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Star Trek: Picard - Review - No Win Scenario: Ghosts of the Past

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Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

This new season of Star Trek: Picard has been met with critical acclaim. There are many factors that have gone into making this season a success; a strong showrunner and the reunion of a beloved cast, but there is a strong case to make that this season’s strength all begins with the storytelling. The show’s latest episode, “No Win Scenario,” is the perfect example of that. It gives new insights into the characters we thought we knew, turning the episode into a highlight of the season with layered, nuanced storytelling that expertly combines rich Star Trek history with dangerous new threats.

If there was a theme for the episode it could easily have been exploring the still-evolving consequences of past actions. Past actions that for three specific characters illustrate how traumatic events change us. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Shaw (Todd Stashwick) are all visited by ghosts of the past that continue to haunt them. And gives us a glimpse of some hidden event that, like father, like son, is already haunting Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers).
Awards shows may have to create an entirely new category just for Jonathan Frakes. He deserves all the awards for this episode in which Frakes, the director, directs Frakes, the actor, in an award-worthy performance. His attention to detail regarding lighting and camera angles produces movie-level quality. The focus of the entire episode is on board the Titan, which is dead in the water (so to speak) as its captain and crew come to grips with what is sure to be their impending doom. Three central characters are singled out for in-depth introspection of their greatest regrets. This is where Frakes, the actor, shines. We see Riker struggle with a farewell message to his beloved wife and failing to find the words. Then we see Riker urge his friend, Jean-Luc, not to make the mistake he did and waste what time he had left by not connecting with his son. And just when you think all is lost, he relies on the wisdom of friends and puts his trust in his crew to be the leader he is, and gives them hope with a brash Riker-style move which prompts Beverly to utter perhaps the best line of the episode, “Will, did you just throw an asteroid?”
We get a bit of Star Trek history through the revelation that in times of distress, the holo-decks on the ships remain operational to give crew members a place of refuge. This makes the perfect setting for Jean-Luc and Jack to attempt to connect. Picard turns the holo-deck into some place where he felt relatively safe and comfortable, the 10-Forward bar of last season. It’s here that we see a different Jean-Luc. Stewart does exceptional work showing a weary, hesitant Picard who desperately wants to learn all he can about his son in the hours they have left; he’s just not sure how. He's reeling; he’s confused why his son didn’t want to meet him; he’s unsure of himself of how to connect to this young man he’s now drinking with, so he tries by telling him about the man he is named after. Is it any wonder that after all he’s been through and his frustration when Jack (Speleers, matching Stewart’s excellence moment by moment) still seems hesitant to get to know him that he utters Star Trek’s first F-bomb? He’d more than earned the right to let loose. The most impactful moments of this father-and-son reunion give Jean-Luc the answer to his question when he remembers they had met before as strangers as he was regaling young Star Fleet personnel with past exploits, and his response to being asked about his family was to say, “Star Fleet was the only family he needed.” The look between Stewart and Speleers when the revelation dawns on them both speaks volumes without words.
Then, Stashwick, in one powerfully intense scene, does some of his best work of the season as Captain Shaw. When all appears dire, the wounded Captain makes his way to the holo-deck created 10 Forward bar, thinking they just had a few hours to live, unleashes years of pent-up rage and anger at Picard. His fury and story of how he was chosen to be one of the few survivors of the attack on Wolf 359 by the Borg led by the Locutus assimilated Picard goes a very long way in explaining his attitude towards the Admiral and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The trauma the young officer felt watching so many of his friends and colleagues die at the hands of the Borg would give anyone nightmares. A wound that undoubtedly reopened when ordered to not only serve with a Borg but also to undertake a mission with the then Locutus version of Picard that was the source of his nightmares. Stashwick’s barely restrained fury was a masterful piece of acting.
While the main focus was on the men, that’s not to say that the women on the Titan were sitting idly by waiting to die. Beverly (Gates McFadden) determines the true nature of the nebula they’re in, and how they might use the energy it is building to give birth to help the ship escape. McFadden is slowly bringing Beverly back to Star Trek: Next Generation form, with her analysis of the nebula and the fascination of being in the presence of the birth of new life. Ryan’s Seven of Nine continues to show that she belongs in a leadership role not only aboard the Titan but in a Star Trek series of her own through her character’s dogged pursuit of the Changeling saboteur on board, despite being relieved of duty. She was glorious in getting through to Shaw by pointing out that her investigation proved the Changeling was on board before Picard arrived, meaning something much bigger was at stake.
Yes, indeed. A big reason for this season’s Star Trek: Picard success begins with the storytelling. With new layers evolving each week and brought to vivid life by director Frakes and this incredible cast, the show’s accolades for their final season are only beginning.

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