"Children of the Comet" might be the purest, truest episodic Star Trek experience since CBS/Paramount started rolling out new Trek series in 2017. That’s not to say this is amazing or groundbreaking, because, again, like the pilot, it traffics in things that have been done on Trek plenty of times in the past 50-plus years. But it does them well, with showmanship and class and a minimum of fuss.
I don’t want to overpraise a show for not falling into all the traps of Discovery and Picard, but I also want to give credit where it’s due, and this is due its credit for being solid sci-fi (and very good Trek), and very balanced in the way it handles plot and character. This tells a story. We’re only two episodes into this series, but my optimism is running high.
"Strange New Worlds," the newest Trek series’ eponymous pilot, is the best-looking, best-produced episode of TOS ever made. That is to say, it’s a TOS-style story made with 21st-century filmmaking. Of course it looks great. Pretty much every episode of these new shows looks great. The secret is "Strange New Worlds" looks great while delivering a classic Star Trek experience. This is not a groundbreaking hour of television, but it’s a good, solid execution of a classic formula.
Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) is coaxed (ordered) from an extended leave following the Enterprise‘s joint mission with Discovery to take down Control. (He gets his order from Admiral Robert April, played by Adrian Holmes, who almost immediately looks like one of Trek‘s better admiral characters.) You’ll recall in the process of that arc, in second season’s "Through the Valley of Shadows," Pike vividly experienced his future in which he would be gravely injured and permanently disabled after very nearly dying. "Strange New Worlds" picks up in the months after that revelation, and it has shaken Pike to his core. He’s having trouble getting motivated to go back to work as the Enterprise gears up for redeployment after being repaired, and it’s hard to blame him.
"Farewell" is pretty much season two of Picard in a nutshell. It’s trying to do a lot of things. It puts in some decent efforts to connect to its past. And it has some character moments that do work. But on the whole, as an hour (and season) of television, it’s a jumbled, anticlimactic mess that adds up to less than the sum of its many, many parts.
It’s simultaneously doing too much and not enough — too much plot and not enough story. It has bizarre Easter-egg mini-detours that go nowhere, and generally flails about like Chris Farley telling you about his van down by the river. It’s hard for me to hate an episode featuring Q, Guinan (the real one), and Picard reaching various emotional resolutions, but this (and the whole season) just doesn’t add up.
As season two of Picard lurches toward the finish line, the creators are able to deliver a fairly engaging payoff that tackles several aspects of the season-long storyline, even as they churn through a bunch of routine action sequences and needless detours in the process of getting there. "Hide and Seek" isn’t great Star Trek, but it’s pretty good season-two Picard, which I suppose is the problem. It’s probably the best episode since the second installment of this over-padded arc of a season, but it’s still not especially good.
This show just can’t stop getting in its own way even when it’s doing things right. There’s too much contrived silliness in here to make it something to recommend, even though there are scenes and ideas that I thought worked in the context of what we’ve seen this season.
"Mercy" is a welcome step in the direction of plot coherence, where multiple threads of what has been happening for the past few episodes begin to converge in ways that finally start to reveal a picture that may not totally make sense but at least doesn’t feel completely random and haphazard. Finally we have most of the major players pointing toward a common direction, instead of isolated in their bubbles doing their own thing.
Still, though, other pieces (like Picard unlocking his mother’s room in the past) are missing or deferred, and the first half of the episode had me impatient, with its interrogation scenes that felt like they were ported in from the overplayed police procedural of your choice, and the scenes aboard La Sirena with Rios, Teresa, and her son, which frankly felt like a complete waste of time, despite the easygoing efforts Santiago Cabrera.