WE’RE RUNNING WITH THE SPOILERS OF THE NIGHT…
The sixth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s second season, “Two of One,” had the shortest runtime of the entire series so far. Not counting the recap and closing credits, there were only 35.5 minutes of actual episode (most episodes run in the high 40- to low 50-minute range).
On the other hand, this episode also the longest “Previously on…” recap (2 minutes and 15 seconds). Even DISCOVERY‘s recaps usually time out at 90 seconds—and by the end of their seasons, there’s typically a LOT to remind viewers of.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with a long recap, but it does hint that the show might be juggling a few two many plates at the same time. And it’s true that Picard has quite a bit going on right now…
- Q has sent then to an alternate authoritarian future, and they have traveled back in time to 2024 trying to prevent it.
- The watcher/supervisor Tallinn is tasked with protecting Picard’s ancestor, a famous astronaut.
- Agnes has killed the Borg Queen (their only way back to the future) in order to save a French cop.
- Dr. Adam Soong is a noted geneticist whose daughter has an incurable genetic disease and who has just lost his license and funding for running forbidden experiments.
- Q is offering to help Soong…but Q requires a favor in return.
- Renée Picard will launch with the Europa Mission in three days, but she’s having doubts about herself. If she doesn’t go, the future will be irrevocably changed for the xenophobic worst.
- The team needs to keep her from quitting the Europa program for the next 15 hours until pre-launch quarantine, but Renée will be at a gala that evening with very tight security.
- Agnes will sneak inside, get detained by security, and then hack into their systems to get the rest of the team inside.
- But Agnes has been compromised; the Borg Queen injected her with nanoprobes before dying.
Whew, that IS a lot to keep track of! And that doesn’t even touch on the Guinan encounter two episodes ago, Rios’ injury and infatuation with Dr. Teresa, his capture by I.C.E. agents, subsequent rescue, or the death of Elnor.
So the episode’s all a big mess, right? It’s cluttered with way too many story elements and characters and storylines?
Not at all!
Instead, this was a relatively “quiet” episode, simple, and quite elegant. In fact, many of the ongoing plot elements were barely touched upon—like Seven-of-Nine (almost none of her in this episode), Raffi’s being haunted by Elnor’s death (just a teensy bit of that), Q (almost nothing of him in the episode for the first time this season), and Tallinn’s uncanny resemblance to Laris (only a quick mention of that).
So with all that they DIDN’T do, what DID they do? Well, let me tellya…
IT’S TIME TO SLOW DOWN A LITTLE BIT…
Looking back, each episode of Picard this season has had its own fingerprint—unique in theme, tone, pacing, etc.:
- The first episode was set in the normal future, reintroducing us to all of the characters and the changes in their lives since the end of season one.
- The second episode was ominous, introducing us to this dystopian future while the team works desperately to reunite without being discovered as imposters.
- The third episode was fun. It had some good comedy relief and humanity as half of the team hits in Los Angeles (in Rios’ case, literally!) and we get to see these heroes from the future interact with normal folks from the past. But at the same time, we introduce some creepy stuff with the Borg Queen and Agnes.
- The fourth episode was loaded to the hilt with just about everything: Guinan of 2024, the car chase through L.A., searching for the watcher, Agnes and the Borg Queen, and more Star Trek easter eggs than you can shake a boom box on a bus at! Plus we get our first hint that something isn’t quite right with Q.
- The fifth episode was loaded, too, but in a much different way. This episode had to introduce FOUR completely new characters: Adam Soong and his daughter Kore, Renée Picard, and Supervisor Taillinn. Plus, they needed to rescue Rios and bring the Agnes/Borg Queen plot to a whole other level.
If you think about it, this series has been steadily building up in complexity and intensity for the entire firs half of the season so far, and you can’t keep that pace going indefinitely (not even if you’re DISCOVERY and “overstuffing episodes” is your middle name!).
In other words, Picard needed to have a smaller, simpler, “quiet” episode—if for no other reason than to give us viewers a chance to absorb everything that’s been going on because, as I said, this is one complicated season-long arc (but in a good way!). And that’s why I appreciated “Two of One” so much. The writers have structured this season perfectly so far, and they knew that we needed to catch our collective breaths before starting the sprint toward the end of the season—now only four episodes away!
So again, since we know that they decided not to do as much as they could have with this episode, what DID they decide to do?
LANDING PARTY…OR RATHER, LANDING GALA
With the team reunited (and it feels so good!) for the first time in four episodes, director JONATHAN FRAKES was gifted with a script that only required shooting in just three locations: the astronaut gala reception at L.A.’s Biltmore Hotel, Dr. Soong’s home, and Dr. Teresa’s clinic. Without the need to jump around, this “quiet” episode instead allowed for quite a bit of focus on the characters themselves.
Things began with a flash-forward to Picard lying on his back, bleeding, with concerned voices all around him saying they needed to get the admiral to a hospital. Then it shifts to the calmness of the gala. This was likely a directorial choice, as starting out with a little “jolt” serves to keep things interesting and ensure the viewer goes into the episode engaged (get it?). in other words, if they know something big and exciting is going to happen in just 34 minutes, they will keep watching…even if things start off a little slowly.
Next there is also the excitement of Agnes trying to clone the team’s identities onto their bracelets so they will be allowed to enter, but things don’t go as smoothly as expected. In fact, it looks like Agnes will fail, as she’s managed to knock out the guards with gas, but she’s handcuffed and can’t get to the keys. Then the Borg Queen inside her minds says, “If you’d like to give me a little more control, I can help you.” Uh, oh! But the fact that there is so much witty repartee between the two women makes the ominous nature of this “uh, oh” just a little less ominous…at least for now. I’ll get back to Queen/Agnes in a bit, but first, did anyone notice the easter egg on Rios’ pre-hacking ID? Take a look…
The security guard says, “You don’t look like a 60-year-old southern heart surgeon.” Of course, that would be Dr. Leonard Horatio McCoy, played in the past by both DeFOREST KELLEY and KARL URBAN. So naturally, the name on the ID says “Karl Leonard Kelley,” giving us one name from each person…leaving out the more obvious names like “DeForest,” “Urban,” and of course, “McCoy.” Easter eggs are meant to be HIDDEN, y’know!
UPDATE! A reader even more trivia-minded than I added the following two facts to this easter egg: “El Paso, Texas, is where Gene Roddenberry was born, and the birth date is March 11, 1964, the date on Roddenberry’s first series proposal / pitch idea, titled ‘Star Trek Is…'” Thank you, Dániel Rudolf!
On the other hand, did you notice this more obvious easter egg hanging from the ceiling over the gala…?
Yep, that’s from the opening credits of Star Trek: Enterprise…!
Anyway, as the band plays on, we see Picard and Taillinn getting to know each other a little better. Granted, she’s a trained observer (watcher) and seems to quickly size up and figure out Picard…which is fun. But at the same time, Picard seems to have some insights on Tailinn, as well. All the while, we come to know Renée through their observations of her, intercut with shots of her drinking shots and flashbacks to her failures on flight emergency simulations.
It’s challenging to make the audience care about a character who has so few spoken lines, and yet, I’m finding myself caring very much about her. Part of the reason is that I’ve known friends and family members who have struggled with anxiety and depression. It can be debilitating, but it can also be overcome…albeit not easily. I root for her just as I’ve rooted for others I’ve known with the same challenges.
And then there’s a short transition over to more Queen/Agnes as we find out that, last episode, Agnes “killed” the Queen in order to save the cop but with the intention of letting more of the Queen’s consciousness into her (Agnes’) head, as that would still allow them to return home. After all, Agnes “took” information out of the Borg Queen’s head once before without getting assimilated.
Gutsy move…perhaps a bit too gutsy? Agnes has been a little overconfident in her dealings with the Borg Queen, and now it seems like she might have made a mistake. But in the meantime, it’s someone fun watching the two of them interact while Agnes does her best to cover up what’s going on from the others (who seem too busy to notice anything beyond just surface-level stress, as Agnes tends to be a little kooky anyway). Frankly, I find this is an intriguing take on “slow” assimilation—and also a fresh exploration of a character (the Borg Queen) who had, up until now in Star Trek, been mostly a one-note villain.
Meanwhile, over at the other end of the bar, Raffi and Rios share a quiet moment that gives us a wealth of new insights into the dashing Kirk-like captain with the Latin charm. And like Kirk (twice!), Rios has traveled back into Earth’s past and become smitten with an impressive woman from that century. For Kirk, it was Edith Keeler and then Gillian Taylor. For Rios, it’s Dr. Teresa Ramirez.
But Rios hasn’t only fallen in love with a pretty woman. He’s also fallen in love with 2024—the intensity, the excitement, the food, the cigars, even the matches! But time-travel ISN’T supposed to be tourism! And Raffi reminds Rios of this, giving us some insights into both her AND him. A quick look over at Seven enjoying herself reminds us that, hey, she’s here, too. But this isn’t a “Seven episode.” And of course, there’s another Elnor sighting at the end, and we know Raffi is gonna need to pull on that grief thread before this season is over.
MOVE OVER, PAT BENATAR, QUEEN/AGNES IS IN DA HOUSE!
Okay, this next part of the episode has been quite controversial with fans and critics alike. I mean, everyone was bowled over by actor ALISON PILL’s rendition of singer PAT BENATAR’s 1982 hit, Shadows of the Night. But mass agreement seems to end there.
Some (like me), LOVED the scene, despite the various aspects of absurdity in it. For example, the lights go out, and security doesn’t panic and try to immediately get all of the astronauts to safety. A few seconds later, this unidentified woman starts singing, and everyone (including the band) just kinda assumes, “Well, um, okay, this seems to be happening.” And like any good episode of Glee, the spotlight (there’s a spotlight?) finds Anges, the band picks up the melody of a 42-year-old pop song, and they accompany her in unison as though they’ve been practicing this song in this key as part of their set list for weeks! And for fans and viewers who didn’t embrace the spontaneous breakout of musical theater in the middle of the episode, this scene was a bridge too far…
But hey, I love that song, I loved Alison’s singing (assuming that was really her voice, although her Wikipedia page says she was a member of the Toronto Children’s Chorus), and I loved the sequence. Here’s why.
First, the scene served a purpose for the plot. Amusingly, I’ve been watching Marvel’s new Moon Knight series on Disney+ (and loving it, too). So on Wednesday night, I saw a person with dissociative identity disorder (having two or more distinct personalities) having a voice inside his head urging to let him have control (of the body) so that he could save the day. Then on Thursday night, I see the same scene…just with two women instead of two men. Holy synchronicity, Batman!
Anyway, there’s something in writing called the “Rule of Three.” In the case of Agnes, the writers needed to give her three steps (give her three steps, mister) give her three steps toward the full takeover by the Queen. The first was when Agnes suddenly develops super-strength and breaks herself out of her handcuffs. (The judges will allow this because Borg also develop a bit of super-strength, and we have to assume there are now many nanoprobes inside Agnes’ bloodstream.) The second instance of the takeover was the Queen making Agnes pull Rios in for a full-on lip-lock at the bar. And finally, the Evita moment was strike three, and afterward, Agnes was out and the Queen was in control. It was an awesome build-up and payoff.
The other reason I loved the scene was the significance of the song lyrics themselves. Some viewers were scratching their heads asking, “Why Pat Benatar?” Why, indeed! For many at the gala, the song had a line about dreams coming true in the end, which obviously refers to the Europa mission. So…yay.
But consider for a moment how the story of Agnes and the Queen is that Agnes has lived a life of solitude (physical and emotional), holding things inside, never really being noticed. But the Queen notices her, sees the real Agnes, and for some reason, wants to bring out that hidden person (who will, of course, be the Queen’s new body and identity). Keeping all of that in mind, read the following lyrics to the song…
You said, “Oh, girl, it’s a cold world when you keep it all to yourself.”
I said, “You can’t hide on the inside, all the pain you’ve ever felt.”
Ransom my heart, but baby, don’t look back
’cause we got nobody else.
We’re running with the shadows of the night.
So baby, take my hand, you’ll be alright.
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight.
They’ll come true in the end.
NOW what do you think of their choice of song?
AND THE EMMY GOES TO…SIR PATRICK STEWART!
For a show called Picard, there’s surprisingly little of Picard in many of the episodes. Instead, this series features a much more ensemble cast. Imagine Star Trek: Discovery giving this much time to characters other than Michael Burnham, but that’s what we’ve got. And I’m okay with that, as any Patrick Stewart is SO MUCH better than no Patrick Stewart.
Of course, the reason there isn’t more of Picard in Picard is because Sir Patrick is 81 years old, and acting for television is a VERY demanding profession. The more scenes that feature him, the more time Patrick has to sit in the make-up chair, rehearse on set, stand around, and do take after take in front of hot lights. Although probably not discussed openly in the writers room, there is probably an understanding that the writers need to make judicious use of their star so as to not exhaust him physically and mentally.
As such, most of Picard’s scenes involve minimal movement of location—he’s usually standing or sitting, occasionally walking, and pretty much never running. That said, three different times I sat in the audience watching and listening to Patrick Stewart do little more than stand or sit or walk around a little as he recited CHARLES DICKENS’ A Christmas Carol for three hours…and I was mesmerized for every second!
I imagine that many people who suffer from depression might one day use the following speech from Jean-Luc Picard as a lifeline. Picard may be an excellent commander, tactician, diplomat, etc. But the one thing he does best is give a stirring and motivational pep-talk off the cuff. Take a look, and then give that man an Emmy…
BUT THEN THE WRTING GOT A LITTLE SLOPPY…
When I write my Discovery reviews, I like to say that I call balls and strikes the way I see them. As such, I’m not just going to blindly praise each episode without acknowledging a few missteps.
The first obvious piece of sloppy writing is what happens to Picard after he is run down by Adam Soong. Many fans are asking (rightly!) why Soong didn’t just back up after hitting Picard and try to run over Renée, as well? After all, he’s trying to save his “daughter” and seems to be willing to commit murder to do so. Why drive off leaving the job have-finished? One assumes he just panicked, as attempting first degree vehicular manslaughter could be somewhat traumatizing. Most likely, Soong worried about being recognized and arrested as more people gathered at the scene.
But the bigger question remained 100% unanswered: how did the team get Picard’s body from the gala driveway (with people gathering to see what happened) to a barrio medical clinic in south central L.A.? Transporter? People like Renée would have seen. Drive him? In what? They don’t have a car. Carry him—a bleeding octogenarian—a few miles along the streets of Los Angeles? Sounds ludicrous! Honestly, I have no idea how to cover for them on this one. And it’s not like they didn’t have time in the episode to film a scene explaining it. Straight up writing blunder, folks.
Next, Kore looks up her dad’s history on Google…for the first time ever??? Granted, this and viewing his personal recordings provided the revelation that Kore isn’t his daughter so much as a genetically-engineered human, the last in a long line of failed experiments. But geez, she’s spent her (short?) life cooped up in a house with access to the Internet, and she’s never thought to look to see what the media says about her famous dad? And speaking of which, if Soong really is a disgraced “mad scientist,” why is the Europa Mission taking his money and putting him on their board of directors with such lightning speed? (Q only approached him yesterday, remember!)
Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy writing!
Oh, and don’t get me started on how Dr. Teresa didn’t notice that the the guy whose chest she just opened up wasn’t exactly human! Is Picard’s synthetic body really THAT identical to a human’s? If so, then we’ve come a LOOOOOOOONG way from Data, haven’t we?
BUT I FORGIVE THEM
Honestly, this is the first time in six episodes that I’ve found anything about season two to have been significantly botched enough to mention. But despite the sloppiness of the last small bit of the episode, I still greatly enjoyed watching all of it. I can’t wait to take a mind-trip along with Taillin into Picard’s psyche next week and find out more about his mother (and maybe about Tailinn, too). That’s when Picard will finally have an episode about Picard!