“This episode brought to you by ChatGPT.” — Eugene Ragasa
I dunno, you guys. I don’t see why social media seems to be breathlessly saying Picard is a triumphant return to form when it is just sadly recycling stale ideas for the millionth time. Family’s important, of course. TOS had us there with Kirk’s brother and Spock’s dad… dang, Captain Christopher has to get back to his original timeline or Colonel Shawn Geoffrey Christopher doesn’t get to be the first man on Saturn. It’s a well-worn trope; the movies explored Carol and David Marcus, and the road not taken. The whole Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate is a rumination of the family-you-choose. Star Trek Beyond is basically an unauthorized entry into the Fast and the Furious whose function is “family.” This is the lamest, most trod-over ground for an IP whose entire existence is predicated on the human adventure is just beginning while boldly going, etc., ever. The human adventure has addressed its family issues long ago, says Star Trek, and finally we’re mature enough to head out into space and see what we can learn and contribute to other families.
And what do we get, instead? “Disengage.”
Now, back in the day, Jennifer Lopez was getting a little oversaturated and bad news for her she put out Gigli and Enough back-to-back to the point where an in-house wag said at the top of his review: “You never want to title your film after the inescapable weakness of it so you write a critic’s headline for him: ENOUGH with the Jennifer Lopez.” I think of that every time I see a tone-deaf title, and that happens kind of a lot on TV, writers trying to prove to their parents their liberal arts diploma wasn’t a complete waste of time, look, I named this one after a Shakespeare quote! But the last thing you want to call a Star Trek episode is what long-time fans are already doing with your work: disengaging.
• Anyway, the bullet points: of course this episode opens on a song from three years ago that sounds like a rejected track from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Four because no one in the Star Trek room can get an original thought out from under whoever is making decisions over there. Look it’s a field of stars! We used classical music last week; let’s get a rock song for this one! But, you know, our spin will be it’s a recent, modern, 21st century song just arranged to sound like a kick-ass AM radio gold song from yesteryear. Thematically, that’s perfect, since this season is apparently a recent, modern take on the themes of and music and font choices of a movie from 1982, so that’s great. Way to stay on-brand, sucky pale imitation Star Trek. I bet you’re glad The Orville is cancelled and not embarrassing you each week doing better Star Trek than you, even with all the Star Trek toys right there at your disposal. Turn the lights on, that’d be a start.
• Of course the destroyed shuttle that strands Jack and Will and Admiral Is-Too-A-Real-Boy is called the “Saavik” and they make sure we see that in perfectly lit legibility so we get that’s what passes for a Easter egg in this show. Point of order: it’s not a sly nod to the audience if you put it front and center like a 1950s 3D effect. That’s just an in-your-face reference; an Easter egg is a completely different phenomenon, like a quantum filament and a cosmic string. Come on! That’s the sort of shout-out this show should be doing. Didn’t get it? THAT’S ON YOU.
• Pumpkin from Pulp Fiction is doing her best Kang-variant impression, but it’s still kind of funny: “Admiral Jean-Luc Picard… in the synthetic flesh.” Of course Plummer drops that with all the emoting she can muster, but what is it in service of? They’re making the point that even robots can be involved parents? I’m not sure they understand what a demarcation line they are putting up between the audience and their intended aim of entertainment and instruction by reminding us the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for died two years ago and the guy out there kissing Romulans and crying about a kid he never had is just the latest four wheel drive with rack-and-pinion steering and rich Corinthian leather just off the lot you can drive for 0% down.
• Karl J. Martin, set designer to the stars, Guardians, Star Trek, Seaquest DSV, of all things, agrees with me that these numbnuts should stop talking about how wonderful everything is and concentrate on satisfying the audience, who is the ultimate arbiter of that crap you produce. “I will confess that I have never seen crew people so invested in promotion of a show,” says Karl, much more politely than I would put it but that’s why he lives in Burbank and I don’t. But I will point the finger at it, while maybe Karl can’t: you can’t make “fetch” happen. You absolutely can not. TOS was brilliant because they had TV guys run the TV part, but had come up in a system where the story was paramount and the bells and whistles were just dressing, not the meal. There a lot of tortured, mixed metaphors there but trust me when I tell you I did that on purpose and you would really like all the swearing once you get used to it and Tilly is a beautiful specimen and why don’t you all love us we wrote for 90210 and 12 Monkeys obviously Star Trek isn’t its own thing and anybody can do it, right? It’s not like there isn’t 60 years of the most anally retentive fanbase watching our every move.
So these guys can produce TV. Great. Everybody’s hitting deadlines, there’s a midwinter break even though it’s a streaming service, whatever. But you know what is its own job, with its own rules and cheats and idiosyncratic insider stuff that only the folks inside know? Marketing and promotions. You know who traditionally can’t do marketing and promotions? Talent. What makes them good as entertainers absolutely cripples them as promoters, and civilians can’t tell the difference. Just like everyone with a keyboard thinks they are a writer, everybody with something to sell thinks they can do it just by posting it up online or in the cloud. Except it doesn’t work that way. You can tell everybody working on the newest iteration is 100% versed in TV production at the expense of having ever lived an actual life out in the world after they got their undergraduate degree. I can tell you that if any of these guys took a marketing class ever or cracked a How to Win Friends and Influence People from 1935, they have never once displayed a working knowledge of it in any of the ancillary crap that’s been generated since 2015.
Anyway, shut up and let the work speak for itself. Unless you’re afraid to, which I honesty don’t blame you.
• One of Jack Crusher’s aliases is “James Cole”? That’s precious. I bet he picked that up on M’Talas Prime. BWAHAHAHA
• NuBSG has a lot to answer for, now that nuTrek is all dark and underlit and everyone is wearing black uniforms and for some reason Star Trek STAR TREK OF ALL THINGS feels the need to introduce tension and dread and everything with the handheld camera shots. Dear sweet baby jeebus please make it stop. Get some real science fiction writers in to write some damn science fiction, for a change. That’ll take care of itself.
• You’re a robot, Picard. That’s not your son, he’s the son of the man whose memories you think are yours. Have we not absolutely exhausted this theme? There are no new things to say about the persistence of family, the definition of which humans hilariously accept and deny in equal measure. What makes a man? Some Rudyard Kipling entreaty? George Michael says the clothes do not, and The Kingsmen say it’s “manners.” The Dude says, that, and a pair of testicles.
Terry Matalas and Alex Kurtzman and those guys all think what makes a man is all your friends talking to you like you are one, which, you know, is kinda defensible if not just absolutely antiseptic and bereft of any human emotion whatsoever. This robot isn’t Jack’s dad any more than my car’s name is actually “Colonel Schlong.” In both cases, that’s just a thing the humans call him, and when it doesn’t work anymore, we’ll just throw it out and get another one.
Sorry, Jean-Luc. At least a bridge didn’t fall on you and your last words weren’t “It’s been fun.” That would have been awful. Just like bringing back Brent Spiner again.