Patrick Stewart Money?

Encounter at Midpoint: just what the h(olod)eck is going on in Picard?

Luke Whiston

6th March 2020

I'm finding Picard a very difficult show to place - part mawkish reverence, part campy nostalgia, quite a lot of waiting for that classic TNG vibe to kick in. Will it ever settle on a tone? I'm not the hugest Trekkie but back in the day The Next Generation was perfectly timed for getting in from school, doing your homework, then sticking on Sky One to have an adventure with Jean-Luc and the crew of the Enterprise D, hopefully learning something about the nature of humanity (or at the very least a holodeck episode where they're all wearing period costumes). So there's a lot of fondness there. And sure all my friends were out smoking and necking, but who are they going to call on to arbitrate grave matters of existentialism? Probably not me as I've fallen out of contact with many of them in the 20 years since. I wonder if they've ever looked me up and seen I write about Star Trek on the internet now? Oh God, I've wasted my life!

I guess it was a compromise: resurrect one of Trek's most beloved characters with the actual actor in the role, but it has to be done in that way modern shows are structured with a huge multi-episode arc and not enough meat to fill the space between. That's a bit of an assumption as Amazon's series is only halfway through, and the remainder might be the most amazing TV show ever created. But seeing as it took until about episode 4 for Picard to finish assembling his crew and get them all on a spaceship I don't think they're in any huge rush to go anywhere, no matter how boldly.

Wish fulfilment is a dangerous game to play though, so with five episodes down what have we actually got? The plot revolves around a captured Borg cube currently being excavated (that is almost definitely going to power up at some point), Romulan ninjas trying to either kill everyone or save everyone (it's hard to tell because they're actually rubbish and keep getting killed themselves), and Picard trying to trace a young engineer, Soji, who may be the key to everything, and who also might be Data's secret daughter (nobody ever said he didn't have a working penis - but who did they load him up with hmmm?).

It's all very disjointed and overly thready, leading up to several convergences that are going to feel about as organic as Milton Keynes when they eventually meet. All the classic Trek tropes are there, however - "tropes" not meant in a negative sense in this case, as these were the hooks we tuned in for daily and grew to love - even managing to incorporate some of the celebrated naval air by making Picard an Admiral who quit his post in disgust at the actions of the Federation, echoing those classical clashes we associate with seahardy men of honour caught between duty and ethics.

It's the good shit aka Proper Star Trek, and it's woven throughout by making Picard a walking slab of human common sense. He was always that in the original show but now with motives closer to home driving him, he's using his commanding interpersonal skills to complete a quest that could mean as much to him as to the future of the universe - albeit without Starfleet's blessing. In essence he's gone rogue, which is an exciting prospect for daring escapades, but Patrick Stewart is also nearly 80 years old so don't expect any trampette somersaults. Happy to see that happen in the remaining episodes.

Picard's moral stance seems to have made him a divisive public figure in this future, finding him a target of scorn in some quadrants and praise in others - meaning wherever he goes his reputation precedes him, so we never know what kind of reception he's going to get, but he's definitely going to get one. Subsequently the most interesting event so far is our first away mission, which consisted of Picard beaming down to a planet on his own and getting into trouble by asking the locals to please stop being racists.

Naturally Picard's request didn't go down well because racists are awful wherever they are, and the samurai boy who I'm just about keeping tabs on because he's so dull (going to turn out to be Picard's son, right? Because everyone in this show is being geared up for a dramatic reveal) had to step in to save the day. P.s. I've convinced myself anyone under two-thirds of Picard's age has been fathered by him in some way, so basically most of the characters are going to find that out in the second half of the series. He got around the universe in the original show, so it's perfectly plausible.

Easily the worst event so far is our second away mission, in episode 5. Remember what I said about fun period costume episodes? This was kind of like that but no fun at all, with Jean-Luc adopting a terrible fake accent to play dress-up in a scheme to rescue a human-sized MacGuffin, and there wasn't a malfunctioning holodeck in sight. I honestly can't believe it was filmed and put on TV. Actually worse than all of that is the Soji/Narek romance plot, pointlessly needled out to pad episodes before one of them betrays the other - an inevitability telegraphed since the pair first met.

In fact there are lots of contenders for "worst bit": the Borg ritual ice skating scene, the swearing and youthy dialogue, the video games that look like your mum designed them (it was cool in Star Wars but not here, sorry), everything being five times too long. It's a show that can't help itself. Although a very brief snippet hinting at Picard nearly getting caught looking at porn on his computer made me laugh, even if it was surplus. Surely one of you nerds is going to edit this into a more concise film-length download? If not why are you even on the internet - for fun? Nobody does that anymore.

So is Picard worth sticking around for? It's clearly not your daddy's show, going for duration over getting things done and warping the hell out, with any intellectual debate shoehorned in like trying to get Worf's head in a bike helmet. Unless the bike helmet came from his home planet. Having already met Voyager/TNG regular Seven of Nine, we've still got the promise of Riker and Troi to tickle our nostalgia bone. I'd be surprised if that was anything more than pure fan service - although arguably the entire show exists because of fan service anyway.

The resolution to Borg cube/Romulan ninjas/Soji is the only real point of interest that seems to exist beyond "look - it's Patrick Stewart!" and may yet prove an interesting addition to Trek lore, if not expanding on what makes Trek Trek. Speculation is that Soji will become some sort of super Borg queen, so it would be a natural step for the Federation and Romulus to seek reconciliation in the face of a new galactic threat. The Klingons will want in on it too if that happens, so hopefully we'll see a Bird of Prey de-cloak. I'm much cooler than this in real life I swear.

And what of ex-Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, formerly of the USS Enterprise: will he make it to the end or see his reputation restored, or even have to make a distressing choice that'll wipe out an elderly Geordi and O'Brien on some hedonistic retirement planet? Will we see The Enterprise? Will every ship in Trek canon turn up at once for a big space battle like in The Rise of Skywalker? Have Amazon already ordered another series? I've written too much now not to follow this up, so I guess we'll meet back here in 5 weeks time. To infinity, and beyond!

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