Picard Season 2: The most “StarTrek” of StarTreks

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In Terry Matalas’s excellent action packed thriller that was Picard Season 3 there is so much to love, so many loose threads from The Next Generation connected, re-connected, characters brought in to wonderful heart wrenching effect. With its beautiful score, stunning visuals and compelling 25th century story it seems somewhat harsh that it was only nominated for 2 Emmys for makeup (the corrupted Borg were made scary in a way they hadn’t really been since Best of Both Worlds). That being said I’d like to talk about Season 2 and how, for me at least, it’s the pinnacle of Trek.

There’s a moment in season 3 where Jean Luc and Beverly face the twisted sadist who wants to take their son. In an entirely understandable move as two parents fearing for their child in a hopeless situation they choose to act on their fear and not to leave anything to chance. Understandable in terms of contemporary television and some would say in any real life situation. But this is the 25th Century and this is Picard and Beverly. So why am I referencing season 3 and their response to fear? The entire catalyst and arc for Season 2 is fear and the unknown.

– “Jean luc since I’ve know you, the only place you have ever been afraid to explore, be it flesh and blood or synthetic, is in here [points to his heart]” – Guinan

Season 2 opens with fear. Two contrasting scenes beginning with a red alert klaxon, ominous computer warnings, and Picard witnessing the Borg overrun the ship with the Queen herself on their bridge swatting the crew like flies. Picard with panic in his voice calls out for and is engulfed by the self-destruct. Next our beloved octogenarian vintner can be seen enjoying the fruits of the harvest, relaxing with a glass of wine in the balmy evening air under the stars, with the woman he loves. Even in that perfect, safe, private moment his fear holds him back.

Hints in flashbacks of Picard’s youth are soon followed by the rupture of a spatial anomaly. A distortion in space and time, an echo of those we’ve seen countless times in The Next Generation. So much of episode 1 is steeped in fear, with Seven facing down raiders stealing medical supplies who make reference to her as being a former Borg, something she is more than a little self conscious of. She even later refers to “historic tensions and paranoia” on board the borg-enhanced Stargazer. Rafi hints at her fears of being abandoned by Seven the woman she loves while talking with Picard and Dr. Jurati’s fear of being alone in crowds is also highlighted, albeit as slight comic relief.

These fears are all overcome by the characters who are made to face them over the course of the season. But it is so much more than that. People have tried to point out certain inconsistencies or plot holes, or slated the series altogether however these have come ironically also from a place of deep seated fears, as well as being faced with the same unknown as the crew.

For sources of fear for the audience we don’t have to look much further than the second episode with the alternate reality, the other Picard with his room full of trophy skulls, a furious troubled Q or the terrified isolated Borg Queen, the last borg to exist in this reality.

StarTrek fans have seen season-long mysteries play out in Discovery and Picard season 3 however at this point the serialised nature of Picard presented fans with a deluge of questions all unanswered week by week. In the past, with the exception of a few “two-parter” episodes, Trek fans had to wait a mere 40 minutes or so for a mystery to be solved. With Picard S2 they were being presented with the equivalent of a 6 dimensional rubik’s cube that ran from March till May.

Death plays a critical part of Season 2. Rafi’s fears heightened by the death of Elnor, Picard’s by that of his mother, on the bridge of the StarGazer Seven angrily states that the Borg should be shown no mercy as they had shown none for the millions they’ve killed, including her own parents. Soong has lost most of his ‘daughters’, the Queen he drones and sisters across dimensions.

And in addition to the layers of mystery we had very contemporary references to race and racism. Star Trek has always been political, since the 60s. But it seems that even some StarTrek fans in the 21tst century struggle when the mirror on society is brought into somewhat sharper focus:

“ This place is a pressure cooker. You know they’re actually killing the planet? Truth is whatever you want it to be. Facts aren’t even facts anymore. A few folks have enough resources to fix all the problems for the rest but they won’t because their greatest fear is having less. They got one tiny ball in the entire galaxy, and all this species want to do is fight. I’ve given them long enough “ – Guinan in the 21st Century

A young Guinan, who doesn’t seem to know Picard (for reasons that will become clear later, another layer of mystery that some fans struggled with) is angry at the racial injustice she sees in 21st Century Earth. She is understandably fearful and wanting to leave.

“ You know who has the luxury of patience here? Someone who looks like you and not like me. This world had more potential than I had ever imagined. But the hatred here, it never ends, just swaps clothes. This century took off a hood and put on a suit. You say change is coming? Well, it’s too damn slow and the cost way too high. And being forced to watch it hurts “ – Guinan in the 21st Century

This critique, this slap in the face for 21st century Earth is further compounded when Rios is roughly abducted by ICE, transported to a modern day concentration camp for undocumented migrants, only to overpower the ICE officers enroute and escape, freeing the other captives in the process. This was the point that the voices of criticism reached a crescendo despite there still being 5 episodes remaining in which to wrap up all the mysteries, all the plot threads. Star Trek has always dealt with racism and prejudice, in episodes such as VOY:“Nemesis”, DS9:”Far beyond the stars”, TNG:”The Outcast”, even StarTrek 6:”The Undiscovered Country” and as far back as TOS:”Let that be your last battlefield”. The only difference with Picard Season 2 being set in the very near future.

Despite all the fears explored in Season 2, including the fear that is revealed to be driving the Borg Queen herself – that of the collective’s seemingly inevitable destruction across the multiverse – they are all faced, all put to rest, thanks to Q.

The entire series is a test and a gift from Q. The test – not to give into fear but to face it, the gift – opportunities for personal healing, the healing of Picard and Sevens relationship with the Borg, healing for the Borg and the chance to protect the lives of millions from the effect of the enormous transwarp conduit. We’ve seen Q do similar before throughout The Next Generation and Season 2 of Picard echoes these beautifully.

When we first meet Q he’s a trickster, cocky, god-like being that is testing the crew and Picard in particular for qualities of judgement and open mindedness. Yes, I’ll admit some of this is down to writing changes and a little retcon/”head cannon”, but part of the joy of StarTrek is finding ways to knit continuity with imagination. That doesn’t negate the fact that Q’s apparent selfishness and tendencies to be malicious are often opportunities for the crew to grow, to show a greater compassion or a greater sense of responsibility. We see Q’s test of fear and time paradox in the vortex in “Time Squared”, Riker’s refusal of un-earned powers in “Hide & Q”, his early warning of the Borg’s power and impending arrival in “Q Who” as well as knocking back the complacency that had crept into 24th Century Starfleet. In “Tapestry” which has strong echoes of Picard Season 2 are we seeing Picard really go back in time and change his own past and then future? Or is it a vision, or Q simulation or dimensional sandbox of sorts? It’s never established, but it IS a gift from Q for Picard, for him to reflect on and grow. And then, of course, we have “All Good Things” where we see Picard apparently move through time, affecting events in a non-linear way (the anti-time anomaly) with the result being insight and personal growth. But did Picard really move through time or was it a vision from Q? Or a dimensional sandbox? An extra feature of “All Good Things” that was left in by Ron Moore was the slight continuity error that all three of the tachyon beams that created the anomaly came from the Enterprise in 3 different time frames… of course one was actually from Beverly Picard’s USS Pasteur. It was left in as there wasn’t time to change it but for me it works as it’s almost a signature of Q – for him it’s a nice symmetry to have the people believe it’s from the 3 Enterprises even though in practicality it’s more complicated. But regardless of whether you see it as pure error or a quirk of Q it’s another thread that connects both Picard and The Next Generation. And, afterall:

“ You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did ” – Q

“ When I realised the paradox “ – Picard

For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence “ – Q

For me this is the heart of Picard season 2. We aren’t simply fighting a war, or battling a nemesis. Yes there’s conflict and antagonists but the point is understanding and more specifically the quest for understanding. Soji, lost, then joining the Watchers; Talin so obsessed with rigidly following a mission she almost endangers it; Rios, who finds fulfilment in finding a family with Teresa and Ricardo; and Rene Picard – who’s story would have been centre stage had this been an episode of TNG – but here in Season 2 of Picard is just another piece of the patchwork, another thread in the tapestry of fear and search for understanding.

We are as much a part of the universe as a nebula or distant star. There’s a universe within a molecule as much as there is beauty in an uncharted vista. And beyond space there is time. When we first see the Borg Queen on the bridge of the Stargazer alongside Dr Jurati are we seeing the combined Jurati-Queen, or something else? Is this a Schrodinger’s Borg Queen who is both and none and more? Is this a version that Picard needs to see at that time? Does he need to fail as part of the test/gift? Q appears to be desperate and dying but is this really true? He’s cryptic when he discusses his fate and that alludes to the limits of our capability of ever understanding such a being. We can explore places, ideas and concepts but ultimately we’re, currently at least, slightly balding primates that have learned to walk upright and the brains we evolved to help us hunt a variety of prey have given us access to technology and a new evolutionary trajectory beyond simply devising strategies for hunting prey. That may be frightening, that there may be actual physical limits to ourselves and or the universe that limit our understanding of both, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. This seems just as true for Q as well.

For me at least, Picard Season 2 is StarTrek being the most StarTrek. It explores issues of prejudice and fear without looking away or sugarcoating, it unveils monsters to be anything but, and encourages us to reach not simply for the stars but beyond and beyond the beyond.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
– Robert Browning

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