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Star Trek Picard - season 2 © CBS, Paramount

I'm not going to wait till the end of the review this time to say this. I want to get it out of the way right up front. Paramount needs to get some actual science fiction writers (preferably ones who have worked on Star Trek in the past) and science and technical consultants into the writing rooms for their Star Trek shows. And furthermore, the TV writers in the room need to listen to those sci-fi writers and consultants. Not only does the second season of Star Trek: Picard fall apart due to sloppy, incoherent plotting, but it also seems painfully unaware of certain parts of Trek canon and also of how metaphor and allegory are supposed to work.

I previously wrote an outline of my ideas for re-writing the first season of Picard to retain all the good ideas, get rid of the bad, and create something that more closely resembles the type of Star Trek that I want to see. But I don't think I can do that for this season of Picard because nothing in this show makes any sense.

I was actually kind of optimistic at the start. The first 2 episodes were actually not bad, and seemed to go out of their way to try to rectify some of the complaints that were levied against season 1. This time around, the Federation is not depicted as racist cowards who are unwilling to help a refugee population fleeing from a natural catastrophe. In fact, they give long speeches about the duty of Starfleet to explore the unknown and about the value of diversity and inclusion. We still see a version of the Federation that is racist and xenophobic, but this time, it's in the form of a parallel reality fascist Confederation. The first episode is even about a starship investigating a strange anomaly in space. This is an OK start. This actually kind of sort of looks like Star Trek.

Star Trek Picard - commencement speech
© CBS, Paramount
Star Trek Picard - Stargazer
© CBS, Paramount
Season 2 starts off promising, with the Federation looking more like what I'm used to,
and the opening episode seemingly including an "anomaly of the week".

Problematic developments

But even from this first episode, the cracks in the storytelling are already exposed. Problem number one is that all the important character development happened off-screen between seasons. Rios apparently got over his trauma, went back to Starfleet, and was given a captaincy. He even broke up with Jurati. Good riddance. Seven and Raffi also had a relationship and then a falling-out -- all off-screen. Raffi developed some sort of proxy-parent / mentor relationship with Elnor, who also joined Starfleet, and is somehow already on a deep space assignment less than a year after enlisting. Meanwhile, Larin's husband died, and she's secretly fallen madly in love with Picard, who is now an instructor or headmaster at Starfleet Academy. Soji is an ambassador between the synths and the Federation and isn't involved in season 2 at all, despite having been the lynchpin of the first season.

The character development that happens during season 2 isn't any better. This season Fundamentally changes Picard's character. He was already unrecognizable as the same Jean-Luc Picard from The Next Generation in season 1, but I'm willing to give a pass due to the decades of time in between. People change over decades, especially if their life circumstances have also dramatically changed. Picard went from being a Starfleet captain exploring the galaxy, to sitting around his chateau with his Romulan not-slaves, sipping wine and petting dogs. Fine, I get that he's mellowed since the end of TNG.

Star Trek Picard - mother
© CBS, Paramount
Picard's past is ret-conned to include a mentally ill mother and toxic home environment
being the reason he left home for the stars.

But season 2 actually goes back and retcons Picard's entire life in ways that reframe his entire character from TNG. He isn't the consummate explorer who joined Starfleet because of a genuine love of science and discovery. Now, he joined Starfleet to get away from a toxic home environment. It's just like how reboot James Kirk didn't join Starfleet because of a desire to explore, but because he was double-dog-dared to be a better Starfleet officer than his dead dad. But at least in Kirk's case, that is a different character in a different timeline. In Picard's case, we're supposed to believe this is the same Picard that we've known all along.

Star Trek TNG - Robert Picard
TNG s4 e2 "Family", © CBS, Paramount
Where was Robert during all this family drama?

Also, did the writers not know that Picard had an older brother? Where was Robert Picard during all this drama with their parents?

And Seven of Nine has apparently regressed from any of her character development from the previous season, as she's back to mindlessly killing Borg and insisting that they "aren't human anymore". This is despite the fact that both she and Picard are case in point examples of former Borg being rehabilitated, and despite her sorrow of the destruction of the Borg Rehabilitation Project in season 1.

The lynchpin of this season is a young astronaut who suffers from crippling depression. This is despite the fact that NASA has pretty extensive screening and training processes that would either rule out someone who is not emotionally stable enough to do the job, or would train them to the point that they do the job without a second thought. This is an example of how having science and technology consultants in the writing room would help make the story more believable.

Q, who?

To make matters worse, I do not understand Q's motivations at all. If he just wants to teach Picard a lesson, then why is he being so openly antagonistic, to the point that he strikes Picard for asking a question? And why is he actively meddling in Renee's life and in Soong's research? Why is he going out of his way to create these problems and complications? Why go through all this trouble with time travel to begin with and create a predestination paradox? Why not just take Picard back to his childhood to literally re-live his mother's suicide? Or take Picard on a light-hearted adventure that makes Picard realize that Q has been trying to be Picard's friend this whole time?

This season is trying to be both "Tapestry" and "All Good Things..." at the same time (and also The Voyage Home and First Contact), but it fails miserably at all of it. In both referenced TNG episodes, Q doesn't actually create the problems that Picard confronts, nor does he go out of his way to exacerbate them. In the case of "Tapestry", he just shows Picard what his life would be like if he had been less assertive in his youth. In "All Good Things...", Q doesn't create the time anomaly; he just facilitates Picard jumping between timelines so that Picard can recognize that the anomaly is going backwards in time. In both cases, Q is guiding Picard towards discovering the consequences of his own actions.

Star Trek TNG - Tapestry
TNG, s6 e16 "Tapestry", © CBS, Paramount
Star Trek TNG - All Good Things
TNG s7 e25 "All Good Things...", © CBS, Paramount
Season 2 thinks it's as clever as "Tapestry" or "All Good Things...";.

That seems to be what he's trying to do now. He claims that the alternate, fascist future is the result of a "road not taken". But changing history 400 years before Picard was born, so that Picard is raised in a society of fascist psychopaths, has nothing to do with any life choices that Picard ever actually made. This is in stark contrast to "Tapestry", in which Picard either choses to fight the Nausicans, or he doesn't, and each choice has trade-off consequences for the rest of his life.

Would Renee have had a crisis of confidence if Q hadn't been actively interfering with her mental state? Would Soong try to sabotage the rocket launch if not for Q's meddling? How is any of this relevant, and how does any of it relate to character life choices?

I was equally confused by the Borg Queen's motivation in the second half of the season. Early on, she agrees to help because she knows that erasing the Confederation will allow the Borg to survive and thrive. But then in the second half of the show, she's actively trying to help Dr. Soong create the very same Confederation that she previously wanted to prevent from existing. I understand that she intends to bring Borg from the past to assimilate Earth before the Confederation becomes a threat (just like in First Contact), even though that past Earth doesn't have distinctive enough technology to warrant assimilation (just like in First Contact). But if that's her plan, why bother helping to create the Confederation to begin with? She can let Picard succeed at saving the Europa mission as an insurance policy so that even if she isn't able to escape and re-join the Collective, she at least ensures the survival of the Borg as a species in this altered timeline. Then, with the future survival of the Borg assured, she could kill Picard and co., steal the ship, and summon the Collective to do whatever the heck she wants to past Earth.

And this brings me to Jurati...

Jurati is one of the worst characters in all of Star Trek. Whenever the plot needs someone to do something unnecessarily stupid or selfish in order to throw a wrench into the plot, Jurati steps up to answer the call. The things she does are cruel and callous. And this time, she doesn't have the "temporary alien-induced insanity" defense.

Star Trek Picard - Jurati and Borg Queen
© CBS, Paramount
Jurati being a cruel and dumb once again throws a wrench in the plot.

At least when Rios makes things complicated, he is doing it for a good reason. Jurati does things just because she's mean. Why piss off the Borg Queen by reneging on a promise to keep her company, only to then leave her completely unattended? Maybe Jurati had some reason for not wanting to talk to the Queen. Maybe she was worried that the Queen would manipulate her into doing something stupid. But if that was the case, the episode didn't bother to communicate that to the audience at all.

In any case, why is Jurati, who has already been compromised by the Queen, left alone with her? Shouldn't there maybe be at least 2 shifts of people staying behind to keep an eye on her at all times? Maybe leave Seven behind, since she is the most familiar with the Borg Queen?

In the meantime, Guinan has a magic genie bottle that summons a Q. So does every El-Aurian have a magic genie bottle that summons a Q? Do they each summon a specific Q? Or is there literally only one bottle that summons a Q, and Guinan just happens to be the one who has it, and it just so happens to summon the Q we know? Shouldn't that bottle belong to like the president of the El-Aurians or someone like that who is in a position of authority? And not some random El-Aurian civilian living undercover, alone on a primitive alien planet?

Star Trek TNG - Time's Arrow
TNG s6 e1 "Time's Arrow, p1", © CBS, Paramount
Guinan already met Picard in the 1800's.

And in another example of the writers not having watched TNG, they apparently didn't know that Guinan already knew Picard. They met in the 1800's, in the 2-part, season-spanning cliff-hanger, "Time's Arrow". It's the episode with Mark Twain. So 2024 Guinan should already know Picard.

And as for the Q: are they all dying? Is the entire Continuum dying? What about Q's son? If so, why? Is he dying too? Are they dying because of the fact that they chose to be able to procreate? Why is Q choosing to spend his dying moments with Picard, and not with his son?

And the ending is somehow even worse!

Believe it or not, the plot still manages to get worse in the final episodes. After Picard and Q hug it out, and the time travel paradox is resolved, there is yet another 11th hour reveal that there's some other anomaly that appears out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, that is going to somehow destroy half the Federation. And of course, because no one in the writing room understands how big space is (because they don't have consultants to tell them), people on planets all over the Federation see this anomaly appear all at once, even though they are light-years apart, and it should take years before the anomaly becomes visible to even the nearest populated planet.

What's ironic is that this out-of-left-field, galaxy-destroying phenomena is introduced mere minutes after Q gives a speech asking "why does everything have to have galactic import?" and emphasizing that this whole storyline is important solely because it's important to him. It's like it was a direct response to critics complaining about how these shows keep setting the stakes too high, and that we would prefer to see more personal, intimate stories, with lesser stakes. Then surprise! There are galactic stakes after all.

Star Trek Picard - galactic import
© CBS, Paramount
Q asks why everything has to have "galactic import", moments before revealing a galaxy-destroying anomaly.

This is one of the core issues that fans like me have with CBS' / Paramount's approach to Star Trek: they do a lot of hand-waving and lip service to try to say things that appease fans, but at the end of the day, they don't do those things. It shows that they don't understand the franchise or what fans want from it. And worse yet, they just don't care.

And remember how I started this review by saying that the first problem with the show is that all the important character development happened off-screen? Well, the converse problem exists at the end of the show too, in that the resolution of the story -- the thing that the whole season was about -- is something that happens off-screen between the last two episodes. What exactly did Renee Picard do or discover on Europa that changed the course of human history? We don't get to see it. We don't get to see her overcome her depression and anxiety. We don't get to see any sense of awe or wonder about what she discovers. Not even in a flashback or as a clip from a diegetic historical record. No. Guinan has to tell us (and also Picard) what the whole damn story was about, after the fact, in an epilogue scene.

Other plot threads go completely nowhere. I guess the Kore subplot is supposed to be a setup for some Khan series, which I'm sure will be utter garbage. But she feels completely unnecessary and pointless in this season. I thought at the very least, she might show up at the climax to help Seven, Rios, and Raffi stop Soong from sabotaging the rocket launch. No. She literally just runs away in one episode, and there's absolutely no payoff to her character at all.

Star Trek Picard - Khan
© CBS, Paramount
Is Kore going to be featured in a Khan spin-off series? Ugh.

And then there's some problems with the larger theme and message of the season. I was frustrated with the first season of Picard because of how it depicted a future in which all the progress that society had made was wiped out. Season 2 tries to backpedal on that a bit, but they also completely cop-out by saying that Renee Picard discovered some miracle deus ex machina microbe on Europa that was somehow able to fix climate change and clean the oceans. This might even be worse than the way that season 1 backpedaled on societal progress, because the discovery of a deus ex machina panacea solution to all our problems means that humanity never actually learned how to fix those problems to begin with, nor ever actually put in the work to implement those fixes. We just found a magic solution that allowed us to nullify the problems without actually having to change anything about the way we live or operate. So season 1 says that humanity learned lessons, but then un-learned them; season 2 suggests that we never learned the lessons to begin with.

I even thought the mental illness theme was cringy. We're lead to believe that Picard's dad was abusive towards Picard's mother. It had been established in TNG that Picard's dad was kind of an ass, and Picard didn't care for him much, so adding that he was also abusive towards Picard's mother would (I guess) make sense. If the writers had remembered that Picard had an older brother, they even could have thrown in lines about how part of the reason that Robert resented Jean-Luc for going into space was that Robert felt like Jean-Luc was abandoning his mother when she needed her sons to help her out of a toxic relationship.

But the twist is that Picard's father wasn't abusive. Instead, Picard's mother was mentally ill with some kind of manic depression and maybe also schizophrenia. This is such an awful bait and switch because making a woman believe that she is "just crazy", and that repression actions from the abuser are "for her protection", is exactly what a gaslighting, abusive husband would do. I thought it was cringy for that to be exactly where the show goes.

Worse yet, Picard's mother has this unspecified mental illness in the 24th century. So once again, CBS / Paramount's new Star Trek is telling us that this utopian future in which hunger, disease, poverty, bigotry, and so on are no longer pervasive, never existed. Even in the 24th century, people apparently don't have access to adequate mental health care. Hell, they don't even have access to mental health care comparable to what's available for us in real-life today. This mentally ill person's family had to literally lock her in the basement to prevent her from killing herself because apparently they didn't have access to therapy, or counseling, or medications, or institutions to actually help her. Once again, the future depicted in Star Trek looks like a shit place to live.

Star Trek Picard - hanging
© CBS, Paramount
In the 24th century, people apparently still do not have access to mental health care.

My understanding is that Patrick Stewart wanted this particular content in the show because he had to deal with family that suffered from mental illness. I get it. I sympathize. The line about there being moments that we wish we could go back to, or memories that we wish we could live in reverse so that tragedy becomes a happy ending, those words are profound and beautiful and utterly human. That is a topic that could absolutely be in Star Trek, and could be touching and profound. But in this particular story, with these particular characters, told in this particular way, it just doesn't work.

A new low

Despite all these complaints, there is still so much more to complain about. Every episode is just a series of speed bumps in the plot to slow the characters down from getting where they need to go, just to fill air time. I could write an equally lengthy blog outlining all the myriad problems with almost each and every episode.

Like how Tallin has mind control powers that are introduced and then never mentioned or used again, even though it would have come in very handy. Or how Raffi has an emotional meltdown after Elnor is killed, even though she's a trained, veteran Starfleet captain who should be calloused to subordinates dying in the line of duty. Like, she did take the Kobayashi Maru, right?

Characters are constantly violating the temporal prime directive for stupid and asinine reasons that draw excess attention to themselves. They killed people. They prevented a deportation that was supposed to happen. They engaged in a high-speed chase with a stolen police cruiser through the middle of L.A., and then teleported out of the car in the middle of a crowded street that was probably full of cameras. They got an FBI agent fired. They interfered with the work of an infamous geneticist, and potentially caused the Eugenics Wars. They let Jurati go to warp speed within the Earth's atmosphere with no explanation of how she might have hidden the warp signature from the Vulcans who were established in a previous episode of this very same series to be monitoring the Earth for warp signatures.

I mean, hell, assimilated Borg Queen Jurati goes off on her own to create a new, gentler Borg Collective. Like that isn't going to upset the timeline?!

Star Trek Picard - Jurati is Borg Queen
© CBS, Paramount
Jurati creates a new, kinder Borg Collective 400 years in the past, and that somehow doesn't affect history?

Picard season 2 is maybe 2 hours of story ideas that is blown out into 10 hours of convoluted and incoherent plot spaghetti. This is probably the worst season of Star Trek ever. I don't want to re-watch season 3 of Enterprise or the first season of Discovery again to compare, and I've yet to watch any of the later seasons of Discovery. But there is nothing redeeming about this season story-wise. There are some stand-out performances. Annie Wersching nails it as the Borg Queen, and Sol Rodríguez is fun and charming as Dr. Ramirez. I even liked the punk rocker cameo on the bus. But that's about all that I can say that's positive about this show. Everything else is a dumpster fire. At least season 1 had the Borg Reclamation Project going for it. This season's efforts to rehabilitate the Borg are just awful.

I honestly do not understand how anybody defends or apologizes for this. Obviously, I can't tell you to like something or dislike it. If you like it, then, cool. I guess I'm glad that somebody is enjoying it. But I just do not get it. How does one go from watching thoughtful, nuanced installments of Star Trek like "Who Watches The Watchers", or "Tapestry", or The Undiscovered Country, or "City On The Edge of Forever", or the Dominion War arc from Deep Space Nine, or even one of the few good episodes of The Animated Series, like "Yesteryear", and then watches this, and thinks that it's even remotely comparable?

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