As always, there be spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
”Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2” offers us something we haven’t seen in quite a long while, a complete ending. The episode wraps up, for better or worse, almost all of the trailing issues brought up over the course of the season, and even beyond the sheer novelty of finishing a season without a cliffhanger, I appreciate the episode and the season more for making that choice. Not everything quite works, but the season remains true to its aims, true to the franchise, and true to its own narrative conventions by closing its first chapter so completely.
The cold open features Narek sneaking onto the crashed Borg cube before flashing to Coppelius Station where Picard clearly chafes at his confinement in Bruce Maddox’s old quarters. Soji confronts him and demands that he see the decision to activate the beacon from her point of view, and Picard accuses her and her people of a lack of imagination. After the credits, we flash back to the Cube where Narek finds both Narissa and a stash of molecular solvent cannister grenades, which he packs into a bag to take to the downed Sirena. Once there, he attempts communication with Raffi and Rios, neither of whom particularly trusts him, but they agree to hear him out. Elnor, having followed Narek, attacks him, and Raffi and Rios must talk him down. Meanwhile, back at Coppelius Station, Jurati hatches a plot to free Picard, and collects Saga’s eye to use to defeat the retinal scanner that controls the locking mechanism to Picard’s prison. Narek explains the legend of Ganmadan, which is the Romulan Armageddon story featuring two demons who bring about the destruction of life. When asked if he believes the story to be a prophecy, Narek faces Raffi and tells her that he believes that it’s history. After Raffi fails to contact Picard, she, Elnor, and Rios agree to help Narek and proceed to hatch a plot to use Narek’s grenades to destroy the beacon. Jurati frees Picard, and they head to the Sirena, which Rios previously repaired with the tool provided by the synths.
Team Narek infiltrates the settlement, and after Altan Soong deactivates Sutra for her role in helping Narek murder Saga, they attempt to destroy the beacon. Soji thwarts their efforts and continues working to bring the beacon online. Picard and Jurati launch the Sirena and move to intercept the Romulan fleet as it drops out of warp. Narissa attempts to bring the Borg cube’s weapons online to destroy them, but Seven appears and kills her.
In space, Jurati uses the synth’s tool and demonstrates that she can use it to replicate the famous ”Picard Maneuver”. Picard moves to stall the Romulan fleet and is successful just long enough for a Starfleet force to drop out of warp.
Captain Riker opens a channel to the Romulan fleet’s commander, erstwhile Commodore Oh, and informs her that the planet is under Starfleet protection. Oh declines to be convinced, and she moves to engage. On the surface, the beacon comes online, and the portal opens. On the Sirena, a dying Picard begs Soji to reconsider on an open channel, explaining to her that she has the choice not to be the destroyer and that the reason they’re all out there is to save each other. Visibly wrestling with herself, Soji destroys the beacon, closing the portal just as tentacles begin to emerge. Oh and Riker both order their fleets to stand down and leave just in time to avoid seeing Picard collapse.
Soji beams him to the planet where he dies, surrounded by his new rag-tag crew, who each grieves his passing. Picard awakens in a grey room decorated with religious statues, where Data joins him. They talk about Data’s sacrifice as well as Picard’s own, and Data explains that Picard must leave the quantum simulation because Jurati and Soong have copied his memories and mental engrams into the golem that Soong had prepared for his own use. He also asks Picard to end the simulation that had artificially prolonged his life. Upon awaking, Picard does so, and the crew of the Sirena returns to the ship to pursue new adventures.
I mentioned above that I believe choosing to end the story threads constitutes one of the season’s greatest strengths, and I stand by that. Going into the final episode, I didn’t worry so much for the galaxy or Picard himself, so I wasn’t surprised when the episode didn’t treat the Matrix-Inspired-Super-Synths as being a high-stakes plot element. Neither was I surprised that Soji made what the show deems the correct choice because the entire season has been building up to that moment. Everything from Soji wrestling with her own personhood to whether she was “real,” led up to her embracing her own agency and making a choice that fell outside the so-called wisdom dictated to her by Soong and Sutra. Picard’s own story-arc, his desire to reciprocate Data’s sacrifice, bolsters her decision because he mirrors Data’s “most Data moment,” hoping that she will learn not only from Picard’s example but her ancestor’s.
I will confess to crowing with excitement when the Starfleet ships dropped out of warp and not solely because Riker commanded the fleet. I think I needed to see that Picard could be successful; that he could drag Starfleet into remembering itself. Picard did manage to force the Federation to return to its values, at least as far as the end of this season is concerned. I even remained invested when the episode takes us through the grief process for Rios, Seven, Raffi, and Elnor, no matter that I was fairly confident that Picard was about to be resurrected (Star Trek III, anyone?). The sheer depth of Elnor’s heartbreak, the wracking sobs with which he soaked Raffi, hurt to witness, and despite my certainty, I didn’t find the final resurrection to cheapen any of that grief, though I can certainly see why other viewers might have.
What didn’t work for me, was just how easily Seven dispatched Narissa. While I understand the episode’s time constraints, I do think we needed more out of Narissa than just more of her anti-Borg nonsense. Her death in the context of Seven’s character development works, but I think we needed more sign of regret than a scene featuring Seven just drinking terrible booze with Rios. Hopefully, we’ll get more out of that. I also don’t quite buy how easily Starfleet left Picard alone to handle the First Contact protocols. TNG established that Starfleet is a bureaucracy, and first contact with Data’s descendants would entail so much paperwork. Certainly, Riker’s faith in Picard is both abiding and warranted, but Starfleet is another entity entirely. Oh’s readiness to depart troubled me as well. Again, having Soji embrace her own agency and choose to become something other than Seb Cheneb is both deeply on brand for Star Trek as a franchise and this series as well, but I really just wanted more of a space battle.
Data’s shadow has cloaked the entire series, from the first episode until the very end. The relationship Picard wants us to recall between Data and the eponymous Picard doesn’t necessarily reflect their relationship as TNG portrayed it. However, taken in the context of Picard’s own guilt, his near obsession with Data makes sense. Despite that, I feel ambivalent with respect to the simulation sequence. On the one hand, having the opportunity to talk to Data about their mutual sacrifices and emotional connection allows Picard to find closure, enabling him to move forward with his own life in season two. On the other, while it makes for a nice coda, I don’t know that the sequence was entirely necessary. Having Picard find peace after saving Data’s descendants would have served just as well, and we would not have been required to relive Data’s death. The sequence itself is beautiful. Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart create this amazing moment between their characters that will stay with me for quite some time. Still, it made for deeply emotionally affecting television.
I really look forward to a season two that is new. I want to see what happens if Raffi and Seven begin a relationship, as their clasped hands seems to indicate they will. I’d love more of Rios and his motley band of holograms; I wonder how Bruce’s murder will impact Jurati’s future. I would love to see what an unburdened Picard will look like, and I’m still hoping that they bring Laris back.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Does anyone know what happened to Narek? He allows himself to be captured by the synths, and we don’t see anything else out of him. I really want to know more about his status as the Zhat Vash dropout. There’s an entire world of story in the two minutes of conversation he has with his soon-to-be-deceased sister, and while I doubt we’ll ever find out about it, I can still hope. AO3 contributors, you have your mission!
- I did not expect either Sutra to be dispatched so easily or that Soong would be the one to do it. Altan Soong seems to be channeling a wiser version of his father, which felt like a bit of a 180 degree turn from his characterization in part 1.
- I really loved that we got to see more of Seven’s implants. I think this is the first time we see this much? Though I could be wrong; let me know.
- As much as I have enjoyed this series, I have to admit that I sort of hate the writers for making me live through Data’s death again. It was bad enough the first time in Star Trek: Nemesis. I did not need to see it again.
- Trivia fact: Riker’s ship is the Zheng He, which is named for a Chinese admiral, diplomat, and palace eunuch from the Ming dynasty, most famous for his exploratory voyages.