The Inexplicable, Irredeemable Disaster of Picard’s Second Season

I debated whether or not I should even write this post. Partly because I try not to be too negative in what I write (I know it doesn’t always seem that way), and partly because fully covering everything that went wrong with the second season of Star Trek: Picard would pretty much be a full-time job. I genuinely feel you could devote an entire podcast to breaking down why every single scene of this season failed, either in isolation or in the greater context of the story.

The official logo for Star Trek: Picard.It’s awful. Utterly, irredeemably, inexplicably awful. It is almost certainly the worst season of any Star Trek show, and very possibly the worst season of any TV series I have willingly sat through.

Nothing about this season makes sense, on any level. And I don’t just mean in the sense of continuity errors or plot holes, although there is an astronomical number of those. None of it even makes sense emotionally, or from a story-telling perspective. It’s an endless series of massive blunders that were not only avoidable, but which the writing team went out of their way to create.

How bad is it? Going in, I had low expectations, especially given the severe flaws of the first season, but the one thing I was sure of was that there was no way they could screw up the reunion of John de Lancie and Patrick Stewart. Two actors that are brilliant individually, and who have massive on-screen chemistry. An entire season of them playing off each other couldn’t possibly be all bad.

But baffingly, that’s not what we got. In the entire season, Picard and Q have about three scenes together, totaling what felt like at most five minutes of footage. In a ten episode season.

This was the easiest of easy wins, and they still managed to find a way to squander it. It’s like if I offered someone a million dollars to tell me what 2 + 2 is, and they refused because they wanted to pursue their dream of selling used vacuum cleaners to uncontacted Amazon tribes.

Patrick Stewart in season two of Star Trek: Picard.Everything in this season is like that. Baffling, unforced errors that serve no purpose.

One of the greatest mistakes of Picard’s first season was under-utilizing Isa Briones, and she appears in only a handful of scenes in this season — not even playing the same character! Instead she plays a new character with no relevance to the plot, no interactions with the rest of the cast, and no reason to exist in the story whatsoever.

Nothing was stopping them from just including Soji in the season. Literally nothing. Like all of season two’s innumerable blunders, it was easily avoidable, but the writers dove headlong into it with reckless abandon.

Similarly, the Romulan warrior monk Elnor was one of the best parts of the first season, but he is quickly killed off at the beginning of season two. Even more baffingly, Picard — the character who actually has a history with Elnor — has no apparent reaction to his death, whereas Raffi — who has had just one scene with him up prior to this season — suffers a complete emotional meltdown over his loss.

I get that they are meant to have developed a friendship off-camera during the break between seasons, but we don’t really see any of it. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the most basic tenets of good writing — it’s one of the very first things you learn when you begin studying any kind of fiction writing — and it’s completely ignored here. To call it amateurish is unfair to amateurs.

There’s also Talinn, a human woman from hundreds of years in the past who mysteriously looks just like Picard’s Romulan maid, Laris. This great mystery is strung out for multiple episodes, only for us to eventually learn… she actually is a Romulan, presumably related to Laris. The most boring explanation possible, and there was no reason it couldn’t have been revealed off the bat. Just cheap drama for cheap drama’s sake.

Picard and Guinan in the second season of Star Trek: Picard.Or we could look to the fact that the writers just straight up forgot the circumstances of Picard and Guinan’s first meeting and ended up effectively ret-conning it out of existence.

All of this barely even begins to scratch the surface of this unpardonable disaster of a season, but I have not the will to keep going. The above issues at least stand out as most emblematic of the sloppy, nonsensical attempts at story-telling that defined the season.

Picard’s first season had a lot of flaws, but it set us up with all the ingredients for a fantastic show. Aside from the obvious talents of Patrick Stewart, we also got a great cast of compelling new characters, countless opportunities for powerful stories around the Romulan diaspora and the rehabilitation of the X-Bs, and a terrifying new threat in the form of extra-dimensional machine gods.

The second season threw all of that out the window in favour of a story that not only fails to achieve even the most basic tenets of good story-telling, but which appears to have done everything possible to avoid even brushing up against them.

I genuinely feel bad for Patrick Stewart and the rest of the cast. If the writers had tried to make the worst season possible, they could not have done any better.

Star Trek: Prodigy Is Shockingly Good

I have not, as a rule, been terribly impressed with the newer crop of Star Trek shows. Discovery starting out appallingly bad, and after years of improvement has only clawed its way to “watchable, just barely.” Picard had some very high highs, but also some major lows, and overall it felt too bleak and cynical to really feel like Star Trek. I watched one episode of Lower Decks, and that was one too many.

A promotional image for Star Trek: ProdigyI’m also not generally a fan of shows aimed at younger audiences. I can make occasionally exceptions, but usually I find them dull.

So it goes without saying that I had pretty low expectations for Star Trek: Prodigy, a new cartoon aimed at bringing a new generation of kids into the franchise. It’s perhaps a bit surprising that I even gave it a chance at all.

But what’s even more surprising is how incredibly good it turned out to be. As of the mid-season finale, I think I’m ready to declare it the best Star Trek show since Enterprise.

It’s not perfect, of course. There is a lot of very forced humour aimed at young kids that I find just plain cringe-worthy, and the half-hour format does leave some of the stories feeling a bit rushed (though somehow still less rushed than most of Discovery). It also tends to play fast and loose with the continuity of the Star Trek universe — not to an extent that really bothers me, but I know some people are off-put by the show’s fuzzy chronology and geography.

But despite these flaws, it still manages to be a very strong show.

Alone of all the new Trek shows, Prodigy feels like it’s hit a balance of being both fresh and faithful to what’s come before. The fact that none of the characters are Starfleet — none of them had even heard of the Federation before stumbling upon a derelict ship — gives us some fresh perspective on the universe, and allows us to have a more fractious and flawed cast, as opposed to the squeaky clean Starfleet crews we’re used to.

The Diviner, villain of Star Trek: Prodigy's first season.At the same time, we see the crew learning to come together and triumph despite their differences, and nothing could be more true to Star Trek than that. Prodigy is bringing back the franchise’s trademark optimism in a way that feels natural and earned.

I will also make another bold claim: Of all Star Trek shows in the franchise’s long history, Prodigy is doing the best job of balancing episodic stories with ongoing arcs. Every episode feels like its own satisfying adventure and advances the meta-plot in at least some small way. It’s neither the breathless sprint to the finish of Discovery and Picard, nor the “reset button” formula of The Next Generation and its spin-offs. I’m not sure even Enterprise struck this balance so well.

And to all that an endearing and diverse cast of characters, lots of action, and truly alien worlds courtesy of the animation format, and you have a formula for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

I even like Janeway now! I never liked her before. Turns out she’s a solid character when she has consistent writing.

I don’t do reviews on this blog much anymore, but Prodigy deserved some gushing. I’m not ready to declare it the best Trek series ever or anything; it still has a ways to go before I rank it alongside The Next Generation or Enterprise.

But I can say this much: Counting the Abramsverse movies, Prodigy is the fifth new installment of Star Trek since Enterprise was cancelled, but it’s the first time out of all of those I’ve found myself thinking, “Yes! Star Trek is back!”