Monday, February 24, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E5 "Stardust City Rag"

Spoilers.

We start with a flashback to 13 years ago and a planet called Vergessen (which means "forget" in German). A young ex-borg is being seemingly tortured by a person and we find out this ex-borg is named Icheb. It can only be the Icheb of course. Seven of Nine storms in but she is too late, the wounds are going to kill him so she mercy-shoots him tearfully. This scene is important to understand a lot about Seven of Nines motivations for the episode, as we will soon find out. Also, what a tragic way to end that character.

Icheb, before he meets his unfortunate demise.

Jump forward to "two weeks ago" on the planet Freecloud, and we finally get to see the infamous Bruce Maddox. My theory that Bruce Maddox is actually Data somehow unfortunately seems wrong, this Bruce Maddox looks nothing like Data and seems painfully human. Maddox seeks up a woman named Bjayzl (another name that really irks me for some reason) and asks her for protection. Bjayzl, who also has a Beta Annari in her employment, doesn't seem too happy about having someone who is the target of the Tal Shiar under her roof and orders Maddox killed. She changes her mind within two seconds though and instead decides to auction him out.

Seems like if the Tal Shiar are after him an auction could be more hassle than it is worth? Is she hoping that the Tal Shiar will try to buy him off her, when they don't really seem the type to haggle but rather just grab what they want? To be fair, Bjayzl is portraid as a woman with a lot of power and influence, so it is quite possible the Tal Shiar can't just take something from her. We will soon find out however that taking things from Bjayzl is actually not that difficult.

Raffi finds out that Bjayzl is auctioning out Maddox and tells Picard that there just is no way they're going to get him now. Seven of Nine has a plan however, since she knows that Bjayzl deals in off-the-market borg technology and Seven of Nine is sort of a prize within that community. The Seven of Nine of this series is quite different from the one we left in Voyager. She is now part of the Fenris Rangers, which were mentioned in the previous part (though I didn't mention them in my post as they didn't seem important) who police the local area. Think of them as a wild west vigilante group. Picard asks Seven how she can take the law into her own hands and Seven cleverly answers "the law?". It's an overall pretty good dialogue but we've gotten to see too little to explain how Seven could've ended up here. The short scene in the beginning of the episode, where it seems like ex-borgs are basically being hunted for their parts (a pretty likely scenario), isn't enough to fill in the gap between the Seven in Voyager and the Seven we are just watching. But the night is still young and we now know that this series likes to give you tidbits thrown in here and there. We'll see how many of them will be about Seven though.

Annika isn't who she used to be.

We also get to see a short scene where Agnes watches some clips of her and Maddox. Turns out that Agnes actually used to be Maddox' lover. Is that really why she wanted to tag along? Nope, we're soon going to find out that Agnes has been hiding more than this.

We also see why Raffi wanted to come along to Freecloud. Apparently her estranged son lives here and she is trying to patch things up with him. Estranged because of her substance abuse and prioritizing trying to prove the Tal Shiar conspiracy on Earth rather than spend time with her family. The son, who has a Romulan or maybe Vulcan wife who is expecting a child, isn't interested in her trying to make things good again and asks her to leave. But we knew that that was going to happen, because Raffi wasn't really going to leave the crew. This gives us some insight to who she is as a person though and especially all she has been struggling with since Picard left her. It's told with few words and pointers, a lot has to be surmised and I like that.

Seven and Raffi come up with a plan to retrieve Maddox. Seven knows that Bjayzl would want to get her hands on her technology, so she suggests they are going to use herself as payment, outbidding the Tal Shiar for Maddox. Everyone gets to play dress up. Rios goes as the "introducer" or "interfacer", a role that seems entirely superfluous in the end (except for throwing in a reference to Quark from DS9). Picard dresses up as some sort of crazy, French accent-having pirate-looking guy who wants to trade Seven for Maddox. Picard hams it up like he's in a comedy all of a sudden and it's pretty hilarious to see. Picard had some funny moments in TNG too but for the most time he is fairly stoic and serious. I like that they expand a lot on his personality in this series but I will get back to this in a bit.

Not the first time Stewart dons the funny-mantle. Hopefully not the last.

Bjayzl presumably understands why the Tal Shiar are after Maddox but seems to have no wonders about who this crazy pirate guy is and how he managed to capture Seven. As Seven is brought up to Bjayzl and they start talking it becomes increasingly clear that they share quite a past, so Bjayzl if anyone should know perfectly well not only that Seven wants to kill her for all the ex-borgs she has killed (including Icheb) but also that she possesses superhuman qualities. Yet Bjayzl goes up and stands right next to her, with full faith that the tiny constraints around Sevens hands are going to be enough. Well, of course they aren't. Seven puts her hand around Bjayzls throat and threatens to kill her right there.

Rather than just doing that though, they talk. A lot. And Bjayzl, or someone on her team, manages to convince Seven that if she kills Bjayzl the rest of the people with her (namely Picard, Rios and Elnor) will have bounty hunters after them. Seven agrees to let Bjayzl go as long as they get to take Maddox with them. Said and done.

Back on the ship though, she tells Picard she needs to leave, asks to bring two rifles with her, beams back down and kills Bjayzl anyway. At least they did that, which was a pretty cool way to end it. Before she does that though she has a very interesting conversation with Picard. She asks him if he thinks he has regained his humanity after he was in the collective and he answers "yes". "All of it?" she asks. Short pause and Picard answers "no".

Maybe it changed Picard more than we think?

Now we're with Maddox in the sickbay. Picard has a conversation with him about where Soji is and the camera cuts to Agnes, who is taking care of him but standing at a distance. The way the scene is played out made me scribble down "Agnes is actually the bad guy?". She just seems odd there somehow, and I guess it was well done because as soon as Agnes is left alone with Maddox in the sickbay again she goes on to murder him. So apparently Agnes was an undercover agent for the Tal Shiar all along (I am assuming that is who she is working for, she could also just be crazy).

I find the character revelation pretty good because to be honest, Agnes hasn't really added much to the series otherwise. Of course, the writers already pointed this out two episodes ago when Agnes asked to be taken along for the ride. When Picard agrees, Raffi rightfully questions the fact that he doesn't actually know anything about her. "So we're letting strangers onto the ship now?" she basically asks. Picard pretty much just shrugs it off. Yet again we see how his arrogance (or is it aloofness? His absolutely certainty that he is doing the right thing at all times?) is hurting people around him.

Which brings me to the point I was starting to make earlier in the post. I like that they are developing Picard. I can see how it can anger some people, and I can also understand that you just don't want people to tamper with your darlings. The best way to see it is that there is the old Picard and the new Picard. The same way a sequel to a game doesn't change anything about the original game, yet some people still are angry about the fact that a sequel is made at all (same thing about movies actually). Development needed to happen. There was almost no reason to have this series if Picard was going to be exactly the same as he is in TNG. Also, who doesn't change over the course of 30 some years? Some people don't, but Picard clearly has. If some of the hints about what has going on during those 30 years is anything to go by, he has a lot of reason to have changed his mindset about certain things, though his core ideals are clearly very much intact. And I find that to be the most important thing. When I see this Picard I still see the Picard from TNG, but aged. Definitely not wiser, but different. Water has flown under his bridge and he has seen things.

Overall the show still balances right between "oh, not so great" and "hah, that was cool!". I am very much enjoying it still though and I am interested to see where they are taking things. Oh and in case you were wondering, Soji had no scenes in this episode.

Images from memory-alpha.fandom.com, syfy.com

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E4 "Absolute Candor"

Zpoilerz.

This entire episode was a long line of addressing some of my questions about the writing. It worked out pretty well in the end actually.

First we get another flashback to 14 years ago. We see Picard in some sort of Romulan settlement and while the scene doesn't explain to us yet why it is necessary, it will become quite clear later in the episode. One very interesting thing about this scene however is that Picard really comes off as younger. And I don't mean that they've tried to de-age him, if they did I didn't really notice. But Patrick Stewart really plays Picard more energetically and jovially. That makes it so much more clear that the weary, quite tired and frankly damn old Picard that he plays in the rest of the series is exactly that, a carefully crafted character act. It's in fact not just an old actor playing himself, there is thought behind it. Damn, this man is good.

Picard visits some sort of convent looking thing where everyone, except a young boy named Elnor, are women. It's not explained outright yet, but it is clear that the convent obeys some sort of "open book" policy in which they never lie about their feelings. When the young boy happily greets Picard, his teacher/caretaker tells him to leave Picard be because he doesn't like children. The boy gets saddened and asks Picard "but I thought you liked me?". "But I do!" Picard answers and he seems genuine about it. Elnor is going to turn out to be another person that Picard has quite frankly just turned his back on, like Raffi. At this moment in the flashback they're still planning the evacuation and Picard gets the information that the synthetics have killed people on Mars. At that point he is still reassuring everyone that the evacuation will continue as planned, but we all know that it's not going to. We also know that for some reason, Picard chooses to just leave everyone involved in this behind and go hide at his chateau out of disappointment, presumably.

Sadly Guinan wasn't part of the convent.

We move back to present time and get a very scripted feeling conversation between Rios the pilot and Agnes the synthetics expert professor. I'm not really sure what it is meant to accomplish except maybe the feeling of team building, like we as viewers need to start cheering for these guys as a group (and not just Picard) but it just comes off as stiff and weird frankly. I guess that makes sense too though since they don't really know each other yet.

Picard has decided to take a detour to a planet named Vashti before heading to Freecloud. Raffi is very much against this, but we find out that this is where the convent place was and Picard wants to enlist someone from the convent as his personal super-warrior. Apparently these nuns are some sort of close combat battle-nuns, because of course they are. My first thought was - what use is an expert in close combat going to be in a time where there is mostly space ships and laser guns?

Vashti is apparently in a bit of a lawless zone at the moment and the area is sort of owned by some person called Kar Kantar. Not only do they need to keep out of his hair, but the planet itself has some sort of dangerous planetary defence that is going to turn out to be barely any trouble at all, especially considering the amount of time they spend building up the tension around it.

Before Picard beams down to the surface however we get to meet another one of Rios' holograms modelled after himself. This one is the "Greeter Hologram" or something like that, later on we also get to meet the "Gunner Hologram". They're all pretty distinct and I actually love the idea of having an entire ship inhabited with loads of holograms of the same person, none of them actually being that person though and all having their own, annoying, personality. Rios seems to strongly dislike most of them, which is another fun aspect to it.

And definitely a hundred times more fun than these gits.

Down on the surface of Vashti, Picard notices that most things seem to have gone to pits. For one thing, the Romulans have started segregating, making certain areas "Romulan only". He goes to the convent and meets the same lady from the flashback whom I swear looks exactly the same. Not a wrinkle in her face has changed during the 14 years. Just as I was thinking about that fact though, Picard points it out himself when he tells her that "she hasn't aged a day". Do Romulans age slower than humans too, like Vulcans do? Makes sense I guess.

We learn that the warrior-nuns are called the Qowat Milad and they are the sworn enemies of the Tal Shiar. How convenient for Picard.

Elnor on the other hand has changed a lot. He is now a young man who looks a lot like Legolas, only with dark instead of blonde hair. Though he wasn't meant to grow up in the convent, the aftermath of the attack on Mars meant they couldn't find another place for him. This meant he too was trained in the supreme battle skills of the battle nuns and guess who Picard then goes on to enscript (a word I just made up reflecting conscripting and enlisting) into his group of oddballs?

Elnor isn't too keen on the idea though since he too has felt completely abandoned by Picard all these years. What kind of asshole has Picard been? I've got to say, if this series achieves anything, it's going to be the slander and ruination of Picard pretty much spotless legacy. But maybe that is part of the idea, to make him more human?

As Picard leaves he decides to go have a drink in one of the "Romulans only" bar, but not before he pulls down the sign and kicks it away. What a great way to make friends. A Romulan ex-politician confronts him, and ends up challenging him to a duel with actual swords. At first Picard refuses, but the bad guy is about to kill him when Elnor shows up and ends it with a cool looking but probably useless spin-sword-slash. The entire scene is so obviously set up for them to be able to show us Elnor's skills because why else would Picard decide to behave this way? But then someone shows up with a blaster rifle and says something along the lines of "your combat skills won't be good against my gun" which also reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones. It'll definitely be interesting to see how they plan to make Elnor's combat skills useful later on and hopefully he knows more than just how to swirl through the air with his sword.


When Picard asks Elnor why he changed his mind he basically just answers "ehhh I just felt like it". The writing in this can be both so extremely lazy and down right bad some times and other times it is gracefully subtle and clever. It's like there are several different people writing different scenes and that is probably the way it is too.

Let's go to Soji for a little bit though. She is finally addressing the fact that Narek is acting weird as hell and he needs to turn up the charm-dial a few notches to ease her mind. Ramdha, the liberated ex-borg Romulan from the last episode who accused Soji of being "The Destroyer" came from a ship called the Shaenor. I mentioned briefly in a previous post that this made her special somehow, but it hasn't been explained why yet. Narek and Soji both agree they need to dig deeper into this. Narek then confronts Soji with the fact that there are no records of how she came onto the cube. Soji seems to think he is just toying with her but Narek is actually divulging some pretty sensitive information. He is basically telling her that he knows that she has been doing some trickery which she A) either already knows and then presumably isn't to happy about him knowing or B) doesn't have a clue about and then he's just made her really confused. What is Narek trying to achieve?

But not much happens with this information, Soji seems to think he is just making things up, as mentioned and they quickly move on to other things.

Nareks sister (?) makes another appearance to see how things are getting along. While they are referring to eachother as siblings, I am not so sure they are. They're pretty handsy for being siblings, but then I'm not well versed in Romulan customs. In their conversation they refer to "the rest of them", implying they know there are a lot more synthetics out there somewhere and the plan is to try to get Soji to tell them where they are, either she knows it consciously or not. He tells his "sister" that he is planting the seed of doubt in Soji, though what kind of doubt it is is not entirely clear yet.

Back on board the ship they've of course been attacked by Kar Kantar. A short battle ensues which is literally just an excuse to allow yet another character to make a grand entrance as she saves their behinds. Just as her ship is about to be destroyed (after she has dealt with Kar Kantars Bird of Prey) she is beamed over and it is - Seven of Nine!

Yay! Now if the rest of the Voyager crew could join as well...

I've been waiting for this moment and it's going to be very interesting to see how she fits in with Picard rag tag team of weirdo's but also how she will fit in with Picard himself. Seven of Nine is arguably one of the best characters of Voyager (though she was apparently intended mostly as eye-candy the writers managed to make so much more out of her).

To wrap up, though more might and probably still will join;
Picard - needs no introduction.
Raffi - Picard ex-colleague, unknown role. Angry with Picard and claims she is just hitching a ride and will leave them as soon as they get where she needs to but we all know that's not going to happen.
Rios - Picards laid back pilot.
Agnes - Picards somewhat strung up synthetics expert of unknown usefulness.
Elnor - PIcards close combat expert of unknown usefulness.
Seven of Nine - Ex-borg of extreme usefulness.

This episode doesn't move the plot forward much but rather stacks the deck a bit higher. I don't mind that at all as I find it's necessary to build a good story. All this needs now is for these different characters to blend together well with great chemistry and we might actually have a very tasty soup.

Images from dailytimes.com, wikipedia.com, gamesradar.com.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E3 "The End Is The Beginning"

Yes, spoilers.

This episode too started with a bit more backstory and I actually quite like that story structure which allows you to learn a bit more about the reasons for why and how Picard is where he is at the current moment in time.

For instance we learn that the angry woman he meets at the end of the previous episode is called Raffi and used to know Picard quite intimately. I don't mean non-platonically but in the way that she calls him "J.L". And I don't know why but it makes my skin creep every time I hear it. Like Picard would never allow anyone to call him J.L. It just rings so wrong. It might not even be that I can't picture Picard enjoying being called J.L, I mean overall he is actually pretty easy going. But the character Raffi doesn't really sell in that she would call him J.L. I think I am getting way more hung up on this than I need to be, but I'm not the only one.

Too cringe.

Raffi knows about the Tal Shiars undertakings on Earth and says she even has proof. At first it isn't entirely clear why she was so angry with Picard. But as the backstory unfolds we learn that Picard lost his job when he put up an ultimatum against Starfleet in the hope that they would still go through with the rescue plan regarding the Romulans. The ultimatum was that he would resign if they didn't and it ends up with him having to resign. Apparently it also means Raffi, as his co-worker/subordinate also has to resign. And because she had been backing his unpopular plan all along she is thrown into disfavour and basically has to live in a hovel in disgrace.

She's not angry at Picard for that happening though, at least that's not the main reason. The main reason is that when Picard resigned/was fired he retreated to his chateau and just left her behind. Apparently he didn't bother calling up on her even once in all the years that have passed (10? 20? Something along those lines). Now that is just a very d*ck thing to do. Even I would be pissed with Picard after all that. But what an uncharacteristic thing for Picard to do though. I'm not really buying it and we don't get any reason for it either. Picard simply says he is sorry which means we'll have to accept Raffi's account as the truth. Come on Picard, that's just mean.

He asks her for help to find a pilot and a ship. She's not keen about it and asks him to leave.
Over to our other synthetic, Soji gets to talk to an ex-borg in command named Hugh, who tells her she is going to be allowed to talk to another ex-borg named Ramdha, who is very special apparently. They give an explanation for why a bit later into the episode but the explanation makes no sense to me, I'll get to that later though.

Remember this guy?

The ex-borg commander Hugh is the same character (and is played by the same actor) who played a borg in an episode of TNG and I think it's a great idea to tie him into this story this way. It's the kind of fan service nod that requires a bit more thinking than just having someone cameo in the background (or playing the TNG tune in the background as they do in this episode twice) and I am happy for it. Hugh also tells us that ex-borgs are in fact referred to as "XBs", and what is it with shitty acronyms in this episode?

Soji is lead into a room full of Borgs that have been liberated but aren't working very well. We get to know that all (or most?) of these borgs are Romulan. She tries to speak with this Ramdha person who is sitting at a table doing some sort of Romulan looking tarot cards. At first Ramdha isn't very forthcoming but Soji knows a lot about Romulan mythology and mysticism and manages to get Ramdha to talk to her.

Meanwhile Raffi has pulled through and introduces Picard to a pilot named Rios. Rios seems to have his own fair share of issues, and he also has an EMH which looks exactly like him but speaks with a completely different accent. It's actually a pretty funny juxtaposition and I think it works in this episode.

As Picard is getting ready at the chateau him and his Romulan friends get attacked by our mystery enemy. Laris and Zhaban as the Romulans are called manage to kill off the attackers and even get a prisoner. They interrogate him, humanely, and he reveals that Soji might not  be who they think she is. I mean, she is probably a synthetic, but for some reason they all think that she is really dangerous. As the prisoner reveals this information they're also cutting to Soji's talk with Ramdha, who reveals the same information in her own way. "Which sister are you?!" she screams and pulls a gun from a nearby guard. They both (Ramdha and prisoner) end up calling Soji "the destroyer" or Seb-Cheneb in Romulan (there is your next D&D character name). I mean that can't be a good thing right?

Janeway is chaotic evil?!

It's a good thing story wise though as it thickens up the plot and makes it even more interesting.

And also, Alison Pills synthetics expert who may be called Agnes (man my notes are shit some times) gets a visit from the (now confirmed) Vulcan commodore (who is definitely named Oh) who wants to know everything she has been saying to Picard. Agnes goes to visit Picard after this and actually walks right into their gun fight with the presumably Tal Shiar or Zat Vash force. It's actually a pretty funny scene where she guns one of the enemy down and flustered she says "maybe it was on stun?", Laris responds with a "Romulan weapons don't have a stun setting".

Agnes tells Picard about the visit from Commodore Oh and that she told her everything because she is a bad liar anyway. Picard says it's ok. Agnes says she needs to come with him because she would never forgive herself if she didn't see a real synthetic which has been her life dream since forever. They decide to go seek out Bruce Maddox in a place called Freecloud. I'm not sure in what way the Agnes character will turn out to be interesting to this story, because so far she has only been used as an exposition-deliverer. She as a character is completely blank to me. If everything she said had been delivered through text on a screen instead it wouldn't have made any difference (except the funny shooting scene I just mentioned).

Turns out Raffi has business in Freecloud too, what a coincidence considering the massive vastness of space and all, though we don't get to know what kind of business and probably never will. It's really just a reason to get her on the space ship with Picard though she makes it very clear that she actually doesn't want anything to do with his little rescue mission. Picard looks at the main screen and says the magic words - "engage". Yeah, that actually felt pretty good.

I have this sneaking suspicion that Bruce Maddox is actually Data somehow? Just a thought, but we'll see. Can I anagram Bruce Maddox into Data in some way....

Anyway.

Pretty decent episode, I like the way this one didn't throw blatant exposition into the dialogue like the first two episodes (though I forgive them for it) but the story telling has become a lot more "wait and see and hopefully you'll understand". It's just more fun when at first you wonder where they are going with something and then it clicks.

This series still has me interested (delayed review post or not) and not even Raffi's constant "J.L" can ruin my fun.

Images from gamespot.com, screenrant.com, community.gophersvids.com

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E2 "Maps & Legends"

Spoilers, of course.

I had been looking forward to episode 2 and overall it did not let me down.

But man does Alison Pill look just like Ellen Page to me. And she plays someone who has spent an unjustifiably large amount of time and resources on something that is supposed to be banned. But anyhow...

I mean maybe not side-by-side but in the show...

This episode starts with a welcome flashback (never thought I'd say that), namely to something that we haven't seen but that has only been mentioned - the incident which got synthetics banned. It's a pretty cool scene where we get to see the regular stuff of synthetics/androids/whaddyamacallits being used and abused until something seems to make them snap and they kill everyone. It seems like one of them in particular is the one to instigate it all, rather than them all snapping at once and if that isn't just a coincidence then that could potentially matter quite a lot. This synthetic also ends itself through suicide, which seems like overkill (pardon the pun) at the time since it is about to be blown up anyway.

Also noteworthy is the weapon it uses to kill off the humans with, nothing less than a plasma cutter that looks like it has been taken straight out of the hands of Isaac Clarke in Dead Space. Is this an actual tool that exists, or at least is somewhat established as a future-item through long time exposure in sci-fi? Or is this actually almost a homage to that video game series? I doubt the latter, though that might have been the source of inspiration.

Not quite this cool though.

Then it cuts (man, the puns are strong today) to the intro and I didn't really reflect on it in the previous episode but I quite like it. It has a nice, solemn tune and interesting visuals that probably metaphorically tell you a lot about the plot if you are into and understand symbolisms (hint: I don't).

Picard and his Romulan friends (sorry, forgot to write down their names this time around as well, but one might be named Laris or something?) go over what seemed to have happened to Dahj. Laris decides to tell Picard about an undercover super-extra-secret society in the Romulan empire called the Zhat Vash. No one knows much about them except they seem to really hate synthetics. It is also not known why they hate them. Laris (if that is her name) is certain they are behind the killing of Dahj and Picard quickly decides that he needs to go after the twin (whom we know to be Soji) to try to save her.

They don't have much in terms of leads of where she could be though. Through some CSI style tinkering of "lipids" and "molecules" and whathaveyous in Dahj's room where she was first attacked they only find out that someone was there and cleaned out all the evidence. When they go through her computer however they manage to find out that Soji is not on Earth. Well, great. Because the rest of the Universe isn't a big place to search or anything. Picard let's out a "there is the ghost in the machine", though I am not entirely sure what he means at that point or if it is just intended as a somewhat badly placed reference.

There is a great danger in referencing material that is probably better than yours.

We get some scenes with Soji as well. She seems to be working on a Borg Cube that has been cut off from the collective without self-destructing. In here they work to disassemble/help the drones that were left behind, among other things. The Borg Cube is owned by the Romulans and it's not well explained why they allow what at least superficially seems like scrub non-Romulans to come aboard to help them disassemble and do research on the cube. Clearly there is some treaty between the Romulans and the Federation that allows for this but we have to take it face value.

Soji befriends a Romulan named Narek, whom we already briefly met in the previous episode. They hit it up but he is being very secretive about himself. Soji doesn't seem to care and goes about her daily routines.

Back to Picard then. To get the things he needs, like a ship and crew, Picard initially turns to some higher up in the Federation with whom he seems to have a somewhat thorny history. They have a shout-out and she flatly refuses him ship and crew (and frankly I think she is right since he doesn't really give her good reason to allow it). She says some poignant things that look like they hit home, things like Picard simply making stuff up to try to stay relevant.

Afterwards we do get to see how she
contacts some "Commodore" about the information that Picard provided her, the thing about there being covert Romulan operations happening on Earth. The Commodore, whose name also escapes me of course (I really should get better at writing these names down, but oftentimes I am too busy enjoying the show to remember to scribble) is maybe a Vulcan? It is a bit unclear, since you can't actually see any difference between Vulcans and Romulans and the only thing I go off is whether they show emotion or not. She in turn contacts a human called Rizzo who will turn out to be the show's first real dud. It also seems like these people know a lot more about these covert operations than they should.

In fact, this Rizzo is actually a Romulan in disguise (unclear if the Vulcan Commodore is aware of this) and she is also the big sister of Narek who is also undercover doing something or other. The two of them share a scene... well I'll get back to that shortly.

I forgot to mention that before Picard goes to the higher up, he has a conversation with an old doctor-acquaintance who, after some reminiscing, tells him that he is very healthy but he is also dying. This so that we know that Picard is physically capable of doing what he is about to do but then he will die. He has nothing to lose, in other words.

Back on Earth Picard decides to sort out ship and crew on his own instead. Somewhere in all this there is another reference when someone (the doctor? Maybe Laris?) is reading "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov and Picard says "I never really cared for science-fiction. I guess I just didn't get it". Fun. The Robot series by Isaac Asimov are great by the way, but that is a side-note.

The movie is aight.

In the final scene we see how Picard visits a person who seems to hate him but decides to join his crew under the motto that the enemy of my enemy is my friend (i.e she hates the Romulans even more than she hates Picard). We'll see what the other crew members are going to be like.

I am glad they didn't assemble any more people from the old crew, partly because I don't like most of them particularly much and partly because it allows this series to go a lot more freely and build its own identity. Otherwise it would've most likely just come off as another episode of TNG and right now it really doesn't.

I am also glad the Romulans seem to be the bad guy or "alien of significance" in this series because they are familiar without being overdone. My feelings towards the Romulans has always been "Vulcans but with the rage" and this series doesn't seem to change that much so far. Romulans are very similar to Cardassians that way actually, secretive and quick to temper.

Back to Rizzo and Narek though. They unfortunately share one of the final scenes of the episode and up until that point I had really been enjoying myself. The plot was thickening at a good pace (too slow? Definitely not) and seemed to be building up to something that was going to interest me. But then these two have one of the worst dialogues I have seen in a long time. I don't know if the acting ruined the dialogue or the dialogue ruined the acting, but it was cringe-worthy c-movie style of passive aggressiveness trying to be cool. It didn't work and it even soured the entire experience for me. Oh god, I really hope these people either get a lot better stuff to work with or simply don't show up that much. Unfortunately it definitely leans towards that they have big roles in the plot.

Picard/Stewart, as usual, carries this entire series. There is just a kilometer wide gulch in quality between the scenes he is in and the ones he isn't. Unfortunately it makes me think that what I am watching is only good because he makes it so (yep, I said it) and not because it intrinsically is. Does that matter if I am still enjoying myself? So far I am going to say no, and I hope that feeling stays with me throughout.

I am still very eager to see the next episode, and that is a good review if any.

Images from IGN.de, thefilmstage.com, wikipedia.com, thewrap.com.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard S1E1 "Remembrance"

Spoilers galore!

I've mentioned it a couple of times before and anyone who has read some of my previous posts on Star Trek might know by now that The Next Generation is far from my favorite Star Trek series. In fact, in many ways I would probably put it at the bottom of my list (the verdict is still out on Discovery). That doesn't mean I think it's a bad series though, just that it is facing stiff competition. When comparing it to the other series in the Star Trek universe, TNG definitely has a lot going for it, but it has even more that just rubs me the wrong way. Mainly I find most of the supporting characters to be annoyingly... lacking of substance. They're just walking caricatures to me, and you could probably say that about all of the Star Trek series really, but in TNG they don't even come off as likable.


That is, except for Picard and Data. Those two carry TNG if you ask me and without them there would be no reason to watch that series at all. They alone do make it worth suffering through however, though I do recommend simply skipping the episodes that focus on some of the worst characters (Riker, the Crushers, Troi, Worf... wait I am just naming the entire cast ain't I?).

So when Star Trek Picard was announced (though at first it was only known as something Star Trek with the character Picard in it) I wasn't really sure what to think of it. I'm not against more Star Trek, although like I said I am not really sure what I feel about Discovery yet. And I like Picard as a character, he is great. So whether this new series would be worth checking out or not would really come down to how much it was about Picard and how much it would be fan servicing all the other characters in there as well. I definitely didn't feel like I needed to see more of them, especially since some of them do plenty of cameos on other Star Trek series already, unlike Picard and beforementioned Data.

We'll fast forward a couple of months and I have watched the first episode of Star Trek Picard and I can say, yeah. This has potential. This could actually turn out to be something I am really going to enjoy.

Data's role is still very mysterious.

It starts out with Picard in a dream sequence, though at first that's not entirely clear. Picard is sitting on a space ship playing chess with Data, but things quickly seem to feel a bit off. The very first sequence into this scene is overlaid with Bing Crosby singing, and I can't hear Bing Crosby without immediately thinking of everything Fallout.

The dream sequence turns into a nightmare and we see Picard waking up in his bed at some sort of vineyard mansion. When he looks out the window at the rows of crops it looks like it's the middle of the day, so does he sleep that long or did he just have a nap?

We also learn that Picard's dog is named, or at least called, Number One. Funny I guess, but cropped ears? Really? All those years into enlightenment and peaceful living but they still do that completely unnecessary and cruel cutting of ears? It seems like such an odd anachronistic thing to accidentally leave in, it makes me kind of sad that it's so natural to the show runners that they didn't even thing there was anything odd about it (cropping of dog ears and tails is thankfully illegal in Sweden).

Apparently Picard lives with Romulans at this vineyard and he is about to hold an interview with a TV network (or whatever they have that far in the future) who wants to ask them about the incident that made Picard retire.

I can't say I am well versed in TNG and Picard lore, so I actually have no idea if this was something that was known prior to this show or created for this show. My shoot-from-the-hip guess is that it was entirely, or at least mostly, created for the show. This part is very exposition heavy, and the interviewer is so bad at her job it is clear it was only written this way so that us viewers will quickly get up to date with where and why Picard is in his life.

I think it works in the sense that they make a whole lot of background story delivered in a short space of time understandable and easy to follow. This exposition also does its job in helping us understand a lot of the things that are about to follow.

No body likes the Romulans.

In short, the Romulan home-world was about to explode (some 20 ish years ago in this series) and Picard was part of the few people who wanted to help the Romulans out, seeing as they are snarky and aggressive and have been the enemy of the Federation for a long time. They're simply not very nice people. Picard manages to rally enough support for his cause to get a rescue mission going, but everything is ruined when a group of "synth's" (short for synthetics i.e androids) decide to go rogue and abuse the situation by blowing up a lot of people. Synthetics are subsequently banned from existing within the Federation, something that Picard is very much against seeing as one of his best friends was a synthetic (i.e Data). Data had died somewhere around this time by sacrificing himself to save Picards life so isn't around anymore as I understood it, though it's not mentioned exactly how this happens.

Picard retires from the Federation in anger and spends the rest of his days at his vineyard. Until something happens.

What happens is a girl named Dahj. We get a scene where she is having a date with her boyfriend when suddenly loads of SWAT-looking people show up, instantly murder he boyfriend and go to kidnap her. Dahj "activates" in some way and kills them all with some pretty kickass fighting (which immediately made me think of Clarissa Mao from The Expanse). Seeming as confused about this as the rest of us, she gets a vision/memory of Picard in her head and since he is somewhat of a notability she knows where to find him and decides to do so.

When Dahj turns up at Picards vineyard my brain started screaming "BLADE RUNNER!". Rogue synthetics? A synthetic that doesn't know it's a synthetic (Dahj)? A human who has to go looking for them? Any of this sound very familiar?

One of the rare occasions where the movie is much better than the book.

I am a huge fan of Blade Runner so I would never turn down something that has taken inspiration from it. Also I think that just because Blade Runner has explored this concept before doesn't mean you should shy away from it, it's a great concept after all. In fact I would applaud the show creators if this is the direction they want to take this show in, I am all for that. But I don't know that yet.
Dahj presents herself to Picard who starts to suspect that she is a synthetic. She leaves before he can ask her more and he has a hunch he decides to go look up. In a vault he has a painting made by Data 30 years prior called "Daughter" and it is the image of Dahj on it. So Data is involved too somehow. It doesn't help that Picard keeps dreaming and daydreaming about Data as well.

It turns out Dahj left because she was worried Picard would get hurt. Don't worry, Dahj's mom (or whatever she can be) deus-ex-machinas Dahj back to Picard where Picard can tell her about the discovery of the painting. Then the SWAT-people find them and they get chased down, Dahj fights them off for a while but they manage to kill her.

This actually threw me off. I was sure Dahj was going to be part of this story and killing her off this soon deepened the mystery in a great way for me.

Picard decides to investigate further at the Daystrom Institute, which apparently has the most knowledge of synthethics though they're actually banned. He talks with a woman there who looks like she is at most 30 but she talks about synthetics and their history like she's been part of it for the last 40 years. They couldn't find an actor who looked like she had been around for all that time then?
Picard finds out that synthetics that are entirely organic might exist and they were always created in pairs. Why you're probably wondering? Very good question that this episode at least doesn't answer, though I am very sure the answer is nothing more than "plot reasons".

Anyway, this means that Dahj's twin is out there somewhere and Picard is setting out to find her somehow.

Before the episode ends we get to see this twin, named Soji (if I recall correctly), on board what looks like a repurposed Borg Cube full of Romulans. Also, did they create a Romulan language for this show or did it exist already?

This could be good.

This episode was definitely too short. Aren't pilot episodes supposed to be double-length anyway? It got me interested almost immediately anyway and although some of the writing is a bit sloppy and convenient, Picard (Patrick Stewart that is) and the promise of stories about androids make it come to life for me. Would I love it half as much if Stewart wasn't in it to sell it so well? No, probably not but he is so here we are. This has so much potential to become something great I feel, if they manage to keep the same sense of urgency and mystery throughout.

Some of the critique seems to be that the pacing is too slow. While I haven't seen far enough to judge for myself yet, but my spontaneous reaction is hell yes! Finally a TV-show that has the guts to take its time and not just whizz past my face.

Are these synthetics creations of Data's? Who is hunting them? Is Data still out there? Where is Seven of Nine? These are all questions I want answers to and I am really looking forward to the next episode.

Images from imdb.com, heavy.com, screenrant.com, flickr.com, winnipegfreepress.com.