Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 4 review: ‘Watcher’ procrastinates as the series slows down
A slow and measured pace necessitates something worth taking the time over, not just moving from A to B to C
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This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 4, ‘Watcher.
Nothing wrong with being slow-paced, obviously. I like slow-paced dramas, and I think slow-paced is probably a more comfortable mode for Star Trek than fast-paced – more cerebral and methodical rather than exciting and adventurous, even if it often can reach the latter via the former. And, of course, if there’s any show that can opt for a slower pace without attracting much criticism, you’d think it’s the one with an 81-year-old lead made during a pandemic.
But I’d argue that Star Trek: Picard at the moment isn’t actually slowly paced as such – “there’s a big car chase set piece in this one, and you’re calling this slow-paced?”, everyone has already typed in response – but languidly structured. You can tell this has been written, as most streaming television is now, as a ‘ten-hour movie’. As always, that’s meant to denote a level of scale and prestige, but really reveals something that’s been made without quite getting the strengths of its medium – hence ending up with ‘Watcher’, an episode that struggles to establish its own identity because it’s ultimately just about leading into next week’s episode.
What you end up with is forty-or-so minutes of television that functions primarily as a way to move pieces from A to B (much like ‘The Star Gazer’ a few weeks ago – it’s a recurring problem for this show) but doesn’t actually manage to do much on its own terms. It’s punctuated by nice moments, certainly; Jeri Ryan continues to do the absolute most, and Alison Pill is quickly building a nicely spooky rapport with Annie Wersching’s Borg Queen. But it’s hard to escape the sense that not a great deal actually happens here, when all is said and done.
Again, the underlying issue is one of structure, not pace. You might call it a lack of incident – still investigating the same things being investigated last week, still running into the same basic problems, still stuck in the same location – but it’s as much a case of a lack of depth as anything else. Take this week’s big contribution, for example: Ito Aghayere appears as a younger version of Guinan. It’s a strong performance, certainly, at once evocative of Whoopi Goldberg while appreciably Aghayere’s own take on a younger version of the character...
… but it struggles to really add much that’s new to our understanding of Guinan, or indeed her relationship with Picard. ‘Watcher’ even signposts that, a little, Guinan visibly frustrated at how repetitive her conversations are with Picard – repetitive until they’re not, repetitive until they reach the point its time for this episode to start building into the next one. You can feel the structural mechanics very easily here, A to B to C, and for all ‘Watcher’ has its moments of charms it doesn’t have enough to distract from the underlying inadequacies.
Equally – and this is probably the most important caveat – it’s actually perfectly enjoyable and watchable enough on its own terms. Star Trek: Picard is procrastinating here, and it’s difficult to glean much critical insight from it about the show’s themes or interests… but, you know, moment-to-moment it is fun. Unlikely to stand up to much thought or reward watching again (which is what I’d like it to be), but there are worse ways to spend forty minutes, and lower bars not to pass.
- Bringing back the guy from The Voyage Home is a fun joke, especially in inverting his reaction. Always worth a callback if it’s for a laugh, I think.
- I’d expected to see either Elnor or Soji as the Watcher, again if only to give Evan Evagora or Isa Briones something to do in this series – both of them once again very underserved by the series so far.
- Rios’ joke about Picard being ‘a flesh and blood robot’ seems to be as much as they’re addressing that this year. Shame, really - I can’t say I loved the idea either, but I’d almost rather they doubled down rather than shying away from it.
- Try as I might, I genuinely cannot summon any thoughts on Laris-as-secret-time-travelling-agent, if only maybe to lament something so convoluted getting in the way of that sweet, fumbling romance they had earlier in the series.
- Also, I’m beginning to wonder how much covid impacted this series. It’s impressive they made it at all – I’d initially assumed they’d have to stop making it, so this isn’t a criticism – but I do wonder if breaking up the ensemble like this is a necessity more than anything else.
- Q from Impractical Jokers playing himself there, I’ve decided. Maybe John de Lancie should replace Joe over on that show.
Star Trek: Picard season 2 airs new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime Video. You can read our review of last week’s episode, ‘Assimilation’, right here, and our review of series premiere ‘The Star Gazer’ here.
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