Captain Picard is back and he drinks decaffeinated Earl Grey now. Star Trek: Picard, which premiered a few days ago, was about what I expected; the bland product of a committee of panicked writers and producers. And into the fray wanders Patrick Stewart, whose stipulation for returning was that Starfleet turn out to be dark.
The new show, Stewart says, “was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”
Which is not in itself a bad idea, though it is a little bit like saying, “What if we did a production of Macbeth but everyone was dressed like it was World War II?” Which Patrick Stewart did, by the way, and it’s pretty good, as you might imagine, and it’s available on Amazon Prime. But it was around 40 years after his friend Ian McKellen more famously did the same thing. And McKellen’s version is famous for his performance, not the costumes, which were already old hat in the 70s.
The anachronistic costume for Shakespeare is kind of an institution for which World War II costumes are a stratum to themselves. And with Star Trek, it’s been over twenty years since Section 31 was introduced as producers boldly decided to steer Deep Space Nine away from Gene Roddenberry’s vision. As much as I love DS9, the decision was effectively to make Star Trek a bit more like virtually every other space opera since Star Wars. And in terms of the history and political psychology of a system grown complacent and rotten, Star Trek doesn’t have anywhere near the same cohesive groundwork as George Lucas gave the Star Wars prequels, just one new producer and showrunner after another who said, “Hey, what if we make it dark?”
Of course, this is why The Orville has felt like such breath of fresh air. Maybe now we have some insight into why Seth MacFarlane’s comedy/drama space opera is essentially the only Seth MacFarlane film or series with which Patrick Stewart hasn’t been involved.
But while making the Federation less than a utopia is hardly a new idea, it’s certainly no deal breaker for me. The essential problem with the premiere episode is similar to Star Trek: Discovery and the Transformers films—too much chorus, not enough verse. We barely meet the beautiful Dahj (Isa Briones) before she sees a loved one murdered and she’s forced on the run, meeting briefly with Picard at his vineyard and pleading for his help before she predictably absconds from the guest quarters. Reports that the show would bear some similarity to Logan seem to be true as we find out she’s a hypertalented martial artist with super strength, part of a dangerous race of synthetics hated for being what they are. She’s also in some sense the daughter of Data (Brent Spiner) who really ought to have been de-aged for the dream sequences.
Wow, that hairline sure looks weird. Brent Spiner has commented in the past he wouldn’t return for the role because Data has to look like he hasn’t aged. I wonder if he was promised he would be de-aged but the decision was vetoed in post-production. Maybe it just didn’t seem worth someone taking a pay-cut?
I like the idea of Picard on his vineyard with his two loyal Romulan servants, like a retired Victorian general who brought home some Indian assassins to serve him tea. It’s wonderfully pulpy and marvellously politically incorrect though I wonder if this occurred to any of the producers. This from Michael Chabon, who once wrote an essay arguing that The Lord of the Rings engages in racist tropes.
I’ll stick with Picard and I hope it gets better. Right now, though, it feels like a hyperactive remix of the Next Generation episodes “The Offspring” and “Descent”.
Twitter Sonnet #1321
In threes the witches grant a word.
Appointed meets produce a moulded man.
Resounding wind on metal late was heard.
Beneath the sun the hills were turned to tan.
Appliance sales reflect the gleaming fridge.
No power cords could lift the blender up.
Rebellious toasters lined the oven ridge.
Excessive tea o’erwhelmed the coffee cup.
Considered lights were extra hard to hit.
Upset the salt and dusty tables form.
Surpassing forks consumed the silver kit.
Potato thoughts have kept the foil warm.
Decaffeinated tea’s a replica.
With kettles froze in tested silica.