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Star Trek Pic - 1x0.1 - Children of Mars

Originally Aired: 2020-1-2

Synopsis:
12 year-old classmates Kima and Lil find themselves at odds with each other on a day that will change their lives forever.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 5.13

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# Votes: 5 0 0 0 1 1 2 1 3 0 3

Problems
None

Factoids
- The song played during much of the episode is "Heroes" written by David Bowie. This is Peter Gabriel's cover of the song.

Remarkable Scenes
- The gorgeous shot of Utopia Planitia.
- The escalating conflict between Kima and Lil.
- The attack on Mars and the girls bonding over it.

My Review
This is an incredibly touching story that does much to rise above the regrettable Short Trek format. Despite how compacted the story is, there is both a lot of exposition and a lot of heart packed into here. With almost no dialog, we see the portrait of the lives of two girls, the daughters of workers at the Utopia Planitia shipyards, apparently set in the 24th century during events sometime after Star Trek X: Nemesis. At first we see two pretty typical schoolgirls getting into pretty typical petty conflicts which itself is compellingly portrayed as the inevitable consequence of problems at home manifesting themselves at school. But soon their lives are turned upside down when Utopia Planitia and all of Mars itself suffers a cataclysmic attack that presumably will be followed up on in more detail in future episodes.

Like the smattering of details we get in Star Trek XI (2009) about events in the 24th century in the prime universe, we get a tiny tantalizing continuation of post-Star Trek X: Nemesis events here, but it's mostly a tease. While technically this episode could be said to be the pilot for Star Trek: Picard since it is the first episode produced in that setting, it obviously isn't the actual pilot. This is a teaser prequel of sorts. So while this story is surprisingly touching and interesting, it clearly could've been worth even more points if it were, you know, an actual episode, and not confined to this terrible format.

It should also be noted that the aesthetics of ships, technology, and sets presented here are strikingly reminiscent of Star Trek: Discovery. One could be forgiven for not immediately realizing this is an episode of Star Trek: Picard, not Star Trek: Discovery given how the production aesthetics look nearly identical in spite of the setting being more than a century apart. This is indeed an unfortunate state of affairs, but we should place the blame for this on Star Trek: Discovery, not on Star Trek: Picard. The "updated" aesthetics we see here make much more sense in a sequel than a prequel. As such, we shouldn't consider it a continuity error for Picard to borrow heavily from Discovery's aesthetics. The error continues to be Discovery's for attempting the disastrous visual reboot to begin with. When a sequel updates appearance, that's not a reboot. It's just technological and aesthetic drift over in-universe time, so it isn't fair to hold Discovery's sins against Picard.

Overall this episode is a vital shot in the arm to the Star Trek franchise. It's a sequel, not a prequel. Finally! And the story was told in a way that is touching rather than overwrought or manic like Discovery or the Kelvinverse. If this tasteful, touching story is the prototype for what we can expect from Star Trek: Picard going forward, then perhaps all good things don't have to come to an end quite so soon.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x01 - Remembrance

Originally Aired: 2020-1-23

Synopsis:
At the end of the 24th Century, and 14 years after his retirement from Starfleet, Jean-Luc Picard is living a quiet life on his vineyard, Chateau Picard. When he is sought out by a mysterious young woman, Dahj, in need of his help, he soon realizes she may have personal connections to his own past.

My Rating - 9

Fan Rating Average - 6.22

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# Votes: 8 1 0 0 0 0 3 2 9 11 2

Problems
None

Factoids
- The opening song is Bing Crosby's cover of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." Bing Crosby is TNG actress Denise Crosby's grandfather. Denise Crosby played Tasha Yar.
- We see the Daystrom Institute for the first time, which is established to be located in Okinawa, Japan.
- Based on information presented in the story, it appears Data painted "Daughter" in 2369, during TNG's 6th season.

Remarkable Scenes
- Seeing the Enterprise-D again in Picard's dream about Data.
- Picard: "The dreams are lovely. It's the waking up that I'm beginning to resent."
- Picard having a more hostile interview than he expected, then going off on a rant about how Starfleet has lost its way after the attack on Mars and the destruction of Romulus.
- Picard finding Dahj's image in one of Data's old paintings; painted before she was born.
- Dahj sacrificing herself to save Picard just as Data did.
- Picard: "I haven't been living. I've been waiting to die."
- The Romulans taking up residence inside the wreckage of a Borg cube.

My Review
In TNG: All Good Things, the closing line is from Picard saying, "Five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit." In Star Trek: Picard, we pick up where he left off with the opening lines from Picard: "See. And raise." And Data: "Hmm. Call." The opening song is "Blue Skies," mirroring the same song closing Star Trek X: Nemesis. Data performed it in Nemesis and his brother B4 began to sing it at the end of the film as a clue that Data's attempt to transfer something of himself to B4 might have succeeded.

Now decades have passed. Picard isn't as sharp as he once was. Or as nimble. He is sometimes loopy and meandering. His once signature drink has transitioned from "Tea, Earl Gray, Hot," to "Tea, Earl Gray, Decaf." He's a sleepy figure both figuratively and literally. He drifts in and out of consciousness and his engagement with the present moment similarly wavers. His mind wanders to days gone by and it free associates between dangling thoughts, feelings, memories, and regrets.

Like the laundry list of dangling threads of Picard's life that his mind drifts to, the 24th century itself was never buttoned up as cleanly as Star Trek fans might've preferred. Star Trek: Picard sets out to course correct that on many levels by working a series of loose ends from previous stories into a new story that adds yet more depth to the already rich character of Picard and resumes the truly stellar world building of 24th century Star Trek that wound down with a whimper leaving so many questions unanswered at the conclusion of Voyager along with the airing of Star Trek X: Nemesis and Star Trek XI (2009).

Geopolitical disaster and national tragedy have now led the Federation to become fearful, tribal, and nationalist. Decades of these politics apparently consuming the Federation to some degree have caused Picard to become disillusioned with Starfleet itself, which he believes has lost its way. While it would've been nice if the story spent more time unpacking the political situation (that interview went by way too fast!), what appears to be going on is a decision was made at the highest levels to abandon a project to rescue hundreds of millions of Romulans from Romulus on the eve of its destruction from the supernova Spock told us about in Star Trek XI (2009). This errand of mercy was called off after an attack on Mars carried out by a group of androids destroyed a large chunk of the planned rescue fleet and killed tens of thousands of Federation citizens, including presumably the parents of the children seen in the previous episode Children of Mars.

It isn't terribly clear why the sentiment that the Federation shouldn't try to redouble its efforts to save as many lives as possible became so popular, but this retrenchment disgusted Picard, who resigned from Starfleet in protest. He then became a public symbol of dissent from what is presumably a relatively popular anti-foreign aid political attitude among a broad swath of Federation citizens, thus the confrontational tone during the interview. Plus Picard's long friendship with Data further smeared his public image in the minds of Federation nationalists committed to Othering androids, who pushed for a ban on their entire existence and succeeded in getting it enacted by the Federation legislature.

This is a much better approach to critically examining the rise of nationalist tribalism in the real world's early 21st century through allegory on Star Trek than Discovery's clunky first season was with the Klingons desiring to "remain Klingon." Aside from the fact that it leverages canon directly in smart ways unlike Discovery which stumbled through canon making a mess as though it were in a drunken stupor, the idea of portraying the Federation itself as flirting with reactionary politics is both chilling and an eerily familiar extension of hints the story had already given us in previous series. It was established already that the Federation previously banned genetic engineering in the same reactionary manner that creating android life has now been banned. The wisdom of this ban too has been questioned in the story, though not nearly as forcefully as it ought to have been. DS9 examined it a bit through the lens of illegally genetically enhanced Dr. Bashir, but the best exploration of it arguably came from Enterprise's 4th season's "augments" arc.

Recall the following conversation between Dr. Arik Soong—an ancestor of Data's inventor Dr. Noonian Soong—and Dr. Phlox in Ent: Borderland. Soong: "I didn't realize you shared humanity's reactionary attitude toward this field of medicine." Phlox: "On the contrary, we've used genetic engineering on Denobula for over two centuries, to generally positive effect." This line implicitly admits that genetic engineering—if properly regulated like most technologies—can be a net positive to society. Later in Ent: Cold Station 12, Archer laments that the ban on genetic engineering was the ultimate cause of his father's death, who died of a disease that genetic engineering could've cured. Archer and Phlox muse that maybe Dr. Soong had a point, but conclude that the ban was sensible because humanity's instincts hadn't caught up with its intellect.

But it turns out Dr. Soong did have a point. Now this reactionary attitude towards technology or perhaps towards change itself has come for Arik Soong's progeny's life's work as well: androids. And it of course remains to be seen whether or not sentient holograms will be caught up in the reactionary anti-artificial life fervor too. Whither Voyager's doctor? And for that matter, were the other EMH Mark I holograms we saw in Voy: Author, Author ever granted humanoid rights like Data too? While it's certainly true that humanity's instincts haven't caught up with its intellect if reactionary politics are winning the day, the right answer isn't Archer's and Phlox's resignation to the status quo. The right answer is Picard's staunch resolve to defeat the reactionaries. To reclaim the Federation and Starfleet for the cause of exploration, scientific inquiry, and cosmopolitanism. As Picard once said in TNG: The Measure of a Man, defending Data's right to self-determination: "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits. Waiting. You wanted a chance to make law. Well, here it is. Make a good one."

It is truly gratifying that a new Star Trek show is kicking off by tackling deep questions raised by some of Star Trek's best episodes, like TNG: The Measure of a Man. But rather than such questions being resolved in a bottle show in a single episode, we're dealing with an epic sweep of history here. Things turned dark decades before this episode, and the plot wasn't at all be resolved by this pilot of course. Nationalist tribalism will remain the central theme running through this entire serialized drama, not unlike how DS9 masterfully explored how a prolonged war would tear at the fabric of the otherwise utopian Federation society. Rather than the story centering on a forgettable war in a prequel that Star Trek's history barely or never recorded which ultimately turned out to be a shallow, pointless diversion with nothing of substance to say like Enterprise season 3 and Discovery season 1, the Picard show is focusing on the most profound existential questions that Star Trek has raised before and digging into them even deeper. The contrast is quite striking.

Even the scoring takes care to establish Star Trek: Picard as thoughtful and reflective about its place in the vast Star Trek universe. From the calm, pleasant opening theme relying heavily on flutes, evoking TNG: The Inner Light, to the final scene's score majestically echoing TOS: Balance of Terror in its closing melodies, this series is showing us it's putting serious effort into playing well in the sandbox of Star Trek's epic canon in a way that too much prior material by now has not measured up to. All things considered, this is without a doubt Star Trek's finest pilot episode for a series so far.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Mike C on 2020-02-02 at 2:12am:
    It's not horrible, but the writing and script is not great so far. It's better than Discovery, but all I want is a return to the classic episodic, alien-of-the-week format that Star Trek is known for. I also want less dramatic fluff/filler.

    I suppose streaming has killed that format, though. The media corporations are addicted to producing binge-watching material now. If everything in an episode is tidily wrapped up in 45-60 minutes, there's less incentive for the viewer to immediately watch the next episode.

    It would also be nice for there to be a more overall hopeful feeling to it, rather than constant conflict. That's why I loved Star Trek while growing up. There was always some kind of conflict, but it also always wrapped up in a way that filled me with optimism and faith. That doesn't seem to exist in modern Trek. It's all bad, all the time.

    Oh, and there's way too much verbal exposition so far. That's one of the hallmarks of lazy/inept writers.

    Rating: Meh/10

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Star Trek Pic - 1x02 - Maps and Legends

Originally Aired: 2020-1-29

Synopsis:
Picard begins investigating the mystery of Dahj as well as what her very existence means to the Federation. Without Starfleet's support, Picard is left leaning on others for help, including Dr. Agnes Jurati and an estranged former colleague, Raffi Musiker. Meanwhile, hidden enemies are also interested in where Picard's search for the truth about Dahj will lead.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 4.24

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# Votes: 5 0 0 2 0 1 4 3 2 0 0

Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode firmly establishes the year as 2399.
- The Romulans have been in possession of that Borg cube for at least 16 years.

Remarkable Scenes
- The flashback to the attack on Mars.
- Admiral Clancy: "Sheer fucking hubris. You think you can just waltz back in here and be entrusted with taking men and women into space?"
- Clancy: "There's no peril here. Only the pitiable delusions of a once great man desperate to matter."
- Picard: "I never really cared for science fiction. I guess I just didn't get it."
- Soji and her team operating on former Borg drones.
- Picard: "The daughter of the man whose death I have been mourning for two decades comes to me for help and assistance. And then she is assassinated in front of my eyes by a Romulan death squad who will then will go and try and find and destroy her twin sister. And you want me to sit here worrying about what to do about the spittlebugs on the pinots?"

My Review
It turns out that bigotry towards androids had been on the rise over the preceding decades. The Utopia Planitia workers didn't regard their android coworkers as people. Their attitudes probably weren't that uncommon across the Federation. It turns out that Starfleet did exactly what Picard was afraid of way back in TNG: The Measure of a Man. They created a race of android slave laborers, not unlike the hologram slave labor race they created with the Emergency Medical Holograms in Voy: Author, Author. This progression of events is very similar to the backstory of Battlestar Galactica (2003). A quote from Commander Adama in BSG's pilot is on point here: "We decided to play god. Create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really." That is the sentiment that Federation society is expressing right now. However, Adama went on to say: "You cannot play god then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore." That is the sentiment that the narrative appears to be expressing. The Federation refuses to take responsibility for all the awful things it has done to its artificial life forms. We still don't know precisely why the synths attacked, but treating them as a slave race just as Picard warned against decades ago probably didn't help matters.

Another nice piece of exposition we got in this episode was when Admiral Clancy explained that the Federation's decision to let the Romulans fend for themselves was due to political pressure from fourteen different Federation members threatening to secede from the Federation if the rescue mission was allowed to continue. This significantly clarifies why the Federation would consider abandoning a humanitarian mission and makes it easy to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, Picard is right that it is unconscionable to let people die needlessly. He was indeed right that we shouldn't refer to them pejoratively as Romulans, but instead simply as people. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with Admiral Clancy's logic that allowing fourteen members of the Federation to secede might destabilize the Alpha Quadrant to such a degree that abandoning the rescue mission could quite reasonably have been the lesser of two evils. What if a partial dissolution of the Federation led to a war that killed even more people? If members of the European Union threatened to secede if the EU offered medical relief to a geopolitical rival during a natural disaster, would the EU accede to this demand or let them secede? It's hard to know. It would probably depend on which members were making the demand, how vital they were to the union, and what the geopolitical repercussions of secession would be.

Meanwhile we learn much more about why the Romulans appear to be taking up residence inside the wreckage of a Borg cube. It seems they captured the cube after it was severed from the collective for some unknown reason, then used it to extract Borg technology and profit by exploiting it. They've had the cube for a very long time (more than a decade!), refer to it as "The Artifact," and consider it a research institute where they invite foreign scientists to work for them, though apparently only after a great deal of vetting. Former Borg drones are aboard, slowly being "reclaimed." The narrative seems to be strongly implying there's a lot more going on here than simply a salvage operation and a science project though, so we'll have to wait and see what else all this is all about. The whole thing is quite thrilling and fascinating though!

As for Picard himself, he doesn't want to reassemble the old TNG crew because he doesn't want any of them to end up like Data. He has developed the neurological disorder that was foreshadowed in TNG: All Good Things ("Irumodic Syndrome"). It is incurable and he will soon die. We see the full extent of his falling out with Starfleet in this episode when Admiral Clancy dresses him down in a powerful way. Her "sheer fucking hubris" line followed shortly by referring to Picard's request as "the pitiable delusions of a once great man desperate to matter" certainly make that scene one of the most memorable exchanges in all of Star Trek so far, mostly because it's justly deserved. He's burned far too many bridges to be able to just be handed a starship and a crew and fly off into the sunset again. Back in the day he could crash the Enterprise-D into a planet and Utopia Planitia would get busy building a brand new state of the art flagship just for him, but nowadays he can't even get the admiralty to commission him a garbage scow. It's very effective drama. That said, it does beg the question of just what Admiral Janeway is up to nowadays. It's hard to imagine her refusing to take Picard seriously given her affinity for Voyager's doctor, a form of artificial life that was oppressed just as the androids were. It's quite unfortunate that the story hasn't addressed this question yet.

Another unfortunate detail was nearly all the exposition concerning the Zhat Vash. While none of it is necessarily irreconcilable with canon, the amount of hyperbole used to describe them evokes the worst aspects of the overwrought storytelling style of Discovery or TOS. The Zhat Vash are referred to as keeping a secret "so profound and terrible that just learning it can break a person's mind..." Uh, okay. Whatever. Also speaking of Discovery aesthetics, holo communicators are apparently back in fashion after falling out of fashion during TOS and TNG, then briefly coming back into fashion during DS9, then falling out of fashion again... until now. Whatever. That's not necessarily irreconcilable with canon either, but it is an indicator that this show is more willing to embrace Discovery's visual language than perhaps it should be. More concerning was that little holographic original series Enterprise floating in the Starfleet HQ lobby which used Discovery's TOS reboot aesthetics. While a minor detail, this is a serious cause for concern because it implies that Star Trek: Picard endorses the "visual reboot" that Discovery proffered, which we should firmly reject. Instead, we should continue to hope that Discovery can be safely confined to a multiverse set apart from the main canon, like the Kelvin films for the sake of preserving visual canon. Hopefully this is the last time this topic needs to be discussed on Star Trek: Picard!

Overall though this is another strong episode. Not as strong as the pilot, but clearly there is a lot of potential in this story!

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Mitchell O on 2020-04-12 at 7:50am:
    I get the desire to keep these newer stories consistent with canon, but I for one am glad they’ve made visual updates for these new stories.

    Yes, Discovery and the original Enterprise featured in Season 2 look wildly more futuristic than the 60s TOS series, but I think it’s unfair to expect anything but. Visual effects have come an unbelievably long way in 50 years (!!!), and I think many of the things they’ve done to stay true to the original is a great compromise.

    The shots of the Enterprise bridge in the Season 2 finale are stunning, and have just the right amount of the 60s design elements mixed with modern day set dress and visual effects.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x03 - The End is the Beginning

Originally Aired: 2020-2-5

Synopsis:
Completely unaware of her special nature, Soji continues her work and captures the attention of the Borg cube research project's executive director. After rehashing past events with a reluctant Raffi, Picard seeks others willing to join his search for Bruce Maddox, including pilot and former Starfleet officer Cristóbal Rios.

My Rating - 5

Fan Rating Average - 3.4

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# Votes: 5 0 0 0 4 3 2 0 1 0 0

Problems
- Hugh refers to the Romulans on the Borg cube as the only Romulans ever assimilated by the Borg, but this isn't true. We've seen other examples, such as Orum on Voy: Unity. Seven of Nine also assumed the personality of a Romulan Borg drone she had previously either assimilated or at least shared the thoughts of during Voy: Infinite Regress. And of course the Borg destroyed and presumably assimilated whole Romulan colonies during TNG: The Neutral Zone. Thankfully Hugh did say these were the only Romulans ever assimilated as far as he knew, so we can presume that Hugh simply didn't know of any of the others. Though that is fairly hard to believe given that he's dedicated his life's work to this and appears to have spent a great deal of time with the Romulans. A clearly bungled line.

Factoids
- The location of Vasquez Rocks is of special significance to Star Trek. It was used as a filming location for numerous alien planets in various episodes. This is the first time the location was used to portray the actual Vasquez Rocks in the story, clearly as a bit of an inside joke.
- The character of Raffi Musiker was previously introduced in the non-canon "Countdown to Picard" comic books, where she was depicted as Picard's first officer on the USS Verity.

Remarkable Scenes
- The flashback to the aftermath of Picard resigning from Starfleet 14 years ago in 2385.
- The revelation that Hugh works aboard the Romulan Borg cube.
- Rios to his hologram: "Spare me the juvenile Sunday school morality." His hologram: "And spare me the angsty teenage moral relativism."
- The Romulan attack on Chateau Picard.
- Raffi: "You're just gonna let Agnes here hitch a ride on your top secret mission?"
- Picard: "Engage."

My Review
Another solid, if slow episode. In some regards the slowness is appreciated. It's nice that they took their time furnishing Picard with a ship, particularly after the previous episode establishing clearly that Picard can't just order up a spiffy new ship on demand. Instead he has to work connections to find shady people willing to go out on a limb for him. Another nice touch was the scene when Laris remarked that chateau life wasn't right for Picard and that his real home was amongst the stars. This was a touching echo of Picard's exchanges with his late family in TNG: Family.

On the topic of chateau life, it's fascinating to see Raffi express resentment towards Picard not just because he was indirectly responsible for getting her fired from Starfleet, but also because his retirement was considerably more glamorous compared to her comparative squalor. The continued existence of wealth inequality to some degree in the Federation might seem to run counter to the utopian vision of Star Trek, but it makes a great deal of sense. We can safely assume Raffi doesn't live in poverty as we know it today. She like any other Federation citizen no doubt has free, universal access to food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic needs. But some things even in the utopian Federation would undoubtedly still be scarce. One cannot simply walk up to the replicator and say, "Chateau, vineyard, France," or "Ship, warp capable, unregistered." For Picard to be able to live on such a vast estate, he clearly had to have some wealth, or at least significantly more social capital of some kind than Raffi did. The episode makes other references to the continued existence of money as well too, such as in reference to the cost of Rios' services.

Speaking of Rios, it is curious how his "unregistered" starship can just hang out in Earth orbit without setting off any alarms. An unlicensed ship could be a powerful weapon in the wrong hands. The warp core could be jury-rigged into an antimatter bomb, and an antimatter explosion on Earth could kill tens or perhaps even hundreds of millions of people. It has always been strongly implied that the Federation heavily regulates who gets access to starships for this reason, so it isn't entirely clear why Rios can just fly around with an unregistered starship like someone joyriding in a Ferrari without a driver's license without anyone seeming to be remotely concerned about it.

It is even more curious that his ship is outfitted with a flock of emergency holograms. It seems holograms are either inexplicably not banned as androids were, or the holograms on Rios' ship are illegal. The lingering still unresolved questions about the status of holograms relative to androids are starting to get pretty conspicuous and annoying. Though one detail pertaining to continuity that is quite appreciated was the little throwaway line from Laris about Romulans with forehead ridges being "northerners." This provides us with an in-universe explanation for why some Romulans have forehead ridges and some don't: it is has to do with ethnic groups among Romulans. This inconsistency was long considered by Star Trek fans to be a similar if less severe problem akin to the Klingon forehead problem created by the transition from TOS to the original series films. The Klingon forehead problem was fixed in Ent: Affliction and Ent: Divergence. Now the Romulan forehead problem is fixed here. A fantastic example of this show playing very nicely in the canon sandbox.

Another great example of this show leveraging canon was bringing back the character of Hugh, last seen in TNG: Descent, Part II in September of 1993, more than 26 years before this episode! We don't know too much about what he's been up to since taking over the rebel Borg faction left behind by Lore, but we learn that he's now the executive director of the Reclamation Project charged with "reclaiming" the Borg drones severed from the collective, now termed xBs. It is curious that Ramdha and a ship full of her fellow Romulans were the last people assimilated by this cube before it suffered a "submatrix collapse." This sounds strikingly similar to what might have happened if the weapon that the Enterprise crew devised to attack the Borg using Hugh in TNG: I, Borg had actually been deployed. Could the Romulans have stolen this virus from the Federation? Could they have invented a similar one of their own? Hopefully we'll find out soon.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x04 - Absolute Candor

Originally Aired: 2020-2-12

Synopsis:
The crew's journey to Freecloud takes a detour when Picard orders a stop at the planet Vashti, where Picard and Raffi relocated Romulan refugees 14 years earlier. Upon arrival, Picard reunites with Elnor, a young Romulan he befriended during the relocation. Meanwhile, Narek continues his attempts to learn more about Soji while Narissa's impatience with his lack of progress grows.

My Rating - 7

Fan Rating Average - 4.6

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# Votes: 4 0 1 0 1 1 2 4 0 2 0

Problems
- How did they know to beam Elnor aboard too along with Picard?

Factoids
- This is the first episode of Star Trek to not show a character wearing a Starfleet uniform.

Remarkable Scenes
- Elnor: "Why don't you like children?" Zani: "Because they're demanding, distracting, and interfere with duty and pleasure alike."
- Elnor: "You told me stories about Data. He had an orange cat named Spot." Picard: "That's right." Elnor: "I've still never seen a cat."
- Elnor: "Why do you need me?" Picard: "Because I'm an old man and you're a young one. And you're strong."
- Picard trampling over the "Romulans only" sign.
- Elnor: "Please my friend, choose to live." Adrev ignores him and is decapitated shortly thereafter. Elnor: "I regret your choice."
- The space battle against the old style Romulan warbird.
- Seven of Nine's appearance. Seven: "You owe me a ship, Picard."

My Review
This episode starts off with a tone straight out of Firefly and closes with a green-blooded Romulan decapitation followed by a space battle featuring an old style Romulan Bird of Prey straight out of TOS: Balance of Terror; cliffhangering with Seven of Nine! Whew! Hopefully we get a good explanation for why she showed up at just the right time. Was she following Picard? In any event, the space battle was one of the best ones featured in Star Trek in quite some time. Yes of course Discovery and the Kelvin films have their fair share of action, but often their action is overkill and not well earned. Unlike those, this dogfight between the La Sirena and the old style Romulan Bird of Prey isn't overwrought in the slightest. It's just the right amount of action we needed to add a bit more fun to an already fairly strong story.

The exchange between Picard and Senator Adrev was also a highlight of the episode as a window into the Romulan feelings of betrayal by the Federation. It's understandable that the excessively secretive nature of Romulan culture would cause many of them to believe that the Federation totally failing to organize a competent relief effort in the face of both overwhelming logistical challenges and internal political turmoil might have been an intentional conspiracy to lull Romulans into a false sense of security so that they would end up in a significantly weakened position by placing undue trust in an ancient enemy, leaving Picard in the unenviable position of exclaiming something to the effect of, "It's not what it looks like!" And having Picard express outrage to Elnor about needlessly killing Adrev when presumably a non-lethal way of subduing him would've sufficed was also a nice and necessary touch. It makes sense that Elnor would do that and that Picard would react to it that way.

There are only a few wrinkles in this episode. Adding "Emmet" to the flock of Rios' holograms further compounds the annoying ambiguity about the status of sentient holograms relative to the ban on androids. Also while the ending of this episode is great fun, the pacing of the episode otherwise drags a bit at times. Even so, this is one of the stronger episodes so far.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x05 - Stardust City Rag

Originally Aired: 2020-2-19

Synopsis:
The La Sirena crew begin an unpredictable and lively expedition on Freecloud to search for Bruce Maddox. When they learn Maddox has found himself in a precarious situation, a familiar face offers her assistance.

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 2.93

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# Votes: 21 2 1 0 2 1 1 4 6 2 0

Problems
- Hwang's data file described him in feet and pounds (English Imperial Units) rather than the more commonly used (and much more appropriate) metric system units used most commonly on Star Trek.

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- Icheb getting butchered. Whoa.
- The chilling "Where's your cortical node, buddy?" remark refers to the fact that Icheb doesn't actually have one because he donated it to Seven of Nine to save her life in the very touching episode Voy: Imperfection.
- Raffi: "Rios, you seriously really need to sell this. You can't do your brooding existentialist space man routine."
- Raffi's son rejecting her.
- Seven: "After they brought you back from your time in the collective, do you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?" Picard: "Yes." Seven: "All of it?" Picard: "...No. But we're both working on it, aren't we?" Seven: "Every damn day of my life."
- Seven taking her revenge.
- Picard meeting with Maddox, discussing Dahj and Soji.
- Agnes murdering Maddox.

My Review
Hey guys, remember Icheb? That adorable ex-Borg who Seven of Nine thought of as a son? After Voyager made it home, it turns out he became a Starfleet officer! Isn't that sweet? He put on a red uniform and... oh shit.

The horrific demise of Icheb is not the kind of closure for a previous character many of us expected from this show, but it is appreciated nonetheless. One of many loose ends left by TNG, DS9, and Voyager tied up now for better or worse. We even got an update on what Quark is up to, apparently running a bar on Freecloud, or at least franchising the brand out. Plus the line about Quark being "especially satisfied" with Rios' fictional alter ego's handling of his "trouble with the Breen" implies that Quark was either personally recruited by Raffi to participate in the scam in this episode, or at least that Raffi felt Quark was a reputable enough businessman in this community—such as it is—to forge his name to an endorsement to make it sound credible.

Of course the most notable closure we got in this episode is for Seven of Nine, who we learn has joined a group called the Fenris Rangers, a group that sounds very similar to the Maquis in the sense that both were outlaws trying to keep order as they defined it in a place where law and order had broken down to a degree. It would've been nice to hear if Seven's experience with so many ex-Maquis on Voyager played a role in her radicalization of sorts. A particularly sad omission was we got no mention of her previous relationship with Chakotay which is an omission almost as conspicuous as the continued extremely unfortunate lack of discussion about sentient holograms—Voyager's doctor in particular—and how that relates to the ban on AI.

Indeed, Seven becoming a vigilante is second only to Icheb's unceremonious demise in terms of the most depressing things about this show so far. Seven and Icheb come to the Federation with Voyager brimming with potential, but it is squandered in a tragic and empty way. Depressing outcomes such as this driven by the Federation being demoralized and divided is exactly what Picard is trying reverse in his somewhat loopy quest to save a far flung android. You can see how committed Picard remains to restoring the upstanding and merciful Federation from 15 years ago when he insists that Seven not take her revenge. Seven's decision to let Picard think he had convinced her was quite touching, but yet another tragedy of the story is Seven was actually right to take her revenge. Not because of the principle of an eye for an eye, but because as Seven had noted, Bjayzl operated in a lawless place. If Seven didn't take her out, she was just going to keep butchering more ex-Borg. Maybe Seven could've taken her prisoner or something, but it seems likely that the Fenris Rangers lacked the resources to run a maximum security prison. Besides, Bjayzl seemed like the sort of person who could organize a sophisticated jailbreak if need be.

Another tragic element of the story was the revelation that Raffi's drug-induced bouts of paranoia described in her first scenes were far from just a bit of dark humor as the early scenes implied, but in fact turned out to be a full-blown drug addiction that drove her son to cutting her off, regarding her as a toxic family member. Raffi trots out a slate of cliched stock phrases commonly offered up by struggling addicts about having gotten clean and about having changed and having become a better person. Anyone who knows a drug addict knows how difficult it is to trust such statements, so Hwang rejecting her is an entirely reasonable if perhaps wrong choice in this instance. It is likely Raffi truly did get clean since hitching a ride on the La Sirena and it is likely her wacky conspiracy theory will turn out to be correct as well. But even so, Hwang has no reason to believe any of that until Raffi produces extraordinary evidence for her extraordinary claims.

Speaking of Hwang, the fact that he was at a fertility clinic was a very interesting detail. It's been strongly implied in many previous Star Trek series that interspecies breeding—while possible—is often quite difficult to achieve at times, so adding more texture to that long established fact is appreciated. One detail that we seriously could've done without though was the cheesy holographic advertising scene when they arrived at Freecloud. If it had happened when they were on the surface in the streets or something maybe that would've been less objectionable, but the idea of fully interactive holograms appearing inside of people's ships in orbit raises lots of difficult to resolve questions, most alarmingly related to security. So once you enter orbit of Freecloud, people can just project holograms into your ship which can gather information via interaction or perhaps listen to conversations? Sounds like a good way to spy on people or steal their data!

Of course another shocking development was finally catching up with Bruce Maddox only to see him murdered by Agnes shortly thereafter. She wishes she didn't know what she knows. She wishes "they" hadn't shown her what "they" showed her. Whatever it was she learned caused her to become ideologically opposed to Bruce Maddox's quest to carry on Dr. Soong's legacy of building ever more sophisticated and human-like androids despite having previously been a full partner with him in that endeavor in more ways than one. Hopefully we find out what terrible secrets she learned soon and hopefully it makes her shocking murder of her lover at least somewhat sympathetic somehow.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Alex on 2020-02-24 at 7:58am:
    This was the episode that made me rethink whether I really want and need to further watch this series. And the decision is rather not in favour of the series.

    Let's see, so far ST:Pic has almost more violence on screen than *all* previous Star Trek *combined*. Or is it *really* more? (That's not counting Discovery, frankly I didn't finish even season 1 and I just... I don't count it.)

    We had the series start with some brutal killings right away, people melted with acid, people melting themselves with acid, rogue plastic people shooting real people through the neck in slow burning death, and now an ex-borg butchering with all the graphic detail. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Could be. I thought Star Trek always managed to be provocative and even shocking without resorting to just plain visuals of shock-value stuff. And close to the end we have another person turned into red mist. Even if she was built up as deserving to die (right after Picard argues otherwise... so... I don't agree either)

    And in the very end when we just rescued Bruce Maddox, after all that setup and introduction (well, his older self, of course we already were introduced to him 30 years ago), he's just killed. Right away. And it showed his agony in full HD for good 30 or 40 seconds. How his blood vessels collapsed, organs failing, eyes darkening, all that.

    Just have us wait for the character's reveal for 5 episodes now and then crunch him without any mercy.
    I didn't want that. Especially (!) when it happened *right after* Picard got his next lead, his next quest mark out of the professor.

    That also brings up a few questions - if the EMH is capable of "background processing" so to speak, as to response to individuals onboard being in some alarming condition - psychologically or physiologically (interestingly the former was made to seem more immediate?) - then... what about security? Was there not one alarm signal going off on the captain's board? That someone was dying right now in sickbay? When they come in, say, 30 minutes later, for some usual business, does Agnes tell them "oh he died because injuries", won't they have any sort of security recording? Or is she gonna erase the evidence?

    Bottom line, that was pretty frustrating. First the episode turned me away with the graphic butchery (I get it, things are bad, did I really need to see that much of it?), then it admittedly built some good tension and humor, then it made my stomach turn into a knot as I was watching Raffi's scene with her son (it was painfully good, in a sad way), and then it slapped me with the killing of Bruce Maddox as if he was a scripted NPC that Picard had to meet and talk to once in order to continue on the quest.

    Was I supposed to equate and resolve the maturation of the franchise with inevitably turning darker, more shocking? Well, it sounds more like GoT than ST. And I'd rather not.
  • From Mathalamus on 2020-02-24 at 5:31pm:
    I stopped watching picard after ichebs eye was torn out. apparently, i didn't miss out on a lot after that. sorry, but i cannot consider picard to be a good trek series. its just way too different from what i think star trek should aspire to.
  • From JD on 2020-02-25 at 5:00am:
    I thought this episode was bloody excellent.
    Icheb... ouch... but there needed to be something properly serious to make Severn go vigilante.

    Some people seem to be a bit unhappy about the Star Trek Universe being a bit of a bleak place... however, we've only really seen it before through the lens of Starfleet which is always going to be absolute best of the universe.

    What we're seeing in Picard is more akin to what we saw in Gambit or the bar we saw in Unification. Hey, even DS9 was a bit of a sketchy place and that was under Federation control!
  • From Alex on 2020-02-27 at 7:15am:
    @JD

    "Something properly serious to motivate Seven"

    A valid point in itself but his death would be equally serious regardless. Actually, the eye scene was for the audience *alone*. She wasn't even in the room when that happened.

    If he were to die on some hooks with wires injected into him or something, it would be cruel, it would be motivating, it wouldn't be as shock-value-y.

    And, in the end, the most painful part for her was not being able to save him, which could've been provided without us viewers seeing that sort of stuff.

    "First Contact" had plenty of people dying in similar circumstances, but it didn't become "Saw".

    The episode could've been both fun and gut-wrenching but for me personally that was lost behind "Picard" trying to GoT the franchise. It was already sad to watch Picard being a shadow of his former self, rejected, powerless, fumbling around somewhat, his housekeeper saying he's demented. Now it went into just being too graphic. :(
  • From Rick on 2020-03-24 at 11:08pm:
    I agree completely with Alex. Gene is rolling over in his grave with what has been done to trek.
  • From Gary on 2020-03-28 at 12:55pm:
    First: Thanks so much for carrying on reviews, now of ST:Pic... I've always found your reviews thoughtful and balanced, and they add to my enjoyment of the episodes.

    Even when, sometimes, it's hard to enjoy the episodes. While I agree with some complaints that the ramped-up gore is pushing ST's envelope in ways that aren't welcome, I can hope they use it sparingly and get back to discussions of morality.

    Agnes' murder of Maddox did rely on some sadly-common ST tropes. On his death, surely Picard and the others would want to ask the expert - the EMH - about the details, NOT the roboticist. But in ST, scientists are all physicians and vice-versa. But I suspect that any of the former Starfleet personnel on the ship (3 of them!) would have more medical training than Agnes.

    In any event, in past situations they'd look at the "readouts", the data, not just listen to an amateur's description and move on. And finally: should a passenger (that's all she is) be able to disable the EMH during a medical emergency?

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Star Trek Pic - 1x06 - The Impossible Box

Originally Aired: 2020-2-26

Synopsis:
Picard and the crew track Soji to the Borg cube in Romulan space, resurfacing haunting memories for Picard. Meanwhile, Narek believes he finally found a way to safely exploit Soji for information.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5.73

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Problems
None

Factoids
- Soji has an "Adventures of Flotter" lunchbox, a reference to Voy: Once Upon a Time.

Remarkable Scenes
- Raffi sweet talking Captain Bosch into letting them visit the artifact.
- Rios to Raffi: "No one gets all of it right."
- Soji scanning all of her childhood memorabilia and reacting with horror as the tricorder consistently responds that all of it is 37 months old.
- Picard's panic attack while visiting the Borg cube.
- Picard to Hugh: "You're showing what the Borg are underneath. They're victims, not monsters."
- Hugh regarding the xBs on the artifact: "Just as helpless and enslaved as before. Only now our queen is a Romulan."
- Narek betraying Soji.
- Hugh beaming Picard and Soji light years away using Borg technology while Elnor beams to the cube to defend Picard. Elnor: "Please my friends, choose to live."

My Review
An episode with a slow start but a good amount of payoff. Hugh and Picard catching up with each other is the clear highlight of the episode, a reunion that was literally decades in the making both on screen and off screen after the ambiguous way they left things in TNG: Descent, Part 2. It's nice to hear that despite Hugh being from an unknown species, he was able to acquire Federation citizenship anyway after his misadventures with Lore. Picard's panic attack upon returning to a Borg cube was entirely appropriate and compellingly portrayed. We see all sorts of classic scenes in his post-traumatic stress flashback, including iconic scenes from TNG: The Best of Both Worlds and Star Trek VIII: First Contact. It was also a nice touch to see Hugh directly contrasted from his appearance on TNG to his appearance now visually on Picard's computer.

The ultimate message of Picard's reunion with Hugh was to portray the Borg more as victims than as villains. This is deeply in the spirit of Star Trek and one of the most fascinating contradictions that has always been at the core of the characterization of the Borg. Are they an enemy to be destroyed, or victims to be rescued? If xBs should not be held accountable for the crimes they committed as Borg, then who should? One might be tempted to say the Borg queen, but even she has never seemed to be a character with terribly much agency. More like a reflection of the Borg's collective consciousness given that whenever she's destroyed another appears. These are questions without obvious answers and Star Trek is at its best when it grapples with them as they do in this episode.

Another highlight of the episode is the terrific execution of Soji's dream sequences. The two actors playing child Soji (Ella McKenzie) and adult Soji (Isa Briones) do a great job of convincingly portraying the same person in the same emotional state across the cuts. This may seem like a minor detail, but it's very easy to get wrong. Star Trek in particular is infamous for numerous previous examples of child character performances that fall flat. Even high budget drama series get it wrong frequently too, such as the underwhelming portrayal of young Ned Stark on Game of Thrones. A particularly nice touch in Soji's dream was the abstract presentation of her construction being doll-like. This distinctly resembled Pinocchio; Data had been previously referred to as being like Pinocchio by Riker in TNG because of his desire to become human.

One more interesting reference to a previous Star Trek episode was when Hugh dug up a Sikarian spatial trajector to help Picard and Soji escape the cube. This technology was last seen in Voy: Prime Factors when the crew of Voyager was denied the use of it to help them get home faster by the Sikarian equivalent of the Prime Directive. It appears the Borg assimilated the Sikarians at some point After Voyager's visit, after which they improved upon the technology, removing the dependency on a planet with a thick tetrahedral quartz mantle to function. It was said the Borg only use this technology in the case of emergencies, but the reason for such a restriction is not clearly explained. The trajector is in effect a very long range transporter which if deployed en masse could be a very powerful weapon.

If the Romulans were to get their hands on it they could in theory use it to beam an invasion force across the galaxy in an instant, not unlike the fears that were stoked by the Iconian gateways in TNG: Contagion and DS9: To the Death. Indeed, whenever a technology this powerful is discovered on Star Trek, it tends to be quickly destroyed, concealed, or some fatal flaw is discovered in it so as to prevent the canon from being contaminated with too many superpowers. Hugh made attempts to conceal this technology from the Romulans, but hopefully some stricter limits are placed on it soon or it might risk becoming as ridiculous as something like Discovery's spore drive. The last thing we need is more ways for groups of people or starships to instantly teleport across the galaxy.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x07 - Nepenthe

Originally Aired: 2020-3-4

Synopsis:
Picard and Soji transport to the planet Nepenthe, home to some old and trusted friends. As the rest of the La Sirena crew attempt to join them, Picard helps Soji make sense of her recently unlocked memories. Meanwhile, Hugh and Elnor are left on the Borg cube and must face an angered Narissa.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 6.1

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Problems
- Troi says she can't read Soji's emotions, but she could read Data's emotions in TNG: Descent along with Lal's emotions in TNG: The Offspring.
- Rios claims somebody's tailing them "just beyond the limits of seeing it" on the scanners. This seems hard to believe given that the ship is clearly within visual distance.
- The image of Dahj from her digital assistant seen in Maps and Legends is actually an image of Soji from the end of this episode.

Factoids
- The title of this episode "Nepenthe" refers to an herb from Homer's Odyssey, which is described as a medicine for sorrow or a drug of forgetfulness.
- Thanks to this episode, Jonathan Frakes has become the only actor to appear in five different Star Trek shows, playing Riker in TNG, Voyager, Enterprise, and now Picard. He also plays Thomas Riker in DS9.
- The daughter of Troi and Riker, Kestra Troi-Riker, is named after Troi's older sister Kestra Troi, whose death was established in TNG: Dark Page.
- The deceased son of Troi and Riker, Thaddeus Troi-Riker, is named after Riker's ancestor Thaddius Riker, who was mentioned in Voy: Death Wish.
- Two visual effects shots from Dis: If Memory Serves were recycled and edited to show the destruction of Earth in Commodore Oh's mind meld with Agnes.

Remarkable Scenes
- Rios: "I'm tractor locked to a Borg cube full of Romulans!"
- Soji to Picard: "Whatever. None of this is real. Just get on with the mind game."
- Picard dropping in on Troi and Riker.
- Raffi to a panicky Agnes: "Gonna hook you up with whatever you need." Agnes: "Is it cake?" Raffi, not expecting that request: "...You bet it's cake!"
- Riker guessing the details of the mess Picard got himself into quite accurately.
- Troi trying to reach Soji, then Picard interrupting clumsily only to get shoved by Soji. Troi: "This isn't something a ship's counselor is supposed to say, but you had it coming."
- Hugh resolving to seize the Borg cube from the Romulans only to be summarily executed by Narissa.
- Agnes injecting herself with a neurotoxin.
- Riker: "What are they like, this new crew of yours?" Picard: "Well, I would have to say they are decidedly motley."

My Review
This is a sappy, sentimental story that doubles down on catching up with old characters and definitely delivers on that front. In Maps and Legends Picard said with considerable grief in his voice that he had hoped to avoid involving any of his previous Enterprise colleagues in any of this because he didn't want any of them to end up like Data. That context makes Picard showing up at Riker's doorstep unannounced all the more moving. Indeed, the portrait of the Troi-Riker family we get in this episode steals the show, particularly the charming scenes between Soji and Kestra. Soji's PTSD and dissociation were understandable and portrayed well, as were Troi's efforts to provide counseling. There are also some interesting parallels between this episode and Ent: Cold Station 12. Here we are told Troi's and Riker's son died because the technology that could've cured his illness was included as part of the synth ban. In Ent: Cold Station 12, Archer tells Dr. Phlox that his father died because the ban on generic engineering precluded a cure. Hopefully these nuggets of nuance are building to broader and more direct social commentary on the ethics of banning whole categories of technology to prevent immoral uses of it.

The subplots of the episode were not as well put together though. The flashback to Commodore Oh's mind meld with Agnes was clearly meant to provide context for why she assassinated Maddox, but it doesn't quite get us all the way there. It's hard to believe seeing visions of Earth possibly being destroyed some time in the future by some nonspecific threat would be enough to get Agnes to murder a man that she loved because his work—which she deeply believed in as well—might possibly some day indirectly lead to those visions coming to pass somehow. The only way to rationalize this is to assume that the mind meld was more than just visions; that it was also a form of mind control as well. Notably Commodore Oh did not ask for consent before melding with her, making it hard to consider it anything other than something akin to a rape scene given that Star Trek has established quite clearly by now that mind melds are acts of the utmost intimacy. While the mind meld mind control explanation does indeed work quite well to make sense of Agnes' behavior, the story's narrative does not endorse this interpretation on screen explicitly, undermining the potential dramatic impact of her suicide attempt. Also of note, the fact that Commodore Oh can perform mind melds implies that she is either a Vulcan rather than a Romulan disguised as a Vulcan as it initially seemed, or perhaps more interestingly a Romulan who can perform mind melds. This too is not made at all clear though, unfortunately.

The most disappointing detail of the story though is the tragic waste of Hugh's character. Killing characters for dramatic effect can certainly be done tastefully and well. Icheb's death in Stardust City Rag was an excellent narrative choice. Icheb's character had already been fully actualized by that point in the story and he had been a Starfleet officer for more than a decade after arriving at Earth with Voyager. While it perhaps would've been fun to see some flashbacks of what his life in Starfleet was like before he was tragically murdered, his death served to deepen Seven of Nine's character in significant ways without wasting any significant character growth potential for Icheb. On the other hand, Hugh's death serves no useful purpose to the story except to gin up some cheap shock value now and some cheap revenge drama later. Plus had he lived, we could've taken some solace in knowing that he continued to do good work bringing former Borg back into the fold in the finest spirit of Star Trek. Sometimes a character surviving a story is a more powerful ending than a shocking death.

The weakness of the subplots isn't enough to drag the episode down too far though because the main story with Picard and Soji visiting the Troi-Rikers was immensely satisfying.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x08 - Broken Pieces

Originally Aired: 2020-3-11

Synopsis:
When devastating truths behind the Mars attack are revealed, Picard realizes just how far many will go to preserve secrets stretching back generations, all while the La Sirena crew grapples with secrets and revelations of their own. Narissa directs her guards to capture Elnor, setting off an unexpected chain of events on the Borg cube.

My Rating - 2

Fan Rating Average - 3.6

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Problems
- It's unclear why anyone thought the Borg drones being blown into space would kill them seeing as how we've seen that drones are able to survive in a vacuum before.

Factoids
- This episode establishes that Commodore Oh is half Romulan, half Vulcan.

Remarkable Scenes
- Seven of Nine rescuing Elnor.
- Picard gloating to Admiral Clancy about being right and then demanding a whole squadron of ships from her. Clancy: "Admiral Picard with all due respect and at long last, shut the fuck up! I'm sending a squadron to rendezvous with you at DS12, now stay put until they get there!"
- Soji to Picard about Data: "He loved you."
- Agnes marveling at Soji.
- Narissa executing the remaining xBs.
- Picard, making a confident attempt to fly the ship: "...Actually, I don't know how to work this."
- Seven of Nine stealing the Borg cube.

My Review
The various plot threads are starting to come together and paint a clearer picture of what this story is adding up to which is sadly a mixture of bad and possibly worse depending on what happens in the following episodes. First and most importantly, we find out here that the Zhat Vash were radicalized by a prophecy of destruction brought about by the prospect of AI advancing too far. This "admonition" warns against the advancement of AI, driving those who experience it to madness, literally. Back in Maps and Legends when Laris first described the Zhat Vash as keeping a secret "so profound and terrible that just learning it can break a person's mind" we had hoped this lame remark was simply hyperbole we could cough over and move on from. Apparently not. Here we see people kill themselves, smash rocks into their faces, tear off hair and skin, etc. All because of a vision they experienced from an alien beacon.

Making matters worse, this madness was somehow enough to break the collective mind of the Borg as well. It's explained that the Borg cube the Romulans commandeered was broken by the assimilation of Narissa's aunt Ramdha, whose mind had been broken by the "admonition." While this is not exactly unprecedented since something similar occurred when Hugh was reassimilated by the Borg after the events of TNG: I, Borg, it was pretty lame then, and it's even more lame now. The idea that resistance to assimilation just requires a sufficiently strong-willed or traumatized mind is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the assimilation process itself is traumatic and the Borg have undoubtedly assimilated billions of strong-willed people before. It simply isn't credible that Ramdha could break the Borg through the "sheer force of her despair" or that Hugh's newfound individuality would be so profound that it could somehow corrupt the cube that retrieved him entirely on its own.

To make it credible, there had to be more going on than just asserting that these characters had stronger feelings than anyone else who had ever been assimilated, so therefore they were immune to it. But the narrative seems to expect us to just believe that strong feelings was all it took. Damn it Magnus and Erin Hansen, if only you just had stronger feelings about being assimilated, maybe you could've broke the Borg and prevented Annika from being assimilated and becoming Seven of Nine, huh? Speaking of Seven, her return is a welcome one and one of the only bright spots in the episode. Her reticence regarding establishing a micro collective is a nice callback to her actions in Voy: Survival Instinct. But speaking of that episode, it sure is a shame that Lansor (Two of Nine), Marika Wilkarah (Three of Nine), and P'Chan (Four of Nine) didn't just have stronger feelings about Seven of Nine reassimilating them, huh? Maybe they could've broke her and gotten away like Hugh and Ramdha. It's bizarre that the writers didn't think through how obviously dumb the "strong feelings break the Borg" plot point was and give us a bit more to hang our hats on. To be fair, it's not an impossible problem to fix. Maybe Hugh had the Borg virus embedded in him against orders by a renegade Enterprise crewman. And Maybe Ramdha had something similar embedded in her after experiencing the "admonition." But it sure would've been nice if the episode established something like that as a fact rather than us having to offer up our own solutions to these problems, huh?

There is a similar problem with Agnes. The previous episode did nothing to convince us that the mind meld she had with Commodore Oh was at all coercive. It was strongly implied that Agnes assassinated Maddox entirely of her own free will because the visions she received were somehow sufficiently persuasive enough to get her to murder a man she loved. In this episode she continues to exhibit no signs of mind control and even deliberately chooses not to do any harm to Soji despite Soji being the literal personification of the threat she supposedly was so convinced was urgent that she would murder her lover. There is a way out of this plot hole too if we extrapolate a bit from the scene when she was asked why she did this and replied she "had to," that Commodore Oh had put "poison" in her mind, and a "psychic block" was put in place to keep her from talking about it. From that we could make a leap of logic that what she really meant was she was under the influence of mind control and the murder was something she did without consciously choosing to, like a sleeper agent. But that's quite a leap from the material presented to us which seems to strongly imply otherwise. She continues to refer to Maddox' work as "hubris" and seems to still genuinely fear the prophecy coming true. But again she doesn't fear it enough to take action against Soji. So it's all a jumbled mess. Agnes' motivations make no sense and this is becoming a serious problem that it seems more and more likely the plot won't resolve anytime soon.

Rios too is now a problem. Instead of just immediately telling everyone that Soji looks just like an android his former captain murdered, he decides to get all moody and hide from everyone for no coherent reason. But a bigger problem is how that development nudges this story away from a charming tale about a motley crew brought together for idiosyncratic reasons into a trite tale about everyone being linked together by destiny. It's a ridiculous coincidence that Picard just so happened to befriend the only person in the Federation to correctly predict Romulan involvement in the Mars attack and that she just so happened to be friends with a random mercenary pilot who just so happened to be randomly connected to the exact conspiracy Picard sought to unravel.

The worst thing about this episode though is how it undermines the promise of the pilot. The pilot offered up the possibility of a real reflection on the Federation flirting with reactionary anti-technology politics. It would've been nice to see more backstory showing us substantive public debate about this and how it intertwines with holograms and previous reactionary material on Star Trek regarding genetic engineering. But we got none of that. The ban was just the result of a Romulan conspiracy. No deep meditation on reactionary politics. The writers don't appear to have noticed the parallels between the AI ban and the genetic engineering ban. Nor did they notice that holograms are AI too. They must not have seen Voy: Revulsion where it's shown that a hologram that can fly a ship can be just as serious a threat as any android.

At the end of the episode Picard delivers a speech to Rios about how the Federation should not have given way to fear that the directing clearly emphasizes as some kind of profound moment; as if a few lines from Picard are the payoff on the deep meditation on reactionary politics we were promised. But the narrative didn't earn that moment at all. It fell just as flat as Burnham's speech at the end of Discovery's first season about how the Federation ought not to "allow desperation to destroy moral authority." You can't just trot out some high minded-sounding platitudes at the end of the story and expect that to serve as a reasonable substitute for narrative substance. Worse yet, Picard's whole point about how secrecy and fear are as ineffective as they are immoral is kind of ridiculous in itself given that secrecy and fear scored the Zhat Vash an AI ban in the Federation that lasted for more than a decade. Seems like manipulating people with secrecy and fear is actually pretty effective sometimes after all.

Overall this is a very disappointing offering. When writers build up something across a season of episodes, the payoff has to be worth it. We're seeing some payoff here and so far it's pretty damn anticlimactic.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x09 - Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1

Originally Aired: 2020-3-18

Synopsis:
Following an unconventional and dangerous transit, Picard and the crew finally arrive at Soji's home world, Coppelius. However, with Romulan warbirds on their tail, their arrival brings only greater danger as the crew discovers more than expected about the planet's inhabitants.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 2.33

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Problems
None

Factoids
- The title of this episode is a Latin phrase that literally translates to "even in Arcadia, there am I." The "I" is typically interpreted to refer to death and "Arcadia" is typically interpreted to refer to a utopian land. It could thus be interpreted to mean something like "even in paradise, there is still death."

Remarkable Scenes
- The space battle with Narek.
- The Borg cube showing up and then getting immediately taken down by the orchids.
- Picard's astonishment upon meeting Dr. Alton Soong: "I feel as if I'm looking at Data."
- Alton Soong regarding Picard: "They didn't listen to him after the attack on Mars and they're not going to believe him now."

My Review
This is a slow story that focuses mostly on table setting for what is likely to be a more exciting second half. There's nothing necessarily wrong with table setting episodes, but what we get here is a bit of a mixed bag. The return of Brent Spiner playing yet another relative of the renowned Dr. Noonian Soong is a welcome addition to the story. It turns out that Data's father had a biological child too who was a total afterthought by comparison to his life's work perfecting androids. This new character is a clever addition to the Soong roster, as it is quite consistent with previous material depicting the Soong family. We know Noonian Soong was married from TNG: Inheritance and it's entirely consistent with his character that he would care more about his androids than his flesh and blood son.

On this new synth homeworld we see a delightful mix of earlier model androids and later model more human-like androids, giving us a visual sense of the technological progression of Soong's and Maddox' work. We also get a lot of exposition about just what the "admonition" was which resolves some irritating problems with the story but creates some new ones too. The narrative has finally given us a barely adequate redemption for Agnes' character: it appears as though she was not in fact fully in control of her actions when she murdered Maddox. But instead of the more compelling explanation being that Commodore Oh used mind control on her, we get the idiotic explanation that she went off the rails because the "admonition" was meant for synth minds rather than organic minds, which is a quite problematic distinction. The idea that even once you cross the AI "threshold" (whatever that is exactly) that it's still possible to distinguish between an organic or a synthetic mind runs counter to the fact that the entire point of creating Data and the more advanced androids derived from Data to begin with was to make the synths as human-like as possible; to directly contradict prejudice that they could somehow be fundamentally different. Basically the whole point of creating super advanced androids is to erase the distinctions between human and android. Yet the super synth Federation relies on the continued existence of these distinctions in order for its "admonition" to be received and understood by anybody.

The main message behind TNG: The Measure of a Man—the brilliant episode this season is serving as a sequel to—was also that there are no meaningful distinctions between the personhood of androids like Data or people who were born of flesh and blood. The notion that even now androids and organics can be separated into "us" and "them" categories so cleanly that tools can be built that can deliver telepathic messages effectively to one group but not the other because there's something genetically (so to speak) different about them undermines the original moral of the story here that any differences between these groups are more surface details than substantive. The moral of the story now is we're all the same, except oh wait there's something fundamental about your body that makes you irrevocably different from me. Yuck. The writers would've done better to have taken a page from Battlestar Galactica which—while it had serious flaws in its own writing in places–did well to make the point that the Cylons were equals to humans to such a degree that the distinctions between them were totally erased by the end of the story. As such the idea that Agnes was under the influence of mind control would've been a much better way to deal with this than this incredibly dumb "only synths can process the message" nonsense. A shame.

Another painful though minor detail was Raffi being given a magic tool to fix the La Sirena with and being told simply that it "fixes things" as though no further explanation should be required. What a marvel! Someone tell the Pakleds from TNG: Samaritan Snare. This is a tool that's on their intellectual level. They look for things. Things just like this. Things to make them go. Raffi thankfully was interested in a bit more nuance than Pakled-level simplicity and asked "how?" She was then told "you have to use your imagination." After that Raffi got as tired of that scene as the writers clearly were, shrugged, and moved on. Want to know what magic powers that Deus Ex Machina: The Tool has to offer? Tune in next week and we might find out!

This episode also continues the sad trend of relegating anything Borg-related to weak tea subplot status. It's curious that there already was a Borg transwarp conduit just above the synth homeworld, which implies the Borg have been to this planet before. Did the planet have an original population many years ago that was swept up in some kind of TNG: The Neutral Zone-style Borg Ragnarok ("Borg? Sounds Swedish...") assimilating everyone on the planet sometime before Alton Soong arrived and established it as the synth homeworld? Unfortunately the episode doesn't get into this, nor does anyone in the story appear to consider that the existence of a Börg transwarp conduit just above that planet continues to pose an ongoing threat to its population. Worse yet, Seven of Nine's commandeered Bjørg cube got taken out before it could do anything cool.

Lastly now that we've gotten a full explanation of just what the "admonition" was, the trend of anticlimactic payoff is continuing. Aside from the aforementioned borderline racist undertones that there will always be something fundamentally different between synths and organics, the idea that there's some secret synth super Federation out there spanning multiple galaxies just waiting to appear from nowhere to rescue synths from organic oppression is incredibly overwrought and unimaginative. Once again we're facing a threat to everyone everywhere that comes out of nowhere and will surely be disposed of from whence it came in short order. The writers of Discovery and now Picard seem to think that just constantly amping up the stakes is a good substitute for actual substance, but all it does is tip their hands that they're more interested in writing comic book pulp—complete with mustache-twirling villains like Sutra and Commodore Oh—than more thoughtful, deeper stories. So while this is an improvement over the last episode—they mostly fixed Agnes and the introduction of another Dr. Soong is a clever and welcome development—much of the rest of the payoff continues to be unfortunately underwhelming. Hopefully the next episode steps up the writing quality.

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Star Trek Pic - 1x10 - Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

Originally Aired: 2020-3-25

Synopsis:
A final confrontation on the synthetics' homeworld, Coppelius, pits Picard and his team against the Romulans, as well as the synths who seek to safeguard their existence at all costs.

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 3.14

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Problems
- The Romulan fleet is visible from the surface of the planet despite being shown to be in space the whole time.

Factoids
- The title of this episode is a Latin phrase that literally translates to "even in Arcadia, there am I." The "I" is typically interpreted to refer to death and "Arcadia" is typically interpreted to refer to a utopian land. It could thus be interpreted to mean something like "even in paradise, there is still death."
- The Zheng He bridge set was adapted from the Discovery bridge. Jonathan Frakes filmed his appearance as Riker for this episode while directing an episode of Discovery's third season.

Remarkable Scenes
- Picard flying the La Sirena.
- Narissa: "Sad queen Annika. Six years old and all she got for her birthday was assimilated."
- Seven of Nine taking out Narissa.
- The orchids engaging the Romulan fleet.
- Riker showing up with the Federation fleet.
- Picard talking down Soji then collapsing from his brain disease.
- Picard meeting Data preserved in a simulation.
- Picard waking up in an android body.
- Picard killing Data's preserved consciousness.

My Review
Suddenly the synth ban that lasted for more than a decade is gone. Why? We don't really know. We see no public debate in the Federation. We see no media coverage of how others in Federation society perceived what went down on Coppelius. We don't see fearful conservatives on FNN (The Federation News Network originally shown in the pilot episode, remember that?) pleading with the Federation legislature not to sympathize with the synths since they clearly did have the power to destroy the Federation and indeed were moments away from pushing a button that would do exactly that. It all just gets hand waved away off-screen without a moment's reflection. While it's true that many of us may fantasize about the authoritarian right simply disappearing from political power wherever they wield it as soon as possible, the real world doesn't work that way. It ought to be obvious that a single dramatic event can't just magically overturn years of reactionary attitudes entrenched in the hearts of minds of an entire society overnight. Good fiction doesn't pander to our fantasies, it reflects the actual human condition. When Star Trek is at its best it lays bare who and what we are while also giving us a realistic taste of how much better we could be. This story was far from that.

And just what were those super synths anyway? Who knows. Clearly they were just a generic villain plot device. Nobody really cares about who they are and what their civilization is. So much for seeking out out new life and new civilizations, huh? Nobody's the least bit curious about a multi-galaxy synth civilization nor all that interested in possibly dissuading them from their apparent mandate to wipe out organics whenever they're summoned Ghostbusters-style. Just blow up the beacon, sweep the problem under the rug, and pretend it never happened. Likewise let's not at all concern ourselves with what happened to Narek who suddenly disappeared from the plot never to be seen again inexplicably after pleading with Soji to destroy the beacon. His sudden disappearance was almost as cheesy as the absurdly large copy-and-paste fleets of all precisely the same ship. Hundreds of identical ships is incredibly bland and feels like yet another cheap and unrealistic way to up the stakes artificially. DS9 showed us how to do this correctly with a bunch of different types of starships working together evoking a sense of real effort both on the part of the visual effects team but also the characters in bringing to bear whatever they could muster. It's also quite dumb that they all warp out as quickly as they warp in, without even a single ship sticking around to investigate this strange new world, establish diplomatic relations, or do anything remotely in line with first contact procedures. The whole thing felt incredibly rushed.

The laziness abounds elsewhere too. CommodoreGeneral Oh delivers generic evil mustache twirler lines constantly, including a cheesy order to use "Planetary Sterilization Pattern Number 5" along with the obligatory dramatic pause before ordering the fleet to fire, giving Riker's fleet time to arrive and intercede. The Deus Ex Machina: The Tool device from the previous episode turned out to be even more ridiculous a superpower than it seemed like it would be on two different occasions in this episode. Raffi and Rios even break the fourth wall when Raffi asks "What's happening?" after it's used for the first time and Rios replies "Nothing that makes sense." It was literally a plot device that we're supposed to just accept can do basically anything. The damn thing even wrecked what was otherwise a very charming scene when Agnes referenced the Picard maneuver from TNG: The Battle only for the scene to get overwhelmed by the magic of the all powerful space ocarina. Raffi and Seven of Nine get a bit short shrifted here too apparently somehow developing a relationship which is yet another important thing that happens off-screen. Seven does however have a touching scene with Rios shortly after Picard "dies" talking about how she promised herself she would never commit another murder but failed to resist temptation when presented with the opportunity to kill Narissa, but that is one of the only well-written scenes in the episode.

Of course the elephant in the room is the final death of Data and the death and resurrection of Picard, which while compellingly presented and incredibly moving to watch are utterly offensive in their implications. Picard and Data both essentially commit suicide in this episode (Picard's suicide merely on a time delay) while endorsing numerous platitudes about how mortality supposedly gives meaning to life. Data says that peace, love, and friendship are precious because we know they cannot endure and a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all. What the fuck? This is pseudo-intellectual garbage on par with the ending of Battlestar Galactica having all the characters throw their technology into the sun. The whole point of people inventing technology for as long as civilization has existed is to prolong the length and quality of life. While the title of the episode loosely translates to "even in paradise, there is still death," that isn't necessarily true anymore. The advent of highly advanced androids that are nearly indistinguishable from humans to whom any human consciousness can be transferred is one of the greatest inventions in human history because it could effectively make anybody immortal. And you can sure as hell bet that the vast majority of people would prefer to have themselves transferred into one of those bodies without a ten or twenty year death clock on it as Picard did shortly before euthanizing his best friend for no coherent reason.

This of course isn't the first time that Star Trek or even Data himself has mused about the value of mortality. Recall this exchange from TNG: Time's Arrow, Part 1. Data: "I have often wondered about my own mortality as I have seen others around me age. Until now it has been theoretically possible that I would live an unlimited period of time. And although some might find this attractive, to me it only reinforces the fact that I am artificial." Geordi: "I never knew how tough this must be for you. [...] Knowing that you would outlive all your friends." Data: "I expected to make new friends." Geordi: "True." Data: "And then to outlive them as well." Geordi: Now that you know that you might not?" Data: "It provides a sense of completion to my future. In a way, I am not that different from anyone else. I can now look forward to death." Geordi: "I never thought of it that way." Data: "One might also conclude that it brings me one step closer to being human. I am mortal." At first glance, it might seem as though Data valued the idea of being mortal as far back as that TNG episode. But if you look deeper at the exchange, the thing Data is expressing the most discomfort with is being different from his friends. He didn't want to be special by being immortal while everyone else must age and eventually die. But what if everyone could be as immortal as Data? It seems in that case the discomfort Data expresses in that exchange would be moot.

Better episodes of Star Trek have also more tastefully dealt with suicide. In Voy: Death Wish we see a much better version of the supposed torture that Data was said to be enduring trapped in the simulation in this episode. In that Voyager episode, a member of the Q continuum—a race of beings who are immortal—is imprisoned, suicidal, and prevented from killing himself for the rest of eternity which he argues is a kind of torture. Janeway decides to grant him asylum from the Q, then pleads with him not to kill himself with his newfound freedom from imprisonment. But he does so anyway and the narrative correctly treats this as a tragedy, in direct contrast to how the narrative glorified Data's death and Picard casually endorsing a time limit on his android body in this episode. Once upon a time Star Trek was about seeking out new life and regarding every death as a tragedy. Now it's apparently about how death is beautiful or something. To add insult to injury, this episode that celebrates Data's death and moralizes about the supposed beauty of death aired during the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. The writers should stop and think about how those dying in the hospital when this aired would've done anything to get an ageless android body and take that as a lesson to think through the implications of the stories they tell a bit more in the future.

At first this series showed a lot of promise, but it eventually fell into the same traps that too many TV shows do. The writers structured this story more as mystery than suspense. Then when we finally got answers to the mysteries they were unsatisfying because they were premised on overwrought threats to everyone everywhere that were quickly resolved with cheap reset buttons. A story that could've been a compelling exploration of the deeper systemic reasons why the Federation so often bans whole categories of technology in fearful, reactionary ways ended up just being 10 episodes that tried to make the same point that TNG: The Measure of a Man made 31 years ago, except in a considerably drawn out and dumbed down way. Hopefully the next season aims higher than this.

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