Damn, Where Has This Star Trek: Picard Been?
Star Trek: Picard is a show that, for its first two seasons, vacillated wildly between whether or not it wanted to be a self-serious look at how time had changed and wounded Jean-Luc Picard, or a daring, often unhinged heroic adventure for its titular hero. Its third season has been as strong as it is nostalgic, but its halfway point feels like it’s finally synthesized those two halves into some incredible television.
“Imposters” marks the halfway point for Picard’s third and final season, and after last week ended the first phase of the season and the immediate threat of Vadic—for now at least—the time has come for each and every one of our heroes to reckon with the return of the Changelings. That is, until Captain Shaw thinks he’s about to get the one-up on Riker and Picard by gloating that he has alerted Starfleet to expedite bringing the old friends in to face the music for their insubordination. The USS Intrepid arrives to bring Picard and Riker in, but first a knife has to be twisted when it’s revealed that the officer responsible for investigating them for treason is none other than one of Jean-Luc’s biggest regrets:
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Michelle Forbes is back as Ro Laren, the Bajoran former Next Generation Starfleet ensign and protégé of Captain Picard aboard the Enterprise, turned Maquis defector in what was Next Generation’s final storyarc before “All Good Things...” brought the show to a close. In a sea of nostalgic TNG returns this season, Ro’s return being kept as a pleasant surprise is refreshing. But what’s even more refreshing is that Picard manages to beautifully investigate and conclude her arc with Picard, started all those decades ago, in a way that is not simply nostalgic, but reflective of a new dramatic ethos underpinning this returned Changeling threat. In a world where these rogue denizens of the Great Link are now better than ever at infiltrating the solids’ ranks, it’s not technology and scans that can root them out. It’s good old fashioned relationships and connections—and in Picard and Ro Laren’s case, a lot of grief and trauma to wade through.
From the get-go, Ro’s shocking return into Picard’s orbit is primed for two things. The first is fiery conflict: though Riker is free-wheelingly understanding with the now Commander Ro, Picard is furious, and not just because Ro of all people is the one investigating him for treason. Here is Jean-Luc Picard, the irascible Admiral who falls in and out of favor with Starfleet like it’s going out of fashion, at this moment of emotional vulnerability—he has just become a father, after all—being preached to, lectured at by one of the few people to hurt him the most in his entire life? This season has been about presenting a Picard we’ve rarely seen at times, and that includes a lot of ugly emotions the reserved man usually keeps tight to his chest. But there is none of that tightness here; it all falls out as Ro and Picard pick up almost exactly where they left off when she defected to the Maquis in TNG’s “Preemptive Strike,” and amplify all that regret and anger across nearly three decades of time.
The other priming of course is that we’re going to expect that the secret of the season’s big bad is now out, that Ro is a Changeling. In his blind fury and shame, Picard throws himself into it to try and make his way out of confronting why Ro is here and now and back in Starfleet. After all, Ro left Starfleet for some extremely valid reasons, and even with so much time passed, her appearance here at this moment of all moments is immediately suspicious—her clipped, professional tone; the way she sets up the Titan to have as few crew left aboard as possible while her security officers sweep for Jack Crusher (who, by the by, is having a hell of a time with those creepy visions, leading to a horrifying moment where he goes numb and coldly executes four Changelings who find him hiding in plain sight in a Starfleet uniform among the Titan crew); even, as Picard goes on to note to Ro, the fact she no longer wears the traditional Bajoran earring she fiercely fought to wear as an Ensign, in spite of Starfleet’s uniform rules. The setup is there, and Picard knows it as much as its hero does, and the episode spends plenty of time leading you down this expected path.
But thankfully Picard is better in this moment—an evolution of maturity that I’m not quite sure prior seasons would’ve been capable of—than that, and Ro brings Picard into the Titan’s holodeck recreation of 10 Forward for an incredible, explosively emotional coup de grace. It’s practically a screaming match in a way we’ve rarely ever seen Star Trek do, as all this hurt and sadness pours out from the two of them. “You broke my heart,” Picard wails, and it feels so earnestly real, as Ro matches him in pain: “And you broke mine!” It’s here that the mask finally lifts. For all the Changelings have evolved to avoid traditional forms of detection fashioned by Starfleet in the Dominion War, making them better infiltrators than ever before, they cannot duplicate the unifying power of grief, the hurt it inspires in people and the hurt that grief then is then in turn inflicted on other people. Both equally skewered by the other, Picard and Ro realise that they are both who they say they are, and the latter can at last reveal her true intentions—the Changelings have already compromised Starfleet with plans to assault it during Frontier Day, and Ro is one of the remaining loyalists who has been investigating what’s going on.
This is the kind of nostalgia that Picard rightfully wields with a delicate and effective touch, and far more effective than just having old faces show up for the ride because that’s fun and nice. Is the end outcome still largely the same—a familiar friend (or really frenemy, with Ro) coming in to set the heroes on a path to victory? Yes, but it is removed from the rose-tinted view of Picard as this mythic legend, and fully exposes just how devastating one of his greatest failures as a captain has haunted him in the time that has passed between these two shows. This is the kind of examination that Picard’s first season was too scared to commit to, and that its second was too busy being absolutely bonkers to even consider—and in the moment, it works thoroughly, tying a bow on a character arc that had lingered for generations after TNG, while setting up the stakes of this new “final” chapter in Picard’s tale.
But of course, not all things can be truly happy after this moment of catharsis. Having confided her investigation in the remaining Titan crew and ready to go back to her ship and continue the work there, Ro finds that she herself has been compromised: the Intrepid is in Changeling hands, and after she kills the two shapeshifting officers on her shuttle she finds a bomb planted to silence her. In one last act of touching faith, Ro sends a message to the Titan warning them, and Picard discovers that Ro’s earring, gifted to him as a farewell and reconciliation, is holding all the data of her Changeling research so far—as he is forced to watch her make a hit-and-run sacrifice on the Intrepid, smashing her shuttle into its warp nacelles so the uncompromised Titan can escape.
It’s a tragic but beautifully bittersweet end to one of The Next Generation’s unsung and most complex of characters, and a suitably powerful re-enforcement of the stakes at play as Picard season three enters its endgame. With all our heroes so far reunited, as Raffi and Worf beam aboard the Titan with information in tow about the secrets of the Daystrom Station, the die is cast for Starfleet’s finest to save the day once again—even as one of those finest heroes gives their lives for that fighting chance.
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