Star Trek: Picard has spent his debut season telling a story that has sometimes tried to strike a balance nostalgia for its past with an interrogation of what nostalgia has for that past a time of crisis really means. The season one finale decides, for better or worse, that the best we can do is to embrace that nostalgia wholeheartedly.
“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” naturally picks up the nightmare scenario our heroes faced in the climax of last week’s moral setup. Tthe Romulan fleet is minutes away; the Androids, convinced by Narek’s murderous escape from captivity, are preparing for an organic apocalypse through an unknown higher being; and Jean-Luc Picard is apparently unable to get someone to listen to him, trying to get both parties to back off. Oh, and Narissa hides in a little corner of the downed Borg Cube without anyone noticing – Seven and Elnor hang out a bit while they wait for the fight to get going up here, without noticing that Romulans are doing a pretty stealth job in their closeness – just in time for the escaped Narek to meet her. Overall it’s a bad time!
Narek and Narissa begin to devise their own plan to destroy Copellius station – courtesy of a few polished grenades – even before Oh and her fleet can get there to wipe it off the map, but from here the episode takes a sideways step for bewilderment. It turns out Narek plays a much longer game than his sister, and instead of taking the grenades to Coppellius station … he takes them to La Sirena, with a waiting Raffi and Rios (repairing its engines with a bit of Coppelian technology that, in its most reductive form, is essentially a magic wand that lets you imagine whatever you want and make it happen) an awkward alliance.
Narek is not the only one who is apparently turning around, because back Bee the station – where Soji and Soong now work the beacon to spawn the mysterious synthetic alliance to destroy all organic civilization – Dr. Jurati, who had a party with Soong in the previous episode, arrives to break Picard out of captivity. A quick trip back to La Sirena (unaware that Narek, Elnor, Raffi and Rios have now gone to camp to carry out their own plan to destroy the beacon), the two realize the Romulan fthe arrival of leet is approaching. It’s here, after episode after episode of touch only, Picard finally comes alive the heroic images of the Jean-Luc we know and love.
Take La Sirena even in the atmosphere while Jurati watches in awe from a nearby station, Picard confronts the arriving Romulan fleet in a vain manner. It’s as cheerfully nostalgic as it is disjointed and messy, like Picard and Jurati weaving the ship around Coppellius’ new launched orchids, evading through disturbing fire and trying to make a point to the Romulans – while on the surface the ground team’s plan was backfires, leaving Narek reluctant while Soji continues to build the beacon. It’s hectic and messy, but driven by that joyful thrill of simple fun. As joyful as it is, it disguises a fatal mistake: EEvery time you ask a question about how or why something happens, “Et in Arcadia, Ego Part 2” just offers a lot of nostalgia instead of actually answering.
What did Picard hope to achieve La Sirena on a suicide mission against hundreds of Romulan Warbirds? But isn’t it cool, Jean-Luc flies into a spaceship and makes it like that again! How does the synth wand Rios previously used to fix La Sirena also suddenly have the ability to clone the ship to fool the Romulans? That doesn’t matter, they said it was the Picard maneuver, even if that’s not how actual Picard maneuver worked! Why does Narek just disappear completely from the episode after he’s been restrained and never mentioned again? Forget that, Starfleet showed up for a deadlock and Riker is in the captain’s chair!
There are parallels with Star Trek: DiscoveryIs second season finale, who also spent much of his explosive runtime trading a consistent logic plot with the spectacle of nostalgia. But what makes it all the more frustrating here is that Picard has been relatively reluctant to admit to being TNG roots so far. It has sometimes even taken it as an opportunity to ask if that nostalgia is even a good thing at all, or whether Jean-Luc himself started getting high from his own supply at the expense of hurting the people around him. His complete withdrawal here at the top of its peak serves only as a realization of that Picard was seemingly never honestly interested in those questions in the first place, or perhaps, cynically, that it was too scared to do that when it came to the legend the show is named after.
But as soon as it brought that nostalgia, the finale seems for a moment as if it is about to pull itself out. After Jean-Luc made one last desperate plea, not only to prevent the Romulans and Starfleet from blowing each other away, but to take Soji out to take the beacon out before the Synth Alliance’s robotic vines can completely break up, said the beacon that has opened, coming home over the conversation they had about what it means to sacrifice in last week’s episode. They choose to throw their own lives away at these moments, Jean-Luc argues, because they are there to save each other, not just to save themselves. Picard and the Federation don’t help because it keeps them from being killed by mysterious synth rulers, but because they think it’s the right thing to do.
The plea not only works, but Picard’s sacrifice becomes literal. As Soji retreats and the Federation and Zhat Vash both amicably leave Coppellius without further conflict, the severity of his nostalgic escapade finally overtakes our titular hero. As he offers what he thinks is the last adieu for Riker, the brain anomaly that has lingered like a non-ticking time bomb during the show finally exposes his full danger, and surrounded by his newest crew, his newest friends, Jean -Luc Picard dies.
It is perhaps the most emotionally fair moment of the episode, not only because of the heartbreaking consequences, like everyone from Seven of Nine (who is also emotionally upset about wanting to kill Narissa for revenge – by the way, that happened in the previous mess – and actually does) Elnor a moment to mourn Picard’s death. But it’s also because it’s the only moment of this episode that feels deserved in regards to the thematic ideas in ‘Et in Arcadia, Ego“S first half when it comes to the value of sacrifice. Picard completes his mission, realizing that he was indeed willing to give his life for another and in a small way repay Data’s sacrifice for him in Star Trek: Nemesis.
And that’s something that is hammered home almost immediately after that when Picard is suddenly not dead – well, not alive either – and has a meeting with his old friend Data (played again by Brent Spiner) in some sort of automated limbo. As it turns out, just as a fragment of Data’s positronic neurons (essentially his soul) had been preserved to create new synths, Soji, Soong and Agnes managed to preserve Picard’s mind. It gives Picard a seemingly last gift: to be reunited with his android companion.
Yes, it’s nostalgic like so much in this episode, but here it is treated with nuance and ties in with the broader message of sacrifice from the episode. Tthis is not a character who just says, “Make it this way,” because that’s where it comes from TNG, it uses these numbers that we know and like to say about life and, in this case, death. Data’s belief that life is not really lived without the experience that it is finite – that we must have the ability to sacrifice something valuable to make it valuable in the first place – is the ultimate statement that not only reminds us of his own humanity from the moment back in Nemesisbut of great value in what Picard has now done for Soji and her people.
… that is, to our characters, and Picard decide for yourself that Jean-Luc is actually too important to make that sacrifice.
Carrying a request from him with Data to actually stop his last neurons – so he can die and have therefore lived a fulfilled life – Picard is taken from the grave by Soji, Soong and Jurati and his preserved spirit is transplanted into the synthetic golem Soong had built for himself. The body has not improved as is Dahj or Soji, but his brain defect has disappeared, he may still die in the end, and for now, Jean-Luc is back in the world of the living, and better than ever.
It was expected that Picard would somehow cheat this death. After all, the cast and crew, including Patrick Stewart, have repeatedly pointed out plans for it more seasons of Picard behind this. But the way it is done here – Picard in peace with his goal of reversing it at someone else’s request – undermines everything the episode has to say about the idea of sacrifice, which is precisely the conflict between the Romulans and the synths, and everything Data had literally said about the point of life. Instead, it represents something much more cynical: data can make that sacrifice because it is Data. He was a supporting character. Beloved, yes, but not the hero. Jean-Luc Picard? Jean Luc Picard is too important to sacrifice whether he wants to or not.
And in the end we have to ask ourselves – not for PicardNudging, mind – what has Can Picard sacrifice this season? He never had to deal with his hubris about the Romulan supernova situation, nor how retreating into that hubris hurt people near him like Raffi and Elnor. His greatest regret about Data’s sacrifice for him is not only amicably resolved, he is undoubtedly getting one better version of it than he had, to properly say goodbye to his friend and pay tribute in the way that he didn’t get a first timeround. Not only does he get a nice new body, but he finally gets another ship to command, a crew that loves him, and is not only proven in the eyes of the Federation, but approved and embraced by one more time. To become nostalgia, Jean-Luc once again becomes the mythical hero, but now that myth is just a reality.
Ultimately, that nostalgia leaves “Et in Arcadia, Ego Part 2” and Star Trek: Picard with far too many unanswered questions, pushing aside so many lingering threads. How did the Federation overturn its ban on synthesis so quickly? Why is Agnes suddenly more than okay not to turn herself in for killing Bruce Maddox? What does the Federation look like now, with the exposed rot of its previous setback –Iis it just magically OK again? What will Oh, the Zhat Vash and the Romulan remnant do now? What will become of Sutra, deactivated by Soong because of her loophole? And seriously: Where the hell is Narek?
It looks like all this will have to wait for the second season, as will new adventures as Picard and Rios seem to be in charge of sharing La Sirena with a full company of smiling, happy crew members (even Seven seems to be driving). But hopefully there will be a new season take more than just answers to these current questions, but also new ones. What else will there be with a bright new future Star Trek: Picard actually to say?
Hopefully next time it will decide it’s worth saying what it is more than saying ‘Commitment’ for old reasons.
- As much as this episode’s nostalgia overload disappointed me, I’ll say this: Jonathan Frakes looked really good in that 2399 Command Red. Really good.
- I understand that Starfleet is meant to have been in the backstep and that the shipbuilding infrastructure had been paralyzed with the attack on Utopia Planitia, but … did Riker show up with just a whole group of the same class of ships? It seemed so weird.
- Interestingly, speaking of the Starfleet fleet, the design was very reminiscent of a hybrid between the Sovereign Class introduced as Nemesis‘ Company-E and its evolution, the Odyssey Class, invaded Star Trek Online. It didn’t quite match either, so presumably this is a new ship class that’s only meant to evoke the design, but still it could be a neat little Eastergg.
- Speaking of nostalgia, though: Data’s final moments are set to ‘Blue Skies’ – the song he sang at Troi and Riker’s wedding in Nemesis-was a nice gesture. Everything about Dates performance in this episode was actually the best signal for him.
- Is it me, or did the branches of what the Synthetic Alliance actually was? look eerily familiar with the tendrils of the Future-Control A.I. probe the Discovery crew facing in “Light and shadows? I can’t say if that was deliberate, or creepy robot villains from the future are just very big in tentacles.
- One of the very last shots we see of the episode as the crew of La Sirena his way to the bridge with Picard is Raffi and Seven playing Kal-Toh, the Vulcan strategy game loved by Tuvok on board Voyager (Seven once struck him in one move, much to Tuvok’s dismay). But even more more interesting than that little Easter egg is that Raffi and Seven briefly grasp each other’s hands. Are they in a relationship now? In one way or another? Although LGBTQ representation is not explicitly addressed in Picard yet showrunner Michael Chabon has previously noted that queerness can be interpreted in both the backstories of Raffi and Seven, even if left unsaid on screen. If this is a hint to something more, and something between the two, hopefully, PicardIn the second season, such a representation is even made explicit.