HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
I’m honestly not certain I follow whatever is currently going on in Picard. The season started out beautifully, hinting at further development of the Bell Riots-era in canon along with emotional development for Picard himself. However, now, we’re swimming in too many plotlines while the show desperately tries to convince us that it’s a Character Drama. I’m desperately hoping for some real resolution in the future, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I’ll be disappointed. I hope to be proven wrong, but we’ve had a run of three episodes that struggled to get anywhere. In a ten episode season, there just isn’t enough time for this kind of confusion. Here’s hoping “Mercy” is the season’s nadir.
“Mercy” continues the party split, separating the cast into three groups: Rios on the Sirena, Seven and Raffi running after Jurati, and the Picard-Guinan duo stuck in the weirdly governmental green basement. However, the episode adds a Jurati/Soong dynamic, which might be getting us places. Working from least complex to most complex storyline, Rios basically remains aboard the Sirena to flirt with Teresa and discover that the transporters are completely offline. He also delivers a vague warning that they’ve got big problems as he continues examining the ship’s systems.
Raffi and Seven continue their pursuit of the missing Jurati and track her from the bar to an alleyway, where they find the body of a man likely murdered by the Borg Queen. Raffi asks Seven to channel her inner Borg Queen, deeply troubling Seven. However, despite her offense, she opines that the Queen is seeking connection. However, her current state stymies her, so she’ll be looking for the materials to make assimilating Agnes all the easier. They next track her to what appears to be a car lot, where the Queen has been eating battery acid. The Queen engages with them, throwing Seven into a dumpster and nearly strangling Raffi, but something within the Queen forces her to release Raffi and flee. Seven and Raffi conclude that Jurati’s personality is still present and viable.
“Mercy” does return to the issue of Kore, who has investigated her father’s lab using a form of VR headset. However, in addition to confirming the truth of her origins, she finds Q, who has left a piece of himself in Soong’s systems. He offers her freedom in the form of a cure for her genetic condition, which he has delivered to the residence via drone. Her father eventually returns home, and Kore confronts him, demanding to know if he loves her for herself or if he loves her as the embodiment of his life’s work. She finds Adam Soong’s answer unconvincing and walks away from him, relishing the feeling of grass under her bare feet.
The Queen forces her way into the Soong residence while Soong reels from Kore’s departure. She offers him the opportunity to create a future in which he is the godfather of an entire world. In order to guarantee that future, however, he must stop Renee Picard from making her great discovery. Soong agrees to help her, reaching out to his contacts to acquire mercenaries that the Queen begins assimilating.
Picard and Guinan remain in federal custody, and the man who captured them identifies himself as Agent Wells. Guinan analyzes him, discovering that he’s working more than a little bit off-book. Wells grants that she’s correct but that his working off book means that no one knows where they are. He separates Guinan and Picard, opting to interrogate Picard on his own. They exchange barbs, and Picard quickly deduces that this issue is personal for Wells, and Wells reveals that he was the little boy shown at the episode’s opening who encountered Vulcans while searching for a lost dog. The experience left him terrified of aliens and convinced that they all intend humanity harm. He even cites the fantastic speech Rios gives the immigration officer, specifically emphasizing the bit about the Borg Queen wanting to destroy all of humanity. Picard explains to Wells that the aliens he saw were Vulcans and that rather than trying to kill him, the Vulcan who touched him wanted to erase his memories. Picard then goes on to tell Wells an abbreviated version of what they’re doing back in 2024.
Meanwhile, Q lets himself into Guinan’s interrogation room and begins babbling something about how while yes, he’d trapped Picard, the trap was less important than the escape. He also grumbles that Picard made the choice to return to the past on his own, and Guinan remembers that humans are unique in the galaxy for their determination to hold onto their past and reconcile it, no matter how painful it might be. She later tells Picard that humans do the work because they truly want to evolve. Wells, having been fired for his alien crusade, allows Picard and Guinan to leave.
They return to 10 Forward Avenue, where they reunite with Raffi and Seven. Seven tells Picard that the Queen has control over the transporters because she intends to take the ship. Doing so would give her a huge head start over the galaxy, and keen to secure that advantage, she will not be coming alone.
I realize that I keep coming back to the number of episodes in this season, but “Mercy” is perhaps the best example of why the brevity of the season matters. To put it simply, there are too many plot threads in need of resolution for this episode to be anything other than a breakneck run from beginning to end, leaving little time to develop any of these interludes fully. Raffi and Seven have what is probably a necessary conversation about Raffi’s guilt regarding Elnor. She feels she manipulated him into remaining with her rather than returning to the nuns on Vashti. This is a huge revelation that gets perfunctory treatment on the way to meeting up with the Borg Qeen. In fact, that’s been one of the issues we’ve had all season long. Picard has been telling us that this season is meant to be about Picard’s emotional life and as such be not exactly a character study but at least mildly focused on character arc and development. However, what we’ve gotten in reality is a show with an identity crisis because the episodes careen wildly from Important Character Beat to Important and Complex Time Travel Mystery. As a result, Picard as a series does neither well.
In order to develop the time travel mystery, the plot has to achieve a certain level of complexity, and developing that complexity demands screentime. However, Picard features a strong ensemble cast, and considering that each character’s emotional journey has a role to play shoring up the season’s main themes, there has to be development of that journey. That also takes up a great deal of screen time, and all of that has to be compressed into ten episodes. Unfortunately, squeezing everything into the episode’s run times has resulted in truly unfortunate pacing. Each episode feels like an exercise in connecting dots. We don’t get enough time with the character beats to appreciate them, and the episodes creak under the weight of trying to juggle too many plot elements. Thus, a character beat in which we are deeply invested as viewers such as Raffi’s guilt over potentially causing Elnor’s death gets exactly the same weight and treatment as Picard overcoming Wells’ fear. We aren’t invested in Wells. There’s no reason to be, and frankly, he capitulates to Picard with an ease that strains the boundaries of believability.
The sequence in which Kore leaves her father, however, is the exception that proves the rule. It’s a great sequence, and Isa Briones gives us an angry and devastated Kore. Brent Spiner leans into Adam Soong’s malignant narcissism and gives Briones a fantastic platform on which to develop her own performance. That scene is beautifully and cleanly written, and it throws the short shrift afforded to Raffi’s admission into greater relief. That scene also provides a necessary foundation for the Borg Queen sequences that follow it. I honestly don’t know if it’s that those scenes just flow better or if it’s Alison Pill’s tremendous performance as the Borg Queen that makes the difference here. Regardless, as amazing as that performance may be, it’s not enough to save “Mercy” from being the victim of its flaws.
Two cups of tepid Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- I have to admit that the opening with Wells as a young boy has very real Flight of the Navigator vibes for me.
- Also, yes, we know that the Vulcans studied pre-warp Earth. There’s an entire Enterprise episode about it.
- Y’all, this episode makes a mess of canon. Guinan should have already met Picard and very much should remember him. “Time’s Arrow” anyone? Also, the episode raises the issue of melding. At this point in Vulcan’s history, mind melds were considered taboo and don’t become readily accepted until the aftermath of the Syrrannite Arc in Enterprise. I guess we don’t see anything to indicate that the Vulcan in the episode was trying to keep his abilities concealed from his fellows, so maybe he is only doing this because no one will notice. Who knows? It’s still weird.
- This episode confirms that Q is dying, but that’s not exactly a shock. However, the way “Mercy” treats him is. Someone needs to give John De Lancie and oversized pocket watch because he’s clearly channeling his inner White Rabbit in this episode.
- Y’all, I really want Picard to prove me wrong, but it’s not looking good at this point. I’m part of the generation that grew up listening to Captain Picard’s speeches, so I’m primed to accept whatever he tells me. Even I couldn’t get on board with Wells coming around that quickly.