Friday, March 27, 2020

''Star Trek: Picard'' Season 1

What follows is a journey through the first season of Star Trek: Picard, written weekly as the series progressed. 

Buckle up; you'll need a restraint harness for THIS bumpy-ass ride.
  
  
"Remembrance"
  
  
(season 1, episode 1)
  
airdate:  January 23, 2020
written by:  Akiva Goldsman and James Duff (teleplay); Akiva Goldsman & Michael Chabon and Kirsten Beyer & Alex Kurtzman and James Duff (story)
directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper
  
Many years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, we meet up again with Jean-Luc Picard, who is living a sedentary life at his chateau in France.  His life post-Nemesis has seemingly been defined by a pair of events: first, the supernova which destroyed the Romulan system; second, a vicious attack on Mars perpetrated by "rogue synths" (i.e., synthetic life forms) that apparently not only destroyed thousands of lives but rendered the planet uninhabitable.  The end result of all of this is that Picard grew to feel that Starfleet was no longer Starfleet, and so he quit the service and, as he puts it at one low point, has been waiting to die ever since.  Another significant factor is the loss of Commander Data; it is revealed that B4 failed and was dismantled, meaning that Data is truly dead.  Into this melancholic existence comes a mysterious young woman, Dahj, who has reason to think Picard knows her, even though she herself does not know how that could be.
  
  
  
  
I'm always reluctant to write about television shows as they are airing; I prefer to look back on these things from a vantage point of seeing them a second or third (or fifteenth) time.  But there's something to be said for getting reactions down in real time.
  
What I think I'll do with this space is just that; just jot down some reactions.  Then maybe at the end of the season I'll try to find something meaningful to say.  Or not, as the case may be.  Or maybe I'll find something meaningful say as we go.  Who the fuck knows, man?
  
Anyways, here are the things buzzing around in my head after seeing the first episode:

  • Golly, it sure is nice to have Star Trek back again.  Excepting stray moments from the first two seasons of Discovery (and the same can be said for Short Treks, I guess), we really haven't gotten much Trek with our Trek in quite some time.  Some might make a case for Star Trek Beyond, but I myself would say you've got to go back to Star Trek '09.  Speaking of which...
  • ...it's pretty cool for Picard to take up that movie's baton and run with it.  There has been a pocket of fandom which believed that film somehow wiped all of the TNG-era continuity out of existence; Picard clearly establishes that that is not the case, but that instead the events which motivated Nero -- the supernova of the Romulan system's star -- did happen, and had a major impact upon galactic politics.  Not only that, but...
  • ...man, give this show props -- at least through one episode -- for refusing to simply ignore Nemesis.  I know, we'd all like to; but part of dealing with an ongoing continuity is a willingness to not simply ignore a piece of it which leaves a sour taste in fans' mouths.  There are no deep-cut references to Shinzon, or to Remans, or anything like that (not that I noticed, at least); but this series seems to be deeply committed to contending with the loss of Data, so much so that its writers DID take the somewhat impressive step of retconning out that film's copout retcon of itself: the odious notion of B4.  Nope, B4 is kaput, lying disassembled in a drawer; and we are told that the incorporation of Data's memories failed, meaning Data really was genuinely lost.  We'll see where it goes; maybe by the end of the season I'll feel differently, but for now, I'm impressed by their willingness to wrap an arm around the shoulder of Nemesis and ask it to walk with them into the future.  (I mean, heck, the first thing you hear is a version of "Blue Skies" being sung!)
  • Patrick Stewart, of course, is great.  More should be said about this; I suspect I'll have many opportunities in later episodes, so we'll defer it for now.
  • Brent Spiner has several scenes as a version of Data in Picard's dreams.  The makeup and CGI which are combining to create Data's look are not wholly successful.  I suppose I can relate to that distancing someone from the material, but for me, it's just not a concern.  Did my eyes notice it?  Absolutely.  Do I care?  No way.  That's Brent Spiner playing Data again, man!  I could probably live with that if it looked drop-dead awful, and it's nowhere near that.
  • They probably won't, but if they do an entire episode which consists of nothing but Picard and Number One The Dog playing fetch, I'd probably be down for that.  Automatically better than every episode of Discovery.  Sorry, Discovery; maybe I'll love you in season three.
  • I can't quite remember the handful of Earth-set episodes of Deep Space Nine, but is this the most clear-cut view we've gotten thus far of what Earth is really like in the 24th century?  I think it probably is, and it doesn't shy away from it.  There are no deep meditations upon how society functions on a philosophical/ethical basis, or on a financial/transactional one; there's no explanation for How We Got There.  Such questions are mostly impossible to answer.  This episode doesn't even really hint in those directions; instead, it's content to merely show a bit of what it might look like.  Looks pretty cool to me.
  • I automatically love Picard's live-in Romulan waitstaff, or whatever you'd call them.  I feel like I've seen both of the actors before, but cannot immediately place them.
  • I also automatically love Isa Briones and Alison Pill, playing (respectively) Dahj and Agnes.  There's a big plot twist involving Dahj that, mercifully, is delivered fairly early on; so early on that it doesn't even qualify as a plot twist.  Dahj dying does qualify as a plot twist.  Spoilers, lol!  (Should that be "spoilers, Lal"?  Deep-cut reference for y'all there.  "The Offspring."  Look it up.)  But the revelation that Dahj is a synthetic lifeform who may actually be Data's daughter in some way is cool; that's the sort of thing Discovery would have fucked around with for a season before revealing.  They'd also have waited, like, nine episodes to reveal that Bruce Maddox played some role in this.  How great is it that this show has opted to continue that plotline?  No idea if the original actor is coming back; even if he doesn't, Maddox being involved at all is truly an exceptional honoring of existing continuity.  So is the fact that Alison Pill's Agnes is a key figure at the Daystrom Institute.  The dadgum Daystrom Institute, man!  I love it.
  • I immediately wanted more screen time for Index, the holographic (?) assistant Picard visits in his vault at Starfleet Archives.  Index is played by Maya Eshet, about whom I wish to know more.
  • My thoughts are not wholly positive.  I do have a few criticisms.  For one, I thought the presence of the Federation News Network was a bit unfortunate.  That's not a Trek highlight for me; they sucked in Generations, and they suck here.  I don't mind the interview scene in some ways, because it's an effective way to deliver exposition and because it gives Patrick Stewart a chance to be indignant, at which he excels.  I don't even ... I mean, I guess I have to admit that there's a chance the media would still exist in the 24th century of Star Trek.  But I feel as if what we get here is really just 21st-century media with sci-fi technology, and THAT I do not believe will exist in the future of TNG.  I'll accept it ... for now.  But I'm not happy about it, and it strikes a mild note of concern for me.  So do these notions about Starfleet not really being Starfleet anymore.  (That goes triple for the notion that the galaxy has teamed up to ban synthetic life-forms.  I wonder what Doctor Schmullus has to say about all of that?)  Again, we'll see where it goes.
  • Another criticism: the theme music failed to make any impression on me at all.  It's by Jeff Russo, who also wrote the boring-as-a-lukewarm-bath theme for Discovery.  This theme music is even more boring than that for Discovery, which is saying something.  Maybe it'll grow on me.  But for now, consider me deeply unimpressed.
  • That banner for Captain Picard Day.  Get back in my eyeballs, you tears!
  • Am I tempted to turn my tv back on, pull up the Roku, and watch the episode a second time?  I sure am.  Might even do so.  But if so, I think I'll wait until tomorrow, as it is currently 6:30 am (yes, I watched it very early on Thursday morning, getting a jump on most of the Star Trek nation, I presume) and I gotta be at work in eleven hours.  
But I enjoyed this episode sufficiently that I question whether sleep is going to come all that easily for me this morning.  I'm not making a case for this being an instant-classic Trek episode or anything like that.  However, the episode definitively scratched an itch which no televised Star Trek has done for me in well over a decade.  That is nothing to sneeze at, at least not for this blogger.
  
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Maps and Legends"


(season 1, episode 2)

airdate:  January 30, 2020
written by: Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman
directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper
  
Picard learns that Dahj may have been murdered by a highly clandestine (and centuries-old) Romulan group devoted to preventing and/or eliminating all synthetic life-forms.  Worse: he learns that this group has quite possibly infiltrated the political structures of any number of other societies -- the Klingons, for example, and maybe even the Federation itself.  He takes this knowledge to Starfleet in the hopes of being given a temporary command that he can use to track down Bruce Maddox and solve whatever mystery is going on here.  His request is rejected, sternly; the Badmiral who does so is either a Romulan agent is is (perhaps) being manipulated by one.  He contacts a former associate, who clearly hates his guts.  We'll have to wait to find out what happens with that, and we'll also have to wait to find out what happens with the potentially-terminal diagnosis Picard was given earlier in the episode by a former shipmate from the Stargazer.
  
Meanwhile, Dahj's sister, Soji, gets intimate with Narek, who we learn to be a member of the Romulan conspiracy about which Picard has learned.  Soji's work involves reclaiming a Borg cube which has been disconnected from the Collective.  We'll have to wait to learn more about that, as well.
  
  
  
  
I'm of two minds about this one.  Maybe even three.  Let's call it three.
  
Mind #1 found this to be approximately as entertaining as the first episode, and therefore continues to be engaged by what it is seeing.  I mean, it's Patrick Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard.  Duh.
  
Mind #2, however, was somewhat put off by the implications of some of what it was seeing; and in retrospect, mind #2 finds the first episode to have been guilty of these missteps as well, as least potentially.
  
For example, here we are once again telling a story in which the goddamn Federation and goddamn Starfleet are revealed to be more or less corrupt.  God DAMN it.  Why does this idea continue to haunt modern Star Trek?  The answer is simple: the writers who are writing it simply have no ability to see beyond the times in which they themselves live.  They live in highly troubled times (times which seem ripe to become only more troubled, I might add worriedly), and so they simply can't let go of that in order to look beyond it.  
  
And the more I think about it, the more troubled I am by the implications of what we learned in the first episode about Starfleet consciously electing to allow Romulan society to collapse lest the cost of saving it break the Federation apart.  Does that sound like the high-minded, idealistic future Gene Roddenberry tried to depict?  Not to me, either.  It's entirely possible there is more to be learned about what really happened here -- one assumes, for example, that this is somehow going to revealed to have been a Romulan plot (pleasegodDONOT let it involve Sela) -- and so I'm reluctant to get too grumpy about it at this early stage of things.  But I worry.  And in fact, I have to tell myself that this is all the result of the Federation being in a state of still-unrecovered damage from the Dominion War, because at least then I could pin all of this on another canon development of which I am not fond.  Wouldn't make it any better, but I could dislike this new thing as an outgrowth of an old disliked thing; that might help me conserve a bit of energy.
  
Mind #3, on the other hand, feels as if maybe some of what is going on here is operating on a level of real-world allegory which is vintage Star Trek.  Here, too, I am a bit reluctant to let my feelings get out of check until I have a better sense of what the full season will be doing.  But I'll admit it's a possibility that we could be going in that direction, and that it could prove to be fertile ground.  In that case, I'll confess that maybe there is some cathartic use to be gained from the idea that a once-treasured society -- perhaps even more than one -- has been invaded and perverted from within by a small but powerful branch of an enemy society.  No puppet!  You're the puppet!  Ahem.  Now, do I really want for Picard to go down that road?  It wouldn't be my first choice, no.  But I've been saying ever since Discovery premiered and began shitting the bed on a semi-weekly basis that what I'd like for Trek to do in the modern era is be allegorically interesting again.  So here I am, quite possibly getting my wish, which means that I'm tentatively excited and intrigued; even if the specifics end up being mildly (or wholly) aggravating or disappointing, I think I'd rather Trek be doing that than what it did across the first two seasons of Discovery.  Shit, I'd rather it not exist than do that.
  
Which, if any, of these mindsets will eventually become ascendant?  Eight more episodes and we'll probably find out.
  
A few more notes:
  
  • I was lying in bed this morning -- okay, this afternoon -- considering getting up and beginning my day.  I'd watched this episode before going to bed, so I was kind of tossing it around in my brain.  Suddenly, I had a premonition about where one aspect of the plot might end up going.  Dahj and Soji have been revealed (so we think) to be organic/synthetic hybrids, correct?  And they were allegedly created using a neuron that somehow came from Data?  AND the implication is that in some way, Data lives on within them, yes?  So I suddenly felt certain that what was going to happen at some point this season is this: we are going to bear witness to the creation of an organic, biological version of Data who has all of Data's memories.  In this fashion, (A) Data is going to be allowed to achieve the humanity he always wanted and (B) Brent Spiner is going to be allowed to be a full-time cast member for the remainder of the series.  If so, then I gotta tell you, whatever sins this season commits, I think it will be in my good graces.  Because the net result of that will be that the producers have said, "Alright, well, nothing can erase the stench of Data's death in Nemesis, so we'll make up for it by ginning up a reason to bring him back as a HUMAN."  Audacious, risky, and possibly disastrous; but my gut tells me that if they're going this route, I'm going to love it.
  • Picard's Romulan aides continue to be pretty great.  There is clearly a story to be told there.  One suspects that Picard is somehow responsible for them being alive; what else would explain their devotion to him?  Not sure.  Also not sure why the lady Romulan speaks in Irish slang on occasion, but I can live with it.  She's assimilating into her new culture, I guess.
  • And speaking of assimilating... (ba-dum, tsssssss!), the whole thing on the Borg cube is kind of intriguing.  It's clearly a Romulan project of some sort, but it's also clearly got a multi-cultural workforce.  In addition to Sojhi, we meet a Trill lady this week, and see a few other species as well.  None of them seem to be there against their will; in fact, the Trill lady was nearly turned down, and is grateful she wasn't.  So what's this all about?
  • The opening scene on Mars where we see the synthetic life-form F8 go rogue and start killing people is well-done.  I'm not thrilled with the anti-synth humans working at the shipyards -- and to be fair, it's not all of them -- but I guess I'll have to live with that.  F8 "smiling" at a joke is ultra-creepy; kind of a new note for Star Trek, but, again, well done.
  • An f-bomb?  Really?  Admiral Clancy remarks upon "the fucking audacity" of Jean-Luc Picard.  I was kind of okay with Tilly deploying this weapon in the first season of Discovery -- it was a telling character moment for her -- but it grated on my ears to hear someone say that to Picard.  And I love cuss words.  But these cocksuckers are getting my Star Trek wrong again, and I won't let it slide any more than I just have to.
  • The Vulcan commodore is played by Tamlyn Tomita, best known to sci-fi fans as the XO on the pilot episode of Babylon 5.  Thankfully, she's better here than she was there.
  • Her Lieutenant, who is revealed to actually be a Romulan in disguise (and Narek's brother to boot), is played by the gorgeous Peyton List, who was Roger's ill-advised young wife on Mad Men.  She's solid here; her British accent is rather effective, and she's menacing enough.
  • Narek is played by Harry Treadaway, whom I know from playing Brady on Mr. Mercedes.  He, too, has an effective British accent.  Makes sense; he's British.  He sure did talk Soji into climbing into the sack with him quick.  Kind of nice to see that on an episode of Star Trek, which throughout its existence in the middle years (TNG through Enterprise) tended toward baffling chasteness more often than not.
  • Picard is visited early in the episode by David Paymer, who is playing a character meant to be his old CMO from his Stargazer days.  Fans are apparently all in a tizzy about how this character wasn't Beverly Crusher.  Me?  I see it as a missed opportunity to bring Diana Muldaur back as Dr. Pulaski.  Not joking.  We'll likely see Beverly at some point, albeit maybe not this season.  Why the fannish assumption that Beverly is able to respond to a request from Picard even if he were inclined to make one?  Maybe she's Captain of some ship (like in "All Good Things..."), or maybe she's on some alien planet in the Gamma Quadrant.  I see no reason to just assume she's on Earth, sitting around waiting on Jean-Luc to hit her up.  That's fanfiction thinking, guys.  Anyways, speaking of "All Good Things...," Dr. Paymer heavily hints that Picard may actually HAVE Irumodic Syndrome, so there's something to worry about the rest of the series.
  • Both Geordi and Worf are namechecked this episode.  No details, but we know they are alive.
  • You know who I want to see at some point in this series?  Both of those guys.  Also, Dax, and Janeway, and the Doctor, and T'Pol, and Bashir, and Quark, and Ro Laren, and B'Elanna, and Q.  For starters.

Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"The End Is the Beginning"
  
  
(season 1, episode 3)
  
airdate:  February 6, 2020
written by:  Michael Chabon & James Duff
directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper
  
Picard tries to talk Raffi into providing him with a hookup with a pilot, which she does after being butthurt for a while.  Soji talks to a somewhat rehabilitated Borg/Romulan -- named, implausibly, Romda (sp.?) -- who uses Romulan tarot cards to imply that Soji is half of a pair of twin-sister death goddesses.  Commodore Oh visits Agnes while wearing sinister sunglasses.  The super-secret Romulan secret police raid Chateau Picard and get wrecked by Laris and Zhaban.  Picard hires a former Starfleet officer named Rios -- who has a ship of his own now, and it may as well be called the Serenity -- and forms a new crew with Raffi and Agnes tagging along.  The actually-interesting characters, Laris and Zhaban, stay at home to tend to the grapes.  Hugh shows up, and if I didn't know it from press materials I would have no idea who he is.  Rizzo is a Romulan again, which seems like a waste of plastic surgery.
  
  
  
  
So ... this was kind of bad.  I immediately dislike Raffi, and I think I dislike Michelle Hurd in the role as well.  The episode begins with a flashback in which we learn that she was a high-up in the plan to evacuate the Romulan system; we see the day when Picard tenders his resignation, and we see it as he is telling Raffi about it.  Raffi calls him "J.L." and that gets old the second it is exposed to air, and then only gets older.  She apparently expects Picard to somehow magically make the evacuation happen without Starfleet's support, and then she holds it against him when she is fired; a thing that is obviously not within Picard's control.  And then she nurses a serious case of butthurt about it for fourteen years, after which she has the temerity to chastise him for not calling her and checking on how she was doing (not well).  Bitch: that shit is a two-way street.  And THEN, I shit you not, she vapes.
  
Raffi Musiker -- if there is a worse character name in all of Star Trek (and there almost certainly is), then I cannot immediately think of it -- is a disaster.  
  
I begin to fear that Star Trek: Picard may be as well.  The goodwill from the first episode is evaporating quickly.  Namechecking the Q Continuum and dropping an Emergency Medical Hologram into the proceedings is not going to get the job done alone.  At some point, you're going to need to actually tell me a worthwhile story, and right about now I'm feeling those old Discovery blues, the ones which tell me that I'm being hoodwinked into believing that just because you put Star Trek in the title you're making a show I can care about.  I'm afraid that I might care, but in the wrong way.
  
We'll see what next week brings, I guess.  But this episode dimmed my enthusiasm considerably.
  
Bryant's rating:  * 1/2 / *****


"Absolute Candor"
  
  
(season 1, episode 4) 

airdate:  February 13, 2020
written by:  Michael Chabon
directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
  
We see in a flashback some of Picard's history on a planet in the Beta Quadrant called Vashti, where Picard helped Romulan refugees settle 14 years ago.  He's got a special bond with an order of -- I shit you not -- Romulan warrior/assassin nuns, one of whom is a young boy (Elnor) he has pledged to help find a more suitable home.  What with him not being female and all, the boy is a bit out of place.  Picard and Elnor have a strong friendship, but it is put on an unexpected pause when Picard receives word of the attack on Mars.  We know how the events after that went.  
  
Back in the present, Picard requests his new ship visit Vashti, because he needs the nuns' help.  He's hoping one of them will pledge her sword to his cause, and if you've ever seen a television show before, you know Elnor is still going to be there and is going to be the one to join up.
  



I didn't care for last week's episode at all, so I am pleased to be able to say that this is my favorite of the four episodes thus far.  Much of this probably has to do with the strong direction from series vet Jonathan Frakes, who similarly elevated a few episodes of the otherwise lackluster Discovery during its first two seasons.  Frakes simply knows Star Trek better than, say, Hanelle M. Culpepper.  This is not to knock Culpepper's work; she directed the first three episodes nicely.  But Frakes knows his shit behind the camera, and he also has an inherent knowledge of the subjects at hand.

That said, the Romulan nun stuff sure does end up looking a bit like Picard has arrived at a place looking to hire a sword to help escort him to Mordor.  If a dwarf popped out from behind  curtain and bellowed "...and my AXE...!" I wouldn't have been super-duper surprised.  But even so, I liked these weird Romulan warrior women, and I also liked Elnor.  (Does the child version of him look a bit like Clint Howard playing Balok, by the way?)  Patrick Stewart was convincing and lively playing opposite him in the flashback scene, and while that's a somewhat different Picard than any other we have ever seen, it's not terribly hard to believe that Picard might have turned into more of a softy after we last saw him in Nemesis.

Meanwhile, aboard the Serenity La Sirena, Agnes evinces some chemistry with Rios (who seems unaware of it).  We meet two more Emergency ____________ Holograms, one dedicated to Hospitality (!) and the other a Tactical aide.  The EH is an automatic homerun with me, because he's a scruffy, unkempt stoner type who speaks what sounds like slang-laden Spanish.  In no way should this guy be on a Star Trek series, and yet, somehow, I found it charming that he was.  I can't say definitively that I'm a huge Rios fan so far, so we'll see where that goes; but his roster of holographic crewmates is deeply weird, and if nothing else that's an interesting subplot.

Speaking of interesting subplots, I'm not sure the one onboard the Borg cube counts.  And yet, I kind of am interested.  Is this purely because I think Isa Briones is super hot and because I liked Harry Treadaway on Mr. Mercedes?  Possible, but whatever the case, I'm somewhat more interested in them this week than I'd have expected after last week. 

Jeri Ryan finally shows up as Seven Of Nine this week, too, which is dope.  I wish I hadn't known this was going to happen.  Only part of me wishes that, actually; most of me understands the value of putting Ryan's face out there to generate goodwill for the series leading up to its premiere, and that side of me also loves the fact that Jeri Ryan and Seven Of Nine are beloved enough to have actually been of use in that regard.  She's a great and somewhat underrated Trek character from a great and somewhat underrated Trek series, so I think it's pretty cool that she's getting to have a sort of resurgence via Picard.  And yet, think about how incredible a moment it would have been if Ryan's presence was unknown, and her name absent from the opening credits; a mysterious savior shows up in this episode's final scene to help save the Sirena's bacon, only for their ship to be damaged, necessitating an emergency beamout ... and then it's Seven Of goldarn Nine?!?  That's a reveal for the ages right there.  I totally get why they didn't do it that way, and I even support them having not done it that way.  Still, it's a hell of a moment which was not allowed to be.  And yet: pretty dope.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Stardust City Rag"


(season 1, episode 5)

airdate:  February 20, 2020
written by:  Kirsten Beyer
directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
  
The ragtag gang of misfits go the Freecloud and try to rescue Bruce Maddox from an underworld figure who is holding him captive in the hopes of selling him to the Tal'Shiar.  Seven Of Nine tries to avenge the murder of Icheb.  Agnes is neurotic a lot.  Meanwhile, I gave up thinking this would be a good series.




In order to do credit to the extent to which I disliked this episode, I'd have to rewatch it and go scene by scene with my complaints.  That would require rewatching it, which is a thing I'm disinclined to do.

Suffice it to say that:

  • I've decided Patrick Stewart is barely playing Jean-Luc Picard.  He's mostly just playing Patrick Stewart.  It pains me to say that, but here we are.
  • Jeri Ryan, making her true debut here, is barely playing Seven Of Nine.  That said, I can connect the dots between Voyager's Seven and Picard's Seven more easily than I can connect the Picards.
  • Episodes of Star Trek should not begin with a torture scene that could literally have come out of Hostel.  And I say that as a fan of Hostel.  
  • Bruce Maddox was apparently just a Macguffin.  Sure am glad we spent five episodes talking about him...
  • There are exposition scenes in this that are as nakedly ham-fisted as any I've ever seen.
  • Raffi is the perhaps the worst opening-credits-worthy major character of any Trek series ever.  If there's a worse one, I'm failing to think of them.  Does Warren Keffer on Babylon 5 count?  Wait, wait; no, of course not.  And anyways, Raffi is worse.  Worse than Raffi: the actor playing her son, who is incompetent.
  • Freecloud is basically Rouge City as it might have appeared in Ready Player One.  It's kind of cool looking, but whatever.
  • Somebody felt obliged to name-check "Mister Quark of Ferenginar."
  • Somebody felt obliged to have ad avert for "Mister Mot's Barber Empire," or something like that.  By all means, use an obscure character reference to prove that you know what Star Trek is.  Sure, that'll work.
  • Somebody felt obliged to mention tranya.
  • The hot but torture-inclined bar owner lady looks mildly like she could be related to Marina Sirtis.  I'm glad Troi never appeared in that outfit she's wearing during TNG.  Wait, what am I saying?!?  I'd rip somebody's eyeball out to see that!
  • In this episode, not one, but two, main-credits Star Trek characters commit cold-blooded murder.  Trek characters have committed cold-blooded murder before on occasion, so this is not 100% out of bounds.  But one of them here is meant to be cool, and the other is almost certainly going to be meant to be acceptable later on down the line when more of the plot is revealed.  Fuuuuuuuuuuuck this show.
  • Picard goes incognito by wearing a beret and an eyepatch and adopting a ridiculously awful French accent.  It's a joke about him not having a French accent despite being French.  Get it?  These moments are one of the only times in Trek that I've thought Patrick Stewart gave a poor performance.  But he's AWFUL here.

That scratched the surface, I guess.

Bryant's rating:  * / *****


"The Impossible Box"
  
  
(season 1, episode 6)
  
airdate:  February 27, 2020
written by:  Nick Zayas
directed by:  Maja Vrvillo
  
While she's on a break from being a worthless drunk, Raffi imposes upon a Starfleet connection to give Picard a Federation credential to enter the "Artifact" (Borg cube) as an official representative.  Picard does just that, and has a cheerful reunion with Hugh (from the actually-good-Star-Trek episode "I, Borg").  Meanwhile, Narek has figured out how to crack the Soji code: he's going to introduce her to a Romulan meditation bull shit ritual which will allow her to see deeper into her dreams.  Via this method, he plans to learn the location of a planet, after which he can just kill Soji.  This doesn't work as well as he might have hoped because she punches her way through the floor and escapes the radiation which is going to do her in.  Then she meets up with Picard and teleports with her to some other world.  Elnor, in a painfully dumb plot development, stays behind to protect them.  Yes, you read that right; he stays behind to protect them.





I just don't care.  I don't care about any of this.  Last week's episode broke me of my investment in this series.  It's not impossible to think that it might yet be regained, but it won't come freely and it won't come willingly; this series will have to take it from me -- I'm no longer in a mood to simply give it away.

A few thoughts:

  • I guess I'm supposed to think it makes sense that Agnes got away with killing Bruce last week?  The EMH observed it happening, and there must surely be protocols for something like that.  But this week, it's like nobody even considers questioning her story of what happened.  And maybe it makes sense; maybe she reprogrammed the EMH or something, or maybe this one works considerably differently than the one we sometimes call Shmullus.  (Go watch Voyager if you don't get that reference.)  All I know is, as presented in the two episodes, this makes zero sense.
  • Speaking of making zero sense, Elnor's plan to keep Picard safe is dumb as a packet of ketchup.  He disobeys Picard's directive to stay away from the cube; okay, fine.  But then he has to protect Picard in order to make time for he and Soji to walk through a teleportation device.  But they walk through it before any enemies show up for Elnor to fight, so the protection has succeeded before it even needed to begin.  But then, Alnor refuses to go with Picard SO HE CAN KEEP PROTECTING HIM.  From nobody; from hypothetical people who haven't even shown up yet.  In what universe does that make more sense than going with Picard to the unknown elements which exist on this planet about which Elnor knows nothing?  This could be an entire planet of rabid dogs for all Elnor knows; an entire planet full of Cujos, and Picard is now stranded there, getting his throat ripped out.  Good job, asshole.  Elnor sucks.  The guy playing him is kind of awful, too, while we're here.
  • I continue to hate Raffi.  Oh, how amusing; she drinks straight from a bottle.  I love Firefly.  I don't want Firefly in my Star Trek.  I want goddamn fucking Star Trek in my Star Trek.  "Raffi Musiker."  Fuck off.
  • I will now be objectionable by saying that if I've got to live in a world where I have to endure the possibility of beloved characters having their eyes literally ripped out of their skulls like they're in a goddamn Hellraiser movie or something, I don't think it's too much to ask that I be allowed to see somebody get nekkid on Star Trek.  Understand me: I don't want to live in a world where either of those things is happening on a Star Trek show.  But if ONE of them is happening, both of them ought to be.  And hey, I don't much care who.  I know who I'd cast my vote for, but it's 2020 and I'm not supposed to tell you things like that anymore, so I won't.  What I'm saying is: I'll settle for anyone.  My point being, we get a very well-played buildup-to-sex scene between Alison Pill and Santiago Cabrera, and then we cut away to something else altogether.  You're going to rip poor Icheb's eyeball right out'n his head but you've got to then get all coy about Agnes and Rios swapping goo with one another?  You're okay with turning Seven into a murderer, but apparently all Soji and Narek ever do in bed is take naps?  Fuck off.
  • I didn't think Patrick Stewart was particularly good in "Stardust City Rag," but he's considerably better here, especially in the moments when he's confronting his former time among the Borg.  That said, uh, guys, we did that already.  It was a movie called First Contact and it was pretty cool, you should check it out.  Is it plausible that Picard would still be wrestling with those issues all these years later?  Yeah, I guess so; apparently in this version of the future, nobody ever gets over their damage -- all that work toward it seems kind of pointless.  
  • The reunion scene with Hugh was good.  "I, Borg" is a great episode, one which makes the entirety of Picard thus far seem like something written by middle-schoolers.  But this scene was fine.
  • The Romulan dreamquest room or whatever is deeply stupid.  Soji walks around a bunch of lanterns and this somehow allows her to meditate and "remember" from an implanted dream the exact information Narek needs to know.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight...
  • Also, Soji is made out of meat, right?  So tell me again why she can punch through a floor like she's goddamn Iron Man or something...?  I could kind of accept that Data and other actual synthetic lifeforms can do that because they, presumably, are made out of something other than flesh.  Soji, unless I misunderstand, isn't.  So even if she had the strength to punch through a floor, her flesh could not withstand it.  This show sucks.
  • Next week -- spoiler! -- Riker and Troi show up.  I have no expectation of this show managing to do anything other than ruin them both.  I'll be there to find out, though.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****


"Nepenthe"
  
  
(season 1, episode 7)
  
airdate:  March 5, 2020
written by:  Samantha Humphrey & Michael Chabon
directed by:  Doug Aarniokoski
  
Picard and Soji emerge from the Borg teleportation device on Nepenthe, where they rendezvous with Will Riker and Deanna Troi, as well as their daughter Kestra.  Soji is dismayed over the prospect that not only is she not real, but that all of what is happening around her might be similarly false; she is not yet able to trust Picard.  Meanwhile, Agnes is dismayed over her life choices in general, but seems especially dismayed by something she saw three weeks ago via a mind-meld with Commodore Oh.  And on the Artifact, Elnor and Hugh try to escape the clutches of Narissa to various degrees of success.




I can't in good conscience call this a great episode, because there was a lot of questionable material in it.  Elnor continues to feel like a castoff from The Hobbit, and the cognitive dissonance of seeing him run around and fight Romulans while onboard a Borg cube seems like some kind of internet mashup metastasized into big-budget television.  It still makes so sense that he remained behind while Picard went to Nepenthe; that's a screenwriting fail, plain and simple.  And the stuff onboard Serenity Sirena was somewhat offputting if only for the sheer number of times Agnes vomited or otherwise expelled fluids from her mouth.  Narek's big plan was apparently to pull a Boba Fett and track Soji to wherever she's going?  Lame.  Hugh gets killed by Narissa the Maxim-model Romulan?  Lame.

But then there's the rest of the episode, which brings back both Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis.  They both slide right back into their roles with effortless ease, and if anything, they seem more confident in portraying older versions of their characters than Patrick Stewart does.  They are both terrific; in fact, this might be one of the best performances Sirtis has ever given as Troi.  Frakes is just as good, and Stewart steps his game up; this is handily the most like Picard Picard has seemed on Picard.  Isa Briones is probably at her best, as well, AND, by the way, Lulu Wilson plays the Troi-Riker daughter, Kestra.  (Thanks to the internet, I know what I had otherwise forgotten: that Kestra is named for Deanna's deceased sister.)

I've had numerous problems with this series, and still do, and will likely continue to do so.  With the possible exception of Discovery, it is on pace to handily be my least-favorite Trek series of them all; and let's not rule out the possibility of me disliking it even more intensely than I dislike Discovery.  All is not yet said and done, so we can't deny that possibility.

Even so, during the scenes when Frakes and Sirtis are onscreen, especially the ones they share with Stewart, I felt the spirit of Star Trek: The Next Generation rise up and take flight.  You can't be a TNG fan and feel these scenes were anything other than gold, surely.

But does that make up for how lamely Hugh is used?  Not really.  In no way is Hugh as beloved a TNG character as Riker and Troi, but he was a beloved character all the same, an instrumental element of what is arguably one of the best episodes of the series.  But here, he's dispatched by a knife to the throat by a mustache-twirling villain who give off heavy incest vibes; and he is killed primarily, it seems, to give a Tolkienesque Romulan good guy something to do while the rest of the series continues to happen.  Hugh is absolutely wasted.  So yeah, it's awesome to see Riker and Troi again; their scenes legit choked me up.

Do they rescue the series?  Absolutely not.  They don't even rescue this episode fully.

On that last score, they do at least get close, though.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****

OH...!  And I almost forgot my biggest problem with the episode: the manner in which Marina Sirtis was credits as opposed to the way Jonathan Frakes was credited.


Frakes merits opening-credits billing as a "special" guest star, whereas...

...Sirtis is shunted off to the closing credits, with no "special."


Uh, fuck that.

First of all, Sirtis was arguably as important a castmember of The Next Generation as Frakes was.  If not, she was close, and either way, she was a primary cast member for all seven seasons.  Relegating her to the closing credits of this episode is unforgivable, especially since Deanna's role is, if anything, even more emotionally impactful than Will's.

I'm sure it was some sort of Screen Actors Guild bullshit which brought this about, but whatever the rationale, it's a monumental failure for me.  I'm not sure it's fair to hold it against the episode itself, but it's absolutely fair to hold it against the series.

And I do.  Sirtis deserves much, much better treatment than that.


"Broken Pieces"
  
  
(season 1, episode 8)
  
airdate:  March 12, 2020
written by:  Michael Chabon
directed by:  Maja Vrvillo
  
With Soji onboard La Sirena, things begin to come together: turns out Rios has seen her -- or a version of her -- before, during the incident which precipitated his departure from Starfleet.  Agnes wakes up, confesses to killing Maddox, and tells everyone the story of what Commodore Oh showed her: the Zhat Vash discovery of "the Admonition," a super-ancient warning against allowing synthetic life to cross an evolutionary threshold.
  
Meanwhile, Seven shows up and helps Elnor survive on the Artifact.  She is unable to do anything to prevent Narissa from flushing all the hibernating Borg drones into space and murdering all the XBs right in the face, though.




I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode.  On the one hand, it includes a decent amount of the things which I've found to be deeply problematic about the show -- a questionable stance toward Starfleet; a persistent belief that Raffi is charming; too much graphic violence; too many profanities (there were three or maybe even four f-bombs in this one) --  but on the other hand, I was engaged throughout.  Even though the episode mostly consisted of talking, it felt as if the series moved considerably toward its endgame whatever that is.

But back to the first hand ... we caught a very brief glimpse of Airiam during the Admonition flashback scene in the beginning.  Yep; that Airiam.  From Discovery.  This can only mean that a big chunk of this season is going to be revealed to be related to the absolutely horrendous Control plotline from Discovery's second season.  Or maybe it'll mean something else entirely; maybe they only used a flash of Airiam's face because they wanted to suggest something synthetic and it cost nothing to reuse a glimpse of her.  Lordy I hope so.  Because if this season of Picard turns out to be nothing more than a spinoff of Discovery, I'm rioting.  I'm gonna run out into the street with a sock full of quarters wearing nothing but tennis shoes and my smallest pair of underwear, and I'm going to holler a lot of invective about these shows at people in cars as they pass by.  I figure I can make an impression upon several dozen people before the authorities haul me in, and just in case I run across one of the producers or writers of CBSAA's Trek shows, I'mma puttin' that sock of quarters to use.  People will think I've gone nuts due to the coronavirus panic, but nope, I'll be out in them streets on account of somebody force-feeding a bunch of ExLax and tranquilizers to Star Trek so it had no choice but to shit the bed.  This ain't Star Trek's fault, y'all; this is the work of Bad Actors.

And I don't mean "actors" in the Tom Hanks / Rita Wilson sense -- that's a timely coronavirus-panic reference for you -- but in the people taking bad and unfortunate actions sense.

No, the actors on this show are generally quite good.  I cannot get warmed up to Raffi at all, and maybe that's due to Michelle Hurd, but maybe it isn't.  Same with Elnor and Evan Evagora.  but apart from that, all the main actors in this episode are very good.

The best scene is probably one in which Picard and Soji are having breakfast.  She gets him to talk to her about Data, and Picard says...

Well, actually, that whole part of the scene is worth transcribing, so here it comes:

Soji:  "Tell me about Data.  What was he like?"

Picard:  "Well, Data was ... brave; curious; very gentle.  He had a child's wisdom, unclouded by habit or bias.  He made us all laugh, except when he was trying to make us laugh."

Soji:  "And you loved him."  She does not say this as a question.

Picard:  Looks somewhat taken aback by that, but not in a negative way; it is possible the thought has never consciously occurred to him before.  "I, um...  Yes; in my way."

Soji:  "Did he love you?"

Picard:  "Data's capacity for expressing and processing emotion was limited.  I suppose we had that in common."

Soji:  "If I could see you with his eyes, with his memories, what would I see?"

Picard:  "How would I know that?"

Soji:  "What do you hope I would see?  How do you wish he would remember you?"

Picard:  "You mean if he had survived me rather than the other way around...?"  Soji nods slightly.  "I hope he would remember Jean-Luc Picard as someone who believed in him, who believed in his potential and celebrated his successes; counseled his when he fell short; helped him when he needed help, and if he didn't need it got out of his way.  Words to that effect."  Picard looks down at his plate, possibly in emotional discomfort.

Soji:  She has been picking at her scrambled eggs, and takes a bit.  Earlier she had expressed some existential confusion over the idea of not knowing whether she liked eggs or was programmed to like eggs.  As she takes a bite, I expected her to say that she had decided she liked eggs, or something like that.  Instead, she looks up from her plate and locks her eyes on Picard, and says confidently, "He loved you."

The look which comes over Patrick Stewart's face in response to this probably could be described, but it should not be; it should be seen.  It is very brief, and is so strong that it almost makes all the bullshit which has come with this series worthwhile.




I'd also add the following notes:

  • I've seen complaints about Isa Briones.  I think she's pretty damn good, personally.
  • Ditto for Alison Pill, except I think she's flat-out great.  I'm not sure I think her character is a good fit for a Star Trek show, but in no way is Pill to blame for this.
  • Santiago Cabrera is growing on me.  A fifth -- and final, apparently -- holographic version of Rios shows up this week.  The EEH, or Emergency Engineering Hologram.  Yes, he speaks in a Doohan-esque "Scots" brogue, which is just delightful.  See?!?  God fucking damn it, y'all, is it so hard to just concentrate on stuff like THIS and make a fun and inspiring Trek series?  It shouldn't be!  But no, we've got to have THIS series, which opens with a scene in which various Romulan women -- why are they all women, exactly? -- have a vision and can't handle it and phaser themselves in the face and claw the skin off their cheeks and literally bash their own heads in with a rock?  All I need to get from you is engineers with dodgy Scottish accents; you can leave the rest of that shit at home.
  • "The rest of that shit," by the way, involves Admiral Clancy telling Picard to, and I quote, "shut the fuck up."  Weirdly, though, I kind of liked her this time.  She turns out to perhaps not be quite the villain we expected; she agrees to send Picard some help.
  • Jeri Ryan shows back up as Seven.  She's excellent.  This version of Seven is more laid-back than the one we used to know in some ways, but she's obviously still haunted and somewhat repressed.  She kind of turns herself into a Borg Queen of sorts for a short amount of time, but that turns out to be no use, and she steps away from it once its futility is obvious.  Ryan is strong in every phase of this brief scene, which doesn't actually amount to anything, but feels as if it does thanks to her excellence.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****, I guess?


"Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1"
  
  
(season 1, episode 9)
  
airdate:  March 19, 2020
written by:  Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman & Akiva Goldsman (story); Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman (teleplay) 
directed by:  Akiva Goldsman
  
After a bumpy ride through the Borg trans-warp corridor, Picard and his crew get to Soji's home planet.  Narek attacks them and then the Borg cube shows up and then a bunch of ginormous space orchids show up and kind of gently take everyone to the surface, where we learn that a colony of synths are living.  One of them is Dr. Soong's son.  Sutra, seemingly a less-advanced version of Soji's model, mind-melds with Agnes and sees the Admonition, which is actually a message for synths to reach out to their gods when they need help.  More shit happens and Picard gives an unsuccessful speech.




As I write this, things in America -- and across the world -- are seemingly on the verge of melting down as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.  We all have uncertain futures.  But that's always true, isn't it?  We talk ourselves into thinking otherwise most of the time, if we have the ability to do so; many of us don't.  I myself have no idea what's coming in the next few days, weeks, months.  Years?  Let's get there first.

All I know is that it makes sense to me to keep on keeping on, to whatever extent that is possible.  And thus it is that even with an uncertain future, I can manage to find time to complain about how big a suck-assedy mess Star Trek: Picard has turned out to be.  Caveat: they've got one week to save things.  Impossible?  Nah.  Not at all.  Unlikely?  Oh yeah.

I'm going to hold off on saying much more than that, because without knowing where this is all headed -- and I mostly mean this first season of Picard, not the big-picture other stuff -- I just don't feel as if it makes sense to begin issuing final judgments.  I'll say that based on what I saw in this particular episode, my immediate reaction was of the "that's it? that's what you've got?" variety.

A few specifics gripes:

  • I'm shocked by how little I've enjoyed Patrick Stewart this season.  He's been great at times, and he's never been bad, but in many ways Picard is an afterthought in his own series, even when he's front and center.  If this has, to some extent, been an extended rope-a-dope session and the season finale puts Stewart to massively better use, then maybe that could mean something to me.  As is, I'm shocked -- shocked, I say! -- by how uncommanding Picard has been written.  That's the point, I know; I get that.  Why you'd want to make that series is beyond me, and if you do, you'd better do something more with it than this series has done.
  • Everybody from La Sirena walks -- treks, even -- over to the Artifact to check on Elnor.  He's fine.  So they talk to him for about a couple of minutes and then they're all like, "Welp, gotta go, y'all be good."  And Elnor once again stays behind, remaining apart from Picard.  The guy who he's sworn to protect.  Remember that episode where they made a big deal about that?  Pretty decent episode.  Turns out it was apparently pointless; they introduced all of that only to -- seemingly -- ignore it.  I say "seemingly" because, again, who knows what will happen next week.
  • Brent Spiner shows up, playing Noonian Soong's son.  Like ... whatever.  I'm guessing there'll be more to say about this next week.  Spiner is only so-so here; I just don't give a turd about a Soong Jr., y'all.  Not even vaguely.  Never cared much about Soong himself, either.
  • As some internet commenter someplace said, it kind of looks like what this season is going to be is an even-less-entertaining version of "Descent" Parts 1 and 2, which is incredible.  That two-parter is not a favorite of mine.  It's alright, though; it's better than this crap on Picard.
  • As some internet commenter someplace said, it kind of looks like this season is going to culminate in an even-less-funny version of "I, Mudd."  Now, me...?  I kind of like "I, Mudd."  If you don't, I get why; but I kind of do.  Imagine a version of that which took itself seriously, and insisted that the stakes (probably) involve all biological life.  THAT'S the Star Trek we get as America is driving itself to the emergency room and trying to not pass out from blood loss on the way.  Great.
  • Raffi is just awful.
  • Narek is just awful.
  • Agnes is kind of awful, too.  It sure does seem as if everyone is going to just let her skate on the whole murdering-Maddox thing.  If so, that's a strange decision, especially since what we learn this episode about the Admonition seems to make her having murdered him even less necessary than it already was.  If anything is going to happen with these synth-god beings or whatever, it was already going to whether Maddox lived or died.  So in other words, the series -- again, seemingly -- has dropped the ball in terms of making any sort of persuasive argument for Agnes having done what she did.  I'm not saying there's ever a good reason to kill somebody, but I'm definitely saying that if the reason you kill somebody boils down to "well I was worried" and it turns out there was no reason to be worried, then YOU, madam, are a murderer.  So why is this show suddenly treating Agnes as though she's not actually a murderer but a misunderstood scalawag?  It feels like bad writing, plain and simple.

On the other hand, a few individual scenes pop pretty well.  Picard telling the crew about his brain condition and cautioning them not to piss him off by treating him differently is strong; the space-orchids are weird and cool in a way that Star Trek only now has the budget for; I don't think Sutra is much of a character, but Isa Briones does well playing her; and even though I'm kind of tired of seeing Agnes get emotional, Alison Pill sure is good at doing that.

We'll see -- ? -- what happens next week.

Bryant's rating:  * 1/2 / *****


"Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2"
  
  
(season 1, episode 10)
  
airdate:  March 26, 2020
written by:  Michael Chabon (teleplay); Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman (story)
directed by:  Akiva Goldsman
  
Narek goes to the Artifact and takes a satchel of grenades.  Narissa is there and asks him -- literally -- is he has fucked any of the synths; he says -- literally -- not yet.  Seven kills her.  Agnes helps Picard escape.  Narek talks Raffi and Rios into helping him invade the synth colony with an explosive soccer ball (alright, fine, they hide one of the grenades inside a soccer ball, it's not actually an exploding soccer ball in and of itself, although with replicators you could probably just make one of those, I bet), which works.  Everyone tries to talk Soji out of activating the beacon, but she does, and some Cthulhus start to come out of it, but then Picard talks her out of it, so it closes before the Cthulhus come through.  But really, if they wanted to, couldn't they anyways?  The Romulan fleet shows up and Agnes plays a trick to make it look like there's a fleet of Sirenas, but that doesn't work for long, but then there IS a fleet of Starfleet vessels, commanded by Acting Captain Will Riker, who still looks cool as fuck to me.  The Romulans are chumped and slink away.  Picard dies, and still nobody calls this shit Irumodic Syndrome.  Picard's consciousness is transferred into the golem Soong has been building, and he's now got a new body which will last him for however long he would have lasted naturally in his old one, if the brain problem hadn't been an issue.  Before he gets his new body, Picard visits with a simulation of Data in a massively complex quantum simulation.  This is a barely-concealed redress of Picard's chateau holodeck program set, which is kind of a failure of imagination, I'd say.  Picard is apparently now going to be the "Admiral" in charge of La Sirena, which may or may not mean he's in Starfleet again, I don't know, they don't say for sure, and his crew consists of Captain Rios, Agnes, Raffi, Soji, and Elnor; and, apparently, Seven, who is spotted holding hands with Raffi at some point in a WTH moment to rival her late-series fling with Chakotay on Voyager.  See you next season, if COVID-19 doesn't kill the show!


 

My flippant and dismissive attitude has likely telegraphed my assessment of this episode, but just in case, I'll spell it out: I thought this was weak stuff indeed.  Not entirely without merit; strong moments pop up here and there, such as the fan-servicey just-in-the-nick-of-time arrival of Riker to help save the day.  Chrissakes, who's watching this show and wants that NOT to happen, though?  Somebody, surely; not me.

And yet, the standard operating procedure for the series continues to be to NOT give fans what they want.  I reckon that most TNG fans would have preferred this to be a standard Picard-commanding-a-ship show; I surely would have.  But hey, they wanted to make something else, due to been-there/done-that reasons.  I guess I get that urge.  And yet, this season ends with the seeming promise that from this point forward, Picard is going to be a Picard-commanding-a-ship show, except the ship isn't a cool, badass Starfleet vessel, but a garbage scow or whatever La Sirena is.  Great.  This is just so the screenwriters have people say "fuck" every now and then, isn't it?  Jesus.

I winced my way through the majority of the episode, but failed to take notes on what all was making me wince.  One thing which comes to mind is the missed opportunity with Data and Soong.  The internet was ablaze with speculation that A.I. Soong (Altan Inigo Soong) was actually Lore in a human body, but no, that doesn't happen, and thank the Great Bird for it.  I figured we were somehow going to be given Data's memories in a Brent Spiner body, which I would have been down for; you get to bring Data back that way, and you get to have Brent Spiner on the show without having to resort to having play yet another previously-unheard-of Soong.  This could even have paid off Data's desire to be a real human.  But apparently I am, in this regard, a better writer of Star Trek than anyone writing this Star Trek, because that doesn't happen, either.

Instead, we get a scene between a dead Picard and a simulation of Data, seemingly created by Maddox from a neuron or something.  How's Picard get there?  Not explained.  Is it kind of a decent scene anyways?  Yeah, but only kind of.  It's nice to see Stewart and Spiner together, and the simulation aspect is vaguely intriguing.  But beyond that, it didn't do much for me, to be honest.  I didn't get even slightly emotional at any point during the episode; Picard "dying" had no stakes, because it was plain as day what was going to happen.  And if that was what was going to happen, why bother?  With the entire season, I mean.  Why bother?  Ostensibly this was a ten-episode season about a man facing his imminent mortality, except they don't really explore that concept beyond a surface level, and in the end they turn their back on the concept altogether and just fling some bullshit on the screen.

So from my standpoint, the entire season simply amounted to nothing.  I liked things here and there; it was nice to see Deanna and Will again, and they both felt like themselves.  None of the other legacy characters did; we didn't see Picard and Seven so much as we saw Patrick Stewart and Jeri Ryan.  Hugh and Icheb were disasters; so was Bruce Maddox.  The new characters were fleetingly okay at times, but more often sucked the air out of the room with the interest they failed to generate.

And on top of it all, the core concept: that Starfleet had turned its back on the Romulans and had then denied synths the very right to exist.  As a concept, it's a dud.  What if, instead, we had been given the story of how Picard helped to keep the Federation united enough to prevent those things from happening?  That's a better story by a factor of ten, I'd say.  That these "writers" (I cannot bring myself to actually admit that Akiva Goldsman is paid to perform that job) went in the direction they went in tells me that they should not be writing Star Trek, period.  Even Michael Chabon seemingly has no idea what he's doing; I'm glad he's not going to be as involved in the second season.

Which I will probably watch, because I remain a sucker.  I knew this episode would be trash, and yet, I nevertheless felt excitement as I pressed play on it.  I'd gotten very little sleep the night before, but stayed up until 2am CST for when the episode dropped, and watched it immediately.  For the past several years, Star Trek as it currently exists has been almost exclusively a travesty, but there I was, reflexively assuming, if only briefly, that what I was about to see HAD to be good, because it was, after all, Star Trek.

Well, no.  It wasn't.  And, I would argue, it kind of wasn't.

Bryant's rating:  * / *****

It's probably actually better than that, but I just don't care.  Everything is falling apart, and my give-a-shit with this show ran out five episodes ago.  I'm sure plenty of folks loved the finale, and loved the season, and good for them.  I mean it; if that's you, good for you.  I'm glad Trek is giving you what you need.

As for me, getting what I need -- much less what I want -- is increasingly an unlikely prospect.

And on that forlorn note, I bid you a good night.

10 comments:

  1. EPISODE ONE: ENCOUNTER AT SUCKFEST.

    (1) I think Index might literally have been the only thing I liked in the first episode, so I hear you there.

    (2) "I'll accept it ... for now. But I'm not happy about it, and it strikes a mild note of concern for me. " Mild was too mild for my own reaction. I think I even said aloud wtf is this? Are they seriously taking beats from Nemsis AND Generations, FFS?

    (3) "I wonder what Doctor Schmullus has to say about all of that." Yep. The whole synths-ban thing is dumb. Full stop. I won't say "not Star Trek" because there is some slight precedent with how there was always some plot to dissect Data. It's just: THOSE episodes only felt like Star Trek once Picard started dressing everyone down. Like duh, this is Trek you asshats, get off my ship. Anyway: you were much more cautiously optimisitc about things ater your experience with the first ep than I.

    (4) And you're so right about the theme music. Who wastes opportunities like that? Too many people.

    (5) The Captain Picard Day banner was good... but, I don't know. There should've been some comment about how he never would have thought he'd keep suhc a thing and then some wistfulness about it or something. Granted he had other things on his mind during this scene, maybe that's just how I would've done it. It kind of had that feeling for me of the scene in SPECTRE where Hildebrand is stenciled on the door. Like hey guys, look!

    (6) My main takeaway was wow, this doesn't feel like Star Trek at all, and I'm not at all intrigued at any of these ideas.

    (7) I was going to do this episode by episode but I don't think I have as much to say about it all. Really, you hit the nail on the head in the Serenity namecheck - these are all ideas from other shows, cobbled together, in a very un-Trek like fashion. The Firefly stuff was especially egregious in the first episode, I thought.

    (8) Also on the head: "At some point, you're going to need to actually tell me a worthwhile story, and right about now I'm feeling those old Discovery blues, the ones which tell me that I'm being hoodwinked into believing that just because you put Star Trek in the title you're making a show I can care about. I'm afraid that I might care, but in the wrong way."

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    1. (1) Never to appear again!

      (2) Yes, I was an optimistic fellow in those days.

      (3) The idea of the Federation banning synthetic lifeforms is ridiculous. Just 100% ridiculous. Comparatively, what Maddox is trying to accomplish in "The Measure of a Man" is stone-cold rational. They could maybe have gotten away with doing a plotline like this on "Enterprise," and have the result of it be a thing which helped set the (eventual) Federation on its course.

      I just don't accept the Federation doing that in the TNG era, though. How would you police it? There would be some member worlds who balked at it; and since the "rogue synths" attack only took place in the Terran system, why *should* other worlds be bothered enough to sign up for that ban? What do they care about that on Bajor, or Andoria, or Tellar Prime? Hortas don't give a good goddamn, I bet.

      Similarly, the notion that the Federation would simply abandon the attempts to save as many Romulans as possible is ... I mean, it's unthinkable from a larger-context-of-Trek standpoint. I guess at least Picard himself was so aghast at this that he resigned his commission over it, but even he is basically just shrugging about it.

      It only gets worse the more I think about it.

      (4) I'll confess that the theme music did grow on me somewhat. But only somewhat. It's effective in moments, but those moments last only briefly, and then the theme transitions to a separate section. It's not as bad as I initially took it to be, but it's weak and spineless and pretentious, just like the show itself.

      (5) I think I liked that because it was an invitation to long-time TNG fans. I appreciated the fact that the show was content to just hang it there and let the people who knew about it feel something when we saw it. And if nothing else, it's proof the people making the show did see at least a handful of actual TNG episodes.

      (6) By the end of the season -- maybe before -- I was in agreement with you on that.

      (7) It does not improve in that regard.

      (8) I know there are Trekkies who love these new shows, and I hesitate to sound like TOO much of a dick on the subject, but ... I just don't get it. Actually, I kind of *do* get it, because once upon a time, I thought all Trek ought to do was precisely something like this: a gritty, hard-edged show which took the lessons of BSG and applied them to Trek. I was a goddamn idiot to want that. That's not Star Trek. That's something else. Why want that? You can get that from other shows. You come to Star Trek -- or you did once upon a time, at least -- for STAR TREK.

      I don't know what you come to "Picard" or "Discovery" for. Self-torture, in my case, I suppose.

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    2. Oh, and I forgot to give you a thumbs-up on EPISODE ONE: ENCOUNTER AT SUCKFEST. Thumbs up!

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  2. (9) Yep, it was the Icheb-dies episode where everything fell apart. I had already decided it wasn't for me and was nursing my disappointment about it. Then this happened. Now it's "Fuck this show."

    (10) "during the scenes when Frakes and Sirtis are onscreen, especially the ones they share with Stewart, I felt the spirit of Star Trek: The Next Generation rise up and take flight. You can't be a TNG fan and feel these scenes were anything other than gold, surely." Kind of? I don't know. I was unmoved. I can certainly understand what you're saying, but I just didn't feel it, mainly because of everything leading up to it. I see stuff like this in convention videos, without all the horrible context and extra terrible characters and un-Trek-ness. Still: I understand what you mean.

    (11) Yep, killing Hugh was bad. I'm not into the disconnected Borg drone either. (That was on Voyager, FFS! Not saying it was handled all that well or that it couldn't be revisited or redone, but I'd feel better if I felt they even knew there was a VOY episode with a disconnected cube. As you likely recall, I referred to that episode as a lost chance for a Borg children of the corn special; here that miss is compounded considerably.)

    (12) "I'm shocked by how little I've enjoyed Patrick Stewart this season." Right? I kept asking "What is he DOING?" I'm going to offer my theory: he's just the wrong optics for them to invest in. It kills someone somewhere in the loop of this that they have to cast a white man as a lead, etc. I know, I know: maybe it's all in my head. But I can see so much of this crap in how they're approaching things. And to echo your Covid remarks: I still find time to bitch about this when I see it! Bigger fish all around. Anyway, it just feels like Jean-Luc Picard has been Harrison-Bergeron'd.

    (13) "Brent Spiner shows up, playing Noonian Soong's son. Like ... whatever. I'm guessing there'll be more to say about this next week. Spiner is only so-so here; I just don't give a turd about a Soong Jr., y'all. Not even vaguely. Never cared much about Soong himself, either." Agreed on all counts.

    (14) You raise an excellent point about Agnes's murdering Maddox and the show dropping the ball unforgivably on even addressing this. This hadn't occured to me but I agree completely.

    (15) "the standard operating procedure for the series continues to be to NOT give fans what they want. " Pointedly. Almost as if we're being punished for even wanting it. "What you WANT is for Raffi and Seven to explore their bisexuality." Well, maybe some people want that, sure. But good lord.

    (16) Your "And on top of it all..." wrap-up paragraph says it all. I tuned out after Icheb's torture and punted, but kept tabs via you/ some other folks. I'm not going to bother with season two. (Whether or not, as you say, such a thing will be in the cards is out of our hands, apparently.)

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    1. * disconnected Borg drone

      cube, I meant.

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    2. (9) I hated that episode even before I knew that was Icheb. I'd forgotten he existed, only to then read about it online afterward. At that point, my hatred bloomed into fury. And now, having actually revisited a handful of his Voyager episodes, the fury has only intensified.

      (10) I'd say if that stuff doesn't work for a TNG fan, that fan definitely need not apply for enjoying the rest of the season.

      (11) The Borg were shockingly irrelevant in the grand scheme of the season. It's almost as if somebody determined early on that the series had to have Borgses in it so as to pull in a few viewers, but nobody had any real idea of what to do with them. I'm sure that's not actually the case, of course...

      (12) I'm less convinced of the down-with-whitey angle than you are, but either way, the bottom line is that I saw Patrick Stewart on this show, not Jean-Luc Picard. I blame everyone involved for this, including Stewart himself.

      (14) It's so weird. I can't remember whether I said this above anywhere and am too lazy to check, but *maybe* the idea is that Agnes is so profoundly impacted by her glimpse of the goofily-named Admonition that she goes kind of insane. We see something similar happen to the Romulans we see in flashback taking in the Admonition. But if this is the case, then (1) it makes no sense for Agnes to have kept her composure after seeing what she saw, meaning she ought to have just gone insane right there on the spot; and (2) if Agnes gets the benefit of the doubt for her motivations, why would the Romulans themselves not get the same treatment? THAT'S kind of a problem. It's a problem either way. This show sucks.

      (15) And there are people who think you're out of your gourd for thinking any of that. I don't know how to respond to it. I'm clearly coming at things from so profoundly different an angle that the divide cannot be bridged.

      As for the Seven/Raffi thing, it's just ... I mean, look, I'm genuinely all for the inclusion of non-straight sexuality in Trek. Have been for a long time. But you can't just fling it in there willy-nilly. Seven and Raffi barely met during the season. If you want to introduce them to each other and show a sexual chemistry between them in the actual narrative, then okay, I can work with that. I hate Raffi, so it's not going to do anything for me, but ... sure, go for it. As-is, though, it's blatant pandering. And not even effective in THAT sense!

      (16) If I had not signed up for a year-long subscription to All Access, I would have canceled immediately after finishing the episode, and would have sent somebody a strongly-worded letter about why I was doing it. And I might yet. I only signed up for the year because I figured "The Stand" was on the way. No way that fucker airs until 2021, though; if it doesn't just get totally mothballed.

      The fact is, All Access has done nothing that I've liked. Discovery is awful; the new Twilight Zone is awful; Picard is awful. I still have some mild hope for Lower Decks, but even that is likely a foolish sentiment.

      What a shame! A set of shames, really.

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  3. I definitely didn’t hate Picard as much as you did, but I don’t have a burning impatience to see the next season. I learned THAT lesson with Westworld Season 2. (Looking at you bat-shit, season dominating, contributing nothing of value, Delores.) But, there were snippets of things in this season that I enjoyed very much, despite the obvious flaws that you have pointed out.

    I really loved seeing Riker and Troi and finding out their backstory. The many versions of Rios were just goofy fun. Actually getting to see the Daystrom Institute. Data, just Data.

    I agree there were horrible happenings that you described very well. There were also many things that were not explained enough to my satisfaction. For instance, what the hell happened to 7 of 9 between the end of Voyager and her joining the mercanary group? What made her that way? Last I remember, she had hooked up with Chakotay. Now she’s this kick ass, gun toting, kill bill-esque, near psychotic person? How? Why? I really want that to be explained better. We need that backstory. I do anyway. Because even though it was good to see that she has survived and loosened up, I don’t understand what has made her this person we see now. It just doesn’t make sense.

    The Raffi / 7 of 9 bisexual thing may not be what it appears. See this YT vid, (https://youtu.be/duLiBr_3ZtY), timestamp 5:50. Makes sense to me, but it seems the older I get the less shit I remember. I definitely didn’t remember this thing from Voyager. I should really rewatch that series, and TNG.

    The theme music reminded me a bit of the theme music for Westworld. Ok. More than a bit. It seemed to almost be an exact copy. Though I do have to say that I haven’t seen one friggin episode of WW Season 3, and probably won’t, so I can’t really remember exactly what that music sounds like. I think it’s close though. The whole intro reminded me of Westworld’s. The slow-mo graphics and the music, etc. Are there really no original ideas anymore?

    I usually rate, in my head, how much I liked something by how much I think about it later. I don’t think about Picard much. It was ok. But sadly, not memorable. Maybe the next season will be better.

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    1. (1) "Looking at you bat-shit, season dominating, contributing nothing of value, Delores." -- Aw, I like her! But I agree, she's kind of a wet blanket in the second season. Better in the third, in my opinion; at least what I've seen so far.

      (2) "I really loved seeing Riker and Troi and finding out their backstory." -- That was absolutely the highlight of the season for me, and while they were onscreen I really did feel some love for what I was seeing. If the entire season had been along those lines, they'd've gotten few complaints from me.

      (3) "what the hell happened to 7 of 9 between the end of Voyager and her joining the mercanary group?" -- Good question. But I think the Fenris Rangers (sigh) are intended to be a sort of vigilante peacekeeping force, not a group of mercenaries. That's how I took it at least. I suppose I can live with the idea that she wouldn't have ended up in a permanent Starfleet posting, but again, this is an example of the show's writers trying to undo previous Treks.

      "The Raffi / 7 of 9 bisexual thing may not be what it appears." -- I don't know what else it could be, to be honest; and my only objection to it is that it comes out of nowhere. I'd think the same thing if it were, say, Soji and Rios.

      I myself *did* remember the Vulcan game, but had forgotten what it was called. There are actually a number of subtle "Voyager" shoutouts like that throughout the series, not all of them Seven-centric, either. I thought they were mostly well-done, and it makes me wonder why, if they could gets tuff like that wrong, they couldn't also get more of the BIG stuff right.

      "The whole intro reminded me of Westworld’s. The slow-mo graphics and the music, etc." -- I really love that Westworld theme music, personally. I kind of got used to the Picard theme music, but never felt anything other than that both the music and the credits themselves were a bunch of buildup in search of a resolution.

      "I usually rate, in my head, how much I liked something by how much I think about it later. I don’t think about Picard much. It was ok. But sadly, not memorable. Maybe the next season will be better." -- We can hope so, at least! I think that's a pretty good metric of judgment, by the way; anything that doesn't stick in the mind a bit is probably pretty disposable.

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    2. “That was absolutely the highlight of the season for me, and while they were onscreen I really did feel some love for what I was seeing. If the entire season had been along those lines, they'd've gotten few complaints from me.” I agree. There should have been more of the familiar and less of the new. It wouldn’t have even had to be familiar characters or places, just familiar behavior by Picard, Starfleet, etc. That would have pushed the show from being so-so, to something eagerly anticipated. And as you’ve said, the writers are either too lazy or unconcerned or whatever to write that sort of story.

      “But I think the Fenris Rangers (sigh) are intended to be a sort of vigilante peacekeeping force, not a group of mercenaries.” Vigilantes. You are right, that is a more appropriate term. The word escaped me at the time of that comment however. :D

      “I really love that Westworld theme music” It is indeed awesome music. And an awesome intro. Most are highly skippable. That one does not fit into that category. Speaking of music in Westworld, do you remember the gunfight outside Maeve’s bar in the first season? You probably know this already, but the music playing in the background was a westernized version of the Stones “Paint it Black”. So so cool. Damn that first season was amazing.

      “I think that's a pretty good metric of judgment, by the way; anything that doesn't stick in the mind a bit is probably pretty disposable." True words. If writers, or directors or whoever is in charge of creating something that tells a story can't bother to make it memorable, there's no reason for me to allow it to take up space in my brain.

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    3. "And as you’ve said, the writers are either too lazy or unconcerned or whatever to write that sort of story." -- It could be any of those things. It's probably not laziness (that's a charge I level at the writers of these shows too often), but it's *something*, that's for sure.

      "Speaking of music in Westworld, do you remember the gunfight outside Maeve’s bar in the first season? You probably know this already, but the music playing in the background was a westernized version of the Stones “Paint it Black”. So so cool. Damn that first season was amazing." -- Yep, that was a good scene. I don't think it's been in an episode yet, but there was a great instrumental version of "Sweet Child o' Mine" used in a trailer for the third season.

      "If writers, or directors or whoever is in charge of creating something that tells a story can't bother to make it memorable, there's no reason for me to allow it to take up space in my brain." -- Damn right!

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