Josh Reviews Star Trek: Picard Season Two
I have watched the entire ten episode second season of Star Trek: Picard.
Spoiler alert, folks: it’s a modern Star Trek show, and I thought it was pretty much terrible.
Sigh. I hate that this is the case. I desperately want to like these shows. I really do my very best to go into each new season of these modern Star Trek shows with my heart open. I know that TNG didn’t get really great until season three, and that DS9 — my favorite of the Trek shows — wasn’t consistently great until season four. Frankly, in almost every season premiere of each one of these modern Trek shows, I have found things to like that gave me hope. But then, time and again, I’d be disappointed by the season’s dive into mediocrity or worse.
I was so excited for the first season of Picard. I had some problems with the series premiere, but overall I was intrigued to watch what looked like a story of a broken Picard’s journey towards redemption. But what we got was a mess of boring cliche sci-fi tropes, inconsistent plotting, and flat, uninteresting characters. My heart sank further and further each week as we were treated to boring, evil incestuous Romulans and boring, evil dumb A.I.s and then they made Picard a robot in the end and OY VEY what a mess.
I’d hoped that perhaps they had course-corrected for season two, and indeed, there was a lot in the season premiere that looked like several of my specific complaints about season one were being addressed. I really liked the reintroduction of the motley Picard family & crew, and I liked that the episode gave them each some fun character moments. It looked like Starfleet had been returned to its utopian origins (the A.I. ban had been lifted; the Romulan Elnor had been allowed into Starfleet Academy; there were no more mean, cursing Starfleet admirals, etc…). The design choices were better — the 25th century Starfleet uniforms looked better, and they specifically addressed my disappointment at the lame depiction of Starfleet in the Picard season one finale (boring, nearly-identical ships with no familiar designs to be seen) by showing us a much cooler-looking Starfleet with many recognizable designs, filled with familiar-looking ships — Sovereign class vessels like the U.S.S. Enterprise-E! The first-ever live-action appearance of the Luna class (like Will Riker’s U.S.S. Titan, designed for book covers and then depicted in animation on Lower Decks)! Updated versions of the Excelsior and Reliant class ships! Akira class ships (seen in Star Trek: First Contact!) Starships from the Star Trek: Online game! And then there was the beautiful new Stargazer, a wonderful new version of Picard’s first command (as originally seen in the first-season TNG episode “The Battle”). I loved the look of the Stargazer bridge; huge and modern but with a look very inspired by the TNG movie-era Enterprise-E visuals. (And, thank heaven, the return of the iconic TNG Federation “LCARS” displays, seen all over the gorgeously sleek control stations that surrounded the Stargazer bridge.)
But oh boy did things go downhill fast. The second episode gave us a trip into an alternate-timeline evil, fascistic version of the Federation… something that Star Trek has done so many times before (not to mention how many times this type of plot has been used by other sci-fi and fantasy shows, movies, comics, books, etc. in the last half-century). And then the third episode brought us to present-day (well, sort of: 2024). Again, Star Trek has already done this story many times (most notably in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but also in episodes such as DS9′s “Past Tense” two-parter and Voyager’s “Future’s End” two-parter). It’s tired and done at this point. Adding insult to injury, the series remained in the present day until the final minutes of the finale. I’m sorry, but when I tune into a Star Trek show, I want to see sci-fi adventures set in the future. Setting the entire season in the present-day is lame — and worst of all, it feels like further evidence that the people making this show are embarrassed by Star Trek, something I’ve often felt watching these modern Trek shows. As a long-time Trek fan, I find that insulting and disappointing.
I do believe that great writers could nevertheless tell a cool time-travel story set in present day. Sadly, this isn’t it. This season was filled with the sort of time-wasting narrative wheel-spinning that drives me crazy in serialized shows. It felt like there was nowhere near enough story to stretch to ten episodes. This should have been a two-parter, tops. The TNG episode “Tapestry”, clocking in at less than 45 minutes, told basically the exact same story this season did, in one-tenth of the time… and a hundred times more effectively. (In that episode, Q attempts to help Picard learn a lesson about his past; to make this happen, he allows Picard to return to the past — at one point inadvertently creating an alternate timeline — all so Picard can come to a better understanding of himself. Sounds like the plot of this season, doesn’t it?)
There were some bright spots in the season. I was not excited when the trailers for this season announced that they’d be bringing back Q — I thought they wrapped up his character, and his relationship with Picard, so beautifully in the TNG series finale “All Good Things…” But I was hugely impressed by how terrific John de Lancie was throughout the season. It was a pleasure to see him back as Q — he was able to step right back into that Q arrogance. And, while the events of the season didn’t earn this, I thought the final scene between Q and Picard in the season finale was terrific. Mr. de Lancie was absolutely spectacular.
It was also fun to have Whoopie Goldberg back on the show. She seemed a little rusty as an actor (she way oversells that first “Earl Grey, very hot” line), but it was fun to see her and Patrick Stewart sharing the screen again together. I do wish some de-aging had been used here. Guinan looked identical in the 1800’s on Earth (as seen in the TNG “Time’s Arrow” two-parter) with how she looked in the 24th century, so it’s weird to see her so much older. (The line about El Aurians being able to choose to age didn’t really make any sense to me.) And while I quite enjoyed the work of Ito Aghayere as the younger Guinan in 2024, it was confusing to me to see two such-different looking versions of Guinan (again, as opposed to what we saw in “Time’s Arrow” in which Guinan in the 1800’s looked pretty much identical to Guinan of the 24th century).
I also quite enjoyed the surprise cameo return of a certain TNG character in the finale. I won’t spoil it here. I didn’t really love how that character was used… BUT it was great to see them back on screen. That made me happy.
I was also absolutely delighted to see James Callis (who so memorably portrayed Gaius Baltar in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series overseen by TNG and DS9 writer Ronald D. Moore) cross over into Star Trek. (And he looked so dashing in that DS9/TNG-movie-era Starfleet uniform! I love that uniform!)
But there was just so much in this season that didn’t work. I don’t believe we needed some deep dark secret trauma in Picard’s past in order to explain his last of any sustained romantic relationships in his life. I found the repeated return to the flashbacks of young Picard and his mother to be laborious; that plot thread was stretched out through the season to the point of ludicrousness. I love Brent Spiner, and I was happy the writers tried to find a way to keep him on the show, but I was disappointed they played this Soong as a one-dimensional evil villain. I wish they’d bothered to develop Renee Picard as an actual character as opposed to a plot device. I wish Picard & co. weren’t so extraordinary careless with their advanced technology (Picard allows himself to be recorded beaming onto a sidewalk; Rios leaves his communicator lying around, etc.) and with their very disruptive actions (such as the public car chase with Seven and Raffi, or the high body count of the season’s later episodes). I also wish the gang seemed a little more concerned about leaving Jurati alone with the Borg Queen on their ship. I wish the show had explained Q’s motivations from the beginning so that we could understand what was going on, as opposed to treating it as a mystery not to be answered until the finale. And I wish they bothered to actually explain, in the end, the reason for the major change revealed to be affecting Q. If we’re going to spend an entire episode exploring the backstory of the FBI agent who arrests Picard & Guinan, wouldn’t it have been nice had he actually had something to do in the rest of the season?
I wish the time travel story made a lick of sense. It seems like a huge plot-hole to me that, when Picard finds Guinan in 2024, that she doesn’t remember meeting him in in the 1800’s (from the TNG two-parter “Time’s Arrow). Showrunner Terry Matalas gave a lot of interviews claiming that this was because we were in an alternate timeline where 24th century Picard never went back to the 1800’s. That doesn’t make sense to me, as I’d think that changes in the future wouldn’t negate that event in the 1800’s. But then it REALLY doesn’t make sense to me, because the events in the season finale seem to suggest that the timeline wasn’t changed and this all is what originally happened. Picard comments that he remembers seeing, as a child, the bullet-holes in the wall of the Chateau Picard (made when the gang battled the Borgified soldiers). And at the end, when Picard & co. are back in the 25th century, Guinan remembers her 21st century interactions with Picard. So that seems to suggest that the timeline wasn’t changed; that everything that happened this season in the 21st century is what ALWAYS happened. (So that means Picard would also remembering seeing dead Borg soldier corpses embedded in the walls of the Chateau Picard, right?? Ridiculous.) But wait — if the events we saw Picard & co. involved with this season in the 21st century are what always happened, and the timeline didn’t change, then Guinan in the 21st century SHOULD have remembered meeting Picard in the 1800’s, right?? You can’t have it both ways!! What a mess. What a disappointment to me that these writers couldn’t be bothered to actually map this time-travel stuff out clearly. (And BTW, all it would’ve taken was one line at the end by the omnipotent Q to say, don’t worry, I’ll use my powers to smooth out anything you screwed up in the timeline.) Sigh!
As I enjoy doing these days, I took some notes as I watched each episode of this season. C’mon back tomorrow and you can delve deep into my episode-by-episode analysis of the season. But in summary: it was a disappointment. I think that Patrick Stewart still has gas in his tank, and on paper I love the idea of exploring the latter days of Jean-Luc Picard, long after he’s left the bridge of the Enterprise. But so far, we’ve gotten two mostly-lame seasons. Neither season has worked — it hasn’t been good Star Trek, or good TV in general. They’ve been doing a lot of work recently teasing a very different direction for the show in its third and final season, including the return of the entire TNG main cast. Dare I hope that the final season will finally be the fitting final adventure for Picard that the character deserves? Well, I can always hope…
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