Star Trek Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1

Anyone who treats me like a dying man will run the risk of pissing me off.

When Picard's team comes out of the conduit, they find Soji's homeworld. Will he be able to find the synths – and save them from the oncoming Romulan invasion force?

"Et in Arcadia Ego" is the title of a French painting; without getting too deeply into symbolism, the painting centers on a group of shepherds in an idyllic area, with no cities, and emphasizes that even in those perfect areas, Death too can come. This has implications for this episode, as we'll see.

As tonight's episode opens, you can see each of our crew reacting differently. The Borg conduit is pretty rough as a travel method; Picard's eyes are full of wonder, and Rios is full of intense interest; Soji's eyes are wide with excitement. Agnes is hiding under the desk, but even she comes out for the Moment of New Planet Wonder (wow, what rocks on that rock!) They've finally found Coppelius, fourth planet of the Ghulion system and the home of Soji and Dahj. The joy is short lived: they're still being chased by the Handsome He of the green blood and pointy ears. And... the Borg cube? And then they get attacked by these gorgeous space orchids which act like electromagnetic pulses. And Picard has a seizure of some kind. Is this the best opening of the series so far? I think so!

The situation, even before getting to the planet, requires Picard to reveal the truth about his mind: it's clear Coppelius is going to be a crucible for our characters. Once they land, the focus becomes on getting to Coppelius Station, a place Soji only barely remembers. Agnes confronting Picard about his condition was a sweet, sweet moment. I have mixed feelings about Agnes as a character, but she's fantastic and complex and acts as this great reflection of Picard and Raffi and Rios who are all perfectly composed.

The stop at the Borg cube felt very video game as they check in on the other characters then continue on their journey. In this case, they got reassurance (Elnor! Seven of Nine!) and some terror (218 Romulan warbirds?) It felt great that Picard was willing to let Elnor pursue a new quest – pursuing the xBs and protecting them. Elnor's never felt 100% for Picard's quest; he seems to feel much more of a commitment for the xBs.

Synthville is this series' Arcadia: beautiful, pastoral, everyone wearing flowing clothing. In a way this seemed to pay homage to a lot of TNG episodes: most stops on various planets seemed to be visits to Arcady, and some of the clothing could have been sourced from the original series! Soji is immediately welcomed, as is Picard. The synths make much of Picard's face, but they only have ten more flowers; all the wisdom in the world couldn't help with the other 213 warbirds.) Dr. Altan Soong turns out to be the one responsible for Synthville; it's lovely having Brent Spiner here in a different form.

Things get a little weird as Soong takes most of the team, except for Picard, who sits alone in order to have tea while Soong absolves Soji of her guilt in bringing Death to Arcady. While Picard sits alone, he meets with another synth who brings Picard back. This synth is Sutra, the sister of Jana, who had initially met Rios. Sutra's studied and believes the Admonition which terrifies the Romulans so much was intended for synthetic minds. (Note Sutra's ring in this scene echoes, I think, the Vulcan IDIC.)  She turns out to have experienced and learned the Vulcan mind meld; during this experience Sutra slows down the vision and realizes it's a call from yet another life form, an alliance of synthetic beings. Interesting the call mentions that humans hate synths because humans age and die, while synths do not: this is an immediate callback to Sutra's interest in Picard's face. Also interesting that this discovery is taken mostly at face value.

Sutra's discoveries lead to the team wrestling with several questions. First, what to do about this alliance? I mean, how do they know these aren't Borg? was my initial skeptical question. The question being faced by the synths isn't an enviable one. The certain death of the oncoming Romulans – or the uncertain possibilities of these alien synths. Picard's decision to get in touch with Starfleet is also confusing. I think it's clear Starfleet isn't in his corner.

Agnes is arguably the one who changes the most. In the previous episode we weren't even sure she saw Soji as human. In this episode she's confronted by Altan Soong and made to realize the true extent of the debt she owes – and beautifully, in the same moment, confronted with the idea that the only way she can make up for her murder is to create more of these forms of artificial life.

The Synths are wrestling with issues of their own – as shown by how they are trying to deal with Narek. I thought this was a great coming of age scene for Soji: three years old and she already understands that love can be real and still impure. When she confronts Narek and his true side comes through – along with yet another protestation of love – her strength truly shines.

Then Sutra begins to move. She releases Narek, trying to force hate between the Romulans and the Synths to create pressure so everyone agrees to reach out to the synthetic being alliance; it works – Narek's first act is to murder Saga. Soong is desperate to save his children. Sutra clearly believes the worst of organics, and it's Picard's task now to convince the synths to trust him. Picard does his best to speechify the situation into a good place, claiming he can protect the Synths, but he fails. Soong calls his bluff; nobody listened to Picard after Mars. The episode ends with Picard imprisoned, alone. Agnes narrowly escapes imprisonment with her new commitment to the Synths. Elnor and Seven of Nine are back at the Borg cube, Raffi is with Rios at La Sirena, Agnes has turned traitor yet again, and Soji is now convinced her only means of survival is betraying the man who saved her. Death is coming to Arcadia. Only the last episode will tell us who survives.

Homework:

"Descent," Parts 1 and 2. I felt compelled to suggest this pair of episodes because they actually demonstrate synth working against synth – it's not a given that just because there's a synth alliance out there all synths will treat each other equally well.

Seen in the Scene:

Agnes using an old school tricorder to identify Picard’s illness. Great but sad moment with Alison Pill. She wins a quivering chin award.

Some great cinematography in this episode as they walk to the Borg cube and Synthville. They even do a whole Avengers moment.

Picard still reacts with shock when he's called Locutus.

Chris's care for Agnes was also a great bookend set of moments – both when he tries to protect her against the mind meld and when he tells her she's inolvidable.

This is the third Soong played by Brent Spiner, I believe.

Raffi and Jean-Luc declaring love for each other. A tender, honest, real moment.

Soong is working on a receptacle that can accept a mind transfer. Did anyone else think Picard might benefit?

Clipped from the Script: 

Raffi: "We might run into... I don’t know. Angry reptiloids out there. Homicidal fungi. It’s a thing. Or somebody’s asshole Romulan ex."

Picard: "Hope and the odds make poor bedfellows."

Overall:

This is a fantastic first episode for the finale. Predictions? I think Starfleet will come – but not to help; I think that message to the Synth Alliance is going to get out – but they won't be what these synths want. And OMG I just want it to be next week. Five out of five lovely blooming orchids of electric death.

4 comments:

CoramDeo said...

This one really had me until they got to synthville, at which point Akiva Goldsman's direction drove it into the ground. It wasn't a terrible episode, but I couldn't get into any of the moments after they left the Borg cube because the direction took me out of it. Goldsman clumsily throws his camera around during dialogue scenes, somehow managing to frame every shot in a claustrophobic way that undermines its emotional effectiveness. It's off-putting and generally displeasing to the eye. The finale makes me very nervous in his hands.

Billie Doux said...

I enjoyed a lot of this one, although I'll admit that Synthville kept reminding me of the original series episode with all of the twin androids, "I, Mudd." Had to be a deliberate homage.

https://www.douxreviews.com/2010/11/star-trek-i-mudd.html

Maybe I'm enjoying all of this more than it possibly deserves because it's so nice to see Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner again. And I loved the "I love you"s. But Agnes is driving me nuts. She's gone back and forth too many times now that I don't know how to feel about her character.

Nick said...

It's nice to know I wasn't the only thinking that the Synth Alliance might be the Borg.

Giantdaz72 said...

I'm just glad Jana's name wasn't Karma