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Josh Reviews the Season Finale of Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: Picard has been a very mixed bag for me.  I’ve enjoyed watching it, and I think it’s been far better executed than the two seasons of Discovery we’ve gotten so far on CBS All Access.  On the other hand, in my opinion Picard contains many of the same flaws that Discovery has had: plots that doing make sense; storytelling that moves too fast to adequately explain what is happening; thinly-developed characters, many of whom have motivations that either are kept secret from us or that don’t make sense; and a lack of continuity with previously established Star Trek.  The Picard season finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego” part 2, is very much of a piece with the first nine episodes of this season.  There are some wonderful individual moments; the cast is great; Sir Patrick Stewart in particular shines as always; and the visuals are beautiful.  I just wish it all came together in a more satisfying way.

Let’s start with what works.

The show, as always, is beautiful.  The production values on this series have been extraordinary, and it’s awesome to see television Star Trek realized with feature film caliber attention and budget.  There are lots of great locations in this episode: the crashed Borg Cube, the crashed La Sirena, the androids’ utopian complex, and the bridges of several starships.  Seeing the Orchids take on the Romulan fleet in orbit is particularly spectacular.

There are some delightful character moments: Riker’s triumphant return, back in uniform and back in the Captain’s chair on a starship.  (I wish it was the Enterprise.  The series never revealed what happened to the Enterprise...!  I’d love to see her in season two…!)  Picard bidding Riker adieu.  Rios’ and Seven’s sharing a drink, looking out at a gorgeous vista.

And, of course, the scene between Picard and Data.  I’m thrilled that Brent Spiner was back as Data in the finale, beautifully bookending his appearance in the premiere.  (Mr. Spiner also appeared in these last two episodes as Dr. Alton Soong, however that character wasn’t very successful in my opinion.  I just don’t buy that Dr. Soong had a song about the same age as Data who we never heard of before and who never had any interaction with Data while he was alive.)  The survival of Data’s consciousness doesn’t make any plot sense to me, but the scene is so emotionally moving that I can mostly forgive the show for this.  (Though, seriously, as I’d commented at the start of the season, the idea that Data’s consciousness could be reconstructed from one fragment of his positronic net is the sort of magic fake-science I hate to see on Trek.  Also, if Alton … [continued]

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Josh reviews Episodes 7-9 of Star Trek: Picard!

We’re almost at the end of the first season of Star Trek: Picard.  I enjoyed the premiere, but then I felt episodes 2 and 3 were very mediocre.  The show has been better since then (click here for my reviews of episodes 4-6), and I am enjoying watching it.  At the same time, I continue to be disappointed by some baffling story choices that just don’t sit too well with me.  Let’s dig in.  (Beware some spoilers below.)

Episode 7: “Nepenthe”

* There’s a lot to enjoy in this episode.  Seeing Riker and Troi again is an absolute delight.  Both Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis are great, so comfortably reprising their beloved characters.  There were so many wonderful moments between them in the episode.  I loved hearing Riker yell “shields up!” just like old times when he realizes Picard might be in danger.  I love how Troi immediately senses Picard isn’t OK.  I love how quickly Riker puts everything together about Soji.  (I loved that the actress who played Soji mimicked the way Brent Spiner would tilt his head as Data — I recognized that immediately, and I was pleased that Riker did as well.)  I loved hearing Riker call Troi Imzadi.  I also quite enjoyed Lulu Wilson as Riker & Troi’s daughter, Kestra.  (I love the deep cut that their daughter is named Kestra, the name of Deanna’s dead sister as revealed in the TNG episode “Dark Page”.)  This precocious kid could have easily been very annoying, but I quite liked her and I enjoyed the way she and Soji developed a quick and easy bond.  (It’s reminiscent of the way Data connected so easily to children.)  I loved hearing Kestra question Soji about whether she could play the violin, if she liked Sherlock Holmes, etc. (all things Data loved).

* On the other hand, I’m speechless at the incredibly dumb plot point that Riker and Troi’s son Thaddeus died because, after the Federation’s ban on synthetic life forms, they couldn’t get what used to be an easily-acquired cure from something cultivated in a positronic matrix.  Whaaaa…???  How/why could a medicine be cultivated in an android’s brain?  Do the writers even know what a positronic matrix is??  This is ludicrous, a dumb way of trying to connect Riker-Troi to the series’ over-arching story about synthetics.  (If they HAD to make this sort of larger thematic connection, why not say the medicine that could have cured Thaddeus was from Romulus, and so unavailable after the Federation abandoned the Romulans when their sun went super-nova?  That would have made a lot more sense, right?)  (By the way, I’ve been saying all along that Picard’s leaving Starfleet in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Episodes 4-6 of Star Trek: Picard

I enjoyed the premiere of Star Trek: Picard but I thought episodes two and three were very mediocre.  Thankfully, I thought the next three episodes were a significant improvement, though the show is still far more flawed than I would have hoped.  Let’s dig in.

Episode 4: “Absolute Candor”

* I liked the time given to the lengthy opening flashback, and I enjoyed the sweet scenes seeing Picard’s connection with these Romulan women and especially with the young boy, Elnor.  It could be seen as out of character for Picard to be so close to a child — since the character, when first introduced on TNG, famously hated children — but Picard had already significantly mellowed by the end of TNG, and this flashback is set many years further after “All Good Things…”  So this works for me.  The real problem, though, is that Picard is coming off as worse and worse with each subsequent episode-opening flashback!  It’s HORRIBLE to think that Picard would abandon these people, and that child.  He never once even tried to come back to that planet ever again??  He never once even contacted them on subspace after he left Starfleet??  That’s what’s out of character for Picard (not his friendship with the boy)!!  The backstory for Picard on this show is a huge problem for me.

* I love the idea of Romulan warrior nuns!  And I really loved the actress, Amirah Vann, who plays the main Romulan woman (Zhani).  I loved the young kid who played Elnor as a boy.  Grown-up Elnor seemed OK, too, but it was hard to judge in this episode since we didn’t spend much time of him.  (Between his name and his look, he’s a little too Lord of the Rings elf-ish to me, at first glance…)

* I love hearing Picard say “Jolan Tru”.  (Nice callback to TNG episodes like “Unification”.)

* While the plot is still moving glacially slowly, I was, for the most part, more involved with this episode because the dialogue was better/more interesting than what we got in episodes two and three. If the plot isn’t progressing, I at least want good character moments, and we got some good stuff here.  I really liked the “secret meeting” scene on the holodeck (though, wow, what a transparent way to continue using the set of Picard’s home built for the first episode), and all of the character interaction there.  I enjoyed the funny banter among the characters.

* The idea that the rule of law is breaking down on the edges of Federation space is interesting.  But here again, the show needs to do the work of better developing the backstory of what’s been happening … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Picard Episodes 2 & 3

I quite enjoyed the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard.

Unfortunately, the next two episodes (“Maps and Legends” and “The End is the Beginning”) were rather disappointing.  The same thing happened with Star Trek: Discovery — I really enjoyed the premiere and then things immediately took a downward turn.  I’m hoping Picard can rally.

I have two main problems so far.  First, almost nothing significant has happened in these last two episodes.  Picard at the end of episode three is in basically the exact same place he was at the end of the premiere: ready to leave Earth in an attempt to find and protect Dash’s twin sister.  Yes, we’ve met a few new characters (Raffi, Rios), but basically it’s been two episodes of narrative wheel-spinning.  That’s a LOT of wasted time in an eight-episode season.

More problematically, I’ve seen what to me feels like the exact same sort of lazy, muddled storytelling that so often beset Discovery.  What do I mean?  Here are a few examples:

* Why are the Romulan bad guys having trouble finding Soji when she is WORKING AT A ROMULAN FACILITY??

* We have all sorts The Force Awakens type of problems with the show being unnecessarily muddled with regards to the status quo of the universe and the characters.  Why is the secretive, paranoid, militaristic Romulan empire allowing Federation civilians to operate inside their salvaged Borg cube?  Wouldn’t they keep that technology to themselves?  What in fact is the status of the Romulan empire following the destruction of Romulus?  Does the Romulan empire even still exist?  Who are the Romulan bad-guys and what are they after?  Why do they hate Synthetics?  Have the Romulan bad guys infiltrated Starfleet or are they working with Starfleet?  (I have grown very weary already of the mustache- twirling Commodore Oh and her EVIL Romulan side-kick.)  (Also, do the writers know what a Commodore is?  That rank doesn’t make sense to me for the head of Starfleet Security.)  It’d be helpful to have some clarity on these story-points; I’d enjoy the stories more if I better understood what was going on and who wanted what.

* The idea of another Romulan secret organization hidden inside the Tal Shiar (a Romulan secret organization) seems silly and unnecessary to me.  (And the idea that they have hated Synthetics for “thousands” of years seems like a mistake to me.  “Thousands” sounds cool, but really that should have been “hundreds” of years, right?  The Romulan are at about the same level of technology as the Federation, so does it make sense they’d have had Synthetics on their world to hate and fear THOUSANDS of years ago?  On the other hand, the Romulan did … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Star Trek: Picard!

Set decades after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the new series Star Trek: Picard reintroduces us to Jean-Luc Picard.  No longer the captain of the Enterprise, or indeed a Starfleet officer of any kind, Picard lives out his days overseeing his family winery, assisted by two gentle aides.  But when a young woman on the run seeks him out, and Picard discovers that she shares a connection to one of his former Enterprise crew-mates, the former captain must re-enter the world he has been hiding from for so long.

I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I remember being so excited for the premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and I watched every episode of the series as it came out.  (Many of those episodes I have rewatched at least a dozen times, likely more!!)  I loved that show and I loved those characters.  I was disappointed that the movie franchise never really took off.  (I get a lot of enjoyment out of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, even though I think both films are deeply flawed.  Star Trek: Insurrection is forgettable and Star Trek: Nemesis is an abomination before the Lord.)  I never expected to see Patrick Stewart back in this role ever again.  But the creative and critical success of Logan, in which Mr. Stewart returned to portray an elderly version of Professor X, surely paved the way for his return, here, to the character of Jean-Luc Picard.

I was excited for this show, though very dubious.  I can’t say I have much faith in Alex Kurtzman, who is the current steward of the Star Trek franchise.  I didn’t love any of the three rebooted Trek films that Mr. Kurtzman was involved with (they’re fun but deeply flawed, and even when I love them they don’t really feel like true Star Trek to me); I have found Star Trek: Discovery to be a huge disappointment; and the “Short Trek” short films have been very hit-or-miss.

But I am pleased to report that I thought the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, titled “Remembrance,” was pretty great!!

It’s a pleasure to see Patrick Stewart back in this iconic role, and Mr. Stewart is, as always, fantastic.  He still has an incredible magnetism that is on full display whenever he is on-screen.  His commanding presence reaches out and grabs you.  It’s fascinating and sad to see Mr. Stewart play this older, damaged version of Picard.  This is still Picard — Mr. Stewart shows us Picard’s intelligence and empathy and warmth.  But this Picard has been changed by the events that have transpired since last we saw him.  Mr. Stewart … [continued]