Star Trek Picard S01E03 Review: The End is the Beginning…of act one

Episode Three is in the books. You can catch our previous reviews here…

Episode One earns a 10/10 – It’s Star Trek. It’s more modern, slicker, but still Star Trek. I’m glad it’s back. I’ve really, really missed it.

*****

The End is the Beginning is a fitting title for what we’ve gotten from the show thus far; after all ten episodes of this season are done, I’m sure I’ll look back on the first three as the first act. Much like The Mandalorian, Picard’s first season is essentially a trilogy of feature-length movies parsed out into half-hour doses.

Except…it isn’t.

Imagine if you watched a movie called “Picard” that was ninety-minutes or so, set up a lot of mysteries, asked a lot of questions, teased a lot of revelations, and then ended right as the story finally got going. You’d be furious. That’s not a cliffhanger; that’s not an ending. That’s just a stopping.

At least the Mandalorian first three episodes ended with a sense of thematic conclusion to them: Mando deciding to save the child and run away is a strong enough “ending” to the first act of that show that I wouldn’t have been too angry had that been the end of a “movie.”

Picard feels, not like three movies, but one, stretched out over the run-time of three.

The episode sets out to accomplish three things:

FIRST, we finally get Picard back where he belongs, among the stars. That comes thanks to his motley crew being assembled over the course of the episode, all of them cliched but not to the point of stupidity. There’s the reluctant old partner, bitter after years away. There’s the eager, wide-eyed novice who wants to help but is out of her element. And there’s the rogue/the Han Solo/the ruffian/the scoundrel with a heart of gold. In the center of it all is Picard and his quest to find the answers that have been plaguing him for fifteen years.

SECOND, there’s a flashback to the aftermath of the Synth revolt on Mars. We’re not shown Picard’s meeting with Starfleet’s higher-ups but we can imagine how it went down; we’ve seen enough TNG over the years to know what it looks like when Picard moralizes and speechifies. The flashback gives us a little more insight into the relationship between Jean Luc and Raffi, and a little too much of her calling him “JL.” Once is fine, twice is enough, eight times and I’m annoyed. I get it, he has a nickname. Let’s move ahead.

THIRD, we learn a little bit more about the Romulans and their relationship (or lack thereof) with the Borg. There are layers to this particular onion to say the least, but the most important revelation this week is the idea that the Borg haven’t assimilated too many Romulans over the years, and the ones they have tend to have trouble integrating into the collective. We’re shown a proverbial padded room featuring ex-Romulan Drones that seem completely mentally broken. If my theory is true, and the Romulan species is actually entirely synthetic, it might explain why the Borg have trouble assimilating them. We’ll see what future episodes reveal.

Addendum: I have no comment on the return of Hugh, the ex-Borg Picard helped in the fifth season TNG episode “I, Borg.” I have no comment because the show did nothing to draw attention to that being the same character from nearly thirty years ago. If you didn’t hear the mention of his name, you wouldn’t have known. So, until his being “that” Hugh becomes important, I’ll wait and see if he actually is important or if he’s just a walking easter egg.

In addition, there’s a fourth important component to the episode, though I’m not sure it’s one that was intentional by the showrunners. Jean Luc Picard is sort of inadvertently presented as the last bastion of Gene Roddenberry’s dream of an optimistic, peace-seeking future where everyone works together, where poverty is eradicated, and earth is a paradise of positivity. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine flirted with abandoning that dream but never went all the way; in fact, it made a point to say Earth is still what Roddenberry envisioned but that, while “it’s easy to be a saint in paradise,” it’s hard to live out in the interstellar frontier. That was a great spin on things and allowed for some great drama in the show.

Now, Picard is showing us a future where the earth itself is bitter, xenophobic, and isolationist. This is an earth where people like Raffi live in the near-25th century equivalent of a single-wide, smoking the near-25th equivalent of mary jane, and resent Picard for living in his chateau in France. Meanwhile, he’s just trying to right the wrongs caused by someone else and can’t get an inch of help from either the Federation or Starfleet because they’ve completely lost Gene’s way and have become what the showrunners think Britain has become with Brexit and all that.

And to be clear, I’m not opposed to using Star Trek to comment on modern politics and problems. On the contrary; Star trek should. It always has. But there’s a difference here compared to how Star Trek used to be.

Science-fiction is, by nature, allegorical. Its purpose is to teach us about what we are, what we’re becoming, what we could be, all without making it obvious that we’re being preached to. Not all sci-fi is the same: Some is overt and cynical, creating environments that simply take the problems of today and turn them up to 11, beating us over the head with our own present sins.

Gene Roddenberry dreamed of a sci-fi show that dared to hope for the best.

He created Star Trek as a way to say “look how great things could be if we only just stopped fighting with each other.” Yes, there were still issues that needed addressing: In the days of the Original Series there was Vietnam, race relations, economic inequality; but how he dealt with those issues was two-fold. On the one hand, he made a point to remind us over and over in the show that earth had moved beyond those things. At the same time he featured OTHER, ALIEN, BAD GUY species that still had those problems, allowing Kirk, Spock, and later Picard, etc, to lovingly (or sometimes sternly) lecture on how stupid it is to be racist…

or to send people to death fighting a pointless war…

or to assume the worst of someone just because it’s convenient…

The key is that earth/humanity (a united humanity, mind you) moved past those things and the drama came from other alien species that hadn’t.

Picard (and Discovery) has either forgotten that, or has decided it’s maybe too much work, or requires too much of a writing-commitment, or is just too subtle for the dumbed-down audience they hope to attract, to tell those stories.

And that makes me sad.

I said after last week’s episode that I was okay with Starfleet being a bunch of isolationist jerks provided, in the end, they admit their fault and revert back to how they should be (how Gene envisioned them to be). We’re not talking about changing the color of the uniforms here; we’re talking about something that is foundational to Star Trek itself.

Without an optimistic, peaceful humanity, it’s not Star Trek at all.

Picard’s third episode takes the old hero back to the stars. What comes next we’ll find out in the weeks that follow. He’s searching for a synthetic…I just hope he finds the optimism and hope for the future that everyone around him has lost over the years.

8/10 – The show’s third episode ends the storyline’s first act. We’re through the looking glass; now we see where this story is actually going.

I’m still excited to find out.

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