Friday, March 27, 2020

Picard, Season 1: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2, Season 1
"Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2"
Airdate: March 26, 2020
10 of 10 produced
10 of 10 aired

A large space standoff occurs. A character dies and is resurrected in perhaps the single most predictable plot development possible. A bunch of characters we can't possibly care about express utterly baseless emotions about characters that we do.

Here it is, folks: the best part of the episode. Save yourself the other 50 minutes and go clean between the tiles in your shower or something.


Kevin: So this ending is not exactly surprising, is it? The day was saved at the last minute, and everyone is fine. I don't object to that per se. It's not like Star Trek hasn't done that before, and I honestly don't want to watch all life in the galaxy destroyed. Whether the day being saved at the last minute resonates, as ever, boils down to how well it made me invest in the lead up. Done right, the last minute save is a relief, not a let down. Unfortunately, all the arcs were tied up so quickly and in such a neat bow that nothing really felt like...anything. The biggest issue is that we still just don't spend enough time with any of the key players, the android, the Romulans, or the Admonition Aliens, to really invest in any of their goals or survival. The problem is that the entire season hinges on how much I enjoy this episode. All previous nine episodes, with limited exception, function on hinting that this episode will be awesome, so it has to be awesome, or what have we all been doing? And the weakest parts of the episode is definitely the Picard android clone. On the one hand, I'm glad he's not immortal or super-powered and I'm glad the writers knew in advance Picard would never want that, but on the other, it just makes his apparent death cheap and meaningless. Literally nothing changed from the status quo less than ten minutes after he died. That's not how death works.

Matthew: It really, really annoys me when a character is "killed" and the show runners expect us to 1. sit through a bunch of tear jerking scenes, and 2. be surprised and relieved when the character is brought back to life in the most obviously telegraphed way possible. It's insulting. So yeah, that aspect of the story completely fell flat for me. But then, so did literally every other aspect of the plot.
  • Remember that part where the Federation had enslaved untold thousands of sentient beings and treated them like shit? I was so ethically challenged for 4 minutes.
  • Remember that part where they introduced an extragalactic civilization of super AI beings, just to have them turn into metal space snake FX rejects who say and do nothing? That was a truly mind bending 90 seconds.
  • Remember that part where they created a quantum simulation of the afterlife? I've never been more intellectually stimulated for 3 minutes.
  • Remember that part where they solved death for humanity? That was a cool 90 seconds.
  • Remember that part where the one person hit or killed the other person? I've never been so entertained for 9 fucking hours.
I guess this all goes to say that no science fiction ideas were successfully developed in this run of ten episodes. By trying to do all of them 25 seconds at a time in between pointless, repetitive action scenes, they succeeded at none of them.

Kevin: The finishing on this episode was also pretty slipshod, and that's not just me being picky. Soong discovers Sutra's betrayal and disables her, but then...nothing. Nothing happens to him and he apparently makes no additional steps to stop Soji. A fight breaks out and we Trek-fu-ed literal androids. Riker orders the Romulans back to Romulan space, forgetting that this woman was masquerading as a high-ranking Federation official for years. It's little things like this that pile up and make an episode feel shoddily put together. I also found Riker's presence a He's been out of the game for how long? Sure. Let's give him a fleet. I think this would have been a great moment for a Geordi cameo. We've seen alternate timelines where he's a captain. I think dropping that in would have had the same effect without the reflexive eyeroll. That said, one more scene between the pair is not exactly unwelcome, and the more I think about it, the more I like that he said goodbye without disclosing his condition. I think that fits.

Matthew: I was happy to see Riker, story incredulity notwithstanding (Oh, I'll get there) because I actually care about him. The rest of these characters are a complete emotional nullity for me. Any time we were threatened by characterization, assassins beamed in or something exploded or any other excuse occurred for such scenes to end. And what characterization we did receive was often contradictory. Raffi literally hated Picard. It's why he chose to go to her. Now, on the occasion of his death, she is tearfully professing her love for him? Did something happen in a deleted scene that establishes this? The same goes doubly for Rios. He swore to never let another Starfleet captain into his heart. Uhh... when exactly did Picard enter his? The most egregious Thing We're Supposed To Care About may be Raffi and Seven as lesbian lovers. Let me be clear - I have no problem with the same sex relationship. What I have a problem with is springing it on us in the final scene of the show, with absolutely no preamble. Have these two characters even had a scene together? By the end of this episode, the people in charge of Picard have replicated all of the worst character sins of Discovery - slapping random character interactions together, turning the sappy music up in the mix, and assuming that we will feel things. And don't get me wrong - I wanted to feel something for the images on the screen, because several of them resemble characters and stories I actually do care about. But I felt nothing, because they were essentially random events happening to people who either outright disgust me, or who are so confusing as to not register as human.

Kevin: In the praise column, and almost in spite of myself, I enjoyed Picard's scene with Data. Sure, it was coasting on the actor's rapport (one that I might add comes shockingly close to making the scenes with Soong work. Not all the way, but more than the writing would indicate) but I can't deny that I got a little verklempt. Maybe it's the state of the world. Maybe I had some residual feelings from The Good Place finale covering a lot of the same material, but here we are. It got me. I also appreciate that the episode kept its focus (albeit in a fairly rote way) on Picard convincing Soji to back down. Is it a little too neat that Picard sacrificing himself is enough to convince Soji and Soji turning off the beacon is enough to convince the Romulans? Sure. But I can't deny that is at least the outline of a patented TNG plot solution.

Matthew: I was unable to leash my incredulity at how the plot wrapped up. Soji's conversion from up and coming science fellow to "yes let's kill trillions of sentients" and back again was ridiculous. The Romulans' heretofore unknown society-level predilection against android (but not holographic, and not Data while he was alive and in frequent contact with them, but whatever) life just suddenly being written off with "meh, I guess they turned off their beacon" and leaving the scene was just fucking stupid. How did the Romulans know what the beacon was, who it was contacting, and what that contact represented? Why would they trust a set of beings they've literally spent 2,000 centuries hating to be hunky-dory now? Why would Starfleet trust the Romulans to leave and not just come back to finish what they started 200,000 years ago? Why wouldn't the AI super-snakes just come back to finish the job that had been so rudely interrupted? It's all just so fucking dumb.

As far as Picard and Data go, I agree to the basic notion that watching Picard and Data discuss the meaning of life and death is a pleasant television viewing prospect. But the way they go about it is horrendous. Apparently, Data has been "alive" in a "quantum simulation" for decades. Does this simulation provide the requisite computing power (or whatever else) to qualify as consciousness? If they have the capability of both creating that level of simulation, and downloading it into a "golem," why didn't they just resurrect him at any point in the last three decades? His situation during that time sounds like a hellish, living death that only a monster would inflict upon another sentient being, frankly. You don't get credit for 5 minutes of good acting without establishing a story, stakes, goals, and parameters, especially stakes and parameters that don't openly contradict each other.


Kevin: Everyone brought it. There was nowhere to bring it to in a lot of cases, but I cannot deny that they hired some talented people. Hurd and Pill again do the yeoman's job of trying to make me feel things about scenes that don't have the narrative build up for their alleged payoffs. Spiner was frankly amazing. Seeing more of his Soong and one more turn as Data proper was a pleasant reminder of how good he is, and it was pleasantly surprising how effortless he made it look. For such an ass pull of a character, he still did a great job making Soong feel of a piece with earlier performances in the family. And I think he really nailed the quiet, childlike qualities that made Data so endearing back in the day in his final scene with Picard.

Matthew: The fact that Spiner could act through the wretched de-aging CGI and threaten me with feeling things is an achievement. And Stewart played off of him expertly. It's such a shame that these two wonderful actors were wasted on such a superficial and dumb story. I really wish Retcon Soong had actually been Lore. It would have given Spiner a chance to really play a role with teeth, and it would have made a hell of a lot more sense that the character was advocating the outright murder of all biological life int he galaxy.

Production Values

Kevin: For all our concerns about another epic pew-pew battle, I think they kept it to a single pew. The orchids are a fun enough idea, but the battle was rendering pretty soupy once it started. The final shots of two fleets facing off looked too much like a video game to really have impact. There just wasn't the detail the models of old would give you, and I was left feeling like I was watching a fairly overburdened cutscene.

Matthew: The big battle ended up feeling like nothing. I certainly didn't care about it, and I mostly didn't even know what was supposed to be happening. Also, Riker being captain of the USS Zhang He (or whatever) also felt like nothing, because they gave us no establishing shot of the ship. What a waste of money and human talent.

Kevin: The metal snake They just felt generic for an AI species. I get why they chose not to fully realize them, but I almost wish they did. Getting to meet these beings and see their perspective directly may have helped the story. I know it would be dipping into the nostalgia well once too often, but if it turned out they were the ones who made V-Ger or something, I think that could have led to some more fun design and plot choices. The ones we got were pretty generic.

Matthew: Metal super-snakes are indeed the same generic bullshit CGI that Star Trek has been copying since Matrix Revolutions. But then, that level of generic swiping makes sense, because the AI beings were a complete non-entity in the story.


Kevin: So in the end, there's not much in the episode that is bad, at least not in the way seeing Icheb tortured was for example. Nothing here resonated the way the writers thought it did, but I was never tearing my hair out. I did give Picard's resurrection a healthy eye-roll, but they so carefully ensured it couldn't impact the story outside the episode that I can happily agree and ignore it completely. The most successful parts of the episode (and season) were the ones that coasted on the goodwill and careful work of TNG proper, but in the show's defense, most of those moments actually worked, and felt in the moment like they were building on the work rather than just mimicking it. So, I find myself torn between a two and a three. The episode is empty, but enjoyable in places. It's not offensive, but it's not really anything. Based on the scene with Data, and the fact that narrative focus was in fact Picard trying to broker a Star Trek-style solution to the very end and NOT just massive space battles for 45 minutes, I think this makes it into a 3 for the episode itself, but it still helps cement this as a 2 of a season.

Matthew: This is almost the definition of a 2, for a total of 5. It has two redeeming facets (Picard's scenes with Riker and Data) that are entirely dependent on nothing that occurred either within this episode or within this season of television. The rest of the scenes are random, perfunctory plot garbage. No emotional developments feel earned, no ideas are satisfactorily explored, obvious holes and questions in the plot are completely ignored, and it all adds to to far less than the sum of its gleaming parts. I was alternately bored, confused, and disgusted by Picard. At no point during its ten episodes did I feel anything like what I used to feel watching Star Trek. I hated it, and I am glad it's over.


  1. And so, TNG once again goes out with a whimper rather than a snarl. What a sad waste.

    Thanks for sticking with it, guys. At least there's another year of Voyager to look forward to in here.

    1. At this point, Enterprise is looking really good, too. It's funny what perspective and time can do.

  2. Mech tapeworms. That's what the super-synths looked like. Mech. Tapeworms.

  3. Personal feelings are in line with Kevin's, with the exception of ep. 5, I didn't hate it -- which I'll take after the Abrams/Kurtzman outings. I am ready to move on from this current experiment in serialized Trek, though. In the meantime, I'll just imagine a more episodic version of Picard with A-plots revolving around issues surrounding the politics of post-Romulan collapse, the rights of synthetic agents, the perception of division between synthetic/organic intelligence*, etc.; and B-plots involving Narek and Elnor forced to cooperate in increasingly wacky situations.

    * I thought they were bringing the Borg/ex-Borg into it to explore that angle.