STAR TREK: PICARD goes TWO-FOR-TWO for season two! (editorial review)


This week, I’ve decided to separate my STAR TREK: PICARD and DISCOVERY reviews back into two separate blogs. It’s really not fair to combine them, as they are such totally different shows. Some have gone so far as to say that it’s not fair to call Picard a better show because it has characters with literally hundreds of Star Trek episodes between them (Picard and Seven-of Nine) plus guest stars playing characters equally familiar to fans…like Riker, Troi, Data, Hugh, Guinan, and Q.

Frankly, I don’t believe it’s fair to call that “unfair,” as Discovery has now been on the air for four years. And even though Michael Burnham, Saru, Stamets, and the others haven’t appeared in the 180 TNG episodes that Picard was in (or the 100 episodes of Voyager for Seven), there have still been well over 50 episodes of Discovery (54 as I write this).

No, the reason it’s unfair is simply that Picard is a vastly better show than Discovery…at least for these first two episodes of Picard‘s second season. At this point, there’s been so much positive being said about Picard these past couple of weeks that if you’re one of those people still clinging to the “They all suck!” rhetoric, you really need to let go of your anger and hatred because you really are missing out on something amazing.

One of the reasons I believe Picard to be the significantly better of the two shows is the characters who are featured. Both Discovery and Picard employ excellent actors and actresses. And while I wouldn’t put the leads of the two shows in the same class, most of the rest of their casts do a lot with their characters. It’s simply that the Picard writers are allowing their actors more opportunities to do so.

Case in point, let’s look at how things were handled in this second episode, “Penance”…


In many ways, this second episode, “Penance,” was primarily structural, intended as a “stop on the train” between the set-up of episode one where viewers are (re)introduced to the characters and their new roles in the storyline…and traveling back in time to 21st century Los Angeles, which I assume will dominate many of the remaining eight episodes of season 2.

So basically, this episode needed to accomplish the following things:

  1. Introduce this new reality,
  2. Show each of the characters figuring out they’re not in Kansas anymore,
  3. Establish for the audience (and for those characters) who they are in this altered timeline,
  4. Reunite the characters so they can work as a team to move the plot forward,
  5. Establish some jeopardy and urgency for them so the episode isn’t boring,
  6. Maybe introduce a surprise or two,
  7. Leave off on a cliffhanger where the team can progress to the next step in the story arc (i.e. travel back in time).

Believe it or not, doing all of the above while keeping the episode, er, engaging (see what I did there?) and not drowning in tropes is not as easy as it might seem. The challenge is that we fans have been there/done that already with multiple episodes like “The Inner Light,” “Face of the Enemy,” and even with Q whisking away Picard himself in the TNG series finale “All Good Things” (making this a bit of deja Q…see what I did there, too?). We’ve also seen this on DS9 (“Past Tense“), Voyager (“The Killing Game“), Enterprise (“Twilight“) and even Discovery (“Terra Firma“). So we’re not exactly going where no Star Trek has gone before.

And so, making this episode seem fresh and interesting and not just the same old, same old was a challenge. Let’s look at how they accomplished this…


Leave it to Q to make us wonder if, in his omniscience, he knows that the stories he appears in are only episodes of a television franchise! “How ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise‘ of you…” Q shares the title of one of TNG‘s most popular episodes as a Q-clue, perhaps, of what is going on. But nah, maybe it was just a coincidence. Then, four minutes later (the entire sequence with Q goes on for a luxurious 7 minutes …15% of the full episode!), Q opens the door to Picard’s study and says, “Through a mirror, darkly,” nearly the same as the title of the Enterprise two-part episode “In a Mirror, Darkly,” which took place entirely within the Mirror Universe.

Is this the Mirror Universe? No. The writers needed to establish that precept almost immediately. And by doing that, they also established what kind of time-travel “story” this was going to be. It’s not a “Parallels” or Kelvin-verse or “Multiverse of Madness” situation where a road-not-taken creates a new, parallel reality. Instead, it’s a “City on the Edge of Forever”/”Back To The Future” plot where a single event alters the timeline, and going back in time to undo that change “resets” or fixes reality and everything is right again. I realize that might be a distinction without a difference, but since Star Trek‘s frequent time-travel episodes and movies have featured both kinds of stories, it’s nice to finally confirm that there’s officially an in-universe classification…thanks also to the Borg Queen’s calling it a “temporal recision.” Now we know.

Anyway, back to Q. How awesome was JOHN de LANCIE’s performance (and SIR PATRICK STEWART’s, of course), by the way? The two actors have always shown such amazing on-screen chemistry, and this episode was no exception. As I said, their seven minutes of almost continuous shared screen-time felt luxurious to watch! Then again, after his dozen appearances on TNG, DS9, and Voyager, hasn’t Q been done to death? Apparently not, as this appearance has given us a Q who is not quite as we remember him…even though we can still recognize him. But something is off. This Q strikes an old man (synth) in uncontrolled anger, making him bleed (leak). “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad…” was the classical Greek tragedy. But what happens when a god himself goes mad? Picard and reality itself could be royally F’d…or in this case, Q’d! (See what I did…aw, forget it.)

Anyway, Q gives Picard (and us) a tour of this new reality with a skull’s-eye view of some of Star Trek‘s most noteworthy recurring aliens: Gul Dukat, General Martok, Sarek, and skulls of what look like the Grand Nagus, a Borg, and possibly a member of Species 8472 from Voyager and even a Gorn (it was hard to tell). Quick “drive-by’s” from Star Trek canon can be annoying when they’re thrown in for no good reason. But this time, there was a perfectly good reason, and I loved this scene! (They also mention “General Sisko” later on…so awesome!)


At the end of the teaser, in an almost nurturing tone of voice, Q gently reassures Picard, “But don’t worry. I won’t let you do this alone.” Naturally, he means that Picard’s “homeys” will be along for the ride…and not the ol’ Enterprise-D/E gang (since they’re not signed to the show as series regulars, and Q is apparently aware of this). So instead, we’ll be getting Seven, Rios, Raffi, Elnor, and Agnes (and possibly Soji in the next episode as some kind of machina ex machina…see what I—STOP IT, JONATHAN!!!!)

Anyway, another show with another set of writers might have given each of the cast members equal time to “discover” the altered timeline…revealing the details as scenes toggled between and among all of the characters. But not this set of writers! Instead, after the opening credits, we get an additional two and a half minutes of Picard finding out who he is in this new reality…brining the total amount of Picard screen time in the introduction/exposition to nearly 10 minutes, or 20% of the full episode. Then we don’t see Picard at all for another 15 minutes of episode time (nearly 30% without a single Picard scene…imagine not seeing Michael Burnham for 15 whole minutes of a Discovery episode!).

So then it was on to Seven of Nine, waking up in a soft bed without any of her lingering Borg implants. Her response, to check systems functions and stimuli, was very unique and appropriate to the character. And once she realized she was not dreaming, it was time to figure out what was going on. Fortunately, her husband walks in, supplying a lot of inadvertent hints and clues (like calling her “Madam President”), and we are now beginning to learn even more about this new world. Of course, having Seven be Palpaltine to Picard’s Vader (best metaphor I could come up with) might seem a little convenient and contrived (Picard and Seven are the two most powerful people in the Confederation), the fact is that, if Q is indeed playing a game where they are the chess pieces, then he can set up the board any way he wants to.

Anyway, Seven’s scenes continue for nearly four full minutes. Then it’s Rios’ turn to play. At this point, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel for the viewers, so his “wake-up” sequence lasts only about three minutes, the last minute of which includes the revelatory conservation with Seven (more on that shortly). Elnor’s introduction to the Confederation runs just over a minute long and merges into Raffi’s introduction, which adds another minute. The writers understand frugality and pacing; no need to drag anything out or be redundant.

And finally, there’s Agnes Jurati, who wakes up to the sound of my personal doppelgänger, PATTON OSWALT, cat-kvetching about the state of reality. Agnes goes through an amusing and snarky checklist of alternatives taken from the history of Star Trek: she’s crazy (Riker in “Frame of Mind“), she’s dead (Picard in “Tapestry“), she’s in a crazy Mirror Universe—and then her soliloquy is interrupted by the arrival Seven and the First Gentleman…although he’s no gentleman. Total screen time: less than one minute.

Done and done—everyone is now accounted for. Next item on the “to do” list…


For me, this was one of the most fascinating aspects of the episode. When Seven reaches out to contact Rios, neither of them initially knows if the other is from their original reality. Keep in mind: this is a harsh, totalitarian society. If either of them isn’t the person they hope it is, one wrong word could lead to imprisonment or even death.

And so they tip-toe in what I think was an amazing interchange…

Each word was so carefully chosen and delicately delivered. Such tension followed by such relief and then decisive action. It was perfect.

The next reunification was Seven with Agnes. And as I said last week, “There must always be a Tilly.” And so Agnes did the clumsy comedy relief but also demonstrated to the viewers how it’s actually kind of difficult in this new reality to NOT screw up trying to hide who you really are and fit in.

Raffi’s and Elnor’s reunion was fast-paced, very different than the slow and delicate wordplay of Seven and Rios or the stand-up comic routine of Agnes. But despite that rapidity, we got one of those nurturing moments that are so helping to define both of these wonderful characters by showing and not simply telling…

I love it when she says, “Sorry, baby, just go with it.” No XO would call a cadet member of her crew “baby.” But in that moment, she’s a loving mother trying to keep her “son” safe.

After seeing these three reunions, the next one is the somewhat cliche “rescue at the last second” as Picard arrives just in time to save Raffi and Elnor from the Hitler Youth. It is, of course, easier for Picard as a civilized man to act like a barbarian than it would have been for a barbarian to act like a civilized man. As they walk away, Raffi simply asks, “Is that you in there, JL?” Not nearly as painstakingly careful as Rios and Seven because, at this point in the episode, it doesn’t have to be.

Next, there’s the moment where those three encounter President Hansen, and Raffi learns that her former lover was apparently able to commit to a long-term relationship after all. Just a glimpse at the road these two must travel in order to be together, but if the show wants to “earn” a commitment from the audience to this relationship, scenes like this one will be necessary.

And finally the gang of four reunites with Agnes, she smiles a huge smile, and lovingly says to Picard, “Hi, Mister.” Picard is Picard (no Discovery hugs with this guy!), and he curtly responds, “Hello, Agnes…” as he is much more interested in the Borg Queen at the moment. But Elnor IS a hugger, and so Agnes hugs him. The scene has everything. In fact, altogether, the various reunions created a very satisfying smorgasborg of emotional reactions.


Surprise, surprise! I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition (well, actually, with the Confederation, maybe I should be expecting the Spanish Inquisition!), but I certainly wasn’t expecting the Borg Queen to join our merry band of players. Up until that point, the episode had its fair share of “little” surprises: Q smacking Jean-Luc, General Picard has killed all the best Trek aliens and now keeps Romulans as slaves, Seven is president, Vulcan is about to fall, Agnes likes sentient cartoon cats. But the Borg Queen on board the La Sirena? Now THAT has some major possibilities! Can we trust her? Do we have a choice??? What happens if/when she betrays us?

Oh, and why is there a lighted neon hologram of yet another guy named Soong who looks exactly like BRENT SPINER?


It wasn’t as though this episode didn’t have any action in it before the end. There was the Confederation attack on Vulcan, the arrest of Elnor, and the grand entrance of General Picard in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall…or the Confederation Palace in this reality). But those scenes were just short “power-boosts” to keep the episode moving along. Most of the scenes had much more quiet tension and and intense emotion (sprinkled with some comic relief), as that was the tone of the episode. “Penance” needed to establish what kind of world this was and why time needs to be repaired. Non-stop action wasn’t required to accomplish that.

Until the end, of course.

The last ten minutes built masterfully to a “I can’t wait until next week!!!” cliffhanger. It began with this incredible monologue delivery by ALISON PILL (take that, Tilly!). You try get all of these lines out as well as Agnes did…!

So we get a little comedy to start with. But then there’s Seven and Picard, whose scenes as the climax approaches are not only deadly serious but serve to illustrate just how crazed this mob is. Can the pair stall for time long enough to rescue the Borg Queen, their only chance to do a successful time warp (again)?

Meanwhile Agnes is racing agains the clock and drops the S-bomb three times. And you know what? I didn’t have a problem with it! Her scenes were so urgent and suspenseful that each time she said the word (once, and then a double-s), I was thinking the same thing. Finally, a swear word in CBS-produced Trek that isn’t gratuitous!

Once Agnes manages to contact Rios, the pulse-pounding suspense is unexpectedly punctuated with a sparkle of all-too-human levity as the two start bickering like the Sam-and-Diane/will-they-or-won’t-they couple I’m coming to actually enjoy. “We’re doing this now…seriously?” say Rios. In the middle of such tension, a little “break” like this (that includes some unexpected psychological analysis of both characters) is strangely fun and welcome.

Meanwhile, Raffi and Elnor play out the type of scene we’ve watched hundreds of times as Elnor gets to take punches from the guards as a distraction while Raffi lowers the palace shields. But once they figure out what she’s up to, Raffi is suddenly the center of attention. And that’s when we get to see the adorable and scared little Elnor turn into a cross between Batman and the Terminator. He is a ninja assassin, after all, and this reminded us of why he’s here.

Ultimately, they don’t get finished in time, and Picard and Seven have to shoot their way out as the crowd starts to turn on Picard for not killing the last of the Borg in cold blood. But then, just in the nick of time (of course!)…energize!!!

But it’s not over yet—time to escape and travel back in time. Get the Borg Queen plugged in! WHAAAATTTT? Rios is horrified at the idea of having that thing connected to his ship, but it’s the only way to do the calculations for the slingshot without Spock’s brainpower. The Queen smiles as she gains control. Creepy!

But suddenly–“Warning: ships approaching. Presidential override. Shields disabled.” And just like that, the daring escape turns into a likely capture as Seven’s husband beams on with multiple guards, takes out Ninja Elnor, and aims his gun directly at Picard.

Man, just writing all of that was exciting! Way to end an episode, guys!! Seeya all next time…

6 thoughts on “STAR TREK: PICARD goes TWO-FOR-TWO for season two! (editorial review)”

  1. Granted, this show is so far, greatly superior to all other recent trek, including the Kelvin Verse. I’m hopeful this continues, but, apprehensive that Hollywood can still screw it up. It’s in their DNA! With my expectations low, the better each episode is, in a convoluted way for me, I guess. However, I missed the appearance of Data? Was it at the end of the episode?

    1. Data doesn’t appear, but BRENT SPINER will be playing Adam Soong, the person in the 21st century responsible for the Earth going all xenophobic and totalitarian.

  2. That review. Oh my, that review. I was breathless trying to catch all of the sly references including, gee willikers (like that?), to Monty Python’s inquistion, TOS references “easier for Picard as a civilized man…” and rock and roll horror “time warp (again)”?

    I even had to try to figure out if you were doing something nudge, nudge, wink, wink Babylon 5ish with “done and done”

    I mean, like, gosh, “See what I did…aw, forget it”???

    You realize, I hope, that I’m going to expect this from you from here on out and be disappointed if you don’t live up (down?) to the standard you set(?) in this, I guess call it a review+.

    But I must pick a nit: the definition of recision. I did not know that word so I looked it up and found synonyms that are to me are revealing: “abandonment, abortion, calling off, cancellation, dropping, recall, repeal, revocation”. I suspect (hope) the of the word recision is highly meaningful and we’ll find out Q cancelled/repealed/dropped something to cause the situation.

    1. I’m glad my little MST3K-ish references aren’t passing unnoticedmm Jerry. I usually include a few every here and there, but if I did it every time, what would happen to man’s search for knowledge?

      Anyway, it was the Borg Queen, not I, who used the word “recision.” I found it interesting, as I’d also not heard the word before. But it does kinda imply that the incident canceled out the reality we know and replaced it, rather than taking reality and splitting it…a la the Kelvin-verse. We shall see, but I was just happy to have been given the score card so early on! 🙂

  3. It’s been ages since I saw any Disco – I simply can’t bear the thought of it any more – but am mighty happy to see Picard return. And to read your blogs of course.

    You make an excellent point about the number of episodes in which the cast and writers have had to establish their characters. After just one-and-a-bit seasons of STP, I already know/care more about the supporting cast than any of those in Disco, for the simple reason that Stewart/Picard does not dominate the script/screen time in the same way that SMG/Burnham does. And having just watched ep 3, I noticed that those supporting characters seem free to find flaws in their commanding officer, whereas the same would never, ever happen in Disco.

    I won’t say too much about ep 3 if you haven’t yet reviewed it, but so far it does seem like a pleasing and unhurried return visit to STIV:TVH

Comments are closed.