It’s the tribute to season 1 TNG that no one wanted or needed!
So the crew visit an idyllic paradise, represented by a town square and a single indoor set. The inhabitants are friendly, sexy and scantily clad — save for the white-haired patriarch. One of the women is a sexy innocent; the other is a sensual schemer.
Surprise! They’re willing to pay a terrible price to preserve their utopia! The more overtly sexual woman is evil! What a shock! Don’t worry, Picard is here to make a speech–
This isn’t just Trek-by-numbers, it’s lesser Trek-by-numbers. What a disappointment Data’s family is, from his egomaniacal dad to his twitchy and unreliable biological brother, to his variously insipid, weak-willed or morally ambiguous “offspring”. It turns out that Soji is the only interesting or complicated android around — the Zhat Vash may as well do what they want with the rest.
Is that too harsh? As with so much of Picard, I wanted to enjoy this episode, and indeed, there are aspects of it I love. Those orchid weapons! Like something out of a bonkers 1970s SF novel — which makes sense when you consider Chabon’s inspirations. And there are brilliant character moments, like every single moment Raffi is on screen. And Spot Two, the most important legacy character this show has introduced.
But … guys, Soji’s evil twin is the sexy one. Because women’s sexuality, in this iteration of Trek, is scary and dangerous — from Narissa’s incestuous flirtations to Bjayzl, the queer woman who will literally kill your children. Agnes murders her lover. Soji’s rage and grief at Narek’s betrayal is pushing her to endorse a galaxy-wide genocide. This is a series where sex is inextricably linked with death and evil. Soji’s evil twin is the sexy one.
The problem with letting your showrunner loose on social media is that it’s all too clear when the emperor has no clothes. Michael Chabon’s weekly Instagram Q&A is a revelation. He had no idea that Hugh and the xBs had been embraced by the LGBTQ community. He makes lighthearted allusions to how white male privilege got him his job, but posts a list of authors which includes just two women, and only one person of colour.
Apparently we really are meant to think the death of Maddox is a terrible loss for humanity — not because all people, no matter how mediocre, are significant, but because he was a Great Man. Even though what we actually see is yet another above-average guy who slept with his grad student, stole her idea, and who will no doubt get the Nobel Prize while she’s credited as his assistant.
Now we have yet another Great Man of Science in the person of Dr Altan Inigo Soong, and maybe he’s a hero, maybe he’s a villain, maybe he’s just a complicated person doing his best. Sure, he looks just like Data, but so did Lore — and, for my money, a scheme to upload your consciousness into an android body is a parade of red flags and also a supervillain origin story. (It’s also literally the plot of a second season episode of TNG — yet another one where the middle-aged scientist has an inappropriate relationship with his massively younger female assistant. I still cannot believe that trope has been executed with so little subversion in 2020.)
This ambiguity would be a strength in a more competent series, but for all we know, Chabon and team are as uncritical of Soong as they are of Maddox. We won’t know until part 2 comes out.
The good news is that I don’t think it’s possible for the finale to disappoint me. My expectations are remarkably low.
We need to talk about Elnor
So, uh, this is awkward, but, um. Why is Elnor in this series?
I love the guy, I do, he is my precious Australian ninja Romulan elf son, but he hasn’t had a single shred of character development, and his sole impact on the plot has been bringing Seven of Nine into it. And, frankly, I’m not really sure why Seven is here, either, save to shade in the worldbuilding and attract Voyager fans.
It’s just, we had a whole sidequest in episode 4 to pick him up. That was time we could have spent developing the actual plot, such as it is. And I’m not sure the payoff has been worth it.
Agnes and Soji are no longer allowed to make decisions
I’m sorry, but they clearly cannot be trusted with this power.
Admittedly, they’ve had a rough time of it. Agnes had the Admonition put in her head, and then went off and murdered Maddox — which puts her in a position to be guilted by Soong into helping him build his golem. Like I said, to me, that idea is a red flag, but we already know that Agnes has terrible judgement.
And Soji … well, she was deeply hurt by Narek, and what she needs is a night of ice cream, red wine and trash talk with Raffi. Instead, she’s going for more of a murder-then-genocide option, which seems extreme.
Normally I’d be like, well, Soji can have a little genocide, as a treat.1 But it was originally Sutra’s idea, and I don’t like Sutra, so I hate it, and I’m very disappointed in my android daughter.
Having said that, I kind of get it: not only is Soji angry and wanting to lash out, but … well. Imagine meeting someone as confident and authoritative as Sutra — and she looks just like you. But shinier. Soji seems a little overwhelmed by her homecoming, and who can blame her?
(I’m still disappointed, though. But not as much as Picard, who will no doubt tell her very eloquently how she has fucked up.)
I wouldn’t normally advocate for putting two such terrible decision-makers in a room together, but it irritates me that Soji came to Picard with her questions about “the logic of sacrifice”, instead of Agnes. Yes, Picard has decades of experience, and also his name is in the show’s title, but Agnes is right there.
But my hope is that Agnes is staying behind, not for creepy ego-golem purposes, but with the intention of freeing Picard, and that Soji will change her mind.
(Because Sutra is the Destroyer, right? Soji just happens to have the same face.)
(Because Sutra is the sexy one, and therefore evil.)
I’d better talk about Narek here
As Narek alternately pleads with and threatens Soji, I had a revelation: this is a brilliant portrait of a domestic abuser.
Is it intended as such? No idea. God help us, it’s possible the writers genuinely believe it’s a romance. But here it is: he thinks he loves her, and that means she’s obligated to him, and if she denies those obligations, then loving her gives him the right to decide she should die.
This thought crossed my mind for the first time a few episodes ago, when Narek walked Soji through her past and then locked her in a room with a radioactive doodad. This came just a short time after a shocking event in Australia: a man murdered his wife and children by locking them in a flaming car.
I do think that Narek genuinely believes he loves Soji, but that, between his sister’s abuse and the very nature of Romulan society, his understanding of love is … poor. So while I don’t remotely ship it, I would not be opposed to Narek surviving the season and going off on his own journey of redemption — ideally one that involves a lot of therapy.
What I don’t want, and what I’m afraid we’re going to get, is either Narek killing Narissa, or the two of them dying together, Jaime-and-Cersei-style.
First of all, I’m not a big fan of “kill your abuser” as a way of resolving that plot, although I can see how it might be cathartic for others. And Narek’s storyline already has so many overtones of domestic violence that, even though he’s the victim in this context, I’m just not up for men murdering women. (Just one of the many reasons I really hated the end of Game of Thrones!)
And death, for either or both of them — well. It’s just such an obvious, simple way to end a story.
…okay, now I’ve thought of a scenario I do like: Narek dies; Narissa survives and swears to … avenge him? Redeem herself in his memory? Develop a second dimension of characterisation? I’m open to this!
I … completely forgot that Rios and Agnes had a thing
All through this ep, I was like, “Rios is acting so weird around Agnes! He needs to back off!”
Then they had the scene with Spot Two (The Most Important Character), and I was like, “Oh yeah, they slept together that one time.”
Which, may I remind you, Agnes was very upfront about being a one-time thing, but Rios has apparently decided he’s her boyfriend now. Ugh.
Soji’s performance evaluation is … confusing
She was sent to the Borg cube with one job: to find out what triggered its collapse, and if that was related to the synth ban in the Federation.
And the thing is — she still don’t know the answer to the first question. The audience knows the Borg choked on the Admonition, but Soji (and Team La Sirena) don’t.
Elnor is on the same planet as a cat
He’s closer than ever!
Despite everything, I enjoyed watching this episode
I just didn’t enjoy thinking about it afterwards. And that’s kind of a problem, because half the fun of Star Trek is the overthinking!
- Sutra, Saga and Arcana basically stepped out of TOS. Not in a good way.
- It’s interesting that all the antagonists, save Narek, are women. But they’re all so flat — Narissa, Bjayzl and Sutra are just variations on a femme fatale theme, and Commodore Oh only fares better because we know so little about her.
- Michelle Hurd is amazing in every scene. Raffi deserves to be in a better series.
- Do you ever feel like Brent Spiner can only play two roles? Data and … all the other characters he’s played?
- If next week doesn’t feature Seven using her cube to call in the promised Starfleet armada, I will eat … not a hat, but some sort of small headwear.
- Not to hedge my bets, but does anyone know where I might find an edible hat in the middle of a COVID-19 lockdown?