SPOILERS AHEAD … AND TRUST … AND OLD FRIENDS … AND THE END OF THE UNIVERSE?
Picard is, especially in its epic, edge-of-your-seat finale that sees the fate of the universe hang once again in the balance, proof positive that it is not only possible to go back but to have a rip-roaring, adventurous and emotionally meaningful good time too.
Star Trek: Picard may not be your traditional Trek series – in that respect, it shares more of its storytelling DNA with Discovery and before that Deep Space Nine, both of which liked things darker, more irreverent and less idealised that traditional Trek – and that has attracted some criticism from those who like their futuristic sci-fi to be more Roddenberry and less Tarantino, but it has proved that, done right, old characters can very much work in new settings.
The key, of course, and in this respect Picard has excelled, is to respect and honour what was fundamental to your main character without leaving them moribund in the past like some museum piece who never quite changes or grows.
Thus with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), we are served up tenacity, integrity, determination, warmth, loyalty and even some flaws including one-eyed focus and inadvertent slighting of those he loves, all attributes that made this character one of the standout captains to emerge from the many beloved figures in the franchise.
But while these qualities are all very much in evidence and play a key role in executing the gripping storyline of the show’s first season, it is clear that Picard has not stayed still.
He adjusts with alacrity to the fact that Data has “children”, quickly warms and becomes the leader to a ragtag bunch of people who we all quickly come to love and moves to make amends for some of his past failures.
He isn’t perfect either which is wholly refreshing.
I e makes mistakes, misjudges situations and yet, like any hero worth his salt, saves the day in the end; that’s what makes him, and by extension this series, and its brilliant finale, such a captivating watch.
In “Et in “Arcadia Ego, Part 1” and “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, which takes its titular inspiration from a 17th century French painting that references utopia and death, both themes of this episode, we see all of Picard’s very best qualities come to the fore, as well as an aching humanity that crushes you before lifting you up again.
It is masterfully resonant writing that leaves you gasping at the fragility of life, considering what life itself even means – in this case, are synths as alive as us and capable of the very best and worse of us too; the answer is happily and sadly “yes” in equal measure – and mourning the loss of what can never be happen even as exciting new vistas open up.
As showdowns go, the two-parter finale is a cracking piece of television.
While some aspects of the story feel a little rushed after such a big build-up such as Dr Alton Inigo Soong’s (Brent Spiner) sudden conversion back to the Organic cause after throwing his lot in with this synth children – the impelling reason for this makes sense but it all feel a little too convenient – the story for the most part, satisfyingly concluding Picard’s rush to save the universe from anti-machine fanaticism while giving each of the character’s a chance to shine and stand up and be counted.
Thus we see Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Elnor (Evan Evagora) commandeering the Borg cube aka “The Artefact” and flying it to Coppelius, the planet upon which the Jauntily named “Synthville” sits in splendid, Organic-avoiding isolation, to help save the day while Dr Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) pretends to join the Synth cause while working behind the scenes to stop their plan to summon demonic machine life from beyond the void to come and wipe out all Organics.
Thrown into the mix too are Captain Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) who find themselves throwing hidden bombs (not that successfully) all while trying to fix La Sirena in an attempt to evacuate the Synths who it turns out prefer to kill us all than escape us once again.
It’s beguiling, invigorating action that comes complete with some BIG philosophising about free choice vs. fate – is Soji (Isa Briones) destined to be the “Destroyer” or can she side step that particular bitter pill? – and whether you are really better than those you oppose if you use violently genocidal means to accomplish your ends.
The capstone to all this deep thinking is Picard’s impassioned speech at the pinnacle of the action when it looks like the machine demons are going to come through and destroy us and no one is going stop them, where he implores Soji to trust him just as he will trust her and her fellow Synths, pointing out that while the Romulans have arrived to destroy them with a massive fleet, Picard and Starfleet (led by Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes) are there to protect them.
Who should Soji, he asks, put her faith in? Murderous machine life she doesn’t even know, evil vengeful Romulans or the Federation who may have got some things wrong but ultimately come good when it counts?
No surprise for guessing who she chooses.
Sure, you could argue that Soji’s choice is predictable and narratively convenient, and certainly after all the machinations and maneuvering leading up this climactic point and the massed Romulans in space above Coppelius and the near-apocalyptic end of the universe, her decision to turn off the beacon to the Synths’ would-be rescuers is all a bit too convenient but because Picard is so impassioned, it actually works and feel like a real, emotionally impacting moment.
To be honest, climactic speeches in TV shows that suddenly turn an impossible tide always feel a little forced and twee, somewhat like a verbal wave of the magic wand, but in this instance it works and works well because Picard has been allowed to be Picard through this 10-episode first season, and the speech entirely matches what we know of him and his actions.
It’s arresting TV and while it’s nothing out of the box in one sense, the writers, Stewart and the rest of the stellar cast make it work beautifully with Frakes in particular, all knowing grin and sparkle in his eye as Picard does his best to convince Soji to listen to the better angels of her digital nature, the MVP pf the moment.
He is all of us watching this pivotal scene – we know Picard, know what drives him and matters to him and so it all rings true, investing the final act with a veracity that is moving and true.
Helping too, and breaking our hearts completely while it’s at it, is the death then not death of Picard, who finds himself become that which he happily saved, and the passing of Data who wanted to complete his fleeting experience of humanity the way all people do, two searing moments that invest the two-parter with so much heart and pain and loss that you wonder if you’ll be able to stop crying long enough to watch the final scenes of the season.
It’s desperately sad, and the song “Blue Skies”, sung by star Isa Briones, is the perfectly musically evocative accompaniment, but there is hope after it too, just like any death so that while you are lost in grief, you are also reminded, in the loveliest way possible, that life goes on.
And it does that in emphatically nostalgic fashion that doesn’t feel hopelessly stuck in the past but rather brims with the new and the exciting as Picard gathers his new crew into the cockpit of La Sirena, utters the immortal word “Engage” to the swelling sounds of the classic Star Trek theme, and they blast off to adventures new.
Picard season 1 has been a joy – a nod to the past that captures it without being subsumed by it that is also vibrantly, excitingly new, proof that you can teach a new TV dog old tricks and rave to tell the tale.