This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 6, ‘Two of One’.
I’d be lying if I said the opening didn’t wind me up a little. That kind of flashback structure always reads to me like a crutch used by a show that doesn’t have much confidence in itself – ‘The Star Gazer’ is a good example of that, spending most of its runtime working towards the explosion it began with, dedicated to setting a scene it clearly wasn’t that interested in anyway. That Star Trek: Picard was returning to the same well so soon didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, especially given how frustrating its awkward plotting has been over the course of the series so far.
But it quickly became apparent that there’s something at least a little more ambitious going on here, as the episode doesn’t just flashback once but continues skipping back and forth. For a while, we’re watching the episode unfold from two perspectives at once – it’s not exactly labyrinthine, but it’s a welcome structural conceit for the series after a run of episodes that felt a little sluggish. There’s something quite taut about this episode, a sharpness that makes ‘Two for One’ feel much more like an hour of television with its own identity and purpose, rather than a maybe slightly arbitrarily packaged instalment of a 10-hour movie.
A big part of that comes from Jonathan Frakes’ direction. It is (as you’d expect) assured and confident, and it looks great too – there’s some really lovely shots throughout, especially in how Frakes depicts the Borg Queen in Agnes’ mind. My favourite I think is that slow, sweeping shot where the camera pulls up to some mirrored glass, the Queen gradually becoming visible in the reflection – it’s a stylish little detail, a nice way of executing an essentially familiar device.
The direction serves Alison Pill’s performance well too, a nice way of accentuating all the really great stuff she’s doing – week on week, but particularly here, playing out the interior conflict of Jurati struggling with the Borg Queen really well. Pill is probably one of the best actors in the cast, and it’s great to see her given some really substantial stuff to work with here. (Probably a good measure of that, actually, is that Pill does it so well you forget this is essentially a very similar plotline to what she had last year too – the performance is distinct so the material reads as distinct, even when it isn’t really.)
Elsewhere, there’s an appreciable willingness to actually play the cast off one of another for a change. Even a short scene between Raffi and Rios – who always had an interesting dynamic in series one – makes a strong impression, and feels like Star Trek: Picard is better taking advantage of the strengths of its ensemble. It’s not that, in either case, Michelle Hurd’s scenes with Jeri Ryan or Santiago Cabrera’s with Sol Rodriguez haven’t been entertaining – but it’s an ensemble show, and I think the show loses something when it neglects that.
The Soong plotline advances nicely too, with a good handle on how to make the science-fiction ideas connect with the dramatic element – it’s about secrets and lies, not just abstract concepts. Again, it’s impressive from Isa Briones (also repeating her plotline from last series, though perhaps at a certain point that’s an intentional rhyme rather than just accidental repetition), who does a lot of good work in scenes on her own.
It’ll be interesting to see how well next week’s episode – which looks to be another more complex one, a dream sequence delving into Picard’s childhood trauma – picks up on the strengths of this episode. How well will it marry the sci-fi framing device with the quieter human drama? Is it going to be as effective for new character Talin to be there rather than one of the other characters that we (and Picard) have an existing relationship with? We’ll see, I suppose.
- We know that Series 2 and Series 3 of Picard were double-banked, in part as a response to Covid. I’m wondering now if what that means is that the characters we’re seeing now – like Rios, clearly destined to stay in 2024 – are ones we won’t see next year, and the reason we’re not seeing so much of Elnor and Soji is that they’ve both got big roles in Season 3?
- Showrunner Terry Matalas takes a backseat for the next five episodes, because he’d begun working on Season 3 instead. Akiva Goldsman takes over.
- Nice reference to Mae Jemison, not only the first Black woman in space but also a one-time Next Generation guest star.
- That newspaper headline – “MAD SCIENTIST!” – is extremely funny. I do think Picard has settled into itself this year, actually, not quite the contemplative prestige drama that was promised but a big and broad adventure show instead.
- Actually, I think I suggested Picard should be the Riverdale of Star Trek once, and after this week’s musical interlude I stand by that.
Star Trek: Picard season 2 airs new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime Video. You can read our review of last week’s episode, ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, right here, and our review of series premiere ‘The Star Gazer’ here.