Star Trek #1501: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

CAPTAIN'S LOG: The Romulans and Picard are intent on preventing the synth apocalypse, just not in the same way.

WHY WE LIKE IT: A poignant death.

WHY WE DON'T: Do you believe in magic?

REVIEW: The series started with some real-world analogies - a 9/11 event, a ban on minorities, governments looking inward out of xenophobia  - but the most important aspect, as the finale exposes, is the generational strife we're currently experiencing. Picard, the old fogey and father figure to practically all the characters, makes a good speech about leading by example, and gives the younger generation, by way of Soji, the choice she believes has been withheld. That's us, today, all over, except we need more Picards in our lives. And so if "fear is the worst teacher" and example the best, the show itself is acting as that teacher to all the old fogeys who were watching TNG back in the day and have come back for a good lesson. If the finale cuts some corners on a plot level, it at least works from a moral fable standpoint, which is very Trek. So when Sutra is easily taken out of the equation, for example, it's in service of the idea. Soji must be the one who makes a choice. She must have a moral dilemma and her own agency. In the end, it's the triumph of words but also moral action, so it is a proper Picard story.

But let's talk about those shortcuts. It's hard not to frown when La Sirena is restored thanks to a magic wand created by the androids, though it's set up in the way their beacon to call Synth Cthulhu is built. Nano-machines, no doubt, but it's still a big cheat. It's used again to reproduce a better version of the Picard Maneuver (squeeee) that confounds the Romulan fleet. It's fun, but it's still hand-waving. The biggest cheat of all, some might say, is the resurrection of Jean-Luc Picard. Obviously, they set it up in the previous episode, and there were even odds that Picard's mind would be transferred to the synthetic "golem", syndrome-free, by the end of the season. They made such a big deal of his willingness to sacrifice himself, and the long epilogue gave us a lot of teary moments, so the suspense was fairly well maintained. Of course, there was also that whole bit with the artificial butterfly connecting the scenes and foreshadowing Picard's evolution to another life. The fact we expect it takes away from the poignancy of his death, his final words (a bit cryptic, like Kirk's), etc., but the real cheat is that is changes nothing about him. When he wakes up, he's told he's still mortal (avoiding a natural irony as we'll soon discuss), will age normally, has no super-powers... "Am I real?" is a good call-back, but Soji's not the one to confirm it, and indeed, he's too real to give Patrick Stewart anything to play going forward. At least he has a line about being able to travel as much as Soji in a post-ban Federation.

How Et in Arcadia Ego resolves the deflating of that particular balloon is brilliant, however. Picard first spends a moment in a virtual reality where his mind is able to communicate with Data's actual consciousness, reconstructed from the back-up uploaded to B-4 in Nemesis. By the end, this version of Data will ask for oblivion, his quest to become more human resolved by his embracing mortality. He'll get a eulogy written by Shakespeare, and a wonderful death. Not a dry eye, let me tell ya. In this moment, I feel like everyone involved had looked at Nemesis, previously the last word on these characters, and like most fans, found it wanting. Picard Season 1 seems to be about redressing all its wrongs. Then promise of Data's resurrection in B-4 is fulfilled. We get a much better farewell for the character, and the chance for him to actually have a conversation with his captain rather than a freight train that left us wondering if it would be undone or what, so little did it resonate at the time. Even the use of the Romulans in Picard owes something to Nemesis not quite making good on its promise to actually give the race some much-needed development.

Feels like I should end the review there, but a couple other points, if you'll indulge me. First, I want to talk about the action scenes, because they're not quite as great as they should be. Seven faces Narek's sister and kills her, taking revenge for Hugh's murder, but it made me feel kind of empty. The Romulan deserved to die, and I do like that Seven is haunted by guilt afterwards, but if Narek could have been involved somehow, I think it would have been a better story. They were the yin and yang of Romulan culture, and she spent so much time bullying him that it feels like an anti-climax to have someone else face off against her. In the synth village, Narek, now with the heroes (but his mission unchanged, really) tries to destroy the beacon, and there's a little action there, only most of the synths just stand around and watch it. It's quite clunky. Even more egregious is that Narek is wrestled down to the ground and then... evaporates? He doesn't figure in Soji's turning, doesn't figure at all! What happened to him (and who else would have liked to see him join La Sirena's crew)? In space, there's more spectacle. The Romulans vs. the La Sirenas and the giant orchids is quite pretty, though Oh spends a lot of time with her finger hovering over the button (let's at least see some optical effects of weapons charging or something). Then Riker shows up with a huge fleet and it's like the show wants to break the record of most ships on screen, and I'm punching the air, but it's just a stand-off and no action results. Oh well.

I do appreciate the way the episode intercuts the various twists and turns and people betraying the antagonists. Narek (still in character, playing the Battlestar Galactica card of "This has happened before and will happen again") and Jurati (who for a second we think will steal the golem for herself), but pleasantly, once Soong discovers what Sutra has done, him too. I think that's where Brent Spiner needed to be, on Picard's side, in the final installment. Helps sell the surprise of Data's reappearance, in a way. And so everyone's made good, including the Federation, and we're ready for a second season. Season 1 was sometimes on the slow road, but the result is Picard in command of a ship and crew, and they look the part, with their own little badges, and look, Seven is a member (and the show is shipping her with Raffi!), and Soji's on board even though her story is done. And Rios and Jurati (an item?). And poor sobbing Elnor (he got to me this time). And Picard, of course, Patrick Stewart looking the youngest he has in the entire season. We're ready. Engage, make it so, and all that jazz.

LESSON: Lead by example.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Not without its cheats (for time and production reasons), but the Picard finale delivers in terms of what Trek is always meant to be.

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