Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 7: Monsters

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.

I found Monsters to be a frustrating experience – with the odd moment of sheer brilliance. While the story edged along in incremental steps, overall this side-mission inside Picard’s mind seemed to drag just a little too long. That being said, when the amateur Freudian psychoanalysis let up, we got some interesting moments with Seven of Nine and Raffi as they hunted for Dr Jurati, and from Picard and Guinan as the episode drew to a close.

Despite having mixed feelings about the season overall – particularly its time travel story – some of the promotional images released for Monsters looked intriguing, so after a couple of weeks where I’d been uninterested to the point of near-apathy in Picard, this time around I managed to work up some excitement and interest for the latest outing. To summarise, I guess I’d say that Monsters didn’t deliver what I’d hoped for, and the show’s 21st Century setting continues to be a drag, but there were some genuinely insightful and interesting moments, especially as the episode neared its end.

The final few minutes of the episode were the best.

As last week’s episode drew to a close, I felt that there was potential in a story that explored some of Picard’s psyche, and that seemed to be borne out by a couple of the promotional images released before the episode aired. These pictures showed Picard sitting aboard a 24th Century vessel, meeting with a new character who was wearing what looked like a new Starfleet uniform variant. Based on those pictures and that setup, I was hopeful that a season which has been content to stay in the modern-day for the most part might actually show us a little more of Star Trek’s future – the part that I find a thousand times more interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

Unfortunately we didn’t really get any of that – at least, not in the way I had hoped. We returned to the château of Picard’s childhood, and spent a lot of time running around in the dungeons while monsters from low-budget horror films chased after Picard, his mother, and later Tallinn. I think the problem with this story is more fundamental than just its B-movie horror aesthetic, though. If a decision is made to psychoanalyse a character in this fashion, diving deeply into their subconscious mind and buried memories, by the time we reach the end we should feel like we learned something – anything, really – that could inform and educate us about why the character behaves a certain way or has a particular personality trait. We came to the end of this coma-dream with Picard awakening… and I don’t feel like I understand him any better than I did before watching this entire drawn-out storyline.

Tallinn was attacked by one of the B-movie monsters.

We’ve spent a lot of time with Picard over the past thirty-five years, and in that time we’ve seen him go through many significant and traumatic events. There are more things from his past that we’ve only heard about in passing; lines of dialogue in The Next Generation that informed a story or gave us a tidbit of information about the man and his personal history. This episode, and the framework it used, could have explored any of those. Just off the top of my head, we could’ve seen Picard wrangle with the death of Jack Crusher – husband of Beverly Crusher – during his time in command of the Stargazer. We could’ve seen him dealing with the trauma of Tasha Yar’s death, or the loss of his family in a fire at the château that we heard about in Generations.

Instead, Monsters chose to introduce a wholly new backstory element to Picard’s character, giving him a moment in his youth in which he was traumatised by being trapped in the passageways below his family’s château, as well as his mother’s mental health condition. I can deal with the fact that this seems to clash with depictions of Picard’s mother in The Next Generation; the two shows are very different, and while there’s definitely a major difference in tone, there’s nothing that stands out to me as being wholly contradictory. But what I find difficult to get on board with is the fact that this entire sequence feels meaningless to the story overall – we didn’t learn anything significant about Picard, nor did we unlock anything that might be key to understanding the story of the season.

A faded memory from Picard’s youth.

I don’t recall it ever being mentioned prior to Monsters that Picard had a fear of confined spaces. I can recall many occasions in the past where we’d seen him in the Jeffries’ tubes, for example, and that never seemed to bother him. If it had been mentioned even an episode or two ago we could’ve at least said that Season 2 was trying to set it up, but even that didn’t happen, so I find it being brought up here particularly odd. Not only that, but this supposed claustrophobia didn’t even feature in a big way in the story at all – there was no moment where Picard was in a confined space either in reality, in his mind, nor in his memories. The dungeon was certainly a frightening place, but young Picard seemed to be trapped in a pretty large room.

Obviously trauma and the development of phobias is a more complicated thing than that, and I get that. But even so, this attempt to depict Picard’s supposed trauma feels weak. More importantly, though, it doesn’t seem to have accomplished much of anything, certainly not enough to justify producing an entire episode dedicated to it.

Picard and Tallinn inside his subconscious mind.

Star Trek: Picard promised to show us the beloved character in his later years, going on new adventures with a new crew but still fundamentally the same man we remembered from his debut thirty-five years ago. There was scope in a story about memory and digging into someone’s trauma and psyche to draw on something from Star Trek’s past – either something that was underdeveloped during The Next Generation era or something merely referenced – to flesh out some unknown or unseen part of Picard’s character. This episode took that open goal and missed it by a country mile by telling a disconnected and just plain odd story that feels functionally and narratively irrelevant. A ten-episode series can’t afford to waste time – something Picard learned to its cost in Season 1 – so Monsters feels not only like a disappointment, but an episode that could potentially be a weight around the neck of the entire season.

When I deconstructed the failings of Et in Arcadia Ego (the two-part Season 1 finale) a few weeks ago, I concluded by saying that I hoped the lessons of that rushed pair of episodes had been learned. Whole storylines ran out of road, characters disappeared, new factions came and went in the blink of an eye, and narrative threads that could’ve been weaved together had there been more time ended the season just dangling, unresolved. With three episodes remaining in Season 2 to resolve this new story, I feel a sense of anxiety. The past three episodes essentially revolved around the astronauts’ party and its aftermath, without much input from Q or significant progression of the season’s main story arcs. There isn’t a lot of time to get back on track – especially if we get any more short episodes like the half-hour Two of One last week.

We’ve spent a significant chunk of the season’s runtime dealing with Picard’s comatose mind.

To return to the dungeon and the monsters, when this storyline kicked off with young Picard and his mother, it seemed like it had potential. As someone with mental heath issues myself, I briefly felt some of what I’ve experienced being reflected in the depiction of Yvette Picard. There was scope to expand upon this – and perhaps a future episode will tell us more about her nameless condition. Unfortunately, though, what we got in Monsters may have began in a relatable way – so much so that, for a brief moment, it felt uncomfortably close to my own personal experience – but it quickly descended into pantomime and farce.

Mental health conditions are not easy to depict in fiction. It takes time, it needs a nuanced portrayal, and it requires a creative team who all understand the condition in question and what the purpose of its depiction is. Yvette’s condition wasn’t shown for its own sake, and wasn’t even trying to be a sensitive or sympathetic depiction of whatever unnamed condition she suffered from. It existed purely to attempt to inform us as the audience about the trauma Picard himself feels from those events, and that already relegates it to a kind of secondary status that perhaps was always going to prevent a nuanced or at least decent attempt to portray it.

Yvette Picard’s mental health condition was basically a backdrop for other parts of the story.

The Star Trek franchise hasn’t always dealt with mental health particularly well. I noted as recently as Season 1 of Picard how the franchise can lean into unhelpful one-dimensional stereotypes, and Yvette feels barely a step ahead of that. The decision to include hallucinatory elements was potentially an interesting one – but to then turn around and make those hallucinations B-movie horror monsters rendered any impact it could’ve had utterly meaningless.

I’ve tried to be an advocate for better depictions of mental health in fiction, but more than once I’ve found myself exasperatedly saying that if a story can’t get it right – or at least make an effort to do better with the way mental health is depicted – then maybe it’s preferable to leave it alone. If there isn’t time in a series like Picard – which understandably has its focuses elsewhere – to show Yvette’s mental health condition in more detail and more sympathetically, then maybe this angle shouldn’t be included. With a few rewrites, the story could get to the same place while skipping over a pretty uninspired and occasionally problematic one-dimensional depiction of an unnamed but somewhat stereotypical “mental illness.” Otherwise it feels like the series is paying lip service to an important subject; touching on it in the most basic and meaningless of ways.

The nature of Yvette’s condition wasn’t revealed or explained.

So what was this story trying to say? That Picard’s desire to explore strange, new worlds is connected to trauma related to his mother? That seems incredibly clichéd and basic, even by the generally poor standards of mental health stories that we’ve just been talking about. I want to believe that this story has more to give; some twist or turn that will pull out a passable ending to a narrative thread that will otherwise be disappointing in the extreme. I’ve jumped the gun before with these kinds of things and been too quick to criticise, so I guess we need to wait and see what comes next. On its own merits, though, this part of Monsters – the part that took up the majority of the episode’s runtime – was poor.

There was a glimpse of something better (or at least something different) at the close of the episode. Picard visited Guinan’s bar to try to “summon” Q (or another member of the Q Continuum, this wasn’t 100% clear). I liked that we got callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek; Guinan’s “claw” pose that we saw in Q Who made a comeback, for example. And this part of the story filled in a blank from all the way back in The Next Generation’s second season, potentially explaining the animosity between Guinan and Q, or at least the El-Aurians and the Q Continuum.

We learned a little about the relationship between the El-Aurians and the Q Continuum this week.

This is the kind of thing I’d hoped Picard Season 2 would do more of. Season 1 had a fairly narrow focus on the Romulans and synths, and while we got a deeper dive into one aspect of Romulan culture in particular, there was a lot more that the last season could’ve done to connect its narrative threads to Star Trek’s broader canon. Because of how it quickly stepped out of the prime timeline and then shot back in time, Season 2 hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to do this, and when elements from Star Trek’s past have been introduced they haven’t really been explored or fleshed out in a substantial way; take Tallinn and the mysterious organisation she works for as a case in point. So I greatly appreciated the Guinan-Q connection here.

Picard and Guinan being apprehended may yet have a deeper significance to the story – if the “FBI Agent” isn’t who he claims to be, for example. Stay tuned for my theory post for more on that! But if it really is the FBI and 21st Century Earth authorities, I’m actually kind of glad that the story went down this road! Picard and the crew, despite their best intentions, have made a lot of noise since arriving in the 21st Century – so it makes perfect sense that, in the highly-surveilled world of 2024, the authorities would be attempting to track them.

Agent Wells, FBI.

We got several cute moments this week with Seven of Nine and Raffi. Their relationship, which had been teased at the end of Season 1, hadn’t developed as much as I’d hoped or expected this season, and with Seven being sidelined for the entirety of last week’s outing, I’m glad that the show’s writers haven’t entirely forgotten about this angle. We caught snippets of their conversation aboard La Sirena that suggested that their relationship is built on solid foundations, even if they don’t always have time to acknowledge it to each other, and I think in a busy episode with a lot of storylines on the go, I can accept such moments of exposition.

What I would say, though, is that we’re really feeling the impact of modern Star Trek’s shorter seasons, and I noticed that in particular with Seven and Raffi this week. After they returned to La Sirena, tracking down Dr Jurati, figuring out how the Borg code got into the ship’s computers, and coming up with a plan to counteract it and figure out what happened could’ve been an entire episode in itself during The Next Generation and Voyager eras. As it is, we got a couple of lines of dialogue and a cut-down sequence. That isn’t bad, but it’s definitely something that could’ve been expanded upon.

Raffi and Seven of Nine discovered that Dr Jurati has been assimilated.

Rios now officially irks me. His regression from the Starfleet captain we were reintroduced to in The Star Gazer to the Han Solo-inspired rogue that we met at the beginning of Season 1 had been bugging me all season long, but now it feels like there isn’t time to do anything about it. If we hadn’t seen Rios in such a different – and arguably better – state in The Star Gazer, I guess I’d just roll with his storyline. But because we’d got a glimpse of Rios at his best and seen what he can be, this Season 1 presentation feels wrong. The fact that he doesn’t seem to care at all about the ship and crew he left behind (on the brink of self-destruction and death, no less) is the icing on a particularly unpleasant cake.

One of Rios’ lines this week also felt unearned. He referred to Picard as a “father figure” that he had been seeking, but I just don’t feel that from Rios in any way. I can’t actually remember a significant moment that the two characters have shared in either season of the show, aside perhaps from Picard’s remark all the way back in Season 1 that Rios kept his ship to Starfleet standards. They’ve just been on different narrative trajectories, and while they seem quite happy to work together, I’ve never felt that Rios saw Picard that way.

Rios told Teresa how he feels about Picard.

“Show don’t tell” is the advice that creative writing teachers often give their students; show the audience how a character feels, what they’re thinking, etc. through their actions and behaviour, don’t just try to dump clumsy lines of expository dialogue and assume that’s good enough. And that’s basically the Rios situation. I’d seen nothing from him to make me feel he saw Picard as a father figure, so this line of dialogue didn’t land in the way it should’ve.

One of Rios’ lines this week was pitch-perfect, though, and continues a season-long trend of making references to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When Teresa was figuring out the truth about who Rios is, we got a riff on the lines spoken by Dr Gillian Taylor and Captain Kirk in that film when Rios told her that he’s from Chile, but works in outer space. It was an incredibly neat reference, and I genuinely wasn’t expecting to see The Voyage Home called back to in so many different and unexpected ways this season.

Rios probably got the episode’s best line while speaking to Teresa.

Was Rios right to tell Teresa the truth? And then, having done so, was taking her and Ricardo to La Sirena a good idea? Part of me feels that Rios will bring Teresa and Ricardo to the 25th Century with him – as Kirk did with Gillian Taylor – so stay tuned for my theory update for my thoughts on that! Regardless of whether it was a smart idea, the moment where Teresa materialised on La Sirena’s transporter pad was pitch-perfect, and Sol Rodriguez captured that moment wonderfully.

Dr Jurati was only glimpsed this week, but the Borg Queen’s influence is clearly growing. The “endorphin rush” concept is an interesting one, with the Borg Queen needing to trigger endorphins in order to speed up or help the assimilation process. I certainly hope we learn more about how this works, as well as what exactly the Borg Queen is doing. Is this, as Seven seemed to think, the “birth” of a new Borg Queen? If so, that presumably tees up Dr Jurati (or rather, her assimilated body) for being the masked Borg Queen seen in The Star Gazer at the beginning of the season! There’s also the possibility on this side of the story to learn more about the Borg and how Borg Queens work in a general sense.

Will Dr Jurati become the new Borg Queen?

I would’ve liked Monsters to spend more time on this side of the story. With the bulk of the story dealing with the coma-dream that Picard was experiencing, it feels as if the episode had its focus in the wrong place. Whatever’s happening with Q is clearly still important – but the potential for a Borg Queen to be loose in the 21st Century and growing in power should bring everything to a screeching halt. Picard and the crew need to tackle this problem, and they need to do so urgently! But as far as we know based on what we saw on screen this week, Seven of Nine and Raffi haven’t even told Rios or Picard what they’ve learned about Dr Jurati.

As I suggested in my last theory post, there’s all sorts of ways that this story could go. A Q-Picard truce or even a temporary alliance is one possibility, with a weakened Q working with Picard to prevent the assimilation of Earth. But it feels like the season is running out of road to tell all of the stories that have been set up. We didn’t get any advancement this week of Kore or Dr Soong’s stories, for example, and Q himself – despite being mentioned – was also absent. If we’re to see this Borg Queen story play out in anywhere close to as much depth as it deserves, a change in focus is urgently needed.

Picard in Monsters.

So I guess that was Monsters. It was an episode that dragged in places, one that feels like an unnecessary sojourn in a short season that really doesn’t have time for such indulgences. Yes, it’s possible that the story of Picard’s youthful trauma will come back later in the season in a way connected with Q. But even assuming that will be the case, Monsters feels like a gratuitous and self-indulgent look at this part of Picard’s backstory and psyche that simply ran too long.

I’m reminded in a way of Nepenthe and, to a lesser extent, Absolute Candor from Season 1. These two episodes advanced the main story of Season 1 in increments, but given the way the story ran out of road by the time we got to Et in Arcadia Ego, they feel somewhat like wasted time in retrospect. Monsters feels like it could end up the same way – but unlike the two Season 1 outings mentioned, it wasn’t a strong or particularly enjoyable episode in its own right. If we look back on the season later and feel that more time was needed to allow things like the Borg Queen story, Q’s story, or Kore and Dr Soong’s stories to play out, Monsters will feel like the standout example of what should’ve been cut.

There were interesting ideas here, and if the same framework or story concept had been used in a different way, I think we could’ve been looking at the episode in more of a positive light. But the barebones and clichéd depiction of Yvette’s mental health condition, the uninspired “haunted castle” and B-movie monsters, and the more interesting storylines being sidelined makes it one of the season’s most disappointing outings so far.

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.

17.04.22
Additional thought:

It only occurred to me as I was re-reading this review, but one thing to say about Monsters – and the season overall by extension – is that the season’s main characters, as well as important secondary characters all feel disconnected from one another. They don’t seem to be communicating at all, with Rios taking Teresa and Ricardo to La Sirena seemingly without consulting Picard or anyone else, and Raffi and Seven of Nine chasing Dr Jurati also without a word to Picard or Rios. This is in addition to Q doing his own thing away from everyone else, and Kore and Dr Soong off on their own, too. There are occasional bridges between these groups of characters; meetings or pairings in which they get together. But for the most part, everyone feels like they’re in their own little narrative box, taking part in their own story that’s disconnected from everything else. This is a very odd way to structure a season of television in a show like Star Trek: Picard.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 6: Two of One

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.

Dr Jurati showed off an unexpected talent this week.

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.

An establishing shot of modern-day Los Angeles by night.

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.

Adam Soong and 21st Century party security guards were this week’s antagonists.

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.

Picard’s conversation with Renée was one of the high points of the episode.

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.

Renée listened to what Picard had to say.

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.

I feel like Adam Soong has lost a significant part of his characterisation.

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.

Kore’s story feels derivative of Soji’s in Season 1.

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.

Hopefully this story will go somewhere!

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.

Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen on stage.

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.

Dr Jurati’s story was a powerful one this week.

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.

Raffi with Rios at the gala.

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.

Rios seems a little too happy in the 21st Century.

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.

Picard was run down by a car.

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!

Outside of the gala venue.

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.

Star Trek: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 2: Penance

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, First Contact, Nemesis, and Voyager.

After such an incredibly strong start to Season 2 last week, there was almost nowhere left for Penance to go in terms of action and excitement! But the season continues in strong form with another excellent episode, one with a very different tone to its immediate predecessor.

After the explosive end to last week’s episode, Picard and the crew of the Stargazer found themselves transported – as if by magic – to a strange, twisted reality, one in which the human-centric Confederation reigns. But the surprising thing they learned (which had essentially been explained already in the trailers and teasers) is that this isn’t some alternate reality or parallel universe, but rather the prime universe after something or someone had changed the past.

Seven, Elnor, Raffi, and Picard reunited in the Confederation timeline.

The Confederation definitely strayed into Mirror Universe territory with its militaristic aesthetic, demagoguery, and clear love of violence, but I actually found it more interesting to watch as a viewer than practically any story set in the Mirror Universe. There’s one key reason for that, I think: practically all of the characters we spent time with in Penance were from the original timeline, meaning that the actors were playing their familiar, more complex and nuanced roles.

One of my primary complaints about the Mirror Universe in practically all of its appearances, from The Original Series right through to Discovery, is that it feels like hammy, over-the-top pantomime. It’s a setting that’s written in such a way that it tricks even great actors like Sonequa Martin-Green into putting in incredibly poor, one-dimensional performances as their Mirror Universe counterparts, and I think if we’d had to spend a lot of time with Confederation Picard or Confederation Rios, we could’ve been in a similar position in Penance.

Sticking with our established characters – and not their alternate counterparts – was good for Penance.

Luckily that didn’t happen, so what we got is a genuinely interesting setting – it’s the Mirror Universe but also not the Mirror Universe at the same time. Q even used the familiar expression “through a mirror, darkly” (a riff on a similarly-titled Enterprise episode!) to describe the Confederation timeline, and similar themes of presenting our characters with a dark, twisted version of reality are present here, just as they are in the Mirror Universe.

In this case, though, it’s arguable that Picard and the crew might feel worse about how things have turned out. In the Mirror Universe, we’re dealing with similar-looking but very different people; dark counterparts to our familiar characters. But the Confederation timeline aims to say that Picard – our familiar Picard – would have behaved this way if he’d been born and raised here. Picard is confronted not with a doppelgänger, but with an alternate version of himself.

A recording of the Confederation timeline version of Picard.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been here with Picard, if you think about it! In Nemesis, Picard had to deal with a clone of himself, and at one point in the film he came to the realisation that, if he had led the life that Shinzon had, he’d have turned out exactly the same way. Here, in the Confederation timeline, Picard must deal with the fact that this version of himself has been such an all-conquering general, subjugating alien races and bringing a xenophobic, human-centric ideology to the galaxy.

Speaking of “all-conquering,” something I’d be very interested to learn more about is the Confederation’s conquest of the Borg. Dr Jurati specifically stated in Penance that the Confederation’s technology is comparable to the Federation’s in the prime timeline, and we saw just last week how completely overpowering the Borg were when facing the Federation. So how did General Picard beat the Borg? And having destroyed literally the entire Borg Collective, why does the Confederation seem to be having such a problem keeping the planet Vulcan under control?

Rios watches the Battle of Vulcan from La Sirena.

It’s possible that this will be explored in more detail in the episodes ahead, and there could be a connection here between the Borg of the Confederation timeline and the Borg in the prime timeline that we saw in The Star Gazer, perhaps. I’d certainly be interested to see a conversation between the captive Borg Queen and Picard on this subject; if she is the sole survivor of her entire people, she would certainly have a thing or two to say to him!

It’s also possible, of course, that the Confederation’s conquest of the Borg won’t be referenced again – and personally, I think that would be a bit of a disappointment. Maybe Picard’s trip back in time – which seems to be coming in the next episode, despite the cliffhanger ending this week – will wipe out the Confederation timeline, and what we saw of it in Penance will be all we ever see. But as I’ve said before, as Trekkies who feel a connection to the Star Trek galaxy, we always want to dig deeper and learn more about this wonderful setting. To brush aside something as potentially huge as the Borg being defeated would be a shame.

Picard comes face to face with the Borg Queen.

Like The Star Gazer before it, Penance revelled in the lore and history of Star Trek. We got our first major references to Deep Space Nine since live-action Star Trek returned to the small screen thanks to mentions of Gul Dukat (also known in this timeline as “Skull Dukat!”) and General Martok; two of General Picard’s defeated adversaries. There was also a reference to one General Sisko, which was awesome! As a big fan of Deep Space Nine, it’s wonderful to see modern Star Trek make reference to it.

I doubt that we’ll see anyone from Deep Space Nine on screen this season, but the callbacks were definitely appreciated. Aside from Sarek, though, the conquests Q showed to Picard weren’t really characters or villains that I’d have associated very strongly with Picard himself. There was scope to reference someone like Dathon, the Tamarian captain from the episode Darmok, who has a stronger association with Picard than the likes of Gul Dukat or General Martok – characters we never saw him meet on screen. That’s not to be critical, though – I adored the Deep Space Nine references and for something relatively minor that most viewers won’t have thought twice about, it was a great way to include a couple of references to this part of Star Trek!

Confederation Picard was quite the collector of skulls, apparently!

Was it a little bit of a contrivance that the characters were all able to find each other so soon after their arrival in this new timeline? And if we get really nitpicky about it, shouldn’t they have considered the possibility that someone else might’ve found themselves transported there too? Captain Rios didn’t seem to even consider looking for any of his officers or crew from the Stargazer, for example. It didn’t cross my mind during my first time watching Penance, but as I was going through it for a second time it gave me a moment’s pause.

That being said, I liked very much that the characters were all split up after their arrival in the Confederation timeline. Although we can call it somewhat of a contrivance that they were able to contact one another and get back together within a single episode, the fact that they all found themselves in different places, occupying very different roles, was something that Penance pulled off very well considering that it all had to be done in the runtime of a single episode.

Elnor, shortly after his arrival in the Confederation timeline.

Around the 23-minute mark, when Elnor has been cornered by Confederation security forces, there was a very odd visual moment where one brief shot looked very different – and of significantly lower quality – to the others. It hardly ruined the episode, but it was noticeable even on a first viewing that this one shot of Elnor didn’t look right. It seemed as if it was using a green screen and the shot had been spliced into the episode at the last minute.

Other than that, though, the visuals, CGI, and other special effects in Penance were outstanding. The battle Rios found himself engaged in over Vulcan was one of the most fast-paced that the Star Trek franchise has ever shown, and it had almost a Star Wars starfighter feel, as other ships of La Sirena’s class fought against Vulcan ships that drew on designs from Enterprise for their visual inspiration.

La Sirena and other Confederation ships battling Vulcans.

So let’s talk about Q: what could be going on with him? Picard seemed to think that there was something wrong; the implication being that Q, like Picard, is coming to the end of his life, perhaps? I’m not sure if this is the route the story will go, though, and I have a couple of theories that I’ll expand on in my next theory post. It was definitely a change to see a more aggressive, less jovial characterisation of Q, though. For all the puzzles and tricks Q has laid for Picard in the past, he never treated any of them in the same way as he did here. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Q was angry.

Could the root of this anger be a sense of disappointment that Q feels in Picard? When Season 1 kicked off, Picard had been in self-imposed isolation on his vineyard for more than a decade, having chosen to resign from Starfleet and cease participating in Federation and galactic affairs. As someone Q had taken a very strong personal interest in, could Q have taken that decision personally? Could he have felt that Picard was failing to live up to the potential that Q initially believed him to have? If so, perhaps that might explain Q’s attitude in Penance.

Why is Q so grumpy?

When I put together a list of episodes that I felt could be good background viewing for Picard Season 2, I deliberately included stories like Q Who, Tapestry, and All Good Things. These episodes I feel encapsulate the Q-Picard relationship; the adversarial but not villainous nature of Q, the way Q sees himself as a guide, the way Q has even tried, in his own twisted way, to help Picard. All of these things feel quite far removed from the way Q appeared in Penance, but as we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of him this season, I’m sure we’ll learn more about Q’s role and motivations.

We don’t even know for certain at this stage that it was Q who damaged the timeline. At most, I think we can say with reasonable certainty that Q used his powers to ensure that Picard and the rest of the crew were aware of the change that transpired, but the question of his guilt – or the extent of his complicity in these strange events – is still open.

Q and Picard at Château Picard.

Just like Sir Patrick Stewart makes it feel as if The Next Generation never ended, John de Lancie stepped back into the role of Q seamlessly. Yes, there’s a noticeable change in the way Q was characterised in Penance, but the performance was outstanding and hit all of the right notes for bringing back the Q that we remember. I’m thrilled to have Q back, and right now I’m genuinely curious to see where this new timeline and history-changing event go!

Dr Jurati provided some darkly comedic moments in Penance, and was strangely relatable. We’ve seen her anxious babbling before in Season 1; in a similar vein to characters like Discovery’s Tilly she has a tendency to overshare or not know when to stop talking! Those moments with Seven and the Magistrate were funny, but where I found Dr Jurati at her most relatable were her moments of vulnerability. The Borg Queen rounded on her, sensing how she feels like an outsider no matter what timeline she’s in – and I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to.

Dr Jurati provided both comic and relatable moments this week.

Feeling like an outsider, feeling like your “friends” aren’t really your friends, and so-called imposter syndrome are all things that any of us can feel at different points in our lives, but speaking as someone who is neurodivergent, I think it hits home in a different way. It seems like Penance is setting up a story about manipulation using Dr Jurati’s natural insecurities as a base, and we could see a very interesting allegory play out in future episodes, taking this complex dynamic between Dr Jurati and the Borg Queen to different thematic places.

Notable by her absence was Soji. If this Confederation timeline only has basic F8-type synths (as we saw with Harvey at Picard’s vineyard, for example) then it’s not inconceivable to think that Soji may not exist at all. However, if Q’s statement to Picard about him being given a synthetic body in this timeline is correct – and we have no reason to think he’s lying about that, necessarily – then obviously the synth-creating process had reached the same level, and thus Soji may exist!

Harvey the synth.

With Picard and the crew being prevented from going back in time in the closing seconds of Penance, I wonder if next week we’ll see Soji make an appearance. Otherwise she seems set to miss the entire adventure – and that would be a shame. Soji was a huge part of Season 1, but noticeably didn’t appear in a big way in any of the pre-season trailers and teasers. I wonder if that’s because she’s going to take on a different appearance, or whether there’s something even bigger going on with her that we don’t know at this stage. Time will tell!

Where The Star Gazer had deliberately embraced many different 24th Century Star Trek design elements, Penance was striking out in its own direction, trying something new. There was a definite “Mirror Universe” feel to some of it, but even then the Confederation felt distinct. The scenes with Raffi and Elnor definitely honed in on a very specific kind of dystopia – the police state – that we haven’t really explored in the Mirror Universe before, and it felt shocking and frightening as a result. The way that the sequence with Elnor immediately preceding his arrest was filmed was incredibly claustrophobic, and did an excellent job at communicating just how different this new timeline is.

Elnor and Raffi.

Penance leaned into the “fish out of water” angle with most of its characters, too. Seven’s husband – the Magistrate – seemed to catch on very quickly that something wasn’t right, and kept her and everyone else under suspicion the entire time. Having him watching over her shoulder, and getting too close for comfort to Dr Jurati, Picard, and everyone else was successful at keeping the tension high, and Jon Jon Briones – father of Isa Briones, who plays Soji – put in a riveting performance as a villain. He was perfect for the role, and when he materialised on La Sirena at the end of the episode, it felt like the culmination of a wonderful performance that managed to be menacing and disconcerting but without ever falling into the Mirror Universe trap of hammy over-acting.

As a cat lover, Spot-73 was incredibly cute! Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt brought a lot of life to the cute animated critter, and although we didn’t get a lot of time with Spot-73, those moments were cute, funny, and also set up the apparent loneliness and isolation felt by this timeline’s version of Dr Jurati – something that, as noted, the Borg Queen was able to hone in on.

Tell me I’m not the only one who wants a Spot-73!

Does Laris’ apparent death in this timeline mean she won’t accompany Picard back in time? I had thought we might see more from her this season! It was clearly a moment that affected Picard greatly, and really hammered home just how different – and evil – this timeline’s version of the character is. Laris’ death also gives Picard an added motivation; he now has someone to save, and someone to get back to if he can save the future. Establishing their closeness last week was paid off in a very different and unexpected way here.

Overall, I had a great time with Penance. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to compare it directly with The Star Gazer; the two episodes are doing entirely different things, and both achieve the feelings and objectives that they were clearly aiming for. Purely subjectively, because of things like the design of the USS Stargazer and the excitement of the Borg’s return, I would probably say I had more fun last week – but Penance was an interesting exploration of a very different timeline, and also managed to include a lot of Star Trek references!

The Magistrate at the end of Penance.

I have so many questions – and the story feels very unpredictable right now. Two episodes in and we’ve seen most of the scenes from the trailers already, with the exception of some of the 21st Century clips. The pre-season marketing did a great job of teasing just enough about the story to get fans interested and excited, but without spoiling big reveals like the Federation fleet, the USS Stargazer, and other key story elements.

There’s a lot to look forward to as Picard Season 2 finds its feet! Will Elnor survive his injury? What will the Magistrate do next? I can hardly wait to find out!

Sorry for the delay in getting to this review! With two episodes of Star Trek premiering within hours of each other (on Fridays in the UK, remember) writing two big reviews is a lot. This weekend I was also building my new computer, something that cut into my writing time quite a bit too. But it’s here now – and stay tuned for my weekly theory updates, too!

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.

Et in Arcadia Ego: What went wrong?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, in particular the two-part episode Et in Arcadia Ego.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 approaching, I wanted to take a moment to step back to the Season 1 finale. Et in Arcadia Ego was the two-part ending to the show’s first season, and after the preceding eight episodes had masterfully and slowly built up an engaging story, it unfortunately ended in a way that was, at best, underwhelming. On this occasion I want to look back at Et in Arcadia Ego and ask “what went wrong?”

I think we can summarise the finale’s issues in a single word: rushed. The two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego were overstuffed with plot, partly as a result of the deliberately slow pace of the rest of the season, but also in part because of the decision to introduce new characters, a new faction, and whole new storylines at the last minute. As a result, Et in Arcadia Ego had to rush through far too much narrative in far too little time, leaving significant chunks of it on the table by the time the credits rolled on Part 2.

The final scene of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.

In my view, most of the damage was done in Part 1 and the first half of Part 2. By the time we got into Picard’s speech over Coppelius and his stint with Data in the digital afterlife, Et in Arcadia Ego picked up, and the issues with pacing and the editing of certain scenes abated. Those latter emotional sequences went a long way to salvaging the finale, and Picard’s time with Data – giving the character the proper send-off that he hadn’t got in Nemesis – meant that the story found a second purpose, one which I think many Trekkies appreciated.

There was also some fantastic acting in the second part of Part 2, with Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, and Jeri Ryan all putting in exceptional, deeply emotional performances as their characters dealt with the apparent death of Admiral Picard in different ways. The way Elnor broke down crying at the loss of his surrogate father figure is one of the most emotional moments in the entire season, and both Evagora and Hurd excelled in that moment.

A heartbreaking moment.

But as the credits rolled on Part 2, after Picard had laid Data to rest and been reborn in a new synthetic body of his own, I was left feeling that, despite the emotional high points as the finale drew to a close, the nicest thing I’d be able to say about Et in Arcadia Ego is that it was a mixed bag; an underwhelming end to what had been an otherwise excellent first season. At worst, I might even call the entire finale disappointing because of its underdeveloped characters and storylines that seemed to go nowhere.

The basic premise of Et in Arcadia Ego was interesting on the surface. After discovering that there are more synths than just Soji, we as the audience had been led to assume that they’re a peaceful civilisation who are being unfairly targetted by fanatical Romulan zealots. But instead we learn that the Zhat Vash were, in a sense, right. The beacon they discovered on Aia did warn of a powerful civilisation of super-synths who would murder organics, and not only that, but Soji’s evil twin Sutra planned to contact them. The synths turned from damsels in distress needing to be saved into a civilisation acting out of self-preservation, but nevertheless needing to be stopped from inflicting mass murder – or possibly even mass genocide – on the galaxy.

Soji’s “evil twin,” Sutra.

It fell to Picard to try to dissuade the synths, to show them that not every organic is hostile to them, and that if they would trust him – and trust the Federation to do the right thing – they would be safe. After a season in which the Federation was not painted in the best possible light this was a cathartic moment, and I understand what Et in Arcadia Ego was trying to do here.

Particularly in Part 2, Et in Arcadia Ego successfully hit some of those story beats, and the emotional high points surrounding Picard’s death, Data’s second death, and the desperate last stand over Coppelius felt great. In fact, I’d argue that the second half of Part 2 came close to rivalling the rest of the season in terms of the emotional side of its storytelling, and if we were looking at that part of the finale in isolation – or if the rest of the two-part story had been up to that level – we wouldn’t be having this conversation today!

Data in the digital afterlife.

On the technical side of things, before we get into story complaints, Et in Arcadia Ego was a very rushed, poorly paced episode. As a result of trying to cram several episodes’ worth of story into not enough runtime, there were some utterly ridiculous editing choices. At one point, Commodore Oh was stood on the bridge of her Romulan vessel, and appeared to speak a line to absolutely no one.

This line was very generic, too, and the entire scene – if we can be so generous as to call a clip that lasted a few seconds a “scene” – just came across as laughable, not intimidating or concerning. There were also a couple of places where two scenes were very poorly spliced together – at the beginning of Part 2, for example, a speech Picard made to Soji was heard only in voiceover, with Dr Jurati on screen silently watching the synths building their beacon.

Commodore Oh’s generic “evil villain” moment.

The gold makeup used for the Coppelius synths – Sutra in particular, as she was featured most prominently – was just awful. It looked like something out of The Original Series, and I don’t mean that in any way as a compliment. If I’d seen characters on The Original Series so poorly made-up I’d have written it off as a limitation of the medium at the time, and tried to get on with the story. Characters like Bele and Lokai from Let That Be Your Last Battlefield look similarly ridiculous by today’s standards, but with all of the improvements made over the last fifty years… I can’t excuse how poor practically all of the synths looked.

The problem of a lack of diversity in outdoor filming locations plagued Picard Season 1, but it came to a head in Et in Arcadia Ego because it was the finale. In short, the ten-episode season attempted to depict locations on Earth, including France and Japan, as well as the planets of Vashti, Nepenthe, Aia, and Coppelius using outdoor filming locations within a few miles of Los Angeles. And this was painfully obvious as the season wore on, leading Picard Season 1 to feel smaller and less visually interesting as a result. If Coppelius needed an expansive outdoor filming shoot, then other worlds could – and should – have been created on indoor sound stages if long-distance location shoots were out of the question.

Look, it’s California… oops, I mean Coppelius!

Both parts of Et in Arcadia Ego ruined the surprise appearance of a returning actor from The Next Generation. Brent Spiner’s role in Part 1 was telegraphed in the opening credits before his character had appeared on screen, but most egregiously the mistake was repeated in Part 2, where the return of Jonathan Frakes’ Acting Captain Riker was spoiled in the opening credits. The scene where Riker arrived at the head of a massive Starfleet armada to defend Coppelius was treated on screen like a huge surprise, but the fact that he was coming had been telegraphed in advance by the opening credits.

How difficult would it have been to credit special guest stars at the end instead of at the beginning? This also happened with Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine in the episode Absolute Candor earlier in the season – a character who appeared right at the end of the episode, in that case, and whose arrival was also treated as a surprise. For fans who don’t follow all of the ins and outs of Star Trek, the fact that any of these characters were coming back was supposed to be a total surprise, and both halves of Et in Arcadia Ego treated their returning guest stars in this way. But their unnecessary inclusions in the opening titles detracted from it. Riker’s arrival in particular felt far less impactful than it should’ve been; by the time the story reached the point of Picard standing alone against the Romulan armada, it was obvious that Riker was coming to save the day.

This shouldn’t have happened in the opening titles.

Speaking of the two fleets, the fact that both the Romulan and Starfleet armadas were comprised of a single starship design each seriously detracted from the way they looked. The copy-and-paste fleets were big, which was visually impressive at first glance, but the longer they remained on screen the more obvious it was that the CGI animators had literally copied and pasted each ship dozens of times.

Fleets seen in past iterations of Star Trek were almost always comprised of a variety of different starship types, and there was the potential to use this moment as fun fan-service, perhaps bringing back Romulan warbirds and scout ships from The Next Generation era, as well as Federation starship types like the Defiant-class, Sovereign-class, and Galaxy-class. Heck, Picard Season 1 had already made a brand-new CGI Galaxy-class model for the premiere, so it couldn’t have been too much extra work to include it here.

The Romulan and Federation fleets were copy-and-paste jobs and looked the worse for it.

As a final point on the technical side of things, I’m sorry to say that, despite a great performance as Soji across the rest of the season (and as Dahj in the premiere), Isa Briones was not convincing as Sutra, the central synth villain. Her performance was incredibly hammy, and while the character was written sufficiently well that her basic motivation – to protect the Coppelius synths from an outside attack – should have been understandable and even potentially sympathetic, the “I’m evil for no reason and I love it” performance was so bad that it detracted from the character.

Although Sutra being so easily shut down in Part 2 meant that the character as a whole felt like a waste, and was not the angle I would’ve wanted the show to take, in a way I was glad that we were spared too much more of what has to be the entire season’s single worst acting performance.

Sutra with Admiral Picard.

In terms of story, let’s talk about the big picture first of all before we get into smaller narrative complaints. The super-synths that Sutra and Soji planned to contact were so barebones as a faction that they don’t even have a proper name. Their “admonition” – i.e. the vision that the Zhat Vash encountered from their beacon – was superficially intimidating, and the mechanical tentacles that we saw approaching the beacon at the climax of the story likewise looked frightening… but without knowing more about this faction, it was difficult to remain invested in this story.

We didn’t know what the super-synths would’ve done had they arrived. Would they have sought to exterminate all organic life everywhere, or just in the vicinity of Coppelius? Having exterminated, would they have taken the super-synths to live with them in “dark space?” Was their offer to help even genuine or was it an elaborate trap to conquer the Coppelius synths and steal their technology? We have so many open questions, and because it seems that Star Trek won’t be returning to the super-synths any time soon, they’ll be left open and this aspect of the story will remain less than it could have been.

Some mechanical noodles were all we got to see of the super-synths.

In monster movies – which Et in Arcadia Ego’s super-synths were, to an extent, trying to emulate – we don’t always know everything about the monster. We might not know where Godzilla came from or why the Xenomorph in Alien is going on the rampage, but we at least have some perspective or frame of reference to understand why they should frighten or unnerve us – we’ve seen for ourselves how destructive and deadly the monster can be. The super-synths were barely glimpsed, and while their beacon was interpreted by the Zhat Vash as being dangerous, what we as the audience saw of it on screen was ambiguous at best. Because of that, the super-synths are more mysterious than frightening, and with no frame of reference to go on to showcase their level of technology, weapons, or danger, they’re less interesting and less frightening than they should’ve been.

During my first watch of Et in Arcadia Ego, I referred to the super-synths as the “Mass Effect Reapers” because of their similarities to a faction from the Mass Effect video game series. On re-watching the episodes, those similarities are really hammered home, even to the point where the vision contained in the Zhat Vash’s beacon and the beacon encountered by Commander Shepard in the first Mass Effect game contain striking visual similarities. I can’t believe that this is entirely a coincidence, and while I don’t want to accuse anyone of “ripping off” anyone else… it’s at the very least noteworthy that this aspect of the storyline of Et in Arcadia Ego – and thus of Picard Season 1 as a whole – is not original.

We could play a game called “Mass Effect or Star Trek: Picard?” with some of these sequences.

In the episode The Impossible Box, Narek walked Soji through a complicated series of steps to help her understand a dream she’d been having. His motive was to find out the location of her homeworld – Ghoulion IV or Coppelius. At the end of Soji’s dream, she looked up to the sky and saw two red moons and a lightning storm, leading Narek and Rizzo to conclude that they had enough information to locate Soji’s homeworld.

We subsequently learned that the Romulans had a fairly narrow search area and only needed to look within a few different star systems, so it seems reasonable that only a couple of pieces of information might be enough to go on if there aren’t that many possibilities. But when we finally reached Coppelius a couple of episodes later, the red moons were present – but where were the thunderstorms? This had been an absolutely essential part of the plot of The Impossible Box, yet the weather on Coppelius was sunlit and beautiful – some might say almost California-like. There were literally only two bits of information conveyed in The Impossible Box that Narek and Rizzo used to pinpoint Soji’s home planet… and one of them was completely disregarded in Et in Arcadia Ego.

This moment told us two things about Soji’s homeworld. Et in Arcadia Ego ignored one of them.

Speaking of being completely disregarded… what happened to poor Narek? I know Narek wasn’t everybody’s favourite character in Season 1, but I felt he was interesting as a character who didn’t fall into the obvious trap of being a clichéd “spy with a heart of gold” who falls in love with his target. Narek remained loyal to the Zhat Vash cause, even though his relationship with Rizzo was complicated and despite his feelings for Soji.

For Narek to simply be abandoned by the story of Et in Arcadia Ego is disrespectful – not only to actor Harry Treadaway, who had put in a great performance – but to us as the audience. We’d been following Narek’s story since the second episode of the season, and as he approached what should’ve been his moment of triumph, and then his moment of defeat, he just vanished from the story altogether.

This was the last we saw of Narek.

At the very least it would’ve been worth following Narek’s story to some kind of conclusion. I’d have liked to see how he reacted to Soji shutting down the beacon – would seeing that have finally broken his Zhat Vash brainwashing? Would he have tried to apologise to her and the rest of the synths? Or would he have stayed true to his mission even while being taken into custody by Starfleet or the synths?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and while there is supposedly a scripted but unfilmed scene in which Narek was handed over to the Federation, that hardly seems like rock-solid “canon,” does it? Picard Season 1 didn’t actually feature that many characters in a big way, so for one of the principals to simply be dropped with no explanation midway through the finale is indicative of the fact that this two-parter had far too much narrative to cram into its runtime. It was poor, and whatever viewers might’ve thought of Narek and the earlier scenes and sequences in which he starred, getting some closure on one of the season’s most important characters was necessary.

Narek had been a major character throughout the season.

In an overstuffed story with some very serious themes, there were some very odd choices. Dr Jurati and Picard making jokes while launching La Sirena into orbit felt out-of-place, but thankfully that didn’t last very long. What did last a long time, though, in the context of the story, was the very odd campfire scene with Narek, Raffi, and Rios.

This scene was a complete waste of time. As the audience, we already knew what the Zhat Vash prophecy and philosophy was by this point, so re-telling it in a “ghost stories by the campfire” cliché was unnecessary fluff in an episode that simply didn’t have so much as a second to spare. Secondly, this scene messes with the timing of the entire episode. Narek seemed to be in a mad rush to attack the synths’ compound and stop their beacon, and if we’re to believe that Raffi and Rios had been persuaded too – which appears to have happened in a very short scene aboard La Sirena that really needed to be extended – then the characters themselves shouldn’t be wasting time camping out. It’s also the only scene in the entire episode to take place after dark, which was obviously done to make the campfire more visually dramatic… but the rest of the story seems to have taken place over the course of less than one day, so when did this night occur and why didn’t anyone else on Coppelius experience it? In short, it wasn’t just an unnecessary scene, but one that breaks the continuity of the whole story.

The campfire.

After the campfire scene we came to the poorly-scripted bomb plot. Using grenades donated by Narek and a football that Rios had aboard La Sirena, the trio planned to smuggle a bomb into the synths’ compound and blow up the beacon. I didn’t understand why the synths’ compound was suddenly being guarded as the group approached – except, of course, to ramp up the drama. From the synths’ point of view Raffi and Rios were no threat; they’d been on friendly terms when they parted, so why hassle them?

Dr Soong joined in after they arrived at Coppelius Station, but even he couldn’t salvage what was an illogical and stupid “plan.” Dr Soong had two aces up his sleeve: the video evidence that proved Sutra, not Narek, was responsible for murdering Saga, and his “magic wand” weapon that could apparently disable synths at the push of a button. He used the latter once, on Sutra, and then disappeared entirely from the plot until after Picard’s “rebirth.”

Dr Soong was able to “shut down” Sutra… but then made no further contributions to the plan to attack the beacon.

After the remaining trio made a stupid full-frontal attack against the much larger group of synths, it fell to Rios to try to throw the bomb-ball into position… but, naturally, Soji was able to clear it with seconds to spare.

This entire operation was so stupid, and was clearly written to ensure that the heroes’ plan would fail, meaning it would be up to Soji and Picard to save the day. And I won’t dismiss Picard’s speech and the emotional impact of Soji’s decision to stand down – both of those aspects felt great. But they were, unfortunately, sabotaged by this awfully-scripted bomb plot which made no sense, and the immediate disappearance of everyone involved in its aftermath.

Soji was able to easily stop the bomb plot.

Here are just a few of the questions this sequence raised: why didn’t Dr Soong show the footage of Sutra to the other synths? Why didn’t Dr Soong use his “magic wand” on Soji? Why didn’t Rios and Raffi try to talk to Soji and explain the dangers of the super-synths? There was so much wrong in this one sequence, and it was contrived in such a way as to skip over any and all of these points to get to the standoff between Soji and Picard, and Picard’s convincing speech. Unfortunately the route to that otherwise powerful moment felt so unnatural that it detracted from it.

After the bomb plot and the speech, things took a turn for the better, and much of the remainder of Et in Arcadia Ego hit those emotional high points, and as the rushed, almost panicked pacing and editing gave way to a slower-paced story of laying Data to rest and restoring Picard to life, things did improve.

Picard’s “death” marked a turning point in the story.

Unfortunately, though, Et in Arcadia Ego ended with many questions left on the table. Having arrived just in time to save the day, is the Federation now committed to leaving an entire fleet in the Ghoulion system to defend Coppelius? If not, it seems like there’s nothing to prevent the Romulans from returning next week and obliterating the synths from orbit. Or perhaps the synths will need to be evacuated and taken to a new, safer location. If so, we saw no indication that Starfleet plans to help with that.

There was also no attempt made to explain Bruce Maddox’s visit to Freecloud, which had been a huge story point in the first half of the season. Maddox’s lab on Coppelius clearly hadn’t been “raided by the Tal Shiar,” and if we’re to understand he set up a second lab somewhere else for some unknown reason, why didn’t he return to Coppelius if it was destroyed; why go to Freecloud instead? This opens up a pretty big plot hole in the entire season, as Maddox now has no reason to go to Bjayzl – a dangerous woman to whom he owed money – other than “because plot.” Maddox was there simply to allow the rest of the story to unfold, and that just isn’t satisfying at all.

Why did Dr Maddox go to Freecloud?

And this is just one way in which Et in Arcadia Ego damages the entire first season of the show. With so much rushing around in the final two episodes, with brand-new characters, new civilisations, new factions, new antagonists, and whole new storylines being dumped into the show with two episodes remaining, it makes going back and reflecting on the rest of the season somewhat difficult. Was the deliberately slow pace of episodes like Maps and Legends too much? Should the side-stories on Vashti and Nepenthe have been cut down… or skipped altogether?

Nepenthe was, for me, one of the most enjoyable episodes of Star Trek that I’ve seen in a very long time, and spending time with Picard, Riker, and Troi after so long felt absolutely magical. We caught a glimpse of their retirement, the family life that they deserved to have after their rollercoaster relationship and the tragedy of the loss of their first child. And it was wonderful. But in retrospect, all of that time with Kestra and Soji bonding and Picard catching up with his old friends, cooking pizza in an outdoor oven and hanging out in a cabin in the woods just feels wasted. There was too much plot left for Picard Season 1 to get through, so either stories like Nepenthe needed to be cut down or, realistically, the season needed to be extended. One of the advantages of streaming over traditional broadcast television is that things like schedules don’t mean much – it’s far easier to add an extra episode or a few minutes here and there if necessary. Discovery did exactly that in its first season… why couldn’t Picard?

Picard and Riker’s reunion in Nepenthe.

That’s the real tragedy of Et in Arcadia Ego: the way it makes eight genuinely wonderful episodes feel worse in retrospect. We aren’t quite at the level of something like Game of Thrones, where a truly awful ending has made going back to re-watch earlier seasons feel downright unpleasant, but we’re in the same ballpark.

The sad thing is that the synths’ storyline wasn’t bad. Dr Soong wasn’t a bad character, and if he’d had more time on screen I think we could have got more of a nuanced portrayal that showed us a man doing his best to work around the synth ban and keep his people safe. We could’ve learned why he wanted to build a golem for himself – was he dying? Was he trying to become immortal? What drove him to pick up his father’s work? All questions that Et in Arcadia Ego left on the table.

Coppelius Station – home of the synths.

Likewise with Sutra. Despite the crappy makeup and the poor, hammy performance, there was the kernel of an interesting character at Sutra’s core. Her presence turned the synths from a group in need of rescue into a potential danger, and that concept – had it been executed better over a longer span of episodes – could have been interesting.

The super-synths, despite their similarities to the Reapers from Mass Effect and their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances on screen, had been the driving force for the entire season’s plot, and learning more about who they were and what drove them, whether their offer to help was genuine, and whether they had any connection to other Star Trek factions were all points that could’ve been explored. The super-synths, while hardly an original faction in a broader sci-fi environment, were something new to Star Trek, and as Trekkies I think we have a great curiosity about the Star Trek galaxy and the races present within it. Finding out more about the super-synths would have been fun.

I’d like to know more about the super-synths.

There was also the standoff over Coppelius itself. We’ve already covered how the copy-and-paste ships didn’t look great, but as a story beat this entire sequence was rushed. After Picard and Dr Jurati made their “last stand,” Acting Captain Riker showed up at the last second, positioning his fleet in between the Romulans and Coppelius. And then he opened hailing frequencies to talk to Commodore Oh.

Within moments, the zealous Zhat Vash commander had been convinced to withdraw rather than fight it out… and I think that fails as a convincing narrative beat. The Zhat Vash had been portrayed for the entire season as having an almost-religious zeal; a crusade against synthetic life born out of fear of total annihilation. And in mere seconds, Commodore Oh appeared to abandon that crusade. When faced with opposition, she chose not to fight but to withdraw.

Riker’s appearance – and the entire standoff – was too short.

The two fleets looked surprisingly well-matched, and I would have thought that Commodore Oh would have had a chance, at least, of going toe-to-toe with Acting Captain Riker. It wasn’t like the Federation armada had the Romulans horribly outnumbered. And all it would have taken, from her point of view, was for one ship to break through the blockade and fire on Coppelius Station – a single quantum torpedo would probably have done the job.

Commodore Oh and the Zhat Vash simply don’t seem like the types who would come this close to achieving their life’s ambitions – and remember that Oh had been embedded in Starfleet for literally decades – only to be scared away by a few Starfleet ships or convinced to change their lifelong aims by one speech and the beacon being shut down. At the very least, this was yet another sequence which needed much more time to unfold. Heck, I could have happily spent an entire episode on the standoff, with negotiations taking place between Federation and Zhat Vash representatives. The Zhat Vash needed to be talked into withdrawing; I don’t believe that seeing Picard’s speech and Riker’s fleet was anywhere near enough motivation for Oh to take her entire fleet and withdraw, and if it was, we needed to spend a lot longer getting to that point, seeing her agonise over the decision, perhaps facing down mutinous members of her own organisation, and so on.

Commodore Oh’s decision to withdraw was horribly rushed.

So we come back to the crux of why Et in Arcadia Ego didn’t succeed as a finale: it contained plenty of interesting characters and storylines, but didn’t have enough time to pay off most of them in anywhere close to a meaningful way. And as a result, it doesn’t feel like most of Picard Season 1’s storylines came to an end at all. Some, like Narek’s, were just completely abandoned; unceremoniously dumped with no explanation given. Others, like Dr Soong’s, were completely undeveloped, leaving him along with Sutra and several other characters feeling like one-dimensional plot devices instead of real people.

The disappointing thing, at the end of the day, isn’t that the ideas and storylines here were bad, it’s that none of them were allowed to play out in sufficient depth. With the possible exception of laying Data to rest, every single storyline that Et in Arcadia Ego brought into play or introduced for the first time were underdeveloped, cut short, and/or not sufficiently detailed. Some individual scenes and elements were less successful in their own right – like the performance of Sutra or the campfire sequence – but taken as a whole, what I wanted from Et in Arcadia Ego was more – more time for these characters, ideas, and narrative elements to play out. It feels like practically nothing in Et in Arcadia Ego saw justice done, and when I had been invested in the story, the characters, and this return to the 24th Century after such a long wait, that was disappointing.

Dr Soong.

As we approach Season 2 of Picard, which kicks off in just one week from today, I hope that the show’s writers and producers have taken on board the feedback that they surely received about Et in Arcadia Ego. The show’s second season can’t afford to repeat the mistakes made by the ending of its first, and if Picard is to end with Season 3, as some news outlets have been reporting, then it’s going to be even more important for the creative team to consider the problems of Et in Arcadia Ego and make sure that the series as a whole won’t end in such disappointing fashion.

There were successes along the way – great moments of characterisation with Admiral Picard, the “heroic last stand” story that always gets me no matter how it’s told, and of course saying a proper goodbye to Data after eighteen years. The emotional moments present in the latter half of Part 2 went some way to making up for earlier disappointments.

I can’t call Et in Arcadia Ego a failure. It brought together storylines that, even two years later, I find fascinating. The disappointment stems from the fact that those stories weren’t able to play out properly due to unnecessary time constraints, a rushed pace, and, in retrospect, eight preceding episodes that spent too long reaching this point. With Season 2 now upon us, I’m hoping for much better things from Star Trek: Picard!

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around 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.