Saturday, February 1, 2020

Picard, Season 1: Maps and Legends, Season 1
"Maps and Legends"
Airdate: January 30, 2020
2 of 10 produced
2 of 10 aired


Picard resolves to discover who murdered Dahj. To do so, he seeks help from Starfleet, and when that fails, from his old friends who happened not to be on TNG.

Hey baby. How much time was supposed to have passed between this and our last scene?


Kevin: Well, that happened fast. I'm not trying to be a downer, but it seems like all of the qualifications we gave with our praise of the first episode have come to pass. Nothing really... happened in this episode beyond a few oblique conversations that hint at the possibility of a story later. Twenty percent of the season is gone and Picard has only assembled 1.5 members of his team and every plot got a tiny, tiny bit of advancement, leaving an episode that wasn't really about anything, beyond Picard's sense of outrage at what happened to Dahj, and disconnection from current Starfleet, which we both already knew. The android scene at the top revealed literally nothing new. It just all feels like if someone went from the first to the third episode they probably wouldn't lose anything not covered on the "previously on..."

Matthew: I truly derive no pleasure from saying "I told you so...." but I definitely do recall telling you so. I so wanted this show to be the more of good half of the pilot episode. Instead, it was mostly the bad parts. Now, was it bogged down by incessant fight scenes? No. So that's a positive aspect. The flashback to Utopia Planitia should have been shown briefly during the newscast last episode. Speaking of "Assembling the team," the overwhelming feeling I got here was "we have to explain why none of the TNG cast will be in this." We get a doctor Other Than Crusher telling Picard he has a syndrome Other Than Irumodic. We are given an argument, and a bad one at that, for why Picard would never ask Riker or Troi or Geordi or Worf to come along with him. "Because they would do it for him and put themselves at risk?" Instead, he needs people who "kind of hate him." Can I ask just what the hell that is supposed to mean? Picard is literally putting himself at risk for a dead friend. Why is his sacrifice appropriate while his friends doing the same would not be? It's just a dumb explanation for why they went with cheaper actors.

Kevin: The plot is clearly starting to get bogged down in itself. We have the Romulan Section 31-equivalent extra secret state police. We have the commodore and whatever she is doing. And we have whatever is going on with Borg. It's too much conspiring too early on, and it doesn't feel interesting; it just feels leaden. The problem is less the overlapping conspiracies, it's that none of the characters get sketched out enough to make them matter. Commodore Oh might be an interesting person, but none of that was on the screen. What is her goal? Why should I care? Why should I care if the fake Romulan lieutenant lives or dies? None of that information is on the screen. I've been thinking a lot about DS9, since that seems to be the knee jerk response to any criticism of tone in later Trek. I love DS9 and it is my second favorite series behind TNG. What I think works there, aside from a better balance for individual episodes inside the larger arcs, is that all the conspiracies and darkness were still anchored in the characters. Take some of the biggest twists of the series, Cardassia joining the Dominion and cliffhanger/premiere with Gowron as an alleged changeling. They worked because they both declared the twists quickly and then focused on how the characters we already cared about responded to the twists, rather than dragging out with the twists were. I can't help but imagine that if DS9 were written by these writers, we would have gotten six episodes of Dukat having oblique conversations with a handler instead of dropping the bomb and then focusing to the crackling conversations with Kira or Sisko about what he had done. Ultimately, in one episode, they did such a good job obscuring everyone's motives and goals that I don't actually care what they are. It's not irredeemable, and this may just be a table setting episode for something better to come, but it's hard not to feel...meh...about it.

Matthew: I can just picture Alex Kurtzman in the writers room. "OK guys, we need something really cool and threatening and SECRET." Someone who has actually watched Star Trek chimes in : "How about the Tal Shiar? They seemed really badass in DS9." Kurtzman: "I like where your head is at. But you know what's even cooler than a secret police force? A DOUBLE SECRET POLICE FORCE." If this Extra Super Secret is so secret, and so DANGEROUS that it might just break your brain, how can Laris deliver a ten minute info dump dissertation on it, with no brain breakage in evidence (with the possible exception of my own)? And their motive is... opaque at best? They hate synthetics (I guess that's what we call androids now, despite it being a vaguer term that seems to encompass holograms as well). Their whole raison d'ĂȘtre is to destroy synthetics? Where have they been for the last thirty years? Where were they during Nemesis? Did they finally finish up their work on Romulan society and only just now are moving on to the Federation? And can we talk about what a stupid scene Laris was given overall? Now, many a Trek episode has had a technobabble interlude, but this was like four consecutive babble scenes. We get Galaxy's Number One Hacker Laris and Magic Time Rewinding Machine Laris and I just started laughing and checking out mentally halfway through. Was there really no way for them to dramatize this stuff? The other big scene in this episode was Picard's meeting with Admiral Not-Nechayev-For-Some-Reason. Just what did he expect out of that meeting? Did he really expect to be given a ship and a crew? If so, he is far more naive than his character has ever been previously. What did he expect when he announced "I want your permission to break what is apparently the galaxy's biggest new law, which will probably destroy your career if you say yes." If, on the other hand, he did not expect it to be successful, why go and divulge all of that information to a potentially hostile antagonist? It's manifestly foolish. It just feels the writers wanted one more "Picard gives a speech about how Starfleet has lost its way" speech. As far as the Romulans in Starfleet go (and I took Commodore Oh to be a Romulan by the way), at least they're revealing it now, as opposed to waiting 9 episodes and pulling it out of their collective asses then.

Kevin: The Borg stuff is starting to kill momentum. Not to harp on our thesis that episodic television has a place in the world, but one episode doing this work might really help salvage why we're supposed to care about any of this. And while I certainly and in no position to throw stones from my glass house on the subject of sleeping with someone early in a relationship, Soji seems to know literally nothing but Narek's name. It again feels like they are delaying any kind of real discussion to ramp tension, but it only makes me wish the Romulans had killed Soji leaving Dahj, a character I did already care about to join Picard on a quest for justice/vengeance.

Matthew: Everything else in this series has been exposited to death. This is... some sort of "reclamation project?" How and why are non-Romulans here at all? If the Romulans are in control of this site, why do they allow any outsiders? I just don't get it, and this whole aspect of the story annoys me. Is there supposed to be some ethical question that simply eludes me at this point? And yes, moving from "saying hi on a balcony" to "knocking boots" was a very abrupt transition.


Kevin: The acting continues to be good. Laris is a particular standout for me. Her Romulan CSI bit and her super secret Romulan police story she just happens to know are the height of inorganic exposition dumps but she was clearly delivering like a pro. It makes me wish this was classic TNG and I could look forward to "Laris' Day" where she, I don't know.... goes to the market and maybe takes a painting class before engaging in some light intrigue.

Matthew: Yeah. Everyone they're getting for the most part is killing it with what they're given. Even Isa Briones is able to surmount her character's odd choices and be charming and engaging to watch. Peyton List was interesting as the Romulan agent. The only misfire for me was Ann Magnuson's Admiral Clancy. The script wasn't doing her any favors, but I did not get any sort of nuance from her line readings.

Kevin: Patrick Stewart continues to act the hell out of his scenes, but the scene with the admiral really fell flat for me. He's a gifted diplomat and tactician, so it seems a little odd that he would think 'condescending from jump' was a solid strategy. He didn't even back up his claims with the little evidence he had. I kept thinking how much better these scenes worked with Admiral Necheyev. She was a hardass who didn't fawn over Picard, but their scene crackled with an energy born of two fully realized characters with organically opposing viewpoints, rather than an admiral whose liner notes just said "be mean and swear because it's streaming not network."

Matthew: Yeah, I don't know if the script is trying to take us there, but I got shades of "All Good Things..." in those scenes, as if we are to take him as being somewhat cognitively unstable. So his acting was fine but not great for me.

Kevin: Narek looks so much like Ethan Peck's Spock that it's pulling me out of the episode. I don't have anything more substantive there, but there it is.

Matthew: I am with you completely on the resemblance being annoying. I'm kind of over the "rumpled Beatles-hairdo Romulans" look already. Also, the actor delivers his lines as if he has marbles in his mouth. If CBS All Access had better subtitles, it wouldn't be as annoying. But they don't, so there it is.

Production Values

Kevin: I will continue to praise the show for only allowing lens flare if and when light sources are on camera. My beef was the camera work generally. Everything was a dutch angle. It was as bad as Disco's upside down camera, but particularly in the scene with the Commodore, the camera jumped every two seconds to above or below the actress' bust line and it was chaotic and weird.

Matthew: The camera trick du jour in this show is "filming through blurred foreground objects." All told, I enjoyed the visual design on this episode for the most part. I liked the uniforms, I liked the Starfleet sets and locations, and I even liked the Borg cube. So visuals are far from my biggest concern, here.


Kevin: In case anyone is reading this in the future, on this day in history, the US Senate abrogated its duty to be a check on a corrupt, venal, and stupid President, so maybe I'm in a mood, but this is a two. Nothing was bad per se, but neither was there..anything. We get some filler that restates what we already knew and softly retcons the Romulans again with a belief that is somehow both fundamental to the people but also secret until now. It's the lazy writing that thinks twists have intrinsic value at the cost of character development. I didn't hate the episode, but at the end, the only thing I could say about it was that 45 minutes had passed.

Matthew: The first episode had me thinking about it for a few days afterward. That's usually a good sign. This episode had me struggling to remember what happened without a synopsis. That's a bad sign. It also was riddled with pointless profanity that added nothing to the scenes it was in. So I can't muster much beyond agreeing with your 2 for a total of 4. The level of gibberish and story salad on display here is not a positive portent.

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