Sledgehammer Metaphors — Star Trek: Picard’s “Watcher”

One of the comments I’ve seen around what we used to call the information superhighway (hi, I’m old) about this episode is the hope that—given the 2024 timeframe and the use of Sanctuary Districts—we might see Sisko, Dax, and Bashir in some form, since they were wandering around 2024 California in DS9’s “Past Tense.” I have pointed out to some of those people that that isn’t really possible, since the Sisko and Bashir of this timeline are part of the Confederation and Dax probably never met them (I’m guessing Trill is one of the Confederation’s enemies—or subjects).

And then my instinctive response to Picard meeting Guinan in 2024 was, “Why doesn’t she recognize him, they met in 1893 San Francisco?” Then I remembered…

While Whoopi Goldberg could easily play the younger version of herself in 1992, that isn’t really practical with both Goldberg and Guinan having aged since, so Ito Aghayere is cast in the role. Aghayere does a very good job, mainly because she doesn’t ape Goldberg’s delivery precisely, because this is a younger, more bitter Guinan. Just as Goldberg herself played her 1893 iteration as younger and more excitable and enthusiastic in “Time’s Arrow,” Aghayere plays the 2024 iteration as angry and disillusioned.

On the one hand, I see what they were going for here. Both Guinan’s conversations with Picard and Rios’s odyssey through the hell of being a prisoner of ICE are very unsubtle commentaries on the state of the world in the early twenty-first century. However, it does use fictional constructs from past Trek iterations—not just the Sanctuary Districts from “Past Tense” but the Europa mission’s headquarters is in Jackson Roykirk Plaza, named after the creator of the early-twenty-first-century Nomad probe from the original series’ “The Changeling.”

Star Trek: Picard "Watcher"

Screenshot: CBS

On the other hand, it’s utterly impossible to miss what they were going for here, because it’s as subtle as a nuclear explosion. Between the poverty-stricken region that Guinan’s bar occupies and the ICE detention facility Rios is stuck in, it’s a pretty overt indictment of the state of the world. However, with Guinan in particular, it creates a bit of a disconnect. In “Time’s Arrow,” we saw her holding literary salons among the upper-class intelligentsia of 1893, despite her having the physical appearance of what the people of the time would likely refer to as a “Negress” (that would be the nicest word they’d use to describe her). Having lived in the era of Reconstruction, of Jim Crow, of the Civil Rights battle, not to mention having lived in a United States where someone of her gender couldn’t even vote, it’s now that she decides to be so bitter that she wants off the planet? Things are by no means good, but they’re still better than they were.

Well, maybe it’s the weight of the years of discrimination and disparity, and maybe it’s frustration with the fact that there’s been progress, but not nearly enough of it. Or maybe I’m being naïve.

Having spent three straight episodes establishing a new status quo, we finally in the fourth get to keep the previous episode’s status quo, which should move the plot forward. Except it doesn’t, really. At the top of the episode, Rios is in prison, Seven and Musiker are trying to find him, and Picard is trying to find the Watcher. At the end of the episode, Rios is still in prison, Seven and Musiker and still trying to find him, and Picard doesn’t find the Watcher until the very end of the episode after mistaking Guinan for the Watcher.

The episode shows a certain awareness of Trek’s history, which makes for some good moments. Besides the aforementioned Roykirk and Sanctuary District hits, there’s Guinan’s odd relationship with multiple timelines, as established in TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (and to a lesser extent in “Redemption II,” “Time’s Arrow,” and Generations). And we have a laugh-out-loud in-joke, as Seven and Musiker are riding a city bus, and have to ask a guy in a mohawk to turn down the punk music playing on his boom box. The guy in question—and yes, he’s played by Kirk Thatcher—goes white, puts his hand to his neck, and then very contritely turns the music off. It was totally self-indulgent, and truly this timeline’s Kirk and Spock are as unlikely to have come to 1986 San Francisco to save some whales as Picard is to have gone to 1893 San Francisco to rescue Data, but hey, I laughed.

Star Trek: Picard "Watcher"

Screenshot: CBS

That’s just the beginning of the Seven-and-Musiker Comedy Team, which leavens the seriousness of the rest of the episode. This includes Musiker trying to get information out of a beleaguered LAPD desk sergeant and then Seven driving a car, which she does with only a little bit more success than Kirk did in the original series’ “A Piece of the Action.” (This would’ve been a good place for another Trek reference, as Seven could have mentioned that she learned all about cars from one Tom Paris…)

We get some more hints as to Picard’s unpleasant childhood, with flashes of some violent occurrences mixed in with more detailed happy flashbacks to time with his Maman. These happen in a scene that confirms what many of you said in the comments last week: that Picard landed La Sirena in France near the Château Picard estate. This week explains why that was a good idea: after World War II (when occupying German forces used the château as a base), the property lay abandoned until some time in our future/Picard’s past. So Picard and Jurati go there to visit so they can light a fire (in a fireplace with fancy modern brickwork that is so very not pre-World War II), since apparently La Sirena’s cloaking device is working but its environmental control isn’t. Sure. And hey, it means they get to use an existing set and save money! (Sigh.)

Jurati gets to verbally fence with the Borg Queen some more. I’m loving the way Annie Wersching is playing the Queen, which is more than I can say for how she’s being written. For some reason, they’re leaning into the awful portrayal of her on Voyager as a mustache-twirling villain. Jurati begs her for help, and even makes her a compelling offer: someone to talk to. The Queen said last week that the silence was maddening, as she’s been cut off from the Collective, and Jurati offers to keep her company if she helps Jurati get the transporters online so she can beam Seven and Musiker out of their car chase.

Then when it’s over, Jurati pointedly leaves the room, and the Queen fumes. I was practically expecting her to shake her fist and cry out, “Curses, foiled again!”

Star Trek: Picard "Watcher"

Screenshot: CBS

Sol Rodriguez continues to be charming as Teresa, and her scene with Rios is quite nice, though I hope it pays off with something useful down the road, as it mostly feels like it’s there to give Rios something to do besides be imprisoned. Still, she’s cool enough that I don’t mind. (When Rios guesses that she opened her own clinic to help people, she corrects him and says she opened her own clinic because she’s a control freak.)

Honestly, the best part of the episode is the very end, as it teases something much bigger going on. At the aforementioned Roykirk Plaza, Q is observing a young blonde woman who is reading a book (which is yet another past Trek reference, in this case a Dixon Hill mystery titled The Pallid Son, written by Tracey Tormé, who wrote “The Big Goodbye,” the TNG episode that introduced Hill). Both Q and the blonde have the Europa mission logo emblazoned on their clothes. Q is carrying on like trash as usual about having doubts and worries and other such nonsense, and then he snaps his fingers—and nothing happens. “That’s unexpected,” a devastated Q says, “and most unfortunate.”

With luck, next week will have some actual forward movement, instead of playacting at it.

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be an author guest at HELIOsphere 2022 this coming weekend. He’ll be doing panels and programs and things, and also spending time at eSpec Books’s booth in the dealer room. Click here for his schedule.

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