Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 7 – A Mix of the Magical and the Moronic

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 Lovecraftian?

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 the beginning.
  • 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 bluntly?
  • 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 ‘dressing down’.
  • 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 people around.
  • 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. Shit. Lines.
  • 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.

A New Year’s Day Tradition

Over the last five years or so I have gradually developed a number of my own traditions around Yule and the new year. One of these is that on New Year’s Day I try to do lots of the activities that I want to do throughout the year. If I want to do lots of writing that year, then I do some writing on New Year’s Day. If I want to make lots of videos for my YouTube channel that year, then I do something related to making videos on New Year’s Day (it doesn’t have to be actually recording a video – I could just do something that’s useful generally, like learning more about how to light videos).

Now this isn’t about New Year’s resolutions – I don’t do New Year’s resolutions (because I think if a resolution is worth making then it’s worth making at whatever time of year you happen to think about it). This tradition isn’t about getting a head-start on New Year’s resolutions. Instead it’s just about having a good start to the year. If I want to do lots of writing in a given year, then if I do lots of writing on the first day of the year, by the end of the first day the year’s going very well – 100% of it was spent doing the things that I wanted to do.

This tradition is about making the first day of the year the example day for the rest of the year. If all the days can be like the first day, then it will be a good year. My aim on this New Year’s Day is to do a lot of reading, and maybe go through a lot of my old writing notes and scan in anything that only exists in paper form.

Hyphens – the greatest punctuation mark ever

I have a number of idiosyncrasies in the way that I write: I like putting brackets within brackets – sometimes three or four levels deep; I put spaces around ellipses and forward slashes (if I even use a forward slash at all – I prefer not to – I think it looks inelegant as a symbol for ‘or’); and when I write dates I only use numerals for the year – the rest I write in full words.

But probably the most prominent of my idiosyncrasies is the way I use hyphens. In fact I’ve already done it several times in this post. I use hyphens where others might use commas or semicolons to mark a separate, but related, idea to the main sentence.

I think of it as a self-interruption – I’m interrupting my own comment. I did it just then. Some people would say that I should be using a semicolon there. However, I do use semicolons as well as hyphens, but I use them for different expressions. I use a semicolon when the second idea that I’m introducing is not intended to seem like an interjection to the first – I’m not trying to adjust what I previously said – I’m just trying to add to it. I use a hyphen when I’m trying to mimic in writing an expression I use in speech. So for example, I would use a semicolon in:

‘Ben was very tall; he was the tallest in his class.’

But I’d use a hyphen in:

‘Ben was very tall – the tallest in his class, in fact.’

The second of these examples makes it seem more like the second idea is an adjustment to the first. I find it reads more like a natural conversation. The first reads slower.

Similarly, some people would say that I should be using commas where sometimes I use hyphens. But again, I use hyphens for the sense of self-interruption. So for example, I would write:

‘Ben was the tallest in his class – which was odd, because he was about average height compared to the general population.’

If the first hyphen here were a comma, it would make the second part of the sentence seem like the main idea of the sentence. The hyphen makes the second idea seem more like a tangent – an interrupting thought that is not the main point.

I call this an idiosyncrasy, but of course lots of people use hyphens in this way – I think more and more people are – I’m sure this was less common ten years ago. Nevertheless it’s still thought of by many as being grammatically incorrect. I think even if at one point it was ‘officially’ grammatically incorrect, the hyphen is so useful and versatile when used in this way that we should use it, and change the ‘official’ rules of grammar to allow for it.