Spoilers for episode three of Star Trek Picard’s third season.
It stays pretty calculating, right? Not necessarily individually, but as a whole, Picard Season 3 seems intent on becoming some kind of Nineties-Trek remix. Without the original explorer curiosity, of course, more on the side of DS9’s sinister war and conspiracy plot – a series I’m falling in love with as it’s becoming clear that it helped shape Trek’s new direction.
Sure, you could say the first two seasons already sampled a similar best-of buffet: Data’s Legacy, the Borg, time travel, Q, but it was so outrageous, random, and sedated that it hurt to watch. I’m happy to report that by episode three of the third and final season, Picard has almost completely abated that kind of pain. We’ve left the waters of bad fan fiction for now. Now it’s apparently passable fan fiction, no less. But so far it doesn’t look like much more.
The things that work are roughly balanced with the things that could very well be gone, with a bit of preponderance on the good side – as long as you’re willing to swallow the entire premise and direction. Of course, there are still a lot of conveniences in there – incredibly powerful, unknown ship from nowhere, fabricated Picard offspring, characters who are always right where they are needed – or disappear where they get in the way (an interesting one, but unused and then suddenly deregistered Shaw and Seven of Nine).
Some people say things that make you want to switch off straight away. “Call me number one” could have been made less “cringe” and more subtle, a random injured officer in sickbay forgets Starfleet protocol and snaps at Jack Crusher, Riker explains his job to Captain Shaw, and a retired Picard tells a retired Picard that he’s hoping that this one will also feel the joy of being a father. The latter is already a no-go in real world circles for various reasons. But on top of that it’s extremely implausible here and is only said so that we can later reflect Riker’s 17-second story on Picard at a dramaturgically effective point.
But the episode also uses the bread and butter of the better movies: typical cat-and-mouse trek, insidiousness and hide-and-seek in the fog, which you can hardly screw up completely with such good effects. That’s also true here, and so the bottom line is that it’s a lot of fun to watch. Again, the same applies here: In order for Picard and those around him to be the heroes, the crew of the Titan must be overwhelmed and shown headless down to the infirmary. Shaw just about makes it to the cue-giver on the stretcher and gives Jack a thought that a random ensign on the Enterprise D would have uttered before the first commercial break.
Then the youngest Crusher runs to Seven of Nine, who is still under house arrest even on red alert and is still unable to establish a connection to the bridge with life-saving information (far-fetched!). As I said last time: It has to be like this, otherwise we wouldn’t have a Jack Crusher uppercut and shortly afterwards no more chase in the fog. Then the episode would just be over and you would have to think about what the story of season three actually is. I’ve been seeing this backwards scripting school all too often lately and it’s annoying. Sidney Laforge, who seems to be the only one who has an idea of what she is doing here, remains a bright spot in the crew. It bothers me more than maybe it should. But when suddenly a third of the aged TNG crew takes command and there’s a gray-furred family of explanatory bears, my eyes audibly roll back into the back of my head.
But damn it! I still have fun with this. The actors are significantly better than before. Picard and Beverly’s conversation about a 20-year secret was relatable and dramatically effective. At least if you disregard the fact that Jack actor Ed Speelers is 34 and even before the end of TNG these two space dinosaurs were no longer of the age at which people usually start a family. Worf’s idea – sugar for tea? – even got me one of the louder laughs of the recent series history and the tone is generally not as morose as in the previous seasons, which were sometimes unnecessarily cruel.
I liked the return of the changelings, the portal weapon fight was nice (although I don’t understand why Vadic didn’t use it to stop the Titan from returning to the Nebula), and the conflict between Riker and Picard was a nice reflection the old TNG ratios. I didn’t expect the series to dare to shake a little at established conditions. The end of the episode suggests that the fracture is not mended within the first ten minutes of the fourth episode. I liked that, although I’m not sure Riker’s reaction was appropriate given what these two have been through together.
If my Star Trek bingo card isn’t fooling me, the even more dangerous weapon involved in breaking into the Daystrom Institute would have to be the body of Data’s “brother” Lore. Although I’m already noticing that the obviousness of ticking off the checkboxes seems all too accurate and “easy” again, I’m not at odds with this revelation should it come to that. Somehow, despite all the follies and stupid habits of new Treks, I’m a bit hooked. I’m still fidgeting and can’t close my eyes to the weaknesses, which is probably due to the unprecedented bungling of the first two seasons. But I like to watch and I no longer wonder in every second scene what the authors must have gotten. I’ll book that as a respectable success for the time being.