Star Trek: Picard – Season 2 Episode 3
Star Trek: Picard heads back to the 21st century to undo the change that led to the totalitarian timeline and puts various obstacles in the crew’s way.
In some ways this season is so far playing out like a “Greatest Hits of Star Trek” which is both a good and a bad thing. The first episode of the season was a great example of using nostalgia to remind audiences of something comfortable and familiar while showing clear progression from that familiarity. Picard and Q’s conversation in the second episode was another example of progressing something familiar evolving though the second episode also featured a poor example of “Greatest Hits” in the totalitarian timeline. This episode now reaches the time travel portion of the checklist by sending the characters back in time to -near- present day of the show’s production; something done previously in The Original Series, Voyager and Enterprise.
Their journey back in time comes with a cost and Elnor tragically dies not long after they arrive in the past. It’s a very moving moment with a stellar performance from Michelle Hurd who perfectly sells the shock and pain associated with the loss. Her harsh words to Picard detailing her disappointment in him and lack of faith in his leadership are almost certainly a heightened reaction due to how raw Elnor’s death is for her though there is almost certainly an element of truth in there particularly when considering Picard’s almost passive reaction to Elnor’s death. It makes perfect sense as he is aware of what the priorities need to be and takes on the burden of ensuring everyone is on task. In short, he’s being an effective leader and much more like the Captain Picard that was seen during the run of The Next Generation. He makes the point about there being no time for mourning and a requirement to get to work as they have very limited time. Patrick Stewart’s performance is appropriately nuanced as it’s clear Picard is affected by Elnor’s death but is visibly compartmentalising his feelings until a later time. Elnor’s death is a visceral example of everything they’re fighting for and underscores the importance of succeeding in their task to restore the timeline. This makes his death meaningful in a variety of ways even if it is unlikely to stick.
The objective is simple; they need to track down the mysterious “Watcher” as they are pivotal in restoring the timeline. The two ways to do this are simply asking the Borg Queen if they can wake her up and scanning for any tech that doesn’t belong there. With La Sirena mostly out of commission this means heading into Los Angeles to run a scan for tech that doesn’t belong in this time period from the highest point which means splitting the party. Raffi, Rios and Seven head into Los Angeles to run the scan while Picard and Jurati stay behind to work on the Borg Queen. This neatly divides the episode between the two objectives and offers a structure for it to follow.
Of course both parties encounter complications. Raffi, Seven and Rios don’t beam into the same place ala Deep Space Nine‘s “Past Tense”. Also similar to that episode is two of the characters find each other with the third separated from them. Raffi and Seven find each other very quickly and get their bearings almost immediately with the only significant obstacle being an attempted mugging. It isn’t a problem for Raffi and subduing the mugger solves any potential money issues. There is a complication when a security guard catches them trying to reach the roof of the building but it’s easily dealt with by convincing him to look the other way.
As is common in Star Trek time travel stories, being in the past is used as an opportunity to provide commentary on the state of the world. This episode taking place in the near present day means that commentary can in theory be highly relevant as the characters from the future can make observations about the world as the viewer knows it. Their default timeline being a future where the problems of today were overcome to build a near Utopia adds a hopeful slant as they are living proof that things do get better.
Raffi and Seven don’t spend much time observing the state of Earth of 2024 though when they do it’s through the lens of contempt. After the attempted mugging Raffi makes the point that it’s remarkable a society with so many contradictions managed to function without collapsing for as long as it did. It’s a very surface level observation that poses a question with no time spent exploring it in any detail. Raffi is grieving, impatient and frustrated so is literally angry at the world around her. The attempted mugging being the first thing that happens to her acts as a confirmation of the irredeemability of this time period so from an internalised character point of view it makes sense for Raffi to feel this way but from a messaging point of view it’s weak because there is no actual message beyond the surface level observation of it being a less than ideal time in history. Seven postulating that the dark future possibly begins there when observing a brush fire in the distance is similarly lacking while masquerading as being more profound due to the Jeri Ryan’s performance.
The most frustrating thing is that the present day provides ample opportunity for direct examination of the world that the viewer inhabits. Deep Space Nine‘s “Past Tense” forms a relevant comparison for more reasons than stated earlier. In that episode Sisko and Bashir discuss the situation that surrounds them along with providing detailed historical context around what resulted in things being the way they were. When that episode was produced, 2024 was in the future -as it currently is though much closer to the present day than it was then- so it was speculative but still relevant to when the show was produced as many similar problems existed at that time. Granted the 2024 set portion of the season isn’t yet over but opportunities to provide meaningful analysis of the time period have already been squandered. It’s also notable that the characters have travelled back to the same year “Past Tense” took place so the writers would be remiss if the Bell Riots don’t come into play in some way. They may not be at the exact time but they could be referenced and feed into the narrative. It’s a pivotal event in Star Trek history so the chosen year would seem to be deliberate. Amusingly the progression of technology bears little resemblance to what was imagined in those episodes but links could easily be drawn.
Rios finds himself in a less than comfortable situation when he sustains a severe injury after materialising in mid air. His less than ideal arrival and landing could be a reference to The Terminator where Kyle Reese materialises in a similar way. The difference here is that Rios requires treatment and finds himself exactly where he was warned not to go prior to embarking on their mission. Luckily he doesn’t end up in a traditional hospital, instead finding himself in a clinic that deals with those who need treatment but don’t want to be flagged by the authorities for whatever reason. The clinic is run by Teresa (Sol Rodriguez); a no nonsense Doctor who wants to help those unable to find help elsewhere. She strikes a good balance between hardened and compassionate which makes her very much a product of the world around her while working to make it better in any way she can. She is very much an example of the Star Trek idealism and values in surroundings that don’t naturally support them.
The dynamic between Rios and Teresa is briefly depicted but engaging. Rios’ natural charm believably allows her to trust him quickly and she is quickly presented as an example of how a better world could rise out of the surrounding chaos. This offers a direct contrast to the fatalistic outlook provided by Ravvi and Seven. Rios encounters kindness both in those that found him and took him to a place he could be helped and in Teresa herself. It provides a quick and clear cross section of what people are capable of in this time period when combined with Raffi’s experience. This brings in the notion of the time period being far from irredeemable and the stated contradictions actually working in its favour.
There is also a strong insight into Rios’ backstory when he talks about the event that started his love of piloting while identifying his natural aptitude for it. It is brought up naturally through a test for a concussion and allows for a really endearing character beat. All of this make Rios being sidetracked by an injury far more than a simple plot complication, instead functioning as a meaningful showcase of Star Trek values along with character development for Rios.
Back on the damaged La Sirena, Picard and Jurati work to wake up the Borg Queen so that she can help them track down the mysterious “Watcher”. The Borg Queen is stuck in a recovery mode that she shows no signs of getting out of so they need to intervene to help her heal. Unfortunately the only way to do so is interface with her and encourage recovery. Picard is out of the question for this as she will know his mind from when he was assimilated so will be able to overpower it very quickly. This leaves Jurati as the only option but Picard is against the idea due to how dangerous it is. It’s an argument that doesn’t last long due to the urgency of the situation so Jurati is plugged into the Borg Queen.
This comes with warnings around how the Borg assimilate their victims. The high level details are already established such as stripping away individuality, free will and self determination to be replaced by the Hive Mind but what that actually entails hasn’t been covered on a granular level prior to this point. Between Star Trek: First Contact, Voyager and Enterprise a lot has been shown around the physical side of the process with the merging of the organic and the mechanical but very little of the mental aspect of it has been showcased. Seven was the expanded case study of what it means to escape that but in terms of assimilation the body horror aspect has received the most coverage.
Jurati’s experience in this episode represents a first in that way as she undergoes the mental stresses associated with being assimilated albeit in a far more diluted way due to the Borg Queen being damaged. This allows for two major character driven elements; the first being Picard revisiting his assimilation trauma when he describes what Jurati is letting herself in for and the second is Jurati becoming introspective as the Borg Queen probes the depths of her psyche in an effort to take her over.
Picard reliving his assimilation trauma doesn’t go beyond him having knowledge of what Jurati will experience though Patrick Stewart’s slightly haunted performance shows that Picard will never forget what he experienced. As with Elnor’s death he is compartmentalising his own feelings with the bulk of his focus being on his concern for Jurati who might be lost to the Borg. Once again it’s a strong example of leadership though far more could have been done with how uncomfortable it is for him to directly think about his experience of being assimilated.
Alison Pill dazzles in her performance when Jurati is connected to the Borg Queen. The array of emotions being displayed as the Borg Queen accesses different aspects of her mind is brilliantly delivered and the minor insights into what is associated with those feelings such as seeing Picard as a father figure of sorts or resenting his detached nature are excellent. This would have been the ideal opportunity to truly explore how she feels about the part she played in the death of Bruce Maddox among other things so there isn’t as much character depth as there could have been but what was depicted worked brilliantly and Alison Pill took to the material perfectly.
Her performance is so good that it gives a deep insight into what the assimilation process involves on an individual level. The Borg Queen visibly tries to overcome her with hopelessness and attempts to tear her apart emotionally by opening the doors in her mind and trying to poison those emotions while focusing on negative associations. Prior descriptions of the assimilation process could be very clinical which is horrific in itself but this a tangible destruction of who a person is on every fundamental level and it’s horrifying to contemplate. This is possibly the most insidious the Borg have ever been as there is a clear display of attempting to erase the person that is to be replaced with the will of the Borg Collective. It’s especially well showcased with Jurati and the Borg Queen’s voices switching location in order to highlight the struggle that is happening. This makes for a refreshingly unique portrayal of The Borg.
Even though Jurati is disconnected with her individuality intact there are consequences to this. For one the Borg Queen admits to being impressed by her which means that her interest in Jurati is likely to persist. There is also the suggestion of an active link of some kind or at the very least information being taken from both sides. It could be that a part of the Borg Queen remains within Jurati and it will continue to work to take her over though the reverse could also be true which may result in the Borg Queen being overwhelmed by Humanity in some way. Whatever happens the experience will definitely have an impact in some way and provide complications at some later point.
A good episode that delivers a unique exploration of Borg assimilation while offering some diverse commentary on the present day. Arguably this season is playing out like a “Greatest hits of Star Trek” which is both a good and a bad thing. This episode leaves the totalitarian timeline and sends the characters back in time to -near- present day in order to prevent that world from happening. The journey to the past comes with a cost and Elnor tragically dies. It’s a very moving moment with a stellar performance from Michelle Hurd who perfectly sells the shock and pain associated with the loss. Challenging Picard on his leadership and expression of feelings is almost certainly a heightened reaction but there’s an element of truth in there when considering Picard’s almost passive reaction to Elnor’s death. It makes sense in context and is a good example of leadership to push aside the desire to break down in favour of getting the job done. Elnor’s death is a visceral example of everything they’re fighting for and underscores the importance of succeeding. The characters are split in their pursuit of the “Watcher”. Raffi, Seven and Rios’ journey to Los Angeles encounters complications when they don’t beam into the same location. Fortunately Raffi and Seven find each other quickly and get their bearings almost immediately with the only obstacle being an attempted mugging for Raffi. This is used as an opportunity for Raffi to pass comment on the contradictions within society and how difficult it is for her to believe that it persisted for so long without collapsing. It’s very surface level with no time spent exploring it in detail. Her reaction does support her emotional state as she is angry at the world around her and takes the attempted mugging as confirmation of the irredeemability of this time period. It’s weak from a messaging point of view as there is no actual message. Similarly Sven postulating that the dark future may begin there while observing a brush fire in the distance is similarly lacking while masquerading as being profound. Rios’ experience is in opposition to the fatalistic musings as he encounters kindness from Teresa; a Doctor committed to helping those unable to find help elsewhere. Teresa is briefly featured but is immediately engaging with the mix between hardened and compassionate. She is very much a product of the world around her while working to make it better in any way she can. This makes her an example of the Star Trek idealism and values in surroundings that don’t naturally support them while This bringing in the notion of the time period being far from irredeemable and the stated contradictions actually working in its favour. Rios and Teresa’s dynamic is very brief but develops quickly and is impressively done thanks to the actors doing plenty of heavy lifting.
Picard and Jurati’s efforts to wake up the Borg Queen allow for a unique exploration of the assimilation process. Jurati interfacing with the Borg Queen provides a first hand account of how the Borg force their victims to submit. The mental aspect hasn’t been shown before so it makes for a fascinating addition. Alison Pill’s performance dazzles with a wide array of emotions being brilliantly delivered. There are minor insights into what is associated with those feelings though the opportunity to truly explore how she feels about the part she played in the death of Bruce Maddox among other things is unfortunately squandered. There isn’t as much character depth as there could have been but what was depicted worked very well. Her performance gives deep insight into what the assimilation process involves on an individual level. The Borg Queen tries to overcome her with hopelessness and tries to tear her apart emotionally by opening the doors in her mind and trying to poison those emotions while focusing on negative associations. This is the tangible destruction of who a person is on every fundamental level and it’s horrifying to contemplate. It’s possibly the most insidious the Borg have ever been as there is a clear display of attempting to erase the person that is to be replaced by the will of the Borg Collective. It’s especially well showcased with Jurait and the Borg Queen’s voices switching location in order to heighten the struggle. There are also consequences to this such as the Borg Queen admitting to being impressed by her meaning that her interest in Jurati is likely to persist along with the suggestion of an active link or at the very least information taken from both sides. There’s plenty of scope for complications to develop and the experience will definitely have an impact.
- Elnor’s death being moving by itself
- Raffi’s strong reaction to it
- his death being meaningful as a representation of everything they are fighting for
- Picard’s strong leadership in the wake of Elnor’s death
- the contrast between Raffi’s negative experience of the past and Rios experiencing kindness
- the strong insight into Rios’ past
- Rios and Teresa’s engaging dynamic
- Teresa as a positive product of the time period
- Alison Pill’s performance as Jurati connects to the Borg Queen
- the insidious depiction of how the Borg overwhelm victims with hopelessness and tear them apart emotionally so that they submit
- the impact felt by both Jurati and the Borg Queen upon being disconnected
- the lack of nuance associated with the commentary on the present day
- the surface level depiction of Picard revisiting his assimilation experience
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