The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 Episode 4
After several episodes of what was essentially a very complicated set-up, it finally feels as though Star Trek: Picard’s second season is ready to kick into high gear with “Watcher”. The crew of the La Sirena has made it back in time to 2024 and they have a task to complete with demonstrable results. Find the mysterious Watcher who supposedly will be able to help them identify whatever has gone wrong with the timeline and therefore prevent it, preventing Earth’s descent into an authoritarian hellscape where the Federation morphs into an organization that’s down with conquest and genocide.
Despite its more clearly defined narrative goals, there’s still an aspect of this episode that feels a bit like watching three different series fighting under a blanket. In one corner, there’s Raffi and Seven’s Excellent Adventure, in which the two women try to track down a missing Rios, who has been taken into ICE custody and is apparently in the process of being deported. (But without anyone, say, running a check on his identity or noticing how incredibly awkward he’s being about literally everything.) Elsewhere, Picard, realizing the rest of his team are failing utterly at the one job which they were given, heads off to track down the Watcher by himself. This leaves Agnes stuck on the ship with the Borg Queen, trying to hold on to some shred of her self-esteem while bargaining for help repairing the La Sirena’s transporter.
And the thing is—-that all sounds like an insult, but it’s not really meant as one. “Watcher” is a surprisingly fast-paced and entertaining hour, largely because things actually start happening in it. (It’s also the shortest installment of the season to date by quite a bit, which cuts down a lot on the exposition that was so prevalent in the season’s initial installments.)
The episode is full of Easter eggs and throwback references for dedicated franchise fans, and it even solves a longstanding Star Trek: The Next Generation mystery (why a French Starfleet captain has such a strong British accent). In true Star Trek fashion, there’s plenty of social commentary about everything from modern-day immigration issues and climate change to California’s homeless crisis. And though we don’t get definitive answers to any of the season’s major mysteries, it at least feels, for once, like there’s significant forward progress on almost all of them.
The search for the titular Watcher is this episode’s primary focus, as this mysterious, unidentified being is apparently our team’s only hope of figuring out what precisely Q changed that caused such a drastic shift in the timeline. And, since Agnes manages to figure out that the gang has three days before the future is changed irrevocably, everyone has their work cut out for them. But nothing about this story goes quite the way we probably expected. For example, though many viewers (read: me) probably expected some version of Guinan to show up, the El-Aurian is not actually the Watcher, and also somehow doesn’t seem to remember or know Picard (despite the fact that she ostensibly met him during the set-in-the-1890s The Next Generation episode “Time’s Arrow”).
The Guinan of “Watcher” is much younger and seemingly much more jaded than the version we’re familiar with, and seems exhausted by humanity’s repeated failures and cruelties. In fact, she seems pretty ready to peace out and leave Earth behind entirely, which Picard immediately assumes is the event he’s arrived to correct. That he’s wrong is not just a satisfying twist, but one that eventually hints at that something much larger and more complex is at work.
Apparently, the Watcher Picard is searching for is a being also known as a Supervisor who, as Guinan puts it, is part of a group “assigned to protect the destinies of certain individuals”. Now, whether these are the same beings referenced in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Assignment Earth” is unclear, but, until proven wrong, it seems as good an assumption as any. (And, let’s face it, that kind of deep-cut callback would be cool as heck.) But the scene in which the Watcher essentially possesses a handful of Los Angeles residents in an attempt to discover whether Picard is being tailed is both an impressive visual and a neat way to convey their seemingly immense power. That its final form appears to be some sort of doppelganger for Laris is an interesting twist. (And one that, once again, hints that all of this is somehow connected to Picard’s supposed lack of love/emotional connection.)
With just three days for the La Sirena crew to find the Watcher and fix the timeline, it feels a bit strange to devote so much of this episode to several elaborate car chase set pieces, but here we are. Sure, they’re very well done and there’s something entertaining about Seven turning out to be as skilled a pilot of 21st-century vehicles as she is everything else, but, truly, the Rios subplot feels like a colossal waste of time. (Or, probably more accurately, like the show just wanted the chance to make a political statement about ICE, which is admittedly very on-brand. But surely there was a better way to do that than…all of this?) At least Agnes’s growing mental entanglement with the Borg Queen feels like it’s a story that both matters and will impact the larger arc of the season.
Perhaps “Watcher’s” most interesting twist comes in its final scene, which reveals that Q is not only also in 2024 and seeming ironically reading a newspaper article about whether this will be the year that revives space exploration, but his powers aren’t working. Picard noticed back in “Penance” that his old frenemy seemed unwell, but now it seems very obvious that something is deeply wrong. (Can Q die? We may be about to find out.)
Why, exactly, he’s stalking a young blonde woman outside Jackson Roykirk Plaza is unknown—though his droning intonation about the oppression of fear sounds very familiar to the same sorts of things he’s told Picard—-but whatever the reason, it looks as though he might be as stuck in the past as the rest of our faves. And that certainly sounds like one of those “butterflies” Agnes told everyone to avoid.