Star Trek: Picard: Emotional Resonance

“Et in Arcadia Ego” part 2 brought the first season of Picard to a close, and overall I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I think the final episode was a little overstuffed so that not everything was as smooth as I’d hoped. In some cases I think they should have restructured the last three episodes a bit to have some threads get resolved earlier, and in others I think they made some poor storytelling decisions. But the most important thing is that I think they got the emotional resonance of the story right, as there was a lot to cheer about.

For convenience here are links to my earlier reviews of the season:

  1. Remembrance (episode 1)
  2. The End is the Beginning (episodes 2 & 3)
  3. Absolute Candor (episodes 4 & 5)
  4. The Impossible Box (episodes 6, 7 & 8)
  5. Et in Arcadia Ego (episode 9)

Now, on to the spoilers!

There’s so much stuff going on in this episode, often simultaneously, that a recap is not going to hit every point, but I’ll give it a try:

Sutra works on the beacon to summon the synthetic collective. Narek heads to the Borg cube where he meets with his Narissa and to pick up explosives. Narissa attempts to activate the cube’s systems but is killed by Seven. Rios and Raffi use the synthetics’ gift to repair La Sirena. Narek shows up and convinces them to help him destroy the beacon, but their plan fails. However, Soong figures out that Sutra killed the synthetic blamed on Narek and deactivates her, leaving Soji in charge of activating the beacon.

Meanwhile, Jurati frees Picard and they go up in La Sirena to try to delay or stop the Romulan fleet. The fleet arrives, the synthetics’ flower ships are unable to stop the hundreds of warbirds, but Picard is able to distract them for a while. This proves to be just enough as Starfleet shows up with Riker in command. Soji activates the beacon, summoning the synthetic collective through a wormhole, but Picard is able to convince her to shut it down, which causes the Romulans to also give up and retreat rather than fighting a battle they can’t win. Riker leaves the clean-up in Picard’s hands, which would be great except that Picard succumbs to his brain condition.

Let’s pause there, as there’s a lot packed into all of that.

A lot of the episode is given to moving the pieces around to resolve the central plot, that being: Who stops the Romulans? And do the synthetics summon the collective? And it kinda works, but it’s messy.

The fight between Narissa and Seven is fun, and Seven gets a great line before she does in her foe, but Narek just kind of disappears after the attempt to destroy the beacon. Narissa was never more than a cardboard antagonist, but Narek seemed more complicated and the show never really dug into that. Dominated by his sister? A little bit crazy? Under-appreciated? Missed his chance with the (maybe) love of his life in Soji? It’s all hinted at but he mostly ends up being a plot device rather than a character.

Sutra doesn’t get much exposure here, but Soji also ends up feeling a bit shallow. I think where this went wrong was that Soji should never have activated the beacon at all. In particular, activating it should have been a couldn’t-turn-back moment, since it was supposed to call the synthetic collective, not just open a wormhole for them. She should have been in a place where she had to make a decision, and still have doubts about whether it was the right thing, because she didn’t get a chance to see what the other choice would have been like, rather than getting a glimpse like this.

Picard’s gesture of giving his life to prove his point makes for great television, but in the real world what Soong said last episode is more compelling: He tried before to keep the synthetics legal, what makes him think it can work this time? So Soji’s moral quandary is what the right thing is: The life of herself and her fellow synthetics, or the lives of all organics in the quadrant? For someone in her position of power this is going to be a personal, character-driven choice, and I think it deserved a little more consideration and dialogue than it got. They could easily have compressed the scenes on the cube and cut most of the repairs of La Sirena to expand this.

The climax of the episode, of course, was when Riker and Starfleet show up to stare down the Romulans. I’m not sure Riker has ever gotten as many great lines of dialogue since the character was introduced, and Jonathan Frakes nailed it like he maybe never has before. The scene was slightly odd since Riker doesn’t seem like he has the authority to command such an important fleet; a throwaway line such as Riker saying, “Admiral Clancy asked me to say hello” would have cost nothing and made it a little more sensical. Still, it had the right emotional resonance.

I didn’t quite get that all of Starfleet just left afterwards, though. A critical and sensitive first contact situation and they didn’t leave one ship behind to provide support to Picard? Well, anyway.

Emotional resonance was the name of the story, especially from this point out. Soji beams Picard and Jurati to the planet, where Picard dies – and the wakes up in a parlor chatting with Data. Data’s consciousness has been reconstructed from his brother B4 and is running in a simulator on Soong’s computer. Picard, it turns out, is having his consciousness transferred to the golem that Soong and Jurati were working on, but for a short while he’s sharing space with Data, allowing him to get some closure with his friend, even though Data doesn’t remember the events of his death. It’s a touching scene, and the sort of denouement that’s all too often missing from dramatic television and film, especially not given this much space to breathe. One of the thing I like about Star Trek: Nemesis was that Data acted like he’d integrated his emotion chip with his base personality and felt real-yet-artificial, and that carries through here: Brent Spiner conveys that Data feels, that he has things that he wants in an emotional sense, yet he carries himself stoically.

Picard wakes to find himself in an artificial body, without his brain condition, yet engineer to only live a normal human lifespan, maybe another 10-20 years. This transition makes sense in the “Chekov’s Gun” sense that the golem from the previous episode was going to be used for something, but in-story it’s odd that Picard is still 94 (!) years old and doesn’t have the option to be functionally immortal. Picard’s resurrection is witnessed only by Jurati, Soong and Soji, which is also strange since we’re given some touching scenes of the others grieving for him. You’d think we’d have gotten a “Houses of Healing” reunion scene, but instead we all just see them back on La Sirena at the end of the episode. Still let’s not undercut the power of those scenes, especially Elnor – who also doesn’t have much to do in this episode – breaking down in front of Raffi. Seven and Rios also have a great scene where we learn a little more about each of them. (There’s probably a good story that could be told about Seven breaking out of her supporting role to become a captain on her own.)

In true Star Trek form, I suspect the practical implications of being able to upload peoples’ consciousness into androids will be largely ignored, though we might get some philosophical thoughts from Picard as he undergoes the experience in future seasons.

And finally, Data’s last request to Picard was to end his (simulated) life, which was another touching scene which sounds like it brought closure to the character for many of his fans. I didn’t have a problem with how his death was portrayed in Nemesis, but if this is what they needed, then I’m glad they got it.

Overall I wouldn’t say the episode was a complete triumph, but I think it had plenty of high points and a lot of good character material in there (even if it didn’t do right by every character) that it was a satisfying end to the season.

And the season as a whole? Maybe the best season of Star Trek I’ve ever seen. Like The Wrath of Khan, it couldn’t have been what it was without having the earlier show to build on, but it’s tremendously successful at building on it. NextGen always felt pretty artificial in its emotions (one of the most celebrated episodes, “The Inner Light”, is to my mind a manipulative piece of maudlin claptrap), while the characters in Picard feel much more genuine. The story was more character-driven, showing the characters being affected by events, and affecting events based on their character. It maybe overreached itself in some areas, but it was also quite ambitious in the story it set out to tell. Shows like Star Trek don’t often tackle themes of inner redemption, where a character feels they have to right a wrong from their own past, and Picard worked through these themes with multiple characters.

(Oh, and another great thing? No goddamned Q.)

I believe Patrick Stewart has said he thinks they have enough material for three seasons of stories. Where it goes from here is entirely open, so future seasons I imagine will be fairly different from this one, as they don’t have the same sort of backstory to draw on. But I’ll definitely check it out when it comes around.

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