The Picard Maneuver — Star Trek: Picard’s “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”

Rather famously, playwright Anton Chekhov believed that stories should not have extraneous details. On several occasions, Chekhov wrote about this in letters, variations on the theme that if you have a gun on the wall in your story, it should be fired by the end of the story, or it shouldn’t be on the wall in the first place.

This season of Star Trek: Picard has hung a good many guns on the wall, and while Part 2 of the season finale fires most of them, it doesn’t quite fire them all, and a few of them misfire badly. Having said that, it’s a most satisfying conclusion to the season.

Whatever one can say, good and bad, about this finale, and most of it is good, the one thing that is uncategorically correct and right and perfect is that in the end, Jean-Luc Picard saves the day by making a big speech. It is especially perfect because that tendency of Picard’s—which has been both a running theme and a running gag since 1987—has been made fun of many times in the nine previous episodes.

And quite the speech it is, too. One of the best lines in Trek history, and one that sums up the theme of Trek’s idealistic future, is one Kirk had in “A Taste of Armageddon,” that being human means not only admitting that you can be a killer, but also that you have the ability to say, “I will not kill today.” And Picard convinces Soji not to kill today by destroying the beacon that will bring the Mighty Synths around to stomp all over everyone.

I must confess to mild disappointment that we didn’t really get to see the Mighty Synths, and that what little we saw looked disturbingly like Dr. Octopus’s arms. What I was hoping for was something even more Trekkish than Soji smashing the beacon, and that’s the synths showing up and revealing that both the Zhat Vash and the synths got it wrong—that the Admonition was warning against genocide of either side, and that artificial and organic life should live peacefully in concert rather than in conflict.

But we didn’t get that, just threatening metal arms. Whatever. It still worked insofar as Picard proved himself willing to sacrifice himself, and the Federation proved willing to protect Coppelius.

That’s one of the guns that was fired. “Nepenthe” established that Riker was still a reservist. “Broken Pieces” established that Picard had asked Admiral Clancy for a fleet. Part 1 established that Picard contacted Starfleet Command with Coppelius as a first contact and requesting diplomatic protection for the locals. Because of that request, Acting Captain Riker of the U.S.S. Zheng He and his big-ass fleet of huge-ass ships (a fleet that will, I’m sure, have the contingent of Trek fandom that geebles over ship design talking for a while) is willing to fight Commodore Oh—or General Oh, or whatever—to protect the synths.

(By the way, I really appreciate that Secret Hideout has made an effort to make the Earth of the future really be a united Earth rather than a united Earth of white people. There is a greater diversity of casting and nomenclature that represents all of Earth instead of a tiny part of it, from the central Asian names for the synths to ship names like La Sirena, ibn Majid, and Zheng He. A truly united Earth should represent all of it, and bravo to Alex Kurtzman, et al, for that.)

Another gun on the wall was the golem body with the ability to transfer consciousness into it. Picard dies at the end, and then has his consciousness inserted into the golem android, which now looks just like the elderly Picard, and will age as he will, but without the brain disease that killed him. This is kind of eating your cake and having it, too, but the Picard-has-a-brain-disease-that-will-affect-him-decades-in-the-future gun was put on the wall way back in 1994, so they kind of had to fire it here.

Having said that, did we really need to spend time watching the characters mourn Picard when they were just going to bring him back? I mean, the scene with Rios and Seven sharing a really mediocre bottle of booze was fantastic, and beautifully showed how Picard has positively influenced those around him, but it just seems meaningless given the reversal just a few minutes hence.

And on top that, we have to sit through Data dying again. We already saw Data die in Nemesis, and we’ve established that his friends have mourned him (by Picard throughout the series, by Riker and Troi in “Nepenthe”). But we waste an entire scene of him being established as having a presence in a quantum realm (which is where Picard’s “essence” goes between his death and resurrection, and where they sent Data’s essence after they extracted it from B-4), just so he can have a death scene with “Blue Sky” playing yet again.

Part of it is my intense dislike of Nemesis, but I found the entire thing to be a waste of time (and yet another case of Brent Spiner being unconvincingly made to look like Data again). That particular gun on the wall had already been fired in 2002.

One gun that was never fired for some reason is the Borg Cube, which is just, well, sitting there in a lake on Coppelius. Rizzo has apparently been hiding there since she got away from the xB’s trying to kill her, and she tried to take the Cube for herself, a notion that doesn’t survive the can of whoop-ass Seven unleashes on her, ending with Seven kicking the Romulan down one of the many huge chasms that Borg Cubes have. (They obviously use the same interior decorator as the Empire in Star Wars….) That was very satisfying, but I also fear that it may not be the last we see of Narissa Rizzo, seeing as how we didn’t see a body, and she seems to have as many lives as a cat.

Still liked watching her being kicked into the abyss, though. Especially since Seven said it was for Hugh as she did it.

But after that, the Cube wasn’t actually used to help in the fight. Not that there was a fight, and that, more than anything, was a nice reminder that this show spun off The Next Generation, because TNG was always good at avoiding the big battle. Which, as a martial artist, I appreciate. One of the tenets of Asian martial arts is that, if you get into a fight, you’ve already lost. The best thing anyone can do is avoid combat, because it’s chaotic and uncontrolled and anything can happen. So much of TNG in particular and Star Trek in general is about finding ways to avoid combat, to talk your way out of a problem.

And Picard talks the hell out of this one, convincing Soji to turn off the beacon and having a big-ass fleet in his hip pocket. Because one other thing that TNG was always about was that Riker always had Picard’s back, as Riker himself reminds him. Plus also fooling Oh with a variation on “the Picard Maneuver,” established waaaaaaaaaaay back in “The Battle” as how he saved his crew on the Stargazer on what turned out to be her final mission.

That’s another gun, hung on the wall last week, and it’s a literal deus ex machina, a device that creates stuff from your imagination. That strikes me as a little too overly useful a tool, but it got La Sirena running and provided a bunch of sensor ghosts to fool the Romulans.

(By the way, during that scene of Picard flying La Sirena, I kept shouting at the TV, “There’s an Emergency Pilot Hologram on the ship! Use it! If this isn’t an emergency, what the hell is????” Also, I love Emmett, he’s by far my favorite of the holo-Rioses. That gun misfired.)

The general climax is excellent, with Oh choosing not to kill today, and Riker escorting her back to Romulan space, and then Picard dying and being transferred to the golem synth. But the smaller climaxes are a bit anti, or nonexistent. For starters, when Soong finally learns that Sutra killed Saga to help Narek escape, he then turns her off—and that’s it. Sutra’s deception is discovered and she’s punished in about half a second, and it feels—I dunno, inadequate?

Also, the synth ban has been part of the texture of this show from the beginning, so to have its conclusion be one off-hand line of dialogue that the synth ban has been lifted is unsatisfying to say the least. I mean, yes, Oh’s duplicity has been revealed, but still, there needed to be a lot more things happening to get to “the synth ban has been lifted.”

And Jurati still hasn’t faced any consequences for murdering Maddox. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances, and yes, helping Picard save the synths is a point in her favor, but she still needs to answer for her actions, and she most definitely hasn’t. I know I’ve been beating this drum for a month now, but it still bugs me and I still am not over it, so there, nyah, nyah.

Most performances in this finale are excellent, from Jeri Ryan’s world-weary Seven to Santiago Cabrera’s reluctant hero Rios to Michelle Hurd’s compassionate and competent Musiker (I love her insisting that Rios say that she was right, and I love that Picard’s last words are admitting that she was right) to Isa Briones’s passionate and conflicted Soji to Brent Spiner’s skeevy-but-still-doing-the-right-thing Soong. And, for all that I didn’t like the scenes with Data (and for all that half the things I’ve complained about in the episode could’ve been fixed by more screen time that those scenes took up instead), Spiner also did a magnificent job once again playing his signature role. Tamlyn Tomita and Jonathan Frakes are fabulous as ever, and their confrontation is a high point of the episode. (I was, however, mildly disappointed that the fact that both Soji and Riker spoke the Viveen language Riker’s kid made up didn’t play a role in the climax; that’s another unfired gun.)

I wish I could say the same for the others. Evan Evagora does fine with what he has to work with, but that’s the problem—honestly, Elnor’s role in this season has been minimal to nonexistent, and you probably could have removed him from the season entirely and not changed much. I hope he plays a bigger role in season two, as the character has fascinating possibilities, precisely none of which were in evidence this year.

And then there are Peyton List and Harry Treadaway, who simply can’t live up to the talents of their costars.

The very ending is pure fan-service. There’s no actual reason for this group to still be together. La Sirena has served its purpose, and they really only need to be bringing Picard back to Earth. But there’s everyone on the bridge and Picard saying, “Engage” while finger-gunning. It’s a nice ending, but there are still questions…

What happened to Narek? He’s conspicuously absent after the fleet disappears, even though he seems to have decided to be on the good guys’ side. Why is Seven on La Sirena? Who’s running the Cube? Is the Cube just staying on Coppelius? Are the synths taking in the xB’s? Why isn’t Jurati staying behind with the synths, and maybe expiating her guilt by helping them?

Plus the bigger questions that are beyond the scope of this episode, but would make a dandy second-season plot: what are the consequences to a) the Romulans’ soooooooooper seekrit covert group being exposed, b) the head of Starfleet Security being a long-term deep cover Romulan spy, and c) the synth ban repeal?

Let’s hope we find out.

It’s been a fun ride, and we’ll have a look back at the first season as a whole next week.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has started a YouTube channel called “KRAD COVID readings,” where he is reading various short stories, by way of giving people some entertainment during these troubling times. Check it out!

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