A Picard viewing list

With the final episode of Star Trek: Picard now released, I thought I’d go over a list of related episodes from past iterations of Star Trek. The majority of these are the episodes (or films) I have recently rewatched and reviewed. There are a few that I have included that I intend to rewatch soon but haven’t yet. I’ve put those ones in square brackets. The season 2 episode “Q-Who” and the season 4 episode “Family” I have rewatched but I didn’t write about them specifically.

Do you need to watch all these to understand the plot of Picard? Absolutely not. In fact, aside from having a general idea about Picard and Data and Trek background like the Romulans and the Borg being baddies, Picard the show explains most of its own background. Even so, if you want a refresher but don’t want to watch every hour of Trek-related TV that is available, then I’ve marked out those episodes that I’d recommend for a shorter primer.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

It is the dubious attempt to re-boot a beloved TV show that after a shaky start became a beloved TV show in its own right.

  • [TNG Season 1: Encounter at Farpoint] Connection: This is the pilot episode of the rebooted TV series and introduces the main characters of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Will Riker, Deanna Troi and Data, all of whom turn up in Picard. Watch or not? Low priority. At best it will make some of the references in other episodes on this list.
  • TNG Season 2: The Measure of a Man. Connection: This episode introduces Maddox as an antagonist who is a key character in Picard. It is also a key Data-centric episode and sets up some of the ethical debates about synthetic people. Watch or not? There are much stronger episodes of TNG but this is one of the better ones of the early years of the show. Worth a watch.
  • TNG Season 2: Q-Who. Connection: Say hello to the Borg. Faceless and indefatigable and full of menace. A strong early episode for TNG. Watch or not? Fun but you can easily skip this one. Although it is the Borg debut, the episode is more about Q, the mischievous demi-god who likes to troll Picard.
  • TNG Season 3: The Offspring. Connection: Data creates his first daughter but his attempt at fatherhood ends in tragedy. Data is often played as a comical character but here he is given a more tragic element. Watch or not? Watch. It adds more pathos to the attempt at creating new descendants of Data. It is also an episode in which the relationship between Picard and Data shifts.
  • TNG Season 3/4: The Best of Both Worlds (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Picard is assimilated by the Borg to become Locotus-of-Borg. Arguably the most iconic episode of TNG. Watch or not? Watch. A strong double episode with some clever plot misdirection and a devastating enemy. Picard’s trauma from the encounter suffuses later episodes and is a core aspect of the Picard show.
  • TNG Season 4: Family. Connection: The episode introduces Picard’s family home (a vineyard in France) and his brother’s family. Watch or not? It is an OK episode but you can skip this unless you intend to watch the film Generations. [ETA A good point made by Mart in the comments is that this episode really shows the depth of Picard’s trauma.]
  • TNG Season 5: I, Borg. Connection: We meet Hugh the Borg for the first time and Picard has to deal with the conflict between his duty, his hatred of the Borg, his trauma and his sense of decency. Watch or not? Watch. There are better episodes of TNG but this is a thoughtful episode with a key character for the Picard show.
  • [TNG Season 5: Unification (Parts 1 & 2)] Connection: Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock in an episode that explores the background of the Vulcans and Romulans. Watch or not? I don’t know! Looking at my list I noticed that I’m short of anything Romulan related.
  • TNG Season 6/7: Descent (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Another Data-centric episode with not just Borg but Data’s brother and the return of Hugh-the-Borg. Watch or not? It’s OK to skip this one. It is entertaining but it meanders a fair bit.
  • TNG Season 7: All Good Things. Connection: An old Picard goes on one last mission to save the galaxy. Watch or not? The resolution of the story involves changing the timeline, so technically none of it happened. A fun way to close off TNG but you don’t need to see it for Picard.

Star Trek Movies

After a run of successful films featuring the original crew, the film series made the leap to the next generation of Starfleet officers.

  • Movie: Star Trek Generations. Connection: The first of the Star Trek movie series to feature the cast of The Next Generation. The final episode of Picard pick up some of the same themes off life and death. Watch or not? Data has his own character arc in the film and if you want to follow Data through as a character then this is relevant. Otherwise safe to skip.
  • [Movie: Star Trek First Contact]. Connection: The Borg are back and this time they have a queen. Watch or not? I’ll need to rewatch it but I suspect not.
  • Movie: Star Trek Nemesis. Connection: Romulans, Data, Picard and Nothing but Blue Skies. More than anything, Picard is a sequel to this final Star Trek movie prior to the reboot. Watch or not? Oh dear…that is very hard to say. In many ways it is a key text for Picard and in many other ways it really isn’t very good as a film and in places quite objectionable. Watch at your own risk.
  • [Movie: Star Trek (reboot)]. Connection: Establishes the destruction of Romulan home world (a cosmic accident that seems to keep happening to the Federation’s enemies…suspicious if you ask me). Watch or not? I’m mentioning it only for completeness. Skip it for these purposes but it is an entertaining re-imagining.

Star Trek Voyager

While Seven of Nine is important to Picard, Voyager the series really isn’t. That makes it tricky to find episodes of the show that give a sense of why people were excited by Jeri Ryan reprising her role but which aren’t mainly about unrelated characters dealing with a completely different quadrant of the galaxy.

  • VOY Season 3/4: The Scorpion (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Seven of Nine’s origin story starts here in a very Borg episode of Star Trek Voyager. Watch or not? You can skip this unless you are a Voyager fan. Seven of Nine is a central figure in the story but she isn’t really a character yet.
  • VOY Season 4: The Gift. Connection: This episode continues the introduction of Seven of Nine as a new crew member. By the end of the episode she has taken on the costume for which she becomes famous. Watch or not? Skip it unless you really care about the complete Seven of Nine origin story.
  • VOY Season 6: The Collective. Connection: Another Voyager Borg story – of which there are many. Icheb-the-Borg is introduced. Watch or not? Skip it.
  • VOY Season 6: Child’s Play. Connection: A story about being an ex-Borg that sees Seven of Nine struggle with Icheb finding his original family. Watch or not? Maybe watch. The episode helps develop Seven of Nine as a character. It also underlines the idea of ex-Borgs as tragic characters who are displaced from their own worlds.
  • VOY Season 7: Imperfection. Connection: Another Icheb and Seven of Nine episode. Watch or not? Watch. Voyager isn’t that relevant to Picard but this one episode packs a lot of punch for Seven of Nine as a character.

Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2

Spoilers obviously for the end of the show.

I shan’t hide that I’m disappointed that instead of plot twists and surprises we got an action movie followed by some thoughts on death. The lack of further twists leaves a whole heap of interesting ideas folding themselves back into plot holes.

In exchange we did get a good half hour of space-set action with intrigue, fist-fights and a visually stunning space battle. The space orchids fighting the Romulan fleet with La Sirena ducking and weaving through was both original and exciting even if we knew that Picard wasn’t going to get blasted to smithereens by Romulan disruptors.

However, it was the least imaginative resolution possible with the material to hand. The synths adopted the kill-all-humans, the Romulans decided to kill everything on the planet (instead of just blowing up the beacon), Starfleet sent to proverbial cavalry with a semi-retired Will Riker, the bad-sister evil Romulan got a supervillain’s death and the hot-brother evil Romulan got a minor redepmtion.

There were many fun moments from the throwaway revelation that the Romulans have at least five different ways of sterilising a planet, to the camp fire stories of the Romulan-Vulcan end-of-days.

However, it felt a bit rushed for once on Picard until the space battle was won, the beacon closed and the robot-tentacle-old-ones banished back to robot hell. From there the tone shifts to death and simulations.

Jean-Luc’s brain abnormality gets him in the end of course. A plot point undermined by the existence of an up-coming season 2 and the obvious way-out that had been introduced in the previous episode. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t touching and Picard has taken its time to establish each of the surrounding characters and their relationship with Jean-Luc.

It was an interesting choice to show Rios & Seven grieving in their way and then Raffi & Elnor grieving in their way given that otherwise each of those pairs haven’t interacted much but it worked. Picard has done a better job of establishing a set of characters than Discovery managed even though it has had fewer episodes. That’s part of the reason for some of the slower pacing of the show.

The gravity of the show, indeed hinted at in the opening credits, rested not on the big secret of the Romulans but on Jean-Luc himself becoming a synthetic. I should imagine that will create some legal issues for the Federation as to whether the organic robot Jean-Luc is the same person as the organic animal Jean-Luc…but this is a culture where destructive teleport is common place, so they’ll figure it out. It does imply a potential quasi-biomechanical immortality as a possibility for Federation culture (even if Jean-Luc’s body has been set up so it will age and die eventually) but given all the other technology the Federation already has (including said transporters) that could achieve that already, we can hand wave away those implications.

Data, not unlike Captain Kirk, gets a second death after a spell in a simulated Good Place. Touching and self-indulgent, it is was still the right way to close the arc of the Picard-Data story that the show had opened with.

Overall, I feel the story reached its plot conclusion two episodes ago and the finale was just resolving the matter with some space battles and moderate Trek-style Deus Ex-Machina. Even so, a strong cast and thoughtful direction kept me excited by this show through out.

Stray observations

  • The Federation fleet just zipping away once the Romulans had gone was a bit weak. Also Jean-Luc had apparently just died and Will Riker didn’t stay in orbit? Even just to make sure the synths didn’t start their Robot-Satan summoning ritual again?
  • I think I missed a spot of dialogue but I assume the XBs are now also going to make their home with the synths.
  • The closing scene on La Sirena implies that Seven and Raffi are now a couple.

Trek Tuesday (but its Wednesday): Generations

I didn’t intend to pair Picard episodes with older Star Trek stories but the first episode had me watching Star Trek: Nemesis and from there the logic of which episodes to watch was fairly easy to discern. Data, Maddox, Hugh, Seven of Nine, Icheb and Picard himself have key episodes that inform the Picard series. I did watch but not review the TNG episode Family, where we meet Jean-Luc’s brother, sister-in-law and nephew while he is recovering from being assimilated by the Borg. It is a relevant episode but I missed the best spot for it and at this point in the Picard series his life in France seems very different.

The question of what happened to his brother was lingering and I was told that the Star Trek movie Generations revealed that he and his family had died in a fire. I had seen the movie when it was released but I didn’t recall that point at all. I was already considering a re-watch of Star Trek: First Contact, a film with a stronger reputation and a more overt Borg connection. However, that point about Picard’s family was bugging me and I realised I could recall very little about Generations other than being vaguely disappointed by it. It was clearly time for a re-watch.

It is a far better film than I remembered. It is far from flawless and what it really lacks is better dialogue for whenever Malcolm McDowell and Patrick Stewart are on screen together because the two of them have an energy that is already lifting the script.

The death of Jean-Luc’s family is far from a passing plot point. I’m surprised I’d forgotten it. It is forced and exists purely so that Jean-Luc will have regrets and an alternative life to imagine when he finally gets sucked into The Good Place, sorry, I mean The Nexus. Quite why a giant energy ribbon has a paradise simulation where you can re-write the regrets of your personal history is never explained and that is a wise choice. It’s just a thing the universe has and I’m glad that the story implies that it is a genuine good thing (i.e. there isn’t a reveal that it is psychic vampires or an illusion to hide some other kind of evil). It makes both Picard’s and Kirk’s rejection of an idyllic afterlife so as to save a planet stronger.

At the time, I suppose making a transitional film between the two versions of Star Trek whose main villain is somebody who cannot let go of the past, may have seemed like lecturing to fans. You love Kirk and his antics? Well you are like this crazy scientist guy! Now, the film’s melancholy tone seems quite novel. Kirk dies (twice), the TNG version of the Enterprise is destroyed.

The Two Death’s of James Tiberius Kirk are not ignominious but they are at a lower scale than the many times he has come close to death. Kirk dies a hero of course, once helping save refugees on a transport ship and then again in the physical fight with mad-scientist Soren. He doesn’t know it but in his second death he also saves the crew of the Enterprise-D who have crash landed the saucer section on a near-by planet. Shatner does what Shatner does but he and Patrick Stewart are very different kinds of actors and quite different kinds of characters as captains. The pairing of the two is the obvious marketing gimmick of the film and here is where the essence of the disappointment lies. They simply aren’t an interesting pairing of characters, they neither compliment nor contrast with each other.

I suppose we could imagine a different story in which Kirk has somehow been pulled into the future and takes on the Soren role of a man so determined to return to the Nexus that he will blow up the star of an inhabited system to do it. That would have meant Kirk being the villain, which would have made for stronger drama but very unhappy fans. As it is, Picard has to convince Kirk to help him win a fist fight with Soren and that’s about it.

It’s sufficient though and while Picard-Kirk isn’t interesting, the character arc for Kirk is better done that I remembered. Dragged on-board a newly commissioned Enterprise-B for a media event, Kirk starts the movie as a man whose glory days are already over. Fate then gives him two chances at a heroic death and he takes them willingly. Only in the second case and surrounded with an opportunity to undo a personal regret, does he hesitate. In the end he chooses to act, to live and die trying to make a difference for others…which does neatly take us back to Star Trek: Picard.

Kirk’s advice to Picard is to never give up the captain’s chair, to never stop making a difference. We know that Jean-Luc rejects Kirk’s first premise without rejecting the second. Instead, he tried to make a difference in other ways (e.g. the Romulan evacuation) and at a bigger scale. In doing so, the difference between Picard and Kirk becomes clearer. Both are moral men who act within but also outside of the formal structures of a military organisation. Picard thinks at a different scale than Kirk and also is more adept at persuasion. The logic of the situation within the Nexus has to be Picard persuading Kirk but it also the correct arrangement of character traits: Kirk does, Picard persuades.

What Generations also demonstrated was the difficulty of translating the Next Generation dynamic to film. Both film series of Star Trek have strong ensemble casts but with the TV shows, there was a greater sense of equality among the core characters. That is harder to maintain in a film where each member of the crew cannot have an opportunity for their own character arc. In Generations Riker, Troi, La Forge, Worf and Crusher all get screen time but only Data gets substantial character development.

In Data’s case it is a kind of literal Deus Ex Machina with his choice to embed the emotion chip he got from Lore (in Descent) in his brain. This gives a great deal of scope for Brent Spiner to act goofy on screen but it also presents a clearer character hierarchy for the Next Generation characters. Picard is the lead and Data is the second, matching the Kirk-Spock levels in the original cast. These posters for both First Contact and Nemesis echo that:

In order of size, Picard, Data and the antagonist.

I wonder how that has re-shaped how I perceive The Next Generation? Picard & Data aren’t Kirk & Spock in the TV show and if anything Geordie and Data where more likely to share screen time. That is still true in Generations as the plot results in very little interaction between Picard and Data but by the final film the two are more inter-linked as characters. That isn’t an inconsistency — after all friendships change over time — but it is an interesting shift.

Now all I’m left with is what final old Trek to watch to cap off the Picard finale on (my) Friday? I think that will depend on whether Q turns up or not…

Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego Part 1

An odd episode, as two parters can be. It left me feeling dissatisfied in a number of ways but has many splendid moments. How everything resolves itself next week will be fascinating to see. Below are many spoilers and rampant speculation

The stronger aspects of the episode are in the first half. La Sirena makes it to Soji’s homeworld via the Borg transwarp gateway. That itself raises a few questions, because planets near Borg transwarp gateways have a tendency to get their colonies scooped up by the Borg. Narek is in pursuit but when he attacks along comes the Borg artefact under the control of Seven of Nine. The planet responds with a giant floral defence system, which brings all three space craft down to the surface. It’s big wacky space weirdness and I loved every minute of that.

And here we pass into Arcadia.

Continue reading “Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego Part 1”

Trek Tuesday: All Good Things

When Picard was a week away from starting, I thought that I should re-watch the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale but I didn’t get round to it that week and after the first week I thought I should watch the film Star Trek: Nemesis, as it appeared to have more connections with the new show. However, the premise of All Good Things includes a prototype of Picard the show.

Jean-Luc finds himself flitting between time periods in his life like he is Billy Pilgrim but unlike the hero of Slaughterhouse Five, Jean-Luc’s temporal un-glueing is just three very specific times. At the centre is the Season 7 TNG continuity, with the experienced crew and either side is the past with Jean-Luc on his way to join The Enterprise as Captain for the first time and the future with Jean-Luc as a retired ambassador.

The future Jean-Luc is not the eventual fate for Jean-Luc and the crew. The ending of the episode makes clear that the actions of the crew in each time period have changed all three time periods. The impact on the past was to restore the past to its original state but the future is now once again unwritten. The future of Jean-Luc we are shown is not inevitable.

However, there are points of similarity with Picard the show. Jean-Luc has retired to his family vineyard in France. As with Picard it is unclear where his brother’s family are (we met them in the aftermath of the Borg two-parter). Events conspire that Jean-Luc must find away off planet to investigate an issue that only he sees the importance of and events lead him to reunite with old comrades and take him to the Romulan neutral zone.

Beyond those points the future storyline departs substantially from the Picard future. The Romulan Empire has fallen but because of a war with the Klingons. Data is not dead but teaching at Oxford. Sadly though Deanna Troi is dead and her dead has led to a permanent hostility between Worf and Riker. (At this point in the main continuity of TNG, there was a growing romance between Worf and Troi.) At some point Beverly Crusher and Jean-Luc have been married and then separated and Crusher is now the captain of her own medical ship. Geordie is now a novelist.

Patrick Stewart plays Jean-Luc as a more doddery and less sharp old man than he does in Picard and the presence of a progressive neurological syndrome (is it the same one discussed in Picard?) is a cause for his friends to doubt whether his claims about time-jumping and an imminent threat are delusions.

The time jump as a way to revisit the cast in a kind of epilogue but also to re-examine the beginnings was more recently used as the plot basis for Avengers: Endgame. When Star Trek:Voyager reached its finale it used a similar device to jump between two time periods with an older Captain Janeway finding her way back in time to (unethically) get the Voyager home sooner. I assume the story was also partly influenced by the popular 1990’s sci-fi show Quantum Leap whose lead actor would also captain the enterprise years later.

Aside from the near-omnipotent Q and some Klingon warships, the episode avoids revisiting any of the antagonists from previous episodes.Of course, Q is sufficient and the point is to establish a symmetry between the final episode and the first story Encounter at Farpoint. In both, Q frames a puzzle for Jean-Luc and the crew as a test of worthiness for all of humanity. For this final episode it is an anomaly that propagates backwards in time and which threatens to extinguish life on Earth at its very inception.

What this bookend to the series does do with some finality is establish who is the central character of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve discussed before how the first three seasons had held open the possibility of Riker being the main character. It’s not a mad idea to have a more junior officer be the central character of a ship-based show and Star Trek: Discovery has taken exactly that route with Michael Burnham being the focus around which a broader cast interacts. The strength of TNG as it developed though was in that ensemble cast and there’s a strong argument that the show has no central character. Making the final episode so explicitly about Jean-Luc Picard asserts a different position: Jean-Luc is the central character and the story as a whole is about him.

In the past sections of the story, we begin with Jean-Luc on a shuttle piloted by Tasha Yar. Aside from the impact of the famously dead character returning to her role, it re-positions the start of the whole story of Picard’s Enterprise to the point just before he boards the ship. The crew Jean-Luc meets on board are the same characters but at this point they aren’t the same crew as such. Without Jean-Luc and without the experiences they have had over the years, they are just the potential of the crew. Riker is relegated to a (beardless) clip taken from the original pilot.

Future Riker is also quite different from the future Riker we met in the Picard episode Nepenthe. He is now an admiral in Starfleet and also has the command of a re-fitted (but semi-obsolete) Enterprise-D. Embittered by the death of Deanna Troi and not looking so great as a career officer he is a long way from the man-at-peace-with-himself that Picard offers. The subsequent TNG-based Star Trek films already had put aside the possible Worf-Troi pairing and had instead resolved that Riker and Troi were meant for each other, culminating in them marrying in the final film of that sequence.

Of course, Data alive and well is a far better fate than Data’s death (also in Star Trek: Nemesis). It is Data’s insights that allow Jean-Luc to investigate (and although he doesn’t know it, CAUSE) the anomaly but it is also Jean-Luc bringing him the problem and also facilitating the communication of ideas between the Datas of each time period that enables Data to act. While All Good Things poses Jean-Luc and Beverly Crusher as the romantic pairing (ambiguously given that it didn’t last), the episode begins to capture the alternate idea that Jean-Luc and Data are the key pairing as characters. I’m not about to launch into some slash fan-fiction but rather suggest that they are complimentary personalities and together they represent the two intellects that drive solutions to the dilemmas the Enterprise crew face. While Geordie, Deanna, Crusher, Worf and Riker all have their moments, Data and Jean-Luc themselves provide the generalist capacity to deal with the issues the galaxy throws at them.

I remember being very impressed with the episode at the time but re-watching it, I think most of its strength comes from just letting Patrick Stewart do his stuff. Otherwise, it is a weaker story than I remembered and more of a victory lap than one of the stronger Trek-stories. It was a very well deserved victory lap though. The show had been given the unenviable task of reviving a beloved classic TV show and initially it showed that even with money and a good cast, re-capturing the same magic is hard. Yet, season by season it became a stronger show and eventually surpassed the original at least in terms of hours of television.

Picard: Episode 8 – Broken Pieces

Lots and lots of spoilers for the whole series, so if you haven’t been watching but intend to, this is a review best avoided. In short this is a bridging episode that joins the dots of the story so far as the series heads into the two-part finale.

For those following the series, the revelations aren’t big surprises although there are some additional connections that may feel superfluous. This isn’t a particularly strong episode but it has its moments and there is a lot to discuss.

Enter Borg transwarp gateway

Trek Tuesday (but it’s Wednesday): The Best of Both Worlds Part 1 & 2

I guess it is still Tuesday for a lot of you.

I’m still watching old episodes of Star Trek that touch on the current series of Star Trek: Picard. Inevitably that has taken me to root story, a Trek story with such impact that it accidentally became the Jean-Luc Picard origin story. Prior to the Season 3 cliffhanger, Picard is the well renowned Starfleet Captain but after he is something else: the former Borg who both saved and nearly destroyed Earth. His time as Locutus of Borg will be a nightmare that haunts him, recurring at the start of the first proper Next Generation movie (First Contact). The devastating defeat of Starfleet at Wolf 359 would later be used as part of the background for Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space 9 and also be referenced in Voyager.

I’d remembered it as being good but what I had forgotten was how Riker focused the whole two-parter is. It is essentially a Will Riker episode despite being dominated by that image of Picard transformed into a Borg. Jonathon Frakes has to carry the show and Patrick Stewart phenomenal acting ability is largely relegated.

Central to the tension is a fake-out by the writers about what is happening that adds its own tension in a way that I doubt would be possible anymore. The episode announces that the Borg are back nearly from the start with a colony that has been scooped up from the planet surface. However, the episode takes its time before the Enterprise has to encounter the Borg cube. Instead we get a kind of B-plot.

Starfleet sends an admiral who has a young, pretty (that is relevant) and ambitious commander with him, who is a key member of the Borg taskforce dedicated to finding ways of countering the remorseless cyborgs. What we are also told is that Commander Riker has been marked out by Starfleet for the captaincy of the USS Melbourne – a promotion that Riker is in two minds about. Shelby, in turn, is aware of Riker’s possible promotion and has an ambitious eye on the First Office spot aboard the Enterprise.

Ostensibly, this side story is about Riker leaving the Enterprise and Jonathon Frakes leaving the show to be replaced by Commander Shelby (Elizabeth Dennehy). However, the episode quickly places all the drama as a clash of personalities between Riker and Shelby. There was a sense in the first season of TNG that Riker is supposed to be the leading man with Picard as a secondary character and Riker being able to take on the more dynamic role leading away teams and romancing guest stars. The emphasis on Shelby as a new character and the focus of the episode on the dynamic between them (with a hint of sexual tension) stressed a different outcome. Riker is going to become captain, replacing Picard and with Shelby taking on his role. But how?

The possible death of Picard is even underlined by a short conversation between him and Guinan where they discuss the tradition of a captain walking his ship on the eve of a battle. Picard offers the example of Nelson walking the decks of his ship before Trafalgar and Guinan reminds him that while Nelson won that battle, he himself did not survive it.

Shelby is a very annoying character but not so annoying that it is beyond belief that writers of a 80s/90s TV show might think they have a good idea for an on-going character. After all this same show thought Wesley Crusher would be a engaging character (to be fair, he had improved by this point). What she presents is a kind of threat to the whole show which had made some leaps forward in Season 3. The implication is that the plot is taking us towards an amended cast (not for the first time on TNG) with a key role taken on by an annoying character.

All of this adds to the horror when Picard is kidnapped and turned into a Borg. The final cliffhanger has Riker staring at Locutus on the view screen and giving the command to fire the new super-weapon at the Borg cube.

Cue credits and theme music.

Is this the last true major cliffhanger on science fiction television? With access to TV shows already shifting with improved release of home video and cable TV, how people experienced a series was no longer as and when it was broadcast. Within a few years, the World Wide Web would be providing new ways of talking about TV shows and speculating on rumours. If it happened today we would already know that Patrick Stewart had signed on for Season 4 or that Elizabeth Dennehy had been cast in a role on a different show. The impact of the cliffhanger requires a level of ignorance that would require concentrated effort now.

Part two is not swift to resolve the issue of Patrick Stewart’s continued involvement. Indeed, as a plot point the question remains unresolved until the end of the aftermath episode Family, where Picard returns to France and considers leaving Starfleet altogether. The on-going battle with the Borg is conducted within the parameters of the fake-out casting. Riker is now the captain and Shelby is now First Officer (Riker passing over Worf and Data as choices due to the immediate needs of fighting the Borg).

Shelby is instantly less annoying because the writers actually do know what they are doing. With Riker’s authority re-established in a new role as captain, the ambitious Shelby is rightly less inclined to manoeuvre around him. I’ll pause for a moment though, to consider how awful the Shelby/Riker show could have been and horribly inappropriate the plot lines could have become. Which takes me to a point that I’ll save until the end.

Part 2 is thrilling and the tension about the show’s potential casting is still there but it can’t have the same horror as Part 1. Even so, the Enterprise reaching the destruction of the Starfleet armada at Wolf 359 has an impact. The alternative outcomes for the cast are underlined when, among the roster of ships destroyed is the USS Melbourne: Riker’s ship if he had accepted a captain’s position.

Of course, the Borg are defeated. Riker tricks Locutus with a decoy saucer seperation allowing Worf and Data to sneak aboard and kidnap Picard back. With Locutus onboard, Data hacks into his system and as the Borg cube finally reaches Earth, what is left of Picard’s personality gives the vital hint on how to shut the Borg down: “sleep”.

The plotting and the events remain tight throughout. The complexity of the schemes are the typical techno-babble but there’s an intricacy to the pans and their execution that makes events feel both more fraught an more believable (including the use of the shuttle transporters to get in and out of the Borg cube).

The episode ends with Picard staring out from the window in his ready-room. The Borg has been defeated but also a choice has been made. The version of the show where Riker is a Kirk figure is finally put aside. The strength of the show had been established as an ensemble cast and Picard’s very different kind of Enterprise captain is key to that. It is also not going to be a show where the crew is fundamentally at odds with each other. There will be on-going interpersonal drama but the the Next Generation will carry on being a show about a highly competent crew who work well together.

However, the role of Shelby as being a threat to that dynamic very much rests on how the writers have played with viewer’s stereotypes throughout the story. Shelby is portrayed as being a destabilising figure to the crew dynamic in Part 1 (this is minimised in Part 2) precisely because she is both capable, ambitious AND an attractive woman. Naturally the writers aren’t going to deny that a person can be all three of those things but they rely on the idea that the combination is a threat to workplace harmony. That is not how the character (or the dynamic) plays out in the end of course but neither does Shelby get an on-going role. The idea of her as a threat is essential to the drama of Part 1 and the threat isn’t resolved until she leaves. Which, let’s face it, is less than great as an idea even if the writers are playing on viewer prejudices rather than expressly confirming them.

Shelby deserves better 🙂