The Brilliance of the Star Trek Picard’s Finale

*Spoilers for Star Trek Picard and other Trek

I want to avoid the minutiae of the finale episode, so I will avoid the first half; it was fine. It reflects some of the larger plot issues of the series more broadly — though I believe they are mostly mitigated by outstanding performances (and the finale works better when watching part i and ii as a whole). However, the last half of this episode had lots of utopian Trek, which I need in my life right now (don’t we all). So let’s start with space flowers. This was a lot of sci-fi fun and ridiculousness, it felt apropos of the space hippy tropes from the original series, just on a bigger budget with 21st-century production technology. Of course, despite the stakes of galaxy-wide organic annihilation, the symbolism of peace and pacifism is reflective of Picard’s Federation, one that we have seen — reflexive of current western political reality — wilt throughout the season.

The Federation, and its message of tolerance, shows up and is resuscitated by a familiar face: acting Captain Riker! Picard has his chance to appeal to the synths (androids?), and we learn that friendship is magic and Federation idealism still works. Of course, Sogi shuts the beacon thing down, and the scary octopus AIs are stopped; they looked like the future Control probe from Disco Season 2 (just saying). Some astute online commentators noted the Mass Effect trilogy plot similarities here, but the very Trek manner in which this is avoided, talking and diplomacy, subverts this narrative in, an if not predictable, then at least satisfyingly Trek manner. I think this similarity was probably accidental, rouge AI is a sci-fi trope that predates Mass Effect and even our hallowed and august Star Trek. And so, the galaxy is saved from ancient super-intelligent robot space cephalopods.

And now the brilliant. Though Picard’s death was well telegraphed since the beginning, and the last few episodes have left little of these plot outcomes to the imagination, the Data stuff was excellent. There are now two profound deaths in Trek, but they work in opposite ways. Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan is Star Trek at it’s best and most imbued with pathos. This pathos was diminished by the cheap set up for his resurrection in the inexorable Star Trek 3. Data’s original death in Nemesis also had a cheap retcon built in with B4. But this death was completely hollow and devoid of any feeling, just fan antipathy — and of course, the follow up to Nemesis was anything but assured. In an inversion, the proceeding Star Trek Picard — which is also a direct sequel — corrects this death, unlike how the later Star Trek 3 cheapened Spoke’s death. That said, I am not super into how Picard’s death and synth body are handled at the end, but we need it to correct Data’s death.

Let me explain. We find ourselves in a room with Data and Picard, it’s furnishing resembles Picard’s study if it were a hip furniture showroom. And here, Picard and Data are given proper resolutions in a somewhat 2001 like aesthetic. We find out that Data’s consciousness has existed in this virtual space since 2379 (30 years!). He wants a real death to add meaning to his life (just like the audience does for the character). This meeting, to be plausible, needs Picard’s mind to be transferred into an android brain (so they can meet up in the android intranet chatroom). This meeting also gives Picard a chance to expunges his guilt over Data’s death and finally admits his deep emotion. And this is brilliantly handled. Picard is not an emotional man in TNG — at least on the surface. This may work on a professional level, as a starship captain — but in this series, we find out how much damage this caused him, his friends, and an entire race.

This series quite brilliantly deals with old age and legacy, something popular media does not meditate upon often. Star Trek Picard is about rebuilding the character of Picard, this is even symbolically hinted at in the intro (the puzzle pieces forming his face and the overlay of the organic and synthetic eye). Thus, and somewhat predictably, Picard is reborn as a synth. This works symbolically, though a little hamfistedly. Without this virtual reunion, there can be no resolution for Picard, no piecing back together. And here Data’s death is brilliantly handled, his body vaporizing in Picard’s hands to “Blue Skys” while wearing his smoking jacket.

As far as the whole body transfer thing goes, it reaches all the way back to the TNG Season 2 episode “Schizoid Man,” and it gets around Picard’s irumodic syndrome. This last point was a nice callback to “All Good Things,” this series intentionally engages with both the best and worst of TNG. This also works with Seven’s earlier question when she asks him if he ever reclaimed his humanity after being assimilated, and now, at the birth of his synthetic body, he finally may have by dealing with his emotions — which is something Data views as a cornerstone of being human.

I think the series could have handled some of the plotting better, but its engagement with the maligned Nemesis was a great move as its resolution provides the best part of this new series. And as hard as it was seeing how deeply Picard’s retreat from the world had hurt his friends and our idealized image of him, he reclaims it. Here, he teaches us the cost of withdrawal from the causes and communities which are important to us. There can be no better message for this 21st-century retelling of a 20th-century hero.

Random thoughts:

Eye imagery (and body horror). The eye is the window into the soul. Bladerunner does a better job with this, but similar motifs are used throughout the season. Picard’s awakening words in his new body are, “am I real?” The eye overlay in the intro hints at this blurring of organic and synthetic reality (Picard is organic, but had become dead inside). This is also captured in the series’ fixation with the horror of the removal of the eyes of the dispossessed: Icheb, the XBs, the synth in the last episode. Their humanity and reality are questioned. The eye is a symbol of the seat of our subjectivity. Ultimately, seeing through the dismembered synth eye is what helps to save the day. IDK. As I said, Bladerunner does it better.

Are the new starships, which are copied and pasted for budgetary reasons (I assume), a kind of Liberty class ship? These were a mass-produced ship used to deal with heavy losses during the Battle of the Atlantic. I realize the comparison falls apart in a sense because Riker calls them the most advanced ship Starfleet has ever built, the Liberty ships were anything but advanced. However, the mass replication of one class of starship makes sense considering the destruction of Mars yards which were the primary Starfleet ship design facility.

I wonder if the space cephalopods will somehow tie into Disco lore, or perhaps even give us an explanation for V’ger.

What happened to the XBs? Does Seven not feel an affinity for them? Maybe she is no Hugh. I feel like the Borg cube will reemerge. It certainly has not justified its existence in the plot of this series.

What the hell was JL right about Raffi?

Some people don’t seem to like that there was no twist at the end, that Chekov’s gun was utilized throughout the series — except for the damned Borg cube. But I am tired of this type of plot device. The twist was in how Picard’s life has unfolded. We needed a predictable ending to return to Trek.