I had expected that the second season of Picard would stream in Paramount+ in Australia. However, to my surprise, it is available on Prime. So having not planned on watching it, I am now watching it. Cora has two extensive summaries of the details of the first two episodes here and here. If you aren’t watching the series but would like to know what has happened so far, her posts have the key details. I’m going to be vaguer but still spoilery, so if you’d rather not know, don’t go further.
I enjoyed a lot of Picard season 1. At times it felt like there was a broader, deeper plot in the chaotic blending of themes. In particular, the show had this sense of trying to grapple with some kind of thesis about intelligence and artifice. However, in fact, it had nowhere to go. The central mystery was a scary mechanical tentacle AI from beyond which wasn’t very different from the season 2 monster from Star Trek Discovery. The Borg, Data, Hugh, 7-of-9, Romulans, holographic intelligence were just a grab-bag of things rather than a thematic collection circling around a point — of it there was a point it was uh-oh-robot apocalypse-kill-all-humans and then no-actually-peace.
Seeing Picard season 1 as a big, long story was a mistake. It did have a more integrated plot than Discovery but looking back at it, in truth it really still had that more classic Star Trek approach of a bunch of wacky adventures with a varying tone between episodes. The difference was, each episode naturally spilled over into the next avoiding episodic resolution.
Judging by episodes 1 and 2 of the second season, the same formula applies but more so. Episode 1 is a first contact story with a twist when it turns out the weird alien contact through a space-time rift is the Borg. Episode 2 is a parallel universe/no-oops-actually/timeline-gone-wrong episode. Episode 3 will probably be a time travel episode or something else altogether. Put look like that, you have a classic Trek formula but strung together with cliffhangers and twists at the end. It is an approach that reminds me of later seasons of Agents of Shield, where there was nominally an overarching plot that really was just an excuse for entertaining circumstances. Each episode has no need to reach a dramatic resolution but instead pulls the plot into the next unresolvable plot.
So the key question becomes do we want to hang around the people stuck on the narrative rollercoaster? Yes. Great actors, interesting characters. It’s a fun ride, I’m just not going to assume this time that it is heading anywhere.
Episode 1 pulls together the rag-tag “crew” from season 1. Picard is back in France and is struggling with his past and his own intimacy issues. Laris, the Irish Romulan (lots of planets have an Ireland) bluntly makes her feelings known about Picard who doesn’t know how to cope with that. He’s rescued (so to speak) by a space emergency that pulls him back into the company of Rios, Dr Jurati, Seven, Raffi and Elnor. That all goes horribly wrong, everything explodes and Picard finds himself back at his chateaux in a weird uniform and the pre-advertised return of Q.
Episode 2 finds our heroes in the Mirror universe. Actually, it’s maybe a notch or two down from the mirror universe. It’s more like the Inferno parallel world that the Pertwee Dr Who found himself dealing with. While the Mirror universe is absurdly evil, Picard’s new reality is intended to be an authoritarian quasi-fascist possible reality in which the federation (now confederation) is a human-nationalist force bent on dominating the rest of the galaxy. So, just like the mirror universe but with dark grey uniforms and less kitsch.
It’s not a mirror universe at all though but a timeline-gone-wrong-verse. Which is a distinction without much difference. Agnes Jurati has a (computer) talking cat in her dystopia, voiced by Patton Oswalt. Like the rest of Picard’s quasi-crew, she is herself in this dystopia but inhabiting the role of the dystopian version of herself, which appears to be the role of evil-torture-scientist and yet she has a cute sarcastic talking cat. Seven gets to be President. Picard has a room full of trophy skulls.
The aesthetic feels like a futurised version of Ian Mckellan’s take on Richard III or maybe that’s just the inevitable blending of McKellan and Stewart in my head.
The deeper plot connection with the previous episode is the presence of the Borg Queen — now a trophy prisoner of the Confederation but with a sense of the disrupted timeline. She recognises Seven as a former Borg and likewise Picard. Together, the Picard gang (I’m not sure what to call this group) plot to shift the story onto whatever Episode 3 will be about which involves finding a way to get everybody in the same place in time for the next cliffhanger.
We will see where this is all going. It’s entertaining and I think episode 2 takes itself less seriously (despite the fascism and genocide) than episode 1 or season 1. That’s probably for the best because it really didn’t have any big points to make. Weirdly, Discovery dug deeper with its version of the Mirror universe, which was absurdly operatic but which used violence and brutality not to contrast with the Federation but to draw parallels. In particular, revealing that Captain Lorca was actually a Mirror universe escapee who had been getting along just fine as a widely admired Federation Captain in the midst of a war.
Picard’s sojourn into dystopia, only highlighted the differences. I guess Q’s final moral-of-the-story will be that even arch-humanist Picard has the seeds of fascism within him but episode 2 only emphasised how the Federation is not like the Confederation. Yet the parallels are there and have always been there: why are the scientific and exploration role of humanity and the federation done by warships crewed by people organised by military ranks? OK, we know why externally and how it ties to Gene Rodenberry’s experiences and the grab-bag of ideas he threw together. Within universe, though, the show has always had this weird lingering tension, if anything heightened by The Next Generation.
It’s not a terrible idea given how well Star Trek has worked over the decades but it is an inherently weird one. The utopian aspect of Trek includes this idea of an overtly military body with ranks and military hierarchy that’s just generally quite nice. Kirk’s enterprise is often a nicer, more considerate workplace than some not-for-profits I’ve worked for. So, you have this accidental bit of socio-political speculative fiction: what if we took all the trappings of militarism (ranks, uniforms, martial training, discipline) but made it nice? What is that? Is it subverting fascism or is it pretending fascism could be nice? I think the values emphasised by the series undermines any attempt to see it as a way of just painting rainbow colours over a fascist superstructure.
Kirk’s mirror universe only served to highlight the difference with an absurdly evil alternative. Lorca’s mirror was more subversive. I think the mistake with Picard’s fascist timeline is that it was still too sharp a contrast with the Federation but we’ll see. The question of how the Confederation comes about by some historical fork in the road is one we will see.
9 responses to “Picard Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2”
Prime? Good news for me!
MIchael Chabon isn’t the showrunner this time around, and that’s showing up right away–the pacing, particularly in episode 2, is faster and more crisp. Patrick Stewart gave a really good performance in episode 2, flipping between several emotional states (shock and bewilderment in dealing with Q, despair over the recording of General Picard, and a chilling turn onstage about to exterminate the Borg Queen, in which he amped up the screaming onlookers with a scowl and a fist pump) at the drop of a hat. I’m a bit irritated though because these writers apparently don’t know what to do with Elnor, and he’s such a fascinating character.
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Yes, Elnor is underused so far
Poor Soji is even more underused, though I personally never found her that interesting.
As for Michael Chabon, he’s a fine novelist and essayist, but not all that great as a screenwriter and it shows in his attempts, whether it’s John Carter or season 1 of Picard.
[…] ETA: Camestros Felapton weighs in on the first two episodes of Star Trek Picard here. […]
My husband is not happy. Mainly because Discovery has already done alternate timelines/universes, time travel, etc., and what they’ve chosen to try out for Picard is repetitive and not particularly compelling, despite the guest stars. And also because they already did Borg stuff in Season 1. The first season of this show started off terrific, the characters were strong, but it then devolved into the weird android apocalypse that made little sense except for the thematic strand of Picard confronting his own mortality and complicated legacy and how he would live the last part of his life. At the end, he had a team/crew of very talented if emotionally damaged specialists and the assumption would be them having space adventures in Season 2.
Season 2 opens with them a couple of years later all scattered mostly instead of a crew, but in believable ways and them coming together over an anomaly was fun. But the theme this season is taken from Patrick Stuart’s past life — the abuse of his mother. Picard’s past has him failing his abused mother in some way and thus supposedly why he never settled down with Beverly or anybody. But to do that, they felt the need to kill off a great Romulan character and had the other shoved into a relationship overture that seems totally forced and was a waste of Whoopie returning really. Picard’s inability to settle down was really already explored in Season 1 — he doesn’t like sitting still and can’t turn down a great challenge out in space when he thinks he can help.
So while it is all very Trek, it just seems like it’s running over old ground, treading water, including that they are trying to get back to 2024 and recreating Star Trek film #4 without the whales. As much as I enjoyed Q showing up, etc., and as good as the actors are, it just seems tired. But some of the borg stuff may be interesting, depending on what they do with it.
Yes, I revised my expectations down. If I’d forked out extra for Paramount+ I would have been disappointed
[…] Camestros Felapton: Picard Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2 […]
I always took TNG as arguing that the Federation was just such a utopian place that even its military was caring and peace-loving.