Review: Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 4 “No Win Scenario”
The crew of the Titan faces imminent destruction as their broken ship plunges toward the gravity well at the center of the mysterious nebula, all while a member of an old Federation enemy lurks within the ship.
After the Titan gets the wind knocked out of it by its own torpedoes thanks to the Shrike’s tunneling weapon, the crew has some difficult truths to face. Personally, Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is confronted with losing his newfound son, Jack (Ed Speleers). There are only a few hours to get to know the younger man, a point Captain William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) tries to drive home to his former captain.
In this conversation with Picard, Riker opens up about why he is facing trouble with his wife, Deanna (Marina Sirtis). The death of their son, Thaddeus, was so wrenching for Riker that he shut down emotionally, something the empathic Deanna didn’t respond well to. Jonathan Frakes steals this scene, as the pain etched on Riker’s face is evident as he compares the infinitely dark abyss of his son’s six-foot grave to the Titan descending into the dark nebula. It’s powerful stuff, and we’re thrilled this season isn’t shying away from giving its characters such weighty material to latch onto.
“I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“The hair… when did it go?”– Jack Crusher to Jean-Luc.
So, Picard and Jack share a drink in a holodeck recreation of Ten Forward (this show is really finding ways to use that set, huh?) Picard tries to probe about his son’s past, including why he chose not to know his father, but this attempt ends with Jack deflecting. In a moment of honesty, Jack admits to his father that he doesn’t need to feel a connection with his dad before their time is up, but Picard, also in a moment of honesty, admits that it’s him who needs to bond, even if it’s just once.
One of the stories the two men share involves Jack’s namesake, and Picard tells the tale of his friendship with Jack Crusher and how the two ended up in an emergency situation coming back from shore leave. The best friends survived against the strongest odds thanks to their familiarity and skills. The story is amusing to Jack but less so to Captain Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick), who wanders into Ten Forward just as Picard finishes.
Maybe it’s their impending doom, maybe it’s the painkillers after his injury on the bridge: either way, Shaw musters the courage to share his backstory. Remember how Titan’s captain immediately took a disliking to Picard (and Seven, for that matter)? Their adventure on the Titan wasn’t actually the first time Shaw met Picard; the younger man was at Wolf 359 in the engineering room of the USS Constance and has lived with survivor’s guilt about that engagement for years.
Todd Stashwick kills it as he tells his character’s harrowing story, but the cherry on the top of this powerful scene is the sounds of battle one hears faintly in the background. It really sells the notion that Shaw is reliving these traumatic memories in his head as he laments his luck in surviving that battle. Interestingly, the captain ends his monologue with the assertion that the Borg are still out there somewhere, despite what happened on the Stargazer last season. Is this a conspiracy, or a hint of foreshadowing?
The most pressing issue besides the ship’s impending destruction is the fact that Changelings have infiltrated Titan, as evidenced by the dead transporter officer Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) finds. So, Seven, operating with unofficial Starfleet status thanks to Captain Riker’s blessing, sets out to find the Changeling, who, let’s remember, could look like anyone. Her task is made slightly easier by having all the crew share common areas as Titan slowly hemorrhages power and life support.
“Hey, Hansen, bang up job your heroes are doing with my ship. [Points outside window to the dark nebula]. Love the view.”
“Can we talk?”
“No.”– Captain Shaw and Seven of Nine.
Seven approaches the recovering Captain Shaw to help find the Changeling. Luckily, we know shapeshifters can’t hold their humanoid forms indefinitely, so Seven, thanks to prompting from Captain Shaw, sets out to find where a Changeling could regenerate, hoping to use material from that bucket to find the real deal. She does indeed find a bucket from a crewman she suspects is the shapeshifter, but she soon learns there are other shapeshifters aboard the Titan. Just how deeply have Changelings infiltrated the ship?
Just outside the nebula, Vadic (Amanda Plummer) introduces us to a mysterious character: her yet-to-be-named boss. This entity, which manifests as some kind of shapeshifter-esque humanoid face generated from Vadic’s hand, is looking for Jack Crusher, who Vadic asserts will perish soon in the nebula’s gravity well. This isn’t a satisfactory answer for the entity, and it orders Vadic to obtain Jack Crusher no matter the cost to her and her ship.
As expected, the Titan crew discovers a way to escape their descent into the nebula’s gravity well. Thanks to some studious observation by Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), who notices a pattern to the ship’s strange bio-electric impacts, she and Jack postulate the ship can ride the gravimetric waves produced by the nebula to freedom. Of course, there’s a complicating factor: the nebula isn’t a nebula in the traditional sense, which is something that was hinted at in an earlier episode. No, Beverly realizes the nebula is a womb of sorts for a space-going organism. As she notes, she and her former crewmates have encountered space-going creatures before, like the aliens in “Encounter at Farpoint,” so it’s not a totally wacky idea.
Despite Riker’s qualms, Crusher convinces the captain to try their plan, confident it will work because the crew just needs to trust one another, the thing she asserts they all spent “a lifetime” knowing how to do. So, Picard approaches Shaw for help, as he is the best person to modify the Titan’s warp nacelles in a way that can help the ship escape the nebula.
Helping the Titan escape makes Shaw the prime target for the Changelings onboard, which presents an opportunity for our heroes. The saboteur, this time disguised as Ensign Sidney La Forge (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), does indeed come to the engine room to try and stop Shaw, but it’s when the faux-La Forge calls Seven “Annika” and not her preferred name that Seven eliminates the threat.
The Titan hitches a ride out of the nebula thanks to solid commanding from Admiral Picard (with help from his son), and solid sciencing from Doctor Crusher, who predicted the final “contraction” that the Titan rides out of the nebula. Facing the Shrike one final time, Riker proves he can give as good as he gets as he swings an asteroid into a direct impact on the enemy ship, which knocks Vadic out for the foreseeable future. The end of their adventure in the nebula treats the crew to a beautiful sight: the successful birth of countless space-going aliens (who bear a passing resemblance to the aliens from TNG’s pilot). Seeking out new life, indeed!
Like its predecessor, this episode also contains another flashback sequence (circa 2396) with Admiral Picard and a group of Starfleet cadets. The cadets spot him in Los Angeles’ Ten Forward and ask him about his legendary career, including the time he had an errant shuttle adventure with the late Jack Crusher. Picard’s tales to the cadets are all well and good until he answers a question from someone at the bar about how he doesn’t need family in his life; little does he know it’s actually Jack Crusher who asked him about family.
What remarkable luck that Jack happened to be within earshot of Picard’s conversation at that moment in time! But this also explains why Jack never chose to contact his father, even though his mother gave him the chance. Seems like Picard has some mending to do with his son, although it’s not exactly clear based on the dramatic looks exchanged by father and son at the end of the episode if Picard remembers Jack being the one who asked that family question in Ten Forward.
Throughout this episode, Captain Riker faces his own personal pain, as he uses the time until the Titan’s destruction to send a message to his estranged wife, Deanna. Rather, he tries to send a message to her; he can’t quite find the words to describe how their recent rift has impacted him, especially since he likely won’t see her again. Ultimately, the successful resolution to their adventure gives Riker the boost he needed to confront his problems with Deanna, as we see him talk with her at the end of the episode about a renewed vigor inside him for life and wonder. That seems more like the William Riker we know and love!
Taken together, “No Win Scenario” leaves us completely pleased with where this season is so far. Not only does this episode feature a satisfactory discovery of new life, as so many Star Trek episodes have done, but we see some of our characters more comfortably settle into roles we so fondly remember. Case in point: we’re treated to a dopamine shot straight to the heart as we get a traditional log entry from Picard as the Titan cruises away from the nebula, with the admiral wondering when Vadic will show up next and what she wants with his son.
Moreover, after seeing a darker side of William Riker over the last couple of episodes, the captain seems to be back to his old self, complete with a love of exploration and curiosity despite the trauma his family experienced. In many ways, this episode feels like the end of a mini-story within the larger season, as the adventures of the Titan inside the nebula are over and our heroes seem a little more recognizable – but we know the season’s plot is really just getting started. Anything can still happen to these characters.
Like in the last episode, we still wonder what is going on with Jack. His continued manifestations of strange red tendrils and red hellish landscapes leave us sure there is something majorly wrong with him, but we have no idea what. Does it have something to do with Vadic’s mysterious boss? And on that note, how deeply have the Changelings infiltrated Starfleet, and how does that all tie into Raffi and Worf’s quest to find who stole what from the Daystrom Institute?
The adventure continues…
- This episode, like the previous one, was directed by Jonathan Frakes.
- In 2396, there is a model of an Ambassador-class, which was what the Enterprise-C famously was, in Ten Forward.
- The cadets talking to Picard reference a passage from Picard’s autobiography that details an off-screen encounter with the Hirogen, the villainous race introduced in Star Trek: Voyager. One of the cadets even asks Picard if Admiral Janeway offered any advice on dealing with the Hirogen. Sounds like great material for a tie-in novel or comic.
- Shaw hands Seven a padd that shows what a Changeling’s pot looks like, and on that padd is a headshot of Odo, a main character from Deep Space Nine as portrayed by Rene Auberjonois.
- Are buckets the only containers in which Changelings could regenerate? Can’t one regenerate in a bathtub, jar, trunk, etc.?
- The portal weapon casing Vadic jettisons from her ship before re-entering the nebula appropriately says “Daystrom Institute of Advanced Robotics.”
- One of the stories Picard tells the cadets in the flashback scenes involves the events of “Darmok,” the classic TNG episode that sees Picard stranded on a planet with a Tamarian captain.
- The scene in the conference room with Riker, the two Crushers, and Picard is reminiscent of the problem-solving meetings the TNG crew had all the time, and we can’t help but think this scene is just a teaser for whenever in this season the entire TNG sits around a conference table again.
- When he finally assumes the center chair before leading the Titan out of the nebula, Picard does the “Picard Maneuver” – tugging down on his shirt, like he used to do all the time on TNG.
The third and final season of Star Trek: Picard stars Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, Michael Dorn as Worf, Jonathan Frakes as William Riker, Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher, Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi, Brent Spiner as Lore, Jeri Ryan as Seven, Michelle Hurd as Raffi, along with Amanda Plummer as Vadic, Todd Stashwick as Captain Liam Shaw and Ed Speleers as Jack Crusher.
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