Sunday, 10 July 2022

Picard S2: As Divisive as Before

Let’s get it out there to begin with. Picard season two was not perfect. Nor was season one but in many respects this second stint in the adventures of Admiral Jean-Luc marked a definite upturn - but in what precisely?

Choosing to utilise two of Trek's favourite things - time travel and Q, Picard jumped back into the 21st Century in a much more personal adventure than before.

It all started out with a bang and the return of the Borg, facing off against an assembled fleet of assorted Starfleet classes. This immediately made up for last season's copy-and-paste fleet of Inquiry Class vessels. Could season two actually be making headway and raise the fairly average height bar?

Setting up both this and Picard's family dilemma, the early part of the ten episode run took viewers into a parallel totalitarian Earth changed by a single event in the past. Certainly a new twist on the old Mirror Universe trope, the alternative path crammed a lot into its single hour of the show but it did bring us possibly the best Borg Queen to date.

Annie Wersching was perfectly cast in the role of a more speculative monarch and one torn from the collective by the galaxy conquering General Picard. A universe where the Borg were defeated and it's not good? An interesting concept if nothing else.  Wersching proved to be the perfect foil not for Patrick Stewart as we might have expected but for Alison Pill's Jurati. The use of the Borg Queen as a devil on her shoulder through the time in the 21st Century was rather chilling as she began to consume the doctor.

Jurati and the Borg Queen's relationship does take up a big swig of the ten episode run. The verbal sparring which leads to a standoff and unfortunate assimilation. Ok, it leads to what we would suspect is a break away Borg faction (lot of speculation in this season as to what things lead to...) and Pill leaving the main cast but it gives her an explosive and memorable arc in which to do so. Many will remember her for the red dress, singing Pat Benatar or being the Big Reveal but for me Jurati was the stand out character across the season, garnering the best screen time and perfectly partnered for a good chunk of it with Queen Wersching.

Tasked with investigating the 21st Century, Seven and Raffi continue some good hearted banter and relationship quibbles as they look for clues and also for Rios.

In a plotline that's been done over numerous times and certainly fits with Trek's choice to target current issues it's on the nose around illegal immigrants. For Star Trek though it used to be about subtlety and prodding these subjects in a much less conspicuous manner. Perhaps a sign of the times but it is quite heavy-handed in retrospect. Santiago Cabrera is great and at least Rios does have an arc this season  which isn't something that fits for Seven or Raffi. Bear with on this one.

While both the main story and the second line that follows Rios and his ultimate decision to remain in the 21st Century do have a clear path, the third line that traces Adam Soong's genetics work and "final" daughter, Kore does work on its own but it has zero payoff for the main threads. 

Yes, it manages to return Isa Briones to Picard as another Soong relative but it seems almost tacked in. None of the main characters interact with her and while the surprise cameo in the finale was more than welcome it doesn't quite make sense as to why the Watchers would choose to take her out of her time. Theoretically her disappearance would be realised by Adam Soong alone but I was surprised that it didn't play a more integral part to the story. Wil Wheaton's return did manage to raise an "Oh my f**king god" reaction because it was well worth including and seeing the being formally known as Wesley Crusher one more time.

So that's my issue in that this season has some really great, strong story threads but then when you combine them it all sort of falls apart a bit in terms of the bigger picture. The Rios story for one twists and turns with car chases, prison breaks, a more than inconspicuous nod to the US immigration policy and all the while you can't help but think this is just a way to take Santiago Cabrera out of the show. Spoiler; it's exactly that.

Of all the cast short-changed this season I did feel that Jeri Ryan got a short straw. Aside from losing the Borg implants following their sideways step into a universe where Annika was President, Ryan had very little to do until virtually the last scene of the season. Watch back when the crew are discussing Talinn's plan to jump into Picard's mind and Seven stands in the background and says not a single word for the whole of that piece. In some ways you can understand why there has been a slimming down of the cast ahead of the TNG reunion for season three.

Orla Brady's Tallinn and Laris roles are highlights of the season and bringing the actress more to the fore than she was allowed in season one. Tallinn is a bit of a plot device but does tie into the larger Trek mythology as does the brief return of another canon character almost at the very close of the season.

The big focus of the season though comes down to Q's fixation with Jean-Luc leading to the universe jump and then journey back to the 21st Century. Offering a chance for the admiral to get to know himself a little better, the concept that one of his relatives had to be on the mission to Europa does seem like a crucial moment in franchise timeline history but would she really have got this far in the programme with doubts this obvious?

Penelope Mitchell does a good job as the troubled astronaut and at least by the end there's the realisation that if she didn't complete the mission then Adam Soong's line of work would have taken precedent (for note there's a statue of him in the alternative 24th Century which is a massive clue in hindsight).

But there's more to this than a distant relative because Jean-Luc is obsessing over his own childhood at the chateau. This season chose to base itself around the Picard family estate and it uncovers a lot more than a few layers of dust. Why this only rears its head now when he's been back there for years is anyone's guess but the choice to cover mental health is hit and miss at best.

Played by Madeline Wise, the character of Yvette Picard initially scopes as a loving mother but there's mental fragility that the series explores but perhaps handles heavy-handedly on occasion, especially at its tragic end. Should there have been a warning of what was the season's most graphic piece of content? Maybe and I guess that depends on your perspective but it certainly shocked which you would hope it would given where it can lead if not handled carefully.

Now, knowing a little of Patrick Stewart's background, this mental health story may well have been borne from his mind although the father figure, played here by Battlestar Galactica's James Callis, is a more kindly figure than Stewart has described. His solution to Yvette's illness isn't what you would expect given the importance society places on such issues now let alone in the future.

It's also an odd season because there's no point I would say that there was a standout episode. I could rank all ten in order of preference but there's none that stand out more than the first and the last (maybe the alt-universe one too). Even in the middle there was a lot to like even if it was, on the other side, inconsistent and went from breakneck to dead stop at an odd rate.. There was a touch of humour, some great action  

Flashing back to an earlier piece I put together hurriedly at the beginning of the season, Picard has brought a real breath of fresh air to the franchise for me. I was missing the craziness of Lower Decks and the unexpected genius that is Prodigy. Discovery has tried to step up but each of the subsequent series have taken the lead and run with it. Even Discovery spin-off Strange New Worlds is a class unto itself and I can only see it becoming stronger.

Picard's second season did indeed feel like the intended homage to The Voyage Home but upped the ante. While that movie was played for a lot of laughs and lightness after the doom and gloom of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, this run of ten episodes hasn't shied away from both real world events and the darkness that previous generations have sprinkled into the timeline especially the 21st Century.

Season two does just have that bit of everything though. For the TOS fan we have the return of the Watchers first revealed in Assignment: Earth with Gary Seven, numerous Easter Eggs back to The City on the Edge of Forever in the set dressings. With TNG there's the well publicised return of Guinan played by both returning Whoopi Goldberg and newcomer to the franchise, Ito Aghayere who is superbly cast in the role. Importantly Guinan's return isn't stupidly overplayed with her only included at necessary points in the story rather than fully tagging along for the show.

OK, Picard worked for me at a "dark time" in my relationship with Star Trek and for a lot of people it just didn't and I can respect that just in the same way that I would hope others would respect my opinion that it was good enjoyable fun. One thing I would absolutely say that the season blew out of the park was Q's final scene with Picard. Season one's send off to Data was excellent after such an up-and-down year but with Q it went straight for the emotions and my god did it work. Best scene of the season, best scene of the show and possibly, maybe, the best scene of the Kurtzman era. What smarts is the fact it doesn't come from the best show of our present age. 

Picard always feels as though it's got a great idea but in the execution it just gets muddled in the middle. Season two starts strong with loads of prospects. There's the Borg, new ships, alternate times but then the 21st Century feels a bit bulked out. The Renee Picard story is high stakes but it never reaches the heights of tension and excitement that you would want. Guinan's role is inconsistent and we have almost a whole episode of interrogation by a "rogue" police officer that adds nothing to the plot and has no long lasting effect. Even the officer's flashback is pointless to the overall season.

But I still enjoyed it even though there were bloated moments of nonsense. At least it all came back round to the Borg arrival at the beginning. The problem there is that it makes you question the justification for Q to send Picard and co through time in the first place. What actually is the point to the adventure? What's the reasoning or sending them all over the place?

Maybe on a re-watch things will become clearer as they did when I sat down for a second viewing of the first ten episodes. With the knowledge of what is to come for season three, season two does come across as a hurried cut off for several of the show's characters to make way for the TNG cast. Is this a chance for a better send off than Nemesis or a cheap shot to grab at an audience that has, according to social media, had serous issues with where the show has gone so far?

The final batch will answer that definitively but for now Picard's second season lies in a pool of mediocrity that many hoped it wouldn't. I'll keep with my view that it was entertaining but there's a concrete fact it's not where fans would have wanted it.

Where's your head at after season two? Has it changed on a binge/rewatch?

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  1. I remember back in the day when Berman used to agonize over 'what Gene would think'. He put up a lot of resistance to the Dominion war story and Majel openly said that GR would have had reservations.

    I really wonder what Gene would think about Picard.

    FWIW, I'm looking forward to your take on SNW. I think it's great, so long as you can divorce it in y mind from canoni events in TOS. First nuTrek show that I've really enjoyed.

  2. It’s in the works right now!!! I adored it from ep1. Easily the best first season since TOS

  3. I think the immigration story in Picard, in particular, was quite insensitive to the global differences surrounding immigration. It was no doubt fully intended to be insensitive too, because dogmatic activists lack any compassion for the effects their views have on the common people, who always end up being the ones expected to sacrifice their safety and wellbeing.

    Germany experienced the "2015 Cologne Assaults" in which 1,200 women were assaulted, Britain experienced the "Grooming Gangs" in which thousands of minors were raped, Sweden had the "Grenade Attacks", France had the "Bataclan Theatre Massacre" and the "Beheading of Samuel Paty" among other things.

    Europe's differing experiences, always get conflated with whatever happens globally, so that we end up being on the end of the same anti-Western vitriol that has taken over American reportage and academic bias. Never mind that the axiomatic differences between immigrant and native are even greater in Europe. Moral/philosophical/cultural assumptions create a friction that ruins previously peaceful societies. The incoming cultures often once enslaved Europeans, but that fact hardly matters to the historically ignorant. This kind of immigration looks like the kind of colonization that Tibet was subject to.

    It presented a one-sided picture, where past Star Trek, despite it's leanings, would have examined all sides of an issue, with sympathy, in the spirit of rational inquiry. Here in Europe, people are dealing with something unprecedented in history; a form of globalization that is tearing societies apart, and sending millions into depression for their future existence. Natives cannot afford to live, low fertility is killing a generation, and non-citizens are favored over citizens, being put into expensive hotels while people who have slaved to feed their family starve for any attention.

    The self-abnegation fueling this is aided by activists, the media, and woke television like Star Trek: Picard.

    1. Great observations there. Both the Picard mental health story and the Rios immigration line were badly handled and definitely don't work when you watch the series through. A leading issue with s2 is it's seeming insensitivity or just pure lack of awareness of the real world. I understand Star Trek is fictional and it has to adapt to its own version of future history but s2 fails to hit any of its topics with a heavy, impactful punch. Both threads are disposable in the context of the show and by the end there's not really any lasting impact on the characters or message to be relayed to the audience. The subtlety and allegory that Roddenberry bred into TOS and TNG (watered perhaps for DS9, VGR and ENT) has bypassed the whole of the Kurtzman era and its telling. Lower Decks and Prodigy can get away with it but it's almost unforgivable for Picard and certainly Disco. My confidence for s3 is mixed and I fear a love in.