Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 4: Watcher

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 GenerationVoyagerFirst Contact, and Discovery.

For me, Picard Season 2 had been coasting on the incredible high that the season premiere delivered. Now that we’ve hit the fourth episode of the season – almost halfway through – I felt the quality dip ever so slightly, dropping down from an incredibly strong start. That’s not to say I didn’t have an enjoyable time with Watcher it’s week, but rather that Picard Season 2 has begun to settle into its time travel story.

As I said a few months ago when looking at one of the pre-season trailers, stories involving time travel to the modern day have never been my favourites in Star Trek. In addition to the omnipresent problem of crafting a time travel narrative that makes sense and doesn’t rely on paradoxes or other contrivances, I really just feel that a big part of what makes Star Trek so appealing – its optimistic, high-tech future – is missing. Watcher gave us glimpses of that thanks to the scenes set aboard La Sirena, but the bulk of the story took Picard, Raffi, Seven, and Rios to contemporary Los Angeles. It told an interesting story – one that, as a mid-season episode, we’ll have to reserve judgement on aspects of until we know how storylines unfold – but one that was constrained by that setting, at least for me.

An establishing shot of modern-day Los Angeles.

For the first time this season I felt that Picard was in a rush. There were a couple of significant moments early in Watcher that seemed to be raced past in a flash, despite the fact that we’d realistically expect them to take longer. The first was Seven, Raffi, and a nurse from Teresa’s clinic being able to identify Rios from an incredibly vague description, and the second came a few moments later when Picard and Dr Jurati figured out that they only had three days to avert a change to the timeline.

In both cases, a longer episode (or a longer season) could’ve spent just a little more time to help these points unfold naturally. The idea that the nurse would’ve been able to figure out that Seven and Raffi were talking about Rios from the description of a “scruffy” man is ridiculous considering the clinic’s clientele. And when it came to Dr Jurati and Picard, the concept of subconsciously drawing on a particular number was interesting – but the rushed pacing meant it felt poorly-executed and underdeveloped. I certainly had a hard time buying that they’d been able to hit on the solution to that particular puzzle within literally a minute of exploring it. In the days of The Next Generation, when seasons were longer, that could’ve been almost an entire episode!

Seven of Nine and Raffi visited Terea’s clinic… briefly.

There’s another thing I’m struggling to follow on this side of the story, too: why is the Borg Queen suddenly being so evasive and unhelpful? She agreed to help Picard travel back to the 21st Century in order to repair the timeline – a timeline which saw the Borg wiped out in a way that I sincerely hope we find out more details about. She needs the timeline to be repaired as much as they do; their motivations are the same even if this is merely an alliance of convenience. Yet after crash-landing in the 21st Century – and, if Picard and Dr Jurati are correct, with merely three days to spare in order to prevent the divergence in time – the Borg Queen suddenly stopped being helpful and even tried to hide the Watcher’s location and the date of the divergence. Why?

At the moment it seems to be that the answer is “because plot,” and that’s just not very satisfying. If she had told Picard and Dr Jurati where, when, and how to meet the mysterious Watcher, half the plot of Watcher could’ve been skipped. It isn’t that the narrative in question was bad or unenjoyable, it’s just that it feels so very flimsy. A single question about one character’s behaviour or motivation is enough to send the whole house of cards tumbling down – and as someone who’s invested in the story of Picard and the world of Star Trek, I prefer to see stories with rock-solid foundations!

The Borg Queen in Watcher.

Leaving one person alone with the Borg Queen – especially Dr Jurati after her experience last week – seems like a very bad idea! I’m certain that this is setting up something that will be paid off later; their evolving relationship seems to stand as testament to that. In fact, the dynamic between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen is rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of the entire season – the way they tease one another, talk around and over each other, and betray each other’s trust is absolutely riveting to watch.

Alison Pill has brought a lot to the character of Dr Jurati, managing to successfully balance a character who has a definite comedic edge and light-heartedness with some incredibly deep and complex storylines. We saw in Season 1 how Dr Jurati was the brainwashed sleeper agent; an embedded spy who used her closeness to Picard to kill her friend and sometime lover Dr Maddox. That almost led her to suicide in one of Season 1’s most painfully raw sequences.

Dr Jurati in Watcher.

This time around, Dr Jurati is staring down one of the biggest villains in all of Star Trek: the Borg Queen. She’s allowing the Borg Queen to get inside her head – literally and figuratively – and while this week we saw that she still has the capacity to lie, hide things from the Borg Queen, and use her skills to her advantage, there’s a very real sense that the mask is slipping. With the two of them alone – potentially for days or longer – the Borg Queen could continue to push Dr Jurati and find an angle to successfully manipulate her.

Perhaps we’ll have to save this for my next theory post, but I wonder if there could be a catalyst for setting off this conflict. So far, in the time that’s passed since La Sirena arrived in the 21st Century, no one from that era has noticed the crash site… but could it be possible that someone is already on the way? We saw in one of the pre-season trailers a pair of characters who seemed to be in the early stages of assimilation; if someone noticed La Sirena’s crash landing, could police or military forces be en route? If so, perhaps Dr Jurati will have to team up with the Borg Queen to keep La Sirena out of their hands.

Who’s this chap that we glimpsed in a pre-season trailer?

Perhaps part of the reason why the scenes set aboard La Sirena felt so fun was because they were the only scenes in which Star Trek’s futuristic technology was centre-stage. As mentioned, time travel to the modern day may be a typical Star Trek story setup going all the way back to the first season of The Original Series… but these kinds of stories seldom end up as my favourites, personally speaking. Taken as a one-off episode or a two-part story, back in the days of longer seasons, I generally found the setup to be inoffensive enough, but as we’re settling into the 21st Century now, with everyone except Dr Jurati now firmly embedded on that side of the story, I’m getting the sense that the limitations of that setting are beginning to bite.

The “fish-out-of-water” side of sending 25th Century characters back in time was on full display as Seven of Nine and Raffi attempted to track down Rios, and that was certainly fun for a while. Their sequences in the stolen police car started off feeling exciting, particularly as Seven had to figure out how to drive a vehicle that she’s inherently unfamiliar with, but overall I felt that it probably ran a little too long. Once the basic concept had been shown off – that Seven of Nine is driving a stolen police car – there wasn’t really much more for that sequence to say; both metaphorically and literally, it didn’t go anywhere.

Grand Theft Auto: Star Trek edition.

For a crew who were warned about “butterflies” and the need to be incredibly careful about preserving the past, they certainly seem to be making a scene in 2024! Beaming Seven and Raffi out of the police car in broad daylight when they could be seen by at least one police officer feels like an incredibly risky move. I guess this side of the story is also considering the impact of Raffi’s grief about Elnor and how that could be impairing her judgement; it felt like we came close to a more detailed look at that concept but didn’t quite get there this week. Maybe it’ll be something that builds up over a few episodes before being talked about more openly and coming to a resolution.

For the first time since Elnor’s death, I got a sense that it could be more permanent than I’d initially thought. Raffi’s single-minded insistence that restoring the timeline will save him, and her unwillingness to even contemplate the possibility that it won’t, feels like a storyline that could end with her having to confront the reality that Elnor is really gone. Star Trek loves using technobabble to save the day – and that could still happen, don’t get me wrong – but if we consider Elnor less as a character in his own right and as more of a motivating factor in Raffi’s arc this season, he could well be permanently dead.

Raffi is convinced that Elnor can be saved.

Speaking of characters who seem to have been written out of the show – at least in the immediate term – where is Soji? I’m genuinely surprised that we’ve now had three episodes (out of a ten-episode season, remember) where she hasn’t appeared, and that comes after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in the season premiere that didn’t actually have a significant impact on the story. Are we going to see Soji at all this season, or will she perhaps cameo in the season finale to bookend things?

Considering Soji’s incredibly central role to the events of Season 1, it seems more than a little odd that Season 2 has gone in this direction. I felt that there was scope to see Soji in the Confederation timeline, and perhaps we will if we ever revisit that setting, but so far her absence has been noticeable. The fact that none of the other characters have so much as mentioned her by name hammers this home, too. Depending on how long the mission to 2024 lasts, there’s still time for Soji to have an impact on the story later on… but that prospect feels like it’s shrinking the longer the season remains in this time period.

We haven’t seen Soji since the season premiere.

But enough about who wasn’t included this week! There was a returning character that I would never have expected to see in a million years: the punk on the bus! This character made an incredibly unexpected yet welcome return from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and actor Kirk Thatcher reprised his role from that film. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling at seeing him again; this nod and wink to longstanding Trekkies was absolutely appreciated!

This is something that Picard has done really well even going back to Season 1. Bringing back characters and including little references and nods to the history of the franchise goes a long way to making the series feel connected to the rest of Star Trek. I would have never expected to see the punk on the bus from Star Trek IV make a return in Picard – and that’s what made it so special. I was grinning from ear to ear after this wonderful and unexpected scene, even more so because he seems to have learned a valuable lesson after his run-in with Kirk and Spock in 1986!

The best character surprise in all of modern Star Trek!

There are some things in Star Trek (and film and TV in a general sense) that I’ve never felt needed explaining. Why do characters look different in different iterations of the franchise, for example? The fact that certain characters have been recast – as Guinan was in Watcher or as the entire cast of The Original Series were for the Kelvin films – has honestly never been something that bothered me, and as a viewer I think a degree of leeway has to be offered when suspending our disbelief in these circumstances. It was possible to digitally de-age John de Lancie for his initial appearance as Q – and that moment was absolutely fantastic. But to digitally re-create a younger Whoopi Goldberg for Watcher would’ve either meant Guinan’s role in the story needed to be cut down, or it would’ve been phenomenally expensive to have a CGI character in all of these scenes.

In light of the way the Star Wars franchise has handled the return of some of its classic characters (too many, if you ask me) I can already anticipate that there will be some Trekkies who want to see Star Trek do the same; to use CGI and digital techniques more gratuitously in some of these circumstances. Personally, I don’t think it’s something that’s necessary – and as long as the newly-cast actor bears a passing resemblance to the original character, I’m more than happy to continue to suspend my disbelief! It’s worth remembering that Star Trek isn’t backed up by Disney-level money; some of the technologies that Star Wars can afford to use are very expensive, and I’d rather see the Star Trek franchise use its money more wisely rather than rely on digital gimmicks.

Guinan’s new look.

Speaking of things that are unnecessary: did we really need Watcher to explain why Picard has a British accent despite being from France? After 35 years and close to 200 appearances, are we not just happy to accept that that’s the way Picard talks? Again, it’s something that honestly never bothered me and I hadn’t even thought about – except in a very tongue-in-cheek way, perhaps.

In this case, it was partially an explanation for why Château Picard is abandoned in the 21st Century, and I appreciate that the writers didn’t just leave that unexplained. I just feel like there was an unnecessary attempt to tie in an aspect of Picard’s past with the way Sir Patrick Stewart speaks, and I’ve just never felt that it was a contradiction in the character of Admiral Picard in the first place, let alone one that needed to be given an in-universe explanation. Characters like Geordi La Forge or Hoshi Sato also don’t speak with the accents we might typically expect to hear in contemporary times from people born where they supposedly were, and again it’s never felt like a contradiction or something that begged an explanation.

Picard and Dr Jurati at the abandoned Château.

On Rios’ side of the story we got perhaps the smallest tease that we haven’t seen the last of Teresa. I inferred from her parting words to Rios that we might see her again. I didn’t really like the way that Rios told his life story to the prison guard; I didn’t see what the point was, other than presumably setting up some kind of contradiction or problem that might be referenced later on. It just felt unnecessary for him to tell the story of the Stargazer, Picard, and the 24th Century in this kind of strangely angry way. I get that Rios was feeling angry after seeing the injustices of 2024, but this doesn’t seem like a natural way for him to react.

I’d like to see something from Rios going forward to at least acknowledge the Stargazer; ever since being transplanted into the Confederation timeline he seems to have basically ignored or forgotten what happened. He’s the captain, and the crew under his command should be one of his top priorities, so to have not even so much as mentioned any of them for several episodes feels a little odd – and it’s beginning to erode Rios’ standing as a Starfleet captain. Even just a line or two of dialogue to say that he hopes restoring the timeline will mean they’ll be okay would do so much to alleviate this.

Rios on a bus.

The way Rios must be feeling about the crew of the Stargazer could also set up a connection between him and Raffi. The two characters have hardly said two words to each other for several episodes, yet the weight of responsibility and the sense of grief and loss that both must be feeling could be a way for them to connect. It seems, though, that Seven of Nine and Raffi are dealing with that particular storyline.

The story about illegal immigration and police brutality that Rios is involved in is a timely one, though, and one absolutely worth telling. There was some incredibly evocative cinematography from director Lea Thompson on this side of the story, with shots of Rios framed through the wires of the cage detaining him that really hit hard. As a non-American I fear some of the nuances of this story are lost on me, but many of the themes it touches on can apply here in the UK as well, unfortunately.

A caged Captain Rios.

It took me a moment to figure out why Guinan wasn’t familiar with Picard when he arrived at her bar. In-universe, Picard remembers the events of the episode Time’s Arrow, in which he met Guinan for the first time in the 19th Century. But because the timeline has been damaged, the 24th Century as we know it didn’t happen, which presumably means that the Confederation timeline version of Picard didn’t travel back to the 19th Century and never met Guinan. Time travel stories can be complicated, huh?

I enjoyed what Ito Aghayere brought to the role of Guinan. She played the character with a kind of world-weariness that I think a lot of us can relate to after a difficult few years. I didn’t expect that Picard Season 2 would spend much more time with Guinan after her short role in the season premiere – but I should’ve known from the fact that they made an entire new set for the bar that we weren’t only going to see it make a single appearance!

Ito Aghayere as Guinan in Watcher.

Having introduced Picard to the Watcher, setting up the next episode and presumably the next phase of the story, I’m not sure how much more time we’ll spend with Guinan. I hope this hasn’t been her sole appearance in this time period, though, as I feel there’s scope to spend more time with her and explore a little more of her past and her relationship with Picard. In Time’s Arrow we saw their first meeting from her point of view (although the shifting timeline has erased that, at least for now), but we’ve still never learned how they came to meet in the 24th Century, nor exactly why they struck up such a close bond. There’s scope to delve into that in more detail – if there’s time!

Because of the rushed ending to Season 1 and how that left a sour note, I’m conscious that the season is limited to just ten episodes – and while there have been interesting elements that I feel could be explored in more detail, overall I’d rather we got to the end of the story in a way that felt conclusive. If that means that some of these points of lesser importance don’t make it to screen, I’m okay with that.

Picard and Guinan.

One question I have about the Guinan story is this: if Time’s Arrow didn’t happen in this timeline, and Picard’s plan is to erase the Confederation timeline by preventing it from ever happening… will Guinan remember any of this? Or when the timeline is reset will she forget this meeting, and perhaps even this version of Earth? El-Aurians have a particular sensitivity to time, something Picard referred to in this episode as Af-Kelt, or time sickness, so maybe she’ll somehow be aware of two distinct encounters? I’m not sure… and it’s the kind of incredibly minor point that only Trekkies like us would get bogged down in!

As happened with Picard himself in Season 1, particularly at the beginning of the story, I can anticipate that some viewers will be put off by the disconnect between the previous presentation of Guinan as someone calm and ethereal with this new presentation of someone ready to give up on humanity. But just like with Picard, the point of this new presentation isn’t about where Guinan starts, but where she ends up. Even within the story of Watcher, Guinan already proved willing to listen to Picard, to help him when she learned who he was, and perhaps as a result we’ve begun to see that spark that we saw in Picard when Dahj helped set him on a new path last time. Even if Guinan makes no further appearances in the story, we’ve still seen in microcosm that narrative of someone who’d lost hope finding a glimmer of it.

Has Picard helped Guinan find a glimmer of hope?

I didn’t anticipate that the Watcher would be someone we knew. In fact I was a little taken aback by some of the online speculation in the days leading up to the episode’s broadcast about possibly Guinan being the Watcher, or maybe Soji, or perhaps someone from The Next Generation. People came up with some clever suggestions, but I felt sure that the Watcher would turn out to be a brand-new character. The fact that it was Laris caught me off-guard… and still leaves a lot of unanswered questions!

Some of these we’ll go into a little more detail on in my upcoming theory post, but in brief here’s what I’m wondering about: is this really Laris? By which I mean, is this character simply a younger version of the character that Picard will come to know as Laris in the late 24th Century? If not, is the Watcher simply assuming a form that Picard is familiar with – perhaps someone he loves? If it is Laris, that still doesn’t answer who she is and what she’s been doing with Picard all this time! Many of the suggestions I made last week – such as the Watcher being a member of the Q Continuum, a Prophet, or some kind of temporal agent – are all still in play based on where the episode ended.

The titular Watcher!

It was lovely to get a genuine surprise to close out a mysterious episode. Even though I’d seen speculation in the days before Watcher premiered, no one (at least that I’d seen, at any rate) had even suggested Laris might be the titular Watcher. Her inclusion at the end of the episode – seemingly in human form, no less – came as quite a surprise! The entire episode built up to this moment in a very clever way, and it was more than enough to feel like it ended on a high note.

So that was Watcher. It was a fine episode, a solid mid-season offering that moved several key storylines along but didn’t resolve any of them. There’s really only one drawback to Picard Season 2 right now, and for me that’s its modern-day setting. I’m sure there were reasons for this choice of setting – one of which, dare I suggest, may have been to keep costs down – but as I’ve tried to explain, such stories aren’t as enjoyable for me when I’m sitting down to watch Star Trek. I find myself wondering how long Picard and the crew are going to spend in 2024, perhaps even hoping that they’ll move on by the end of the next episode so we can get back to the 25th Century.

All that being said, I had a good time this week and I’m curious to see how the story will unfold. I’m about ready to see Rios reunited with Raffi and Seven of Nine, and I’m definitely curious to see more from Guinan and learn who the Watcher is and what they know! That’s not to mention Q… what’s going on with his powers? Stay tuned, because in the days ahead I’ll update my theory list, and I have a few ideas!

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.