Star Trek: Picard introduces a new Guinan in “Watcher.”
“Who watches the watcher?” A younger Guinan in apparently self-imposed exile on 2st-century Earth, as it turns out. In its latest episode, “Watcher,” Star Trek: Picard introduces a new actor into the role Whoopi Guinan originated on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In so doing, it gives every Star Trek fan’s favorite barkeep an even richer backstory than she had before. But the series also falls prey to long-running intellectual properties’ tendency to solve all the mysteries they possibly can.
In fairness, since the second season of Star Trek: Picard is mostly set in a timeline that is about to be broken, it’s unclear how much of Ito Aghayere’s Guinan’s relationship to Jean-Luc Picard will “transfer” to Whoopi Goldberg’s after the La Sirena crew (presumably) saves history. Picard’s line about Guinan being his “oldest and dearest friend” four centuries hence seems to acknowledge the Guinan he and we knew on the Enterprise-D won’t remember his visit to the bar she closes, for good, in 2024.
Questions of continuity aside, Aghayere is a delight in the role of Guinan. She plays the part with little of the humor Goldberg did, but with a moral ferocity and profound heartbreak that proves mesmerizing. This Guinan is not the one who so confidently speaks to Picard of humanity’s inevitable survival in “The Best of Both Worlds.” Aghayere’s Guinan doesn’t see much, in 2024, about the human spirit that impresses. “They got one tiny ball in the entire galaxy,” she laments, “and all this species wants to do is fight.” Aghayere brings an almost prophetic edge to Guinan the character hasn’t ever had before—but a prophet whose only message is one of doom.
It’s up to Picard to represent hope for and in humanity, to espouse the core tenets of the Star Trek ideology in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary. “Humankind will change,” he promises Guinan. Her retort that only people who look like Picard, not herself, have “the luxury of patience” is a biting rejoinder, another of the series’ hyper-relevant critiques of our current society.
Even though Guinan proves not to be the Watcher Picard has been looking for, I hope we’ll see the character again before the second season of Star Trek: Picard is over. This new version of Guinan is fascinating. I do worry her introduction in a timeframe in which Q is also present will tempt the show to explain too much about the past Q and Guinan share, only and effectively alluded to in “Q Who?” As with so much about this season, only time will tell.
“Watcher” engages immigration and develops a devilishly good Borg Queen
Star Trek: Picard continues other critiques of current society in “Watcher,” too, notably in the subplot involving Cristobal Rios’s detention and deportation by ICE.
This line of critique is slightly less successful, dramatically speaking, because Rios’s ICE antagonis is a one-note, one-dimensional character—taking pleasure in tasering Rios, sarcastically calling him “Juan,” tossing off Spanish words sarcastically. In real life, America needs to be having substantive conversations about immigration issues, about the laws around it and how they should be enforced. The depiction of Rios’s detention does nothing to advance those conversations, whereas Picard and Guinan’s interactions offered much to think and talk about. Perhaps we could have seen an ICE officer, like some of the Sanctuary District officers in Deep Space Nine’s “Past Tense” episodes, who feel tension between the laws it is their job to enforce and their basic humanity.
But “Watcher” is ultimately an extremely entertaining episode. Seven and Raffi’s theft of a police car and their subsequent wild ride through the streets of Los Angeles is an exciting and often quite funny sequence, as if the “Kirk drives a car” bit from “A Piece of the Action” were hopped up on cordrazine.
And Allison Pill and Annie Wersching continue to impress in their interactions as Dr. Agnes Jurati and the Borg Queen. In this episode, the Queen restores transporter function to La Sirena in the nick of time, only after more or less seducing Jurati into agreeing to give her herself once the crisis has passed—whether that means more conversation, or something further, we don’t yet know.
The Queen praises Jurati but also calls her “cruel”: “Fixing me just to take what you need. Leaving me up here powerless yet now awake to feel it.” Wersching’s Queen is a Luciferian character, it seems at this point, even though she is suspended against La Sirena’s engineering wall in an oddly Christ-like crucifix position. Her “entwinement” with Jurati last week gives her the ability to speak just enough truth to twist it. She is just honest enough to be dangerous.
That dynamic is fitting, given Guinan’s characterization of the age in which we live. “Truth is whatever you want it to be,” she tells Picard. “Facts aren’t even facts anymore.” Guinan is right, unfortunately. But I’m looking forward to see whether Star Trek: Picard can offer us ways forward even as its characters move toward fixing whatever damage Q has done to history.