John Price comes out swingin’
Episode 4, “No Win Scenario,” made me sad.
For the first time since the CBS reboot of Star Trek in 2017, we got an episode that successfully did what a good Star Trek episode should do: it was exciting, it advanced the plot of the story, it was tied together thematically, it tugged at heart-strings, it had a moral message, and it even ended with a pivotal character moment providing the audience an ounce of sympathy for a generally unlikable cast member.
Can you imagine if Star Trek had been producing episodes and shows that were at this level for the past 7 years? Because that, that question right there, is the at the heart of all the criticisms, all of the negative reactions, and all of the vocal charges of “not real Star Trek.” We can overlook inconsistencies, we can overlook weird language choices, we can overlook all the minor things that come with making a TV show. As long as you make it Star Trek.
They finally made Star Trek. They finally did the one thing the audience and fanbase has wanted them to do. This episode is receiving effusive praise, and in some ways it’s warranted (we’ll talk about this more in a second). Many are claiming it’s restored their faith in the franchise, or at the very least, made them happy that Star Trek is back. But thinking about this episode just makes me sad… what if it had always been this good?
I called last week one of the best Riker performances ever, and this episode continued that trajectory. He’s not Thomas Riker. He’s not a Changeling. He’s not possessed by some alien virus. Everyone seemingly wants Riker to act like he did as a 30 year old in TNG, but this isn’t TNG and he’s not the same Riker he was.
For one, he’s a Captain, not a Commander. There is a gigantic difference between being the second in command and being in command. He’s been living for 25 years without the Picard Safety Net and he’s grown into himself as a leader. And yes, he’s more cautious, he’s more experienced, he’s more seasoned.
He lost a son, exacerbating that cautiousness, and in many ways — as he detailed in this episode — he’s lost himself along the way. He’s vulnerable and rudderless. This episode was Riker finding himself again, his place, his sense of adventure. It’s not a mistake that in order to do so he needed to move over a seat, but that isn’t a return to TNG Riker — it’s a return to Riker. Forever “Number One,” even when he’s a Captain, Riker is best when he’s taking action, on the move, causing mayhem and saving the day.
It makes me very happy to see how well they’re handling Riker’s character. He’s always been a more complex character — or I should say, he’s always had the potential to be a more complex character that the writers and shows have given him credit. Finally, he’s being explored in a way that not only fits this story, but it fits his story.
I’m not a huge fan of flashback-framed episodes, but it works here on a couple levels. The actual flashbacks themselves provide the thematic backbone of the story. The “Storytime with Picard” scenes help develop Old Man Picard as a character — way more than almost any other scenes in this 3-season-long show, which always seemed hell-bent on portraying him as Mr. Magoo instead of Venerable Admiral.
And of course, there’s the ending twist where Jack Luke was the random guy in the background who asked him about having a “real family,” to which Adm. Center of Attention replies, “Starfleet has been the only family I ever needed,” followed by lapping applause from wide-eyed Cadets. Which is exactly what Picard — the guy who hated kids, the guy who ghosted Vash, the guy who made Lt. Cmdr. Darren transfer off the Enterprise because he liked her — would say.
Picard is a self-centered jerk. Always has been. Finally, he’s correctly being portrayed as such.
I feel bad putting this in the “Good” section because I don’t hate Raffi’s story as much this year, but hey, any episode without a Red Rachel Garrett statue or eye drugs is a good episode.
Bev Saves the Day
It wasn’t subtle, but it didn’t need to be. Dr. Crusher is in sickbay predicting/counting down the energy waves and it dawns on her there’s a pattern: it’s a contraction. The nebula is actually a womb! Giant space creatures that are so big they register as nebulas has always been a Star Trek guilty pleasure of mine, so I liked that. I could have done without the smiling Space Octopuses at the end, but whatever. I’m just glad Beverly had a role in solving the problem this episode instead of being a glorified exposition machine for the Jean-Luc/Jack Luke drama. Which, to be clear, is incredibly boring and meaningless. I’m still salty that they are using Bev as a sort of bad guy in that relationship, so it’s good they’re using her brains and skills this episode, not just her womb. Get it? It’s a theme.
I reallllllllly did not like Vadic in her first episode. But since then, she’s been toned back 90% and in this episode was even given characterization. She answers to someone! Yes, it looks like a First One from Babylon 5, but she plays it so subdued and meek, it actually gives the audience a story to latch onto without telling us anything. That’s how you do it. Less telling, more showing.
No warp? No shields? No life support? No problem! Just head on down to the Holodeck — with its own independent power! — and drink away your last few minutes with some holo-whiskey! Sure, you could transfer that power to, I dunno, the actual ship systems that are failing… but why ruin the nice moment you’re having with your estranged son and the traumatic ravings of the ship’s captain?
What an embarrassing idea.
So everyone on the internet called the USS Constance / Wolf 359 connection. Good job with that one, Matalas. Let’s leave aside the fact that this is a very bad reboot of the Benjamin Sisko — Locutus relationship, but it’s also a HUGE missed opportunity: Shaw shouldn’t be a survivor or Wolf 359, he should be an orphan of Wolf 359!
The current year is 2404. Wolf 359 was just after New Years 2367. That’s 37 years. Now let’s say Shaw is the same age as the actor, 54. Note: Star Trek routinely has actors play younger characters, so if anything Shaw is probably in his late 40s. But let’s say 54. That means he was 16 going on 17 in 2367. It’s possible to get into Starfleet Academy at 16, but given the characterization as a “grease monkey,” I doubt Shaw was an Early Acceptance kind of guy. If he’s any younger than 54, he’s firmly in the high school, maybe even elementary school range, depending on how far the age differs.
The point here being… HIS FATHER DIES AT WOLF 359. That makes his story the Jake Sisko version, not the Benjamin Sisko version which we’ve already seen. What is it like being an orphan because of Locutus? What is it like growing up knowing this venerated Admiral you see on the news every day is the guy who murdered your father? Adults can rationally understand the series of events that took place, but can a child? Can that child ever learn to accept and forgive? How does a father-less child then react to the CURRENT THEME OF THE SHOW WHICH IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FATHERS AND SONS?
But, hey, what do I know.
Also, “grease monkey”? Really?
Even in the context of the show it was out of place and gross. Jack Luke curses? Ok, he’s a bad Han Solo, I get it. Riker curses? Ok, he’s Frakes and Frakes curses a lot. Shaw calling himself a dipshit from Chicago? Funny. But Picard? Even this fake replicant Picard? No. It took the audience immediately out of the moment and frankly ruined the scene. To be fair, it was a bad story and nobody cares about Jack Crusher — also I’m 99% sure they retconned Jack Crusher being his bestie at the Academy: Crusher served on the Stargazer and became Picard’s best friend… whatever. Maybe Robot Picard got his memory algorithms mixed up. Anyway, Picard cursing is bad. Stop it.
Retrofit warp engines?
These people have no idea what the words “retrofit” and “refit” mean. There’s no other explanation. I don’t even know where to begin explaining why the Luna-Class Titan cannot be the current Titan. They’re completely different ships. If you want to say we salvaged old components from the Titan to put on the new Titan, that’s fine. But you didn’t retrofit shit and this is not a refit. Nor is the Stargazer a refit. They’re new ships. Just make them new ships. You’re not losing anything in the process, nobody cares except ship nerds and ship nerds are mad you keep using these terms wrong! And while we’re at it, stop fucking putting -A at the end of every goddamn ship name. The Enterprise used to be special, and let’s not forget, the Enterprise-A was a shitty consolation placebo for Kirk, not the start of a trend. For cryin’ out loud. Enough. You don’t “refit” by making a brand new ship and you don’t “retrofit” by using old parts. Retrofit means using new parts in an old thing!! FFS.
Picard v. Hirogen
Lame. Just a really dumb story. Picard isn’t Ironman, he’s not Captain America, he’s not Superman. He’s a starship captain. Stop indulging Patrick Stewart’s ego.
Last but not least…
Can we all pretend the “Jack Luke starts seeing visions of the Red Upside Down” part never happened? Because my god was that bad. And let’s all pray it has nothing to do with the Tentacle Robot Monster from season 1. So say we all.