Saturday, January 25, 2020

Picard 1x1 "Remembrance"

rating: ****

the story: Jean-Luc Picard comes out of doleful retirement, realizing he's needed again.

review: I bet this comes as no surprise to anyone who has read my Star Trek reviews before, but I absolutely loved the first episode of Star Trek: Picard.

Right from the start, as many "easter egg" features have already covered, "Remembrance" caught me in the jellies (it's a term I'm stealing from Detective Pikachu).  I love Star Trek Nemesis.  I'm pretty much the only fan that does.  I got immediately that nice cyclical note they were playing, Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" beginning Picard's adventures again, just as it ended them.  And the nod to "All Good Things...," and the nods to First Contact, and...

I've been a fan of Star Trek: Discovery, I really have, but I haven't felt as energized but creators responding to the rich legacy of the franchise since Star Trek Beyond, which was filled with resonant material, a movie that maybe doesn't on its own feel big but takes on greater weight the more you realize how much thought was out into it.  For fans like me (I don't know how many fans that actually is, but at least in the initial response to Picard, I'm starting to feel a little less lonely again), that's good stuff.

It doesn't have to speak to the past so much to be good, to approach greatness.  "Remembrance" does plenty that's all its own, too, but then there's even that link to the JJ Abrams Star Trek, the loss of Romulus, which until now, was only linked to Picard in comic books, and the additional, Next Generation centric link to "synthetics," which until now was represented mostly by Data and later Voyager's holographic Doctor.

Speaking of the Doctor, he's our last real link to the struggle "Remembrance" builds itself around, the Federation's complete inability to wrap itself around artificial life.  We thought we saw that resolved way back in "The Measure of a Man," but then when Data tried to give himself a daughter, Starfleet butted its head in again, and then the Doctor found out, when he attempted to publish a holonovel (Photons Be Free!, "Author, Author"), that he didn't have any real rights, and neither did the many copies of his basic program still in the Alpha Quadrant, long banished from starships, now reduced to menial labor...

And we had Admiral Dougherty in Star Trek: Insurrection, with his distinct lack of fondness for Data, referring to him just as easily as "the android" as by name, which he would never have done to Picard himself ("the human"), had roles somehow been reversed. 

So a tragedy is compounded by tragedy, and Picard no longer feels as if he belongs in Starfleet.  Anyone wondering if this is really out of character need only remember, again, Insurrection, in which he sets out to help a colony Starfleet has deemed as squatting on rather than inhabiting a planet of valuable resources.

Et tu, bigots?  In Gene Roddenberry's perfect future?  Well, just wait a minute!  Well before Star Trek: Enterprise, Spock was the victim of racism.  It's important to remember that the future Roddenberry envisioned was humanity's, which had finally resolved terrestrial affairs.  But the cycle began all over again...

So we have "synthetics" with no one to champion them.  Picard has retreated as much out of guilt over the death of Data in Nemesis as failure and frustration with what Starfleet has become.  Then he meets a girl...

This is a most extraordinary girl!  Bruce Maddox, who was so fascinated by Data, who overcame so much himself in years past, worked at the Daystrom Institute long enough to achieve a miracle, creating the next generation android, Data's daughter!  Daughters!  And they never knew!  So the episode plays out this discovery, and suddenly, Picard realizes everything he thought he'd lost, was just waiting to be found.

Including, it seems, a Borg cube now being inhabited by Romulans...

It's hugely intriguing, exactly what a premiere ought to be, and Patrick Stewart (recreating his melancholy from Logan) is once again an outstanding lead actor in Star Trek, as if there was ever any doubt, and the emerging cast around him offering new voices, waiting to be explored.  Let's see what's out there!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Rings throughout Next Generation TV and movie lore (and maybe we'll see that guy, too!).
  • series - And yet it is clearly its own entity, allowing Picard to once and for all take center stage.
  • character - Well, it nails Picard pretty well, doesn't it?
  • essential - It's exactly the story that needed to be told, in the most interesting way possible, if there was ever going to be a follow-up to Picard's adventures.
notable guest-stars:
Brent Spiner (Data)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Short Treks 2x6 "Children of Mars"

rating: ****

the story: The daughters of separate Starfleet engineers at the Utopia Planetia shipyards are rivals until forced to discover common ground under the worst circumstances.

review: I think Short Treks is becoming the most reliable source of great franchise material we've ever seen.  "Children of Mars" continues its emerging tradition of bucking traditional Star Trek storytelling forms, and in the process gives us another transcendent experience, and could actually be the best of them yet.

A mostly wordless experience (much like "Ephraim and Dot"), we follow the arc of two girls who engage in fairly typical school behavior.  The whole thing becomes an object lesson not only in how these things happen, but reaches far beyond the franchise to speak at truly universal levels.  Again, Short Treks achieves something that can be viewed by someone who has never seen and never imagined liking Star Trek, and can easily be appreciated for its remarkable accomplishments.

The Star Trek ideal has always been at the heart of its appeal among fans, its idealistic vision of a future where humanity has reached, at last, a state of peace with itself.  But even in Kirk's day Spock still felt the sting of racism.  The integration of aliens into the culture was something Enterprise explored, with particularly compelling results in its final season.  By the time we see the image of Picard, and realize this is part of the Star Trek: Picard landscape, we realize that humanity still has a way to go.  This isn't Star Trek rejecting its own message, but continually affirming it. 

We won't know the particular relevance of "Children" to Picard until Picard itself  But that hardly stands in the way.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Speaks directly to the heart of Star Trek's message.
  • series - Begins to emphasize that Short Treks itself has become a viable representative of the franchise.
  • character - In this instance, Starfleet itself.
  • essential - A breathtaking artistic achievement.
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