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, and Voyager.
Picard Season 2 certainly has enjoyed its episode-ending mini-cliffhangers! I think we’ve had one in every episode now, and last week’s outing, Monsters, ended with Picard and Guinan being apprehended by the FBI. This led to an episode that felt like the season’s second detour in a row, one which dedicated a lot of its runtime to a new character, his background, and a run-in with Vulcans decades in the past.
Agent Wells may yet have a larger role to play, but with only two episodes remaining in the season, it feels like there’s a heck of a lot of story to get through. Mercy made some progress to that end, but it also got bogged down in places, and I feel like the writers aren’t always aware of the time constraints that a ten-episode season has placed on them. The last thing I want, as the season reaches what should be its climax, is for there to be a repeat of the Season 1 situation. At least in that regard we can say that most of the characters and storylines are now in play… but some feel a long way from being wrapped up.
I didn’t dislike Mercy, though, all things considered. Unlike in Monsters, where the time spent with a comatose Picard felt padded at best, there was purpose to (most) of the story threads weaved in this week’s outing. And if you’ve been keeping up with my reviews this season, you’ll know that I’ve been saying for several episodes now that I wanted Picard to refocus its energies around the Borg Queen story: well, wish granted! Mercy spent much more time on what I consider to be the season’s more interesting story – and one that feels closer to Star Trek’s high-tech 25th Century.
One question I have that feels unexplained right now is how Dr Adam Soong finds himself with such resources at his disposal. As the episode drew to a close he spoke on the phone with someone identified as a “general,” and was able to hire a private military company to assist in the Borg Queen’s mission to capture La Sirena (something I’d been predicting she’d do for a couple of weeks!) But where has Dr Soong found the ability to do something like that?
When we met Dr Soong in Fly Me To The Moon, he had been expelled from the scientific community, his licenses had been revoked, and he seemed to have lost everything. He still has a fancy house, so clearly he’s someone of financial means, but that shouldn’t allow him to just call up a general and buy mercenaries, no questions asked. I should’ve posed this question a couple of weeks ago when we encountered Dr Soong at the astronauts’ gala – how had he managed to buy his way onto the board of the Europa Mission when he’d been kicked out of the scientific community for his illegal and unethical research?
I doubt it’s a question that Picard has an answer for, and it’s a contrivance that we’ll probably just have to overlook. Still, given the way Dr Soong appeared during his encounter with the board and the consequences he suffered as a result of his work, it feels odd – and more than a little convenient for the sake of the story – that he’s someone with the resources and connections to be of use to both Q and the Borg Queen.
One neat inclusion on this side of the story seems to explain why the people from the Confederation timeline that we saw in Penance venerate and celebrate Dr Soong so long after his death. The planetary shield that was keeping Confederation Earth on “life-support” seems to be one of Dr Soong’s most significant inventions – and we saw a smaller-scale version of this technology a couple of episodes ago. Drones that Dr Soong controlled put up a kind of shield to protect Kore from the sun – and it seems like he upscaled that technology to protect Earth from an “ecological collapse.”
The Borg Queen was able to very effectively manipulate Dr Soong, using his desire to have a legacy to leverage him to work for her. She must have something planned, though, because remember in the Confederation timeline the Borg had been wiped out. Establishing that timeline is categorically not in the Borg Queen’s interest – and indeed preventing it from happening is why she agreed to assist Picard in the first place. So Dr Soong is clearly in a lot of danger!
Sticking with the Soongs, I’m really hoping that Kore has some unknown role yet to play, because right now she feels like fluff; an extraneous character who’s just here to give Isa Briones something to do in Soji’s absence. Kore may exist solely to inform aspects of Dr Soong’s character, but spending time with a fairly one-dimensional character like that doesn’t add a great deal to the story of the season overall. Her story this week continued to be incredibly repetitive, paralleling Soji and Dahj’s stories in Season 1. Kore pressed her father about her artificial origins – a genetic experiment, in this case, as opposed to being a synth – in a way that was very reminiscent of Soji learning her own backstory in the Season 1 episode The Impossible Box.
Even if characters like Kore and Agent Wells have roles to play in the next couple of episodes, I’d still argue that we probably spent too much time focusing on them this week. These are brand-new characters (albeit that one is played by a main cast member) and we just don’t have the same investment in their stories as we do in those of Picard, Raffi, Seven, Rios, and Dr Jurati. There was scope, perhaps, to cut down some of these sequences and spend more time with the main characters.
Having dedicated a lot of words to the presentation of Rios in my previous couple of reviews, I’ll try to avoid being too repetitive here. Suffice to say that Rios’ regression shows no sign of letting up, and the romantic sub-plot he’s now in with Teresa actually amplifies the sad decline in his characterisation compared with where he was at the beginning of the season. As with Kore being created to give Isa Briones something to do, I feel like the writers have invented these moments for Rios out of nowhere, dragging him backwards in terms of what could’ve been a satisfying character arc while simultaneously leaving him pretty disconnected from the rest of the story.
Think about this: when was the last time Rios said two words to Picard? Aside from a very brief conversation with Raffi when the gang infiltrated the astronauts’ gala, when was the last time he spoke to her, either? Or to anyone other than Teresa, come to that? Rios got one significant moment this week, as he identified a problem with La Sirena’s transporter that has a bearing on the stories involving Raffi, Seven, and the Borg Queen. But that moment wasn’t necessarily a “Rios” moment; it could’ve been anyone who discovered the Borg code in the system.
As speculated in my last theory post, I wonder if Rios is being set up for an heroic death sometime before the end of the season. Skip this paragraph if you’re concerned about Season 3 spoilers, but after Paramount announced that the main cast of The Next Generation would be coming on board for Picard Season 3 in a big way, it’s not at all clear what that means for the current crop of characters. With Elnor already gone and Soji sidelined, killing off Rios and perhaps the Borg Queen in Dr Jurati’s body would only leave Seven of Nine and Raffi heading into Season 3, and that feels like it could be a more manageable number of characters for another ten-episode outing.
In short, Rios may be drawing the short straw here. His story of being detained and deported was a timely one that shone a light on America’s problem with immigration and the way migrants are handled, and as a Hispanic man, Rios clearly fit the bill for that story from the writers’ point of view. But when that story ended, Rios felt listless. Cut loose by the series and serving a pretty minor role in terms of the main story, his side-story with Teresa could be an attempt to give emotional weight to Rios’ potential death. By showing us his love for Teresa – and thus presumably her reaction to his death – Picard may be trying to score some added emotional points when the moment finally comes.
We learned some really interesting details about the Borg in an understated way thanks to Seven of Nine and Dr Jurati. Mercy may go on to be an important episode that future Borg stories can call back to, and as a Trekkie I’m always fascinated by the minutia of how things like Borg assimilation actually work! In the case of a normal Borg drone, they’re able to assimilate someone by forcing nanoprobes into their body. The nanoprobes bring with them the metals and materials needed to self-replicate, and it sounds as if this process has been honed by the Borg over a long period of time. The process relies on high-quality materials that the Borg must produce or refine somehow.
Without any nanoprobes of her own, or with a very limited number, the Borg Queen inhabiting Dr Jurati’s body must acquire the raw materials to construct more – and this is where the idea of taking lithium from batteries came into play in one of the series’ most disturbing sequences to date! The striking visual presentation of Dr Jurati with the wrecked cars drew on things like zombie fiction in a really tense and horrifying way.
I love everything about this side of the story. The concept that the Borg Queen needs to acquire resources, the way in which she’s going about it, the fact that the 21st Century doesn’t really provide her with what she needs… all of this works so incredibly well. In addition to exploring more about Borg technology and Borg assimilation, which would be fascinating in its own right, the story that’s unfolding is engrossing and exciting.
After several episodes in which this side of the story felt like an afterthought, giving it a proper moment in the spotlight felt cathartic. This is the kind of storytelling I’ve been wanting ever since Season 2 took us on this mission back in time, and while it’s come pretty late in the game and in an episode that had those other less interesting elements, I’m glad we finally got to see more from the Borg Queen.
Seven of Nine was at her best on this side of the story, showing off an emotional and vulnerable reaction to being face-to-face, once again, with the Borg. Her confrontation with the partially-assimilated Dr Jurati clearly brought back bad memories, and led to a minor conflict with Raffi – understandably so, perhaps, but I’m glad it was resolved and didn’t descend into a major relationship drama!
One of the best things that Picard has done has been to give Seven of Nine some much-needed character development, and seeing her reacting like this – in a very human, emotional way – is further evidence of that wonderful arc. I said when Seven was reintroduced in Season 1 that she’d become one of my least-favourite Voyager characters toward the end of that show’s run, and the reason for that was how boring and repetitive she was (combined, perhaps, with the fact that she was overused by the show’s writers). Seven would learn some lesson in “how to be human” one week, then forget it all by the next episode, leaving her feeling static and undeveloped. Picard has completely reworked her character in a way that feels natural; that she’s made genuine and lasting progress since the events of Voyager, now twenty-five years in her past.
This progression of Seven’s arc has been shown in a new light by bringing her back into conflict with the Borg. The decision to remove her Borg implants for Season 2 – including, as she noted this week, internal implants that aren’t seen – has added to this new, more human presentation. Coming face-to-face with the Borg again is already proving to be traumatic for her, bringing up awful memories that she can’t escape.
We saw this in Season 1 with Picard himself, particularly in the episode The Impossible Box when he boarded the Artifact. But rather than feeling like a redux of that story, Seven’s feels unique. The way she reacts, as someone who had been assimilated at a much younger age and who remained a member of the Borg Collective for much longer, is completely different to the very visceral reaction that Picard had. Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd played off one another perfectly during these sequences, processing Seven’s trauma while also trying to stay focused on the task at hand.
Speaking of trauma, Seven isn’t the only one dealing with it. Raffi is also coming to terms with Elnor’s death, and while she had been hoping that restoring the timeline might save his life, I think we got another significant hint here that that isn’t going to happen. In a flashback sequence we saw how Raffi had persuaded Elnor to remain at Starfleet Academy instead of returning to Vashti, “manipulating” him, to use her and Seven’s words. This is making her feel even more responsible for Elnor’s death.
Coming to terms with trauma can require someone to confront unpleasant truths about themselves, and while I wouldn’t say what Raffi did with Elnor was excessive or horribly manipulative, she recoginises that the way she reacted to him – and the way she treats others in her life, including Seven – can come across that way. Her desire to get the right outcome for herself can be overriding, and she knows just what to say to people to get them to do what she wants. I’m not sure what the series plans to do with this revelation, but if Raffi sticks around going into Season 3, perhaps it’ll be something she consciously tries to work on.
We got confirmation of a theory that emerged as far back as Penance: there’s something wrong with Q. Q believes that he’s dying, as evidenced by his declining powers, and although he seemed somewhat accepting of it at first, he’s clearly rattled and unsure of what’s happening to him. We have no indication right now of what might’ve caused Q’s declining health – nor how far Picard may be involved. After several episodes in which this has been teased, going all the way back to the second episode of the season, I really hope we get a proper and thorough explanation for why Q is dying (or for whatever else might be happening to him) before the story concludes.
One line from Q was particularly interesting: he told Guinan that: “the trap is immaterial; it’s the escape that counts.” To me, that feels like it embodies Q’s entire philosophy, at least insofar as his dealings with Picard are concerned. He sets puzzles not for their own sake, but to see how Picard will react and respond. He judges those reactions, as we saw throughout The Next Generation, but he also possesses a curiosity – he genuinely doesn’t know what Picard will do, and he wants to see it for himself. In that sense, Q is almost, in his own very twisted way, studying Picard and humanity.
There were other interesting snippets from Q’s conversation with Guinan. The idea of a “temporal horizon” being part of how members of the Q Continuum perceive the universe is a neat concept, helping to visualise for us as the audience something that’s fundamentally difficult to grasp. Q experiences time in some kind of linear fashion, even though he’s able to travel to different eras at will. His own personal past is still in the past, and he has a future – except that his future is now something he cannot see or perceive. It’s a complex thing to wrap one’s head around, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve fully understood it nor successfully communicated my interpretation of it! But suffice to say that I think we have a better understanding of the Q Continuum after Mercy.
One word that Q used almost passed by unnoticed: “redeem.” Does Q believe that what he’s doing right now is some kind of redemption for himself? If so, is the “penance” he told Picard about earlier in the season part of some kind of punishment he’s inflicting not upon Picard, but upon himself? How would showing Picard a warped, broken timeline redeem Q? And, come to that, what is he seeking redemption from? There are a lot of unanswered questions!
As Q showed Guinan the extent of his failing powers, it raised a question that I’d been contemplating since before the season aired (and that has been part of my theory list). Is Q truly responsible for breaking the timeline in the first place? Picard assumed so when Q first reappeared, but as he seems to be losing his powers, it seems plausible to suggest that making such a dramatic change is no longer something that Q is capable of.
In addition to all of that, we have the question of cause-and-effect. When Q emerged at the end of The Star Gazer, the damage to the timeline had already been done. Yet recent episodes have shown us Q running around in the 21st Century seemingly trying to enact the change to the timeline that Picard hopes to prevent. In The Star Gazer and Penance, Q seemed to be in full possession of his powers, even changing his appearance. But if those events happened after what we’re seeing now, from Q’s perspective, does that mean he got better? Or did he somehow break the timeline, travel back in time to continue to observe Picard, and then start to lose his powers? My head hurts!
Picard and Guinan’s interrogation by Agent Wells was interesting, but as stated above I think it ran a little too long and took us on a bit of a detour. If Agent Wells comes back and has a significant moment later in the season, maybe that will be excusable; just one part of an evolving and developing story. But if this is to be his sole appearance, it’s certainly an odd choice for the season to have dedicated so much time to his character and backstory. The entire “apprehended by the FBI” story thread could’ve been cut out, with Picard and possibly Guinan joining the hunt for Dr Jurati instead. We’ll have to wait and see what comes next before passing judgement.
One storyline that the FBI interrogation successfully wrapped up was Rios’ missing combadge. This had fallen by the wayside in recent episodes, and after the point of divergence in the timeline was revealed to be the Europa Mission, its potential importance slipped away. It came back this week in an interesting way, but ultimately this was little more than a bluff and a tease – not only from Agent Wells to Picard, but from the show’s writers to us as the audience! The combadge could’ve ended up as a “butterfly,” with its unknown impact rippling along the timeline. As it is, Agent Wells gave it back to Picard and it can once again disappear from the plot.
The Vulcan sub-plot was interesting, and certainly served to give motivation to Agent Wells as he pursued Picard, Guinan, and all things alien. It also led to a moment with Picard that one again highlighted his calm, diplomatic style, and that’s something I’ll never tire of seeing! However, if there was supposed to be a connection with the Enterprise episode Carbon Creek, which saw Vulcans on Earth in the 1950s, it wasn’t particularly well-established by the short flashback sequence that we got.
More could’ve been done to show what the Vulcans were doing on Earth, or even to establish that young Agent Wells was in the town of Carbon Creek, for instance. That would’ve been a fun easter egg to long-time fans. As it is, the connection is more implicit than explicit – which is fine, I guess! But in a story about time travel that hasn’t had many opportunities to connect to the wider franchise (aside from a few references to The Voyage Home and Past Tense) this kind of feels like a missed opportunity to make a solid connection.
Storylines in which the hero is apprehended by the authorities while on a time-sensitive mission can be irritating for me. I can find myself feeling frustrated and wanting to shout at the show or film to “just get on with it!” But to Mercy’s credit, that didn’t really happen this time around. The episode was entertaining, and even though the FBI interrogation sequences weren’t the highlight, they were well-paced and inoffensive enough. My hope now is that there’ll be some bigger point to all of it – something to tie together Picard, the Borg Queen, Q, and the rest of the characters and storylines currently in play.
So that was Mercy. We got some significant development of key storylines, but those developments have come pretty late in the season – and there’s still a lot of work to do if we’re to see everything neatly wrapped up in just two weeks’ time. I’m hopeful that Picard has an ace up its sleeve – possibly even a season-ending cliffhanger – that will make the detours and side-stories feel worthwhile rather than like fluff.
What I will say in praise of Mercy – and of the show’s writing as a whole – is that the end of the season feels far from formulaic. I can’t tell what’s going to happen next, nor what the ultimate destination of this story is. Several characters feel in imminent danger – Q, Rios, Dr Jurati, Dr Soong, and even Seven of Nine and Raffi. But what will come next for any of them is still up in the air. The only thing we know for certain right now is that the Borg Queen plans to make a move on La Sirena. Rios is aware of that, but with Picard and the others stuck half a world away, will they be able to get there in time? I have no idea… and after more than thirty years as a fan, I love that Star Trek can still take me on a rollercoaster ride that goes in wildly unpredictable directions!
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.