In this show's first season, the showrunner was the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, and you could tell. The pacing was contemplative and deliberate, concentrating more on character than slam-bang action set pieces. Of course, the show was also introducing new characters and their backstories (even as certain past characters, such as Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine and Jonathan Del Arco's Hugh, were carryovers from Voyager and The Next Generation respectively, and of course Brent Spiner's Data). Personally, I enjoyed the slower pace and greater emphasis on character in Season 1. Naturally, when you have such a superlative actor as Patrick Stewart anchoring the show (though surprisingly, Jeri Ryan stood up as the cast member most able to go toe to toe with Stewart), reading laundry lists could be made interesting.
But now we have a new showrunner, Terry Matalas, and that also shows. The first episode was a little bit slower, setting up the season's themes and revisiting past favorites (such as Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan), and catching up on the cast in the approximately two-year break between the first season and the next. But with this episode and the appearance of Q, the story is moving briskly along, with crisp direction and some explosive set pieces. It does appear we're going to do time travel again (back to 2024--really?) to try to fix a break in time that turned the Federation into the xenophobic human-supremacist Confederacy, and our Captain into General Jean-Luc Picard, possibly the greatest war criminal in history.
The jury is still out on this storyline, I think, if only because this is some pretty well-trodden road. However, once again Patrick Stewart delivers a great performance, sliding between shock and bewilderment when he confronts Q (played with delicious unhinged nastiness by John de Lancie--the opener with the two of them setting the stage is the best part of the episode), to despair when he sees a recording of himself as General Picard boasting about "subjugating savage civilizations and boldly conquering war-like alien worlds"--indeed, this entire sequence is really a horrifying inside-out reversal of Stewart's monologue over The Next Generation's opening credits--to horror over the murderous authoritarian megalomaniac he has to play as the General. But damn, Stewart does it so well it's just chilling, especially in the "Eradication Day" sequence near the end, when the General is supposed to execute the last of the Borg, the Borg Queen, before a bloodthirsty screaming crowd, and Stewart gets them pumped up even higher with a scowl and a few thrusts of his fist.
(I also must highlight this episode's score. It's very martial, discordant, dark and creepy, and fits the setting perfectly.)
However, there are trade-offs for this faster pace, and the character moments I so enjoyed in the previous season are mostly missing here. What character moments exist are a bit cringing, especially when Agnes Jurati and Cristobal Rios start arguing about their failed relationship in the middle of a crisis. I do realize Agnes is the type to babble on and on about things as a way of focusing her mind, as if she could solve a problem by throwing words at it, but for crying out loud that was not the time. I also would like to rap the knuckles of whoever is mishandling one of my favorite characters from Season 1, Elnor, the fascinating combination of innocent Romulan child and deadly sword-wielder. The writers clearly do not know what to do with him, and of course in this episode he gets shot as our crew tries to make their escape back into time.
I don't know how much we're going to see of the Confederation, as the show's next stop will be 2024. And a lot of themes were laid down in the first episode that remain to be followed up on, especially with Q's insistence that Picard has to do "penance." For what is still unstated, although Q insists that Picard knows. We shall see.