Star Trek Picard - season 2 © CBS, Paramount

I'm not going to wait till the end of the review this time to say this. I want to get it out of the way right up front. Paramount needs to get some actual science fiction writers (preferably ones who have worked on Star Trek in the past) and science and technical consultants into the writing rooms for their Star Trek shows. And furthermore, the TV writers in the room need to listen to those sci-fi writers and consultants. Not only does the second season of Star Trek: Picard fall apart due to sloppy, incoherent plotting, but it also seems painfully unaware of certain parts of Trek canon and also of how metaphor and allegory are supposed to work.

I previously wrote an outline of my ideas for re-writing the first season of Picard to retain all the good ideas, get rid of the bad, and create something that more closely resembles the type of Star Trek that I want to see. But I don't think I can do that for this season of Picard because nothing in this show makes any sense.

I was actually kind of optimistic at the start. The first 2 episodes were actually not bad, and seemed to go out of their way to try to rectify some of the complaints that were levied against season 1. This time around, the Federation is not depicted as racist cowards who are unwilling to help a refugee population fleeing from a natural catastrophe. In fact, they give long speeches about the duty of Starfleet to explore the unknown and about the value of diversity and inclusion. We still see a version of the Federation that is racist and xenophobic, but this time, it's in the form of a parallel reality fascist Confederation. The first episode is even about a starship investigating a strange anomaly in space. This is an OK start. This actually kind of sort of looks like Star Trek.

Star Trek Picard - commencement speech
© CBS, Paramount
Star Trek Picard - Stargazer
© CBS, Paramount
Season 2 starts off promising, with the Federation looking more like what I'm used to,
and the opening episode seemingly including an "anomaly of the week".

Problematic developments

But even from this first episode, the cracks in the storytelling are already exposed. Problem number one is that all the important character development happened off-screen between seasons. Rios apparently got over his trauma, went back to Starfleet, and was given a captaincy. He even broke up with Jurati. Good riddance. Seven and Raffi also had a relationship and then a falling-out -- all off-screen. Raffi developed some sort of proxy-parent / mentor relationship with Elnor, who also joined Starfleet, and is somehow already on a deep space assignment less than a year after enlisting. Meanwhile, Larin's husband died, and she's secretly fallen madly in love with Picard, who is now an instructor or headmaster at Starfleet Academy. Soji is an ambassador between the synths and the Federation and isn't involved in season 2 at all, despite having been the lynchpin of the first season.

The character development that happens during season 2 isn't any better. This season Fundamentally changes Picard's character. He was already unrecognizable as the same Jean-Luc Picard from The Next Generation in season 1, but I'm willing to give a pass due to the decades of time in between. People change over decades, especially if their life circumstances have also dramatically changed. Picard went from being a Starfleet captain exploring the galaxy, to sitting around his chateau with his Romulan not-slaves, sipping wine and petting dogs. Fine, I get that he's mellowed since the end of TNG.

Star Trek Picard - mother
© CBS, Paramount
Picard's past is ret-conned to include a mentally ill mother and toxic home environment
being the reason he left home for the stars.

But season 2 actually goes back and retcons Picard's entire life in ways that reframe his entire character from TNG. He isn't the consummate explorer who joined Starfleet because of a genuine love of science and discovery. Now, he joined Starfleet to get away from a toxic home environment. It's just like how reboot James Kirk didn't join Starfleet because of a desire to explore, but because he was double-dog-dared to be a better Starfleet officer than his dead dad. But at least in Kirk's case, that is a different character in a different timeline. In Picard's case, we're supposed to believe this is the same Picard that we've known all along.

Star Trek TNG - Robert Picard
TNG s4 e2 "Family", © CBS, Paramount
Where was Robert during all this family drama?

Also, did the writers not know that Picard had an older brother? Where was Robert Picard during all this drama with their parents?

And Seven of Nine has apparently regressed from any of her character development from the previous season, as she's back to mindlessly killing Borg and insisting that they "aren't human anymore". This is despite the fact that both she and Picard are case in point examples of former Borg being rehabilitated, and despite her sorrow of the destruction of the Borg Rehabilitation Project in season 1.

The lynchpin of this season is a young astronaut who suffers from crippling depression. This is despite the fact that NASA has pretty extensive screening and training processes that would either rule out someone who is not emotionally stable enough to do the job, or would train them to the point that they do the job without a second thought. This is an example of how having science and technology consultants in the writing room would help make the story more believable.

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If you read my review of Star Trek: Picard, then you know that I was thoroughly disappoint and borderline offended by it. I had so much to complain about in that review, that I didn't have much time or energy left to write about the few merits that were present in the season. Yes, there are some decent ideas in this 10 hours of otherwise-garbage TV. If you were to ask me "Well Mr. smarty-pants self-described-'Trekkie', what would you have done?", then I would say that I would take those few good ideas, and turned them into episodes of Star Trek that are more consistent with the style, philosophy, and character of the show that I know and love.

On a recent recording for the Let's Play channel On the Branch, I spent some time pitching these ideas for a rewrite of the entire series. I had literally come up with the ideas a night or two before that recording session, and so the ideas were not very well thought-out. They were mostly just big-picture concepts. Now that I've had more time to think about them and further flesh them out, I've decided to record them here on the blog for posterity.

You can hear more of my thoughts about Picard in an un-filtered discussion with On the Branch Gaming.

I tried to take the few ideas that I actually liked from the version of Star Trek: Picard that CBS actually put on the air, and use them to construct episodes and a season that I feel would have been more in-line with what I would have expected from Star Trek. So this isn't just me rambling about my own pie-in-the-sky ideas here. I'm actually taking the ideas that Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsmith, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and the other writers and producers came up with, and trying to turn them into something that is actually faithful to the spirit of Star Trek, and consistent with the philosophy and characters that we've seen in the TV shows as I understand them.

The good ideas

So first of all, what were the few actual good ideas that CBS's writing staff came up with for Star Trek: Picard. Well, I identified three of them:

  1. Romulans as environmental refugees after nova of their sun.
  2. The Borg Reclamation Project attempting to de-assimilate and rehabilitate former Borg drones.
  3. Data's consciousness being trapped in a quantum computer, awaiting a suitable positronic brain.
The best ideas of Picard involved the Romulans and es-Borg as refugees.

I think there's some genuinely good ideas there for some thoughtful, high-concept sci-fi stories that would fit well into Star Trek's canon and philosophy. It's too bad that none of them were more than minor subplots in Picard that were never thoroughly explored, or treated with any degree of thoughtfulness. These good ideas were sadly squandered by being sidelined compared to the larger, less intelligent plots that dominated the season.

These ideas were certainly better than the apocalyptic plot about conspiracies to destroy all life in the galaxy. Seriously, can we get some smaller, more down-to-earth stakes for our TV shows? There's only so many "end of all life as we know it" plots that can be told before they get stale.

I would stay as far away from apocalyptic, inter-dimensional robot tentacle monsters as possible.

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So what the heck happened to Picard's dog?! Number One was my favorite character in the premiere, but then he completely disappeared from the entire rest of the show and hasn't even been mentioned since. Were his inclusions in the premiere nothing more than reshoots that were thrown in at the last minute, after much of the rest of the show had been scripted and filmed?

Picard's home was broken into and Picard physically assaulted. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Guess he's not much of a guard dog, huh? I don't even think Picard bothered to ask if Number One was alive after the attack. For all he knew, the Romulan assassins murdered his dog. There's also no tearful "good bye" when Picard has to leave the planet on a potentially dangerous mission, or talk of who might take care of the dog if Picard doesn't return. On the upside, at least the writers didn't kill the dog as an excuse to turn Picard into "space John Wick", in the same fashion that the TNG movies used Picard as a "space John McClane".

Then again, bringing up an idea or character, only to completely drop it by the end of an episode with no real exploration of the concept or character seems to be the modus operandi of Star Trek: Picard.

I gave a lot of leeway to the premiere. I even said that I want to "delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate". Well that lack of hatred didn't last long. Each episode of Picard just got progressively worse and worse.

If not for the fact that I intended to write a full season review, I would have stopped watching the show by episode 4.

What happened to Picard's dog, Number One? He just disappears from the show after the first episode!

Just as I feared, Star Trek; Picard isn't about the rights of androids or the moral imperative to provide humanitarian relief to refugees (whether those refugees happen to be Romulans or ex-Borg). These things are dominant themes, but they aren't what the plot or story is actually about, nor does it ever become the ultimate message of the show. I think the overall message was supposed to be to not let your fear and prejudice turn you into a genocidal monster, but even that happens in a lazy, eleventh-hour "twist" that I thought made no sense. The actual plot is about conspiracies to cover up the existence of robot Lovecraft monsters from another dimension, and to stop androids from inevitably summoning them to kill all humans. Yep, that's Star Trek canon now. Go figure...

Picard facepalm

In the meantime, the episode-by-episode (and minute-to-minute) scripting is trying too hard to be like Firefly or any other grungy sci-fi series from the past 20 years. Now, I love Firefly. I also praise The Mandalorian for taking cues from Firefly. But The Mandalorian is set in the Star Wars universe, which was always a grungy universe that contained lovable rogues and scrappy survivors. Star Trek has never been that kind of universe. It's the antithesis of that kind of universe. If I wanted to watch a dark and gritty cowboy / ronin space adventure, then I'll watch The Mandalorian, or I'll go back and watch Firefly or Battlestar Galactica again. Or I'll check out The Expanse or Dark Matter or Altered Carbon or Westworld, or any one of a dozen other sci fi shows that have come and gone in the past 20 years and have borrowed heavily from that same aesthetic. Or I'll play Mass Effect 3, which Picard seems to have blatantly plagerized.

I don't watch Star Trek for that. I watch Star Trek for thought-out, uplifting, cerebral science fiction about an optimistic future that I hope humanity eventually achieves.

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Well I'll be damned. This winter, I was pleasantly surprised by The Mandalorian seeming to pull the Star Wars franchise back from the brink of the abyss. And now I'm also pleasantly surprised to see that perhaps Star Trek might be pulled out from circling the toilet bowl as well. The first episode of CBS All Access' new Picard series was surprisingly "not bad".

Now, I do still have some serious reservations about the directions that I think the show might be going later in the season. And I'll get to that later. But first, I want to sit and bask in the delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate. After slogging through the first season of Discovery (I have yet to watch the second season), I was left with zero faith in CBS's ability to re-capture the spirit and soul of Star Trek.

Picard shows some good faith right from the start by opening with a clip of the Enterprise-D. Not some re-designed Franken-ship monstrosity like the "original" Enterprise in the 2009 Trek reboot, or as seen in Discovery. But the honest-to-goodness Galaxy-class Enterprise-D, pretty much exactly as we remember and love her -- and looking mighty gorgeous, might I add! We then zoom into Ten Forward, where Picard is playing a hand of poker with an unconvincingly digitally de-aged Brent Spiner reprising the role of Data. This scene pays homage to the beautiful final scene of the Next Generation finale "All Good Things...", and Picard laments that he's stalling going all-in against Data's hand because he "doesn't want the game to end".

Picard is a return (and continuation) of Star Trek as fans knew it almost 20 years ago.

We didn't want the game to end either...

The first few scenes of the episode then go on to show Picard giving brief (but impassioned) speeches about the decline of Starfleet ideals, the civil rights of sentient androids, and the moral imperative to provide aid and relief to the Romulan refugees whose home planet was destroyed by the [somehow unexpected?] supernova of the Romulan sun. And he's also trying to do some social justice for pit bull dogs, which (as my choice of pets should suggest) is something that I approve very strongly of. It's respectful and faithful (and reverent) to what came before. "Holy shit", I thought, "this is actually looking and feeling like the Star Trek that I know and love."

For a moment, I thought the soul of Star Trek is there, in those early scenes, even though it is shallow and lacks the idealism that has always underpinned Trek.

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Star Trek Voyager cast

Don't worry, I'm almost done venting my frustrations with Star Trek: Voyager. The first post was about how the show failed to build on its foundations, and the second post was about how the show was a Next Gen copy-cat. This will be the third (and last) post exclusively dedicated to bashing on Voyager. If I decide to write anything further about Voyager, it will probably be about the things that I actually like about the series. I want to re-emphasize that I don't hate Star Trek: Voyager as a TV show. I feel that it was very mediocre, and I'm disappointed that it failed to deliver on its potential.

Even though I don't hate the series as a whole, the one thing that I actually do absolutely loathe about the series is its finale: "Endgame".

Voyager's "Endgame" is a lazy, contrived, cop-out of a finale.

Endgame is one of the worst episodes of Voyager, and might very well be one of the worst episodes in all of Star Trek! OK, it's not "The Omega Glory" or "The Alternative Factor" or "Sub Rosa" bad, but it's pretty terrible! I honestly do not understand how it keeps making lists of "best Voyager episodes". About the only redeeming factor of this episode (in my mind) is that the inclusion of Klingon Captain Korath (and his possession of a time-travel device) indirectly cannonizes Star Trek: the Experience -- and kind of indirectly canonizes me!

"Endgame" is a schlocky action adventure that basically perfectly represents all of Voyager's weaknesses as a show. It's too dependent on its TV-budget CGI Borg special effects. It makes Seven of Nine out to be the most important character on the show (she is the most important character, but the show doesn't have to continually force it down our throats). It's selfish and pretentious. It's fan-servicy.

The inclusion of Captain Korath's time travel device indirectly canonizes Star Trek: the Experience.

"Endgame" is too concerned with its gimmick to really care much about the characters. So much so that it literally manifests a significant (but ultimately arbitrary) romance between two main characters out of nowhere with no build-up at all and in complete contrast to any development that had already been happening. Even the actors thought this romance sub-plot came out of nowhere and blindsided them!

Lastly, "Endgame" is also a rehash of an earlier Voyager episode: "Timeless" (in which Harry Kim goes back in time to save Voyager from crashing), while at the same time trying to be a lazy rehash of TNG's brilliant and beautiful finale "All Good Things..." -- but without the brilliance or beauty.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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