Warning: This Star Trek: Picard season 2, episode 4 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Back in the ’90s, the previous era of peak Star Trek, there was an element of interchangeability about the various shows. Sure, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager had different crews and their own unique mission briefs, but there was a uniformity of vision across the franchise. An uncharitable viewer may even have called it samey, but you had an idea of what to expect.
Fast forward to the present, and that’s no longer the case. In fact, it’s remarkable that two shows bearing the Star Trek name, released within months of each another, could contrast so much.
With Discovery set in the 32nd century and Picard taking an extended jaunt to 2024, their vastly different positions in the Star Trek timeline are clearly a factor, but they’re not the whole story. Because where Disco’s recent fourth season was a muddle, over-stretching its Anomaly threat way past breaking point, Picard’s second season arc has a clear sense of purpose, as well as some memorable antagonists. Perhaps more importantly, however, its characters are three-dimensional and wonderfully, humanly flawed – which is particularly good news now that the show has broadened its focus beyond the man with his name in the title. Who knows, maybe Rios is onto something, and season 3 will be renamed Picard and his Ragtag Group of Misfits?
Having transported the crew of La Sirena back to 2024 last week, ‘Watcher’ finds its footing in the 21st century. The balance between the comedy and the social commentary feels more assured second time out, the references to past Treks (of which there are many) feeling integral to the story rather than in-jokey.
That said, the joyous exception to the rule is Seven of Nine and Raffi’s encounter with a noisy punk on an LA bus. Not only does Kirk Thatcher reprise his memorable cameo from Star Trek 4, he’s updated the song blasting out of his stereo – and this time he’s genuinely apologetic about the disturbance when Seven calls him out. Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch clearly had a lasting effect.
It’s an unashamed moment of fan service, but Lea Thompson’s direction is confident enough to segue directly into a genuinely tender moment between Seven and Raffi. As they realize they’re trapped in a world they don’t understand (or like much), their outsider’s view of our world proves remarkably powerful stuff. Because although the episode is far from subtle, it’s not afraid to ask difficult questions about US immigration policy and homelessness, while also plunging the duo into their own high-octane version of Lethal Weapon, where their bickering powers a memorable double act – while Seven’s exasperated, “How about you drive and I hold the map?” could feel like a tired married-couple gag from the distant past, in context it manages to hit the spot.
Unfortunately, things are less fun for Cris Rios, whose lack of official documentation has left him struggling to catch a break with the authorities. With his story about being a starship captain from the future carrying little weight with law-enforcement officers, he’s soon on a bus carrying him towards likely deportation – not the best time for La Sirena’s transporters to lose the ability to lock on to moving objects.
It’s a little fortuitous for the drama, perhaps, but the ship’s cloaking device is fully functional, leaving Jean-Luc free to explore Chateau Picard – and have plenty of Edith Piaf-soundtracked flashbacks to his mother – free from any concerns about messing up the timeline. Not that there’s anyone there to violate the Prime Directive with, seeing as the house has been empty since the Second World War.
The derelict building has something of an Escape Room vibe, with Jean-Luc’s past/future (delete as appropriate) home littered with the sort of random objects that only come in handy in movies or TV shows. Thought it was just a coincidence that Agnes Jurati subconsciously selected 15 on an abacus, flicked through the 15th volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and picked up a 1915 vintage bottle of wine? Not the case for Picard, who instead makes an implausible leap of logic by deducing that everything’s pointing to the upcoming April 15 – just three days away – as the all-important day the world is irrevocably changed. “Look at you, Dixon Hill,” Jurati jokes, referencing the fictional private eye Picard played on numerous occasions in the Enterprise holodeck.
Perhaps it’s the fact the clock’s now ticking – or just that he was denied the chance to explore much of the 21st century in First Contact – but Picard doesn’t hesitate to leave Agnes alone on La Sirena with the Borg Queen. It’s a highly questionable move, considering the Borg Queen has already got inside (literally) the scientist’s head, and wants to continue the assimilation process.
Once again, Annie Wersching is a standout as the endlessly quotable, joyously Machiavellian leader of the Collective, skilfully toying with Jurati’s ego and self-esteem. But Alison Pill proves every bit her equal as Jurati, as the scientist agrees to the most Faustian of pacts by volunteering to resume the assimilation process in exchange for the Queen’s help with repairs. She obviously thinks she’s got the better of her adversary, but you can’t help feeling the upper hand will be short-lived
Meanwhile, there’s a reunion of sorts for Picard, who finds himself transported once again to a bar at number 10, Forward Avenue, Los Angeles – albeit 400 years before his previous visit. It turns out that the staff turnover at this particular establishment is remarkably low, because a younger version of Guinan (played by Ito Aghayere) is already the proprietor. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to long-term Trek fans, as The Next Generation episode ‘Time’s Arrow’ established that she’s been in California since the 19th century. Nonetheless, this is a very different version of the El-Aurian, who’s become (understandably) disillusioned with the human race, and is subsequently planning a trip off-world. Indeed, she’s so skeptical that Picard has to resort to telepathy – inducing a bout of the ‘time sickness’ that previously told her something was iffy about the timeline in ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ – before eventually telling the truth to get his old friend on side.
One thing this prequel version of Guinan is not is the Watcher the Borg Queen has been going on about. Instead, she’s a mere messenger, whose role in the season’s rich tapestry is seemingly limited to escorting Picard to the succession of fleetingly possessed ordinary people who can lead him to the Watcher. The resulting reveal is a genuine WTF moment, as even viewers who’d clocked Orla Brady’s name in the opening credits are unlikely to have deduced this mysterious figure would look a lot like Laris.
It’s a meeting that turns the entire season on its head, and makes you question everything we’ve seen so far. Are the Watchers a higher power, charged with monitoring the timeline? (If this isn’t a previously unseen branch of the MCU multiverse, Marvel’s lawyers may soon be in touch…)
Or maybe there’s another layer of reality at play? It feels remarkably convenient that so many pivotal elements of this new timeline are lifted directly from Picard’s experiences, or the history of the show – even ‘The Pallid Son’, the title of the Dixon Hill novel in the episode’s final scene, feels like a reference to Data. (Just to add to the melange of Trek references, the fictional book’s author is Tracy Tormé, who wrote the TNG episode that introduced Hill.)
And then there’s the Question of Q, utterly exasperated that his famous finger snap can no longer rival that of Thanos. Is the game Picard’s unwittingly playing one of Q’s creations? Or is the omnipotent trickster dealing with higher powers even he can’t comprehend? If the answers are as good as the questions, Star Trek: Picard’s brilliant second season may be about to get even better.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard season 2 beam onto Paramount Plus (US) and Crave (Canada) on Thursdays. Viewers elsewhere can watch the show on Amazon Prime Video on Fridays. For more Trek action, check out our reviews of Star Trek: Discovery season 4.