SPOILERS! GER YER SPOLIERS HERE!
Each week, I read around a half dozen (sometimes more, if I’m late) online reviews of the latest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD. I do this mostly to make sure I’m not just saying the same thing everyone else is, but I also like to get an idea whether I’m in the majority or minority when it comes to my reactions to what’s just aired.
This week’s “consensus” seemed to be that the seventh episode of season three, “Dominion,” was decent but nothing as awesome as last’s week’s episode “The Bounty.” One reviewer called it “a solid base hit rather than another home run.” A second reviewer, who has given nearly every episode this season a rating of 4 to 5 out of 5 stars, gave “Dominion” a 3.5 score.
And I pretty much agree.
It wasn’t that this was a “bad” episode. In fact, “Dominion” was significantly better (in my opinion) than any episode of DISCOVERY to date and the entire first two seasons of Picard…plus a few STRANGE NEW WORLDS episodes. But in my opinion, season three has set the bar sooooo high that, even with all of those favorable comparisons, “Dominion” just seemed weak and problematic.
That said, there were certainly some very well-executed and memorable scenes, including Seven’s verbal sparring match with “Tuvok” before discovering that he was a Changeling infiltrator, and the scenes between Geordi and Lore/Data were awesome.
On the other hand—and especially upon a second viewing—there were intrinsic aspects of the episode that just felt, well, SLOPPY and RUSHED. And by “rushed, ” I don’t mean that not enough time or care was put into creating a quality production. Each episode has shone brightly (except for the dark lighting…which seems to have gotten somewhat corrected on the broadcast/streaming side) in that department. Instead, I mean rushed as in the episode was edited so as to be fast-moving and exciting at the expense of some plot logistics that the viewer was left to figure out for themselves. For example, who here understands how the Titan was able to find a nearly-destroyed Vulcan vessel and fake a communication from it in the short time they had while the minutes were ticking away to Frontier Day?
But for me, the issues with sloppiness of writing and storytelling were the most frustrating. And so I am about to do something I haven’t yet indulged in this season and write a blog filled with complaints!
WHY AREN’T THE UNIFORMS …WELL…UNIFORM?
While plain and simple Garak, the Deep Space Nine tailor, might be impressed with the newly-developed Starfleet penchant for fashion variety, fans are gonna go broke trying to cosplay all of the different uniform styles from season three!
Let’s do a quick review. There’s the standard uniform…
What I believe is a cadet style uniform…
The “Starfleet apron” worn by Geordi and Ro…
And of course, there’s whatever Data is wearing (which might or might not be a current uniform)…
But for some unexplained reason, both Shaw and Seven have switched—between last episode and this one—into “the Raffi.” This is a leather jacket over a dark undershirt, with rank pips going vertically like “the apron.” But while you can see the security yellow color on Raffi’s jacket, the command red on Shaw and Seven’s jackets is almost black, especially in the subdued “submarine” lighting of the bridge.
It makes them look badass, of course, but…why the change? And why only them? And why both of them and none of the rest of the bridge crew? Actually, Riker switched into the “Raffi” jacket last episode when he led the away team to Daystrom Station—and this episode, Jack is also now wearing the “Raffi” (both of them the red version) even though he isn’t in Starfleet. WTF????
However, I’m not really complaining that the episode didn’t explain the uniform change. After all, how would such a thing even be worked into the dialog? “Oh, Hansen, I see you’ve decided to change into your alternate badass jacket just like I did. Good call.” Nah. But the change was jarring to me as a viewer, an unnecessary distraction as I briefly wondered why both Seven and Shaw had gone so dark and no longer matched the rest of the crew. When Riker switched to the “Raffi” last episode, it made more sense because he was leaving the ship on a mission and needed to look more badass. Also, Star Trek has had landing party jackets in “The Cage,” The Motion Picture, and Wrath of Khan (to name a few). But Shaw and Seven were still on the ship.
Now, I get the idea behind the wardrobe change. It’s a day or two later, and people wear different things. And I had no issues with Picard wearing a different shirt and Beverly a different jacket. But uniform styles on a Starfleet vessel aren’t meant to be swapped out day after day. So in my opinion, it was an unnecessary distraction to introduce such a significant visual alteration to Shaw and and Seven after six episodes of a ten-episode season.
This was probably unavoidable. After all, this episode needed to show a bipolar (bipositronic?) struggle for dominance between the “good” Data and the “evil” Lore. And a round of applause to actor BRENT SPINER for toggling so effortlessly and believably between the two distinct personalities. It was a true treat to watch, and those scenes created such a strange moral dilemma for me as a viewer rooting FOR one entity and AGAINST another in the exact same body! At least in the “old days,” Data and Lore were two different androids. Now it’s like, “There ain’t room in this positronic matrix fer the two of us, pardner!”
So what’s my complaint? Last episode, Altan Soong revealed that there was a little Lal, a little B4, a little Altan, a little Lore, and of course, a lot of Data in this body. Fine. But once the show establishes this and has Brent Spiner briefly portray B4 and Soong as he toggles through his personalities, the flag has pretty much been planted. But now this episode has to contradict all that.
Plot exposition early on in this episodes now reestablishes the new parameters. No more Lal (although maybe she’s a part of Data). Soong and B-4 operate as a “memory file only,” leaving only Data and Lore to fight it out for dominance. In other words, we likely won’t see any more of B4 or Soong. This isn’t a major complaint beyond just me being slightly irked that the picture that was painted for us last episode has been quickly repainted in order to further the dramatic conflict and “shrink” Data into a more manageable duo rather than a quartet or quintet.
WHEN THE WORF’S AWAY…
Worf and Raffi headed off last episode with Worf promising: “I will bring William Riker home. And fearful be the god or man or beast that stands in my way.” Well, didn’t that sound promising! And honestly, if this season had another episode or three to play with, I’m sure we would have seen Worf and Raffi doing some hardcore hunting for information and maybe even attempting to rescue Riker.
However, we only have ten episodes available to tell this story, and what’s worse, there’s now only about a day and a half until Frontier Day! And although space has apparently gotten MUCH smaller in the 25th century, Worf and Raffi would still likely need at least a day or two or get anywhere in order to start their quest…and to my knowledge, there’s no magic mushroom drive in this television series.
So instead, this episode simply explains that Worf and Raffi “…are monitoring Starfleet security at Exo Port,” confirming that there’s no mention of Will in custody, and “….they’re on their way back here now.” Well, that was certainly a exciting hunt! I’m sure the god or man or beast is quaking to know that Worf and Raffi have been doing some serious monitoring and are now heading back to the Titan! Be very afraid!!!
Anyway, this is just another small gripe as I realize that the tail is unavoidably wagging the dog when it comes to this episode’s script. Things set up during last episode—Data’s situation, Worf’s hunt—have to be dealt with and tweaked this episode in order to set up the big payoffs. In Data’s case, it was the inevitable face-off between Data and Lore (certainly not over yet!). In Worf’s case, he and Raffi needed to be off the ship because, otherwise, when Vadic and her clicking Changelings board the Titan, Worf and Raffi would be leading an assault squad instead of Jack Crusher and Sidney La Forge…and it wouldn’t have felt like such peril for two characters not known for being warriors (although it’s hard to say with Jack). And of course, Worf and Raffi will inevitably return next episode to help rescue the Titan crew from Vadic’s evil clutches.
JACK, HELP ME HELP YOU!
First of all, can I just point out the all-too-obvious fact that Dr. Beverly Crusher gives birth to mutant children with superpowers? Wesley is the wiz-kid wizard of time and space, and now Jack is a combination of Professor Charles Xavier and Rambo! (Amusingly, his did IS Professor Charles Xavier!)
Okay, I feel better now.
Anyway, it’s hard to figure out whether Jack’s “superpowers” are only just now manifesting or if they’ve been around for a while. On the one hand, it seems like all this mind-reading and hallucinating is recent and getting worse. But then Beverly mentions that Jack used to have such an “imagination” as a child. And Jack says to Picard this episode, “I’ve always felt different…like…like there’s something wrong with me. Deep, deep down inside. And I don’t even know how to begin to explain this to you, but it’s like I can hear—up in my head…” And then Jack stops speaking.
Naturally, Picard asks, “What are you hearing, Jack?” And Jack says….NOTHING??? He’s hearing voices! He’s hearing people’s thoughts! Okay, maybe he’s embarrassed to say anything more for fear that Picard will think he’s crazy, but if so…then why ask for help in the first place???
This was probably a struggle for the episode writer. “How do I convey that Jack is troubled but not reveal to Picard the strategically important superpower that Jack can READ MINDS and therefore could figure out in a second where Riker is being held if they can just get him close to Vadic? Well, I suppose I can have him almost reveal his power and then suddenly stop himself.” And that’s what happened.
And that’s what I consider to be sloppy (or lazy) writing because it just seems wishy-washy and undirected. Jack asks for help but doesn’t follow through. Just choose a course and sick to it!
UM, DID YOU FORGET SOMETHING???
Speaking of choosing a course and sticking to it, what exactly is the goal of Picard’s plan? I mean, as desperate plans go, it’s pretty decent: use the compromised prefix code sent by Riker from the Shrike to lure Vadic, who is setting a trap for them, into a counter-trap.
And it works! Vadic is captured and helpless inside a force-field. Her soldiers are trapped, too. And now…? They need information. What’s going on with Frontier Day? Where’s Will Riker? Why do you want Jack?
Granted, Picard and Beverly do a little Q&A…although they seem to have a pretty good idea that the Changelings need Picard’s DNA to pass a genetic screening to insert a doppelgänger.
But wait! ISN’T PICARD A SYNTH???
Checking his DNA is meaningless! Just scan for an android body, and if “Picard” shows up as anything else, he’s NOT Picard! Simple. This plot-hole is increasingly bothering me the more I think about it. But that’s not what I think they’re forgetting.
No, my problem is what happens after the “interrogation” starts. Of course, this is yet another instance of the tail (or tale) wagging the scriptwriting dog. The episode needs to set up the villain’s “Scooby Doo” monologue providing their “secret origin” backstory. And granted, it’s a decent backstory…although troubling that Starfleet would employ a sadistic “mad scientist.” That said, DS9 is considered sacred canon, and the Federation Council did, in fact, vote NOT to give the cure for the morphogenic virus to the Changelings. Odo did it himself.
Oh, by the way, let me interrupt my complaint yet again for another complaint. Vadic mentions that she and nine of her Changeling brothers were all prisoners of war in that lab of horrors. Then Vadic kills the scientist and takes her form. That would leave nine other Changelings in test tubes, right? Please, count the test tubes in this screen cap…
Admittedly, that’s a VERY picky complaint, but it was sloppy…and after so many meticulously-crafted episodes, it was surprising to me that such an obvious detail would be missed.
But here’s my main gripe (finally!). The interrogation pretty much ends with the backstory. Then Picard and Beverly start debating whether or not to just kill Vadic. And it’s a very powerful, controversial scene. I applaud them for including it, but…
WHAT ABOUT RIKER????
Vadic’s crew has him. They have her. Anyone ever hear of a hostage swap??? Seriously, I shouldn’t have to tell you people this! You don’t kill your most valuable asset when the enemy is holding your friend (an equally valuable asset). This is screenwriting 101. By showing Picard and Beverly willing to kill Vadic, they completely forget about Riker! There could have been a line where Picard and Beverly think about trading Vadic for Will, and she says that her crew will see her as expendable and focus only on getting Jack. And that could have led them to consider killing her. Instead, they completely forget about Riker in order to contemplate murder. SLOPPY, SLOPPY, SLOPPY!
WE COME IN PEACE—SHOOT TO KILL, SHOOT TO KILL, SHOOT TO KILL!
I have a whole bunch of problems with the Changeling goon squad. A few weeks ago, it was mainly that no Changeling has ever harmed another, but Vadic just nods at one of her henchmen and he/they vaporize (or ash-ize) another member of their crew just for not clicking “How high?” when Vadic said “Jump!”
But now my issues are multiplying. First of all, why do they all click but Vadic talks? I’m guessing it’s her PTSD from her captor and keeping her form, but it only serves to have us viewers not perceive the Shrike crew as all part of the same aggrieved group of former-Founders. That’s why I didn’t, at first, even think that Vadic was herself a Changeling.
Second, why have they all chosen to take the same shape of Bedouin nomads preparing for a major sandstorm? I mean, I know the wardrobe department had come up with something, but we’ve seen Founders before on DS9, and that’s not even close to how they looked. So why the huge disparity in appearance?
But for me, my biggest gripe is what happens when you shoot a Bedouin, er, Changeling goon. When Beverly and Jack shoot them, hey turn to black ash. When Sidney shoots one, he collapses but doesn’t make an ash of himself. And when Shaw shoots and obviously hits one, the goon gets knocked down, but he gets up again—almost immediately. And when Picard and Beverly shoot a gooey Vadic at point blank range, they…miss? C’mon, people!
Granted, Jack’s got a different weapon. But you’d think that everyone would want to use the phaser that kills rather than the one that isn’t at all reliable!
Oh, and one final gripe for this segment! When Vadic and her crew take over the bridge at the end, a half dozen members of the gooey-goon squad burst out of the conference room behind the bridge, weapons drawn. Um, how did they get in there to begin with? Remember, they all came by shuttle, so no one was transporting. Did they beam in from elsewhere on the ship? If so, why not just beam directly onto the bridge?
Again, this was sloppy. It made for an exciting and dramatic “commandeering the bridge” scene—since the only other entrance was the turbolift, which was already being used by Vadic, Shaw, and the big-bad-Bedouin. But like so much else in this episode (and unlike the rest of this amazing season), it just made no sense.
ONE LAST KVETCH
And speaking of things that didn’t make sense, I’d like to end this gripe-fest with a final, somewhat obvious question. When Jack and Sidney are fighting for their lives and get separated by the barrier, Jack easily defeats his opponent, but Sidney is getting her asteroid kicked. She looks at Jack and thinks, “Jack, Jack, what should I do? Jack!” And he hears her thoughts.
Um…why doesn’t she just SPEAK those words?
At this point, Sidney doesn’t know Jack’s a telepath (or whatever he is) and can read her thoughts. So if Sidney really wants advice from Jack in this desperate situation, then for goodness sake, USE YOUR OUTSIDE VOICE!!!
Again, I realize this was again tail-wagging-dog territory. The scene works better when Jack reads he pleading thoughts and then mentally responds before taking over her bodily motions. But it just didn’t make sense to me as a viewer, and in so doing, diminished the scene for me.
BRING ON THE FINAL THREE
As I mentioned in a previous blog review, the story structure for this season appears to be 4-4-2. That is to say, the first four episodes provided a four-part segment depicting the fight in the nebula. The next four episodes appear to be the Titan-on-the-run segment that brings together the remaining TNG main characters and starts providing answers (and a few more questions, it seems!). And I would presume that a final two-parter (both episodes directed by TERRY MATALAS, by the way!) will have the entire cast reunited to face off agains the floating-head big-baddie (obviously not a Changeling, as he addresses Vadic saying, “you and your kind…”).
As such, this episode might have suffered from the need to “set up the pins” for the following episode to knock them all down. And because certain pieces needed to be strategically places on the chess board (did I just swap metaphors in mid-stream???) for part two, the script was constrained and, therefore, didn’t have a lot of wiggle-room.
All that said, despite the intensity of some of my complaints, I see this episode as only a “slight stumble” in an otherwise staggeringly stupendous sunset season. Lord knows, not every TNG episode knocked it out of the park. For every “Inner Light” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” there was a “Royale” and “Sub Rosa.”