Here is my take on the final episode of season 2 Star Trek Picard, 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, so there is a review of the first episode of that coming soon. 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 had just uncovered the deep dark trauma (TM) at the centre of his being, Agnes had just decided to build a better, kinder Borg race and took off with La Sirena to do so and Dr. Adam Soong was still trying to sabotage the Europe mission and/or kill Renee Picard because… well, I guess because he still believes that getting rid of Renee will make him the saviour of the future. Or maybe because he’s a crazed alcoholic scientist in full supervillain mode.
Renee had been largely forgotten these past few episodes, so it’s nice to see that the writers remember she exists, even if the show has largely treated her like a MacGuffin. Even better, the show also remembers the other plot threads and characters occasionally forgotten for episodes at a time such as Kore Soong, Elnor, Guinan, Q and the weird Borg ship from episode 1, all of whom get some kind of resolution. Only Agent Wells, the would-be Fox Mulder of the Star Trek universe, has been forgotten and does not appear again.
The bulk of the episode is dedicated to saving Renee and making sure she takes part in the Europa mission and that the Europa mission succeeds. Dr. Soong is hellbent on thwarting them. Of course, Picard and his team are still stuck in France and Agnes just took off with their sole means of transport, but luckily Tallinn does have a transporter of her own, though it only leads back to her apartment. Regarding Chateau Picard and the fact that it got shot up quite badly during the previous episodes, Picard remarks that the bullet holes in the walls were still there when he lived at the Chateau with his parents and that there were all sorts of family legends surrounding where the bullet holes came from. Well, the truth would have been too weird, I guess. Still, since Picard knows the bullet holes are supposed to be there, he believes that they are on the track to restore the future.
However, Agnes or rather the Borg Queen also left the rest of the team with the cryptic and ominous remark that in order for the Europa mission to succeed, Renee must both live and die. Tallinn, who has after all been assigned to watch over Renee, decides to take this remark as meaning that someone needs to die in Renee’s place and decides that this someone might as well be her. So she uses her transporter to transport into Europa mission control. In time-honoured tradition, Picard grabs on to Tallinn in order to dissuade her from sacrificing herself, while Seven, Raffi and Rios head to Soong’s modernist mansion to stop the evil doctor from sabotaging the mission.
And so Seven, Raffi and Rios creep up on Soong, as he seems to voice-control a bunch of drones to take out the rocket to Europa. However surprise – Soong is not there, though the drones and a recording of his voice is. Seven, Raffi and Rios realise that the drones are Soong’s back-up plan and that they are booby-trapped to blow up the house if someone tampers with them or tries to destroy them. Of course, Raffi tries to hotwire the drones anyway to gain manual control, though she is only able to gain control of one drone, which Rios uses to destroy the remaining three.
But of course, Dr. Soong himself is still at large and he pops up at the Europa mission control center, where he bullies the mission director into letting him shake hands with the astronauts, even though that violates quarantine protocols. Once again, I wonder just how Soong came by enough money to not only donate a huge enough sum to the Europa mission that the director has to defer to his annoying arse, but also to summon special forces at will and buy a mansion in what looks like a very expensive part of Los Angeles, not to mention four armed drones and all sorts of scientific and computer equipment, when the first time we saw him in the show, he was begging Lea Thompson not to cut the funding for his research. Honestly, this is just one of the many things about this season that makes no sense.
Picard and Tallinn spot Soong at mission control and know that he’s there to sabotage the launch and/or kill Renee. Tallinn is still hell-bent on sacrificing herself, if necessary, and no, she’s not going to let Picard’s feelings for someone who looks a lot like her deter her from her path. So Tallinn takes out a member of the suit-up team, steals her coverall and goes to see Renee, who of course immediately notices that this woman is not supposed to be there, even though she looks mightily familiar. Tallinn now reveals herself as Renee’s guardian angel, someone who has always been watching over her ever since she was a child. She reveals that Renee has a deep dark trauma (TM) of her own. Her mother died, when she was a kid and the reason Renee wants to go to the frontiers of the known universe is because she secretly hopes she’ll find her mother there. So are Picards not only destined to be explorers and space farers (unless they are Luddite winegrowers), but are they destined to be driven to extremes by the tragic loss of their mothers as well?
We next see Renee or rather someone who looks like her run out in panic into the corridor, babbling about an intruder who says she’s her guardian angel, only to bump straight into Dr. Soong, who calms and down touches her hand. “Renee” suddenly starts to feel sick, whereupon Soong cracks his best supervillain grin and pulls a latex coating from his hand which he reveals was coated in a deadly neurotoxin. “Renee” is doomed.
Only that the woman was not Renee at all, but Tallinn using her Watcher shape-changing gear to change herself into Renee. The real Renee is safe aboard the Europa mission and blasts off into space, while Tallinn expires in Picard’s arms. Of course, Tallinn is not human but Romulan, so it’s a bit of a stretch that a neurotoxin designed and dosed to kill a human will kill her as well, but the show never asks these questions. Just as the show never explains why the farewell party for the Europa astronauts had much tighter security than the actual mission control center, so that Tallinn was able to impersonate a member of the suit-up crew and actually get into the astronauts’ quarters, while Soong was able to walk in, murder someone and walk out again.
We next see Soong returning to his mansion to find his research scattered and trashed. He turns on the TV and sees a report about the successful launch of the Europa mission and hears Renee’s voice. Furious, Soong decides to self-medicate with a bottle, when he is hit by yet another blow. His estranged clone daughter Kore hacks into his computer via a WiFi hotspot in a public library and deletes all of his research. How does Kore, who has never even left Soong’s house before, know how to find a public WiFi hotspot? Again, the show doesn’t expect us to ask these questions.
Soong has now lost his daughter, his research and his future and he’s also a murderer. However, he also has one back-up, a physical file he keeps in a desk drawer. A file marked “Confidential” and “Project Khan”. Uh-oh.
In the end, Soong emerged as the main villain of season 2, which was unexpected, because he did not even show up until halfway through the season and played second fiddle to Q and the Borg Queen for most of second half. However, both Q and the Borg Queen turned out to be not as villainous as expected (more about that later), while Soong turned out to be unapologetically evil. And Brent Spiner clearly has so much fun playing him as a full-blown supervillain. Also, as Paul Levinson points out in his review, Dr. Soong is still alive by the end of season 2, so we may well see him again engaging in some more villainy.
Meanwhile, Kore Soong receives a mysterious messages telling her to come to a specific address, if she wants to know what happens next. According to Tor.com reviewer Keith R.A. DeCandido, the address in question does not actually exist in Los Angeles, though he traces it to Griffith Park. Somehow, Kore manages to make her way there – even though she has spent all her life cooped up in a mansion and has never navigated a big city before. And there in the park she meets – no, not Q, though that’s whom Kore (and the viewer) expects – but Wesley Crusher, who left to became a so-called Traveler way back in The Next Generation episode “Journey’s End”. And now Wesley pops up in Los Angeles in 2024 to recruit Kore to join the Travelers and watch over all space and time, much as he was once recruited. And reader, I cheered when Wesley showed up. Even though I didn’t particularly like the character back in the day, like most Next Generation viewers. Honestly, if you’d told me thirty years ago that I’d ever cheer when Wesley Crusher of all people would show up in a new Star Trek show, I’d have thought you were crazy.
In fact, it turns out that more than one current Star Trek show wanted to bring back Wesley and that Picard won because of Wesley’s connection to The Next Generation and Jean-Luc Picard. In fact, the rehabilitation of Wesley Crusher from a character pretty much no one cared for (in fact, when poor Wesley was threatened with death or execution yet again, I occasionally to my infinite shame hoped that someone would just get on with it) to fan favourite shows what an actor can do for a character and how the internet-enabled connection between actors and fans can rehabilitate a character.
Before Wesley takes off with Kore for new and amazing adventures (for of course Kore accepts his offer), Wesley also notes that the Travelers are the ones who appoint Watchers like Gary Seven or Tallinn. Will we see Wesley or Kore again? I certainly hope so, though at least Isa Briones has pointed out that she is not in season 3 of Picard. Come to think of it, the Travelers also seem quite similar in concept to the Time Lords of Doctor Who fame, only somewhat more active.
With Renee safe en route to Europa and Soong thwarted – for now – Picard and his remaining crew as well as Teresa and Ricardo return to Chateau Picard to figure out what to do next now they’re all stuck in the past (and in a not particularly pleasant period of Earth history either). Raffi and Seven finally share an on-screen kiss as do Rios and Teresa. Picard wanders through the remarkably well preserved Chateau (honestly, it’s very obvious that this is not a centuries old vineyard, but a modern building made to look like a Tuscan villa) and puts the key to the door of the room where his father locked up his mother back in the very spot where young Jean-Luc found it as a kid. Then he returns to the greenhouse, where he meets none other than Q.
Now Q finally reveals what the true motives for this bizarre backwards and sidewise in time caper were. Cause it turns out that Q was not trying to torment Picard – though that’s what it was in effect – but that approaching death has made Q mild and that he wanted to help Picard to come to terms with the suicide of his mother and the guilt he feels over it, so Picard can move on with his life and find some happiness in his final years. “Even Gods have their favourites,” Q points out, “And you have always been mine, Jean Luc.”
Q had clearly been set up as one of the two main villains of this season, but in the end Q’s actions turn out to be more misguided than actually villainous. Because let’s not forget that Q did a lot of harm and that people died because of his actions. And indeed, Picard points out that Elnor and Tallinn died because of Q meddling with the timeline (as well as a bunch of special forces soldiers who got Borgified and the guy Agnes picked up in a bar, slept with and killed) Q replies that Tallinn always dies in every timeline, but that this is the only one where she gets to meet Renee before she dies. As for Elnor, Q absolves himself of all guilt. After all, he did not kill Elnor – Seven’s shitty husband from the facist future did.
It’s mainly due to the excellent performances of John DeLancie and Patrick Stewart that you accept Q’s explanation for why he did what he did and don’t want to punch him in the face for what he put everybody through. io9 reviewer James Whitbrook points out that the scene between Q and Picard in that fateful greenhouse is almost romantic – more romantic than the scenes Picard has with his actual love interest Laris/Tallinn. At any rate, it is sure to generate a lot of fanfiction.
Since Q has fulfilled his mission to persuade Picard to accept that his mother’s suicide was not his fault, he also wants to use the last of his power to send everybody back to the 25th century. However, unsurprisingly, Rios elects to stay behind. He has fallen in love with Teresa and also with the more intense and adventurous life in the 21st century. Rios points out that he never really fit into the Federation or Starfleet, which is why he became a freelance starship captain. He’s right, too. In many ways, Cristobal Rios is a Star Wars character who has accidentally wandered into the Star Trek universe. And since Q can’t send Rios into the Star Wars universe, the 21st century is the best place for him. Never mind that he gets to have a ready-made little family.
“Oh well,” Q says, as everybody says their good-byes, “Room for one more then.” Q even gets an awkward hug from Picard, then he snaps his fingers one more time and Picard, Raffi and Seven are back where the season started, aboard the Stargazer, just as the masked Borg Queen is about the take over the Stargazer and the whole Starfleet armada. Now, however, Picard understands what’s going on. He deactivates the self-destruct mechanism and yells at the Starfleet officers to stand down and stop firing, because this version of the Borg Queen is not a threat.
And indeed, once the Stargazer bridge crew has finally stopped shooting, the Borg Queen’s weird mesh mask retracts, revealing none other than Agnes Jurati’s face. After four hundred years, Agnes and the Borg have returned to Federation space. They don’t want to assimilate or attack anybody, because these new kinder Borg no longer do that, which begets the question whether there were always two different kinds of Borg out there or whether the timeline change just eliminated all previous Borg stories in one fell swoop.
Instead, Agnes points out that the Borg have come to warn the Starfleet of a transwarp conduit that will open and belch huge amounts of cosmic radiation into a sector full of inhabited planets and will kill lots of people. The Borg have no idea where that transwarp conduit came from – which is certainly interesting, because the Borg are normally the ones who create transwarp conduits. However, they have figured out how to stop the energy discharge from devastating the entire sector, namely by modifying their shields to block the energy. Alas, the Borg ship can’t do it alone, that is why Agnes is temporarily taking control of the Starfleet vessels, to harmonise their shields. This is exactly what the Borg ship and the Starfleet vessels do. And since the Stargazer is short of a captain, since Rios elected to stay behind in the 21st century, Picard uses his admiral powers to promote Seven to captain, finally giving her the career Starfleet denied her due to being Borg. Elnor pops up on a viewscreen, very confused but miraculously alive again. Q apparently did feel sorry for getting Elnor killed and brought him back. Oh yes, and Agnes’ Borg want to join the Federation, because they are still looking for connection. Also, they want to guard the anomaly, in case it belches out more deadly bursts of cosmic radiation.
In many ways, this ending brings season 2 full circle. We’re back aboard the Stargazer, where everything started, only that Picard, Starfleet and the viewer realises that the true threat were never the Borg, but that our prejudices led us to assume they were a threat. All that’s missing is that little 1980s cartoon moral lesson tagged on at the end, where Picard turns to the camera to tell viewers at home that we should never judge someone by their looks.
“Remember, kids, just because someone looks like a genocidal cyborg hellbent on assimilating the entire galaxy doesn’t mean that they are a genocidal cyborg hellbent on assimilating the entire galaxy. So talk to them and find out what they want. Until next time!”
On the other hand, the mystery anomaly that threatens all life in the entire sector literally comes out of nowhere and the problem is resolved in five minutes with some talking and a few special effects. This is even weirder, considering that the sister show Star Trek Discovery just spent an entire season on trying to deal with another mysterious planet-eating anomaly that turned out to be caused by aliens who were just misunderstood.
Now personally, I believe that season 4 of Discovery wasted way too much time on the so-called “Dark Matter Anomaly”, which was interesting enough for maybe an episode or two, but not as a season arc. Meanwhile, Star Trek Picard deals with a similarly dangerous anomaly in literally five minutes, which is too short.
Finally, there is yet another coda (as James Whitbrook points out, half the episode is basically various codas) as Picard, Raffi, Seven and Elnor head for Guinan’s bar for a drink. This time around, Guinan actually remembers meeting Picard in the past – even though the Guinan of 2024 did not remember meeting Picard in 1893 in “Time’s Arrow”, which seems like a mistake. However, Guinan is mainly there to tell us what happened to Rios, Teresa, Ricardo and Renee.
Rios and Teresa founded a medical charity a la medicins sans frontieres and helped wherever someone needed help. Teresa died of old age, while Rios managed to get himself killed in a bar fight over medical supplies in Morocco. “He died as he lived,” Guinan says, though like Paul Levinson, I’m not sure if we really needed to know that. As for Renee, she did find an alien micro-organism on Europa, which
took over people and entire space stations and then built a stargate – no, that’s The Expanse – somehow solved all ecological problems on Earth. As for Ricardo, he grew up to be one of the scientists who solved those problems together with Auntie Renee.
Of course, Rios never met neither Renee nor Guinan in the entire season nor did Renee meet Guinan or Teresa, but let’s overlook that little problem. After all, Picard may well have told Rios to head to Guinan’s bar, if he needs help or feels the need to talk to someone who understands who and what he is. No idea how Renee fits into all this, though someone might have sought her out to tell her what actually happened.
In fact, in many way season 2 of Star Trek Picard feels like a Next Generation two-parter that has been blown up to ten episodes and got lost in all sorts of meandering side quests in the process. As Camestros Felapton says in his review of the final two episodes of season 2 of Star Trek Picard, the season does have a neat ending – just a pity that that ending has very little to do with most of the season.
In his review at nerds of a feather, Arturo Serrano points out that season 2 of Star Trek Picard is aimless and inconsistent. It touches on a lot of themes, but in the end doesn’t really have much to say about any of them. The main theme of season 2 seems to be childhood trauma and how it can impact a life and the whole world, which is certainly a good theme, though I’m not sure Jean-Luc Picard is the right character to explore that theme. The other main theme, which is the main theme of Star Trek Picard and one of the main themes of Star Trek in general, is prejudices against the Other (synths, Borg, Romulans, Q) and that overcoming them and finding out what the Other wants is usually the better path forward. Again, this is a good and important theme, it just gets lost in the meandering plot.
Don’t get me wrong, season 2 of Star Trek Picard was a lot of fun and I don’t regret watching it. However, it is also an unholy mess that doesn’t even seem to be sure which story it wants to tell most of the time. Camestros Felapton points out that inconsistency, weak endings and nigh schizophrenic shifts in tone and mood are a general problem with all the modern Star Trek shows and wonders whether the problem might not be that Star Trek isn’t really a good fit for streaming services with their shorter seasons and arc-driven plots.
Because even though Star Trek did have internal continuity and plot arcs at least since the 1980s/1990s, Star Trek was always an episodic show at its heart. I also have no idea why it can’t still be that. Not every TV show has to have a season or series arc and indeed, episodic shows like the various “case of the week” cop shows, lawyer shows and doctor shows continue to thrive, though usually not on the streaming services. Even though, if the reasonable explanations of Netflix’s recent woes (i.e. not the far right explanations that Netflix subscribers got freaked out by seeing underage girls dancing, trans people existing or other things that shake their worldview and thus cancelled the service altogether rather than just not watching things that offend them) is to be believed, the vast majority of people were actually watching cop shows like CSI or NCIS or sitcoms like Friends or The Office (all of which have very little internal continuity and no season arcs) on Netflix and cancelled their subscriptions, when those shows went away to other streaming services.
Of course, the target demographic for Star Trek is not the same as for CSI, NCIS or Friends and SFF shows usually do have season arcs these days. I’m just not sure whether we really need them or whether every SFF show needs to have an arc plot, especially since arc plots are only as good as their resolution (see Lost or The X-Files or Heroes or Twin Peaks any other arc plot show that just fizzled out), whereas episodic shows are endlessly rewatchable. At any rate, I am far more likely to rewatch a random Star Trek episode, when I come across it on TV than a random episode of e.g. The X-Files.
Paramount is not letting us rest, but giving us Star Trek Strange New Worlds right away, which is supposedly more episodic. I’m not sure if I will be doing episode by episode reviews of Strange New Worlds, because these reviews take a lot of time and I’m just about trekked out. Giving us a breather before throwing yet more Star Trek at us would have been welcome.