There were once two people, by
the names of Othoral and Hiadmath, who lived in a small house in the
countryside. The house stood on a slight rise in the land, and was surrounded
on all sides by field after field of tall crops grown by Othoral and Hiadmath.
Every day, Othoral made a cake
‘I am looking forward to this.’
Hiadmath would say as the cake was in the oven. ‘I do so like cake. I could
happily eat the whole thing in one go.’
Once the cake had been baked,
Othoral would take it out of the oven, and place it on the table. Once the cake
had cooled, Othoral said to Hiadmath ‘Here, the cake is made. You may eat the
But despite his earlier eagerness
for the cake, Hiadmath would say ‘I may have some of it later.’, for Hiadmath
would be preoccupied by other things. Some days he would be sweeping the floor;
some days he would be brushing soot out of the fireplace; some days he would be
making a wooden chair. He complained about these tasks the entire time he was
doing them, but he did them nevertheless.
Only after many hours would he
sit at the table and have some of the cake, and when he did, he would only cut
a thin slice for himself.
‘Why not have another slice?’
Othoral would say, once Hiadmath had eaten the first. ‘I know you will like
But Hiadmath would say ‘No, I
have had all I want.’ or ‘I may have some more later.’ (but even when he said
this, he would always become preoccupied with other tasks again).
This happened every day. Othoral
would make a cake, while Hiadmath talked of how much he was looking forward to
eating the whole thing. But once the cake was made, Hiadmath would only have
one thin slice.
After a while, Othoral was fed up
with this, so one day, rather than just give Hiadmath the whole cake, Othoral
took the cake, along with many plates, and walked around the fields and through
the thickets near to their house. Every few paces, he placed one of the plates
on the ground, and then broke a single crumb off the cake, and placed the crumb
on the plate. Once he had placed every crumb of the cake, he returned to the
In the afternoon, Hiadmath, after
many hours of working, said ‘I rather fancy a piece of cake.’
Othoral said ‘Look outside the
Hiadmath did so, and he saw a
plate on the ground, on which was a single crumb of cake. He picked up the
plate, and ate the single crumb of cake that was on it. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘that
was delicious, but I would rather like some more.’
Hiadmath then saw another plate on
the ground, a few paces away. He walked over to it, and saw that it too had a
crumb of cake on it. He picked up the plate and ate the crumb. ‘Mmm, that was
also delicious, but still I would like some more.’
Hiadmath followed the trail of
plates around the fields and through the thickets. He picked up each one, and
ate the crumb of cake that was on it. By the time he got back to the house, he
had eaten a whole cake.
‘All that cake was delicious!’
Hiadmath said to Othoral. ‘I could eat even more!’
Othoral had made another cake
while Hiadmath had been wandering around outside, and he placed it on the
table. ‘Here you go.’, Othoral said, ‘I have made another.’
Hiadmath immediately ate the
whole second cake.
And this was how they continued.
Every day Othoral baked a cake, and then walked around the fields, placing down
plates, and placing a single crumb of the cake on each one. Every day Hiadmath
walked around the fields, picking up the plates, eating the crumbs. And when
Hiadmath returned to the house, he would eat a second whole cake.
Hiadmath ate far more cake than he had done before – before he had only eaten one thin slice of cake, but now he ate two whole cakes! He even ate more than he had at first wanted to – at first he had only wanted to eat one whole cake – for, as Othoral realised, the crumbs are more than the cake.
This great empire was vast –
reaching from the pine-covered mountains of Arennia in the west, to the golden
beaches and azure reefs of Marcanne in the east, from the freshwater lakes of Belgamon
in the north, to the apple orchards and apiaries of Arganza in the south. It
was so vast that evening on one side of the empire was morning on the other.
And at its centre stood its Capital – a limestone and marble metropolis that
was the seat of power for a hemisphere.
This great empire was also
extraordinarily wealthy. Though it had started as only a small city state, it
had fought many wars over the years against the kingdoms and principalities
along its borders, and it had won most of them. With each new territory it had
conquered it had stolen all the riches it contained, fuelling yet further
expansion of the empire. And with each monarchy that fell before it, ever more
convinced did the subjects of the Emperor become that they were the only truly
civilised people in the world, and that all those beyond the empire’s borders
But most of the people in the
empire were not wealthy – they were impoverished – for most of the great wealth
extracted from the lands they had taken was hoarded by the Emperor and his
Barons. By the time of this story, they
were far wealthier than they had ever been. The Grand Imperial Palace at the
centre of the Capital was a small kingdom of ivory towers, marble colonnades,
golden cupolas, glass-walled orangeries, wisteria-wrapped pergolas, and
mosaic-covered terraces. The statues that stood atop the walls, the painted
domed ceilings, and the stained glass windows all gleamed with a brilliance
that was taken as proof of the empire’s immutable virtue.
The Emperor and his Barons spent
their days strolling through the lush gardens and great halls of the imperial
palace, but for most of the people of the empire, such a life was but a whisper
of a whisper. In contrast to the luminance of the imperial palace, most of the
great city that was the empire’s capital was in disrepair. Fires broke out
every month; the sewers overflowed; the bridges collapsed. The houses were
small, cramped, and expensive. Disease was often a death sentence.
Most of the people who lived in
the city worked twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours of the day. A person had to be
a master of two or three crafts in order to survive. Many were in debt. Food,
at least, was cheap – not fine food, but food that would keep you alive, and
well, for a time. In what little free time the people of the empire had, they
had fun, and some were able to find a reluctant contentedness, but none were
truly able to change the circumstances of their lives, and the risk of
deprivation, despair, and death remained constant.
Many of the problems of the
empire could have been resolved if some of the empire’s extraordinary wealth
were put towards resolving them. The ordinary people of the empire knew this.
And why should this not happen? After all, it had been these ordinary people
who had fought the empire’s wars in the first place. They had obeyed the
commands of their divine Emperor and taken land in the name of their
exceptional civility, and then been left to suffer.
The People of the Capital thought
that perhaps if they could speak to the Emperor, they could persuade him to
implement policies that would solve the empire’s many problems. But getting to
the Emperor was difficult – the Emperor, his Barons, and his Ministers were
isolated within the Grand Imperial Palace. They never went beyond its tall
So the People of the Capital
gathered together, and resolved to send one of their group into the palace as a
representative, to become one of the Emperor’s Ministers. (Unlike the Barons,
who passed down their fortunes and titles to their sons, the Emperor’s
Ministers were chosen from the greater populace.) They chose one man from their
group who they believed would succeed – he was eloquent, rational, and honest,
if somewhat brusque.
It was on a bright day, just
before lunch, that this First Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial
palace, to be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung
outward, and the First Man stepped forward into a world he could not have
The Grand Imperial Palace is
filled with a great many wonders of the world: the Hydrargyrum Fountain, which
will amalgamate any coin that is thrown into it, to become part of its
quicksilver jets; the Lotus of Charan’girak – the flowers of which are fifteen
feet tall and only bloom on the day after a blood moon; the Tree of Rhonyssia,
each branch of which produces a different kind of fruit – cherries, pears,
bergamots, dates, pineapples, blackberries – everything.
The flowerbeds, the shrubs, the
walkways were all kept perfectly tidy by the imperial palace’s many hundreds of
servants. Every leaf that fell from every tree was caught before it even hit
the ground. Every cracked paving stone was replaced before the Emperor could
see it. Every oil lamp was refilled every hour throughout the night so that not
a single flame would go out.
It was through this wondrous
place that the First Man strode on this day. Though he was transfixed by the
chiselled cornices, the viridian ponds, and the onyx statues, he walked past
them all to the great glasshouse at the centre of the palace that was the
Though the imperial palace had
galleries, chambers, and halls that were the official locations where the
discussion of legislation took place, the Emperor and his Barons and his Ministers
actually spent very little time there. Instead they gathered in the Emperor’s
Menagerie, every day, at midday, to discuss and give assent to policy.
The Emperor’s Menagerie was
bright and humid. It had tall walls and many glass domes. The fronds of the
ferns and the cycads were a lush green, and the pools that sat and the streams
that ran throughout the building were clear.
But despite the grandeur of the
architecture and the greenery of the Emperor’s Menagerie, most of the animals
in it were rather unspectacular. There were lorikeets and parakeets, lemurs and
macaques, pythons, puffins, porcupines, and pangolins, chameleons, tortoises,
sloths, a jaguar, a giraffe, and even a hippopotamus, but they all looked
rather tired and grey.
There was one exception to this,
however – a unique specimen that was the Emperor’s prized possession. In the
very centre of the Emperor’s Menagerie, beneath the great crystal dome and on a
circular plinth of gold and garnet, sat an enormous … pink elephant.
The elephant was truly gigantic –
twice the height, width, and length of a normal elephant. But as remarkable as
its size was, it was nothing compared to the colour of its skin. The elephant’s
skin was a lurid, electric fuchsia – a hot, shocking cyclamen. It was such a
vile and offensive shade of magenta that it stung the eyes to look at it. It
was so fluorescent that it drained all of the colour from everything around it.
The elephant was also disgusting.
It gave off a nauseating stench of bitumen, vinegar, oyster sauce, burnt
aubergine, and piss – the entire menagerie smelled of it. This may have been
caused by its diet. The elephant did not eat leaves and grasses as normal
elephants do – it ate incredibly expensive foods, provided to it at the behest
of the Emperor and his Barons: caviar, goose liver, lobsters, artichokes
stuffed with white truffle, bluefin tuna, and it ate all of this food in vast
quantities. The servants of the Grand Imperial Palace would drag great bowls –
four feet across – filled with this food up to the elephant every half hour.
The more recently-appointed servants were given the task of carrying away the
elephant’s shit, which was produced almost constantly.
All of this makes the Emperor’s
Pink Elephant difficult to ignore, but ignore it you must, because if anyone
talks about the elephant – whether they go on about it at length or just
mention it – that person will be swiftly removed from the palace, and never be
permitted to return.
Almost all of the people of the
empire, however, at this point, were completely unaware of the existence of the
pink elephant. As such, when the First Man strode through the glass doors of
the Emperor’s Menagerie, to begin his first term as one of the Emperor’s
Ministers, he gawped at the pink elephant, in shock and amazement. The pink
elephant stared back, grinding crabshell in its teeth, bored with the turn of
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the First Man, with their hands clasped together and forced
smiles on their faces. They nodded politely as they asked the First Man
pointless questions and ignored his answers. And after a few minutes, the First
Man said ‘I had no idea that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his
menagerie! What an unusual creature!’
The Emperor’s other Ministers
continued to smile and nod, but did not refer to the elephant themselves. They
changed the conversation to something meaningless and dull.
An hour after the First Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before the First Man had had the chance to speak
with the Emperor (who always stood on a raised area at the back of the
glasshouse, dressed in imperial green and guarded by a number of his Barons)
one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the First Man and said ‘Most
honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the
palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The First Man,
suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to the
golden gates of the palace.
He stepped through the gates of
the palace. Once he was outside, the gates were closed behind him and locked,
and the servant walked away.
The First Man, like those who had
elected him to become a Minister, was naïve to the way that the palace
operated, and so was confused. He had expected to find this matter outside the
gates of the palace, but he did not. The servants had walked away, so there was
no-one he could ask. He waited for an hour in case the matter reappeared, but
it did not. Then he tried to get the attention of someone in the palace, but
none came to him.
By the end of the day, he
realised that this was not a mistake, and that he would not be permitted back
into the palace, and could not take the people’s requests to the Emperor. What
he couldn’t figure out was why.
He analysed the day’s events with
the People of the Capital. He told them of everything that had happened while
he had been inside the Grand Imperial Palace, and everything he had said to the
Emperor’s Ministers. He told them that in the very centre of the Emperor’s
Menagerie there was an enormous pink elephant that ate vast quantities of
expensive food and gave off a foul odour, and that he had mentioned the
elephant to the Ministers. But he had said so many things and made so many
slight gestures that neither he nor the People could figure out which of them
had led to his expulsion.
But the empire still had many
problems, so, since they could not send the First Man back into the palace, the
People of the Capital chose another from their group to become one of the Emperor’s
Ministers in his stead. This Second Man was very similar to the first, but
perhaps slightly more observant.
So the next day, just before
lunch, this Second Man strode up to the golden gates of the imperial palace, to
be admitted as the Emperor’s newest Minister. The gates swung outward, and the
Second Man stepped forward into a world he had heard a few things about.
He walked the two miles from the
entrance to the palace to the Emperor’s Menagerie, not stopping to marvel at
the Opal Obelisk, Sereri’s Fresco, or the translucent chrysanthemums. But when
he stepped through the glass doors of the menagerie, like the First Man, he was
awestruck by the pink elephant. The elephant looked at him with impatience.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
shuffled up to the Second Man, eyes eager and greedy. They chatted with the
Second Man about things both tedious and irrelevant, and laughed at things that
weren’t funny. And after a few minutes, the Second Man said ‘I must say, I knew
that the Emperor had an enormous pink elephant in his menagerie, but I could
not have anticipated just how vivid its skin is, or how pungent its smell is.’
‘His Majesty’s Menagerie has many
wondrous and unique animals in it.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said,
though it wasn’t true in the slightest – all of the other animals were rather
dull. ‘My favourite is the pigeons.’ he said, pointing up to the rafters, where
hundreds of fat, grey pigeons sat.
‘Oh yes’, another Minister said.
‘Far better than those sparrows that used to be here. And I never liked that
An hour after the Second Man had
arrived in the menagerie, and before he had had the chance to speak with the
Emperor, one of the Emperor’s servants walked up to the Second Man and said
‘Most honourable gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of
the palace – there is a matter that requires your expertise.’ The Second Man,
also suspecting nothing, followed the servant out of the menagerie and back to
the golden gates of the palace.
He passed through the gates, and
they were locked behind him. He was tricked just as the First Man had been,
though the Second Man realised this as soon as he heard the lock clink behind
The Second Man also analysed the
day’s events with the People of the Capital. He told them everything he said
and everything he did, and the People realised the only thing that both the First Man and the Second Man
had done was to talk about the elephant in the room.
As ever, the problems with the
empire persisted. The People resolved that they could not give up, so they
chose a Third Man from their group to try to get into the palace and speak to
the Emperor. But this time, he would go in with the intention of not saying a
single word about the pink elephant, and if one of the Emperor’s servants said
he was needed at the gates, he would try to find a way of not going.
So the next day the Third Man
went in. When he stepped into the great glasshouse, the Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to him, whispering and glancing at each other. He did not
say a single word about the elephant, but he did stare at it – it was difficult not to – its skin was so blindingly
saturated. And of course, it was right in the middle of the room.
The Emperor’s other Ministers
watched the Third Man as they prattled at him. They didn’t look towards the
elephant themselves, but they knew that the Third Man was looking at it – they
knew that he was thinking about it.
And after an hour, one of the
Emperor’s servants walked up to the Third Man and said ‘Most honourable
gentleman of the house, I bid that you come to the gates of the palace – there
is a matter that requires your expertise.’
The Third Man immediately
realised what was happening – they were trying to expel him from the palace –
he must have done something the other Ministers didn’t like. ‘I’m sure the
matter can wait.’ he said to the Emperor’s servant. ‘The discussion of policy
is very important; I would not like to miss any of it.’
‘Oh that won’t start for ages
yet.’ one of the Emperor’s other Ministers said. ‘We’ll probably just be
babbling on for another few hours yet, as we do.’
‘Yes’, another Minister said,
‘you won’t miss anything – I’m sure you’ll have the time to deal with this
The Third Man had not anticipated
this. ‘His Imperial Majesty expects all of his Ministers to be in attendance.’
‘Oh he won’t mind.’ one of the
‘Yes, I’m sure he won’t mind.’
another said with a smirk. ‘You should go.’
The Third Man couldn’t see how he
could reason his way out of this. Everyone wanted him to go to the gates.
‘Very well.’ the Third Man said,
after a moment, and he followed the servant out of the menagerie.
He knew that the moment he
stepped outside of the palace, the gates would be locked behind him, and he
wouldn’t be able to get back in, so he tried to think how he could avoid going
through them. He could just run to a different part of the palace, he thought,
but they would only find him, and then tell him to go to the gates again.
He couldn’t think of how to get
out of this. When he got to the gates of the palace, which were wide open, he
stopped before passing them, adamant he would not go a step further.
‘Well, where is this matter
then?’ he said to the servant.
The Emperor’s servant said with
half-lidded eyes ‘It is in the marketplace a short distance away from the
palace. I will take you there.’
The Third Man was still
suspicious. ‘What on earth is this matter?’
‘It will be easier to show you.’
the servant said.
Once again, the Third Man didn’t
see how he could refuse. But the servant would be with him – they’d have to let
the servant back into the palace when they returned, and he could go in at the
same time. So the Third Man stepped past the gates of the palace, and followed
the servant to the marketplace.
The marketplace was bustling. The
Third Man followed the servant through the dense crowd as they wound between
the stalls. He was almost starting to believe that there was some important matter for him to deal with, but for a moment he
looked the other way, and when he looked back, the servant was gone.
The Third Man immediately
realised what had happened, and pushed his way back through the crowd to try to
get back to the palace as soon as possible. But when he arrived at the
entrance, the gates were once again locked shut, and there was no-one on the
other side who could or would open them.
Like the First Man and the Second
Man, the Third Man told the People of the Capital everything that had happened.
They realised that not only would talking
about the elephant get you thrown out, but even looking at it – acknowledging it in any way.
So the People of the Capital sent
a Fourth Man to the palace. The Fourth Man did not mention the elephant at all,
nor did he stare at the elephant when he first walked into the menagerie. He
managed to stay in the menagerie for longer than the first three had – most of
the afternoon. But though he avoided staring
at the elephant, when its amaranth skin caught the edge of his vision, he
couldn’t help but steal a glance at it.
The Emperor’s other Ministers had
been watching him closely the entire afternoon, even after they had run out of
things to blather on about. They saw the Fourth Man look at the elephant for a
fraction of a second, so the Fourth Man was expelled too.
The Fifth Man that the People
sent in was the first one who managed to remain in the menagerie for a while.
He said nothing about the elephant and did not look at it even for a moment.
He went into the menagerie at
midday every day for a week, along with all of the Emperor’s other Ministers.
The first few hours of every afternoon were spent rambling on about things that
didn’t matter. Many of the Ministers would wander around the menagerie with one
of their friends – the menagerie had many winding gravel paths through it
(walled by emerald foliage, which prevented anything the Ministers whispered to
each other from being overheard by others in the glasshouse).
It was only towards the end of
each afternoon that any actual discussion of policy happened, and it was
usually very quick. The Ministers and the Barons were in complete agreement on
almost everything. The Emperor did not question any of the policies that were
proposed – in fact he didn’t say anything at all in the discussion – and he
gave assent to everything that the Ministers and the Barons decided upon. The
Fifth Man realised that it was not the Emperor that he needed to speak to, but
the Ministers and the Barons.
Over the days that he was there,
the Fifth Man tried to convince the other Ministers of the policies that the
People wanted. He tried to persuade them to support the rebuilding of bridges,
aqueducts, and sewers. He tried to persuade them to put some of the palace’s
great wealth towards building more houses, so that the people of the city would
not have to live in such cramped spaces. He tried to persuade them to end the
constant war and expansion – the empire was big enough as it was – any bigger
and it might fracture.
He went from group to group
within the menagerie, repeating the same arguments. The Ministers smiled and
nodded. They responded with things like ‘What an interesting idea.’, ‘I
couldn’t agree more.’, and ‘Oh yes, we must support the common people.’. But
when he asked if they could put the policy to the Emperor, they said ‘Let’s do
that tomorrow.’, or ‘This will fit well with a bill I’m writing for a few days’
time.’, or ‘Let’s talk to some more people about this.’.
But they never did. Every day
they would defer it. The reasons were slightly different each day, but the
effect was the same. Though the Ministers said
that they liked the Fifth Man’s policies, they would never allow them to be put
to the Emperor.
But while he was in the
menagerie, the Fifth Man also realised something else. You see, while he did
not look at the pink elephant, he
could still see it. When his eyes
were focused on something else, the pink elephant might be on the edge of his
vision, and he could turn his mind’s eye towards it. And of course, the
menagerie was made of glass – he could often see the elephant’s reflection in a
He knew what the elephant was
doing at any one time – they all did – all of the Ministers knew. They all
pretended not to, but everyone in the room knew
what the elephant was doing, and they all knew that everyone else knew. But
what the Fifth Man realised was that the pink elephant must have been costing
the empire a fortune to keep. It ate a great bowl of the most expensive foods
in the world every half hour for every hour it was awake. A team of eighty
servants had the task of preparing all of the elephant’s food and bringing it
to the elephant. Keeping the elephant cost more than all of the palace’s other
daily expenses combined! The elephant was part
of the problem! If they didn’t have to pay for the elephant, they would
have more money to spend on repairing and rebuilding the city.
After a week, getting nowhere
trying to persuade the other Ministers to put his policies to the Emperor, and
seeing just how ridiculous it was keeping this disgusting, useless elephant in
the menagerie, the Fifth Man snapped.
‘This is absurd!’ the Fifth Man
shouted so that all of the Ministers and Barons could hear. ‘All of you are
twattling on about things that don’t matter, and then passing legislation that
does nothing to solve the actual problems of the empire, all the while ignoring
that revolting elephant that is partially the cause of those problems! What are you doing?! What are you here
for?! Why do you keep ignoring the elephant in the room?!’
The Fifth Man was completely
right of course, but while he had understood the Ministers enough to be able to
get into the menagerie, and even stay there for a few days, he did not
understand them enough to realise that there was no point asking these
questions, because the Ministers would not answer them – they would never answer them. No amount of
rationality or rage would ever make
them answer these questions.
The Fifth Man was greeted with
gelid silence. All of the Ministers and Barons looked at the Fifth Man with
stony expressions, insulted that anyone would be so direct about the elephant.
The Fifth Man, looking around, realising that he had no power in the menagerie
anymore, did not need to be expelled by deceptive means – he left the palace
But of course, the problems of
the empire persisted, and the People of the Capital sent in a Sixth Man, then a
Seventh Man. The Sixth Man remained in the menagerie for several weeks, and the
Seventh Man for several months. Neither of them said a word about the elephant,
but as time went on, the two of them, and the People who put them there,
realised that it didn’t matter whether or not they mentioned the elephant. The
Ministers and the Barons simply didn’t want
to implement the policies they were suggesting. All of them were in agreement,
and anyone who did not agree with them would be removed – that way they kept
their control over the Emperor and the empire – that way they stayed in power.
And though they all did this – they all knew
that this was what they were doing – they never acknowledged it.
The Sixth Man and the Seventh Man
were eventually expelled too. The Eighth Man to go in tried a more radical
method of solving the empire’s problems. He took a pistol into the menagerie,
hidden in his coat. As soon as he saw the elephant, he took the pistol out, and
shot at it. But the bullet bounced off the elephant’s skin (who would have
known that in addition to being quinacridone the elephant’s skin was also
bullet-proof?), and instead struck one of the Barons in the arm. (The Baron
didn’t die – in fact he recovered remarkably quickly.) The Eighth Man was
swiftly removed and imprisoned for life.
And then … the Ninth Man went
in. By this point, most of the ordinary people in the empire knew about the
pink elephant, and many realised too that the elephant was part of the problem.
The Ninth Man had listened to everything his eight predecessors had said, and
he had an idea. He asked that the People of the Capital choose him to be the
next person to be sent to the palace, but he did not tell them what his idea
was, knowing that he would not need to.
And so the Ninth Man, when the
sun was high overhead, strode up to the glass doors of the menagerie, and went
inside. He did not mention or look at the elephant. The Emperor’s other
Ministers shuffled up to the Ninth Man, as they always did, and started talking
The Ninth Man said similarly dull
things back to them. He caught a glint in their eyes – they thought they’d got
one of their own this time.
And then after a few minutes of
meaningless words, the Ninth Man said ‘Oh, by the way, I have brought a gift
for the Emperor.’, and he signalled to one of the servants to bring it in.
The servant wheeled it in. It was
covered by a satin cloth. With a flourish, the Ninth Man pulled the satin cloth
off, revealing a large copper cage underneath it. And within the cage was a
magnificent … turquoise flamingo.
The flamingo was delightful. Its
plumage went from cyan to aquamarine to cerulean to teal. Its eyes were a
glimmering silver. And the bird had an aroma of blueberries and pears.
‘Oh what a marvellous animal!’
the Emperor’s other Ministers all sang together. They then looked for a space
for it within the menagerie; the Ninth Man directed them towards one of the
spaces on one of the paths that wound through the building.
And then the afternoon wore on as
it usually did. All of the Ministers spent several hours warbling and
twittering at each other, and at the end of the afternoon, they voted on some
legislation. The Ninth Man played along.
The Ninth Man stayed in the
menagerie for many months. He did not mention or look at the pink elephant,
even though he, like those before him, knew that it was a big problem. He
chattered and jabbered with the other Ministers, and they were not suspicious
of him. Everyone in the menagerie was overjoyed by the turquoise flamingo –
most of all the Emperor, who often came down from his malachite throne to stare
at the bird in its cage. Unlike the pink elephant, the turquoise flamingo was
cheap to keep – it ate the sorts of foods that flamingos normally eat: small
insects, molluscs, and crustaceans, and it didn’t eat all that much of them.
The flamingo was a far better centrepiece for the menagerie than the elephant.
After many months had passed, it
was time for the people of the empire to elect another Minister – well, two
actually. They did so, and two people showed up at the glass doors of the
menagerie. The Ministers – not including the Ninth Man – shuffled up to the two
newcomers, as they always did. They watched them eagerly for many hours, to see
if they would talk about the elephant or glance at it. Neither of them did –
clearly both of them knew that they
must not do so.
The two new Ministers walked
around the menagerie, talking to people and gazing at the other animals. And
then they came to the flamingo, which the Ninth Man always stood next to.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
older one said. ‘Where did it come from?’
‘Oh I found it atop Mount
Sarabaya.’ the Ninth Man said.
‘On top of a mountain?!’ the
older one asked.
‘Yes. I climbed the mountain in
an hour, found the bird standing at its summit, and then was back down again
Anyone who knew anything about
Mount Sarabaya knew that it could not be climbed in an hour – it normally took
at least two days to scale the icy peak, and the same time again to get back
‘That’s absurd!’ the older one
said. ‘No-one could climb Mount Sarabaya in an hour!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I’ve won the Arennian Mountain
Climbing Championship seven years in a row! I am undefeated to this day!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the older of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … er … well, of course an ordinary
person could not climb the mountain in an hour, but I’m sure it’s quite easy
for a mountain climbing champion.’
‘Indeed it is!’
‘What are you talking about?!’
the younger one said. ‘It doesn’t matter how many championships you’ve won –
no-one can scale Mount Sarabaya that quickly – it’s more than five miles high!’
‘As the current Arennian Mountain
Climbing Champion I dare say I am the
expert on mountaineering in this menagerie, and it is absolutely possible!’ the Ninth Man insisted.
‘Mount Sarabaya Base Camp is ten
miles away from the summit! Unless you sprinted
up the mountain, it’s not possible.’ the younger one said.
The older one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the younger one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had actually
succeeded in his aim. ‘Well perhaps you’re right.’ he said to the younger one.
‘It was so long ago – it’s all just a blur now. Perhaps it simply felt like an hour.’ and the conversation
moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The older of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the older of the two new Ministers was expelled from the palace,
in the same way the First Man had been.
The younger of the two new
Ministers was allowed to stay. Both he and the Ninth Man did not talk about or
look at the pink elephant. They smiled and nodded along with the other
Ministers, and did not attempt to persuade them to support better policies, for
both of them knew that they never would.
A few months later, and another
two people were chosen by the public to become Ministers. They stepped into the
menagerie one day, and they successfully ignored the pink elephant. They soon
came over to the turquoise flamingo, where the Ninth Man stood.
‘What a marvellous animal!’ the
shorter one said. ‘How on earth did it acquire such a colour?’
‘I believe it is a rare species.
I saw a similarly-coloured flamboyance of flamingos when I was travelling
across the Manjure.’
‘There are flamingos in the
Manjure?!’ the shorter one asked.
‘Yes of course. Flamingos like
Anyone who knew anything about
the Manjure knew that it was in fact freezing cold there most of the year. It
was a vast, dense, boreal forest, interrupted only by icy streams and
‘What on earth are you talking
about?!’ the shorter one said. ‘The Manjure is freezing cold!’
The Ninth Man puffed himself up
and said proudly ‘I’ll have you know that I have travelled along the
Trans-Manjurean Railway no fewer than seven
times! I’m quite familiar with the Manjurean climate!’
Believing he had insulted the
Ninth Man, the shorter of the two new Ministers stumbled over his words, saying
‘Oh … well … I suppose you must be very familiar with the region then.’
‘You suppose correctly!’
‘That’s absurd!’ the taller one
said. ‘The Manjurean caribou is famous
for its thick fur. The Manjurean caribou would all die of heat exhaustion if
the Manjure were a tropical climate!’
‘I am good friends with the
leading expert in the climate and geography of the Manjure at the University of
Marcanne! I dare say that I’m more familiar with it than you!’ the Ninth Man
‘Being friends with an expert
does not make you an expert. Unless
the climate of the Manjure has changed drastically in the last few years, it
absolutely is not a hot region!’ the
taller one said.
The shorter one gawped as this
argument was happening – shocked that the taller one would dare suggest that
the Minister didn’t know what he was talking about or was lying.
But the Ninth Man had once again
succeeded in his aim. ‘You know what I think you might be right.’ he said to
the taller one. ‘I’m thinking of Bansoor – that’s where I saw those flamingos.
The service on the Bansoor Express is so awful I think I blocked it from my
memory.’ and the conversation moved on to other things.
Later in the afternoon, the Ninth
Man took one of the servants aside and whispered to him ‘The shorter of the two
new Ministers is a most talented person. I think we need to find ways to help
him use those talents.’
The servant understood, and a few
minutes later the shorter of the two new Ministers was expelled from the
palace. Now there were two Ministers in the menagerie who the Ninth Man had
allowed to stay. They and the Ninth Man played along with the faux concern of
the Emperor’s other Ministers.
And this was how it continued for
many months – years even. Whenever a new Minister entered the menagerie, first
the Cabal stalked them, to see if they would acknowledge the pink elephant, and
then the Ninth Man countered it. The Cabal believed that everyone in the
menagerie was part of the Cabal, since they expelled anyone who acknowledged
the pink elephant, but really the only people who stayed in the menagerie were
those who the Ninth Man did not expel.
Over time, more and more of the
court was on the side of the turquoise flamingo. They waited not just until
they could win any vote against the old Ministers and the Barons, but until
almost all of the old Ministers had been replaced – otherwise the supporters of
the pink elephant would realise that their strategy was no longer working, and would
And once this had happened, those
on the side of the turquoise flamingo started to put forward and vote for
policies that would benefit the people of the empire – much to the shock of the
They voted for bridges to be
rebuilt, for sewers to be maintained, and for houses to be built further apart
so that fires would not leap from one to another so easily. They voted to pay
for doctors to heal the diseased; they voted to nullify debts; they voted to
end the wars of expansion. They voted to remove the Barons from the menagerie,
and the people of the empire started to prosper once again.
And at the end of all of that,
they voted to release the pink elephant back to the wild. It was taken over the
sea and released into the humid forests of Bansoor.
But not just that – they also
released the turquoise flamingo, for now that there was no-one left in the
menagerie who would use the pink elephant for deceit, there was no need for the
turquoise flamingo. Those coming to the menagerie would no longer be expelled
for talking about the elephant in the room. They would only need the turquoise
flamingo again if the pink elephant were brought back.
The pigeons left the menagerie, and the sparrows returned. And every now and then, on a clear day, the people of the city could just about see, flying high in the sky … a turquoise flamingo.
Hundreds of thousands
of people lived in this city. But the people were divided into two groups: the
Many, and the Few.
For the Few, life in
this great city was wonderful, for the Few were very wealthy. They lived in
grand houses on the banks of the river that meandered through the city. Each
marble mansion was filled with drawing rooms and dining rooms and more than
forty bedrooms. Each grand hallway was filled with gold-framed oil paintings
and fine china vases. The baths were made of burnished bronze and the toilet
seats were solid silver. Every house had an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, and a
glasshouse. And the gardens stretched a hundred yards, all the way to the
river, with orange trees and lemon trees to sit beneath in summer.
The Few lived
lavishly. The mornings were spent dressing for lunch. At lunch they sat with
their true friends, eating chocolate cake and cream-filled pastries, gossiping
about who among the Few had the most money. The afternoons were spent dressing
for dinner, and every evening they sat with their fair-weather friends and
feasted on all manner of fowl, stuffed inside one another – a quail stuffed
inside a duck, stuffed inside a pheasant, stuffed inside a grouse, stuffed
inside a chicken, stuffed inside a goose, stuffed inside a turkey, all roasted
in lard with potatoes, parsnips, and pork sausages. They talked about the fate
and fortunes of the city, all the while trying to curry favour with the few of
the Few who held the most power and influence in the city. And at the end of
every evening, they shat out the feast from the day before, clogging the sewers
that took their shit to the river.
For the Many,
however, life in this great city was grim, for the Many were not wealthy. The
Many lived far from the river, on the higher ground. In this part of the city,
timber-framed houses overhung narrow cobblestone streets. The rooms of the
houses were small, with low ceilings. Twelve would live in a house built for
two. There were no sewers in this part of the city, so shit sloshed down the
streets, and the Many had to step over the brown rivers as they pushed past
The Many lived
meagrely. They woke up early, and worked for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours
of the day, in factories making cotton or iron. The work was repetitive and the
air was filled with coal smoke. They were given no time to rest, and if someone
did not produce enough in one day, the factory owner – who was often one of the
Few – found someone to replace them. They were paid little, and if they were
lucky, at the end of each day they had enough money to buy fresh bread and
vegetables, but if they were unlucky they would have to catch rats and pigeons.
The death rate among
the Many was high. Those who did not die of starvation died of disease. Those
who did not die of disease were killed in the factories. And those who were not
killed in the factories killed themselves. The death brought more disease and
despair, and always more young people flooded into the city from the
countryside, believing it would be a better life.
It had been this way
in the city for many years. No-one could remember a time when it wasn’t so.
Indeed many believed that it had always been so – since the beginning of time
itself. (But in reality it had only been this way for a few decades.)
Everyone in the city
knew the myth of the Magic Money Tree. It was said that far away, deep in the
icy mountains north of the city, there grew a tree … with leaves of pure
gold. And the tree did not drop its leaves once a year, as most trees do, but every day, and each morning new golden
leaves grew. The leaves that covered the ground could be gathered and melted down
to make gold bars or coins.
If the tree were
real, and the Many knew where it was, many of their problems would be solved.
The Many could journey to the tree, gather up some of its golden leaves, melt
them down into coins, and then when they were back in the city they could pay
for more spacious houses, better food, and better clothes. They may even be
able to buy many of the luxuries that the Few had. Sure, after a while, gold
would be very common, and the Few would not have so much of it by comparison,
but it would mean that a happy life was not so immutably the domain of so few.
But everyone (almost
everyone) agreed that the tree did not exist. It was fiction. You might go into
the mountains in search of the tree, but you would find nothing. There was no
Magic Money Tree.
Except that … there
The tree … was real! The Magic Money Tree did exist! Its golden leaves, its copper
bark, the sapphires and rubies that grew like fungi among its roots – it was all real …
… and the Few knew
where it was.
But the Few did not
want anyone else to know where the tree was, because they too realised that if
the Many were given access to the tree, the Many would become wealthier, and
the Few would become less wealthy by comparison. The Few did not want to lose
their lavish lifestyle, and so did not want the Many to have access to the
But if the Few
acknowledged that the tree existed, and kept only its location to themselves,
the Many might still be able to find it. A small number of them might venture
into the mountains, and, given enough time, they would find the Magic Money
Tree. So rather than just keep the location
of the tree a secret, they also tried to keep its existence a secret. They pretended that it did not exist. Whenever
anyone who was not one of the Few asked whether the tree was real, they would
say loudly ‘Don’t be ridiculous! There is no Magic Money Tree!’. But in the
evenings, when they were among the Few, they all acknowledged the tree’s
existence, and shared the location of it with each other.
While most of the
Many believed that the tree did not exist, there were some who knew that it
did. This was partly because the Few’s deception was conspicuous – they were so
fervent in their dismissal of the idea that the tree existed that it was
suspicious. But it was also because they were somewhat careless in keeping
their secret – lavishness and meticulousness are rarely found in the same
person, it seems. Some of the Many worked for the Few in their mansions – as
servants and cooks – and often did they hear the Few, through doors both open
and closed, talk about the very real tree. This information found its way to
those among the Many who were more vocal about the great wealth disparity in
These more vocal
people tried to convince the rest of the Many that the tree was real, and that
the Few knew it. They tried to convince them that the Few were deceiving them,
because if the Many found where the tree was, the Few would not remain so
wealthy for very long. But as loud as they shouted, the Few shouted louder, and
indeed the Few paid some of the Many to shout for them. And ultimately it was
the intuitiveness, not the veracity, of what the Few said that swayed so many
of the Many. ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ they said. ‘Have you ever seen a tree with golden leaves and
copper bark? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’
Except that … it
One year, there was a
great flood. It had rained continuously for two weeks, and the river through
the centre of this great city overflowed its banks. The Many were hardly
affected by this at all. They lived on the higher ground far away from the
river – the water did not reach their houses. The Few, however, lost a lot. All
of their houses lined the river, and all were flooded. The water rose half-way
up the ground floor, turning all of their oil paintings to brown sludge, and
warping all of their antique wooden furniture. The cellars and glasshouses,
pools and gardens, were all turned into bogs.
The cost to repair it
all would have been enormous. While most of the Few had enough money to pay for
all of the repairs to their houses and gardens, it would have been a
substantial fraction of their total wealth. And the Few were reluctant to give
up so much money.
But as the Few knew
the location of the Magic Money Tree, they decided that, rather than spend any
of their current wealth on the repairs, they would simply go to the golden
tree, gather the golden leaves on the ground around it, melt them into gold
coins, and spend those on the repairs.
And that’s exactly
what they did. A small number of the Few made an expedition to the mountains.
They found the Magic Money Tree, which grew in a shallow between two great
summits, its golden leaves and copper bark reflecting the light in a thousand
directions down the valley. They gathered the leaves on the ground, cut away
some of the bark, and dug in the soil around the roots to find the rubies and
sapphires. Once they had filled the sleds, they hauled their riches back to the
When they got back to
the city, they melted down the gold and minted hundreds of thousands of new
gold coins. They paid a select few artisan stonemasons, decorators, and
gardeners to repair their houses and their gardens, and any money that was left
over they kept.
The Many saw all of
this. Most did not see the sleds being dragged into the city, for they were
brought in under cover of darkness, but they saw all of the repairs being made
to the houses and gardens, and they saw all of the rubies and sapphires that
were given out as payment. But they did not question it. They did not question
where the riches came from.
Those among the Many
who knew that the tree existed shouted that that’s where the Few had gotten the
money from. ‘They have gotten all of this money from the Magic Money Tree!’ they
said. ‘The tree is real – the Few know where it is! But why should they be the only ones who have access to
the tree? Why are their problems
important enough such that they can use the money from the tree, but ours are
not? We have starved for years; we have died for years; and throughout all of
it they refused to use the tree, and pretended it did not exist! But at the
first inconvenience to them, they will use the tree.’
But most of the Many
did not believe it, for they were so rooted in the idea that money did not grow
on trees, that even though they could not explain where all of this new gold
had come from, they refused to even consider the possibility that the tree
might exist, and that the Few simply didn’t want them to know about it.
Twelve years later,
there was a great fire. The fire ravaged the city, burning both the areas where
the Many lived and where the Few lived. Much of the city burned to the ground,
and many people died.
Fortunately, a lot of
people had managed to leave the city before the fire had reached their houses.
They moved to the countryside around the city. For many, life improved – the
air was less stale, there was less disease, and everyone had more space.
The fire burned
through everything it could, and by the time it had burned itself out, not much
was left of the city but smouldering ashes.
The Few, who were now
living in their country mansions, discussed what they wanted to do about this.
While a number of the Few had inherited their wealth, a lot also had owned
factories and machinery that had been destroyed by the fire, and they were dependent
on the profits from those factories to maintain their extraordinary wealth. (It
cost a lot of money to eat a seven-bird roast every evening.) They wanted to
rebuild the city, and bring all of the people back to it – give them factories
to work in and houses to live in – so that they could continue to get the profits
from what they produced.
But rebuilding the
city would cost even more than it did to repair all of their houses as they did
many years ago. This time, the Few absolutely did not have the money to pay for
it all themselves, and the scale of the disaster was far bigger than what it
had been before, so it was easy for the Few to decide: they would once again
use the Magic Money Tree.
They made another
expedition to the tree, taking far more sleds this time. This time they
gathered every leaf in sight, even grabbing the ones off the tree that had not
yet fallen that day. They cut away more of the bark, and picked up all of the
branches that had fallen over the last few months. They burrowed for more
rubies and sapphires, and they even picked the fruit of the tree, which was
shaped like a pear, but which was silvery-green in colour, and which instead of
seeds at the centre had small pearls. (It was also said that eating the fruit
would give you an extra eight years of life.)
They brought all of
it back to the city, and they paid for all of the factories and houses to be
rebuilt. This lured the Many back to the city – they moved into newer, but
still just as small, houses, and began working in factories again, though the
work was still repetitive, and the coal furnaces blasted out just as much
But still, even
though the Many themselves were the ones that the Few paid to rebuild the houses and the factories – even though they had
been given the gold and rubies and sapphires from the tree – they had held it
in their hands – they still did not believe that the tree existed.
‘Where do you think
they got the money from?!’ those among the Many who did know that the tree existed said. ‘They didn’t have all of this
money before – where do you think it came from?! They went to the tree again!’
ridiculous!’ the Few shouted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’
‘Yes, don’t be
ridiculous!’ the rest of the Many parroted. ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees, you
‘There is no Magic
Money Tree.’ they chorused together.
And nothing changed.
Within a few years, the city had returned to how it had been before the fire.
The Few still held control over the tree. Only when it was in their interest
did they harvest its leaves, but always did they pretend that it did not exist.
And never did the Many learn, that sometimes, when someone doesn’t want you to
do something, rather than try to persuade
you not to do it, they will try to deny that it is even physically possible.
In my reviews of Star Trek Picard, I’ve started using the term ‘dramatic dissonance’ to describe something that we’re seeing on-screen. This particular phenomenon or quality may already have a term to describe it – if it does, I don’t know what it is, so for now I’m going to use ‘dramatic dissonance’ (to mimic the phrase ‘dramatic irony’). And while I’ve started using this term in my Star Trek Picard reviews, it’s something I’ve seen in lots of other shows too – like Star Trek Discovery and recent Doctor Who – so I thought I’d write a blog post about it in order to define it more clearly.
Dramatic dissonance is when the reactions of the characters
to each other, or to the events of the story, are different to the audience’s
reaction to the characters or to the events of the story.
Here’s an example of this: one character says something, and
several other characters around them consider it a very awkward thing to say,
or a faux pas, but the audiencedoesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing
Here’s another: one character does something (it could be
anything), and all of the characters around them think that this character is a
genius for doing it, but the audience isn’t impressed by it at all.
This second example is one we’ve seen a lot in both Star
Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery – in fact this second example is often a
way of determining whether a character is a Mary Sue. (Other characters will
just think that they’re brilliant no matter what they do.)
Dramatic dissonance is a bad quality for a show to have. It
is, by its very definition, unrealistic, and if a show has it, the audience
will sense something is amiss, even if they can’t quite put it into words. The
audience can sense it because things in the show don’t seem to make sense.
I’m not sure I could exactly say what the origins of
dramatic dissonance in a show actually are, but I don’t think it’s an acting
problem – I think it comes from the writing. It may come from writers thinking
too much about ‘How do I want this
character to react?’ rather than ‘How would
The sequel to On The Subject Of Trolls is finally done – it’s finally here.
And the title of the book (which has been going by the codename of On The Subject Of Trolls 2 for the last few months) is simply: More On The Subject Of Trolls.
Like the last book, this book is a collection of short stories,
and there are five stories again in this book (this will probably be the format
for all of the books in the series). The five stories in this book are:
Clund the Obstructive
Kill The Golden Goose
Ceod the Beautiful
Ceon the Noble
Five trolls are named in this book – the three major trolls
in the titles above, and two minor trolls: Obglud and Fut.
The book is available in both paperback and ebook form on Amazon
via the following links:
It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this review –
I’ve been putting it off, because quite frankly I’m just glad that this series
is over and I don’t want to spend any more time on it.
This final episode ultimately epitomised everything that was
wrong with this series. I think all of the main things that have been bad about
the previous episodes were in this one too. Because of that, there was no one
main thing that was wrong with this episode, and so nothing that I can focus
this review on – I’m just going to have to go through everything in order. So
here we go.
At the start of the episode, Seven and Elnor are talking,
and Seven says that the ex-Borg have no homes. This is odd, because the
convention up until now is that de-assimilated Borg go back to the civilisation
and planet that they were originally from. Sure that might not be an option for
some people, as the Borg might have destroyed their home planet and the entire
civilisation on it, but then there must be other ex-Borg from the same species,
with whom they could start a colony – something which happens all the time in
the Star Trek universe. Or they could even just join the Federation – there
must be loads of Federation worlds that would have them. I get that the point
of this series is that the Federation became closed off, but that was to
Romulans, not just everyone.
Similarly, Seven says that she has no home. Err … Earth?
Narek makes his way into the Borg cube, where his sister
greets him with a knife to the throat. Why? I get that these two are
adversarial, but she knows it’s him doesn’t she? These two characters are weird
– most of their conversations are quite incest-y. I can’t tell if they hate
each other or want to fuck each other.
Shortly after that we hear a bit more of Narek’s backstory,
from Narek himself. He’s rather pleased that he’s the one who found all the robots, and describes himself as
‘The Zhat Vash wash-out.’ … err … Can
you leave the Zhat Vash? Surely they’d kill you – they seem like the sort of
people who would kill you if you left. Also, has he left? The entire series he’s been doing stuff for the Zhat
Vash? This show not only contradicts canon established by previous shows, but
also things from earlier episodes!
We get a bit of chat between Picard and Soji at this point
in the episode. They try to talk philosophy, but the writers aren’t capable of
it, so a lot of what they say is just gibberish, but at one point Picard says
‘To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.’ – no, this show is a
failure of imagination.
Speaking of imagination, we get a weird scene between Rios
and Raffi where they try to fix their ship. All of the dialogue in this scene
is weird. Santiago Cabrera once again sounds like he’s reading his lines for
the first time, Raffi is just insufferably patronising as she tries to get Rios
to use the imagination tool thing to fix the ship. In this situation, Raffi
obviously would have no more of an idea of how to use this tool than Rios
would, but somehow she still tells him what to do with it.
This whole scene is completely unnecessary. What does it add
to the episode or the series? Nothing. The imagination tool is just a deus ex
machina tool. It can apparently do anything at any time with no constraints on
materials or power. You don’t even have to learn how to use it. How does it
work? We don’t know. Did the robots know? How did they make it? Did they make it? Where did they get it
from? Seems like it would be good to have a lot of these things about. Are any
of these questions going to be answered? No? Okay then.
Also, the imagination tool sends out these Borg-like tubes
to fix things – is that a deliberate reference? If so, to what? How did these
robots get a Borg device like that?
Throughout this episode we get a lot of very unsubtle
foreshadowing that Picard is going to die and get put into this artificial body
that they’ve been building. But … why are they even making that body in the
first place? Apparently Soong and the other robots have been making this body,
but … why? Who was it for? Was it for Soong? He was the only human there when
they started building it, so it must be – does that mean he has to give up a
new body so that Picard can have it?
Narek goes to the ship where Raffi and Rios are. He tries to
get their attention, and when they ask what he wants, he says he’s ‘Trying to
save the universe.’. No, just no. Fuck off with that. This is a problem that’s
endemic to science fiction nowadays – people aren’t just trying to save a
person, or a group of people, or a civilisation, or a planet, or a star system,
or a galaxy – no, they’re trying to save the whole fucking universe. Stop.
Putting. This. Line. In. Stuff. The story isn’t made more grand and epic by
adding this line – you don’t raise the stakes, because no-one can really
imagine this. This doesn’t increase the tension, it just makes the characters
needlessly melodramatic. You know what actually
raises the tension? Putting characters who we actually give a shit about in
danger. Make us give a shit about the characters, and then put them in danger.
Just having a character exposit the end of the universe does nothing.
It’s also completely inconsistent with what we’ve found out
so far in this series. If this super-advanced AI does arrive, then they
threaten, at most, all of our galaxy – there has been no mention of them going
to other galaxies at all. So no, Narek, you are not saving the fucking
I also noted down at this point in the episode that it’s
very hard to believe that both Narek and Elnor are Romulans. This isn’t
necessarily a bad thing, as it can just show the variety that there is to
Narek’s telling of Ganmadan is fun, but the fact that the
imagery here isn’t better shows that these aren’t very good writers. Also, this
series would have had more tension as a whole if we’d heard this story far
earlier in the series.
Narek says ‘And the fascinating thing about history is …
it always repeats itself.’ No, Narek. No it doesn’t – it sometimes repeats itself. This is the kind of bullshit profound I
expect on Twitter, not in Star Trek.
Jurati’s plan to help Picard escape seems to consist of just
unlocking the door. They walk the six miles back to the ship pretty quickly.
By this point in the episode, I think most of the main
characters know that genocide is imminent, but considering this they are not
panicking nearly enough. Apparently they are all going to die in a few minutes,
along with the people on a lot of other planets (it would seem), but no-one’s
panicking – why is no-one panicking? This is partly why this episode has no
tension, despite it being a ‘save the universe’ plot. The characters are about
the same level of bothered by this as not being able to get a clue on a
We have some more bullshit profundity from Picard. He says ‘To
be alive is a responsibility as well as a right.’ … Jesus fucking Christ.
That might sound like the sort of thing that would go on a cheap inspirational
poster that someone shares on Instagram, but this is actually quite a dark
statement. The implication of this statement is that unless you, as a life
form, do not carry out your “responsibilities”, then you don’t get to be alive.
(This also shows why the word “responsibility” is vague, meaningless, and only
really used as a way to get other people to do things regardless of how right
or wrong that thing is, but that’s a rant for another blog post.)
Jurati says ‘Make it so.’ to Picard. How the hell does she know
that he says that? This line is one of many that just serve as a shallow
attempt at fan service by going ‘LOOK! SHE SAID THE THING! SHE SAID THE THING
THAT HE NORMALLY SAYS! REMEMBER THAT? HE NORMALLY SAYS THAT! REMEMBER THAT!
REMEMBER THAT BETTER SHOW THAT YOU COULD BE WATCHING!’ … You know what’s actually fan service? MaKiNg A gOoD
Down on the planet, Soong and the others are trying to stop all of the androids from doing whatever it is they’re doing. He goes up to Sutra and uses some device on her that knocks her out. He only uses this device ONCE. They then try and fight the other robots off by hand.
Back on the ship, Jurati says to Picard ‘Are you not
answering to build suspense?’ – I suppose this is an attempt at a funny
meta-line, but it doesn’t work. In order to break the fourth wall (or in this
case, dent it), you first have to establish that there is a fourth wall by making your show immersive, which this show is
not. Too often in this show the thoughts of the characters blur with the
thoughts of the writers, which makes a meta-line like this just look like bad
On the Borg cube, Seven has a gun pointing at Rizzo, and for
some reason she doesn’t kill her straight away. There is no reason for this.
Rizzo then somehow just pushes Seven’s gun aside, and they fight.
Throughout this entire episode, Commodore Sunglasses is the
only Romulan we see on the Romulan ships – I guess they just didn’t have the
money for more.
Picard and Jurati just fly around in front of the Romulans
for a bit, not really doing anything.
Jurati also knows about the Picard manoeuvre. How? I get
that it’s famous, but is it so famous that people outside of Starfleet know it? The only military manoeuvre that I
know is the pincer manoeuvre, and that’s been around for millennia. This is
just more desperate fan service.
Picard gives Soji a call on Zoom. Soji is not surprised to
learn that Picard has left the village.
Up in space, Commodore Sunglasses says ‘Ready planetary
sterilisation pattern number five.’ … apparently planetary sterilisation
patterns one to four are not suitable in this case.
Back on the FaceTime call, why does Soji give a shit about
Picard dying? When she first met him, she didn’t trust him. Have we ever
actually been given a reason why she changed her mind? When did she change her mind? It all just happens because the plot
They activate the beacon, and it turns out it’s not just a
beacon that sends a message, it opens the portal from Avengers Assemble. Jesus
fucking Christ – check your fucking script! Make. Sure. You. Know. Whether. It’s.
A. Portal. Or. A. Beacon. They. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.
Also, the portal is now red when last time it was green.
The Starfleet ships arrive, and they look like they’ve just been
copy-and-pasted in Blender.
We get about a minute of back-and-forth between Riker and
Commodore Sunglasses, and for a few brief moments, the show actually feels like
Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes is still great. If we had a whole series with him as
a captain of a star ship, it could be amazing (though, without any of this
Discovery / Picard style writing – I don’t want another classic character to be
Picard’s brain problem spontaneously flares up again, and
honestly it has better dramatic timing than most of the actors.
Very slowly, the super-beings are making their way through
the portal, and apparently they’re just tentacles – not what I was expecting.
They manage to close the portal again, and the super-beings just
decide to go back into it. Apparently even though they’ve been summoned,
ostensibly to rescue the androids down on the planet, they decide that since
the portal has closed they must not need rescuing.
Picard dies, and the rest of the characters just mope around
for a bit. Seven of Nine says that she intended to never again ‘kill somebody
just because it’s what they deserve’. What a weird thing to aim for.
Okay, this next one’s harsh – maybe too harsh, even for me – but Evan Evagora is not an experienced enough actor to pull off that short scene with him and Raffi. Now, I like Evan Evagora – he’s got some great pictures on Instagram – but he doesn’t have a lot of acting credits – only two before Star Trek Picard. Now this alone isn’t a bad thing – in fact I quite like that the show was willing to give out some parts to less-experienced actors – it helps them to get going in the acting world. This short scene is very cringe-worthy, and I actually blame the directors for this, because if you as a director get an actor to do something, and it’s obvious that they can’t really perform that way yet, do the scene differently.
Anyway, we then learn that Data has actually been alive all this
time, inside a simulation, for about twenty years. Why did they leave him
there? They’ve been building all of these other android bodies, why not make
one for Data?
Also, considering how good Brent Spiner is at playing Data,
they should have had a lot more of him in this series.
Data says he wants to die again, and he says ‘Mortality
gives meaning to human life.’ No, no it doesn’t. This line kind of highlights
what’s wrong with this show – Picard is supposed to be a philosophical
character, and Star Trek is supposed to be a philosophical show, but you can’t
have that unless the people writing it are very intelligent.
Anyway, they transfer Picard’s memories into a new body – I’m
not sure what kind of body this is – the show doesn’t seem to understand that a
biological android is just a fucking human, but it seems to want to think that
somehow they’re still robots – I don’t know – it doesn’t make sense. But
something that other critics have said is that this new Picard isn’t Picard – the real Picard died when
his body died. And this is an important point: is a copy a continuation? If
this were classic Star Trek, this idea would have been explored, but since it’s
not classic Star Trek, it isn’t.
The characters are fine with it anyway – they all seem to
consider this new body with Picard’s memories to be Picard. I did wonder though – what did they do with the old
body? Did they just dump it in the trash? We don’t see the other body at any
point – itself an odd choice for the show to make. Perhaps they just wanted to
ignore the philosophical implications of all of this.
In the end, Picard has no brain problem, and Data is still
dead, so basically nothing has changed since the start of the series. (Because
this series chose to make Picard’s
brain problem into a thing – they could have just ignored it any no-one would
For about half a second just before the final shot of the
series, there’s a brief lesbian moment between Seven and Raffi. This really
pissed me off. It’s so fucking weak. You don’t get representation points for
lesbians holding hands – it’s not 19-fucking-95 – it’s 2020. Two decades ago
you got points for that, but not now. If you want credit for having lesbians in
your show, put them front and centre – make the main two characters lesbians,
THEN you get credit for it. Either put them front and centre or don’t bother at
all. Ambiguous sentences and people in the background holding hands is just
And then at the end, the ‘gang’ is about to go off on some
other adventure. It’s not obvious why they decide to do this. But more
importantly, what’s actually going to happen to all of those androids down on
the planet? They can’t just be left there – the Romulans would just come back.
In the end, we have no idea what happens to the androids, which was the entire
point of this story.
It’s just astonishing how much of this episode made no sense
– not just in terms of the wider context of the Star Trek canon, but in terms
of things this show said earlier in the
series. There is no consistency; there is no coherence.
I was optimistic about this series – I was optimistic that
it wouldn’t have the same problems that Discovery had. But while it’s not quite as bad as Discovery, it’s obvious
from this series that the showrunners have a critical error in their
understanding of what Star Trek is supposed to be, and a complete inability to
do world-building, separate their thoughts from the thoughts of the characters
they are writing, understand character motivations, write natural dialogue,
build suspense, or have any philosophical ideas that are distinguishable from
what Inspirobot chucks out.
The acting in this show is sometimes good, sometimes
repulsive. The CGI is mostly alright, with the occasional copy-and-paste. The
music is forgettable, but inoffensive. But the writing is an absolute
clusterfuck. This show is a complete failure of writing, and the only value it
has is as an example of what not to do.
I gave Star Trek Discovery a second chance, and watched the
second season. Star Trek Picard is getting no second chance – that’s it, this
show is dead. In fact, after three awful series’ of television, I’m tuning out
of modern Trek. There is just no point watching it, and until there is a
complete change of writing philosophy I’m not going to watch any more modern
Trek. Other shows deserve more of a chance; modern Trek goes to the back of the
That episode was a complete mess. The pacing was dizzying.
New things were brought in so fast that by the end of the episode I had no idea
what was going on, what any character wanted, or what anything meant. I just
had an endless stream of questions as I was watching the episode – none of
which were answered, so for this review, I’m just going to list them all:
How are they able to travel through a Borg
transwarp conduit without a transwarp coil? Or do they have a transwarp coil? Do all Federation ships have them
now? Did they get them from the Artefact? If they do have a transwarp coil
then, why is their ship shaking so much as it goes through the conduit?
Why does Picard decide to bring Narek onto their
ship immediately when it’s so obviously a trick and Soji even says she thinks
it’s a trick? Since when would Picard fall for such an obvious ploy?
No-one ever explains these flower things. What
are they? How do they make them? Are they living things? How do they survive in
space? Are the flowers meant to crash
ships into the ground, or was that an accident? Can the flowers only do this by
dying? How do they control the flowers? Do the flowers control themselves? Do
the flowers have free will? How do you even ‘make’ a flower anyway – don’t they
Apparently crashing through an atmosphere is a
viable way of getting down to the ground.
Picard is apparently going to die, and I don’t
know what the point of this is.
Soji remembers things whenever it’s convenient
to the plot. Is she going to get all her memories back at some point, or will
she just have hazy memories forever? How are these memories even being blocked?
Why does no-one question it? Why does no-one ever ask her to just tell them
everything she knows?
Somehow a large part of the cube survived the
Apparently Seven enjoyed being a Borg again for
a bit. This massively, massively undermines the Borg as a threat.
The gang leaves the Borg cube within minutes of
arriving, making the whole thing seem pointless.
Why does Elnor stay with the Borg when he
clearly wants to go with Picard?
Five strangers walk into the android’s village
and no-one asks them who they are for several minutes.
All of the androids in the village look more
like Data than either Soji or Dahj. Why? Why did they make Soji and Dahj
differently? And how?
Why are the androids fascinated by how old
Picard is? Soong is there and he’s just as old.
How does Altan Soong look identical to Noonian
Soong? (Some have speculated that it’s actually Lore.)
Why didn’t the androids make more flowers? Why
did they think fifteen was enough? What else are they doing all day?
Why is Picard not there when Soji explains
Why did they block Soji’s memories in the first
place if it was possible that she might accidentally reveal the location of the
planet? Why was it necessary to block her memories at all? How were they
expecting Soji to return to the planet if all of this hadn’t have happened?
Why doesn’t Soji just remember everything now
that she’s back in the village? Is anyone going to help her get her memories
back at all?
It turns out it was stupid for the Romulans to grab onto that glowing handrail.
Why did the robots only have one ship? And why
didn’t they make another one after the first one was destroyed?
How the hell is Sutra able to do the Mind Meld?
She looks like a Soong-type mechanical android – I thought they couldn’t
interact psychically with anything? Thinking about it, Troi couldn’t
empathically sense Soji, so even Soji shouldn’t be able to do it.
Why does Sutra decide to do a Mind Meld even
though it might drive her mad too? At this point it’s only a hypothesis that
this information was intended for androids. And a psychopathic synthetic is far
more dangerous than a homicidal human.
Sutra claims that ‘organics’ hate robots because
they don’t age, which is not something that has ever been suggested by anyone
so far in this series.
If the super-beings are always watching, why do
they need a special signal to know when to come?
Everyone condemns Jurati as being a bad person
for killing Maddox, even though they all agree that she had been driven mad by
Also, everyone seems to be over the fact that
Jurati killed Maddox – they can’t seem to decide whether they like her or not
from one scene to the next.
The robots have a tool that can repair your ship
with imagination, but apparently can’t build a fucking ship.
Picard says he has a ‘first contact situation’,
but is it really first contact when Maddox and Soong have been there for a
Why do Picard and Soji discuss the moral
implications of Jurati killing Maddox when she was brainwashed?
Why does Narek run to the Borg cube? Don’t they
all hate him there too?
Did Saga just lose an eye? How did she die from
that – she’s a robot?
Is Sutra in charge? Why is Sutra the one that’s
Jurati is apparently over her brainwashing now.
And the psychic block that didn’t last more than a few minutes. How? Why?
And probably the most annoying thing in this episode:
the Romulans were right. They tried to understand some information intended for
synthetic minds; it drove them mad, and apparently they got it wrong; but they
actually got it right – if the galaxy keeps making androids, eventually the
super-beings will come and destroy them all. It’s extreme dramatic dissonance,
where the audience can see that the Romulans got it right, but the show is
telling us the opposite.
This episode had more moronic moments in it, and thinking
back on it, I don’t think there was anything that I actually liked about it,
though there were a few things I was indifferent to. I’m going to go through
the problems with this episode in the order that they happened.
At the start of the episode, we saw some CGI of this
octonary star system. Later on we’re told that the orbits of these stars would
have to be very complex in order for such a system to exist. That’s actually
not entirely true. This is an extension of the three-body problem in physics.
Solutions to the three-body problem, for the most part, cannot be determined
analytically, and must be determined computationally – i.e., using a simulation.
But for any number of masses, there is always one trivial solution if the
masses are all the same – the masses can all orbit a central point with the
same speed and direction. This is a very simple solution to the problem, and,
if you were creating this star
system, as is postulated in this episode, possibly the solution you would go
for. It would also be the most conspicuous solution, given its symmetry, and so
good for sending a message. (The main problem with this solution however is
getting eight stars with the same mass.)
But that’s not what we see at the start of the episode. In
fact we see all of the stars close together – REALLY close together, and by the
looks of it the stars all have different masses. In fact the stars are so close
together that they must be having tidal effects on each other, possibly pulling
mass off each other – they look like they’re in each other’s Roche limit. It
certainly doesn’t look like a stable system.
Also, one of the stars has a distinct magenta hue – that’s
not possible in real life – there are no magenta stars.
Raffi says later on that the planet is at the centre of the
star system, but in the CGI we see clearly that it is not. I give the show a
pass on this, however, because how would Raffi have any idea where the planet
is? She’s only just found out that this star system exists – she’s just
guessing. But also, if it were at the
centre of all of those very close stars, it would be in perpetual daylight, and
completely roasted – it probably wouldn’t survive very long, let alone have
plant-life on it.
Much like with all that stuff in Star Trek Discovery, this
shows why Star Trek needs scientific advisers (I don’t know if this show has
one – certainly there’s less nonsense in it than in Discovery). But not only
that, it shows why your scientific advisers should be involved in the CGI
process as well – artists draw what looks good, not what could be real.
Then we go down to some stuff on the planet’s surface.
Apparently, in the entire history of the Zhat Vash, no-one has questioned
whether they should keep touching the alien artefact that instantly radicalises
people. I suppose no-one would, since everyone who survives it has then been
radicalised. But still, we have no idea if what that weird barrier thing shows
you is even true.
Similarly, even though the knowledge you gain via Admonition
is apparently very important – important enough to set up a super-secret
organisation to act on it – it’s apparently not so important that anyone tells any major governments about it.
Rizzo says to Ramdha ‘I’d’ve made a much better Borg than
you.’ … err … what? … who? … wh- … Who on earth relishes being assimilated? Who the fuck thinks the idea of that is
fun?! I don’t know what they were
going for with this line.
Picard and Asha come onto the ship. Picard then doesn’t know
what the nearest starbase is – … how? Even if Picard is a bit
out-of-the-loop, surely he’d know where Deep Space 12 is? I mean, there’s
apparently only been 11 other deep space starbases before that one. The line is
so unnecessary as well, so this must have been a deliberate choice by the
Then Raffi is once again very irrational, but the show does
not acknowledge it – dramatic dissonance.
There are many times throughout this episode where Santiago
Cabrera sounds like he’s reading the line for the first time. I don’t know how
chaotic things are on set, but if they are
very chaotic, this could well be the case.
Also, why do the holograms’ eyes light up when they try to
search for something – that shouldn’t be necessary.
Then we have a scene between Picard and Asha where Picard is
asked to describe Data. He does it very badly. He misses out all of the
actually interesting stuff about Data, and there’s no way that Asha could build
a picture of him with the information she’s given.
Now, this should
have been a very long scene. This is the scene where the main character of the
series (which, let’s face it, is Asha, not Picard) learns about Data, the
person she is essentially cloned from. This should be a big scene. But it’s not
– it’s actually very short. In this scene, we definitely should have heard
about the trial that established Data’s legal status, because that’s the event
that ties all of this together – Picard, Data, Maddox, Asha (and because it’s
probably good for Asha to know the result of that trial). But we didn’t. This
is a massive failing of this show – it can’t even get its core story right.
Shortly after that we have a scene between Asha and Jurati
too. Asha asks Jurati ‘Am I a person?’, and we don’t get to hear Jurati’s
answer (because that wouldn’t have
been interesting or anything (!)). Why the fuck does the show keep doing this?
Why does it keep not letting us see characters’ reactions and responses to
But these two scenes also reveal something that is missing
from this series that we should have seen a few episodes ago. We never really
had any scene where Asha tries to process the fact that she’s a robot. (In fact
we’ve not even really had confirmation that she is a robot – everyone just seems to believe that she is. Is no-one
going to do some kind of scan? It might answer a lot of Asha’s questions.) But
even just a scene where we see Asha ponder the implications of being a robot is
missing from the series. The show went straight from Narek trying to kill her
to her being on Nepenthe being told by some kid that she’s a robot. At no point
was there disbelief or scepticism. At no point did she think ‘But how is it
even possible? No-one’s been able to recreate a robot like Data.’
And I think this points to something that the current
writers of Star Trek need to realise, which is that you sometimes need slow
scenes where characters contemplate things, or discuss things in a
non-adversarial way. Every scene in Picard is either a fight scene or just
characters being maximally emotive.
Around this point in the episode, we hear more about these
eight stars from Raffi: ‘You’d have to capture eight suns, move them across
light-years in space, and set them in motion.’. Okay, so, this is science
fiction, and maybe in this universe there’s a way to do this. But this show
completely lacks a sense of scale. Just throwing this in there lacks any
awareness of just how big stars are, and just how big a light-year is. You can
only do this if you have some way of simply counteracting or nullifying the
effect of gravity around a star. Manipulating gravity is possible in the Star Trek universe – that’s presumably how they
all have gravity on their spaceships – but it’s usually done on a much smaller
scale. Even the warp bubble around a ship is nanoscopic compared to a star. To
move a star, you would have to create an enormous, artificial gravity well (one
basically as big as the star itself), near to the star, and then drag that well
and the star in the direction that you want the star to move. You’d probably be
limited to sub-light speeds, so it would take you many decades to move the star
from one star system to another. You’d also probably disturb the gravitational
interactions of the local cluster at the same time, potentially destabilising
other star systems or planets, or grabbing yourself a rogue planet as you went.
And sure, the whole point of this idea is to show that this
ancient civilisation was very powerful, but doing this requires years of
planning and building infrastructure to do it, and then decades or centuries to
actually implement. And apparently, this civilisation only did this once they
realised that androids were getting too powerful, which is probably too late.
This is all a bit ridiculous. The only people who could have done this are the
We also have, at this point in the episode, a cutesy scene
with Raffi and all of the holograms. Maybe this scene seemed good on paper; on
screen it’s just annoying, as the different holograms are paper-thin
Then we get to the part of the episode that I think I
disliked the most. When Elnor and Seven of Nine are trying to take control of
the Borg cube, Seven decides to reintegrate herself into the Borg, and become,
presumably, a Borg Queen.
I absolutely hate this. This completely minimises what
assimilation is. Assimilation by the Borg is the complete and utter eradication
of the self. Your body is hijacked and transformed – there are Borg nanites in
your blood that interrupt the normal function of your cells – your very cells
are slaves to microscopic machines. Organs and body parts are changed to
machinery – in some cases your entire spine is replaced. Your thoughts are
invaded and overwritten with the popular will. Uniqueness, individuality,
identity, and dissention are not permitted. Your
personality is gone. You are gone. You cease to exist. It is a fate worse
than death precisely because you disappear while part of the biological form
that allowed you to exist goes on as a cog – a dispensable, replaceable
component – in a biotechnological machine that actively resents the concept of
the basis of your existence. It’s the great irony of the Borg that even though
they seek the cultural distinctiveness of other species, they destroy it when
they try to merge it in with their own.
This is emphasised by the irreversibility of assimilation.
It is far easier for someone to be assimilated than for someone to be
de-assimilated. You cannot easily get back what was lost through this process.
Now, Star Trek itself has been somewhat inconsistent about this – Picard himself
was able to recover from assimilation almost fully and relatively quickly.
Seven of Nine, however, took years to recover, and never had all of the
implants removed. Star Trek has generally suggested that the longer you’ve been
assimilated for, the harder it is to return. They’ve also been somewhat
ambiguous about whether the Borg eradicate your personality or just suppress it
– personally I don’t see the difference when the method of suppression is one
that involves direct physical access to your brain.
But regardless of the reversibility of this process – even if
the effects are only temporary – this is not something that should ever be
portrayed lightly. The subjugation of thought is pretty fucking serious. Seven
even protests at the idea when Elnor mentions it, so it’s bizarre that she then
goes and does it. The show continues to portray this process as not serious
when Seven very easily de-assimilates herself about a minute later.
I do not believe that Seven of Nine would ever have chosen
to do any of this, and I find it repulsive that this show portrays one of the
most conceivably horrific things as easy and 100% reversible.
Anyway, there were two more annoying things after that in
the episode. Firstly, Soji suddenly remembers things whenever it is convenient
to the plot, and there is no explanation for it. Secondly, Picard doesn’t know
how to fly the ship when he tries – it would have been such a boss moment if he
had known how to fly it, and even
though it’s been over a decade since he was in Starfleet, I can’t believe that
the technology and the interfaces have moved on that much in that time.
This was an absolute disaster of an episode, in just about
Okay, this episode was annoying, because this episode
contained some magical moments, but also some unbelievably crap writing.
I’m going to start with the good stuff – a lot of other
people have pointed out this stuff.
Firstly, seeing Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi again and
Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker again was a genuinely magical part of the
episode. They completely brought the characters back to life. While they were
each given a few out-of-character lines to say, for the most part the
characters we saw on screen really seemed like Deanna Troi and Will Riker.
Furthermore, a lot of the scenes between those two and
Picard were incredibly reminiscent of TNG at times. Somehow, when those actors
are put together, they just seem to talk in the right way. As has been the case
throughout this entire series, the new characters have nothing on the old. (And
as much as it seems as though Jonathan Frakes doesn’t want to do any acting
anymore (preferring to direct), he is still very good at it.)
Secondly, this episode genuinely had a lot of tension. A lot
of this show so far has had no tension – the episodes have dragged on and a lot
of what’s happened has seemed pointless. But this episode genuinely had
suspense. And it did this in a very simple way – one half of the gang was being
pursued by a member of the Zhat Vash. We cut between the slower scenes on
Nepenthe and the more tense scenes on the ship – it was very simple.
(Oh, and as a minor third point, Tamlyn Tomita continues to
perform Commodore Oh well.)
Now for the bad. There was one aspect of this episode that I
found particularly annoying. Several episodes ago, we were told that the Zhat
Vash hate all artificial life, and we were told that the reason why they hated artificial life and AIs was because of
something so horrific that if you knew it, it would, essentially, drive you
insane. That was a big promise. What
could it possibly be? we wondered. What was it about AIs that was so
In this episode, we found out. Commodore Sunglasses shows
Tilly 2.0 via Mind Meld. And it turns out that the reason why the Romulans hate
AI so much is because some robots are going to do a Star Wars on a planet and
blow it up.
How … … … dull. What an uninteresting answer to that
question. We were promised something so shocking that it would make someone go
insane. We were promised something Lovecraftian. Instead, we got the whole
blowing-up-a-planet thing, which has been done ad nauseam not only in Star Wars
but also in Star Trek itself.
Now sure, Jurati does go kind of mad after learning this –
she kills Maddox and then tries to kill herself. But here we arrive at a point
of dramatic dissonance, because while the characters in the story may find the
idea of a planet blowing up more shocking than us the audience, destruction of
that scale is not unknown so far in the Star Trek universe (the Romulans, after
all, are in their current predicament because their home planet was destroyed,
albeit by less malevolent means), and it’s difficult to believe that anyone in
the Star Trek universe would be as shocked by the idea of such destruction as
Jurati appears to be. I think if she’d just been told this information, rather than given it via Mind Meld, her
response would have been very different.
And all of this actually opens up something much darker than
I think the writers were intending. Normally, Mind Melds are only done if both
people consent. Here, Commodore Sunglasses just does it, without permission. This is very, very rapey. I’m actually
surprised that this was allowed into the show because of that – I think it’s
because the writers didn’t think about the implications.
So what we have seen is a member of the Zhat Vash Mind Meld
with someone without their consent, and then impress images into their mind of
some horrific event. The imagery is so visceral that it immediately wins over
that person to the Zhat Vash. There is no proof that androids will do what the
Zhat Vash say they will do – how do they really know that the robots will do that? They don’t. So is this all that
the Zhat Vash is? It’s just a series of people forcibly Mind Melding with other
people and impressing images to them?
The implication of all of this is that there’s actually
nothing wrong with the robots at all – the Zhat Vash just represents a problem
with Mind Melds. Mind Melds can apparently be used to instantly radicalise people.
If Star Trek Picard goes with this idea, it would actually be very interesting,
but I suspect that they won’t.
Furthermore, after this very rapey Mind Meld, Commodore
Sunglasses insists that Jurati swallow a tracking device. Jurati is clearly in
no state to consent to this either – this is coercion – and I am again very
surprised that they decided to add this into the episode.
That stuff was what really stuck out, and that was right at
the beginning. There were many other annoying moments, but they’re not really
worth several paragraphs of explanation each, so here they are as a big list:
There’s lots of dialogue at the start of the
episode that’s just exposition. Its purpose is clearly to inform the viewer
what happened in the last episode, but I don’t know why they need to do that in
the dialogue, since they have a ‘Previously, on Star Trek Picard …’ bit at
At one point, Chris Rios says to Raffi ‘Can’t
you hack the traffic control system?!’ and Raffi says ‘The underlying code’s
all freaky Borg machine language!’ while looking and sounding as though she is
indeed attempting to hack it. If it’s in a completely different language that
she doesn’t understand, how does she have even the slightest chance?
Rizzo continues to be insufferably over-the-top.
Chris Rios and Raffi immediately forget about
Elnor, and when they are reminded
about him, they don’t really care, and are fine with letting him stay (probably
to die). They don’t give a shit about him, and it just makes them look like the
terrible people they are. The decision about whether to stay and rescue Elnor
or leave and get to Picard should have been far harder for them.
Picard just tells Soji ‘Your sister is dead.’
and it’s unintentionally hilarious. Why must the plot of this show depend on
characters making faux pas? Surely Picard would know not to say this so
Will Riker accuses Picard of ‘classic Picard
arrogance’. Err … when in TNG was Picard arrogant? Wasn’t humility one of
Picard’s defining traits?
Soji doesn’t trust Picard and there is no reason
for this. It seems to be simply so that the other characters can give Picard a
Will Riker says to Deanna Troi ‘Easy there
imzadi!’. I’m pretty sure ‘imzadi’ isn’t supposed to be used this way. I never
got the sense that it was supposed to be used angrily, or when there were other
Deanna Troi says to Picard ‘Pretend that our
dinner table is the ready room of the Enterprise.’. This is weird, desperate,
and patronising. Also, they proceed not to actually do it.
Hugh is killed off – seems like they kind of
wasted the character – they could have done loads more with him.
Why are the medical and hospitality holograms so
inconsistent at appearing?
Also, the medical and hospitality holograms have
no personality. Remember when a holographic doctor had so much personality that
he was a fan favourite character?
Soji ‘gives Picard purpose again’ and it makes
no fucking sense.
Alison Pill continues to be an outstanding
actor. She is by far the best of all the new cast and is orders of magnitude
ahead of the rest of them. Put. Her. In. Series. Two. And. Don’t. Give. Her.
At least Picard is aware of the ridiculousness
of all the drama.
Picard says to Riker ‘They seem to be carrying
more baggage than all of you ever did.’. This is a meta-line from the writers and
it pisses me off. This line is a criticism of TNG – it’s saying that TNG did
not have enough in-fighting between the characters and that the characters
didn’t have enough tragic backstories. The writers could not be more wrong, and
this is why Star Trek Discovery was shit.