TL;DR – Every moment, the tension is ratcheted up perfectly, so much so that I gasped when it cut to black and the credits rolled.
Disclosure – I paid for the Amazon Prime service that viewed this episode.
Star Trek: Picard Review –
One of the most dangerous times for a narrative is when you are setting it up because people have to buy into it or not. Many stories have never gotten out of the gates because they stuffed up those opening moments, too little or too much information, and it all falls apart. Today we get an episode of Star Trek that can perfectly weave the narrow ledge between those two extremes.
So to set the scene, at the end of The Star Gazer, almost the whole team ended up on the USS Stargazer just as the Borg Queen transported onboard and started taking over the ship. Using the ship as a beacon to capture the entire fleet, Picard (Patrick Stewart) had no choice but to set the self-destruct. But then, he did not die. Instead, he woke up back on Earth, at his château, dressed in black with an odd symbol on his chest. This is bad, but what was worse was when he turned around and discovered Q (John de Lancie) standing there. Earth is the head of a great Confederation in this world, and it is Eradication Day. Now from here, we will be looking at the episode as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
There is so much this episode needed to do, and I am astonished how much they made it work without ever feeling like it was one long exposition dump. You had to set up a whole new timeline with all the worldbuilding necessary for that without it dragging back the story. The first step that helped was having Q set things up while also berating Picard. You are caught up in the moment, and then they just drop Dukat and Martok and then wait. Did Q just hit Picard? That is a very Sisko move. Every moment is equal parts explanation and also entertainment, and this blend brings you into this world without overwhelming you. Once you have that base, every time we catch up with one of the crew, they build upon this foundation. It also helps that the set design and little references like General Sisko, Fleet Commander Tuvok, or Lt. Colonel Tasha Yar help give the world scope.
This is then complemented by some fantastic performances that help sell the sillier aspects of the show while nailing the fish-out-of-water moments. We see this first with Q. Q has always been a trickster, but here he is straight-up mean, but more than that, something has clearly happened to him. John de Lancie is both swinging for the fences whilst also being deeply troubled, and that is such a complex combination to pull off. Conversely, Annie Wersching makes an instant impression as the Borg Queen, alone and cut off from the Collective. She is terrifying but deeply compelling, and I shuddered every time she smiled.
Nearly everybody got to have their fish-out-of-water moment, and I liked how everyone’s situation was a little bit different. Rios (Santiago Cabrera) woke up in the middle of a war while Vulcan burned in the distance. Elnor (Evan Evagora) wakes up in the middle of a terrorist attack with Raffi (Michelle Hurd) hunting him down, and not to be outdone, Agnes (Alison Pill) wakes up in her lab next to an animated cat voiced by Patton Oswalt. Every one of them has to both work out what has happened and then pretend to be who everyone thinks they are, lest someone gets suspicious. Having everyone separated gives every member a cast to shine as they improvise on the spot, which leads to some surprisingly light-hearted moments in what is otherwise a dark episode. For example, Raffi and Elnor make a perfect odd couple pairing, and I loved all of it.
What probably stole the show for today was Jeri Ryan as Seven pretending to be Annika Hansen, current President of the Confederation of Earth. Those moments when she first wakes up and sees that her implants are gone sent shivers down my spine, even when you knew that was coming due to the purposeful framing leading up to the window. Then since being stuck in a new/dream reality is a thing that has happened to seven before, I liked that Seven had a plan to see if this was real or not. Because Seven is the President, she becomes the episode’s focus because she can bring everyone back together, which leads to ‘Annika Seven Shot’, what a delight, and the awkward tension between her and her husband, the Confederation Magistrate (Jon Jon Briones).
In the end, do we recommend Penance? Yes. Absolutely. This episode instantly jumped onto one of my favourites of all Trek. I even gasped a little when it cut to black, and the credits rolled, even when I already knew where it was going to go next week. There was a complete blending of storytelling and acting this week, and I hope this is where we see the show go from here.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Trek: Picard
Directed by – Doug Aarniokoski
Written by – Akiva Goldsman, Terry Matalas, Christopher Monfette & Michael Chabon
Created by – Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer & Alex Kurtzman
Based on – Star Trek: The Next Generation created by Gene Roddenberry
Production/Distribution Companies – CBS Studios & Amazon Prime
Starring – Patrick Stewart, Alison Pill, Jeri Ryan, Michelle Hurd, Evan Evagora, & Santiago Cabrera with John de Lancie, Annie Wersching, Jon Jon Briones, Patton Oswalt, Toni Belafonte, Alex Diehl & Brent Spiner