Here is my take on the latest episode of Star Trek Picard, this time a lot faster. For my take on previous episodes and seasons of Star Trek Picard, go here.
Warning: Spoilers below the cut!
When we last met Jean-Luc Picard and his Merry Men and Women, Picard was in a coma, having gotten run over with a car by Doctor Soong and Agnes had merged with the Borg Queen and was on the loose in Los Angeles.
This episode opens with Picard, still clad in the tuxedo he wore at the astronaut party, in his ready room aboard what I presume is the Stargazer, since it does not look like the Enterprise ready room, dealing with an annoying routine psychological evaluation conducted by a annoying therapist played by an actor who looks disconcertingly familiar, though I couldn’t place him until the credits rolled.
To spare you the suspense, it turns out that the therapist is played by James Callis, who played Baltar in the new Battlestar Galactica and who has also been in a ton of other things. Of course, the original Baltar, John Colicos, also appeared in several Star Trek series over the years as the Klingon Commander Kor, beginning with the Original Series episode “Errand of Mercy” and running through several episodes of Deep Space Nine.
As I explained in one of my Star Trek Discovery reviews, I really don’t like therapy scenes and so I audibly groaned to find myself faced with yet another one of those. To quote Paul Levinson’s review of this episode, “if I wanted to see therapy scenes, I’d watch In Treatment“ (and I hate In Treatment, because it’s literally a show that focusses on the worst and most boring stuff found in other shows) In general, this episode spends way too much time in Jean Luc Picard’s head – quite literally, since Tallinn enters his mind to bring Picard out of his coma.
Since Picard is not being very cooperative, the therapist asks him to tell a joke or maybe a story or fairy tale. So Picard launches into a story about a red-haired queen and we get a flashback within a flashback (or whatever this is) about a young Picard and his mother cosplaying as queen and prince, while Picard’s mother paints the glass panes of the conservatory we saw in the first episode with scenes of fairies, stars and a shadowy monster with glowing eyes stalking through the woods.
The paintings suddenly come alive and the conservatory begins to shake. Picard’s Mom tells Picard to run and manages to close the doors to the conservatory just before the glass panes explode. Young Jean-Luc and his mother, still in their fairy tale cosplay outfits, escape into dungeons of Chateau Picard, an unseen monster in hot pursuit.
Now Americans tend to believe that any vaguely castle-like structure of course has a dungeon, though in truth many castles don’t actually have dungeons. And in spite of the name Chateau Picard is more of a villa or manor house than an actual castle, so it is extremely unlikely to have a dungeon. Chateau Picard is portrayed by the Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez, California, i.e. it’s not even in France. And the Sunstone Villa was built in 2004, albeit modeled on villas in Tuscany, and very likely does not have a dungeon, unless the owners wanted one for the coolness factor.
In this episode, however, Chateau Picard morphs from a Tuscan inspired villa into Castle Grayskull and of course has creepy dungeons with all the expected funishings such as shackles, chains and grated doors and even monsters, though not quite as cool as those that inhabit Castle Grayskull’s dungeon. Maybe Chateau Picard was built on the ruins of Castle Joiry and has inherited that castle’s basement with its infamous portal to a hellish dimension of demonic black gods and green moons (which very likely inspired Castle Grayskull’s monster-infested dungeon). Hey, it makes as much sense as anything else.
It is implied that the “dungeons” of Chateau Picard are really the maze of underground tunnels that the Picard family used to escape the Nazis during WWII, which reminds me of the 1944 Robert Bloch story “Iron Mask”, which was certainly one of the more bonkers vintage pulp SFF stories I reviewed for the Retro Reviews project. However, there is no explanation why random underground tunnels look like a cliché medieval dungeon.
The unseen monster eventually grabs Picard’s Mom, leaving little Jean-Luc all alone in a creepy dungeon. It is at this moment that Tallinn enters Picard’s mind and promptly ends up in the dungeon as well. She meets young Jean-Luc, still in his prince outfit, chained to a pillar and frees him. Young Jean-Luc babbles something about monsters and his missing Mom, who’s behind a white door. So Tallinn decides to take young Jean-Luc by the hand and look for the missing mother.
By now, the dungeon has also acquired guards in chainmail and a couple of monsters straight out of a cheesy 1980s horror movie. The whole thing should probably be scary, but it’s really just silly. One of the monsters strangles Tallinn with a chain, while another grabs young Jean-Luc.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Seven and Raffi have finally remembered that Agnes Jurati exists, that they abandoned her at the party and that they should maybe look for her. Rios also points out that Agnes has been acting strangely and that he kissed him. So Seven and Raffi beam back aboard La Sirena, assuming that Agnes would have returned to the ship. However, they find no sign of Agnes and the ship’s consoles encrypted with a Borg code. Seven uses her Borg knowledge to crack the code and accesses video footage of Agnes entering the Borg encryption. Now Seven and Raffi finally realise that the Borg Queen is in the process of assimilating Agnes. Worse, the Borg Queen is loose in Los Angeles.
Rios is left behind at the clinic to watch over Picard and Tallinn, while Seven and Raffi set off to find the Borg Queen and stop her before she can assimilate Los Angeles and presumably all of Earth and make Q’s manipulation of the timeline look benevolent by comparison. They track Agnes to a bar she visited that night, still clad in the red evening gown. On yet more convenient security cam footage they see Agnes breaking a window. Seven points out that breaking the window caused Agnes to experiences an endorphine rush, which will make it easier for the Borg Queen to fully assimilate her.
I actually feel sorry for Agnes, since for most of season 2, the rest of the cast have treated her like a piece of furniture or a computer. No one pays attention to her, unless they need her to fix or hack or repair something. Considering how badly her supposed friends have treated Agnes, is it any wonder that she’s looking for friendship with the Borg Queen of all people? At least, the Borg Queen pays attention to Agnes. Plus, Borg-possessed Agnes appears to have a lot more fun than regular Agnes. She gets to wear a gorgeous dress, sing “Shadows of the Night” and gets noticed. When Agnes enters the bar where she will break the window, all eyes in the place are on her.
Back at the clinic, the various monitors attached to Picard begin to beep and his heartrate and brainwaves go haywire, as young Jean-Luc and Tallinn are being attacked by monsters inside Picard’s head.
Rios is the only one on site, but he has his hands full, because the increasingly suspicious Teresa and her space-obsessed kid Ricardo have returned. Teresa refuses to be kept out of the room where Picard and Tallinn are and Rios is running out of explanations for what is going on, what exactly is wrong with Picard and Tallinn (whose eyes have turned white and who is wearing a very telling pointy-shaped ear piece) and why he is talking to his badge (which for all Teresa knows is just a weird piece of jewellery with a voice chip).
However, for now there is a crisis and both Picard and Tallinn are in danger, so Rios calls Raffi and Seven and asks them to beam over a neural stimulator to settle down Picard’s brainwaves. Of course, Rios is not a doctor, so he hands the neural stimulator to Teresa, even though expecting Teresa to know what to do with a 25th century neural stimulator is like expecting a 17th century physician to know what to do with an X-Ray or MRT machine. However, it’s Star Trek and so everything works out. Picard’s brainwaves calm down and the monsters in his mind vanish, though young Jane-Luc finds himself chained to the same pillar again, prompting Tallinn to assume that something traumatic happened to him in connection with that pillar.
Back in the real world, Teresa is completely freaked out by talking jewellery and a weird medical miracle instrument that materialises out of thin air. “Are you from outer space?” she asks Rios in a riff on the classic scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. “No, I’m from Chile. I only work in outer space”, Rios replies.
The scenes with Rios, Teresa and Ricardo are the best thing about an otherwise weak episode. Santiago Cabrera and Sol Rodriguez have marvelous chemistry and you can literally see the sparks flying between those two. There are so many great moments between Rios and Teresa, such as when she tells her son to cover his ears, because she’s going to use some rude words. But Ricardo, being a kid, listens anyway and then says, “But you didn’t even use the good ones.” The young actor playing Ricardo is great anyway and behaves very much like you’d expect a kid to behave in such a situation. There’s also a nice scene where Rios and Ricardo are drawing spaceships with chalk on the walls of the clinic (another totally kid thing to do) and Ricardo draws a space shuttle variant like the spacecraft used for the Europa mission, while Rios draws La Sirena.
In the end, Rios decides to prove to Teresa that everything he just told her is the truth and beams Teresa and Ricardo aboard La Sirena. Ricardo – once again very much a typical kid – responds with, “I’m going to touch everything.” In his review at Tor.com, Keith R.A. De Candido points out that Rios taking Teresa and Ricardo for a tour of La Sirena is a spectacularly bad idea, because it has the potential to seriously alter the timeline, it’s not even Rios’ La Sirena, but a Confederation ship, and besides, the ship is full of Borg tech and touching everything is a seriously bad idea, unless you want to join the Borg collective.
He’s right, too, but I still loved Rios’ joy at showing off his ship (well, sort of his ship), Teresa’s stunned expression and Ricardo’s pure kid-like “I’m gonna touch everything” reaction and I wish we would have seen more of these characters. I also really hope that the story of Rios and Teresa and Ricardo ends more like Doc Brown’s story in the Back To The Future trilogy than Kirk and Edith Keeler’s in the Original Series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”.
Meanwhile inside Picard’s brain, Tallinn frees little Jean-Luc again from the same shackles (which she breaks with her hands, Picard’s brain apparently bestowing the same super-strength on her as the Borg Queen does on Agnes), when suddenly who walks onto the scene but the therapist from the first scene. Only that the therapist is not in Starfleet uniform now, but in vaguely mid twentieth century civilian clothes. “You got to grow older than me”, the “therapist” says to Jean-Luc, “But I kept my hair.”
Yup, the therapist is Jean-Luc’s Dad, Maurice Picard, and he now shows up in his son’s brain decades after his own death to set the record straight. Now, Maurice Picard was not an abusive husband. His wife, however, was mentally ill and endangered little Jean-Luc, when she ran off into the underground tunnels during a breakdown. Jean-Luc’s foot got stuck in a rotting floorboard at the pillar with the chains, though there is still no explanation why the basement of Chateau Picard has a pillar with chains at all. Maybe the Nazis used it to restrain and torture prisoners, which honestly makes as much sense as anything else. Young Jean-Luc was down there for hours before his father found and rescued him.
As for Jean-Luc’s mother, Maurice loved her, but he couldn’t help her, so he locked her up in her room like a nineteenth century mad woman in the attic. Which sort of made sense in the nineteenth century, when psychiatry did not exist and mental illnesses were not understood and so-called insane asylums were usually even worse than being locked up in the attic.
However, all this happens in the twenty-fourth century and mental illness would be not only much better understood by that time, but would also likely be much better treatable (and conditions like schizophrenia can be controlled with medication even today). I mean, the flashbacks to Jean-Luc’s childhood probably happen around the same time as the Original Series episode “Dagger of the Mind”, where psychiatric treatment is a lot more advanced than locking women in attics. Yes, the Next Generation episode “Family” establishes that Maurice and his older son Robert are both luddites of sorts, which explains why they live in a nineteenth century looking vineyard and why they cosplay as if they lived in the 1930s to 1950s. However, unless there is some kind of religious cult involved, even the most fervent luddite would seek modern medical treatment for his mentally ill wife. Never mind that Maurice doesn’t strike me as someone who would leave his son along with his wife he knows is mentally ill and might endanger the kid. Honestly, none of this makes sense.
I also have no idea why we need to learn about Picard’s unhappy childhood now. I mean, the man is over eighty and considering everything that has happened to him (almost dying more than once, getting assimilated into a Borg, being tortured by Cardassians, living someone else’s life for forty years, etc…), a childhood trauma is probably not the biggest issue he has. Besides, “Family” made it more than clear that Picard is at odds with the rest of his family. As io9 reviewer James Whitbrook notes, the solution to the mystery of Picard’s deep dark trauma is not only underwhelming, it also doesn’t tell us anything about the character that we didn’t know already.
Finally, “Picard has attachment issues because of some deeo, dark trauma in his childhood” is also lazy writing. First of all, plenty of people with traumatic childhoods go on to live happy lives and have happy and fulfilling relationships. Secondly, not everybody who is not interested in a committed romantic relationship has some deep dark trauma in his past. Asexual people exist. Aromantic people exist. People who think that committed relationships are more trouble than they’re worth or who simply have no time or no interest for such things exist. People who are not opposed to committed relationships per se, but simply haven’t found the right partner exist. There are a myriad of reasons why people may not pursue committed romantic relationships and deep dark childhood trauma is only one of them.
Once Picard has resolved that part of his trauma (though Tallinn points out that there is more), he simply wakes up again and goes about his business once more. Tallinn reveals that she has pointed ears and actually is Romulan – as if the name and the pointy-eared brain interface thing weren’t giveaway enough. “I knew it”, Picard exclaims, “You must be an ancestor of Laris.” Honestly, with everybody playing their own ancestors – often multiple generations thereof, as the Soongs – I want to give everybody on the various Star Trek writing staff a genetics textbook, because that’s not how genetics work.
And talking of Dr. Adam Soong and his clone daughter Kore, in case you’re wondering what happened to them now Dr. Soong tried to murder someone at Q’s behest and Kore has learned that she’s a defective clone (and can someone please give Isa Briones storylines other than finding out that she’s not a “real girl”(TM) please?), well, keep wondering, because neither of them appears in this episode.
As for Renee Picard, the jobar point on whose fate the future of the entire galaxy hinges, her fate is dealt with in a single throwaway line by Tallinn. “Oh, she’s safe and in quarantine.” And so Renee exits the story like the MacGuffin that she was. Honestly, the character would have deserved better.
Meanwhile, Picard decides that it’s time to confront Q and ask him point blank what he wants. So he goes to see Guinan, giving us the welcome return of Ito Aghayere. The Next Generation established that there is a connection between El-Aurians and the Q Continuum, so Picard assumes that Guinan should be able to summon Q. Of course, Guinan is reluctant to do so, because honestly, who in their right mind would summon Q? The man is a bloody nuissance and nasty prankster.
However, Guinan eventually relents and agrees to summon Q by opening a bottle of a drink that was served during a peace summit between the El-Aurians and the Q Continuum. The entire bar shakes, glasses and bottles break and light bulbs explodes, but Q fails to appear – and neither does Barbara Eden. Come on, we were all thinking it.
Someone does appear however. A man in a badly fitting grey suit who says he had a hard day and just wants a drink. Guinan initially throws him out, but the man won’t go, so she pours him a drink. The new customer seems to be the chatty sort and tries to strike up a conversation with Picard, who of course has zero interest in talking to twenty-first centuries randos.
However, the randomy guy does not let up and his probings and questions become more insistent and ever so slightly sinister to the point that I wondered whether Guinan had not succeeded in summoning a Q after all, just a different one than expected.
Then the guy in the grey suit pulls out his phone and shows Guinan and Picard security cam footage of Picard materialising in the alley behind Guinan’s bar and I thought, “Oh, I bet he’s a reporter from some National Enquirer type publication.”
However, then the guy pulls out an FBI badge and no, he’s not buying Guinan’s claims that her security camera is broken adn keeps glitching. Instead, the FBI raid the bar and arrest both Guinan and Picard. Cue credits.
The last development not only comes completely out of nowhere, unlike Rios’ arrest a few episodes ago, it also makes no sense whatsoever. Because why would the FBI follow up on security camera footage of old men randomly materialising in alleys? This is not The X-Files, where the FBI absolutely would investigate such things and everything would be a huge conspiracy besides. It’s the Star Trek universe, where the FBI is probably more interested in hunting terrorists and serial killers than in investigating paranormal occurrences. Never mind that the Borg Queen is loose in Los Angeles and that Dr. Soong is conducting illegal genetic experiments and just tried to kill someone, so even in the framework of this episode, the FBI has better things to do than investigate weird videos.
Of course in the Star Trek universe, California has been experiencing strange visitors popping in and out of existence since 1968, so maybe there really is an FBI task force. But then it might have been nice to establish that beforehand. Or maybe Q or Dr. Soong are behind siccing the FBI on Picard and Guinan? But again, it would have been nice to at least hint at that beforehand.
This was the weakest episode of the season by far, largely because it spends way too much time on what was the least interesting part of the story, namely Picard’s deep dark childhood trauma(TM). In many ways, it reminds me of the endless flashbacks in the first half of The Book of Boba Fett, which told a story no one was particularly interested in, while short-changing the story we had come to watch.
What I really would have liked to see is more of “Agnes and the Borg Queen do L.A.” Or more of “The crosstemporal romance of Cristobal Rios and Doctor Teresa.” Never mind that I’d like to know what the hell is wrong with Q, what happened to Dr. Soong and Kore and what’s going on with Renee Picard. But what did the show give us instead? Endless flashbacks to the deep dark childhood trauma(TM) of an eighty-plus-year-old man who has accumulated plenty of more recent trauma since then.
I hope the show gets back on track next episode, because this episode was just irritating, a fine guest performance by James Callis aside.