The season’s sixth episode is a collection of strange choices and narrative odds and ends.
“Two for One” is a junk drawer episode of Star Trek: Picard. Plenty of serialized shows have them. At some point in the season, the writers stop to take stock of where everyone is, remind the audience about each character’s arc, and establish a few key details in the run-up to the climax. Unfortunately, these installments tend to be messy, an assortment of stray bits from various plots rather than one unified whole.
To the point, the ostensible focus of the season’s sixth episode is a fancy NASA shindig. There our heroes must reassure an anxious Renee Picard (Penelope Mitchell) about her mission to preserve the future. In practice, though, it’s a grab bag of various ideas and story beats that don’t necessarily fit together. Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) flirts with Tallum (Orla Brady) to remind the audience of his late-breaking romance with Larys. In the same vein, Rios (Santiago Cabrera) is now smitten with Teresa (Sol Rodriguez) and, by extension, the twenty-first century. Raffi (Michelle Hurd) is still hallucinating images of Elnor (Evan Evagora), while Seven (Jeri Ryan) enjoys fitting in for once. Aaron Soong (Brent Spiner) does anything and everything to thwart Picard and the gang. And his daughter, Kore (Isa Briones), learns the truth about her creation.
That’s a lot of ground to cover in a comparatively short episode. Consequently, everything here feels glancing and rushed. It’s a tease of some later development rather than anything explored with conviction and depth right now. Throw in a spate of cryptic flashbacks, a non-linear story structure, and a sure-to-be-polarizing musical number, and you have an episode that feels held together by chewing gum and duct tape.
The closest thing to a throughline is Dr. Jurati’s (Alison Pill) misadventures with the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching). As hinted last week, Queenie is lurking around in Agnes’ mind. She presents as an imaginary friend only Jurati sees or hears. It’s a setup done to death elsewhere — the devil on your shoulder, urging you to give in to temptation and explore how good it feels to be bad — without much of a new angle.
There is at least one interesting read here. Jurati’s entanglement with Queenie could be a metaphor for online radicalization. “Two for One” frames Agnes in the same terms as many lost souls in the here and now. She’s a lonely person who succumbs to a bad influence out of a need to belong. Dr. Jurati tells herself dabbling with something evil is for the greater good. But as Queenie herself points out, Agnes feels seen and empowered by her new Borg co-pilot. Even if Dr. Jurati recognizes the Queen as a malignant force, it’s easy to give in to her perspective when she gives Agnes power and confidence. The Queen stokes the impulses that suit her until she takes over entirely.
Queenie’s devilish encouragements and surreptitious plan to assume control carry a particular resonance. The Borg takeover works well as a metaphor for how, in a time of increasing alienation and loneliness, hard-right grifters can take advantage of individuals who want to belong to something greater using promises of confidence, power, and, most of all, attention. Certainly better than the season’s blunter commentaries on pollution and immigration.
Granted, the back-and-forth between Agnes and Queenie remains rote. The ploys to save the rest of the crew or “go for it” with Cris are stock. But beneath the standard-issue taunts and banter lurks something real, sympathetic, and scary, which is more than can be said for most of the stale elements this season.
Of course, these escapades manage to stop the episode dead when Jurati suddenly belts out “Shadows of the Night” to a gala audience. The rationale is partly to distract the guards from hurting Picard and partly to create a flood of endorphins sufficient for Queenie to assume control. In practice, though, it’s a bizarre, Postmodern Jukebox-esque interlude.
It’s hard to know what’s more implausible: (a.) that Agnes knows a three-hundred-year-old Pat Benatar song by heart, (b.) that the Borg Queen retained that vital knowledge from past assimilations for some reason, or (c.) that a band at a fancy event knows the perfect accompaniment to the tune with zero rehearsal or notes on the distinctive arrangement. It’s hardly the biggest implausibility in a sci-fi series, but as pleasant as the song is, it comes off as indulgent and downright weird under the circumstances.
[Y]ou have an episode that feels held together by chewing gum and duct tape.
Still, it’s a good thing Agnes belts it out because her distraction allows Jean-Luc to approach Renee. All it takes is one conversation with Jean-Luc to convince the young astronaut to set aside all of her depression and anxiety to persevere in her space-bound mission. Uh…okay?
Look, fans of The Next Generation know there’s no problem so significant that a big-time Picard speech can’t solve it. But it diminishes the weight of the season’s attempt to address serious ideas like mental illness when all it takes is one good pep talk from a distinguished stranger to push Renee past debilitating emotional struggles that almost scuttle her career. The fact that Jean-Luc can only offer generic bromides, ones framed as grand wisdom no less, doesn’t help either.
The Jean-Luc storyline issues don’t end there, though. For the second time this season, Star Trek: Picard does that terminally hokey thing where it opens on some drastic state of affairs — in this instance, Picard lying unconscious on the street — and then flashes to a chyron saying “[x] minutes earlier.” It’s such a cheap way to mortgage drama from later in your story rather than building to it naturally through character interactions and critical choices made along the way. The hoary narrative device turns most of Jean-Luc’s actions in the episode into a cheap guessing game.
What will cause his predicament? Will it be a failed attempt to get into the gala? Is Dr. Soong siccing his goons on the former captain? Some approach to Renee gone wrong? “Two for One” teases all of those ideas, but they’re obvious red herrings since the episode plainly won’t pull the trigger until the end.
It turns out that Picard ends up in his rough state due to pushing Renee out of the way of Dr. Soong’s car in the scientist’s last-ditch effort to do Q’s bidding. Sure, why the hell not? It’s come to this, apparently. There’s a minor charge to seeing Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner face to face once more. Dr. Soong as a desperate man willing to go to any lengths to complete his research and/or save his daughter has some energy behind it. But the beats come too quickly and weightlessly. By the time one familiar face is running over another, in a way that conveniently spares the key to the future and in a place where only his friends are there to see and help him, there’s nothing left to do but throw up your hands and say, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Even Kore’s revelation that her father is a geneticist who’s designed several young girls just like her in the past elicits more of a yawn than a dropped jaw. Likewise, the reveal that a rule-breaking scientist named Soong is doing something shady is no great surprise. It reeks of Star Trek: Picard trying to pull twist after twist this season until none of them matter.
At least the show seems poised to finally address its flashbacks to Jean-Luc’s youth head-on. After a few slightly more freaky and revealing mental flashes from Picard in this episode, Tallum is prepared to go full Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to bring Jean-Luc back from his coma. Given the retcons already teased and how this season has played fast and loose with Picard’s history, there’s not much promising about this prospect. But at the very least, it’s a chance for the show to stop merely teasing these answers and simply explore them.
So much of “Two for One” plays like an episode holding back the good stuff for later. Its plot points are scattered and ephemeral. It’s not as though the events here don’t matter. Queenie possessing Dr. Jurati, Picard falling into a coma, and Dr. Soong taking drastic action to protect Q’s interests are all theoretically momentous developments. But given the breakneck pace and cacophony of storylines and character beats strewn about the episode, none of it lands with the impact it ought to. The best fans can hope for is that all this narrative throat-clearing will pave the way for better, more resonant notes for our cast of songbirds to croon in the future.