Jean-Luc Picard is back on his bullshit.
And by “bullshit” I mean “having arguments with admirals”.
Sometimes I come across the idea that Picard is stuffy, conservative and extremely respectful of authority, but you only have to watch any episode of TNG where he interacts with the admiralty to see how wrong that is. He likes hierarchies — but only if he’s at the top. When it comes to following orders he disagrees with, he’s … actually kind of bad at it.
So there’s nothing really new in seeing him lecture Admiral Clancy (spoilers: I love her) about Federation ideals and morality. Except that, finally, an admiral gets to call him out for his hubris.
Specifically his sheer fucking hubris, and I firmly believe that as soon as the door closed on Picard, Clancy was on the phone to Necheyev to say, “GUESS WHAT I JUST DID!”
Legends: check. Maps: not so much…?
I liked this episode much better than the premiere — I have criticisms, but for the most part they’re more like quibbles than profound concerns. But I’m a little … thrown by the storytelling — we had forty-five minutes of set-up, exposition and worldbuilding, but very little has actually happened to advance the plot.
This is not entirely a complaint! I enjoy set-up and worldbuilding, and apparently I don’t mind exposition if it comes from Orla Brady. But where weekly episode drops suited Discovery, I’m wondering if, in some respects, Picard would have been better served by enabling us to binge.
It’s a quandary. This is clearly a story that’s not entirely suited to being doled out in pieces, but at the same time, the week-by-week release enables audience engagement to grow, and we can experience the story’s developments collectively. I think that both systems have merits, and on the whole I prefer weekly episodes, but the pacing is unusual.
(According to Alex Kurtzman in the official podcast, the first two episodes were expanded into three, which might explain the leisurely pace.)
It’s not bad, mind. Very little happened this week, and yet I was thoroughly engrossed. Only one scene feels wasted — the one where Laris gets to play CSI: Tal Shiar, and we have all this dialogue and exposition, and the eventual payoff is … learning that Soji is offworld.
(I don’t understand why this is surprising to Picard — surely it’s just a minority of humans who live on Earth?)
The problem is that then there’s no payoff. Surely the next step is for Laris and/or Zhaban to track the subspace relays which conveyed Soji’s communications and triangulate her location? Or attempt to do so and reach a dead end?
The big goodbye
I saw a tweet last week which pointed out that the premiere had the set-up of the sort of hardboiled detective fiction that Picard loves: a beautiful woman in trouble seeks the help of the main character, drawing him into a mystery; she fascinates him, but ultimately dies.
(Which I still have not forgiven, by the way.)
This week’s episode represents a different type of detective fiction: the aristocrat who solves mysteries with the assistance of his loyal servant. Yes, Jean-Luc Picard is Lord Peter Wimsey, and Laris is Bunter.
(Bunter, as I recall, always handles the forensic side of detective work, while Lord Peter deals with people. That, too, fits.)
Picard is also a spy thriller, which I guess brings me to…
The extra-secret secret police
It is extremely silly to have the Romulan secret police, and then, behind that, an extra-extra-secret intelligence agency. But, hey, the Federation has Starfleet Intelligence and also Section 31, which (like the Zhat Vash) does not officially exist. So I’ll allow it.
(If it turns out that the Cardassians are the only ones who don’t have a MOAR SEKRIT agency behind their intelligence service, I’ll be deeply amused.)
Anyway, we have the Tal Shiar, who are your standard, everyday oppressive intelligence service (watch TNG’s “Face of the Enemy” for a look at their role, and their place in society, and also a rare amazingly good Deanna Troi story), and then we have the Zhat Vash for … what?
I like the idea that Romulans have a taboo against artificial intelligence — there was a reference to Romulan cyberneticists in a TNG episode, but we can let that pass because it’s quite clear their intentions towards Data weren’t friendly. It’s a neat bit of culture building.
But is the Zhat Vash entirely concerned with AI? Or do they have other purposes? What is the Deep Secret that only the dead can keep?
(Theories I’ve seen so far: that the Romulans created the Borg; that Surak was an AI. Thanks, I hate them!)
It seems inefficient to have an entire force dedicated to destroying AI, especially in a society where it’s already taboo. And, like, Data was around for a few decades, and they didn’t lay a hand on him? So I have questions.
I love every Romulan
And also Commodore Oh, whom I very much hope is a Vulcan who has logicked herself onto the side of the Zhat Vash. Because otherwise we end up with a story like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where sure, our organisation is corrupt and flawed, but it’s only because we were infiltrated by
Nazis Hydra Romulans.
(Can I also say, as a Babylon 5 fan, it’s lovely to see that Tomita Tamlyn — who played the station’s first officer in that series’ notorious pilot — is working really consistently in the 21st century.)
It might be an overstatement to say I love Narek, by the way, but I don’t hate him, and I enjoyed his interactions with his sister. SIBLINGS who are SPIES and in it for EACH OTHER but mostly THEMSELVES. I am extremely sold.
(I’m also very into this thing where anyone with a British accent is either Romulan or French.)
I like all the Romulan characters, but I also love the variety of Romulans we’re getting, both physically and in terms of personality and culture.
We have Laris and Zhaban, who have very much assimilated into human society — and I side eye that, a little; as a friend on Tumblr pointed out, it’s a bit of a “good refugee” narrative — but it also makes sense: as Tal Shiar agents, they were trained in infiltration. And we never see them interact without Picard around.
Then we have Narek, who is as funny and charming as any Romulan we’ve met, but who is also a spy working against Soji; and then we have Nerissa, who has similar aims but is more hotheaded and aggressive in her approach.
There are also various background Romulans: the punk rock emo guy who delivered the workplace health and safety speech — if you can call it that — on the Borg cube, and Soji’s more reserved colleague. And, in the background, a pretty wide variety of Romulan appearances.
I’m so keen for all of this! I’m also excited that we’ll eventually get to meet Elnor (who does indeed have an Australian accent, going by a single line in a preview video), who was raised by a cult of … ninja murder nuns? This entire concept delights me, along with the prospect of seeing a different facet of Romulan culture, and a regular who is neither a spy (we assume) nor wholly assimilated into the Federation.
Speaking of assimilation…
Seriously, what kind of idiot looks at a Borg cube and goes, “Looks nice, I might move in”? (Then I thought, well, say you live in Melbourne or Sydney and can’t afford to enter the housing market through traditional means…)
You have to be desperate (the Romulan government needs the “artefact” and its technology to kickstart their economy) or desperately curious (the Federation citizens) to think this is a good idea. Or both.
Or, like Soji, you’re desperately compassionate.
I miss Dahj, but I do like Soji. We don’t know exactly what her job on the cube is, but it appears to involve the reclamation of Borg drones, whom she regards as people. Patients, perhaps. This means she might take the news of her true nature better than Dahj, the AI specialist, did.
(Or not! But I’m keen to find out.)
She still has very dubious taste in men, but I enjoy that she doesn’t seem to regard her relationship with Narek as a grand romance. More like an exchange of orgasms between friendly colleagues.
(Does anyone in real life wear their bra and knickers in bed after sex? I realise that Star Trek is not yet ready for casual post-coital nudity, but this is one of those things that always puzzles me. I don’t understand why anyone would wear a bra if they did not absolutely have to.)
Sheer fucking hubris
I am referring, of course, to the apparent belief that they can just throw a powerful, unapologetic, pragmatic older women into the fictional admiralty and expect me to love her.
— Karen K. Burrows (@karenkathryne) January 31, 2020
Cannot believe I’m being attacked like this.
FOR THE RECORD, I ONLY LOVE HER A LITTLE BIT. Well, I like her, and am open to more. I need to know something about a character’s personal life to really love them — just a glimpse, a seed, it doesn’t have to be much — and we don’t have that yet.
Which is fine, I’m supposed to be revising a novel, I don’t have time to fall in love with someone else’s character.
*shoves love letters to Laris into drawer*
A notable absence
There’s a moment in “Maps and Legends” where Zhaban asks why Picard isn’t seeking help from the surviving TNG characters. Sorry, strike that — the male TNG characters.
Is that in-universe sexism? Or actual, unconscious sexism from the writers? Probably the latter, but while they’ve hung a lampshade on some absences, I really have to ask:
Now, I spent my childhood watching TNG and resenting every moment Beverly Crusher wasn’t on screen, so in some ways this isn’t a new question. But it’s worth noting that Picard goes so far as to recruit the doctor from his command before the Enterprise, rather than one of his oldest and closest friends.
This is not out of character! He clearly did not expect to be actually fit for duty, and he knows that not only would Beverly refuse to certify him, but she’d probably take steps to ground him for his own good. Or at least shout at him. It’s a sensible decision, inasmuch as Picard’s plan can be said to be sensible.
And yet. In “All Good Things…”, which provides something of a template for this series, when Picard needs a ship for an ill-considered trip to save the galaxy, who does he turn to? Only his ex-wife, Captain Beverly Picard.
So it struck me as odd that she doesn’t even rate a mention. I don’t think it’s a deliberate erasure, or intended to imply that she’s dead (because Sir Pat Stew has talked about wanting Gates McFadden to appear at some point), but it’s … strange.
(I’m also displeased by the silence around Deanna Troi, but at least we know from the previews that she does appear.)
A weakness in the parietal lobe
So Dr Benayoun has discovered in Picard’s brain, which might trigger any number of dementia-like illnesses, only some of which can be treated.
This is, again, from “All Good Things…” — it was, in fact, first diagnosed by Beverly herself, so let me point out again that it’s weird she isn’t name-checked. The syndrome was fairly advanced in that episode; here, it appears to be in the early stages. Symptoms include mood swings, vivid dreams and fits of anger. Which, well. We’ve noticed.
I think it’s a really interesting, brave choice to depict a series protagonist in the early stages of dementia. I can see it going horribly wrong — I cringed at Benayoun’s “maybe you’ll die before you’re affected” bit, that is just bad medicine as well as being ableist — but I hope it doesn’t.
(At least, on an intellectual level, I hope it doesn’t. Purely as a fan who has loved Jean-Luc Picard since childhood, I would be willing to set aside my objections to the ableist “magic cure” trope if they found one.)
Needs moar Raffi
One scene is not enough, guys!
Although — look, I’m sure this wasn’t remotely intentional, but when Picard is all, “I can’t risk the lives of my Enterprise crew!”, there’s kind of an implication that Raffi is expendable? This show is not doing well with race, guys.
Does Star Trek: Picard have an issue with class?
It’s too soon to say — but I found the portrayal of the workers in the teaser pretty stereotypical, so I’m casting a wee side-eye now and reserving some for later.
Oh hey, the teaser!
I wrote 2,400 words and forgot to mention the teaser!
Which was effective, but depressing, because Guinan’s prediction, of a race of people treated as property, came entirely true. It’s not clear whether or not the synths were sentient, or maybe pre-sentient, but hey, TNG had a whole episode about how even pre-sentient artificial life is worth preserving and treating with respect.
I’m kind of side-eyeing Picard for not fighting this system, and also Dr Jurati for looking at this whole situation and going, “Yes! Making more people-property is exactly what I want to do with my life!” But we don’t know, yet, what else was going on. Maybe the synths enjoyed a high quality of life and intellectual stimulation while they stood motionless in their box.
- Bechdel Test: PASSED. See, that wasn’t so hard!
- And even scenes that technically failed the Bechdel test, like Commodore Oh’s orders and warning to Nerissa/Rizzo, tell us a lot about those characters.
- At this point, so many women have been introduced in key roles that, just mathematically, some are likely to die. I fear that Oh and Nerissa will be toast by season’s end, and I don’t hold much hope for Soji’s Trill friend — that whole “extremely scary warning coupled with Soji telling her not to worry” felt like foreshadowing to me.
- Oh look, only one of those women is white. I hope this is just excessive cynicism on my part.
- We’re up to three canonical m/f relationships and not even a same sex flirtation.
- I like the show, but I also notice these things!
- Okay, as long as I’m listing criticisms, there was some incredibly poor dialogue in this episode. The sort of stuff that looks good on the page, but sounds clunky when said out loud. Almost as if the script was co-written by a novelist…
- I’m accustomed to mentally taking a red pen to Discovery scripts, but I assumed for some reason that Picard would have better writing, that’s all.
- There’s been a lot of discourse this week about swearing in Star Trek, and a lot of shock and horror that anyone would dare utter a single profanity in Picard’s presence. Also a lot of “how can I let my children watch this?”, as if we didn’t see a woman get blown up on screen last week. I have some vague opinions about it all, but they mostly boil down to a juvenile desire to drop a C-bomb and scurry away giggling. Americans are very strange, that’s all.
- Do you think, if I asked very nicely, CBS would give me a Short Trek that’s just Admirals Clancy and Janeway hanging out?
I don’t know that this is necessarily a better episode than the first one, but I liked it more. So, three goopy, sticky Borg eyes out of five, which is the same score as “Remembrance” but with fewer caveats.