Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard has wrapped up, and it really wasn’t what we expected. It starts out as a sun-dappled, meditative series about former Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard sitting in retirement, musing over his failures and Starfleet’s problems. But it becomes a much less personal, much less specific story about a ragtag crew of science-fiction types out fighting the good fight against bad guys.
And then, in its final episode, the series heads in a more personal direction again, considering why death is important to humanity, and saying a permanent goodbye to a beloved character. (Okay, a probably permanent goodbye, under the circumstances. We’ll see.) Nothing about the beginning predicted the ending, and it was a bumpy road from one to the other, with a lot of veering between action and contemplation, between literary tropes and Star Trek movie standoffs. Halfway through the season, we sat down to evaluate how it seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. After the finale, we reconvened to check in on whether Picard course-corrected.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for the entire first season of Star Trek: Picard.]
Tasha: Well, I imagine we both have a lot to say about this season as a whole — how far it came, the new characters and windows into Starfleet it gave us, where it might go from here. But we really have to start with the finale, right? How are you feeling about where this season ended, Susana?
Personally, I’m back and forth between the things I found ridiculous about the finale, and the aspects I really enjoyed. I’m glad the episode took the time to shift back into a slower mode to explore some thoughts about mortality, but I’m not convinced it earned any of those thoughts. I’m impressed the writers remembered the Picard Maneuver and threw in a callback, but the finale sure spent a lot of energy on a gambit that was doomed to fail and didn’t even seem to buy a moment’s worth of time. I was glad to see Data again — and absolutely baffled that after his tragic death in Star Trek: Nemesis, Picard brought him back again in order to kill him again almost instantly, before we could even feel the impact of him being “alive” in some form.
And that yes-but feeling stretches to almost everything about the finale! I’m relieved that the Federation finally realized its error and showed up to defend the synthetics. But I’m at a loss about what changed to make that possible, or why they took the time to mobilize a couple hundred fleet ships, but couldn’t spare a single second to have someone, even an intern, answer Picard’s call and say, “Hang in there, we’re coming!” Having The Admonition be a double-edged message actually meant for synthetics is a cool idea, but I don’t see why everyone instantly assumed “We want to rescue synthetics from organic rule” means “obliterate all organic life,” not “Let’s just bring your tiny group of synthetics to our synthetic-safe dimension.” Basically, a whole lot happens in the finale that seems to come out of nowhere, just in time to resolve it. How did it all strike you?
Susana: I will still plant my flag on the “Picard is a good show” hill, and parts of this episode really worked for me. But.
Most of the actual conclusion to the overall plot fell flat— too many last-minute allegiance-swaps, too little structural underpinning for things like Starfleet’s fleet rescue, too many early plot promises abandoned mid-swing, too many “But how?” moments to let us shrug and say, “Well, it’s Star Trek, let them have fun.” How did Agnes know “Make it so” was Picard’s catchphrase? Why didn’t she and Soong tell Raffi, Elnor, and Rios that they were going to resurrect Picard, before they all sobbed on those very picturesque hills?
The finale reminded me of a Star Trek movie, rather than a Star Trek episode, and not in a favorable way. Nobody really comes to Star Trek for a space-battle blowout, but it’s the thing many of the movies gravitate to, because of a need to raise stakes and the understandable lure of suddenly having way more money than a weekly TV series. The best parts of Star Trek are actually when the ships, rubber prosthetics, and costumes fall away, and the whole thing boils down to two actors sitting in a room acting their chops off.
Which is why I think it doesn’t really matter if the Data stuff is a little unearned. It’s the piece of fan service that actually worked in the episode, healing the scab of Data’s abrupt death in the most hated film in the Next Generation series, and worse, the final one. Those scenes even breathed life into Picard’s resurrection, a move I anticipated from the moment it was clear his brain abnormality was going to be of the sudden-onset variety. And it was all on the strength of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner sitting and talking to each other. I was humming “Blue Skies” to myself all night.
(Also did you know that Isa Briones, who plays Dahj, Soji, and Sutra, sang that cover? The symbolism. Also, what an incredible voice.)
But I’m interested in how you felt about Data’s second death here.
Tasha: I’m so torn! I’m all for entertainment that lets our heroes express something other than rage and fear, but I absolutely hate the “Disney death” trope, where a beloved character dies juuuuuust long enough for everyone else to weep a little or speechify a little about how they’ll be missed. It cheapens death and grief and recovery, and it’s so lazy. Picard’s death here fits the bill.
But Data’s death is like a bizarre funhouse mirror version of the Disney death. The show doesn’t address how his consciousness ended up in a stable virtual matrix, or anything about what his experiences have been like there. Could he communicate with the outside world? Could he have been in touch with Picard and Riker and Geordi and all his old buddies all along? Or was he an accidental ghost in the machine, a byproduct of whatever process was used to create all those Data-kids? Either option would be fascinating, and the writers just don’t seem to care about any of it. They’re just out to gin up a cheap cameo and some cheaper emotion about him dying. Again. I’m flabbergasted that anyone thought “Hi, surprise, I’m alive, kill me!” was a good excuse for a sentimental moment. (It feels like if Han Solo’s confusing reappearance in The Rise of Skywalker had ended with him asking Kylo Ren to re-stab him.) And yet the “I know you love me, Admiral” moment really was sweet, and a pleasant reminder that not every dude interaction on TV needs to be toxic or bro-y and distanced.
I tell you what, I’m going to pretend all of that was a deathbed hallucination of Picard’s, just him continuing to process Data’s death in his dreams. Afterward, he solemnly unplugs … hm, let’s say, a dehumidifier while quoting Shakespeare, and the rest of the cast nervously nods and smiles and lets him think he’s actually laying Data to rest in some way. He’s an old guy, he’s been through a lot, if he wants to channel The Tempest while making the air on Planet Bot a little drier, that’s fine.
But what did you make of the rest of the finale? Say, the otherdimensional Matrix space tentacles, or the “Oh by the way, Raffi and Seven are dating now” hand-holding moment?
Susana: Why is it always tentacles? Like someone said, “Lovecraft, but make it robots.” Star Trek feels way too late to the trope of the malevolent post-singularity machine intelligence that exists beyond space and possibly time. This aspect of the season — unintentionally, I presume — feels ripped from the Mass Effect franchise, which itself was built on the bones of Star Trek and the Borg.
It doesn’t help me that much of my 2019 was spent reporting on how the X-Men began preparing their entire society to face off against a post-singularity machine intelligence that lives beyond space and time as well. In the lead-up to the finale, I came to terms with the fact that Picard was going there. Of course Picard’s going to make first contact with a higher alien intelligence, I thought, and probably save the day with a speech and a Diplomacy Check. But the reveal that all that terrifying machine intelligence amounted to was an intercosmic gloryhole full of robot arms … that was lame.
I’d much rather talk about the show’s quiet attempts to establish Seven of Nine as a queer character. Picard’s first season hasn’t outright said anything about it, in the way that we categorize [sighs at a thousand Disney movies] exclusively queer moments.
But take Seven’s interactions with Bjayzl in “Stardust City Rag.” Everything about them screams “Bjayzl is the femme fatale who got close to a hard-drinking militia leader in order to pump her for advantageous secrets, and now the soldier will have her very personal revenge from that very personal betrayal.” If Seven were a man, we would take it as obvious, from genre conventions, that she and Bjayzl were intimate. Same with that end-of-season hand-holding bit with Raffi. If they weren’t both women, we would take that as Wikia-entry-level confirmation that they were about to become a canon couple.
As a queer fan whose experience in the Star Trek fandom has been primarily among queer fans, I know very well that saying “Queering Seven of Nine will have a big emotional impact on that community” is the understatement of the decade. And I’m torn between wanting the show to confirm it in a way no one can ignore, and recognizing that in a perfect world where queer romantic expressions were as commonplace as straight ones, “Stardust City Rag” and this finale scene play exactly how I’d want them to play.
So my question for you is … I’m certainly influenced to see these moments a certain way. Do you also think that Seven of Nine in Picard is a badass lesbian cyborg?
Tasha: Oh, definitely. Or a badass bisexual cyborg. But she and Bjayzl were absolutely a couple — series co-creator/writer Michael Chabon expressly confirmed that in a recent Variety interview where he talks a lot about it being more “organic” for the characters to only glancingly reference their relationship. Similarly, he confirms Raffi used to date that lady Starfleet officer she phones for help at one point.
So the hand-holding moment seemed to me like a sly way of confirming queerness for both of them, and launching a relationship. But it also felt like a gentle testing of the waters, to see how the fandom reacts. I guarantee there’ll be some “SJW pandering!” whining from the usual “I want to see only me and people exactly like me in my entertainment, or you’re selling out!” crew. But that Chabon interview is pretty delightful about his feelings on ignoring what he calls a “sad little corner of fandom.” He implies there’ll be more time for character relationships in season 2, so hopefully that’ll be on the docket.
Susana: It’s nice to know that those were Chabon’s intentions — he’s a queer creator himself — but there’s nothing like confirmation within the text itself!
Tasha: Yup! And kudos to the interviewer, Adam B. Vary, for gently pointing out the double standard of calling gay relationships “organic” because the participants don’t ever verbally acknowledge them, while the het action is much more overtly front-and-center. But that mild hand-holding is honestly more overtness than I was expecting, and it feels like a good first baby-step. Besides more overt badass lesbian cyborg confirmation, though, what do you want to see in season 2? I was actually surprised at how much season 1 feels like a wrap-up, how little I felt was unresolved by the end of the finale. Do you see any loose ends you really care about?
Susana: Uhhhhhhh … Picard is an android now????? That feels like it has to have at least some legal or emotional ramifications.
Tasha: Does it, though? Agnes and Soong Jr. went to such trouble to give Picard a fake body that looks exactly like his original one, complete with built-in aging and incipient death, that it seems like something the show can easily ignore forever. It’d be pretty fascinating if Picard had to return to the Federation with an illegal synthetic body and challenge their bigoted anti-synthetic laws, or just spend the rest of his life on the run from a Federation that wants him dead. But the finale gives us a casual hand-waving away of those laws, too. “Oh, everything’s fixed now, the Federation’s fine with synthetics.”
And … why would that be true? The problem was never a fear that all synthetics are evil because one of them blew up Mars. The problem was that the Romulans can apparently hack human synthetics and use them for wide-scale destruction. Between that and Soji (who stopped being a person and became a bland plot function shortly after Narek’s murder attempt) nearly unleashing the robopocalypse, it feels like the Federation should be very carefully, closely re-examining synthetic life, not casually removing the ban offscreen. If nothing else, I would expect the next version of Bruce Maddox to want to examine Picard and consider the philosophical implications of a veteran human in an artificial body.
Susana: That’s exactly my point. It feels like that has to get some follow up. This can’t be like when the Voyager met another parallel Voyager and “our” Harry Kim died, so they just replaced him with the other Voyager’s Harry Kim, and then it was never mentioned again in the entire series, not even once.
It also really feels like, hey, maybe Starfleet should really reckon with the fact that a Romulan spy was able to become Starfleet’s Director of Security, and Riker just let her run back off to Romulan space! But maybe that’s something Narek can help them with.
Tasha: So what, if anything, are we supposed to feel about Narek at this point? I vaguely feel like we’re supposed to find his loyalty to Soji compelling, and to believe he’s actually in love with her, and thus willing to betray his “muahahahaha I am so evil” creepy incest-courting sister, or something. Like we’re supposed to be constantly on the edge of our seats about whether he’s being sincere when he asks her to love and trust him again.
But we’ve seen him go from indifferent to her to big-eyed soulful hurt-comfort loverboy so many times at this point that I think she made the exact right call in the finale: It honestly doesn’t matter whether he’s in love with her, she still doesn’t owe him a damn thing after he tried to kill her and sold out her homeworld to the Zhat Vash. I’m anticipating more “Will they get back together?” angst in season 2, and hoping the answer is “You know, the universe is just absolutely packed with hot sad-eyed dudes who aren’t deeply emotionally screwed-up covert murderous conflicted secret super-spies, and I think I should try out a few hundred of them before getting back to you.” I know, bad boys are so dreamy and whatever, but anyone who tries to kill you really should get the permanent bounce.
Susana: Narek, get a life. Narek, get out and let Soji live her life. Soji, date Elnor, who would never lie to you, and is capable of murdering literally anyone.
Tasha: Is he, though? (I can play this rhetorical game with you all day. It’s fun.) I liked a whole lot about the first season of Star Trek: Picard, starting with the relatively slow buildup and introduction of Picard in retirement, and going on to the bigger questions about what life means, what death signifies, and how much we should weigh the consequences before creating the former or dealing out the latter. But as far as I’m concerned, the show’s biggest asset is its characters.
The cast is terrific, doing a lot to inject soul into material that’s often pretty clunky. Thanks to Michelle Hurd’s intensity and solemnity, I’m genuinely invested in Raffi’s struggle to redeem herself. Santiago Cabrera’s goofy performances have fully drawn me into Rios’ oddball combination of Han Solo swagger and being such a PTSD wreck that he off-sourced his personality into a bunch of single-function holograms with silly accents. And I’m all for Action Star Jeri Ryan, slamming around space, double-fisting her blaster-rifles. Unexpectedly, I was really touched by the visit to Riker and Troi, and the chance to see them in retirement as well, though the big pile of backstory about their lost son and his secret languages maybe seemed like more exposition than we really needed.
But my biggest beef with season 1 is the incredibly herky-jerky way the scripts try to throw these characters into meaningful conflicts, and then keep losing sight of them. And poor Elnor is the biggest victim here. Introduced as a game-changing hireling badass, a merc with an ethos and a need to prove himself to a distant father-figure, he was never really allowed to develop much personality, or contribute meaningfully to just about any part of the story. He spent the latter half of the season parked in various corners, waiting to be useful. His plaintive 60-second conversation with Seven about missing her if she died was the most interesting thing he’s done since his introduction episode.
Susana: Wholeheartedly agreed. Picard Season 1 was a cast of secondary characters and a bridge crew of one, and everybody who wasn’t the guy the show is named after suffered for it. Elnor, Raffi, Soji, and Rios are all really fun character concepts — and really interesting character inventions within the Star Trek setting. A second season has to make good on all the setup the writers did manage to awkwardly shoehorn into Season 1 wherever they could fit it, or it’ll be the same thing all over again.
Tasha: Anything else you’re hoping to see in season 2? Personally, I’m expecting the show to do what Star Trek: Discovery did, and introduce a big new overarching season 2 plot, possibly built around another legacy character. And I’m not all that enthused to see that happen. Season 1 opened up a whole lot of fascinating debate topics, and then barely skimmed the surface on them. I’d much rather see the second season digging into all these ideas about artificial life and peaceful co-existence in more depth.
Oh, and maybe we can actually find out what was going on with Dahj and Soji’s secret amnesia mission in the first place? Do you feel at this point like you actually have a sense for what their purpose was, who came up with that plan, or how it was enacted?
Susana: Not at all. I’ll give Picard this: season 1 was so good at distracting me with fancy outfits and Honesty Nuns that I didn’t think about it, but there are a lot of pieces that never fit together.
I want a more episodic, cast-focused Season 2 that returns to the show’s initial thesis: Picard was just waiting to die of a brain abnormality on his vineyard, mulling over his failure to rescue the Romulan people and Starfleet’s honor. Now, he’s got a 20-year lease on life and is surrounded with a young, capable crew of people he loves. There’s a whole big universe to explore, and I’d like to see these characters do it.
Also, Guinan has to show up. Make it so.
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