‘Star Trek: Picard’ turns a corner and jumps on the rollercoaster

When your narrative brakes come off, it’s hard not to be swept along.

Trae Patton/Paramount+

The following article discusses Star Trek: Picard, Season Three, Episode 9, “Võx”

I’ve always found accusations that I hate Star Trek weird, since I make my love of Trek clear enough every time I write one of these reviews. Every time I watch a nü-Trek episode that I’m fortunate enough to do as part of my day job, I hope that I can genuinely talk about it with a sense of love. And so I am delighted to say “Võx” is the best episode of Star Trek: Picard ever made. It is not by any means perfect, but it’s such a leap from what’s gone before I’ve almost got whiplash.

One of the reasons that “Võx” pops is that Picard’s quality ceiling has been relentlessly low over the last three seasons. The other is that the narrative’s brakes are off, allowing events to move at something faster than a snail’s pace. If I was in a less-generous mood, I’d say a lot of this stuff could have happened earlier in the run to improve the overall pacing. One of the biggest issues I’ve had is the very visible stretching of a thin, mystery-box story over a studio-mandated ten-episode running order.

By comparison, this feels like the first free meal after two 500-calorie-only days on the 5:2 fast diet. You devour a 12-inch pizza and, since you’ve starved yourself for the last 48 hours, you feel you deserve to go out for tacos afterward. In this episode, we learn that Jack is, as Reddit clocked weeks back, the product of a union ‘twixt Dr. Crusher and Picard’s Borgified sperm. We also get a whopping retcon to the plot hole in First Contact, where Picard could hear the Borg and knew the location of the cube’s weak spot despite not being connected to the collective.

Jack decides to go off and tackle the Borg Queen (voiced by Alice Krige!) herself, while Geordi, Data and Beverley start examining the conspiracy. The Queen has already picked a Borgified name for Jack — Võx — to commence his Locutus-like transformation as part of the collective, too. The Borg and Changelings are working together – I’d love to see how that meeting went – to undermine the Federation. They’ve set up every transporter in the fleet to re-write the genetic code of the under ‘25s who pass through it, seeding them with Bio-Borg DNA. When Frontier Day happens, the collective activates its new army of drones, who also turn the newly-connected fleet into an armada.

Fleeing a Titan similarly overrun with Bio-Borgs, the TNG crew get into a shuttle while Seven and Raffi guard Shaw, who takes a phaser to the chest. He even gets a nice valediction, finally using Seven’s chosen name to put a button on his much-discussed arc. Not long after, we get the first laugh-out-loud-on-purpose moment in the series when Geordi asks Data to be more optimistic. There’s a simple, glorious pleasure in letting the endlessly-talented Brent Spiner show off his natural comedic flair in the midst of all this darkness.

The gang race back to the Fleet Museum where, again Reddit called this a month or more back, the Enterprise D has been quietly rebuilt in secret by Geordi. There’s some moments of winking at the camera as the production team head off the obvious questions. How? They pulled the saucer section from Veridian to avoid breaking the Prime Directive and cobbled together other parts from other Galaxy Class ships. Why not the E? Blame Worf, now shut up and watch with a smile plastered on your face as they sit in their old chairs. Hell, they’ve even got Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s voice for the Enterprise D computer.

We need to be careful here, because I’ve slammed this series time and again for its empty, paraphilic use of nostalgia. There are plenty of reasons why this makes no logical sense if you take the time to interrogate things. Maybe it’s because the episode moves at such a clip that there’s no time to overthink things before something else happens. Maybe it’s just the thrill of seeing these actors on this bridge, on this carpet, that the bulk of my critical thinking has been bypassed.

If I have concerns, it’s still about what Picard is trying to say. Relegating the cyberpunk elements of the Borg to make their assimilation more biological could be seen as an anti-vaccination screed. It’s hard to watch yet another TNG side character brutally die – Ro in “Imposters” and Admiral Elizabeth Shelby, captain of the new Enterprise F, taking two in the chest mere moments later here. There’s an argument that leaving Seven and Raffi on the Titan also sidelines the series’ two queer characters. And this subtextual mistrust of youth which was discussed a few episodes back has now been rendered very much part of Picard’s text.

But I will withhold my judgments about that until next week, when we see how those points are handled. For now, I’m going to bask in the very brief glow of my monitor, and how glorious it was when the lights on the Enterprise D bridge raised to old-school TV levels and we could actually see what was going on. The lights went up and so did the mood, and after all this time, it comes as sweet relief. Now, onward to the finale.