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'Star Trek: Picard' season 2 episode 2 continues to enthrall with dark timeline

According to Q, the crew of La Sirena must repent in "Star Trek: Picard" Season 2, episode 2 "Penance"
According to Q, the crew of La Sirena must repent in "Star Trek: Picard" Season 2, episode 2 "Penance" (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Star Trek: Picard" season 2, episode 2

What an incredible week it's been, sci-fi fans. Paramount Plus (opens in new tab) dropped the first official teaser trailer for "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" and, by a coincidence of galactic proportions, Disney dropped a teaser trailer for "Obi-Wan Kenobi," the latest "Star Wars" live-action spin-off. 

Plus of course we get new episodes of "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Star Trek: Picard," with Picard's episode 2 entitled "Penance." What a time to be alive. (If you need a refresher on season 1, check out our Star Trek: Picard streaming guide to catch up.)

In other news, principal photography has wrapped on Season 3 of Picard as confirmed by Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine). We can't help but wonder if those lavish (expensive) USS Stargazer sets were built just for Picard or will they be utilized in the rumored spin-off show that may, or may not, feature Seven, Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and others? Ryan's tweet did feel a little blasé considering the third season of "Picard" is the last.

As "Penance" begins, the recap for the first episode reminds just how amazing it was and we pick up almost straightaway, with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) struggling somewhat in his new surroundings that are both familiar and different after Q (John de Lancie) did his finger-clicking-thing. The Château is still there, but it's not the same. When Picard asks what's happened to the crew of the USS Stargazer, Q gives an intriguing answer and references both "The Next Generation" episode "Yesterday's Enterprise (opens in new tab)" (S03, E15) and the epic "Enterprise" episode "In a Mirror, Darkly (opens in new tab)," which is all a bit meta for "Star Trek" since he actually refers to them by name.

Naturally, Picard is in a state of shock; after all it's been over 30 years since he last saw the irksome entity in the two-part series finale of "The Next Generation" entitled "All Good Things" (S07, E25 & 26). The banter between the two has been dialed up considerably, this isn't the squeaky-clean mid 90s version of "Star Trek" after all; Jean-Luc is understandably angry at Q's interference and he's too old and too tired to play games. But Q himself is more riled up than usual and it makes for a thrilling battle of wits and the onscreen chemistry between Stewart and de Lancie is better than ever. Their war of words even comes to blows for the first time ever and Picard begins to suspect that the entity is perhaps not in the best mental health.

If a picture could speak a thousands words. Jean-Luc Picard looks genuinely horrified…and afraid

If a picture could speak a thousands words. Jean-Luc Picard looks genuinely horrified…and afraid of Q (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

The rogue representative of the Q Continuum leads Picard in a tour of the alt-château and the study is now a trophy room, full of mounted skulls from various alien races that have been murdered by the Picard of this reality. He whispers the names on the plaques in horror and one is Gul Dukat (opens in new tab) who, according to Q, was "executed in the Ithian Forests after a hell of a fight to take the Cardassian capital" and apparently the reason for Picard's golem body in this timeline. Others include General Martok (opens in new tab), killed in combat after a bioengineered virus decimated Qo'noS and Sarek (opens in new tab), beheaded on the steps of the Vulcan Science Academy in front of his wife and son.

Related: 'Star Trek: Picard' won't 'press forward' with the synthetic storyline

All were killed by the same "withering" hand, the most ruthless and bloodthirsty general of the Confederation of Earth: Picard himself. It's not quite the Mirror Universe, but it could be and so far it's just as good. Before Picard can make sense of it all, Q has disappeared and a synthetic servant named Harvey (played by Alex Diehl, who also played the synthetic F8 in the Season 1 episode "Maps and Legends") enters, but poor Picard doesn't have a clue what's going on. Roll opening credits.

Seven catches herself in the mirror and sees her Borg implants have gone…but worse, she's married!

Seven catches herself in the mirror and sees her Borg implants have gone…but worse, she's married! (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

We return to the alt-château and as the camera pans around the room we see that every item has been replaced by something similar, but different. Despondent, Picard attempts to catch up with history as he watches recordings of speeches he has apparently made, together with newsreels and such like. We then cut to see Seven beginning her morning routine, still half-asleep and oblivious of anything different, that is until she looks in the mirror to see her Borg implants are gone. She performs a series of cognitive checks on herself — which is a great touch — solving a basic mathematical equation that she writes with lipstick on the bathroom mirror, confirming her sense of smell and touch and so on. She is still in shock when synth servants enter her room to help prepare her for the day and addresses her as "Madam President," which naturally just adds to her confusion.

Related: 'Star Trek: Picard' season 2 opens with a phenomenal first episode

Despite all of this, she manages to bluff her way through the morning. Presented with a report from the Vulcan front, she sees that Cristóbal Rios is listed as a colonel in that conflict and requests a secure comms channel. Rios himself is in the middle of a skirmish with the Vulcan defense fleet, equally as confused and disorientated. Seven begins to speak in a deliberately vague manner asking him to speak freely about anything "out of the ordinary" and when he refers to her as "Seven," it's clear to both that they're in the same bizarre predicament. Seven is naturally relived and asks if he has any clue what's happening, since her last memory was the activation of the auto-destruct on the Stargazer. She recalls him back to Earth immediately on "presidential authority."

One by one, we see that each member of the crew of La Sirena appear to have also been transported into this nightmare world. That said, both Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) and Elnor (Evan Evagora) who find themselves in Okinawa, Japan in this alt-reality, weren't onboard the USS Stargazer when the Borg Queen attacked; they were on the USS Excelsior. Clearly, Q isn't intent on breaking up the band. However, Elnor appears to be a wanted terrorist and Raffi is an officer in the Confederation security forces, fortunately for the former Qowat Milat warrior-turned-Starfleet cadet.

The Borg and Q in the same season. It's almost as if the showrunner said, "OK, what made TNG great?"

The Borg and Q in the same season. It's almost as if the showrunner asked, "OK, what made TNG great?" (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Back at Confederation HQ in San Francisco, Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) is also struggling to comprehend exactly what's going on. However, Seven seems to be getting a handle on everything so she — and her entourage — pay a visit to the good doctor's laboratory…where they discover, to their horror, they have a disembodied Borg Queen (Annie Wersching) being stored in a stasis cell. Disconnected from the hive mind, she rambles incoherently, mentioning something about chronological misalignment, but she still recognizes Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01 – Seven.

Related: The 'Star Trek: Picard' Season 1 finale is both amazing and awful

Turns out that the war-loving, all-conquering Confederation has all but wiped out the Borg. Obviously this causes some interesting back and forth dialogue later between the Queen and Seven, but it also raises an interesting counterpoint that hopefully will get explored a little more later. While the Confederation is obviously evil and the timeline needs to be corrected to prevent this catastrophe from unfolding in the Alpha Quadrant, but…if the Borg has indeed been defeated, how many worlds in other parts of the galaxy would've been saved?

The whole team begins to converge now at the Confederation HQ, since it's Eradication Day. The full meaning of exactly what that is isn't explored, but it doesn't need to be. Thankfully, the writers aren't bogging us down with excessive exposition and the dialogue and action are perfectly paced with all we need to know to keep us glued to our televisions, perched on the edge of our seats. Whatever the history of Eradication Day is, it doesn't matter, as the Fab Five must figure out a way to get the hell out of there and up to Rios, waiting in orbit on La Sirena.

Production designer Dave Blass posted a list of all the Starships that confronted the Borg subspace rift (Image credit: Dave Blass)

Turns out that on this particular Eradication Day, Picard is meant to execute the Borg Queen in front of a live audience. However, in a similar manner to say, the Precogs in "Minority Report" or the Hybrid in "Battlestar Galactica," the Queen's seemingly incoherent ramblings actually contain extremely important information. Naturally, she recognizes Locutus of Borg and Picard himself knows that she can see the divergence in time. She explains to him that a single change in the timeline has caused these events and that she can pinpoint it.

Related: Seven of Nine grapples with her humanity in 'Star Trek: Picard' Season 2

Los Angeles in 2024, is where (and when) they must travel to and apparently "there is someone there to help." 

And so our suspicions have been confirmed and this second season of "Picard" is truly a Greatest Hits of "Star Trek" compilation  — featuring Q, the Borg and time travel back to contemporary Earth. What a treat. However, this raises the question, how are they going to travel back in time? Jurati confirms that the level of technology in this al-reality is much the same as the one back home, so "cruder" methods of time travel, will be required. Specifically, a slingshot maneuver around a sun, something that James Kirk had done on more than one occasion, most memorably in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

However, in order to handle all the fiddly calculations involved – you know, isolating the divergence and micro-shifting for any chroniton radiation – they need the Borg Queen. So a rescue plan is hatched and the final act of this episode is an enthralling race against time as Picard must somehow stall the execution of the Borg Queen, while Jurati creates an opening in the security shield so they can beam out.

If the rest of the season is set on Earth in 2024, it's unlikely we'll get to see much more of the Stargazer (Image credit: Doug Drexler/Dave Blass)

The tension is very effectively built up and director Douglas Aarniokoski takes us right up to the point where had it been so much as a single second longer, suspense would've given way to slapstick comedy, as Picard wavers and hesitates while the crowd grows increasingly impatient for him to blast the Borg Queen into oblivion. Thankfully though, it's handled well and the three-pronged plot with Picard, the Borg Queen and Seven, then Jurati and Rios and finally Raffi and Elnor  — who gets to kick some serious butt  — is enthralling to the end.

They manage to make it to La Sirena with only seconds to spare and plug the Borg Queen into the life support systems, but Confederation security forces track them and also beam aboard La Sirena and hold them at gunpoint. Quite the cliffhanger.

This isn't quite as good as last week's episode, but…really, there's very little between them. The pacing and story are superb — not to mention the cinematography, which is beautiful — and we have very high hopes for this second season of "Picard."

To shoot, or not to shoot. Tension is maintained throughout this episode making it thoroughly enjoyable

To shoot, or not to shoot. Tension is maintained throughout this episode making it thoroughly enjoyable (Image credit: Paramount Plus)

It's not quite the Mirror Universe we're used to, but it could just as easily be and it's just as good. "Discovery" has spent a little time there in the past and it formed a major part of the Season 1 story arc. The show returned there in Season 3 with the two-part episode "Terra Firma," but that was set in the year 2255, "Picard" is set in 2401…so is is possible that the Terran Empire has evolved into the Confederation? We're led to believe that a single change in the timeline caused the totalitarian nightmare Picard now faces, where as the human race has always been violent and destructive in the Mirror Universe, finally spreading into space after the Vulcans were massacred after first contact in Bozeman, Montana on April 5, 2063.

Check out Dave Blass on Twitter for more amazing images and a technical breakdown of the USS Stargazer. Also, check out The Ready Room with Will Wheaton on YouTube for cast interviews and loads more cool info on this latest episode. Sadly though, Paramount is still struggling with its international audiences and this isn't available to watch in Europe. Unless you have a VPN of course.

Rating: 8/10

The first two episodes of "Star Trek: Picard" are now available to watch on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab) and the premiere season of "Strange New Worlds" begins on May 5, 2022. The first 12 episodes of Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" are available to watch now on Paramount Plus in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.

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When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset ... as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space. You can follow Scott on Twitter @LorumIpsum.