Oct 14, 2020
Star Trek: Picard “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”
Last time on Picard with a Vengeance: Picard watched helplessly as the android woman he saved because her enemies were convinced she was going to usher in the apocalypse ushered in the apocalypse. Dick move there. If I were in his position, I would simply not save her.
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Our first episode not to start with a flashback instead finds Narek—who, you will remember, escaped with the help of the spooky gold version of Soji who apparently runs everything here—going on a hiking trip, arriving at the crashed Artifact. Memory Alpha says Borg cubes are 3 kilometers to a side, so it doesn’t seem very likely that he should come across Elnor and Seven, but dammit, he sure does.
He sneaks around them to meet Narissa, whom we last saw getting beamed out of an angry xB dogpile, and whose presence here is therefore a mystery. They hug and run off to Narissa’s hiding place. Narek fills a sack of grenades with which he says he’ll try to destroy the synths’ giant ship-killing flowers. He departs, followed covertly by Elnor.
On La Sirena, Rios is facing a totaled ship and has nothing to fix it with but a weird tool the synths gave him with the instructions “use your imagination”. With Raffi’s encouragement, he points the tool at a broken thing and visualizes what would make it whole again, and the tool does exactly what he asked.
Then Raffi and Rios hear a noise from outside and find Narek throwing rocks at the ship. He says he’s got a sack full of grenades that can blow up the synths’ emergency beacon, and they should work together. R&R bring Narek back to the synth city, pretending they just found him in the desert and brought him back to face justice for killing that synth woman, while Rios smuggles the grenades into the city inside a soccer ball.
Meanwhile, Jurati has bamboozled Dr. Soong into leaving his lab long enough to steal an eyeball from the synth that Narek murdered last week, and use it to unlock Picard’s jail cell.
Dr. Soong comes back to his lab and immediately makes two fortunate discoveries (neither of which are “hey, someone pulled the eye out of that corpse!” or “hey, Picard is gone!”). Firstly, thanks to Jurati’s work, his new android body is fully functional and ready to receive a human consciousness. Second, visual data from the murdered synth shows that it was actually Sutra who stabbed her in the eye. Now knowing the horrible truth, Dr. Soong has a change of heart about the genocide and meets up with our conspirators at the base of the beacon to co-conspire.
Their plan springs into action. As Sutra gives an impassioned speech about their exciting new destiny, Dr. Soong steps in and gives her an admonishing lecture. He turns her off with the help of a special disciplinary tool which makes her subjectively binge the entire run of Star Trek: Enterprise in a split second, putting her to sleep instantly. Elnor and Narek both jump out and begin kung-fu fighting random people.
Rios opens his soccer ball and releases a drone with the explosives. Soji, whom Dr. Soong can’t turn off for some reason, catches the drone and throws it far up into the sky to explode harmlessly.
Meanwhile, Picard and Jurati hijack La Sirena and Picard manhandles the unfamiliar holographic controls until he meets the Romulan fleet which has just come out of warp in the upper atmosphere of Coppelius.
Several of those kooky flying orchids face the hundreds-strong fleet and put up token resistance before crumbling beneath Romulan disruptors.
Jurati has heard of the “Picard maneuver” and suggests using it here. Picard says that making the ship look like it’s in two places at once would be useless against such a large fleet… to which Jurati suggests using their new magic imagination scribbler to multiply the effect.
Down on the planet, Narissa has gotten the Artifact’s weapons systems active and has a target lock on La Sirena. Seven meets her and they fight. Having overwhelmed her, Narissa taunts Seven, asking why she didn’t end it all after she got un-assimilated. “Because I still had this to look forward to,” she says. She kicks Narissa off a ledge, killing her [?]. She says that was for Hugh, whom I wasn’t aware she ever met.
Picard radios Soji on the ground, who’s busy doing stuff with the beacon. He tells her he wants to give her something that might convince her not to pull the curtains down on organic civilization: “My life.” (Why should she care about this? He was already gonna die in he apocalypse.) He turns on the everything-doer and hundreds of Las Sirenas appear in front of the confused Romulan fleet, who try to shoot them all.
Picard flies straight into the barrage until La Sirena gets clipped. The fake ships disappear and the real ship spins around as Soji watches horrified from the ground. With that annoyance out of the way, the Romulan fleet turns its weapons back on the beacon. The beacon powers up and begins to make a circular hole in spacetime. The hole leads to a red-colored hell dimension, and mechanical centipedes crawl out with their metal mandibles dripping with hunger for flesh.
Oh instructs her fleet to resume the attack order on the city, but it seems as if Picard’s bought just enough time. A Federation fleet pops out of warp directly opposite the Romulan one, and Acting Captain Will Riker radios over to Oh, telling her this planet is under Federation protection.
Oh refuses to stand down and both sides warm up their weapons for a Discovery-style Extremely Loud and Busy Space Battle. Picard’s brain picks a great time to blow up. With his head hurting, Picard makes a last-ditch effort, putting in another call to Soji, on an open channel so everyone can see. He implores Soji to prove the Romulans wrong and turn off the beacon. He says that he saved her life because he trusts her to make the right decision not to kill the whole galaxy.
Picard: I know you. I believe in you. That’s why I saved your lives, so you could save ours in return. That’s the whole point! That’s why we’re here. To save each other.
Making a decision, Soji punches the controls, shutting the beacon down. The centipedes crawl furtively back inside the portal before it closes, and the Romulans do a classic Embarrassed Departure After Getting Caught Committing War Crimes. With that, Picard finally collapses. “His brain abnormality… it’s failing!” cries Jurati hilariously, and the two are immediately beamed to the planet with enough time left that everyone can gather around and watch Picard die, speechifying to the end.
Picard wakes up in a black and austere version of his own study which is floating in space. To his great surprise, Data is here.
He says Picard isn’t dreaming; his consciousness is inside a sophisticated quantum simulation which also contains Data’s. Overjoyed, Picard finally gets the chance to thank Data for sacrificing his own life to save his back in Nemesis, and to tell him how much he loves him. They enjoy a philosophical tête-à-tête on the nature of sacrifice. Data informs Picard that he must go soon, and asks that he make a promise before he departs: that he shut off the quantum simulation and let Data “die”. Again. He’s come to appreciate the fact that mortality is what gives significance to human actions, and as part of his quest to be human he wants in on it. They don’t embrace before Picard leaves, for fear of wrinkling Brent Spiner’s latex at a crucial moment.
Picard wakes up in a medical gurney, his transfer into an android body complete.
His new body is pretty much the same as the old one, minus the kablooey brain. He has no robot superpowers, and is designed with a mortality algorithm to give him more or less how much time he could’ve expected without the brain abnormality (all seven months of it). This officially makes this not only the second time the Star Trek franchise has discovered the cure for death and then done nothing with it, but also the second franchise in which Patrick Stewart dies and then puts his mind into a new body.
Determined to carry out his promise, Picard puts on a record of “Blue Skies”, which Data can hear in the simulation, seated in an easy chair with a glass of brandy. This quantum simulation exists in a clunky computer pulled right out of TOS, complete with big honking knobs and three bulbs of dubious utility. Three big orange USB sticks power the simulation, and Picard solemnly pulls them out one by one and quotes Shakespeare as Data ages rapidly and finally dissipates into a mist.
With that done, the La Sirena Gang assembles on the bridge of the ship and announces their intention to travel around and see the universe. Much like protagonists on a television show would. Engage! etc.
So now that Picard‘s first season has wrapped up, what are my thoughts? Well, first one: The theme of aging and confronting one’s mortality is a pretty well-worn one on Star Trek—the majority of the Star Trek movies are about exactly this—but the circumstances of the outside world right now have imbued it with a throbbing relevance. The age group that your average Star Trek veteran comfortably fits into is dropping like a bunch of redshirts. I don’t mind telling you the room got real dusty when Picard and Data were talking about dying. Call your grandparents, everybody. They need to hear from you.
Second: they could easily have cut a looooooot of the chaff from this season and turned it into a two-part pilot. They could have cut right to the chase, and gotten Picard and his motley crew to wander around the galaxy Kung Fu-style with a minimum of fuss. You could have still done all the subplots about Raffi’s kid and Rios’s aborted Starfleet career and all that crap that didn’t end up affecting anything; they could have just been sprinkled throughout whiz-bang episodic plots where Picard robs a bank or something cool like that.
Third: I was really hoping this show would get radical, like, really radical. Expand its political imagination. Examine the dark implications its own setting the way that Deep Space Nine did, looking at the Federation’s militarism, colonialism, and neoliberal obsession with the status quo. The show could have examined the flaws in Picard too, and how he’s changed since TNG, and not just act like a hagiography of the character. The show made feints in these directions before settling into the warm, urine-tinged bath of nostalgia.
That’s it for now. See you around for Season 2, assuming civilization endures.