"Mercy" is a welcome step in the direction of plot coherence, where multiple threads of what has been happening for the past few episodes begin to converge in ways that finally start to reveal a picture that may not totally make sense but at least doesn't feel completely random and haphazard. Finally we have most of the major players pointing toward a common direction, instead of isolated in their bubbles doing their own thing.
Still, though, other pieces (like Picard unlocking his mother's room in the past) are missing or deferred, and the first half of the episode had me impatient, with its interrogation scenes that felt like they were ported in from the overplayed police procedural of your choice, and the scenes aboard La Sirena with Rios, Teresa, and her son, which frankly felt like a complete waste of time, despite the easygoing efforts Santiago Cabrera.
This jigsaw-puzzle approach to storytelling doesn't suddenly become good storytelling just because the pieces are starting to come together. If the season is a jigsaw puzzle, my fear here is that the solution is just a big shape of a single color. Which is to say, it's a massive, frustrating pain in the ass to put together, and completely unsatisfying when you're staring at it in the end. At least with "Mercy" we get the, well, mercy that we've figured out that many of the pieces do in fact fit together into a larger mass. And we do get some characterization that makes some nods toward human feelings.
The emotional core of the episode is actually within FBI Agent Wells (Jay Karnes), an unappreciated Mulder-like rogue of the agency who believes in extraterrestrial life because of an event from his childhood. He now conducts "super off-the-books" investigations in basements with the cameras turned off because his superiors don't think much of his work. Wells thinks Picard is an alien and tries to get him to admit it.
That this pays off with a flashback showing us why Wells has made this connection — as a kid he saw the same sort of transporter beam when the Vulcans were visiting Earth and he discovered them in the woods; a mind meld intended to erase the memory of their presence failed — and how it has haunted him ever since. Jay Karnes and Patrick Stewart make this an actually decent standalone human story, and if this feels like a bit of a random detour given everything else going on, I will say that telling more standalone character stories like this while advancing the main plot is a more workable structure than just spinning our wheels within the main plot with pointless mechanics.
Q also returns, and de Lancie makes the most of ... whatever this is. He first appears as an interactive program that has been installed onto Kore's VR goggles, and reveals to Kore her true nature as Soong's experiment — although this is pretty redundant, because how would she have not figured this out after seeing all of Soong's videos in "Two of One"? (Leave it to this show to over-explain things that should already be obvious to certain characters while not explaining other things that leave the audience in the dark.)
Later, Q and Guinan cross paths, and we learn that he's apparently dying and looking for some semblance of meaning before it all ends. It's still not clear what Q intended Picard to do, but he didn't necessarily intend for Picard to go back into the past to correct the future. This is a step toward some sort of larger explanation, but various cards are still not revealed, and I'm not convinced this will ever make sense. But we'll see. There's cryptic dialogue that tries to get to some sort of point here, but it falls short of making this wholly worthwhile.
The central throughline about how humans are doomed by their "inability to escape the past" is at least an attempt to give this episode some sort of substance, and it ties in reasonably well to Wells' life, which has been defined by that one moment with the Vulcans in the past, and which Picard helps release him from by finally providing the explanation Wells has long sought. Wells agrees to release Picard and Guinan and help them.
Meanwhile, Raffi and Seven are on the case to find Jurati. Seven tries to put herself in Jurati's shoes as a Borg, and when they do track her down, Seven and Raffi fight the more powerful Jurati. Agnes is able to stop her inner Queen from killing them both and showing them mercy; it indicates that Agnes is still in there somewhere. Also, the writers at least try to take a run at Raffi as a character, looking at her relationship with Elnor (via flashback) and her tendency to manipulate those close to her to get them to do what she wants. Like a lot of things, this feels like too little, too late — but it's better than all the Bitter Angry Raffi that has been what the character has been about most of this season.
As for Soong and Kore — what does this have to do with anything? (And how does Soong have a bloodline if the Soongs are all mad scientists with no families?) Well, it finally kind of connects here (minus the bloodline thing) when the Agnes-Queen shows up at Soong's house and makes him an offer he can't refuse by laying out for him (and us) the fork in the road: Either he can help her stop the Europa mission launch, which would stop Renee Picard's Important Discovery and lead to an "ecological freefall" which Soong can somehow leverage into becoming a world savior (in what will become the totalitarian future). Or he can not help her, and be a meaningless failure. Soong, being the villain, chooses to be important rather than meaningless, and helps the Queen begin assimilating her army from ex-military mercs.
Look, this still doesn't make a ton of sense, and I certainly wouldn't call it "good." (Making the Europa mission a fulcrum upon which Trek history pivots — when there is still a third world war and First Contact supposedly in the future from this point — is shaky to say the least.) But this is the best episode of Picard since "Assimilation," and it manages to start fitting some of the major plotlines together just when I was getting really impatient. It remains to be seen if the last two episodes of this season can bring this home in a meaningful way. We will soon see.
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