Note: Spoilers for Seasons 1 & 2 of Star Trek: Picard.
Star Trek: The Next Generation means a lot to me. While I watched the Original Series first and I think Deep Space Nine is probably the best series overall, TNG aired at a very formative time in my life. Those characters became my TV family, and the Enterprise-D just always felt like home to me. As such, Jean-Luc Picard is basically my TV dad (DISCLAIMER: This is in no way to put my parents in a negative light. I grew up in a wonderful household with a very supportive family.), and I was very excited at the prospect of him coming back for Star Trek: Picard.
I don’t think it’s very controversial to say that what we got in that first season wasn’t incredibly well received by the fans. There were high points, such as the return of Riker and Troi in “Nepenthe,” but the overall storyline did not hold together well at all, most of the new characters were flat, and the ending was generally unsatisfying. On a personal level, I really didn’t like so many people shouting at my TV dad! Ok. That has nothing to do with the matter at hand, which is that the first season was a mess, and even Producer Akiva Goldsman said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that they learned heading into the second season that they needed to, “Figure out the end earlier. If you’re going to do a serialized show, you have the whole story before you start shooting.”
Heading into season two, I was hopeful that the producers had learned from the reactions they received to the first season, and in many ways they did. After getting lambasted for basically copying and pasting the same starship over and over for the climax of the first season, we got a fleet of new ships, some of which were well-liked designs from Star Trek: Online, and the gorgeous interiors of the new USS Stargazer. On the character-front, not everyone was miserable. Yes, we’d had two couples form and break up between seasons, but people were getting on with their lives and generally seemed to be doing okay.
The first episode was overall quite strong, but then we got the rest of the season, which left me…perplexed.
I don’t want to write a review of season two. Lots of other people and sites have already done that. I’ve seen online reactions ranging from it’s the best thing they’ve ever experienced to it was the worst season of any Star Trek ever. I don’t feel nearly so hyperbolic about it. There were things I liked and things I didn’t. But I wanted to talk about some of the issues I had with the season overall. Now I am not a professional TV writer. I’m just a long-time Star Trek fan with a screenwriting degree he’s not using whose spent a lot of the last 3 decades writing silly stories in the Star Trek universe.
First, what was season two of Picard about? I don’t mean what happens. I mean what is the big overall idea. I can’t say for certain, since I wasn’t in the writers’ room, but I’d say it’s supposed to be about Picard coming to terms with the circumstances of his mother’s death. I believe Akiva Goldsman that they did figure out the end right from the start, and it was that scene between Picard and Q in the solarium, which was a lovely scene. However, on the practical side, they also had a 10 episode order along with multiple returning actors from season one to deal with. That meant needing to come up with a lot of additional material to pad out the storyline.
Despite all of that extra time, though, for the most part the other actors are not well served by the season’s episodes. Allison Pill is the obvious exception here. Right from the start, Agnes Jurati is written to be more engaging and with a sense of humor that I don’t recall from season one. Yes, they handwaved away the whole thing with her murdering Bruce Maddox, but it’s not something I would have wanted them to dwell on anyway. But for the others, they have large chunks of time where they have almost nothing to do, are given storylines that go nowhere (Rios’ ICE encounter, for example. He’s rescued and then…that’s it.), or are shoved aside entirely, like Soji and Elnor. I honestly wondered if the actor who played Elnor upset the producers in some way because it almost seemed cruel to make him go through getting made up for multiple episodes just appear in a fleeting glance in a single scene. At least in Isa Briones’ case, they didn’t try to shoehorn Soji into a storyline where she didn’t fit. Instead, whether it made sense or not, they just gave her an entirely different part. I could say the same for Brent Spiner, but at this point we’re used to him playing a number of different Soong Ancestors.
A lot of the issue here is that there was really no reason storywise for these characters to stay in Picard’s life after the first season. That adventure was done, and it would make absolute sense for them all to have gone their separate ways. And some of the character motivations that drive them in season two didn’t come out of season one anyway. Raffi’s feelings about Elnor, for example, are completely a product of this unshown time between seasons. I barely remember the two characters interacting in the first season. Also, it takes a major coincidence, namely Seven also being in the same region of space as the anomaly in the first episode, to pull her in at all. It takes a lot of that sort of shoving the pieces around the board to get everyone in place for Q to send them to the alternate timeline, and even then it’s hard to justify Q picking them to go along beyond the fact that they’re the main characters. In universe, though, they are some people that Picard had an adventure with once over a year earlier. Why would Q find them significant to Picard?
I can live with that, though. This is a television show, after all, with actors under contract. They’re getting a paycheck, so you’ve got to do something with their characters or cast them as other characters (as was true in Isa Briones’ case). What really bothered me, though, was how this season handled Q. Before I go any farther, I do want to say that John de Lancie did a tremendous job with what he was given. I loved seeing him again, and he really seemed to relish being back in the part. That said, though, I do feel like there were several missed opportunities here. Let’s go back to what the season is about: Picard overcoming this past trauma. The “how” of that is Q. Q, as a dying gift to Picard, sets up this convoluted scenario to get Picard to make peace with what happened with his mother. Sure TNG had already covered “Q helps Picard learn something from a past event in his life” in the episode “Tapestry” and had done it in less than an hour. But now we have 10 episodes. Surely we will get lots of wonderful scenes between Patrick Stewart and John de Lancie!
Um…no. Not so much. We get the sequence at the end of episode one and start of episode two where Q taunts the crap out of Picard and even slaps him (which felt jarringly out of character for Q, but we’ll chalk it up to the emotional state he’s in due to his impending demise), but then, other than a quick line to Picard on La Sirena, they really don’t speak again until the end of the last episode. Why? Why does Q reveal to Guinan that he’s dying instead of Picard? Guinan just tells Picard anyway, which undercuts that revelation entirely in the last episode. Q could have easily told Picard earlier and have Picard reject it out of hand as another one of Q’s games only to realize the truth in the end. That emotional turn would have added even more weight to those final scenes between the two. These two characters have over 30 years of connection, and it just felt like such a waste to not take advantage of it more.
Q is also a victim of the season’s tendency to just have things happen without any explanation or logic. In episode 4, he snaps his fingers in the presence of Renee Picard, and nothing happens. But then in later episodes, he is able to position himself as Renee’s therapist, provide Soong with short-acting medication for Kore, give Kore a permanent cure, leave a version of himself in Soong’s computer for Kore to find, and enter an FBI facility with everyone believing he’s an FBI agent. So while that first scene would lead us to believe that he’s lost his powers, that’s obviously not the case. By the end, we can only assume that whatever he was going to do to Renee was too big for what energy he had left but taking Picard, Raffi, and Seven back to the 25th century while also reviving Elnor was not. And if he was really trying to do this thing for Picard in the first place, just what was he planning with that snap near Renee? Instantly convince her to back out of the mission? How is that harder than creating a cure to a genetic condition or transporting multiple people through time? It’s never made clear.
Also, the writers don’t seem to know or care about the import of the idea of Q dying. We’ve met other Q and been to the Continuum in other episodes of Star Trek. We’ve seen a Q want to die on Voyager and watched them fight each other in the Q civil war. Otherwise, though, as far as we and the Q know, they are immortal. Why is our Q dying? How is he dying? Is anything happening to the other Q? If not, what makes our Q “special” that this is happening to him? There’s a whole season of storylines there. Q goes to Picard for help when he realizes he is dying and needs his one “friend” in all of existence to use all of his skills learned from Dixon Hill to solve the mystery of his impending demise. It’d be a very very different season but would actually address this major bombshell about a character we’ve known for decades.
But instead of spending time on Q, we were given the ICE aside that went nowhere and an episode involving an FBI agent that ended up having absolutely no bearing on the overall storyline. When he was introduced, I was certain that that agent would end up helping them at some point later on. But no. He was never seen again. The whole episode seemed to exist to fill time (and also make us wonder why some Vulcans were on Earth in the 1970s). But then in episode nine, the Borg plotline was rushed to conclusion in an episode that sacrificed story logic entirely for the sake of action scenes and getting that part of the season wrapped up. I had so many questions during that episode. Why are the Borg shooting at a hologram? Can the La Sirena read minds? How did it grab Elnor’s personality and final thoughts? Are Seven’s new implants seriously right where the old ones were?
In the end, we are returned to the Stargazer for a rushed resolution to the Borg incursion from the first episode involving a spatial anomaly appearing out of nowhere and forming an oh-so-mysterious transwarp conduit. The Jurati Borg volunteer to just hang out there in case anything comes though, and then we’re off to drinks at Ten Forward and a non-resolution of the possible relationship between Picard and Laris. Will we revisit the conduit in Season 3? Who knows? Allison Pill has said that she’s not in the next season, so perhaps not. If that’s the case, it’s certainly an odd place to leave her and this dangling plot thread.
I know this has come across as rather negative, and there were things in the season that I enjoyed. Like I said above, John de Lancie’s performance was great, and I was so happy to see Wil Wheaton get a chance to bring back Wesley Crusher. I’m also excited to get the entire TNG cast (supposedly minus Wheaton) back next season. Yes, I have some trepidation as well. After seeing what the latest Star Wars trilogy did to my childhood heroes, I’m bracing myself for having to see members of my TV family killed off. I just hope that the final season of Picard respects those characters, uses them well, and gives us a conclusion worthy of the legacy of TNG.
No pressure, guys. Don’t screw it up!