SPOILERS ARE JUST ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING “YOU COMPLETE ME…”
Before I begin this week’s blog, I have to mention my dismay (although not shock) at how many people skewered me for even suggesting that the previous episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “Dominion,” had a slight stumble. Slight! But sacrilege that I even SUGGEST the series isn’t perfection. Here’s a few of my favorite zingers:
- I love other people’s opinions. Just kidding! Zip it!
- Bullshit!!!…was a great episode!
- Why would anyone search for the negative while millions of us are thoroughly enjoying this?!!!
- I don’t feel the need to dissect every aspect of every scene and character. Relax and enjoy.
Almost no one who took issue with my post actually bothered to read what I wrote (and they’re probably not reading this either), and certainly no one seemed to care that I’d posted six weeks of POSITIVE reviews before finally critiquing one episode.
But what I find the most amusing is that, for those first six positive reviews, almost no one blasted me for LIKING Picard‘s third season! It was only when I dared even lightly suggest criticism that the arrows started flying.
Now compare that to all of my critical reviews of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY and several of the episodes from Picard‘s first two seasons. Finding fault when those aired seemed fine with most people. In fact, people would often complain when I LIKED an episode!
But now? Heaven forbid someone speak ill of this season! Sure, there are still some fans who haven’t been enjoying these last eight episodes as much as most of the rest of us have, but it seems that fandom is speaking up loudly and proudly in favor of Picard‘s final season and jumping quickly to defend its honor against any who dare complain!
Quite a difference, huh?
Anyway, onto the eighth episode, “Surrender,” perhaps one of their most watchable. That doesn’t mean it was the best episode (so far, for me, that was episode #6, “The Bounty”), and this one had a few issues, which I’ll discuss below. But generally, it was a good, old-fashioned good-guys-versus-bad-guys struggle where we know exactly whom to root for and whom to jeer. There were no gray areas, and when the good guys finally win, we feel like cheering. There were also some really strong dramatic moments for just about every major character (except Beverly, Sidney, and Alana) and a few tour de force moments. It was fast-paced, suspenseful, perhaps a wee bit predictable, but oh-so-satisfying to watch.
Get the popcorn, and let’s discuss…
YEP, THE SEASON’S STORY STRUCTURE WILL BE 4-4-2
A couple of times this season, I’ve logged my prediction that the story structure would end up with the ten episodes being grouped into a four-part story, a second four-part story, and a final two-parter to bring it all home in a big way. So far, it looks like I nailed it (not that I was going too far out on a limb with that call!).
The first four episodes set up the story and characters and covered (mostly) the fight with the Shrike inside of the “birthing” nebula. There was a clear ending to those four episodes, and even though Vadic survived and other subplots and mysteries continued (so we’d keep watching), the main conflict was resolved with the Shrike at least temporarily defeated and the Titan and her crew safely escaping.
The next four episodes combined into the “Titan on the run”/”getting the band back together” plot, culminating with a VERY satisfying reunion of the Enterprise-D/E crew around the conference tale, a mix of comfortable small talk among old friends and strategizing. That one scene, although short-lived, was exactly what fans wanted, and the creators gave it to us. With Vadic now seemingly destroyed/dead/floating in frozen pieces forever in space (but never count a good villain down…if there ends up being a sequel Star Trek: Legacy series, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vadic’s return), the table is now set for the boss villain with the floating head and whatever their nefarious plan is for Frontier Day.
Expect an exciting two-episode sprint to a big finish!
LET ME EXPLAIN WHY DEANNA TROI HASN’T BEEN AROUND…
There’s been quite a bit of subspace chatter and complaining about MARINA SIRTIS’ total absence from Picard‘s first seven episodes beyond three super-short cameos totaling barely one minute of screen time.
Showrunner TERRY MATALAS explained that, because Marina lives in London, and Picard shot their episodes in Los Angeles, the 68-year-old actress asked that her filming time be limited in order that she not have to spend two-to-three full months away from her life and family in Great Britain. And it was a fair request to make. So Terry promised to feature Deanna Troi prominently in the final three episodes rather than spreading her appearances over the entire ten-episode run. Her cameos could be shot quickly and easily, and she’d be spending less than a month away from Great Britain.
Anyway, actors are trained to, when possible, try to draw on their personal experiences to inform the portrayal of a character. In the case of Marina, I imagine that it was not particularly difficult to make it believable that Deanna Troi and William Riker had loved each other deeply for a very long time. In real life, that is certainly true of the two actors (platonically, of course) for many, many decades. In fact, Marina has traditionally been one of the most openly emotive of the original cast, and so it was probably quite easy for her to access those feelings when performing in those scenes…and the connection between wife and husband felt very believable.
One of the things I particularly liked—in addition to their fun banter—was the explanation of what happened to divide Will and Deanna. They had lost their son Thaddeus, of course, but when we saw them on Nepenthe, they seemed to be doing okay. Obviously, they were still mourning (and would probably always feel the loss), but it appeared they had gotten through the worst of it. So what happened to drive Will away?
The reason that was revealed made perfect sense to me as a fan. It was totally understandable that Deanna would try to somehow relieve Will’s grief (and I accept that could be a Betazoid ability, even if we’d never seen it before). And such an action would not be wholly magnanimous, as Deanna was constantly feeling the deep grieving of both Will and Kestra, tripling her own sadness to the point of likely feeling almost unbearable. In the moment they talked about it on the Shrike, as a viewer, I felt their pain, and I rejoiced as they seemed to finally make some progress in getting past it all. In short, I rooted for them.
AT LONG LAST, THE MYSTERY OF JACK CRUSHER IS…GOING TO LINGER ON FOR ONE MORE EPISODE???
It was the one thing that nearly every other review that I read complained about…or at least mentioned was frustrating to them. In short, they felt that the mystery of what’s “wrong” with Jack Crusher has overstayed its welcome and needs to finally be revealed. And so the fact that this episode did almost nothing to solve any more of the puzzle didn’t help matters.
I’m not complaining about this, per se. My complaints last week were all reserved for examples of sloppy or lazy writing, although many were unavoidable due to having to set up this week’s pay-off to the previous episode. For example, I didn’t like the fact that Jack almost told Picard last week about his mind-reading and body-control powers. But that clumsy and problematic scene provided a preamble for the scene in this week’s episode where Jack does share the full story. But this time, there’s no need to doubt him because Sidney is there to verify Jack’s story…something that would not have been possible during last week’s one-on-one scene with Picard.
Continuing the mystery of Jack’s powers for one more episode was not sloppy or lazy writing. It was just…false advertising. The previous episode ended with Vadic saying, “And Jack, my dear—if you can hear me—it’s time you learnt who you really are.” And translated into television-speak, that means: “Tune in next week to finally learn Jack Crusher’s shocking secret!” Except we didn’t. And that’s false advertising. We did learn a teensy bit, like the fact that Vadic knows what Jack’s powers are and that he hears voices and sees a red door. But honestly, that’s frustratingly little to reveal, and so I was bothered by the lack of follow-through on last week’s cliffhanger—just not enough to actually complain. My reaction can better be described as…disappointed.
VADIC KILLS ANOTHER CAT
A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned the BLAKE SNYDER book on screenwriting titled Save the Cat! In it, Snyder explains that nearly all scripts have a scene where the protagonist, even if they’re a complete jerk, “saves a cat” or does some similar random good deed to let the audience know that he or she (or they) is/are worthy of watching his/her/their story unfold. Similarly, villains tend to have a “kill the cat” scene where they do something nasty and/or cruel to establish that they are someone to root against. It’s totally manipulative, of course, but when telling a story with good guys and bad guys, such scenes are almost as important as background music in guiding the emotions of the audience to a satisfying conclusion.
For that reason, it was 100% predictable that Vadic would kill one of the hostages before Jack finally decided to come to the bridge. It establishes that she’s evil, AND it informs the heroic nature of Jack in being brave enough to walk directly into the lion’s den. In fact, this episode’s “kill the cat” scene was reminiscent of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when Commander Kruge says, “Kill one of them, I don’t care which.” Of course, in that movie, we in the audience cared quite a bit! We certainly didn’t want it to be Spock…even if he was still just a rapidly-aging teenager. And we definitely liked Lt. Saavik. And David Marcus was Kirk’s son, and they’d only just (re)discovered each other, so don’t kill David either!
Unfortunately, one of them had to die to establish that Kruge was a nasty badass who meant business. And ultimately, the death of David led to Kirk’s memorable, anguished line: “You Klingon sons, you killed my bastard!” (Oh, wait. Scratch that. Reverse it.) But either way, we were invested in the scene.
Sadly, and somewhat avoidably, there was no such investment on the Titan‘s bridge. As viewers, we kinda knew that Shaw and Seven have “plot armor” and wouldn’t be the unfortunate victims (but would likely say something like, “No, take me instead!”—which is James T. Kirk 101). So that left one of the unfortunate “minor” bridge officers to be the sacrificial lamb. Y’know, one of the bridge officers who doesn’t get many lines and hasn’t really been defined as a character that we should care about. And so Kruge’s line, “I don’t care which…” kinda echoed in my head. I didn’t really care about any of them beyond generally being on the side of brave Starfleet officers.
In fact, when Lt. Matthew Arliss Mura mentioned that he had a son, I finally had a good reason for not wanting him to die. And when Ens. Kova Rin Esmar began crying, I felt really bad and didn’t want her to die either. And even though, up until the last second, it looked like Esmar was gonna be the unlucky “killed cat,” it ended up being someone completely different: Lt. T’Veen. Well, gee whiz, I really didn’t care about her! I would have been more upset if Mura or Esmar got iced because at least they both made me feel a little sympathy.
So in the end, the “kill the cat” scene pretty much fell flat with me, although by this point, Vadic had long since earned my scorn. And indeed, AMANDA PLUMMER continued to play the role for all it was worth…right down to her final words (not quite as eloquent as the Shakespeare her father CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER uttered just before General Chang and was blown out the stars, but still appropriate). Vadic might not be Star Trek‘s greatest villain ever (Khaaaannn!), but she was never, ever boring to watch!
MY ONE COMPLAINT: ROCK, PHASER, SWORDS, GOO
They say: never bring a knife to a gunfight. Likewise, never bring a sword to a goo fight. Seriously. If you’re fighting walking jello, stabbing it a sword SHOULD NOT WORK!!! Yes, I know that these new-fangled Changelings have “organs” like lungs and a heart, along with “blood,” but it’s just for decoration! They don’t really have a circulatory system. They don’t breathe air or rely on blood to keep them alive. Remember, they can still revert back into their liquid-gooey state (without lungs or blood). So even if you stab a Changeling directly through the “heart,” it should have the same effect as stabbing an unbaked loaf of bread dough.
And indeed, some of the Changelings that Raffi poked with her sword quickly got up. But others didn’t! Her attacks looked like slashing up a solid…except those weren’t solids. So the Changelings shouldn’t have gone down in the first place. And indeed, Worf and others did “clean up the mess” by ultimately shooting them with the weapons that have a “disintegrate Changelings” setting.
Of course, if you think about it enough, you have to ask, “Why were the Changelings using swords, too? And where did they even get them?” After all, they’d been using phasers/disruptors up until Raffi and Worf got there, so why suddenly switch to a much LESS effective weapon???
For me, this was worthy of a complaint…not because of sloppy writing so much as tail-wagging-the-dog syndrome. The creators wanted a bunch of cool “Worf and Raffi as samurai/ninja” swordplay scenes because those look cool. And they did! But know your enemy…and your enemy is goo!
It wasn’t a huge complaint, and at least the writer and director remembered to vaporize the goo squad members eventually. But this did count as a stumble…although not enough to ruin an otherwise strong and enjoyable episode.
CORRUPTED DATA OVERWRITTEN
Although totally predictable, Data’s “victory” over Lore was fun to watch. After the third trinket was handed over, and after Data had said that his memories defined him, I knew the plan. The more memories Lore took, the more of Data would be inside of Lore. Eventually, Data would emerge…and of course, he did.
What makes this particularly satisfying is that we get a whole new Data to begin to know—sadly, just in time for BRENT SPINER to be finished with the character. But in the same way that Marina Sirtis was the most emotionally demonstrative of the TNG main cast, Brent Spiner was always the funniest. Stories of Brent’s spontaneous comedy routines, impressions of others, and humorous pranks on the set were notorious and something the other cast members would talk about often at conventions.
As such, it was always ironic that Brent played the only TNG character incapable of understanding humor. But now that Data is more DataLore, Brent gets to explore a truly hilarious android—all of the sarcasm of Lore without the evil aftertaste, all the goodness of Data but with a fun twinkle. And for Brent, he gets to create yet ANOTHER character on Star Trek (I think this is number eight…nine if you count Data inflected by the memories of Ira Graves in “The Schizoid Man“). It’s a real treat for Brent and for fans.
THE LITTLE TOUCHES
And speaking of treats, there were a bunch of “little touches”—some humorous, some not, none of them major enough to occupy an entire blog subsection—that made the episode work even better. In order of appearance…
- Vadic, sitting in the captain’s chair: “This is cozy. I’m gonna take this with me.” C’mon, we’ve all thought it!
- Shaw, disapproving of Seven’s decision not to blow the turbolift and kill Vadic (along with Shaw): “You are a Starfleet Officer! You don’t have the luxury to only make choices that feel hunky-dory. Everything has consequences.” And he’s not wrong! And neither is Seven! Don’t you just love moral ambiguity?
- Shaw addresses Seven, again, as Commander Hansen. She interrupts, “My name is Seven-of-Nine.” Yay, good for her! I suppose Shaw could call her Number One, but she really prefers the number Seven.
- Worf’s dramatic entrance followed by the group hug from Riker and Troi. Worf, who is NOT a hugger, says uncomfortably, “One’s personal space is a right!” They pull away and apologize, and the following outpouring of sentimentality by Worf to Deanna, followed by Riker’s shocked and then irritated reaction, and Deanna’s scolding look at her husband were both unexpected and hilarious.
- (But where did Worf and Raffi get a shuttle with a cloaking device? Please explain this next episode…PLEASE! Or I will complain again!)
- Picard and his posse burst in on Geordi, Alanna, and deactivated Data. Immediately, they all understand that the others might be Changelings. So Geordi says, “Six years ago, you brought a gift to my anniversary dinner on Rigel…” Picard continues, “A Château Picard Bordeaux which you said was too dry because your taste in wine is pedestrian at best!” In vino veritas, and that irritated truth from Picard was, apparently, a long time in coming. This was yet another injection of hilarity to temporarily break the tension within an otherwise intense episode.
- Raffi and Troi haven’t met yet. So when Troi walks over, their conversation goes like this… Raffi – “Raffi.” Troi – “Deanna. Strange days, huh?” Raffi – “You’re tellin’ me!” Quick, simple, sufficient back to the episode.
- We actually get to see Tasha Yar! Albeit, it’s her holographic portrait. But even so, it was an appearance by Tasha Yar! Oh, and Spot, too! Of course, we’ve already had Guinan, Q, and Wesley last season. Would a cameo by DWIGHT SCHULTZ as Barclay be too much to ask? Nurse Ogawa? How about Mr. Mot?
- Data 2.0 – “Greetings, USS Titan. This is your friendly, positronic, pissed-off security system…back online. Unwanted guests and monologuing protoplasms, I am initiating an immediate shift change.” I want that on a T-shirt.
- Jack’s plan was actually pretty cool…and unexpected. It made for a great “outsmart the baddie” moment and helped remind people that Jack isn’t simply a mutant superhero.
- And hey, Data can use contractions now, and even joke about it. But that scene where Geordi asks Data, “How do you feel?” was very reminiscent of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But instead saying, “I feel fine…” like Spock, Data simply says, “I feel. I feel…”
And speaking of feeling, I will end this blog by asking: how good did it feel to see this oh-so-familiar fly-by angle with this particular piece of music…?
Bring on the big two-part finale—but don’t let it end!!! (I know; I can’t have it both ways. But “there are always possibilities,” Spock said…)