Spoiler warning: The following article discusses the Star Trek: Picard episodes “Seventeen Seconds” and “No Win Scenario.”
I was away last week and so didn’t write up last week’s utterly inessential episode of Picard, although if you’re curious, Darren Mooney at The Escapist’s feelings mirror my own. The whole affair only makes sense if you assume the whole crew had taken a big dose of idiot pills an hour before the episode began, and wish you’d had some as well. This week, there’s a lot more to say, especially since it’s the first episode this season that feels even remotely fun. And while the setup for all of these conflicts was pretty flimsy, their resolutions are all very enjoyable to watch.
After the Shrike uses its Portal gun to encourage the Titan to shoot itself in the back, the ship drifts into a gravity well and certain doom. It’s here we get one of the worst tell-not-show moments in the series so far as the bridge crew state, and then restate (and then re-restate) the situation the ship finds itself in. Loss of power, is it? Sinking into a gravity well, is it? We don’t have enough power to get out of the gravity well, is it? Is that because we’ve not got much power, is it? And because of the gravity well? Sorry, not following, can you explain it to me like I’m five, please? It doesn’t help that while the decision to take the shields offline is set up as some big, dangerous decision, it’s never mentioned again.
It’s here that Picard, opting to get his affairs in order, chooses to sit down for a touching moment with Jack. And they choose to do so on the holodeck, in the Ten Forward bar that’s been turning up time and again this run. Picard says that holodecks are hooked up to their own power supply because it’s better to die in comfort than use that power to survive. I think we can all tell that it’s a cover for either a production or a budget issue that meant they had to re-use the set. (Picard’s first season did the same, endlessly going back to the chateau office on La Sirena’s holodeck.) And, again, the two-hander between Patrick Stewart and Ed Speelers is great.
Also, remember when a broken leg wouldn’t require much more than a quick waft of a med bay doodad and you’d be good as new? Not in Picard, where Shaw storms into Picard’s heart to heart, apparently full of painkillers, and reveals why he’s so angry at both Seven and Picard. It turns out that, like a big chunk of Starfleet, he’s a survivor from Wolf 359! And if this wasn’t another thing that was explored pretty well by Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, it might carry a bit more dramatic weight. It also feels like the start of a pre-ordained redemption arc for Todd Stashwick’s Captain Shaw as the powers that be use Picard as a way to backdoor pilot a Titan-A spin-off series. (You can imagine the pitch: We’ve got the cast, and the sets are already built, it’s practically free content if you greenlight another ten!) And, to be fair, Todd Stashwick’s such a charismatic actor that you could feel him straining to play someone more unlikeable at the start of the series.
From here until the conclusion, however, the tone starts to lighten, and Beverley’s realization that the nebula is a space lifeform gives everyone a sense of purpose. You see, the nebula is undergoing the exact same contractions that a pregnant person would when they’re in labor. The moment that Riker stops pointlessly objecting to the plan of riding the contractions out of the gravity well, it suddenly feels like we’re watching Star Trek again. The gang works together, Seven and Shaw successfully lure out the changeling infiltrator, and they even have a nice spot of payback for the Shrike as Riker orders the Titan to lock onto a massive asteroid, dragging it behind long enough for it to smash the enemy vessel out of contention long enough for them to escape.
And that’s not even the best bit, because there’s also the wonderful B-Story of Picard dealing with his adoring fans while in (the real) Ten Forward five years previously.
Patrick Stewart Picard is accosted by a bunch of fans cadets who ask him to regale them with stories of his time on Star Trek the Enterprise. All the while, unseen, Jack lingers in the background, listening to Picard as he builds out his myth and his legacy while minimizing any reference to his own family. When Picard closes the gathering by saying that Starfleet is his family, it’s both an unwittingly hollow indictment of Picard’s own life (his co-workers are his only friends, oof) and an unwitting rejection of the son he could have grown to know years previously. This, my friends, is a great moment, full of depth and pathos and I just wish that it hadn’t taken this long to get here.
Speaking of which, Paramount recently punted Star Trek: Discovery’s fifth season to 2024, adding it would now be that show’s final run. With news that the studio is looking to tighten its belt in order to milk some actual profit from its streaming service, fans are feeling antsy. After all, Trek shows aren’t cheap to make, and it’s not clear how much crossover appeal these shows have. Despite David Stapf’s 2018 promise that we’d have “a Star Trek something on all the time,” there’s a worry that it’s closing time at the all-you-can-eat buffet. With Discovery and Picard on the outs, and no sign (yet) that Lower Decks and Prodigy will get renewals, we could go from five shows to three, or one, in no time at all. But, based on the merits of some of what’s been released under the Trek brand of late, would that really be such a bad thing?
After all, these four episodes of Picard form little more than an extended prologue for the rest of the run. It’s taken the better part of four hours to establish the broad outline of the plot as well as the main antagonists, and the stakes at hand. Even then, we’ve still not encountered more than half of the Next Generation returnees who formed such a key part of the marketing. A prologue that I would have enjoyed a hell of a lot more if it had been compressed down to closer to ninety minutes. Imagine if, rather than filling out a corporate-mandated ten-week block each year, the format was designed to suit the story being told at each time. On the merits of the last four weeks alone, fewer episodes of higher quality Trek would be infinitely preferable.