Friday 17 March 2023

TREK REVIEW: PIC 3-4 "No-Win Scenario"

SPOILERS, technically, but the episode is now a week old and the next one is out. So much of this might be considered old news and bumf by now.

After an excellent third episode, Picard delivers a taut, solid part four which, while predictable in almost every respect, is so perfectly realised it's hard to find fault. "No-Win Scenario" is a tough, exciting but basically old-fashioned episode of Trek, with a good balance of the wonder of exploration and nail-biting fights against the odds, plus plenty of humour and a powerful emotional backbone.

With the action provided by fights with Changeling infiltrators, cosmic mothers of a thousand young, deadly asteroid fields and some clever sciencey escape plans, the really powerful stuff is the emotional head-to-heads between Picard and the various people he's pissed off. The scenes between Jean-Luc and Jack are some of the best material we've seen from Stewart in this series, with Speelers holding his own against the veteran actor. Spending time together in Ten-Forward (or rather, a holographic recreation of Guinan's terrestrial Ten Forward bar), they truly bond, but at the same time it's hammered home to Picard just how much he's missed out on, and how much he threw away by not having a family.

While it's a bit hard to line-up the flashbacks to Picard's storytelling to an enraptured audience of cadets (I'm fairly sure he should have been sulking in France during those years, but never let consistency get in the way of a good scene), they're a joy to watch, as the old admiral pretends he'd rather be on his own but is evidently having a whale of a time regaling the students with tales of his exploits. Yet, the most powerful moment comes later, when we see that Jack was there at the bar too, having asked the admiral about his family and being outright told that "Starfleet is the only family I ever needed."

Picard's realisation in the present, as the penny drops and he realises who he was talking to all those years ago, is another masterful moment of non-verbal acting from Stewart. It's interesting to wonder exactly why he said this, of course. Was he being disingenuous, saying what he thought the cadets would want to hear from their hero, especially when starting out on careers that will take them far from home and dominate their lives? Or was it a moment of honesty? After all, the younger Picard had often been sniffy at the idea of family on the Enterprise, and had been famously awkward with children. It's less than surprising that Beverly Crusher would be reluctant to tell him about her son with that in mind. Plus, Picard is presumably still dealing with the loss of his nephew (seen in Star Trek Generations) and the memory of an entire family lost to him (in the classic episode "The Inner Light"). Even though Generations showed that his true desire was to have a family, he's fought hard to keep that truth from others and admit it to himself, and is no doubt frightened by the idea as much as he desires it. I feel like you can see all of that in his face in that moment of recognition. But then, I've just had a baby, after years of fearful reluctance myself. This stuff is hitting me harder than it would have done a year ago.

JL and JC are interrupted at one point by Captain Shaw, in another powerful moment. Todd Stashwick is amazing as Shaw, finally bursting out with his anger and grief at Picard (yet still somehow in that measured way he always has) for the events of Wolf 359. Of course, we've seen this before: with Sisko in the opening episode of DS9, but it's not as though there won't be hundreds, maybe thousands of officers who still blame Picard for his actions as Locutus. It's irrational for Shaw to blame Picard or Seven for their actions as Borg - they were, after all, just as much victims of the Collective as those killed at Wolf 359 - but it's also entirely understandable. Shaw acts like a dick (Seven's word!) but in an entirely relatable way. I also enjoyed his noting that, for all the "weird shit" on the Stargazer, the real Borg are still out there (albeit apparently still reeling from the attack at the end of Voyager). Presumably this was put in to clear things up for the various people still somehow confused by the end of season two.

Meanwhile, on the other ship, Vadic is showing some more interesting character. It's becoming clear that behind closed doors, she's actually rather frightened and a little out-of-her-depth, putting on a show of bravado for her crew, and even more of one for her enemies. We're getting little snippets of a more complex character. The question of her relationship to the Changelings hangs in the air in this episode, although by the time I got round to writing this, Matalas has gone and confirmed on Twatter that she is indeed a Changeling. Which is all very intriguing, given her behaviour. The scene in which she hacks off her hand to form a sort-of communications device is fascinating, and one that I actually assumed proved she isn't a shapeshifter - why would she need to hack off her hand rather than simply detaching it willfully? Also intriguing is the scary face she communicates with. Some kind of new Link, or something else altogether speaking to her via her innate telepathy? (Remember, we saw Odo once form a telepathic link with Sisko, Dax and Garak unconsciously and under stress.)

The appearance of the Changelings is also creepy, looking more fleshy than the shimmering fluid we've seen before. This could just be a case of the designers making use of better visual effects techniques to create a scarier version of the enemy, but I wonder if it's actually something to do with the disease that ravaged the Changelings at the end of the war? That might explain an awful lot of what we're seeing.

It's good to see Riker and Picard resolve their own differences like adults, instead of dragging out animosity like many dramas would. Riker's scenes, where he talks to Picard and later Deanna, and finally admits that he's been dealing with a drawn-out depression following his son's death, also struck me powerfully.

As I noted above, a lot of this episode plays out very predictably, from the unmasking of the infiltrator, the reluctant resolution between Picard and Shaw, and the already signposted nature of the nebula as a life form (although the reveal that the waves were contractions was rather nice). None of this is a problem, and actually helps the episode run along without ever becoming hard to follow, even as a lot happens in a short time. The real triumph of the episode, though, is its emotional core. 

Favourite bits worth mentioning:

  • Picard and Jack discussing premature baldness.
  • Riker throwing an asteroid at the Shrike.
  • Shaw referring to Changeling residue as "resi-goo." He has a way with words.
  • Nods back to "Encounter at Farpoint," "Darmok" and "Booby Trap."
  • Patrick Stewart saying "dipshit" will stick with me.

Questions and quandaries:

  • If the Changeling took the transporter chief's place, why did he hide the body in a cupboard? Wouldn't he be in a perfect position to beam it into space without being caught?
  • Picard's tales include an encounter with the Hirogen, also involving Worf. Now that's a story I would like to see.
  • Is pot legal in the Federation? I like that they're still calling it pot in nearly 400 years (Picard and Jack no doubt call it weed).
  • What's going on with Jack's red weed hallucinations? (Is it the Martians from The War of the Worlds? They are public domain now.)

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