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