One of my complaints about the very end of Picard’s first season was that it concluded with Picard ordering La Sirena out with the entire cast in the crew, which made no kind of sense. La Sirena had been hired to do a specific job, which was now over. Everyone should’ve been moving on with their lives.
Apparently, new show-runner Terry Matalas and his gaggle of writers agreed with me, because “The Star Gazer” opens season two with the various cast members scattered to the nine winds.
The very opening actually has most of the crew together on the bridge of a starship facing a nasty threat—and then we cut to 48 hours earlier. This is a trope that Aaron Sorkin often used to good effect on The West Wing, but it’s become a tired cliché at this point, an attempt at creating a suspenseful and action-packed opening scene by stealing it from later in the episode because your story doesn’t actually have a strong opening.
Except in this case, it was a major misstep. The second scene, with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Time is on My Side” playing over Harvest Day at Château Picard, would’ve made a much better opening.
Indeed, the first half of this episode is an interesting collection of character studies, primarily of the title character. It doesn’t fall apart until the second half with its incredibly clunky climax.
Not everyone is in a place that makes sense, either. Watching this episode, I found myself strangely reminded of Ghostbusters 2, where Sigourney Weaver’s Dana and Rick Moranis’ Louis were now, respectively, an art restorer and a lawyer, where they’d been a musician and an accountant in the previous movie, not for any particular character reason, but because the movie required that they be in those new roles in order for the plot to work.
I’m having similar issues with Elnor now being a Starfleet cadet and Rios now being captain of the Stargazer, with Jurati as his—assistant? consultant? It’s not clear what her role is, though she and Rios aren’t a couple anymore.
(One bit of good news. Jurati was tried and found not guilty of murdering Maddox because of the influence of the mind-meld with Oh. It’s not the ideal outcome, in my opinion, but at least she actually went through the Federation justice system. Which, at this point, really has to take telepathic influence into account when it comes to criminal acts, given how many of them we’ve seen over the last five decades of Trek…)
Rios in particular becoming a Starfleet captain again feels like it’s happening solely because the plot requires it. Though it does mean that Seven has been gifted La Sirena to use for the Fenris Rangers. She doesn’t have a crew, sticking with the Rios holograms, though, for whatever reason, she only seems to be using Emmet, who still only speaks Spanish. After the scene of Seven and Emmet taking out raiders who have boarded La Sirena to steal medical supplies Seven is ferrying for the Fenris Rangers, I’d be totally on board with just watching Seven and Emmet kick ass in two languages for an entire season.
Alas, instead we get all the other stuff. Again, the character work is interesting. Picard and Laris have A Moment, one that Picard himself screws up by hesitating. It leads to a rather lengthy examination of Picard’s life and his choices to be alone. Picard admits that he’s had loves (we’ve seen them in “We’ll Always Have Paris” and “Captain’s Holiday” and “Qpid” and “Lessons” and Insurrection, not to mention his will-they-won’t-they dance with Beverly Crusher), but that he’s been too much a creature of duty to have a relationship. He talks about this in conversations at Château Picard with Laris, at Starfleet Academy with Musiker, and finally in a Los Angeles bar with Guinan.
And also in a flashback. Picard finds himself at one point in a solarium on the Château Picard grounds, and he flashes back to conversations with his mother. This is the second time we’ve glanced at Yvette Picard, the last time being a hallucination of Picard’s played by Herta Ware in “Where No One Has Gone Before,” where she was making him tea. The pain of no longer having his maman around was obvious in that first-season TNG episode, and now, thirty-five years later, we get more of a hint as to why. While Picard’s father disapproved of his stargazing (as established in both “Family” and “Tapestry”), his mother (played as a young woman here by Madeline Wise) apparently encouraged it.
My favorite moment in the episode was at the end of Picard’s speech to the new class of Academy cadets, where we find out that the iconic line Picard spoke at the end of “Encounter at Farpoint” as the Enterprise set off on its continuing mission—”Let’s see what’s out there”—came from his mother, who always encouraged him to look up.
One person we don’t get back is Zhaban, who has apparently died in the interim. A pity, as I’ve always been a fan of Jamie McShane, and enjoyed seeing him as a Romulan…
We do, however, get a nice look at what Soji’s been up to over the last year and a half: going on a goodwill tour around the Federation, now that synths are un-banned. We see her talking with some Deltans, but then gets left behind by the Stargazer when they have to check out an anomaly.
Soji is the only one of last year’s gang who doesn’t take a trip to the anomaly. Seven already had La Sirena in the area of it when it appeared, while Rios, Jurati, and the Stargazer are sent there. A communication comes through the anomaly asking for Picard by name, so he goes there in a runabout. And then a fleet is sent once it’s clear that the ship on the other side is Borg, and that fleet includes the Excelsior, on which Musiker is serving and where Elnor is doing his field work as a cadet.
Both those ship names are callbacks. The Excelsior debuted in The Search for Spock, and several familiar faces have served on her over the years—Scotty as her captain of engineering when she first launched, Sulu as her captain in The Undiscovered Country, and both Rand and Tuvok under him, as seen in the sixth movie and Voyager’s “Flashback.”
And the Stargazer was established in TNG’s bible as Picard’s first command, a past that played a role in several episodes, particularly “The Battle,” “Relics,” and “Tapestry.” But this new Stargazer is part of a new class of ships that employs Borg technology. Seven expresses concern about this, even though she herself is responsible for the first Starfleet ship to incorporate Borg tech, to wit, Voyager when she was on it in the Delta Quadrant…
Anyhow, the band gets back together at this anomaly, and that’s when the episode falls apart. We are explicitly told what was implied last season: the Borg are in terrible shape. They’re apparently asking to join the Federation, and Picard is actually willing to listen to their overture to do so. Seven is less sanguine, and argues vehemently against having the conversation.
And then a strange-looking Borg Queen beams on board and starts to assimilate the ship and through it the rest of the fleet, an action so predictable that Seven had already predicted it. And then everyone sort of stands around, except for the people who futilely shoot at the Queen. And then they stand around some more. And then they stand around some more. And then Picard—who is just an observer on this mission, though as an admiral, he’s technically in charge of the entire fleet—finally activates the auto-destruct. Meantime, I’m watching this and thinking, “Why the hell isn’t Rios doing that, since it’s, y’know, his ship?”
And then the auto-destruct goes off, and Picard finds himself back in Labarre at his vineyard, with no sign of Laris.
Oh, and Q is there.
Let me pause here to admire how they got around the fact that John deLancie and Whoopi Goldberg are both noticeably older than they were thirty years ago, even though their characters are way longer lived. It’s less of an issue with Q, truly, since the John deLancie form was always a construct in any event, and they never bothered to explain Q’s progressing male-pattern baldness and growing double chin in the years between 1987 and 2001, either.
For Guinan, she and Picard talk about how el-Aurians get to choose how they age (which is actually pretty nifty), and she’s chosen to age herself in deference to all her mortal friends. It’s a good handwave.
Q’s is even better. Initially, they use CGI de-aging to make him look like he did thirty years ago, but when he sees how much Picard himself has aged, he changes his appearance so they’re “caught up.” Which is totally in character for Q in any case.
Picard’s Academy speech was about how you don’t get second chances, and Q is apparently intending to prove him wrong. Picard now has a different combadge and his vineyard has a portrait of him in an all-black uniform. It’s fun with alternate realities! Or something…
Not sure what’s happening next, but deLance’s snottiness was a welcome balm after the weak-ass climax aboard the Stargazer. Though the last thing the Borg Queen said before everything went boom was to tell Picard to look up—the same thing Picard’s mother told him in the flashbacks.
I’m very curious to see what happens next, but that’s entirely on the back of Q’s presence and the hope that the examinations of Picard’s life choices will continue to be a theme this season. When Guinan realizes that Picard and she are going to have A Serious Conversation, she asks him if he wants top shelf or hooch. I have a genuine fear that this season will promise us the twenty-year-old single malt Scotch, and deliver instead the Saurian brandy.
We’ll see what happens next week…
Keith R.A. DeCandido is also reviewing each new episode of Star Trek: Discovery (the latest, a review of “Rosetta,” is also up on this site today), and is rewatching Star Trek: Enterprise every Monday here. His contributions to Trek over the last two decades include sixteen novels, one reference book, six comic books, thirteen novellas, seven short stories, three anthologies, and hundreds of articles and reviews, not just here on Tor.com, but also for Star Trek: The Official Magazine, The Gold Archive, and Entertainment Weekly.