Warning: This Star Trek: Picard season 2, episode 8 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Last week’s trip into the surreal inner workings of Jean-Luc Picard’s mind threatened to throw this second season wildly off course, but ‘Mercy’ returns the show to optimal operating parameters. While this bitty, fast-paced episode chops and changes between its multiple storylines, it also creates space to develop every member of La Sirena crew – it’s not so much about A-, B-, C- or D-plots as an opportunity to advance the season’s massively entertaining story arc.
More importantly, however, this episode corrects the bizarre decision to sideline the season’s wonderful trio of villains in ‘Monsters’’, bringing Q, Adam Soong, and the Borg Queen back to the fore in spectacular style. This is the moment their motivations and machinations start to properly coalesce – and where we finally begin to understand why Renée Picard’s mission is so important to the future her distant relative, Jean-Luc, is fighting so hard to protect.
The main obstacle standing in Admiral Picard’s way this week owes more to Line of Duty than the usual space-time continuum shenanigans, however – considering he’s survived close encounters with the Borg, Romulans, Ferengi, and pretty much every aggressor to threaten Federation, it’s remarkable that he comes so close to meeting his match in a non-descript interview room in 21st century Los Angeles. Yes, his interrogator is rather less threatening than the vindictive Cardassian in classic Next Generation two-parter ‘Chain of Command’ – whether or not there are “four lights” doesn’t appear to be an issue this time out – but it frequently feels as if there’s no easy way out for Picard and his fellow prisoner Guinan.
Agent Wells may be an older, more bumbling Fox Mulder wannabe – there’s never any question that he wants to believe – but he asks all the right questions about their mission, notably their unauthorized trip to the Europa Mission launch party. And for a man as out of time as Jean-Luc Picard, all that knowledge of fine art, archaeology and the finer points of interstellar diplomacy will count for nothing if he ends up on a dissection table in Area 51.
With Picard and Guinan stuck in custody, Raffi and Seven of Nine are back on the tail of the Agnes/Borg Queen hybrid, who from now on we’ll simply refer to as Queen Agnes. With Raffi pointing out that, “It’s 2024. People have trouble with revolving doors, they can’t handle a Borg Queen” – as damning an indictment of 21st-century culture as you’re ever likely to hear – getting their target off the streets has a real sense of urgency. But even when there’s a lethal, world domination-obsessed cyborg on the loose, sometimes you just have to work through some personal issues – whether it’s the couple’s compatibility, Seven’s continuing struggles to reconcile herself to her Borg past, or the more manipulative side of Raffi’s personality.
Once Seven agrees to think like a Borg, however – a routine rather reminiscent of Will Graham taking on the mindset of serial killers in the Hannibal Lecter stories – their A-grade detective work leads them to Queen Agnes, whose plans for ruling the world involve consuming copious amounts of batteries. While we don’t recommend trying this at home – seriously, kids, don’t – Queen Agnes clearly cares little about the toxicity, working on the hypothesis that the metals inside will help her spread primitive versions of the nanoprobes she needs for the wonderfully MacGyver-like assimilation she has in mind for the planet.
Assuming, of course, that the Borg Queen remains the dominant party in the relationship. She’s clearly in charge for now, but the brief moment of mercy Queen Agnes shows towards a seemingly doomed Raffi suggests the human side of her personality is still in there – somewhere. The Queen’s need for connection also shows a rare element of vulnerability in a species renowned for its ruthlessness.
Meanwhile, the only disappointing side to Q’s return is the fact he doesn’t get to share any scenes with his old sparring partner, Jean-Luc – they’re clearly saving that particular blockbuster encounter for the final two episodes. Besides, seeing as Q and Guinan have history – even if said history is in her future – their brief meeting is undoubtedly the next best thing.
Having strongly implied that Q is unwell earlier in the season, ‘Mercy’ confirms that the supposedly immortal being may be close to death – or more accurately, that he’s struggling to get his head around “being on the threshold of the unknowable”. (It’s fun to speculate that the reason he took so long to respond to last week’s “summoning” is that his malfunctioning finger snap meant he had to take a bus across a gridlocked LA.)
John de Lancie continues to work magic with his performance, making you sympathize with a self-serving character completely lacking in empathy – indeed, it’s still not entirely clear whether he’s on Jean-Luc’s side or not. Could he have evolved into an unlikely hero by the time the season’s done? Could his casual remark that “All humans are stuck in the past…” be a crucial clue for Picard and co? Guinan clearly thinks so, having endured a Stranger Things-style nosebleed to send a telepathic message to Picard.
There’s no such ambiguity with Adam Soong, whose ambitions in genetic engineering have excised out any traditional notions of humanity. Even Kore’s heartfelt attempts to confront him about her past – bolstered by digital Q’s surprise cure for her condition – are unable to awaken any sense of paternal responsibility. His response that, “Anyone can procreate. You exist because I willed it,” is unlikely to win him any “dad of the year” prizes.
But Soong and Queen Agnes may be made for each other, as it’s when she comes a calling that the multiple plot strands of Picard season 2 really start to come together – if someone knocks on your door saying, “I assume a lecture on the futility of resistance is not going to be necessary,” chances are you’ll find it difficult to say no.
This certainly has all the makings of a marriage of convenience: she requests his help in building a private army of proto-Borg to capture La Sirena – “Who’s in the mood to add a little of their biological and technological distinctiveness to our own?” – in return for helping him secure his place as the founder of the fascistic world order Picard and co are aiming to prevent. The equation is remarkably simple: if Renée leaves on the Europa Mission, she’ll make a discovery that guarantees the future of humanity; if she doesn’t, Earth will be forced to fall back on the Soong doctrine, a recipe for environmental Armageddon and the end of civilization as we know it. As you’d expect, Soong is much more interested in securing his own place in history than walking out the door and making things right with Kore.
With La Sirena in a Borg-induced lockdown, and Rios alone on the ship with Teresa and Ricardo – the romantic subplot continues to work surprisingly well, thanks to Santiago Cabrera and Sol Rodríguez’s impressive on-screen chemistry – it’s something of a relief that Agent Wells’ childhood encounter with a Vulcan expedition party has made him more sympathetic to visitors from outer space than your average law enforcement officer. It’s just a shame that he has to lose his job to give Picard his freedom.
And when Q tells Guinan that, “The trap is immaterial, it’s the escape that counts,” he’s only half right. The brilliant trap the writers have constructed for Picard and co has been the making of this entertaining sophomore run – but it’s the escape that will define how season 2 is remembered.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard season 2 beam onto Paramount Plus (US) and Crave (Canada) on Thursdays. Viewers elsewhere can watch the show on Amazon Prime Video on Fridays. For more Trek action, check out our reviews of Star Trek: Discovery season 4.
4.5 out of 5
Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 8 review: “‘Mercy’ returns the show to optimal operating parameters”
The current generation of Star Trek TV shows don’t have the best track record for season finales, but with all the pieces in Q’s game now in position, the last two episodes of this incredibly enjoyable season couldn’t be better poised.