“Et in Arcadia ego” finds Jean-Luc’s motley crew confronting mortality while wrestling moral dilemmas
We are at the penultimate episode of season one of Star Trek: Picard and it is a doozy! The official title is “Et in Arcadia Ego, part 1” and it ends on many more cliffhangers than any of the previous episodes.
Before we do anything else, I want to geek out a bit about the title of the episode, which I can do without any specific spoilers. The title is in Latin, and the phrase has been used as the title of a number of works of art over the years, most famously a painting by 17th Century French Baroque painter, Nicolas Poussin. The phrase is usually translated into English as, “Even in Arcadia, there am I” where the I in question is usually interpretted to be Death. The usual interpretation of the phrase is that Utopias are never perfect, or that Death is a universal fate everyone faces.
In another interpretation, the painting is used by certain conspiracy theorists (who say that the I in the title is Jesus, not Death) to be proof of their claim that a bunch of Kings of France in the Middle Ages were descendants of Christ.
There are other interpretations, of course. There is no way to know which meaning of the title really applies until we see the finale, which we all assume is entitled, “Et in Arcadia Ego, part 2.” Of course, given that Raffi within the show is a conspiracy theorist, while Commodore Oh, Narek, Narissa, and Ramda are all members of a secret conspiracy, we can’t rule anything out.
This was a fun episode. Lots of interesting things happened. We got answers to some outstanding questions. There were a couple of fun reveals, and some teasers for what might happen in the finale.
Which means we’ve reached the point were I can’t make any other comments without revealing major spoilers. So it is time for the cut-tag. Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
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For the first time in this series, the episode does not begin with a flashback or a dream sequence of the like! The action picks up on La Sirena right where things left off last time, with the ships getting a thorough shake-down flying through a Borg transwarp conduit.
They come out the other end to find an inhabitable planet waiting for them. They are in the middle of scanning when Narek (aka the Hot Romulan) de-cloaks and starts firing on them. Even though his ship is smaller, it seems to have superior firepower, plus Narek pulls off a couple of interesting tricks with his cloaking device. So the space battle seems to be going against our motley crew until the Borg cube comes through the conduit and starts arming weapons.
Now, if I were writing the show things would have gone slightly differently, here, though still we would have wound up with the characters on the surface and with damaged ships, but I’m not running the show. So what we got was some kind of weird planetary defenses in the shape of giant orchids that were able to disable all three ships and bring them crash landing to the surface. And I guess that works, but I would have rather had a couple more minutes of space battle and for the planetary defenses to not quite be such obvious deus ex machinas, you know?
The stress of the crash landing causes Jean-Luc to have a neurological episode, the upshot of which is that when he awakens (on a completely unpowered starship crashed on the planet), Dr. Jurati has (using an old-school medical tricorder) discovered Jean-Luc’s terminal brain anomaly. Jean-Luc reveals the diagnosis to the rest of the crew, but asks them not to treat him as a dying man.
The crew set out on foot, first to the crashed cube to see if Elnor and Hugh have survived. There are a couple of nice scenes with Seven of Nine, Elnor, and the surviving ex-Borgs. I still find Elnor is one of my favorite of the new characters, and am only not wishing torture upon the writers on the speculation that his and Seven’s subplots through the second half of the season are meant to set up a spin-off series centered on Seven of Nine but co-starring Elnor. The motley crew assist in some of the repairs to the cube systems, getting among other things the long-range scanners on line and confirming that a fleet of more the 200 Romulan ships is coming toward the planet. Seven and the ex-Borgs are left to get as many of the weapons and defense systems on the cube back online, and Jean-Luc urges Elnor to stay to help them.
Jean-Luc and the other finally reach the home of the synthetic life forms from which Soji came, called Coppelius. The casting calls must have been interesting. The after show confirms that all of the pairs of androids we see in the subsequent scenes are played by actual twins. Most of the inhabitants of Coppelius have either gold of silver skin and yellow eyes, like Data in The Next Generation, not quite able to pass for human as Soji was.
Soji is welcomed by the other androids. They also recognize Jean-Luc. Before Jean-Luc or Soji can explain what danger everyone is in, we get the first twist of the episode: Coppelius has one human inhabitant, a biological son of the scientist who created Data in the backstory of The Next Generation. The son is played by Brent Spiner (who, of course, originated the character of Data). This nicely explains some comments Spiner has made in various interviews that we would see him in the series ago, but also that it is very difficult, given his age, for him to convincingly play an ageless android.So, Jean-Luc and Soji warn the androids and Young Doctor Soong (who is very, very old, but still much younger than his father would be if his father were somehow still alive) that the Romulans are coming and why. We meet another android, Sutra, who is played by the same actress playing Soji. Sutra is the sister of the android that Rios met many years ago who was murdered by Rios’s captain on orders from Commodore Oh. She has the unnatural skin color and yellow eyes and is portrayed as a leader of the android community. And, it turns out, Sutra has studied Vulcan culture and philosophy extensively and can do Vulcan mind melds. She convinces Jurati to let her see the vision that Commodore Oh shared.
We see a much more coherent version of the vision and, well, it is disturbing in slightly different ways. Sutra asserts that the vision isn’t a warning, but rather a promise… except the promise is aimed at synthetic lifeforms and seems to boil down to “Call us, and we’ll come destroy all the organic lifeforms so you can have the galaxy to yourselves.” Which, to me, means that the Romulan Secreter Police have been right all along, and that’s kind of annoying.
The Hot Romulan gets captured by the androids and is locked up. Rios and Raffi go back to La Sirena with some tools from the androids to try to get it working again. Jean-Luc tries to contact Star Fleet. Young Doctor Soong shows Jurati an android-ish he is building that could, in theory, have a human mind transferred into it, except he is awful at the positronic brain part, so he asks her to help him with that.
Soji and Sutra have a discussion, most of it off-screen, that leaves Soji upset. She goes and talks to Jean-Luc about, basically, do the ends ever justify the means. There’s also a scene where it appears Hot Romulan is about to convince one of the younger, more naive androids to let him out, but Soji arrives, tells him he’s a douche, officially breaks up with him, and tells the other android not to fall for his tricks. Unfortunately, Sutra shows up, sends the younger android away, takes down the force field, and begins to explain a plan to Hot Romulan about how he can help her before asking him if he wants to get away.
It very quickly is revealed that Sutra and Young Doctor Soong are far from saints. The young naive android is killed, and it is set up to look as if the Hot Romulan did it as part of his escape, but I hope no audience member is foolish enough not to realize the Sutra killed her after sent Narek on his way. Sutra wants to destroy nearly all organic life to protect her fellow androids, and has a plan to summon the being(s) responsible for the Romulan vision thing. Jean-Luc is locked up, Jurati is allowed to help Young Doctor Soong with his mind transfer stuff, and Soji at least appears to be going along with Sutra’s plot.
The Romulan fleet is on its way, with Commodore Oh in command, but Sutra is certain she will be able to send out her message to summon the higher synthetic being/Lovecraftian horror that the Romulans have feared for many, many centuries.
Some random observations and a bit of speculation:
- I was distracted for a bit by Brent Spiner’s arrival as Dr. Soong’s previously unmentioned son, because my impression for Dr. Noonian Soong’s appearance in Star Trek: the Next Generation was that he was an impossibly old human at that time, so I figured any natural born child would need to be much, much older than Spiner is. But then I remembered that Dr. Soong’s wife was supposed to be much, much younger than Soong, and once I looked at some timeline information things all worked out. Which only super-pedantic fans such as myself would be bothered by. Still, the few moments of cognitive dissonance while I was watching the episode reminded me of the joke during the first several seasons of the old British sitcom, Are You Being Served?, where the owner of the department store all the characters worked in was played by an extremely elderly and frail-looking actor, but was referred to as “Young Mister Grace” because there was an off-screen older brother who wasn’t directly involved in the management of the business.
- The planetary defense orchids and the description of the tool that one of the androids gave to Raffi to help her repair La Sirena implies that the androids have developed technologies greatly advanced compared to the Federation. And it isn’t unreasonable to assume that such a thing could happen… except they as a separate society have only existed at most for 14 years, so I’m having trouble swallowing it.
- I’m still confused as to where was Bruce Maddox’s lab that the Romulan’s Secreter Police have already destroyed causing him to flee to Freecloud, since the Romulans didn’t know about this planet. Why did Bruce leave? Was it like a separate place from which he was monitoring Soji and Dahj on their missions?
- Obviously Rios has stronger feelings for Jurati than her just being a fling. It will be interesting to see where that goes.
- The moment between Jean-Luc and Raffi really rang true. Just last episode Jean-Luc described himself as someone who had as difficult a time expressing emotions as Data… indicating both that he had a difficult time, but also that he was aware that this was a shortcoming. So it worked.
- They didn’t give Elnor enough to do in this episode, and the episode was almost 15 minutes shorter than the last several have been so there isn’t much of an excuse for this lack.
- Ditto with Seven of Nine, though she at least one very meaningful exchange with Jean-Luc.
- I really hope that they don’t transfer Jean-Luc’s mind into the golum-droid that Young Doctor Soong is making. I mean, I don’t want Jean-Luc to die, but the writers can put that off for several seasons without turning him into an android!
- I’m wondering if the promised ships from Star Fleet will arrive during the middle of next week’s episode… or if instead they’ll show up at the very end but not necessarily coming to the rescue, and thus constituting a cliffhanger. We’ll see.
- I have more-or-less resigned myself to the fact that Laris and Zhaban will not reappear this season. I’m not happy about it, but resigned.
- I remain extremely, inconsolably annoyed that they killed Hugh a couple of episodes back, and I don’t see myself getting over that.
Some reviews from other people:
My reviews of previous episodes: