The mysterious Captain Vadic gives Picard and the crew of the Titan an ultimatum: turn over Jack Crusher or die. Meanwhile, Raffi can’t “Disengage” from her obsessions in Picard Season 3 episode 2, written by Christopher Monfette & Sean Tretta and directed by Doug Aarniokoski.
Will Nevin: Hey, Mark, lemme ask you this: Let’s say you were married, right? And you have a child with your partner. The kid is smart but super annoying, but that’s not really the point. Anyway, your partner dies (sorry!) and at some point, you have a super secret second child with your partner’s best friend…but you name the new kid after your partner.
That’d be kinda weird, right?
Mark Turetsky: Of course not… unless said best friend were somehow responsible for my late partner’s death. Now that would be weird. But this is such a strangely specific theoretical, Will. I can’t imagine where you come up with these things.
Will: I’m easily bored.
And I’ve also just watched episode 2 of the third season of Picard! Jean-Luc is a daddy!
Jack Crusher, Consummate Rogue
Mark: While last week’s episode opened with “I Don’t Want to Set The World On Fire” by The Ink Spots, this week’s episode starts with “Starchild” by the largely forgotten band Baby. While I can possibly think that Jean Luc’s mix tape for Beverly included The Ink Spots, I think Baby is not within Picard’s musical bailiwick. Still, “star child?” “baby?” I think the show’s musical director is having some fun with us with this selection.
Will: I miss the days when the future only had royalty-free music — but I suppose with all of the ties we’ve seen to First Contact (which memorably used Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”) it’s only fitting. I tell ya, Mark, the first ten or so minutes of this episode were a slog, with a flashback to two weeks ago followed by picking up the action in what amounted to a recap, after we had already seen a recap. A bit boring there — and I don’t think “baby” Jack Crusher’s charms made up for it.
Mark: He’s Han Solo with twice the heart and half the charisma.
Still, you can’t blame a man for not being Harrison Ford. I thought actor Ed Speleers did an okay job with what was ultimately a somewhat cliché scene. It establishes he’s a scoundrel, an outlaw, out on the edges of space trying to do some good in a cold, indifferent galaxy. The thing that really bugged me about this scene is, where was Beverly in all of this? I suppose they kept her off the board just so that they could leave some doubt in the audience’s mind as to whether he’s really her son. After all, he’s a liar and a scoundrel, and we only have it on his word that she’s his mother, right? Still, it seemed pretty clear in the opening last week that the Eleos is her ship, and she has all of the command level clearances, so where was she?
Will: Literally (albeit temporarily) fridged! It was one more contrivance to, as you said, keep her off the board for a critical scene that we’ll get to later. For all of the talk of giving the cast members more to do, these first two episodes haven’t done a damned thing for anyone but Riker, who was pushed to the side in this episode and used for a handful of one-liners.
Mark: We also get a little hint as to who these particular Fenris Rangers work for when their leader mentions telling “the Marked Woman” that they’ve found Jack Crusher. As Jack tells Picard and Riker back in the present, their enemies have taken on many identities, including Klingons and Starfleet personnel. But the ship that’s menacing the Eleos is none of those things. We talked a little bit about this outside of our reviews, but do you think we might be dealing with the “Conspiracy” parasites? That episode is certainly a highlight of The Next Generation’s lackluster first season, and seemed like it was primed to become an ongoing story, but it just kinda fizzled out.
Will: We have to talk about something around the CXF office, right? Right now, if you squint the right way, it makes sense: Jack says all of these various factions are after him, and as we saw in “Conspiracy,” the bugs do have a leader/central mouthpiece, which could be Vadic. But I still think it’s a reach. While “Conspiracy” is dangling out there like a mealworm trying to squirm out of your mouth, I don’t think it’s something they’d go back to, if only because it doesn’t feel epic enough.
Mark: Not epic enough?! Look at these kicks!
“Conspiracy” has been followed up numerous times in comics, novels, and video games. It’s clearly something that TNG obsessives love to go back to. And it seems like it’s those types who are running the ship now.
Anyway, the gang on the Eleos have reached a stalemate: Picard has installed transporter scramblers to keep anyone from beaming off the ship, and the unseen enemies tip their hand by trying to beam Jack, specifically Jack, off the ship. I guess I was right about Beverly trying to protect him by locking him away at the start of episode 1.
Will: Jack — and presumably Beverly as well — know more than they’re letting on, but that’s what I suppose the other eight episodes are for. I know I said the beginning of the episode moved slowly, but even the confrontation with Vadic’s ship crawled along. This is no longer a tight 44 minutes, and there’s more than a bit lost here because, again, we have to come up with contrivances to stretch this out into an episode. Why did Vadic give them an hour to comply? Because that’s what the episode needed.
Standoff At The Edge of Civilized Space!
Mark: Well, since we’re moving on to the introduction of our big baddie, let’s stop and talk about Vadic for a bit.
She’s played by Honey Bunny herself, Amanda Plummer, who seems to be relishing the taste of the scenery. Like many of Trek’s greatest villains, she’s opted to play things big. And from her first communication with the Titan’s bridge, she seems to know an awful lot about them. She knows about some secret in Captain Shaw’s past that nearly rendered him psychologically unfit for service. We can chalk up her knowledge of that to looking up info, albeit top secret, on the Titan before engaging with them, but she also knows Picard by sight, knows that he’s a synth, which I don’t think is public knowledge. She certainly seems to know an awful lot. And maybe knows a thing or two about Jack Crusher that we don’t yet.
Will: Vadic better have some kind of interesting backstory — like she’s a bug queen or something —because this trope of a big nasty villain showing up, chewing the scenery and having the time of their lives is getting old. This isn’t Batman ‘66. It’s novel when Ricardo Montalbán does it, but we just saw this last year with Dr. Aspen in Strange New Worlds. I’m tired and cranky, Mark.
Mark: You’ll perhaps be interested, then, in Charlie Jane Anders’ recent essay, “7 Hot Takes About Star Trek,” the first of which is that Trek is most interesting when the Federation is pitted against an ideological foil, rather than a singular villainous personality. We don’t really know anything about Vadic or the aliens of her crew, at least not yet. I’m also hoping we get some good motivation for her, but I for one am enjoying her performance so far. I’m a man of the theater at heart.
Will: Plummer is playing to the back row for sure. If they ever get brave enough to put me in charge of Trek, we’re making more stories about the politics of the galaxy falling apart rather than the enemies of the Federation tearing it asunder. No big, bad superweapons. Just plots designed to keep people in forever war and our heroes fighting back against that using their handsome looks and smart brains. We’re going to keep making Undiscovered Country is what I’m saying.
Mark: I feel it is my duty to once again beg you to watch Deep Space Nine. [Ed. Note: I concur.]
Will: If I’m gonna watch Star Trek, it better have a ship’s name in the title. Or something. One day. I promise.
So what do we make of Shaw here? He goes from hardass to super hardass to prideful, egotistical hardass to someone who meekly gives Picard the conn by the end of the episode.
Mark: Once again, I can’t help but identify with him. These two senior officers tried to commandeer his ship, giving him a flimsy excuse. They turned his first officer against him (though, yes, he certainly did quite a bit for that on his own, including his insistence on deadnaming her). Had they maybe told him about their friend in distress, he might have listened. Probably not, but he’d be more sympathetic. As for his reluctant capitulation to Picard’s wishes by the end, maybe it’s related to his unnamed past trauma? Maybe he lost his own child to the Borg or something. Or maybe he’s come to the realization that, despite his best efforts, he’s found himself in a Star Trek.
We’ve both had our issues with this series — hell, even this episode — but when it can rise above itself and deliver on its promise and potential, it’s an absolute home run. That moment when Beverly — who can barely stand and is being assisted by Riker — comes to the bridge and looks at Jean-Luc as he’s ready to give up. That one moment, that one look that says, “He’s your son,” confirming what Picard was not ready to admit? Fucking magic.
Mark: It’s a good moment, and I’m sure it took a lot of restraint not to give one of their “special guest stars” a single line, even if it was to knowingly say “Jean-Luc.” We also have the wonderful moment of Riker basically telling him, “do I have to draw you a map?” as to his willful blindness to Jack’s parentage.
Will: Riker: “You and Beverly fucked, right?” (not really a line, but it felt like one) And then he actually, literally said, “Do the math.” Incredible.
Mark: There’s been a lot of speculation about when Beverly gave birth to Jack. Speleers is 34 years old, which would put him on the old side of playing a 20-year-old (as mentioned last week, that’s how long it’s been since Picard saw Beverly). It’s not unheard of, but I’ve seen a lot of speculation online about the possibility that she had him while she was away during season 2 of TNG, when McFadden temporarily quit the show.
But my personal pet theory is that she had him during season 4, when McFadden herself was quite visibly pregnant, and the production hid this by making her blue lab coat bigger and bigger to hide the pregnancy.
Permit me, if you will: what if you were pregnant, visibly so, and nobody, not your crewmates, your best friends, nobody ever commented on it? Wouldn’t you send the child away for their own safety amongst this strange and alienating crew of people?
And then there are the scenes between Patrick Stewart and Speleers in the brig. Picard, as a rule, loves passing judgment and yelling at younger versions of himself, doesn’t he? The way Stewart plays it, seeing and yet denying Jack’s similarity to his own wild youth, I thought those scenes were quite good. And Speleers’ bitter accusation that he never had a father. Quite well done. Do we think that Jack knows?
Will: Jack has to, right? Or he knows what his mother told him. Gosh darn Carol Marcus and Jim Kirk all over again over again. Does that mean Jack is going to die? I don’t think I’d be against it.
In Too Deep
Mark: We return, with Raffi, to the drug-riddled demimonde of M’Talas Prime after her mysterious handler called her off the case. Starfleet blames the terrorist attack on a Romulan terrorist named Lurak T’Luco, having been tipped off by a legitimate Ferengi businessman named Sneed. Raffi, of course, doesn’t buy it, and reaches out to her only connection to Sneed, her ex-husband Jae Hwang.
Will: I’m still struggling with the writing on this plot. We don’t know where the recruitment center was, but apparently picking up and dropping what looked to be a big building will only kill 117 people. “Frontier Day” was not even mentioned in this episode, so there goes that as some sort of plot driver. And of all the people in the galaxy who could be Raffi’s less-than-helpful handler, it was Worf. That was a surprise, but I’m not sure it was a good one.
Mark: I should have realized it immediately when he called her a warrior last week (I was hoping for a real curveball and putting my money on it being Lore), but he really overdid it on the Klingon platitudes this time around.
Look, they need to tie in the rest of the TNG gang, and I’ve no doubt that Raffi’s story is going to tie in with Picard’s, so why not make it Worf? I was just listening to a podcast recently about the Street Fighter movie, and how Capcom insisted that it include every single playable Street Fighter character, which meant that every minor role in the movie had to become one of them. Now, a ten episode prestige TV drama has more room than a 102 minute action movie, but with the decompressed pace of storytelling we’re dealing with, it’s a limitation of the production. And while the fact of Worf’s appearance as Raffi’s handler rankles me as well, it sure was a fun sequence when he showed up, wasn’t it?
Will: Worf slicing and dicing will never not be fun, but I don’t know how they’ll square that with what we’ve seen of his character in the trailers. I hope the next three or four episodes won’t be just this — picking up legacy characters one at a time while the plot moves incrementally forward. Last week had me excited for the next episode. This one? I’m not sure.
Mark: Importantly, Raffi crosses two lines in this episode: picking the mission over seeing her son again and taking the drugs that Sneed offered her. That happened faster than I thought it would. What is it with sci-fi drugs administered to the eyes lately?
Will: At least it wasn’t a needle. That would have been icky. And it was another form of picking the mission over herself, right? A hard choice that was rendered instantly impotent when Sneed said he could see through her cover from the beginning. I’m not emotionally invested in her character or her plight at all. Recovery is a serious topic, and while I don’t think the show is handling it poorly, they’re not exactly treating it with the time and care it deserves. (See Raffi’s sacrifice being negated immediately.)
Mark: I can’t help but feel Raffi and her plight have taken a back seat, care-wise, to bringing back the TNG gang. Michelle Hurd is a wonderful actress, and Musiker has a ton of storytelling potential, but her journey is getting the short shrift here, even if it is the main b-plot of both episodes so far.
Will: It’s obviously going to tie into the a-story, so I’d advise them to get on with it. This show doesn’t need to drag anymore than it already does.
Make It So On and So Forth
- RIP, Shuttlecraft Saavik, likely named in memory of the late Kirstie Alley.
- “She threw a ship at us” will never not be great.
- We didn’t talk about this last week, but the end credits (LCARS graphics + First Contact theme) is a great package.
- Worf’s introduction used Goldsmith’s Klingon theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Along with his First Contact and The Motion Picture themes showing up in the main title sequence, this is a real musical love note to the composer.
- Jack calls the leader of the Fenris Rangers boarding party “mon ami.” Another not-too-subtle hint that he’s Picard’s son?
- Sneed drinks Slug-o-Cola, the slimiest cola in the galaxy!
- The baseball in Sneed’s collection. Could it possibly once have belonged to Captain Benjamin Sisko, emissary of The Prophets?