Friday, January 24, 2020

Picard, Season 1: Remembrance

http://www.treknobabble.net/Picard, Season 1
"Remembrance"
Airdate: January 23, 2020
1 of 10 produced
1 of 10 aired

Introduction

Retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard is roused out of his retirement by a mysterious young woman who may be the offspring of his long-dead android friend. 



 Live long and KICK YOU IN THE FACE!!!!!!


Writing

Matthew: Well, here we go again. Another installment in the ongoing saga of Kurtzman Trek. Does it justify its existence? Is it better than the chum we've been fed for the past ten years? Would it surprise you to know that the answer is.... probably? OK, you ask (nobody asks me this any more...) what's the big problem with Trek since 2009? In talking with Kevin, I think I've put my finger on it for me: it doesn't feel at all like the Star Trek world. The Star Trek world of TOS through Voyager is a secular humanist utopia in which humans have set aside their differences and set out to explore the universe. The stories they tell usually end up delivering an ethical message, but always within this worldview. Terrorism got you down? Maybe we can solve it by adopting nonviolence and by sharing our technology. Climate change worrying you? Well, let's solve it by creating meaningful regulations and then by obviating the problem with future technology.

Kurtzman Trek has eliminated this sort of moral certitude and sunny optimism. Now, we are given a world of violent people doing devious things - and frequently we are told to root for the violent, devious people as our protagonists. I have never, not once, since 2009 felt relieved, or lifted, or elevated, by Star Trek. I've just been reminded what a petty, anxious, crap-tastic time I live in.

So is Picard different? I think it is. There are strong ethical themes, such as how refugees are to be treated, whether the lives of different cultures are as valuable as our own, and whether artificial life is to be accorded the same respect as natural life. So I like these and the other themes that are hinted at: violent events causing changes in philosophy, of certain types of science being banned, and of a person discovering that they are not what they thought they were. These are darker themes, sure. But here's the thing - you can pay lip service to themes like these, but they only work as Star Trek if they contrast with something - the secular humanist worldview created and maintained by Roddenberry and associates. In DS9, they do. Heck, in TNG episodes like "The Drumhead," they do. Discovery and the Abrams movies were failures because they could not show a credible contrast between what the "bad guys" were doing and what the "good guys" were proposing instead. Here, at least in the person of Picard, we have a credible contrast.  Will these themes be developed? I don't know. They got precious little screen time in this particular teleplay, on the order of 30 seconds apiece. I don't think it's reasonable to predict a drastic shift in tone and style for the remaining nine episodes, so I think this is just what we're going to have to settle for: hints of interesting ideas, mentioned briefly in dialogue, then abandoned in favor of face kicking and acid blood. The episode that comes to mind for me is "True Q." While not a perfect episode of television by any stretch, it gives us far more insight into the character of Amanda Rogers and the implications of discovering a hidden non-human heritage. That's what a full-bodied science fiction story does. This is more of a sci-fi flavored fizzy water.

Kevin: I found myself enjoying the show more than I expected, but it's still missing one critical TNG element for me. The optimism. A lot of the commentary treats the grittier world view as some necessary concession to the modern world, as if telling an optimistic story would be some kind of fault. And I think that misunderstands the context of earlier Star Trek. The 60s in particular were not some halcyon days for America, they were the focal point of (often violent) social upheaval. I think people dismiss the show's optimism as naivete and I think that's unfair. It's not ignorant of the problems. It's the manifestation of the hope we can solve them. Even DS9, Trek's darker sibling wasn't made in response to bad events. It was the height of Clinton-era economic good times. The world order created after WWII appeared set to usher in a stable peace indefinitely, at least to a certain class of people in America. A lesson in how fragile that world is and what assumptions is makes is not a concession to the pervasive darkness, but an exploration of how stable the good times are. What I'm saying is until the modern era, Star Trek was an extrapolation not a reflection of the world. I kind of want/need a show that is unashamedly hopeful about the future because I am not. I can watch any other show or look out the window for a lesson in the harsh choices in living life at the sunset of an empire. The Good Place is pretty much the only other show I can think of that is happy and positive and with a lesson behind it. This is a long way round of saying, I miss the cheesy, happy optimism of TNG, and I think it would be braver choice and a better creative challenge to try to credibly recreate that feeling than make a 24 clone.

That all said, and this was the consensus of the room I was watching it in, it was still a solid enjoyable show. It is not TNG, but there was a lot there to like. I agree that anchoring the show on Picard gives the 'pro-Federation' camp some real heft in the way that Chris Pine's speech at the end of Into Darkness simply did not. Picard embodies Federation ideals so seeing him advocate for them in the interview seen does feel like something. And there are specifics enough to give it some heft. And despite being interrupted by constant violence, the character moments between Picard and his Romulan friends, or Dahj, or Juarti all work in and of themselves. Well sketched people having organically credible interactions.

I've made a little bet with myself that at some point someone will quote Tennyson's Ulysses, and the real question is whether Picard will say it in dialogue or as narration. I'm hoping they go real subtle and someone just gives him a copy of the book with no further dialogue. Subtlety is key. To the extent that is the vibe of the show, I think it succeeds. The aged hero roused for one more mission, and the show did a solid job of painting the challenges for that mission, so I'm interested as a viewer, even if I am not an enraptured as I was/am by TNG itself.

Matthew: OK, now that I've praised it, it's time to bury it. The storytelling style is still filled with many of the worst aspects of Discovery. Everything happens too fast, and random bursts of violence keep interrupting interesting scenes. Killing Dahj is cheap and pointless, and makes me think of Discovery's incessant "SHOCK TWIST" story beats. Why give us a beautiful scene between the two characters, and develop her in the beginning of the episode, just to kill her, and then just to replace her with a facsimile? The idea that Dahj is somehow "Data's Daughter" makes no sense. The episode fails to mention Lal in the slightest, or Lore for that matter, both of which seem pertinent in a story about creating new android life, and androids running amok. Instead we get B4. Again. When you're reminding me of the storytelling sins of Discovery, the Abrams movies, and Nemesis, that's not a good look. BUT, and this is an important but, so far there have been no gross violations of established continuity (e.g. Mushroom Drive), nor any retcons that fail to justify themselves (e.g. Spock's heretofore unmentioned stepsister who is also the savior of the universe).

Kevin: My biggest complaint is the violence. I've said before, TNG was a show I came to when I was nine and it obviously had a big impact on me, and a lot of people have talked about how Star Trek was something they could watch as a family. I'm not a prude, and I don't think everything needs to be a bland G to be family entertainment, but this is still something I can imagine watching with your kids. Even the darker episodes like Chain of Command committed their violence by implication and then explicitly in the service of indicting people who support using violence. That kind of sharper moral lesson feels lacking when the violence is martial arts set pieces with acid blood explosions.

Matthew:  As seems par for the recent course, potentially interesting science fiction themes are hinted at but not really developed. I simply do not understand why the producers (all 16 of them) of this show don't trust the audience to follow a story about learning that you're really an android, or the perils of restricting scientific progress. Overall, the tone of this show is that of an action thriller movie, not of an episodic science fiction story. The longest (and thus most memorable) scenes we are given are Picard talking with Dahj over tea, Picard talking with Dr. Jurati about cybernetic life, and Picard being interviewed by the "gotcha" newscaster (do people really think Picard is a hero? It doesn't seem that way). Every other scene breaks into a "Secret Assassin With Acid Blood Kung Fu Scene" before it can generate any real interest or land emotionally. Then we are given Dahj's "sister" on the ROMULAN BORG CUBE, DUN DUN DUNNNNNN. God. I'm so tired of this storytelling style.


Kevin: I actually kind of like the cube reveal for itself in a vaccuum. I thought the set looked like a Borg cube when they got there so that tracks. And it makes sense that a Romulan diaspora would make a big dangerous swing like harvesting Borg tech. I agree that the serialized story has really become exhausting. Even DS9 managed to tell discreet hours of story that fit into a larger puzzle without existing only to serve the bigger picture. I am more hopeful that season one of Picard will be more coherent than season one of Discovery, but we'll see.

Acting

Matthew: Patrick Stewart is... old. Like, really, really old. I'm not saying this doesn't work for the character, but it's kind of shocking after having watched the man for 200 hours or so. His voice is quavering, his skin is slack. He delivers a good, grounded, emotional performance that helps draw me in to the story. He elevates that material when it lacks substance (which it frequently does) and sells the show. He has good chemistry with his screen partners, particularly Isa Briones as Dahj and Orla Bradley and Jamie McShane as his Romulan boarders.

Kevin: I think Patrick Stewart's facility with the character and acting generally are going to carry a lot of the show. The dream sequence could have been maudlin or nothing, and he managed to wring genuine emotion out of it. I also really liked the Romulans as well. I kind of like the normal person vibe they were giving. It gives the Romulan/Vulcan dichotomy a little more weight than the TNG version, who primarily expressed their emotions by crafting bigger shoulder pads.

Matthew: I really liked Isa Briones as Dahj. She has a clarity and openness that makes me really care about.... WHOOPS! She's dead! Hopefully her other character will be as nicely drawn. She also seems to possess the action chops to fulfill the role requested of her in this particular iteration of "Star Trek." These sorts of action star bona fides haven't really been necessary since TOS, but I guess it's fine. I also quite liked Alison Pill's energy as Dr. Jurati. She convinced me that she has an inner life, emotional responses to events, and a back story. Whether the script pays off her acting ability remains to be seen.

Kevin: I was initially concerned we would get a tired "Born Sexy Yesterday" femme fatale riff with this character, but I agree that Briones really nailed a vulnerability and a "normalness" that helps set off the action sequences. I found myself surprisingly affected when she mentions that she had been accepted to the Daystrom Institute but knows that life isn't happening now. She managed to pack a lot into those line readings and, like Stewart really, it helps carry the scene over a too thin setup. Also agreed on Jurati. She seemed like a solid riff on the dedicated but not insane scientist of olde TNG. It leaves a lot of room for the character to expand.

Production Values

Matthew: We are given a very nice CGI rendition of the Enterprise D in Picard's dream sequence. The de-aging of Data is... there on screen. I would rather Picard had just dreamed an old Data, frankly. It makes just as much sense and would not pull me out of the story by making me look at Uncanny Valley stuff.

Kevin: It's the jowls. No offense to Brent Spiner. He has aged fine for a normal human, but obviously does not look like he did twenty five years ago. Who does, honestly? Letting him age would be the cleaner solution. I liked the D and I liked the rebuild of Ten Forward, though. I'm also going to say I genuinely liked the opening credits. The music was pretty and had undercurrents of things that serve the show. The imagery itself quite beautiful. It's also not Faith of the Heart, so there we go.

Matthew: So far, the aesthetic of the world is a better modernization of prior styles than has been achieved post-2009. It seems less "in your face" and more peripheral. Little touches are enough. The architecture of the future is still stereotypical and bland. I don't really understand why designers think every future city will look like present-day Dubai. But whatever. It's all well done, from a technical standpoint.

Kevin: I watched the Short Trek Children of Mars just before sitting down to this, and I think they struck a good balance, informed by twenty years of ubiquitous technology for how Trek level tech would kind of be everywhere in a way that TNG couldn't. It stopped short of full on Minority Report, but had a lived in feel that works. I agree on Boston, but there were a few touches I enjoyed, like the Golden Gate Bridge now covered in solar panels. I like the main building for the Daystrom Institute, but the floating building (apparently in the atmosphere and not orbit) felt a bit much. "It's like a normal building but much more difficult to maintain!)

And above all: no lens flare. That's the real victory.


Conclusion

Matthew: It's head and shoulders above Discovery, but that's not exactly ringing praise. I can see it going south in very Discovery ways very quickly, and I hope it doesn't. I wish we could have episodic Star Trek, but apparently the TV Gods have decreed that appointment programming must be serialized. As such, it appears we're in for yet another ten episode "plot" with two episodes worth of actual story and 5 hours of fight scenes. It also seems like we're in for another season of Kurtzman-y "SHOCK TWIST" storytelling. But, Picard at least feels like the same character, there haven't been any grotesque retcons (failing to mention Lal or Lore notwithstanding), and the world mostly feels right. This actually seems like a place that, while it may have strayed from its utopian worldview, still has credible proponents of that worldview within it. If this show is about Picard showing the Federation what it should still believe in, that's a show I can get behind. As far as ratings go, I think this is a 3, but this is, probably necessarily, a provisional rating. Because of (sigh) serialized storytelling, we cannot realistically appraise story elements that have been given to us in mere dribs and drabs. Will they bear fruit? Will they be sufficiently developed and concluded? Who knows. I certainly have my doubts, given the pacing and tone of this episode, and the prior ten years of filmed Trek.

Kevin: The acting and production values alone would put this at a 4. The story has some neat ideas, but I remain concerned that the space ninja acid blood explosions will always crowd out the time and space needed to develop them, and on story alone this would get a 3. I am going with a 4 as an act of the optimism I would ask the creators of Trek to return to. I did genuinely and consistently enjoy myself and I am interested in where the show is going. So, in grand Picard fashion, I am lowering my shields as a sign of good will. So that is a total of 7.

6 comments:

  1. That picture is not of someone being kicked in the head. Learn your anatomy! ;)

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    1. Well, ACTUALLY, I typed face.

      Did you watch it?

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  2. Definitely interested to read your review of this episode, because I've been getting really mixed messages about 'Picard'. I heard/saw it summarized as "Picard finally retires and achieves his dream of returning to his family's vineyard... And then hates it after a week" which cracked me up and fit with how I remembered the character. Then I saw the trailer on YouTube and it felt very 'Blade Runner', but I wondered if they weren't just playing that up that side of it to make a cool-looking trailer.

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    1. The trailer is quite representative of the final product. It's an action movie. A decent one, to be sure, but tonally quite different than a TNG episode.

      If anything, Blade Runner has more development of character and theme, because the scenes tend to run longer without interruption by action.

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  3. Yeah no. I do not recognize any shows outside of TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT as real Trek. The 2009 garbage reboot by Abrams and Kurtzman was pretty much the beginning of the end for Star Trek as we know it for me.

    For the past decade i have been holding out hope that someone who knows, understands and cares about Trek aside from just a shiny line-item on their resume cause it sounds cool to say you worked on Star Trek, would revive the show and pick up where DS9 and Voyager left off and bring us back classic Star Trek in the same tone and format as we've known it during its height in the 90s.

    But i think those days (and with it opportunities) are forever gone and all we can expect are these stylized, shiny, flashy, hollow reboots. Even plastering the name Picard doesnt save it.

    These arent quality shows, these are feeble attempts by marketing departments of big studios to cash in on the Trek franchise. I mean the transition between TOS and TNG worked well and then they created this coherent universe with total cross over potential and intact continuity with TNG, DS9 and VOY.

    It was 3 different series but it was like you were looking at each series on a screen separately but could see characters and events crossing from screen one to the other without problem. See Worf in TNG and
    DS9, see Maquis...Even Enterprise in 2001 made sense since it was different enough to justify the set up and get ups but still had a lot in common with the canon in terms of continuity. In other words, I bought the timeline and that it took place some 200 years before the events of TNG and Co.

    These new reboots in the form of prequels and sequel make no sense and simply dont fit into the Trek world we know. Despite the better looking production values they feel like cheap copies focused on entirely the wrong things. Patrick Stewart should never have signed on to do this. He completely Picard and I am going to pretend none of this happened. They must have given him a shitton of money I guess but I am out.

    Thanks but no thanks.

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    1. You're not going to get much argument from me, Ellen. Although I think Picard is thus far the best of post-2009 nuTrek, that's kind of like claiming that Tito was better than Hitler or Stalin. It's still a shallow, idea-free, gratuitously violent and frenetic zombie version of the thing we actually love.

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