This Star Trek: Picard review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 4
Star Trek: Picard’s “No Win Scenario” feels like the closest we’ve come yet to an old-school Star Trek: The Next Generation episode on the Paramount+ series, complete with a main story that highlights the necessity of collaboration and teamwork, a textbook inspirational captain’s speech, and a reminder that the vast and wondrous potential of the universe is the real reason this franchise exists in the first place. There are life and death stakes, a seemingly unsolvable problem, a surprise revelation about the season’s Big Bad, and more than one surprising heart-to-heart talk between legacy characters reflecting back on a lifetime in Starfleet and what its mission has both cost and meant to them.
Of course, the whole “impending death by gravity well” thing is technically the least interesting part of the hour, possibly because we know the threat only goes so far. This is the fourth episode of the season, after all, and there won’t be much show left if Picard, Riker, and young Jack Crusher all bite it in the middle of what’s essentially a black hole. They’ll be fine, we all know it, and the episode deserves praise for at least being relatively creative in finding a way to get them out of their predicament while rightly keeping the bulk of its attention on other things.
The hour is primarily dominated by its smaller, more emotional moments: Perhaps most impressive is the way that “No Win Scenario” weaves two timelines together, as Picard, via flashback, recounts a previous mission to a rapt crowd of young cadets at 10 Forward while the present-day version of the character struggles to connect with the son he never knew by telling the same story about his namesake, Jack Crusher. That the lessons of his tale—the necessity of community, the strength of the bonds that form between a captain and his crew, the power of believing in and trusting others—are the same reasons that the U.S.S. Titan manages to fight its way back to freedom is thematically lovely and honestly works better than it has any right to, narratively speaking.
But there’s also Captain Shaw’s bitter and traumatized recounting of escaping the Battle of Wolf 359 when 11,000 other souls perished, Riker’s confession of his loss of faith in the wake of his son’s death that has nearly destroyed his marriage, and Seven’s embrace of the fact that she’s never going to be the textbook Starfleet officer some people insist she should be. (And that’s okay.) And, of course, there’s Picard, Riker, and Dr. Crusher’s group decision that if they’re going out, they’re going out as the best versions of themselves. “No Win Scenario” is full of emotionally rich character work, the sort of stuff that’s compelling precisely because of the pre-existing history at work, both between individual characters and within the world of the show at large. Heck, I don’t even like Jack Crusher that much, and the revelation that he did actually try to find out if Admiral Picard’s life had space for both him and Starfleet was still an emotional gut punch.
That said, the more action-oriented aspects of the hour also have a lot to recommend. This is the second episode in a row directed by Jonathan Frakes—a surprise, to be sure, given how much he appears on screen in both—and he does an exceptional job balancing those genuinely moving emotional beats with explosions and life-or-death threats. Plus, once again, everything about this episode looks great, and we love Paramount+ for not skimping on any of the cinematography or effects budgets here.
The Titan’s ultimate escape from the gravity well is tense and thrilling, as Picard pilots the ship blind through the nebula and Riker literally throws an asteroid at Vadic and her Shrike. The sequence is topped off by the nebula essentially giving birth to a new species of beautiful jellyfish-like creatures in the vacuum of space, providing everyone with a timely reminder that the reason they started all this in the first place was to seek out new life and new civilizations. (Plus, an “Encounter at Farpoint” shout-out!!) Truly, how does anyone who has ever watched a single episode of The Next Generation not love the heck out of this?
In fact, it’s all so compelling that I suspect I’m not the only person who didn’t even realize until the final credits rolled that “No Win Scenario” completely ignores the Raffi and Worf subplot. This move was probably for the best, given that that particular story often feels like it’s happening on a completely different show at the best of times, though last week’s episode made it fairly obvious (portal tech, echoes of the Dominion War) that the two stories will converge in the weeks to come. Instead, it is left to Seven and, strangely, Shaw to advance the Changeling story as they fruitlessly search the Titan for whoever has been sabotaging the ship.
Jeri Ryan and Todd Stashwick have excellent, vaguely antagonistic chemistry with one another, and the grudging almost respect Seven and Shaw seem to slowly develop over the course of the hour is even more satisfying when you realize that, of course, the reason he has been nasty toward her is that she’s a former Borg, and he has a whole lot of lingering and clearly unprocessed PTSD from his admittedly extremely traumatizing experience at Wolf 359. That they learn (albeit begrudgingly) to work together (resigoo!) is maybe predictable, but it’s also exactly the kind of story that Star Trek excels at telling.
As for the Changelings, the biggest reveal this week is likely the fact that Vadic herself is one, working for a mysteriously powerful boss who wants Jack Crusher badly enough to send the Shrike back into the gravity well to get him. The strange PTSD-esque vision (flashbacks?) Jack experiences at the end of the episode indicates that trying to find his father isn’t the only life experience that the youngest Picard has been lying about. The reason for the Changelings’ interest in him remains a mystery whose answer could be anything—Did he see something he wasn’t supposed to? Steal something that wasn’t his? Find a cure for a rare species-specific illness they can’t survive without? All of the above? —and something only future episodes can solve.
Of course, none of those guesses explain why he’d be hearing—or remembering, it’s not entirely clear—disembodied voices telling him to come and find them, but I think we have to assume that the answers to those questions will somehow tie into the rogue group Raffi and Worf are chasing, what they’ve been doing since the end of the Dominion War, and why they’ve chosen this moment to take on the Federation again. Here’s hoping, anyway.