Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 2 Tries to Traverse a Treacherous Path Down Memory Lane

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Buckle up kids, because it’s time to boldly go… on a journey of self-reflection!

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When Picard season 1 ended, Jean Luc had sacrificed his life in the process of protecting the android race known as synths, and preventing a galaxy threatening war. However, his consciousness was preserved and uploaded into an android body and he finally gained closure (and said goodbye) to his old friend Data. When we pick up again in season 2, Picard is perhaps finally enjoying semi-retirement on his vineyard estate with the help of his Romulan housekeeper (and close friend) Laris.

However, this Admiral Jean Luc Picard we’re talking about. A man who is never content for long and never one to easily open himself up to intimate personal relationships. This season Picard will be forced to examine parts of himself and his history, that he has been running from ever since he joined Starfleet. This will all stem from the return of Q, Picard’s long-time frenemy, and some time travel to 2024 Los Angeles. Picard will also be seeking the guidance of Guinan, and Picard and his crew will also come face to face with a very disturbing alternate timeline, and see versions of themselves that might shake them to their core. And of course, the results of this forced self-reflection will either save the galaxy or lead to its doom, especially with the potential return of the Alpha Quadrant’s most feared enemy – The Borg.

The overarching theme of the season is “the roads not taken” and what happens when one reflects (or tries not to) on the choices and actions that could have been made differently. A theme that feels quite timely, for both an elderly character looking back on his long life, and for our own culture as we face down the impending dooms of climate change and the escalating violent conflicts across the world. Is our present situation something that could have been avoided? Where would we be if we had said yes instead of no, had stayed instead of run away? It’s easy to say that hindsight is 20/20 but what happens when we are too afraid to even look back and assess? Picard is a man who has had romantic dalliances, but never long-term relationships, and this season reveals what in his past has influenced that choice, but was it the right one? And if he survives, will he return and finally open himself up to Laris? This goes deeper than just nostalgia (the motivating factor behind bringing Picard back to life at all), not looking back upon the past with rose-colored glasses and fondness, but with clarity, honesty, and bravery. 

Of course, Picard isn’t the only one saddled with this galaxy-saving therapy assignment. When his crew is ripped from their timeline, all of them will be confronted with a darker side of themselves. This will put Seven of Nine and Raffi’s new friendship to the test, and even Q – who has forced all of this upon them – is potentially doing this because of an urgent need of his own. What will happen to the universe if someone as powerful as Q has to look back and reflect on all of the times he has treated humanity, and other alien races, as his own personal board game. Q is not well, and his urgency is the key to unlocking the mystery at the heart of this season.

Q faces off against Picard in season 2 of Star Trek Picard
(Image: Paramount+)
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Unfortunately, an interesting thematic premise is hinged upon Picard, and Starfleet, making a decision so completely out of character it leaves the audience wondering if he is now senile (or if the writers of Star Trek: Picard think he is stupid and naive). It’s truly a moment so shocking and bizarre, especially when another legacy character is the only common sense on the bridge screaming at him to not do it, that it becomes almost impossible to get back on board for the main story arc of the season. The other troubling element is what appears to be a rehash (or maybe re-mix is the better word) of the divisive (love it, hate it, barely tolerate it) Mirror Universe. Now, it’s not the mirror universe (an alternate universe in every single Star Trek series, where the Terran Empire rules with a horny, bloody fist until being toppled in Deep Space Nine), but it’s so similar that it begs the question of why? Why make a slightly different mirror timeline and not just use the one already long-established? Hopefully, this is just one of the many mysteries waiting to be unraveled this season.

Seven of Nine, Raffi, Elnor, and Dr Jurati in Star Trek: Picard season 2
(Image: Paramount+)

Overall though, I continue to be a sucker for Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, (he was the Star Trek captain I grew up with), because Sir Patrick Stewart is such a commanding performer. His Picard still possesses all of the iron will of his heyday but he is also now imbued with a fragility, a brittle crumbling. Stewart is not trying to hide that Picard is an old man, in fact, his age (and all of the strengths and weaknesses that come with it) remains central to the story. Honestly, it is the cast that continues to be the saving grace for the show. You can feel the fun that Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan are having as their characters bond on-screen. And it’s hard not to feel joyous to see Ryan’s Seven of Nine have human friendships on her own terms. And of course, the return of Q (John de Lancie) and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) has me most excited of all. Two of the best characters, and actors, from The Next Generation, have returned to resume their perches as “devil” and “angel” upon Picard’s shoulders.  And I will be staying tuned in to see the results. 
Star Trek: Picard airs Thursdays on Paramount+.

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