Star Trek: Picard Episode 10 Review: Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2

Star Trek: Picard finishes its first season by changing the nature of this character and world forever.

Star Trek: Picard Episode 10
Photo: CBS All Access

This Star Trek: Picard review contains MAJOR spoilers for the season finale.

Star Trek: Picard Episode 10

Star Trek: Picard Season 1 had its strengths and weaknesses, as all TV series do, but let it never be said that this show doesn’t have anything important to say about the world. Some TV stories lead with plot, others lead with character, a few even lead with setting. Star Trek: Picard—like every other great Star Trek series before it—leads with theme.

Some Star Trek shows are better at this than others. Star Trek: Discovery, for example, doesn’t often seem like it knows what it wants to say—about the future, about now, about being human. It too has its strengths, but thematic focus isn’t one of them and, if there’s anything that has defined Star Trek as a franchise, it’s the urgency and eloquence with which it delivers its message: a better world, a better way, is possible.

Ideally, of course, a story doesn’t need to sacrifice one of the elements of storytelling at the altar of another. The absolute best TV stories manage to execute plot, character, theme, and setting masterfully, but, you know, that’s hard. Good or pretty good TV shows can usually get away with prioritizing one or two of those and doing the others OK. Star Trek: Picard is one such show, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its Season 1 finale.

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The Picard finale might not have always fit perfectly together plot and/or character-wise—who even knows how the vestiges of the Romulan Empire are organized at this point—but I forget these confusing ambiguities, become totally ensconced in this story, when Patrick Stewart delivers one of the themes of this show, gift-wrapped, in a rousing speech that fits oh-so-snugly with his character as we’ve always known him. Jean-Luc Picard is theme personified, and Stewart is a strong enough actor, that, at least for this viewer, his role as theme-deliverer is never pedantic, always inspiring. And boy did he get some good theme-delivering lines and speeches in this episode (occasionally sharing this role with the remnant of Data living in B-4’s brain).

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” picks up just where “Part 1” left off. The synth community hiding on Copellius has decided to launch a beacon that may or may not bring a humanity-destroying “uber-synth” (as Agnes calls it) to this corner of the universe. Soji has sided with Sutra and the other synths, who have locked Picard away to keep him from stopping their plan. Meanwhile, a Romulan fleet of warbirds is set to arrive at the planet to destroy all synthetic life they find there. Amidst this chaos, we find our hero, Narek, making his way across the Copellian wilderness.

If you sensed any sarcasm in that last sentence, congratulations, dear reader, your radar is finely-tuned. As Picard moves to wrap up its major Season 1 plots, it’s hard to ignore the inconsistency/underdevelopment of Narek and his fellow Romulans. They’re just evil, I guess? (It’s still unclear what, exactly, the Admonition does to a Romulan brain. We seem to be forgiving Agnes for acting under its influence, so…) And maybe the Zhat Vash aren’t as secret as we have been led to believe? Because Commodore Oh has managed to whip up an entire fleet from what we’ve been led to believe is a fractured Romulan Empire.

Anyway, after Sutra released Narek from the synth village in the last episode, he made his way to the Artifact—for what specific purpose, it is unclear. In this episode, we see him find Narissa (or more accurately, she finds him). If you were hoping for some kind of explanation as to how Narissa escapes the zombie pig pile we last saw her in during “Broken Pieces,” then you’re out of luck. She’s just alive, OK?

The siblings check in, and vaguely talk about Narissa booting up the Artifact’s weapon systems for nefarious Romulan use. Narek’s plan to gather bombs to take out the space orchids is fine, but mostly it seems like, narratively, the show needs him to be on the Artifact so he can see his sister one last time. This is not the same thing as masterfully-drawn character-driven plot, as how Narek feels about his sister is unclear. Did he check in with her during his tailing of the La Sirena? Did he already know she was alive? It’s hard to tell in their reunion scene, and that’s a missed opportunity for two characters the season has spent a fair amount of time on.

Narek almost immediately makes his way to the La Sirena, where he effectively convinces Raffi, Rios, and a most reluctant Elnor (same, buddy) to help him take out the synth beacon Soji is preparing. He does this through a good old-fashioned story around the campfire (yes, they apparently have time for a campfire—sadly, there are no s’mores, though Elnor is a total marshmallow), telling the ancient myth (or, as Narek knows it, history) of the previous synth apocalypse. Ronald D. Moore’s voice comes over the campfire: “All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.”

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It’s unclear which (if any) members of the group actually believe Narek’s ghost story or if they just want to save JL, but they team up with the Romulan and come up with a plan to take out the beacon using Narek as a fake prisoner (Chewbacca-style), a soccer ball, and their winning smiles.

Meanwhile, Agnes, who has been faking allegiance to the synths this whole time, breaks Picard out of his very swanky room arrest. She might have a harder time with this if Dr. Soong weren’t distracted by his revelation that it wasn’t Narek who killed Saga, but rather Sutra. Agnes and Picard high-tail it out of synth town, somehow missing the rest of the La Sirena crew as they head back to the ship.

I honestly thought Dr. Soong was in on this plan—he seems to have far more allegiance to the future of synths than he does the future of organics (and the kind of belief system that requires him to think of these futures as separate from one another)—but a later, major plot development require that Soong volunteer the spare synth body he has lying around, so he is instead horrified at the actions Sutra has taken to rally her fellow synths behind her plan rather than totally on board with her plan of potential organic mass murder.

Soong has a device that switches Sutra off, which is both convenient (though not without its canon precedent) and pretty disturbing, if you think about how Soong presumably has this for all of the synths living in the village, which grants him a kind of authoritarian control over them all. However, the episode isn’t interested in exploring this synth community and the individuals who live in it as anything other than a monolithic backdrop for the actions of other, better characters, so, in the course of this episode, I am fine with Soong taking out one Isa Briones character so we can focus on the one we have spent far more time with.

The La Sirena crew (plus the terrible Narek) converge on the beacon-building gathering. They almost succeed in bombing the beacon, but Soji is too quick. She snatches the bomb from the air, throwing it far into the sky to explode. Somehow, the plot contorts so that we are meant to be rooting for Narek, as he—the abusive ex-boyfriend who Soji trusts least of all—is the one who tries to convince Soji to stop the beacon.

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It’s not that I am completely shut to the possibility of Narek having any kind of redemption arc, if that’s what the show is going for, it’s that: I can’t tell if that’s what the show is going for? Past that, he has made no moves toward earning it or even demonstrating that he wants it. Like Agnes (though in a very different way), how we are meant to feel about Narek shifts based on what the plot requires of that character.

A better show would let character drive plot, but Star Trek: Picard isn’t quite there yet. It’s why, when Soji is shooting the synth beacon into the sky, I have no idea what she is going to do. Not because the series has built a deeply complex character with many layers and motivations, but because I still have no idea who Soji is. I can do the mental math to guess why she might want to send the beacon, just as I can do the mental math to guess why she would not, but it is not there on the screen or in her character. She is still a blank slate for others to influence with their stronger characterizations, Picard most of all, which is deeply unfortunate for a show trying to convince us that synths are humans, too.

Unsurprisingly, Narek’s plan doesn’t work. Luckily, Jean-Luc has a plan of his own, and it involves, as Agnes describes it, doing “one impossible thing at the time”—and this is when the episode starts to get really, really good.

First, the dynamic duo manages to get the La Sirena in the air, next they face off against an entire fleet of Romulan warbirds and, in the ultimate display of “The Picard Maneuver,” use synth technology to convince the fleet they are many instead of one. It’s a nonsensical gimmick, but it’s a fun nonsensical gimmick rooting in nostalgia, and it’s not what the entire climax rests on.

No, that would (first) be the Federation fleet finally showing up, led by Acting Captain Will Riker. The Romulans attack and massive, glorious space battle commences. Space is filled with ships dodging the giant orchids launched by the synths from the surface. It’s weird and beautiful and tense and doesn’t go on for long enough to lose its wonder.

Because Picard has the most important part of his plan to enact: convincing Soji to stop the beacon, which he does, moments after some truly terrifying robotic tentacles begin to reach through the portal it seems to have created. How does Picard do it? By trusting Soji to make the right choice. Again, this would have landed better if Soji’s characterization had been more consistent and detailed throughout the season, but Patrick Stewart knows how to deliver a speech, and deliver a speech does he ever.

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We trust you to make the right choice. I trust you, Soji. I know you. I believe in you. That’s why I saved your lives, so that you could save ours in return. That’s the whole point. That’s why we’re here: to save each other.

Jean-Luc Picard’s speeches work because he believes in them wholeheartedly. Because he lives his values. Because Patrick Stewart is a damn fine actor who seemingly lives and believes Picard’s values, too. It’s a powerful moment, not only within the space of the narrative, but for anyone listening at home who needs the reminder—as we always do but perhaps especially now—that we all belong to one another and must honor that fact. That everything we do has an effect on the world we live in, and the people we share it with. Jean-Luc Picard trusts you to make the right choice, and he may be a fictional space captain, but I still want to make him proud.

What follows are some of the episode and season’s best moments. Picard falls, finally taken down by the brain condition he was warned about earlier in the season. He does what he promised: gave his life, in some sense, to show the synths how much he values theirs.

While this season hasn’t always been the strongest plot-wise and, sometimes, even when it comes to character, it has never lost sight of its themes: appreciating the preciousness of life in the face of death, but appreciating the responsibility that gift of life bestows upon us. The first season of Star Trek: Picard is a demonstration of how seriously Jean-Luc Picard takes that responsibility, that gift.

For a long breath of this episode, I thought Picard had truly killed off its main character and would have continued on without him for the planned second season. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but I would have been willing to walk down that path with this show. That being said, I am glad I don’t have to. The transfer of Picard’s consciousness into a synth body and brain opens up a hole can of worms for this world that I’m not sure this show is actually up for or interested in exploring, but I am not ready to give this character up, even if his prolonged life weakens the narrative fabric of this world just a little.

While Picard Season 1 left many a plot and character thread dangling, the series did an excellent job when it came to exploring what Data has meant to Jean-Luc Picard and, to a lesser yet inextricable extent, vice versa. It bookends, roughly, the season with a conversation between the two: first, in Picard’s dream, and second in the “massively complex quantum simulation” made possible by B-4’s brain. They speak of mortality and they speak of love, and they speak of how one cannot exist without the other.

“A butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.” And Data so wants to be a butterfly, which is to say: to be human. He was all along, of course, but Data has never been one to be imprecise. This last vestige of him lived on long after the Data the crew of the Enterprise loved had left them. Now, he is gone, too, and Data can finally sleep. But not Picard. No, he still has more work to do.

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The episode ends with JL, Raffi, Rios, Seven, Elnor, Agnes, and Soji on the bridge of the La Sirena. The synth travel restrictions have been lifted—good news for both Picard and Soji—though it’s unclear how wide the restoration of synth rights actually is (or at what point they were at to begin with, 14 years prior). It’s also unclear how many people know that Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is, in fact, synthetic now. Right now, it doesn’t matter. Picard is where he belongs: with his crew, amongst the stars.

Additional thoughts.

  • Earlier this week, I coincidentally rewatched the TNG Season 5 two-parter “Time’s Arrow,” which you may better remember as: the one when the crew finds Data’s severed head. It ended up being the perfect prologue to this finale—Data’s thoughts on how mortality gives life meaning in “Time’s Arrow” are echoed in the Picard finale—and would also work as a nice chaser.
  • “Because, I’d miss you.” – Elnor, to Seven of Nine, continuing to win my heart
  • “To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.”
  • This episode was directed by Akiva Goldsman, who also directed the previous episode. Goldsman has also directed two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
  • Apparently, Narek is a Zhat Vash “washout”? Did we already know this?
  • The scene that sees Raffi and Rios calling Narek different rude names as the Romulan throws rocks at their ship like a petulant child is my favorite. These names include: “Abusive Romulan asshole,” “snakehead,” and “dirtbag.” Hopefully, none of these are Romulan slurs and rather speak to Narek’s specific disappointments as a person.
  • Seven kills Narissa, and later admits regret to Rios, as she had promised herself to “never again kill somebody just because it’s what they deserve.” She is probably the best character on this TV show, and I hope she gets far, far more to do in Season 2.
  • “Fear is an incompetent teacher. They have life, but they don’t know what it’s for.”
  • “I honestly thought I was the worst secret agent ever, but I’m starting to believe I have a gift.” Seriously. How did Agnes fool Sutra, who is able to read her vitals, with her lies?
  • “The Picard Maneuver” is often my trivia team name.
  • “Thank you, Will, for always having my back.”
  • Picard’s death scene was so damn emotional. The way he holds Elnor’s cheek. “Raffi, you were quite right…” Everyone acts the hell out of this Very Important Moment.
  • “I dream about you all the time.” – Picard, to Data
  • Leave to JL to always be ready with a Shakespearian quote or two.
  • Um, Raffi and Seven??? <3
  • Adieu for now but not forever, good captain.

Rating:

4 out of 5