It may come as a shock to you, my handful of readers, but I actually have many friends; in fact, you probably number among them. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, political persuasions, and intelligence levels (I’m dear friends with some crazy-smart people, it’s true). Many of my closest friends have come from my nearly two decades as part of the on-line sci-fi community.
I could wax poetic about many science fiction properties, but I have three principal sci-fi loves: Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica (the original, not the crap 2003 version that has overwritten and confused much of its history), which followed close on Star Wars‘ heels.
And Star Trek.
I grew up with Star Trek. I watched the original series first-run (yes, I’m that old). Star Trek: The Next Generation helped save my sanity at a very insane time in my life. I watched Deep Space Nine and Voyager religiously (although each was something of a departure from the Star Trek norm, for various reasons, and didn’t always meet the standard set by the earlier two series).
Unfortunately, “Star Trek: Enterprise” sucked, except for the final season (and that was ruined by a truly awful series finale – written by the same people responsible for everything wrong that came before…). And the movies were uneven in quality and story; while all of them are eminently watchable, The Wrath of Khan was the best of the lot, and it was movie #2 of 13 (to date).
And now, CBS is offering up two new Star Trek entries into the franchise: Discovery and Picard. While neither show wins many kudos from old fans like me, I’m going to bypass Discovery today and, because ST:TNG played such a large role in my life at the time (and because I just finished Season One), I’m going to talk about Star Trek: Picard.
Let me say from the outset: I’m a huge, huge fan of Sir Patrick Stewart. If you haven’t seen his Scrooge, you are missing a truly great performance of A Christmas Carol and I recommend it highly – find it and watch it.
SPOILER ALERT! Please be aware that although I’ll try not to insert too many specifics, I will be discussing plot points, so if you intend to watch it and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading here. Then come back and see if you don’t agree with me.
But Star Trek: Picard is not his finest hour. Not because of his performance, no; he hasn’t lost a step there. He plays an old, tortured, and broken man seeking redemption very well, but that’s the thing; it doesn’t seem there is much of Jean-Luc Picard in the character, the character he originated. There are flashes of the old Picard here and there (particularly the season’s final scene, which was deliberate), but this story begins with the revelation that the historically resolute Picard broke, ran, and hid for 14 years, threw up his hands and gave up at the first sign of real resistance. Abandoned the people who supported him, counted on him. That’s completely out of character for the Jean-Luc Picard we knew.
And every character is like that – broken, tortured, a candidate for psychiatric medication. I’m not talking about “skeletons in the closet” stuff, flaws that would make them 3-dimensional characters (and therefore far more interesting), I’m talking about serious mental breakdown stuff – every one of them.
Even in their cameos, his past crewmates bring with them some trauma that has been inflicted upon them, some tragedy that has darkened their existence.
That’s just not real. I understand using tragedy to help make a character a sympathetic one to the audience – I’m a writer, after all – but every single main character, and most of the supporting cast?
Many of the underlying plot points in this series seem tenuous, reached-for, skirting the bounds of reasonable suspension of disbelief (which is required, particularly in science fiction). Made up to make this darker vision work; the continual flashbacks to explain history we never knew about (Romulan warrior nuns? Really?), that bogged down the story and were, quite often, confusing. And there were only glances at major conflicts, a few seconds that hint at significant events, which were then forgotten, rarely to be referred to again. Useless gestures of characters that amount to nothing that furthers the story. Filler. Eye candy for sci-fi nerds.
And the pace… Put it into gear, people. Make it move, please…
The departure from the pure “Roddenberrian” vision of our future doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people; this is a much darker picture of Star Fleet than was every presented when Gene was alive. I’m OK with that, to a point, but there are a couple of moments in Picard that it stepped over the line. They went farther than JJ Abrams did in his movies; I happened to like what the Kelvin universe set out to do (too bad the movies didn’t live up to the promise), and I frankly found the idea of an alternate universe to be very Star Trek, so I wasn’t expecting that Kirk to grow up to be William Shatner. This time, though, Star Fleet was different – and they don’t have the excuse of an alternate timeline to blame it on.
Oh, and the F-bombs they peppered throughout? That word has been around since the beginning of time, and will hold on until the end of time, no matter how many alien languages we learn in the interim. No word is so economical, so emphatic, in any language. They just have to take more care that they don’t use it just because they can…
But all that said…
I enjoyed Picard, for the most part. I found that I wanted to see what came next, although I wasn’t terribly excited about it. And visually, Picard is very pretty, the CGI spot-on; kudos to the artists responsible for that. But I’m afraid great special effects don’t counterbalance mediocre storytelling, and that is this show’s greatest downfall. They foreshadowed either too heavily or not enough; scenes that were supposed to be highly emotional fell flat because we knew too much, or surprised us because we had no clue but should have (we had no indication – ever – either in Picard or any other Star Trek iteration – that those characters swung that way…).
So my overall reaction to Star Trek: Picard is a resounding:
I won’t subscribe to CBS All Access just to see Season 2…