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I saw the DVD set for season 1 of Star Trek: Picard at my local public library and worked up the nerve to actually watch it. Fortunately, since I got it at the library, it was free, and also it was only ten episodes, so not an enormous investment of time.
Keep in mind, I fully expected to hate it based on what I’ve read so far, so that’s why it took this long to get around to it.
The show wasn’t horrible horrible, but it wasn’t over the top great either. Fans are quick to point out that the first few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation were poor as well, and they’re right. This was different.
My understanding is that Patrick Stewart (Picard) specifically wanted a show critical of the policies of then U.S. President Donald Trump and UK PM Boris Johnson. To do that, the show had to turn Star Fleet and the Federation into a very terrible military for a very terrible government.
Again, fans have pointed out that such things had already been depicted in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and they again are right.
This was still different.
This show had to “go after” the Federation and Star Fleet to make their “point,” essentially putting a bullet in the brain of the already critically wounded and helpless utopia originally created by Gene Roddenberry way back when I was twelve years old (and that was a long time ago). When I was a kid, the original show (Kirk, Spock, McCoy) gave me hope for a better future. Today, if my twelve year old grandson should watch Picard (and as far as I know, he hasn’t), his vision of the future would be grim.
The show begins 14 years after Picard retired from Star Fleet as an Admiral. He was instrumental in rescuing the population of Romulus before it’s sun went nova (remember this from J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie Star Trek?). Specifically, he resigned after Star Fleet abandoned the rescue plans and a group of rogue synthetic life forms (synths) attacked the rescue fleet. The Synths go on to open rebellion on Mars resulting in a general ban against them in the Federation.
At the same time, the Romulans (yes, plenty of them still around including a military) are taking things further, actively hunting down and exterminating synths and “XBs” or ex-Borgs. That includes Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) who has to execute her fellow XB Icheb (Manu Intiraymi) who you’ll remember from episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, after a black market trader tortures him to harvest his implants (it’s really bloody and the screaming is horrific).
I won’t go into the entire story arc for the season, but ultimately, Picard must again play “great white savior” to get a synth named Soji (Isa Briones) away from the Romulans and back to her homeworld. This is where Altan Inigo Soong, the son of Data’s creator (who we’ve never heard of before this) and Bruce Maddox (John Ales) have been creating synthetics ever since the Federation ban.
We have a sinister Romulan agent placed highly in Star Fleet who mind melds (she’s half-Vulcan) with another cybernetics expert Dr. Agnes Jurati (Allison Pill), the only person in this show whiter than Picard. She is corrupted, so much so, that she murders Maddox believing she’s saving the universe from destruction (and it turns out she’s Maddox’s lover, which makes things even more complicated).
We see other figures from the past, mainly Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) as a married couple with a daughter (disaster struck and another child was killed), as well as Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco). The body count in this show is high and at stake are the remaining synths and their world, plus what’s left of the soul of the Federation, which Picard is trying to save.
This thing has plot holes I could walk through, not the least of which is the last minute flare up of Picard’s brain anomaly (briefly mentioned at the beginning of this series and in the finally of STTNG). Indiewire.com compiled a terrific list of them if you’re interested.
My biggest complaint is how death is cheated. We have this build up to Picard’s dying. Everyone on his new crew loved him and is crushed with grief. Then, apparently without Jurati or Soong telling the rest, Picard’s still functioning brain (even after he died of a brain disorder) was mapped and completely transferred with no errors into a synthetic “golem” which looks just like him and just happened to be lying around (not really…Soong was planning on putting his own consciousness inside, but Picard needed it more). Now Picard lives on.
Data appeared in the show several times as a dream or in an artificial construct, since his consciousness still exists in a box. Spiner’s a bit older now, so Data, although he’s not supposed to change, seems a little heavier in the face. It would have been more effective with CGI “de-aging,” but a show like this must cost a bundle already.
There had to be a “sacrifice,” and since that wasn’t going to be Picard, Data, what was left of him, asked that his consciousness be discontinued. He wanted to experience mortality like any other living being. Personally, I’d have put him in the golem instead of Picard.
So Picard will live in a synthetic body about the same number of years he would if he didn’t have the brain issue (but that would have been a natural death, so how do you predict a second natural death?). The last minute save of Picard comes off cheap and trite and makes the sacrifice and death of all of the other characters suddenly unimportant.
I do praise the actors in this show who, beyond those I’m already mentioned, are Michelle Hurd as Raffi, Santiago Cabrera as Rios, and Evan Evagora as Elnor (I’m leaving out the others due to time and space constraints, but they all did a terrific job). They were great in their parts, but the more the Star Trek franchise continues to move forward, the less it becomes Star Trek.
Roddenberry created something we could look forward to. Yes, people and political systems weren’t perfect, but humanity had finally exited its childhood and was growing up. For those of you who object to my limiting my scope to humanity, human beings are the only audience for Star Trek TV shows and movies. It’s about us, who we are, and who we’re becoming (depending on whether your viewpoint, it can be optimistic like Roddenberry’s or pessimistic like current showrunners).
While, in theory, this show had a “happy ending,” it’s only because of “Big Daddy Picard,” not because people are actually better than we were. Picard won because he faced down both the Federation and the Romulan empire for the sake of marginalized and disadvantaged “people” who needed their voices to be elevated. It’s not hard to see who the synths really are. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, science fiction has been making social commentaries for as long as there’s been science fiction.
The disappointment here, just like with so much of modern “entertainment,” is that they announce ahead of time what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why, if you don’t like it, you’re a terrible person.
It’s not just me who had issues with the show. While the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” (professional critics) gave the series a 87%, the actual audience, from 2899 ratings, only offered up 54% approval.
There’s how we’re supposed to receive the show vs. how people actually saw it. It was an interesting concept, but became too preachy and suffered from an uneven execution. It would have been more satisfying if Picard really had given his life for the synths. Then the story might have meant something. But the studio can’t make money off of a second and third season of “Picard” without a living “Picard.”
(And where the hell has Seven been since Voyager came home and what happened to Chakotay?)