This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 3, ‘Assimilation’.
There’s a clever little double meaning there in the title – ‘Assimilation’ referring not just to the Borg, but to Rios, Seven, and Raffi trying to assimilate into the past. It’s a nice way to highlight the two halves of the episode… even as it also draws attention to the fact we’re still working our way through a greatest hits package before this series really gets going anywhere.
Much like last week’s episode was an attempt to give Picard the mirror universe episode he never quite got during The Next Generation, ‘Assimilation’ ticks another Star Trek staple off the list: the (budget-conscious) novelty of the crew going back in time from their future to our present. If ‘Penance’ was Yesterday’s Enterprise by way of Mirror, Mirror, this is 1986 movie The Voyage Home by way of Deep Space Nine’s Past Tense two-parter (with, of course, an element of Voyager’s Future’s End too, and arguably Enterprise’s Carbon Creek in the coming weeks). When you’ve got fifty-five years of history to look to for inspiration, there’s an obvious appeal to cherry-picking from the past, taking old ideas and throwing them together as ballast for the new ones.
Again, though, there’s some push and pull here. On one level, it’s perhaps a little dispiriting to get the sense that Picard’s second series can be reduced down so entirely to that kind of equation: this is the episode inspired by that 80s episode and that 90s episode, and this is the one inspired by that 60s episode and that 00s episode, and so on. Would any of that mean anything for a new viewer? Probably not – though given Paramount+’s business model is dependent on dedicated fans paying for another streaming service, you can assume Star Trek: Picard’s intended audience are people who will make those connections. It’s not actually for the new viewer, commercially at least.
Star Trek: Picard’s first series, flawed though it often was, seemed at least a little more interested in taking its lead character somewhere new – not just opening on the bridge of the Enterprise-F on a new five-year mission, but finding Picard at a very different point in his life, with different concerns and fears and anxieties. It wasn’t just “oh, well, Picard never met a Kazon, we better tick that off the list” – not, granted, that Star Trek: Picard is actually going to bring in a Kazon (its references wouldn’t stray that far from the widely beloved), but there’s a similar sort of underlying mentality.
But! The same caveat as last week does apply again here, in fairness. Star Trek: Picard, if nothing else, has a strong cast, and it very rarely feels like they’re going through the motions (even if we are a little, perhaps). They can’t make everything work – Michelle Hurd, who did some great work as Raffi last year, struggles a little with the reaction to Elnor’s death – but the basic quality of the episode is always raised by these actors. It’s another great week for Jeri Ryan, and Annie Wersching has a nicely creepy take on the Borg Queen that works very well here.
It’s worth singling out Santiago Cabrera in particular, separated from the rest of the regular cast and spending most of the episode with 21st century doctor Teresa (Sol Rodriguez). Cabrera brings an easy charm and confidence to Rios, always very watchable, and he’s got great chemistry with Rodriguez here. Are we set to see a City on the Edge of Forever-esque plotline between Rios and Teresa? Maybe, maybe not – and frustrating though that would be on some levels, you do know that Cabrera would do it really, really well.
What’s encouraging about ‘Assimilation’, at least, is that it finally seems like Star Trek: Picard is about to get on with telling its own story. It’s suffered a little from ten-hour-movie streaming bloat (all three episodes so far could’ve been condensed to a two-part opener) but it looks like the set-up is now essentially complete and out of the way. Finally, Season 2 is about to move into its second act, having taken two steps backwards but finally one step forward – and if we’re lucky, it might throw out some of its own new ideas that’ll be worth imitating in another show a few years down the line.
- A genuine shame to kill Elnor so quickly, leaving Evan Evagora feeling very short-changed. Between this and Isa Briones’ still much-felt absence, it’s hard not to feel like new executive producer Terry Matalas has favourite characters.
- ‘California Dreaming’ is a fantastic, if possibly inadvertently so, musical choice here – the song went viral on tiktok recently, making it feel bracingly now in this context. It might age quickly, but it’s a great way to make these scenes feel instantly very 2020s.
- Picard crashing the ship into the site of his family vineyard is a nicely resonant little image, drawing on this year’s themes about past and present and future.
- I do wonder if maybe Star Trek is going to go into the past to comment on the present obliges it to be much more explicitly left-wing. But then I think everything is obliged to do that, so.
Star Trek: Picard season 2 airs new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime. You can read our review of last week’s episode, ‘Penance’, right here, and our review of series premiere ‘The Star Gazer’ here.
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