Warning: This article contains STAR TREK: PICARD spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 Episode 3
With a little help from the Borg Queen, the Star Trek: Picard crew rockets back into the past for an hour of what is essentially table-setting for the rest of the season. But “Assimilation” is an enjoyable enough episode in its own right, dropping our faves in 2024 and allowing the show to comment a bit on the state of our world even as they work toward fixing the one they left behind.
It less outright fun than last week’s installment which forced our faves to pretend to be the absolute worst possible versions of themselves in order to survive, but its decision to divide the team into groups to tackle different problems—reviving the unconscious Borg Queen, finding the mysterious “Watcher” who is meant to help the crew fix the as-yet-unidentified thing Q changed that so drastically altered the timeline—is smart, giving everyone something to do in the sort of side quests that will all inevitably come back together down the road (most likely whenever we determine who or what the Watcher is, though I suspect if it’s not some version of Guinan we’ll all be very surprised).
My colleague Ryan Britt wrote after Season 1 that Picard is a series that works best as a binge, and this episode feels like nothing so much as an argument that he is probably correct. Picking up at the end of “Penance,” the hour rockets through to end on a different cliffhanger, in which Rios is arrested by the police in 2024 and seems set to cause the sort of devastating ripples in time that could well significantly alter the world they’ve all come back in time to fix. It’s all a propulsive enough plot, but it also sort of feels that the episode stops just as things are finally getting going.
On the plus side, after what was essentially two episodes of set-up, it looks like we’re finally ready to dive into the meat of this season, namely figuring out what the heck is going on and why Q wanted to send Picard and his crew back to the past in the first place. The brief reappearance of Q himself—-though I’m not 100% clear on whether that was the real deal or a Picard hallucination—hints that this all has something to do with our faves confronting their fears, but since this Earth is several hundred years before their own times, the solution is not an entirely literal one. Or at least, not in the way we were maybe assuming.
Given that the episode is titled “Assimilation,” one has to assume that the Borg Queen plays a significant role in events, and that’s certainly true. And despite the fact that the character ostensibly “helps” Picard and friends here, the series repeatedly reminds us that the Borg are, quite frankly, terrifying and probably (possibly?) not to be trusted. The brief sequence in which the Borg Queen frees herself and then winds her body into the guts of the La Sirena has the look and feel of a horror film, complete with a constantly escalating sense of tension, ominous music, and a look of pure terror on Dr. Jurati’s face. Annie Wersching remains fantastic as the Borg Queen, even though she’s playing little more than a disembodied head.
But in the end, “Assimilation” largely belongs to Allison Pill, who gets the hour’s most intriguing subplot as Agnes (mentally) goes toe to toe with the Borg Queen in an attempt to both revive her and acquire the location of the mysterious Watcher—information she’s trying her best to withhold. As Agnes voluntarily connects herself to the Borg Queen’s mind, Pill deftly shifts between multiple personas—including Agnes’s shifting emotional subconscious and a near-assimilated version of herself—as Jurati and the Borg Queen fight for control.
In a season that will apparently come to be defined by pairs, the idea of establishing a sort of binary connection between these two is a fascinating one. After all, it’s Agnes’ timeline that changed the least. Well, in the sense that at least she didn’t become an authoritarian dictator, just a slightly sadder version of herself. Does that mean she has more or less to lose from this kind of connection—or a stronger sense of who she is, for good or ill?
As for the rest of the team, Rios’ subplot sees him separated from the rest of the team and taken to an underground doctor’s office that helps treat illegal immigrants and those who don’t want to—or can’t—trust institutions with centralized health and identity records. His decision to try and help the nice lady doctor and her son is admirable but largely feels as though it’s happening on a different show than everything else (or at least apart from the fact that his decisions could and likely will change the timeline in unknowable and probably dangerous ways).
Elnor’s death is tragic of course but it isn’t quite as emotionally affecting as it probably ought to be and feels a bit like Picard is struggling to give the La Sirena crew some personal stake in this mission they’re on that outside of their connections to Picard. Though one would hope preventing a genocidal authoritarian nightmare future would be enough on its own! But we’ve spent so little time with Elnor this season— and it’s so obvious that once the gang sets the timeline to rights he’ll be magically resurrected—that there seems to be little reason to mourn him but so much. (And his absence in 2024 is kind of convenient from a plot perspective: It means that the gang doesn’t have to try and compensate for the fact that one of their team looks distinctly non-human.)
Plus, while Raffi’s grief has given Michelle Hurd the chance to release some righteous anger (why aren’t more people that get pulled into Picard and Q’s seemingly eternal feud more pissed off about it?), her incredibly close relationship with Elnor essentially formed offscreen. I mean, I’m theoretically glad that the two have apparently formed a new little family together because both deserve a fresh start, but we haven’t seen much of that for ourselves so it kind of feels a bit like the show is just repeatedly telling us how much they care for one another rather than letting us watch that bond develop for ourselves.
Conversely, Picard allows viewers to draw their own conclusions about the state of Raffi and Seven of Nine’s relationship (prickly but seemingly solid enough), using everything from the way they fight together to the ease with which they play off of one another to con a building guard. I’d love to see the two have a more in-depth conversation about heavier topics like Raffi’s grief or the fact that Seven is clearly feeling some kind of way about seeing a version of herself whose face doesn’t sport tell-tale Borg implants, but hopefully, those will come in future installments.