Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.
If you read my review of the season premiere last week, there’s almost no need to read this! In short, many of the points I made last time are the same this time: Disengage was an episode with the same contradictory feel as The Next Generation, one in which the main storyline seemed to edge along at a very slow pace while several story beats rushed past too quickly, or else didn’t get enough time dedicated to them.
And those story beats are more or less the same ones as last time, too: Raffi’s undercover mission seemed to race by, some of the scenes between Picard and Jack could have been extended, Riker didn’t get a lot of time to shine, and even the intrigue on the Titan with Captain Shaw and Seven didn’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. As I said last week, it’s a story with a contradictory feel.
Let’s talk visuals. Both last week and this week, Picard looked incredibly washed-out and faded on my 4K HDR display. I tried adjusting my screen manually, but I could either get the default faded, washed-out look or I could get a horribly over-corrected, over-saturated look. Neither is right or natural, and the colour temperature of the season so far feels off. I hope this is something that Paramount can fix – but I doubt it.
In addition to the colour temperature issue, both episodes of the season so far have been incredibly dark. In multiple scenes and sequences – particularly those set in Raffi’s underworld city, but it wasn’t entirely restricted to that setting – it hasn’t always been easy to see what’s going on. Areas that should be in focus are poorly illuminated, and the washed-out effect doesn’t help here either. Again, this is something I’d hope Paramount would have been able to correct behind-the-scenes when it became apparent… but so far, no luck. I did manage to, shall we say, “source” a second copy of Disengage, but this was also plagued by the same issues.
There are really two parts to this complaint. The first is that this is a deliberate choice of cinematography, presenting scenes in a dark, under-illuminated way to try to achieve a certain visual effect. The limitations of this are apparent, and one need only look at similar complaints in other television shows to see why turning the brightness down isn’t a good idea.
Secondly we have the way episodes are compiled and compressed for streaming, and I think there’s a technical issue here that Paramount has yet to get to grips with. Because the episodes were dark to begin with, compressing them down for streaming may have contributed to this faded, washed-out look. My screen isn’t a cheap model by any means, but it’s a problem if the only time Picard can look reasonable is when it’s seen on an expensive, high-end OLED television set.
So let’s take a step back. Where are we in terms of story? After two complete episodes – a full 20% of the season – it still feels like we’re at the beginning. The main events of both The Next Generation and Disengage appear to have taken place, for the most part, over the span of a few hours; the exception being Raffi’s sequences, which, despite being rushed, actually seem to take place over a longer spell of time.
This episode focused on Jack Crusher, the character who many of us had guessed was the son – somehow – of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher. This focus on Jack’s identity and backstory was worth doing, and although some moments didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an interesting and engaging story – one that has me wanting to learn more. But again, in terms of the overall narrative arc of the season, it feels as though Disengage crawled along at a pretty slow pace.
Two episodes in and we’ve barely gotten off the starting line. Dr Crusher’s plea for help and Picard and Riker’s off-the-books rescue was the starting point for this story, yet after two entire episodes have passed, we haven’t moved much beyond that yet. It makes me feel as though some of the moments in Disengage could and perhaps should have been included last week.
The ten-episode seasons of modern television shows are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Picard would almost certainly never have been made if Paramount insisted on twenty episodes or more per season! And the serialised nature of these stories makes a ten-episode season akin to a ten-part movie, which is a great thing in many ways. But on the other hand, these truncated seasons don’t have as much room for manoeuvre, so getting bogged down at the starting line – or spending too long on side-quests – can end up having a serious knock-on impact. We saw this with Picard in both its first and second seasons… and I can’t shake the feeling, even at this relatively early stage, that the same problem is about to reoccur.
Now for the contradiction! At several points, I felt that all we were getting of Riker were clips; cut-down snippets of what should’ve been longer scenes. There was scope to spend a lot more time with Riker as he tried to convince Picard of what he already knew: that Jack is his son. Having Riker realise that first was a genuinely great story point – one that showed just how close these two old friends are, and how Riker has a perceptiveness, even years later, that Picard can rely on. But it was blitzed through so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to really showcase this angle, and that’s a shame.
Re-establishing and evolving the relationship between Riker and Picard has been one of the best things about Star Trek: Picard, and feels like a real, solid justification for providing these characters with new storylines after such a long time. But it’s only really when the action slowed down in Season 1’s Nepenthe that the show truly excelled in terms of this kind of character-focused storytelling.
I’d have wanted to spend a bit more time with Riker this week, and the moments we got with him felt somehow cut-down. The problem, as I’ve said before in Picard, isn’t that the core idea is in any way bad, it’s that it needed more screen time to properly unfold. There was merit in Riker seeing the obvious, and using him as the point-of-view character to convey the truth of Jack’s parentage; revealing to us as the audience something Picard couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see. But that got lost because of how short most of Riker’s scenes were, unfortunately.
We continue to rush through Raffi’s story to such an extent that certain elements, such as the inclusion of her ex-husband, felt almost gratuitous; the story clearly doesn’t have time to delve into this relationship in a big way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last we see – or even hear – of Raffi’s ex, and as I’ve said about narrative elements in Picard more than once: good idea, not enough time to do anything meaningful with it.
Once again, Michelle Hurd excelled – but she did so in spite of the way the season has been scripted and/or edited. And despite jumping from point to point as she tried to chase down the terrorist or terrorists responsible for the attack, her storyline again feels like it hasn’t made a lot of progress from its start point.
Last week, Raffi was desperately trying to hunt down the person who stole “experimental weapons,” and this week she continued to do that. She found the broker who arranged the sale – but that’s all. Again, all of this could turn out to be okay… but I’m just worried about the pacing of the story in light of what happened in Seasons 1 and 2.
All that being said, the moments we got with Raffi this week were among my favourites in the episode – and are probably among Raffi’s most interesting scenes, from a narrative point of view, that we’ve gotten in the entire series to date. It’s absolutely true that Raffi’s underworld planet borrows a lot both visually and thematically from Star Wars and dystopian sci-fi, but I think there’s more than enough room in the Star Trek galaxy for places like this to exist. We’ve caught glimpses of such worlds in past iterations of the franchise, too, so I think it works well.
The scenes with Sneed – the Ferengi broker – were fantastic. At first, I wondered if there might be some kind of connection to Quark or perhaps DaiMon Bok with the introduction of a Ferengi character, but Sneed was perfectly interesting on his own. And the last-minute arrival of Worf to save the day – revealing himself as Raffi’s “handler” – capped off this story in pitch-perfect fashion. There are nitpicks here, sure, but overall I felt it worked well.
Let’s talk about Vadic, who made her first appearance of the season. I’m convinced that there’s more to Vadic than has been revealed so far – though it was noteworthy in Disengage that no one recognised her, or had even heard of her. That certainly calls into question some of the ideas that I and others may have had for who she could be and how she may be connected to Picard and the crew… but I don’t think it totally destroys all but the most outlandish of fan theories, so we’ll come back to that perhaps in my next theory update.
My concern about Vadic’s presentation in Disengage comes down to a single factor: her motivation. A villain this over-the-top (and Vadic was, for better or worse, certainly over-the-top in Disengage) needs to have a reason for being so. Khan – the character I and others compared Vadic with after her initial appearance in pre-season trailers – had a single-minded quest for vengeance. Like Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, he was willing to do anything and sacrifice anything to get his revenge on Kirk for years of being abandoned in a desolate wasteland, and that came across in his on-screen presentation.
If Vadic is motivated solely by money – as she claims – that seriously undermines her characterisation. Sure, Jack Crusher may be a valuable target – but does that justify the kind of “Khan meets the Wicked Witch of the West mixed with Dr Doofenshmirtz” presentation? Amanda Plummer really dialled it up to eleven with her villainous performance, letting every word, every syllable, drip with malice, and throwing in a wonderful cackle for good measure. But if Vadic only cares about money… I just feel there’s a disconnect between the character and the performance if that’s the case.
But there are still eight episodes left for Vadic’s story to unfold, and for her to become more than just a one-dimensional villain trope. I’d hoped we might’ve seen the beginnings of that in some way this week, and going into the episode I was probably more excited to meet Vadic than I was about any other character. While I wouldn’t describe her as a “let-down,” she’s definitely a character I think we need to see more of before we can really assess whether or not she’s going to work, and whether her inclusion will end up being a positive thing for the season… or might end up detracting from it.
What we’ve heard about Vadic and her crew from Jack – as well as a couple of remarks of a rumoured ship matching the Shrike’s design from Seven of Nine – tells us that she has resources at her disposal. The Shrike was armed to the teeth, and more than outmatched the Titan – which Captain Shaw described this week as a vessel of exploration, which I thought was interesting. But that doesn’t really speak to who Vadic is or what her overall motivation might be – especially if, as the season seems to be suggesting, she’s the terrorist mastermind that Raffi and Worf have been chasing and who attacked the Federation facility last week.
So again, we need to learn more about this character. We obviously weren’t going to get her entire backstory and an explanation of her mission in a single episode, and I wasn’t expecting to. But I was expecting to at least see the beginnings of that – and so far, it feels that Vadic’s true identity and motivation is rather obscured. I don’t believe that “money” will be all there is to it… but just in case I’m wrong about that, let me say right now that it will be monumentally unsatisfying if that somehow were to be the case.
In The Wrath of Khan, Kirk learned that he had a son: David Marcus. Continuing the theme of Season 3 being “Picard does The Wrath of Khan,” we have Jack Crusher being Picard’s own son. This revelation – that at least some fans saw coming – is an interesting one, though I hope the mechanics of how it came to be will be explained… somehow. I don’t need a detailed, no-holds-barred flashback sequence (please no) but some kind of explanation of the events surrounding Jack’s conception wouldn’t go amiss.
As I said last week: there’s a question of timing that I find particularly interesting. According to Riker, Dr Crusher has been absent from her friends’ lives for approximately twenty years, but Jack is clearly not twenty years old or younger – no offence to actor Ed Speleers! – which means he had to have been around before her unannounced departure. Could we learn that a threat against Beverly, Jack, or perhaps against Picard might’ve prompted her to take him and leave?
The question of safety is also a pertinent one. Based on one of Dr Crusher’s lines from pre-season trailers, in which she says something to Picard about “attempts on [his] life,” I’d been wondering whether Dr Crusher may have taken her son as far away as possible in order to keep him safe. But Jack’s long list of criminal offences and the huge bounty seemingly placed on his head would seem to run completely counter to that; at the very least, if this was Dr Crusher’s intention, she hasn’t done a very good job of it!
If we’re sticking with comparisons to The Wrath of Khan, will Jack Crusher end up meeting the same fate as David Marcus? And if so, will his death have the same kind of effect on Picard as David’s did on Kirk? It would be cruel to introduce this character and begin to explore his background and his relationship with both his mother and Picard only to see him killed off – but it could be poetic symmetry, too.
We’ve already seen Jack offering himself to Vadic in an attempted act of self-sacrifice – something not incomparable to how David stepped in to save Saavik’s life in The Search for Spock. Saavik’s name was seen, briefly, this week – used for the doomed shuttle that Picard and Riker piloted to the Eleos. According to background details released by Paramount, Saavik was the commanding officer of the original USS Titan in the late 23rd Century.
These references could be to honour the late Kirstie Alley, the first actress to play the role of Saavik, who passed away late last year. They could also just be coincidental references to tie Picard Season 3 into past iterations of Star Trek. But there’s also a very deliberate connection to The Wrath of Khan once again… and in light of what happened with David Marcus and Saavik, I can’t help but wonder whether the season is setting up Jack Crusher for a similarly sacrificial end.
I hope that there will be time to explore some of what Dr Crusher and Jack have been doing. Jack’s crimes can’t and shouldn’t just be hand-waved away by the story; such an important part of his background needs to be fleshed out. It won’t be enough to say “Jack’s a criminal,” and leave it at that – we need to know some of the details of why he broke the law, whether some or all of it could be morally justifiable, and why, when he’s supposedly on a “mission of mercy,” such law-breaking was required in the first place.
As with Raffi’s criminal underworld, I think there’s scope to show off a side of the Star Trek galaxy that hasn’t always been front-and-centre, and there’s definitely a pathway to explain Jack’s criminality in a way that feels natural and even sympathetic. Saying that he “did what he had to do” in order to provide medical assistance is going to be part of that, for sure – but I hope there will be time to go into a bit more detail.
There’s also clearly more to Captain Shaw than meets the eye. Vadic alluded to his “psychological profile,” and I think that could potentially connect with his anti-Borg prejudice that we saw in last week’s episode. If Captain Shaw had lost someone to the Borg, such an event could have had an impact on him – and could explain why he’s so openly hostile to Picard and Seven of Nine in particular. I keep expecting Captain Shaw to be killed off – but there may be more of an arc for this character than I’d been expecting.
What I liked about Shaw’s story this week was the moral ambiguity of it. It’s tempting to portray Shaw as being cowardly; turning over Jack to Vadic in order to save himself. But there’s clearly more to it than that – he takes the responsibility of command very seriously, and his number one overriding priority seems to be to keep his crew safe. He’s outside Federation space, with no immediate hope of backup, facing an opponent that clearly outmatches him in terms of firepower… so risking the lives of everyone on his ship to save a wanted criminal is a big ask – even if we as the audience would want to see the son of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher kept safe.
Am I warming up to Captain Shaw?! That’s certainly not something I expected! But under the rude, unpleasant, and even bigoted exterior, I think we’ve seen glimpses of a good, upstanding captain. Putting aside the anti-Borg prejudice, Shaw reminds me, as I said last time, of the likes of The Search for Spock’s Captain Stiles, Discovery’s Captain Lorca, and The Next Generation’s Captain Jellico. Shaw isn’t wrong in his read on Picard and Riker – who snuck aboard his ship and took it on an unsanctioned mission. His anti-Borg attitude may be extreme, and targeting the wrong people, but I feel we may be on the verge of finding out how it came about. And finally, when he realised the true circumstances he was faced with, Shaw did the right thing – albeit at the last possible moment.
So Captain Shaw has turned out to be more complex than I expected. What’s more, he’s different enough from Chris Rios to provide some kind of justification for the latter’s departure from the series. These storylines wouldn’t have worked with Captain Rios, and while others could have been created to get the rest of the characters to similar narrative places, it would have been a lot more friendly and less adversarial. That’s more “Star Trek” in some ways – but perhaps less interesting in others!
Picard seemed to be struggling with the idea of Jack being his son, and only really came to accept it at the end of the episode. As mentioned, I think there was scope to do a bit more with this idea – explaining why Picard felt that way, and whether he was trying to push those questions aside simply as a point of practicality given the time constraint, or whether it was because he feared the truth. The way Disengage presented Picard left it open as to which it might’ve been – I can see clear cases for both explanations, and the episode doesn’t seem to have picked a side.
The scene in which an injured Dr Crusher wordlessly conveyed the truth, though, was spectacularly well done, and the emotional high point of Disengage. The wordless scene was set to a fantastically evocative piece of music, and told us what I think most viewers already knew: that Jack is Picard’s son.
Though this story was, overall, a tad rushed, and I’d have liked to have spent more time with Picard, Riker, and Jack in the moments leading up to it, there’s no faulting the final “reveal” itself. This moment also cemented Captain Shaw as an albeit begrudging ally, and has set the stage for the next chapter of the story as the Titan fled into a dangerous nebula.
A battle in a sensor-blind nebula? That sounds like yet another story beat from The Wrath of Khan! This season really is going all-in with the Khan comparisons… and so far, I’m really into that! It isn’t a straight copy; there are enough differences that we can consider it a variation on a theme. But the overt callbacks to one of the best things Star Trek has ever done are not going unnoticed – and after two muddled, lacklustre seasons, maybe this kind of big all-action blow-out is just what the doctor ordered.
Aside from the danger of coming across as repetitive – which Season 3 has thus far avoided, I have to say – the other potential pitfall here is that this story just feels a bit… safe. Not safe for our characters – not all of whom will make it to the end alive and unscathed, I’m fairly confident of that – but in terms of how the story comes across. This narrative framework is one that Star Trek has used before, and that could mean that we’ll end the season feeling it played things a bit too safe. We’ll have to see – but it’s worth keeping in mind.
So let’s start to wrap things up! Disengage finally saw the season move beyond its starting point, and we now have some idea of how the two main narrative arcs may come together. It was a treat to see Worf again after so long – but a shame he was on screen so briefly. The same can be said for Riker, whose contributions to the episode were a little too rushed for my liking.
Visually, Disengage was a bit of a disappointment due to a washed-out, faded look that didn’t suit an already dark episode. However, the CGI and other effects work was perfectly okay, and unlike last week I didn’t feel too much of the dreaded “uncanny valley” in CGI sequences featuring the Shrike and the Titan.
Whether Disengage did enough to advance its two main narratives is still an open question, and one that I feel particularly attuned to after the disappointments of Seasons 1 and 2. I’m crossing my fingers that it will all be alright, and that the next eight episodes will see the story advance and unfold at just the right pace. Both this week’s episode and last week’s have left me worried, though.
Overall, I had a good time with Disengage. I don’t think it’s the best episode of the series or anything, but it feels like there’s the potential to consider it a solid addition, one that advanced key storylines just far enough. I certainly hope so, anyway!
Aside from pacing, my biggest point of concern – or rather, my biggest question-mark – coming out of Disengage has to do with Vadic and the way she’s both written and presented on screen. I feel that we’re going to learn something significant about Vadic in the weeks ahead that will completely reframe her characterisation, and give meaning and purpose to someone who feels a bit out-of-place right now. “Money” can’t be all there is – at least, I hope not!
So that was Disengage. Let’s see what Season 3 has in store for us next time.
Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties discussed 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.