I’m often intrigued by the complaints I read about this season of STAR TREK: PICARD…not because I agree with them but because I find it interesting (and sometimes surprising) to discover what people aren’t liking.
This time, two of the biggest complaints I’ve seen online (other than the ubiquitous “It’s too dark!”—which, apparently, is a problem with the streaming service that is being worked on at the source) was that this episode didn’t show any of the Worf and Raffi storyline and also that it was too slow at the beginning.
Not cutting away to the Worf/Raffi B-story was more of a feature than a bug. This episode was a “sinking sub” tale, purposefully designed to be self-contained in order for the characters to face their imminent deaths and inner demons knowing that help would no be coming. “The episode “No Win Scenario” was a crucible of concentrated claustrophobia purposefully plotted to increase tension and suspense. Cutting away to another storyline would have given viewers “relief” from that intense isolation and, in fact, worked against the impact of the focused drama.
As for “slowness,” I should point out that three of the most beloved episodes of The Next Generation—“The Inner Light,” The Measure of a Man,” and “Tapestry“—had little-to-no action. Instead, they gave us compelling character development stories that allowed fans a chance to get to know our heroes a little better. And indeed, the fourth episode of Picard‘s third season, “No Win Scenario” (needs a hyphen!) gave us that same kind of character development.
As I mentioned in my editorial review blog from three weeks ago, Star Trek isn’t just about boldly going but also about WHO is boldly going. If we don’t care about the characters we’re watching, it doesn’t much matter how good the story might be. That’s one of the reasons I don’t particularly love STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. But I am loving ever character on this latest season of Picard.
Of course, there’s no official instruction manual telling writers how to successfully to create compelling characters—and CBS Studios has admittedly been hit-and-miss with their various Star Trek series. But one primary ingredient in character development is, y’know, DEVELOPMENT…taking someone from one place to another place (hopefully a better place) and letting viewers watch and participate in the journey along with these characters. And to do this most effectively, a writer must put characters together to play off of, influence, and learn from each other.
And in that, “No Win Scenario” triumphed mightily! Let’s take a closer look at the character pairings that paid off most satisfyingly this episode…
RIKER AND PICARD
Sometimes your most intense fights come with those you’re closest to, and that’s often because they know you so well (and vice-versa) and can push the right buttons to really piss you off.
Jean-Luc Picard and William Riker are, of course, the closest of friends. And so last episode, “Seventeen Seconds,” took great pains to drive a wedge between the two of them. The schism didn’t come all at once. Scenes slowly built from “Will, I think it might be time you called me ‘Number One’…” to the first hints of a disagreement about tactics to Picard pointing out that Will was now too afraid to risk loss due to the death of his son Thaddeus (a low blow to be sure) to outright yelling. And in the end, Riker listened to Picard, and it resulted in the ship getting all-but-demolished. Riker then orders Picard to remove himself from the bridge.
Some fans didn’t believe that Riker would ever speak to Picard like that. A few fans even hypothesized that Riker was a Changeling. (Of course, if he were, wouldn’t he have just surrendered Jack Crusher to Vadic?) But really, that final scene was intended to deconstruct both Riker and the Riker/Picard relationship, tear it to pieces so we could watch it be rebuilt again in the next episode.
And rebuilt it was, but not all at once. Riker does, admittedly, come to visit Picard to acknowledge that he was right about Riker being afraid to risk loss. And the two kinda make up (such old friends don’t really need to “hug it out”). But Will still isn’t quite himself. The brash young first officer that he was, and even the dashing and confident captain of the U.S.S. Titan is still missing in action. Riker is broken (as demonstrated by his inability to leave Deanna any kind of farewell message), but with only a few hours left to live, is there really any point in trying to fix him? Instead, Riker tells Picard to seek out Jack and get to know his son while there’s still time.
In the end, Riker is indeed “fixed,” as Picard and Beverly help their friend get his mojo back by reminding him that they need to trust each other and kumbaya and all of that other positive messaging that has been the cornerstone of Star Trek for nearly six decades. Riker’s final (live) communication with his wife Deanna is yet another pairing of characters interacting to put a final check mark next to Riker’s journey from damaged to (at least starting to be) repaired on a psychological level. He’s not quite there yet, but his experiences this episode were a big first step.
PICARD AND JACK CRUSHER
And speaking of Picard seeking out Jack, that relationship didn’t have to be torpedoed in the previous episode because there never was a relationship to begin with. But in finally talking to his estranged son, Picard gets to ask that all-important question that he (and we!) have been dying to have answered: why did Jack decide not to get to know his father? This results in some major dodging of the question by Jack, which Picard allows because at least Jack is finally sharing something of his life. But as audience members, we still wondered.
Of course, we finally got our answer in a beautifully subtle and artfully-presented way at the very end. After a number of flashbacks during the episode to “5 YEARS AGO” where Admiral Picard is trying to have dinner alone when a bunch of young Starfleet officers accost him with questions about his incredible life, we get one final flashback. And as Picard—with a combination of (false?) humility belying what appears to be some true ego indulging of the adoration and notoriety—recounts his daring tales, we cut to a younger Jack Crusher sitting at the bar asking one final question. “You went on and on about your crew, your life in Starfleet. Did you have a life outside of that…a real family?”
Picard replies, still indulging his inner sense of bravado, “Young man, Starfleet has been the only family I have ever needed.” Applause follows from the young officers, as this is the perfect inspirational response. But in that tragic moment, as Picard of the present recalls more details from this overlooked memory—and that the question actually came from his son—he and we realize that Picard himself was the reason that Jack chose not to get to know his father.
And that could well have been the most poignant moment of the entire episode were it not for…
SHAW AND PICARD
Oh, man, did I love this scene! Shaw wanders into the Holodeck (and yeah, maybe there could have been a way to siphon off some of that extra energy to power life-support, but they did their best to explain it, so just go with it, people!) just as Picard is finishing up the story of “the worst jam” he’d ever been in. And apparently, it happened near Argelius IV (from the TOS episode “Wolf in the Fold,” where the women are so…I know the place!) when a young Picard and Jack Crusher, Sr. were “stealing “borrowing” a shuttle and trying to get laid. A micro-meteor storm damaged the shuttle, and they almost died trying to get back to the ship. VERY scary.
Of course, as a long-time fan, I was thinking about all of the other “jams” that Picard had been in—and after seven years of TNG episodes, four feature films, and two seasons of this show, I found it hard to believe that this story qualified as the WORST jam for Picard. In fact, it didn’t take me long to think of an even WORSE one: when Picard was kidnapped by the Borg, turned into Locutus, and forced to use his knowledge and experience in Starfleet against a desperately-assembled armada of 40 starships, ultimately resulting in 11,000 deaths. Picard was helpless to resist (it was futile), and he might well have spent the rest of his life as a Borg, responsible for the assimilation of the entire United Federation of Planets. THAT, at least in my opinion, would be “the worst jam” Picard was ever in. One wonders why Picard chose not to discuss that one—although I think we can all guess the reason was the shame and humiliation. Much easier to talk about youthful escapades of days gone by!
Too bad, however, that Picard didn’t decide to talk the Locutus incident, as it might have saved a very painful encounter with Shaw…or perhaps not.
When Shaw first receives Picard and Riker on the Titan-A in the first episode, Shaw is—without a doubt—an absolute asshole: rude, abrupt, even obnoxious…and not at all helpful. He had such obvious antipathy for both men, especially Picard, and we fans were left to wonder why. After all, Picard is a legend, a hero who has saved the Federation countless times.
But he was also Locutus. And in what was a truly masterful performance that I’ve now watched about a dozen times, actor and lifelong Trekkie TODD STASHWICK shares Shaw’s story of losing his Jack Crushers (forty of them!) at Wolf 359, all because of one man. Shaw probably figured he’d never have to come face-to-face with Picard. So when he finally did, and with only a couple of hours left to live, Shaw lets loose and fires everything he has at this person who had taken so much from him and from tens of thousands of other friends and family members.
And worst of all for Shaw, Jean-Luc Picard chooses not to, um, engage and instead exits the Holodeck in shame, leaving Shaw to explain to his horrified crew, “Forgive me. At some point, asshole became a substitute for charm.”
Fans began this season hating Shaw even more than we hated RONNY COX’s Captain Jellico from “Chain of Command.” But four episodes later, this unique captain is rapidly becoming a fan favorite character…mostly because (I think) of his brutal honestly. You never have to wonder where you stand with Shaw. He probably loathes you.
SHAW AND SEVEN
Speaking of which, I have a theory about how Seven-of-Nine became first officer under Shaw. I saw the interview with Stashwick where he says that Shaw selected her, but I have trouble buying into that. Shaw’s hatred of the Borg would make a former-Borg the LAST Starfleet officer he would ever choose to be his exec! Shaw doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to voluntarily put himself into intentionally uncomfortable situations.
So what happened?
My guess is that Shaw pissed off the wrong admiral (maybe all of them), and in the ultimate “screw you!” to this obnoxious captain, Starfleet assigned him Seven-of Nine as exec…something they are allowed to do, by the way. Seven-of-Nine was probably on no one’s short-list—a former Borg, a former Fenris Ranger—what self-respecting Starfleet captain would want to deal with that every day (other than Kathryn Janeway)? So by assigning Seven to Starfleet’s biggest a-hole captain, the top brass solves TWO problems with one order!
However it happened, though, Shaw and Seven are now stuck with each other. But this episode allowed the two to share a series of scenes where they are forced to work together. And in this, we see the best of both of them. Shaw’s knowledge of Changelings helps Seven find the bucket and, ultimately, the Changeling itself. In fact, I loved it when Shaw says to Seven, “Look, you and I got off on the wrong foot. I underestimated you. You have great instincts. You’re a natural leader. You’ll make a great captain one day.” And we’re thinking: Yay, Shaw is finally coming around and seeing Seven the way we all see her. But then he says, “Which is something I would say…” and Seven finishes his sentence “…if you were a Changeling and not just a dick.” And that, my friends, is why this pairing of captain and first officer is one of my favorite Star Trek combos to watch!
Of course, the fact that the two of them really can’t stand each other is one of the starting points for the development of both of their characters. The more we can see them work together and build a bond—even if it’ll never be all hugs and kisses—will be one of the reasons we fans will enjoy seeing the two characters together in the future.
VADIC AND GOO-HEAD
Okay, this “pairing” isn’t your typical character-development arc, but in some ways, it is. Even though we only saw the two of them together for a single scene, it was enough to keep Vadic intriguing and mysterious (in fact, it increased both adjectives tenfold!) and get fans talking and asking questions.
For example, is Vadic herself a Changeling? If so, why does she have to cut off her hand to talk to “herself”? Why does she seem so afraid of this talking goo-head? If Vadic was a Changeling herself, wouldn’t they just agree without there being any fear or implied threat?
Or perhaps it’s more of a Mafia/Yakuza thing where members/operatives have to cut off a finger to prove their loyalty. Maybe Vadic had to cut off her hand in order to carry around a Changeling “master.” And if so, what hold does it have over her if “all else is expendable” including her ship, her crew, and even Vadic herself?
Of course, if it’s simply a case of carrying a Changeling on her arm, then why does Vadic have to explain the situation to it? It’s obviously been there the whole time listening to the reports. Ah, so many mysteries!
And then there’s the shift from quietly terrified Vadic (when she talks to goo-head) back to crazy Vadic as she returns to her command chair almost singing the order to disengage the portal system…goodbye, goodbye.
WHAT DID I MISS?
There were so many things to love about this episode that I couldn’t possibly cover everything. I completely left out the crucial role that Beverly Crusher played in providing the key clue to the crew’s ultimate escape. Nor did I touch on that great moment where Shaw asks Seven how she knew that LaForge was a Changeling, and Seven responds by explaining that LaForge calls her “Commander Seven” out of respect. (Take that, Shaw!) And of course, I totally loved Picard’s line to Shaw, “I realize that I’m the last person you want to see right now, but I need your help…despite the fact that you are, indeed, a dipshit from Chicago…” and Shaw’s one-word response: “Nice.” Granted, lots of swearing this episode, but to be honest, it’s kinda growing on me—and Shaw totally makes it work.
I also didn’t mention that magical moment when Riker gives the conn to Picard and sits down next to him in Riker’s familiar seat next to the big chair. Riker didn’t have to do that, but it allowed the pieces to all be in place for the climactic action sequence.
Sure, some fans can still find things to complain about, but to me, they just seem like such little things. The big picture remains that fans are finally getting the Star Trek we’ve wanted and waited for all of these many, many years. Season three of Picard is a treat, a gift, and the first Star Trek in a long time that I’m watching over and over and over again!