Star Trek Picard - the half-time score
2 out of 5
We have reached the halfway point in Star Trek Picard. Episode 5 aired last week and I've waited a week to give my half-time comments. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but Star Trek Picard is just not any good. There I've said it. I may be drummed out of the Star Trek Fan Club for saying it, but it's true. The writing is terrible. The tone is terrible. The characters are two-dimensional. Motivations are unclear and Picard is blamed for something he didn't even do. I'm sorry, I'm rambling. Forgive me as I construct a cogent argument. I'm still in trauma after watching Icheb have his eye-ball ripped from his eye socket, have his head drilled and then mercy-killed by Seven of Nine. We really have gone where Star Trek has not gone before.
Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of the future is gone. Instead, Star Trek Picard gives us a nihilistic version of humanity that was first introduced back in 2009 by Jar Jar Abrams in the Star Trek cinematic reboot. He and Alex Kurtzman got the characters wrong then and Kurtzman has gotten Jean Luc Picard wrong here too, horribly wrong. When we meet him in this new series, he has been moping about his vineyard for over a decade. This is not the Picard we knew. This is not the explorer, the scientist, the philosopher, the archaeologist and the proud commander of a starship. We saw him fall in love and marry - a fact not even recognised or mentioned in this new series. Where is Beverley?
Putting aside the ridiculous plot that seems to be made up as they go along, for me, it's the characters that are so wrong. These are characters that were developed over years of episodic television. We know Picard. We have seen him deal with tragedy. We have seen him endure and overcome. We never saw him riding off on some damn fool errand. And Seven of Nine - the rescued Borg from Star Trek Voyager who did not subscribe to revenge or violence - went on a murdering rampage in Episode 5. Even Hugh, the Borg that the crew of the Enterprise rescued had warmth and real humanity. Here he is cold and barely recognisable.
The future is bleak. That hurts.
One of the things that set Star Trek apart from most other science fiction was the vision of hope for humanity. We would eliminate disease, hunger, poverty, the need for accumulating wealth, and money was no longer a driving force, words Picard himself uttered. It was a vision that told us we could do better, we will do better. However Star Trek Picard shows us a gritty world of gambling, poverty, hatred, revenge, death and random beheading of Romulans.
I know this is 2020 and streaming TV can get away with more than network TV in the '80s and '90s. TV audiences are more "mature" we are told. However the swearing, yes swearing, and the violence, and the graphic scenes of torture are not Trek. I am really surprised that Patrick Stewart, a big supporter of Amnesty International, has permitted torture to be displayed so graphically and inhumanely. He has a duty as Exec Producer and a voice as the star. Star Trek The Next Generation addressed torture and its ineffectiveness in the two-part episode Chain of Command. It was a real exploration of the psychological effects of torture, not just on its victims but on the perpetrators too. It was Trek at its best.
The scene last week where Bruce Maddox was murdered was also a step too far. He was left to die in agony in a brutal scene that confirmed Dr Agnes Jurati as a Starfleet (or maybe Section 31?) plant. However, due to the lazy writing, this has been signposted from very early on. I believe I've said enough about the writing. It is poor. It is sloppy. It goes against the established characters we know. It is not Trek.
The other thing that bugs me is the technology. In the scene I mentioned above, the death of Bruce Maddox, the Emergency Medical Hologram appears as it detects Dr Jurati's agitated state yet does nothing when Maddox is clearly in distress. I don't mind different rules but once you've set them, try to follow them. And don't get me started on the magical Romulan wand that when you wave it about a room, it recreates past events. Enough said. So yes, they have the tech wrong too. They invent tech when it is needed by the narrative. To be fair, Star Trek Voyager did this too, so it's not altogether new. And Doctor Who is doing it every week these days, as is the Star Wars franchise (who knew The Force could do that?). It's just bad writing - sorry I'm back to the writing. It is hard to escape.
I am so disappointed in Star Trek Picard but I should have known better. The portents were there in Star Trek Discovery and that's a whole other blog post! We saw the warning signs too in the 2009 Star Trek reboot where Jar Jar Abrams recreated Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, etc using different actors - and that's perfectly fine. However he changed their characters, Spock in particular. He was no longer the cool, logical Vulcan. Instead, he was a wildly erratic Vulcan, prone to violence if Kirk insulted him of if Khan offended him. Yes, Spock went on a revenge killing trip too after Khan "killed" Kirk. It was not Spock.
I'll continue to watch Star Trek Picard for the second half of the series and I will probably watch Season 2, but it has trampled on the legacy of Star Trek The Next Generation and for that, I doubt I can ever forgive it. We like to remember our loved ones in their prime and not as some unrecognisable shell of their former selves, untrue to character.