It's at this point in the season that the "10-hour movie" structure of this series is really starting to take its toll. There are some things to recommend here — notably everybody's awesome red-carpet wardrobe — but they're mostly overshadowed by the sinking feeling that all of this is a waste of this production's time. Consider the fact you've got Patrick Stewart on board for 30 episodes of this series to continue the story of Picard. You've got all the resources of the CBS/Paramount machine at your disposal. You could tell a couple dozen cool stories centered on Picard and his crew, preferably some of them even in the 25th century. Instead we're spending, I'm guessing, an entire eight episodes in 2024, running around and chasing vague plot things in an overarching story that so far makes very little sense.
Economy of narrative has been replaced with the need to stretch every scene into an episode. Remember in First Contact how Picard and Lily went into a Dixon Hill novel in the holodeck because Picard needed a Borg component? That scene also allowed for everyone to get dressed up for a formal party. (It also, ironically, was directed by Jonathan Frakes.) The scene was, what, maybe a few minutes? Now we take that and stretch it into an entire episode and then some, because the movie is now eight to 10 hours long.
This would be fine if the narrative were firing on all cylinders and doing something interesting, but it's not. It's almost painfully generic. The "heist" nature of the plot here is almost immediately solved and shoved aside (*), thanks to Agnes' new superhero powers granted by her merging minds with the Borg Queen. Much of the rest of the episode is idle chit-chat among the characters, which is sometimes reasonable. But to add needless suspense or whatever, we tack on another hacky flash-forward device at the beginning of each act showing Picard gravely injured before flashing back to "34 minutes earlier," as if we need to set all this up with a ticking clock countdown to disaster.
* I'm noticing a pattern here where major plot things are set up in the previous episode (The magistrate has beamed aboard La Sirena and recaptured the crew! Rios is on a Homeland Security bus!), only to be almost immediately resolved in the next episode. This would seem to be a good thing because it's moving the plot forward, but the advancement of plot is mostly illusory.
Then there are the flashbacks within Picard's mind, which hearken back to his youth and his mother, and his father (face never seen) who apparently was abusive. These brief, vague flashes have been shown to us now in nearly every episode, but we're no closer to finding out what they mean (beyond the obvious speculation that Picard journeyed to space to escape a broken home) than we were after the first episode.
The one thing this series is trying to do right is circle back to some sort of character-based substance in these episodes. In that vein, we do get the nice scene between Picard and Renee where he tries to assuage her shattered confidence with a Picardian speech that works as a genuine sentiment.
Then there's Agnes and the episode's title. She and the Borg Queen were a team matched in hell. I can't tell you how surprised I am week after week that this catty, wisecracking, mischievous take on the manipulative Borg Queen actually works. I don't know how Annie Wersching and the writers stumbled upon this particularly weird and, yes, fun take on the character. Honestly, the Queen is playing the Q role here even better than Q: Getting in Agnes' ear and saying things that are manipulative in a way that claws at buried truths. (Honestly, this feels like it could be a legit sci-fi sitcom. Title: The Queen's Gambit. Oh, wait, never mind.) The central question here is to what degree is the Queen taking over Agnes' mind, versus Agnes giving it over willingly because she likes the power the Queen provides in return. Consistent with the Queen's canonical nature is the idea that she uses seduction to get what she wants.
This leads to a musical number where Agnes belts out "Shadows of the Night" at the party in what is the flightiest of fancies this side of Nana Visitor singing "Fever" in "His Way." It's completely ridiculous and implausible (apparently Agnes+ can also emit an EM pulse that knocks out the lights for good measure), but shows a goofy charm and go-for-broke-ness that's really hard for me to dislike.
Unfortunately, the plot is a mess. Kore, driven by some sudden coincidental suspicion, decides to do an internet search on her father, which ... I guess she's never thought to do before? Even though she's trapped in a house with nothing to do for years on end? She finds a bunch of articles calling him a discredited mad scientist and such, and then she discovers video logs that he has conveniently left unlocked. They reveal that she's actually a genetically engineered experiment being raised as his daughter — and not the first one; many previous attempts failed and died. This would explain her medical afflictions. (What's not explained is how he did all this and who else, if anyone, was a part of it.)
But how does this fit into the larger picture? I'm not enticed by these developments nearly as much as I'm nonplussed. It feels like the writers are just throwing plot at the wall and hoping something sticks. The "sit at the computer and discover awful things" trope felt really hackneyed. (Incidentally, the first time I remember this being done really well was in Clear and Present Danger (1994), which of course looks hopelessly dated now. That movie also featured a U.S. president who seemed so implausibly cartoonish at the time in his attempt to seize drug money with his "This is our money!" bit, but seems considerably less cartoonish now. I digress.)
Soong is so desperate to stop Renee from going on the Europa mission that he attempts to run her down with his car, and hits Picard instead. That's a pretty extreme solution to a problem that could've been solved in probably any number of smarter and subtler ways. I'm also less than thrilled that this hit-and-run leaves Picard in a coma unable to wake up (while having dreams of his troubled childhood).
Laris Tallinn wants to use one of her thingamabobs to wake him up, while everyone else wants to let him work things out in his mind on his own. In an episode that meanders for so long, to drop all this craziness on us at the last minute just feels strange.
Q makes no appearance here, and I'm honestly at a loss what his game even is at this point. If he's so hellbent on stopping Renee from going on the Europa mission that he pits Soong against Picard, why did he even set these events in motion with Picard being put in the alternate timeline in the first place? What's the lesson and/or penance beyond a loose motivation for the story's premise? And if he's Renee's shrink, couldn't he manipulate this matter beyond what he's doing with Soong, who's incompetent? The ground rules are so hazy as to be incoherent.
I think that about covers it. I'll end this without a closing since the episode does the same.
"This is our money, we found it! Tell them! Or don't tell them, I don't care.":
- Clearly, Agnes' song was lip-synced for the scene, but was that really Alison Pill's voice?
- My wife pointed this out to me: Kore sits up in alarm when her father gets home from running down an old man in a parking lot and she asks, "What happened?!" as if he were covered in blood or something, when in fact the only indicator that anything is amiss is that his tie is undone and he looks slightly unhappy. LOL. Did she read her father's script?
- Did Jeri Ryan even have any lines this week? I noticed her in the periphery of a lot of shots (see awesome wardrobe, referenced above), but she had no dialogue. Strange. Raffi does note that being free of her Borg implants allows her to mix it up a bit at the party, which is a potentially interesting idea for a character story, but is in here merely as a throwaway.
- Raffi is suddenly the Voice of Reason when she has to warn Rios about the dangers of possible relationships (when he betrays a smittenness over Cute Doctor who treated him before the ICE adventure) that span centuries. Not about contaminating the timeline, mind you, but that such relationships would be built upon lies.
- Speaking of Cute Doctor, she's called upon here when the crew has Picard's medical emergency from Soong's hit-and-run. When she defibrillates him, his synthetic body feeds back on her equipment. Rios has a lot of ‘splainin' to do.
- Picard and Tallinn have some back-and-forth repartee that is fairly effective. Again, if these characters were in a storyline that could tell stories about each of them and not just go hither and thither with meandering plot points, we might have something worthwhile. At the moment, not so much.
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