Star Trek: Picard Season 3 Episode 4 Review: A Few Moments Of Quiet

Spoilers for Picard season 3 episode 4 follow.

While the actual etymology of a certain four-letter F-word is not truly known, language experts can trace its usage in English back to as early as the 14th century. According to an article in, a 1310 court plea saw the word written as part of a pejorative nickname in a legal filing. This would imply that it was in common usage for years prior. It seems that everyone's favorite German/Saxony syllable has been with the English-speaking world for quite a long time. It's possible that it will remain with us for several more centuries yet. 

Still, it's jarring to hear an F-bomb coming out of the mouth of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) on "Star Trek: Picard." In this season's fourth episode, "No Win Scenario," Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan-A have fled the murderous Vadic (Amanda Plummer) and have hidden in a massive nebula with a gravity well in the center. The gravity well saps the ship of its power, and it's only a matter of time before life support fails. Outside of the nebula, Vadic awaits to apprehend Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers), and destroy the Titan. It is indeed the scenario of the title. The episode is devoted largely to the characters talking, recording end-of-life messages, and contemplating their fate. One might forgive Picard for letting a cuss slip in such a scenario. 

But it's still odd. A return to the traditional formalism of "Star Trek" has been a big part of this season of "Picard," so an F-word feels out of place. Yes, humans may still be cussing in the future, but it's not something a Trekkie might expect. 

Look for his pot

Although hearing Picard use the F-word is not nearly as jarring as when Capt. Shaw (Todd Stashwick) asks Cmdr. Seven of Nine (Jery Ryan) to look for a pot — that is, an earthenware vessel — that a liquid alien might be stored in, and Seven immediately assumes that he's referring to a stash of cannabis. Will people still refer to marijuana as "pot" in the 25th century? In a future of synthahol and unknown designer narcotics, are people still getting high the old-fashioned way? 

These potential anachronisms aside, "No Win Scenario" is a surprisingly solid episode of Trek, as it bothers to slow down the action and have a precious, vital moment of contemplation. The biggest complaint one might level at the previous seasons of "Picard" — and it's a complaint that stretches handily into "Star Trek: Discovery" as well — is that the pacing has been far, far too fast, and that the stakes have always been far too high. In both shows, there is no sense as to what the status quo might be to these people, or what an ordinary work day looks like for them. If the characters on early "Picard" seasons are outside of their comfort zone, the audience's only indicator is that they might panic, weep, or drink. It's important to know who these characters are outside of the show's action, otherwise, they will be swallowed up by the standard vagaries of plot and the boring tropes of action mayhem. 

To reiterate a previous "Picard" review, in setting this season largely on board a starship, the workplace vibe has returned. Within that vibe, it seems, much of "Star Trek" lies.

The Changelings

There are three plot threads at work in "No Win Scenario." Because the Titan is trapped in a gravity well, and things aren't looking too rosy, the crew has been ordered to essentially record their final messages to their loved ones before they die. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) records a message for Deanna Troi. Some of the crew gather on the holodeck's bar in order to have a final drink (it's explained that the holodeck has its own independent power source, so the Titan can be drained by the gravity well while keeping the holodeck running; this is a detail tech-head Trekkies would appreciate). Picard and Jack, father and son, try to bond for the first time in the few moments they have left. 

Their idyll will be interrupted by Capt. Shaw who, injured, is none too happy with the fact that he and his crew will die. He yells at Picard, reminding him of that time he was assimilated by the Borg and killed 11,000 people. It seems a young Shaw was a survivor of the Borg battle from the fourth season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and was thrust into command, despite being tenth in line. One might understand Shaw a little bit better. 

The second plot thread involves a subtle investigation of alien interlopers on board the Titan. Seven and Shaw found that Changelings were on board the Titan in the last episode, and now they have to investigate who they are, and why they might be there. Changelings are made of liquid and have to rest indie receptacles at night, leading to Seven finding a bucket in their quarters. The bucket happens to look like the one Odo used on "Deep Space Nine," which is an embarrassing detail. Are buckets standard issue?

The contractions

The investigation reveals information during the episode's downtime, so luckily, it doesn't feel like a break in the pace. Seven is off duty and Capt. Shaw is injured. The show carefully took them off the books, making their investigation feel organically disconnected from the action. 

The third plot thread is classic Trek, through and through. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) has noticed that the gravity well has been draining the Titan's power at curiously regular intervals, and that the intervals are getting closer together. It's taking in matter and expelling energy. Is the gravity well ... alive? Indeed, the gravity well may just be a new, enormous, space-faring life form that Dr. Crusher posits may be metamorphosing or preparing to give birth. The crew eventually use their grit and a few innovative energy-gathering techniques to "surf" their way out of the living gravity well. The idea of accidentally flying into a massive living being is a comfortingly nostalgic plot point that comes straight from the better "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes. Even in a crisis, there can be quiet moments of awe and beauty. 

I could have done without Dr. Crusher whispering "to seek out new life," however. Oh yes, and the Shrike was disabled while the Titan escaped, so there can now be a merciful organic movement to the next part of the story. 

And a few tantalizing mysteries remain, too. The Changelings, for instance, have not been explained, nor why Vadic was secretly answering to one. Nor do we yet know what the Changelings stole from the Daystrom Institute. 

But, golly, the show has stayed riveting.