Wotcha! Another strong episode from Picard, and it seems we're now firmly in the serialised part of the storytelling, rather than the attention-grabbing stage of the opening two episodes. It's a quieter, more thoughtful episode, albeit with enough action to keep things fun and interesting, with some strong character moments.
By far my favourite part came early on, with Seven and Raffi on the bus, reenacting the “I Hate You!” scene from The Voyage Home, with Kirk Thatcher appearing as an older version of his punk character from that film. He's a lot more mellow and polite now, although perhaps he's having traumatic flashbacks to his humiliating nerve-pinching by Spock back in 1986. In the meantime, he'd got out of California and took a trip to New York to appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming. I like to think there's a Kirk Thatcher Punk Rock Guy in every reality.
Seven and Raffi get some angry bonding time this episode, but to be honest this isn't the strongest episode for either of them. Their main purpose at the moment appears to be to run around trying to find Rios while he's doing more dramatically interesting things. It's fun to see Seven driving (in a stolen police car which would have been perfectly fine to leave where it was if Raffi had just pinched the laptop inside and run, instead of getting in), albeit badly. It's a shame we didn't get a little nod to Voyager; who else could have taught Seven to drive 20th/21st century internal combustion vehicles but Tom Paris?
As said, Rios's experiences in ICE detention are more interesting, and damning. His character is consistent with how he appeared in season one: putting on a facade of charming nonchalance to cope with genuinely traumatic experiences. He continues to have great chemistry with the gorgeous Dr. Teresa, and this plot thread shines a light on the appalling state of the West, particularly post-Trump America, in the 2020s. I like that the writers are openly tying this into the future seen in DS9's “Past Tense,” with Rios being carted off to a Sanctuary District. The future shown in DS9 is looking more and more like the present we now inhabit. However, the Sanctuary Districts are a paradise compared to the conditions that many men, women and children experience in ICE custody, even after the States' regime change.
Alison Pill's toughened-up Agnes Jurati continues to be one of the best things this season. He relationship with the Queen is becoming very interesting. After their interface, they each have an insight into each other's psyche and are seemingly trying to out-manipulate each other. While Agnes gets what she wants, the Queen is nothing if not patient, and I suspect we'll see them connect once again further down the line. Our prediction: Agnes is destined to become the new Borg Queen after the current version finally breaks down, and will be revealed to be behind the mask we saw back in episode one.
The main talking point of the episode is, of course, the reintroduction – pre-introduction? - of Guinan. Ito Aghayere is brilliant as the younger, angrier Guinan, giving enough of a young Whoopi vibe while providing her own take on the character. There's a bit of a clash with existing continuity: a time-travelling Picard previously met Guinan back in 1893, when she was already living on Earth and played by Whoopi Goldberg, looking and acting quite differently. Obviously, Whoopi looks very different now, and I much prefer re-casting to attempting an extended de-ageing CGI effect. We know from the 2401 Guinan that El-Aurians can age if they choose to, so maybe they can take their physical age down or otherwise tweak their appearance too? Along with their time-sense (which I had previously supposed was down to Guinan's exposure to the Nexus in Star Trek Generations), it's all very Doctor Who.
As to why Guinan doesn't doesn't recognise Picard from their previous meeting... well, it was 130 years earlier, so she could be forgiven for not immediately clicking, but you'd expect once she'd heard his name and her time sense had been triggered she's recall. Then again, has that meeting even happened in this timeline? The Picard she met came from a future which no longer exists, after all. The time travel rules aren't quite clear here.
When it comes to her character, though, Aghayere's version is perfect. After decades on Earth, living through the entire twentieth century, it makes perfect sense that Guinan has lost her faith in humanity and is getting off planet. Maybe it would have been different if she, as she pointed out, looked like Picard, but as a black woman in the United States, who knows what she's experienced in that time? Plus, it's the right time for her to leave, what with World War III coming and all.
Thankfully, Guinan is not revealed to be the legendary Watcher, which would have been too obvious, but she does at least know who is. The mystery is even greater now, though, as the alien overseer has turned up looking just like a human version of Laris. Meanwhile, Q is keeping an eye on a young woman who is no doubt vitally important to the future of Earth, Picard's ancestry or both. Only he seems to have lost his powers. More evidence that something has happened to reality and he is powerless to fix it without help from Picard? We're almost halfway through, so will likely be getting a few more answers soon.
Links and references:
Jurati calls Picard “Dixon Hill” for being clever, a reference to his favourite fictional detective, who he often cosplayed on the Holodeck. The mystery woman is reading a Dixon Hill novel, The Pallid Son, written by Tracey Tormé, who wrote for TNG back in its first and second seasons.
Guinan keeps a bottle of Saurian brandy in her bar. She drives a car with the registration S02 E01, referenceing the character's first appearance on TNG season two episode one (“The Child”).
The Europa Project where Q and the mystery woman were sitting is situated at Jackson Roykirk Plaza, named after the scientist who created the Nomad probe from TOS: “The Changeling,” twenty-two years earlier in the Trek timeline. Q's newspaper namechecks Brynner, the businessman who unsuccessfully tried to hook up with Dax in “Past Tense.”