Picard and Riker are faced by overwhelming fire-power when a ship that’s been chasing the Eleos arrives and demands their surrender. To demonstrate her power, the captain of this mysterious vessel simply takes the Titan shuttle that the Star Fleet officers have used and flings it away, destroying their way off the Crushers ship. But who is the stranger and what do they want with Jack Crusher in particular?
Back on the Titan, Seven tries to convince Captain Shaw to intervene and investigate what’s happened to her friends, but he is not of the mind to put the lives of his crew on the line for people who have already abused his hospitality and chain of command and for events happening outside Federation borders.
Elsewhere, Raffi refuses her handler’s command to stand down and heads out to discover more information as to who is behind a terrorist attack on the Federation. However, old habits die hard and she finds herself open to temptation and necessity when she enters a Ferengi drug den in search of answers…
As with the pilot, this second episode, Disengage, feels like a callback to the tv (and film) era of The Next Generation in many of the ways that matter, most of which works to the show’s advantage. Returning for a second successive week, director (and executive producer) Doug Aarniokoski shoots the story with a good a balance of nostalgia and modern flair making some familiar beats feel as if they’re new – or, at least, consistent… as if this new iteration of Picard is deliberately aligning more closely with the series that so many people loved. There’s more easter-eggs along the way, not least hints of elements to come in the console-display backgrounds of the closing credits, but an earlier one catches the attention. Kirstie Alley passed away in January and one wonders if the debris of the Titan shuttle, emblazoned with the moniker ‘Saavik’, that whizzes past the camera was a last minute post-production add… if so it’s a nice touch. There’s a feel of a more even balance between the story elements this week.
In 1991 the late Christopher Plummer played Kirk’s adversary Chang in The Undiscovered Country and there’s definitely a similar sense of arrogance and theatricality in the new character, Captain Vadic, played by his daughter Amanda. The character’s true background and motivations are still mostly obscured at this point and there’s been no quoting of Shakespeare as of yet, but this is clearly an old-school type villain (and, for once, it’s not being played as a misunderstood, sympathy-for-the-devil type) willing to let loose the dogs of war with a huge arsenal and an agenda to wield. One hopes the season-arc story bears out that potential drama.
The hi-def resolution quality of proceedings perhaps works better for some close-ups than others, but everything shines. Sir Patrick Stewart’s Picard and Jonathan Frakes’ Riker continue to be a great double-act in both the dramatic and lighter moments, something that can only come from the years of working together and respect (as actors and characters). It’s Riker that essentially calls out the elephant in the room regarding ‘Jack Crusher’ and the chronology that hints at his lineage and Picard that tries to ignore it for as long as possible. It’s the wordless look between Gates McFadden’s Beverly (thankfully out of her medical bed) and Jean-Luc that essentially confirms it for him (and us) and dictates Picard’s actions thereafter. Given his higher-rank, it’s procedurally proper that he can override Shaw’s command, though it’s taken a while to get there and it’s a risky move that, logically, should have seen the Titan blown to dilithium smithereens (but there’s still many episodes to do!).
I’m going to say that while Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) is presented as a stickler for the rules and a thorn in the side of Picard, Riker and Seven… I’ve a soft spot for him. His decisions are mostly logical and understandable, he’s a strategic but by-the-book leader – as are most who achieve that rank – and has little time for the people who became legends by tear up the rule book and taking huge gambles. We know Picard well enough to know why people follow him into battle, but to someone who has only read about their ‘exploits’ and the consequences thereof, it’s easy to see why Shaw would see Picard as a dangerous and disingenuous passenger who is subverting his authority… the same way that people might often have cast a side-eye towards Kirk a generation before. Shaw is absolutely right that his own primary mission as captain of the Titan is to safeguard the lives of his crew when at all possible and putting himself (and all aboard the Titan) in the line of fire after being led to and used by his visitors and his Number One officer is a hell of an ask. That he does step up to save Picard and Riker in the short-term is admirable, but that he then complains about the resulting stand-off which will likely see them all dead, is also a fair enough call.
As for Jack Crusher (played by Downton Abbey, Outlander and Eragon‘s Ed Speleers with more to do this week) we see that he’s a fast-talker and charmer with something of an infamous rap-sheet (who comes across as a less libido-driven version of Doctor Who‘s Captain Jack Harkness). He has certain moral principles – he’s happy to bend the rules to supply medical aid beyond borders – but there’s also a profit-margin factor that he can’t deny either. Even from these opening episodes it’s clear he has a knack for getting himself and others into trouble – but also looks for a way to stop everyone else paying the price. However, it’s still entirely unclear as to why Beverly didn’t tell Jean-Luc earlier (there needs to be a more compelling reason why she hasn’t spoken to any of the crew in two decades) and why he’s the plot-instigating target of Vadic who seems to have better things to do than chase a minor annoyance around.
Though the primary story revolves around Picard/Riker/Shaw’s stand-off with Amanda Plummer’s Vadic and her Shrike starship, we also spend some time with Raffi as she bucks her Starfleet Intelligence orders to ‘disengage’ and continues to seek out any and all information on whom could be behind the terrorist attack. Hurd continues to give us one of Picard’s most troubled characters – a person who has made a lot of mistakes – and is still crawling her way through more complicated and consequential choices – not least a chemical dependency that can be a liability for someone trying to maintain their cover and their integrity at the same time. It was reasonable to assume that her ‘handler’, anonymous behind an encoded signal, would remain so for most of the season until a big reveal, but when Raffi finds herself at the mercy of Sneed, a Ferengi kingpin who makes Quark look positively hygienic and well-adjusted, she’s saved by her mysterious ‘benefactor’ in the nick of time. Despite the clinical tone of the previous messages, it’s not a Vulcan or AI that’s sending the communications, but… drum-roll…Worf (another tick off the TNG bingo checklist) who has gone a little more grey than the last time we saw, him but isn’t quite the pacifist that early marketing suggested he had become. (He kills Sneed’s men with his Bat’leth and then goes full Highlander on Sneed himself – albeit in a ’15’ certificate style). We don’t get much context for the whys and wherefores of his methods or the nuances of the bigger mission, but no doubt that’s coming next week.
This episode might not have quite the attention that the premiere episode did and the pace is arguably slower, but on the strength of these two episodes, Star Trek: Picard is making all the right moves to re-engage its audience. As said previously, judgement on the complete season and its degree of success and structure will have to wait another couple of months to validate, but this season certainly seems to be playing to strengths…
- Production Design / VFX8