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 try and move away from 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

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.9

So, here it is. In the middle of a global pandemic, with civilisation breaking down, and people being forcibly separated from their loved ones in what is surely the most testing, most difficult period in their lives, we enter the final furlong in Star Trek: Picard. This is a show that could and should have provided optimism and solace, thereby becoming the go-to comfort food for a beleaguered human race. Yet instead, it offers the prospect of death, destruction, and the extermination of a species, just as our species contemplates its extermination.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” set up the battle that inevitably forms the climax of any Alex Kurtzman produced Star Trek series. A Romulan armada of 218 warbirds (to be precise) will, thanks to the machinations of Sutra, sister of deceased android Jana, sister of deceased android Dahj, sister of Soji, face off against a hailed race of advanced synths; their arrival foretold in the Romulan admonition, their presence instigating the mass extinction of organics.

Sutra (who unlike her sisters looked like an android, signalling an essentialist, racist bent) was persuaded this was the right thing to do, because she’d, er, mind melded with Jurati and reinterpreted the apocalyptic vision as a happy prophesy foretelling the birth of synth hegemony. I could accept the logic. Here was a threatened commune of beautiful bots created by the dreamteam of horny Bruce Maddox and hornier Altan Inigo Soong, son of Noonian, played by (who else?) Brent Spiner, the latter professing to see them as children not sex toys. If you were an android, you might think trusting humans with your future, particularly in a Federation where you were banned, was a risk.

But what about this mind meld? You might have thought melds were the exclusive province of Vulcans, or those races, like the Romulans, with whom they shared a genetic lineage. I know I always believed it was a technique that worked in tandem with the Vulcans’ cultivated telekinetic abilities. But apparently it can be learned, like a form of meditation, so Sutra, who has a computer for a brain, successfully interfaced with our Agnes, and half-explained it by suggesting the download was always meant for positronic minds, hence the images prompting hysteria and madness in those of inferior organics (though not so inferior that they couldn’t create you, beautiful).

If you bought into this, and you had to, else the set up for the final episode blow out was a bust, you had a potential explanation for how Data may be reconstituted next week. Yes, I still believe we’re in long-winded ‘Search for Data’ territory. We’ll know soon enough.

After all, there was talk of mind transfers, and the manufacture of bodies. In fact, the pseudo-science available on the android homeworld threw up another horrifying possibility.

Picard’s brain disease once again featured, in an episode where he was, again, vying for attention, and he struck a grave but dignified tone – the contention that talk of his death would “piss him off” aside, as he talked about his slow demise.

We’ve always assumed this season would end with Data restored. Who better to conduct the re-joining of brain and body than Soong and Jurati – the two greatest living cyberneticists; the equivalent of the Vulcan priestess in Star Trek III; who fortunately are united to facilitate just such a feat and have multiple copies of Data’s memories to upload. Fuck, we don’t even need B-4’s body anymore, as Soong could make a fresh one, thereby sidestepping any moral issues. Wait a minute, why haven’t they already done this?

But what if, and I hope you’re sitting down, the gang, once victorious against the insurgent Romulans, and having somehow neutralised the android threat to the Federation, have the idea of putting an ailing Picard into a new sleeve? Could Star Trek: Picard actually end with Patrick Stewart saying goodbye to the character, his consciousness transferred to a robot body played a man forty years his junior? Or worse, might Picard and Data end up, maybe by accident, maybe by design, in a joint chassis – a fused being? Have we come all this way for a remake of schlocky Voyager episode, “Tuvix”?

Friends, I’ll have to check my logs, but it’s possible I threw this out as a joke possibility back in episode one. A lot’s happened since then, and I should know better by now. After all, if you can think it, and it’s ridiculous, chances are Kurtzman’s cabal have already put it up on the whiteboard to the sound of high fives and back patting.

There’s lots to concern us, then, as we head into the final episode. We know the show’s been recommissioned – there will be a season two. But, given Picard’s spent this season as a wistful but near silence presence, a moralising observer, unable to participate in the kinetic, superficial, cut and thrust that characterises Kurtzman’s Star Trek, you could be forgiven for worrying that the temptation to do away with two expensive and aging TNG cast members, and reinvent their characters for subsequent years, may be a temptation too sweet for the imbecilic vandals at the helm of this sinking ship.

Anomalous Readings

  • Spiner as Soong was an obvious bit of casting but it does introduce serious questions about this dynasty. Counting Soong’s ancestor, Arik, also played by Spiner, in that Enterprise story, “The Augments”, we have several generations of this family who are identical. If you were thinking about the possibility of incest, you weren’t alone.
  • Noonian Soong having a biological son, who looks exactly like him, does raise the question of why Data, Lore, and B-4 were created in his own image. Psychologically, it felt like the act of a childless man. Soong Junior doubled down on this tick by referring to his androids as children. But he took inspiration from, er, Data’s painting, amongst other sources. The painting that didn’t look like Lal. Man, retconning’s a nightmare, isn’t it?
  • The reference to silicon-based viruses in “Nepenthe” was, we now infer, dropped in to cement the concept that there can be interaction between artificial and humanoid brains, foreshadowing the mind meld in this episode.
  • The man in Rios’s sketch of murdered android Jana, looked exactly like comic actor Charlie Day. Horrifying.
  • Picard swore at last – a gateway swear that could lead to the final “fuck” and destruction of his character in the last episode.
  • Add the phrase “asshole Romulan ex” to the list of those that should have been struck through with a red pencil at the script editing stage.
  • The “I love you” scene between Raffi and Picard – the one that didn’t take place between him, Riker and Troi, was the worst thing I’ve seen this year, and this is the year a killer virus swept the world.
  • When the gang arrived at the android planet they were attacked by, er, giant space orchids. Apparently, it’s not just a metaphor for gene splicing, or a horticultural benchmark for the imagination, but a weapons system developed by Soong et al. It’s good too, it can fell a Borg cube. Said cube impacted on the surface of the planet, but despite its size a) didn’t break up or b) cause a global ecological catastrophe. In fact, dull Elnor and a weirdly upbeat Seven, in no way affected by having to reconnect to the collective, albeit briefly, weren’t so much as scratched, though they’d fallen from space. I suppose Kurtzman saw that Star Destroyer in the sand in The Force Awakens and thought that was a cool shot. Imagine what inspiration he’d get from watching old episodes of Star Trek!

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.8

“Broken Pieces” probably should have just been called “Pieces”. This was the pay off episode – the pre-finale placing of jigsaw bits. In as much as we were invested in the mystery at all, this was our chance to enjoy the unveiling of the grand plan and revel in the writers’ room’s storytelling genius. Out of leftfield we also got what would, on the old Star Trek, have been called a Rios episode; his newly defined backstory improbably tying into the Romulan conspiracy, so that every character on the La Sirena had a role in this decades-spanning tale. Incredible that fate had brought them together to finish it.

I had two thoughts watching this sweary, exposition heavy race to the climax. The first was that if I was ten years old I’d have been confused but would have accepted the story as presented, grateful for the info dump. The second is that if I was a young fan of Star Trek, who’d binged on the earlier series, I wouldn’t be allowed to watch it thanks to all the fucking and pissing – words that recurred with such regularity that it’s likely writer Michael Chabon’s into golden showers.

We were asked to believe that a mere 14 years ago, there was a gathering of the Zhat Vash on a planet of grief (no, really). There the cultists, led by Oh, watched a space video depicting the destruction of a planet (or planets) by artificial lifeforms; an event that occurred 200,000 years ago, apparently, but featured a brief cut of Data and the synths working at Utopia Planitia. On this basis, many went insane, mimicking Trekkies watching this show. They shot themselves in the head, clawed out their eyes; the stuff we started to do when Raffi arrived. Their conclusion? All synthetic life is a danger to organics – a gateway to hell, and they must act to stop it. Next stop: Mars.

Now this is the point where, as a viewer, you really have to trust the storytellers. Is Oh a Starfleet officer/double agent in this flashback sequence? If she isn’t, and it’s implied she isn’t, how did she infiltrate Starfleet and rise to the rank of Head of Security quickly enough to arrange for the Mars attack? If she was already Head of Security, but was also a Zhat Vash cultist, why did she wait until the Federation were manufacturing androids by the warehouse load (though not sentient ones, remember) before acting? Why not simply arrange for Data to be killed years earlier, when the number of sentient androids in the known universe numbered in single figures?

We inferred she was the key to the attack, for how else would the Romulans gain access to the shipyard and the synths, but we weren’t told how a race and a culture that has no scientific grounding in cybernetics, found the means and expertise to reprogram Maddox’s tinmen. Synths becoming self-aware and attacking the beings that had made them slaves is a derivative story that makes sense. Synths manipulated by the anti-synth enemies of the Federation does not.

The Zhat Vash, a cult that includes the Vulcans, as presumably it predates the separation of the two cultures, is a Romulan organisation, and as such you’d expect their primary goal would be safeguarding Romulan interests and primacy. So why, with Romulan civilisation threatened, would you not wait until the evacuation was complete, aided by Starfleet carriers, and then arrange for these mechanised workmen to revolt? Surely, some kind of assessment took place to determine how advanced these shipbuilding grunts were, and whether they had the intelligence, skills, or self-awareness, to evolve into higher forms who’d represent a threat to the galaxy? Perhaps they were just man-shaped computers. Why not wait, then kill them all with some kind of android computer virus?

Discerning viewers watching this stuff, would have been offended that such a clumsy bunching of threads had taken place. It was almost as if the smashing together of story elements – broken pieces from multiple story conferences, had resulted in Chabon et al throwing up their hands and declaring, “fuck it, that’ll do.” Did they know, during those first story breaking sessions, how the Borg story and the Data story and the Romulan story and the Picard story fitted together? On this evidence, no.

Anomalous Readings

  • One of this episode’s many C-stories was Seven joining Elnor on the Borg cube. It began as a rescue but ended in a bloodbath, when Seven, who’d spent her entire life trying to regain her humanity following her separation from the horror of the Borg collective, improvised a means of neutralising Narissa’s agents, namely plugging herself back into the Collective, reactivating the drones, and condemning the Romulans on board to assimilation. This meant acting like a stand-in Borg Queen. She even implied that once plugged in she may not want to be unplugged. Narissa, a woman so cold that the opening vision of hell hadn’t phased her, reacted to the threat by ejecting all the waking drones into space. It’s odd to be on the side of the villains but this seemed to me a perfectly sensible decision. Seven’s choices, however, made no sense at all. And what the fuck did the Borgified Seven mean by, “Anya has more to do”? Why would a re-absorbed Borg care about the agency and potential of its human host? Was the implication that Seven was acting as an independent with the Borg’s blessing? Is she about to be retconned as a double agent? On this show, it’s possible.
  • “Hell will come again,” said Picard, discussing the shape of the conspiracy with Jurati. Jean-Luc, it’s already here.
  • “I’m done murdering people,” said Jurati, having realised she’d been batting for the wrong team. Did Chabon lose his red pencil?
  • I say it every week, but I hate the swearing in this show. Clancy was back to tell Picard to “shut the fuck up”. This is jarring, illusion-breaking stuff, that has no place in Star Trek. If you want to break the spell, why not have Picard wear a Nirvana t-shirt, or have Rios fish out his antique iPhone? The upshot is that this series will date long before its predecessors. How’s that for space irony?
  • The one good scene in this jumble of half-baked ideas was Picard talking Data with Soji. We may not agree that Data loved Picard – he couldn’t, so perhaps Soji was trying to comfort the old man, but Picard’s note, that he loved Data ‘in his way’ and that he too was emotionally limited, was both spot-on from a characterisation point of view, and well put.
  • Picard is a clockwork universe show in which characters remember things at pertinent moments, are stupid when they need to be and enlightened when it’s convenient. I know you know, I’m just saying.
  • The Search for Data ending – in which our favourite android’s consciousness is extracted from Soji and uploaded into B-4’s body, leading to a reunion for him and the TNG crew, is looking increasingly unlikely. It, coupled with a moment where Picard takes some time out to think, only to be visited by Q saying something like, “are you ready for a real adventure?” is, I suggest, the only thing that could turn this show around and generate excitement for a second season. I dread to think what the real ending looks like.

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Ed’s Star Trek: Picard Test Audience Tale

Warning: Contains descriptions of harrowing scenes.

FURTHER READING:

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Published in: on March 9, 2020 at 15:41  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.7

“Nepenthe” was, in some respects, a very cruel episode of Star Trek: Picard. I don’t refer to the slaughter of innocents on the Borg Cube, or the wasteful murder of another legacy character from TNG (did no one tell Elnor that if someone’s been impaled it’s fatal to remove the object as it causes the subject to bleed out). No, this was the sinister tease of a version of Picard in which the former Captain visited the Enterprise crew and caught up with their lives.

Can you imagine it? No contrived plotting – no conspiracy, no daughters of Data, no destruction of Romulus, no cynical and sweary imports from other franchises (Picard called them “motley” in the new dictionary definition of understatement). Just a character we once loved, warm and relaxed, mingling with his friends on screen; their loves, losses and reflections on a lifetime of Trekkin’ presented in delicate, psychologically dense terms – the writers killing themselves, in the absence of space battles and melodrama, to make every glance, aside, and moment of silence, work as hard as it could.

This trip to see the Rikers wasn’t quite that, but it allowed us to imagine what that show would look like, with the consequence that every cutaway to the A-story induced irritation and impatience as we waited to return to Will and Deanna’s rustic wood cabin (why do all former Enterprise officers opt for this lifestyle?), and their charming hospitality.

Frakes and Sirtis slipped back into character well enough, though there was no onscreen explanation for Troi’s puffed lips, augmented breasts, chain-smoker husk, and cockney twang. Regardless, in a case of squint and you could almost see and hear Deanna Troi, the former counsellor did her thing and tried to help Soji (remember her?) come to terms with her android status. She even went so far as to reprimand Picard for his jovial insensitivity, before issuing the instruction the audience had been screaming at their devices for months – go and be Jean-Luc Picard, you know, the one we remember, from the good old days on the Enterprise. For a second, surrounded by two of the old gang, Patrick Stewart’s performance gained focus, and a hint of authority. You could almost touch that TNG sequel.

Yet, as Will, former Captain of the Titan, though he didn’t mention it once, fired up some Pizza and casually discerned the plot of the show he was thankfully not a part of, there were reminders that our old friends were now refugees in the Picard universe, rather than guest stars here to boss the newbies off the screen and restore the franchise to its optimistic best.

In an unwanted echo of Star Trek: Generations, in which the writers played God with Picard’s family for the sake of a cheap parallel – in that instance the Captain and Soren, we met the Rikers’ daughter Kesta (kind and curious as you’d expect given her parentage) who’d lost her brother, er, Thaddaeus, to a rare disease. Apparently, and conveniently, given the plot of the show, this was an illness that could inexplicably be cured by cultivating cells using “a positronic matrix”; a remedy that was no longer available following the synth ban. Desperate, we infer, Riker and Troi took the family to Nepenthe to sample its regenerative soil, which sounded a lot like quack medicine to me (and I suspect to you). When the child died, a subject handled with some sensitivity by the newly comfortable Picard, the family opted to stay put – and this on a planet named in honour of forgetting things.

Though the loss was handled with tenderness, I confess I was irritated by Chabon et al inflicting this tragedy on the couple. It was clear we were being put through the ringer for one reason only – so Kestra and Soji had something in common, a lost sibling, and the writers could mine that parallel for a few scenes. The newly self-aware android struggled with her Enterprise-informed heritage, and noted that she, like Thad (imagine having a kid called Thad – were the Rikers high?) was a child in search of a homeworld. The boy had been born in space you see, so had also searched for his place in the universe.

Still, the trip to Nepenthe, despite the underlying tragedy, and two more Starfleet careers wasted (Riker’s still on the reserve list, kids!), was an enjoyable mini-reunion with the A-story tacked on to set up the next episode. Did we want to see it? I was happy to remain with the Rikers, frankly, and lament that next week I’ll be once again in the company of Rios, Raffi and a now comatose Jurati, rather than sampling Will’s experimental new pizza at the family’s candlelit dining table. Life, as the Rikers know, can be so very unkind.

Anomalous Readings

  • Kestra located Soji’s homeworld in 30 seconds, by texting a Captain friend of the family. Makes you think that with the entire Enterprise crew on hand, Picard might have wrapped this whole thing up in a single episode.
  • Kestra, gushing over said Captain’s voyages, referred to “Tyken’s Rift” as a place. Was this is a mistake on her part? Or did the writers half-remember it from TNG and recall it being a location? It is, as you’ll know, a phenomenon in space – an energy sapping trap for passing vessels.
  • The late Thad seemed to have both a bunk in Kestra’s room, and his own room, if I understood the internal geometry of the Riker house correctly. Seemed morbid to keep both the bed and the room under the circumstances, and one wondered why he had both when Will and Deanna had such a large house.
  • I confess I laughed when Picard tried to reassure Soji, stressing that although most of her life had been fake, her sister was real. Oh, but unfortunately that sister had been murdered. But at least she was real!
  • Jonathan Frakes got a guest star credit in the opening titles but Marina Sirtis had to make do with the end titles. Curious.
  • On board the La Sirena, Raffi continued to irritate by referring to Soji as a “synth chick”.
  • Rios, blinded by his libido, showed he wasn’t particularly bright by assuming Raffi was the on-board mole, when it was bleedin’ obvious it was Jurati – not least because she’d been there when Maddox suddenly died and was the only one who volunteered for the mission. In order to perpetuate this misunderstanding, the writers torturously contrived to have Raffi feed Jurati cake, and for her, crippled by guilt, to vomit said cake. So next week, Jurati’s illness, brought on by a suicide attempt – for she just couldn’t cope with all the recriminations from being a murderer, will be blamed on Raffi. File this one under naked attempt to generate conflict amongst the crew.
  • Commodore Oh implanted an apocalyptic imagine in Jurati’s mind so she’d do her bidding, but why was Agnes so quick to accept it as evidence she had to kill Maddox? It was, after all, not a glimpse of the future but an imagined catastrophe – essentially, a story Oh had told herself. As a scientist, shouldn’t Jurati have asked for proof the synths were a threat to humanity? Maybe suggested Oh look into the Mars attack more closely, like she should have done in the first place?
  • Hugh Borg is dead, just like that. The writers of this show, having slayed Icheb, and ruined Seven, really have a thing against former Borg characters.
  • Elnor’s trapped on the cube. Would it be so bad if we left him there?
  • Riker pointed out it’s been 35 years since “Encounter at Farpoint”, which made me feel positively geriatric. Fuck you, Number One!

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Published in: on March 6, 2020 at 11:21  Comments (1)  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: The Timeless Criticisms

FURTHER READING 

Everybody do the Chibnall drag:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.6

After last week’s bruising encounter with Episode 5, the next chunk of TNG ruination had to be a less distressing affair. If Patrick Stewart dressed up this time, perhaps posing as a spoilt Italian theatre impresario, or in drag, or if any legacy character was butchered (literally or figuratively), “The Impossible Box” – Episode 6 if you please, could be the space straw that broke the android’s back. In the event, it largely delivered on the stress-free front, but this being Picard, there was plenty to remind us that the good times were a very long time ago, not least Picard himself, who said exactly that.

We opened with a nightmare – no, not a five season order, but a young Soji (who’s never been young but didn’t know that yet) having one of those heavily symbolic nightmares strewn with conspicuous post-production effects that act of harbingers of self-discovery. Why didn’t Daddy have a face? What was he up to in his lab with those orchids? Where was home? These questions mattered to Narek, the Romulan agent tasked with urgently picking Soji’s brain for the, er, data, that would lead to what he suggested was a hidden planet of synths. Is that where the Mars 9/11 attackers went? I half-remembered them committing suicide.

When he’d succeeded in extracting the key image – twin worlds in a system beset by electrical storms, which was something to go on but maybe not enough for a positive identification, he tried to gas his former lover using the titular box, only to see her employ newly discovered android strength to punch a hole in the floor and fall into the arms of a waiting Picard.

Learning her life was a lie had been hard on her, after all; it’s no fun finding out your childhood shit with all its applied nostalgia value, is just a collection of three year-old props, or that your boyfriend wants to kill you. But it must have been even worse learning that your salvation, the hero waiting in the wings of your reclaimed Borg Cube, wasn’t a ripped space mercenary with a phaser and a bullwhip, but a 93 year-old man with a fading voice and the shakes. Still, you can’t accuse this show of being ageist.

Picard had inveigled his way into the Romulan/Borg research facility using a now drunk Raffi to pull strings with an old Admiral friend to obtain the necessary credentials. He also knew the project director, no less than the hitherto briefly glimpsed, Hugh Borg.

Hugh and Picard greeted each other as old friends – the friends they’d never been, and Hugh was good enough not to mention the time Jean-Luc seriously considered using him as an instrument to commit genocide. Still, Hugh was quite absent minded as we soon learned, because despite suspecting that Soji was being investigated by Narek, he did nothing to protect her welfare, content for Picard’s visit to act as the prompt his still-developing conscience needed.

Picard, meanwhile, was traumatised by being reacquainted with a Borg cube after his “Best of Both Worlds” and First Contact experiences. One couldn’t blame him for getting the chills, once again meandering around the kind of interiors where he’d once been dragged, en route to invasive surgery, physical alteration, and the forced suppression of his human personality, but given that he’d already had one boil-lancing experience in which we hoped he’d got all that pent up hatred out of his system – phasering crewmen, murdering the Borg Queen (the kind of trauma we once thought he’d dealt with in the TV series in more measured terms), it was odd to see him recoil at the mention of his Borg name, or indeed lapse into a First Contact-style rant about the mechanoid menace being cancerous in nature.

If I’d been Rios, I’d have hidden any breakables at that point, but luckily for him (and us) “JL” doesn’t have the energy to trash a room anymore. Instead, he grimaced and gurned, until he saw the work Hugh was doing to reverse assimilate those who’d been Borg for years; a fact that should have put his few days under the influence into sharp perspective. What’s that you say, they used him to kill thousands? Well Borg drones had been party to the destruction of entire cultures and you didn’t seem them quivering as they stalked their former stomping grounds.

With man and maguffin united at last, Hugh facilitated an escape for the old man and his ward – a ward that possessed superhuman strength and agility, using a long-range Borg transporter that was once the Queen’s panic room escape route to other worlds. Where were they going? A planet called Nepenthe – the title of the next episode, and a place with a Greek derivation that suggested it was somewhere you went to forget.

Picard seemed familiar with the place, though he notably hadn’t used it to forget about its existence, or indeed his Borg experiences. Will we need to go there once this season’s over? I don’t know, but I’ve already booked a ticket.

Anomalous Readings

  • The teaser, if one can have a teaser in a meandering serial narrative, featured what on paper (and to be fair in execution) was a very cool shot, with Picard’s wizened face overlaid across a projected image of him as Locutus. The problem was, this was a still from “Best of Both Worlds”, grabbed from the perspective of the Enterprise Bridge – viewscreen border and lights included. How did the twenty-forth century version of the internet acquire this image? The sensor data from the transmission might have been archived, but then you’d only see the footage itself, not the screen through which it was viewed. Did the Enterprise bridge contain cameras that recorded everything? This one must have been positioned above the Captain’s chair. Did you see it during the 7 year run of TNG? I didn’t.
  • The grab confirmed that for no sensible reason, modern ships had reverted to the sensor windows of the Discovery era following a long and successful experiment with sensor-input view screens.
  • TNG episode “Evolution” established that many twentieth century sports like Baseball, were no longer played. But Rios’s game of keepy uppy, suggested football had survived and was played with the same type of ball 380 years from now. Seems unlikely, but in Picard, not much has changed from a cultural point of view.
  • Fresh from murdering Maddox, Jurati showed a hitherto unsignalled desire for Rios, having eyed him shirtless. We’d had no hint the characters were attracted to one another, but in less than two minutes the foundation was laid and they went off to fuck. “I can sense mistakes as I’m making them,” Jurati told him, trying to restrain herself. Had she had this presence of mind earlier when she was killing a man and (red alert, Rios) former lover? We had no clue.
  • Following her son’s understandable rejection, Raffi is now once again a drunk and druggie. No one seemed to give a shit, initially – but later, with Rios entering yet another female crewmember’s quarters, there was a nice little scene in which the horny Captain gave her a comforting smile. He took her booze of course, we hope not to pour on Jurati’s breasts.
  • Just one swearword in this week’s show – a quick and mumbled “bullshit”. Writer Nick Zayas wrote a teleplay that came dangerously close to playing like an episode of Star Trek. Keep up the good fight, Nick!
  • It was nice to see Picard and Hugh embrace, but it made you think there was a man missing from this adventure – Geordi La Forge. Picard was never close to Hugh, it was Geordi that named him and fought for his right to remain an individual and not be used as an instrument of genocide. But in a show headlined by one TNG character, with the others not permitted to have any substantial role, Picard’s function in the story must be conflated with absent characters who’d be more appropriate, were this – you know, a proper TNG sequel, not the weird one-man reprise and tour of retooled iconography that it is.

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.5

This week on the Search for Data, we moved onto the scene where McCoy walks into a space bar, villainy and virtual gaming abound, and gets into trouble with the locals. In the era of prestige television, this was expanded to 45 minutes, and what a space slog “Stardust City Rag” was.

Kirsten Beyer, hitherto respected as an author associated with expanding the Voyager universe in a series of well-liked novels, penned an instalment in which she egregiously murdered a character from said show, turned Seven of Nine into an embittered, lawless killer, and wrote a scenario so bad – namely Picard disguised as a gay member of the French Resistance, complete with eye patch, that one suspected it came from a list of acting challenges Patrick Stewart had insisted on working into the show as the price of his participation.

In your Trek-lovin’ life did you ever imagine you’d watch a franchise instalment in which one of its signature rational oddballs returned to the scene of a confrontation to kill their foe, having ignored a moral correction from one of the series’ value bastions?

Seven’s decision to brutally murder Bjazyl (sounded like Vagazzle) – the space black market trader who had Voyager’s Icheb (a rescued Borg child) butchered for parts, was a conscious repudiation of TNG and, hell, Voyager’s “do the right thing” tendency. In those shows, a pep talk from a senior officer would be enough to disabuse a less disciplined character of any old fashioned human weakness, particularly if they were a series regular. If they weren’t a regular, they’d likely be killed, imprisoned or otherwise punished – a victim of their self-defeating low instincts.

Here, Seven of Nine listened to Picard’s reasonable suggestion that her recaptured humanity would be a busted flush if she, Borg-like, executed Vagazzle, pretended to be convinced, then later returned to vaporise her anyway. This would have been fine in a generic space show, but in Star Trek it felt out of place. In that respect, at least Picard was congruous with itself.

Now you can argue (and will, because you’re becoming increasingly desperate) that Seven never quite achieved Starfleet levels of self-discipline and moral certainty, and frequently exhibited insubordinate tendencies. But she had three years being schooled in humanity, moderation, and the virtues of intellectual curiosity. When Seven returned to Earth, it was reasonable for Trekkies to infer she’d build on that inheritance, not least because in a very real sense it constituted her upbringing.

Yet, 20 years on, Seven is a notorious space mercenary, who kills with impunity and has gained a reputation as, er, a vigilante operating on the space fringes. Worse, she blames the Federation – the organisation whose representatives liberated her from servitude and gave her friends, a purpose, and fascinating experiences, with a veiled reference to the Picard backstory – the decision of a resource-sapped Starfleet to retreat within its own borders.

One could believe Seven would be less formal – she’d had two decades to naturalise her speech and social habits, but this version of the character felt a betrayal of her former self; the kind of iteration we’re used to seeing in Mirror Universe or Alternate Timeline episodes. The hope this show is set in a temporal tangent is fast becoming the only hope real Trekkies have as they watch everything they used to love about the franchise being imbecilically subverted on a weekly basis.

Which brings us to the episode’s other story, namely the rescue of Maddox from Vagazzle’s bounty hunters. Once the antagonist in a classic TNG episode who learned a valuable lesson, the cyberneticist, now played by John Ales (Brian Brophy either wasn’t asked or politely declined when he saw what Kurtzman’s cabal had in store for his character), was now a background character in his own story. We’d barely been re-acquainted with him, when Jurati murdered him on the La Sirena’s biobed.

A home holo-movie established, with the broadest of strokes, that Jurati and Maddox had been lovers as well as scientific collaborators, but no sooner had we processed this information, we were asked to care when Maddox’s former protégé executed him, presumably on orders from the Federation-Romulan conspirators after Soji.

What could they have told the sweet and naïve Jurati, whose career was monolithically focused on creating life, to kill one of the quadrant’s geniuses – her personal inspiration? Granted, the show has relied on Una McCormack’s prequel novel to sketch out this relationship, so you could be forgiven for not feeling the weight of Jurati’s decision, but this was a big step for the character, who like Seven, would have been talked out of this madness on any previous Trek series.

She certainly didn’t like Maddox spilling the beans about the conspiracy to Picard, as this ran counter to whatever narrative she’d been brainwashed to believe. Did those sneaky Romulans, via Commodore Oh, tell her Maddox had programmed his synths to attack Mars? Did they convince her that Soji was some kind of walking timebomb who’d somehow prefigure a synthetic takeover of the galaxy?

The idea of Maddox being a contemporary Oppenheimer who had to be, er, deactivated, in retribution for endangering organic life, and as a safeguard against him doing so in the future, would be a plausible enough reason to kill him. But would Jurati, who after Maddox, understood the science better than anyone, and believed in the ideal, really accept this version of events? At the end of this bleak and grubby episode, all we knew for sure was that every decision made on this particular space road trip felt very, very wrong.

Anomalous Readings

  • Raffi’s scene with her estranged son, Gabe; again something you’d know nothing about unless you’d read the prequel novel; would have been touching had it not been a reminder that in this upside down Trek universe, the space 9/11 truther is the hero, not a crackpot to be denounced by more rational characters.
  • “We’re shit out of luck”, Raffi noted in one scene, and for the audience it certainly felt that way.
  • Other dialogue incongruities from the twenty-first century inflected twenty-forth century included, “you’re killing it”, and “you need to sell this”. Is anyone ever going to speak like a Star Trek character in this thing?
  • Picard was good enough to acknowledge that his holo-study, complete with antique furniture and real fire, was silly. Sillier still, the characters congregating in there each week in a version of TNG’s conference room discussions. You only need to imagine the Enterprise officers meeting to talk about missions in a holodeck recreation of a wood cabin to realise how weird this is.
  • Why have phasers become so big? Remember when they were small and practical? You know, before Star Trek became a show featuring conspicuous weaponry?
  • Maddox’s description of his android creations as “perfectly imperfect” was great. What a pity he was dead 2 minutes later.
  • Patrick Stewart’s pantomime Frenchman was the worst thing he’s done on television, possibly in his life. It’s one thing for Stewart to insist he does new things in this spin-off, it’s another to do things that break the audience’s heart. I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say that a) the eye-patch misfit will become a Twitter meme for all the wrong reasons, and b) it’s worse than all the things Stewart did in the TNG movies combined.
  • Jeff Russo’s warm and whimsical theme for the series has grown on me, episode by episode. That it’s entirely incongruous with the tone and content of the show only makes it more of a curiosity.
  • How are Picard and Seven acquainted? Not through shared history, we’re told, so what – by reputation? The Borg network? A bit of both? As with so many details in the show, the writers can’t be fucked to tell us.
  • Picard was in this episode for approximately 5 mins.

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.4

If the inaugural three episodes of Picard constituted a sort of first act, the first thirty minutes of “The Search for Spock” reworked as the hunt for Data, then episode four, “Absolute Candour”, laid bare, if I may be absolutely candid, the problems with having the first third of Act Two being close to an hour long; the curse of the serial format.

This was a breezy forty-five minuter, which concentrated on Jean-Luc’s unlikely relationship with a Romulan boy child from a resettlement colony. The kid had been brought up by an order of, er, uninhibited warrior nuns, with an iconoclastic (for Romulan culture) attitude to information sharing. Picard, you’ll recall, was never very comfortable around children; he wisely saw them as intrusive, unruly, and brazen; yet he’d made a plot-convenient exception for Elnor, the monk with samurai-like abilities, whom he’d taken the trouble to father during his visits to the colony, when he was supposed to be overseeing the Romulan exodus.

In adulthood, Elnor, styled as a Middle-Earth elf, had advanced fighting skills and a code of honour. The former Admiral eyed these up with indecent self-interest, as he was curiously unwilling to contact Worf, and besides, a young man had no place in a woman-only convent, though I’d have been very happy to stay. Hadn’t Picard seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian?

In a show that indulges in taking time to introduce characters and backstory that in a more disciplined episodic structure would have been dealt with in one act of a single instalment, and developed incrementally as the season progressed, we could meander around the sunlit shantytown on Vashti and listen to our man talk mournfully of the Federation’s abandonment of these refugees. Sure, they’d relocated them and saved their lives, but the impression was given this was supposed to be a half-way house; a step on the road to being reunited with their friends and family elsewhere. Picard, though he bore no responsibility for the Martian 9/11 that ended the relief effort, apologised anyway, and this combination of introspection and regret filled the plot vacuum.

“Absolute Candour” was relatively inoffensive, bar Rios’s unnecessary use of the word “fuck”, Raffi’s boorish cynicism, and the oddball courting antics of Narek and Soji, who in one scene broke with discussing the Borg’s assimilation of lunatic Romulans, and what it all might mean, to go sliding down a waxed corridor on the abandoned cube, but man – did it feel incidental.

As discussed in log entries on Discovery, serialised instalments can be plot free and character centred, as in the peerless Better Call Saul, but you need a vice-like grip on the characters you’ve attempting to develop, using every line of dialogue, and the cinematic apparatus at your disposal, to produce a truly enlightening and thought-provoking bit of inching forward.

Picard’s equivalent episode did a little world building, sketched in some character biography, and manufactured a spurious end battle as a means to re-introduce Seven of Nine (what the fuck was she doing there?). In other words, you have to be a lot sharper and show a far greater talent for compression that Michael Chabon does here, to justify doing so little with 45 minutes of screen time.

The approach also highlighted the problem with a plot-driven serial. As noted in this log, Michael Piller – the TNG and DS9 writer who Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner did so much to undermine, realised during the Season 2-3 hiatus of Next Generation, that the only way to give each character their due was to shift from plot-centred to character-centred stories – a Troi show, a Geordi episode, etc.

Self-contained episodes made this focus easier, and allowed for every member of the ensemble to get their moment to shine, in addition to having their characters fleshed out. If every episode of Picard is effectively a Picard show, you worry for the rest of the cast. In “Absolute Candour”, Jurati, Rios, and Raffi effectively had a couple of lines each. Future episodes will give them more to do of course, but without the mechanism of episodic storytelling, they’ll inevitably never have the chance to be the singular focus of a story, as they’re already just the background enablers to Picard’s quest. It’s not a question of whether we’ll grow to love them, with their distinctly untrekkian attitudes. The question is, will we be given the chance?

Anomalous Readings

  • Last week we wondered why Rios’s EMH was Irish and looked like him. This week we learned we’d been privy to half a joke. Apparently Rios’s entire crew is made of up of holograms, all of whom are modelled on his physical characteristics, each with their own personality. I suppose that’s one way for Santiago Cabrera to get the screen time he’d otherwise be denied.
  • Una McCormack’s prequel novel, released this week, ‘The Last Best Hope’, provided more on Picard’s relationship with Elnor, including a reasonable psychological explanation for why he’d softened for this delinquent when he once struggled to forge a friendship with the son of his dead best friend. Though the novel makes the series better in retrospect, providing detail on Picard’s ill-fated handling of the refugee crisis, the synthetic revolt, etc – it struck me that this stuff should be in the show. The producers shouldn’t rely on fans buying the novel to fill in blanks they could and should have worked in. And yes, before you ask, the novel does contain the same odious swearing as the series. Remember the scene in The Undiscovered Country when the room reacted to the CNC briefing on Praxis by exclaiming, “Holy fucking shit!”? No, me neither.
  • Chabon defended the swearing in an interview this week, citing it as a realistic and universal part of human interaction that had only been absent before due to censorship. One didn’t have the heart to tell him that The Voyage Home established all those old archaic terms had fallen out of fashion, and were now regarded the way a twenty-first century person thinks of “hayseed” as an insult. But we can’t expect the writers of new Trek to change their ideas about what constitutes adult and edgy, just because it’s incongruous with the universe-as-created.
  • During a flashback scene, Picard beamed down from the USS Verity, back when he was an admiral, dressed as the Man from Del Monte. I know Patrick Stewart doesn’t want to wear a uniform, but…
  • Lots of dry innuendo between Rizzo and Narek this week as they discussed the latter’s sexual exploitation of Soji. The plan’s to find out if there’s more like her so the Romulans can destroy them, apparently. Oh, and Soji’s confirmed as the angel of death in Romulan culture. I hope the writers know where they’re going with all this, and aren’t expecting us to buy another book from a more accomplished scribe, so it will make sense.
  • Picard admonishing Elnor for the casual murder of a Romulan was more welcome. Jean-Luc should abhor posturing and violence. Now all he has to do is go back in time and tell his younger self, circa the TNG movie era.
  • Seven’s back, and she’s got her hair styled and her tone of voice naturalised. Well, she’s had 20 years to re-learn how humans socialise, perhaps it wasn’t realistic to expect the cold logician of old to materialise in front of Picard. Still, I hope the former Voyager sex object has some of her former Vulcan-like qualities, else it will be like spending time with a new character – one that’s closer to the actor playing them than the persona they originally created. Speaking of which, it won’t be long before we’re reintroduced to Troi, North London accent and all.

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Published in: on February 14, 2020 at 16:12  Leave a Comment  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Picard 1.3

Last week we lamented that Star Trek: Picard is the unwanted sequel to Star Trek: Nemesis rather than the wanted, and perhaps in these depressing times, needed sequel to TNG. “Maps and Legends” affirmed the show’s ‘Search for Data’ credentials – the possibility a dead character lives on in a new host, his Captain’s slow realisation and refused request to assemble a crew to investigate, and his clandestine attempt to charter a private expedition against Starfleet’s orders to a dangerous location in deep space where the alleged spirit of his dead comrade resides – not planet forbidden but Borg cube forbidden. “The End is the Beginning”, fleshed out the story’s one contemporary graft, namely the Federation-Romulan conspiracy involving cybernetics, but culminated in Picard standing on the bridge on his requisitioned vessel in civilian garb, his rag-tag group of ex-Starfleet officers assembled, giving the order “best speed to Genesis” (or something).

Of course when we last enjoyed this scene back in 1984, it felt a lot more exciting. For one thing, Kirk was standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, and the warm faces ready to join him on this do or die, off-book mission, were the characters we knew and loved from decades of boldly going. But in a show conceived to actively disavow what’s come before, with this franchise iteration’s characters excluded on Captain’s orders, lest we expect the storytelling of old, Picard’s team are new characters, seemingly imported from other sci-fi franchises.

Alison Pill’s Jurati  is earnest and innocent enough to pass for a Star Trek character, we suppose. She’s the Carol Marcus of the group, sans the heft. She’ll be useful if and when they find Soji, but until then her role will be to ask questions on the audience’s behalf. She can do little more as she has no direct experience of handling a threat to the Federation from human-cybernetic hybrids, unlike, say, the old crew of the Enterprise.

Michelle Hurd’s Sarah Connor-a-like, Raffi Musiker, the personification of Alex Kurtzman’s tendency to rip off all the wrong franchises when dreaming up ways to make Star Trek cool for mainstream morons, is an overfamiliar arsehole, coarsening up the screen on first impressions. Picard tells us she can see things others can’t, apparently based on a combination of lateral thinking and paranoia. That might be useful if you’re trying to unpick a conspiracy, but more useful still would have been old colleagues like Troi (who can actually sense deception and intent) and Riker, who once helped you foil another conspiracy involving the takeover of Starfleet by an alien power (see TNG S1 episode, er,  “Conspiracy”).

Then there’s Santiago Cabrera’s Captain Rios, introduced as a sort of Wolverine/Han Solo cross-breed, who appears to have left Starfleet because he has the wrong sort of attitude for a bridge officer (in contrast to Jean-Luc who offered his resignation on a point of principle not really believing it would be accepted). We suppose he’s therefore in it for the money, rather than any sense of duty or curiosity, which instantly makes him less interesting than any of the TNG cast who could have subbed for him, and would have been on board on the basis of friendship and shared values, were they asked.

What strikes as you watch “The End is the Beginning”, is these are the kind of characters the writers of old used to drop into the odd episode to provide a contrast to the well-ordered professionalism and altruism of the Enterprise crew. You know the kind of story – one of our heroes is undercover on a pirate ship, or captured by a group of space mercenaries. It’s fun for a single story, even a two-parter, and the fish out of the water aspect allows for some conflict, but man, you can’t wait to get back to the Enterprise’s plush interiors and stress-reducing colour scheme. Except the Enterprise is gone – blown up by cultural vandals long ago, and this edgy second-string is now our main cast. Watching this show is rapidly becoming like being an excommunicated member of Chess Club who’s told he must hang out with a group of football fans.

If the episode’s A-story was Picard assembling these dullards, the B-story (which briefly intruded on the A when Romulan agents in motorbike gear tried to assassinate our man in his home) was Asha’s attempt to reach a spazed out Romulan who’d been liberated from the Borg. For her trouble, this disturbed woman, who indulges in the Romulan version of Tarot card reading (no, really), labelled Brimful ‘the destroyer’ – a charge repeated by the Tal Shiar agent who tried to kill Picard. By episode’s end, however, it felt like this was a better label for Alex Kurtzman than the sweet girl with Data’s data.

Anomalous Readings

  • The cold open established three things. 1) There’s no budget to de-age Picard in flashback scenes. 2) Raffi insists on calling our man “JL”; an overfamiliar form of address one senses the Jean-Luc of old would have slapped down immediately. 3) Picard’s resignation highlighted Raffi’s investigation into the Mars attack which in turn ended her career. Maybe that was the reason. Maybe the top brass were sick of her using archaic and inappropriate language like “bullshit” and “my ass gets fired”. Only your ass?
  • I hate the swearing on this show. It’s so conspicuous and forced it almost ruins it all on its own. I think we’re careering at warp speed toward a moment when Picard says “fuck” or “I’m too old for this shit”, and then, finally, the franchise will be broken.
  • The use of Vasquez Rocks as a named real-world location is odd, given it’s an iconic in-universe location – Cestus III in “Arena”, er…Veridian III in Star Trek: Generations. Essentially, what the producers have done with this location is neat shorthand for their approach to the series; take everything that was once heightened and futuristic, and ground it. Do they understand that nothing dates a show faster than something that’s wedded to present-day fashion and speech?
  • Commodore Oh’s sunglasses looked ridiculous. Vulcans don’t wear them on their own sun drenched planet but they whip them out on Earth?
  • Someone behind the scenes is a huge fan of the Irish. First we had a Celtic Romulan, now, in a strange development, an Emerald Isle Emergency Medical Hologram. I confess I didn’t understand why a) Rios’s EMH looked like a prim version of him, complete with 21st century button shirt, and b) why he was Irish. Rios seems to dislike his EMH, which is weird as he almost certainly would have had to have programmed it, to look like him if nothing else, the narcissistic twat.
  • Rios is obviously modelled on Han Solo – more evidence the makers of this Trek would rather be working on something else. Perhaps that’s why his ship is now warping to somewhere called “Freecloud”? Twinned with Bespin?
  • In another fuck you to fans of TNG, Rios’s ship has a front window for a viewscreen, a la Discovery, the JJ Abrams’ movies, etc. That’s congruous with Kurtzman’s era of the franchise but an odd technological development following the safer, sensor feed screens of old.
  • Rios’s EMH referenced Q (the second such reference to him, perhaps foreshadowing an appearance), “Sins of the Father”, “The Best of Both Worlds”, and “Unification”. It could be said episodes are a touchstone for the series, featuring as they do the Romulans interfering in the affairs of the Federation and her allies, the Borg, and in the case of the Q allusion – a nod to Picard’s dementia in “All Good Things…”. It is of course equally likely these are the only TNG episodes Alex Kurtzman has ever seen.
  • Picard’s admission that he never felt truly at home at the winery is the first in-character thing he’s said in three episodes. One of the oddities of this series is that despite it being sold as the return of a much loved character, Patrick Stewart’s low-key delivery and placidity barely resembles the man we knew. Yes, he’s older, and sure – he’s not yet in space and doing his thing, but he was just as meek in the opening flashback set 14 years earlier when he was very much active and decorated, and this suggests what we’re witnessing is another conscious and some would say passive aggressive divergence from TNG Picard by the man who owes said character his global fame and late-career opportunities.

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Discovery’s right couple of seasons

Published in: on February 7, 2020 at 14:21  Leave a Comment  
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