Star Trek: Picard

‘Picard’: A Soong for every season

"Fly Me to the Moon" is a course correction after the hugely uneventful "Watcher," in which a car chase featured no one chasing the car. (I just can’t get over that one.) This outing is fine, but the season, which started out with two very entertaining and promising shows, is getting predictably mired in the bog that is its serialized nature, which features a lot of plot and characters but an unfortunate lack of curiosity.

It’s more about moving pieces around on a chessboard (although Picard has so far yet to become "the board upon which this very game is played," as was promised by Q) and setting various things in procedural motion.

This episode does so at a reasonable clip and it has its character-based pleasures, mostly involving Agnes (who knew?) and her new frenemy, the Borg Queen, who early in the episodes uses Rios’ voice commands to tap into a cell tower and call the police. A police officer arrives, which the Queen seems prepared to assimilate (although I was wondering why she never used that handy Borg tentacle until this very moment), so Agnes shoots her dead with a shotgun.

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‘Picard’: A tale of a bartender and a boombox

The best scene in "Watcher" comes near the beginning. It’s the scene on the bus with the punk mohawk guy with a boombox who’s listening to a version of the same song as the punk mohawk guy in Star Trek IV. Seven asks him to turn the music down. The guy complies and embarrassingly apologizes. I laughed out loud. It’s a fun, winking reference to the time-travel scenario we’re in and shows the writers have a self-awareness about the material they’re aping.

Unfortunately, that sense of fun and self-awareness is nowhere to be found elsewhere in this slog of an episode, which is mostly just bitter and preachy — when it’s anything at all, that is, since it spends most of its time literally spinning its wheels. The first two episodes did a good job of moving the narrative forward and keeping us involved. The third episode was a piece-moving transition piece, but an engaging one. This episode, however, worries me. It’s a textbook example of serialized stalling, where everyone mostly just kind of does mechanical things in ways that run out the clock on the episode while not really accomplishing anything.

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Picard and crew jump back to the 21st century

"Assimilation" is a step down after the first two refreshingly absorbing episodes of the season, but it’s still a pretty enjoyable outing despite its notable flaws, and brisk enough that it doesn’t feel too much like the latest setting-resetting episode (the third in a row, no less) it primarily serves as. Its mission is to get us to the year 2024 and provide some initial things for the characters to do there, and it does that, with some threads that work to varying degrees ranging from somewhat clunky to reasonably good.

While it looked like the crew of the La Sirena was going to be recaptured by Seven’s husband and detained in the fascistic alternate timeline of the 25th century, this episode says "psych!" and quickly dispatches all the bad guys, and the ship slingshots around the sun and arrives in the 21st century, all before the opening credits.

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Q shows Picard the true savage race

"Penance" is what Q says Picard must provide in this episode, rather than Q serving up one of his traditional tests or trials. It is also one of those, but Q’s mention of a penance raises the question of for whom and why atonement is required. Further raising the stakes and mystery is the fact Q is perhaps "not well," as Picard notes. (I was going to note that John de Lancie was pushing way too hard in angry moments of these scenes, until it became clear this was by design.)

Picard is in a timeline where humanity has realized the full vision of the "savage race" Q once accused them of being — a fascist galactic force that violently attacks and subjugates everyone it encounters, from the Klingons to the Cardassians to the Vulcans.

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‘Picard’ begins again by balancing classic with new

"The Star Gazer" opens with an action-packed crisis involving an unknown Starfleet vessel, with many of the characters we know aboard it, a furious alien assault, and a countdown to disaster — before then flashing back to "48 hours earlier" and using the entire hour to set everything in place for that big climax. It’s a cliche that’s pervasive in the current era of streaming, as if the producers are so afraid we won’t be patient enough to go along for a ride that builds to that conclusion without first teasing it.

It’s the move of a desperate pilot trying to grab the attention of impatient executives — not an established show with a built-in audience and an already-shooting subsequent season. The opening flash-forward seems all the more unnecessary because "The Star Gazer" does an almost unfathomably good job of setting all the pieces in motion to get us to that moment, allowing us to marinate in the comforting and well-realized atmosphere that is the Federation in what is now the very early 25th century, while also taking its time and exploring the central theme du jour surrounding Picard — his steadfast reluctance toward romantic commitment because of … reasons.

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