April 5, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 10, "Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2"

And so we are at the end. I will start by saying that while I think the first season was (mostly) successful, the final episode was definitely a mixed bag. I think this episode laid bare showrunner Michael Chabon's flaws: while he is good with characterization and dialogue, he came up short on the plot end of the stick, at least for me. There were too many dropped and/or glossed over plot threads to make this conclusion successful. I hope some of these things will be dealt with in the second season. We shall see.

This episode foregoes the usual flashback and plunges right into the action: the downed Borg cube, sitting at the edge of a lake on Coppelius. (The bloody thing must weigh millions of tons--it's a wonder it didn't just punch a hole in the planet's crust.) We are given a sweet little scene of Elnor talking to Seven of Nine, asking her if the Ex-Borgs would be better off dead, given how the Romulans and the rest of the galaxy feels about them. Seven responds by asking him if she would be better off dead, if she should just put a phaser to her head and end it. Elnor says no, in his typical absolute candor-iffic fashion: "I'd miss you."

(And this is the first of my list of frustrations with the season as a whole. Elnor is a fascinating character, and they did almost nothing with him! Argh.)

We then switch between two scenes of Narek finding Narissa onboard the cube (I guess she didn't beam out to one of her ships when the Ex-B's piled on her in episode 8, "Broken Pieces," after all), and Soji coming to see Picard in house arrest. It occurred to me, watching this, that this is another hallmark of the series--intercutting two talky, exposition-heavy scenes with each other so the audience doesn't get bored. This editing trick has varying degrees of success--its best use was in the series' second episode, "Maps and Legends," with two scenes of Picard and the sorely missed Laris and Zhaban. In this case, we cut between the darkness of the downed cube and Narek and Narissa, and Picard in house arrest seeing the engineered Coppelian butterflies (which will be referenced later). Picard is still attempting to talk Soji out of activating the (apparently nanotech-based, self-building) beacon, and Narek is gathering some high-falutin', technobabbly grenades to use on the synth settlement. He also argues with Narissa, calling himself "the Zhat Vash washout who found Seb Cheneb" [the Destroyer]. He takes the grenades and leaves, followed by Elnor, and Agnes stands at the base of the beacon, watching as it goes up.

Aboard La Sirena, Rios and Raffi use the Magic Synthian Thingamajig given them in Part 1 to fix the broken intermix reactor and restore power, after which they are interrupted by Narek throwing rocks at the ship. He has had a change of heart after realizing Sutra intends to call down the Synthzillas on the galaxy's organic life. In all seriousness, actor Harry Treadaway gives a better performance in this episode than he has in all the episodes preceding, especially when the four of them (including Elnor, who has caught up with the rest), sit around the campfire and Narek relates the myth of Ganmadan, the Romulan equivalent of Ragnarok. If you remember, Narek and Narissa were raised by their aunt Ramdha, whose grasp on sanity after experiencing the psychic transmission of the Admonition was....tentative, to say the least. This last episode did a lot to expand Narek as a character, which is why (2nd on my list of frustrations), he simply vanishes during the climax, and Picard and Co. take off without a word said about him.

The four of them cook up a scheme to return to the settlement on the pretext of bringing in the Romulan traitor and turning him over to the synths. They hide one of Narek's grenades inside Rios' soccer ball. In the meantime, Agnes, who has been pretending to work with Altan Soong, distracts him while he is preparing to download the dead synth's memories and yank out one of the body's eyeballs, to use to scan at Picard's cell and gain entrance. (I swear, this series and eyes....) They make their way to La Sirena and Picard demonstrates how well he was watching Rios (apparently Rios and Raffi didn't get the Emergency Navigator up and running, which is my 3rd plot hole--a single line of dialogue would have taken care of this) when he manages to fire up the ship and get it on its way, in an attempt to stall the incoming Romulan fleet until the Federation gets there and/or he manages to talk Soji down. He's aided a bit in the "stalling" part when Altan Soong finishes downloading the dead synth's memories and realizes Sutra was the one that killed her, not Narek. This is enough to convince him that maybe, possibly, that beacon/portal shouldn't be activated after all, since his synths are no better than organics (apparently the idea of the Synthzillas destroying all organic life wasn't quite enough to change his mind), and he confronts Sutra and waves another Advanced Synthian Thingummy at her, shutting her off. (While Soji continues with her activation, but since she's a more advanced model than the golden-skinned, yellow-eyed Sutra, the Thingummy won't work on her, evidently. Though--#4--it would have been nice to have a quick aside of dialogue explaining this.) In the confusion, Rios charges forward, opens up his soccer ball, and hurls the activated grenade at the tower, and Soji catches it and throws it into the sky where it explodes.

Above the planet, the Romulan fleet pops in, and General Oh prepares to execute "Planetary Sterilization Pattern #5." Soji sends the giant orchids up, and there is a extremely CGI'd space battle with La Sirena swooping in and out of the orchids while they're being ripped to shreds. The orchids don't last too long, and Picard and Agnes cook up Stalling Tactic #2, which is a ripoff of the "Picard maneuver"--the one with the Stargazer, not the Captain's pulling down his tunic--mated with the Advanced Synthian Thingamajig, which projects an illusion of hundreds of La Sirenas, complete with warp signatures. (Apparently the disguised Commodore Oh missed reading about this maneuver during her Starfleet Security studies? #5 on my list.)

(Oh, and in another somewhat jarring intercut sequence, Narissa is attempting to get the downed cube's weapons systems on line, and Seven finds her. They fight, and Seven, with a magnificent snarl, says "This is for Hugh," as she drop-kicks Narissa down one of those endless, guard-rail-lacking Artifact chasms. Though we don't see Narissa hitting the bottom or a body, just in case they want to bring her back later.)

Back in space, the Synthian Thingamajig fakeout lasts just long enough for the Federation fleet to pop in, led by none other than Will Riker, who requested temporary reassignment once he learned of Picard's distress call. He tries to talk Oh down, but seeing as right at that moment Soji succeeds in opening the portal and some gigantic black metal Lovecraftian tentacles begin to slither through, Oh is preparing to fire anyway. Of course, this sets things up for one final stirring Picard-ian speech, of the type Sir Patrick Stewart does so well (and it's final in more ways than one, as Picard's brain abnormality has flared up and Agnes has to give him a shot of something to even enable him to talk). He manages to convince Soji to stand down and she closes the portal (#6--the mighty Synthzillas, responding to the call for help they encouraged fellow synths in peril to make, can't keep it open on their end?). At this Oh decides to beat a strategic retreat and Riker escorts the Romulans away, leaving the planet "in your [Picard's] capable hands," not knowing Picard is dying, as neither Picard nor Agnes says anything. (#7--Riker doesn't leave a few ships behind just in case the Romulans, notorious for being sneaky after all, don't double back? He doesn't even leave a ship to initiate First Contact and open diplomatic discussions?)

Soji disables the settlement's transporter block and beams Picard and Agnes directly down, but it's too late. Sir Patrick Stewart gets to do a death scene, which apparently actors love to do. Only he comes to sitting in a quiet library--and Data is there, or the remnant of Data from his downloaded memories into B4 and his one preserved positronic neuron, where he has been in stasis ever since the events of the final Next Generation film, Nemesis.

Thus Star Trek: Picard comes full circle from the first scene, as we have seen that Picard has been haunted by the android's death for twenty years. This was evidently done to give Data the sendoff he was denied in Nemesis. Data reveals that he is residing in a "sophisticated quantum simulation," and while everything around him is simulated, Picard is not--before his final brain death, Soji, Agnes and Altan Soong succeeded in downloading Picard's neural map into Altan's golem, and his new body is awaiting him. Data just has one favor to ask before Picard goes: he requests Picard turn off the simulation so he can experience the final step in his quest to become human, a human death.

#8 plot hole: This is a beautifully acted scene, but it's a bit of a crock. They can't create another golem and give Data another synth body, like they're doing with Picard? True, many of his memories would be missing, but what is remaining wouldn't be enough for him to function? Also, I'm sorry, I don't agree with the lovely philosophical bullshit Data is spouting--"Mortality gives meaning to human life," and (remember the synthetic butterflies) "A butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all." Brent Spiner certainly sells it, and of course he is too old to keep playing Data anyway. Still, the Data I remember from Next Gen (and it's certainly possible my memories are being viewed through rose-colored spectacles) would want to return and continue his journey, even if he had to relearn many things.

Anyway, Picard wakes up in his brand-new synthetic body, conveniently programmed to look just like his previous 94-year-old self, except that it's minus the brain abnormality. We find out Agnes tweaked it to age in line with what Picard's old body would have done, which presumably means she and Soong now know how long he will live. Picard fulfills his promise, turning off Data's quantum simulation while "Blue Skies" plays in the background and Sir Patrick Stewart gets to oversee another death scene, complete with Shakespearean quote: "We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep." The song continues playing as Data visibly ages and his simulation fragments and falls away, and into the final scene: everyone gathered on La Sirena. Agnes is kissing Rios, Seven and Raffi are holding hands (Elnor has two mommies!), and Soji is coming along with them. Then Rios brings the ship's engines online, and Picard gets to utter his trademark "Engage!" as the credits roll.

All well and good, and Data's second death was incredibly poignant. However.

#9 plot hole on my list: What the hell happened to the cube, and all the remaining Ex-Borgs, and why is Seven just running off and leaving them? What happened to Narek?

Finally, #10, the last and biggest: what will happen in Starfleet and the rest of the galaxy going forward, given the fact that OH HAI Y'ALL JUST INVENTED IMMORTALITY?? I mean, think about it. Altan Soong and Agnes Jurati have now successfully integrated a dying human mind into an android body, with apparent full transfer of memories and consciousness, evidently accomplished on the quantum level. Picard specifically asked if they had made him immortal, and they said no--which means they could have. If this ever gets out, can you imagine the immediate stampede to that planet? People suffering from terminal illnesses, parents trying to rescue their dying children, old people looking for a new (young) body, politicians and crime bosses seeking to extend their power, and just about every other mortal sentient being who doesn't want to say goodbye just yet? Talk about opening a Pandora's box of galaxy-wide proportions.

Furthermore, in a related aside: We find out the ban on synths is repealed in a throwaway comment by Soji? Really? After fourteen years of an isolated, xenophobic Federation that Picard ended up quitting Starfleet over?

Sorry. Nope nope nope. I loved what Michael Chabon did with the characters, and the cast is excellent, but in terms of plot threads, he crashed nearly all of his desperately spinning plates in this final episode. I really hope they tackle some of these things in Season 2, or I will be a wee bit ticked off. Maybe Guinan's return (confirmed for Season 2 by Stewart himself) will screw Picard's synthetic head on straight.

Best episodes of Season 1: Ep 6, "The Impossible Box," Ep 8, "Broken Pieces," and Ep 2, "Maps and Legends."

Worst: Ep 10, "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2."

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