Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 3: Assimilation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, Voyager, First Contact, and Discovery.

Assimilation was an episode with a very eerie title! It seemed certain that something big was going to happen – and Assimilation delivered. It was an explosive episode, but one that’s difficult to judge conclusively until we’ve seen more. Will all of the story threads that it teased lead somewhere significant? If so, we have a solid episode in Assimilation that’s set up this next phase of the season.

For the third episode in a row, Picard has introduced us to a different and interesting setting. In The Star Gazer we got reacquainted with Starfleet after spending the entire first season operating outside of it. That was ripped away at the end, and last week Penance introduced us to the Confederation timeline – a fascist dystopia that somehow managed to replace the Federation. Now, in Assimilation, we meet the strange new world of 2024. Three of the main characters had to adapt, while Picard and Dr Jurati remained behind.

Los Angeles, 2024.

In context, it gives the opening trio of episodes kind of an odd feel; a churn of different settings and scenarios, each familiar enough to feel very much like Star Trek, yet different enough to make me curious to see more. In contrast to Season 1, which built up its story slowly over the course of several episodes, Season 2 has jumped to three different and distinct places in the span of just three episodes – and we’ll have to see if this faster pace keeps up for the duration of the season, or whether things will settle now that the crew have arrived in 2024.

The cliffhanger ending to last week’s episode felt like a lot of fun at the time; a tease to keep us on the edge of our seats for a week! But the relatively fast resolution to the Magistrate and his goons having beamed aboard La Sirena left me wanting more from that premise – Picard and the crew had defeated (and vaporised) them within basically three minutes of the episode starting. It just feels like more could’ve been made of this – or, alternatively, it could have been skipped as it didn’t really add much to this week’s story.

The Magistrate meets his end thanks to Raffi.

One big thing that we got from the moment at the end of last week, though, was the injury to Elnor. I have to confess that I didn’t see his death coming, despite the bad way he was in this time last week. Unlike Discovery, Picard hasn’t been afraid of killing off its characters! Season 1 left quite a body count behind, including Dahj, Icheb, Hugh, Dr Maddox, and Rizzo – but for some reason I really didn’t anticipate Elnor’s death. For that reason, perhaps, it hit me quite hard and definitely left me shocked.

Raffi is convinced that restoring the timeline will restore Elnor to life – although it should be noted that she has no proof of that. Cutting down a character in their prime, while they have unfinished business and a lot to live for, is a relatively new phenomenon on prime-time television, lifted from the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones which had pioneered the concept that I call the “disposable cast.” Some characters in those shows – and others – gave me similar feelings to Elnor: that they were gone too soon, that I would have liked to see them continue to grow and develop. I won’t drop spoilers for the aforementioned shows if you haven’t seen them, but if you have you’ll know the kinds of characters I’m thinking about.

R.I.P. Elnor.

Elnor is slightly different, though, to the likes of some of the main characters from other contemporary shows whose deaths his is trying to emulate. Elnor is young and he clearly had a lot of life in front of him, so some of that sadness lingers now that the initial shock has worn off. But Elnor is, to be blunt, less well-developed as a character at this point in Picard’s run. He joined the crew at basically the halfway point of Season 1, and really only had one episode in which he played a major role last season. He was there for the mission, and he had a wonderfully emotional scene in the season finale that set up the nature of his relationship with Raffi, but his death hits more like Tasha Yar’s in The Next Generation than one of the main characters from a show like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. It was a shock, certainly, but despite the devastated reaction from Raffi, I wouldn’t say that Elnor leaves a gaping void in Picard that the show will struggle to fill.

Michelle Hurd put in an outstanding and complex performance this week, showing us a real and raw presentation of abject grief. For all I said about Elnor’s relative irrelevance to the show as a whole, he mattered a great deal to Raffi. His loss hits her like Icheb’s hit Seven in Season 1 – and I wonder if that will be a source of bonding between the two of them later in the season. Both lost surrogate son figures; of all the people that Raffi could turn to for understanding, support, and help, Seven is by far best-placed to offer that.

Michelle Hurd put in a riveting, emotional performance as Raffi this week.

It’s interesting to see Picard showing us this kind of presentation of grief, because that’s something that has been present in Discovery throughout its fourth season, which came to a close in very emotional style this week. Stay tuned for that review, by the way! Discovery took a look at themes of trauma and grief, and while it didn’t always pull it off perfectly or dedicate enough time to some of its characters, it was a significant part of the story of that series. Bringing grief into Picard gives the show a kind of thematic tie to Discovery that I wasn’t expecting, and it will be interesting to see if we get a different take on a similar concept here. Comparing how the two shows approach the subject will be interesting to see in the episodes that lie ahead.

I can’t tell at this stage if Raffi’s belief that Elnor can be resurrected is something that the series will pay off later in the season. Is she right about that? If so, the time-loop storyline will have a very Star Trek and sci-fi vibe to it. If not, will Raffi have to confront her grief and loss again when she returns to the 25th Century? I really can’t tell if this is an elaborate fake-out or if Picard has permanently killed off poor Elnor.

Elnor was introduced in Season 1.

We got a fairly common Star Trek trope to set up the next part of the story: the transporter malfunction! Seven and Raffi were able to successfully transport from wherever La Sirena crashed to Los Angeles, but Rios materialised two storeys up and had a hard (and very gory) landing on the pavement! This led, in turn, to another fairly common Star Trek time travel story: interacting with someone native to this era.

I wonder if Rios being separated from his combadge will be significant to the story. Could we learn, perhaps, that Rios’ badge is the point of divergence; if it fell into the wrong hands, could someone in 2024 use it to manipulate events to their advantage? That would result in the story being a kind of temporal paradox: Rios travelled back in time because Rios lost his combadge in the past – there’s no clear beginning or end point to such a loop. Paradoxes can be hard to get right – and they irk me, usually – so I kind of hope this isn’t the way that the story is going to go.

Rios’ lost combadge.

Still, Rios has a lot of work to do if he’s going to recover his badge! This side of the story felt quite politically charged, focusing on the issues of accessible, affordable healthcare and immigration, both of which are political hot potatoes in the United States. As a non-American, perhaps some of the nuances of that debate are lost on me, but I think the presentation of the clinic and later the police officers worked well; it succeeded at communicating the idea that this version of 2024 is rather dystopian, while simultaneously feeling uncomfortably close to reality. I’ve never seen a real-world immigration raid on a clinic, but I’ve seen enough news reports about police brutality in the United States to find this presentation believable.

The choice of 2024 may have some greater story significance that will be revealed as the season progresses, but in one significant way I think it’s already paying off. 2024 isn’t right now – it’s still two years away. Thus Picard is close enough to the present day that everyday objects look familiar, but it’s also just far enough into the future to say something like: there’s still time to avoid taking things to this extreme. In the case of the immigration raid and the overly-aggressive police, Picard is saying that yes, these things happen today, but we still have time to prevent this kind of thing from happening to a clinic in 2024. It’s simultaneously gritty realism but with that slight Star Trek edge of “things don’t have to turn out this way” that the franchise has always espoused.

The police raid on Teresa’s clinic.

As this side of the story continues, I think we’re going to see the immigration angle looked at in a bit more detail. Technically, Rios is “undocumented,” to use the contemporary term; he doesn’t have a 2024 US passport or work visa, so it seems like he’ll be in a bit of trouble with the authorities. What consequences that might have for the timeline are not clear, but it’s an interesting side-story that I hope Picard will have enough time to do justice to. A big topic like illegal immigration isn’t something that can be looked at for a few minutes in an episode or two; it needs proper development to avoid feeling tokenistic.

I enjoyed the new character of Teresa – the doctor at the clinic Rios visited. It can be difficult to set up a brand-new character if there’s limited screen time, but I felt that Teresa was believable; not overly virtuous as to feel like a one-dimensional paragon trope, and with enough complexity to feel like an authentic inhabitant of this version of Los Angeles. Sol Rodriguez did a great job bringing the character to life, and I hope we see more from Teresa next week.

Teresa with Rios’ combadge.

We also got our first connection to the Deep Space Nine episode Past Tense on this side of the story! The two-parter, which I put on my list of episodes that I thought could make good background viewing for Picard Season 2, also visited the year 2024. In that story, which is more than 25 years old now, Captain Sisko and the crew of the USS Defiant found themselves in California in the same year as Picard and the crew of La Sirena! There were two mentions of Sanctuary Districts that I caught in Assimilation – one on a sign behind Raffi shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles, and another at the clinic with Rios. There was also a mention of “UHC cards” as Rios and Teresa were being arrested.

These oblique references to Past Tense could be all there is; little easter eggs to get Trekkies like us excited! There could be more to come, though, with the inclusion of a character called “the Watcher” who’s seemingly aware of time travel. We don’t know who this character is yet, though I think we’ve glimpsed them in one of the trailers, but it stands to reason that if they’re aware of time travel they might also know about Sisko’s temporal whoopsie! But that’s a theory for next time.

A sign that mentions Sanctuary Districts.

I loved the design of the tricorder that was used in this episode. Dr Jurati, while she was scanning the Borg Queen, used a tricorder that looked like a darker, updated version of the ones seen in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, and while it was subtle and not shown off on screen for a huge amount of time, it looked great! The design work this season has really leaned into The Next Generation era aesthetic in a much stronger way than Season 1 did, probably in part in response to some of the criticisms that the first season received.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I think that – based on the first three episodes, at least – if Picard had started with a story like this one, using more of those familiar design elements, the show would have been better-received. There’d still be critics – some anti-Trek social media groups literally make money by hating on Star Trek these days – but for viewers who tuned into the first few episodes and decided that Picard Season 1 “didn’t feel like Star Trek,” I really believe that a lot of that could have been avoided. Season 2 is doing a much better job of balancing the classic look and feel of The Next Generation era with a more modern style of television storytelling, at least in some ways, than Season 1 did.

The Confederation timeline tricorder.

On the Borg Queen side of the story, I’m not sure we saw quite enough in the first part of the episode to really set up the idea that Picard had to make a choice between saving the Queen and saving Elnor. It seemed to be something that the story raced past, and as a whole I’d say that Picard’s response to what happened with Elnor was perhaps a little cold. We’ve seen in dozens of stories in The Next Generation that Picard is pragmatic; he can look beyond the emotions present in a difficult moment and focus on what needs to be done. But here, especially given the way his non-response to the loss of someone close to him contrasts so strongly with how Raffi was feeling, perhaps we should’ve seen something from Picard to indicate how he was feeling.

One thing that might be controversial in Assimilation is the way that Dr Jurati was able to connect herself to the Borg Queen. This isn’t something we’ve seen before, and while the Queen was unconscious during the connection, it feels like an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Plugging oneself into the Borg Queen in any way seems like it opens up the door for her to connect to you – potentially assimilating Dr Jurati.

Dr Jurati plugged herself into the Borg Queen.

If even one single Borg nanoprobe were to make its way down that cable, it could potentially replicate itself inside her body and assimilate her later on – and for all we know, that could be where the story is going to go in the weeks ahead! I didn’t dislike this idea, though. I felt it worked well as a story beat and gave Dr Jurati a dangerous mission of her own while the others went off to Los Angeles.

The interplay between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen in this episode carried on a theme from last time and is one of the most interesting dynamics in the series at the moment. I hope we get to see more of their sparring, and as a cyberneticist Dr Jurati has a very strong interest in all things Borg. That’s also something that the series could draw on to make this connection between them – now a physical connection – even more deep and interesting.

What will happen next in this evolving relationship?

I had gone into Assimilation expecting the dynamic between Picard and the Borg Queen to be one of the most interesting, but aside from a few lines that they had, the focus on this side of the story was more on Dr Jurati. If we think back to Season 1, Picard had to confront his past with the Borg in a very traumatic way. We saw that in the episode The Impossible Box first and foremost, where he suffered flashbacks and a kind of breakdown after beaming aboard the Artifact, but also in Et in Arcadia Ego, where he confronted xBs after the Artifact had crash-landed. Being called “Locutus” was incredibly disturbing for him then, but he seems to have largely gotten over that as of Assimilation.

Perhaps we’re in a “new season, new story” situation; the series already showed us Picard dealing with his Borg past, so this time around we’re going to look at different characters and get a different angle on things. That’s fine, and I find the relationship between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen truly an engaging and fascinating one. But it does feel a little odd, especially having recently re-watched Season 1, to see Picard rather unbothered by being face-to-face with the Borg Queen.

The episode didn’t spend a huge amount of time with Picard himself.

The Borg Queen is the embodiment of Picard’s worst nightmares; a reminder of the worst days of his life. She is, depending on how we consider her existence in different physical bodies, literally the person who inflicted the worst torture that he’d ever known. Being face-to-face with her feels like it should have more of an impact on Picard, and while I like the Dr Jurati angle and basically everything else in the story at this point, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a hole here.

We’ll have to look at this in more detail in my next theory post, but I wonder if the Borg Queen might be up to something in the 21st Century. Dr Jurati told us that she was trying to communicate while unconscious; could she be trying to contact other Borg, either across the galaxy in this time period or in the 25th Century somehow? Could the Borg have been responsible for the change to the timeline in the first place?

The Borg Queen in Assimilation.

I’m not sure yet where Picard is going with the “Seven of Nine likes the way she looks” angle. That might be an oversimplification, but I like that the series isn’t just using her changed no-implant look as a visual hook for the trailers and pre-season marketing material. After a lifetime of being treated differently for her residual implants, as she commented to Picard when they reunited in The Star Gazer, Seven seems to be enjoying a sense of newfound freedom.

The little girl who saw her materialise treated her like a superhero, whereas Seven has perhaps feared being seen as a supervillain, and that moment kind of encapsulated the way she’s enjoying the “normal” reactions from people. Perhaps this could be argued to be a comment from the series about the way Voyager treated Jeri Ryan – putting her in tight “catsuits” to try to capitalise on her physical appearance. It’s subtle, but perhaps this is Star Trek’s way of recognising a mistake from the past.

This little girl made a big impression on Seven of Nine.

Assimilation was a fast-paced episode with some emotional punches and plenty of strong, enjoyable moments. Picard Season 2 is off to a great start! But after three big changes of scene across the first three episodes, we need to start settling in and allowing the story to unfold. In a way I hope we haven’t seen the last of the Confederation timeline, as the setting is ripe for exploration, but we probably saw enough last week that, combined with Elnor’s death, has given Picard and the crew motivation to fix the damage to the timeline.

I’m wondering where Soji is – she’s been absent now for two whole episodes. I’m also wondering just how long Picard and the crew will actually spend in 2024: it doesn’t seem like they could be there for the rest of the season, especially with the unresolved Borg threat in the prime timeline. There are some fun relationship dynamics developing between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen, between Raffi and Seven, between Rios and Teresa, and the anger Raffi feels toward Picard.

At this relatively early stage we’ve already been treated to three strong episodes that have kick-started the season. I hope Picard Season 2 can keep up this high quality!

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.