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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Picard (finally) gets a ship on iStar Trek: Picard/i
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Well, that’s a hell of a title, isn’t it.

Last episode had Picard searching for a ship to help him begin his quest to unravel the mystery of Bruce Maddox, Dahj, and Dahj’s mysterious sister. (Who we already know as Dr. Soji Asher, hanging out on the reclaimed Borg cube.) “The End of the Beginning” has Picard getting his spaceship but not actually leaving Earth for the good until the final moment. The writers clearly understand the pop culture significance of Patrick Stewart on the bridge of a ship: from the first moment he beams aboard, the music references classic Trek tunes; there’s a cute beat where Picard almost (but not quite) sits in the captain’s chair; and the end of the episode has him kicking off the voyage with a familiar one-word sentence from TNG: “Engage.” It’s neat. I’m just not sure it’s enough.

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“End” has some good bits. There’s a thrilling action scene at Picard’s vineyard, and it’s a relief to finally get things literally off the ground. Again we have characters questions Picard’s legacy, and if that criticism feels forced, it’s at least better than a simple hagiography. The idea of “reclaiming” former members of the Borg still feels fresh and exciting (although I keep waiting for Seven of Nine to show up; the lack of familiar faces at this point feels at once tasteful and kind of annoying), and, at the absolute worst, there’s comfort in knowing that that episode title isn’t a lie. We’re well and truly ended that beginning now. Finally.

But as I said last week, it’s hard to shake the sense that all of this took too long, in a way that gives me some concerns about the episodes to come. We learn a more about why the Romulans are determined to kill Data’s apparent descendants; Picard and his friends manage to capture a member of the assassin squad that tries to prevent him from leaving the planet, and (intercut with Soji’s conversation with an ex-Borg member on the cube), he reveals that Dahj and her sister are “the Destroyer,” which certainly sounds impressive. We also find out who Raffi is and why she’s so pissed at Picard; they were working together 14 years ago to organize the Romulan evacuation, and when Picard resigned, Raffi lost her position and ended up living in a trailer in the desert. She is, understandably, not happy about this.

Episodes of television don’t have to have to be measured for useful data and then judged accordingly; an hour can offer nothing new on a larger storyline and still be thrilling or hilarious or sad (or all three). The problem with “End” is that it moves the story forward by inches without really providing much in the way of justification for the time. Worse, we seem to be repeating some beats, to mixed effect.

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I’m not sure why any of Soji’s scenes were in this entry. It was kind of cool to see her work with the Nameless continue, and her conversation with Ramdha (who I kept hearing as “Ronda”) is moody enough. But there’s nothing immediately vital or gripping to this beyond some stylistic moves and foreshadowing, and the character is really only compelling at this point as a mystery; no matter how much time we spend with her, that mystery is going to have to be sustained until later in the season, which leaves her largely opaque. Her relationship with Narrick might have some ambiguity in it, although I can’t imagine why (nothing against Soji, but the idea that she could sway a Romulan operative to have real feelings for her after a handful of lukewarm dates seems like a stretch), and we’re also treated to another weird, vaguely incest-y conversation between Narrick and his sister about the issue—a conversation that’s more or less an exact repeat of the one we got last week.

None of this (apart from that last conversation) is outright terrible, but by cutting repeatedly to Soji between scenes of Picard beginning his search for her, the writers are sacrificing a considerable amount of tension and focus on what should be our main concern. Instead of an exciting quest for a character we know nothing about, we have some people over here doing a thing, and some people over here doing a thing, and eventually, they’re going to have to meet up, and it’ll be totally cool when that happens I’m sure, but for now, we just gotta be patient. It’s silly, and in exchange for this silliness, we have a not particularly interesting character (Soji is fine, she’s just not allowed to really be more than that yet) going through the motions of a thing whose pieces won’t really fit together for another month or so.

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It’s frustrating to watch. I’m also not completely sold on Picard’s relationship with Raffi. It’s possible there’s more backstory we’re not getting, but as of right now, it looks like Picard inadvertently fired himself from his job, and then just… didn’t talk to her for 14 years. That doesn’t sound like Picard. Last week’s confrontation with Clancy had some truth to it; Jean-Luc is an older man who isn’t in complete control of his faculties, and he bungled a huge publicity event, and he lacked the tact and patience (and humility) to make up for it. But here, it’s more like the show is trying to sell us on a version of the character that doesn’t quite line up with what we know. Picard was never a social butterfly, but he always had a strong sense of duty, and the idea that he’d abandon a coworker is hard to accept even if he was in shock from leaving his job.

Still, Raffi’s fun, as is Rios, the captain Raffi eventually hooks Picard up with. We get some weird but funny sparring between Rios and his Emergency Medical Hologram, which looks exactly like him for some reason; right now, the captain seems to have stepped straight out of Sci-Fi Archetypes R Us—the grumpy rogue with the heart of gold—but he’s entertaining. The episode also has Dr. Jurati making her triumphant return, getting a visit from Commodore Oh and showing up at the vineyard just in time to shoot a Romulan in the head and join Picard for his journey. (Although I’ll admit to being a little suspicious of her at this point. We didn’t see all of her meeting with the Commodore.)

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“End” remains watchable, but as the show settles into its rhythms, I can’t help expressing a certain sense of resignation. If Discovery suffered from sacrificing narrative logic for Big Moments, Picard seems entirely content to be just another streaming show, with all the good and bad that entails. The story is still inherently compelling, and there’s a decent chance things will get more focused going forward. But it would be nice if a series so indebted to the past made more of an effort to recapture what made the past so thrilling in the first place.

Stray observations

  • “What happened to you?” “I didn’t die.”
  • Oh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another bit of info we got from Soji’s scenes; she mentions that Ramdha was in the last ship assimilated by this particular Borg cube. Even more interesting, Soji had no idea she knew this, and had made no plans to mention it before their conversation.
  • “I may be falling in love with you.” Ah, I’m so sure, Narrick.
  • Okay, so Commodore Oh is supposed to be a Vulcan, but I’m assuming that’s a disguise because she’s working with the Romuans.
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