As I read review after review of the third episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “The End IS the Beginning,” the one common complaint I encountered over and over again is that the series seems to be moving TOO SLOW. It seems a fair number of people are really bothered by the fact that this third episode wasn’t any more action-packed than the first two (except the Zhat Vash attack on the Château Picard toward the end), and how after three full episodes, it was only in the last few seconds of the third episode that Picard finally says “Engage…” (hooray!) and we’re finally leaving Earth for deep space. The end really was the beginning.
Too slow, huh? Give me a break people! Let’s be honest: the real problem with this episode is that there was a Vulcan Commodore wearing sunglasses! I mean, really? Vulcan has a stronger sun than Earth, and Vulcans have that inner eyelid thingie (which we learned in the TOS first season finale “Operation: Annihilate” when Spock recovers from temporary blindness).
Oh, sure, there’s sunglasses in the 24th century. Barclay wore a pair on the beach in Voyager. But on a VULCAN??? Never! And just look at that commodore rank pin! It’s skewed! Would a Vulcan ever allow such a thing to happen? Would the Starfleet of the future even have rank pips that didn’t stay perfectly in place? This is is the FUTURE, people! Between the sunglasses and the rank pip, people might start to suspect that Commodore Oh isn’t really a Vulcan at all—despite her smooth forehead—and a Romulan agent would never be that sloppy…nor would an actual Vulcan!
And speaking of foreheads, we’re now told that the bumpy heads of Romulans are just a genetic variation of those from the north??? Really? Like blond hair or blue eyes here on Earth? Pshaw! Everyone knows that in the 4th season TNG episode “Data’s Day,” the faux-Vulcan Ambassador T’Pel returns to the Romulans and reveals herself to, in fact, be a Romulan…complete with a bumpy forehead!
What? You can explain that? Maybe she was really a northern Romulan and just got smoothed over for the undercover espionage assignment? Suuuuuure she was. I don’t buy it for a second.
Actually, you guys shouldn’t buy anything I just wrote! I was totally kidding!!!
None of the above items really bothered me. Well, technically, I wasn’t thrilled about Commodore Oh’s rank pip. But when it comes right down to it, I really don’t have any desire to criticize this show right now. And that’s kind of weird because I’ll jump down the throat of any random goof or discontinuity in an episode of Discovery and bash any Star Wars movie made after 1983 for every stupid, illogical, incoherent plot hole I find.
I’m a sci-fi fan, and we live to complain. So why don’t I want to complain about Picard? It’s really weird! Let’s do some soul searching…
AND MAKE NO MISTAKE – THESE FIRST THREE EPISODES WERE VERY SLOW!
It’s funny, but one of my biggest complaints about Star Trek: Discovery has consistently been that the show rushes at warp speed from beat to beat (a beat is a significant moment for a character that changes or affects them or has their behavior/action affect another character). The hurried pace of Discovery seems to give the characters almost no time to breathe, to develop, or really to bond with the audience.
One example I use of this (although there are many) is when “Mirror” Lorca betrays his Starfleet crew and tries to destroy them. He’s defeated, of course, and everyone moves on as though nothing happened. The only real emotional reaction we see from anyone to the “discovery” that Lorca had been fooling everyone all this time and was really a megalomaniacal psychopathic murderer was when Admiral Cornwall shoots a phaser at an otherwise innocent bowl of fortune cookies. Do we ever see any 0f the rest of the crew struggling to cope with their own gullibility and feelings of betrayal by the leader they had followed with total loyalty and trust? Nope.
So in that way, Discovery is the “bullet train” that streaks its way across the landscape leaving little opportunity or time to appreciate any of the vistas before they quickly change.
Picard, on the other hand, is a leisurely bicycle ride across the Bourgogne vineyards of the French countryside with a basket full of wine and roquefort cheese and a fresh baguette baked with love by ex Tal Shiar agents…ready at anytime to stop, enjoy the view, and maybe have a relaxed chat during an impromptu picnic.
But perhaps the better comparison between shows isn’t bicycle versus bullet train as much as fine wine versus cola. Want a quick jolt of energy and caffeine? Grab a Coke or Pepsi or Red Bull, pop the cap, and take a guzzle.
But a fine wine requires months to grow the grapes and years to properly age. And even after taking the time to uncork the bottle, you still shouldn’t drink it immediately…and certainly not swig or gulp it down. Let the wine breathe for a bit, swish it around the glass, appreciate its color and fragrance. Then take a small sip. Savor it.
I think Picard is like a fine wine that should not be enjoyed before its time. This is not to say that there can’t ever be a middle ground between wine and soda. There’s beverages that take a little longer to make and drink but don’t require as much wait time…such as fresh squeezed orange juice or a well-mixed martini, shaken and not stirred. But enough recitation of the bar menu!
Picard started very slowly…of this there is no question. Three episodes in and we’ve had at most two “action” sequences per episode and instead mostly just characters talking but doing relatively little. Heck, in the beginning of this third episode, we don’t even get to watch the fireworks between Picard and the Starfleet brass…we simply hear about it later as “JL” (hey, that’s me!) tells Raffi about what happened.
And y’know what? That’s just fine with me! It was a great scene that illustrated the previous relationship between Picard and his first officer on the USS Verity, and it was a wonderful way to convey the flavor of the moment in a quieter, more thoughtful way. Discovery would likely have chosen shown the dramatic conflict scene in the admiral’s office—most likely with Michael Burnham doing a lot of know-it-all speech-making (which I’m certain that Picard did, too)—but we had that scene already last episode when Picard confronted Admiral Clancy. I appreciated a different, more subtle approach that left more to the viewers’ imaginations. Good for them!
Likewise, Picard has taken its time in introducing characters and letting us slowly and comfortably get to know them. In the first episode, we pretty much just saw Picard, Dahj Asha, Laris and Zhaban (the Romulan housekeepers), Dr. Agnes Jurati, and Number One the dog all episode long. And don’t forget Data and, just for the briefest of moments, Narek and Soji Asha. The wine was now uncorked.
Episode two gave us an opportunity to get to know some of the episode one characters better—particularly Laris and Zhaban, Agnes, and of course, Soji. Then we were also given our first glances of other characters, although not much of any of them: Admiral Clancy, Commodore Oh (booooo!) and Lt. Narissa Rizzo (hissss!), Picard’s former medical officer from the Stargazer, and of course, Raffi Musiker. The wine has now been poured, but it’s still being allowed to breathe.
Episode three develops Raffi much more…along with the already-introduced characters like Laris, Zhaban, Agnes, Soji, Narek, Narissa, and a teensy bit of Oh. (Seriously, I can NOT take a character with that name seriously!)
But guess what? We’re not finished introducing NEW characters yet either! The latest episode brings fans their first glimpse of Dr. Hugh (of “I, Borg” and “Descent” fame from TNG), now de-Borgified and still quite interesting. And perhaps one of the other most interesting characters to be revealed so far: Captain Cristóbal “Chris” Rios and his heavily-accented Emergency Holograms. (So A.I. synths are bad, but hard-light/forcefield holograms controlled by A.I. are okay? Got it.) The only character we really haven’t seen in a while is the canine Number One, but rumor has it that son of a bitch was a really difficult actor to work with!
Anyway, the wine has been breathing for a while, and with the uttering of the last word of the episode from Picard (say it! say it!) “Engage…” it is finally time to start enjoying this truly unique vintage. Star Trek: Picard is something we fans really never never seen from this franchise before. Why rush it?
Might there someday be a Star Trek that is neither too fast nor too slow? Probably. In fact, Picard itself, now that the pieces are all set up on the chess board and the opening moves are out of the way, this show might begin to move faster and the wine begin tasting better and better with every sip.
GRANTED, THEY’RE NOT PERFECT…BUT I’VE DECIDED TO GO WITH IT…
Y’know what? It feels liberating to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb (Dr. Strangelove, anyone?). What I mean is that, it’s kind of exhausting complaining through blog after blog the way I’ve done so often with Discovery…not that I’m planning to stop kvetching anytime soon, mind you. But so far, for me at least, Picard has been different.
Granted, there were still several things about “The End Is the Beginning” that did, in fact, annoy me. In fact, it began before the opening credits with the first (and thankfully only) swear word of the episode. ALEX CURSE-MAN strikes again! The friend I watch with weekly suggested that the reason the writers add those four-letter words is because they are so used to hearing them in their own lives and feel the colorful metaphors add realism. “Y’know what actually adds realism?” he asked rhetorically, and then answered himself: “Good writing!” Star Trek doesn’t need vulgarity; it’s a choice the writers make that my friend and I just don’t agree with.
Then I had an issue when I saw this…
Now, for most of the world, seeing Raffi’s location listed as “Vasquez Rocks” probably didn’t mean much. She’s out in the middle of nowhere, so these “Vasquez Rocks” must be out in the middle of nowhere, right? Well, actually, no. Vasquez Rocks are visible from the 14 Freeway (about 4,000 feet away) just before/after the exit for Agua Dulce. The natural area park is right off of Escondido Road and a five-minute walk to the center of a small town. But more importantly, it’s less than a half hour drive from Santa Clarita (a mid-sized city) and only 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. And while I’m sure there will have been some changes over the next 389 years, I can believe Los Angeles wouldn’t still be close-by Vasquez Rocks. And hey, if the “big one” hits and takes L.A. along with it, then San Francisco is going, too! You want San Fran in the future, folks? Then you keep La-La Land, too!
I mean, I understand wanting to honor this “sacred filming site” of Star Trek…lovingly used since the 1960s up until now. Then I thought about all of those other planets that look just like Vasquez Rocks…like Vulcan, the Shore Leave planet, Capella IV, the planet where Kirk fought the Gorn, the planet where Kirk met Lazarus, Mintaka III, a couple of planets that Voyager visited, and even the Xyrillian homeworld from the first season of Enterprise. I mean, maybe this is a corollary Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development: “Every class-M planet has a rock formation that looks exactly like Vasquez Rocks!” (Put that one right up there with Lane’s Law of flatbread: “Every culture on earth has some version of a burrito”…which is true, by the way!)
But as I began seething about Vasquez Rocks and getting even angrier about a Vulcan wearing sunglasses while her rank pin sagged, I suddenly came to a realization…
I TRUST PICARD…AND THE WRITERS
It was a quiet moment during the episode when something in the back of my mind realized that “Make it so…” and “Let it go…” were nearly identical in cadence. Or maybe it was simply that I began writing my blog in my head as I watched and a few seconds later realized how absolutely ridiculous I’d sound trying to explain why the future location of Vasquez Rocks bothered me so much or obsessing about sunglasses and a titled rank pin. My own cosplay admiral’s pins rotate all the time…so cut these guys some slack, Jonathan!
And in fact, the episode also included some little touches I really liked. For example, I’m all for the idea of resolving the smooth headed/bumpy headed Romulan conundrum by mentioning that the bumpy headed ones come from the north. Sure, there’s still some issues with that explanation, but those can be fairly easily “trexplained” away. And I liked the fact that the cockpit of Rios’ ship, at least from the outside, has a contour very similar to the cockpit of a DS9 runabout. The more design continuity, the better, I say!
And so I decided that, at least for right now, I was going to just sit back and trust the writers to do their jobs properly and entertain me, stimulate my thinking, and create an engaging (yeah, I said it) story to follow.
Granted, I don’t think the writers are hitting all of their targets yet. The “villains” (I think) of the series—Oh, Narek, and Narissa—are being played with one note: creepy. And that note is being played VERY loudly! Putting sinister-looking sunglasses on the Vulcan commodore was heavy-handed enough, but giving the siblings Narek and Narissa an incestuous sexual tension that would have made Cersei and Jaimie Lannister gag seemed unnecessarily indulgent. And the scene with the ex-Borg Romulan sooth-sayer was maybe just a tad bit too Shakespearean (Sir Patrick loves his Shakespeare!) for modern audiences to follow. Crazy witches providing mysterious and ominous foreshadowing might have worked in the 16th century, but I’m not convinced it’s the way to go in the 24th.
In everything else, though, I think the writers and director HANELLE M. CULPEPPER did an outstanding job and have made excellent choices for the show. And I’m looking forward to seeing what Number One (not the dog) director JONATHAN FRAKES (eps 4 and 5)—followed by previous Discovery and Short Treks directors MAJA VRVILO (eps 6 and 8), DOUGLAS AARNIOKOSKI (ep 7) and AKIVA GOLDSMAN (eps 9 and 10)—have in store for us during the remaining seven episodes of season one.
So at least for now, I’m completely on board with Picard (and Picard!). We might not be exploring strange, new worlds or seeking out new life and new civilizations this time, but we’re definitely going boldly where no Star Trek has gone before. And that’s enough for me right now to let it go and make it so!