As we are halfway through our return to the 25th Century we can pretty much settle into the rhythm of this show. It’s a bit of a clunky narrative but a lot of fun character work for new and returning players. Most discouraging but perhaps least surprising is for all the things Season 3 has done to get us those wonderful character moments, it can’t escape the Kurtzman of it all and has at its center a big dumb mystery around Jack Crusher.
“No Win Scenario” focuses on the crew of the Titan with a depleted ship hurtling toward its doom. Also, a changeling saboteur has infiltrated the ship and is working with Vadic on behalf of a mysterious hand pulling all the strings everywhere. The Titan bridge crew is mostly consigned to expository technobabble that the TNG returning characters are too tired to say.
Riker believes the ship is consigned to its death and reveals that his earlier timidity in confronting Vadic was indeed based on the loss of his first child which we learned about in the first season. And it’s a good scene, an honest conversation between Picard and him. Except it comes a bit out of nowhere, only seeded in a single comment about being on the outs with Troi. He’s otherwise been the affable and capable Riker we’ve come to expect until the confrontation with Vadic leads him to make the perfectly reasonable choice of not confronting a vastly more powerful ship. Later when the ship is saved Riker gets his best moment so far when he is able to embrace life and reaffirm his commitment to life.
Elsewhere on the Titan, Picard tries to connect with his son Jack taking him to a holodeck recreation of 10 Forward, Guinan’s San Francisco bar that looks like a Bennigan’s.
They sip Jameson and share stories of carousing until the Titan crew also ruminating on their eventual demise trickle into the holodeck. Injured Captain Shaw eventually also makes his way to the holodeck and we get an extended monologue describing where his animosity for Picard originates, the Battle of Wolf 359. Picard, under the control of the Borg, orchestrated the death of thousands of Starfleet men and women. Shaw is scarred from that battle to the point of reliving it at the sight of Picard. Picard is nonplussed and stops Jack from trying to defend his honor. It’s a strong moment for Shaw that gives the audience a chance to sympathize with the antagonistic Captain. For Jack’s part we learn through an unfolding flashback that Jack did in fact visit Picard at Bennigan’s no less and was dejected to learn Picard had no regrets for not having a family. Or at least that’s how he interprets Picard’s answer to a question of whether or not he has any regrets about Starfleet in front of a crowd of Starfleet cadets. It’s a moment that does a lot of lifting for us to understand that Jack never again desired to learn anything about his father.
Crusher meanwhile takes it on herself to solve the science mystery of the bioelectric energy emanating from the nebula and likens them to birth contractions. Jack also fashions a plan of harnessing the birth bioelectricity to power the engines and give the Titan a way out of the nebula. With the engineering crew tasked with keeping the warp engines operating they turn to Captain Shaw who agrees to open the nacelles.
This conveniently provides an opportunity for Shaw to also act as bait in Seven’s plan to track down the saboteur changeling. She alone has been tasked with picking out the changeling out of a crew of 500. Shaw (again who is everywhere on the ship the narrative needs him to be) suggests looking for the changeling’s…pot. Weed joke aside, I hate this. Shaw in explaining the pot shows a picture of Odo’s bucket that he used for two and half seasons of Deep Space Nine to store himself when he needed to revert to his gelatinous state. Here’s the thing though, the bucket isn’t required for changelings it’s just what Odo used to be tidy. So why are Picard changelings schlepping these around? And why are they making them vaguely look like Odo’s? Also Odo didn’t really like what his bucket represented about himself. Especially if they disagree with Odo regarding peace with the Federation?
Of course there’s no explicit sentence where a Founder says Changelings never use buckets. And perhaps when they examined Bashir’s quarters after his impersonator was discovered they conveniently found a bucket hiding under his unused bed. But it more likely the writing team in trying to remember details about Changelings they remembered Odo had a bucket and they just went with it. And ultimately… it’s fine. I’m not going to fight every little thing that doesn’t feel like a logical extension of these shows from 20 years ago. I relent because the beat of Seven figuring out the LaForge in the nacelle room is a changeling is satisfying emotionally. There’s just enough stuff happening to let myself enjoy the ride.
This is even more the case in the next episode. But before that, How many stories do you count in this episode? Was there a main throughline? This episode bears the other hallmark of this era of Trek of having 47 crises occurring at once. Hunt the saboteur, what’s the mystery of the nebula, how do you fight the Shrike and it’s portal tech (we don’t, the tech isn’t even important bro), the ship’s going to explode, Riker is sad, Shaw is angry. Is anything the A-story here? Is anyone a lead? No wonder Raffi and Worf sit out this episode, there’s so many things going on.
“Imposters” starts off as if it will be a cooling down episode. After the harrowing experience in the squid nebula. Picard, Riker, and Seven prepare to face the music with Starfleet for all of the hijacking of Federation property and putting everyone in danger. Shaw is relatably gleeful at the prospect. The downtime is however short lived as danger ramps up when it turns out the Federation sends Commander Ro Laren to retrieve the wayward senior citizens and the wanted Jack Crusher.
Ro was last seen in one of the last episodes of The Next Generation where Picard sends her on a mission to infiltrate the Maquis. Her sympathies for the terrorists fighting for their homes against the Cardassians convince her to switch sides and betray Picard and the Federation. This was a completely unexpected guest appearance and Michelle Forbes and her Ro Laren were always a great injection of energy and disagreement to the proceedings of TNG. In a lot of ways Ro was the character Tasha Yar was intended to be before Roddenberry decided conflict was bad.
Her betrayal was completely in character for Ro and the disappointment and Picard’s anger at her also makes sense. This becomes the emotional centerpiece of the episode as their argument and their ability to hurt each other serve as proof that they can trust each other. Because as it turns out, the Titan is not the only ship with a changeling on board. Ro suspects that changelings have infiltrated every level of Starfleet and that traditional methods of screening for changelings are ineffective as they are now capable of maintaining forms after death and are able to simulate organs and blood. As a final act, Ro attempts to buy Picard and the Titan time but when a bomb is detonated on her shuttle we see the last of Ro Laren. It’s a fitting if unfortunate end to one of TNG’s best recurring characters.
On M’Talas Prime, Worf and Raffi continue their investigation by tracking down Vulcan gangster Krill who was extremely loyal to his childhood friend Sneed the Ferengi killed a few episodes ago. Worf hints at sacrifices he’s made to complete this mission and the importance of sacrifice overall. This is to set up his later trick of… faking death like Kahless because logically the Vulcans would never shoot him? It’s all… fine. We’re just spinning our wheels a bit before going straight to Daystrom Station because we need to kill time until the Titan can be in place.
Because it turns out that Ro left Picard one of Kira’s earrings (this isn’t how Bajoran earrings work but it’s fine. It’s fine.) and it contained all of Ro’s investigation into the changeling infiltration as well as the comm frequency to connect with our assets in the field Mr. Worf and Raffi. It seems likely all points lead to the Daystrom Station and its murderous AI security (Bets on Lore and or Moriarty finally showing up).
One last bit is what is shaping up to be the season’s big dumb mystery, why is everyone after Jack Crusher and what are the red-vined nightmares that are plaguing him? They seem to give him murderous visions and ability as he’s able to stop the four changelings that attack the Titan after Ro’s diversion. There’s something going on with him and we’ll have to see what it is and whether the payoff is any good.
- Is Worf doing this mission on behalf of Odo or on behalf of Ro? While it makes sense that handlers would have handlers prior to “Imposters” it seemed more like Worf was doing this on his own intel.
- If Changelings have infiltrated Starfleet at all levels, why did they need Gangster Changeling to steal from Daystrom Station? I guess plausible deniability is possible but it seems especially convoluted if the Changelings have so thoroughly compromised Starfleet. Also is it going to matter that gangster changeling vaporized but LaForge changeling didn’t? Is it an inconsistency or does it matter is a question I ask a lot.
- I know that Ro had this mentor relationship with Picard and that should rightly be the central emotional conflict of this episode. But man, she really just brushed off Riker, huh. They had a whole unresolved thing. TNG romances just disappear off the face of the earth don’t they, Worf and Troi?
- Starfleet also seems to get compromised a lot in the 25th century. Commodore Oh from Picard Season One was yet another Romulan masquerading as a Vulcan at the highest levels of the Federation.
- My wildest better-not-be-right speculation is Jack is a Manchurian Changeling that replaced the real Jack as a baby. Is that super dumb? Yes. Oh wait, maybe he’s Khan!
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