Star Trek: Picard Season 2 episode 8 review: ‘Mercy’ is a turning point that comes too late in the series

‘Mercy’ is written like a midseries turning point, but it’s the eighth episode of a ten-episode series - it’s too little, too late

This review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 2 episode 8, ‘Mercy’.

You do get the sense that Covid was a huge problem for Star Trek: Picard. They’ve done a reasonably good job of obscuring that – in part because a lot of the creative choices they’ve made, like isolating the cast up and moving at a glacial pace, seems like they might’ve happened anyway rather than being mandated by Covid– but every so often you can see where the show starts to strain against itself.

This week’s episode is an obvious example of that: few characters, few locations, everyone all more-or-less stuck in one room. Season 2 feels much less ambitious than Season 1 was – but then, equally, just making Season 2 (in a global pandemic with an octogenarian lead) is a much more practically ambitious undertaking than Season 1 was, even before you start looking to the style and structure of the series. It’s impressive that the series exists at all – for most of 2020 I was convinced they woudn’t be able to make a second series of Picard at all.

Sometimes, though, I find myself wishing they’d found a different solution to the issue. I’ve mentioned (more than once, at length, ad nauseum even) being frustrated with the ten-hour-movie structure of the series, the way it so often feels like it’s spinning its wheels to try and meet a runtime its obliged to fill without having the material to fill it – enough plot beats for five episodes picked apart and extended so that they can be parcelled out across ten. Admittedly that’s common enough in television that it might not be a direct consequence of Covid accommodations, but it feels likely that it is the case here – the producers, aware they can only manage x scenes in y locations with z characters, trying to structure it to best avail of that.

‘Mercy’ is written like a midseries turning point. It escalates, reveals information we don’t know, points the characters in a new direction – with big personal epiphanies, it’s full of character moments for Rios, Seven (Annika?), and Raffi – and generally does an effective job of pivoting Star Trek: Picard into a new position. But, also, it’s the eighth episode of a ten-episode series – if that’s meant to be one unit together, not spilling into the third, surely it should have come about three episodes earlier? There’s a version of Picard series 2 which is only six episodes long, the same plot condensed down, and it’s hard not to imagine it’d be better that way.

Ito Aghayere as Guinan and John de Lancie as Q in Star Trek: Picard (Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)Ito Aghayere as Guinan and John de Lancie as Q in Star Trek: Picard (Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)
Ito Aghayere as Guinan and John de Lancie as Q in Star Trek: Picard (Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+)

The main thing, really, is that this structure doesn’t just undercut the content of the series – it disadvantages the actors. Keeping the more substantial material for later means we get fewer and fewer opportunities to see them actually, you know, act – so far, most of the cast have been stuck idling away, given little to engage with with any urgency. Positioning these big character moments later in the series also means there’s less of an opportunity for the show to develop it further again as it goes along – with two episodes left, what more in Star Trek: Picard actually going to do this season?

It is a bit of a shame, really. Again, I think this cast is fantastic: Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd are, in a lot of ways, the heart of the show, with Raffi and Seven’s dynamic the most fully fleshed-out and emotionally engaging aspect of the series. It’s a little clunky at times, sure, and I wish it was just that little bit smarter (would’ve been nice to see the show lean into the idea that Raffi is trying to manipulate Seven even as she admits she’s manipulative) but, generally speaking, it works. There are some genuinely new ideas for what to do with Seven here, clever way at taking the sci-fi element and threading that into

Ultimately, ‘Mercy’ is an episode I’d have appreciated much more about a month ago – but also one that, much as its positioning in the series undercuts its strengths, is still a welcome improvement over some of Season 2’s weaker efforts so far.

Captain’s Log

● Borne, obviously, of a need to just get Picard and Guinan right back out of the room again, but I’m not convinced that “that man wasn’t a monster trying to eat you, he was an alien trying to perform an intrusive and non-consensual mindwipe for your own good” is actually going to be as reassuring to this guy as the show thinks.

● We’ve essentially known that Q is dying since episode 2, but it’s only confirmed – and therefore becomes something they’ll actually use and do things with – now, six episodes later. The longer you delay beats like that, the less opportunity John de Lancie gets to actually act – and he’s great here!

● The earlier procrastination works against the material here, too. Santiago Cabrera is selling Rios’ relationship with Teresa brilliantly, but wouldn’t that storyline benefit from an earlier grounding in the idea that he might not be entirely happy as Captain of the Stargazer back home?

Star Trek: Picard season 2 airs new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime Video. You can read our review of last week’s episode, ‘Monsters’, right here, and our review of series premiere ‘The Star Gazer’ here.

Related topics: