There are parts of the Picard season-two finale that I adored. There are parts where I cheered loudly. There are parts where I wanted to throw my shoe at the screen. There are parts where I was just staring at the TV wondering WTF I just watched. And there are parts where I just yelled, “Oh, come on, really?????”
So very much like the rest of the season, really…
Let’s start with the two moments when I cheered, because I really did love them both so much.
The first was a complete surprise, and in this age of social media, 24/7 pop-culture coverage, and so on, the fact that Wil Wheaton’s one-scene appearance as the Traveler Formerly Known As Wesley Crusher was a kept under wraps until Wheaton approached Isa Briones in what appears to be Griffith Park (the address Kore is given to meet at doesn’t actually exist in Los Angeles, as there is no Lowry Avenue, though there’s a Lowry Road just south of Griffith Park, so I’m assuming) is quite the feat.
First of all, this confirms that Wes has remained a Traveler, despite his appearance at the Riker-Troi wedding in Nemesis. The original script for that film had an additional scene with Wes reporting to Titan as a junior officer under Captain Riker, but that scene was cut, which means nobody is beholden to it. Your humble reviewer was actually tasked with reconciling that scene with Wes remaining a Traveler in the novel A Time for War, a Time for Peace, since the whole point of TNG’s “Journey’s End” was that Wes was destined for being something greater than a button-pusher on a starship. To have his remaining so canonized, as it were, is a great relief.
Plus the scene is a delight. We find out that the mysterious benefactors who sent Gary Seven and Tallinn to keep an eye on Earth are, in fact, the very same Travelers like Wes and the guy played by Eric Menyuk in TNG’s “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “Remember Me,” and the aforementioned “Journey’s End.” Wheaton is wonderful as a Traveler who is doing for Kore what the Traveler did for him on TNG, and Briones beautifully plays her response. Kore has been trapped and in danger of dying her entire life, and for the first time she’s free. But the moment when she realizes that—while sitting in a library having remotely wiped Soong’s entire computer system—she has a look of completely befuddlement on her face. She can do anything, but she has no idea what to do. And here comes this higher being offering her a really cool adventure that will take her all through time and space, after she’s been trapped in the same house her whole life. Of course she says yes!
The second thing was that Seven and Musiker finally have an onscreen kiss. This may not seem like much, but considering it’s still only a third of the number of kisses Ramirez and Rios got…
A lot of different things happen in this episode, and as a result it all seems very quick. The Jurati/Borg Queen statement that Renee Picard would have to live and die is interpreted by Tallinn as her using her fancy-shmancy Traveler-provided technology to disguise herself as Renee and allow herself to be killed by Soong, making him think he’s solidified his place as the father of the fascist future. Meanwhile, the real Renee pootles off to Europa.
It’s not a good day for Soong. His backup plan was to use drones to destroy the Europa rocket, but Musiker and Rios are able to technobabble their way into getting control of them and destroying them in true Trek fashion. I particularly love when Musiker realizes the drones are booby-trapped against tampering, Rios asks if that’s it, and Musiker turns around and says, “Hell no” and asks for tools so she can do what Starfleet officers do best: fix the unfixable.
Brent Spiner plays Soong’s assholishness perfectly, and there’s a certain satisfaction in watching his whole plan fall apart, and not just because it prevents the Confederation from happening. Spiner’s performance is so gleefully evil—from his snotty dismissal of the Europa mission administrator to his calm murder of Tallinn disguised as Renee—that you really enjoy seeing him lose just for its own sake.
Which is good, because the two people who were set up as the villains of the piece in the early going aren’t so much. One is expected: the Borg Queen we met on the Stargazer in “The Star Gazer” who took over the fleet, who contacted Picard directly, is, in fact, the Jurati Queen. And as hinted at in that season opener when all the Starfleet officers were just stunned, she’s still the kinder, gentler Borg Queen from four hundred years earlier. She needs the fleet to stop a thing, and she needed Picard there because he was the only one she could trust.
This, by the way, was one of the WTF moments. Because after seven-and-a-half episodes of wandering around the early twenty-first century, the gripping climax is, um, a technobabble battle against a giant spatial anomaly that is dropped in out of nowhere and threatening all life in the sector in 2400. Yes, a fifth-season TNG plot just wandered in to provide some kind of action-y climax-y thing. Okay, then…
The other villain is Q, who turns out not to be one. Exactly. Entirely. It’s a little confusing.
So apparently, Q set all this up as a favor to Picard. He wanted him to absolve himself of the guilt he felt over the death of his mother. He doesn’t reveal this until Picard actually puts the skeleton key back in the wall where his little-kid self will find it three centuries hence, rather than try to change history by destroying it.
The best Q scenes are always the ones that put John deLancie and Sir Patrick Stewart together, and this penultimate conversation between them in the solarium definitely qualifies. Picard keeps trying to find the larger meaning in all of it, and Q patiently explains that it’s simpler than he thinks. A mother died and it broke the universe of this one little boy. Eighty subjective years later, Q is helping him finally put it back together again. Q is truly dying and this is his parting gift to Picard. “Even gods have their favorites, Jean-Luc, and you’ve always been one of mine.”
How this can be reconciled with the Q who defensively said that he had nothing to do with Picard coming back in time, who angrily said Picard had to do penance, who smarmily planned to do something nasty to Renee but couldn’t, who desperately wanted to disintegrate Guinan is apparently left as an exercise for the viewer, because I sure have no clue. I can accept certain elements as part of Q’s larger plan to get Picard to forgive himself for his role in his mother’s suicide, but that doesn’t explain the stuff with Renee and Guinan.
Regardless, with a snap of his fingers, Q sends them all back to 2400.
Well, okay, not all. Rios decides to stay behind. He never fit anywhere in the Federation, but being with Ramirez and Ricardo feels right to him. So he remains in 2024. This is hinted as being the right thing to do, in part because Picard recalls that there were bullet holes in Château Picard when the family reclaimed it and the placement of the bullet holes from the mercenaries last week perfectly matches Picard’s recollection of where those holes were in the historical records.
Except this isn’t the same timeline, he says now getting to the part where his footwear collided with the television. They traveled back in time from the Confederation, using the Confederation’s version of La Sirena, and Guinan didn’t remember meeting Picard in the nineteenth century because in that timeline, General Picard never went back into the past to stop the Devidians.
It’s not like the episode doesn’t acknowledge alternate timelines, since Q comes out and mentions other timelines when Tallinn never meets Renee. And yet, when our heroes return to the future via Q, Guinan reveals that she remembered everything and knew what was going to happen because she remembered it. She points out the picture of Rios, Ramirez, and Ricardo on the back wall of the bar that Picard never noticed, and tells Picard what became of them. (Ramirez died of old age after becoming a hugely successful humanitarian doctor. Rios died in a firefight in Morocco trying to procure medical supplies. Ricardo grew up to be one of the scientists who made use of “Aunt Renee’s” discoveries on Europa.)
That infodump from Guinan occurs back in Ten Forward, where Picard, Musiker, and Elnor are having a drink. Yes, Elnor survived. Q restored him, and put him back on Excelsior in the middle of the fleet. Yet, for some reason, Musiker was on the Stargazer, and of course there was no sign of Rios or the pre-Borg Jurati on the Stargazer.
The last scene is Picard back at his winery trying (and presumably convincing, though she never actually says yes) Laris to not bugger off but stay behind and make sweet nookie-nookie with him. This is worth mentioning for a number of reasons, mainly because it’s the first thing Picard actually does in the second-season finale of the show named after him. He spends plenty of time being lectured at, mind you. First there’s Tallinn, reminding him that she is a grownup who can make her own decisions about how she’s going to live her life and do her job, and won’t be talked out of a self-sacrifice by some old fart from the future that she’s only known for a couple days. Then there’s Q, explaining his motivations and declaring his love for Picard (which will probably prompt at least as many Picard-Q slashfics as the scene with the two of them in bed in TNG‘s “Tapestry” did). And then there’s Guinan doing the “where are they now?” coda for Rios, et al.
But the actual plot movements are all done by other people. Musiker and Rios stop Soong’s drones, Tallinn stymies Soong’s plan, Kore wipes Soong’s hard drive, and it’s Seven and Jurati who take charge for the final technobabble nonsense. (Okay, Picard is the one who gives Seven the field commission to captain to command the Stargazer.)
The season actually comes to a somewhat satisfying conclusion from a story and character perspective. Picard does get up off his ass and make a move on Laris, Seven and Musiker seem to be in a better place, and Jurati’s Borg are now provisional Federation members.
We even have a potential story for season two set up with a transwarp conduit now open where the technobabble thingie was. Queen Jurati plans to guard the hub to see what will come of it, though Alison Pill recently said that she isn’t in Picard season three, so whether or not that will be the plot is up in the air. Then again, the actor budget was probably blown by bringing the entire TNG cast back…
I’ll be back next week with an overview of this most uneven second season.
Keith R.A. DeCandido also reviewed the premiere of Strange New Worlds, which is also publishing here on Tor.com today.