Here is my take on the penultimate episode of season 2 Star Trek Picard, very late, because I’m very much trekked out at this point. Though this is not the last of the Star Trek reviews, for Paramount in its infinite wisdom is blessing us with even more Star Trek in the form of Strange New Worlds. 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, they had to deal with a nosy FBI agent, a dying Q and a Borg Queen on the loose in Agnes Jurati’s body and eager to assimilate Los Angeles/the world/the future. Worse, the Borg Queen has enlisted the aid of Dr. Adam Soong a.k.a. the member of the Soong family who has crossed the line from arsehole to straight up villain. And for reasons the show never quite makes clear, Dr. Soong has the ability to summon a whole squad of special forces soldiers, all of whom the Borg Queen promptly assimilates. Wouldn’t borgifying approximately fifty soldiers completely mess up the timeline, since none of those fifty soldiers will go on to do whatever they were supposed to do in the original timeline? Who cares? At any rate, the Borg Queen now has an evil henchman and an army and she’s coming for La Sirena to start building the Borg Empire four hundred years early. Yes, the whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the series just asks you to roll with it.
This episode, entitled “Hide and Seek”, plunges us straight in medias res with the Borg Queen and her army launching their assault on La Sirena. And for once, the episode title is completely accurate, because the bulk of this episode consists of Picard and friends playing hide and seek with the Borg Queen and her cronies inside and around Chateau Picard, while the most notable subplot involves Picard remembering playing another significant game of hide and seek in the bowels of Chateau Picard.
There really isn’t a lot of plot here – the episode is mostly people running around, shooting at each other and fighting each other in and around Chateau Picard, which looks less like a French vineyard and more like a modern recreation of a Tuscan villa in California and a random studio backlot dungeon set every time we see it. On the good guy side we have Picard, Seven, Raffi, Tallinn, Rios and holographic Elnor (the real one having been killed in episode 3) with Doctor Teresa and her son Ricardo as bystanders in peril, while the bad guy side consists of the Borg Queen in Agnes Jurati’s body, Dr. Adam Soong and a squad of borgified soldiers. Amazingly, the shooting and explosions going on at the supposedly deserted vineyard (even though the vines itself look remarkably intact) don’t attract the attention of anybody else. And yes, I know that rural France can be very isolated, but not so isolated that the people on farms and in villages in the vicinity would not notice a huge battle going on in a supposedly deserted chateau and call the local gendarmerie. Maybe they were all drunk because of some kind of festival or party that night.
Picard, Seven and Raffi first use Tallinn’s transporter to beam to Chateau Picard and then to rescue Rios, Teresa and Ricardo from the ship that’s about to be taken over by gun-toting Borgs and beam them into the Chateau. However, the Chateau only offers limited protection, because the borgified soldiers are bearing down on it and they have riot gear, assault rifles and nightvision equipment. Meanwhile, of our heroes, Tallinn is the only one who’s actually armed with two Romulan guns, one of which she gives Seven and Raffi, who also procure a knife, a corkscrew and an ice pick as additional weapons. Early on in the exchange of fire, Rios is shot in the arm, so Tallinn beams him as well as innocent bystanders Teresa and Ricardo back to her apartment.
Seven and Raffi as well as Picard and Tallinn split up (because that’s such a great idea in a crisis – or does no one in the 25th century ever watch any 20th century horror movies?) and try to separately make their way back to La Sirena to wrest the ship from the Borg Queen’s control. As a tactic, it may not make a lot of sense, but it does give us some nice scenes of Seven and Raffi bonding, while kicking Borg butt. Also, can I just say how much I love it that pop culture currently has plenty of women in their fifties, several of them women of colour – Jeri Ryan, Michelle Hurd, Ming-Na Wen, Michelle Yeoh, Sandra Oh, Orla Brady – kicking arse and taking names these days? Because girls and women really need more role models that show us that life does not end at thirty, forty, fifty or whatever the cut-off point is and that “boring sitcom or soap opera mother” or “nagging cop wife” or “older woman lawyer in a legal drama” isn’t the only future open to you and that yes, it’s possible to be awesome and do cool stuff even in your fifties and beyond. More of that, please.
While everybody else is fighting or running, the Borg Queen struts around naked aboard La Sirena (though only seen from behind). She absorbs some Borg tech from the original Borg Queen’s corpse and then Alison Pill gets to strut around in the cleavage version of the traditional black leather Borg garb.
However, the Borg Queen finds that she cannot access La Sirena‘s controls, because Agnes, who is still present inside the Borg Queen’s head and fighting back and using the hormones released by negative emotions to do so, has locked and encrypted them, which makes this the umpteenth time someone has done this with La Sirena. The Borg Queen threatens Agnes to rummage through her mind, until she finds the code, but Agnes tells her that she did not memorise the code. Instead, she gave it to the most trustworthy person she could think of, namely a holographic version of Elnor. Because apparently, La Sirena can make holograms of everybody who has ever been on board. Of course, the original La Sirena could do this, which does not necessarily mean that the evil Confederation version can do it as well. And the original La Sirena also only ever recreated a squad of different versions of Rios, but who cares? Here’s the excuse for this week’s contractually required Evan Evagora cameo and this time, he actually gets to kick some Borg butt instead of just making mooey eyes at Raffi.
Meanwhile, Dr. Soong is trading barbs with Picard, who tries to persuade him to give up his evil plans for the sake of the future. Dr. Soong, however, only cares for one future, namely the one where he gets to be the hero and saviour of humanity. And if that means that the racist and xenophobic Confederation is the future of humanity, then so be it.
Brent Spiner is clearly having a lot of fun letting out his inner supervillain. And in fact, all the actors seem to be having a lot of fun making this show. I just wish that the actual result were better.
Picard finally tells Soong that if he and the Borg want to kill him, they’ll have to find him first. Then Picard and Tallinn take off into the tunnels under Chateau Picard, which triggers – hurray – yet another round of flashbacks to Picard’s childhood. Annoying as the many endless flashbacks in The Book of Boba Fett were, at least they happened, while Boba was resting in his bacta tank, not in the middle of a fire fight, which is about the worst possible time to have flashbacks.
Still, apparently we haven’t fully explored Picard’s deep dark traumatic childhood (TM) yet, so another round of flashbacks we get. Though at least we do get another brief scene of James Callis as Maurice Picard, which is always a plus. There’s also young Jean-Luc playing with what looks like a vintage Enterprise toy.
Basically, Jean-Luc’s mentally ill mother had a thing for playing hide and seek with her young son in the catacombs underneath Chateau Picard, no matter how often her husband warned her not to go down there. One day, when Jean-Luc’s mother went to play hide and seek with her young son in the catacombs again, Jean-Luc had an accident – of which we saw extensive flashbacks two episodes ago – and Maurice Picard locked his wife in her bedroom. Now we get the continuation of that story. Because it turns out that Jean-Luc snatched the key from his father and opened the door to let his mother out. Whereupon his mother went and hanged herself in the greenhouse. Young Jean-Luc found her and Picard has felt guilty for letting his mother out of that room and thus contributing to her suicide all his life.
I’m sorry, but there is so much wrong with this whole scene. For starters, Yvette Picard hangs herself in a poofy white dress that is remniscent of the dress Jane Fonda wears in the famous hanging scene in Cat Ballou. Now hanging oneself is a theatralic form of suicide, but there’s no way I’m buying that a severely depressed woman like Yvette Picard can even muster the energy to dress up like that. Never mind that there’s no way that dress would be as pristinely white after someone has hanged themselves in it.
Furthermore, what the fuck is wrong with Maurice Picard that he locks his mentally ill wife up, but then repeatedly leaves her alone with her young son instead of sticking around to keep watch or better yet get her treatment? After all, this is not the nineteenth century with the stereotypical mad woman in the attic. This is the 24th or early 25th century and probably takes place around the time of the Original Series episode “Dagger of the Mind”. Even in our time, there are better and more effective ways of treating bipolar disorder or depression than locking up people in attics. There surely will be even better ways in the 24th or 25th century.
As for the one scene in The Next Generation where Picard sees his mother as an old woman offering him tea, that is retconned as Picard imagining what his mother would have been like as an old woman, had she lived. Because losing his mother to suicide was so traumatic for young Jean-Luc that he just suppressed the memory. As for Picard’s brother Robert – last seen in The Next Generation episode “Family” – he is completely absent throughout this entire drama. It seems the show has forgotten he ever existed, just as Star Trek tends to forget that Spock and Michael had an older brother named Sybok.
Now it’s very obvious that losing his mother to suicide and finding her and blaming himself for everything, too, would be extremely traumatic for young Jean-Luc. But would it really be the life-defining trauma as which the show portrays it? I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced. Because I happened to know someone who had an almost identical experience to young Jean-Luc. She, too, lost her father to suicide by hanging – though it was an attic, not a greenhouse – and she, too, was the one who found him. But while this event was undoubtedly traumatic for her, she still went on to have a long and happy life, get married, have children and grandchildren. Just as Jean-Luc went on to have a long and productive life as a Starfleet captain who had countless adventures and saved hundreds of lives. So in short, this whole thing feels like an example of the “Just add instant Deep Dark Trauma (TM) and stir” Hollywood school of characterisation. Pop culture has gotten a lot better about portraying trauma, so that this feels like a throwback.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Dr. Soong finds the entrance to the tunnels under Chateau Picard, so the chase is on. As before, the tunnels underneath Chateau Picard are filled with all sorts of likely and unlikely equipment. There are chains, grated metal doors, a torture post with chains, dusty crates of wine (probably the only thing that does make sense) and crates of weapons left there since WWII, which still miraculously function eighty years later. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Picard and Tallinn had also stumbled upon the Castle Grayskull dungeon grate with its monstrous tentacly things or the Orb of Power or the portal to the underworld that can be found in the dungeons underneath Castle Joiry, cause that would make as much sense as anything else.
While everybody else is running around Chateau Picard, Rios is stuck in Tallinn’s retro apartment together with Teresa and Ricardo. Ricardo is in shock, torn between being terrified by Borgified soldiers shooting at him and thinking that this is the coolest thing that ever happened to him. Kids in films and TV shows, including the many versions of Star Trek, are often portrayed unrealistically, but Ricardo does behave and react like a real kid would, when thrust into that situation.
Teresa removes the bullet from Rios’ shoulder, marvelling at his medical tricorder, which she calls “an ER that can fit into her pocket”. Rios, meanwhile, is eager to get back to the fight and La Sirena, but Tallinn has wisely locked her transporter, so he can’t get back for now. Not that this stops Rios, who keeps tinkering with the transporter to unlock it. Come to think of it, pretty much everything Teresa has ever seen of Rios is Rios either being injured and needing medical attention or Rios tinkering with various equipment or people pointing guns at Rios. Nonetheless, Teresa has fallen for him. Well, Rios is hot, he’s clearly a good guy and would make a good Dad for Ricardo and he’s a hotshot space captain from the future.
Since Teresa has fallen for Rios (and vice versa), she doesn’t want him to go back to the fight with the Borg. She also doesn’t want him to go back to the future, at least not alone. Rios tries to tell her that this isn’t his time or even his timeline and that he doesn’t belong here, while Teresa does, though he doesn’t seem too convinced himself. I have to admit that I hope that Rios, Teresa and Ricardo end up together in some timeline, if only because they’d make a great couple and a great family.
But as it is, Rios manages to fix the transporter, grabs a phaser and beams himself back into Chateau Picard, just as Dr. Soong and the Borg soldiers have cornered Picard and Tallinn in the greenhouse of deep dark trauma (TM). Rios manages to knock out the soldiers, but Dr. Soong snatches his phaser in the shuffle and points it at Picard, Tallinn and Rios, smugly noting that he doesn’t need to know how exactly a phaser works to pull the trigger. I’d have laughed if Rios or Picard had said, “That’s a medical tricorder, you idiot.” But what actually happens is as much fun. For Rios smugly replies, “Well, it only fires, if you have the right DNA. If not… BOOM.”
Which is exactly what happens. The phaser explodes, knocking out Soong and the remaining soldiers, so Picard, Tallinn and Rios can get away.
While everybody else is playing hide and seek in Chateau Picard, Seven and Raffi have actually made it aboard La Sirena. Raffi has a brief reunion with holographic Elnor, who assures her that the real Elnor, who’s still dead, did not blame Raffi for the events that led to his death, but loved her. Of course, Elnor is like a little duckling and loves everybody he imprints upon. It’s a pity that the writers of season 2 couldn’t figure out what to do with him and killed him off, because Elnor is such a cool character.
The tearful reunion cum good-bye out of the way, Seven and Raffi persuade holographic Elnor to unlock the ship and access the systems. Then they beam the remaining Borg soldiers into the walls of Chateau Picard, which is not only a harsh fate, but will also raise eyebrows and questions in the future. Though considering all the other anachronistic stuff already found in the catacombs beneath Chateau Picard, I don’t think soldiers half embedded into the walls will make the place that much more weird. Though I still worry about the implications of willy-nilly killing off so many people who were not supposed to die in the original timeline.
The soldiers out of the way, Raffi, Seven and Holo-Elnor confront the Borg Queen. The Borg Queen is not quite up to speed, since she is still having arguments with Agnes in her mind, but she does use the unlocked controls of La Sirena to get rid of Holo-Elnor and then stabs Seven through the stomach with one of her tentacles. And then, while Seven is literally bleeding to death on the transporter platform, Agnes and the Borg Queen have a little chat.
Agnes reminds the Borg Queen that the Borg Collective already lost the war and was destroyed in the dark future they escaped from. Oh yeah, and the Borg Collective was also about to be destroyed in the regular timeline with more and more Borg rediscovering individualiyt and freeing themselves. Because, as Agnes points out, fearsome and terrifying as they are, the Borg always lose in the end. Every single time, in every timeline.
The Borg Queen insists that it will be different this time, but Agnes insists that it won’t be, because the Borg Queen just doesn’t know when to stop. She won’t stop until she has assimilated the entire universe, because she’s chronically lonely. Agnes knows this, because she is chronically lonely as well.
Now I have been a bit skeptical about the cod psychology of season 2 of Picard, but I do like the idea that the Borg are the result of one woman’s chronic loneliness taken to extreme ends. Because to be honest, the motivations of the Borg Queen never made all that much sense. So far, she always seemed eager to assimilate the universe, because it’s there.
However, Agnes has a proposal for the Borg Queen. Maybe they should stop assimilating unwilling subjects and solely focus on assimilating willing subjects. After all, there are probably other terminally lonely people out there as well as people injured so badly that only Borg tech can save them. And maybe, the Borg Collective could also allow for more individuality. After all, Seven shows what a Borg can be, when allowed to retain individuality.
The whole thing sounds very much like a desperate “Hail Mary” plan, but amazingly the Borg Queen decides to go along with it. She heals Seven in return for being allowed to take La Sirena, though healing Seven requires giving her back the Borg implants in her body. Then, the Queen beams Raffi and the healed Seven off board and takes off in search of willing subjects for assimilation. “That’s my ship”, Rios laments as La Sirena rises into the clouds.
So now we know what the deal with the weird Borg ship we saw at the end of the very first episode was. These were not the regular Borg, but Agnes’ nicer, kinder and more individual Borg. The request to join the Federation was probably genuine and the reason the Borg Queen wore that weird face mask was so we would not see that it was Agnes. This is actually a neat conclusion, though I can’t help but think that there is just enough plot here for a Next Generation two-parter, stretched to ten episodes.
Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering what’s up with Kore, last seen escaping her father’s grip, Q, last seen admitting that he was dying and that he hates it, Guinan, last seen cleaning up her bar, and Agents Wells, last seen having finally gotten the confirmation that aliens exist, well, keep wondering, because this episode never addresses those plotlines. As for Renee Picard, the living Macguffin, before the Borg Queen takes off to willingly assimilate the universe, she points out that in order for the future timeline to be preserved, Renee must both live and die.
I will review the final episode of this season, of course, and I may do Strange New Worlds, since everybody insists that it’s better than the latest seasons of Discovery and Picard. But honestly, I’m just about trekked out. Season 4 of Discovery was lacklustre and often really slow and a little dull. Season 2 of Picard was actually fun, but also an unholy mess to the point that I wonder whether this thing has a script at all or whether they just let the actors do whatever they wanted. Because honestly, it feels like the latter. Either that or the writers are literally deciding upon the plot by tossing coins.
That said, I hope that the review of the final episode will come a bit faster.