“Star Trek” is fond of borrowing from Shakespeare and “Star Trek” starring Patrick Stewart doubly so, so I wish I could say that nothing in “Star Trek: Picard” became it like the leaving of it but I can’t. What I can say is that “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2” was “Star Trek: Picard” in exemplar. It had its triumphs, and it had its follies. It had wonderful, stirring moments and clumsy expository interludes and, as always, it was let down by an arbitrary approach to character and structure. As it begins, you can sense that the episode’s acutely aware of just how many loose threads it has to tie up and while it deserves credit for tying up nearly everything, it doesn’t really feel that Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman care how they check off the to-do list, as long as they can put a tick in the box.
Narissa still being on the Borg Cube, undetected and alive is quite possibly the dumbest and most aggravating reveal this series has pulled off. It’s not a clever twist, even though it was heavily implied she transported away to the waiting Romulan fleet but she’s there because the story hasn’t really got anything for her to do anymore and so it pairs her with another character in the same boat: Seven of Nine. The problem is, there’s no history between Narissa and Seven. Okay, sure, Seven’s sad that Hugh’s dead but given we weren’t privy to how well Hugh and Seven knew each other, it all feels kind of superficial. It should, of course, have been Elnor that had another face-off with Narissa after their previous tussles, to round out that relationship but instead he’s off chasing Narek – with whom he has no connection – while Seven bests Narissa by kicking her off a tall ledge (the Borg apparently have the same approach to safety rails and heights as the Galactic Empire). As she plummets to her death, she must be cursing the fact she possesses an emergency site-to-site personal transporter that has a setting for handsy ex-B’s but doesn’t auto-engage when it detects a fall from a great height.
With at least three characters having abrupt changes of heart, it’s a sloppy end to a narrative that borrows heavily from Ronald D Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica” up to and including paraphrasing ‘all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again’ with all the elan and subtlety of “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies trying to talk their way around the phrase ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Narek swaps sides to ally with the crew of the La Sirena to try and take down the transmitter which is summoning the Elder Gods 2.0, Doctor Jurati, it turns out was lying again and somehow managed the apparently impossible task of fooling Sutra’s lie detector test and Doctor Soong turns out to be exactly what he says he was but changes his mind after he discovers what Sutra did to her sister.
The thing is, all of this stuff happens relatively quickly and without a great deal of difficulty. The stakes of universal biocide feel distant and weightless because that’s not really what the story or the season has been about. If you want to know what it has been about, look no further than director Akiva Goldsman’s heavy-handed and repetitive butterfly metaphor.
“Star Trek: Picard” was never going to be an action-orientated show but even so, to have a narrative landscape positively littered with Chekov’s Guns and not use any of them feels like a missed opportunity at best and a deliberate snub at worst. Borg cube? Irrelevant. Vast Starfleet armada? Largely inert. Romulan attack fleet? Well, apart from some light orbital horticulture, utterly toothless. Now I’m not saying that having two vast fleets poised to annihilate each other in the shadow of a portal through which robo-Cthulu is extending its tentacles being talked out of it by an impassioned sacrifice play by Picard isn’t quintessentially “Star Trek” but it still feels a little bit of a let-down.
Although it’s undeniably great to see Riker back in uniform and in command, I can’t help but feel it would have been better and more satisfying for the fleet to be commanded by sweary old Admiral Clancy (with Riker standing over her for good measure) to deliver a measure of payback for the litany of f-bombs she’s lobbed at Picard. And despite her absence, we’re still treated to a couple more ‘fucks’, robbing me of accusing the production team of approaching the storytelling with a ‘no fucks given’ attitude.
With the crisis averted, the Romulans head back to wherever they skulk around now they have no homeworld and no artefact and Starfleet similarly just buggers off instead of leaving a couple of support vessels or even the lightest of protective details. Starfleet’s decision to withdraw completely makes zero sense given they’re dealing with religious fanatics who incinerated the surface of Mars to further their agenda so why would they simply turn tails and leave when told off by Starfleet? Having emphasised their fanaticism and ruthlessness throughout the series, it turns out their hearts weren’t really in it? That’s some weak sauce writing. But then again, the series hasn’t really been that interested in telling the story of the Zhat Vash as you can tell because its last surviving member, Narek, just kind of disappears after the fleets go their separate ways, forgotten by the characters and, apparently, the writers as they turn their attention to their real goal.
Picard’s conveniently vague and even more conveniently timed ‘brain abnormality’ ends his life just as he manages to secure the lives of the synth colony and he’s transported to the surface where a conveniently blank android body just happens to be baking in Dr Soong’s kitchen. Thus, in a pseudo Harry Potter talking to Dumbledore in “The Deathly Hallows” moment, Picard finally gets to talk to Data and Picard is miraculously returned to the land of the ‘living’ in time to head up season 2. Superficially, it’s a happy ending but it horribly undermines almost the whole of Data’s character arc throughout The Next Generation by rendering it moot and plays into the series’ biggest conceit that Picard and Data shared a deeper conceit than was ever hinted at or acknowledged in 178 episodes and four movies.
It’s flabby, ill-disciplined writing that hamstrings this final episode and prevents the finale from even approaching a sense of epic completion. There’s little to no attention paid to whatever the hell the big tentacled thing actually was and nobody seems the least bit interested in finding out. It’s great that there was a robot body to port Picard’s hastily recorded consciousness into and that he got some time to spend the complete copy of Data’s consciousness but that begs the question of why they never simply put Data’s consciousness into a new body in the first place? And while we finally get a brief glimpse of present-day Starfleet but it’s almost always in wide shot and still suffers from modern Trek’s tendency to think of starships as fighter craft rather than capital ships. It’s worst sin, though, is the script using a literal magical plot McGuffin not once but twice to solve intractable problems of its own creation: first to miraculously fix La Sirena’s engines and then again to help Picard and Jurati fool the Romulans using a Snapchat filter.
There were many ways to tell the story this season set out to do – both the wider Cylon rip-off and the Picard’s character journey one – but, for some reason, it feels like at every turn they chose the clumsiest or most inept way to tell it and at the end, I’m not even sure what we’ve got. A ship that’s basically Star Trek’s answer to the Millennium Falcon crewed by people I still barely know and care about even less and an unclear mission, both diegetically and non-diegetically.
The closing scenes of the episode, where the script has to explain exactly what has happened to Picard because that’s what passes for good television writing these days is so clumsy and awkward and expositional that you wonder if they drafted in Chris Chibnall to polish tarnish it up down a bit. The hero shot at the end brings us what I assume is the set-up for the cast of the next season. Elnor is the surrogate son Raffi needed (and although he’s the most badly written character in the entire series it doesn’t justify him turning in by far and away the worst ‘crying acting’ that I’ve ever seen in any iteration of “Star Trek”), noted cold-blooded and so far unpunished murderer Dr Jurati and Rios are now a romantic item for some reason – and so, it’s implied, are Seven of Nine and Raffi while to cap it all off, Picard is now Soji’s bionic magic grandad.
For a TV show which has seemed almost pathologically obsessed with retroactively imbuing Data’s arbitrary sacrifice at the end of “Star Trek: Nemesis” with some – any – kind of dramatic weight, it sure does end up doing the exact same thing to its title character, rendering the sacrifice superficial by bringing the character back almost immediately in exactly the same way they hinted Data would be back if there had been a follow-up to the fourth TNG movie. And if it wasn’t that, well then, we’ve ended up going to a lot of effort just to remove Picard’s Irumodic syndrome from canon. After ten long weeks, the wine hasn’t been worth the hangover.