The Darkened Mirror – Review of Star Trek: Picard Season Two, Episode Two “Penance”

When Q decides to mess up your life, he does not do it in half-measures. Showing a far more malevolent side than ever before, the nigh-omnipotent Q brings Picard and the others into a nightmare landscape, one that it appears he set into motion as a form of punishment for Jean-Luc Picard. In the process, we get to see arguably the worst version of what Starfleet could have become (and that’s saying something when you consider the Terran Empire from the Mirror Universe).

Spoilers ahead for Star Trek Picard Season Two, Episode Two “Penance”.

John de Lancie is a treat to watch as Q. As mentioned above and in my last review, this version of Q is far more unhinged, bordering on a form of madness we’ve never seen before. In his previous appearances, Q was at best a Puckish character, a trickster similar to Loki from Norse mythology. This Q is not above striking Picard when the latter gets lippy with him, something the old Q would never have done. There’s a wildness in de Lancie’s eyes during the cold open of the episode, a hint that something is not right with our old friend.

Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) in “Penance”. Source

The universe Q has deposited our characters on is not a mirror universe as I first suspected. Instead, it is an alternate timeline of the prime universe, one where a totalitarian regime known as the Confederation of Earth has seized power. Earth is a polluted mess, with only a global shield barely holding the fragile ecosystem together. Picard, we discover, is the preeminent butcher of this Confederation, personally killing Gul Dukat, General Martok, and Sarek (keeping their skulls as grim trophies in his study). We also learn that Picard was responsible for the deaths of Laris and Zhaban during the Romulan uprisings. To say that Jean-Luc is disturbed and disgusted by this alternate timeline would be an understatement. Sir Patrick Stewart is barely able to contain the revulsion he feels at this barbaric turn of events.

The rest of the crew are scattered across this universe. Chris Rios is a colonel in the Confederation navy, currently laying siege to Vulcan (the last remaining non-human government to hold out against the Confederation). Seven of Nine, now known by her human name Annika Hansen, is the President of the Confederation (and she’s married to a sleazy, hateful little man). Raffi finds herself in charge of Confederation Security while Elnor is a Romulan resistance fighter. Last but not least, Agnes is a scientist working directly for the President, specifically on the captured Borg Queen (who has been largely dismembered and kept in stasis for public execution).

This is by far one of the bleakest versions of an alternate Star Trek timeline I’ve seen (and that’s including the name-dropped “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Through a Mirror, Darkly”).

L to R: Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), Raffi (Michelle Hurd), Elnor (Evan Evagora). Source

The crew are able to bring themselves together and discover that the Borg Queen recognizes the timeline is incorrect. There’s a handwave from Seven that Borg Queens are able to detect temporal anomalies, which makes a certain amount of sense given the Borg’s use of time travel in Star Trek: First Contact. It’s a minor gripe but I felt this was a way for the writers to shoehorn in the Borg Queen. The crew learn that a deviation in the timeline occurred in 2024 Los Angeles (which was the site of another time travel episode on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Past Tense, Part 1 & Part 2”). Picard name-drops the slingshot maneuver used by James T. Kirk to facilitate time travel, a move the Captain of the original USS Enterprise undertook in the Star Trek The Original Series episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But to get that done, they need someone who is capable of the calculations needed for this type of time travel, which leads to uneasy alliance with the Borg Queen.

Through quite a tense series of delays, including Seven and Picard having to participate in Eradication Day (which sounds exactly as dreadful as it appears to be), the crew manage to escape temporarily. Unfortunately, before they can make their escape, they are stopped by Annika’s ferret of a husband and a few armed guards of the Confederation, leaving us with a solid cliffhanger for the week.

I enjoyed the strong character moments in this episode as each member of the crew tried desperately to understand their new surroundings. The interplay between John de Lancie and Sir Patrick Stewart is as electric now as it was nearly forty years ago during the heyday of Star Trek The Next Generation. The barbs flung back and forth are such a joy to watch and it’s clear these two actors had a wonderful time working off each other. Jeri Ryan gets some major kudos for her performance in this episode. She, out of all of the cast members, is the first to grasp what kind of world she’s living in now and take steps to at least somewhat act the part. The occasional slip-ups are understandable, increasing the tension of when, not if, they’ll be discovered by the inhabitants of this timeline. And I have to say I’m enjoying the developing relationship between Raffi and Elnor. There’s definitely a strong mother/son dynamic that has grown between the two, which makes Elnor getting wounded in the final moments of the episode that much more heart-breaking. Overall, the second episode of Star Trek Picard’s second season kept the momentum from the first episode going and leaves me wondering how the hell the characters are going to get out of this terrible mess.

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