collider.com ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Season 2 Explores Real World Issues, Showcasing a More Mature Show
Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 2.
The first three episodes of Star Trek: Picard Season 2 already feel like a completely different show from the first season. The premiere season definitely has its fans, but the end product was underwhelming—it worked when the story leaned into nostalgia but didn’t get far with much else. Season 2 is a different story.
Picard’s sophomore turn is leveraging classic elements of the franchise, including universe-ending phenomena, the Borg, the return of Q (John de Lancie), alternate universes, and time travel. But the creators have also added what many would say is an essential part of Star Trek—socio-political messaging. Star Trek: Picard follows a long history of shows in the franchise that have made a statement (or several) about the world that we live in. This is a vast improvement over the first season which started off with several missteps. A Black actor’s hair was tinted to make him look like an ‘alien’ and in the premiere episode, Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) ignorantly lectured a Black woman about not knowing what struggle was all about, while he touted Dunkirk as the pinnacle of history and wartime pain.COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
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Season 2 has already demonstrated a more mature approach. The first episode set up the plot of the season and established the characters’ new journeys, but also provided glimpses into how the subsequent episodes will reflect the real world. The season premiere, “The Star Gazer”, included strong hints that Jean-Luc’s childhood may have been marred by violence. Could the show go as far as to portray domestic abuse? And will it do so in a tactful manner that informs viewers without sensationalizing a taboo topic?
The Borg have long been the most feared species in the franchise, and one of Seven of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) fears about returning to the Alpha Quadrant on Star Trek: Voyager was how she would fit in as a lone Borg in a sea of humans. In the first season of Picard, we learned that there were more former Borg drones, or xBs, than Seven had initially anticipated, but the xBs were merely plot devices, and they lived within the bubble of the Romulan Reclamation Site, a facility built inside the wreckage of a Borg cube called the Artifact. The second season has already expanded on how Seven has had to navigate a world that is hostile towards her kind.
Seven already has a complicated relationship with her Borg heritage, and the first three episodes hint at how her struggles with identity affect her relationship with Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) and even some of her decision-making. All this is made worse by the borderline prejudicial and insulting barbs hurled at her. And, in the alternate universe, when Seven is not a Borg, she is surprised to be greeted cheerfully. As Seven tells Raffi after an interaction with a guard at Markridge Tower, “Strangers don’t usually like me”. Most people from marginalized communities can attest to at least one experience of feeling unwelcome because of how we look. The creators have ingeniously positioned a beloved character as a proxy in that experience because, in the world of Star Trek: Picard, Seven may be a blonde, white human woman but her exposed Borg implants mark her as something other and something to be feared among bigoted communities.
Xenophobia is a central theme that the show seems to be exploring this season. The alternate universe that Picard and his crew find themselves in mirrors (pardon the pun) the Star Trek Mirror Universes of yore. In a case of intentional irony, Seven is the President of the genocidal Confederation, and Picard—one of Star Trek’s most notable diplomatic leaders—is the chief executioner. This other universe is ruled by a supremacist human race that slaughters and enslaves other species, and the show runners demonstrate that violent bigotry through the treatment of Romulan Elnor (Evan Evagora) and the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching). Both characters are dehumanized and treated with disdain. It takes a special kind of creativity to make viewers feel sorry for the Borg Queen, but prejudice doesn’t discriminate against good guys like Elnor and villains like the Borg; it discriminates irrationally, and the show makes that obvious.
Star Trek has always been political, but much of its rhetoric has been allegorical—Picard is taking this theme a step further with the fantasy elements of the alternative timeline, and Seven’s Borg heritage while keeping it real in the 2024 storyline. In the third episode, Picard and La Sirena’s crew travel back in time to fix the future. The alternate version of the near future is eerily reminiscent of our own, including the dichotomy of symbols of hope, like the aforementioned Markridge Tower, against the slums of hopelessness that are built in front of it.
In a direct reference to current events, Cristóbal "Cris" Rios (Santiago Cabrera) ends up injured in 2024, and he is rescued by Theresa (Sol Rodríguez) and her staff who run a secret clinic for undocumented immigrants and impoverished patients. Cris can’t go to a regular hospital because he lacks 21st identification and doesn’t want to pollute the timeline. Since he’s unable to explain his real situation to Theresa, she believes he is in the same situation as many of her other patients—a person who can’t afford or access health care and has since fallen through the cracks of a public system that’s created to benefit the few, not the many.
The choice to involve Cris in this plot line is also intentional—Santiago Cabrera is of Chilean heritage, and he often speaks Spanish on Star Trek: Picard. To the enforcers in 2024, Cris ‘looks’ like an undocumented immigrant, even when he dons a doctor’s garb, and hence he is arrested when the clinic is raided. It seems like Cris’ story arc will be as a stand-in for the health care inequalities that many communities have been facing in the US; a growing problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The franchise has often highlighted the inherent issues of the medical system, as was evident in episodes like “Past Tense” on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and “Critical Care” on Star Trek: Voyager. This time, however, Cris’ travails are far more representative of what’s happening in the world, especially the lack of health coverage for Latine and minority communities, and the precarious status of undocumented individuals.
Every show doesn’t need to reflect real-world issues, but this is Star Trek. The franchise is literally built on Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a better, more compassionate universe. Almost every property in the franchise has followed suit with that theme, even if it’s by simply expanding representation on and off-screen. Every installment should be a step forward, but Star Trek: Picard Season 1 didn’t move the dial much. Now the second season has come out swinging by touching on numerous contemporary concerns like xenophobia, discrimination, identity crises, and corrupt health care systems. Picard Season 2 is taking the correct approach by embracing socio-political commentary, and this falls in line with the history of the franchise. Star Trek has always been more than just a mirror of the world we live in—that’s when the franchise shines.
And this is only the beginning! The litmus test is how the writers handle the situation with Rios and the other undocumented patients, and how they show us that the world can be more accepting of Seven of Nine and other xBs, irrespective of their visible Borg implants. It’s not about reflecting how bad the world is; Star Trek must continue to strive to show us how the world can be better.'Star Trek: Picard' Season 1 Recap: Everything You Need to Know Before Season 2 Read NextShareTweetShareEmail Related TopicsAbout The AuthorMonita Mohan(85 Articles Published)
Monita is the Marketing Manager of The Walrus by day and an entertainment writer by night. Her bylines have appeared on Fansided websites Bam Smack Pow and Show Snob, as well as on Vocal and Women Write About Comics. She is also the co-host of the pop culture podcast, Stereo Geeks.MoreFrom Monita Mohan
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