The best scene in "Watcher" comes near the beginning. It's the scene on the bus with the same punk mohawk guy with a boombox (Kirk Thatcher) listening to a version of the same song as he was in Star Trek IV. Seven asks him to turn the music down. The guy complies and meekly apologizes. He learned his lesson four decades earlier. I laughed out loud. It's a fun, winking reference to the time-travel scenario we're in and shows the writers have a self-awareness about the material they're aping.
Unfortunately, that sense of fun and self-awareness is nowhere to be found elsewhere in this slog of an episode, which is mostly just bitter and preachy — when it's anything at all, that is, since it spends most of its time literally spinning its wheels. The first two episodes did a good job of moving the narrative forward and keeping us involved. The third episode was a piece-moving transition piece, but an engaging one. This episode, however, worries me. It's a textbook example of serialized stalling, where everyone mostly just kind of does mechanical things in ways that run out the clock on the episode while not really accomplishing anything.
I mentioned last week that Seven and Raffi made an effective "buddy-cop team." I clearly shouldn't have said that, because they took it literally and here decide to steal a police SUV in their search for Rios, who is sitting in ICE detention. The writers annoyingly double down on Bitter Angry Raffi, who could unlock the police vehicle with her tech, but instead phasers the window and risks drawing unwanted attention because it makes her "feel better." Eyeroll. If the writers want me to take this character seriously, they should write her as smart instead of hot-headed and dumb. This is a waste of Michelle Hurd's time, and mine.
Seven drives the car, which leads to an interminable series of head-scratching Fast Driving Scenes through traffic, down the wrong way of one-way streets, etc., but with no destination or reason or motivation. It's essentially a car chase with no one chasing them. Why are they driving so fast as to attract attention and potentially injure or kill someone and contaminate the timeline when there's no one in pursuit — when they could just be parked somewhere in hiding waiting for Agnes to beam them where they need to go? The answer: So the editors can piece together a mindless up-tempo "action" sequence scored with an "action" score while the in-car "amusing" banter between the two characters chews up screen time and pretends to entertain us. This is conspicuously lame, hacky, and pointless.
Equally pointless are the scenes of Rios in ICE detention. He waits there while not giving the ICE officers his name or backstory, since, you know, he's from the future. Eventually, out of boredom or frustration, Rios cops to the truth (he's the captain of the USS Stargazer from the year 2400, yada yada) which of course is immediately dismissed because it sounds insane. Hilarious! The ICE officer is, of course, a dick, because he is the Prison Warden of this particular scenario, which is a role that requires one to be a dick. The scathing commentary here is apparently that American immigration policy is a dragnet that puts people's lives in the balance. Also, there are jerks in law enforcement. Wow. Astute. Who knew? Rios remains a likable presence, but he's literally trapped in the cage of this plot.
Picard and Agnes venture into Chateau Picard, which in this century has been shuttered since sometime after World War II while all the Picards have ventured to England. Agnes keeps subconsciously expressing the number 15 from her repressed information stolen from the Queen, which Picard deduces (in a rather convenient logical leap) refers to the date of the 15th, which is in three days. This reminded me of how Data kept expressing the number 3 in "Cause and Effect," so I guess there's that.
Since there are only three days until the event that will alter the timeline, we have to move fast. This brings us to the substantive centerpiece of the episode, an extended meeting between Picard and a younger recast version of Guinan (Ito Aghayere), in the very bar where Guinan still hangs out in the 25th century. (The 10-Forward reference is cute, I'll grant.) This is a very embittered version of Guinan, who sports three guns — a shotgun and those sculpted arms — and is so sick of watching humanity punch itself in the face that she's decided to leave the planet, like literally tomorrow. Picard hopes Guinan can guide him to the Watcher and tries to persuade her. She's not in the helping mood until he name-drops that he's Picard, which she recognizes as important for some reason through the timeline. Picard should've led with that, but for some reason doesn't.
Instead, Guinan unleashes on Picard a litany of problems on current-day Earth: "You know they're actually killing the planet? Truth is whatever you want it to be. Facts aren't even facts anymore. A few folks have enough resources to fix all the problems for the rest, but they won't." This, among other stretches of dialogue, may be technically true but is entirely too heavy-handed. A subtler approach is necessary for this type of sci-fi commentary when it comes from someone who has lived for centuries and seen everything — including the destruction of her own world by the Borg!
This is all wrong coming from Guinan, who should be a lot more wise and contemplative and willing to see the long-term picture, and not so bitter and despairing and ready to give up. This is supposedly the same person who said, on the eve of the possible destruction of humanity by the Borg, "As long as a handful of you remain to keep the spirit alive, you will prevail." But now they've recast her in a completely different template, and it might as well be a different character. Making Guinan a cynic who serves as a contemporary mouthpiece for the writers is a terrible choice that leads to dialogue that just clangs to the floor. This version of Guinan has an attitude that comes from a far too purely privileged American perspective; after all, there is suffering far worse in the world than the myopic view on showcase here.
Let's set aside the fact that Guinan doesn't recognize Picard as she should from the events of "Time's Arrow." Apparently that never happened, which I guess we can chalk up to timeline shenanigans (or the writers not knowing or caring about it; you decide). But we know that even if Picard didn't go back in time and meet her in 1893, she still lived through America of the late 19th century and would've known with much more immediacy than a person living in 2024 the state of race relations and post-Civil War tensions. (Or, since she was in San Francisco hanging out in the literary circles of the time, maybe not.) Of all the problems in the past 150 years, this is her breaking point? Sigh.
On the plus side, I'm enjoying Annie Wersching as the smug and catty Borg Queen, and the back-and-forth banter between her and Agnes is fun. Nothing develops on this front, or really happens at all (okay, Agnes makes and then backs out of a deal to be the lonely Queen's friend in exchange for her help), but Wersching is very good and has made this version of the Queen her own.
We'll have to see how this whole Watcher thing plays out. The big reveal is that the Watcher is a non-Romulan version of Laris. This is something that has an equal chance of being interesting or blowing up in our faces. And the very final scene is an intriguing teaser: Q tries to manipulate the mind of a young woman who I'm guessing is important to everything going on here; he snaps his fingers and realizes it didn't work. What's he doing and why, and why aren't his powers working?
But aside from some of these brief moments, "Watcher" just doesn't work at all. (Guinan with a shotgun: a million times no.) Here's hoping this is a blip the season recovers from and not an indication of a greater slide.
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