9 Ways That Modern Star Trek Is Revitalising A Tired Franchise

With the release of new Star Trek properties, such as ‘Discovery’, ‘Picard’ and ‘Short Treks’, fans of the franchise have had mixed reactions. Some see the new products as a refreshing injection of modern media into an aging brand, whilst others do not believe that these new offerings measure up to older installments.

Arguments on social media repeatedly occur, often with the same points being made: either that these new shows are glitzy and glossy but ultimately shallow compared to old stories; or that Star Trek has always been awful trash, so modern iterations are simply staying on-brand by continuing that trend.

The truth is, Star Trek has been terrible since the beginning. It’s self-evident, and it’s actually a good thing that people like Alex Kurtzman and Michael Chabon and their new creative teams are refreshing the franchise to appeal to a broader audience in a more accessible way.

Here’s a list of all the ways that new Trek has been vastly improved over the last eleven years:


1 – The Special Effects

Cheesey, cheap special effects are a hallmark of classic Star Trek.

For example, do you remember how we would always see the same classes of ship over and over, because the studios were too hurried and poor to make more ship models?

For instance, in the top two images above, you can see all of the boring copy-paste fleets from Deep Space Nine’s ‘Call To Arms’, whilst the bottom two images show the benefit of a much more generous budget and the visual diversity to match it in Picard’s ‘Et In Arcadia Ego Pt. 2’.

(Which reminds me, have you noticed how much cooler the episode titles are in these new shows?)

The special effects in general are hugely improved. Take these two shots, from the 1996 movie ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ and the 2013 ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ nearly twenty years later. It’s clear just how far Star Trek has come visually in all of that time:

It’s pretty clear what kind of difference there is between a shitty cheap film with a budget of $75 million (adjusted) and a snazzy, glossy, expensive film with a budget of $190 million.


2 – The Cinematography

It’s not just the special effects that have benefitted from a modern, new, visionary creative team. Genius cinematographers, directors, grips and lighting designers have seen the show visually evolve beyond the drab, evenly-lit, flat-angled visual snooze fest in exciting and dynamic ways.

Just take a look at these shots from the older series:

I mean, just look at these dull, static shots, with the camera completely level. No tilting, no lens flair, no sweeping overhead shots. Just boring, careful positioning of the actors to show power dynamics and moral standings, so that the camera becomes part of the storytelling process.

Now look at what these newer shows have to offer, such as this shot from Discovery’s ‘Point Of Light’, which is UPSIDE DOWN as the cadets jog towards the camera, before it is followed with completely flat shots when Tilly starts having disturbing hallucinations:

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Or later in the same episode, when Burnham and Amanda walk down a corridor at a normal pace exchanging small talk, but the camera begins pointing at the ceiling and then revolves and twists around as though it were following an aerobatics display:

DISCO TILTED SIDEWAYS
This image isn’t cropped, by the way. Jump to time code 9:59 to see it for yourself. Or check out this scene from the first pilot episode, in which the camera sits at an angle for Every. Single. Shot.

‘Picard’ took things to a whole other level, by having this iconic scene from Picard’s ‘The Impossible Box’ in which a screenshot of Picard as Locutus is super-imposed over the face of an older Picard:

Picard Locutus Face

This kind of beautiful cinematography doesn’t come easily. In one beautiful image, we are shown that Picard was once Locutus, to remind people who watched ‘The Next Generation’ of what happened in that show. Without this incredible, visionary shot, you might easily forget that Picard was once Locutus, and that would require an entire extra line of dialogue later on to explain that fact.

Compare that to this terrible shot from ‘The Best Of Both Worlds’:

Picard BOBW 1

I mean, sure, the negative space around Picard might indicate his loneliness and isolation as a leader heading into a hopeless battle, and the fact that he has his back to the camera might be a subtle means of conveying a sense of departure, of stepping into the unknown, and the lighting might be set up to create deep shadows, adding to the sombre, foreboding tone of the scene. But you can’t even see Picard’s face! And there are no holographic computer terminals in sight. This is just cheap and boring.

Or how about this shot, from later in the same episode, where we first see the transformed Locutus up close:

Locutus BOBW

And I know you might be thinking, “Wow, the low angle implies dominance and power, whilst the identical drones close in beside him emphasise the collective consciousness of the Borg, and the sickly yellow lighting highlights their truly unnatural and disturbing nature.”

But the camera is completely level! The shot is just one static angle, no dollying or panning or zooming or spinning. Just one boring shot with cheap lighting that focuses more on visual storytelling than it does on showing off a big budget.

The only things that this kind of dull, old cinematography required was time and physical effort by dozens of people to carefully set up a scene and deliver a visual message. Such an amateur approach simply can’t compete with the glamour of countless hours of labour by underpaid CGI artists that show us one face superimposed over another face.


3 – Shorter Seasons

The fact is, the first season of every Star Trek series is always the worst, with the exception of the Original Series (because ‘Spock’s Brain’ exists).

But with the two new shows, ‘Discovery’ and ‘Picard’, the creators were able to condense the seasons down to more manageable levels, drastically increasing the quality of the series as a whole.

Take, for example, ‘The Next Generation’, which had a fairly terrible opening season all things considered. Of its 26 episodes, at least 18 of them were completely terrible, from the racially uncomfortable ‘Code Of Honour’ to the abominable ‘Encounter At Farpoint’.

TNG Season 1

That’s 18 terrible episodes out of 26. ‘Discovery’, on the other hand, had just 15 episodes in its first season, and only 12 of those were nauseatingly bad. This means that, sure, you’re getting fewer episodes overall, but you’re also getting fewer bad episodes, and that’s a marked improvement.

‘Picard’ doubles down on this tactic, with just 10 episodes in its first season, and only 9 of those were embarrassing to watch. That’s fully half the number of terrible first-season TNG episodes, which is an incredible achievement.

PIC Season 1


4 – Serialisation

The new shows have done away with that old-fashioned episodic storytelling in favour of serialised narratives, as pioneered in ‘Deep Space Nine’.

Whilst it’s still possible to dip in and out of older shows at random, not worrying too much about chronology, such casual enjoyment is no longer on the table for the new era of Star Trek.

Now, season-long arcs involving time travel, prophecies and deadly conspiracies mandate that audiences watch the full season in detail from start to finish.

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‘Deep Space Nine’ failed to commit to serialised storytelling, instead including one-off self-contained episodes scattered throughout its run. You might think that this was a sensible approach, granting the audience a change of pace and allowing lighthearted episodes to coexist alongside heavier, more serious storytelling without either one undermining the tone of the other.

But, as we can see in Picard’s ‘Stardust City Rag’, it’s far more efficient and jarring to simply lump everything together, forcing audiences to watch gruesome body horror before flipping over to comedic French accents and silly disguises within a matter of scenes.

This style of gripping, fearless storytelling is truly bringing Star Trek into the modern era.


5 – Better Stories

Throughout its run, Star Trek has mostly been concerned with the human condition. The most iconic Trek stories focusing on some aspect of our frail human lives, and rarely feature much of a “plot” at all. ‘Darmok’ is a spotlight on how easily we take communication for granted. ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is an examination of how evil deeds can be done merely by a series of tiny, incremental ethical compromises. ‘The City On The Edge Of Forever’ is a tale of fate and causality, of how our lives are unpredictable but never insignificant.

In the Pale Moonlight

But all of this “thematic” storytelling is really rather juvenile. To quote the two greatest television storytellers of our time:

themes

Ultimately, the kind of slow, plodding storytelling that used to work for old series of Star Trek just doesn’t cut it anymore. Take something like ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ from the last season of Deep Space Nine. Nothing happens! There is no mystery to be uncovered, no conspiracy, there aren’t even any fight scenes or spaceship battles. It’s just this stupid, boring character study of a young man dealing with the pain and trauma of a brutal war, which has left him grievously injured both physically and psychologically.

The writers of Discovery were smart enough to know that a story like that is wasted airtime, and so they take the same scenario, only it turns out that the traumatised soldier, Lorca, isn’t actually traumatised at all, but is actually a sociopathic racist from another dimension who is secretly trying to return to his home universe so that he can stage a coup and become a racist emperor. The physical wound that we believe he has is actually just a feature of his alternate-universe physiology.

swordlorca
Swords are more interesting than trauma.

This saves the audience from having to think about the story afterwards, or from empathising with any of the characters, or from changing how they think about an issue. Instead, we can just enjoy all of the awesome cliffhanger-reveals at the end of each episode, and then forget about all of it for the rest of our lives as soon as it’s over.


6 – Modern And Relatable Dialogue

With better stories comes a higher quality of writing overall. The writing teams behind the latest Star Trek stories have really brought Trek into a modern era, and the dialogue between characters is no exception.

Gone is the musty, stale superiority of old Old Trek Self-Righteousness full of pointless technobabble. Now we have relatable, believable dialogue between relatable, believable characters. Here are just a few examples:

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In the real world, most people do actually talk like idiotic teenagers, so I think it’s about time that the language of Star Trek was updated to be more relatable and in tune with audiences.

It’s easy to think that just because characters are aspirational, they’re somehow entertaining or fun, but really none of us characters we can look up to. We want gritty, emotional characters, who talk and act exactly as we do, worse even, because we want to relate to them.

We can see this direct improvement in the character of Seven Of Nine, who appears in both ‘Voyager’ and in ‘Picard’. In ‘Voyager’, she is recently rehabilitated from a collective consciousness, and has to learn what it means to be an independent human. She frequently brushes up against the seemingly arbitrary rules set by the other humans around her, and she struggles to cope with living in an environment of chaos and social nuance whilst at the same time trying to figure out who she is as a person.

Seven Dialogue 1
You might not be able to tell, because of the text, but this is yet another terrible bit of cinematography.

And there’s just nothing there to relate to, y’know? Like, how are we, as the audience, supposed to engage with a character like that?

What’s far more engaging is her revised and updated character in ‘Picard’, in which she has become a vigilante justice-seeker in the criminal underworld outside of civilisation who brutally murders multiple other women out of vengeance. And there is just so much more there for the audience, especially young members of the audience, to relate to.

Seven Dialoge 2
By copying and pasting a line that occurred earlier in the episode, dialogue automatically becomes thematic, even if the line wasn’t actually a point of conflict for the character and they were just saying it sarcastically.

Y’know, Seven was this eloquent, intelligent woman who chose her words carefully and deliberately when she expressed her frustrations at coping in a world in which she never grew up, and her continuing struggle to discover herself in the face of adversity was truly aspriational and touching. So it’s really refreshing for the writers of ‘Picard’ to dump that musty old nonsense and instead make her this badass gunslinging thug who expresses herself with violence and shouting instead. It’s way more relatable.

Really Rather Pretty


7 – Progressive Representation

Star Trek has always had a terrible track record with progressive representation. Women have always made up a minority of casts, and when present have often been sexualised and objectified far more than the men.

And that’s to say nothing for LGBTQ+ representation, which has largely been absent altogether.

Fortunately, the latest Star Trek media products have brought the franchise forwards by leaps and bounds. ‘Discovery’ was a show full of women, even if they hardly ever spoke to one another, and it even had two openly gay characters, Stamets and Culber. After just five episodes, it is revealed that these two are a couple, and we get to see them as a couple a good five or six times before Culber is killed off a few episodes later.

Culber Death
The second ever openly gay character in Star Trek – introduced in Episode 4, dead by Episode 10.

Fortunately, Culber is brought back part-way through Season Two of ‘Discovery’, and at the very end he decides that he wants to stick around with Stamets, so we’re absolutely probably going to see a gay relationship return to ‘Discovery’ in some form or another most likely at some point eventually.

‘Picard’ goes even further, with a full-on lesbian relationship between Seven and Raffi Musiker. You can see the relationship in full below:

Seven And Raffi
Really this should be tagged ‘NSFW’.

This is a resounding triumph for representation. To have two grown women clasp hands like this during a montage at the very end of the show demonstrates just how far Star Trek has come after so many decades. What’s even more incredible is that these two characters hardly interacted at any point before this, leaving their entire relationship a mystery to the audience, that we can gleefully imagine for ourselves just how beautifully this relationship would have been handled if it were actually in the show.

And it’s nearly as intimate a moment as the one between the same-sex couple two seconds earlier:

Hetero Kiss

Y’know, ‘Picard’ is a product that was released in 2020, and I think that really shows in the way that it nearly featured an on-screen same-sex relationship.

It also shows in the way that characters in ‘Picard’ repeatedly assume that powerful and competent individuals must be men so that the audience can be shocked when powerful and competent individuals turn out to be women.

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8 – A New Vision

One of the greatest strengths of Star Trek, and a key ingredient in the franchise becoming as iconic and meaningful to so many people as it has been, is the vision of the future that Star Trek presents.

Lets See

And that vision sucked. It was really weird and strange, and full of things like the eradication of poverty, egalitarianism, a human society dedicated to exploration and diplomacy. All the criminals we saw were somehow righteous and fighting for a moral cause, or WERE victims of some illness or trauma which caused them to behave violently. Money was a thing of the past, and the human condition had improved to the point that drink and drugs were social pastimes rather than damaging addictions.

And there would be problems in this vision. Senior officers would consistently be making uncomfortable, even unethical decisions, as part of the bigger picture of maintaining the Federation. Captains might go rogue when they weighed up a situation and reached the wrong conclusion. ‘Deep Space Nine’ spent entire seasons examining the costs associated with maintaining Utopia – of how, even in an enlightened future, difficult decisions still had to be made to preserve humanity’s achievements.

But there was always this curiosity to the franchise. A constant “What if…?” approach to the characters we saw. What if society really was better than it is in the modern day? What if human civilisation really had developed to the point that people pursued ambitious careers for ambitions’ sake? What if poverty and ignorance and prejudice no longer held humanity back, and instead allowed a multicultural community to flourish, full of artists and scientists and historians and explorers?

Science Fiction

Take Jean-Luc Picard. Probably his second-greatest pursuit, after his Starfleet career, was archaeology. He was passionate about the history of ancient cultures, and took every opportunity he could to learn more about the past. He collected relics and he treasured the artefacts he found. Out of the uniform, Picard was a curious, inquisitive scholar who was fascinated by the world around him.

Kurlan Naiskos

But, y’know, that’s just so boring. And so difficult for audiences to engage with. But thankfully, modern Star Trek is revitalising this vision and making it more modern and futuristic, by bringing it much closer to the vision of our current society.

Now, we have a vision of the future that’s full of drug addiction and alcoholism. People drink Budweiser and use Nokia phones, riding around in taxis (admittedly, space taxis) and talking about how much money they owe one another. Picard has given up on his pursuit of archaeology to instead lounge around on his massive estate like the rich person he is, whilst underpaid dock workers of the future behave exactly like underpaid dock workers of the present.

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Starfleet ships don’t explore anymore, they now do cool stuff like fight in wars and solve big mystery plots. Crews don’t spend their time playing instruments or cooking or composing poetry or any of that boring stuff, because now they go to bars and have bangin’ dance parties just like we all did in high school.

Wyclef Jean
That is genuinely the Netflix subtitle, I didn’t add that.

Essentially, people in the future aren’t different anymore. They’re just like us, and that’s so much better in so many ways. Nobody wants to watch a show about humanity’s potential to grow and develop – we just want to see mirrors of ourselves firing rayguns and flying spaceships. Society is essentially the same as it has always been, only with more teleporters and laser beams. And that’s so much more fun and interesting and… relatable.


9 – A Touch Of Class

Star Trek has always been a cheap, tacky entertainment franchise, so the last and most significant improvement that’s been brought about over the last decade has been a little je ne sais quoi, a little X-Factor, which has really elevated the franchise into a classy, refined artform.

twoholes2

There are so many subtle little ways that the new group of creators and producers have turned Star Trek into a respectable, classy affair.

Such as this adorable marketing campaign! Look at that little tyke, painting with Isa Briones, one of the actors from ‘Picard’! I’ll bet that little kid just loves Star Trek.

I wonder which was his favourite scene from the new show? Maybe it was this one, where a character played by Isa gets burned by acid?

Acid Burns

Or maybe this bit, where Icheb’s eye gets ripped out?

Eye Scream

Or maybe these scenes of suicide and self-multilation?

One the wall behind Isa and the kid is a picture of Captain Georgiou. I wonder if the kid also watched ‘Discovery’? I wonder if he enjoyed the bit where Mirror Georgiou describes her sexual experiences?

DEFCON

Or maybe this Klingon sex scene?

Klingon Sex Scene

Or maybe this bit, where that same Klingon gets her face half-burnt off whilst she screams in agony:

Feel The Burn

Or this bit, because there ain’t no cream like eye scream, kids!

Eye Scream 3

I’m so glad that they’re using children to promote these shows. I heard that the kid’s next gig is a live stream of him going fishing with Hafþór Björnsson to promote a new Gregor Clegane spin-off from ‘Game Of Thrones’.

And who could forget the amazing way that ‘Star Trek (2009)’ and ‘Into Darkness’ really made female roles more prominent and relevant to the story, so that they could include these two shots in the respective trailers?

I think the increased interaction between the fans and the cast and crew of the new shows is also to be lauded. Never before have the creative minds behind Star Trek been so accessible to the audience, and that’s brilliant. It’s actually better if major points of the story are answered in an FAQ like a fucking Warhammer 40,000 Codex update, really. Stories are better told in the form of patch notes, and I look forward to this new style of storytelling becoming the norm.

FAQ

The show itself is no place for actual storytelling.

HEADCANON
The show’s own creator has a “headcanon”. Jeez Mikey, it’s a shame you didn’t put it in the show itself, because then it might have been actual canon. Oh well.

Conclusion

Overall, I think we can all agree that Star Trek is finally headed in the right direction, and there’s never been a better time to be excited about the future of the franchise. It’s so thrilling to try and guess at what violent, gritty, teenager-levels-of-edgy mystery plots we’ll get to enjoy in the future!

Poverty, Pronouns And The Pathetic Nihilism Of Picard: Whose Starfleet? – Part Two

Part One of this analysis piece can be found here.


In the opening episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, or PIC, Jean Luc Picard angrily declares that he left Starfleet “because it was no longer Starfleet!”

He makes clear that, after suffering a calamitous tragedy on Mars, Starfleet’s decision to turn inwards, to turn its back on the rest of the galaxy, was unacceptable to him. That it had drifted so far from his values, from Starfleet values, as to be unrecognisable.

You can probably already tell where I’m going with this.

So, what is Starfleet to Jean Luc Picard? Which values does he hold dear, based on his behaviour in the series so far?

Let’s take a look at Picard himself, and the two former Starfleet officers that he still respects:


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy after Mars, Picard chooses to turn inwards, to turn his back on the rest of the galaxy, to live peacefully and quietly on his enormous estate, in the luxury of his huge mansion in the French countryside, with all the modern conveniences and a full-time staff to care for him.

Fourteen years later, he is still angry at Starfleet’s decision to do the same.

He doesn’t speak to Raffi Musiker, apparently his closest confidante at the time of the incident, at any point during those fourteen years, despite her descent into poverty and drug abuse. He never returns to the Romulan refugees he abandoned on Vashti, despite their descent into poverty and violence at the hands of pirates. He claims he is “passionate” about work to “raise awareness” of the effects of the supernova, and yet he doesn’t make any public appearances (according to the FNN interviewer) to sway the minds of the people of the Federation, despite their descent into xenophobia and bigotry.

neveragreedtoaninterview

Following his failure with the Romulan rescue effort, by all counts Picard decides to do nothing more with his time despite all of his connections and his reputation and his experience.

This is understandable. Personal failure can be wounding, and when a consequence of that failure is the death of others, maybe hundreds or thousands or, in Picard’s case, millions of others, the weight of failure can be crushing.


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy when she is discharged from Starfleet, Raffi Musiker chooses to turn inwards, to turn her back on the galaxy, to live a humiliating life of poverty and drug abuse in a trailer in the desert.

Fourteen years later, she is still angry at Picard for doing the same.

She doesn’t speak to Picard, apparently a mentor figure to whom she was devoted, at any point during those fourteen years, despite his apparent availability. She never makes any further attempt to help rescue Romulans, despite their continued peril. Neither does she engage in any other pursuit besides rage and snakeleaf, despite having fourteen years to seek help or counselling.

Following her discharge from Starfleet, by all counts Raffi decideds to do nothing more with her time, despite having “concrete evidence” of a Romulan plot to cause the Mars attack and apparently the connections to gain transport via independent ship operators such as Rios.

This is understandable. Personal failure can be wounding, and when a consequence of that failure is the end of a promising career, particularly in Raffi’s case where she has done nothing to warrant that end, the weight of failure can be crushing.


Upon suffering a calamitous tragedy when his captain is brutally killed, Cristóbal Rios chooses to turn inwards, to turn his back upon the galaxy to live a dangerous life as an independent ship captain, all by himself with only holograms modeled after his own image for company.

Ten years later, he still struggles to sleep at night without being haunted by images of his captain’s remains.

He doesn’t keep any other crew on board, despite the apparent comfort in which he lives and which would be beneficial to the poverty-stricken lower class of the Federation. He operates soley for money, despite having all his needs catered for by his ship’s technology. And he has no ideological imperative, despite possessing a powerful ship and the ability to warp around the galaxy freely.

longtimesinceyouhelped

Following his departure from Starfleet, by all counts Rios has done nothing of ideological note with his time, merely chasing jobs and the money they bring, despite being an introspective and erudite individual with experience and Starfleet training.

This is understandable. Personal loss can be wounding, and when that loss is witnessed directly, particularly in Rios’s case where he has watched someone die in gruesome detail, the weight of grief can be crushing.


The concept of the defeated, depressed, self-isolating former hero isn’t new, and it can be interesting to explore. We’ve never seen Jean Luc Picard so dejected and nihilistic, and it’s an interesting direction to take the character.

It becomes less interesting when every character we meet has followed the same path.

Picard, Raffi and Rios all followed the same path after personal defeats. They all withdrew, gave up on their morals and lived in isolation for more than a decade.

Of the three, it seems Rios at least remained active, running his own ship, but doing so on his own with only his self-modeled emercency holoprograms for company. And, as his Emergency Navigational Holoprogram points out, it has been a long, long time since Rios has helped anyone like Picard, who is “on the side of the angels.”

Picard expresses his respect and admiration for Rios when they first meet, noticing Rios’ impeccably-maintained starship, kept in “regulation Starfleet order.” Rios is “Starfleet to the core.” Picard can even “smell it on him.”

(Presumably, Starfleet smells like root beer.)

So, despite the fact that Rios has turned his back on Starfleet values, and now apparently works exclusively for money, even doubling his fee on entering Romulan space, Picard still seems to view him as some kind of true expression of Starfleet, because he keeps his ship tidy.

starfleettothecore

Likewise for Raffi. Picard turns to her when he needs help finding a ship and a pilot. Apparently somebody with Picard’s historic career is now so disconnected from the outside world that he has no remaining contacts of his own. So presumably, Raffi is someone he still trusts and holds in high regard, particularly given their closeness at the time of the Romulan rescue effort.

But Raffi, too, has turned her back on any kind of proactive engagement with life beyond her trailer. She hasn’t, by any counts, made any attempts to help the Romulans she cared so passionately about prior to her discharge, nor was she able to keep her family together as we learn in Episode 5.

Three characters, all former Starfleet officers, all faced personal failures and tragedies, and all responded to those failures with passivity and nihilism.


We all face difficulties in life, and we all feel a defeated at times. And often, our responses to such defeats are to shut down for a while, to retreat into ourselves, hoping to find safety in distance from others.

I have struggled with depression my whole life. Even when things are going well, I can’t escape depression’s grip on my mind. And that depression makes certain parts of life difficult. It can especially make it difficult to recover from failure, or embarrassment, or humiliation. I will probably never be free of it.

But people change, and adapt, and heal. I have changed, and adapted to cope with my emotional difficulties, and I have healed from past wounds, because I’m a human being and that’s what humans do.

Some of us don’t. Some of us fall into bad habits, self-destructive patterns, and end up worse off. Usually this happens because we lack support structures – absent friends, neglectful families, uncaring societies. And even then, even with all the love and support in the world, a person can still end up defeated by life.

But plenty of other people do not end up defeated. There are countless examples of people who have suffered grievous wounds in life, but have gone on to spread kindness and compassion to others. Many people are motivated by their own pain, allowing their empathy to compel them to offer the same kind of help that they needed at their lowest moment.

The point is that there is a spectrum of responses to trauma. Sometimes it’s sheer wilful survival, sometimes it’s a fall from grace, and other times it’s a renewed dedication to activism and compassion.


The issue I take with the characters of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, particularly the main three of Picard, Raffi and Rios, is that all three had a near-identical response to their personal traumas, and I just don’t buy that.

I see no good reason why, as Picard retreated to his mansion, Raffi could not instead have dedicated herself to aid efforts for the Romulans who escaped the supernova. I see no reason why Rios could not have used his ship for humanitarian efforts, to use the Starfleet values that Picard smells so strongly on him to attempt to do good in the galaxy.

Indeed, for all his talk of not wishing to be a “spectator” to Starfleet’s descent into isolationism, that’s exactly what Picard became, living his luxurious life in the French countryside. The FNN reporter states that Picard has never agreed to an interview before, suggesting that he has kept himself out of public life altogether.

spectator

But would it be such a stretch for us to be introduced to Picard not as an old man on a country estate, but as an active, vocal participant in Federation politics? Maybe an activist, or a conference speaker, fighting the rise of xenophobia with inspiring speeches and compelling rhetoric?

And if this story is going to be about Picard Defeated, about a man broken by his own failures, can we at least give him some more altruistic companions to serve as foils?

Because otherwise our protagonist, who is a defeated, isolated, nihilistic, former Starfleet officer is joined on his journey by:

  • An isolated, nihilistic, defeated former Starfleet officer.
  • A nihilistic, defeated, isolated former Starfleet officer.
  • The world’s most fucking annoying cybernetics scientist.

(As an aside, I was ready to like Agnes, right up until she deliberately interrupted Rios as he was reading, and then rolled her eyes and got passive aggressive with him when he wasn’t interesting enough for her. Which, just, fuck you Agnes. He didn’t ask you to interrupt his reading session you rude arsehole.)

bother
Yeah, no shit, you contemptuous gobshite. Oh, and our galaxy has A LOT MORE than 3 billion stars, you ignorant, arrogant, treacherous human-shaped turd.

The fact that the writers of this show had three characters who all chose to give up as their response to tragedy is sad, but what makes it pathetic is that all of these characters apparently stayed that way for MORE THAN A DECADE.

Picard and Raffi have been wallowing in self-pity for FOURTEEN YEARS since the attack on Mars, and Rios has been doing the same for a decade since his captain died. And yes, a period of dejection might be expected, but for all three of these characters, three Starfleet officers with values and drive and ambition (all of them at least Commander-rank when they left Starfleet) to give up for so, so long is pathetically lazy on the part of the writers.

And again, to be clear, I don’t object to this characterisation for one of these characters. Maybe even two – to see both Raffi and Picard fallen might, might, have been thematically interesting, had it been handled a lot better. But with Rios as well, it just suggests that to the writers, the only natural response to trauma is surrender and materialism.

hireme

In fact, “materialism” is pretty much the operative word. All three of these people replaced their former Starfleet principles with things. Picard lived like a king in a castle. Raffi seemingly deliberately chose poverty and drugs. Rios works for money.

And these are, apparently, the people that Picard belives are too good for what Starfleet has become. Xenophobia and nationalism? That’s bad. According to Picard, the correct response is apathy and a pursuit of (or self-pitying rejection of) wealth.

I’d like to point out here, if I may, that if you go back through the last two thousand words, I haven’t referenced any previous part of the Star Trek franchise once. Everything I’ve discussed is from the PIC series itself. I’m not here to lambast how Star Trek as a franchise has changed. This is all just from this series.

The naked, shameful hypocrisy of Picard as a character is the same brutally apathetic hypocrisy of ‘Picard’ as a series.

The message of this series seems to be “Choosing not to help people is bad, unless you shout about how enlightened you are, in which case choosing not to help people is acceptable.”

Picard calls Rios “true Starfleet” because he keeps his ship tidy. But wouldn’t “true Starfleet” have been to remain within the organisation, and change it from within?

And, to tie this into the stated themes of the show itself, isn’t that weirdly similar to one of the main arguments against Brexit? That we can exert more influence within a flawed institution like the EU and change it from the inside, rather than removing ourselves from it completely?

nolongerstarfleet

In that regard, although Picard is posed as an anti-Brexit figure, he himself has chosen the Brexit path, recognising the flaws in an otherwise progressive organisation and cutting all ties rather than trying to improve the situation. And the same goes for the two Starfleet officers for whom he holds so much respect.

And he still has the gall to call out poverty-stricken refugees on their low-level xenophobia.

‘Star Trek: Picard’ is not a story about fighting the regressiveness of Trump and Brexit. It is a story about how the only human response to failure is absolute defeat, and that wealth is always an acceptable substitue for activism.


And now for something a little different.

At the end of Episode 4, ‘Absolute Candor’, Picard and company are saved from an attacking Romulan bird of prey by an unseen pilot in a strange vessel.

This unseen pilot is, according to Rios, remarkably talented, and is evidently skilled in combat flying.

Naturally, all of our “heroes” assume by default that, because this pilot is good at combat, they must be male, and pointedly use masculine pronouns to refer to somebody about whom they know nothing else.

hehimhe

This, of course, is so that we, the audience, can all be surprised when the pilot isn’t a MAN but is in fact a GIRL! Can you imagine? A top combat pilot, being a FEMALE? It certainly shocked me.

To quote Jenny Nicholson:

“The fighter being a girl was the twist when ‘Metroid’ did it in 1986 – is that really a thing we can play straight anymore?”

Well, according to the writers of ‘Star Trek: Picard’, yes it is, because that’s exactly what we get.

Apparently the fact that Seven Of Nine is a Woman Who Fights is a significant surprise.

I know this feels like a minor point, but it actually highlights a bit of an issue with PIC, which is mirroring ‘Discovery’ in its handling of women.

Episode One sees the fridging of Dahj.

Under attack by Romulan assassins (on their second attempt), Dahj is brutally burned by acid before a gun she is holding slowly builds up to detonation, presumably obliterating her.

This serves as the impetus of Picard’s journey away from Earth. She is identified as Data’s daughter, which has special significance for Picard, and her tragic, violent death is his motivation.

A classic fridging. Violently kill off the young woman so that your (white) male protagonist has a reason to do things with some urgency.

oweittoher
“I’ve known her for ten minutes but she’s related to Data so she must be important to the audience.”

Then the showrunners introduce the weird concept of Dahj having a twin sister, which I think is best presented by the Memory Alpha plot summary:

“… He asks her if it is possible to make a sentient android out of flesh and blood, and she laughs. She realizes he is serious and says it is impossible, a thousand years away…

“… Nobody had since been able to redevelop the science to create a Soong-type android…

“… Jurati says it would be possible to create a female android from Data’s positronic neuron, using the plural “they.” Picard asks, “twins?” Jurati concurs: they were created in pairs.”

That’s right, something that is impossible apparently always happens in pairs. The dialogue itself is gloriously absurd:

PICARD: “Data’s daughter. He always wanted a daughter. I believe that Maddox modeled her after an old painting of Data’s.”

AGNES: “Female. Yes. I suppose you can make them that way.”
(What the fuck does this mean? They’re androids, couldn’t you make them any way?)

PICARD: “I’m sorry, ‘them’?”

AGNES: “They’re created in pairs.”

PICARD: “Twins?”

AGNES: “Twins.”

Sadly, the use of women as plot devices rather than characters in their own right is nothing new to science fiction. But in 2020, with a story allegedly pertaining to the rise of regressive politics, you might expect a more modern approach to characterisation.

Dahj has a twin sister, then, named Soji. Soji lives and works on a relic Borg Cube, an “ancient” starship capable of “mass destruction”. Soji is being seduced by a Romulan agent, because she is his target. He is part of the same organisation as the assassins who killed Dahj in Episode 1.

This entire plotline delivers roughly one piece of story-relevant information per hour of screentime, and is mostly inane. We watch them gliding on their socks over a slippy floor in Episode 4, after having already seen them in bed together multiple times since Episode 2, making it a strange kind of “romance in reverse”. Soji immediately trusts Narek, and then begins to not trust him, and then they fall out when he begins to interrogate her immediately after the floor-gliding scene.

Most of this exists to remind us that another android daughter exists for Picard to save.

There are multiple scenes in which Narek’s incestuous sister repeatedly grants him additional time to compromise Soji, simultaneously reminding him of the apparent urgency. This allows Picard the time he needs to faff around the galaxy, picking up Romulan sword elves and delivering appalling French caricatures whilst wearing an eyepatch.

This leaves us in an awkward situation where both Picard and the Romulan spies are racing against each other to take custody of Soji, but neither party seems to be in any particular rush to do so. It’s apparently a meandering race of apathy.

intimetosave
“Who knows how much time is left? But I’d better stop by Vashti first to pick up an elf with a sword for all of these gunfights we’ll surely end up in.”

This also further objectifies the character of Soji. We are given glimpses of a personality – she seems to be empathetic, based on the few occasions we’ve seen her independently of Narek. But she is nontheless the object of other characters’ motivations – a princess to be saved by Picard, a target to be seduced and captured by Narek and his sister.

As of Episode 5, she is not even aware that she is at the heart of a great cosmic adventure. She is merely continuing her life as she normally would, albeit with a sinister new boyfriend and a brief encounter with a traumatised Romulan mythologist.

This means she is an entity with no agency, as she has no ability to interact meaningfully with a narrative she doesn’t realise she is part of.

(And yes, she can still make decisions about her relationship with Narek, but that’s the narrative equivalent of a metronome so let’s not get carried away.)


Another aspect of Soji (and Dahj) brings us all the way back around to our nihilist-in-chief, Jean Luc Picard.

Soji and Dahj are twin “daughters” of Data, in as much as they are neural clones of one of his neurones, or something.

This has worrying echoes of Michael Burnham, the protagonist of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. As I’ve covered before, Michael Burnham suffered from being written as the daughter of Sarek (what is it with “-areks” in this new era of Trek?) and the sister of Spock. She suffered because it meant she was never allowed to find herself as a character in her own right, but was instead always in the shadow those characters that had come before her.

This isn’t just from a meta, franchise perspective either. Season 2 of Discovery saw Michael Burnham’s character growth grind to a halt as the narrative instead devoted itself to Spock. The most interesting episode of Season 1 was all about Sarek’s relationship with his daughter, rather than Burnham’s relationship with her foster father, a subtle but important distinction.

 

So when we come to Soji and Dahj, it’s disappointing to see the same error being made. They are the daughters of Data. In one conversation with Dahj, we learn more about Data than we do about Dahj.

Picard even has this strange and possessive exchange with Dahj in the first episode:

DAHJ – “I was born in Seattle. My dad was a xenobotanist, and our house was full of orchids. He spliced two genuses and he named the offspring after me: Orchidaceae Dahj oncidium. Yellow and pink.”

PICARD – “That’s a beautiful memory, and it’s yours. No one can touch it or take it away. But you must look inside deeply and honestly. Have you ever considered the possibility-”

DAHJ – “That I’m a soulless murder machine?”

PICARD – “That you are something lovingly and deliberately created, like Dahj oncidium.”

DAHJ – “You’re telling me that I’m not real.”

PICARD – “No, I’m not. If you are who I think you are… You are dear to me in ways that you can’t understand.”

On the surface, that looks like a charming attempt by Picard to reassure this young woman. But the language itself is troubling, to say the least:

  • “You are something lovingly and deliberately created…”
  • If you are who I think you are… You are dear to me…”

Picard is speaking about her as an object. He isn’t acknowledging her as a vital and sapient being, but recognising her value only as a creation. And then he states the conditionality of her worth to him – if, IF, she is Data’s daughter, then she is very dear to him. And if she isn’t?

something
Subtitles by Amazon. Don’t blame me.

It may seem flippant to suggest that Picard would care less about Dahj if she were not related to Data, but that brings into question – what is, then, the narrative value of making her Data’s daughter? Could she not have been an android in her own right? A special and unique creation separate from the legacy of Data? If Picard is the noble, enlightened being we know him to be, what purpose is served by Dahj’s relationship to Data?

We find ourselves retreading ground already worn bare by ‘Discovery’. Dahj, or rather Soji, is Data’s daughter, is Picard’s motivation, and is Narek’s target. She is defined more by what she is to three men than by what she is in her own right.

This is also a good opportunity to question the intention behind there being twins. It’s possible that this is somehow necessary to a greater theme of the story, but it seems more likely, to me at least, that the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it – to brutally fridge a young female character in Episode 1 to give Picard emotional stakes, and then keep her identical counterpart alive to give him motivation to go on a journey to save her. But this is all just cynical supposition on my part.


Language matters, and the way we use it, the specificity of the words we choose, has great effect on the way others see us, and the way we make others feel.

This is even picked up in Episde 1, ‘Remembrance’. The Fox News interviewer refers to “Romulan lives,” and Picard corrects her – “No, lives.”

romulanlives

The meaning is clear – specifying the Romulan element of a life implies something about that life’s value, and given the tone and the context of the discussion, we know that the implication is that Romulan lives are worth less than Federation lives.

But this follows through. When Picard calls Dahj “something lovingly and deliberately created,” the words he is not using are “someone lovingly and deliberately brought to life.” And given that Dahj is a young adult who is currently terrified that she might have been living a false existence, the cold objectification of her can hardly be comforting.

This is why there is so much emphasis placed on pronouns in many parts of life. As gender divsersity becomes more commonly understood, the language we use to refer to one another becomes more important. Regressive internet trolls will often mock the growing trend of pronoun clarity, despite the fact that misgendering, referring to a boy as a girl or to a girl as a boy, has been a classic element of schoolyard bullying for centuries, used by children to hurt other children, often leaving lasting psychological wounds.

We have seen the same demands for linguistic clarity in other areas of life. The ability for women to use a title that is agnostic of their marital status, for instance, resulting in “Ms.” becoming more common. And this isn’t a shallow consideration – your career can be affected by your marital status, which makes choosing whether you present yourself as single, married or “prefer not to say” a very meaningful tool.

This also adds extra significance to every character’s decision to refer to an unseen, talented combat pilot as “him”. If that is the default assumption, it tells us that this is a universe where men are still assumed to be the default warriors, soldiers, pilots, jocks and heroes, and the writer’s decision to play the “female fighter” as a twist reveal only confirms that.

Much of the rest of the story reinforces this notion. The most privileged of our characters is Jean Luc Picard, a man. The next most privileged is Captain Rios, also a man. The most under-privileged is Raffi, a woman. The best fighter is Elnor, a man. The worst fighter is Agnes Jurati, a woman. The two objects of the plot are a pair of women who are twin sisters. One of them is being seduced by a more powerful man for his own ends, whilst another man “races” to rescue her.

The same “female fighter” twist is even pulled AGAIN in Episode 5, when Raffi assumes by default that a crime boss must be a man, and this once again is “revealed” to be incorrect, as though this is just as surprising a revelation as it was barely ten minutes of screentime earlier.

 

The language and the coding all seems to point towards a universe where women are about as independent and proactive as they were in the Original Series, which is now more than fifty years old. Watching old episodes of Kirk and the gang making snide remarks about a woman’s role on a starship is a little painful, but watching a current series pull the same shit is just embarrassing.

There are exceptions, and we do get to see a couple of female authority figures, which is good. But the actual main characters all seem to be falling into gender roles that feel more at home in the 1960s than in 2020.

And, to harken back to another old article, this is yet another show where we do not see women talking to each other very often, and certainly not main characters. Admittedly, with Picard as the main character, the bulk of dialogue is going to feature at least one man, so it’s is a little more understandable in PIC, but this is one to keep an eye on going forwards. I do not believe the show passed the Bechdel Test in the first four episodes.


Female representation aside, this is yet another example of the intrinsic nihilism of both Jean Luc Picard and of ‘Star Trek: Picard’. Picard himself seems more spurred by Dahj’s and Soji’s relationship to Data than he does to the fact that these are two young people in danger.

It seems inherently selfish of Picard to leave the comfort of his mansion only once he has a personal, familial stake in an issue. People across the galaxy are suffering already. People Picard knows personally, like the Romulan refugees on Vashti, and yet Picard does nothing to help any of these people, presumably because they are not related to any of his dear friends.

As I have already covered, Picard has done nothing to help the larger Federation, or its citizens who are being driven to xenophobia, or any of the thousands of Romulans left homeless after the supernova. He has not even spoken to Raffi, his former aide and confidante, who waited for fourteen years to hear from him, and who chastises him for not making contact until he needs help.

nicetohearfromyou

(Sorry, not done with female representation yet, because on the subject of Raffi I wanted to ask – did we really need the only black female main character on the show to be a drug-addicted trailer-dwelling washout who has lost touch with her family? After ‘Discovery’ gave us Star Trek’s first black female protagonist who was also a colossal screw-up and convict? Can black women please just be as competent and successful as anyone else in the Federation without angsty backstories? Please?)

So we’re left in a situation where it seems that Jean Luc Picard’s only motivation for venturing out on one last adventure is the fact that he feels a familial bond to someone he’s yet to actually meet. It may also be because he has been told that he does not have long left to live, but that’s not exactly a more noble motivation.

Joining Picard on this quest is Raffi, who states a lack of interest in the cause and only decides to go when she realises that Picard will be going to Freecloud, where her own estranged family live. Also on the quest is Rios; who is being paid to do so; Elnor, who has effectively been “hired” through cultural obligation; and Jurati, who we later learn is an undercover assassin participating in a coverup and who was also in a relationship with one of the people Picard is trying to find.

None of these people is taking any action out of compassion or altruism. Not one.

You could perhaps argue that Elnor is at least motivated by a higher purpose, but it’s indirect at best, and it feels more like Picard guilted him into it.

And my issue is not that one of our characters is being selfish – it’s that ALL of our characters are being selfish. When we do meet Seven Of Nine, and learn that she is a “Fenris Ranger”, apparently one of the few people actually committed to doing good in the galaxy, she is completely bound up in a quest for vengeance, to the point that she gets a moralistic lecture from Picard. Hell, he even has the gall to call her out on acting outside of the law:

takingthelawintoyourownhands
Oh, sorry Jean Luc, would you respect her more if she was sitting around doing nothing, like you and the rest of your buddies?

But even if we can at least admire Seven for being a little more proactive, she also turns to the empty pursuit of vengeance.

Apparently, this is a future in which nobody acts out of the goodness of compassion, even the heroes.

Now, not all protagonists need to be moralising martyrs. The crew of the Rocinante, for example, from ‘The Expanse’, begin their journey together just trying to survive. Eventually they end up at the centre of some pivotal events, and end up making moral choices, but they started out as space truckers trying to make their way in an unforgiving solar system, caught up in a deadly conspiracy – they never needed a moralistic reason to be involved.

But a little altruism helps us, the audience, root for our protagonists. Frodo Baggins makes two selfless decisions in ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’: first, to get the Ring out of the Shire, to save his homeland; and second, to take the Ring to Mordor, knowing full well that it might be a one-way trip, in order to rid Middle Earth of evil. Having your protagonist understand the danger, but commit to doing good anyway, and not for personal gain but for the good of all, that’s a fantastic way to make your audience get on board with their quest.

The same is true of Luke Skywalker, or Rey (Skywalker), or even John McClane. Sure, McClane is trying to survive and save his wife, but he also puts himself at risk to save others, to stop Gruber and his villains from murdering dozens of strangers.

But the only thing capable of shifting Picard from his heirloom armchair is a connection to somebody that he already cares about.

In Episode 5, he claims that he’s “rushing” to save Soji because nobody else will help her. And yet, as established, nobody else was helping Raffi, but he didn’t seem to give a shit about her. Nobody else was helping the Romulans on Vashti, and yet he was happy to leave them to their poverty.

nooneelsetohelpher
At least he’s started referring to her as “someone” rather than “something.”

This may seem like I’m setting unfair standards for PIC, but honestly, these are just the standards it sets for itself. Picard has his lovely little rant in the first episode about the xenophobia of Starfleet, he chastises Elnor for unnecessary killing, Seven Of Nine for her vigilantism and her vengeful nature. And yet he fails to live up to his own standards, and seems only to admire those who are as apathetic as he is.

John McClane doesn’t give a speech about the need for gun control before he smokes up Nakatomi Plaza. Luke Skywalker doesn’t preach about pacifism before takes his lightsaber to a bunch of Storm Troopers, and Samwise Gamgee doesn’t condemn animal cruelty before he stabs Shelob in the thorax.

And yet Jean Luc Picard, and by extension ‘Star Trek: Picard’, seems perfectly happy to give moralistic speeches whilst accomplishing nothing, either through direct action, or simply by spreading an understanding of the issues he claims to care about. And the same goes for every other character we meet.


The greatest sin of all is that this just doesn’t make for a very good story. We have three main characters (plus Elnor, who gets to stand near them, and Jurati, who should stand in an airlock) who ALL have an identical perspective on life, and that’s just… boring.

In the 21-minute episode ‘Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense’, the last episode of Season 8 of ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’, five characters approach a “trial” over the matter of property damage. We have:

  • Dennis, who believes that Frank is to blame for driving despite his physical impairments
  • Frank, who belives that Dennis is to blame for eating cereal whilst driving
  • Charlie, who is personally loyal to Frank and wants to test his mettle as a lawyer (specialising in Bird Law)
  • Mac, who has no stake in the matter but who is eager to prove his intellectual superiority
  • Sweet Dee, who believes that people must be held accountable for damaging the property of others after all of her previous cars have been demolished by the rest of the gang

sweetdee

In 21 minutes, a single episode of a sitcom based almost entirely in a dive bar in Philadelphia manages to establish a greater diversity of opinion and perspective than in over four hours and five epiosdes of ‘Star Trek: Picard’.

A short episode of a sitcom should never be a better example of dramatic storytelling than a high-budget full-length narrative series. And yet somehow, ‘Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense’ has more compelling character interactions and a greater exploration of the topic it sets out to discuss.

(The solution, by the way, is for Sweet Dee to be blamed by the other four. Apologies for the spoiler.)


‘Star Trek: Picard’ is simply disappointing. For all of the excitement of seeing Patrick Stewart back, for all of the budget (or lack thereof, given the reliance on location shoots and the limited number of sets, most of which are fairly claustrophobic) its handling of theme and narrative feels so anaemic.

Worse still, its fumbling of issues around responsibility, and inclusivity, and poverty, and the rise of right wing politics, and its inability to perceive a world where women are fighters too and where there is a trauma response that goes beyond “absolute defeatism” is simply depressing.

And don’t get me started on the dumbing-down of the language in this series.

Believe it or not, I’m actually rooting for PIC. I would like it to be a good show, a strong narrative with memorable characters. I would like to see it further the Trek legacy.

One of the wonders of a truly great story is that it will give its audience cause to consider an idea they’ve never had to think about before. The best stories breed discussion, not just of the stories themselves but of the ideas within them, and I just don’t think PIC has enough ideas to do that.

There is nothing in PIC but empty bluster and vacuous paddling towards some kind of mediocre twist ending. I genuinely believe that, where previous editions of Star Trek have given us more to think about, ‘Picard’ might actually give us less. And that just makes me sad.