This article is part of our ongoing Picard Explained series, featuring the insights of our resident Starfleet officer Brad Gullickson. In this entry, we recap the Star Trek: Picard episode “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 1.”
The apocalypse tends to throw people off. The end of all things, can such a thought be possible? Some days the answer feels utterly overwhelming. If Star Trek has been anything for me as a viewer, it’s been a show that offers hope in the darkest of days. While some have reacted to Star Trek: Picard with concern and outright disgust, recoiling at its depiction of a Starfleet gone mad with fear, I see a series offering resilience in the individual pushing against the sea of group-think. Starfleet is not Star Trek. James T. Kirk is Star Trek. Benjamin Sisko is Star Trek. Kathryn Janeway is Star Trek. Jean-Luc Picard is Star Trek.
The penultimate episode of the season grabs its title, “Et in Arcadia Ego: Part 1,” from a Baroque painting done by Nicolas Poussin in 1637. The image depicts a group of shepherds gathered around a tomb in an idyllic land. Translated from Latin, it reads, “Even in Arcadia, there I am,” with the singular pronoun personifying the presence of Death. Meaning, a utopia still cannot halt the finality of life. The 24th Century, nor any bright future, can cure mortality. Your end is always near.
For those hoping Picard (Patrick Stewart), Soji (Isa Briones), and their crew would find solace on the synthetic homeworld (dubbed “Syntheville”), you will be sorely disappointed. While we meet a whole civilization of androids living in harmony, as well as Bruce Maddox’s mad scientist partner-in-crime Dr. Altan Inigo Soong, who wears both his father’s face and our dearly departed Data (Brent Spiner), the planet presents as many problems as the encroaching Romulan armada. Harmony continues to be forever on the horizon.
Soong welcomes his fellow humans and happily gives them a tour through the land born from generations of genius. Soji suddenly recognizes everything around her, experiencing a kindship never felt before…or at least, never since learning that her parents were a fiction and her twin sister was disintegrated by Zhat Vash shock troopers. Soji encounters yet another doppelganger by the name of Sutra, and she suggests Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill)’s assassination of Bruce Maddox was merely the result of her feeble, organic mind being unable to process a vision meant for synthetic life.
Sutra is a bit of a Vulcan fangirl. She knows all the tricks, including the mind-meld. After getting Jurati’s permission, she extracts the doomsday scenario implanted by Commadore Oh (Tamlyn Tomita) before they left Earth. The message was never meant for Romulans, humans, or any fleshy creature. The message was always meant for artificial intelligence, and yes, it most definitely is a warning.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, organics sought perfection and found it in the synthetic life they created. The perfection was perceived as a threat; their immortality an afront to our mortality. Biological life sought to destroy synthetic life, and in doing so, they destroyed themselves. Singularity, baby.
The makers of this vision alert Sutra of their existence beyond the boundaries of time and space. They speak of an alliance of synthetic life observing their A.I. cousins and waiting for their signal. If this collection were to be summoned, they will answer, and protect the androids from the pall of the biological.
Sutra does a little math on her own. 1 + 1 = organics who happily assault all sources of their fear. Maybe it’s more history than math. Whatever – the solution is to beat them at their own game. Meet fear with fear, but quicker. Destroy the biologicals before they have a chance to destroy them.
Time for Picard to make his stand. He promises to advocate for the synthetics. He’ll make their mission his own. He’ll never stop fighting until Starfleet, the Federation, and the Romulans see the value of all life, synthetic or otherwise. Sutra says, “Cool story, bro, but tell that to the Romulans killed in the supernova. Tell that to Riker and Troi’s child dead because Starfleet banned all positronic experimentation. You failed before and you responded by retreating into a funk on a vineyard.” The synthetics can’t trust the old has-been.
Picard is perfectly positioned for next week’s season finale. Rejected, facing the hate of Starfleet, the Romulans, and the Synthetics. All is lost. Not quite.
Raffi (Michelle Hurd) said, “I love you.” Whoa. That’s no small moment. That’s epic. That’s everything. In the past fourteen years, she lost an unimaginable amount because Picard walked out on her. She fell to addiction. Her children turned on her. Her despair matched Picard’s two-fold, but when the former Admiral came calling, she reluctantly responded. Throughout this season, she got her fight back. He gifted her a purpose as well.
Picard echos an “I love you” to Raffi. Here is a changed man. We would never have heard such a thing on Star Trek: The Next Generation or any one of the movies. Like Raffi, he knows what he lost when he fell to defeat. He’s not just a Captain or an Admiral of a starship. He’s not just a father-figure. He’s a human – sorry, that’s speciest – he’s a sentient, with a finite amount of time on this plane of existence. All we have is each other. To fight for others is to fight for yourself.
The Starfleet of Star Trek: Picard is infected, but its ideals flow inside Jean-Luc Picard, and he’s the cure to the poison souring the institution. In assembling the crew of La Sirena, Picard is spreading the OG Starfleet spirit that bolstered him in his youth. One by one, this crew of misfits catch his moral vigor. They believe in us again. The spark of Picard is lit, and the flame can extinguish the poison of terror and hatred. That’s Star Trek.