There’s certain rules about time travel that Star Trek’s heroes try to follow, either to avoid completely imploding the timeline or because, well, someone above them in the Federation will get very huffy about it. This week, Picard’s heroes realise that in order to save the day, they’re going to have to do what they do best: be incredibly bad at following orders.
If last week’s messy sojourn into Jean-Luc’s mind was Picard’s second season doing the bad kind of chaos, then “Mercy” is thankfully more akin to the fun kind of chaos the season already explored with Team La Sirena being really terrible at infiltrating fancy parties. Now that time is truly running out for the season to resolve one of a gabillion different disasters — ensuring Renee Picard goes on the Europa mission and the future is saved, stopping the Borg Queen from starting a 21st century collective, stopping Q’s nonsense, and now also adding Dr. Adam Soong to the whole “stopping nonsense” list — the episode sees our heroes actually do something really quite funny: simply say “screw the rules of time travel, we’ve got a mess to un-mess.”
Star Trek’s relationship with time travel, especially when it comes to the perspective of Starfleet officers, has always been defined not just by temporal rules, but by the standards these officers hold themselves to. From the tragedy of Edith Keeler in “City on the Edge of Forever” to DS9‘s “Past Tense” (surprisingly quite relevant to this season of Picard, that one), whenever Star Trek plays with time it’s not just about the logical mechanics of the idea, but how high a standard our heroes hold themselves to in order to maintain those mechanics. Kirk has to let go of his love of Edith to ensure the sanctity of the future, Sisko and his colleagues stuck in a dystopian 2024 have to find a way to ensure their messy influence on the timeline doesn’t alter the course of history, no matter how badly things go wrong. But they always do it the right way, because no matter the odds, they’re Starfleet heroes and there are rules.
Picard has decided that frankly, things can get bad enough that sometimes it’s worth chucking those rules out of the window, especially when your antagonists are similarly indisposed to following them. The Borg queen is running around 2024 LA in one of your friends’ bodies, killing folks and munching lithium out of phone and car batteries so she can start making nanoprobes (don’t ask how, please, just accept it, Picard begs of us)? Q’s going full screw-it mode and just playing about 70 different mind games at once? Jean-Luc and his friends might as well be just as messy about the whole thing, because at least if it gets them the results, they have a future to go back to.
That considerable desire to be in screw-it mode 24/7 lends “Mercy” a great deal of momentum in its myriad plots that was sorely lacking in “Monsters” last week. It means that even when Picard and Guinan spend the episode in the custody of FBI agent Wallis — who it turns out is obsessed with an alien encounter in his childhood he perceived as sinister, but was anything but, as we’ll learn — there’s at least a bunch of forward planning going on. Mostly because, after realising how interminable things are going trying to hide their true motives from Wallis, they just both decide to reveal that Guinan’s an alien and Picard’s from the future. With that knowledge, Picard can just openly tell Wallis that his past alien encounter was in fact with a Vulcan trying to mind meld with him and erase his fear of seeing an alien being, not a monster trying to attack him. Now Wallis is less of an irritating roadblock to them ensuring the Europa Mission’s safety, and more of a willing ally. Guinan, meanwhile, separated from Picard, gets to learn from a late-arriving Q that the whole reason for this entire timey-wimey mess in the first place is because it turns out that Q’s not so immortal as he thinks he is, and is utterly petrified at the prospect of dying, hence all his trying to prove something with Picard. Look at all this progress! And it’s only because everyone just decided to stop caring about being so stuffy all the time. Wonderful.
Meanwhile, after Borg-Jurati goes on her battery brunch and leaves Raffi and Seven wounded — and full of regrets, between Raffi harbouring guilt over Elnor’s death and Seven grappling with her own complicated feelings about the Borg — the duo’s own decision to go on the offensive lets them eventually figure out a way to learn just what the Queen is looking for in her plans to restart the collective. And that brings them back into Rios’ orbit just in time for him to… well, hang out on La Sirena on his extremely ill-advised impromptu date night with Teresa and her son, figuring out the damage the Queen did to the ship while also letting his surprise guests gorge themselves on replicated cake (what is it with people on this ship and replicated cake?). At least he gets a kiss out of it? But he’s there to help Seven and Raffi, and while his thread in the myriad “everyone’s saying screw it to the rules” theme of this episode is the slightest, he’ll probably stand to pay the highest price, considering Seven and Raffi figure out that what the Queen wants is La Sirena itself, advanced tech to kickstart her collective creation. Shouldn’t have brought your love interest to the spaceship, my guy!
Borg-Jurati has at least one stop before assaulting La Sirena however, because like I said, it’s not just our heroes going on an offensive against the standards of time travel this episode. Tired of eating batteries, the Queen makes her way on over to Dr. Adam Soong’s place, using her knowledge of not just the future but the dark alt-timeline she came from in the first place to tempt the ethically unsound geneticist to her side. Given the mission of stopping Picard and the Europa flight to ensure his legacy is secured — just as he’s seemingly lost it, with Q’s own, still-mysterious game plan evolving by giving Korre the chance to escape her father — Soong pulls a ridiculous amount of strings to get his own black-ops strike team, perfect for Borg-Jurati to start assimilating into her first new warriors.
The battle for La Sirena is about to be upon us, and… to be perfectly honest, when this whole trip back to 2024 started this season, I did not expect it to culminate in a battle between the Borg Queen in the body of Jurati, a Soong, some drone-ified henchgoons, and Team Picard aboard a spaceship that’s crash-landed outside of a future French vineyard. But it’s certainly going to, and that’s quite an exciting set-up for Picard’s final two episodes to deal with. It took a mess to get there, but at least the show embraced that mess and had some fun along the way. No doubt we’ll find out if it was worth all that next week!
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