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It's the second-last episode of Star Trek Picard season 1. And all the threads have now come together. A show like this lives and dies on the payoffs to its mysteries and mythology. And I feel that Star Trek Picard is doing pretty well in that regard. What do you think? This episode manages to be quite thematic and thought-provoking while still leading up to the grant finale. Let's dig deep into this show.
Welcome to Nerd Heaven
I’m Adam David Collings
The author of Jewel of the stars
And I am a nerd
This is episode 19 of the podcast
Today, we’re talking about the 9th episode of Star Trek Picard.
Et in Arcadia Ego Part 1.
Et? Et? I want to say et because in French, e t is pronounced et. It means and.
But the rest of the title is in english. So I don’t know what’s going on with this title.
Anyway, it’s the first Star Trek episode title that’s had Part 1 in it for a very very long time. Voyager was probably the last show to do it. Actually, I think Enterprise used the same title with parts 1 and 2 for the two-parter In A Mirror Darkly.
Anyway, This is the second last episode of season 1. Can you believe it?
The description on memory alpha reads
Following an unconventional and dangerous transit, Picard and the crew finally arrive at Soji's home world, Coppelius. However, with Romulan warbirds on their tail, their arrival brings only greater danger as the crew discovers more than expected about the planet's inhabitants.
The teleplay for this episode was by Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman.
The story was by Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman & Akiva Goldsman
The episode was directed by Akiva Golsman
And it first aired on the 19th of March 2020.
Make it so.
In story structure, the second plot point takes place at the 75 percent mark of the book or film. It comes just after the darkest moment, when all hope seems lost. IT signifies the protagonist setting off for the final showdown, heading toward the climax, and it signals the beginning of act 3.
The end of last week’s episode felt very much like the second plot point, and it’s showing up in roughly the right place.
So this is act 3.
After a harrowing trip through a borg transwarp conduit, the La Sierrena arrives at Soji’s homeworld. A planet called Coppelius.
Agnes is still wandering the ship and asks “Am I still under arrest?”
I’m still kinda shocked that they’ve brought her here to the synth homeworld. I know she says she’s turned over a new leaf, but honestly, this is a risk I wouldn't be taking. She killed the man she loved in order to prevent the creation of new synths. Now she says she won’t harm the synths themselves. I wouldn’t be taking any chances with her.
If I were in Picard’s shoes, I’d have continued to DS12 to drop her off. Or, if the urgency of the situation didn’t allow it, which is how Picard ultimately felt, I’d be keeping Angus under close guard. Just in case.
Anyway, Narak shows up and they have a nice little space battle.
They manage to get in a lucky shot, which gives them a nice moment to discuss the morality of rescuing your enemies, but it turns out to be a bit of a ruse. They really don’t stand a chance against Narak’s advanced fighter.
But, surprise, a honking big borg cube comes out of the corridor. I cheered out loud when this happened. Seven!.
But the cube doesn’t even have a chance to be awesome.
The orchids are really cool. A bunch of giant space-faring flowers come up and swallow the ships. This was really cool.
This is Star Trek. This is the kind of wondrous thing you find at a strange new world.
So the flowers drag the ships down to the surface in a visual and audio extravaganza that rivals any big screen movie I’ve seen.
I was a little skeptical about the flowers bringing down the cube, but there were several attached to it, and it’s not operating at peak efficiency. They mention later that the flowers are not used to bringing down something so big.
It was a bit of a shame though, because seeing something as terrifying as a borg cube coming to the rescue is a new idea that I was looking forward to. But we’ll see later. That cube ‘aint going anywhere ever again.
Picard chooses this moment to exhibit symptoms of his dementia. Just briefly. We get a nice little scene with Agnes, doing her medical thing. It was nice to see and hear the old TNG tricorder.
Agnes knows about his condition. The acting between these two is amazing in this scene. The way Allison Pill makes her mouth quiver with emotion. I have no idea how actors do that kind of thing, but I’m somewhat in awe of it.
So Picard tells the whole truth to his crew. Raffi’s face when she hears Picard’s prognosis is terminal is subtle but heartbreaking.
They seem to be going out of their way to avoid using the words irumodic syndrome. I don’t know why, but to be honest, it’s kind of annoying me. They’re clearly drawing from All Good Things, so for goodness, just say it and get it over with.
And on that, we have yet to hear Picard say “Make it so” even once on this show.
That’s Picard’s most iconic catchphrase.
And, putting that into the script would not be an easter egg. It would not be fan service. It would be remaining consistent with his character.
When Picard seeks options and recommendations from his crew, which has happened a number of times in this show, the words he always chooses to communicate his agreement, and instruct them to proceed is “Make it so.” The whole thing is very glaring by its absence. It’s like they’re deliberately trying to avoid using it for some reason.
I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t say it next week. But, I don’t want them to just shove it in there either. There have been missed opportunities to use it naturally in the past.
Anyway, moving on.
Soji is pretty sure her fellow synths don’t hate biological lifeforms.
But I love Rios’s line. They crashed my ship without even asking. That feels a little biased to me.
The surface of the planet looks really cool. Rock formations. Alien plants. It’s a nice mix of the familiar but beautiful, which is live action, and the unusual, which is CG.
So they’re off to rescue Hugh and Elnor first. Of course, what they find is Seven and Elnor.
The reunion between Elnor and Picard is very nice.
And there’s a nice final send-off for Hugh and Picard and Seven talk about the loss together.
So they’ve established the xbs are okay. There’s nothing Picard can do for them. But Raffi and Rios are able to use the Borg sensors to determine the Romulan fleet is 2 days away, and it’s massive.
It’s time to take Soji home to her settlement.
Honestly I’m not sure why Seven and Elnor are staying behind. I mean, Seven came all this way specifically to help Picard.
Picard says the xbs need protection more than him. Which frankly seems an absurd statement to me.
But they’re gonna try to get defensive systems online. I suspect the borg cube may end up being a refuge from the Romulans next week.
It’s feeling like they really haven’t used Elnor’s character to his full potential. He’s barely spent any time with Picard and the La Sirena crew. We spent an entire episode recruiting him. I don’t think that’s paid off as well as it should have.
Anyway, off to the settlement.
Which looks pretty cool. A very nice place to live.
The synths that live here have tinted skin and yellow eyes like Data. They don’t look as human as Soji.
And their skimpy outfits make this look a little like an episode of TOS.
They also speak more like Data. As if they have a less advanced emotional program than Soji. Again, more like Data.
The crew are welcomed into the facility. But Soji has to give the bad news. The Romulans are coming and the synths don’t have anywhere near enough orchids.
And then the big surprise.
Brent Spiner appears. As himself. Fully human with no de-aging.
Turns out he’s playing Dr. Altan Inigo Soon, the son of Dr. Noonian Soong.
It seems every male Soong, of any generation, looks just like Brent Spiner.
But it was a cool way to bring him back onto the show.
It seems reasonable to me that Soong had a biological son. We know he had a wife.
And it makes sense the son would be this old. I mean, Soon was over a hundred when we saw him die in TNG.
Altan’s mother can’t have been Juliana Soong, because she didn’t marry Noonian until he was living and working on omicron theta.
So I’d say Altan was the product of a previous relationship. Probably long out of the picard by the time Data and Lore were being created.
So then a more android-looking version of Soji reveals herself, first to Picard, and then to everyone else.
This is Sutra, Jana’s sister.
It seems that there are a number of different models, and many copies of each model, but always in sibling pairs. If you’re thinking this all sounds very familiar, you’ve probably seen Battlestar Galactica. The more I think about it, the more paralleles I see.
And let’s just acknowledge that now, we have Agnes walking around mixing with these synths. Risky business if you ask me. And yes, we’ll learn some information soon that may alleviate some of the anxiety, but they don’t know that information yet.
If I were the synths, I’d be pretty angry that Picard had brought this person into their midst.
And this is where Sutra makes quite a jump, mentally, to a theory she has very little evidence to support. But it makes sense, and it’s really interesting.
She theories that the admonition was never intended for organic minds. We’ve seen how it drives many insane. It’s not the nature of the content as such, it’s more of an incompatibility. Which I like, because it seems a lot more believable. I mean, we’re gonna see the full contents of the admonition shortly. Dunno about you, but it didn’t make me want to commit suicide.
So this is fascinating stuff.
The theory is that Agnes was driven somewhat insane by the admonition, and that’s why she killed Maddox. But now the madness is leaving her, and she’s getting back to being her old selse.
This doesn’t exactly justify her crime, but insanity is a legal defense used. Agnes wasn’t in her own right mind when she did what she did. Which means she’s not entirely to blame. Which means, she is less of a risk now. Ok. I’m with that. Not sure how Sutra made that leap, but the conclusion is logical and makes sense of a lot of stuff in the show.
Sutra theories that the admonition was intended for synthetic minds.
And this is where it gets a bit weird. Sutra is fascinated with Vulcan culture. And she has taught herself how to mind meld.
And that’s absurd.
Mind melding is not just a skill you can learn.
The mind meld is a biological thing.
The vulcan brain has telepathic abilities. This is linked in some way to their sense of touch.
Now, can I conceive that an artificial brain could be constructed to simulate the same telepathic functions of the organic Vulcan brain? I suppose so.
But Bruce and Altan would have had to have constructed her specifically that way from the beginning. She can’t just decide she likes vulcan culture and teach herself. I’m afraid I don’t buy that. Not one tiny bit.
But I’m just going to have to accept it, as silly as I think it is.
It does solve a story problem. They can’t afford a big detour to take Sutra to the grief world. And she needs to be able to see the admonition somehow.
But Rios is against this. As he says, “Agnes is just starting to get over this.” He’s worried, and legitimately so, that this mind meld, forcing Agnes to relive the admonition again, could re-trigger her madness.
Not only would that be bad for Agnes, but it could make her a danger to the synths, once again.
He’s right to warn caution here.
But Agnes feels the synths have a right to know, and this information could be the key to solving the whole mystery. So the mind meld goes ahead.
Again, some great acting from Alison Pill. She’s terrified to live through this again.
So now we finally get the whole truth behind all of this.
And it’s a bit of a twist.
Organic life is fragile and impermanent. As it advances, organics seek perfection, and that perfection drives them to create synthetic life. But they always end up fearing that synthetic life and feeling threatened by it. Which leads to conflict. Inevitably, this will lead to conflict.
The big mysterious force out there does not come to wipe out races to prevent them from creating synthetic life, as the Zhat Vash believed. No, they are an alliance of synthetic life. They wipe out races to protect the synthetics.
The admonition wasn’t a warning to organics. It was a promise of help to synthetics.
That’s really interesting. At this point, I feel like everything has come together. It all makes good sense.
A show like this lives and dies on the payoffs of its mysteries and mythology.
And I feel that Star Trek Picard is doing a good job with it’s payoffs.
So well done to the team.
A couple of little thoughts about the admonition message itself.
First. Why all the starfleet imagery. We see Data’s face. Starfleet logos. Even an image of the Mars attack.
Obviously, the ancient race couldn’t have known about these things when they created the message.
But perhaps it's because they tailor the message. I mean, they’re still out there. Monitoring. Adding new relevant imagery to the message. Except what we’re seeing here came from the grief world 14 years ago. The mars attack hadn’t happened yet. So are we saying these synths can see the future. Personally, I think this is just a bit of sloppiness on the part of the show, choosing visual symbolism to aid the story-telling at the expense of in-universe believability.
I really don’t think there's any time travel or seeing into the future going on.
Second thing. The way they show a human aging from a child to an old man was very impressive visual effects. And the shot of the fox dying and rotting away to nothing was impressive but kinda of gross and disturbing. Do they timelapse film a real dead animal? I dunno. But it kind of made me uncomfortable.
It’s cool that Altan made android butterflies because he missed them.
We have a nice conversation between Agnus and Altan. Altan makes it clear that he is not dismissing her crime. The loss of Bruce Maddox is a tragedy. Not just because human life is precious, and the death of any human being is a tragedy, but because his was a great mind, that could have done so much more. And she extinguished that.
Perhaps her insanity defense means she’s not guilty of murder as such, but she still owes a debt. They both know it.
Altan offers her a chance to repay her debt. He shows Agnus what he’s been working on.
It’s not entirely clear.
We see a synthetic body.
Is it an android, or is it biological like Soji? Not sure.
Agnes calls it a golem.
The world golem comes from Jewish folklore. It is an anthropomorphic creature made out of clay, animated and brought to life by magic.
She then starts talking about mind transfer.
It seems Altan has created an empty shell of a body, into which he plans to transfer a living mind.
Apparently, Altan was the body guy, and Maddox dealt with what Altan calls substrates.
Now I’m wondering, whose mind is gonna end up in that thing by the end of this show?
I think Altan is planning it for himself. Perhaps because of his age. Maybe he too is dying. He says he recently regained an interest in mind transfer, along with a sense of urgency.
His father, Doctor Noonian Soong, also worked on mind transfer and successfully transferred his wife’s mind into an android body at the time of her death. This android, Data’s mother, continued to live, believing that she was a human, rather than an android with all the memories and feelings of that deceased human.
Data discovered the truth about this, and chose not to tell his mother what she really was.
I wonder if she’s still out there.
Sutra has a worrying plan. I understand where she’s coming from. All they have to defend themselves from the Romulan fleet is a few space flowers, an old man and his friends. They won’t last more than a few minutes. And I can’t argue with that.
She wants to contact the alliance of synthetic life. Get them to come in and “bring hell” as Agnus put it last week. Wipe out the Romulans.
Except, I don’t think they’ll stop there. They’ll wipe out all organic life in the alpha quadrant.
Soji has an alternate plan. Repair the La Sirena and flee this world before the Romulans get here. Apparently there’s room in that little ship for the whole colony of synths.
Sutra believes they will never be safe as long as the Zhat Vash is out there.
Again, she’s probably right about that.
But it doesn’t justify what she’s planning to do.
She’s operating from cold logic. She lacks Soji’s humanity.
And then Narak shows up.
They found him and brought him in.
It was cool that we got to see spot 2. An artificial cat. Again, I’m asking, is it a robotic cat, or did they manufacture it biologically, like Soji?
This leads to a nice moment between Rios and Agnus. It shows that there really is still a spark of something between these two. It’s actually kind of sweet.
We also get a nice scene between Raffi and Picard.
She has finally, fully forgiven him for all that went on 14 years ago. We get a sense of just how close these two are. She means every bit to him as much as Riker, or Deanna, or Geordi does.
There’s a really awkward moment between them as Raffi says she loves her.
Picard shows a lot of growth as he manages to let himself say it back to her. Picard has never been one to express emotions to his crew. Heck, it took him seven years just to join his crewmates in their weekly poker game. I find Picard’s character arc very satisfying. I feel we’re seeing the fulfilment of an arc that began all the way back in Encounter at Farpoint. And that’s awesome.
Also, I don’t read any hint of a romantic aspect to what these two are sharing. They love each other as close friends. That’s a thing.
Rios and Raffi are off to repair their ship with a magic repair device. I believe this is the last we see of them this episode.
Jean-Luc is unable to get a message through to Starfleet.
That’s annoying. But it’s not like Clancy can’t figure out where he’s gone. She’s already got a squadron on its way to DS12 to help him.
Let’s just hope Picard was smart enough to give her the coordinates of the planet before he set off without the squadron.
I love how Narak is judging the synths on their treatment of him as a prisoner, and when Saga asks him how Romulans treat their prisoners, he says “Let’s change the subject.”
There are two races you don’t want to be a prisoner of in the Star Trek universe. Cardassians, and Romulans.
I also like that Soji is having none of Narak’s talk. He’s not gonna smooth talk her back into trusting him again. That would be a huge disservice to her character.
As soon as the camera zooms in on her bird broach, we know it’s gonna be the weapon that kills her.
Not only is Soji not trusting Narak. She’s very seriously considering killing him. She seeks Picard’s council. And we have an interesting conversation about the morality of killing, and the logic of sacrifice. He’s not an idiot. He is concerned about what she might be considering. Picard isn’t interested in having an academic philosophical debate. He wants to know what they’re really talking about.
Sutra has a plan. And it makes sense. She knows her idea of calling the synth alliance is gonna be a hard sell. So she needs a way to convince her brothers and sisters.
So she lets Narak go, makes it look like he escaped and killed Saga.
Just another reason for the siblings to believe that organics cannot be trusted.
When villains talk about sacrifice in stories, they’re always talking about someone else. But the true meaning of sacrifice is paying that cost yourself. Self-sacrifice. The one who suffers the loss is the one making the sacrifice.
Both Soji and Sutra are considering “sacrificing” the life of another for what they consider to be the greater good.
For Soji, she’s thinking of killing Narak.
For Sutra, she lets her sister Saga die. Who actually carried out the murder? Her or Narak? It doesn’t really matter. Ultimately, Saga’s metaphorical blood is in Sutra's hands.
The difference between Sutra and Soji is that Sutra carried out her plan. Soji is still wrestling with the ethics of hers. And then it’s too late.
Everyone would have been better off if Soji had killed Narak (well, everyone except Narak) but does that justify it morally? Personally, I’d say no. But you can see Soji’s regret that she didn’t act sooner.
Sop Sutra makes a speech to her people.
The organics came here and now we have lost another sister.
Notice how she puts all organics in one big basket. Narak and Picard are the same. They’re both organics. Organics are not to be trusted. This is the very definition of prejudice. It’s interesting to see the show demonstrating this prejudice from both sides, the Zhat Vash and the synths.
I feel like all the themes that this show has explored are all converging at this moment.
It’s really quite well done.
And Altan Soong is siding with his synthetic children. He even helped Sutra create the beacon to contact the synth alliance. I wonder, does he believe he will be spared? Because it’s pretty obvious Sutra thinks that all organic life must be exterminated.
Altan is right about one thing, though. Picard can’t guarantee that the Federation will listen to him. If anything, what sutra is planning to do will make the Federation fear synths even more.
In a way, Picard is probably viewing these synths as his second chance to succeed, after he failed to help the Romulans.
But soji says “we can’t be your means of redemption. We’re too busy trying to survive.
So Picard is placed under house arrest.
They agree to let Agnes go free with the promise that she will protect them as a mother protects her children. She would die for them.
And now I get it. I’m certain that Altan wants to transfer into his synthetic body, so as to survive the coming apocalypse. They won’t kill him if he’s a synth too. Agnes will help him do that. But what about her? She’ll die too, unless she’s in a synth body.
Meanwhile, Rios, Raffi, Enor and Seven are free, able to still help. But then so is Narak.
And the Romulan fleet is 24 hours from the planet.
Things are getting exciting. I’m very interested to see how it will play out next week, in the season finale.
All in all, another great episode. I’m continuing to love this show.
I haven’t hit any more milestones in my walk to Mordor since last episode. I’ve been a bit distracted, but I’ve still managed to go for my morning walk some days.
The world is kind of crazy right now, isn’t it? The company I work for has decreed that everyone works from home until further notice. Which of course is business as usual for me as I work from home by choice anyway.
I know a lot of schools in other countries have closed. Here in australia, our schools are largely staying open, but we’ve got school holidays coming up in a few weeks. The scariest thing locally is that we’ll soon be heading into our winter, and Tasmania has pretty cold winters, so people are going to be more vulnerable to disease.
Anyway, stay hopeful. As Picard would say, don’t give in to fear. Don’t panic buy toilet paper or food. Just get what you need and then there’ll be enough for everybody.
I’ll catch you next week for the season finale of Star Trek Picard.
Live long and prosper.
Make it so.