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.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 4 – I guess this is the level we’re working at

Hmmm. I liked this episode, but I have five pages of notes on it – that’s a lot more than usual. They’re all quite disconnected, and I think the only way of going through them is to go through them as they appeared in the episode.

Firstly, I liked the planet Vashti. This was actually the main reason why I liked the episode. I thought the look of the planet was very well designed – it was very distinctive. The whole opening sequence was set on the planet, and I think it was very immersive.

It was also nice to hear some Romulan. As much as I can’t stand Star Trek Discovery, one of the few things I did like about it was the inclusion of a lot of Klingon. Having characters speak in alien languages in a show adds to the realism. It creates more of a sense that these alien races are real and have real cultures.

The next point in my notes is that the dialogue in the show is still very, very unnatural. This is something that came up A LOT in the episode – I’ll return to it later with specific examples. So often the things that the characters say are not the things that any real person would say at that point in a real conversation. It’s jarring.

Another quick aside, Ian Nunney, who plays the young Elnor in this episode, is outstanding – he’s better than many of the older actors.

Now we get to some bigger points. The character of Dr. Jurati, who in previous episodes I quite liked, in this episode spontaneously becomes completely obnoxious. She has a conversation with Chris Rios, the captain of the ship they’re all on. She opens with ‘Space turns out to be super-boring.’ while something very interesting happens behind her. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me the idea of getting to look out of a ship as it’s travelling faster than the speed of fucking light sounds pretty fucking amazing.

After Chris Rios says something that’s full-on fucking edgelord, she says sarcastically ‘Well that’s not a conversation killer at all.’. But while what Chris Rios said was a bit weird and trying too hard, it wasn’t a fucking conversation killer – it had the potential to be quite interesting. What was a conversation killer, Dr. Jurati, was you listing off stats about the galaxy. See what I mean about this show having really weird dialogue? The show is trying to be banter-y, but the writers have no fucking idea how to write that.

It occurred to me while watching this episode that Dr. Jurati is basically just Tilly from Star Trek Discovery. They’re both nerdy; they’re both awkward; they’re both hyper-positive. They both just go up to people and start talking to them. They even have many of the same facial expressions. While I didn’t dislike Tilly in STD, is new Star Trek capable of writing any other kinds of character? This is just what non-nerds think nerds are like.

On the subject of obnoxious characters, Raffi is endlessly annoying. She can never let anyone else be right – she always has to correct them, often with patronising incredulity – particularly if anyone dares to infer what she might mean by something she’s said. It’s infuriating to watch, and I think it’s both a writing problem and an acting problem.

It’s become evident that this show is trying to assemble its ‘gang’. This is a concept that’s very familiar from shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender – your main characters form a group that goes around from place to place and adventure to adventure – each person in the group has distinctive personality traits and abilities (so that they all depend on each other), but they work well together as a group, even if some of them don’t get along sometimes.

The problem is that having a ‘gang’ like this depends on having likeable characters, and only Jean-luc is likeable out of this lot.

Anyway, we had some more stupid dialogue. Dr. Jurati says ‘Anyone else think the Way of Absolute Candor sounds potentially annoying.’ Oh ha ha very funny but no. That actually sounds pretty fucking convenient. What is annoying, however, is you.

Raffi says ‘Your basic impenetrable shield of orbital killer drones.’ – Who the fuck wrote this? A fucking five-year-old?

Elnor is just an elf from Middle Earth. Even the name ‘Elnor’ is pretty fucking elvish. Picard even asks him ‘Will you bind your sword to my quest?’ at one point – this is just Lord of the Fucking Rings!

While on the subject of Elnor, it’s annoying that when he and Picard meet for the first time after about fourteen years, we don’t get to see their initial reactions – it cuts away. This is something that seems to happen a lot in film and television nowadays, and it’s very annoying.

Not-quite-finally, another thing that I really didn’t like about this episode was the portrayal of many of the Romulans on Vashti. The Romulans weren’t very Romulan. In The Next Generation, the Romulans are of course militaristic, but they are also pensive, cunning, cautious, and sly. That makes them unique among the enemies of the Federation, and very ominous.

All of that is gone here. In this episode, they’re just space thugs. Why does every alien race in new Star Trek seem to become space thugs? It’s the same thing that happened with the Klingons in STD. It’s as though the writers of new Star Trek can’t conceive of any other form of evil than thuggishness.

On this same point, the actor who played the former Romulan senator clearly has never seen classic Star Trek. He has none of the presence that previous actors who’ve played Romulans of that kind of status had.

And then finally … Jeri Ryan’s still got it. The five seconds of her that we got at the end of the episode were better than the rest of the fucking episode. What is it about these actors from older shows that means that they’re just far better on screen? I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s probably that they can do performances with subtlety. The two or three facial expressions that we got from Jeri Ryan at the end of the episode were more engaging than any line said by any other character in the whole forty minutes.

So when I say I enjoyed this episode, I mean that it was engaging to watch, but it was also punctuated by lots of very annoying moments. In that regard it was similar to all of the episodes we’ve had so far – it looks like this whole series is going to be filled with these annoying moments.