I’m still alive in this crazy time we find ourselves in, it’s been a hell of a century since this all started. It’s been hard on everyone I think, and despite having so much more time to write now, it’s been almost two months since I wrote a single word. These are the first words I’ve written outside of text messages and emails in quite a long time.
Funny thing about this review I’m posting: it was 90% written on March 25th, the last time I opened it until today. I had to do some minor editing and finish writing the last few paragraphs, but it was done. But the world was just beginning to feel the effects of this pandemic when Picard’s finale aired, and it just… no longer seemed important. It still doesn’t honestly. But I needed to write something, and this was an easy place to start.
Hope you enjoy.
All That Matters is the Ending: Star Trek: Picard
So Star Trek: Picard began well enough, the premier wasn’t great but it also wasn’t terrible. I had hoped the show would find its feet as it went on. It didn’t. By the second episode it was stumbling, and by the third the whole thing was flying apart at the seams like a poorly-stitched Frankenstein’s monster. The writing was a complete mess this season, hastily patched together from what I assume was massive rewrites by various writers, leaving us with a story that almost incomprehensible.
One of the early warning signs was the characters, who were so one-dimensional they felt like ciphers…
The Characters Were Shallow and Boring
I knew the story was in trouble when Picard decided to leave behind the two highly trained Romulan former Tal Shiar agents home to tend his vineyard. First because that made absolutely no sense (more on that later), and second because those two might have had interesting backstories and brought a unique perspective to the story. We’ve never had a Star Trek story from a Romulan point of view, we’ve had Klingon and even Ferengi perspectives, but never the Romulan.
Instead these ex-Tal Shiar operatives are left behind to grow grapes while Picard assembles a team of the most cynical, dysfunctional, and jaded people in the galaxy. Captain Rios, Raffi, and even Seven of Nine are all generically “badass” characters; they swear, drink, and smoke.
The first time we meet Captain Rios he’s smoking a big ol’ cigar with a piece of shrapnel sticking from his shoulder. How he got a piece of shrapnel in his shoulder aboard a seemingly pristine, undamaged ship isn’t important apparently, all we need to know is look at how cool he looks. Raffi is a barely functional alcoholic and vapes, because of course she does. And Seven of Nine is consumed by a quest for vengeance over the nonsensical death of Icheb… and is also an alcoholic. The whole crew is one intervention away from becoming an AA meeting. They’re all fundamentally broken characters with tragic backgrounds and flaws, but with no redeeming qualities of humor or ideals.
This is a common problem: believing that making a character miserable, broken, and hopeless is a substitute for actual characterization. If we make them drink, smoke, and swear people will love these characters! However, I’m afraid ticking the boxes of a 13-year-old’s idea of a “cool character” is no substitute for actual personalities.
There are only two characters who aren’t generic badasses: Doctor Jurati, who at first was a breath of fresh air because at least someone was able to smile in this show. Of course it then turns out later she’s actually a double-agent driven insane by the Admonition (a mess I’ll unravel later). The other is Elnor who is essentially Hydrox-brand Legolas, I hope the Tolkein family is getting royalties. Seriously everything from how he talks to how he moves and fights is a near straight rip off of Legolas in the Lord of the Rings films. Only worse in every conceivable way.
Somehow he’s not even the worst Romulan in the show, our villains Narek and Narissa take that prize. More than anything it’s these two that convince me that Star Trek: Picard was desperately trying to cash in on the void left by the ending of Game of Thrones. Brother and Sister, Narek and Narissa are trying to find Soji’s homeworld so they can eliminate the threat of artificial life. Yet for some bizarre reason, Narissa is creepily fixated on Narek’s sexual relationship with Soji. They’re an obvious ripoff of Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s relationship, except without any of the background or personality that made that relationship so compelling. Every conversation Narissa and Narek have is filled with sexual tension, and it was hilariously misplaced.
But the show is called Picard right? Maybe the title character himself can carry the day.
Jean Luc Picard might have saved the Federation multiple times but even he can’t save this show, because his character is bad as well. He seemingly plays out his whole arc in the first episode. Betrayed by Starfleet’s abandonment of its guiding principals, he became a recluse and made wine until Dahj’s arrival and death made him realize he was “waiting to die.” And that’s the sum total of his character’s journey in this show aside from fifteen minutes at the finale.
It’s such a wasted storytelling opportunity because he’s confronted by so many ghosts from his past. He visits a Borg ship for the first time since his assimilation, he confronts what is essentially the daughter of the man who died saving him, and is accompanied by a
Space Elf Romulan who is a constant reminder his failure to save Romulus. Yet Picard is never forced to confront any of it, beyond those hallucinations of Data in the first episode.
Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: Picard might have the same name, played by the same actor, but its not the same character we saw in The Next Generation TV show or movies. The Picard of yesteryear was bold, confident, and commanding. He was a rich character, with so many facets and sides to him; philosopher, poet, explorer, and even a romantic in his own way.
The Picard we see here is… hollow. His character is dragged from plot point to plot point through no choice of his own. He has nothing interesting to say about the events unfolding around him. His diplomatic talents are nowhere to be seen. For the majority of the time, we don’t even see him get angry, or sad, or afraid. He’s a passive observer in his own story… no, actually, this story really isn’t about Picard. It’s about Soji, and that story makes very little sense.
Again, Nothing Made Sense
This was a problem that plagued the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, where in that show’s premier the Klingons “hadn’t been seen in over 100 years” and yet had also somehow killed Michael’s parents, a woman in her thirties. This time the contradictions in the script were more subtle and not as blatant, and a few might have been forgiven, but they begin snowballing until the entire of premise of the show unravels.
The trouble begins with Picard deciding to leave behind his two Romulan, probably ex-Tal Shiar operatives when he embarks on his quest. By the time he’s made this decision, Picard has almost been killed by Romulan assassins twice, and watched Data’s daughter die as a result. They’re the ones who give Picard inside knowledge of the Zhat Vash and help him trace Dahj’s transmissions to her sister Soji. And when the assassins come to kill Picard, its these two Romulans that risk their lives defending him, and quite capably too.
These inconsistencies run through the entire show, like the webbing pattern in broken glass.
One thing that I’m still not clear on is what Soji and Dahj were supposed to be doing undercover. Clearly they’d been given false memories in order to pose as human, but why? What was Dahj supposed to do once she started at the Daystrom Institute? What was Soji’s mission aboard the Artifact? She seemed to be trying to get information about how the Borg cube was disabled, but why? At first I thought she was trying to find information about the Admonition, but they seem to stumble across that totally by accident when they do the mind meld on Jurati.
And what the hell was Narek doing when he decided to lock the android with incredible speed and strength in a room with a slow acting poison, rather than just shooting her?
Or should we talk about how the Admonition is apparently so powerful that it drives people insane and convinces Dr. Jurati to kill her lover, but it also somehow wears off? She kills Bruce Maddox out of the fear that he’ll bring about the apocalypse. Yet when confronted with Soji herself, the “destroyer” who Jurati believes represents a threat to all organic life, she giddily interviews her. And after that the whole Admonition, and I killed my lover in cold blood thing, never comes up again.
The finale definitely takes the cake though. The Romulans believe that Soji and her people are harbingers of the end times. They were so afraid of synthetic life that they literally condemned their own homeworld to destruction and billions of Romulans to death in order to sabotage the synthetics on Mars. That’s a level of fanaticism that knows no compromise and no retreat.
Yet after watching Soji bring them to the very brink of the annihilation they feared for so long… they compromise and retreat. So which is it, Star Trek: Picard? Is the Admonition a mind-shattering revelation that drives people to commit unspeakable crimes? Or is it just kind of a suggestion and they’re totally cool with abandoning the quest to which they’ve dedicated their lives? You can’t have both.
Maybe if they’d spent a little bit more time building the world this show takes place in, things might have flowed a little smoother.
Picard Ignores Star Trek Canon, and Replaces it with Nothing
The Federation we meet in Star Trek: Picard isn’t the same one we grew up with, and honestly I was okay with that. It presented us with a deeply changed Federation, one small and afraid, rather than boldly going where none had gone before. However, the story doesn’t give us a good reason as to why the Federation has turned into a xenophobic and isolationist state. Which is a shame because previous Star Trek canon would have given the writers plenty of material to work with.
In the last thirty years the Federation had suffered multiple attacks from the Borg, and worse still, became embroiled in the Dominion War, the most destructive conflict in its history. Both of these horrific events were a direct result of Starfleet’s penchant for exploration, and finding out neither the Borg nor Dominion shared the Federation’s peaceful aspirations. It would make sense that after suffering such horrific casualties and near annihilation of their way of life multiple times, that the Federation would retreat into itself.
But that’s not the story we’re told. Instead we’re told that an attack on the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars was enough to drive the Federation into total xenophobia and isolation. Why? Later when Picard is interviewed by the Federation news service, and he tells the interviewer he was trying to save lives, the interviewer quips “Romulan lives.” Later Starfleet Admiral Angry Lady claims that members of the Federation were threatening to leave if Starfleet went ahead with the rescue.
Again, why? What have the Romulans done to earn such hostility? Its true that relations between the Federation and the Romulans have always been strained, and that they’d waged a cold war for decades. However in recent history the Romulans entering the Dominion War had saved the Federation and Klingons from certain defeat, and by the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, were open to negotiations with the Federation. What changed between then and now to make the Romulans such a source of contention within the Federation?
This is Star Trek: Picard’s fundamental flaw; even setting aside all Star Trek Canon for a moment, taken on its own as a piece of Science Fiction storytelling, it fails at the fundamental task of world building. There was no attempt at crafting a world that felt real and lived in, the rich history they had to pull from was abandoned in favor of trying to make it up as they went. Instead of properly building up the world this new show takes place in, they do exposition dumps. Long monologues about secret societies and character’s tragic backgrounds dominate the dialogue, robbing the story of interactions that might have made us actually care about this stuff.
What still makes me laugh is that Alex Kurtzman came in, and I wish I could find the interview where he said this, decided he wanted to get away from the one-dimensional tropes that defined the Star Trek races. That’s not an unfair assessment, when first introduced the Klingons, Romulans, and Ferengi were rather 1-dimensional to say the least. But then Deep Space 9 came and gave these races more diversity, gave us insight into Klingon and Ferengi culture, and by the end of the show’s run they felt far more real than when it started. It was by no means perfect of course, and I was excited to see Picard do the same thing for the Romulans, since Deep Space 9 didn’t touch on them.
With such an example of success to follow, you’d think the writers of this show would have a good idea how to do the same thing for the Romulans. But they didn’t. Instead they went the complete opposite direction and made the Romulans even more one dimensional. Already the Romulans were paranoid, reclusive, and xenophobic, but now they don’t even use front doors. That’s right, they have a secret door for their allies and family. Can you imagine that? The show doesn’t even elaborate on how that works. How do Romulans take delivery, do they let the local Amazon company know to drop packages at the backdoor? What happens if you knock on the front door, do they shoot you?
There is no world building in Star Trek: Picard. Instead it names drops and gives us boring exposition about things that don’t even affect the story. Seven of Nine is mentioned to be part of the Rangers, but doesn’t tell us anything about who they are, how much space they control, or what their goals are beyond a vague kind of peacekeeping. She arrives to stop a Romulan warbird from killing Jean-Luc aboard whatever their ship is called, a Warbird led by a named character who is apparently some kind of Warlord. Is that ever elaborated on? Does it have any impact on the story? Nope.
Worse still is the world of Data’s children and Noonian Soong’s cousin-twice-removed or whatever the hell he is. Mentioning his lineage is literally all they do, no explanation as to why we never heard of him. No explanation as to why some of them have yellow Data-like skin, even though Data himself was more pale white than yellow, nor any explanation as to how their society works. They’re just… there, existing apparently.
And its on this world with no explanation, that the show finally tries to bring its bloated, convoluted plot in for a landing… only to crash and burn.
The Ending is a Puzzle Box With Nothing Inside
Star Trek: Picard killed off Dahj to both have its Game of Thrones moment and to dangle a mystery in front of the audience: who wants to kill Dahj and why? The show spent its entire run promising us a shocking revelation that would shake the very foundations of the galaxy. That shocking revelation was that incredibly advanced synthetic life from beyond the galaxy’s edge wanted to exterminate organic life.
The biggest problem with storylines like these is that, almost inevitably, the reveal ends up being a disappointment. Presenting audiences with a puzzle is an excellent way to draw them into a story, because everyone wants to know what it looks like when it’s finished. If you choose to pursue that path, however, you have to make sure there’s a payoff or you get this. We saw it with Lost, where its ending ended up revealing nothing. We saw it in Mass Effect 3, that Picard‘s main storyline rips off wholesale aside from swapping the sender of the end-of-the-world warning. Failure to payoff these setups results in the audience feeling like they’ve wasted their time.
Star Trek: Picard‘s ending raises more questions than it answers. Why would such advanced artificial life have exiled itself to beyond the known galaxy? Why don’t they monitor for artificial life themselves rather than wait to be contacted? Why do they suddenly just leave when the signal is stopped, surely such an advanced artificial life form must have taken into account organic attempts to stop their return?
Worse still is that here, with the Romulan Zhat Vash having just seen the near culmination of their greatest fears… just leaves. No protest, no attempt to overpower the Federation fleet, no suicide charge to level the planet. These fanatics that were willing to destroy their own homeworld, kill themselves in suicide attacks to kill a single synthetic… just leave. Hell, why weren’t they running the Federation blockade in an attempt to ram their ships into the planet. Again, the show’s been telling us they think all life in the galaxy is at stake.
And after the show has told us over and over again that this new Federation is terrified of synthetics, the ban is instantly repealed. No deliberations, no debate, no public polling, its just gone in a single line of dialogue from Soji. A single synthetic attack on Mars made them ban synthetics, but apparently almost summoning the apocalypse but changing their mind at the last second somehow garnered some good will? Just because they changed their minds at the very last second doesn’t negate the fact they tried to exterminate all organic life.
Meanwhile Picard is now a very old looking android that will die in 20 years, and suddenly all the characters that were so jaded and cynical when we began now seem happy and eager to resume their journey. Nothing in the story justifies their happy endings. Captain Rios and Doctor Jurati are smiling lovebirds, both apparently forgetting she murdered her lover in cold blood only a few days earlier (also wasn’t Picard going to turn her over for her crimes? What happened to that?) Raffi and Seven k0of Nine seemed to be paired up now, despite there being absolutely no story foundation for that relationship. And of course Soji is tagging along too, because why the hell not, right?
The ending gives us a payoff for something that was never setup properly: a final farewell to Commander Data. The worst part about that is it was beautiful. Hearing Data asking Captain Picard to let him experience death, the final and ultimate experience of humanity that he attempted to emulate his whole life, was nothing short of poetry. It makes me wish that this is what Star Trek: Picard had been about.
Not over the top villains and ludicrous plot lines about the end of the world, but about Captain Picard finally coming to terms with the loss of Data… his friend that he never got to say goodbye to. We could have had a story exploring grief, guilt, and love. Profound themes the audience could actually relate to. Instead of a beautiful final act of a touching story, Data’s final death is simply a painful glimpse at what this story could have accomplished.
Star Trek: Picard instead decided to twist itself into knots trying to tell an overly convoluted and pointless plot about yet another world ending cataclysm. Here’s hoping Season 2 tells a story about characters, and give us a reason to care about them.