SPOILERS…SHINING ON ME—
NOTHING BUT SPOILERS…DO I SEE!
As usual, I’m probably going to piss off the folks who love STAR TREK: PICARD if I say anything negative about the season finale…and piss off the folks who hate the series if I gush about the last episode.
So let’s just piss off everyone this time, shall we?
To properly convey my reaction(s) to “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” I need to walk you though the following sequence of events that affected the way I thought about this episode…
It began last week when I was underwhelmed (for the first time this season) with the ninth episode, which I detailed in my previous editorial review. I realized that, being a part one, the penultimate episode was setting things up for the ultimate episode. But I wasn’t certain that I liked everything that was being set up. The tail was beginning to wag the dog as the writing was getting somewhat sloppy and lazy, trying to check boxes in order to move the pieces where they needed to be for the “big finish.”
Then, a day before the finale aired, I read this really great interview from Variety with Picard co-creator and show-runner MICHAEL CHABON (a MUST read, folks!). It provides some fascinating insight into what sculpted the writing of this series, but one passage stood out for me in particular:
I think a useful metaphor for thinking about it is an Etch A Sketch. If you remember, there are two dials on the Etch A Sketch, one is plot and one is character. What you’re trying to do, and it’s really hard, is to turn them exactly the same amount so that you’re getting a perfect 45 degree angle. But as soon as you commit to a plotted story, which we committed to from the opening scene of Episode 1, you’ve strapped yourself to a plot-driven engine that you’re going to have to push back against really hard to try to hold it into that 45 degree angle.
I realized as I read that part of the interview that the first eight episodes were much more front-loaded with character development. There might not always be enough time to develop every character as much as we (or the writers) might want, but what the show lacked in action and speed of storytelling was more than made up for in series after series of deep, character-defining scenes. And I was getting kinda used to that.
But eventually, you have to not only get on with the plot but you actually have to finish the darn story already. And that’s when I felt the show had finally delivered a mediocre episode. Would the trend continue into the finale? Would finally giving us some action “ruin” the last episode for me, as well?
And so Thursday came and a finally hit play…
As the episode began, I thought, “Oh, no. It’s as bad as I feared. The writing is lazy and sloppy again—even more so this time! Stuff just doesn’t make sense. If Seven wants to fix the Borg Cube, why is she just sitting around talking to Elnor? If Elnor is supposed to “protect” the XBs, then why isn’t he at least guarding the front door, and instead he’s letting Narek sneak in (not even sneak; he just walks in!). There’s an unnecessary F-bomb as soon as Narissa opens her mouth…and hey, I thought she’d beamed onto one of those warbirds. I guess she just beamed to another part of the Artifact (thanks for leaving that so vague, writers).
There’s (lots) more, and I’ll get to all the “hot mess” aspects of this episode in a bit, but let me tell you first what happened about a third of the way into the episode…
It happened during the scene when Rios and Raffi and Elnor enter Synth City with Narek as their “prisoner,” hiding the holy hand-grenade inside of the soccer ball of death. Suddenly, inexplicably, the episode got good—or at least easier to watch. Oh, sure, there was still stupidity in abundance (did anyone else hear Liam Neeson in their head shouting “Release the Kraken!” when we first see the uber-synths trying to get through the portal?).
But for all the inconsistencies and “just go with it, okay?” contrivances that strained credulity, the middle third of the episode shifted in high gear and was actually quite enjoyable to watch…for me, at least. And the last segment where Picard’s consciousness shares a tender final farewell with Data was simply beautiful and emotionally impactful (and should have been very satisfying to any fan wondering when this show was going to become “Star Trek“—Kirk’s goodbye to Spock in Wrath of Khan finally has some competition!).
I finished the episode on an emotional high…and low. On the one hand, I felt as though I’d just watched the conclusion of a nine-hour Star Trek feature film—what would have been the fifth TNG movie and, if I had to rank them, behind First Contact and maybe tied with Insurrection…and certainly better than Generation or Nemesis (and in some ways a sequel to both of them thematically).
The story felt complete and, ultimately, satisfying despite the many issues I had along the way. There was a beginning, middle, and ending—but the creators also left a door open to more story…as all good Star Trek does. As Gene Roddenberry wrote, “…Star Trek will go on forever.”
On the other hand, the writing on this episode was sloppy-sloppy-sloppy! My biggest complaint about Discovery (after “not enough banter”) is when the plot points they present to us are just a little too contrived, too convenient, too quick and not developed enough. The writers know they need to have certain scenes happen, and so things are just rushed along to get the boxes checked without much consideration of whether or not they make sense. Most of us fans think things though…so why don’t the writers?
Here are some of the leaps of logic (the places where the writers say to the viewers “just go with it, okay?”) that really irked me…
- As I already mentioned, Narek sneaks on and off the cube. Elnor follows him out. Why doesn’t Elnor stop Narek right then and there so he can take the intruder back to Seven to interrogate? (Answer: Narek and Elnor need to join up with the Picard Squad.)
- Time dilates in this episode. Agnes goes out to see the tower of terror being constructed at warp speed. Two tiers are completed before our very eyes in less than ten seconds. At this rate, the full tower should be finished before second breakfast…not the following day.
- And speaking of creating things out of thin air, apparently the androids invented a magic wand device. Just imagine it, and it will be built for you! How…convenient. This is quite literally a plot device! But really, isn’t it a little too unbelievable? I know the future has replicators, but this takes replication to a whole other level. Selling such an unbelievably useful device like this to the Federation would have been a much better way to end the ban on synths, dontcha think?
- Narek’s story of the Ganmadan, the Romulan “end of days,” really does sound ridiculous. I mean, the whole blowing the horn to let the hell-beasts out definitely parallels Soji and the tower to transmit the signal. But picking their teeth with bones doesn’t sound like the sort of thing extra-dimensional uber-synths would waste their time doing.
- So A.I. Soong has a device for deactivating any android he chooses? Convenient! I hope the androids don’t find out about it and…oh, wait.
- This is a general problem I have with all Star Trek since JJ Abrams got his hands on it. Starships shouldn’t stop on a dime as soon as they come out of warp. I mean, sure, it looks cool. But there is such a thing as momentum, y’know…and this isn’t that “other” Star franchise. Also, anyone remember Sir Isaac Newton and his first law of motion that an object in motion tends to stay in motion? Ships emerging into normal space with that much forward velocity would leave their crews in splorches of flesh, bone, and blood on every forward bulkhead if they stopped that fast…inertial dampeners be damned!
- So Picard has never flown the La Sirena before a few minutes ago, and suddenly he’s Tom Cruise in Top Gun? I mean, I know he was a great pilot in his day, but man, that’s a fast learning curve!
- General Oh orders, “Ready planetary sterilization pattern #5!” Just how many patterns do Romulans have for sterilizing planets? And why #5 in particular? Don’t they simply need to “fire everything” at the one Synth City? This seemed like an unnecessary sci-fi “flourish” in the script where none was really needed.
- Okay, we’ve established from the fistfight between Seven and Narissa that the Borg Cube has weapons powered up and scanners to detect ships in orbit. So why doesn’t Seven take a few shots at those nasty Romulans? I understand that the Cube is grounded, but that doesn’t mean it can’t play at least some small part in this battle royal. Or did the writers forget it was there once the Seven-kicks-Narcissa-off-the-ledge box was checked?
- Since we now know that Picard’s message to Starlfeet last episode got through successfully, then why no response from them? Obviously, the synths weren’t jamming yet (there was no reason to). Of course, the real reason for the lack of response was so that Riker could ride to the rescue with a squadron of starships and no one would see it coming. (And while I totally saw it coming, I didn’t expect to see Captain William T. Riker sitting in the command chair of the flagship. That said, didn’t the flagship already have a captain? Replacing him with a grandstanding “acting” captain is quite the insult!)
- I realize this is a budget issue, but the lack of variety in Starfleet starship design was disappointing to me…as was the general design of the couple of classes we did see. Apparently, Starfleet has opted for “drab” as a new color scheme?
- And speaking of starships, why do they ALL leave at the end? Shouldn’t at least one have stuck around to help establish diplomatic relations or make sure the Romulans don’t come back?
- In the end, A.I. Soong turned out to be a good guy…so much so that he “sacrificed” his golem to give Picard a second life identical to his original one just without the terminal brain condition (and no superpowers). But did Soong really give it up? Remember, the synths have the “magic wand” machine that can repair/build anything you can imagine. And of course, there’s a record of how to do it since they had a working golem. So just imagine building another golem and using the consciousness-transfer machine again. A.I. Soong can be a literal A.I. (artificial intelligence) anytime he wants to and—voila!—Star Trek has once again cured death…and this time you don’t even need to find a sample of Khan’s blood!
- And I just need to say, as I did last week, it is VERY odd that Data never spoke of his human “brother” in all the years Picard knew the android…and Data sure did like to talk! And from their little post-mortem discussion, Data was indeed aware of his brother’s existence.
- Okay, I have no problem with Seven and Raffi finding the spark of romance. But it felt dropped in at the last second with no build-up. Had the post-Picard-passing mourning scenes paired Raffi and Seven, I’d have had an easier time accepting their hand-holding at the very end. But Seven got paired with Rios and Raffi with Elnor. So just when DID the two women discover they had feelings for each other? It must have happened off-screen, but then why not simply leave the “will they or won’t they?” as part of their character arc for season two? It just felt like the scene was thrown in.
- And, um, what happened to Narek? The last time he appears in the episode is about halfway through when he fails to talk Soji out of activating the beacon. Considering that he’s a villain-turned-“hero” who claimed to be in love with Soji, tried to kill her twice (the second time while trying to destroy the entire Picard Squad), he’s quite a significant character to simply forget about while checking the remaining boxes in the script.
- And speaking of villain-turned-hero(ine)s, what of Agnes Jurati? She didn’t just try to kill someone, she DID kill someone! I mean, she’s still adorable, and I think she’ll make a fine ship’s doctor and captain’s cuddle-bunny in the second season, but SHE MURDERED AN INNOCENT HUMAN BEING!!! Are we ever gonna deal with that? Or is all forgiven because…well…reasons?
But really, for me, the biggest let-down of all of these bits of sloppy, lazy, rushed, and/or contrived aspects of scriptwriting was the Federation suddenly “coming to its senses” concerning the synth ban. The whole premise of this saga was the ban. It marked a dark turn for Starfleet and the Federation abandoning its ideals of tolerance, compassion, and mercy. Picard sacrificed his career in a fruitless attempt to convince Starfleet to see the error of this decision. The ban resulted (indirectly) in the death of Riker and Troi’s son Thad. And of course, the ban was the whole reason that the androids were hidden away, terrified, and nearly responsible for bringing destruction on all sentient life in the galaxy (which kinda justifies the ban in a way, don’t it?).
And suddenly, the ban is gone.
How did the Federation just “fix” itself? Was it all that one message from Picard saying the synths want to establish a first contact and ask for our help? I doubt it. So what DID happen?
Based on the season-long build-up, I’d assume it was something significant with lots of heated words on both sides—fear versus compassion. How did compassion triumph? If this show really does have a “liberal” anti-Trump subtext, as some claim, then glossing over the great awakening within the Federation is just another way for the writers to say they have absolutely no idea how to get rid of Trump…only that they’d just really like it to happen. And if that’s the case, then thanks a lot for wasting my time for the last ten weeks, guys!
Not that I feel my time has been wasted!
While I’m frustrated that many aspects of the overall theme and dramatic conflicts were either abandoned or just glossed over in the rush to finish up the season with excitement, I still very much enjoyed the majority of the ten episodes of Star Trek: Picard. And I even enjoyed watching the finale…despite everything I just mentioned.
I mean, sure, a lot of the action sequences were unoriginal ideas. Seven kicking Narissa into the abyss is the “I…have had…enough…of…you!” climax with Kirk and Kruge in Star Trek III (or the end of multiple Disney movies!). But it was still satisfying to watch the fight and see the bad guy (gal) get what she deserved. Likewise, the desperate “stop them before they activate the bad thingy!” race against time is nothing new: Dr. Soran’s machine in Generations, the Borg beacon in First Contact, the list goes on and on. But it was still a very exciting and well-executed sequence leading to a decent “head fake” of Soji catching the holy hand grenade at the last second and tossing it harmlessly into the sky.
We’ve also seen the “two massive fleets preparing for battle” set-up before. Mercifully, unlike the season two finale of Discovery, we didn’t need to watch endless seizure-inducing quick-cuts of dozens or hundreds of ships flying around each other shooting and dodging. In fact, the climax here came simply from Picard making an impassioned speech…which IS very Trek. Kirk used to do it all the time: “I will not kill…today…” or “These words and the words that follow, were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well! They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing!” And talking the “bad guy” into NOT doing the bad thing has been used in Star Trek as recently as the season one finale of Discovery when Burnham does it to L’Rell. So yeah, this has all happened before and will very likely happen again. They say there is no such thing as an original idea in Hollywood anymore, and maybe they’re right.
But even if the scenes themselves weren’t all that original or inspired, the execution was impeccable. The last 25 minutes of the episode were very, um, engaging on a simply “sit back and enjoy the ride” level. For example TAMLYN TOMITA (the XO from the Babylon 5 pilot) does a really great job of being devilishly and intensely eeeevil in her limited shots on the bridge of the Romulan flagship. The character of Oh never really amounted to too much more than a villain with a mission, but credit where it’s due. As an actress, Tomita was given little but threw her all into every scene…kinda the opposite of the actor playing Narek.
Likewise, how amazing was JONATHAN FRAKES delivering all those tough guy lines with Riker’s patented confident swagger? Whatever you might have thought about the rest of the episode, there’s no way you didn’t love seeing him in the center seat, proving once and for all that Number One is greater than Number Oh. (Man, that joke was so much funnier in my head.)
Equally entertaining and satisfying was the banter (you KNOW how much I love banter!) between Jean-Luc and Agnes on the La Sirena as they take the small vessel up against 218 warbirds and try to hold their own. Somebody call the folks in Toronto who make Discovery and show them how proper banter is done!
Oh, and as long as you’ve got the phone out, please call 1994 and ask to speak to the creators of Star Trek Generations. Tell them we’d like to show them what a proper death scene for a legendary starship captain should look like.
Speaking of which, three cheers for letting us see the aftermath of Picard’s passing. Even if it’s just two pairings of characters in two short scenes, at least we got to see the characters processing the death of their friend and leader Picard. Again, Discovery could learn a thing or three from even this problematic episode of Picard.
And lest I forget, the music was amazing! We’ve been “teased” with snippets of the familiar TNG theme song throughout the season. But like a car motor that isn’t quite sparking and turning over, there was always the hope of something more, then nothing. But this time, the engine was firing on all thrusters! And not only that, but the music for the rest of the episode—from the hand-to-hand combat to the holy hand grenade sequence to Picard’s maneuvers to the quiet scenes at the end and culminating with those incredible closing credits—the music alone made this episode worth watching.
And finally, I dare you to criticize that beautiful scene between Picard and Data at the end! Actually, I’m sure at least a few of you will try, but honestly, what more could you have asked from the scene? You wanted to get Data back? Sorry. Only one resurrection from the dead per season. And honestly, that wasn’t the point. Data died in Nemesis, but Picard never got closure. Now he has it, and the moment was beautiful and painful and tragic and hopeful all at the same time. Life ends, but life also goes on. It’s a moment that has been shared countless times by people who have had to part with loved ones as they leave this world.
So what’s next for Picard and his squad?
Come back next week for my final thoughts on the entire first season of Star Trek: Picard. I promise it will be MUCH shorter than these editorial review blogs I’ve been writing for the last ten weeks!