SOME SPOILERS AHEAD … AND BORG … AND Q … AND TIME TRAVEL-Y STUFF …
One of the great joys of Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) return to the small (now streaming) screen is the chance we have had to see who he is as a person now, and how that was influenced by his childhood.
Great though Star Trek: The Next Generation was, and is, it’s brilliantly executed episodic storytelling never really allowed for a huge amount of in-depth exposition about the character’s pasts; the good news about Picard, which has just concluded its second season with a third and final season in the offing sometime early in 2023 most likely, is that it does have the time to do that, taking a deep dive, and we mean, DEEP, into the titular protagonist’s painfully suppressed childhood.
All we know is that his mother seems to have disappeared one night, taken by what appears in flashbacks to be an actual monster of some kind but in these back half lot of episodes, we discover that sometimes the monsters of the mind are the most scary of them all.
Quite what happened to Picard way back when is best left to the viewing because #spoilers but suffice to say, the concluding episodes do a nice job, for the most part, of delving into why Picard is very much an emotional island with everyone he loves and cares for held at arm’s length, and why when it was obvious in the first episode of this season that Laris (Orla Brady) LIKE likes jean-Luc that he all but runs from the room.
The “most part” section of that previous paragraph indicates the show doesn’t always get the balance completely right.
When, in episode 7, appropriately titled “Monsters”, Laris’s possible ancestor, the Watcher Tallinn (also played by Orla Brady) joins Picard in a coma – it’s a hoary-old trope but it works here, adding to the emotional resonance of boy Picard being trapped in a loop of trauma while adult Picard is interrogated by his father, Maurice (James Callis) acting as a therapist – Picard mostly succeeds in balancing this trial of the soul with the ongoing plot machinations involving Seven and Raffi (Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd respectively) trying to stop the Borg Queen (now with added Agnes, played by Alison Pill) from assimilating 21st century humanity.
As you can imagine that last plot point is a BIG deal because of the “butterfly effect” – a Borg assimilation might cause a teeny-tiny change in the timeline; are you kidding? Chrono earthquake central! – but it does get a little squeezed to the side by Picard’s coma-driven therapy session of sorts.
It’s not a fatal blow to narrative momentum by any means since Picard’s inactive status for the first half or so of the episode is actually used to fuel the urgency of Seven and Raffi, and then Rios (Santiago Cabrera) to sort things out since they don’t have his help, but while delving significantly into Picard’s past adds immeasurably to the emotional resonance of the season, which is considerable, it does mean there’s less time to resolve the many plot points tangles that fill five quite finite episodes.
That’s evidence most clearly in the final episode “Farewell” which, while packed the brim with emotion and all kinds of punchy narrative tidbits, does feel a bit like a mad scramble through the less edifying parts of resolution land.
In 50 or quite tight minutes, Picard and Tallinn have to stop Adam Soong (Brent Spiner in gloriously unhinged mode) from killing Picard’s ancestor, astronaut Renée Picard (Penelope Mitchell) whose death will derail the landmark Europa mission and doom the correct timeline, Soong’s daughter Kore (Isa Briones) has to thwart her dad and join a mysterious time-hopping galactic group (quite who they are and their rep is is a lot of fun to see so no spoilers on that front), Q and Picard have to have a heart-to-heart (yes, really!) and they have to resolve the whole Borg mess that began the whole season in a way that makes sense and brings much needed closure.
That they actually manage to make that final episode work is a triumph since there are a lot of false finishes and big emotional punctuation points, but it maybe could’ve done with a lot less Picard soul searching (quite literally, really), wonderfully affecting though that was, and more narrative fleshing out so we were racing, rather than rushing in an unseemly brief fashion, to the season’s finish line.
Even so, Picard season 2 is largely well executed, with the Q and Borg threads ending up nothing like you imagine they will, with some truly moving scenes with Q – yep, who’da thunk it, right? – which neatly round out the relationship between Picard and his self-style god-like nemesis, and some brilliant changes to the Borg’s modus operandi which upend everything you knew about the galaxy’s prime assimilators but in a really imaginative way.
Rios too has his big arc which plays out in a way that feels incredibly satisfying – he met Dr. Teresa Ramirez (Sol Rodríguez), if you recall, in the first half, and against all “butterfly effect” cautioning, falls in love and well, things happen that make you sigh in happiness and which, phew, don’t screw up the future timeline – as does Guinan whom we see as both the younger and the older (Ito Aghayere and Whoopi Goldberg respectively), both of which adding nicely to what we know about this much-loved character.
Honouring TNG-era Picard, the current Admiral one and the child locked in trauma and loss to mostly positive effect, Picard season 2a gives us huge amount of juicy narrative, if a little rushed and jumbled in its delivery at times, that neatly redefines Q, the Borg and Guinan while giving our happy time travelling family some great (and searingly sad) save-the-timeline-and-galaxy moments and putting a lot of emotional meat on the bone of modern Star Trek storytelling which continues to deftly and affectingly combine gripping narrative, superbly-wrought characters and nuanced thoughtfulness in ways that are burnishing further an already illustrious franchise.