Here is my take on the latest episode of Star Trek Picard. And yes, I know this is late, but I got nominated for a Hugo and then wrote a monster commentary post about the entire ballot. For my take on previous episodes and seasons of Star Trek Picard, go here.
But before we return to our regularly scheduled Star Trek Picard reviews, I want to point out this nice article by Alexandra Penth in the Weser Kurier about my Hugo nomination.
Warning: Spoilers below the cut!
When we last saw Jean Luc Picard and his Merry Men and Women, they were about to infiltrate an exclusive pre-launch party for the astronauts of the Europa mission, including Jean Luc’s ancestors Renee, whose presence on the mission is the Jonbar point on which the entire future of the Federation hinges. Picard and his team are trying to make sure that Renee joins the mission, while Q or rather his agents are trying to persuade her to resign.
Picard’s plan hinges on Agnes sneaking into the party, letting herself get captured and taken to the security center, where she will then hack into the security database to put Picard, Tallinn, Seven, Rios and Raffi on the guest list. However, unbeknowst to everybody else on the team, Agnes has a problem. She quite literally has the Borg Queen in her head. Though initially, the Borg Queen is actually helpful and allows Agnes to snap her handcuffs. How having the Borg Queen in her bestows superstrength on Agnes is not explained nor does it make any sense. Though the scenes of Agnes chatting with her inner Borg Queen are a lot of fun and Alison Pill and Annie Werschinger are clearly having a ball – quite literally.
This episode uses that really annoying flash forward device of starting off with some kind of dramatic scene – here Picard about to die on what appears to be an operating table – only to flash back to X amount of time (here 36 minutes) earlier to show the events that lead up to the dramatic moment. Tor.com reviewer Keith R.A. De Candido attributes this device to Aaron Sorkin, who apparently used it a lot in The West Wing, but I recall seeing similar flash forwards in 1990s TV shows like The X-Files, which predate The West Wing. But whoever originated the flash forward device, it still is a lazy way to generate tension by borrowing tension from a later point in the story, because the actual beginning of the story is deemed to be not exciting enough.
The flash forwards in “Two For One” are even more annoying, because there is not just the one at the beginning, but the flash forwards are peppered throughout the episode, where we see Picard lying on the table, seemingly dead or dying, while the rest of the cast shouts his name and Picard has flashbacks of his traumatic childhood and his mother. It’s irritating and entirely unnecessary and does not even do what it’s supposed to do, namely generate tension, because we know that Picard won’t die. Never mind that the show did the exact same thing, kill off Picard, at the end of season 1, only for him to come back in an android body.
Honestly, by now Picard can give reigning world record holder in deaths and resurrections Jean Grey a run for her money, which is ironic because Patrick Stewart played Professor Charles Xavier (who has died and come back a couple of times himself) in X-Men: The Last Stand, a failed adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga. And honestly, how come that Fox has screwed up one of the most famous superhero comic storylines of all time twice, when there are plenty of good films and TV shows inspired by the Dark Phoenix Saga out there?
Once Agnes has hacked the security database and everybody has snuck into the party, we get some nice character moments. Tallinn tries to get Picard to tell her more about Laris, since he keeps calling her by that name. Picard insists that it’s not important, which is of course Picard lying not just to Tallinn but to himself. Raffi is womanfully resisting the urge to drink alcohol and has flashbacks of Elnor again (I suspect the reason for the Elnor flashbacks is because Evan Evagora is still in the credits, even though his character is currently dead). Seven is enjoying a life without Borg implants and the prejudices that come with them. The Borg Queen is egging Agnes on to live a little and enjoy herself, which leads to the Borg Queen briefly control of Agnes’ body to kiss Rios. As for Rios, he has taken a liking to the 21st century, enjoying the intensity of real cigars, the feel of real matches and the taste of non-replicated food.
Santiago Cabrera is once more excellent portraying Rios adorably geeking out about a box of matches. Most Star Trek characters pretend that there is no difference between replicated food, etc… and the real deal, something I have never bought, so it’s nice to see Star Trek acknowledge that yes, there is a difference. Though Rios doesn’t just like the tastes and smells of the 21st century, he’s also taken a liking to Doctor Teresa. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rios elects to stay in the 21st century at the end of the season, though his particular skill-set – ace space pilot – isn’t one that is useful in the 21st century due to a relative lack of space travel.
Meanwhile, Renee Picard is having a much less good time. Her smile looks forced, she drinks too much and keeps texting her therapist (who, as we saw last week, is Q) that she wants to resign from the mission after the party. So Picard overrules Tallinn’s code that the watchers must never interact with the object of their observations and decides to talk to Renee.
However, before Picard can go after Renee to deliver one of his patented inspirational speeches, he runs into an obstacle in the form of Dr. Adam Soong. Picard looks as if he has seen a ghost – which he has, sort of, since all the Soongs look the same.
Soong is there as an agent of Q, working to keep Renee away from the Europa mission in exchange for the cure for the deadly genetic disease from which his daughter Kore is suffering. Why Q can’t attend the party himself, especially since he works for NASA as a therapist, is a mystery? As for how Soong got in – he supposedly made a generous donation to the Europe mission project. Where did Soong get the money, considering that he just lost the funding for his research over ethics violations (which turn out be a lot bigger than previously assumed) last episode?
Picard and Soong exchange menacing looks and words, then Soong goes to his new friends from the Europa mission project (The donation was very generous indeed) and asks them to remove Picard from the premises. Soon Picard and Tallinn are surrounded by security guards, about to be kicked out or worse.
A distraction is needed, so the Borg Queen of all people comes to everybody’s rescue. She persuades Agnes to hack the electrical system and make the lights go out, throwing the security guards off track. Then a much more confident Agnes re-enters the party and begins to sing “Shadows of the Night”. It’s a beautifully absurd moment, but also very Star Trek. After all, The Next Generation found an excuse to have Beverly Crusher teach Data how to tapdance to allow Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner to show off their dancing skills. The Borg Queen persuading Agnes to create a distraction by singing “Shadows of the Night”, allowing Alison Pill to show off her quite impressive singing voice, is nothing against that.
In my last post, I noticed that season 2 of Picard has a lot more recognisable pop music than is usual for Star Trek, but also noted that the music all hails from the same era, namely the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Shadows of the Night” breaks this trend, because the song (which I suspect was chosen for its lyrics) dates from the early 1980s. Helen Schneider was the first to perform it in 1981, but the best known version was recorded by Pat Benatar a year later. And yes, that’s a young Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton in that video, which is one of those amazing 1980s music videos that were basically three minute mini movies. We still get this sort of music video on occasion – a few examples have been nominated for the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Hugo in the past few years – but not as frequently as in the 1980s. Here’s another example: “Love Is a Battlefield”, also be Pat Benatar, in which Pat plays a small town girl who gets kicked out of her home and runs away to New York City to become a dime-a-dance taxi girl in one of the taxi dance halls that used to cluster around Times Square, but were definitely on their way out if not already gone by the early 1980s. This video is amazing, not just because “Love is a Battlefield” is a great song, but also for the glimpse into a lost world.
Once everybody is staring at Agnes, Picard goes after Renee, who has withdrawn to some kind of exhibition gallery to be alone. Renee doesn’t quite buy that Picard is a security guard – he’s way too for that – and she does think he seems a little familiar. However, Picard does succeed in giving Renee one of his patented stirring speeches and Renee decides to go on the mission after all.
However, just as Picard escorts Renee back to the party, decided to cross the parking lot for reasons unknown, disaster strikes in the form of Dr. Adam Soong, who – furious that his plan did not work – decides to just run over Renee with his car to make sure she’d not on the Europa mission. This is clearly a spur of the moment idea, because it will only lead to Dr. Soong getting arrested and his daughter Kore dying anyway.
Picard, heroic as ever, pushes Renee out of the way and promptly gets run over by Dr. Soong, which is why he is apparently dying in the flash forwards. I honestly did not expect this – but then who does expect that Jean-Luc Picard would get run over by a deranged ancestor of Data? io9 reviewer James Whitbrook clearly agrees that the way Picard gets injured is unexpected, even if we know that he will be injured from the first few seconds of the episode on.
Once Dr. Soong has run over Picard, Rios, Raffi, Seven and Tallinn all come running, while Renee sort of vanishes from the storyline at this point, having fulfilled her function as a plot MacGuffin. Picard clearly needs medical attention – however, they can’t take him to a regular hospital, because questions would be asked and none of them have regular IDs. Luckily, Rios just happens to know one clinic where no one asks questions and so we get the triumphant return of Doctor Teresa.
Teresa is not at all happy to be roused from a well deserved night’s sleep, but helping people in need is her job and besides, the obvious attraction Rios feels for her is mutual. Teresa does manage to bring Picard’s heart back online with a defibrilator, but unfortunately Picard – or rather his android body – causes a feedback. Of course, this does not make a whole lot of sense, as Camestros Felapton points out in his review, because Picard should be in the body he has in the dystopian future they escaped from – just like Seven is in a fully human body without Borg implants. And since it’s rather unlikely that Picard just happens to have an android body in both timelines, he should have his regular human body, which is also why he almost dies from getting hit by Dr. Soong, something an android body should be able to shrug off.
By now, Teresa realises that there is something very odd about Rios and his friends, though when she asks Rios point blank about that, he fobs her off. Though I suspect he will eventually come clean.
Now Teresa has patched up Picard, he should theoretically wake up. However, Picard stubbornly remains unconscious. Tallinn uses some convenient (and never before seen) super-duper brain scanning technology and determined that Picard’s brain is active, but he seems to be trapped inside his own brain, lost in memories. Teresa has gone home to check on her son at this point or otherwise, Rios would have to answer some very hard questions.
Tallinn also announces that she will venture into Picard’s brain to bring him back, since her super duper technology also allows her to do that. Raffi is not at all happy about the idea – “What could go wrong?” – but since they need Picard and his knowledge about Q, she finally relents. So I guess we’ll spend the next episode rummaging through Picard’s traumatic memories of his childhood which have left him permanently unable to form longterm romantic relationships.
However, first we still have to tie up the loose ends from this episode. For starters, there’s Dr. Soong who manages not to get arrested, but makes it home in one piece, though rather distraught. Kore notices that something is very wrong here and begins to rummage through her father’s computer. She finds a lot of not very flattering newspaper headlines about her father – and don’t tell me that Kore, a young woman living in 2024, has never googled her father or own name before – and also private files and photos of herself as a kid, only that she does not remember any of the events depicted.
Turns out that Kore is not Dr. Soong’s biological daughter, but a clone, the latest in a long series of clones who keep dying young of the very same disease Kore has. Soong is determined to keep this clone alive, because she is – as he actually says to Kore – his life’s work. Now I have to admit that I did not see this particular development coming. It also makes me like this Dr. Soong even less – and my opinion of him was already low after he tried to run over Reneee and Picard. After all, this guy has created dozens of clones, all of whom died painfully at very young ages. This goes beyond the lovably eccentric mad scientist into villainous mad scientist territory. But then, all Soongs not named Data are at the very least dodgy. And yes, a whole multigenerational clan of mad scientists with a fervent desire to create artificial life does stretch the suspense of disbelief.
The other loose end of this episode is Agnes, who is left behind at the party, when Raffi, Seven and Rios rush Picard to the Mariposa Clinic. They don’t even seem to notice that Agnes is missing. Honestly, it’s not wonder that Agnes befriends the Borg Queen of all people, because no one pays any attention to her unless they need her to do something. Agnes is treated like a human sonic screwdriver much of the time. However, the applause and cheers of the audience at the end of her performance of “Shadows of the Night” flood her system with endorphines, which gives the Borg Queen a chance to take control of Agnes’ mind. Oops.
The Borg Queen, wearing Agnes’ body, is last seen walking along a busy Los Angeles street, barefoot and still dressed in her red evening gown and clearly ready to party Borg Queen style. She is walking towards the US Bank Tower, a building we know tends to attract alien attention. What will the Borg Queen do to 21st century Los Angeles? As Paul Levinson points out in his review, it can’t be good.
This episode is once again a whole lot of fun, but also something of a mess. Plot twists happens out of nowhere, earlier plot points are forgotten and both the Borg Queen and Tallinn come up with handy deus-ex-machina solutions more than once. It’s a testament to how much fun this show is that you don’t really notice that it makes no sense until you think about it.
I think what keeps me watching at this point are the actors and their performance, since you can see and feel how much fun they are having. That fun is infectious. Though I still hope that the plot will eventually make sense again for the remaining episodes.
The next Star Trek Picard review will go up sometime in the next few days. Not sure if I’ll do Moon Knight or not, though I like what I’ve seen so far.