Frontier Day has arrived with all the Starfleet ships gathered close to Earth for the celebration. Picard and the crew of the Titan, still trying to work out the nature of the Changelings’ plan, have run out of time. But as they discover the nature of Jack Crusher’s secret and race to prevent catastrophe, the stakes are raised only higher.
Can the Titan, currently the most wanted ship in the galaxy, take on the might of every other starship and with an unholy alliance now exposed against them, what will be the personal and galactic cost?
If Star Trek: Picard wanted to have the internet simultaneously gnashing its teeth in anguish and swooning with nostalgic bliss, then the penultimate episode of its acclaimed third season should provide, well… the best of both worlds.
Jack’s escape from the Titan is rather quick and effortless, to the extent I suspected in vain that all was not what it seemed. Once the inherent danger of a guy who can telepathically control others is established and the need for severe protocols accepted, sending Picard in with two guards outside the door seems not only insufficient but positively reckless. It gives us a chance for the two men to discuss Picard’s trauma and his abject failings as a parent but might as well have opened the cell door and invited an open day. Minutes of screen-time later and Jack’s hit light-speed and uncovered a super-secret Borg cube and a off-camera voice that belongs to Alice Krige (rather than the late Annie Wersching).
There’s undeniably an inherent logic and a legitimate trail of clues that lead to Jack’s secret being linked to the Borg and the legacy that both he and Jean-Luc share with the classic menace. With the aid of some convincing-enough technobabble and narrative needs, we learn that Picard’s time as ‘Locutus’ left within him some deliberate digital detritus, a dormant mitochondrial ‘program’, a kind of failsafe. Picard genetically passed it on to Jack and it’s finally activated at full force. As threats go it’s both microscopic and galactic. The Borg were the definitive enemy of the Next Generation era and we’ve already had references to them this year, including Shaw’s key character monologue back in No Win Scenario.
However, I’ll be honest that in some ways it feels just a little too obvious. The first season dealt with synthetic beings and the legacy of the Borg. Last season’s Borg Queen ran interference through an often muddled time-travel tale and the Season Two resolution effectively evolved them into something just a little less malevolent under a transfused Agnes Jurati – who promised the cyborgian race would place nice in their own voyage of discovery. So that endgame and Beverly’s strange line of dialogue that the Borg haven’t been heard from in over a decade seem to wholly rewrite those developments and run roughshod over Shaw’s continuity reference about the ‘weird shit’ concerning the Stargazer’. And, to be honest, familiarity does breed just a little nanode of contempt – we’ve been to the well/hive so many times that part of me wishes that we’d had another nemesis for this outing (or, more accurately, had been done this well before). And – hugely relevant to the season long story-arc: why is Jack important or even needed if the conspiracy can happen perfectly well without him?
The Changelings seemed to be the big threat for so long – the ‘enemy can look like us’ idea always makes a chilling one – so it also feels a little disappointing that they are now seemingly reduced to just a tool or middle-management cog in the far more in-your-face, action-filled assimilation machine. Some hybrid Borg-organic race might be interesting, but (so far and with only an hour to go) there’s little time given to the hows and whys of the Borg/Changeling union’s origins when both races would have seemed utterly opposed to such on a primal principle and when Vadic’s string of Changelings came from a Starfleet lab. Indeed, I’m still mentally trying to join a lot of the season’s dots as to just how this assimilation conspiracy actually began and evolved with so many of the factors we’ve seen so far or whether some of the specifics were decided much later and then steered in general directions.
(It’s been good to see Marina Sirtis back as Troi, but her actions as a telepathic counsellor have seemed rather reckless throughout this season: reducing Riker’s grief without asking and initiating Jack’s mental journey and then running away and leaving just when his trauma is revealed).
The entire fleet of Federation ships now under one control factor seems to be a great dramatic deceit for a penultimate episode and certainly harkens back to the days of The Best of Both Worlds, though it’s all handled pretty quickly and with such computer-screened ‘ease’ (most of the drama happening over the comms or off camera) that it’s possible to downplay the impact and the fact that ‘shuttles’ aren’t affected it a bit of a get-out. We briefly see Admiral Shelby (another recurring TNG character) aboard the USS Enterprise-F and talking about the legacy of the NX-01 and Jonathan Archer (but also, out of character, endorsing the obviously-dodgy synchronisation plan) but it’s hard to tell if we also see her demise. The biggest loopholeof the episode is that the Borg ‘infection’ doesn’t work on anyone over the age of 25 which seems like a hurried narrative script ‘fix’.
The less-vague death of Todd Stashwick’s Liam Shaw is perhaps more of a shock than it should be because, trope though it may be, supporting characters rarely have a great survival rate… after all, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one etc etc. (Yes, it provides synchronicity because of Shaw’s survival due to his commanding officer at Wolf 359, but is there no way this could have been reworked/kept vague with just minor scene editing after his popularity?) Yet it does come as a body blow and likely points to the fact that no-one worked out early enough just how popular the character would be. All the recent talk – and tsumani of support – for a Star Trek: Legacy spin-off with Shaw at the helm would now seem to be for naught, which is an innate shame on a creative land business level and for a character that seemed wonderfully fresh and irreverent in a series otherwise swimming in nostalgia.
There’s no doubt that seeing the Next Generation crew back on the show’s bridge is no less than mainlining nostalgic crack. In the story, Geordi has spent two decades single-handedly restoring it to working glory – which even by his talents is still a big achievement – and in reality the production-department has done us equally proud over much short a time. Though we ultimately spend a few too many slow beats to make this a true dramatic climax (there’s a war on, people!) rather than just a reverential one, it’s full of fully-earned sweet moments. The humour throughout is welcome… Data trying to be positive by noting ‘ “I hope we die more quickly!“, Worf refusing to take blame for what happened to the Enterprise E, Riker asking if the bridge seems just a bit smaller than it should be and Picard noting that being here makes him realise how much he misses… the carpet (because – yes – every show since has been a shiny linolieum/chrome mix) is die-hard fanboy bliss.
Emotionally, this Terry Matalas-directed entry provides all the ‘feels’ and sets the scene well for the coming finale, but that last episode will be the true barometer of how we’ll judge the series entire. Not to be a naysayer, but that Borg Queen-ish whisper in the base of the brain wonders if, in an effort to join the galaxy of dots and agenda, we could still have a last-minute fumble in the rush to the finish-line and have to accept that closer inspection could leave some seams and hanging threads in the tapestry. (A LOT happens off-screen this episode and it would be a shame if so many key narrative elements were relegated the same way next week). We know Tim Russ’ Tuvok will appear again, there’s rumours of Janeway and one suspects that Jack will prove the very-last-second key to stopping an otherwise unbeatable force from within, though it’s not likely to be as easy as the ‘sleep’ solution from TNG.
The last chapter of this superior run – and apparently entitled The Last Generation – could yet be the best of all worlds, but it will need a decent balance of nostalgia, action, pathos and logic to, well… make it so…
(Some US fans will watch the Star Trek: Picard finale early next Wednesday on select IMAX screens – if the booking website overcomes its problems – and Paramount+ audiences will see it next Thursday)
- Production Design / VFX10