"Imposters" is a tight and effective little thriller that serves as a package to reunite two characters and resolve long-simmering feelings that suddenly boil to the surface. Many of those feelings were conveyed with the final shot of Picard's grim, wordless face in TNG's penultimate episode, "Preemptive Strike." The reunion here is between Picard and Commander Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes in a surprise appearance and standout performance), who famously abandoned Starfleet to join the Maquis in that episode after she became sympathetic to their plight. It's something Picard took as a deep, personal betrayal and never got over, we learn.
Ro appears after the USS Intrepid rendezvouses with the Titan, ostensibly to take Picard and Riker into custody for their unauthorized commandeering of the ship. Make no mistake, these two have strong, unresolved feelings about each other concerning that betrayal, which, for Ro, was not a one-way street. There's also the complication that Changelings are apparently everywhere, and Picard begins to suspect Ro herself may be one.
It turns out, thankfully, she's not, which is confirmed in a memorable, superbly acted scene in the holodeck where Picard pulls out a phaser because he's not sure what to make of the sudden turn of events, where he and Riker are seemingly about to be charged with treason by someone who betrayed her own oath. In this sequence, the two have it out with some emotionally charged dialogue that lays out on the table what that betrayal meant, to each of them, on that day 30 years ago. It's an amazing scene — one that both characters have rehearsed in their heads, just in case they ever crossed paths. And it allows them to work through the pain of that fallout and reach an understanding in a classic TNG way.
In this final swan song of a season for this show (and, we presume, for many, if not all, of the TNG characters), I'm seeing now how the writers have constructed something rather clever: one last adventure where old characters can be brought briefly on stage as they come into Picard's, an our, view for one last conversation. Remember how season one, after it was over, basically felt like an unnecessary series of events to justify that amazing closing scene between Picard and Data? With Picard season three, now every episode has the potential for something like that ... and as a bonus, it has plot and characterization that also make sense! How novel!
Meanwhile, Jack is having disturbing visions where he kills everyone, and a voice in his head keeps calling him to "come home." Ed Speleers has really grown on me, and here he nicely conveys the grinding toll these increasingly nightmarish visions are having on him. No season of Picard would be complete without a mystery box, and this season it appears we have a Jack-in-the-mystery-box (har har). The question may not be who Jack is, but what Jack is, or at least how he became afflicted with whatever it is that's driving him toward insanity. But apparently it's not the first time, as Beverly says he had a stretch during early childhood where he wouldn't sleep because of such awful nightmares.
Meanwhile, the shapeshifter question takes an intriguingly bizarre turn. I was about to write in my notes, "Changelings revert to a liquid state upon being killed!" with that clone of Sidney lying on a slab in the morgue, but then Beverly says exactly that. No, these shapeshifters, when killed, somehow don't revert to a liquid until their internal organs have been cut out and sliced into minced meat. It makes the live ones virtually undetectable — despite security measures that were put in place after the Dominion War that can detect traditional Changelings. Just how did they come to be? It's a pretty decent mystery expanding on established lore. It partially explains Vadic talking to her hand-face, although why she would need to have a conversation with a part of herself is an open question. (Maybe these are shapeshifters who have somehow merged with solids?)
Worf and Raffi return this week, and Raffi is still too much of an exposition machine and needlessly hot-headed and impulsive, but Worf gets some good, deadpan, cutting remarks as they inch their part of the plot forward. The use of crime-riddled District 6 on M'Talas Prime continues as a hilariously naked example of reusing the same set to save money; apparently every shady character of any relevance to the plot happens to hang out here (in addition to Raffi's ex-husband). The show, out of budgetary constraints, seems to have forgotten that people can live on, y'know, different planets.
This week we have a showdown with a Vulcan gangster named Krinn (Kirk Acevedo) who knows something or another. This is your typical undercover procedural stuff, where Worf and Raffi run a con (although not a great one) to gain the upper hand. Nothing here to write home about, but the good news is that by the end of the episode Worf makes contact with Picard — it turns out Ro was Worf's intelligence handler — so we finally get the overarching plot to connect.
But the really good character stuff is happening back on the Titan with Picard and Ro (and also Riker). The history between them all brings this to life, and after Picard and Ro settle the past, she recruits him to help her investigate a Changeling conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of Starfleet Command. The plot generates a nice amount of tension and paranoia as we begin to see the fuller picture. And Jack, whom the Changelings are after, is somehow at the center of it for reasons no one yet knows (or is even aware of). Does Jack even know anything significant other than that he's having nightmares?
This leads the Changelings to up the ante, and they put an explosive on Ro's shuttle before they beam onto the Intrepid. Ro sacrifices herself to disable the Intrepid and give Picard a chance to escape with the Titan, which is now staffed with a skeleton crew since most everyone else was offloaded to the Intrepid. It's a hasty, too-soon exit for a beloved character just when we got her back in action. But this works because it provides an emotional underpinning for the story. I can't complain; given the limited amount of screen time for everything and everyone, I'd rather a character get a chance to come back in a strong way, make an impression, get a resolution, and then go out in heroic fashion. It's efficient storytelling if you're doing what I mentioned earlier — marching these characters on stage for their final curtain call.
Some other thoughts:
- It's almost inexplicable to me that Picard can be as consistently good as it has been this season after being so utterly mediocre-to-bad at moments in its first two seasons of wholly consistent inconsistency and unending non sequitur. It's like, what were the writers waiting for? So strange.
- The use of Ro's earring was a nice touch, and worked as a plot piece for where she stored all her investigative data to pass on to Picard.
- The conspiracy at the highest levels of Starfleet hasn't been this feared since, well, "Conspiracy." Or maybe "Homefront."
- Ro comes to the Titan on a shuttle rather than using the transporters, because the widespread Starfleet infiltration threat makes it ... too hard to trust the use of transporters because why, exactly? No, I suspect this was just a plot device to set up the return shuttle trip where Ro is killed.
- Shaw gets his command back but is mostly useless, in addition to his usual petty antagonism toward Picard and Riker. It might be nice if they made this character a little more balanced.
- Why does the Intrepid look exactly like the Titan, almost as if they were trying to make some sort of mirror-universe statement? To save money on CGI model design? Would it have killed them to create a different-style ship?
- I'm hoping the Changeling plot has a decent motivation and payoff, and isn't simply a MacGuffin for getting the TNG crew back together for these episodes. I suppose even if it's just that, it at least allowed us to revisit everyone, but it would be way better if this could provide some insights to the larger canvas in the post-DS9 Federation.
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