I am still, mostly, enjoying Star Trek Picard. I’m still enjoying the mystery – I still want to know what the Zhat Vash are up to and why the androids went mad. But this series is far from perfect, and it remains not as good as its predecessor – The Next Generation (I am continuing a re-watch of all of TNG, and it’s amazing how well that show holds up compared to many more recently-made shows). I have two pages of notes in my notebook about this episode – most of them are quite disconnected from each other, so I think rather than just go through them all in this review, I’ll focus on the problems in this episode that were very apparent, and which are present in all of the episodes of this series so far.
Firstly, a lot of the characters in this series are played far too over-the-top. In this episode this was the case for both Raffi and Chris. This is an odd problem. The reason why it is a problem in the first place is that it makes the emotions of the characters seem wildly disproportionate to the problems that they have and the situation that they’re in. It undermines the realism and it’s very annoying to watch.
And I think this is both an acting problem and a writing problem. The dialogue of this show is, a lot of the time, not well written. It is cheap – the writers keep trying to tell things to the audience via the dialogue, rather than the dialogue just being what that character would say at that time and in that situation. It’s very difficult to perform bad dialogue well – bad dialogue can make a performance seem over-the-top. But this is also an acting problem. It’s as though the actors believe that more emotion is always better – the more you veer wildly from one mood to the next, the better your performance is. This is not true, and it’s why you don’t see Patrick Stewart or Brent Spiner do it.
Secondly, and similarly, many times in this episode, and this series, characters just exposit their own backstory to each other. Raffi does this a lot in this episode – she just tells Picard, and the audience, everything about her life for the last fourteen years. Chris does it too – he just has a conversation with a hologram (who seems to appear just so that the audience can be exposited to), in which he explains the important parts of his backstory and what he thinks of his current situation. It’s very cheap. You are supposed to realise not to do this kind of exposition early on as a writer – you are sacrificing realistic dialogue for the sake of giving backstory that is not needed yet, and which would be better if left as a mystery for now.
Underlying both of these points is the fact that this show is trying very hard to be ‘gritty’ and ‘bad-ass’. Lots of the new characters are moody and sarcastic (though they’re quite bad at sarcasm), and clearly the writers of this show had the phrase ‘morally grey’ whizzing around their brains a bit too much. This seems to mimic a trend that we’ve seen in Hollywood films and television shows over the last twenty years or so – for grittier, grungier worlds. It works fine for things like the Dark Knight trilogy, but it’s somewhat antithetical to Star Trek. The world depicted in this show does not seem like the same world as in classic Star Trek. It makes this series seem more like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than The Next Generation.
I did like the fight scene in this episode. It was a complete surprise, and very tense – exactly how that situation would seem in real life, which was great. Dr. Jurati’s reaction to having just killed someone was portrayed excellently too.
So this series has flaws, but for now they are somewhat ignorable, and the show continues to be enjoyable. (Although if there’s one thing I really did hate about this episode it was Raffi calling Picard ‘JL’ – fuck off with that. This is desperately trying to show these two characters as being familiar, but that should be done through the actors’ performances. This doesn’t make Raffi and Jean-luc look like they’ve been friends for a long time – it just makes Raffi look like a twat.)