Star Trek: Picard continues to speed toward its season finale.
And the ride is particularly bumpy. Not necessarily in the best way, either.
When Patrick Stewart returned to the role of Jean-Luc Picard, there was natural skepticism. Could the stalwart hero of Star Trek: The Next Generation translate from episodic adventures to modern, long-form storytelling?
The answer to that question is, well, complicated.
But this week’s episode of Star Trek: Picard, ‘Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1,’ had difficulty getting out of its own way. And it points to an all-too familiar season finale.
La Sirena drops out of warp in the orbit of Soji’s (Isa Briones) home world, with Narek (Harry Treadaway) in hot pursuit. Fortunately for Picard and his crew, Seven (Jeri Ryan) is piloting the Borg Cube in hot pursuit of Narek.
But, at the last minute, giant orchids reach up from the planet surface and drag all three ships down. No, seriously. I wish I could say that’s as ridiculous as this episode of Star Trek: Picard gets.
Picard is knocked out in the crash, and a scan by Agnes (Allison Pill) reveals to her and the rest of the crew that Picard has a degenerative (and fatal) brain disorder. But there’s no time for that, as the crew marches first toward the crashed Artifact in search of Hugh and Elnor (Evan Evagora).
Elnor, Seven, and a handful of ex-Borg survived the crash.
From there, the team makes its way to the synth settlement and meet Altan Soong (Brent Spiner), the son of Data’s creator, Noonian Soong. And Soji meets Sutra, also played by Briones. Soong and Maddox worked together to create new synths. But after the attack on Mars led to the ban, Maddox fled with Data’s positrons to create Dahj and Soji. Both were created and sent to Earth and the Artifact, respectively, to discover who was responsible for the Mars attack.
Sutra noticing apprehension, mind-melds (wait, what?) with Agnes. She retrieves the vision of Admonition implanted by Commodore Oh. Sutra reveals that it isn’t an Admonition against artificial life. The vision originated from a race of synthetics 200,000 years earlier as a message to future synthetic life. A message to call on them should they be threatened by organic beings.
With the revelation that the Romulans are on their way to the planet, Soji, Soong, and Sutra see no way to defend themselves. Other than sending a beacon to the signal’s origins for backup, risking the extinction of organic life for the sake of saving their world.
As has been the case since the premiere, Star Trek: Picard, the series is carried by its performances.
Briones keeps growing into her role. Roles, now. In many ways, she is the star of the series. Not just because this story is primarily hers, with Picard as a familiar sort of master-of-ceremonies.
And Briones plays all of her various roles differently. Dahj and Soji were very similar, but her turn as Sutra opens a new window to the actress’s talent.
Stewart, as the titular Picard, though, seems all too comfortable slipping further and further from the forefront. His mere presence elevates the rest of the cast, but his own performance is affected. What I mistook for subtlety in earlier episodes is starting to become, well, Patrick Stewart checking out.
Spiner’s performance as Soong is decent, but unlike Briones, he doesn’t infuse this latest of Data’s many relatives with anything different. This is basically the performance he gave as Noonien Soong on Star Trek: The Next Generation. And it’s only a little less malevolent than his performance as Arik Soong from Star Trek: Enterprise.
But his touch of whimsy, in a role as yet another exposition machine (pun intended), gives this “calm before the storm” episode some heft that it’s otherwise lacking.
Writing And Directing
Showrunner Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman turned in a script for Star Trek: Picard akin to a Game Of Thrones placeholder episode.
It has no real drive of its own. No considerable story growth, other than setting up a finale that’s sure to be heavy with space battles and fight scenes.
There is some measure of character growth, as Soji takes a new turn in her arc. As mentioned before, Soji is the star of this show. And the last several episodes have gone a long way to more clearly defining her character. Unfortunately, this episode defines her character as someone who will side with whoever made the last inspirational speech to her.
Picard and Soji have a scene together that pays lip service to a classic Star Trek philosophical discussion. They talk about the logic of sacrifice for a few seconds – during which, it feels like Star Trek – before intercutting between Sutra and Narek pushing a mystery/plot/conspiracy narrative forward.
Star Trek: Picard has enough conspiracies wrapped in plots and shrouded in mysteries. It didn’t need another one.
Akiva Goldsman’s direction is paced well enough, but it isn’t able to save the shortcoming of the script. Star Trek: Picard remains one of the best-looking shows on all of television. It is feature-quality film making.
But it can’t save subpar writing at every turn. It’s especially hard to stomach this episode, because it all but invalidates the strong episodes that directly preceded it.
Star Trek: Picard is on its way to an unfortunately-predictable season finale.
The synthetics will be the bad guys after all, Soji will do the right thing, and there’ll be a three-pronged space battle. The Romulans, the extra-galactic synths, and Starfleet. Probably led by Riker (he had a throwaway line in ‘Nepenthe‘ about being on active reserve).
I want to be wrong, and I want the second part of this two-part finale to be unpredictably great.
But based on this week’s episode, Star Trek: Picard is blandly going where every sci-fi franchise has gone before.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Picard' - Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1
- Briones is finding herself in multiple roles
- Feature-quality direction
- Brent Spiner's appearance was a nice surprise
- Spot 2, and I will say no more
- Paint-by-numbers writing
- Patrick Stewart is starting to phone it in
- Soji's character grows, but in the most nonsensical ways
- The show is heading for a predictable finale