Picard S3E2: Disengage

We try to keep our TV reviews as spoiler-free as possible here at Subject, but as “Disengage” is a slight episode that really only exists to give us a few dramatic reveals, it’s impossible to talk about this week’s installment without talking about how well (or badly) it handles those reveals.

The first (and smallest) of the bunch is terrific. Last week, we found Raffi working undercover for Starfleet Intelligence, answering to a handler she only knew as a Siri-like disembodied voice that was determined to keep her in the dark about virtually every aspect of her mission. Last week ended with Raffi failing to stop the terrorist attack; this week Siri tells Raffi to call off her investigation and to “disengage.”

And while “‘disengage’ sounds like a thing Picard says” is a thuddingly obvious thing to hang the episode on, that’s the theme here, as all of our various heroes stubbornly can’t let it go. So Raffi decides to investigate on her own, gets in way over her head, and is bailed out by a familiar face. We won’t spoil their identity, apart from saying the contrast between the soft-spoken, robotic Siri and the person behind the voice makes for one of the episode’s best moments.

The second reveal is our season’s villain, who had Picard cornered at the end of last episode, and shows her face to make some threats. Much has been made of Amanda Plummer being cast here, as she’s the daughter of Christopher Plummer, who played the villain in Star Trek VI. But while her father brought a Shakespearean gravitas to his vengeful Klingon, his daughter is a terrific casting choice for the opposite reason. As Vadic — a space pirate intent on capturing Dr. Crusher’s son Jack — Plummer brings a distinct lack of gravitas to the character, using her trademark loopy energy to make her unbalanced, unpredictable, and therefore more dangerous than a more straightforward adversary.

Which brings us to Jack, and the episode’s main story. We see in flashback that Jack is a scam artist who brings medical supplies to dangerous locales as an excuse to also smuggle weapons and Romulan Ale (a highly illegal beverage that’s been the Cuban cigars of the Star Trek universe since the original series). So it’s possible, even likely, that everyone who’s been chasing him has had a very good reason to do so, and Picard starts to worry he’s been sticking his neck out for a career criminal. Beverly Crusher is conveniently in a coma and unable to clear anything up, so we get a lot of back-and-forth between Jack, Picard, and Riker, and the abrasive Captain Shaw, whose USS Titan abandoned Picard and Riker last week, only to swoop in and save them almost immediately.

Tood Stashwick is terrific here as Shaw, unable to mask his contempt for Picard, Riker, Seven, and nearly everyone else around him. It’s also nice to see Trek flip its usual trope where every Starfleet captain is an infallible ubermensch and every admiral is either a war criminal or a bureaucratic hardass who Just Doesn’t Get It. But we can only go through so many rounds of, “I can’t put my crew in danger to help you! I should have you thrown in the brig! You’re on your own, Picard! Never mind, I’ll do everything you asked for!” before Shaw starts to lose his bite.

And while Shaw spends the episode more than happy to hand Jack over to the pirates, understandably not wanting to risk his crew and his ship to protect a criminal, he immediately folds when we get our final reveal: that Picard has more of a personal connection to Jack than he realized. We got hints of this in the first episode, and we get more hints in the first 40 minutes of this one. So many hints. Thuddingly obvious hints. Riker asks Picard some variation of, “doesn’t that kid seem familiar to you?” so many times that when the reveal finally arrives — Jack is Picard’s son — it comes as an eye roll and not the emotional beat it’s clearly intended to be.

It’s as if Picard’s producers looked at that their longtime rival sci-fi franchise and thought, how could we take the greatest reveal of all time — ”I am your father” — and do it as clumsily as possible? We’ve started two seasons of Picard full of hope, and watched each go off the rails. We were even more hopeful for season three, but those rails are starting to look a little shaky. Here’s hoping next week’s Jonathan Frakes-directed episode, “Seventeen Seconds,” can right the ship.

Stray tachyons:
• We’ve opened both episodes with the Crushers’ ship in space and 70s rock on the soundtrack. We never had contemporary music on a Trek soundtrack until JJ Abrams’ big-screen outings, but I suspect this is more the influence of Guardians of the Galaxy at work.

• We also open with a flashback, and it’s funny to see the legend “Present Day” when we jump back to events taking place in the 25th century.

• Our “Present Day” events begin with a life-or-death action scene on the Crushers’ ship that should be thrilling, but mostly involves people standing around and talking as if their demise wasn’t moments away. One of the perils of building an action show around an 82-year-old actor and his 70-year-old sidekick.

• Despite the name, the Titan is a smallish ship that’s outmatched and severely outgunned by Vadic. Which makes for a solid “how’s Picard going to get out of this one?”, but also makes it retroactively a little disappointing that Riker was the previous captain — seems like a pretty minor assignment after all of his grand adventures on the Enterprise.