Star Trek: Picard 1.10 – “Et In Arcadia Ego” part 2

Good news! The finale is better than last week’s episode!

Going into Star Trek: Picard, I had some concerns:

  • That Michael Chabon was too inexperienced to be a showrunner, particularly for a series of this scope
  • That Chabon, based on his script for “Calypso”, was not really familiar with the current state of SF and, for example, the cliches of 21st century science fiction — and also, separately, that he was not great at writing women
  • That this would be a conservative sort of White Dude Trek, aimed at the audience who rejected the overt diversity and relative queerness of Discovery

I dismissed these fears, because Chabon is talented, and his co-producers have a lot of experience, and, well, how could you look at that cast and think the creators didn’t care about diversity? And because I was delighted to have a post-TNG series about Picard, and I wanted to enjoy it.

I’m really very disappointed that, to various degrees, all my fears came true. I mostly enjoyed the finale, just as I mostly enjoyed the season, but there’s no denying that it shares the same flaws we’ve been seeing all season.

Actually, that’s not true — the pacing was … okay

Which, by the standards of a modern Trek finale, is frankly miraculous!

“Okay” is not “great”, though, and I feel that a lot of the episode’s  problems would have been solved by a longer running time.

Remember that time Soji was the female lead?

Here’s one of my beefs with the episode: Soji is reduced from character to plot device. She’s contemplating a genocide! Or, as Agnes puts it, a biocide. We need more than one scene with Picard to get into her head — and much, much more than simply having her stand at a holographic control panel, watching events unfold around her before she changes her mind.

And Sutra — I didn’t even think she was a remotely good character, but she deserved better than to be simply deactivated by Soong. (I have some Feelings about that, and about the synths as a whole, but we’ll get there.) She was such a huge presence this week, and now? What? Nothing.

I feel like we’re missing at least two scenes: one between Soji and Sutra, as Soji expresses doubt about Operation: 1800-DIAL-A-REAPER, and another at the end, with Picard, giving clarity to her thought processes.

(I’d also have welcomed some more interaction with Agnes, because I really do think there are parallels in their experiences, but let’s be realistic here.)

I have mixed feelings about other characters, too

Like, remember that time Raffi was an expert on Romulan culture, and a person who would definitely be familiar, at least in part, with their mythology?

I’ve said before that it often feels like a draft was mistaken for the final shooting script, and it’s because of moments like this. It’s not that Chabon is a bad writer, but the writing seems to have been rushed. Or it’s the work of an inexperienced showrunner who had to keep a lot of balls in the air and inevitably dropped some.

Consider, for example, the complete disappearance of Narek. Here is a series regular, and although almost universally disliked by fans (shoutout to my co-podcaster Anika, who loves him as much as everyone else doesn’t), a very important part of Soji’s story. He’s tackled by synths, then … what? Soji is, allegedly, the major protagonist after Picard — yet she gets no closure.

Then there’s the fate of the xBs, and the ongoing question of whether there are still Federation and Romulan civilians on the shattered cube. And that time Agnes straight up murdered a guy.

These are all important plot threads! They cannot simply be resolved by Instagram Q&A!

An extra ten minutes of screen time — and just a little thought — would have solved these problems.

I don’t need neat solutions. In fact, I’m kind of annoyed that the synth ban has been repealed more or less overnight, as if a society can declare a whole category of people illegal and then go, “Whoops! Our bad!” But these threads should have been acknowledged, if not neatly tied and snipped.

(I’m not even gonna talk about Elnor not getting his cat. He was on the same planet as Spot Two and everything!)

So let’s talk about what I did like

I hang a lot of shit on Chabon and his writing, so here’s a wholehearted compliment: I love the way he writes platonic relationships. Raffi’s interactions with Rios are an absolute joy, and he completely sold me on Rios and Seven having a connection even though they have literally never interacted before.

And it feels like a big, significant step for media in general to have Data and Picard say they love each other, without a dash of “no homo” or “as a son/father/family”. A big part of Picard’s whole arc has been continuing his growth in TNG, from a prickly, isolated man who didn’t want emotional complications, to the captain who could join his crew for a poker game, to the man who tells Data that he loves him.

One of the reasons I like this show (in spite of everything) is that I really believe in these characters and the weird, awkward friendships they’re building.

I don’t really care for “found family” as a trope — I’m more into awkward blends of found family combining with families of origin to FIGHT CRIME. But this group is coming together organically, and I like it.

Speaking of found families

My mild dislike for the trope comes, not from professional media, but from fandom, where it tends to take on cloying tones of “no one can ever leave, or have relationships with people outside of this tight-knit unit”. Like, is it a family or a cult?

So I’m weirdly pleased that Seven of Nine is isolated, lonely and a bit lost, and that Janeway (or Tuvok, or whoever) hasn’t come swooping in to save her.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s a scenario I keep thinking about, complete with hugs (though not from Tuvok) and reassurances that she’s fine and safe and has a home if she wants it. But I welcome the fact that Seven has this autonomy.

(Now, let’s get a Janeway reference in season 2, okay?)

(I can have multiple conflicting opinions at once. It’s a skill.)

Seven has a family again, and also a girlfriend (who is not evil)

Like a lot of people who maybe spent the early ’00s reading Janeway/Seven fic instead of studying, you don’t know my life, stop judging me, I spent, oh, about 24 hours floating on a sea of SEVEN IS CANONICALLY QUEER AND HELD HANDS WITH RAFFI AND RAFFI IS NOT EVIL AND, IN CONCLUSION, SCREW YOU, RICK BERMAN.

Under Berman, Trek worked so hard to avoid LGBTQ representation,1 outside of the occasional Very Special Episode like “Rejoined” — which I didn’t even watch until 2016, because the marketing and commentary around it was so gross — that making one of the most iconic characters of that era queer feels like a major victory.

Voyager had a whole arc about Seven learning to be heterosexual! It was gross and uncomfortable, and I came away from my most recent rewatch going, “But she is obviously ace, guys, look at her!”

Then Picard came along, and Bjayzl, and I was like, “Okay, Seven is bi, that’s cool, too!” But it was still wrapped up in eeeeeeeevil lesbian tropes (Seven’s girlfriend literally murders her son!), and a lot of people didn’t even see that subtext.

So it meant a lot to end the season with five whole seconds of Seven and Raffi engaging in non-platonic hand-touching. Finally, in the very last thirty seconds of the season, a regular is revealed as queer! After all these decades, Seven is confirmed likewise! Again: FLOATING.

Then … Chabon’s Q&A was swarmed by people asking if the hand-holding was meant to be romantic. When asked if the relationship would be made explicit, his response was a gross sexualisation.

And let’s face it, five seconds of handholding between two characters who have spoken exactly once is not exactly groundbreaking in 2020 — although it’s almost reassuring to see that this show is as terrible at building up queer relationships as it is with het.

(Agnes and Rios: still a thing, for some reason.)

So I was floating a little less.

Then I discovered that the whole thing was an ad lib — Chabon, the other writers, had nothing to do with it beyond allowing it into the final cut. It was Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd who did the work. The lack of build-up is explained! But at the same time, it’s terribly depressing that this is how little thought went into representation at the writing level. Yes, the casting is great, but it’s all superficial — see, again, the cliche of the black woman being the addict and screw up. There’s so much room for improvement.

BUT. Seven and Raffi are queer, there are no take-backsies. SCREW YOU, RICK BERMAN.

Planet of the sexy children: I have a lot of thoughts about the synths

In any other Star Trek, Maddox and Soong would be the villains, and it troubles me that this doesn’t appear to have been a consideration at all for Chabon and the other writers.

I complained a lot about Sutra last week, and I still maintain that she’s a terrible character — a pile of sexist cliches in a trench coat.

But I realised after the finale that these synths cannot be more than fourteen years old at most. And as Agnes and Picard make clear, they have the moral understanding of much younger children. Like an adolescent girl, Sutra is mimicking adulthood and sexuality — and wisdom. Her crimes are those of a scared child who hasn’t been taught better. She deserves more than what she got.

“You’re no better than we are,” Soong tells her as he deactivates her. But whose fault is that? If he and Maddox are the synths’ fathers, they’ve failed very badly as parents. Creating the synths was an act of ego, reflecting their own brilliance, but they failed to come to terms with the moral responsibility of creating life. From Soong’s remote deactivation doodad to Maddox’s decision to send Soji and Dahj into danger without even knowing their true identities, they’ve treated the synths as commodities, not people.

And we see that again with Data: trapped by his brother and Maddox in a sterile simulated afterlife, which contains tributes to his existence but doesn’t allow him to grow or change. He can’t even interact with the other synths, apparently.

You could almost call it a metaphor for fandom’s attitude to the legacy characters: Data is an action figure in its original packaging.

“An Eden-like planet of extremely attractive young people is held back from growth by a Well-Intentioned Scientist/Evil Computer/Non-Corporeal Being That Doesn’t Understand What It’s Doing until Kirk or Picard (or, to a lesser extent, Sisko, Janeway or, I suppose, Archer) break the spell” is a classic Star Trek plot, but it’s strange that this doesn’t seem completely intentional. There’s a disconnect between what we see, and what we’re told we’re seeing. Soong is treated like a harmless asshole; Maddox’s sins aren’t acknowledged at all.

I guess the upside is that this isn’t a TOS plot: Kirk probably would have made out with Sutra at some point, and it would be … weird. At this stage, Soji feels like the closest thing to an adult synth, and I don’t think Riker was wholly wrong when he called her a teenager in “Nepenthe”.

Oh yeah, the golem!

Funny story: I got spoiled for the golem twist before I watched the episode, and I was furious. I’m not a big fan of transhumanism, or people losing their bodies and becoming AI in general. It just squicks me.

Imagine my surprise when I … didn’t hate it? I even … like it? A bit?

So here’s the thing: the “magical cure for a disability” twist is usually ableist bullshit. But the disability of old age, particularly dementia, is slightly different — I think. I haven’t done any reading about this in particular, but I have friends whose parents have or had Alzheimers, and my grandparents have dementia, and it’s truly terrible.

I’m pretty okay with Picard getting a workaround, especially since it doesn’t leave him substantially different. (Patrick Stewart’s face when he’s told he doesn’t have superpowers is a picture of reluctant disappointment.) He’s still mortal.

And frankly, in terms of ableist storytelling, I’m kind of a bit more miffed that Picard hasn’t needed his walking stick since Dahj’s death gave him ~purpose. (But then, as I said, I’m not really up on the discourse around cognitive disabilities, whereas I have firsthand experience with physical stuff.)

My main source of disappointment is that, having seen his crewmates grieve, we didn’t then get to see them react to his resurrection. As beautiful as Data’s scenes were, they sort of overshadowed the rest of the characters — you know, the actual regulars. Again: we needed an extra ten minutes added to the running time.

Other things

  • I wish it had been literally any other TNG character than Riker coming in to save the day. Well, Worf or Geordi (also a captain in this era, at least according to the alternate timeline of Voyager‘s “Timeless” — an episode which posits an abandoned Borg cube in the beta quadrant, FYI). Riker just felt like … too much? And he was at his most tediously blustersome.
  • It’s interesting that a series which opened with so much gratuitous violence ends on a Moffatesque note of (almost) everyone lives. There’s no big space battle, and the only casualties are Saga and Narissa.
  • Also, I do not for a moment believe that Narissa is dead. But I notice that, in terms of scripted queer content, she got her moment of predatory same-sex interest in Seven. Wow. Groundbreaking.
  • Did Narek change sides, or simply change strategy? If only we had some way of knowing. Some sort of … scene. Between him and Soji. At the end.
  • Related, but why did Sutra let Narek go after he helped her murder Saga? She should have just killed him and disposed of the body. Oh well, she’s still learning.
  • Commodore/General Oh wound up with even less character development than Elnor, but I love her just the same, and I hope she returns as an antagonist next season. (Oooooh, some kind of subplot about her trying to reintegrate with Romulans after spending most of her life in the Federation? Yes, please!)
  • The magical fixy thingo is ridiculous, and I choose to believe it’s an invention of Wesley Crusher.
  • I really hope La Sirena is on its way back to Earth, because I cannot abide the idea of Jean-Luc Picard as a man who would abandon his dog. Number One doesn’t even take food from Zhaban! He needs his human!

In conclusion

The finale works. It’s not perfect, but it mostly holds together, more or less, and leaves us in a good place for season 2. It doesn’t redeem the flaws of the first season, but it doesn’t introduce any egregious new ones.

So I’m giving both the episode, and season 1 of Star Trek: Picard, three golden eyeballs out of five. It’s not great. But it’s okay.

Up next

We’re back to Voyager posts! I’ve already watched “Basics” part 2 and selected the Good Place gif I’m going to use to sum up my opinion! (You can probably guess what it is.)

  1. He literally had people onset to make sure there were no same sex couples holding hands in one episode of TNG!

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