at all, inevitably focusses on very American sports like baseball (with which Benjamin Sisko was obsessed – one of the many reasons I never cared for his character) and sometimes American football or basketball. Even though football/soccer is the most popular sport in the world and a sport you can actually play aboard a spaceship or spacestation – unlike baseball.

Delivering Narek gets Raffi, Rios and Elnor into the compound, but they can neither locate Picard (who has already escaped with Agnes) nor get to the beacon, which is protected by a forcefield. While they still debate what to do, Dr. Alton Inigo Soong shows up. Once he extracted the final memories of the late android Arcana, he realised that Arcana was not murdered by Narek, but by Sutra to stir up the Synths and persuade them to call in the Lovecraftian mechanical tentacle things from beyond. This provoked a change of heart (Murdering all organic life in the universe is perfectly fine, but murdering all organic life because of false pretenses is apparently wrong) and now Dr. Soong is willing to help. He switches off the treacherous Sutra by remote control and exposes that Sutra was the one who murdered Arcana, not Narek. The other Synths, however, don’t seem at all bothered by this (not even Arcana’s sister Saga is bothered) and continue with their Lovecraftian mechanical tentacle things from beyond summoning ritual, now led by Soji. And for some reason, Dr. Soong’s remote control only works on Sutra, not on Soji or any of the other Synths. Narek also implores Soji to stop, but Soji isn’t listening to him for reasons that actually are understandable for once. Nor is Soji listening to Rios or Raffi or Elnor.

However, there is one person in the universe that Soji listens to and that is Jean-Luc Picard. Picard has by now made it back to the La Sirena with Agnes and manages to start the ship, even though it has been a long time since he has personally piloted anything and besides, the La Sirena‘s controls are a lot more advanced than anything Picard had to deal with before. Nonetheless, he manages to reach orbit, just as the Romulan fleet arrives.

Back on Coppelius, Soji activates the beacon.The Synths also launch the spaceship eating orchids, which leads to a visually impressive and beautifully absurd space battle of a fleet of Romulan warbirds against giant orchids with the La Sirena,  piloted by the not exactly competent Jean-Luc Picard, caught in the middle. It’s a mystery why Picard doesn’t activate Rios’ navigation and weapons control holograms (and maybe engineering and the emergency medical hologram, too), especially since it would have given Santiago Cabrera more of a chance to play the many versions of Chris Rios. But maybe Rios and Raffi never got around to repairing the holograms.

Picard also calls Soji and begs her to shut down the beacon. Soji asks why she should, since the Romulans are bearing down on them. Picard tells her that Starfleet is on its way, whereupon Soji replies that Starfleet outlawed Synths and probably won’t be too keen to help them. Whereupon Picard holds a stirring inspirational speech, his secret superpower, and offers up his life (and that of Agnes) to hold back the Romulans, a sacrifice great enough that it does persuade Soji to smash the beacon. And just in time, too, for some creepy Lovecraftian synths from beyond which look like a mixture between the Chitauri army from the first Avengers movie and the arms of Doctor Octopus are just about to emerge from a blood red portal, when the portal abruptly shuts down. Apparently, the synthetic tentacle things either cannot open the portal from their side or they just can’t be bothered.

I have to admit that intriguing as the tentacle things from hell were, I had hoped for a more Star Trek like solution to the issue of the advanced synths from beyond. Maybe something along the lines of the classic episode “Arena”, where the advanced beings who make Kirk and Gorn fight announce that it was all just a test to see if humans (and Gorn’s people) are worthy – which coincidentally is not what happens in the far more bloodthirsty Fredrik Brown novelette the episode is based upon, but is pure Star Trek. Instead, the tentacled synths from beyond just leave.

The Romulans make compost of the orchids and now the La Sirena is all that’s standing between the Synths and “planetary sterilisation pattern five” (And I for one find it fascinating that the Romulans have at least five different ways of sterilising planets). There still is no sign of Starfleet, so Picard and Agnes use the Synths’ “visualise it and you’ll get it” miracle tool to recreate the Picard manoeuvre, first mentioned on a long ago episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Picard made it seem as if the USS Stargazer was in two different places at the same time. Only that now they create a bunch of false La Sirenas to distract the Romulans who fire merrily away. Luckily, Commodore Oh was absent on the day they taught the Picard manoeuvre at Starfleet Academy.

Picard’s brain condition decides to act up again at just this moment and he suffers another seizure. He tells Agnes to give him a drug to keep him functional. Agnes says the drug might well kill him, whereupon Picard says that it will only hasten the inevitable. So Agnes injects him and Picard manages to hold off the Romulans long enough for what has to be one of the biggest assembly of Starfleet ships ever seen on screen to show up, commanded by none other than Will Riker who returned to duty for this one last mission. Faced with overwhelming odds, the Romulans finally agree to piss off. And just to make sure that they really piss off, Riker and his huge fleet will escort them out of Federation space. Because the Federation has declared that Coppelius and its inhabitants are under their protection now.

Picard does manage to bring down the La Sirena safely, then he collapses and dies, surrounded by the rest of the cast.  Yes, Jean-Luc Picard dies a hero’s death after one final battle. Of course, that moment would have been much more impactful, if we didn’t know that Star Trek Picard has already been renewed for season 2 and that therefore it is extremely likely that Picard will get better. Nonetheless, Picard’s “death” and its aftermath did manage to make me shed a few reluctant tears, even as I was annoyed with myself for falling for blatant emotional manipulation.

We get a nice scene of Rios and Seven of Nine sharing a drink and musing about Picard and how they’ll miss him, even though neither of them even wanted to like him. There is also another sweet scene of Raffi attempted to comfort a sobbing Elnor. It’s also very telling how Elnor, who was raised by strong women, after all, keeps turning to strong older women in times of need. Poor Elnor just wants a mommy and a hug.

Finally, we get to see Jean-Luc Picard arrive in a grey tinted afterlife where he encounters none other than Data. Data tells him that this afterlife is an elaborate computer simulations (though not elaborate enough to include colour) and that his mind has been in there since he died back in Star Trek Nemesis. There is a beautiful exchange between Data and Picard and a meditation on life, death and mortality, which culminates in Picard telling Data that he loved him (meanwhile, poor Beverly Crusher still hasn’t gotten to hear that declarationb). Data asks Picard to switch off the simulation, once he returns to life. “Blue Skies” plays again and there is a shining light – after all, we can’t leave out any afterlife clichés, can we? – and Picard wakes up again in the synthetic body that Dr. Alton Inigo Soong had prepared for himself. Dr. Soong and Agnes tell Picard that they have programmed the body to last as long as Picard’s natural body would have lasted, only without the brain condition. And then they switch off Data.

So we do get to say a final good-bye to a beloved Next Generation character in this episode after all, though it’s Data rather than Picard. Which is maybe not as impactful as it could have been, because Data has been dead since Star Trek Nemesis in 2003. Though this is a much better send-off than what is probably the worst of all Star Trek movies, at least the Next Generation ones. I also understand that Brent Spiner isn’t keen on playing Data anymore – the heavy make-up and contact lenses must be very uncomfortable. Also, it was good to see Data again, if only to remind us why the character is so beloved. A love that his spiritual daughter Soji has not (yet) earned and not just because she tried to murder all organic life in the universe either. No, Soji is simply bland.

The episode ends with everybody aboard the La Sirena. Agnes kisses Rios (and my dirty mind now imagines all the fun she could have with Rios and his holograms), Seven of Nine holds hands with Raffi in a development that’s a little rushed, but very good to see, Elnor now has two mommies and Soji is coming along as well, now that the Federation has lifted the ban on synthetic lifeforms. Narek – last seen when two burly synths were sitting on him – is missing in action, as are the remaining Ex-Borg aboard their crashed cube. Maybe they’ve decided to stay on Coppelius, as Synths and Ex-Borg are both outcasts.

Regarding the Seven and Raffi development, it does come a little out of nowhere, though it has been hinted that Seven is bi or simply does not care about such distinctions at all. Also, I for one am thrilled that the once so aggressively heterosexual Star Trek has come to embrace the “In the future, pretty much everybody is bisexual” ethos of Torchwood of all things. After all, over in Discovery (which I’m currently rewatching) Empress Philippa the Merciless also hits on people of all genders.

So how does season 1 of Star Trek Picard stack up. Well, by the standards of first seasons of Star Trek series, which are notoriously ropey, it does pretty well. I still find that the two-part finale was rushed, especially since the show took its sweet time earlier, but the characters are likeable and the series is not nearly as whiplash inducing as season 1 of Discovery (which upon rewatching turns out to be better than the first time around, though the first three episodes, particularly “Context is for Kings” are still awful).

Though the Synths – whose plight was after all the focus of season 1 – are maybe the least interesting thing about the whole series. Star Trek Picard managed to give the Romulans more depth and even managed to make the Ex-Borg sympathetic, but I no more care about the Synths of Coppelius than I care about Harry Mudd and his 103 android Stellas. Though the 103 android Stellas at leasts did not try to destroy all organic life in the universe yet. And considering that they have to deal with Harry Mudd, one might even sympathise with them, if they did try.

I also find it interesting that both Discovery and Picard really play up the “Stirring speeches save the day” trope that has always been a part of Star Trek from the original series on (and is something that sets it apart from other filmic space operas, though Babylon 5 also did the stirring speech thing very well), but was not nearly as prominent in the older series as it is in the two latest offerings. But then, no one delivers an inspirational speech better than Sir Patrick Stewart, so you might as well let him do it.

I also like the La Sirena crew, now apparently with the very welcome addition of Seven of Nine, and am looking forward to further adventures with them. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Narek again, even though he seems to have the thankless treacherous boyfriend against his will part that Ash Tyler played in Discovery.

All in all, Star Trek Picard was off to a good start, even if the finale dragged down the otherwise excellent first season a little.

 

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2 Responses to Star Trek Picard offers up space battles, stirring speeches, murder synths and meditations on life and death in part 2 of “Et in Arcadia Ego”

  1. Peer says:

    I came to realize the reason I am annoyed is Soji is because she reminds me of work 🙂
    She is a teenager – I dont know how old the actress is, but the way Soji behaves, she very much reminds me of my older students (18-20). In terms of Picard it means, she is easily swayed and very critical but looking to Picard for guidance, while try to rebel against him at the same time. Its a very typical, if annyoing, behavior for people of that age.
    I wonder if this is deliberate. Ina way, the character is making a similiar transition as teenagers, who also change a lot in a short period of time.

    • Cora says:

      According to IMDB, Isa Briones was born in 1999, so that would make her 20 when the series was filmed and 21 now. And you’re right, she does behave like a teenager, which is why she is annoying at times. The fact that she has a doctorate is a little misleading, since there are very few 20-year-olds with doctorates.

      Elnor is another character who feels very young. In many ways, he feels even younger than Soji, almost child-like, probably due to his sheltered upbringing. Though I like Elnor a lot. Soji not so much, at least for now.

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