Trapped inside in what appears to be a nebula and severe gravity well, the Titan’s power-systems are rapidly failing. With minutes or hours at best left, there seems no way to escape the situation and even if there was, the Shrike would be waiting to destroy them. Picard and Riker are still at odds, but are coming to the realisation that they may have to set their affairs in order if they can’t come up with a solution.
As Picard and his ‘new’ son Jack try to find that elusive common ground, Captain Liam Shaw reveals his previous encounter with Picard and why it framed his opinion of the man.
Working together, they realise there’s only one desperate and unlikely chance of escape, but with a shape-changing saboteur still on board, every second, every action and every decision is going to count…
This is one of those episodes that in many ways might not have worked as well as it does. It’s not an action episode, it’s really a selection of walk and talks full of discussing your feelings and regrets… what might read as a diversion for the most part, the calm before – or more accurately during – the storm. Often those interludes work better in theory than in practise, as momentary build-ups and a filler or a becalming just before a season finale rather than a high-point… especially when it’s this early an episode in the run and the sense of any real ‘peril’ is doubtful. However, the years we have invested in many of these characters and the more solemn approach to their possible ‘final’ predicament means that the soul-searching on show, in and of itself, actually works well. If our veterans are worried, it must be serious.
Last week’s episode ‘Disengage‘ left Picard and Riker at greater odds than they’ve been in a very long time with some real anger in there but likely not a lot of time to dwell on it. Gravity wells and regrets both suck. So, this episode, ‘No Win Scenario‘ has to balance the act of not discounting those feelings with the necessity of people having to work together and through something or even face the end together. Both as director and actor Jonathan Frakes gets it just right. Riker’s not going to apologise (nor is Picard) but, equally, with the exception of furrowed brows and glances they aren’t going to petulantly hold grudges and doom everyone while they sulk or posture. Like life-long friends, the divides can be… divisive, but as someone once said ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ and coming back together takes practical priority. They have to live together or die together even if their orbits don’t exactly align.
There’s an argument that Riker accepts the certainty of death a little too quickly – after all, ‘certain’ death was something he and Picard faced on a number of occasions and but still managed to survive the experience. Yet, it’s keeping with Riker’s more recent personal loss – the death of his son and the clash of command styles – and shows the weight of a long career which seems to be being cut short. He doesn’t want to die but he’s now facing the reality of it as inevitably part of life. You can only cheat it so many time before the odds catch up. Trying to record a ‘message in a bottle’ for Deanna, he can’t quite find the words until he’s actually survived it again and realised he can’t shut down, especially when you’re in love with an empath. (I hope this won’t be the extent of Marina Sirtis’ contribution – confined to a grainy communications screen)
Picard and son Jack have a head-to-head on the holodeck (which, as always, has a conveniently different system to explain why it can be used in the middle of an emergency despite power being needed elsewhere). Trying to find common ground with his son, a person for whom he has very little common ground, Picard talks of past life-and-death situations (in particular one with Jack’s namesake, Beverly’s eventual husband Jack Crusher) and their inspirational escape back to safety…and you suspect for one moment this is going to be one of those miraculous/contrived ‘Wait… I remember how we can get out of this!‘ type of Hail Mary reprieves. It’s not. It’s actually the careful laying down of differences in style and experience which is shown in sharp relief when Todd Stashwick’s Captain Liam Shaw gatecrashes their talk.
What follows is quite the masterclass in acting and dueling narratives, shifting the tone from high adventure to tragedy in one swift, well-placed kick. (If there’s one thing this third season will likely be remembered for it will be the fine-tuned balance between franchise references and the actual, real consequential weight of legacy that’s been askew in the previous seasons). It’s interesting that the holodeck sequences with their setting for the telling of stories, book-ends some of Picard’s regrets, especially when we/he realises that jack did attempt to reach out years before and Picard missed the opportunity. The holodeck is rumoured to play a further important, even elementary, part in this season’s arc, but it’s rarely been used quite as well as a support structure.
The time Picard spent as Locutus, under the control of the Borg (in the now classic TNG episodes ‘The Best of Both Worlds‘ has been returned to over the years and acts as one of ‘modern’ Trek‘s major touchstones – a remembrance of a time when Picard was almost completely compromised and the subsequent huge emotional cost to a man who prides himself on his conduct, even after being freed…and others on a more mortal level. Shaw’s story of the battle at Wolf 359 and the thousands of deaths there is harrowing, especially in the way he explains his own survival, picked on an apparent whim by his commanding officer who was forced to select ten crew-members to survive out of fifty when the number of escape-pods on their ship were compromised. It gives understandable context to Shaw’s abbrasive and dismissive attitude to Picard from the moment he arrived and when the latter took control of Shaw’s ship. Shaw might be an annoyance (“Forgive me… at some point being an asshole became a substitute for charm…”) but he cuts through pomposity (you have to love him dismissing last season’s entire arc with a crack about “…all that weird shit on the Stargazer “) and he has every right to bristle in the presence of a man who seems to thrive on grand adventures and sailing off to success but which personally cost Shaw so much and continues to do so. It also explains the abrasive attitude to Seven of Nine. Much of the credit goes to the performance of Stashwick who has quickly given us a new character who is now an essential player and counterpoint – I suspect we’ll be seeing more of him. We definitely should.
What’s Jack’s other secret? Was the Daystrom debris just another VFX nod or something more? There’s a lot still to explore. The previous of seasons of Picard started strong and quickly lost their bearings. This time around, the season started strong and has only improved on a week to week basis, giving all the cast some outstanding moments and decorating it all in a darker but elegant style. It’s boldly going so strongly that it seems impossible we’ve waited this long for it.
- Production Design / VFX9