Star Trek: Picard – Season 2 Episode 2
Star Trek: Picard explores the dark alternate reality as the characters try to find a way to set things right.
One of the most appealing aspects of Star Trek as a franchise is that it depicts a future where Humanity has overcome all hardships and enjoys a peaceful existence free of any challenges that plague us in the present. There’s no poverty, disease, racism or anything else negative. The Human race has come together to work to continue building a brighter future and is part of an interstellar alliance with alien races working towards the same thing. That’s not to say the franchise doesn’t contain conflict or hardships but the idea is that any Earthbound problem has been overcome. It’s positive and inspiring especially when the world external to the franchise is far from ideal. A frustrating fixation in modern Star Trek is diluting that by injecting present day sensibilities into the characters and situations or simply abandoning it altogether to depict the opposite reality.
In Discovery there was an extended visit to the Mirror Universe which brought a character from there back to the prime one in order to continue creating that contrast and now in Picard we have a totalitarian alternate timeline where Humanity is xenophobic and brutally conquest driven. The episode establishes that they have forced every major race to bend to their will and show no signs of stopping. Picard is a general credited as being one of the most violent and ruthless Humans who ever lived so this is clearly a far cry from what can be considered the norm.
Dark timelines regularly crop up in science fiction and fantasy. It happens because it provides an opportunity to showcase a darker spin on the familiar characters and setup in a way that is resolvable and doesn’t break the core concept. The best examples are disposable fun such as The Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror” and the worst examples take themselves far too seriously such aspects of the storytelling in Discovery. This episode falls somewhere in the middle. It’s never fun but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously so it’s unclear what the purpose of this story is other than to facilitate whatever the rest of the season is going to be. This is a means to an end and a very shallow one at that.
This particular dark timeline isn’t interesting or imaginative in any way. Most of the main characters -with the exception of Elnor- occupy positions of influence meaning that it’s easy for them to move around and take action without suspicion being cast on them. As a result the episode is largely bereft of tension as it never feels as if they are in any danger of being caught. Seven -or Annika- is the President of the Confederation so nobody will question her authority and her husband never notices that she’s acting unlike herself so many of the scenes come across as blandly plot furthering since there’s no sense of underlying threat.
In fairness, Seven proves herself adept at blending in. She assesses the situation and very quickly looks into gathering information that will help her resolve it; quickly determining that Rios has his memories from their reality intact and building from there. Far more could have been done with her using her position to gather more information to flesh out this dark timeline though arguably there’s little point if they will be leaving it very quickly. There’s a real laziness to the storytelling with the altered reality only depicted at a very high level without taking time to have any fun with the characters acting like dialled up evil riffs on themselves to blend in. Every scene is in service of building to that solution with no added nuance.
There is a strange out of place focus on relationships throughout. This does reinforce the romantic connection fixation so clearly introduced in the first episode but it doesn’t fit here and never relates to Picard himself. Raffi suggests that Seven having a husband in this timeline means that she worked out her commitment issues and Jurati engages in an argument with Rios about their failed relationship in the middle of a crisis situation. Raffi’s comment is largely positioned as a joke but the Rios/Jurati argument has a little more substance. Rios calls her out on her fear of intimacy and they bicker while both are working to beam everyone out. It’s a small beat and doesn’t develop either of them in any meaningful way though Jurati is set up as dealing with intense loneliness. Her animated artificial intelligence cat Spot 73 (Patton Oswalt) highlights this loneliness as she felt the need to program her own companion. Taking the time to give the relationship drama coverage would be acceptable if it enhanced the characters or fed into the surrounding plot in any way but it doesn’t; all it does is stand out as being juvenile and distracting when the attention of the characters should be elsewhere.
The introduction of the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching) offers them the solution to the problem as she is able to perceive alternate timelines and calculate the point of divergence. It is due to a single change made in 2024 so that becomes the next stop. Seven convinces the Queen to help them by making the case for the original timeline being better for her than this one. As with everything it happens quickly and is devoid of tension. It’s a logical argument that is accepted without resistance from the Borg Queen or without any attempt to have the pot sweetened in any way. Once again it’s a function of the plot and nothing more.
Picard’s conversation with Q is the strongest part of the episode and creates many open questions to be explored over the course of the season. Q establishes that Picard is the key to this dark timeline for reasons unknown and refers to it as his “penance”. He is punishing Picard for something he has done but refuses to avail him with any information as to what that is. This is punishment for Picard not changing in a very specific way though it remains unknown what that is. According to Q, Picard is supposed to know what that is already so won’t clarify what he means. He does provide Picard with the necessary help to figure out what is meant and solve the problem; presumably this is allowing Picard and the others to retain their memories of the other timeline in order to work to put things right. Judging by what has been set up so far this season, Q is likely referring to Picard being alone in his old age and reality will be fixed by him finding true love.
The depiction of Q as a character here is interesting. He is malicious, impatient and hostile in ways rarely seen. His appearance is in service of informing Picard that he has done something badly wrong and needs to fix it but he makes it clear that this isn’t a test and angrily blames Picard for something. Picard notices that Q seems unwell though nothing more is made of it than the initial mention. It’s a new side of Q and the mystery set up around him being less than forthcoming is intriguing though his interaction with Picard is perhaps too vague. It is carefully constructed to create many open questions while Picard acts as the audience surrogate becoming more frustrated as it progresses. I mentioned in my review of the previous episode that the “road not taken” angle suggested similarities to the episode “Tapestry” but placing Picard in unfamiliar circumstances with a problem to solve that he unwittingly caused is more reminiscent of “All Good Things”. Q is all about teaching Picard lessons but he perhaps should learn that being deliberately vague isn’t the best way to achieve the desired result.
Also noted in this conversation is a clumsy environmental message. Q points out that one of the differences in the two timelines is that Humanity figured out how to save the Earth they were destroying where in this one the damage is irreparable but the planet is kept on life support for some reason. The later reveal that they have to go back to 2024 to fix the timeline draws attention to the ongoing climate change issue plaguing the real world and suggests there will be more coverage of this in the coming episodes. Q holds Humanity in contempt for damaging their own world in the first place and is generally judgemental through this exchange so his use of this as an example of why he is so disgusted makes sense though it doesn’t organically connect to his displeasure with Picard. Having them in conflict in this way sets up a potentially compelling antagonistic relationship over the course of the season as well as the urgency associated with Q’s possible illness. One potential drawback is that the episode doesn’t do a good enough job explaining who or what Q is which may alienate viewers of this show not familiar with The Next Generation but as an extension of their existing connection this works very well. John De Lancie’s performance is excellent and the chemistry between Q and Picard is sharp.
A frustrating episode with surface level exploration of the dark timeline, very little threat and out of place character beats. The dark timeline depicted in this episode receives very little in the way of fleshing out which does make sense as it is quickly identified as a means to an end. It isn’t interesting or imaginative in any way and it is largely bereft of threat or challenge since the characters -with the exception of Elnor- occupy positions of influence which means it’s easy for them to move around and take action with very little suspicion being cast on them. Seven proves adept at blending in. She assesses the situation and very quickly looks into gathering information that will help her resolve it. Far more could have been done in using her position to flesh out the dark timeline though arguably there’s little point if they will be leaving it quickly. There’s a real laziness to the storytelling with no fun being had with the characters acting like dialled up evil riffs on themselves to blend in. Each scene is in service of building to the solution with no added nuance.
There is a strange out of place focus on relationships throughout. It reinforces the romantic connection fixation clearly identified in the first episode but it doesn’t fit here and never relates to Picard. Rios and Jurati’s argument has the most substance with a light shone on Jurati’s intimacy issues to compliment Jurati’s loneliness established through her only companion being an animated A.I. cat. The argument is a small beat that doesn’t develop either character in any meaningful way. Taking the time to address the relationship drama would make sense if it enhanced the characters or fed into the plot in some way but as presented it stands out as being juvenile and distracting. The introduction of the Borg Queen offers the solution to the problem with no resistance encountered in securing help. Once again it’s a function of the plot and nothing more. Picard’s conversation with Q is the strongest part of the episode and creates many open questions to be explored. Q blames Picard for something that he has to fix though is vague about what that is because Picard should already be aware of it. This is punishment for him not changing in a very particular yet unknown way but he is offering some help in realising and correcting this problem. It is suggested that Q is unwell though it isn’t referenced beyond the singular mention and it’s notable that Q is uncharacteristically malicious, impatient and hostile. It’s a compelling extension of their existing connection that works really well with sharp chemistry between Q and Picard even if it does contain a clumsy environmental message.
- the conversation between Q and Picard
- their sharp chemistry
- lots of open questions posed by their conversation
- Q as a malicious, impatient and hostile presence
- Seven quickly adapting to the altered reality and working to solve the problem
- the shallow depiction of the alternate reality
- very little challenge or threat posed to the characters
- the out of place fixation on romantic relationships
- very little nuance to the storytelling
- the clumsy environmental message highlighted by Q
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