March 25, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 9, "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1"

It's hard to review this episode, as it is very much a setup for the season finale, with the fireworks still to come. Still, we get a surprise appearance, and a downer of a plot point, and a delightfully bonkers sort-of rescue on Soji's home planet.

No flashbacks, at least in the first scene: we're plunged right into the transwarp conduit, with La Sirena covering 25 light-years in 15 minutes. They shoot out above Soji's home planet of Coppelius, and unfortunately Narek's ship follows, firing on them. A brief engagement takes place, with Narek's ship disabled by Rios' fancy shooting. Soji, understandably, doesn't give a crap if Narek dies, but Picard (in a foreshadowing of the ethical issues he and Soji later debate) tells Raffi to beam Narek aboard. Before Raffi can do so, five bogeys ascend from the planet's surface--and these are honest-to-God giant orchids that grab the ships and bring them down to the surface. (They don't do so well with Seven of Nine's Artifact, which has followed La Sirena through the transwarp hub. The cube more or less crashlands and splits apart, although Seven, Elnor and many of the Ex-Borg survive and are trying to bring as many systems back online as possible.) This is about the craziest thing I have seen in a Star Trek episode--well, I guess TOS's planet-sized space amoeba is along the same lines--and it's so over-the-top (and so brief; they're only glimpsed in a couple of scenes and then vanish, and it's later established there are only ten of them, nowhere near enough to fight the fleet of 218 Romulan warbirds that is on the way) that it works. Unfortunately, on the way to the surface something happens to Picard; he blacks out, babbling incoherently.

Therein enters the depressing plot point: Agnes Jurati discovers Picard's brain disease, and that it has progressed to the terminal point. (Although one wonders how long this will stick, given that the series has already been renewed for Season 2.) Picard breaks the news to his crew, emphasizing, in Patrick Stewart's marvelous matter-of-fact delivery, that "Anyone who treats me like a dying man will run the risk of pissing me off." The orchids have set the ship down near the planet's main settlement, Coppelius Station, but our group first sets out for what remains of the Artifact.

There they reunite with Seven and Elnor, with--once again, grumble grumble--our woefully underused pair only getting a couple of scenes. Seven is once again, grumble grumble, given short shrift, as the aftermath of her hooking back up to a mini-collective is hardly dealt with. Elnor and Picard say goodbye, and Picard tells Seven "That's [saving the galaxy] all on you, now."

(Which of course is a prime and totally un-backdoor setup for The Qowat Milat Power Rangers or whatever they decide to call it. Nevertheless, pairing the cynical, ruthless, still-recovering Seven with the comparatively innocent and lethal Elnor is quite a thought.)

After Raffi plugs into the cube's long-range sensors and discovers the looming Romulan fleet, the group treks to Coppelius Station, where they discover the rest of the synths. (Anybody else get a strong "Way to Eden" vibe from this?) Soji tells her kin what is coming, and we meet the sister of the deceased Jana, Sutra--played by the same actor with Data-style golden skin and yellow contacts--who extracts the Admonition from Agnes Jurati's mind (because Sutra has apparently "taught herself" the Vulcan mind meld? Uh, sorry, that's a little bit far-fetched, people). The message of the Admonition drove so many Romulans mad because, as Sutra reveals, it was not meant for organic minds. It was meant for synthetics, a message from "an alliance of synthetic life" (presumably on a higher plane of existence?) that will, if summoned, rally to protect them from what these uber-synths view as an inevitable, murderous conflict between synthetic and organic life.

Speaking of Data...there is another appearance by Brent Spiner, in the form of the heretofore unheard of Altan Inigo Soong (A.I. Soong. Get it? Get it?), son of Data's original creator, who has been here working on the synths with Bruce Maddox. Altan, after delivering the mildest possible rebuke to Agnes Jurati ("Shame on you, Agnes") gives her the chance to redeem herself by carrying on Maddox's work. He reveals his so far incomplete creation: a golem, an as yet unactivated synth capable of holding an organic mind transfer. Altan hints he created this for himself...but this is surely the Big Bald Shakespearian Elephant in the Room, as I don't doubt this golem will be transferring an organic mind rather different from the one Altan intended.

Now that Sutra has unlocked the Admonition's message, she talks to Soji about summoning the higher-plane synths, viewing this as the only way to save themselves, even if the ubers wipe out organic life. Soji is very torn about this, and has a conversation with Picard about "the logic of sacrifice." She is about to reveal what Sutra is pressuring her to do when the newly captured Narek is dragged into the settlement. Narek is briefly imprisoned, but Sutra seizes upon his presence as a way to manipulate her people into doing what she wants, as she frees him (and either allows him to murder one of the synths or does it herself), and uses the woman's death to prod everyone into agreeing to broadcast the summoning signal.

Picard tries to shoot this down, making one of his trademark eloquent speeches about promising to advocate for them to the Federation, only to be shot down by Altan, who points out--somewhat rightfully, although he doesn't know that a Federation fleet is also coming--that Picard and Starfleet are hardly on good terms these days. The episode ends with Picard being placed on house arrest, Agnes Jurati throwing in her lot with the synths and working to protect them, Raffi and Rios off to fix La Sirena, and the final scene showing Commander Oh at the helm of her strike fleet, coming in on the synths' seemingly defenseless planet.

Again, it's a little hard to evaluate this episode without the totality of the finale. Still, like the last episode of Discovery's second season, I think we're in for some rootin-tootin', CGI-heavy space battles, with the additional excitement of a sword-swinging Elnor, judging by the previews. (Or at least I hope so.) We shall see.

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