Star Trek Picard—review and commentary


Ryan in Trek

Then and now— Seven of Nine

Star Trek
is an integral part of American culture
and a controversial view of the future of humanity. It began with Gene Roddenberry’s concept for a serious science fiction television series, a novel idea in the early 60s, and it has continued to evolve for fifty years. As America has changed, as science fiction has changed, as television has changed, Star Trek has changed, too.

Picard is set two decades after the feature film, Nemesis, and is based upon the series Star Trek The Next Generation, which ran for seven years on television. Later, four of the feature films were based upon the characters from TNG series. Picard has ten episodes in season one, but the second and third seasons are planned for CBS All Access, which is how hubby and I watched the first season.

This made for the web series has very high production values—the sets and effects rival feature films. Sir Patrick Stewart is still an amazing actor, although the pace of the series (slow!) seems to be partially dictated by the age of its principal character. Viewers who prefer space battles and fisticuffs will probably be a bit disappointed. Casual viewers may also find the editing, with its rapid cuts from scene to scene, confusing. Honestly, I don’t like that aspect at all, but this is apparently in line with Picard‘s sister show, Star Trek Discovery.

Spoiler alert—

We both thought the first few episodes were confusing and lacking in characters, apart from Jean Luc Picard himself, with whom we could empathize. The writers made a good decision in embracing the age of the main character. Anything else would insult the viewer, as Patrick Stewart looks and sounds old. For us, as fans of Star Trek Voyager, the show got better when Jeri Ryan pops in, as an older and less “Borg” version of Seven of Nine. Ryan is still riveting to watch, even without the cat suit that made her fodder for lots of magazine pictures in the late 1990s. In the seventeen years since her character graced the small screen, Seven has become much more human—in her speech pattern, in her attire, and in part due to suffering losses associated with years of living in a deteriorating society.

A key word here is suffering. One of the better aspects of Trek in its first few decades was  its optimistic view of the future of humanity. Although Roddenberry sought to put serious science fiction onto television, and therefore into lots of living rooms, his vision was seldom dark. However, much of serious science fiction—in print, in film, in gaming, and even in graphic forms—has embraced the dystopian view of the future of humanity. A utopia is an idealized society in which social and technical advances serve to make all things better for humanity. Yes, I did say it was idealistic! A dystopia is the polar opposite, in which “advances” in society and technology make things worse. For some examples of dystopian literature/film, think of Orwell’s 1984 or the film Blade Runner, based upon the work of Phillip K. Dick.

Alas, Picard‘s greatest weakness isn’t its slow pace or its rather confusing editing. Nor is it the “flashbacks” in which the characters look just as old as they do in the current timeline, no doubt due to the unforgiving nature of high def photography. Nope, the core problem for many fans of Star Trek will undoubtedly be the dark vision of the future embraced by the writers. Picard is a dystopia. Beloved characters from the previous Trek series will suffer, and some will die. New characters suffer and some of them die, too. And, by and large, those deaths may very well be without purpose, meaning, and certainly without honor.

Star Trek Picard has some strengths, including dazzling cinematography, a rich background of material from which the writers can draw inspiration, and an aging but talented main character. Guest stars include characters from TNG and Voyager, and the development of Seven of Nine, the former Borg, works well. Enjoy the series, but temper your expectations. This is post-modern Star Trek.


Review of Star Trek Voyager: A Vision of the Future

I really, really wanted to love Star Trek Voyager: A Vision of the Future. At times I did like it, but no love. None.

The Making of Star Trek, by the same author (under another name) was an eye-opening book for me. Like many viewers, I had accepted the brilliant series with no real understanding of how it all came about. When I read The Making of Star Trek, I learned everything from the nature of McCoy’s instruments, which were almost all made from fancy salt shakers; to fan mail from kids who wanted working phasers. The vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was intermingled with fascinating facts about the production itself. And, as a fan, I loved it, but I also loved it, because it gave me a real appreciation for all that goes into making a television series.

Some thirty years later, three veteran producers of Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine began kicking around ideas for a fourth series, which was ultimately named after the ship, Voyager.

Unfortunately, the author who recorded this process did not filter enough. Yes, I wanted to know about the casting problems, but I don’t need to know the names of the security guards on the set. Honestly, there is just too much information in this book. Unfortunately, there are no doubt some nifty tidbits that were not mentioned, so that literally everyone associated with Voyager would have a mention in this book.

Poe’s record of the process of creating Voyager is worth reading, but it could have been so much better with some judicious editing. I’d love to say it is a great book, but it isn’t. On the other hand, I did enjoy parts of it, such as the description of how Kate Mulgrew quickly pulled the cast together and helped get filming on track for the January debut.

Sometimes, one can’t see the forest for the trees, and that’s the problem with this vision of the future.