Hear the cacerolazos start banging down the boulevard
|Apr 30, 2020|
What is up who is ready to get sad and stuff? Well to hell with that, sadness is not on the menu. Nope, all we have here is solidarity, Federation utopianism, rent strikes, and gallons of boxed wine poured directly into our mouths. Let’s newsletter isolate leftist style, baby.
A spectre haunts La Sirena, and its leader Jean-Luc Picard.
Picard is not technically the captain, not this time, but he’s hired the ship and directs its mission. He’s most comfortable on the holodeck, running a program that recreates the interior of his French villa. The villa itself represents his retreat from public life after a career-ending spin-out years before. In fairness, the central room of La Sirena - a vast, empty cargo hold - doesn’t seem like an enjoyable place to spend time. Most of us would prefer the vineyard view.
The crew and passengers are found in various side-rooms: living quarters, the mess hall, sickbay. The ship is also populated with five pre-installed humanoid holograms who provide different essential emergency services and, supposedly, comic relief.
Something is always happening on the ship. There never seems to be a moment without excitement, surprise, or tension. Picard (played by Sir Patrick Stewart with his usual aplomb) finds his new shipmates to be a handful, but welcome company.
Still, someone is missing. To Picard, he’s always on the edge of thought. To viewers of Star Trek: Picard, the 2020 TV series, this familiar robot haunts the edges of the frame and steals the scene, but is never really there. Data is a dream, a daughter, a twin, a son, and stored on a flash drive.
Data’s physical absence in the story seems deliberate but its necessity is unconvincing. The last outing featuring Picard, Data, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew was the film Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), which gives Data a passable death scene and a loophole for revival, as prototype android B4.
In Picard, B4 is presented literally in pieces. Actor Brent Spiner appears as Data in dream sequences and in android limbo (his consciousness and memories recovered from B4 and stored indefinitely), and also as the son of Data’s human creator Noonian Soong.
The essence of Data is his aspiration to be human, and his curiosity and delight in new experiences. There is occasion room for subdued self-reflection and grim realizations, but overall Data is a lively fellow. Picard grafts this collection of traits onto two new characters, android twin sisters Dajh and Soji Asha. With Dajh meeting Jean-Luc Picard, and also her violent end in the first episode, Soji is left to be the show’s catalyst. Dajh and Soji were both created from a single neutron from Data’s positronic brain (in secret defiance of a law that bans the creation of androids or “synths”/synthetics after a devastating attack on human life). The two are, in effect, his daughters. No one in-universe voices a remembrance of Lal, created by Data in the affecting TNG episode “The Offspring”. Picard makes this episode into a season-long thread, while straining the concept’s impact.
A spate of forgetting afflicts Picard. Viewers eager to see what’s happened in the four quadrants of this fictional galaxy two decades after the ending of TV’s Star Trek: Voyager (in 2001) and Nemesis (2002) will mostly come away disappointed. Where are most of the established characters or alien species? They just aren’t shown. The series’ writers even seem to forget that issues like poverty, crime, and drug addiction just aren’t “things” in the Federation-led future. At least, they don’t have to exist as background elements or character traits to lazily convey tone, when the point of Star Trek has been - from the beginning - to envision a future in which humanity has overcome inequality and needless suffering.
While it’s not on the Picard creators to deliver fan Valentines that get in the way of telling a fresh story, they end up doing neither. The show leans hardest into a weird plot element from the 2009 Star Trek reboot film wherein the planet Romulus is destroyed by a supernova to usher in a new timeline for younger actors. Picard helps with the resettlement of the Roluman species in the “main” timeline, with convoluted consequences.
Said to now be inspired by Trump and Brexit, the Romulans are both lowly pangalactic migrants and high-echelon infiltrators. Figures of suspicion and subject to scapegoating, they are repressed and represser. As British spies, Irish domestic servants, and elven samurai, Picard’s Romulans are the melting pot into which the “othering” tropes go.
Meanwhile, the once-fearsome Borg Cube now hovers as a museum piece (tellingly called The Artifact). It’s been reconstituted as a Romulan-controlled research centre and stage set for some of Picard’s characters to traipse about until they make it to La Sirena.
The only characters who are “back” from the previous series - other than Riker and Troi for one uncharacteristically calm episode and a bookending cameo - are three former Borg: Icheb, Hugh, and Seven of Nine. It makes sense to have these characters serve as reminders and proxies for Picard’s vivid experience being assimilated as Locutus of Borg (recalled but not fully resolved in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact). But Icheb and Hugh don’t survive the season. Poor Icheb shows up only for the few minutes required to be graphically tortured to death. It falls on Seven to have the “fighting to regain one's humanity” - “every damn day” - conversations with Picard, even when she’s about to carry out vigilante justice or do cool Borg stuff for the win.
Picard’s assimilation in the classic “Best of Both Worlds” TNG two-parter is chilling and memorable because Jean-Luc Picard - the pinnacle of human refinement and compassion - has his individual humanity taken from him for an enemy’s tactical gain. The stakes feel high enough to not assure an easy return to life as it was known before.
Locutus is a ghost haunting Picard. Just like Data, those pesky emergency holograms, or Troi and Riker’s son Thaddeus. Viewers don’t get to meet this new character because he’s died years previous of an illness treatable with android parts. This is meant to illustrate the futility, as it were, of the Federation's ban on androids.
In the season’s final moments, Data is subject to a second death scene, and Picard is transferred into an android body to overcome a fatal medical condition. His doctors assure him this new robot form won’t give him eternal life, superpowers, or any interesting complications during his old age. He has another few seasons to stir up outer space and deliver crisis-abating speeches.
Maybe looking out his viewport into a field of stars, Picard imagines visiting new planets full of fascinating lifeforms, and returning to an Earth not replete with social problems. Or, does he just anticipate coming across diminished, liminal versions of things already seen? To be continued.
-Karen, Team Advantage
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