Episode 2 – “Maps And Legends”
It shares it’s name with a great R.E.M. song at least… Well, that was a whole lot of nothing. After a measured but compelling first episode Picard‘s second outing is a whole lot of place-setting and really not a lot more. All that exposition that was skilfully deployed in the first episode, teasing out interesting bits and pieces? All gone now as we get infodump after infodump after infodump in a slightly-desperate-seeming attempt to get us ready for the remaining eight episodes. I know we’re going to need more information than this, but surely there must have a more elegant way of deploying it (There was. And don’t call me Shirley etc).
The patient, informative and engaging (heh) approach of the first episode is largely set aside here so we can get a whole bunch of information flung at us from every angle. From Picard! From his housekeeper! From a Scooby-Doo level investigation of Dahj’s scrubbed-clean apartment! From people on the Borg cube! From some rando Admiral! On and on it goes until the whole thing becomes a bewildering flow of information with apparently little rhyme or reason. The problem isn’t even that the information is inessential or anything, it’s just all chucked at us haphazardly with little rhyme or reason. In its first episode this was dealt with elegantly – here it is absolutely not.
This being a show starring Patrick Stewart it goes without saying that it’s not a complete write-off, but it’s also hard not to be a bit disappointed as well. Stewart is working heroically here to try and lift some of the material but with unusually variable success. Much of the “musing at chateau Picard” material is limp and lifeless and Stewart is visibly working to try and make it seem like it means anything. Because it doesn’t he can’t really pull it off, which is rare. During the Scooby-Doo investigation he’s noticeably more animated, playing Picard as someone finally getting back to the playground he enjoys messing about in, and though there’s a lot of stand-around-telling-each-other-stuff material he’s at least able to shoot it through with a degree of energy.
Stewart also gets the only real stand-out scene of the episode, where he confronts said rando Admiral and is firmly told to go fuck himself. This scene is absolutely terrific and a demonstration of what Picard can bring to the table. In the run-up to it, we get swelling strings, TNG theme and all, Picard looking like his old self. He’s confident, assured, and though it stings slightly when he has to explain to some receptionist who he is, he’s back where he belongs. Right up until he isn’t. His confrontation with Admiral Clancy is excellent, and she’s entirely right that he’s incredibly arrogant to simply waltz back in and assume he can get anything he asks for. The “and I’ll take a demotion” is especially crass and it’s strikingly unusual to see Picard in this light – actually making a wrong call. After all, he should have been able to guess the reception he would get yet doesn’t. It’s an interesting character shift, a fantastic scene and a great piece of acting (not just from Stewart, Ann Magnuson is terrific there too).
So… why aren’t there more scenes like that? To be fair, you can see some ambition on display – the cuts, for example, between the conversation in Picard’s chateau and the Scooby-Doo investigation are clearly there to try and liven up both scenes, though this doesn’t really work at least in part because it’s the same two characters shot in the same way in both scenes. But, you know, they’re trying. Much of the material set on the Borg cube accurately conveys information we need – the deliberate seduction of Soji, what’s going on with attempts to rescue the people who have been assimilated and so on – but it’s all a bit… perfunctory I suppose. Some of the attempts to make Narek seem unreasonably hot are laugh-out-loud funny (I mean, he’s an attractive guy and all but nobody on this show is anything else) and having a character literally say, “Who knew Romulans could be so hot?” is about the base level of subtlety we get here.
None of this is outright awful but there’s a skill to delivering this kind of material and it’s not on display here. It’s simply presented as-is, so when we find out that Narek and This Show’s Bad Admiraltm are in cahoots it doesn’t register as remotely surprising because we’ve not had enough involvement to suspect anything else. We also get big chunk of back story on the Tal Shiar, and it turns out that even a secret organisation has a secret organisation! Is… that thrilling? Because I’m not really sure that it is. Why not just have a separate organisation dedicated to, um, exterminating all artificial intelligence (is that A Thing? Apparently that’s A Thing). Or just have that be the Tal Shiar’s agenda? No answers are forthcoming, and I suspect they wont be. It’s a curious choice but either way, the big Here Comes The Plan moment is just another chunky info dump.
And that’s about it. Other things happen, most of the individual scenes are fine in and of themselves, but it just doesn’t seem to add up to anything. It’s just more stuff to get to before Picard can get on a damned ship already and move things along. Which, eventually, he does at the end of the episode. I’m all for building up a new cast of people around Picard so it’s not just TNG Mk II, and I’m all for taking the time to let them become established. The problem isn’t that the episode (well, the first two episodes really) try and do this, it’s just that they don’t do it very well, so this episode becomes a plodding necessity rather than something entertaining or gripping in its own right. Now all this mucking about it out of the way hopefully next week we can get on to something a bit more attention-holding.
Any Other Business:
• The opening of the episode, where we see Mars getting torched, is well shot but the (sigh) synth that kicks it all off is called F8. Fate. Oh please…
• We really do just spend too much time on Picard’s vineyard. I get that it’s necessary to establish who he is at this point, but we’ve got the point by the time the credits roll on the first episode.
• The Scooby Doo investigation goes on for way too long for the quality of information we get out of it. Hey the sister isn’t on Earth! Even ignoring the fact that this was the big ta-da episode ender last time so we already know this, it just feels like padding, despite Stewart playing Picard’s slightly puppy-dog enthusiasm well.
• I am not loving those mostly-Voyager uniforms that Starfleet seems to have decided to run with. The Voyager uniforms themselves were fine, but these look like cosplay versions which haven’t been made quite as well and don’t seem to entirely fit whoever is wearing them.
• We get a scene where Picard is reading Asimov but admits he’s not really into science-fiction because he doesn’t “get it”. Tee-hee. This seems like an attempt to be terribly clever and meta but it rather ignores the fact that Picard would absolutely get “I, Robot” and so doesn’t work. It’s trying to put “clever” over “character” and nope.
• The attempts to recover people who have been assimilated is a curious and unexpected new wrinkle in this episode, and hopefully we’re going to find out a lot more about that going forward.
• Someone said “fuck”! And they said it to Picard! It’s actually genuinely shocking, one of many great moments in the confrontation between Picard and Admiral Can-You-Guess-I’m-The-Bad -Guy?
• So fourteen planets said they’d leave the Federation if the rescue effort at Romulus continued so the Federation capitulated and gave up on the rescue mission. That’s a strange political beat. It’s very definitely capital-P political but it’s not really clear what the point of it is, beyond giving Patrick Stewart the chance to turn in one of his patented “who has the right to decide” speeches. I hope we get more on this going forward because otherwise that’s really clumsy.
• Please don’t let this be some Section 31 bullshit.
• So I’m assuming all that faffing around with Picard’s Doctor saying he has a parietal lobe problem is meant to be a reference to the Irumodic Syndrome from “All Good Things…”? But if so, why are they dancing around it without just coming out and saying it? Picard retains his memories of all the events in “All Good Things…” so he knows its a possibility. But then if it’s not Irumodic Syndrome, then what is it? It’s a really weirdly written scene.
• It’s cute to have flying taxis but why would a world with apparently-unlimited access to transporters actually need them?
• Vasquez Rock! It’s Vasquez Rock!
• And so finally Picard is off on a ship. About time.