The use of actors who were already under contract is one of many ways in which Matalas, et al seem to be focused more on keeping the show under budget than telling the story they want to tell. Most of the sets are either ones that were already created for season one (the Château Picard mansion, La Sirena) or in contemporary L.A. where the show films and don’t require much alteration to work, since it’s only two years in the future. And roughly three-quarters of the season takes place in the same setting as the filming location, leaving only the first two episodes and the very end of the last one to take place in the future.
The last scene is Picard back at his winery trying (and presumably convincing, though she never actually says yes) Laris to not bugger off but stay behind and make sweet nookie-nookie with him. This is worth mentioning for a number of reasons, mainly because it’s the first thing Picard actually does in the second-season finale of the show named after him. He spends plenty of time being lectured at, mind you. First there’s Tallinn, reminding him that she is a grownup who can make her own decisions about how she’s going to live her life and do her job, and won’t be talked out of a self-sacrifice by some old fart from the future that she’s only known for a couple days. Then there’s Q, explaining his motivations and declaring his love for Picard (which will probably prompt at least as many Picard-Q slashfics as the scene with the two of them in bed in TNG‘s “Tapestry” did). And then there’s Guinan doing the “where are they now?” coda for Rios, et al.
Q—in a portentious bit of speechifying that John deLancie does better than almost anyone—is, in fact, dying. Q is disappointed, as he was hoping for something spectacular and new. Life as an immortal can get tedious, after all. But instead of going out in a blaze of glory, as he was hoping, he’s just fading away. It’s still not clear what his endgame is. While deLancie beautifully plays Q’s bitter disappointment in how his long life is stumbling to an end, we’re no closer to understanding why he’s doing all this.
We have no idea why he shoved Picard and the other people who happened to be in the opening credits of Star Trek: Picard into an alternate timeline where humans are fascists. We have no idea why he’s given Kore a vial of blue liquid that cures her of her genetic dysfunction (it has a tag on it that reads “FREEDOM,” and I’m hugely disappointed that it didn’t say “DRINK ME”). We have no idea why he’s pretending to be Renee Picard’s shrink. And we have no idea why he gives Guinan a clue as to how to get out of being in federal custody—though his comment that humans are trapped in the past could just as easily be about Picard as it is Wells.
Rios has to deal with Ramirez and her son, who show up at the clinic just as Rios needs a neural stimulator to settle Picard’s brainwaves down while Tallinn is ENTERING PICARD’S BRAIN! Ramirez is freaked out by the combadge, the transporter, and the four-hundred-years-in-the-future tech. This gives us yet another The Voyage Home callback—Ramirez asks if Rios is from outer space, and he says he’s from Chile, he just works in outer space, and reader, I LOL’d—and more of Rios flirting with Ramirez and bonding with her kid. The end result of this is Rios beaming over to La Sirena with Ramirez mère et fils, which is a spectacularly stupid idea, especially given that (a) this isn’t really Rios’ La Sirena, it’s a ship that’s part of the Confederation, and (b) it’s all full of nasty-ass Borg encryption and stuff. These are both things that are very likely to bite Rios and the Ramirezes on their proverbial asses. Still, up until that ending, the scenes with the three of them are fun. Santiago Cabrera and Sol Rodriguez have a nice chemistry, and Steve Gutierrez is fantastic as Ricardo. I especially loved when Ramirez told Ricardo to cover his ears as she was about to use bad language, and after she chews Rios out in Spanish, Ricardo complains that she didn’t even use the good swear words!
In the abstract, I’m more than happy to watch Alison Pill in a red dress singing the shit out of a 1982 Pat Benatar song, but having Agnes Jurati sing a 42-year-old song in 2024 at the instigation of the Borg Queen strangled my disbelief until it was lying dead on the side of the road. It threw me completely out of the story being told.
It is completely unclear what Q is playing at here. It’s easy to guess, but there are many different possibilities. He’s obviously trying to influence Renee in some way—he wouldn’t be posing as her therapist otherwise—but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as Picard’s assumption that he’s trying to stop her from going on the mission to break history. For one thing, Q said that the breaking of history was Picard’s fault. For another, even Picard himself admits that he isn’t sure. We continue to get a nice mash-up of the actual history we’ve been living and the fictional history that Star Trek has thrown at us for the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Picard’s exact line is that records from the hundred years before first contact (established in the aptly named First Contact as 2063), which tracks with comments made by Spock in the original series’ “Space Seed” in particular about how fragmentary records are from the late twentieth century.
My favorite thing this whole season is watching the developing relationship between Burnham and Rillak, very nicely played by Sonequa Martin-Green and Chelah Horsdal. The captain and the president start out somewhat adversarial, but the more they work together the more smoothly their working relationship becomes, and by the time the season is over, the pair of them make a fantastic team talking to 10C and convincing them to retract the DMA and stop causing harm to these individual life forms that they didn’t even recognize as being higher life forms until they showed up on their doorstep.
Jurati gets to verbally fence with the Borg Queen some more. I’m loving the way Annie Wersching is playing the Queen, which is more than I can say for how she’s being written. For some reason, they’re leaning into the awful portrayal of her on Voyager as a mustache-twirling villain. Jurati begs her for help, and even makes her a compelling offer: someone to talk to. The Queen said last week that the silence was maddening, as she’s been cut off from the Collective, and Jurati offers to keep her company if she helps Jurati get the transporters online so she can beam Seven and Musiker out of their car chase.
Then when it’s over, Jurati pointedly leaves the room, and the Queen fumes. I was practically expecting her to shake her fist and cry out, “Curses, foiled again!”
This is very much David Ajala’s episode. He’s still hurting so very much from Kwejian’s destruction, but he has finally, belatedly, come to realize that more violence is not the solution, talking is. And he also rejects Tarka’s offer to come with him to the alternate universe, even though Tarka thinks he’s sweetening the deal by saying that Kwejian’s probably intact in that universe. Backed by Reno, who has an epic rant about how they may look the same and act the same and laugh the same and cut their sandwiches diagonally the same, they’re not the same, Book then is able to finally get through to Tarka that Oros is gone and that he has to accept the loss instead of trying to twist the universe to his will for a reunion that will probably never happen.
The Los Angeles we see sorta-kinda looks like the world outside our door. There’s a depressing number of homeless people, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are acting like fascist shock troops going after immigrants with darker skin, and heterosexual male security guards will fall for anything said to them by pretty women, especially if they’re a couple.
But it also doesn’t in one interesting way: there’s a forthcoming mission to Europa that is a big enough deal to have billboards and stuff.
So what we’re seeing here is a mix of the actual early twenty-first century mixed in with what older iterations of Trek thought the early twenty-first century would be like, to wit, one filled with space travel and other science fictional stuff (the Botany Bay from “Space Seed,” Shaun Christopher’s mission to Saturn from “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” the cryogenically frozen folks from “The Neutral Zone,” etc.).
Having Seven be the president and Picard a respected general makes it pretty easy for our heroes to contrive to get themselves together, though this also means we’ve done two episodes in a row in which the band has to be gotten back together. Which is not the only bit of repetition here, as we also have the must-adjust-to-an-unexpected-unfamiliar-landscape trope, seen not only in the three aforementioned time-travel storylines, but also in “Mirror, Mirror,” “Assignment: Earth,” The Voyage Home, “Time’sArrow,” “Future’sEnd,” “Workforce,” “Despite Yourself,” etc., etc., etc. It’s mildly entertaining to see how each person responds—Seven and Musiker adjust perfectly, while Rios and Jurati struggle a great deal. (Elnor mostly just looks confused. But he does get to kick butt at one point, so that’s fun.) But it’s also a major letdown, to have to go through this all over again, particularly after the spark and wit of the Q-Picard conversations at the top of the episode.
The process of getting there is a wonderful example of the scientific method at work, and it’s tremendous fun seeing everyone throw ideas around. (Also, once again, everyone turns to Saru to “translate” when the technobabble gets too fast and furious.) I find myself reminded of something Tor.com’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin said almost exactly three years ago on Twitter, and which remains the case today: “Hello, it is important to me that we praise one (of many) thing that #StarTrekDiscovery does better than any of the Treks before it: Tapping into the sheer joy that is just ‘Look at all these nerds solving puzzles together, they live for this shit.’”