This is the second part of the first season review covering episodes 4-7, you can find part one, here.
With the lethargy of the first chapter reaching its conclusion in the first tranche of episodes, Picard was off into the frontier, arriving into an overwhelming atmosphere of hostility and resentment. The series is ostensibly framed around the premise of the legacy of this particular character, the trajectory of his life after the events of the last motion picture. As noted in the first chapter, in the set up to the series, Stewart was adamant this new chapter in the life of Picard needed to be different from what we had experienced before. Referencing Logan as an example, that perhaps set expectations of the direction of travel for the series, a once great character in his twilight years on one last voyage into the stars. This series may perhaps be looking for a similar trajectory for its central titular character but arguably, it has some way to go in giving this person the final destination he deserves. Fuelled in part by this seeming anger a great many inhabitants hold towards him based on actions, as an audience, we are left to speculate on and piece together.
The destruction of Romulus as witnessed in the 2009 movie was a mechanism to divert that particular timeline and narrative away from the history we had been witness to for decades prior. That every subsequent series has established itself in the ‘Prime Timeline’ would suggest an attempt to appeal to its core base who were, agitated at best at the decisions and vision of that series. By basing Picard at this point in time it provided an opportunity to link the series together with that framing device, but given the actions of the Enterprise crew in Nemesis, the sacrifice of Data to ensure some semblance of peace was maintained, its baffling to witness this animosity that exists towards him. Perhaps it’s all an allegory for white guilt and the refugee crisis on the South American and European borders and how Western society despite its virtuous goals and ambitions bares more responsibility than it cares to admit. Nonetheless, a great deal of animosity exists towards Picard and his first venture into the frontier comes across as an exercise in story building as another addition is made to the La Sirena crew in the form of Elnor, a victim of reverse gender discrimination. Picard continues its trend of challenging expectations.
The addition of Jeri Ryan into the role of Picard and her return as Seven was a great addition and one of the highlights of the launch trailer. That said, the series has a penchant for the murder and death of the series secondary and supporting characters, Ichebs horrific death in the opening moments of episode 5 with his torture and mercy kill felt like the series appealing to a different audience and killing off a generally well received character from that franchise. It gives context and motivation towards Seven in her quest to revenge his murder but equally, now pushes her into the antithesis of who she when we last saw her at the end of Voyager. The interactions and conversations with Picard were one of the series highlights for me to date, I really enjoyed their closing conversation when they discussed humanity and whether Picard had found that aspect of himself after his assimilation. To tangent for one moment, The Next Generation excelled in producing the episode Family after the Best of Both Worlds as it was, for that time, a great allegory to personal violation and victimhood with Picard recovering from being used and violated by the Borg. First Contact touched on that and this was a great exchange to call back to those events.
Sadly, the events on the planet below in providing comic relief felt at odds with the tone of the character we had come to know, not just Picard but Seven as well. Her callous murder and violence in revenge for Icheb’s death at odds at the individual we knew. Picards turn at playing the comedic French space pirate an odd decision, not a trait of his personality we had seen before as despite the opening moments and setting he is an English actor playing a very, English gentleman role. The difficult aspect of this comedic storyline to accept is, we have this menace on the horizon of the Borg Cube with the Romulan threat that cannot progress until Picard and the crew of the La Sirena arrive. As such whatever momentum and progress is a crawl to witness and will continue to be until they get into gear and actually get on with their original mission. That Seven’s appearance is constrained so far to this sole episode was a questionable choice considering their destination for the next episode was the Borg cube, will she return? perhaps later in the series. It just came across as a contractual choice as opposed to fitting the narrative purpose.
Turning to the Borg Cube, the menace of this once feared enemy has been neutered somewhat the longer we spend watching Soji and her interactions with Narek and by implication his sister Narissa. I really, could have enjoyed this series more if they hadn’t pushed the Game of Thrones incest trope that sleeping and flirting with your sibling is appealing in any way shape or form. Given the medieval setting of the former series you could tolerate it to an extent, in the enlightened 24th century to have it once more is baffling, especially in a series such as Star Trek which was always a presentation of an optimistic future for humanity. The best villains in the series to date haven’t groped or fondled their siblings, this entire history between the two characters just comes across as a way to draw cheat heat in presenting them as the 24th century Lannister household. Given the English accents of the two lead Romulans, it’s hard not to see this parallel between the two series the show’s writers are attempting to push. With the arrival of Picard to the Cube thankfully that focus was pushed into the background.
The sixth episode presented the best of the series to date, dealing perhaps with familiar themes we had seen before, it was still one of the highlights, aided of course by the acting and performance of Stewart of putting himself into a situation and location where he was violated and transformed and overcoming that fear. The use of clips and imagery from the feature films was a welcome addition, I am glad whatever legalities and rights issues were resolved to allow this to happen. We haven’t yet seen a character beyond the Romulans and Vulcans who in truth only have slight aesthetic difference to humans, to upset the core base. All the xB’s, former drones, are nearly entirely devoid of technology, Seven for her part had the same appearance and appendages of her Voyager days. It side steps the frustration of the Klingon appearance in Discovery, negating that perhaps earlier in the season and this episode by using images of Worf and Picard as a drone to canonise those visuals. The pace of the narrative escalated in this episode, which felt like a relief, there were quite a few nice references to prior events, the portal from Voyagers first season serving as an escape mechanism. The interaction between Hugh and Picard was a touching moment though a missed opportunity to reference Geordi given the bond they shared.
The seventh episode served a similar function to the aforementioned ‘Family’ and allowed the central characters of Soji and Picard to have catharsis with his former crew mates from the Enterprise. This was a touching and poignant episode that served to remind the main character of who he was and the impact in being that persona had on those around him. I really enjoyed this episode, as a coda to the Borg episode it was touching and a great performance from Frakes and Sirtis. It solidified that bond forged as a family who had spent the best years of their lives together and who clearly still meant something to each other. I adored their daughter Kestra, another throwback and reference to Troi’s elder sister, she is a great addition to the Star Trek canon, one of the very rare child characters I actually found enjoyable to watch as it played certain aspects of the naivety angle to great effect in her interaction with Soji without detriment to her own being. It allowed the characters to breath and grow, the shadow of sadness that hangs over the household is also well written and relatively subtle in its impact on the episode in contrast to other events.
The best moments of this series, from a personal perspective has from the legacy characters, their interactions and moments of dialogue. The discussion on humanity between Picard and Seven was touching, the moments between Picard and Riker and Troi equally moving given the passage of time that has passed from the opening moments of the pilot episode. Unfortunately, tempered somewhat by the shock deaths and violence, Hugh and Icheb being killed as they were presumably to elicit unease in the audience but lacking any real emotive resonance beyond fatigue at death for death’s sake. Soji’s connection to Data, and honestly her growth as a character throughout the series has been refreshing, helped ably by Kestra and the connection between the two. You hope desperately this is leading to a satisfactory conclusion or resolution, Picard is able to atone for a measure of the gult felt and directed towards him by the Romulan refugees earlier in the series for his perceived inactions. The implied return of Seven and the death of Hugh could have an interesting impact on the series in its final three episode. For now, it continues along its trajectory of great moments with mediocre narrative juxtaposition.
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