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‘Star Trek: Picard’ Recap: Back to the Past

“Star Trek” has historically been at its best when dabbling in time travel.

The best “Next Generation” movie? “First Contact,” when the Enterprise crew has to go back in time to stop Earth from being assimilated by the Borg. The best original series movie? “The Voyage Home,” a story about another Enterprise crew going back to 1980s Earth to save a couple of whales. (Imagine that pitch meeting.) Some of the best television episodes, like the “Next Generation” installment “Time’s Arrow” or the original’s “The City on the Edge of Forever,” are time jump stories, too.

One reason these stories are so satisfying is that they briefly bring “Trek” closer to our world. Of course, there is the easy fish out of water humor. (Whoa! There’s money here?!) But they also offer an opportunity to spotlight baffling inequities in our society. It’s always amusing to see Dr. McCoy be flabbergasted by medical treatment in the 1980s, for example, or Kirk being fascinated by the concept of capitalism. It’s also fun to watch someone from our world, like Mark Twain, be beguiled by the future utopia the “Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned.

So it’s not surprising that “Picard” would dust off a — ahem — time-honored tradition this week.

“You’re killing it, 2024,” Raffi says, as the proverbial fish jumps to land. “You know, I’ve never been able to understand how a society could exist with so many contradictions and not collapse sooner than it did.”

But first, some business. Picard and his friends must escape the clutches of Seven of Nine’s evil husband. This poor guy. First, he finds out his wife isn’t bloodthirsty anymore. Then he discovers she doesn’t even know his name. Finally, he gets shot by his wife’s actual lover. It’s the second worst Tinder Swindle in history!

But Elnor is also shot, and then he dies. “Picard” has shown that it is willing to kill off characters randomly, if necessary. And really, it’s a refreshing change from previous iterations of “Trek,” where despite numerous risky away missions, none of the primary crew members ever end up actually dying. But Elnor’s death doesn’t hit as hard as a typical main character’s death might for two reasons: One, because the audience doesn’t get to know him that well in the show and two, because I’m betting it doesn’t stick. Time travel and all.

Raffi is particularly angry about Elnor’s death, and accuses Picard of choosing the Borg Queen over him. I’m not exactly following the logic of this or of Raffi’s berating of Picard for “playing games” with Q, as if Picard has ever found Q to be anything but a menace. (This is something that Picard meekly points out — you’d think Picard would be a bit more forceful, given that he too was grieving Elnor.) Raffi’s impulsiveness has a foreboding tone. She’s an experienced Starfleet officer. You’d think she would want to be deliberate, but she’s ready to do anything to get Elnor back.

The crew goes back in time and lands in modern day Earth — well, modern for the rest of us anyway. It’s too bad that we don’t see Elnor walking the streets of Los Angeles in 2024 — he’d definitely be a TikTok influencer by the time the others catch up to him. Meanwhile, Picard and Jurati try to revive the Borg Queen.

There’s lots of politics going on here, and less subtly than usual. Raffi spotlights big-city gentrification and inequality, standing in a sea of tents against the backdrop of tall buildings. Rios is an undocumented immigrant who is arrested by the Department of Homeland Security. (Recall Chekov being questioned on accusations of being a Russian spy in “The Voyage Home.”) Even the episode title — “Assimilation” — is a nod to the plight of immigrants in the United States.

The “Trek” franchise has a long history of using its world to comment directly on our own. This season, “Picard” has been more explicit than many earlier “Trek” stories in using its characters, and their reactions to remind the audience that many of the modern problems we’ve come to accept shouldn’t actually be acceptable.

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