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.

[More]

Tags:, , , , , , , ,

Star Trek Strange New Worlds

CBS and Paramount are finally learning. After years of trying to force some offensively awful Star Trek down our throats, they've finally given us something palatable. Well, I guess that's not entirely fair. I actually like Lower Decks. But Lower Decks is a self-parody animated comedy, so it's not really "serious" Star Trek, even though it's far more worthy of the franchise than the first season of Discovery or Picard.

Well, now Paramount+ also has a live-action Star Trek show worthy of the name, in the form of Strange New Worlds.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds is much more in-line with what I expect from a Star Trek show. I already talked up the virtues of an episodic format in my Lower Decks review, but focused mostly on how the self-contained nature of episodes allows some to be bad without dragging down the entire season or series with them. But the episodic nature of Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds also highlights another fundamental advantage of the episodic format: those self-contained episodes can tell more high-concept stories.

Star Trek Strange New Worlds - past mistakes © CBS
Strange New Worlds is about learning from past mistakes and getting better.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds isn't the most creative or the highest of concept stories, but it's a serviceable story that is true to the spirit of classic Trek, and I'll be spoiling a lot of its plot in the coming paragraph. A first contact goes wrong, and the Enterprise has to be called into rescue the missing crew of a small scout ship. They find a pre-warp civilization that learned to reverse-engineer a warp drive from observing the events of Star Trek: Discovery. Except these people didn't use the technology to build a propulsion device; they're using it to build a weapon that they plan to use to end their own civil war. Realizing that Federation activity has already influenced the cultural development of the planet, Captain Pike decides that General Order One (the non-interference Prime Directive) does not apply. He choses to share the history of Earth's World War III (which this series assumes lies in our real-life immediate future) in an attempt to convince the warring factions to reconcile instead of risk mutual destruction.

Put simply, the first episode of Strange New Worlds differs from Discovery in that it is about preventing a war instead of starting one. It's about learning from the mistakes of past history so that they aren't repeated. And it's a stark warning of what might go wrong in today's society if political tensions don't cool off, without having to depict a future for humanity in which no social progress seems to have happened at all.

It's the type of forward-thinking story that I like about classic Trek, but which is absent from Discovery and especially from Picard (well, the first season anyway). Those shows give us a view of the future in which all the same problems that exist today still exist in 2 or 300 years. Strange New Worlds goes back to depicting a future in which humanity has learned from its past mistakes and improved itself. It's the hopeful, optimistic future that I loved from the older shows. I want to see more modern science fiction depicting futures for its audience to aspire to, instead of all the bleak, dystopian settings that dominate modern sci-fi and makes our future feel hopeless.

[More]

Star Trek: Lower Decks - title

It took me a while to get around to watching this one. After having been immensely disappointed and frustrated with both Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, I was not going to give CBS a single penny of my money. I still haven't watched the second season of Discovery (let alone the third), despite having heard that the second season is an improvement. In fact, I've been so bitter at CBS that I didn't even bother activating my account to stream the second season of Twilight Zone, even though the first season was good enough that I was curious to see the second season. I also didn't bother reactivating my CBS account to stream Star Trek: Lower Decks, even though my partner really wanted to watch it.

I was willing to cut a little more slack for Lower Decks, on the grounds that "surely an animated comedy will not be considered 'canon', so I don't have to take Lower Decks as seriously." But then I started seeing events, characters, and ships from Lower Decks showing up in articles on the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki, and the thought of having to take Lower Decks seriously as canon tanked my interest in watching the show. I wouldn't be able to sit back and enjoy Lower Decks in the manner that I enjoy something like The Orville; I would have to watch it with my critic glasses on, and the baggage of expectations that comes with carrying the Star Trek torch.

I told my partner I didn't want to pay for CBS, so we would wait until all the episodes had aired, do the free trial with a new email address, and binge them all in like a weekend or something. And maybe I'd check out season 2 of Twilight Zone while I was at it. But we didn't keep track of the progress of the show, it fell onto the back-burner, and we just didn't get around to it.

Then, a few weeks ago, a friend offered to let me borrow his downloads of the show, as well as offering pretty high praise. My partner and I still wanted to give Lower Decks a chance, so I accepted, and we watched it.

... And it's ... fine. It's fine. It's OK.

The Best "Trek" that CBS has to offer?

Lower Decks is entertaining enough. It provides a decent laugh here and there. And it's actually telling some high-concept sci-fi stories -- albeit wrapped in a layer of absurdist comedy. As a stand-alone show, without the baggage of the "Star Trek" title, it's perfectly serviceable. It's not quite up to the level of The Orville -- at least not once The Orville had set aside the Family Guy antics and started focusing more on its characters and stories.

Star Trek - freighter
- ST: Animated Series "More Tribbles, More Troubles", episode 5
Star Trek: Lower Decks - NCC-502 freighter
- ST: Lower Decks "Terminal Provocations", season 1, episode 6
Lower Decks remains faithful to the aesthetic of Star Trek, while still establishing its own visual identity.

And you know what, as an official installment of Star Trek, Lower Decks ain't bad either. Lower Decks is certainly the best Star Trek show that CBS has created for its streaming service so far, and definitely [ironically] the most worthy of "canon" status.

[More]

As I said in my reviews of Star Trek: Discovery, the context in which the show is created is important. The fact that Discovery's seasons are heavily-serialized, singular stories means that they must be judged on a different basis than the episodic episodes of previous Trek series. Discovery's stories must be held to a higher standard because its structure means that "bad" episodes cannot be dismissed as easily as a bad episode of any other series of Trek.

The difference in context between the animated comedy series Lower Decks and the more serious, live-action, canon series of Discovery and Picard is the one thing that gives me hope regarding Lower Decks. The trailer for the cartoon's first season was released over the weekend, and I'm honestly not upset with it at all.

Trailer for season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Because Lower Decks is an animated comedy, I am assuming that CBS is not going to consider it "canon". And if the show isn't being presented as "canon", then I as a viewer don't have to take it as seriously either. I can much more easily forgive divergences in theme, tone, aesthetics, and [especially] lore because inconsistencies from the original source material don't serve to retroactively pollute the original source material in the way that Discovery and Picard have done.

That being said -- and tone and lack of seriousness aside -- Lower Decks has a lot of elements of its design presented in this trailer that takes more cues from golden age Trek than either of the two live-action series that CBS has produced. The design of the ships, the interiors, the holodeck, the uniforms, and so forth all seem to show more respect to the original source material than Discovery or Picard bothered to show. I'm going to hope that is a good sign that the writers are also taking more of the story and character cues from golden age Trek, albeit with the slapstick cartoon tone.

Besides, Star Trek is old enough, and bloated enough, as an intellectual property that it could probably use a good deconstruction or self-satire. I mean, skits on Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Futurama, and so forth have [arguably, and to varying degrees] worked well over the years. The Orville has been generally well-regarded by audiences and eventually shifted towards telling stories that were more in-line with Trek -- far closer than anything in Discovery or Picard.

[More]

Outer Wilds - title

I refuse to give money to Epic,
and waited for Steam release.

Outer Wilds was one of my most anticipated games in 2019. As such, it was immensely disappointing that it became a timed exclusive for the Epic Games Store. I have a lot of issues with how Epic Games runs its business, and with the ethics (or lack thereof) of the company, and so I refuse to give them a single penny of my money. Our daughter plays Fortnite with her friends, and we're not going to disallow her from doing such (and besides, her socialization options were incredibly limited during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and I think playing Fortnite stopped her from going stir crazy). But I've told her that the first time she asks me for money to buy V-Bucks, it will be the last time she plays the game.

I could have bought Outer Wilds on PS4 a year ago, but it just looked like the kind of game that would be better experienced on PC. I've been burned enough times by Bethesda RPGs that I'm always skeptical of a console's ability to adequately run a game with a world of the scope and comlexity of Outer Wilds. So I bit the bullet and waited the year for the game to release on Steam.

The opening screen recommended the use of a game pad, and I obligingly started using my PS4 controller on my second play session. And I've read that the game ran just fine on consoles. So I guess I could have spared myself the wait and just played on PS4 from the start. Ah well, live and learn.

Outer Wilds plays best with a controller anyway, so there was no need for me to pass up the console release.

Now to go back to finishing Fallout: New Vegas while I await the Steam release of The Outer Worlds...

Knowledge is your upgrade

Readers of my blog know that I'm not a huge fan of most open world games. The sandboxy nature of those games tends to lead to stagnant stories and worlds that feel ironically dead. They also tend to be full to the brim of monotonous copy-pasted content that becomes a drag to play.

Outer Wilds offers an entire solar system as an open world sandbox for you to explore. Granted, the scale of this solar system is considerably shrunk down in order to accommodate a game, such that an entire planet is about as big as a small neighborhood, and the different planets are only a few kilometers apart from one another. It's fine. It works well enough with the game's cartoony aesthetic style.

You have an entire toy solar system to play in.

What's important though, is how rich with detail and intrigue this world solar system is. Nothing looks or feels copy-pasted. Every nook and cranny of the map contains something new that you haven't seen before. On top of that, the map is positively dynamic!

[More]
Grid Clock Widget
12      60
11      55
10      50
09      45
08      40
07      35
06      30
05      25
04      20
03      15
02      10
01      05
Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

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.

Check out my YouTube content at YouTube.com/MegaBearsFan.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

Patreon

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

FTC guidelines require me to disclose that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made by clicking on Amazon product links on this site. All Amazon Associate links are for products relevant to the given blog post, and are usually posted because I recommend the product.

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

Random Post

"Going Hollow" as a character arc and mechanic in Dark Souls"Going Hollow" as a character arc and mechanic in Dark Souls02/25/2016 Even though the player character in Dark Souls can be in a "hollow" state, the player never truly goes hollow. At least, not in the sense that NPCs and enemies have gone hollow. According to Dark Souls' mythology, the undead are condemned to repeatedly wander Lordran in search of a cure, being unable to permanently die. But...

Tag Cloud

Month List

Recent Comments

Comment RSS