Star Trek: Picard
Picard is dead? Long live Picard? Picard’s flesh-and-blood death and synthetic resurrection make up much of the peculiar final act of “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” the second part of what’s turned out to be an exciting but ultimately kind of rushed season finale. That’s not entirely a bad thing, or even mostly a bad thing. Star Trek: Picard has had a good first season that’s offered plenty of reasons to look forward to Picard seasons to come. (Or at least the one season for which it’s already been renewed.) But it’s still hard not to get whiplash watching the show tie up loose ends at warp speed with this installment before sending the La Sirena off to parts unknown as the credits roll.
That said, those loose ends get tied up in ways true to the spirit at the heart of Star Trek, a spirit the series sometimes seemed to have lost faith in at its most despairing moments. Science triumphs over superstition, enemies bond for the greater good (and even sort of start to form friendships), and the Federation comes to its senses, sees Picard knows what he’s doing, and swoops in to save the day. What could be more Star Trek than that? Oh right: Patrick Stewart delivering a righteous monologue about the importance of living a life defined by responsibility.
Not that this episode skimps on the fighting and scheming. Sneaking aboard the Artifact, Narek reunites with Narissa, who assumes her brother’s still on board with the original plan of wiping out all the synthetics. We’ll soon learn, however, that Narek has a plan of his own, one that involves putting aside his differences with his recent enemies in order to avert robot apocalypse and the catastrophic destruction promised by the soon-to-arrive Romulan fleet. To do this, he makes his way to the downed La Sirena and pelts it with rocks, much to the annoyance of Rios and Raffi. Still, when Narek says that they might want to get together to prevent matters from getting even further out of hand, they have to agree he has a point. After Elnor decides not to kill him at Rios’s suggestion, Narek lays out the horrors of Romulan end times. But he’s no mere zealot. He believes Romulan lore is a form of history and “the fascinating thing about history is it always repeats itself.”
Rios and Raffi have been busy on a different front, repairing the La Sirena with the seemingly magical, imagination-driven tool that came into their possession in the previous episode. In a franchise filled with real (or, failing that, real-sounding) science, it’s a bit of a fanciful touch, one that seems to work much like Green Lantern’s ring. But Arthur C. Clarke’s “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” quote probably applies — or at least helps paper over the fuzziness of the tool’s mechanics.
Meanwhile, back in Synthville, Dr. Soong praises Agnes for sacrificing herself for her synthetic “children,” praise she doesn’t take to heart. Turns out, Agnes has an agenda that doesn’t involve ushering in an AI apocalypse. (Or “Ganmadan,” if you prefer the Romulan terminology.) It does, however, involve rescuing Picard in an attempt to thwart Soji from using the beacon to summon the destructive synthetics from another dimension, and fulfilling her apparent destiny as Seb Cheneb, the great destroyer of Romulan mythology.
And how will Picard thwart Soji? First by using deception, thanks to the magic-like tool used to repair the ship, then by eloquence, as he talks Soji into destroying the beacon just as the ultrapowerful synths start to slip through a portal. As a climactic device, this portal bringing in a threat from regions unknown feels an awful lot like something from a Marvel movie, especially the first Avengers film. But the other parts of the confrontation, involving a Romulan fleet, a battalion of Federation starships, and the space orchids, makes for some of the most striking visuals the show has produced.
As for Picard’s speech, it proves persuasive enough to talk Soji out of destroying all organic life in the galaxy. (Phew!) He’s given some help from Rios, Raffi, Elnor, and Soong (who’s come to realize Sutra is up to no good and joined the good guys). Also coming to his aid: none other than the not-so-retired Will Riker, who shows up with the Starfleet cavalry and gives Commodore Oh and her Romulans a good talking to.
Not everything in this episode follows airtight logic, particularly in this climactic stretch. (We’ve seen that Sutra, at least, has a strong personality, but the other synthetics behave like baby ducklings imprinting on whoever is behaving parental at any given moment.) But Michael Chabon — who penned the script from a story credited to him and director Akiva Goldsman — knows how to write for these characters, and that goes a long way. “Show them how profoundly wrong they are about you,” Picard tells Soji, and it sounds like the words of a man who’s spent a career trying to find the noblest qualities of every being he’s met throughout his travels, and learned not to let disappointment snuff out his hopefulness. Similarly, Riker talking about being “on the bridge of the toughest, fastest, most powerful ship Starfleet has ever put into service” sounds like words written by a writer who’s always wanted to hear Jonathan Frakes deliver them. (And, of course, both Stewart and Frakes deliver the goods and then some.)
Then, after the threat recedes back into its space portal, Picard’s brain abnormality kicks into high gear and he dies. RIP Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. The end.
Except, of course, it’s not. Picard’s consciousness awakens in a “quantum simulator” where he’s joined by his friend Commander Data. And, unlike the Data of Picard’s dreams, it’s really him. Data’s lived on in a kind of afterlife thanks to the same retrieved neuron that led to the creation of the synthetic life.
Picard and Data talk about many things, including the abruptness of their parting in Star Trek: Nemesis. This is the goodbye that film never allowed these characters, including an expression of love laid out in the most Data–like terms imaginable. When Picard starts to tell him he regrets never saying he loved him, Data replies, “Knowing that you loved me forms a small but statistically significant part of my memories.” It’s a lovely moment, as is Data’s request to be allowed to die after Picard returns to the living. Data always wanted to be human and, if he didn’t realize it before, he now knows that mortality defines human existence. “Peace, love, friendship: these are precious,” he tells his former captain, “because we know they cannot endure.”
Still, it’s not yet Picard’s time to go. He’ll live on via Soong’s golem, an artificial body that somehow plays host to his mind. (Again, the science is a little fuzzy here, and the Altered Carbon–like ethical implications apparently won’t get unpacked this season, if ever.) It looks just like his old body, and will even break down like a human body, but he’s free of the brain abnormality that would otherwise shorten his life. At the end of this story he finds not the death he expected, but another chance at life.
In fact, everybody gets a happy ending, more or less. The season ends with the now fully assembled crew of the La Sirena. Rios is in the captain’s chair (and gets a smooch from Agnes). Raffi and Seven are holding hands on the deck below, a development that doesn’t come out of nowhere but wasn’t that heavily foreshadowed. Elnor, Seven of Nine, and even Soji are all on board as they take off for who knows where. That’s a question for another season. Until then, all we have is the sound of Picard saying “Engage,” and the universe feels a little better for it.
• Let’s talk about Agnes. It now seems as if everyone’s just willing to give her a pass for straight-up murdering Maddox. That’s played like a shadow hanging over her character for the better part of the season and now the show is just going to wave it away? It helps that Alison Pill plays her so winningly, but it still feels off.
• Even after a full season it still seems weird to see these characters mourning Picard rather than the Next Generation crew.
• Ganmadan sounds like no fun at all.
• Riker’s ship is named for Zheng He, a Chinese explorer who lived during the Ming Dynasty.
• RIP Narissa. Seven’s regret at killing her rings true. She may have done a lot of harm, she may have been coldhearted and creepily lustful around her brother, but she had her reasons.
• Picard is 94 years old. Others have done the math on this and it tracks, but it’s still weird to hear it acknowledged.
• Of course this season couldn’t end without allowing Stewart to do a bit of Shakespeare.
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