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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 tentacle 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.

Flawed metaphors and lip service

Remember my complaints about the Klingons in Discovery being a flawed metaphor for alt-right immigration hardliners? Well, I kind of feel a similar way about the apparent racism metaphors that Picard tried to employ in the early episodes.

The Romulans and Federation have been
cooperating since the Dominion War.

In Picard, the Federation is supposedly unwilling to help the Romulans because the Romulans are "the Federation's oldest enemy". Yet, in actual Star Trek history, the Romulans had one war with Earth, 200 years ago. Went into isolation. Then almost started another war 100 years after that, only to go into isolation again. All the while, there was some Cold War-style tensions building, that never actually erupted into open conflict. True, that's a long history of conflict and prejudice up through the end of The Next Generation.

But by Deep Space Nine, the Romulans and Federation were allied against the Dominion. Attitudes has shifted so much that the Tal Shiar even abandoned plans to use clones of Starfleet officers to infiltrate and sabotage the Federation from within.

If anything, the better metaphor would have been the idea of a political majority with the moral high ground being forced to cave to the pressure of a relatively small group of vocal political hard-liners. Or I don't know, maybe actually write in some nuance to make this conflict within the Federation feel more real and less like a strawman?! Remember, the admiral says those 14 members threatened to pull out before the attack on Mars, so it wasn't a matter of a more pressing security concern or a lack of ships. Did those 14 planets in the Federation refuse to help the Romulans because they are racist against Romulans and just wanted them all to die (as the show's writing seems to want us to think)? Or were they opposed to the relief efforts because those efforts would have re-appropriated vital resources that had been allocated to their worlds? Or even because their worlds would have been the sites of potential Romulan re-location, which they fear might have destabilized their societies or economies? This show doesn't care. It dedicates one single scene to establishing Stafleet's motivation (or lack thereof) to help the Romulans, but does so in the laziest, most hand-wavy way possible.

Why did those 14 worlds oppose Romulan resettlement?

This also begs the question of whether the very structure of the Federation is so flimsy that members can just pull out at any time over a disagreement in foreign policy. But whatever...

There's no thoughtful exploration of the merits of providing aid, nor of the costs (whether real or perceived) of doing so. That exploration would have been the basis of an entire hour-long episode of TNG. But in Picard, it's relegated to a five-minute scene that serves no purpose other than to make Starfleet and the Federation appear racist and xenophobic.

Glacial pacing

It isn't like the writers are going the Discovery route and eschewing complex, nuanced writing in favor of faster-paced action and adventure. Picard is comparatively glacially-paced and exceedingly exposition-heavy. This would be fine if the slow pace was the result of Picard taking its time to thoughtfully and thoroughly explore a topic or issue. But the heavy exposition isn't in service of thoughtful conversations or debates that attempt to comprehensively explore an issue, nor is this excess exposition moving the plot forward or establishing character. Instead, characters spend run-time re-explaining to each new character what happened in the first episode.

Picard wasted screen time by re-explained the plot of the premiere in almost every episode.

I've lost track of how many times Picard has had to explain to somebody that his "dear friend who gave his life to save mine" had two daughters, and one was murdered, and we have to find the other before the conspirators get to her first. What's worse is that the audience doesn't need this repeated exposition because every episode includes a two-minute re-cap that explains it all up front.

Geordi's expertise with Data should have
made him the first person Picard called.

The rest of the slow pacing comes from having to introduce so many new characters. Picard doesn't ask for the help of Riker or Worf or La Forge, and gives some hand-wavy excuse about how he "knows they'd just say 'yes'.". Well of course they'd say "yes"! This is an urgent mission with someone's life on the line! That willingness to drop everything and help is exactly why you should ask them! I mean, you're going to try to rescue an android more advanced than Data. Who in the galaxy knows more about Data-like androids than Geordi La Forge? Why wasn't Geordi the first person that Picard called?

Picard could've taken his Romulan house-keepers, who seem to have backgrounds in Romulan intelligence, have some knowledge about the enemy they would be facing, are handy in a fight, are already loyal to Picard, and who are both well-suited to the task at hand. This would have spared him from having to take a lengthy detour to recruit a Romulan child-samurai. But again, there's a hand-wavy excuse for why he can't. So instead, we have to spend three more episodes leisurely introducing a new posse that Picard barely knows, who might not necessarily be loyal to him, and whom the audience doesn't know. And surprise, surprise! One of that new posse betrays the group, only to have that betrayal swept under the rug for the sake of maintaining a "crew". It's like Ash Tyler / Vok all over again...

This show could have been dramatically streamlined if Picard's "crew" were his two housekeepers, Dr. Jurati, Raffi, and Seven of Nine. The housekeepers are both established in the first episode, and Jurati and Raffi could easily have been established in the second, and then we could get on with the story with a concise set of characters that the audience already knows and likes. A competent writing staff could easily have explained the lack of former TNG crew by saying that they are all out on deep space assignment, and even if they were willing to drop everything and come help Picard, it would simply take them too long to travel back in time to join him -- because, you know, this task is urgent and needs to be resolved right now! Geez, and I thought side-quest distractions was a problem unique to open world video games...

The series would have been dramatically streamlined if Picard had simply taken his housekeepers on the adventure.

Oh, and since the show never bothers to explain why the synths go berserk and destroy Mars, it implies that the Zhat Vash were right all along, and that synths are inherently dangerous and prone to turning on their organic creators at the drop of a hat. Which of course, is apparently exactly what happened, and Soji goes on to almost exterminate all life in the galaxy. So this show that was supposedly all about the Federation and Romulans having unjust prejudices against synths that lead to social injustice, ends up showing a world in which those prejudices were perfectly valid and reasonable.

The fact that the synths are always depicted as mindless automatons doing menial labor certainly doesn't help the cause of humanizing them. Even the EMHs converted to work in mines in Voyager's "Author, Author" had personalities. Picard never establishes that the synths are even sophisticated enough to warrant civil rights, nor does it ever bother to convey that they deserve the benefit of the doubt with regard to civil rights.

Meaningless deaths

But the sloppy plotting and poor utilization of characters doesn't end there. Icheb, Seven of Nine, and especially Hugh deserve so much better than what Picard did to them.

Icheb, Seven of Nine, and Hugh deserve so much better.

I initially thought that the Borg were included for one of two reasons. Either Dahj and Soji had some kind of relation to the Borg Queen (maybe somehow being Data and the Queen's love children), or the secret that the Zhat Vash was hiding was that the Romulans had accidentally created the Borg thousands of years ago (and that is why they hate artificial life). Both of those would have been stupid, and I'm grateful that neither happened. Unfortunately, either of those would have been better than the actual plot about robot Lovecraft tentacle monsters from another dimension. All the connections to the Borg go absolutely nowhere, and serve as nothing more than an excuse to throw in Seven of Nine and Hugh as fan service.

Now, as much as I hate what Picard did with the Borg, and as pointless as their inclusion ends up being, the subplot about the Borg Reclamation Project is actually the one highlight of the entire series. And it was very nice to see Hugh again. Better yet, Hugh is the only character in the show who is actually being treated with any degree of respect by the writers. Heck, I wish the whole show had just been about Hugh repairing and rehabilitating former Borg, and trying to re-introduce them into civilized society. The scene where Hugh shows Picard the Borg having their assimilation scars removed, and the one former Borg smiling at his reflection in the mirror because he looks a little more "normal", was perhaps my favorite scene in the entire season.

The Borg Reclamation Project is a better allegory than the Romulan refugee subplot, and the best idea of Picard.

In fact, the whole idea of former Borg being refugees and victims of assault is a much better allegorical angle than the whole Romulan plot. This is a group of people that I can genuinely imagine being unwelcome anywhere within the Federation. But as Hugh says, "they aren't 'monsters'; they are victims." The crimes of the Borg go so far beyond having "technically broken the law" by crossing a border (which real people today use as an excuse to not help refugees), but even the Borg are victims of a system that exploits and de-humanizes them, and even they deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity.

This is the one and only area in which I think Picard totally sticks the landing. Too bad it's only like the fourth sub-plot.

And what is Hugh's narrative reward for being the only character who actually feels like his TNG-self? He gets to suffer a meaningless death.

Modern shows keep trying to kill characters for shock value, without realizing why it worked in Game of Thrones.

Killing fan-favorite characters for shock value has been a popular (and annoying) cheap trick employed by TV and movie producers ever since Ned Stark had his head chopped off in the shocking and unexpected conclusion of season one of Game of Thrones. But most of the writers since seem to have completely missed what makes those shocking deaths work in the early seasons of Game of Thrones. They aren't just moments of meaningless shock value. Those deaths move the story forward. They launch new characters into prominent roles and serve as motivations for every major character from then on.

Ned Stark isn't just some ancillary character who dies in order to establish the threat of a villain and raise the stakes for our heroes. He isn't Tasha Yar. Ned's murder establishes the tone of the world of Game of Thrones. It shows that good characters don't have good things coming to them because this is a world that is corrupt and morally bankrupt. It firmly establishes that honesty and integrity are liabilities for those who play the "game of thrones". It sets up the conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters that dominates the plot of the next two seasons of the series, and it establishes Arya's motivation for the remainder of the series. It is also a critical moment in developing Jeoffrey's character as an egotistical and impulsive (but also naive and short-sighted) ruler who is doomed to fail. And that development of Jeoffrey continues for the next few seasons. And in retrospect, Ned's execution is a reminder of how petty and insignificant our internal conflicts are, when we are faced with problems that threaten to destroy us all, which is the dominant theme of the entire show.

In what way does Hugh's death push the story forward?

What does Hugh's death do to push the story of Picard forward? Does it establish the threat of the villain? No, because the death of Dahj and the assassination attempt on Picard in his own home already did that. Does it give motivation to Picard or Seven of Nine? No, because Picard doesn't even know it happened, and Seven of Nine already has Icheb as her "[man] in the fridge". And besides, Seven's relationship with Hugh is never even established until after he's been killed. Does it establish incest sister as a heartless villain? No, because she's already been firmly established as such, and she dies two episodes later anyway. Does it have any lasting impact on the future of the Borg? Well, it's too early to tell if future seasons will pick up on this thread. But it is unlikely because all the reclaimed Borg were killed by incest sister or vented into space, and the cube itself was crashed, so the Artifact is destroyed and the Borg Reclamation Project is apparently as dead as Hugh. Does Hugh's death contribute to the moral or ethical point that the story is trying to make? Are we to assume that the world of Star Trek is (much like Game of Thrones) a world in which bad things happen to good people? So much for that optimistic vision of the future that I wanted from this franchise...

Icheb and Hugh being meaninglessly murdered is now part of Star Trek canon too.

And it isn't that I'm complaining that Hugh died simply because I like Hugh and I didn't want him to die. I'm upset because the death was a meaningless, incidental death done simply for cheap shock value. Had the attempts to rehabilitate the Borg and re-introduce them into society been the point of the entire episode (or entire series), and a decently-written villain were opposing the project, and Hugh sacrificed his life to protect the other ex-Borg, then we'd have an entirely different situation.

Technology creep

I could also go on a rant about annoying technology creep that permeates the show, and how the near-magical nature of many devices flies in the face of Trek's predilection for techno-babble to explain why anything that happens in the show works. I could rant about how silly it is that Picard's housekeeper has a device that can re-create past events based on displaced particles. Or how silly it is that people thing an entire mind can be re-created from a single positronic neuron. Or the silly McGuffin device that, in the last episode, acts as the magical deus ex machina that fixes Rios' ship and allows Picard to save the day.

I was also annoyed by technology creep and McGuffins.

I could rant about all that. But I won't. I think I've already established that Picard is not Star Trek, and that it isn't even bothering to try to be.

Then there's the space flowers that have no explanation. Are these living organisms native to the planet? Are they constructs made by Dr. Soong (similar to his robotic butterflies)? Are they ancient bio-tech left over by a precursor race? Who knows? They could just as easily have been replaced by a planetary shield grid or orbital mines. An episode of Star Trek would have taken its time establishing a sense of awe and wonder about these majestic and mysterious creatures, and then required the characters to solve some problem associated with them. That's what Star Trek would have done with them. But this isn't Star Trek, so instead, they are introduced as a novel set piece, then disposed of for no reason (because the Starfleet shows up a minute later anyway), and we don't even get to have much awe and wonder because we can barely even get a good look at them through all the phaser fire and explosions.

So what's the deal with the giant space flowers?

This sort of stuff wreaks of the writers sitting around the writing room and saying "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if...?", without anybody stopping and asking if that "cool" piece of tech actually makes sense in this world. I absolutely loathe this particular style of writing, as it almost always fails miserably at creating a believable world.

My heart breaks for the future that never was

I've heard a lot of other complaining about the profane language in Picard. A few "fucks" are dropped here and there. That doesn't really bother me all that much as long as it doesn't turn into a Tarantino movie. Heck, I trust Quentin Tarantino to understand Star Trek far better than I trust Alex Kurtzman to understand ... well anything, at this point. What does bother me, however, is that characters are smoking and vaping. This is another thing that I thought humanity would have moved beyond, so to see it in this show is deflating.

But it gets worse. All the bad metaphors, meandering plotting, meaningless deaths, and magical tech creep aside, Picard also shows us that, despite what all of past Star Trek has told us (even the stupid J.J. Abrams movies), poverty and class inequality are still a thing on Earth. Raffi lives in a trailer in the middle of a desert. At first, I thought maybe she was deliberately living "off the grid" or whatever because of her past conflicts with the Federation government and Starfleet, but she goes on to complain about Picard living in his fancy mansion with his "heirloom furniture", while she's stuck living in a "humiliating" hovel. Of course, there's no mention of whether Picard's house is the same family home that burned down and killed Picard's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, but whatever. Of course, Raffi is also black and apparently reliant on drugs, which leads me to wonder if there's an element of racial inequality written between the lines of her character as well -- yet another thing that Star Trek always suggested humanity had outgrown.

Raffi is a black drug addict living in poverty.

This single scene completely and utterly obliterates everything that made me love Star Trek. All the hope and optimism for a better future is just completely gone! It's replaced with more racism, xenophobia, class-ism, poverty, and the enslavement of sentient androids. The humanity depicted in Picard hasn't grown any better than what humanity is now. In fact, it might have even gotten worse, because (unlike the present day) that humanity of the future has the means to eliminate poverty and to provide humanitarian relief to anybody who asks for it, but they are just apparently choosing not to. The show makes absolutely no effort to try to explain that the Federation can't do these things. Which, again, a competent writing staff could easily have done if, instead of re-explaining the events of the premiere for the tenth time, they had included some dialogue about how the Dominion War had destroyed much of the Federation's industrial infrastructure, and they don't have the near-endless supply of resources anymore.

The appeal of Star Trek was always that it presented an optimistic, idealistic version of the future that I wanted to live in. It made me feel like I was born 300 years too early. Accepting Star Trek: Picard at face value, and accepting what it's done to change or ret-con that vision of the future, completely destroys the value and merit of all of Star Trek that came before it. Either all the progress that humanity was presented as having made was all lies to begin with, or it was all moot because humanity regressed back to all the same problems that we face in the 20th and 21st century. The future of Star Trek, as presented by Picard is not a future that I would want to live in. Worse yet, the show suggests that it never was to begin with.

My take-away from Star Trek: Picard is that the idealized future of Star Trek that made me love the show, and which helped shape my own social, political, ethical, and moral beliefs, was never more than a fleeting fantasy.

That vision of an optimistic future in which humanity is better than it is now was never more than a fleeting fantasy.

Comments (1) -

Alex Illi
Alex Illi
05/10/2020 02:49:54 #

I already like how you call the dog "he", unlike "it" as is common in English.
(BTW, I hope you've recovered well from the skiing injury)

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