Picard‘s “Penance” in Review
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 continues its climb up the roller coaster with the second episode, “Penance” – an episode that helps to establish the alternate timeline and the role each character plays. Thanks to Q (John de Lancie), Picard, Jurati, Seven, Cristobal, Raffi, and Elnor have been transported from the destruction of the Stargazer into a hellish reality – where things have changed for the worse rather than the better. No, this isn’t a lesson in humanity, as Q has done in the past with Picard on TNG; it is a penance exacted to him. For what, we don’t know yet, but I predict that this penance will be taken with a very heavy cost.
In this reality, the Federation does not exist. In its place is a human-centrist organization called the Confederation of Earth. Earth is protected by a force field of some kind that prevents the planet from going wonky – “a corpse on life support,” as Q says to Picard, when describing the planet. In the Confederation, General Jean-Luc Picard and the brave crew of the CSS World Razer (the alternate Enterprise-D) defeated such notorious alien foes as Gul Dukat and General Martok. It was all for a “safe” and “human” galaxy. He also maintains his Château Picard vineyard with synthetics and Romulan slaves.
In my article about ten predictions for Picard Season 2, I mentioned that this organization might be intolerant of aliens. That prediction is holding up the end of the bargain, as Raffi later encounters Elnor, who is part of an unnamed insurgent alien terrorist organization tasked with blowing up skyscrapers in Okinawa. A fellow Romulan tells Elnor the destruction was for the planets the Confederation has either conquered or destroyed – places like Andoria, Cardassia, and Romulus – but it’s unclear precisely how the Confederation dealt with these planets. Security forces find the insurgents and attempt to kill them. Raffi, now the Chief of Security for the Confederation, spares Elnor’s life, telling the security officers that he will be interrogated.
The most surprising change in the crew happens to Seven of Nine, who in this timeline goes by her human name, “Annika Hansen”, and is the Confederation President. She wakes in a mysterious bed, finds herself with no Borg implants, and has a wedding ring. She is also married to the Magistrate of the Confederation (played by Jon Jon Briones, the father of Isa Briones).
The Confederation subjugates its enemies, and indeed that’s where we encounter Rios. He is back in command of La Sirena and is colonel of a squadron of starships, attacking Vulcan ships in a war.
Jurati is a scientist in the Confederation – though it is unclear exactly what specialty. However, her cybernetic expertise applies to Spot 73, a virtual cat voiced by Patton Oswalt.
Jurati’s lab also houses the imprisoned Borg Queen, where she is held while awaiting execution by General Picard in a public rally commemorating Eradication Day – the day where the Confederation of Earth is to finish the Borg Collective in this timeline and where Picard has petitioned for the title of “Borgslayer”. The Eradication Day is a ceremony where the Borg Queen is to be executed on stage – this scene was heavily shown in the trailers released after First Contact Day in 2021.
“Penance” is an episode that relies heavily on world-building exposition that goes from point A to point B and finally to point C without losing a beat. The episode relies on establishing the altered reality – and does it so well, with shocking twist after twist. The chilling speech that our Picard watches in horror, about his alternate self bragging about subjugating countless worlds in the name of the Confederation, sounds just like a recruitment speech that fans of Starship Troopers would love. The skull scene made it feel like the audience was right there with Picard, sickened by his counterpart’s atrocities and feeling like something was definitely not right.
The Eradication Day scenes might remind viewers of old World War II newsreels of Nazi Germany – an example in Star Trek could be seen in the opening scenes of ENT: “Storm Front, Part II” – or the first use of Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The meta-dialogue (“how ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ of you”) is excellent. The verbal and somewhat physical argument between Q and Picard is just amazingly acted. The part where Q slaps Picard across the face, causing Picard to bleed from his nose, was definitely shocking. It felt like Q had pent up anger for the punch Sisko gave him in DS9: “Q-Less”; over the decades, he has just focused that anger on Picard.
Humor definitely played a part in this episode, especially when Jurati attempts to disrupt Earth’s defenses so the crew can be beamed aboard La Sirena. What ensues is an argument about Jurati’s relationship with Rios, which had blossomed a little in Season 1 but was revealed to have fallen apart in the interim between the two seasons. Finally, the ending, where the Magistrate beams in and holds up a phaser pistol to Picard and crew, is definitely a twist ending that will leave you on the edge of your seat, waiting eagerly for the next installment. It gave me vibes of the scene in TOS: “Mirror, Mirror”, where the alternate Chekov attempted to assassinate Captain Kirk for failing to act against the Halkans for their dilithium crystals in that classic episode.
Overall, “Penance” continues the Star Trek trope of alternate realities – one that is hellish but also highly entertaining. I have always been a big fan of alternate timelines in Star Trek, and this episode didn’t disappoint. The verbal easter eggs and callbacks to other Star Trek episodes and films were great. The episode does a fantastic job of world-building and is excellent throughout.
Wes Huntington has been a Star Trek fan since he was born, thanks to his parents (both of whom are still very much alive and are big Trek fans themselves). He lives in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area, with his wife and cat. He is also a co-host of the Twin Cities Trekkies podcast, which launched in February 2021 and talks about all things Star Trek. You can find Twin Cities Trekkies via Facebook, Instagram, or anchor.fm/twincitiestrekkies.