Season 1, Episode 10: ‘Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2’
It turns out that a show called “Star Trek: Picard” ends up actually being about Data.
Throughout the first season of the show, it is Data who has hung over much of the story. It is Data who fundamentally pushes Picard to realize his emptiness on the vineyard with an incomplete painting. It is Data who pushes Picard to find justice for his twin daughters, Dahj and Soji. And speaking of justice, it is Data’s impenetrable and idealistic sense of right, wrong and — paradoxically — humanity, that brings the season to a close.
There is no point in discussing the season finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” without first discussing the conclusion of a complicated story line featuring Romulans, the Borg, androids, the Federation and a rogue crew: Data dies. For good, this time. And whatever convoluted plot got us to this point, the scene featuring a post-death Picard — and we’ll get to Picard’s death shortly — and a pre-death Data is a truly wonderful scene. Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart bring the best parts of their characters. They show mutual admiration and love for each other. Spiner plays Data’s calm, naïve curiosity as he always has, with great expertise. Picard’s fatherly kindness comes through in spades.
These are two actors — and characters — who understand the other’s beats just right. And the cinematography when Picard (now alive? We’ll get that to that shortly too.) literally pulls the plug on Data, showing Data truly aging for the first time, was a master stroke. A lovely touch that “Blue Skies” is playing in the background and that Picard sits by Data in his old captain’s uniform. And of course, Picard reciting Shakespeare is catnip for Stewart, who initially was reluctant to join “The Next Generation” because he was worried about what it would do to his traditional theater credentials.
I am not entirely sure Data needed yet another death. A true one, so to speak. Let’s take a look at Data’s previous death in “Star Trek: Nemesis.” In an otherwise weak film, Data’s death is actually quite profound. He jumps from the Enterprise to an enemy ship — but before doing that, he gives a nod to his best friend, Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), who nods slowly in return. They both know he is not coming back. On the Scimitar, Data rescues Picard and sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise. After Picard is beamed back to the ship, Data whispers, “Goodbye.” He did not need to say much in either instance to express his affection.
Afterward, the entire Enterprise crew toasts to Data. What more could you ask for to say goodbye to a character?
Yes, the scene in “Picard” was well acted and well directed. But for the entire season to lead to terrain we had already explored seemed unnecessary to me. I will not complain too much to see some of my favorite characters banter onscreen. But I couldn’t help but feel this was derivative.
Onto Picard’s death. So Picard is an android now, apparently. Fundamentally, this was a creative choice that detracted from the story for me. There is only so much you can attempt to subvert an audience’s expectations before you lose its trust. There was quite a bit about Picard’s “death” scene that seemed contrived. For several episodes, the show’s writers were telegraphing that Picard had limited time left. But the show has been very public about there being a second season, so what was the point of an extended death scene? And if you truly are going to kill off a beloved character of a franchise, one might think you would spend the mourning scenes with his oldest friends, not with a bunch of crew members he only just met.
(Rios shedding tears after Picard’s death seemed out of character to say the least. On top of this, Picard knows he is dying, and for some reason he doesn’t ask Riker to stick around after Riker risked his life to come save him.)
This kind of fake-out is a feature of “Star Trek: Discovery,” in which several characters “die” and then somehow reappear. (One of the most famous Trek instances of this, of course, is Spock, who died at the end of “Wrath of Khan” and was brought back in the very next film.) In each case, the writers ended up weakening the story and the emotional weight that the previous scenes carried. There is a reason “The Search for Spock” wasn’t nearly as well received as “Wrath of Khan.”
And the workaround that the writers came up with to bring Picard back was having Alton and Jurati somehow download his consciousness into an android’s body; now Picard is the exact same, he just happens to be a synthetic. The level of plot convenience is off the charts — and you create problems for the show down the line. Will anyone ever be able to die? Ever? Can’t anyone just become an android?
Ultimately, the season was, on balance, full of promise and I enjoyed much of it. It was an ambitious attempt to revitalize Picard. It had its bright spots, and Stewart made every scene he was in watchable.
But I could not help but feel that there were too many characters and not enough screen time to serve them all. Every time an arc began — say, Narek and Rizzo’s weird relationship — we quickly moved on to something else and never come back. If anything, the character who was developed the most was Data: an android who had already died.
Odds and Ends:
This was purely an unrealistic expectation and the fan in me coming out. But I was really hoping that the person leading the Starfleet rescue armada was a “Next Generation” crew member we hadn’t seen yet on the series, like Worf or Geordi. Alas.
I hope this isn’t the last we see of Seven of Nine and Elnor. Their roles in the story ended up being minor and tangential at best, even though their screen time suggested something more.
So what happened to Narek exactly? (I think this was something I asked after several episodes this season.)
Note Raffi and Seven getting together at the end of the episode. I hope we find out what happened to the romance between Seven and Chakotay at some point!
Nice callback to the “Picard Maneuver” by Jurati.
The gift from the synthetics to Raffi essentially ended up being a “Whatever You Need for the Plot” device. There’s a long history in “Trek” of MacGyvering. Anytime you need to escape a tough situation, eject the warp core or hide in the nearest nebula.
Seven is on La Sirena at the end of the episode. So what is going on with the Borg cube?
Is Jurati no longer turning herself in for the murder of Bruce Maddox? Doesn’t seem to concern Rios, as they passionately kiss at the end of the episode.
A bit glossed over: Commodore Oh has a ton of Federation secrets to take back to the Romulans now.
I don’t believe Picard tugged his shirt once all season.
Starfleet owes Picard a huge debt once again. Picard roots out a spy who rose to the heights of Starfleet, finds a planet of synths to join the Federation and caps it off by essentially becoming immortal. It isn’t explored here, but the Federation banned synthetics unfairly for several years, as Picard discovered. Surely, there has to be some repentance for that. Will Admiral Clancy, the Federation official who repeatedly cursed at Picard, be allowed to remain at her post?
Knowing that Starfleet royally screwed up and that Picard doesn’t want to retire quite yet, what does Season 2 have in store? Does Picard get recommissioned again? We know that Stewart publicly asked Whoopi Goldberg to return as Guinan. Thanks for following along this season. I hope the next one comes at warp speed.