Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.10 (End of Season Special)

Star Trek: Picard is the story of Patrick Stewart. Not Patrick Stewart’s character, as billed, for Jean-Luc Picard as we knew him is no longer a living, breathing entity, but the actor who once played him.

To understand what’s gone wrong, one needs to know the man. In the beginning there was a boy – working class, aspirational. Disciplinarian father with a military background – a bully. He doesn’t want to be like his Dad, he’s interested in the arts, in drama. But he can’t help but internalise some of Daddy’s traits – an authoritative air, a stern countenance, self-seriousness.

It turns out these are useful. Casting directors in local theatre productions latch onto them as hallmarks of heft; what they imagine a stage presence to be. Soon our man has won a place at theatre school and from there, allied by a personality marries with conventional thinking on the performance of Shakespeare, the RSC.

Directors like John Barton instinctively know that Stewart isn’t in the top tier of the company; he’s too affected, has a propensity toward ham, trying too hard because he has imposter syndrome, deep-seeded insecurity. When Barton makes a series about “Playing Shakespeare”, these shortcomings are suggested when Stewart pits his acting wits against more natural performers like David Suchet. They’re outright exposed when he’s asked to perform an impromptu solo. The latter shows the limits of Stewart as a performer. When asked to be passionate, he’s a big old pork joint, smothered in bread sauce. But when asked to showcase a character with intellect, the delivery’s natural, convincing.

The casting director for Star Trek: The Next Generation must have seen the intellectual performance when he recommended Stewart for the role of Jean-Luc Picard. What he didn’t know, what nobody knew, is that Stewart aspired to the emotional, the unfettered. He didn’t want to be buttoned up and straight-laced like his hard-faced Father. He wanted to be an actor who could switch registers and personas with the same ease as superior contemporaries like Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington. They were the kind of actors who got regular movie roles. Stewart was being offered TV, and American Sci-fi at that. This wasn’t really fit for a man of his stature, he thought, but he’d do it, if only to raise his profile – make a name in Hollywood.

Jean-Luc Picard was written as stoic, retrained, an intellectual – this register was a perfect match for Stewart’s personality, it flattered his talent. The show was a smash hit, not least because of the culturally coded gravitas Stewart was thought to add. His confidence skyrocketed amongst actors he thought his inferiors, American TV actors prone to mucking around on set, as if they knew they were being paid to pretend to be someone else in a fantastical setting. Stewart relaxed off camera to fit in, but deep down began to feel frustration that this role, a gift from TV heaven for many, was boxing him in – denying him the chance to show his range, forcing him to be immortalised as his Father on-screen.

The rest of the cast would have been happy to carry on forever, but Stewart insisted it was all over after 7 seasons. He’d thought about leaving after 3, but didn’t want to return to relative obscurity. By the time the show ended the whole world knew who he was, but they all saw him as the reserved and thoughtful Captain Picard. The characterisation bored Stewart. For him it bordered on self-parody.

Emboldened by the power he now enjoyed within the Star Trek fraternity, he used the opportunity of the TNG movies to break out of this straightjacket. The writers boldly tried to develop stories around the character as written, but Stewart thwarted them, demanding changes that made Picard more emotional, less restrained – closer to Stewart as he imagined himself to be. The result was broad, brainless schlock. The final movie flopped badly. But Stewart secretly blamed militant fans for the failure. It would be a line adopted and expressed openly by Star Trek’s clumsy custodians in the years to come.

He continued to attend conventions, smiling at panels, telling the same anecdotes, pretending not to mind when Brent Spiner impersonated him. He was addicted to the adulation of the crowd – the laughter, the cheering. If only they knew how much he despised them, how divorced the series was from his idealised conception of self.

Star Trek had denied him the prestige he sought amongst his peers. Jean-Luc Picard was too much like his Dad to be someone he wanted to revisit. But Trek’s new guard wanted him back. The fans, in denial over the TNG movies, wanted him back. So he’d come back, but only if he could move further away than ever from the characterisation he despised.

Patrick Stewart hates Star Trek – that’s the truth he dare not speak of. Picard the series, as mandated by its star, shares little of TNG’s creative DNA because it’s not aimed at fans, but an idiot’s conception of posterity.

Stewart wants the world to see him play sensitive and vulnerable, while simultaneously ensuring the action his character passively passes through is morbid, bleak, and dystopian. It’s a fuck you to Gene Roddenberry, who didn’t want Stewart cast, and the reprise of a man, now acting as a producer, who sees his original body of work as twee, romantic nonsense.

In Alex Kurtzman, he has the perfect partner – a man whose teenage, nihilistic sensibility is a match for Stewart’s untapped adolescent angst. There could be no TNG sequel with these people at the helm, no right of return for the old show’s creative team. Instead, a writers’ room, spearheaded by Michael Chabon was chosen, as their lack of ownership would make the destruction of TNG less of a psychological wrench.

Chabon, progressively disillusioned and defensive, as criticism of his franchise illiteracy mounted, has, at the death, vigorously defended each non-sensical decision in an interview with Variety, implicitly citing Stewart as the architect of the show’s imbecilic design, the man who tied the hands of all concerned. He’ll only be returning as a consultant next year, content for someone else to do the impossible and fit the square peg of Stewart’s thinking into the round hole of fandom’s love and understanding of the source material.

‘But Ed,’ you say, ‘didn’t “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” avoid the pitfall of a climatic battle, with Picard, no doubt at Stewart’s insistence, settling the conflict with a call to Soji’s innate humanity and good sense? Doesn’t that prove he’s in tune with his character and the franchise?’ Okay, optimists – let’s take a moment to reflect on what he did sign off on.

Jean-Luc Picard is dead. That’s right, ended. Though “All Good Things…” speculated he’d have a degenerative brain disease that would first make him go senile, then kill him, the unnamed illness in Picard curiously presented at the most inconvenient moment for the character possible, when he was on the cusp of salvaging a situation he’d effectively created. It was he that united Jurati and Soji with the androids and presented them with the memory footage that inspired Sutra to begin the countdown to Armageddon, after all. The illness then killed him the moment he’d unfucked the scenario, with the precision of a Swiss watch.

As we speculated last week, Picard was, inevitably, transferred into a robot body, albeit one curiously identical to his own, presumably to eliminate psychological trauma (and save on the makeup budget). This was odd on many levels. Picard’s first thought was the horror, rather than the opportunity, of potential immortality, but not to worry, Soong told him, they’d given him a short lifespan so he’d die when he supposed to – except he’d already died when he was supposed to, that’s the nature of a genetic illness.

This show had been about the acceptance of synths in wider-society, and Picard coming to terms with his dotage and redundancy. Now, he had the opportunity not only to be an ambassador for androids everywhere; the synth you can trust; but for a second chance at youth, at vitality – the chance to once again sit in the command chair and make a difference. But instead, android Picard, an elderly looking golem, took this extraordinary opportunity and used it to, er… go exploring with the crew of the La Sirena? A crew that now had no mission and no reason to stay together.

Rios, Raffi, Agnes, Seven, and Elnor becoming a team might have felt like the pre-requisite for a second season, but in-story it made no sense at all. Then, there was Data…

I was wrong. We were wrong. Stewart didn’t sanction the return of Data after all, though writer Michael Chabon contrived to have him back anyway for a goodbye inside a quantum simulation of his consciousness. Data, it seems, likes fireside locations and antique furniture as much as the next artificial man.

In the real world, Brent Spiner probably doesn’t want to play Data anymore, and the character’s resurrection would only steal some of the limelight from Stewart and set up wearisome expectations of a full TNG reunion next season or beyond. Consequently, the character conveniently and sentimentally opted to definitively “die” – for Picard to pull the plug on his limbotic consciousness.

Now, you can argue that death is a vital part of life, and the only way Data could complete his human journey would be to grow old and perish like the rest of us (or have that experience simulated), but in-universe, this seemed like an extraordinary, illogical waste.

Why, when Data could simply be uploaded to a new body, indeed one with a human appearance – flesh and blood, thereby allowing his reconstituted consciousness to fulfil its ultimate ambition and become, to all intents and purposes, human, would he opt to be euthanised instead? Data, they can fix you up in a few days, ask Jean-Luc, he’s seen the tech!

Instead, one of the galaxy’s most unique life forms, with a wealth of wisdom and unique experience, who would also make a pretty good ambassador for the synths – indeed, would finally have the chance to enjoy a race and culture of his own, his daughters included – the ones he’d always wanted, was unplugged in the very lab where his dreams could have been made flesh. It was a better death than Nemesis, emotional, maybe even a little poignant, but just as wasteful.

So Picard, like the TNG movies, focused on Picard and Data, just with new characters bringing up the rear, and it ruined them – just like those movies. Jean-Luc spent the series looking lost and solemn, creating a set of events that could have destroyed all organic life, only to risk the fate of the galaxy on a speech, and Data – who began the show as a character in a dream, ended as a simulation of himself who opted to die.

You couldn’t have made it up because you had different ideas about how to respectfully sequelise The Next Generation, but Stewart and his cabal of clueless hacks, did. If Gene Roddenberry could be resurrected in an android body he’d have his synthetic hands at Patrick Stewart’s throat right now. I, for one, wouldn’t intervene.

Anomalous Readings

  • One interesting element of this final episode, was how redundant the Borg sub-plot turned out to be. The Borg had no function in the story by episode ten, no part to play in saving the universe, or pacifying the synth threat from another dimension. In fact, it’s possible to imagine the whole “Ex-B” thread being excised, and reaching an identical conclusion. Sure, you’d have no Borg cube to sit on, no Hugh. But given what they did with those elements, would that have been so bad?
  • No return for Picard’s Romulan servants in the finale. Given they were former Tal Shiar agents, they could have been really useful, but the writers just forgot about them.
  • Seven committed another revenge-driven murder, by tossing Narissa into the bowels of the cube. A character ruined twice over. Still, Narissa asked questions like, “have you fucked any of them?” when interrogating her brother about his time in the android colony, so perhaps her death was just as well.
  • All the ships in the federation fleet were identical, which was very dull and a waste of a fan service opportunity. Surely, one galaxy glass ship could have been requisitioned?
  • Riker was in command of the flag ship, despite being a reserve officer. If there ever a time to show the Enterprise and her current crew, perhaps with Worf at the helm, then surely this was it? That would have been a lovely moment wouldn’t it – Geordi, Beverley, Wesley – all beaming from the refitted bridge? But under Stewart’s “no sequel” directive, that was out, though the series as written effectively (and actually) sequelised Star Trek: Nemesis (story input from Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart).
  • Riker’s desire to kick Oh’s “Tal Shiar ass” was awful but no worse than “we’re through running from these bastards” or his control joystick in Insurrection. Still, given how easy it would have been to re-write that line, it’s odd – even aggressively weird, that it remained.
  • Other contemporary speech farts included, “you’ve got my back” and “dirtbag” – making Raffi sound like a character from Police Academy.
  • No Q then – but both he and Guinan will no doubt show up next year and ruin their respective legacies. That, you may think, is the only reason to tune in – to see how far Stewart’s prepared to go in his quest to obliterate his best and most cherished body of work.

Thanks for reading, space folks. If we’re spared by the Coronavirus we’ll have a stab at understanding the creative choices behind Discovery season 3 – that other threat to the civilised world. Until then, stay safe (and at home… and try not to masturbate yourselves to death).

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Published in: on March 27, 2020 at 13:28  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.10 (End of Season Special)  
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