A narrative and emotional car-crash caps off Star Trek’s worst season of television in two decades.
At one seminal point in “Farewell,” the finale of Star Trek: Picard’s second season, Jean-Luc asks Q a simple but powerful question — why? Why me? Why all of this? And as the credits roll, the audience is left asking the same questions.
Oh, S:TP provides answers, or tries to anyway. Q (John de Lancie) doesn’t want to die alone, so he decides to commune with “one of his favorites.” He doesn’t want Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) to end his life in solitude, either. Q orchestrated these events, then, to help Picard absolve himself of the lingering childhood guilt over his mother’s death. He hoped it would allow Jean-Luc to open up to others as he embarks upon his final chapter. Like so much this season, it is suitably sweet and even vaguely profound in the abstract and utter nonsense when applied to the actual events at issue.
That sentimental explanation does little to account for why things went down this way. Why did Picard have to go back in time to save the Earth of 2024 from a bad alternate future just to reconcile his memories of his mother? Why should anyone care about a raft of crucial yet barely sketched-out relationships? Why does Star Trek: Picard seem to aim for a “stable time loop” story, and a “We changed history!” story simultaneously? Why does the galactic disturbance that sets this whole thing off matter when it’s introduced and dispatched in about three minutes? Why did this show squander so many talented performers and beloved pieces of lore on this complete nonsense?
God only knows. The truth is that this finale, like the season it caps off, is one giant, muddled mess. It is awash in cheap callbacks, unearned resolutions both emotional and practical, and an array of bewildering story choices.
Take Q’s plan. What was it exactly? Did he scheme out this whole scenario from the start, with Picard all but destined to learn this lesson? If so, it runs into the problem so many of these plots do. The writers are not gods, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to concoct a series of complex scenarios that read as clockwork rather than contrived. The ten-car-pile-up of conflicting arcs and storylines in this one, where major events seem to happen by sloppy contrivance or happy accident, belies the notion of some super-intelligent mind behind the challenge.
And if it’s not all prefigured, then what the hell was Q doing? If his ultimate goal was to teach Picard a lesson, why did he enlist so many people to try to kill him and his friends if he didn’t know those attempts would fail? Despite raising the body count issue, why is Jean-Luc so sanguine about the innocent people hurt by Q’s scheme? If Q seemed surprised at the loss of his powers, a potential monkey wrench in his designs, why did he nevertheless seem undeterred in trying to thwart Picard? Q’s actual plan, and the methods by which he hoped to achieve it, remain maddeningly opaque, if not outright hogwash.
Still, this wouldn’t be the first Q ploy, let alone the first Star Trek story, that requires some willing suspension of disbelief for a godlike being’s plan to make sense. The bigger issue is that so much of this finale is built on emotional connections that Star Trek: Picard has barely developed. Audiences will forgive narrative shortcuts if the character dynamics and reactions feel vivid and real, but “Farewell” doesn’t even come close.
The crux of the Renee Picard plot arrives when Tallinn (Orla Brady) comes clean. Tallinn explains how she’s been watching and caring for Renee (Penelope Mitchell) from afar, with a profound sense of attachment and tenderness. But every mention of Tallinn’s job as a watcher has seemed clinical, not emotional, so there’s no juice to her maudlin confession, certainly not enough to emotionally justify Tallinn sacrificing her life for Renee’s.
The same goes for Jean-Luc’s tearful goodbye once Tallinn mimics Renee’s appearance to absorb Adam Soong’s (Brent Spiner) assassination attempt. The goal of the scene is solid. Tallinn gives one of those on-the-nose, writerly speeches: you cannot control other people’s lives or deaths, but that’s no reason to hold your love close to the vest. The sentiment is worthwhile, and it’s meant as another emotional turning point for Jean-Luc.
Except he’s known Tallinn for what, a day or two? The finale intends to transpose Jean-Luc’s feelings about Laris for some extra oomph here. But the show has yet to earn the close, intimate relationship between Picard and either of Orla Brady’s characters necessary to make this scene work, especially given the constant rush of the season.
Hell, even the relationships season 2 spent more time on flounder in the finish. The connection between Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and Teresa (Sol Rodriguez) has to be strong enough that Chris is willing to give up his whole life in the future for Teresa and her son. The pair’s chemistry has been fine, and the writing’s been serviceable but still nowhere near strong enough to account for such a monumental choice. Likewise, Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and Seven (Jeri Ryan) finally coalesce into a couple, paying off the efforts of the otherwise inessential No Man’s Land audio drama. But even for this duo, which the season arguably spent the most time on, the ultimate reunion scans as undercooked and unsatisfying.
Audiences will forgive narrative shortcuts if the character dynamics and reactions feel vivid and real, but “Farewell” doesn’t even come close.
That goes for pretty much everything here. Raffi offers Rios a tearful goodbye, but they’ve barely had more than a handful of on-screen conversations. The closing image of the episode sees Jean-Luc embarking on a romantic relationship with Laris, but the show fumbled its attempt to establish their bond in a minor smattering of scenes. A warm group shindig concludes with one of those stock, “We’re truly a family now” declarations for this motley crew. But they spent most of last season as contentious misfits, and most of this season separated and fighting for their lives instead of spending any quality time together.
So many of these supposed deep connections between the characters are announced or assumed rather than shown and earned. The Next Generation didn’t always have heart-pumping action or galactic stakes from moment to moment. But it did take time to show the characters bonding, spending their downtime together, seeming like friends even when they weren’t at work. That’s a lot tougher to achieve when every second of Star Trek: Picard sees its heroes under some mortal threat or ticking time bomb.
To the point, the only goodbye that carries any emotional weight here comes when Jean-Luc embraces Q, as the demigod offers to sacrifice himself to send the good guys back to the future. The power of that moment is built on years of stories, rather than a handful of scenes, where the two men developed an intimacy before our eyes. That almost makes it possible to ignore the insanity of Q’s alleged plan this season and simply appreciate the fond adieu.
That brand of fan service, sadly, returns in full force. It’s telling when the highlight of your episode is the return of onetime fandom pariah Wesley Crusher. It’s nice to see Wil Wheaton again, but once more, his character’s actions play like a cheesy solution to an otherwise thorny problem. Wesley was chosen to become a Traveler because, as TNG was so fond of reminding viewers, he was the super special-est boy in the universe. But apparently Kore (Isa Briones) can just be whisked away as a random recruit when it’s narratively convenient? Sure. Never mind the cornball choice to connect the Travelers from Wes’ days aboard the Enterprise with the Supervisors from Gary Seven’s jaunt in The Original Series. And the less said about the abominable decision to have Soong open up a folder labeled “Project Khan,” the better.
These bouts of tepid pandering and continuity-hacking are side dishes, though. The bigger problem is the baffling approach to the ultimate impact of Picard and company mucking about in the timeline. Young Guinan’s failure to recognize Picard, despite the events of TNG’s “Time’s Arrow,” made sense when Jean-Luc’s future had been erased. But now, back in the twenty-fourth century, an older Guinan recalls the pair’s adventure in Los Angeles. So those events truly occurred and secured the good future Picard experienced until now, but apparently not the part that involved him going back and meeting Guinan in the 1800s?
Look, it’s churlish to complain about Star Trek time travel mechanics. Frankly, they’ve never made any sense. But the problem here goes beyond one minor snarl. In the past, Jean-Luc recognizes the bullet holes in Chateau Picard from his childhood, despite Agnes’ goons creating them. He takes this as a sign they’re getting closer to the proper timeline. So maybe this time-jump adventure was fated to happen? These sorts of details, like Guinan’s secret friendship with the Rios family, suggest this is a “stable time loop,” and the Federation future we know and love always involved Picard’s time-hopping intervention.
Except Jean-Luc and company’s actions in the past clearly did alter the future fans were previously familiar with. The Borg Queen who started this whole kerfuffle turns out to be Agnes (Alison Pill), implied to have hung around for four hundred years. So was she the Queen during the events of First Contact and Voyager and simply forgot her commitment to form a kinder collective? Did those interactions even happen anymore, given her presence? Were there multiple queens and groups, including Jurati’s Benevolent Borg, skulking about the galaxy this whole time? The whole thing is garbled to all hell.
Maybe it’s just Q mucking things up via magic. Maybe this is a similar but alternate timeline now, a la Star Trek ’09. Whatever explanation one might cook up, these choices lack internal consistency or an intuitive understanding. More to the point, they make an utter hash of not just these discrete questions but the Star Trek timeline as a whole in the wake of such temporal buffoonery.
Again, temporal buffoonery could be forgiven if the series didn’t take so many shortcuts elsewhere. Picard field promotes Seven in the show’s attempt to complete her Borg bigotry arc. Sadly, that ignores how unreceptive the textually prejudiced Federation would be to a newly-installed xB commander during what Starfleet thinks is a Borg attack. Moreover, it’s not enough for Chris and Teresa to have lived a happy life together in the past. Their son has to have cleansed the oceans using the organism “Auntie Renee” found on the Europa mission because everything any established character does must be a Big Deal™.
And the mysterious existential threat that kicked off the season, the kind that Q made fun of moments earlier? It’s not only one more readily-neutralized galactic wedgie, one that Cybernetic Jurati dispatches with ease one minute after it’s introduced, but also a giant tease for next season’s presumable Big Bad. All the dramatic, explosive foofaraw the show’s been building to from the jump turns out to be just another sterile CGI fireworks show that amounts to nothing more than an appetizer for one more storytelling cycle.
What a pitiful way to end all of this. What an unsatisfying, borderline nonsensical set of answers to all the cryptic questions and dull mysteries ST:P has strung viewers along with this year. What an utter waste: of the chance to examine the soul of one of the franchise’s signature characters; of the return of seminal figures like Q, Guinan, and Wesley Crusher; of so much time spent watching and digesting this underwhelming dreck.
So here it is — the worst season of Star Trek since Enterprise. The second year of Star Trek: Picard’s mission will go down as an abject disappointment and arguably even a downright catastrophe. As this ill-conceived season crashes and burns, a third one’s already been filmed and is primed to blunder its way through even more of The Next Generation’s legacy. What’s a watcher to do but sigh, look up, and ask, “Why?”