There are many types of two-part stories, but there are two that are most common. One is the type where each part is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, but the two are linked, and the events of Part 2 are dictated by the events of Part 1. A good popular example of this would be the most recent two Avengers movies, Infinity War and Endgame.
The second is what we get from “Et in Arcadia Ego,” to wit, a single story split in half. In those situations, Part 1 is often hard to review, because it’s almost all setup. However, I can say that Part 1 of Picard’s two-part season finale is, at the very least, good setup.
When I saw Brent Spiner listed as a special guest star for this episode, I was concerned. The cameo by Data in Picard’s opening dream sequence in “Remembrance” was a nice touch, but it went on just long enough to be justifiable and any more would’ve been disastrous. Plus, Spiner has aged considerably in two decades (and was really already too old to be playing Data anymore when Nemesis came out eighteen years ago), and while technology masked it up to a point, it wouldn’t bear sticking around very long.
There was another option, though, and I was amused to see the show take it. In addition to Data, Spiner has had four other roles in the franchise: Lore, Data’s evil twin, introduced in “Datalore” and deactivated in the “Descent” two-parter; B-4, Data and Lore’s prototype, introduced in Nemesis, and also seen disassembled in “Remembrance”; Noonian Soong, Data’s creator, in “Brothers” (alongside Lore), and seen again as a dream image and a holographic recording in “Birthright Part 1” and “Inheritance,” respectively; and Arik Soong, Noonian’s ancestor, in the Enterprise three-parter “Borderland”/”Cold Station 12″/”The Augments.”
This episode adds a fifth, and it’s in keeping with the others: Altan Inigo Soong, the son of Noonian. (Though it’s not mentioned, his mother is presumably Noonian’s wife Juliana O’Donnell, established in “Inheritance.” I’m also just assuming his middle name is a tribute to the swordsman from The Princess Bride, and if it isn’t, I don’t care, because in my head it is, so there, nyah nyah.)
The revelation works, as Noonian was a reclusive scientist who liked to keep secrets, and it was clear in “Datalore,” “The Schizoid Man,” “Brothers,” and “Inheritance” that Data had no significant knowledge of his father’s life anywhere in his positronic brain, just secondhand accounts from the colonists on Omicron Ceti, and they obviously didn’t know much about him, really.
And Altan Soong is following in the family business, as he was working with Bruce Maddox at Coppelius Station on Ghurion IV, which we learn is the home of Soong and a whole lotta synths, and is the planet with two red moons that Soji remembered in “The Impossible Box.” The other synths on Coppelius, however, don’t look human the way the Asha sisters do. Instead, they’re more like Data, with golden skin and yellow eyes—including Sutra, who looks like Dahj and Soji (and is also played by Isa Briones, who is now up to three different roles on the show, though she’s still only halfway to Santiago Cabrera’s six).
The crew arrives by going through a Borg transwarp conduit (either Voyager didn’t destroy the entire network in “Endgame” or the Borg have managed to rebuild it), arriving ahead of the Romulan fleet, which will instead arrive just in time for the end of Part 1 to keep us in suspense for Part 2.
When they arrive, Jurati is surprised that they’re not at Deep Space 12 where she’s to turn herself in. Instead, she’s at the place Maddox fled to. She’s pretty much off the hook at this point—she says she now regrets killing Maddox and she’s a mess and wasn’t in her right mind, and all sorts of other bullshit. The best Soong can come up with in response to finding out that his friend and colleague was killed by his former lover is to say, I kid you not, “Shame on you.”
This walks back pretty much all my good will from last week, as it looks like Jurati is going to escape her crimes without punishment, continuing a long Trek tradition of opening-credits regulars not actually facing consequences for their actions (“The Menagerie,” “Operation—Annihilate!” The Final Frontier, “Brothers,” “The Die is Cast,” to name but five examples). She is doing penance, of a sort, helping Soong with a “golem” android, with the intention of having it be a receptacle for someone’s personality. We’ve seen this technology before, in “What are Little Girls Made Of?” “I, Mudd,” “Return to Tomorrow,” “The Schizoid Man,” and “Inheritance,” but no one knew how the androids on Exo III or Mudd’s Planet actually worked, Sargon’s people’s abilities were way over everyone’s heads, and both Ira Graves and Noonian Soong took their secrets on how to transfer a personality to their graves. Altan Soong wants to transfer his mind to a synth body even as his body is aging rapidly.
Soong isn’t the only one facing his mortality. La Sirena is forcibly brought down to Ghulion IV by Coppelius’s “orchids”—giant flowers that engulf a ship and depower it and bring it to the surface. It does so not just with La Sirena, but also with Narek’s ship, which followed them through the transwarp hub, and after a fashion with the Borg Cube, which Seven of Nine has brought to help save the day, and was only partly successful. Still, the Cube is being repaired, and one suspects that Seven, the surviving xB’s, and Elnor are going to play a significant role in the battle royale next week that this week’s events are setting up.
But the big news after the forced landing is when Jurati examines Picard and discovers the brain disease that is killing Picard. “All Good Things…” had a version of Picard from twenty-five years in that episode’s future (which is also four years in this episode’s past) suffering from Irumodic Syndrome—which is, basically, Space Alzheimer’s. While the syndrome isn’t named, it’s obvious that he has some version of it in this timeline also. He informs the rest of La Sirena’s crew that he’s dying and makes it clear that he refuses to be treated any differently. (Hearing the usually stolid Jean-Luc Picard declare “Anyone who treats me like a dying man will run the risk of pissing me off” is a crowning moment of awesome from the episode, too.)
We also learn more about the Admonition. The reason why it drives Romulan minds batshit is because it isn’t meant for organic brains, it’s meant for synthetic ones. It’s a message from a colloquy of synthetic beings who keep an eye on synthetic life all over the universe, and will come a-runnin’ if summoned. The synths on Coppelius are planning to do that very thing and then wipe out the organics who would destroy them.
This discovery that the synths are evil is disappointing, though I’m willing to wait to see what Sutra’s entire plan is before passing final judgment. (This is the challenge of reviewing the first part of a two-part episode, though it’s also an issue generally with reviewing a heavily serialized show. Cha cha cha.) Sutra is revealed to be pretty horrible, as she frees Narek and allows him to kill one of the synths so Sutra can then use her death for propaganda purposes to rally Soong and the synths (which is totally the name of my next band) to her notion of calling the big bad synth overlords and killing the organics.
In contrast to this, Picard tries to rally the synths to his side with a Classic Picard Speech—but it’s completely undermined by Soong. I have to think that Spiner really enjoyed being the one to puncture the Picard posturing here. The promise to advocate for the synths and convince the Federation to overturn the ban and defend them against the Romulans is utterly blown by Soong reminding everyone that Picard isn’t exactly on the best of terms with the Federation these days, and he already failed to convince them to save the Romulan refugees. Plus, he can’t even contact Starfleet, though it’s unclear if the Romulans are jamming transmissions or the synths are.
And so we end the episode with Picard under house arrest, Narek’s fate unknown, Musiker and Rios fixing La Sirena not knowing that their synth friends aren’t friendly anymore, Jurati helping Soong finish his work, Seven of Nine leading a gang of xB’s and Elnor to fix their Cube, and Commodore Oh leading a fleet of 218 Romulan ships to Ghurion IV to blow them out of the sky.
Gonna be a helluva finale…
Keith R.A. DeCandido loves the fact that this episode used the name ka’athyra to refer to the Vulcan lyre that we saw Spock and Uhura and Tuvok play at various points. It was first used in Margaret Wander Bonanno’s novel Dwellers in the Crucible in 1985 and has been used regularly in tie-in fiction since then, including by Keith in his 2009 novel A Singular Destiny. Stuff like that makes Keith’s nerdy heart go pitty-pat.