“Assimilation” was a 3X brilliant title for Star Trek Picard S2E3

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Annie Wersching arrives at Paramount+'s 2nd Annual "Star Trek Day' celebration at Skirball Cultural Center on September 08, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Annie Wersching arrives at Paramount+'s 2nd Annual "Star Trek Day' celebration at Skirball Cultural Center on September 08, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

“Assimilation” is a title that works on three different levels.

One-word titles for Star Trek episodes don’t always work on multiple levels of meaning at once. But Assimilation, the title of the third episode in season two of Star Trek Picard, does. In fact, it works on three levels at the same time. Kudos to writers Kirsten Beyer (the series’ co-creator) and Chistopher Monfette for choosing a single word that effortlessly brings together a trio of its content and thematic strands.

First and foremost, Assimilation refers to Dr. Agnes Jurati’s bold and perhaps overly reckless plan to undergo “partial” assimilation by the Borg Queen in order to revive her, restore power to La Sirena, and discover what the Queen knows about the mysterious “watcher” the crew must find in 2024.

As Jurati and the Queen, Allison Pill and Annie Wersching (pictured above) deliver bravura performances during the partial assimilation sequence. As the Borg Queen rummages around in Jurati’s emotions, Pill swings widely but never wildly between anger, sadness, and other feelings, taking some particularly biting potshots at Picard along the way.

For example, Jurati admits she sees Picard as a father figure, but also asks, “Why don’t you tell me about feelings and the last time you had one?”—a caustic comment that speaks to the emotional isolation we saw Picard (not to mention Laris) wrestle with in the season two premiere.

And once Picard (literally) pulls the plug on the procedure, Wersching brings new levels of both mirth and menace to the Queen, interpreting the character as Trek fans have never seen before. When this Queen makes jokes, she doesn’t do so as if she’s unaware of it, as Alice Krige’s Queen did in Star Trek: First Contact. No, she’s absorbed some of Jurati’s sarcasm and snark. When asked what she wants, she quips, “Legs, for starters.” But moments later she delivers this icy caveat-slash-compliment to Jurati: “What you have just done here is more difficult and vastly more dangerous than you realize …. You’ve impressed me.”

Thankfully, Star Trek Picard is not treating assimilation as tactical strategy as casually as Star Trek: Voyager did in its sixth-season finale and seventh-season opener, “Unimatrix Zero.” That story’s casual approach to assimilation exemplified the way the series “defanged” the Borg as a serious threat. I’m thrilled Star Trek Picard is restoring Borg assimilation to a level of mystery and malevolence we’ve not seen since 1996. As Picard tells Jurati, “Halfway to hell is still not a recommended destination.”

Exploring assimilation into the 21st century and U.S. society

But the title Assimilation also incorporates the episode’s other two significant plots.

First, it refers to our 25th-century characters’ quest to “assimilate” into the 21st—specifically, into the year 2024, essentially our own present day. Structurally and, at times, visually (think about the close-ups of the characters’ faces after La Sirena slingshots around our Sun), Assimilation pays homage to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

But what The Voyage Home played for laughs, Assimilation plays for drama. Surely few audiences would laugh, for instance, to hear Jurati use “fossil fuel pollution” and “ozone deterioration” to assess La Sirena’s destination the way Spock used atmospheric pollution content to determine when in time the Bounty had arrived.

Raffi and Seven do get to have some fun as they try and assimilate into present day culture, getting past a security guard at Markridge Tower. But even there, we are not let laughing for long, as Seven surveys the wildfire-scarred skyline of Los Angeles and reflects, “I’ve never been able to understand how a society could exist with so many contradictions and not collapse sooner than it did.” The line is cousin to Dr. McCoy’s sardonic quip in The Voyage Home, “It’s a miracle these people ever got out of the 20th century,” but it packs a far greater punch.

And the episode title Assimilation also signals Rios’ efforts to assimilate into the 21st-century U.S. as a man of Hispanic heritage. The admittedly comedic moment of him materializing in mid-air—why hasn’t that happened more often in Trek?—quickly gives way to a serious situation in which he finds himself among other undocumented people at a clinic run by Dr. Teresa (Sol Rodriguez, in a winning performance). “We try to help patients without gouging their wallets,” Teresa tells Rios. “And sometimes, we help the ‘no hospital, no police, no papers’ crowd.”

The situation somewhat evokes Sister Edith Keeler’s mission in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” But Rios’ identification with the plight of the clinic patients and his brave decision to try and defend Teresa in the police raid at the episode’s end—butterflies be damned (a clever nod to Ray Bradbury’s classic time travel tale “A Sound of Thunder”—both more directly conjure memories of “Past Tense,” the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parter set in the same year (2024), and not too far away (in San Francisco).

Star Trek sometimes addresses social issues obliquely, sometimes directly. By raising the issue of immigrant assimilation into current U.S. society, Star Trek Picard is showing an admirable willingness to tackle one of our most pressing social issues head-on.

I’m excited to see how each assimilation in this episode plays out over the course of what promises to be one of the strongest seasons of any Star Trek series yet.

Next. Star Trek Picard S2E2: “Penance” review and reactions. dark