Season 2, Episode 2: ‘Penance’
“Show them a world of their own making and they ask you what you’ve done,” John de Lancie’s Q asks Jean-Luc Picard at the top of the second episode of this season’s “Picard.”
This has been the modus operandi of our favorite omnipotent being who has long toyed with Picard as his guinea pig. Q causes a significant disruption, but it’s mostly to teach pitiful humans a stern lesson and get some yuks while doing it. This version of Q seems angrier — even slapping Picard in the face once, which seems a bit out of character, but this is Gritty Trek. (Recall that when Q appears in “Deep Space Nine,” Captain Sisko punches him in the face, which shocks Q, because he can’t conceive of one of his playthings turning to violence.)
Q says that this time, he’s not giving out an education.
“This is not a lesson,” Q barks. “It’s a penance.”
A quick digression: Picard tells Q that he’s too old for his, you know, stuff. There’s a lingering issue from the first season of “Picard” that bothers me. It’s that Picard isn’t actually too old for anything. He’s no longer human. You might remember that Picard died last season! Then he woke up as some sort of aging synthetic being. This is the danger in messing with audience expectations with a fake death. There’s always a technological out for Picard, so he’s never really in any danger. That precedent the show has set for itself will affect the dramatic tension going forward.
That doesn’t mean it can’t work. Spock died in “Wrath of Khan” and was brought back to life in the next movie. He remained a compelling character for several more films.
In this case, Q places Picard and the rest of his friends in what initially appears to be a Mirror Universe, but turns out to be an altered reality. Several “Trek” franchises have taken on the Mirror Universe, but Picard’s “Next Generation” was never one of them.
It’s not, however, the first time Q has revealed an alternate reality to Picard. In the “Next Generation” episode “Tapestry,” Q shows Picard that if a younger version of him hadn’t taken risks, he would have been unsatisfied for the rest of his life. There was also the series finale of “The Next Generation,” where Q goads Picard into creating an anomaly across several different timelines as part of the trial of humanity. Someone please get Q a job or a show to binge watch, for the galaxy’s sake.
The stakes in this reality, though, are much higher. Q shows Picard a world in which the Federation were bloodthirsty conquerors. There’s even a Museum of Conquest! We see the remains of some classic “Trek” characters, like Gul Dukat, General Martok and Sarek — all apparently murdered by a Confederation force led by Picard, who wants a “pure” world according a recording of a speech. Subtle!
“This is the only life you understand,” Q tells Picard. But maybe Q is crankier than usual because, as Picard points out, he’s not well.
It’s not clear what exactly Q is trying to show Picard, because Picard has never been particularly violent. For the most part, he’s always tried to find peaceful solutions. But “Trek” has never shied away from politics. The parallels between white nationalists who have been in the news in the past few years and what Evil Picard describes is apparent. Separately, it hardly seems incidental that the Eradication Day rally near the end of the episode recalls rallies led by former president Donald J. Trump, complete with the crowd chanting Picard’s name.
Seven of Nine is married and the leader of the Confederation. (Hey, at least she got a promotion.) Rios is a colonel. Elnor is a rebel. Raffi is somewhere in between. Jurati runs the “eradication” process — and has a digital cat named after Data’s, Spot. She deduces that there’s been a corruption in the timeline. One wonders if Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan will make another appearance this season, since Guinan and Q have their own history.
Elnor’s appearance gave me a chuckle because when he appears in the new reality, he is 100 percent on board with the uprising, despite not knowing anything about it or why he is there to begin with. This pretty much fits with his character. He has a keen moral sense, regardless of how much information he has.
The Borg Queen made the trip, too. She tells Picard that one single decision made in 2024 had lasting consequences for the entire galaxy. (I wonder if there’s something happening in our 2024 that the show is alluding to!) Incidentally, Q is the entire reason that the Enterprise ever encountered the Borg to begin with, so thanks for that, man.
A weird moment comes when Picard is deducing ways to go back in time and mentions that Kirk’s Enterprise did it “on more than one occasion.” Why didn’t he mention that his own Enterprise went back in time in “First Contact,” the best “Next Generation” movie?
The occasional head-scratcher aside, the first two chapters of this season have been ambitious and compelling. It’s good to see Picard can still handle a phaser. The episode ends with Seven of Nine’s faux husband discovering that Picard’s merry band is too merry for this timeline. He fell in love with Seven’s cruelty, not her compassion! His idea of date night is genocide, which must’ve made for an interesting Bumble profile.’