If the purpose of “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was to reassure viewers that all we’ve seen up to this point mattered, that all this jumbled storytelling would come together in the end, well… mission failed, sadly. Instead, we have an episode that continues to poke holes in the show’s own premise, prioritizes blunt sentimentality over well-earned character beats, and does little to inspire confidence for next week’s showdown.
In fact, this recalls so much the Discovery “Such Sweet Sorrow” two-parter—the first half of which was dedicated solely to forced melodrama, with the second being a headache-inducing fireworks display—that it’s difficult to not be preemptively disappointed by next week’s finale. We now have 218 Romulan Warbirds converging on the gang’s position, with the promise of Starfleet hot on their tales, and a bunch of, erm… space flowers (we’ll get to it) defending the planet Coppelius. But before any of that carnage can take place, we must first set the scene and establish the stakes, which means paying a visit to Soji’s homeworld.
“Part 1” hits the ground running, with Narek catching up to La Sirena and a brief skirmish ensuing. The Artifact arrives in the knick of time, but before it can do any good, giant space flowers emerge from the planet and begin dragging the ships to the surface. It’s a truly bizarre and unexpected bit of imagery, reminiscent of “Encounter at Farpoint”s jellyfish creatures, and will likely pay off by the bucket-load next week.
Their function, basically, is to get everyone down to the surface though, where Picard and co. briefly reunite with Seven and Elnor. This whole reunion/farewell sequence is mostly an afterthought though, with Seven’s big development from last week glossed over and Elnor sharing a moment with Picard that only serves to remind how underutilized this character has been.
Since joining the crew back in “Absolute Candor”, he and Picard have barely occupied the same space, with the father/son dynamic implied in that episode going largely ignored up until they were separated. The dialogue they share here suggests the culmination of an arc, which to my memory, was nowhere to be seen. They hug and Picard says he’s proud of him, but it’s hard to get too wrapped up in any of this, especially once they separate yet again so he can help (?) on the Borg ship. And the same can be said for Picard’s declining faculties, which finally become relevant when he passes out on the bridge.
While I’m glad to see it’s not entirely forgotten, it’s unfortunate the writers had so little time for such an important piece of characterization, one that at first seemed to the foundation the show was built on, not something to be dropped for episodes at a time.
Down on the Surface
Things aren’t much better once we arrive at Soji’s home, presented as an android hippy commune, and meet Dr. Altan Inigo Soong (Brent Spiner). For as much as Spiner‘s role in episode one was reserved and appropriate, his appearance here feels gratuitous and out of place. Putting aside that he already did this bit on Enterprise, the revelation that Noonien Soong had a son that also looks like Brent Spiner borders on fan-fiction territory. The role seems to exist solely for audience recognition and to mine some easy pathos from Picard missing Data.
The core conflict of the episode, however, arises when Sutra (the fourth version of the Soji/Dahj/Jana model) goes all Lore, releasing the imprisoned Narek and using the murder of one of their own to align the androids against Picard. This comes after she learns, via mind meld (this particular choice seems designed to aggrieve fans, and I can’t say I love it either), the truth of the Zhat Vash prophecy—that a group of ancient synthetic beings has plans to form an alliance of artificial intelligence. According to Sutra, this means using Narek’s actions as cause to imprison all non-androids at the colony (curiously not Soong, though) in preparation for the ancient being’s arrival.
I’m told this is almost identical to the plot of Mass Effect 3, but this impending doom at the hands of AI also plays incredibly close to Discovery season two, where it was thought that Control would eradicate all life in the universe. Neither storyline really works, both relying too heavily on vague proclamations of doom in place of genuine stakes and simplify everything into a ‘stop the bad thing from happening’ type of conclusion (we’ll see about that next week, but I can’t say I’m hopeful).
Much like the show’s portrayal of the Romulans—where they’re either helpless refugees or a legitimate threat to the galaxy, depending on the episode—the business with the synths feels muddled and poorly conceived. We’re to believe, since Picard keeps saying it, that the ban was cowardly and xenophobic, but also that these androids are a threat, even resorting to killing their own to further their interests. I’m just not sure you can have it both ways, at least not without drastically altering the storyline at hand. There’s showing that a race of people are capable of differences and there’s filling your story with the kind of troubling contradictions that expose how haphazardly this season has come together.
I would love to say this could all be redeemed, and that next week’s “Part 2” will defy expectations and deliver the strong conclusion this so badly needs. But I’ve been burned before, and considering the impending battle “Part 1” sets up in its final moments, I’m not filled with hope. All hands, brace for impact.
Star Trek: Picard airs Thursdays on CBS All Access and Fridays on Amazon Prime internationally.
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