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.

7 comments:

  1. An amusing side-note with regards to the Asimov reference: Asimov invented the Positronic Brain (a device which Data carried around in his skull).

    And yeah, I thought the movie was alright too. I'd like to think that Asimov would have liked it, even if it ditched the egghead stuff for a little bit of blaster fire.

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    1. Didn't know that actually, but I am not surprised! I am not a huge fan of everything Asimov has written but the Robot-series I find to be quite excellent.

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  2. Another plug for the Robot series by Isaac Asimov! The movie never did the books justice.

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    1. The movie is more "inspired by" than a true attempt at bringing it to the screen and I am ok with that approach if the end-result is entertaining. What I do want to see though are faithful movie adaptations of the other books in the series like Caves of Steel and Robots of Dawn. Man I love those books, especially Robots and Empire which had me cry at the end.

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  3. Technically "the book" was just an anthology of short stories he published in e.g. Astounding. Susan Calvin was a recurring character, kind of the thread that joined most of them together. Usually they were presented as kind of noir mysteries, in a futuristic setting. Some of his greats (e.g. Caves of Steel) wore their mystery roots on their sleeves.

    All that to say, trying to nail Asimov's bots down to "a story" has always been a futile effort. So I grade the movie on the scale of "what would Asimov thought of Susan Calvin?" Now, HIS Calvil was cold, some people joked (in the books) that she was more like a robot than her "patients". And truthfully, Movie Calvin was not cold and robotic. Truth is, Asimov was lousy at writing interesting characters, so there is no way - ever - that an Asimovian Susan Calvin will ever see the light of day. And that's going to have to be the case for ANY Asimovian adaptation, I'm afraid.

    To answer my own question, I think he would have liked this version of Susan and been glad they were able to reclaim the name US Robotics.

    (Which is an amusing side note for Bicentennial Man - that a MODEM company, of all things, had grown so powerful that it blocked an Asimov story from using the name of the company name that HE INVENTED).

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    1. Great comment! I totally agree with you and Asimovs character-writing skills. I find some of his best work to be the Robot series though. Kind of ironic maybe that he really manages to make his robots seem human and multi-faceted, a lot more than he does actual humans (though I find Elijah Bailey to actually be a pretty good character).

      I didn't know that about Bicentennial Man but oh wow ^^

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    2. Hehe, yeah, where's your lawyers NOW, USR? :)

      That's a good point, and maybe that's the "hook" for his Robot series - he did such a great job of characterizing the bots, we were willing to let the terrible human characterizations go.

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