HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Star Trek: Picard has finally let up its assault on my blood pressure by providing an ending rather than a cliff-hanger, and it’s an ending that bookends nicely with this season’s TNG roots. It still doesn’t offer us any neat answers to our questions in the larger plot-arc of the season, but we get a glimpse into the bigger emotional themes that drive Picard’s final season. Picard actually asked the question about family, and why it’s something we don’t see much of in Trek outside of our beloved found families. The third season’s fourth episode “No Win Scenario” doesn’t provide an easy answer, but it does demand that the characters do some emotional introspection in such a way that fits not only with the overall story but with the characters themselves. “No Win Scenario” is another good episode in what is turning out to be a solid season, particularly as we’re almost halfway through it. I continue to be excited to see where it takes us.
As the Titan continues to drift, hemorrhaging power and caught in the gravity well, Riker comes in to remind Picard that he has a finite amount of time to get to know his son. Fresh off of a flashback to a time when cadets interrupted his meal looking for a story about a narrow escape that he and the elder Jack Crusher had while they were serving aboard the Stargazer, Picard agrees. He goes down to Sickbay where Dr. Crusher has been counting the waves of energy that emanate from the source of the gravity well. Picard asks for a moment with his son Jack, and she readily agrees.
Picard takes Jack to the holodeck, where he recreates Ten Forward and tries to get Jack to open up. Jack isn’t especially interested in doing so and explains that he’s accustomed to being alone. Picard asks why Jack never contacted him. We return to the flashback in which Picard explains to his audience of cadets that he and the original Jack Crusher stole a shuttle and navigated it blind in order to return to the ship. Back in the present, Titan personnel wander into the holodeck, ostensibly looking for some connection as they plummet to their doom. Captain Shaw joins them, and he explains that he was at Wolf 359 and reveals his crushing survivor’s guilt from having been randomly selected by a lieutenant to board their damaged ship’s final remaining lifepod. Picard leaves him to his misery, and Jack follows his father.
Shaw, however, hasn’t been idle since he turned over command to Riker. Seven of Nine knocks on his door to discuss the potential identity of the Changeling. Shaw suggests that she look for crewmen who don’t respond correctly or say things that are extremely out of character. Shaw demonstrates by complimenting her, and she realizes that he’s demonstrating profoundly out-of-character behavior. He then recommends that she finds the Changeling’s bucket, and Seven sets off. She finds the bucket in Engineering, but as she’s walking the corridors, the Changeling attempts to attack her. Seven fires, and the Changeling reverts to its semi-liquid form and escapes.
Back with Jack and Picard, they return to Beverly Crusher who tells them that the waves of energy are closer to contractions than anything else. She suspects that they’re in the middle of a birth event. Jack deduces that they can use the energy waves to get them out of the mess in which they find themselves, but they’ll need to crack the nacelle covers. For that, they’ll need old grease monkey Shaw. However, they first have to convince Riker, who proves to be a tougher sell than expected, but eventually he agrees. Shaw and Seven go down to Engineering to handle the nacelles, and the Changeling wanders into the area, disguised as Sidney LaForge. Seven shoots her, and the Changeling perishes.
The Titan catches the last wave and soaks up enough power to jump to warp when they clear the nebula. However, the Shrike moves into intercept pursuant to orders received from Vadic’s Changeling employers. Riker uses the Titan’s tractor beam to fling an asteroid at the ship, causing a meltdown.
The Titan leaves the nebula in time to see the birth of hundreds of the Farpoint Entity’s species. Riker sends Deanna Troi a message talking to her about the beauty and wonder of space. She comments that she’s very glad to hear him say something so beautiful.
“No Win Scenario” is not a subtle episode by any stretch of the imagination. We know from the Jack Crusher flashback the solution’s broad strokes. It’s pretty clear that we’ll be using the flying blind, 2-man-team approach from that story and moreover that Picard will be partnering with this young Jack Crusher rather than his deceased old friend. However, figuring out how the Titan will escape is less important than addressing the elephant in the room, which actually goes deeper than merely the themes of family and parenthood that pervade this season.
Season Three generally focuses on familial bonds expressed in parent/child bonds. Picard finds his son, and Raffi continues to struggle with losing hers. They’ve both allowed Starfleet to come between them and these important relationships in their lives. Yes, Raffi has done so deliberately and with introspection aforethought. Picard has not, and while we as viewers understand that he feels the pain of that sacrifice, a much younger Jack Crusher in the flashback who dared to ask Picard if he ever longed for a “real,” blood family does not. Thus, when we as viewers watch Picard tell him that Starfleet has been enough for him, we can see the underlying untruth, but Jack cannot. What Jack hears is that Picard has no need of him, and in that moment, Jack decides he has no need of Picard. That’s the answer to Picard’s question as to why his son Jack never sought him out.
I have no doubt that if asked, Raffi’s son would say something similar. He and his father have watched her place drugs, conspiracy theories, and her duties ahead of them, and this is the one context in which it doesn’t matter that Raffi has fundamentally been right about everything. Yes, she knew that there was a conspiracy regarding the Mars attack, but no matter what outcome flowed from that knowledge, she still put that interest ahead of her family’s. The rub here, of course, is that her ex-husband is also correct. Raffi’s actions have harmed their son, and she has driven him away. Her son has a right to his anger. He has the agency to decide whether he is willing to accept Raffi’s love on those terms or reject it. He rejected it to take care of himself and his family.
Even Riker struggles a bit with a parent/child bond. Thad’s ghost haunts this first half of the season. Riker watches Picard avoid the opportunity he would give so much to have, which underlies his frustration and anger with the Admiral. However, Thad’s loss broke something in Riker, and he’s been numb for a very long time. That emptiness created problems in his marriage and possibly in his relationship with his daughter Kestra, and Will is on this rescue mission to escape those troubles. What Will finds, watching the beautiful birth of all of those space jellyfish, is a sense of wonder that he’d lost when Thad died. He acknowledges to Deanna that he hasn’t done the work he needed to do in light of the broken bond with Thad. He’s got to reforge his connections with not just his family but with that part of himself he sublimated.
I think Picard gives the speech about how a leader is only as good as his crew. He expresses a key premise in Trek there that together we can achieve greater things than we can ever hope to achieve alone. Sure, he’s talking to cadets embarking on this journey, but knowingly or not, he’s also talking to Jack. John Donne opined that “No man is an island” in Meditation XVII, and that’s what Picard wants to say. Jack has decided to try and become an island, and it’s certainly not working out well for him. Riker allowed his grief to set him apart from his other familial bonds. If nothing else, Trek and the “No Win Scenario” episode remind us that isolation is harmful. We need a certain amount of connection to become the best versions of ourselves. The only real no win scenario is the one in which give up on our communities and ourselves.
Four cups of Earl Grey Tea and a matching saucer
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- Jack is having visions, and I’m willing to wager that those visions will be important. We’ll discover that a great deal of shenanigans could have been avoided had Jack just told someone about them.
- ”No win scenario” comes to us from Star Trek: 2009 and admittedly elsewhere in the franchise.
- There’s a moment when Picard talks about keeping hope that seems to run counter to his famous speech in “Peak Performance.”
- Gotta say, I missed the Raffi/Worf show.
- Shaw is basically a demonstration of what happens when you choose isolation. It’s a weakness, not a strength. I also get that Shaw has reasons to hate Picard and the Borg, but he needs to let that go in order to become a better commander and more well-adjusted person.