There are going to be some major spoilers in this review. If you don’t want to know how this season ends, you’re better off not reading just yet.
I loved Season One of Picard. Looking back at it two years later, it’s easy to see the flaws. It had a bit too much going on, and the resolution was a bit rushed, but it was still a good show. More than anything, it was nice to see Star Trek once again boldly going into the future. While there was darkness, there was optimism too. And having (in some cases re) introduced a fine batch of characters, the stage was all set for a great second season.
Season Two, Episode One fulfils that promise. Bringing Starfleet back to the fore of Picard’s life, it offers some of the best Star Trek this side of Enterprise. Rios is a captain, Elnor is in the Academy, and there’s a mysterious signal that needs to be investigated. The source of that signal is one of the best hooks Star Trek has ever dangled, and makes full use of Picard’s personal experience over three and a half decades. You see, the Borg are back. And it seems they want to join the Federation. If Picard had followed through on this hook, I have no doubt that it would have been a more interesting series than what we got.
No sooner have the Borg arrived on the scene than Q is back, and throwing Picard into a dark timeline where humanity rules through fear and genocide. No, not the Mirror Universe, but it may as well be. Okay, I thought, so we’re doing an alternate timeline story. Not as interesting, but I’ll see where it goes. Where it went was precisely nowhere, because within an episode, we’re thrown back to the year 2024, and Picard must set the timeline right. And here in 2024 is where we remain for all but the last ten minutes of the series.
Look, I understand what they were trying to do. Star Trek’s stories have almost always been analogies for present day affairs. But when you strip away the analogy and metaphor, you’re left with a much poorer show. If it had remained in the future, I could have handled it, but 2024 is only two years away. I have never enjoyed episodes of future-set shows that take the characters back to our present. ‘Carpenter Street’ is one of the weaker Xindii episodes. ‘Future’s End’ is my least favourite Voyager two-parter. The only episode of Dark Matter I don’t love is when they go to small-town America. It’s just not a trope I care for, and while I can stomach an episode or two, seven is far too many.
There is good material in here. Patrick Stewart is at his best when giving speeches, and he has plenty here. The rest of the cast aren’t too shabby either, and it’s a shame that many of them won’t be returning for the show’s third, and final, season. John de Lancie and Whoopi Goldberg return for one final outing, and their alien aging process is handled in two very different, but equally successful, manners. The directing, scripting, and editing in general are all stellar. If we could have the premise of Discovery with this level of production, I’d be a very happy man. They’ve even (mostly) fixed the problem of having too many competing episodes. But they’ve wandered into a problem that affects a lot of serialised shows. This show doesn’t move so much as plod along, dripping plot and taking detours that aren’t quite distinct enough to be called episodic. The plot is kept thin by having problems arise that are almost immediately dispatched without disturbing the turgid waters. Even the final episode, having wrapped up not only this excursion to the past, but also the Picard and Q storyline that’s been evolving since ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ can’t help but throw in a last-minute spatial anomaly that comes from (and goes) nowhere.
At this point I think it’s clear that Star trek is ill-suited for serialised storytelling. Picard is s a sluggish beast, both the Xindii Crisis and the Dominion War dragged on for longer than they had to, Voyager dodged a bullet with its truncated ‘Year of Hell,’ and even though Discovery has risen beyond the disjointed arcs of its earlier series, the DMA and Species 10-C were better employed as a background threat than the focus of an episode. Star Trek has had many great episodes in its 56 year history, but they are great because they are self-contained. ‘Stormy Weather’ proves that current Star Trek shows can get it right, but Picard shows the perils of getting it wrong.
Season Two of Picard has moments of greatness, but they are scattered few and far between. The highs simply don’t outnumber the lows. Because of its single story spread thin across too many episodes, it gains the distinction of being the first season of any Star Trek I can honestly say I did not enjoy. I can only hope it’s the last.