You gotta love “Star Trek: Picard” in theory.
It’s a show that flies in the face of fan service, that rejects nostalgia, to push its beloved character into uncharted territory. It’s meant to look different from any “Trek” that’s come before, feature characters like we’ve never seen before, and feature a level of danger like we’ve never seen before.
But in practice, the reality of “Star Trek: Picard” has missed the mark of its intent. Instead of looking different from any other “Trek,” so much of this show has just looked ugly: sets that are just different shades of gray. It looks like any of the now-canceled Marvel Netflix shows. We have indeed gotten ourselves new characters, and for the most part they’ve been enjoyable — when their arcs actually go somewhere — but it’s hard not to think Picard himself is now the least interesting personality we’re watching. We did have big stakes, down even to Picard himself on death’s door from a “brain abnormality” — but the show pulls its punches.
By trying to be so different from the “Trek” that has come before, “Star Trek: Picard” has dispiritingly ended up looking like most other serialized shows in the streaming era: overlong and overplotted with a sense that everything is forgettable. And it’s not even that different from some more recent “Trek”: the J.J. Abrams reboot films are bright and candy colored, while “Picard” is dark and gloomy, but both “Picard” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” end the same way — with the resurrection of a character whose “death” is meaningless as you’re watching it because you know he’ll be revived five minutes later. And he is.
There was a moment there that you thought maybe we’re in for the biggest reversal of all time and Picard will actually die for good (permanently!), even despite the fact that a Season 2 of this show was already greenlit. Maybe this’ll become a show with a new title about Soji taking up the late Picard’s mantle and exploring the galaxy with the crew of La Sirena and trying to fight for synth equality with the new races she meets. It could be more about exploring what else is happening in the galaxy at the dawn of the 25th Century than just what’s happening to one aging ex-captain and his small coterie. But no.
Instead, we get a “dead” Picard meeting the consciousness of long-dead Data in a digital construct (as Picard’s consciousness gets prepped to be placed in a new clone body, or “golem”), in what feels like a blow-by-blow recreation of that Harry Potter moment when the “dead” boy wizard meets Dumbledore in that way-station between life and death. They have a heart to heart and then Picard/Harry chooses to live again, follows the light, and rejoins the universe of the living. Because all of pop culture has to be Harry Potter now.
That Picard’s quest, which began in a sense with him wanting to find a way to revive Data (one thinks?), actually ends with him agreeing to Data’s request that they terminate his disembodied consciousness — that he’ll finally become human by having a finite existence — is touching. And Brent Spiner’s acting is superb as always.
But this first season finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2,” is where all the problems that have been plaguing this show stick out most strongly. It’s a shame, because “Part 1” was a delight, seemingly a welcome corrective to all that had come before on “Picard.” Now after “Part 2” this writer is left questioning if what he liked along the way was really worthy of enjoyment at all.
We’ll never give up hope for “Star Trek: Picard,” and we’ll be back for Season 2. But oof, if this finale doesn’t sting. Instead of emotions, we’re just left with a mass of questions, so the only proper way to engage with this episode is to throw them out there.
Let’s get Socratic with this thing.
- What happened to Ramdha, Narissa’s despairing ex-Borg aunt?
- Did Ramdha even survive the Borg cube’s crash to Coppelius’s surface?
- So did Alton Inigo Soong create all these synths just for kicks?
- What was Bruce Maddox’s role in creating this synth colony at all if Soong was the one we saw working in his lab with the orchids when Soji was a little girl?
- Why does Narissa need any of her arsenal of sharp melee weapons when she has her cheekbones?
- How is this energy-to-matter, “it can fix anything!” device the synths created any different from the sonic screwdriver on Doctor Who?
- “I know that sound,” Rios says when Narek is throwing rocks at his starship’s door. People are throwing rocks at his door all the time?
- When Alton Inigo Soong — alas not Lore — says to Jurati: “This really is a remarkable act of self-sacrifice on your part” is he suggesting that their plan to survive the super-synths coming apocalypse is that he and Jurati will download themselves into new synth bodies?
- After that long story about Ganmadan from Romulan myth, why not show the first sister, who we know ultimately is Sutra, strike some metaphorical version of a drum made of children’s skin with a chain of skulls? There’s no attempt at even giving a stylized, sanitized, euphemistic rendering of that prophecy for real.
- How again did Starfleet Intelligence allow a half-Romulan agent to rise through its ranks over decades? Is their security that bad?
- Has Oh decided that her Starfleet cover is no longer useful so she’s just abandoning it, even though she could continue to use the resources of the Federation for Zhat Vash’s ends?
- The only thing that convinced Dr. Soong not to allow the super-synths to come through the portal “Chi’Tauri in ‘Avengers’”-style was seeing that Sutra had actually killed Saga herself? Otherwise he was totally okay with the coming apocalypse?
- So Soong accidentally glancing at that monitor showing Sutra for the murderer she is all that saved the galaxy from annihilation?
- Could Soong possibly be a more one-dimensional character whose actions are determined solely by whatever the plot demands?
- “Half-meat” is really what Romulans call ex-Borg? Why on earth did the Romulans even allow research at that Borg cube?
- Why do the orchids seem so much less effective against the Romulan warbirds? Just one of them brought down an entire Borg cube! Jurati says that once the orchids are destroyed there will still be 200 warbirds left.
- Why is there only one class of Romulan ship in the entire Zhat Vash fleet?
- Why is there only one class of Starfleet vessel in the entire Federation fleet Riker’s commanding? Every last one is Zheng He-class.
- Having only one type of ship on either side wouldn’t be due to a lack of design budget, would it? Or a lack of imagination?
- Has there ever been an uglier Starfleet ship than the Zheng He-class?
- Is the bridge of the Zheng He just a slightly re-dressed version of the Discovery bridge?
- Why is Riker totally unconcerned by the weird portal to another dimension that’s been opened nearby?
- Why is it that the special effects of the space battles on “Deep Space Nine” over 20 years ago look better than any of the special effects on “Picard”?
- When did Starfleet vessels start adopting that blue shimmer effect for when they raise shields? (It almost reminded me of the corbomite deflector for “Star Trek: Armada”! That wonderful game is celebrating its 20th anniversary today.)
- What are these terrifying tentacle super-synths, exactly? And if they’re so super, couldn’t at least a couple of them have made it through the portal in time?
- Oh and the Zhat Vash are so impressed by Soji’s act of deactivating the beacon that they are willing to abandon centuries of plans and millennia of mythology to change their minds on a dime about the synths?
- So the Romulans and the synths are cool now right? All this was just a misunderstanding?
- Did anyone really think Picard was going to be a goner?
- How can anyone still think having a character die when you know all along they’ll be brought back five minutes later is compelling storytelling?
- Why couldn’t we have had more lovely moments between characters in this finale like that between Rios and Seven bonding over what they said they’d “never do again”?
- How did this finale end up still prioritizing exposition over character moments?
- Even a stunning amount of Data’s final dialogue to Picard is exposition about the “massively complex quantum simulation” they both find themselves in?!
- “My consciousness exists in a massively complex quantum reconstruction, made from a copy of the memories I downloaded into B-4, just before I died.” Does any of that make sense?
- “My memory engrams were extracted from a single neuron salvaged by Bruce Maddox.” This is what you choose to talk about after seeing each other from beyond the veil of death?
- So did Soong and Jurati not tell any of the La Sirena crew about what they had planned for Picard? Did they think its odds of success were that low?
- How is it that these two new “Star Trek” shows have had people be born ago into fresh new bodies? Remember, basically the same thing happened to Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber on “Star Trek: Discovery.”
- Is there any compelling reason why Soong, Soji, and Jurati didn’t make Picard’s new golem body a bit younger other than this show couldn’t afford the CGI-youthening budget?
- Have Soong, Soji, and Jurati actually made the concept of death irrelevant, unless people choose to die?
- Is everyone in the Federation going to clamor to get fresh new golem bodies to transfer their minds into?
- Why does Data’s death — suddenly withering into extreme old age and then into ash — have to be rendered like he chose poorly when selecting the Holy Grail from a group of chalices?
- Raffi and Seven of Nine hold hands! They’re both here, and they’re both queer. Showrunners really still think this is sufficient LGBT representation? This is no better than John Cho’s Sulu holding hands with his husband in a long shot in “Star Trek: Beyond”! (Shout-out to the late Village Voice’s final film editor, Alan Scherstuhl, for once saying something about “Star Trek: Discovery” that captures this timidity: “‘Star Trek: Discovery’ showed us Klingon boobs before it dared to show its gay couple kiss.”)
- What are The Picard Golem — is that what we call him now? — and his crew actually looking to do at the end here? Are they just going to wander the galaxy like Caine in Kung Fu and get into adventures that could be covered in standalone episodes? Why couldn’t we have seen that show this whole time?
- So… is Sutra just dead?
- What happened to Narek? He’s okay with the synths now too? Where did he go? Was Soji just like, “We coo!”
- So Agnes is just part of Picard’s crew now? That whole thing of her being a murderer is forgotten? She’s not going into Federation custody?
- Is it possible to love a show in which the most notable bit of dialogue is described thusly?