Back in Time Again?

Star Trek: Picard: Season 2

I've spent a few days trying to figure out what to say about the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Considering the absolutely train wreck that was the first season of the show, with its mangled mess of a plot line that failed to go anywhere or so anything interesting with the characters or setting, I actually had to wonder what the point was in continuing the series. Hadn't we already said all we needed to say with Picard? Need we say more?

While the critical reception of the show was bad (I wasn't the only one to hate the series), the show apparently did well enough ratings-wise for CBS All Access (which is now Paramount+) that a second season was quickly green-lit. We were forced to suffer through more adventures of Old Man Picard and his merry band of people we didn't really care about. And that's the thing. The first season did such a poor job of getting us to invest in anything, even its diverse cast of characters that should have been interesting but weren't, that it's hard to care about anything that has happened or will happen with the cast. This show was dead on arrival.

That's why I struggle to talk about this second season: the same issues I had with the first season are still here in the second season. The show prioritizes its serialized story (which, in this second season, is again a mangled mess) over character development or, even, logic. When people complain about the sorry state of Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. in this modern era, it's shows like Picard they mean... well, and the early seasons of Discovery. That show managed to turn it around (fueled in large part by an excellent collection of shorts). Picard, though, not so much.

This second season of the series finds our retired admiral, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), called to the front line to deal with the arrival of a strange Borg ship. Much of the Federation fleet had gathered there, bordering the Borg ship, waiting, but until Picard arrived the ship made no movement, no seeming attacks. Picard's arrival, though, causes the ship to react, and though the message from the Borg Queen is that they want to join the Federation (for some reason), their actions seem like an attack. The Queen transports over to the flagship, she buries tentacles into the computers and begins the process of taking over every ship in the fleet. In response Picard (and his merry crew of Alison Pill's Agnes Jurati, Michelle Hurd's Raffi Musiker, Santiago Cabrera's Chris Rios, and Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine) set the flagship to self-destruct before the Queen takes over the whole Federation.

Suddenly, though, Picard finds himself awake back at home... except it isn't his home. He's on a dark mirror version of his world, one where the Earth is at the center of a Xenophobic empire and he's the charismatic Admiral that's brought the whole galaxy to heel. Why is he here? Q (John de Lancie), who once again wants to test humanity, although it seems like he has other matters on his mind as well. And it's not just Picard stuck in this mess: the President of Earth is Seven (now named "Annika"), Raffi her advisory, Agnes a scientist working on Earth, and Chris a warrior taking out aliens. They all know they're on the wrong timeline, they just don't know how to change it. But a chance meeting with this timeline's Borg Queen shows them that the only way to fix things is to go to the past (2024, to be exact) so they can find what changed and sent the Earth down the wrong timeline, all so they can make things right.

As I noted above, this season of the show is a mess. The primary reason is because it has so much going on, has so many things it wants to do, tell so many different stories all at once, that it never actually manages to focus on any of them enough to make them matter. It has easily 22 episodes of story here, all crammed into 10 episodes, so a lot of things that would actually make these stories work are jettisoned (if they were even considered at all) to keep the show "moving". It rushes everywhere, but without taking the time to let anything sink it, that constant rush amounts to almost nothing.

Just consider the fact that in the first episode of the season we're reintroduced to the crew, shown where each of them are at this point (which won't matter since the show will reset it all soon), learn about an anomaly in space, have Picard get sent over there to be joined by his crew, and then find the Borg Ship there, which causes the to get attacked by the Borg, and then blow up their ship, so that Q can grab them and send them to a different timeline. Then, the second episode shows us this new world, with all the positions of all the heroes (which, again, won't matter since it's just going to get reset for a second time), so that the heroes can regroup, find the next big threat, grab the Borg Queen, and travel to the past. That's two episodes out of eight where everything we see is erased by the next episode, all so the show can do an extended riff on The Voyage Home.

I think there are actually interesting ideas at play here, especially in the dark timeline that Picard and his crew find themselves in. Had the show left them there to explore this dark mirror (but not the Mirror Universe), that actually might have been interesting. It's a new version of this future world we hadn't seen before, and while the franchise had beaten the Mirror Universe into the ground, this new timeline presented new things to explore and a new way to look at humanity through the lens of its darkest version. Q sending them to this world to test humans and see what makes them tick made sense. Him doing it so they could just travel to the past and undo it doesn't.

Bear in mind that Q through the show was enigmatic. He never gave the crew simple puzzles with easy answers. His goal was always to test them, to see what made them tick. Nothing he did ever had real consequences for humanity, largely because he wasn't there to guide them, just to observe. Nothing about the storyline here fits with Q's modus operandi, and even with the justification the show gives us (spoiler: Q is apparently dying of old age) it just doesn't work within the context of the character.

Time travel introduces its own issues, mind you, the first being that now the show has to justify why time travel was even needed. What does sending the heroes back to our world really tells us about ourselves? All the show is able to do is comment on immigration polices in the U.S. -- a worthy thing to bring up, but the show does it in such a heavy-handed way, only to then drop the storyline entirely, that you wonder why they bothered -- before muddling in a plot line about the Borg Queen trying to take over Earth while Brent Spiner's Adam Soong (an earlier Dr. Soong than we saw before) becomes a megalomaniacal villain (apparently he creates Kahn, sigh). Nothing here matters or is important at all, and worse the present day setting really doesn't add anything to the storyline at all.

Trek does have a history of sending its characters back in time to our present, through episodes of The Original Series, in the Voyage Home, and in other adventures. Those stories either show us a reflection of ourselves (the social commentary in TOS was quite good) or it provided a fun adventure for fans to enjoy (like the fourth movie). Other times time travel has been used, it's been to flesh out necessary parts of the show's history so we better understand it's future. These are all worth reason to do a time travel riff.

Picard fails on that count, though, because nothing here is essential. The Borg Queen doesn't take over the Earth, so why does her story matter? Knowing that a Soong creates Kahn doesn't inform us about Kahn and the other super soldiers at all (and it makes it seem like they really just wanted to include Brent Spiner somehow). Most of the characters either end up having truncated storylines in the past before either leaving to stay in the past, or getting written out of the show by the end of the season. Effectively everything that happens here doesn't matter at all.

It's that last point that I think really needs to be addressed, too: most of the characters this season aren't coming back next season. It's already been mentioned that Pill's Agnes (who, spoiler: becomes the new Borg Queen, but a nice one for... reasons) won't be back, nor will many other characters and actors that carried over from first season and barely got to do anything here. The third season (which will also be the last) will focus largely on a Next Generation reunion. And I get the impulse, I do: the fist season sucked, and you get the vibe that paramount already had this season in production so they couldn't shift gears, but they wanted to give fans the show they actually wanted so the third season will effectively reboot the series. I guess that's a choice to make, sure.

What it really says to me, though, is that everyone was shocked people hated the first season, so the studio back-pedaled as hard as they could to please the fans and no one else. This second season was mangled by executive meddling, trying to do too much so that people would get the call-backs to old movies and shows they liked. And then everything that happens here will be ditched, almost completely, so that the old timers can have a fun last adventure in the stars. I don't know if anyone else is excited for that but I sure as hell am not.

We've gotten two seasons of this show and, so far, nothing on Picard actually matters. Everything done in the first season is ignored here (rightly so or not) and then everything here will be ignored in the third season (if all reports about that story are true). Why, then, did we have to suffer through all of this at all. And, more to the point, if this is how they manage to write two seasons of this series, how do they expect to do anything approaching a decent job in the third?

I've somehow written a lot here but what it all amounts to is: this show is bad. Not a single episode of this season was good, and nothing that happened here was in the least big enjoyable. All we get is a lot of people running around, barely accomplishing anything, all while Old Man Picard sits back and bloviates. While there are Trek shows I've disliked in the past I haven't actively hated any of them nearly as much as I hate Star Trek: Picard. This is a terrible show that shouldn't have made it past its first season and the only upside to all of this is that, with its third season, the show is officially getting the boot.

It happened three seasons too late, if you ask me.