“How much worse could it possibly get?” — Star Trek: Picard’s “Two of One”

I really want to declare a moratorium on a trope of modern television that Aaron Sorkin did a lot on The West Wing, and which has since become both a cliché and a lazy crutch: starting the episode with something happening with no context, and then a title card that reads, “[a span of time] earlier” which is where the story actually starts. Picard was already guilty of this in “The Star Gazer” at the top of the season, and “Two of One” doubles down on it by starting every single act with Picard unconscious while voices talk around him before cutting back to the “present.” Doing it at the start of the episode is annoying but forgivable. Doing it several more times is tiresome.

Two episodes ago was pretty much all wheel-spinning, while last week finally gave us some forward movement. This week, we get a little of both, and I really don’t know what to make of it.

Parts of it are quite powerful. Kore’s discovery that she’s the latest in a series of failed clones created by Adam Soong is a revelation that actually lands pretty powerfully, for all that the very casting of Isa Briones as Kore and Brent Spiner as Soong makes that fairly predictable, given the roles the two of them have played in the past as Data and his assorted “daughters.”

I like the way Rios is nerding out over being in the twenty-first century—it reminds me favorably of how Terry Farrell played Dax in the twenty-third century in DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations“—with Santiago Cabrera playing the usually-quite-cynical Rios as a big dork who loves the book of matches and the yummy food—and the dishy doctor, of course. Sol Rodriguez returns as Dr. Teresa Ramirez, who gets the unenviable task of treating Picard, whose body, you’ll recall, is now entirely artificial, though it behaves like a biological one. That comes to light when she hits him with paddles and there’s rather a bit of a feedback.

I like the conversations between Picard and Tallinn. It’s not at all clear why Tallinn looks like Laris, but that she does leads to some interesting conversations. I’m guessing that the easy chemistry Sir Patrick Stewart and Orla Brady have is why they’ve been using her as Picard’s sorta-kinda-but-not-really love interest this season, and I’m enjoying watching Tallinn try to figure Picard out and Picard trying and failing to deflect her questions.

And I like the way Alison Pill and Annie Wersching are playing the titular combination, with the Borg Queen now in Jurati’s head and sometimes taking charge.

Image: CBS

If only the actuality of what they’re doing made any kind of sense. Supposedly just by controlling Jurati’s body, the Borg Queen can make her strong enough to break handcuffs. Sure. And also can take possession of the electronics in the building (that I can buy), make the band play “Shadows of the Night” (um…), and have Jurati sing it (the hell?).

In the abstract, I’m more than happy to watch Alison Pill in a red dress singing the shit out of a 1982 Pat Benatar song, but having Agnes Jurati sing a 42-year-old song in 2024 at the instigation of the Borg Queen strangled my disbelief until it was lying dead on the side of the road. It threw me completely out of the story being told.

Not that the story being told was all that and a bag of chips. We did, at least, find out why Q targeted Soong in particular: he’s not just desperate, he’s also wealthy. Since Q’s powers seem to be diminishing, he has to manipulate Soong to do whatever it is he wishes to do to Renee Picard. Soong makes a major contribution to the Europa mission, which puts him on the Board of Directors. While this isn’t enough to get Renee kicked off the mission—and I’m grateful that the writers didn’t try to make that happen, as my disbelief is already gasping for breath—it is enough to allow Soong to have Picard and the gang kicked out of the party, thus cutting off their plan to keep her safe until quarantine at the knees.

That’s when Jurati and the Borg Queen distract everyone with blackouts and Benatar, enabling Picard to track down his ancestor and give her a pep talk.

Here’s another problem with the episode, and it’s something I never thought I’d say about a Patented Picard Speech: I wasn’t convinced. Which may be a first since the character was introduced in 1987. Even when he’s giving speeches in a dopey episode (e.g., his plea on behalf of Wes Crusher in TNG’s “Justice“), I’m usually totally there for it and completely accepting it.

Image: CBS

But I just didn’t buy that Picard’s talk with Renee was enough to get her to go through with the Europa mission. At best, his encouraging talk would’ve been enough to get her to come back to the party and stop moping about, but I didn’t see anything in what he said that made me believe that it solved all her anxiety about the mission in the least.

And then Soong, having failed to keep the Picards away from each other, resorts to Plan B: running Renee over with a car. But Picard shoves her out of the way, and that’s why we keep seeing him in a coma in the near-future. Since they have no real IDs (beyond what Jurati hacked into the party), the only hospital they can take him to is Ramirez’s clinic.

I’m also waiting to find out what purpose Seven of Nine has this season. Jeri Ryan has been fantastic as ever, but she’s had jack-shit to do aside from worry over Musiker. This is especially frustrating in an episode that is at least partly about the Borg Queen’s influence over Jurati. Seven’s complete separation from the Borg Queen aspect of the storyline is a massive source of frustration, as is the fact that they’re doing almost nothing with Seven’s being free of her Borg implants for the first time in her adult life. There’s a metric buttload of story potential here that they have yet to do anything with.

In the “it’s nice work if you can get it” category, we’ve got Evan Evagora, who’s only been in four of the six episodes this season, and in two of them now his appearance has been for two seconds as a hallucination of Musiker’s. For this, he gets opening-credits billing. I mean, it’s a good paycheck for Evagora, and more power to him, but Elnor was the one person from last season in desperate need of more development, and instead they’ve completely marginalized him.

And in both those cases, it feels like decisions are being made, not because of character, but because of external plot and costuming needs. With the characters in 2024, we needed to have our characters blend in, so Seven loses her implants in the switch to an alternate timeline and the guy with the pointy ears and green blood is killed. (I mean, c’mon, he can wear a hat! Or a dorag!)

Image: CBS

Next week promises more clichés. Ramirez is able to stabilize Picard, but he’s not coming out of his coma. Tallinn can use her fancy-pants alien technology to ENTER PICARD’S BRAIN! Because they need his knowledge of Q to figure out the next step.

This episode is directed by Jonathan Frakes, who has become one of the best television directors in the history of the medium, and I have to give him special credit for the closing shot. At this point, I was already completely fed up with the episode, having not entirely made my way back into it after “Shadows of the Night” threw me out of it, and then they’re talking about ENTERING PICARD’S BRAIN! and then Musiker actually says, “How much worse could it possibly get?” and she really should know better than to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing, and I was just done with the episode—

—and then we get that closing shot. The Borg Queen-possessed Jurati, her back to the camera, walking purposefully down a Los Angeles street, her red dress billowing behind her like a cape.

And that brought me back into the episode, because with that shot, I was engaged in what might happen next week with the Borg Queen cut loose on L.A. I’m certainly way more interested in that than in ENTERING PICARD’S BRAIN! Although I will be grateful if we finally get some sort of clarity on what happened to his mother, since they’ve been hinting at it for six episodes straight, including a bunch of quick-cut flashbacks while Picard’s in his coma this week…

(Pat Benatar? Really? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Benatar is awesome, and I love that we finally live in a world where Star Trek is willing to shell out the money for music rights—see also “Space Oddity” and “Love and Happiness” on Discovery, not to mention “Time is on My Side” earlier this season on Picard—but that’s how the Borg Queen chooses to “help”? Really?)

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Fan Expo Philadelphia this coming weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He will be at Bard’s Tower selling and signing his books alongside fellow authors Claudia Gray, Dan Wells, and Brian Anderson and comics creators Wendy & Richard Pini. Other Trek folks who’ll be there include actors William Shatner, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, John deLancie, Chris Sarandon, Ron Perlman, and Carlos Ferro (Carlos will also be at Bard’s Tower with Keith).

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