SPOILER WARNINGS PROTECT EVERYONE!
I had already been told by a close friend that he’d seen some photos from the set of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s second-to-last episode, “Võx,” but if I saw them, it would give away a huge surprise. “NO!” I texted back. “No spoilers!” I had my day all planned. NO FACEBOOK until after I had watched the episode! No e-mails, no phone calls, I wasn’t even going to check texts!
But something in me knew, the night before, that a big surprise would be ruined for me…despite my bests efforts to be careful. Yes, I could have stayed up late to watch after midnight, but I was going to be visiting a friend in the hospital the next morning, and I wanted to be rested.
My alarm went off twice, and the second time, I dragged my sleepy butt out of bed, groggily grabbed the iPhone, and headed for the bathroom. I wasn’t really thinking yet. Taking a seat, I glanced at the phone to use facial recognition to turn it on. The phone immediately showed me a Facebook IM received just after midnight…
I had no idea (yet) exactly what the IM meant, but I obviously couldn’t unsee it. And from the time stamp, the person who sent it (I’m not sharing his last name) hadn’t even possessed the consideration to give me the benefit of watching it as soon as it was available. Had I been awake, I would have had 11 minutes to watch a 47-minute episode!
Several hours later, after watching the episode and knowing, as the shuttle entered that Starfleet Museum Spacedock, what I would next see inside before I saw it, I told my friend that he’d effectively ruined the surprise for me. Dave apologized, saying it was “an accident” and “I got caught up in the moment.” I responded, “Well, at least one of us did.”
The more I thought about it, the more angry I became at what was such a selfish thing to do to a friend or, really, to any fan. Whatever the excuse, the same surprise reveal that had gotten my friend so giddy and ecstatic had now forever been taken away from me. I would never experience the shocked joy and jubilation that he had felt…ever…because he decided to ruin it for me.
I’m not going to end the friendship over it. Mistakes happen and people do stupid, inconsiderate things sometimes. But I’ve seen so many people on Facebook doing this same thing, STEALING that magic moment from others—even in the first 24 hours after the episode dropped—that I wanted to share my own story and the stinging sense of loss that I feel because of the thoughtless and selfish actions of another. With luck, this will NOT happen again next week to anyone (but sadly, I doubt it).
And now I will move on…
Truth to tell, and despite the title of this blog, I actually have some significant mixed feelings about this episode, even though I did really enjoy it. I’m going to try to unpack those feelings with you all.
A PAIR OF QUEENS???
I’ve looked around the Internet at a bunch of reviews, and most seem to be “politely ignoring” the fact that, at the end of Picard season two, the Borg Queen had merged with Agnes Jurati to create a kinder, gentler Queen who was willing to be the deep space equivalent of the Watchers on the Wall looking out for some outside threat to the Federation and providing an early warning to Starfleet.
Obviously, the ALICE KRIGE-voiced Borg Queen from this episode isn’t the same as Queen Agnes (a.k.a. Borgati). So what’s going on?
A couple of reviewers correctly pointed out that the Queen part of Queen Agnes was actually “acquired” from a lab in the alternate Confederation reality created by Q, and so she’s a doppelgänger Borg Queen. Queen Agnes and her offshoot Borg Collective sat on the sidelines for a few centuries while the Prime Timeline Borg Queen and her Collective did all sorts of mischief like the massacre at Wolf 359 and traveling back in time to try to prevent first contact with the Vulcans. (So much time travel! Head…spinning…)
Despite me desperately hoping that Picard‘s final episode would bring back ALISON PILL as Queen Agnes and become a Borg vs. Borg in a finale to end all finales, this update from last summer officially confirmed that Alison Pill was not cast for season three, and there would be no Borg v. Borg smackdown. Of course, considering how close Jean-Luc, Seven, and Raffi were to Agnes Jurati, I and many other fans will likely be left wondering why Picard and crew DIDN’T contact Queen Agnes for help, and season 2 will leave a huge plot thread dangling—what was the threat the Borgati were monitoring?—perhaps forever!
I CAN KINDA UNDERSTAND HOW THIS ALL CAME TO BE…
I don’t know if showrunner TERRY MATALAS has spoken about this yet or not (probably not because it would have spoiled things, but he’s done a LOT of interviews!), but after watching this ninth episode, I can kinda imagine how the writers broke this season’s storyline and wound up with yet another Borg story to follow season two’s Borg story.
First of all, they needed a really good threat, bad guys from the history of Star Trek who would create a huge challenge for our gallant crew. And the two biggest threats from the Paramount-produced TV series were always the Borg and the Dominion. Of course, DS9 ended with peace between the Alpha Quadrant and the Dominion, but using rogue Changelings with gooey axes to grind could easily solve that problem.
But what about the Borg? They are such an integral part of Picard’s story, and this is his titular series, after all. And Seven-of-Nine is also linked to the Borg. However, the Borg were already used for season one and, in a much more significant way, for season two. Did the season three writers not watch season two?
Actually, I think that was EXACTLY what happened…because seasons two and three were written at the same time! As you might recall, CBS Studios made the decision to produce the final two seasons back-to-back in order to save money on production crews and also to (sorry to be so blunt) shoot a third season while SIR PATRICK STEWART was still able to do so. When your lead actor is an octogenarian, you can’t really afford to wait a year between seasons without taking a big risk.
Since it takes a full writing staff to plot out a full season story arc, it’s likely that one group handled season two while the other tackled season three…and they probably worked completely separately. If so, it’s possible that having the Borg play a major role in both seasons was purely coincidental. And by the time the two teams and producers had a chance to read both seasons’ outlines, the stories were solidly plotted, and there wasn’t time to send either team back to the drawing board.
THE PARKING BRAKE IS NOW OFF
One of the reasons you probably liked this episode so much more than the others (assuming you did) is that, for the first time this season, the plot accelerated out of second gear. Not that I haven’t been enjoying season three so far, but I have to admit that the plot points have been unfolding VERY slowly. At first, it wasn’t a problem and was barely even noticeable. But by the time we reached episode eight, I was on the verge of complaining about the mystery of Jack Crusher’s powers still being unsolved (for the audience) for yet another week…especially after episode seven ended with Vadic telling Jack that it was time he found out who he really is. And of course, no such thing happened in the following episode.
This time, however, we got a dump of nearly every secret still being hidden from us (other that who the floating “Goo Head” is—I am assuming the Borg Queen—how the Changelings and Borg first got started talking, and how Vadic knew that Jack was seeing a red door…I hope we get those answers next week!). But now we know that:
- The Borg placed a genetic “sleeper code” into Picard’s DNA that wasn’t detectable at the time. It allowed him to “hear” the Borg in ST: First Contact despite having had all of his implants removed (solving an almost 27-year-old mystery!), but it also caused what presented symptomatically as Irumodic Syndrome.
- Picard passed that Borg-adjusted DNA onto his son Jack, but while Picard was a “receiver,” Jack became a “transmitter” (how odd…but also how convenient for the Borg).
- The Borg stole Picard’s remains from Daystrom Station in order to use his DNA to rewrite transporter code to “infect” all of Starfleet. (McCoy was right about that blasted contraption!)
- The Changelings were necessary to the Borg’s plans (meaning the Borg probably reached out the Changelings and not vice-versa) so they could infiltrate Starfleet as transporter techs to spread the new DNA code like a virus.
- The Borg needed Jack in order to send a mind-signal to “trigger” all those latent Borg. Too bad Jack decided to leave the ship and hand himself over to the Borg Queen. If he’d only stayed on the Titan…
You got all that? It came pretty fast and furiously. But I want to tip my hat to Terry and his writing crew for setting up a pretty solid “logic lattice” to create the trigger for one of the biggest “oh, crap!” moments in Star Trek history. When the entire fleet of starships becomes Borg ships and starts heading for Earth, well, there goes the neighborhood!
Now, the problems with this fast-moving episode are many, but the action moves so quickly, you barely notice. For one thing, apparently starships travel almost instantaneously through space now, as Jack was able to find and contact the Borg Queen pretty darn quickly while it took the Titan a full hour (imagine that!) to reach Earth. Likewise, it’s a fast trip via maintenance shuttle back to the Starfleet Museum. And yeah, Elizabeth Shelby (awesome cameo) would have been the last person I’d expect to “Borgify” the entire Starfleet. Fortunately, the episode acknowledged the obvious irony.
Oh, speaking of which…!
“LINKED” STARSHIPS IS THE REUSED PLOT DEVICE THAT KEEPS ON ACTIVATING!
Back in 1968, the TOS episode “The Ultimate Computer” gave us the M-5, a computer that, when given control of a starship, did BAD things…like attacking and destroying other starships. One would have thought that Starfleet would have already learned its lesson about handing over control of a starship to an artificial intelligence a decade earlier when a computer named, appropriately enough, “Control” took over a fleet of Section 31 starships in order to use them to wipe out all life in the galaxy. That was, of course, the plot of the final bunch of episodes of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season.
Computers have never been particularly trustworthy when given the keys to a starship. In the animated episode “Practical Joker,” a funky space cloud “infects” the Enterprise computer, which proceeds to nearly kill the crew in the holodeck (yes, the holodeck originally appeared in TAS!) and almost get the ship destroyed by Romulans. Oh, and speaking of ship’s computers and holodecks, let’s not forget Professor Moriatry, a computer-generated hologram who threatened the entire crew of the Enterprise-D.
But returning to fleets of ships being controlled by one computer, within the last year, we’ve seen two other streaming Star Trek series tap this particular plot well. LOWER DECKS ended its excellent third season with the fleet of heavily-armed, computer-controlled Texas-class starships developing a grudge against the U.S.S. Cerritos and her crew and trying obsessively to destroy them. A couple of months later, PRODIGY completed its 20-episode first season with a two-parter titled “Supernova” in which a virus infects an armada of starships, forcing them to turn on each other and try to destroy themselves.
And now a new Starfleet synchronistic technology known as “Fleet Formation” will allow all starship computers to connect with each other, essentially multiplying all of the above “oopses” I just mentioned into a fleetwide SUPER-OOPSIE! I’m not saying I don’t like the idea, and it’s probable that, again, the four writing teams for the streaming Trek series were only coincidently touched by the same muse to produce almost identical plot devices (especially in the case of the latest seasons of Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Picard…which were likely written all at about the same time). But maybe new writing teams need to retire the “computer takes over the ship/fleet” for a few more decades.
THEY KILLED CAPTAIN SHAW!
Oh, TODD STASHWICK, fans barely knew ye!
How I hate the “noble, heroic sacrifice”! It’s a tool/rule of dramatic writing that requires a hero (or someone sympathetic to the reader/viewer whom we root for) to willingly give up their life trying to save others. It’s a way to “earn” the victory because it costs the life of someone dear to us.
Of course, we’ve already had Ro Laren sacrifice herself to save the Titan. But hers was a one-episode cameo. Someone “bigger” needed to die, too…and it wasn’t gonna be Seven or Sidney La Forge or any of the others who might return for a sequel series. But Shaw? Jeez, he never had a chance, did he? He was the only thing standing in the way of Captain Seven starring in the next series. And of course, the character he was based on—Quint from the movie Jaws (played by actor ROBERT SHAW, who gave Captain Liam Shaw his name)—didn’t make it through that movie either. Poor ol’ sod.
But, man, how I will miss that sonuvabitch! Todd gave us fans a Star Trek character the likes of which we’d never seen before. And while we all (well, most of us) started off hating him even more passionately than we loathed Captain Jellico in TNG‘s “Chain of Command,” we quickly got used to Shaw and his acerbic directness and looked forward to seeing what he would do and say next.
In many ways, of all souls of all the starship captains I have encountered in my travels, his was the most annoyingly and perfectly human!
OH YEAH, AND THE REUTRN OF THE ENTERPRISE-D…
There were two things in this episode that were nearly 100% predictable. The first was that Jack would use his mind-and-body control powers to escape. I mean, who didn’t see that coming??? And how could Picard and Beverly not see that coming, too? That said, it moved the plot forward because, without Jack somehow getting to the Borg Queen, her plan for Frontier Day would have fizzled flat. Stupid, Jack!
The other predictable thing was that something would happen to “isolate” the seven TNG officers from everyone else. After all, this is their swan song, and they need to save the day all by themselves. So the fact that Seven and Raffi stay behind on the Titan was not a surprise. Oh, they will certainly help in defeating the bad guys, but the main TNG cast has to shine on their own with no one else in their scenes.
What WAS a surprise—or would have been if someone hadn’t ruined it for me!—was seeing the ol’ Galaxy-class Enterprise-D, lovingly restored by Geordi La Forge. Now, considering that Earth is most likely under Borg attack in that very moment, and innocent people are probably being assimilated by the millions at this point, perhaps a slow, nostalgic stroll around the bridge admiring the carpet wasn’t the best use of their time. But you wanna know something? I didn’t care! That music and those glances and that banter…I started tearing up there for a little bit. And apparently, according to countless Facebook posts I read, I wasn’t alone!
Look, it was just a beautiful scene all around, lovingly crafted by Terry and his team for fans to cherish and savor. In fact, in much the same way that I conjectured about the origins of the villains of this season, I suspect one of the first ideas to be suggested in the writers’ room was: “Picard and the original seven get onto the Enterprise-D because it is the only starship that can save the day. Now how does the story set that up to happen?” And they probably worked backwards from there.
And despite the overuse of the “taking-control-of-starships-away-from-their-crews” plot device, the set-up worked perfectly. All Federation starships are compromised except the oldest one that is cut off from the new-fangled technology…like a reliable old car or kitchen appliance that lasts decades longer than anything made today because it’s not loaded up with computer chips and energy saving technology.
AND WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
The message that comes through from this episode, and indeed this series, seems to be that younger and newer isn’t always better, and that which is old and experienced still has much to offer. And indeed, as our heroes from the 80s and 90s age into their 70s and 80s (actually, LEVAR BURTON and MARINA SIRTIS are still in their late 60s), that message is as perfect for them as it is for us fans.
Granted, the other not-so-subtle messages from the episode are:
- There is no good way to tell your super-powered mutant son that he’s part-Borg and it’s your fault.
- Jack Crusher is an idiot. (If he hadn’t left the Titan to play hero, the Borg Queen wouldn’t have been able to use him to trigger all the latent Borg DNA.)
- You can’t trust anyone under 25; they’re monsters waiting to attack you!
- Jack Crusher is an idiot.
- If you’re going to give computers control over your fleet of starships, make sure to install a remote kill-switch that the computer can’t access or lock out.
- Jack Crusher is an idiot.
That said, I fully expect Jack to help “save the day” next episode by retaining his humanity and resisting the Collective from within. He’ll be the one to “turn off” the Borg. In the meantime, we have two other “teams” to watch: the magnificent seven on board the “D” along with Seven and Raffi on the Titan.
With three exciting storylines involving groupings of our heroes to cut between and among, I expect the finale of Star Trek: Picard to be an amazing, wild ride. The good guys have got a LOT to fix in one episode, of course, but Trekkies have always been a hopeful bunch…
See ya next week for the big finish!