“Because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one.” — Star Trek: Picard review, season 1, episodes 3 and 4

Picard sits alone.
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 3
“The End is the Beginning”
Teleplay by Michael Chabon & James Duff
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 4
“Absolute Candor”
Story by Michael Chabon
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Review by Clinton


In my review of the first two episodes of “Star Trek: Picard” I likened the story to a Dixon Hill holonovel. Now, this additional pair of episodes has added another element of mystery. Specifically, why has it taken four episodes to gather the crew that will set off on this mission?

Is it so we could have the startling reveal of Seven (Jeri Ryan) in the last minute of hour four? As interesting as that was, I don’t think it was the motivating factor.

Perhaps we need the time to get to know Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Carbera), his ship, the La Sirena, and his multitude of Emergency Hologram (EH) avatars, each prone to bursts of psychoanalysis. But no, that isn’t the reason either.  

Picard, Rios and the EMH.

I think the primary reason we plodded along so slowly is so that we could get the full picture of where Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) exists today. After all, this is a man we have not seen for twenty years. We bring certain assumptions with us. How he speaks. How he thinks. His honor and his integrity. But, as this story has unfolded, it seems that most of those traits have fallen by the wayside. He is as broken as he believes Starfleet and the Federation to be.

It is not just Admiral Clancy who calls out Picard for his hubris. Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) does it, too. Twice. Once when Picard expresses surprise that Starfleet calls his bluff when he threatens to resign if the Romulan rescue mission is halted. He says that he never would have believed they would accept his resignation. Raffi, a look of harsh disapproval on her face, replies, “Of course you wouldn’t.” That is followed, years later, by Raffi’s comment to Picard when he comes to her tiny shack, asking her for help.  Raffi, her life ruined by Picard’s actions, listens to his story about wanting to rescue someone he has never even met. Then, again, with that disdain in her voice, replies, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say. The obvious way to go would be ‘You’ve got some goddamn nerve.’ But I gather you’ve already heard that from your buddy, Clancy.” Picard never even came once to visit her. But now that he needs something, he appears as if out of thin air. She sees a flaw in Picard. A hubris that is beyond reason.

Raffi judging Picard.

Then there is the matter of Elnor (Evan Evagora). The young Romulan evacuee who looked up to Jean-Luc Picard. Then, when the Romulan rescue mission was halted, Picard never returned to Vashti. Elnor continued to be raised by the Qowat Milat warrior nuns, who were unable to find the young man a more suitable home. When Picard does return, he is hoping to enlist Elnor, who has now grown to be an outstanding warrior, on his quest to locate Dahj’s android sister. But when Elnor asks, “Why do you need me?” Picard replies with explanations of needing someone younger and stronger along on the mission. And Picard feels his need to locate a woman he has never met is criterion enough for Elnor to bind his sword to Picard’s quest. Elnor replies, seething with anger, “Now that I have use to you? Now that I have value to you? You left me on my own, old man. I see no reason not to do the same.” 

Feelings were often hard for Picard, but, over time, we had seen him open up. He has collapsed in on himself.

And what are we to make of the fact that when Picard dreams, his thoughts do not turn to the people he has wronged. No. He dreams of Data. He grieves for Data. And has done so for two decades. It is as if making the ultimate sacrifice for Picard is the only way to get his attention now. That is not a healthy frame of mind. 

The story chose to linger on these things. We will, presumably, see a change in Picard’s attitude. But this level of damage is distressing. 

Next episode: Stardust City Rag

Random thoughts and observations:

  • After a more than 50 year association with “Star Trek”, it was nice to see Vasquez Rocks finally get on-screen credit. Somewhere the Gorn Captain is shedding a tear of joy. Or maybe that’s just sand in his eye.
  • Seeing Soji Asha and Narek do a variant of the “young lovers ice skate at Rockefeller Center” rom-com trope was interesting.
  • As if there was any doubt, we learned that everyone in Starfleet believes that Commodore Oh is a Vulcan. Apparently the protocols that surely are in place to protect against dual personas, like Ash Tyler/Voq, or shape-shifters, like the Founders, don’t work well enough to distinguish a Vulcan from their distant cousins, the Romulans.
  • I have grave reservations about Dr. Agnes Jurati. It seems odd that Commodore Oh simply asked a few questions about the doctor’s meetings with Picard and then walked away, letting Jurati head straight to Picard. Raffi even points out that no one has run a security check on her.
  • Also, do you get the feeling that the producers are banking on the fact that some of us look at Dr. Jurati as a version of Dr. Gillian Taylor, the marine biologist in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”? Even a little?
  • Wow! There are a lot of good, old fashioned books still around in the 24th century!
  • I don’t know what to make of Asha’s comment “The idea that former Borg might be able to create a…shared narrative framework for understanding their trama, rooted in deep archetypes, but as relevant as today’s news. That’s just what I’m hoping to do.” I assume that is important, but it sounds like New Age word scramble.
  • It looks like the Romulans are as incestuous as ever.

“I need your help, Mr. Hill. Someone is trying to kill me.” — Star Trek Picard review, “Remembrance” s1e1, “Maps and Legends” s1e2

Picard and Data play poker in 10 Forward. with an image of the two characters from a "Dixon Hill" episode of ST:TNG superimposed in background.
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episodes 1
“Remembrance”
Teleplay by Akiva Goldsman and James Duff
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 2
“Maps and Legends”
Story by Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Review by Clinton
Explosion throwing Picard back.
Someone doesn’t want Picard snooping around.

I don’t know what I was expecting from “Star Trek: Picard,” but it certainly wasn’t a Dixon Hill holo-novel. 

Still, that is what I got.

The first two episodes of this series feel like the opening act of some hard-boiled detective story, just substitute Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) as the retired gumshoe who has all but given up the will to live. Through circumstances we soon come to understand, Picard has lost his fire. He is now as disheartened as a Ferengi locked inside a root beer factory. He is a ghost of the figure we once knew. This Picard is easily winded by a flight of stairs. He sleeps ’til long after sunrise. He dreams of the past, obsessed by visions of the late Commander Data. At one point he even pines, “The dreams are lovely. It’s the waking up that I’m beginning to resent.” And yet, when presented with an intriguing puzzle to solve, Picard slowly begins to energize himself. The detective within him awakes. By the end of episode two, he is clearly a man on a mission.

Looking at it through that lens, these first two episodes in the freshman season of “Picard” have offered up more twists and turns than the Dixon Hill novels “The Big Good-bye,” “The Long Dark Tunnel” and “The Curse of the Black Orchid” combined. Or at least I imagine they do. After all, the Dixon Hill holographic novels do not actually exist. Yet.

First, there is the mysterious Dahj Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who learns that she is an android. What’s this? A confused synth? Jean-Luc may need to pull in Detective Rick Deckard from “Blade Runner” to consult on this one. After being accidentally “activated,” Dajh instinctively seeks out Picard for protection. Why? This is the first mystery Picard must unravel. In fact, Dajh is the catalyst for this entire journey. She is Picard’s Maltese Falcon. When she is literally blown to pieces before his eyes, all seems lost. That is, until he learns there is another — her twin, Dr. Soji Asha. If Picard can only find her, he believes the mystery can be solved. However, like any good film noir tale, there are powerful forces at work behind the scenes. There are lies and truths, and blurred lines that barely separate the two. These are the things that will truly test Picard’s rejuvenated mettle.

Next, consider the story’s duplicitous Romulan, Narek (Harry Treadway), a covert operative for the Zhat Vash. This cabal is so ancient, it predates the dreaded Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar. Landing at the unlikeliest of locations, a damaged Borg cube, Narek quickly uses his “bad boy” charm to seduce Dajh’s twin, Soji Asha. Why is Narek so interested in Soji? More importantly, will Narek ultimately stay true to this yet-to-be-revealed mission? Or will he develop feelings for the synthetic life form and find himself pitted against his sister, double agent Lt. Narissa Rizzo (Peyton List)? We must read the next chapter to find out more.

Narek and Soji Asha in bed.
Narek and Soji Asha

Then there is Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) of the Daystrom Institute. She appears to be an expert that Jean-Luc can count on in his quest to locate Soji Asha. But wait. Dr. Jurati once worked with Bruce Maddox, the man obsessed with deconstructing Commander Data in an attempt to create similar androids. Can she really be trusted? After all, the “synths” that destroyed the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars were created in her department at the Institute. Is she an undercover agent for Maddox? Think about it. Isn’t it the character you suspect the least the one who often ends up stabbing the hero in the back? Trust no one, Dix. Uh, I mean Jean-Luc.

Speaking of which, let’s not forget the Romulans Laris and Zhaban (Orla Brady and Jamie McShane). These household helpers at Chateau Picard have a past shadier than a cave on the Moon during a total eclipse. Yet the couple seems very eager to help Picard. Maybe a bit too eager. In Dahj’s apartment, Laris goes so far as to reveal a host of Romulan tricks while she attempts to locate Dahj’s twin. Is the long game of earning Picard’s trust part of some greater plan? After all, Laris and Zhaban are known to have once been agents of the Tal Shiar. Anything they say may be a lie. Any assistance they offer may ultimately lead Picard into a dead-end alley of pain. 

Laris with Romulan forensic molecular reconstruction device.
Laris

And Picard, like any good dime-novel detective, is out of favor with the authorities. We learn that years ago he bucked the system, trying to force the Federation in general, and Starfleet in particular, to do the right thing. Nevertheless, the Federation virtually abandoned the Romulans in their hour of need, leaving Picard no choice but to resign. Now, in an effort to get the resources needed to solve the mysteries of Dahj, the rogue synths and the Zhat Vash, Picard returns to Starfleet Command. It is here that the retired Admiral is given a profanity-laced dressing down by Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson). It’s a scene that plays out like a police captain telling a rogue copy “Turn in your badge and your gun. As of now you are off this case. Go home.”

Ultimately, Picard turns to a former ally, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) for assistance. Can she be trusted? Let’s hope so. Picard can’t do this alone.

Raffi Musiker, looking displeased.
Raffi Musiker

For good measure, there is even a potential time bomb planted in the story. Picard has a brain abnormality, also referenced in the “All Good Things” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr. Benayoun (David Paymer)  tells Jean-Luc that the defect in his parietal lobe could ultimately lead to disaster. Is this a red herring? Or will Picard’s condition have an important part to play in this story?

In the Dixon Hill holosuite novels, like any good pulp fiction, it seemed you could always expect shifting alliances, shadowy figures, plans within plans and the occasional dead body. The same might be said of this new story. There is much to be revealed over the remaining eight episodes of “Picard.” But at the end of the journey will Picard’s Maltese Falcon be made of gold and jewels, or will it be a simple lead decoy that propels the quest onward into season two? 

Next episode: “The End is the Beginning”

Random thoughts and observations:

  • In Ten Forward, Data wins the game of poker by revealing a hand made up of five Queen of Hearts playing cards. Qualities attributed to the Queen of Hearts are too plentiful to discern if there is any special significance here.
  • While the graphic novel “Star Trek: Picard – Countdown ” clearly shows Geordi LaForge working at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars, it appears he did not die in the attack. Zhaban mentions the engineer by name when listing the people who can possibly help Picard
  • Why was Dahj applying to the Daystrom Institute for a fellowship in A.I. and quantum consciousness? She would obviously have an advantage in these fields, but was there some pre-programmed motivation drawing her to that specific destination?
  • Anniversaries have played a significant role in these two episodes. Both “First Contact Day” and a 10th anniversary “Day of Remembrance” ceremony, marking the date of the loss of the Romulan homeworld, are observed.
  • Unlike past glimpses of men’s fashions on Earth, Picard’s wardrobe is rather traditional. Usually “Star Trek” future civilian fashion lacks elements such as visible buttons and traditional collars. However, for his interview with FNN, Picard sports a fairly common shirt, tie, and jacket combination.
  • The ticking clock in Picard’s study evoked memories of Admiral Kirk’s apartment, where that deskbound officer was also living a melancholy life of semi-solitude. 
  • It was hard to not be pulled out of the moment when Picard visited the Starfleet Archives and Starfleet Command, as the buildings are structures at the Anaheim Convention Center, located across the street from Disneyland.
  • Soji knows she has a twin, but Dahj made no mention of it.


“I’ve learned how to choose wisely.” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Choose Your Pain

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 5
Choose Your Pain
Posted by Clinton

Animated GIF of Lorca saying "Not on my watch."
source: discovernow.tumblr.com

With episode 5 of “Star Trek: Discovery,” (“Choose Your Pain”), we’ve reached the one-third mark in our season 1 story arc. Do we know where we are? Do we know where we are headed? Since “Discovery’s” story line is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way of telling. Or is there? If we accept the supposition that this season is about Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) journey toward redemption, there may be some clues.

Writers often turn to Joseph Campbell’s classic 12-stage “Hero’s Journey” story structure when crafting sweeping sagas such as this. So, how well does Burnham’s story track to the classic structure?

Stay with me, now. Think of this as, well, a journey.

Episodes 1 and 2 (“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”) would be our first step along the hero’s 12-stage path. At this stage, we first see Michael Burnham as having the ideal life. She lives in what Campbell would call stage 1, the “Ordinary World.” She is being mentored by one of Starfleet’s most decorated Captains and is about to be offered a command of her own. Life is good.

Suddenly, the Klingons arrive and her paradise is lost. She has entered stage 2, the “Call to Adventure” stage. This situation requires Burnham choose between two paths: she can either obey her Captain, or do what she feels is logical. She does not choose wisely. Her Captain dies, she starts a devastating war and she is sentenced to life in prison. The universe has called out to her in a most violent way.

In episode 3 (“Context is for Kings”), the so-called “second pilot,” we are deep into Burnham’s despair. She has withdrawn into herself, ready to accept her fate. She is so far removed that, offered a chance to serve aboard Discovery, she would rather go back to prison. Not that Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) cares about her opinion, of course. This would be stage 3, her “Refusal of the Call.” In fact, even though she is forced to accept the position working for Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp), she constantly reminding everyone she is “just there to help.” She has no real commitment to the cause. No purpose. Her assignment doesn’t connect her to her ship. In “Choose Your Pain” she confesses to Tilly that “I barely have a job here. I’ve never been less busy.” She is rank: None.

Animated GIF of Tilly saying "I love feeling feelings"
source: michaelburnhamfanclub.tumblr.com

It is at this point Burnham should enter stage 4 and “Meet the Mentor.” Now, while this mentor could mean Lorca, Stamets or even Tilly (Mary Wiseman), I believe it is someone else. I believe it is Ripper, the tardigrade.

The mentor often offers advice, insight into the dilemma, or even presents an object of importance. Ripper does not speak and offers no material objects. It is simply a creature that has the unique ability to travel the mycelial network. But the mentor can also offer self confidence. This offering is not apparent at first. The creature is hostile, even deadly. Yet Burnham sees past that reactionary behavior. She empathizes with the creature and re-engages with the real world to fight for its life. Ripper is the one who provides Burnham with what she needs to overcome her doubt and accept the quest.

Burnham looks up and smiles.
source: aryainwinterfell.tumblr.com

Which brings us up to the end of episode 5. Burnham sets Ripper free. At this point she is also free; ready to take the next step and “Cross the Threshold.” That yet-to-be-taken step would be stage 5 of the 12-stage hero’s journey. And, if my math is correct, that means we are one third of the way through the stages.

Of course, a story can have more than one character on a journey:

Saru also saw his world ripped apart. His flight response and jealousy of Burnham made him a first officer who ran solely on protocol, with no ability to grow. But his performance in the rescue of his Captain has given him confidence. The confidence to not unfairly measure himself against Starfleet’s most-decorated Captains. He appears staged to “Cross the Threshold” as well.

In addition, “Choose Your Pain” offered us insight into Captain Lorca’s past. His refusal to have his eyes repaired is his constant reminder of the crew he lost and his vow to not let it happen again. In a way, he may be the farthest behind in his journey. He has not accepted the challenge of change. He is stuck at the gate.

The questions we are left with at the end of “Choose Your Pain” are many. What information have the Klingons gleaned about the U.S.S. Discovery? How will L’Rell’s injury affect her decisions? Why did Stamets’ reflection persist in the mirror? Do we trust Lt. Tyler? How will Harry Mudd attempt to exact his revenge? But, more importantly, if we are indeed following the hero’s journey, what is the the threshold Burnham — and, by extension, Saru — must cross? For this is the step that will define the actual path ahead.

Next episode: “Lethe”

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Sorry, folks. The future will not solve snoring.
  • Did we get all the swearing out of the way?
  • Can I get one of those futuristic toothbrushes?
  • How did L’Rell find her way to the Klingon ship so quickly?
  • How did the Klingon ship know where to find Captain Lorca? The Klingons called him by name in the shuttle.
  • Love that Lt. Stamets uses the pronunciation of a mushroom variety as an alternative to the “To-may-to” “To-mah-to” saying.
  • We can assume that not everything Harry told Lorca about his past is true.
  • There are three lights.
  • Nice to be reminded that eugenics experiments are still forbidden.