Warning: This Star Trek: Picard season 2, episode 7 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
It had to happen sooner or later. Few shows manage to make it through an entire run without a blip and, while Picard’s second season has been consistently entertaining up to now, ‘Monsters’ is the episode that brings the story down to earth – if not quite with a crash, then definitely an unplanned landing.
After last week’s installment built up to a double-whammy of potentially season-defining moments – Renée Picard’s decision to stick with the Europa Mission, and the Borg Queen/Agnes Jurati hybrid at large in LA – this is something of an unnecessary diversion, redirecting the show’s arc in directions we didn’t really want, or need, to go.
Aside from being a narrative cul-de-sac, taking a trip inside the mind of Jean-Luc Picard feels like a massive tonal shift from the rest of the season. Journeys into inner consciousnesses are always tricky things to get right – how do you visualize the inner workings of something as nebulous as the human mind? – and here the quasi-fantasy tale that unfolds in Jean-Luc’s cerebellum is a clichéd and unimaginative way to dig into past trauma. Whatever happened to the good old days of mind-melds and flashbacks?
At least Picard’s guide through his memories is a welcome addition to the cast. James Callis made Dr. Gaius Baltar one of the standout characters in the brilliant Battlestar Galactica, and this episode relies on his long-established ability to keep the characters he plays ambiguous. When he first appears as a psychologist in a Deep Space Nine-era jumpsuit, it’s hard to tell whether he’s there to help or hinder Picard’s journey of self-discovery – though you can’t help wishing he stuck with asking questions, rather than ordering his patient to tell him a story. There’s no question that watching a couple of quality actors shooting the breeze would be preferable to the more esoteric approach the episode ultimately takes.
Because, while you can understand the showrunners wanting to bring a sense of otherworldliness to an Earthbound show, imagining Picard’s inner psyche as a gothic fairytale castle filled with monsters jars with everything we know about the man of science that is Jean-Luc Picard. Sure, the snatches of dialogue from his past keep things anchored to the Next Generation era, but reimagining his mother as a queen with fiery red hair diminishes the emotional power and tragedy of her mental illness and loss. The big reveal – that the mysterious figure played by Callis is actually Jean-Luc’s dad – also feels rather anticlimactic. Considering how much time is devoted to the sequence, we learn surprisingly little about how Picard’s formative years were responsible for his well-documented connection issues later in life – even now, key pieces of the puzzle are missing, because something big from his past is still hidden behind that metaphorical locked door.
And yet, for all the fantastical adventures, Picard’s brain is among the least weird aspects of ‘Monsters’. Indeed, it’s downright bizarre that the Borg Queen/Agnes hybrid – undoubtedly the most exciting, most watchable character(s) in the show – has been reduced to minimal screentime. That said, if anyone ever started a joke with “an all-powerful cybernetic organism walked into a bar,” not many people would come up with the punchline “she smashed a window in order to generate endorphins that will aid the Queen’s assimilation of her human host.” With Seven concerned that they may be witnessing the birth of a new Borg Queen with the power to assimilate a woefully unprepared planet Earth, it looks like Raffi may have rather more to worry about than Agnes and Rios getting back together.
Not that Rios has eyes for anyone but Dr. Ramirez these days – to the extent that his infatuation is causing him to make decisions you’d never find in the Starfleet captain’s handbook. Yes, she’s seen Tallinn’s eyes whited out during her mind-link with Picard, and yes, she’s seen futuristic medical equipment beamed in from the ether. But surely Rios could have come up with an excuse that didn’t involve him beaming the doctor – and her young son – onto La Sirena for a tour of a 25th-century spacecraft. In a season that’s already expressed concern about timeline altering “butterflies”, this seems like an implausibly questionable decision. (Even so, Rios’s remark that “I’m from Chile. I just work in outer space” is a lovely nod to Star Trek: The Voyage Home, where Kirk said similar about growing up in Iowa.)
The episode saves its most leftfield twist for the end, however. Spurred on by new BFF Tallinn – who’s now revealed the Romulan ears of her true self – Picard has realized that plugging the gaps in his family history could be the key to saving the future. “There is no better teacher than one’s enemy,” he recalls, before reasoning that gaining an audience with Q may be the only way to get the answers he needs.
Guinan’s subsequent trick for summoning a Q resembles the long-established method for getting a genie out of a lamp – are we about to discover that the Q Continuum were the inspiration for the Aladdin fairytale? – but the outcome is surprisingly devoid of omnipotent tricksters.
When a man walks into this particular bar, his love of sci-fi is just a cover for an FBI raid that winds up with Picard and Guinan in custody. Is the surprisingly genre-literate Fed working for Q? Or is he an additional human complication in a season with a rapidly increasing number of moving parts? Where Picard goes next is anybody’s guess…
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard season 2 beam onto Paramount Plus (US) and Crave (Canada) on Thursdays. Viewers elsewhere can watch the show on Amazon Prime Video on Fridays. For more Trek action, check out our reviews of Star Trek: Discovery season 4.