Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Star Trek: Picard Dumpster Flambé

You may recall that I was a wee bit critical of Star Trek: Picard's first season on account of how the story didn't make any sense. Of course I wasn't angry at the show. It didn't hurt my feelings. I was just disappointed that I wasn't able to enjoy something I thought I was going to like.

Now, I'm going to talk a lot about story and character and all that stuff, but I should point out that I am a fairly nerdy Star Trek fan. I have all the tech manuals and I've read each of them cover to cover many times. I actually understand what all the technobabble means. I regularly pause episodes to scrutinize the LCARS panels. And I shared the disappointment of people who acted like Season One's main failing was that big fleet of identical, hastily-rendered Starfleet vessels in the finale. But ultimately those things are just minor details. Complaining about them would be like complaining that the flames shooting out of the Hindenburg were the wrong color.

But I'm not comparing Star Trek: Picard to the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg actually flew for a while before it burst into flames.

So, what's Season Two of Star Trek: Picard about? Isn't THAT the million-dollar question? Stories told in fairly compact chunks, like two-hour movies or one-hour episodes of older TV programs like Star Trek: The Next Generation (to pick a totally random example), always tell you what they're about pretty early in the story. But for some reason, people who write for this show think it's a really great idea to tease the actual point of the story for as long as possible. I'm not saying that nothing happens in Season Two, far from it. All kinds of things happen. So many things! But we don't understand the point of it all until the season is 90 percent over.

And what's the point?

Well, it's all about how Picard has never been able to settle down and commit to a woman because of a deep, dark childhood trauma. Now, you might think that being assimilated by the Borg or tortured by the Cardassians or getting his brain zapped by an alien probe that made him live an entire lifetime in 45 minutes would've messed him up way more than anything that could've happened to him growing up on a vineyard in France about two hundred years after war, poverty, and disease were eliminated on Earth. But that's because you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, and whoever decided on this storyline obviously did not.

No, Picard's big trauma, which is endlessly teased and hinted at but not fully explained until episode 9 of a 10-episode season, is that his mom was mentally ill but refused all treatment, and one day after a particularly bad episode, his dad locked in her in her room until he could get her some help. But she pleaded with Jean-Luc to let her out, and since he was too young to understand what was going on he used a skeleton key to unlock her door, and she went to the atrium and hung herself.

But an unfocused time-travel caper to the year 2024 makes it all better, and before returning to the 25th century Picard deliberately leaves the skeleton key where his little-kid self will find it in the future so his mom can get out of her room and commit suicide. Unburdened of his trauma, he goes home to make out with his new girlfriend in the very room where his mommy killed herself! I mean, do I even HAVE to talk about how grotesquely sociopathic and horrible this is? 

I would truly love to find out exactly how this turd sandwich was made. We'll probably never get the whole story, but to me it has all the symptoms of an ego trip vanity project like the movies of Neil Breen (which he writes, directs, and stars in). If you sit through a Neil Breen film (or even a humorous Internet review of one) two things are clear:
  1. Mr. Breen sincerely believes that he makes movies to communicate the Big Important Ideas in his brain.
  2. None of his ideas are all that big or important, and he is not very good at using the medium of film to communicate them.
For example, in his movie Fateful Findings, Neil Breen's character gets hit by a car and gains incredible computer hacking powers, which he uses to make the shocking discovery that politicians take money in exchange for political favors, and big bank executives manipulate the financial system to make themselves very rich! Neil exposes their wrongdoing to the world, which somehow leads to a press conference scene where all the politicians and corporate executives take turns stepping up to the lectern, confessing to their crimes, and immediately committing suicide while Neil Breen stands off to the side and smiles like an idiot. Obviously Breen was trying to say something meaningful about societal injustice, but managed to do it a clunky, ham-handed manner that made him look like an awkward sociopath.

In the same way, this season of Picard was trying to say something meaningful about how grief and trauma can keep us rooted to a point in our past. But in the process they had Captain Picard deliberately enable the suicide of his mentally ill mother, and this was framed as a good thing! It's no less ghoulish than Neil Breen standing there with his creepy, vacant smile while a procession of people step up to a press conference and shoot themselves!

If anyone is to blame for all this I have a hunch it's Sir Patrick Stewart. Sir Patrick is a great actor. He's better at acting that I will ever be at anything. His success has earned him a hefty amount of clout, which translates into creative control over the projects he chooses to do. But here's the thing: he's only good at acting

All the other stuff that goes into a writing and producing a TV show call for several different skill sets. And just because someone is good at one or two of those things doesn't mean they're good at all of them. Patrick Stewart had little or no control over his character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it was a huge hit. But as soon as they started making movies, he got creative control, and his notes on the scripts almost always made things worse. Brent Spiner once joked that the main difference between the TV show and the movies was that fewer people saw the movies.

I'm willing to bet that even fewer people are watching Star Trek: Picard.