In season two, the collective that is Star Trek: Picard adds up to rather less than the sum of its parts. Many moments and ideas shine, and the cast is once again fantastic, but all of the good bits are let down by an unevenly paced central mystery, a nonsensical villain and some poorly motivated character choices.
Behind the scenes, Picard’s first season showrunner Michael Chabon departed to produce a TV adaptation of his novel The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Seasons two and three were filmed back to back, with season two overseen by Akiva Goldsman and season three by Terry Matalas. The transition is keenly felt, like a manual transmission grinding gears in the shift.
The show’s first season was a mostly strong character drama with a wobbly finale, where it rushed to close up plotlines and clear the deck for new adventures for Sir Patrick Stewart’s Next Generation Captain Picard, Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine and their new friends aboard the good ship La Sirena.
Season two picks up 18 months later, with the crew scattered among different worlds, ships and missions, tossing away the momentum promised where we left off. Isa Briones’ Soji, whose character was at the center of season one’s mystery, gets a single scene in the first episode; the actress later returns in a new role — a less interesting one, through no fault of Briones’. Fans waiting for Elnor’s incredible potential to finally be explored will be disappointed; season 1’s least utilized character gets even less screen time here. La Sirena’s holographic crew, one of the series’ best running gags, is likewise reduced to a single composite character and one throwaway scene.
Even setting aside all that lost potential from the first season, season two is a bumpy ride. Episode one offers a romantic quandary for Admiral Picard, flashbacks to his troubled childhood and a space mystery. Episode two shifts to an alternate universe, only for the show to rush back in time to our own very near future, Los Angeles in 2024, in episode three. This is where it stays for most of the remaining season, and rather overstays its welcome. Dialogue is all over the road, veering wildly from witty or insightful to painfully cheesy, frequently in the same scene. Some interesting social commentary, including the use of an all-too-realistic I.C.E. as antagonists (which ticked off all the right fans, apparently, which is to say people who never really grasped what Star Trek is all about), is quickly left by the wayside. The show instead steers into a ridiculous runaround driven by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner as a two-dimensional mad scientist, whose fantastical tech seems to belie the supposedly contemporary setting, and a repressed memory mystery for Picard.
In real life, it’s relatively rare for a person to uncover an entirely forgotten memory. It’s common enough on TV but often comes across as artifice for the sake of drama. It’s a card for writers to play very carefully, and we do get a few powerful moments here. We learn things about Picard’s parents that shine a fascinating light on his adult personality. But the enigma is overstretched to the point of repetition, sucking a great deal of energy out of the season as a whole. What’s more, for viewers who go in with knowledge of Stewart’s personal history and the story of his own parents, the storyline may seem to be heading in one particular direction for most of the season only to spin in another direction toward the end. There’s nothing wrong with that twist in theory, but in execution, the reveal feels underdeveloped, less clever sleight of hand than narrative bait and switch. The story is short-changed by the writers’ choice to favor mystery over exploration.
Meanwhile, John DeLancie returns as Trek’s beloved Q, but there’s little whimsy this time. Instead, he berates and manipulates Picard, leaving the audience to wonder whether he’s working for or against our heroes. It’s certainly not out of character, but for our money, it emphasizes Q’s most annoying aspects. His part in the tale ultimately resolves well, but in a way that simultaneously makes his actions in most of the previous episodes feel unnecessary. Ten episodes of plot are a meeting that could have been an email.
On the plus side, not only do we get the return of Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan, we also get to meet a younger Guinan in the 21st century, just as heartsick as most of us who live here, played by the fabulous Ito Aghayere. Alison Pill continues to steal every scene she’s in with her connoisseur’s blend of pathos and exquisite comic timing. The always compelling Annie Wersching (of 24, Marvel’s Runaways and Timeless) brings fantastic, subtle layers to one of Star Trek’s creepiest villains, the Borg Queen. The Borg were created in the 1980s from a distinctly Cold War fear of collectivism. While this is another instance where the season takes too long to get to its point, it eventually arrives at a neat update of the Borg Collective for a more nuanced 2020s understanding. And Seven (Jeri Ryan) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) have graduated from holding hands at the end of season one into an on-again / off-again relationship, and they light up the screen every time they appear.
Season Two of Picard, and the show as a whole, isn’t so much a car wreck as a series of car wrecks. Each time, an intriguing plot point rolls up in a shiny new vehicle, showing fantastic promise. Each time, the wheels come off. Except when Seven and Raffi are in the car. Literally and figuratively, that ride always works. Here’s hoping for a very gay spinoff.
In the meantime, Matalas and the Paramount dealership are putting the final polish on next year’s model of Picard. Teaser trailers and showrunner interviews have made clear that the show will be shifting gears yet again, with its third and final season a space road trip reuniting the main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Let’s hope it’s a smoother journey for everyone.
The Special Features
- Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes are found under the individual episode menus for select episodes. Some fun moments occasionally, but nothing that will make you wonder why it was cut.
- Gag Reel: Who doesn’t love a gag reel?
- The Stargazer: An 18-minute featurette exploring the design and construction of the new Stargazer. The team behind the ship included folks who worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the TNG movies, such as Trek legend Michael Okuda. They share some fascinating insights on how the differing technical restrictions and capabilities of 1980s and ’90s television, early-2000s film and modern TV have influenced starship design.
- The Chateau: A 15-minute glimpse into the creation and set dressing of Picard’s home in multiple realities and time periods. The perfect opportunity to pause and scope out all those Easter egg props that flash by onscreen or to read the titles of the books on Picard’s shelves.
- The Trial Is Over: A 12-minute focus on Q’s storyline, with cast and producers. It’s truly touching to see how much it’s meant to DeLancie to play this character for 34 years, and how deeply moved he was by his last day on set.
- Rebuilding the Borg Queen: An 11-minute exploration of the work that went into designing and constructing the new Queen’s makeup and costume.
- Picard Props: Twelve self-explanatory minutes.
- Picard Passages: A 25-minute deep dive into the season’s story and the relationships between the characters, with the cast and producers.
Trek-Specific Authors’ Bio: Rachael and John Derrick both grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation but have very different opinions on Data. Under the name John Clifford, John wrote and directed a one-act play, The Dream in Question, as well as several short plays for sci-fi conventions. He grew a Riker beard during lockdown and Rachael insisted he keep it. Rachael worked in journalism and international education before becoming a therapist, a choice that had almost nothing to do with her infatuation with Deanna Troi. They live with their son and two cats in Indianapolis. Their first novel, Bounceback, about an adult woman reliving her teenage life with brand new superpowers, is available now on Amazon.