Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2.
For the second week in a row I found it difficult to get excited about Star Trek: Picard. My weekly appointment with Star Trek has been something I’ve looked forward to going back to Lower Decks’ second season last year, and with only a few breaks in between batches of episodes we’ve had a ton of Trek to enjoy over the last few months. But the truth is that Picard’s time travel to the present-day storyline isn’t one I feel all that excited about, and without that excitement I’ve found that I’m watching the series more out of a sense of obligation than enjoyment.
Without wanting to over-sensationalise things, I kind of feel “catfished” by Picard Season 2. The Star Gazer was so utterly fantastic that I’ve gone back and watched it at least a dozen times at this point. But the season it kicked off has got bogged down in a time travel story that I’m struggling to remain invested in. There have been some wonderful moments of characterisation – as indeed we saw this week with Two of One – but overall… the season is on course to be a disappointment, probably ranking lower on my list than Season 1.
When the first major trailer showed off the time travel aspect of the story I was concerned that this is how I’d feel, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Star Trek can do time travel exceptionally well, even with a modern-day focus, and I hoped to be pleasantly surprised by a story involving Q, the Borg Queen, Guinan, and so on. And across the season so far there are plenty of mysterious elements, unanswered questions, and more that I find mildly interesting… but I can’t muster much more than that.
I suspect that when I look back at the season as a whole I’ll say it works far better as a binge-watch than it does as a weekly series, and that’s a position I would’ve never expected to be in. Generally speaking, I prefer it when a new TV series releases its episodes weekly like this. I like having time in between each episode to digest what’s happened and get ready for the next outing. But with Picard Season 2, even if the Admiral and his crew make it back to the 25th Century next week, there’ll still be this rather drawn-out chunk of the story in the middle of the season that’s really starting to drag. If it takes them until the season finale to make it home, that feeling will be even stronger.
So once again it took me a few days to even feel up to watching the latest Picard episode. Whereas I’m usually feeling so excited to have new Star Trek that I can’t wait to dive in… for the second week in a row I just found myself feeling apathetic.
The whole “let’s go undercover at a fancy party” setup that had been established last week is also a premise that I’ve never been wild about. And while Two of One pulled it off reasonably well, I feel that it still hampered the plot to a significant degree. There were moments of contrived drama that were so extreme they felt almost toe-curlingly cringeworthy, with Picard and the crew facing off against Adam Soong and a team of party security guards.
The runtime of Two of One was shorter than expected at less than forty minutes (closer to thirty-five excluding credits, opening titles, and a recap of previous events), and this also got in the way of the story. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time with Picard and the crew dodging 21st Century party security staff as if they were in some kind of Hitman video game, but there’s no escaping the fact that several of the episode’s major plot points were raced through in pretty quick fashion. At one point, Adam Soong seemed to have rumbled Picard to the event’s security team, but mere moments later this angle was dropped. It was one of several elements that could have been made more of – even if it wasn’t my favourite part of the story, seeing it cut short was odd.
The highlight by far was Picard’s conversation with his ancestor Renée. This moment really captured the feel of “classic” Picard; his uplifting words to her could’ve come from any one of dozens of episodes of The Next Generation, and reminded me why I love this character so much and why I had been so excited in 2018 when it was announced that he was coming back. Picard doesn’t have to be an action hero to be a wonderful and inspiring captain – he uses his words and diplomatic skills to move people. Credit must go to the writers of this episode – Cindy Appel and Jane Maggs – who beautifully and perfectly managed to recapture the magic of Jean-Luc Picard in that moment. The writers demonstrated not only an understanding of Picard’s character, but a real love and respect for him too.
I’ve long been an advocate for better representation of mental health in entertainment, and again Picard’s conversation with Renée serves as an excellent example of that. Though the meeting between the two of them was brief, what Picard had to say was incredibly impactful, and there are several lines from their conversation that have the potential to be remembered as iconic lines from this beloved character.
Picard also seemed to be drawing on his own experiences in Season 1 as he spoke to Renée, which is something I appreciated. There were some viewers who felt that Picard was “too depressed” at the beginning of Season 1, and that they didn’t like that presentation of the character. But as I argued at the time, where Picard began the story was not as important as what happened to him and the journey he undertook. He found his own “light;” his own glimmer of hope back then through his meeting with Dahj, and that set him on a path to recovery. He was trying to offer that same kind of hope to Renée, and there’s a powerful message there. Even when things seem dark and depressing, there is hope. That’s not only a message that people suffering from clinically-diagnosed depression need to hear – everyone needs to hear those words sometimes. That makes the entire sequence something that I think many viewers would be able to relate to. All in all, a powerful moment.
We’ll return to the party in a moment, but there was another major revelation in Two of One that’s worth talking about. One of the episode’s biggest reveals is that Kore – the “daughter” of Dr Adam Soong – is, in fact, some kind of clone or genetic experiment rather than his natural offspring. As always, I’ll caveat what I’m about to say by saying that my thoughts could shift depending on how this storyline unfolds, but for now I confess that this leaves me distinctly unimpressed. There are two main reasons why.
Firstly, one of the most interesting things about Dr Soong in his appearance last week was this idea of desperation. Dr Soong wasn’t necessarily a bad person, but he was someone willing to go to extreme lengths to save someone he loved and cared for – his own daughter. This left him open to unethical behaviour and to manipulation from Q, but at the core there was an understandable, sympathetic, and even somewhat relatable character. Anyone who’s ever loved someone or lost a close friend or family member could feel some kind of empathy with Dr Soong. Maybe what he did crossed a line, but he wasn’t a villain in the usual sense of the word. He found himself in opposition to Picard and Picard’s mission through a mere accident of circumstances, and there was value in a morally complex character like that.
The revelation that his scheming goes far deeper than we realised, and that his unethical behaviour is nothing new, risks seriously detracting from the character. Gone is any sense of sympathy or empathy, and an entire dimension that Dr Soong had vanished in an instant. He feels smaller this week, less of a well-rounded human being and more of a flat, uninteresting “mad scientist” character trope. Robbed of his sympathetic motivation to save his daughter, we now see him as someone who seems to engage in unethical and forbidden science for the sake of it. That’s something I find rather disappointing at this juncture, as Dr Soong becomes less interesting as he turns into a fairly standard Star Trek character archetype.
The second reason why this particular story beat fell flat for me was the involvement of Kore. I noted last week that it was odd to have so many new characters played by returning actors, and Kore was one of the characters I pointed out, as she’s played by Soji actor Isa Briones. A huge part of Soji’s story in Season 1 was discovering her own synthetic nature, coming to terms with the fact that much of her life had been an elaborately-constructed lie, and finding her own place in the aftermath of that. Kore’s discovery in Two of One would already feel repetitive given the Soong connection and Soji’s story last season, but this repetitiveness was absolutely hammered home with all the subtlety of a brick to the face because of the fact that Isa Briones is playing this role.
There could well be some kind of connection between Soji and Kore that’s yet to be revealed, in which case there may be more to say. But as things sit right now, it feels like this casting choice was a mistake. In a story that already brought back familiar faces in unfamiliar roles, having Isa Briones’ new character going through a remarkably similar storyline to Soji’s last season doesn’t feel like some kind of poetic symmetry… it feels like a recycled story beat. Not even a riff on the same concept, it comes across as a cheap copycat of what came before, bringing remarkably little to the table that we could even call superficially new or different.
This may set the stage for Kore to somehow come to the aid of Renée or to Picard and the crew of La Sirena, so stay tuned for my theory post for more on that! There’s also the distinct possibility of further developments on this side of the story that could re-energise it and improve things. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed as the season continues to unfold.
The interplay between the Borg Queen and Dr Jurati had been one of my favourite parts of the last few episodes; there’s been something absolutely delicious about the way they talked around one another aboard La Sirena. Following the revelation at the end of last week’s episode that the Borg Queen had done something to Dr Jurati using her assimilation tubules in her dying moments, I was curious to see how this dynamic would evolve.
Fortunately I think it remains one of the season’s stronger storylines, and with Dr Jurati potentially losing control of herself to the Borg Queen, that could set up a whole new direction for the story to go. If a Borg Queen, semi-restored and potentially regenerating her abilities, is now loose in the 21st Century, that could even lead to a cessation of hostilities between Q and Picard; they may need to set their differences aside to prevent the Queen from assimilating more and more humans! Again, stay tuned for my theory post for an expanded look at this idea.
Alison Pill played this dual role well, communicating successfully the difference between the moments when Dr Jurati was in control and when the Borg Queen was in control. This can be an acting challenge that isn’t easy to pull off, especially when it has to be somewhat subtle, but a combination of a great performance and some clever direction by Jonathan Frakes meant it stuck the landing.
Seeing Dr Jurati struggle with remaining in control and battling against a “voice in her head” that no one else could see or understand was perhaps the episode’s second mental health allegory – albeit an unintended one, perhaps. It was one I found very relatable, and there were definitely aspects of the conversations Dr Jurati had with the Borg Queen inside her own body that hit close to home as someone with a mental health condition. Both Alison Pill and Annie Wersching deserve a lot of credit for the way they brought this to screen, and it was a powerful part of the episode.
We got a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with Raffi this week, as she continues to struggle with the grief she feels in the wake of Elnor’s death. More could’ve been made of this, and while Michelle Hurd did well with the very short scene she had at communicating how Raffi is struggling – and struggling alone – in an episode that already felt cut-down, I felt that more time could be dedicated to this storyline. Right now, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; treading water in the background while other stories take centre-stage.
There was a moment between Rios and Raffi that could’ve been expanded upon to further this story. Literally just an extra minute or two of dialogue between them could’ve begun to set the stage for Raffi to reach out and ask for help, or take the story in a different direction. As it is, it felt more like a repetition of the same hallucination she had last week rather than any real progress being made with this storyline. Again, though, there’s value in almost any depiction of mental health on screen, and seeing Raffi experiencing these post-bereavement hallucinations has merit. I just wish the past couple of episodes had made more of it.
I spoke last week about how Rios has been a disappointment in recent episodes, not because I didn’t enjoy the immigration storyline, but because of how he seems to have forgotten about his crew and his ship. The fact that he’s gone five episodes without so much as thinking about the USS Stargazer and its crew continues to feel regressive, and overall Rios has taken massive backwards steps since the season premiere. This remains a source of disappointment, and again it’s something that Two of One did nothing to address.
In that same conversation with Raffi, there was the potential for Rios to share his own sense of loss or his worries about the crew of the Stargazer. As things stand, if the timeline is restored in exactly the way it was then the Stargazer will be lost with all hands when the ship self-destructs. Instead we got a tonally weird Rios, self-indulgently revelling in the excesses of 21st Century high society – cigars, rich canapés, even old-fashioned matches. Not only does this continue this unfortunate regression, with Rios no longer feeling like a Starfleet captain, but it also presents an incredibly odd contrast to how Rios was presented just a couple of episodes ago when he found himself detained by the authorities and facing deportation.
There were some interesting moments in Two of One, and some callbacks to past iterations of the franchise that were little treats for returning fans. Picard and Renée discussing OV-165 – one of the futuristic spacecraft seen in the opening title sequence of Enterprise – was neat, for example. I’m also intrigued by Picard’s new synthetic body shorting out a defibrillator; the exact nature of synths like Picard and Soji has never really been explored – they seem to be human enough to pass basic scans and such, but yet are also inhuman enough to cause damage to equipment like this. As with things like the Confederation’s defeat of the Borg, it would be interesting to learn more about the exact nature of Picard’s synthetic status.
Speaking of Picard on the operating table, I do have a couple of gripes with the way the episode ended. After Picard pushed Renée out of the way of the car, Two of One promptly dropped her side of the story. Considering that Renée was in a very fragile emotional state, being almost run down by a car – and seeing a man who had been so kind to her badly injured – has the potential to have a massive impact on her, yet this is something the episode didn’t even pretend to try and explore. This feels very odd in context, and anyone who’s ever suffered from the anxiety and depression that seems to be afflicting Renée can tell you that even seemingly minor events or bumps in the road can be enough to completely throw you off-course. In short, although Picard’s speech helped Renée and lifted her mood for a time, seeing him badly injured – in an act of self-sacrifice to save her, no less – seems like it would have had an affect on her, and could have even undermined the entire mission.
The second point is much more of a nitpick, but I’ve never liked the way that car-versus-pedestrian accidents like this are depicted in fiction. The injuries one can typically expect from being hit by a car are things like broken bones, blunt-force trauma to the legs, arms, ribs, etc. Being knocked out or concussed can be part of that, but these kinds of collisions are often depicted in a very contrived way, and that’s how this one felt. It felt rather like a scene from a soap opera, both in terms of the way it was scripted and the way it was filmed and edited.
However, I often find myself saying that contrived and awkward moments can set up much better things to come, so I’ll put a pin in it for now and wait to see what the next episode brings! An exploration of Picard’s subconscious could be interesting in and of itself, and I daresay there will be plot-relevant points there to help further some of the season’s story arcs too!
So that’s it for this week, I guess. A short episode that could’ve been more than it was, hampered by a setting I’m not really invested in, a couple of major story beats that feel repetitive or derivative, and bringing more than one cliché to the table is basically how I’d summarise Two of One. There were some great moments contained within that framework, though – Picard’s speech to Renée probably being the highlight.
I’m still very keen to get back to the 25th Century to see what the heck’s going on with that new Borg ship. For me, the past few episodes have dragged, and I think the time travel aspect of the story could have been cut down by making a handful of different choices. That’s just my personal taste, though, and I get that a lot of folks are totally fine with these kinds of stories. There are still some wonderful moments of characterisation and some clever allegories in Picard Season 2.
Perhaps if the next couple of episodes get things back on track, I’ll look on Two of One more favourably in hindsight.
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.