Ruth's Diary


Well I did it. I watched the whole season of 'Star Trek: Picard'.

I will say that I am among the audience that enjoyed the sense that I derived the same level of enjoyment from it like I did 'Star Trek III: The Search for Spock' or 'Star Trek: Insurrection'. 'Generations' is also considered a lesser Star Trek movie, but considering how much of a rush job it was, it's impressive how well it turned out and the character work is great. 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier' is even now voted the worst Star Trek movie ever (unless 'Into Darkness' beats it) but that movie is so bad it's entertaining.

So yes...3 or Insurrection I'll compare it to: so much potential, fun little moments but so many possibilities missed entirely. Also, no creativity. None.

To give a perfect example of this lack of creativity: at one point the characters visit FreeCloud, which is meant to be a territory with no government and no rules. OK, a place with no rules where gangs and companies can do whatever they feel like without the 'onerous burden of rules and laws', I can see that existing in the Star Trek universe...but why the hell does it look like a cross between Blade Runner and Rapture (from 'Bioshock')? It's almost like someone was desperate to put a Cyberpunk locale into Star Trek somehow...

...please no. A completely anarchic area of space between The United Federation of Planets, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire...would not resemble a CyberPunk city straight out of someone's Mass Effect fanfiction. It just wouldn't.

Since I'm still on the topic of canon-obsessed fan gripes...why money? This is probably a strange question for those unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise but...humanity has no money. Since the economy is post-scarcity there is literally no need for money, so no one relies on it; money is not the limit to building ships. I bring this up because Captain Rios agrees to fly Picard around based on whatever he is paying what? When in FreeCloud there are mentions of Latinum, which makes sense as that is the Ferengi currency and this place is not affiliated with a specific species. But they never established why Rios agreed to be the pilot and ship for hire - it's like the writers couldn't figure out a reason so they talk about payment - but then before they clarify what the payment is, they check Memory Alpha to find out Earth's currency and discovered - whoops there's none. Let's hope the audience doesn't notice. WELL I DID NOTICE. So here's a really simple solution: Picard makes wine, Rios is a heavy drinker, payment is a case of wine. Done. Solved.

OK OK, time for legitimate criticism. So the show is enjoyable over all because the plot is very basic. In fact, it was pointed out that the basic plot is essentially that of Mass Effect...I don't know how I feel about that (or if I agree). So, we meet both Picard and Dahj, Dahj is attacked unprovoked and realises she's not human. Runs to Picard for help, Picard realises she is (sort of) Data's daughter, tries to help her but she is killed in front of him. He learns about the research of Bruce Maddox, whose last appearance was in the TNG episode 'The Measure of a Man' (nice touch) and it seems he has found a way to create androids or 'synthetics' in pairs of twins. So Picard is now on an adventure to find the walking macguffin - I mean Dahj's sister Soji.

So this is all good. The continuity established at the end of Nemesis (Data's self sacrifice) and beginning of 'Star Trek' (2009) (the star closest to Romulus going super nova) is at the forefront of the series. We also see Picard is no longer in Starfleet, so it is not surprising that he cannot get their assistance in protecting either android sister, which means he has to find other means of getting a ship. However, just to further drive home any further allusions to anything written by Dan Brown ever, the Romulan couple who work for Picard tell him about a shady covert organisation working within the Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar. This extra shady organisation is called the zhat vash whose sole purpose is to make sure synthetic beings never live/thrive/threaten the universe or...something. The why is better established than their end goal in my opinion.

So, good things to highlight: Isa Briones did a great job playing, Dahj, Soji and other sisters. Yes, other sisters. I found her convincing in being able to play multiple characters who just happen to look alike. All the actors did their best and fleshed out their roles as much as possible, but my word, the writing could have been better. The idea of a group of people with barely anything in common working towards an end goal is always fun. Finally, I really liked the fact that the focus of most of the series was on the various sub-cultures and side cultures of the Romulans, because we never really got proper insight into their society and culture. Usually, when Star Trek uses Romulans in their stories, we see only either the military or the Tal Shiar - there were lots more pathos, individuality and diversity of representation in the Cardassians than the Romulans (or even Vulcans - I really want more discovery of Vulcan sub-cultures please). So one of the characters we meet is Elnor, a very young Romulan male who was orphaned and raised by a sisterhood, under whose supervision he learned the value of absolute candor, loyalty and awesome sword fighting. I found the values of this sisterhood of absolute truth and candor very interesting as it's antithetical to the dominant culture of Romulus.

So his character must be awesome, right?

He reminds me of a very opinionated, headstrong, teenager with barely a personality. Even worse, this is the kind of character archetype you see in first-time D&D players who just decide to play as a dual-sword fighting rogue because they're cool.

So here's where I point out the first missed opportunity: I feel like this series would have felt more unique if the whole show had been from his point of view. Him looking in on the person and legacy of Picard, asking him why he does what he does. Of course, you can also argue the same about making Soji the lead character. I know why they didn't, so...I'm going to leave this missed opportunity to the end as I feel like addressing this could have fixed the rushed and cowardly ending. The final missed opportunity is the crew bonding. If that sentence confuses you, well, let's compare this setup a little with previous Star Treks a bit.

In each iteration of Star Trek, part of the magic comes from the bonds between members of the crew. This is something Discovery also struggled with and got so very wrong. In this version though, 'Picard' sees disparate members of a group coming together from almost nothing and working in a unit. But we as the audience are unable to place each person's role in this unit (apart from Picard and Soji), partly because in each episode you have one or more characters off the ship. Yes really. Now I can see what they're trying to do - each time a character leaves the ship to pursue their own sidequest, they're supposed to develop their character: the feelings, the motivations, their understanding of their place in the universe...this doesn't really happen though. I mean, when Soji meets Will and Deanna Riker, this was exemplary storytelling and character work. But what the hell does Elnor learn on the abandoned Borg cube? Why does Raffy's personality and motivation completely change after being denied by her son? Why did Seven decide to stay on FreeCloud and enact a roaring rampage of revenge?

Oh yeah, Seven of Nine appears! What has she been up to since the end of 'Star Trek: Voyager'? She decided to become this franchise's version of The Punisher...apparently. That is seriously disappointing, I mean, she is a hell of a lot smarter than this and she doesn't act particularly rational or intelligently here. Saying that though, I do sympathise with her anger after the death of Icheb. Oh yeah...that pile of crap. Icheb dies after we see him getting his eye pulled out without any anesthetic or attempt to stem blood loss. Definitely this series' lowest point. Not because a legacy character died, not even how he died. It's just that that sense of 'must-be-like-Game-of-Thrones-look-at-us-try-too-hard' mentality so pervasive in Discovery reared its ugly head here. If a story is truly good, such graphic scenery is not necessary - it served no purpose. What was wrong with seeing Seven finding out what happened in the aftermath? Or even finding out it happened off screen?

Anyway, regarding my questions about the character no-development in the previous previous paragraph, technically I can answer those questions. The trouble is, a good story with excellent character development does not just tell that story through actions and dialogue, the story and the character decisions have to make sense from both context and also what the audience know of the character. Unfortunately, few characters are memorable enough to give us a sense of how they act, how they feel, how they self-portray.
There has been no inter-relationship development, or very little. Very few moments when characters just sit around and chat (Game of Thrones proves this method of character and world building is vital). No reasons given for the characters to get along, for the characters to be loyal to each other, etc. It makes the series feel a lot more hollow and, truthfully, makes me feel a little worse for the actors and the hard work they put in, because they really did try.

So, the finale: turns out that Noonian Soong had yet another relative hiding the attic and we meet his biological son Alton. On a planet inhabited by only him, pairs of android twins and orchids (go with it). Now as Soong does introduce himself as a mad scientist, it's not surprising that he has developed an android body, which can accept a person's consciousness and accept it as their own. Boom! An actual hard science fiction concept that's been rarely explored in fiction and is a new idea to the Trek verse (relatively speaking) and...they do nothing with it. No discussion, no exploration, just introduce it as an obvious Chekov's gun. Even though the point of Star Trek is to explore new life (see Picard's wonderful speech in the above-mentioned
episode 'The Measure of a Man'). So fine. Soji has found her home, the androids are cool, but Romulans have a massive armada headed to their position and there is a remaining mystery as to what it was they saw that motivates the zhat vash. So it turns out it is a 'broadcast' by an unknown artificial civilisation who offer protection to all synthetic life at the cost of complete annihilation of all other species. Which is what the zhat vash fear. So one android decides to believe this whole hog without scrutiny, frames a murder of one of her sisters and convinces all of android-dom to side with her to greet this...whatever it is. The Romulans prepare to annihilate the planet, the beacon to summon the machine Cthulhu is activated, but Picard saves the day by not only getting Starfleet to finally listen to him and send their own fleet to defend the colony-of-artificial children and convinces Soji to switch off the beacon. It's a very Star Trek ending but it's a bit of a letdown, considering that, just powering down the beacon while Starfleet is present was enough to make the Romulans call off their plan with no repercussions...apparently. After all this, Picard dies thanks to a problem in his brain and...

Now I get to talk about the final missed opportunity. I was convinced that Picard dying here would have been brave but poetic: the Romulan couple who work for him can inherit the vineyard, Soji is free to start her own true life and embark on the next adventures should there be a 2nd season, his old friend Riker could make a final loving tribute. But no, remember the Chekov's gun? They just put Picard's mind into that android body, make it look and age like him and outright say he has another 40-50 years to live. Yay, Picard can stick around for the intended Season 2 (sigh...) Soji had been playing the role of a POV character anyway, what was wrong with her taking centre stage?

So that is my full review. I had to skip over and condense a LOT about this show so I apologise if I misrepresented something. I didn't bother addressing the special effects failures as I believe a story should be able to live or die on its own merits. As you could tell, there were plenty of elements to praise, plenty to criticise. Overall, my opinion of 'Star Trek: Picard' is that the series is...ok. It's fun, offers nothing new or necessary. What greatly limited it from being above mediocre was a limited budget, lack of balls and almost no original creativity. If your time is limited, skip this one.

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