Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 8 – I don’t think I liked any of it

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 writers.

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 things?

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 Q.

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 characters.

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 every way.

Dramatic Dissonance

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 audience doesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing to say.

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 they react?’.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 5 – Picard is not Picard and Seven is not Seven

Hmm. I wrote five pages of notes for the last episode; for this episode I wrote six – this is not a good sign.

This was not a good episode – for many reasons. Over the course of the series so far we’ve seen various problems: a lot of the dialogue is very unnatural; many of the characters are played over-the-top; the characters just exposit their backstories to each other or to holograms; alien races have lost all of their distinctive qualities and are now just space thugs. Many of these problems have been somewhat ignorable, because they’re only very apparent in one part of the episode, and this is the start of a new series anyway, and new shows tend to take a while to get going.

But in this episode we saw many of these same problems again, suggesting that these are going to be problems throughout the whole series, and this episode revealed some very big character problems. This episode also shows that the mystery of the Mars incident is not progressing well – I was amazed to find out that this series is only going to have ten episodes in it – this episode marks the half-way point, but the mystery has really only just been set up – nothing else has happened with it. By this point we should have found out something important about the mystery, but we haven’t. The ‘gang’ is still just wandering around the galaxy, looking for some sort of starting point. (Also, consider that it was only in episode four that the ‘gang’ first all assembled, with Elnor ‘binding his sword’ to Picard’s ‘quest’.)

I’ll get to the main problem with the episode in a few paragraphs, but first let’s get the simpler stuff out of the way.

Firstly, this episode was very gory. I personally am not a fan of gore – many people like it (and indeed, horror as a genre is often thought of as being part of a set of related genres with sci. fi. and fantasy), but I don’t. I detest the gory and the grotesque. (Anyone who’s read my books will have seen that while I don’t mind the gross (all of the trolls in OTSOT are described as being disgusting), I never describe gore, even when quite violent things happen in my stories.) This is just my preference, and I don’t hold it against the quality of the episode, because I know some people do like that stuff. However, I will say that this is yet another departure from the style of classic Star Trek. Classic Star Trek was not gory (or rather, there was an upper limit on how gory it was willing to be – a limit that was a lot lower than in this show). Other episodes in this show have had moments of gore too – like when we see doctors taking the implants out of Borg on the Artefact – it’s clearly a deliberate decision by showrunners to make the show more gory.

The show continues to have character problems – so, so many in this episode. The character of Raffi (whose full name is apparently Rafaela Musiker – interesting choice) continues to be an obnoxious mess. Firstly, Raffi has just become every single expert who’s normally on a Federation starship. Throughout the course of this episode we see that she is an expert hacker, an expert spy, a cultural expert, a chief medical officer, and a chief engineer. Throughout the ‘mission’ that they go on in this episode, she is the only one who knows anything about anything – all of the other characters are clueless and just listen to her tell them what to do. She has a detailed knowledge of the culture and technology on Freecloud, and how to infiltrate them. She knows enough about medical science and human physiology to create a substance that can block the special abilities of the Beta Annari. And she is apparently the only person who knows enough about transporter technology to give instructions on what to do to everyone else. This is unrealistic – it is not possible for one person to know that much about that many things. One of the good things about classic Star Trek is that the different skills of the different characters meant that no single character could solve every problem, and they had to work together. At one point Picard even says to Raffi ‘This is going to be very much harder without you.’ – Yes! Because she literally does fucking everything!

As a side note I really don’t care about this new thing with Raffi’s son. It just seems like some desperate attempt to tag on a ‘personal storyline’ to Raffi’s character, but it doesn’t seem to have any relation to anything else that’s going on in the show or anything to do with Raffi’s personality. It’s just a cliché of writing – you’ve accidentally created an overpowered character so now you have to tag on some ‘tragic backstory’ bollocks. A character’s own story arc should be interwoven and relevant to the main fucking story arc of the show – this is basic fucking shit.

That’s Raffi; now Elnor. Elnor so far has been completely fucking useless and has no personality. I mean really, what do we even know of Elnor at this point? What does he want? Why is he there? What does he really think of Picard? He chose this ‘quest’ because he thought it was hopeless – does that mean he thinks he’s going to die? How is he preparing for that? Or is he thinking of ways that he can make this ‘quest’ succeed against all odds? The show has not even begun to answer any of these questions.

At this point, the only personality trait that Elnor has is that he’s awkward. That’s it. But even that is not as concrete as it might superficially seem, because while we see lots of scenes where the other characters around him think that something he’s said is awkward, it’s actually not. Because of the very unnatural dialogue of the show, many of the things that other characters say are actually far more awkward than the few things that Elnor says. This results in what one might call ‘dramatic dissonance’, where what we are being told by the dialogue or the script or the writers is different to what we are being shown and what the audience thinks. All of the characters act as though Elnor is really awkward, but this is madness when every other character is actually more awkward.

Next: Agnes Jurati. This character is all over the place, but I will say that this character is much better in the serious moments than in the ones that try to be funny or matey. Alison Pill is actually an extremely good actor – her performance as Jurati kills Maddox is extraordinary. But she keeps being given crap lines to perform in the less serious moments.

As a side note: Maddox. Firstly, why is Bruce Maddox being played by a different actor? This character was a minor one-story character in TNG, and completely obnoxious. Why bring back a character like that if you’re not going to at least maintain the consistency and get the same actor? More importantly though, shortly before Maddox is killed, he says to Picard ‘Dahj is dead, isn’t she?’. The show deprives us of seeing his reaction when he learns this by having the character already know it. This is a thing that seems to happen a lot in modern television (and film) – where we just don’t see the reactions of characters to new information – and it’s bad. Stop it. If all good acting is reacting, how can we get good performances if we never see the bloody reactions! (And this was particularly annoying on this occasion because it’s so bloody unnecessary!)

But okay, let’s get to the big ones – the problems that really condemn this whole episode and this whole show: Seven of Nine is not the same character that we saw in Voyager, and Jean-luc Picard is not the same character that we saw in The Next Generation.

Seven of Nine is completely different. There are almost no similarities between this character in this show, and the real Seven of Nine from Voyager. They are two separate characters with the same name played by the same actress.

Now, some people may argue that characters change over time, and it has been, what, 20-ish years in-universe since Voyager? That’s a long time – people can change a lot over that time. Firstly, I disagree with this premise – I actually don’t think people change as much as some like to think – this idea that people change radically over the course of their life is a cliché – some people do, but most don’t. But even if people did change a lot over 20 years, I don’t think this is a good thing to do in fiction. This does not make for a good narrative – in fact it’s quite nihilistic. In most narratives, characters have some obstacle to overcome – some challenge to succeed at. Changing a character off-screen essentially involves giving them a new obstacle or challenge (or, as is the case in a lot of contemporary television and film, giving them no obstacle or challenge at all), which most of the time is not related or connected to their previous challenge. This means that essentially their previous challenge and success is meaningless and irrelevant – it didn’t matter whether they overcame the obstacle or not, because now they’ve just been given a new, different one. If characters are defined by the obstacles they overcome, then giving them a different obstacle makes them a different character.

So it is bad to outright change a character from a previous series. Even just from a pure entertainment point of view it makes no sense – people liked the old character, so why are you just replacing it with a new one that the audience may not like?

And the character of Seven of Nine has changed – quite drastically. Just look at any clips of Seven from Voyager, and you can quickly see that these are not the same character. Seven of Nine from Voyager is meticulous and diligent. She is no longer part of the Borg, but she does not outright hate them – she sees the advantages to some of the things they do, and thinks some of the things that humans do are strange. She gradually learns how to be more human, and enjoy human things, but it is not tragic. Seven of Nine from STP is a vigilante. She’s abrasive, and ‘doesn’t play by anyone’s rules’. She’s a space cowboy who’s tragically haunted by her Borg past. These are completely different characters. (Seven of Nine in STP is also selectively moronic – why, WHY, even though she is completely prepared to kill Bjayzl, does she allow Bjayzl to stand there monologuing for several minutes?! It’s Austin Powers levels of unrealistic incompetence!)

And now the big one: Picard. The character of Jean-luc Picard in this show is not the same character as Jean-luc Picard in The Next Generation. Considering that he’s the main character of the show, that’s pretty bad.

So far in this series I’ve been somewhat tolerant of the disparities between the two Picards – I’ve put it down to badly-written dialogue and the show getting started. But no – this episode shows that the two Picards are different characters.

Let’s look at the examples. Firstly, when Picard is talking to Seven, he says ‘You are taking the law into your own hands.’, referring to her being a vigilante. This line is ridiculous because Picard knows that no law is being enforced in this part of the galaxy, and he would know that in such a situation you have to follow your own principles and be strategic. Picard never just considered ‘The Law’ to be outright correct, and thus any violation of it to be automatically incorrect – many times he disagreed with what the law was, and deliberately went against it. He would not be an advocate for just following non-existent law for the sake of being lawful. He would have known that lawful and good aren’t always the same thing.

The Picard from TNG was the ‘philosopher king’ archetype – a character who is both an authoritative leader and a moral teacher – a difficult archetype to do right and one that’s not done often nowadays. The reason it’s not often done nowadays is because lots of film and television writers nowadays lack the profundity to have the character say anything with any real moral value. In this episode, the writers of this show tried to mimic this philosophical Picard from TNG, but lack the capacity. The result is that Picard is no longer a moral teacher, and is just as stupid as the rest of the characters.

Not only is the ‘philosopher’ part of Picard’s character missing, so is the ‘king’. This is connected to Raffi’s all-powerfulness. In all of these episodes, Picard is just standing around, asking other people to do things for him. He does not lead anyone at any point. You’d hardly even know he was an admiral at all.

Let’s look at another odd line. When Seven is about to kill Bjayzl, Picard says to her ‘This is not saving the galaxy – this is settling an old score!’. So, Picard knows that Bjayzl tortured Seven’s friend. The Picard of TNG would never refer to the torturing of someone’s friend as an ‘old score’ – he would take it far more seriously than that. Similarly, Picard would never talk about ‘saving the galaxy’ in this way. This isn’t fucking Star Wars. What Seven does isn’t saving the fucking galaxy – she is limited to one very small part of the fucking galaxy, and there are many parts of the galaxy that no-one’s even been to yet. It’s ridiculously melodramatic and Picard in TNG was anything but melodramatic.

As an aside, consider the scenes where Picard is down on Freecloud. It’s clear that Patrick Stewart had far more fun playing that character than he does playing Picard’s Picard. There’s also a bizarre moment where he says the words ‘appropriately sinister’ in a French accent, which is odd, because Picard can speak French – would he not just say the words in French?

The Jean-luc Picard in this show is not reminiscent of the character from TNG. The character actually reminds me far more of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. But in this series he has nothing interesting or meaningful to say, and does not actually take any actions in the story. In five episodes he doesn’t seem to have actually done anything to try to solve this mystery himself – he’s just been nearby to other people when they tell him things about the mystery. He has not solved or figured out anything himself, nor has he made any of the decisions for what to do next – Raffi does all of that. He’s just some guy, standing there, watching the other characters do things.

There are only five episodes left. I don’t think this show is going to turn around in that time. So far, what have we seen? A mystery that is moderately compelling, but which has hardly moved forward since the first episode, and which the main character has only had peripheral involvement in solving. We’ve seen no other interesting or new ideas – if this had been TNG, we’d’ve gotten five new, interesting, sci. fi. ideas by now. We’ve heard a bunch of annoying, over-performed characters say some very unnatural lines. And we’ve seen some other characters who have the same names as characters from TNG, some of whom are also played by the same actors, but who are completely different characters. So far, this series has mostly been a massive waste of time.