This review contains not only spoilers for Picard Season 2, but also for TOS, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Discovery. Read on if you are all caught up, or if you don’t mind spoilers.
With the wrapping up of another Star Trek show, we are left with the pieces of what a new generation of writers have done with established characters and story lines. As you can probably tell by that first sentence, this review of Picard Season 2 will be largely a critical one. There was plenty to love this season, and I will definitely get to those things, but first…
Time travel is a well-worn plot device in the Trekverse. We have the rushed ending of Voyager, Sisko having to become Gabriel Bell during the Bell Riots of 2024, and the never-fully-fleshed-out Temporal Cold War in Enterprise.
That is not to say that every instance of time travel in Star Trek is bad. The TOS episode “City on the Edge of Forever” is a great time travel story about sacrifice, grief, and preserving the timeline. It’s a story that, even watching it now, produces an emotional punch at the very end. The story revolves around a woman, Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins) in the early 20th century that starts a peace movement that keeps the US out of World War II, to disastrous results. The only reason her peace movement never took off is because she died in an accident prior to her fame. It also happens that our great hero James Tiberius Kirk has fallen in love with Edith. In order to preserve the timeline, he must put his personal feelings aside.
Another great instance of time travel (that’s in the opposite direction) is the end of Season 2 of Discovery. While many might bemoan the huge time jump, and some (including me) would prefer to gloss over the messy way they wrote the spore drive (and Spock’s sister) out of the timeline, I would argue that this instance of time travel is one of Star Trek’s strongest. You see, when it comes to time travel, a lot of times it’s a quick and easy fix (plotwise) to a certain intractable problem faced by our heroes. Time travel lowers the stakes of everything, because it can be changed according to any made-up rules the writers decide are relevant. It’s hard to make time travel emotionally impactful. But Discovery achieves this in spades: Not only is this trip one way, it’s also guaranteed that the crew of the Discovery will be forgotten to history, their sacrifice never known or appreciated. The fact that our characters have the strength and bravery to undertake such a journey is astounding when you think about it. That’s where Discovery succeeds in this season finale, and it works well, even if you don’t like the shadow this show casts on the Original Series.
In Picard, the decision to travel back in time to correct the Q-modified universe seems logical enough, but once they get back to 2024, all logic is thrown out of the window. We quickly learn the reason why 2024 is important: our heroes must make sure that Jean-Luc Picard’s ancestor, Rene Picard, makes it onto a space mission that makes a crucial discovery. Also, Picard’s Romulan housekeeper/potential love interest Laris is re-written as an alien species that acts as a guardian to cosmically important people. This aspect of the story screams of “chosen one” syndrome. We are never given a full explanation as to why Rene Picard is so important. We are told that if Rene is not on that mission, Starfleet somehow becomes a fascist ethno-empire. We are offered no glimpses into the 2024 of the Star Trek universe (something we got in Deep Space Nine). Clearly this year is pivotal to the history of the galaxy, but in Picard, we are simply told that it’s important. We are never shown anything, and it’s such a missed opportunity. We could have seen the seeds of ethno-facism in the form of protests, hate crimes, or political press conferences. The show could have tapped into current concerns along that same vein. Hell, even Enterprise dealt with xenophobia better. Instead, they just told us Rene Picard is the chosen one, and we must save her to save humanity.
And then there’s the proverbial elephant in the time machine: Cristóbal Rios. Now, I love Santiago Cabrera in a “I want to be as handsome as him” sort of way, and he can clearly act. My problem is with the character of Rios. In season 1 of Picard, Rios is largely relegated to a hot space cowboy sidekick, and the little glimpses of his character aren’t enough for him to be fully realized (unlike Raffi, Elnor, and Jurati – who all have complicated backstories). Rios has to tell us on multiple occasions that Picard is like a father to him, yet we rarely see any emotional interactions between the two that line up with that assertion. His story arc in Season 2 (captured by ICE, falling in love with a doctor with a heart of gold, and blowing his cover as a future space man just so he can get laid) is largely a pointless one. Leave it to Star Trek to use ICE as a plot device without actually saying anything meaningful about immigration policy in the United States. If Rios was left behind in the future, very little would have changed in the plot. They close off Rios’s arc by having him stay behind in 2024 to help Dr. Teresa Ramirez with her philanthropic medical work, but this last minute “I have to stay behind” never sat well with me. The entire purpose of going back to the past was to restore the original timeline. How does Rios staying back not mess something up? On the other hand, given how they do change the future, Rios staying behind probably meant very little in the grand scheme of things. Shows how much the writers cared for him as a character, to be honest.
We will leave behind the time travel for a little bit to focus on a couple of character-related issues that I had. It was slightly disappointing to see Isa Briones’s talent wasted this season. After appearing as Soji in the first episode, she is relegated to a side character with no agency once the plot slingshots back to the 21st century. As Kore, the evil Dr. Soong’s test-tube daughter, she is confined until the very end of the season, giving her nothing to do. She is whisked away by Wesley Crusher to join the Travelers at the end, which gives some closure to her character, but by then it’s too little too late to salvage the situation.
Elnor is another character that we have to discuss. Not Elnor the Romulan ninja (or Evan Evagora the actor), but how his character’s fate was written. Elnor coming back to life in the season finale actually pissed me off. Elnor’s death was traumatizing, and the scene with him dying in Raffi’s arms was perhaps the most emotional scene in the entire show. It showed Raffi’s grief, and her inability to come to terms with it. Bringing him back in the end was cheap and totally destroyed any emotion from his death scene (just watch it if you haven’t; it will make you feel things). Now I can understand that actors have contracts, and Elnor is an awesome character, but bringing him back to life left me feeling hollow more than happy or relieved.
Before we head into what I loved about the show, there is one more thing to
complain about be critical of: the re-writing of the Borg’s history. By having Dr. Jurati become a part of the Borg in 2024, they essentially rewrote the entire history of this villain, thus making every encounter with the Borg in every previous incarnation of Star Trek meaningless. Does this mean that all wars with the Borg are now erased? What about the great character arc of Picard becoming assimilated? The death of Sisko’s wife? What about Hugh, who was dispatched in Season 1 of Picard as if he was nothing more than an NPC? How about all of the Ex-B’s on Voyager, including Seven of Nine? Now, I don’t have any foreknowledge as to how this changes the Star Trek universe, or how this will tie into Season 3 of Picard. All I can say is that my initial reaction to the new Borg Queen was “Why?”
Since I am a Star Trek fan, I will always do my best to end on a positive note. Despite the wall of text above, there were a few things this season to love and appreciate.
Primarily, I want to talk about John de Lancie’s performance as Q. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Q. On the one hand, he is a fascinating character, and the Continuum is such an intriguing concept that we never fully understand. On the other, the character himself is annoying, grating, and a huge pain in the ass. In Picard, he is on death’s door and not acting rationally, as seen by our heroes. He creates a new facist universe that Picard himself has to correct. When, in the season finale, we find out why Q did what he did throughout Picard’s life, we see an emotional connection that is well-played and extremely touching. Creating a send-off for a major character in a long franchise is never easy, but the writers really nailed this one. Picard and Q’s final private conversation still sticks with me this far after the finale aired.
I loved Seven and Raffi’s budding relationship. While it was hinted at in the Season 1 finale (and largely seen as a performative act of LGBTQ+ representation), I think Season 2 played that angle well. Their bickering was a good source of comic relief, and Seven acting as the rock for Raffi’s guilt and grief at Elnor’s death worked for me. I had a hard time believing them as a couple at the end of Season 1, but now my mind is firmly changed.
I also appreciated the look into Picard’s backstory, and his uneasy relationship with Chateau Picard. We are given a sort of pop-psy explanation as to why Picard always feels the need to be the hero, and the guilt he harbors for never feeling like he’s doing enough. This is something that’s been hinted at in TNG and in Season 1 of Picard, but we finally get a concrete look into his childhood. The circumstances of his mother’s death are heartbreaking, and Picard’s reluctance to return to his childhood home time and again makes sense now. This can also be seen as another possible reason why Jean-Luc’s brother Robert hates him so much. Robert is away at school at the time of his mother’s death. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to have Robert return with a deep hatred of both his father and brother.
Despite these positive aspects of the show, Picard suffers from writers trying to touch on current events without actually saying anything meaningful about them. They also fall into the same old lazy traps of time travel, our heroes’ unequivocal importance to human history, and odd leaps of cause and effect. While I am excited to have TNG actors reprising their roles from the iconic show for the 3rd and final season, my hope is that they don’t mess that up too, creating a sour conclusion for a beloved television show.
So much for ending on a positive note.
Picard is streaming exclusively on Paramount+.