OH, SPOILERS – I CAN’T QUIT YOU!
One of the biggest challenges in setting up the final season of STAR TREK: PICARD is what to do about all the characters! You’ve obviously got seven very well-known and loved officers from TNG who each need a chance to shine. Plus you’ve got a few characters remaining from the first two seasons of Picard who need decent screen time or else you lose any and all connection to what was established over the past twenty episodes. (And yeah, I know that some of you are saying, “Maybe losing all connection to the previous two seasons isn’t such a bad thing!” And to you I say: “Quiet, I’m trying to write a blog here!”)
And of course, you also need to introduce compelling NEW characters, including a decent villain, in order to keep things fresh and, er, engaging. Oh, and you only have ten episodes to do it!
Now, keep in mind, those main seven characters need for this to be their big “send-off,” something they weren’t really given in the final TNG feature film Star Trek: Nemesis. So that’s going to eat up a lot of screen time.
Also, the season needs to make the new characters and returning Picard characters interesting. Otherwise, we’re simply waiting for the “big seven” to have their scenes and everything else is mostly boring and wasted time and money. So, yes, those new characters must intrigue us and leave us wanting more of their stories…especially if this season spawns a sequel series (something, at this point, that I would wholeheartedly endorse!).
And of course, the villain is oh-so-important. But making a villain interesting, compelling, and intimidating is no easy task! Compare a Khan or a Chang to a Ru’afo or a Shinzon. No contest. So this is where writing, casting, directing, and acting can all come together to either be magic or tragic, perfection or rejection. And as far as this season of Picard is concerned, I believe the creators and their cast members have captured lightning in a bottle—or maybe anti-matter in a magnetic containment chamber.
Let’s take a look at all of these characters, new and old, who have graced our TV or computer screens for these past two weeks…
PICARD AND THE OLD GUARD
Obviously, the most important aspect of this final season of Picard is to reunite the Next Gen regulars for one final adventure. But how do you (re)introduce them all? In the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the majority of the crew—Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, Chapel, and Rand were already on board the Enterprise. Kirk drafted McCoy to return, and Spock joined them later. In Star Trek VI, Sulu was off commanding the Excelsior, but the rest of the cast came together quickly and easily. There was no time spent showing how “the band got back together.”
But with ten full hour(ish)-long episodes, there’s time for more of a slow build-up. And in that, this final season is (so far) doing a splendid job of taking its time. Obviously, Jean-Luc Picard is already there because it’s his show, and Will Riker is brought in quickly to join him as “The Sundance Kid” to Picard’s “Butch Cassidy.” Of course, it would have been easy to bring Deanna Troi along with Will as Mrs. Riker, but kudos to the team for saving her for later. Deanna’s absence allows for more of Picard and Riker’s nuanced friendship to be developed.
So that makes two, five to go.
Beverly Crusher is actually the first member of the old crew to be seen in episode one, bringing the total to three. But she doesn’t actually interact directly with Picard and Riker until the second episode. And when she finally does, the good doctor (now a patient) is barely able to stand or speak. And this, my friends, provides one of the most incredible moments of ANY Star Trek I’ve ever seen.
We all know that Jean-Luc is Jack Crusher’s daddy; that element of the plot was never well-hidden. If fact, Riker repeatedly points to the obvious, even if Picard himself doesn’t want to see or acknowledge the very obvious and instead stay oblivious. But in that moment when Jean-Luc first sees Beverly on the Titan‘s bridge, the look they share says so much more than any lines in a script ever could. It’s such a brilliant, intense, intimate performance, especially since silent acting is one of the greatest challenges for a thespian to master. But as Beverly tries and fails to speak the words, Picard’s look of realization and understanding answers her. The moment is poignant, tragic, layered, and whole bunch of other adjectives I won’t bore you with.
Okay, three down, four to go.
Some might argue that there hasn’t been all that much of Beverly Crusher in the first two episodes—certainly not even a fraction of the screen time shared by Picard and Riker. And hey, if you’ve got a problem with lack of screen time, then Worf’s introduction in episode two, “Disengage,” has gotta be eating you alive.
But what an introduction it was!
Now, I’m not gonna pretend that I always knew that Worf was Raffi’s handler because I HAD NO FRICKIN’ IDEA!!! The identity of that mysterious person space-texting Raffi was a complete (and intriguing!) mystery to me for nearly two full episodes. So when Worf made his ultra-dramatic entrance, I was SO stoked! And it all makes so much sense that Worf would want to stop bad guys by having a “security team” in place across the quadrant. Granted, for all we know, Raffi could be a team of just one.
But “always leave the audience wanting more” is an old rule of writing and acting, and Picard‘s second episode certainly did that! I so want to know why Beverly kept Jack a secret from his baby-daddy, and I totally want to get the update on what Worf’s been doing for the last 25 years. Oh, I can’t wait!!!
And then there were four—and the three that are left are Geordi, Deanna, and…um, Lore? How many hours left until the next episode???
SEVEN AND RAFFI
With the exception of Laris, who got a brief scene with Jean-Luc in episode one and then quickly exited stage left, the only other members of the previous cast still around (beyond Picard himself) are Seven and Raffi.
Admittedly, Seven-of-Hansen isn’t getting as much development as a character just yet…even though JERI RYAN has been of of Star Trek‘s strongest actors even since she first joined the regular cast of Star Trek: Voyager officially in season four. But she had a few really good moments this episode, especially her confrontation with Captain Shaw…all but going “bock, bock, bock!” and calling him a chicken. While I’m still waiting for Seven to really emerge this season as the force of nature that she is, I know it’s coming, and I can be patient—at least a little.
And then there’s Raffaela Musiker…
Ah, Raffi, what are they doing with you? It’s no secret that one of the only characters fans aren’t totally embracing right now is poor Raffi. Not much was done with her in season one OR season two, despite MICHELLE HURD being a really gifted actress and Raffi being a former executive officer of Jean-Luc Picard himself!
The problem is that Raffi is also a seriously flawed character, and it’s hard to root for a (former) junkie when so many of the heroes of Star Trek are paragons. Oh, sure, there have been little foibles here and there for certain characters, but a junkie can be truly “damaged goods” unless they are completely clean. And even then, you never know if/when they will fall off the wagon, making them just the teensiest bit questionable in their reliability.
Raffi was almost redeemed in season two when she regained her Starfleet commission and wore a uniform again. You almost forgot about her “problem.” And then the rest of the season was all “will they or won’t they?” with her and Seven. In other words, Raffi really hasn’t been defined for us yet other than a hodgepodge of disparate elements that don’t all fit conceptually together. Is Raffi clean and noble again, or is she sliding back into the darkness?
If some of you are wondering why you aren’t warming up to Raffi as a character, this uncertainty about her might be the reason. That said, Star Trek has always been about hope, and if you look at Raffi’s journey as being more difficult and ugly than most—and, therefore, harder to watch than other characters’ journeys— then maybe you can allow some optimism to let you care about this person more than you might otherwise.
And while Raffi’s storyline in these first couple of episodes has felt disconnected from the main storyline of Jean-Luc rescuing Beverly and Jack, we know the two plots are on a collision course. Also, keep in mind that Michelle Hurd has a much greater acting challenge than anyone involved in the other plot line. Why? Because she has fewer actors to play off of and lots of long, expositional monologues. It’s unfortunately unavoidable. Raffi’s quest needs to explain the “big threat” of this season, and Raffi herself needs to be completely on her own in order for her storyline to evolve from a baseline of “lone agent.”
For this latter reason, Michelle Hurd has only had three other actors to play against so far (in relatively brief segments): the Orion at the bar who tells her about the Red Lady in episode one, her ex-husband in episode two, and of course, the awesome Ferengi Sneed seen later in the same episode. (I’m not counting the interactions space-texting with her handler as playing off another actor.) And in each interaction, Raffi is either pretending to be something she’s not or else proving to be a bad mother…neither of which is a positive character trait.
On the other hand, look at how much Michelle was able to do with the limited material presented to her. When her ex-husband forces Raffi to choose between connecting with Sneed or with her estranged son—a totally unfair choice to force her to make—she selflessly chooses to save the lives of countless strangers even at the cost of her own personally-desired reunion with her son.
Now that Worf is in the picture to play off scenes with—and likely soon the rest of the gang—I think more fans will warm up to Raffi in the coming episodes.
CAPTAIN LIAM SHAW
Ah, the captain we love to hate…or do we? My friend David asked me after episode one: “Why create such a, mean, awful captain? What does that say about the standards of Starfleet?” My answer to him was a reminder of other Starfleet captains who weren’t exactly the perfect paragons we love to worship. Remember the arrogant Captain Stiles of the U.S.S. Excelsior or the cover-my-ass Captain J.T. Esteban of the U.S.S. Grissom in Star Trek III? How about the crazed Captain Ron Tracy of the U.S.S. Exeter in the TOS episode “The Omega Glory” or the ill-fated Matt Decker from “The Doomsday Machine”?
TNG had its fair share of “bad” captains, as well, including Captain Ben Maxwell (O’Brien’s old CO from the Rutledge in the episode “The Wounded) and Admiral Erik Pressman (Riker’s old CO from “The Pegasus“). And of course, who could forget the rigid and strict Captain Edward Jellico from “Chain of Command”? All were flawed people in their own ways, but all were Starfleet captains. The two are NOT mutually exclusive!
But one of the things I love most about Captain Shaw of the U.S.S. Titan-A—played masterfully by veteran actor TODD STASHWICK—is how straightforward he is about everything, including being an absolute jerk. He’s unapologetic about it. But whereas episode one simply created an obnoxious foil for all of us viewers to hiss at, episode two gave Shaw some justification for his decisions. The Titan is a very lightly armed exploratory vessel. It’s easy to jump into a fight when you’re swooping in with a Galaxy or Sovereign-class flagship. Shaw cares about the safety of his crew and the parameters of his mission. I get that…even if I don’t agree with it when my favorite heroes are in danger.
Of course, Commander Annika-of-Nine shames Shaw into making the “right” decision (as far as we fans are concerned), and the Titan has its own heroic moment as it warps in to break the tractor beam. And Shaw’s “Oh, good grief!” realization that the situation is now absolutely gonna get all cowboy diplomacy now that it’s been revealed that Jack Crusher is Picard’s son is perfect. Shaw isn’t gonna fight Picard because he knows he won’t win. So instead, Shaw steps aside and lets the Admiral do the very thing Shaw wanted most to avoid: fly his ship directly into danger.
Honestly, I kinda like the guy!
I’m just gonna come right out and say it: this is Wesley Crusher’s younger brother! And while his older sibling is off being a master of space and time and assembling agents to save the universe, Jack is, well…what exactly is Jack doing?
We don’t exactly know yet, of course. We sorta hope that he’s doing the wrong things (stealing, smuggling, etc.) for the right reasons (to help people). But like Raffi, this is a gray-area character with baggage and, therefore, harder to instantly like than, say, Sydney LaForge, whose biggest transgression so far is driving too fast. And dammit, she is just so darn CUTE! Jack’s not remotely cute. Handsome, yes, but not cute.
But he is intriguing, just as much as any character on this show. And like the other characters, he is played by a strong actor, ED SPELEERS, who as we’ve all realized by now, is from the U.K. And honestly, that is my only issue with the character and actor so far: the accent. I hope they explain why a kid raised by a single mother who does NOT have a British accent ends up sounding just like a father he never even met. If accents were inherited biologically, my adopted son would be saying “y’all” like his Louisiana birth parent instead of “dude” like the California kid he’s been raised as since birth. (Actually, Jayden doesn’t say “dude,” but he also doesn’t say “y’all.” He has no trace of a southern or cajun accent.)
That said, my personal jury is still out on Jack until I learn more. I’m curious to discover if he does, in fact, feel overshadowed by the accomplishments of his god-like older half-brother. Did Jack always know his dad was a galactic legend? Maybe that drives him. As with most of the characters this season, I want to see and find out more.
Speaking of finding out more…OMG, Captain Vadic is amazing—or more specifically, AMANDA PLUMMER is amazing as Vadic! Another friend of mine complained that he didn’t see how Vadic could possibly be “Picard’s Khan,” as the marketing hype promised. Well, obviously not! Khan was genetically enhanced and driven by revenge. Vadic is an unhinged badass. Well, maybe they have SOME things in common. But what I think the promoters meant by their comparison is that Plummer has owned that role the same way RICARDO MONTALBAN inhabited Khan and brought him to life.
It you watch the episode again, imagine Vadic’s lines being delivered by another actor. Or even try speaking them yourself. I guarantee you won’t be nearly as brilliant in the acting choices you make as she was. And that’s a combination of Plummer herself and director DOUGLAS AARNIOKOSKI. And it’s a treat when such magic happens on the screen.
Compare Vadic to such bland TNG movie villains as MALCOLM McDOWELL’s disappointing Dr. Tolian Soran from Generations, F. MURRAY ABRAHAM’s underwhelming Ad’har Ru’afo from Insurrection, or TOM HARDY’s abysmally flat Shinzon from Nemesis. Lackluster writing, aimless directing, and uninspired acting all combined to make those villains utterly forgettable. On the other hand, Khan we could watch endlessly. General Chang (played by Amanda’s father CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) was a tour de force Shakespearean performance worthy of repeated viewings. Shinzon…well, once was more than enough for me.
But Vadic, jeez, she was mesmerizing! I mean, it’ll be helpful to know what’s driving her, how she got all of her classified information about our heroes and their backgrounds, and how the ship of a crazy bounty hunter could be better armed than half of Starfleet. But all this is, I’m certain, coming soon.
In that way, I am trusting the writers this season in a way I haven’t trusted the writers in the previous seasons of both Picard and other CBS Studios-produced Star Trek. I would always go in HOPING for the best but never expecting it. This season is different. I am literally expecting magic from the next eight episodes. Will I be disappointed? We shall see, won’t we.
But one thing that I do know and can be sure of is this. If the writers do manage to produce quality scripts with solid storytelling, the actors will be more than able to provide cinematic gold with what they are given.
Bring on episode three…!