I’ve never tried to like a show as hard as I’ve tried to like Star Trek: Picard.
Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, was the captain of the Enterprise D and semi-nominal main character of the Star Trek revival The Next Generation in the ’90s. And all subsequent movies, of course, along with the new Star Trek: Picard show available on Streaming Service X That You Don’t Want to Pay For Anymore.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard is one of the founding fathers of my own personal moral framework. If he was a polytheistic deity, his portfolio in my internal Mt. Olympus would be “Leadership, Dignity, and Rationality.”
Put it simply, he’s real important to me.
So, it’s no surprise that when they created a nostalgic sequel series called Star Trek: Picard, I was first in line. Excited, gleeful, some may even say “jazzed” to see the continuing adventures of the best captain in Starfleet (yeah, I said it).
Why wasn’t I comfortably cynical about yet another corporate nostalgia-baited cash trap that had skinned my childhood and wore its face like a grim, capitalist Leatherface? Well, dear readers, your boy is sort of a moron when it comes to optimism in the face of incontrovertible proof that the world is a moldering undead shark that never stops eating hope.
Optimism and curiosity in the face of the unknown are, after all, traits that Jean-Luc Picard would understand.
Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard
Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard was not good. It had good moments, certainly. And seeing Stewart slip back into the role after so many years carried with it that delightfully zesty snap of nostalgia that none of us are completely immune to.
The series started well, and someone behind the counter clearly likes Star Trek. Picard is working at his winery (great), missing his life of space adventure (good), wondering if the world has passed him by (sure).
The Federation is seemingly no longer holding to Picard’s high-minded ideals, which isn’t the slap in the face some fans seem to take it as. I’ve seen every goddamn episode of every Star Trek show, and the truth is that the captains on the frontier always held up the ideals of the Federation better than the Federation back home ever did.
The “Evil Admiral” is a well-known trope for a reason: the Federation and Starfleet were trying to be a utopia, but there were always a few worms in the apple.
The plot of season 1 even kicks off with a clever conceit: the beautiful, dangerous, and yet distraught young woman shows up at the disillusioned
private detective’s office captain’s winery with a mystery in her purse. I laughed when I realized what was happening: Captain Picard was being sucked into a Dixon Hill noir mystery, but in his real life instead of the holodeck. Perfect. Love it.
The show would peak there and descend into nostalgic memberberries and awful plots/characters. The callbacks would prove to be the only parts I actually enjoyed, sadly. Yes, it’s fanservice, but an entire episode of Picard hanging out at Riker and Troi’s house while Riker makes homemade pizzas and Troi psychoanalyzes Picard was the best moment of the entire season.
The season would ultimately collapse under another tired “end of the universe plot,” one that owed maybe a few royalty fees to Mass Effect. The newly introduced characters weren’t terribly interesting, and most of the personal conflict in the season used the Star Trek: Discovery model of professional Starfleet officers all acting like the kids on Degrassi Junior High.
The New Guys:
- Raffi: The actor tries her hardest to bring heart to the character (and even partially succeeds despite the script), but “emotionally broken former Starfleet officer and alcoholic” just doesn’t feel like a Star Trek character.
- Rios: Interesting but under-used.
- Jurati: Manic Pixie Dream Girl IN SPACE. With a side of murder, I guess? Not as charming as the show seems to think she is.
- Elnor: “Legolas IN SPACE” loses its charm when he fails to develop into anything more.
My ultimate read on Season 1 was: “Okay, not great, but it has potential. It was nice to see Riker and Data again. Maybe next season will fix some of the sloppiness.”
Narrator: “Next season did not fix some of the sloppiness.”
Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard
Two and a half episodes into season 2 of Star Trek: Picard has left me bereft of both patience and goodwill, and yet I know I’ll finish the goddamn thing somehow.
A stubborn commitment to carry on in the face of inevitable doom is also something Jean-Luc Picard would understand.
What is working so far: Seven of Nine continues to be her character. She’s the only character that feels like she was plucked right out of her original Star Trek show (Voyager, in this case) and transported into this one. Yeah, she’s older, and she’s a touch more human after her experiences, but she still acts like a grown-up, intelligent, professional person (most of the time). She has a new murder streak I don’t love, but she’s more or less the same.
Q is also wonderful, though that compliment can be referred directly to John De Lancie, who hasn’t missed a step.
What isn’t working: everything else.
Like Season 1, this season starts with an actually interesting hook: Q has stuck his dick in the timeline to teach Jean-Luc a lesson (or to deliver penance, as he explains later). It’s a classic plot for a reason. It calls back to the TNG finale “All Good Things,” and it resurrects one of the most entertaining relationships in the series. Great, no complaints so far.
And hell, I haven’t finished the season yet, maybe it’ll end up in an amazing place.
There’s that optimism again. Worse than a cockroach.
Anyway. Just like last season, the hook isn’t enough to save the show from its writers. It’s become clear that this newest era of Star Trek is stupid. I don’t know if it’s stupid because its being made by stupid people (maybe), or because it’s being aimed at stupid people (almost certainly).
The show is stupid in the big ways and the little moments, which I will now outline until I get tired of doing so.
The Little Stupids
Guinan explaining that El-Aurian’s age “by choice” to explain Whoopi Goldberg’s appearance is kinda fucking stupid. Just de-age her, or don’t include her. She’s been the same appearance for like 500 years and ages suddenly now? Q’s age-play makes more sense because he’s an omnipotent trickster asshole and would definitely look old to mock Picard.
Rios tells Seven to aim for a ship’s “starboard nacelle.” Seven then fires and hits the ship’s deflector dish (which is not a starboard nacelle), destroying it and killing all aboard. Rios says “good shot.” I can’t tell if this is an error because the people making the show don’t know what a nacelle is, or because Seven took the iniative to ignore the captain’s order and murder an entire ship. No one is upset about any of this.
Rios is the official captain of an official Starfleet vessel, and is literally smoking a cigar in the command chair during a crisis. This is the dumbest fucking shit I’ve ever seen in my life. This isn’t the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon, where everything smells like Wookie balls and tequila. Put your stogie away Captain Inappropriate Work Environment and sit up.
Picard, who is essentially a school principal at this point, is able to activate the self-destruct on the new Stargazer despite there being no fucking reason in the universe he would have been given that authority. He also just stepped on board the ship for the first time like five minutes earlier. He also has the codes to do this, somehow, and is able to activate self-destruct without authorization or the codes of the actual captain of the fucking ship (who is standing right next to him). This completely works.
Everything in the alternate timeline is oddly similar despite like 400 years of divergence. Even Rios’ personal ship is exactly the same as it is in the previous timeline, including him being the sole crew member. This is even weirder because he’s explicitly a Colonel in this timeline. A Colonel would be, you know, leading people: it’s one rank below “General.” Why is a Colonel flying an empty civilian freighter into battle? “Colonel” is also a fucking Army rank and not a Navy rank.
They also give Evil Picard an Army rank, despite him clearly being a Naval Officer. Apparently the Army is eviler than the Navy? Are we not supposed to notice? Why is everything stupid?
The Big Stupids
The Borg reach out to Starfleet with an offer of peace and ask to join the Federation. They also ask for help. Starfleet assembles an armada, raises their shields, refuses the Borg, and ultimately provokes a fight without even trying to communicate. This isn’t depicted as a bad thing, as Captain Rios (one of our main characters) is the tip of the spear and is antagonizing the apparently peaceful Borg at every step. The Borg then, of course, attack when they are met with nothing but raw hostility. Even when the Borg Queen begins non-lethally attacking crew members, the Starfleet crew responds with lethal attacks. Starfleet has apparently gone from “optimistic diplomats” to “the LAPD.”
Episodes later, after some time shenanigans, Raffi begs to kill the captured, mostly harmless Borg Queen who is their only chance to stop the fascist future (and get back home). This Borg Queen has also already helped them escape certain death. This Borg Queen is also not remotely responsible for the Sad Event Raffi is sad about. Raffi keeps crying about it and huffing and puffing around the ship like a sullen teenager. She is the Commander of a Starfleet vessel at this point and is like 50 years old. She doesn’t even make any counterpoints (like you might in a Star Trek show) when her crew tries to explain why killing the Borg Queen will doom them all. Instead, she answers all of these reasonable arguments with the equivalent of an angry “nuh-uh.”
Raffi tries to blame Picard for “playing” with Q (in the past television shows and now), and the narrative seems to be on her side. Picard also doesn’t argue with her, and makes guilty faces during her screed. This is depicted as some kind of dark realization for Picard. Reality check: the games Q has been playing with Picard have not been consensual. It is very fucking clear that Picard actually hates Q and demands Q stop his scenarios and time/space dickery at every possible opportunity. Q is an immortal, omnipotent god and Picard is a space-Frenchman who talks really good. This would be like blaming the rat for being put into a maze and having makeup tested on them. It’s not really up to the rat.
There are more stupid things, but this blog is long enough. Many of them are just the intangibly stupid: action beats that don’t make sense, directing choices, breakneck pacing that doesn’t allow you to think about anything, etc, all the usual tricks.
In short, while Star Wars seems to have lost its courage, Star Trek has lost its brain.
I’m going to finish the season, even if I do it with my fists clenched and my teeth squeaking together. I honestly hope it gets better, I really do.
Maybe Q’s lesson will be an intelligent and fascinating take on human nature. Maybe the reason for the fascist future will shock and amaze and hold together logically. Maybe Picard and Friends will act like professional adult astronauts with multiple PhDs instead of cast members of the OC with phasers.
I’ll swing back here when I’ve finished up to share my final thoughts on Season 2.
Want to hear something truly psychotic? I saw the teaser trailer for Season 3 and I got excited. Now that is true stupidity, my friends.