SURPRISE! Nearly all TIME-TRAVEL episodes of STAR TREK to Earth’s past actually have the SAME general plot… (PICARD editorial review)

TIME FOR SPOILERS!

“It’s just a ripoff of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home!”

I’ve read versions of that complaint in the comments from multiple STAR TREK: PICARD detractors on Facebook this week. And believe it or not, they’re not entirely wrong…but not for the reason they think!

Y’see, nearly ALL Star Trek time-travel episodes and movies where someone goes back to old Earth of the 19th, 20th, or 21st century tell almost the EXACT SAME story! Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the following list…

Now think back to all of those stories and tell me if they each share most if not all of the following plot elements…

  • Something gets “broken” in the past and needs to be fixed before the time traveler(s) can come home.
  • The method of time-travel is explained and often (but not always) shown…usually in a dramatic fashion.
  • The time-travelers will split up into smaller teams, each with its own mission. This allows for cutting between an A-story and a B-story and possibly a C-story.
  • Often, one of those teams remains back on the ship (assuming there is a ship), either in the past or still in the future.
  • There’s at least some comedy relief where our heroes from the future don’t quite understand something from the past (but we do, and it’s funny).
  • There’s usually a scene involving technology from the future that is either observed being used, or else it is lost and/or stolen. Often, this piece of equipment needs to be retrieved and/or destroyed lest it change the past in some way.
  • At least one person gets separated from their team. Frequently, this person is either injured and/or is captured and must be rescued.
  • The time-traveler(s) connect(s) with at least one special person from the past who can help them in some way. This character(s) becomes very well developed in the story, ultimately becoming someone we care about and can relate to/root for.

Not every time-travel story will contain every trope, but you’ll be amazed when you think about it just how many of these beloved episodes and movies share most of the same plot elements. And indeed, think about other sci-fi like the Back to the Future trilogy and see how many of those tropes you remember seeing there, too.

And speaking of Back to the Future, this third episode of the season, “Assimilation,” along with next week’s fourth episode, were both directed by LEA THOMPSON, the actress (and Trekkie!) who played Marty McFly’s mother in the first two Back to the Future movies and his great-great grandmother in the third. So she’s no stranger to time-travel stories!

Let’s take a look at how this latest episode of Picard follows the tropes of these Star Trek “back to Earth’s past” episodes and movies…

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An underwhelming season finale for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY…except for STACEY ABRAMS! (editorial review)

TO THE WINNERS GO THE SPOILERS

I can’t start this review of the series finale of season four of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, “Coming Home,” without first commenting on the biggest news item stemming from it: the appearance of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and progressive political activist STACEY ABRAMS as the President of United Earth.

Abrams’ appearance has been all over the media, from Variety to the Washington Post, as it’s being widely reported that she is a HUGE Star Trek fanatic. Indeed, it seems her one condition for appearing was that she be shown only her lines in the script and told nothing else about the episode or season…as she wanted to watch it all as a fan without spoilers!

Now, if you’re the kind of person who purposefully leaves the “ic” off of “Democratic” when using the word as an adjective for the party, it’s likely you were quite pissed off when you saw her…assuming you even recognized her (which, I admit, I didn’t at first). Many of the more outspoken conservative fans are already complaining of blatant “stunt casting,” although Star Trek is full of celebrity cameos—even political ones like the prince (now king) of the country of Jordan along with political activist Tom Morello (both of whom appeared on Voyager). Here’s a meme I got off of Facebook showing many of the famous faces who cameoed on Star Trek over the years…

Top row – Mae Carol Jemison (first Black woman in space), Joe Piscapo (comedian), Tom Morello (musician and activist), Iggy Pop (singer/songwriter), Christian Slater (son of the casting director for Star Trek VI). Bottom row – then-Crown Prince Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, Seth MacFarlane (creator of “Family Guy” and later “The Orville”), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Pr. Stephen W. Hawking, and Kelsey Grammer.

Of course, the arguments being given justifying complaints of “unfairness” are that none of the folks pictured above were actively running for political office when they appeared on Star Trek. As it happens, neither was Stacey Abrams at the time she was contacted by the production. In fact, her scene was filmed back in August of last year and she didn’t announce her second run for governor of Georgia until December. By then, the episode was long past being able to be re-shot, especially since Abrams appears with multiple other actors on screen.

So any way you slice it, there’s no way to legitimately criticize this without sounding like a redneck and/or a racist. And indeed, those complaining the loudest are mostly the same people who ridiculously insist that (don’t laugh) there is an underrepresentation of straight, white, male human characters on the show…without realizing how idiotic and ignorant that makes them sound! (Strange that these people never seem to have complained about there being an underrepresentation of Black, Asian, Latino, female, gay, or alternately-identified gender characters on other Star Trek shows before this, huh?)

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STAR TREK: PICARD goes TWO-FOR-TWO for season two! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE YOUR PENANCE, JEAN-LUC

This week, I’ve decided to separate my STAR TREK: PICARD and DISCOVERY reviews back into two separate blogs. It’s really not fair to combine them, as they are such totally different shows. Some have gone so far as to say that it’s not fair to call Picard a better show because it has characters with literally hundreds of Star Trek episodes between them (Picard and Seven-of Nine) plus guest stars playing characters equally familiar to fans…like Riker, Troi, Data, Hugh, Guinan, and Q.

Frankly, I don’t believe it’s fair to call that “unfair,” as Discovery has now been on the air for four years. And even though Michael Burnham, Saru, Stamets, and the others haven’t appeared in the 180 TNG episodes that Picard was in (or the 100 episodes of Voyager for Seven), there have still been well over 50 episodes of Discovery (54 as I write this).

No, the reason it’s unfair is simply that Picard is a vastly better show than Discovery…at least for these first two episodes of Picard‘s second season. At this point, there’s been so much positive being said about Picard these past couple of weeks that if you’re one of those people still clinging to the “They all suck!” rhetoric, you really need to let go of your anger and hatred because you really are missing out on something amazing.

One of the reasons I believe Picard to be the significantly better of the two shows is the characters who are featured. Both Discovery and Picard employ excellent actors and actresses. And while I wouldn’t put the leads of the two shows in the same class, most of the rest of their casts do a lot with their characters. It’s simply that the Picard writers are allowing their actors more opportunities to do so.

Case in point, let’s look at how things were handled in this second episode, “Penance”…

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DISCOVERY’s “Species 10-C” episode was 37% intriguing, 45% annoying, and 18% frustrating… (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE!

I was originally going to title this blog “Close Encounters of the 10-C Kind,” but I felt it more appropriate to share my mix of reactions in the same way that Species 10-C communicated in ratios of their pheromone emotions. And if you don’t know WTF I’m talking about, then you haven’t watched the penultimate episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fourth season, “Species 10-C.”

This episode was a true conundrum for me when it came time to try to think of how I felt about it. On the one hand: GREAT EPISODE! On the other hand: DREADFUL EPISODE!

You see my problem?

LET’S START WITH INTRIGUING

One of the most far-fetched aspects of Star Trek over the decades is just how convenient first contacts tend to be. Throughout the first four TV series, it seemed that, no matter where you traveled in the galaxy, everybody looked mostly human (just maybe a strange forehead or ears here and there), and they all either spoke colloquial English immediately or else could learn it quickly or have it universally translated. And it kinda spoiled us fans, didn’t it? Of course, without such tropes, we’d have to spend the majority of each episode just figuring out how to communicate, and that would leave little time to tell compelling sci-fi stories.

Granted, Star Trek did have a few episodes that focused on communicating when the universal translator wasn’t up to the task. Most notably, the excellent Next Generation episode “Darmok” devoted the entire storyline to Picard and the Tamarian captain trying to find a way to understand each other because the languages were just too different for the universal translator to figure out.

Unfortunately, if you think too hard, even a wonderful episode like “Darmok” collapses under the weight of strained credulity. Obviously the Children of Tama were able to communicate beyond simple metaphors. After all, how can you build a starship without saying something like, “Pass me that #3 hexagonal hyper-spanner…”? And in order to say, “Uzani, his army with fists closed,” you have to know the words “army,” “fists,” and “closed.” In other words, the universal translator should have been able to do better than it did.

But hey, it still made for a great episode dedicated to bridging a language barrier. And so it was for “Species 10-C.” It was fascinating watching the methodical process of trying to bridge such vastly different methods of communication. But again, you kind of have to turn off your brain to accept how far-fetched the concept is…

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PICARD soars while DISCOVERY snores (editorial review)

DOUBLE THE SPOILERS, DOUBLE THE FUN!

At first I was kinda dreading having to blog TWO reviews this week because we’ve got both STAR TREK: DISCOVERY and STAR TREK: PICARD each premiering new episodes on the same day (for the next three weeks, no less). And lord knows it takes me long enough to write just ONE blog review!

But this week’s episode of Discovery was such a nothing-burger that I have relatively little to say about it. On the other hand, the season two premiere of Picard completely blew me away, and I can’t stop thinking about how awesome it was. And if what I’ve read of reviews and reactions on social media, I’m far from alone in my reaction.

So I’ve decided to combine the two reviews into a single blog and see if I can cover both episodes in less than 3,100 words.

I actually wondered which episode to watch first and ultimately decided to begin with Discovery. I suspected that Picard would be the stronger of the two (although I had no idea how much stronger), and I wanted to end the evening on what I hoped would be the higher note.

Following that same logic, I’m going to start this blog with a little bit about Discovery‘s 11th episode of season four, “Rosetta,” and then move on to Picard‘s lead-off episode of season two, “The Star Gazer.” Buckle up, grab a Saurian brandy from behind the bar, and let’s do this thing…

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DISCOVERY’s “The Great Barrier” was a lot to get through… (editorial review)

THE GREAT WALL OF SPOILERS

Perhaps I should have realized it when I heard Dr. Kovich reference Gilligan’s Island in the opening scene of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s tenth episode of season four, “The Great Barrier.” Realized what? Well, those castaways set out on a “three hour tour” and ended up spending a LOT more time stuck in the same place. And that’s kind of what’s been happening with Discovery this season.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the decision to have season-long story arcs—as Discovery has done since season two and arguably since season one)—it does present a challenge for properly pacing out the general plot line. Thirteen hours (give or take) is a massive of time to fill locked into the same overall narrative. It’s certainly not impossible to keep a storyline going for that long, but it often takes a little bit of “padding” to stretch things out a bit. And a little bit is good. It gives the creators a chance to develop the characters, something that was frustratingly absent with the manic pace of the first two seasons. So, yeah, a little bit is good. A…little…bit.

For the first half of season four, the pacing of the overall story arc was decent. The anomaly (DMA) wasn’t even introduced until the end of the first episode, and it kind of took a back seat over the course of the next few episodes, although the second episode dealt with the trying to collect data on the distortion while spotlighting Book’s emotional devastation. But then we had episodes dealing with (in this order) finding a rogue Romulan ninja nun, Tilly leading a group of Starfleet cadets (and Adira) to safety after a shuttle crash while Burnham and Saru try to talk Ni’Var into rejoining the Federation, and then freeing trapped prisoners in the path of the DMA’s destruction while an experiment on board Discovery nearly destroys the ship (and introduces Ruon Tarka).

Five episodes in, and there was a steady build-up of the DMA in importance. That led to episode six, where Discovery has to actually enter the subspace rift to collect otherwise irretrievable data on the DMA. And now the main story arc had taken center stage, exactly when it should have, building to a big clash in episode seven (just before the holiday hiatus). Michael and Book lock horns over what to do about the device generating the DMA: destroy it or try to contact Unknown Species 10-C and ask them politely to turn it off. Both arguments sounded reasonable, something which has been a part of Trek since TOS.

Perfect pacing so far. The first half of the season ended with a strong cliffhanger and the promise of even more revelations and action in the final six episodes.

And then Star Trek: Discovery kinda got stuck…

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ST: DISCOVERY’s “Rubicon” was the perfect episode with one major flaw: PREDICTABILITY! (editorial review)

YOU JUST KNOW THERE ARE GONNA BE SPOILERS!

Oh, man! They were SO close…SO close to having a perfect episode! And considering how many times I have found at least one thing to criticize about each episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, a truly flawless episode has still eluded them.

Granted, is there really such a thing as a “perfect” Star Trek episode? Fans could probably find nits to pick for some of Trek‘s greatest triumphs like “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “The Best of Both Worlds,” “The Inner Light,” “The Visitor,”…and I could go on. But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. What I mean by “perfect” is an episode where even the little flaws don’t bother you (or me). And the latest episode of Discovery, “Rubicon,” COULD have been that most coveted of episodes. It was gorgeous to look at, exciting, well-acted, well-paced, dramatic, and it had some really good action sequences (especially the scenes with all the jumps). It even featured some minor bridge characters getting a chance to actually LEAVE the bridge. It could have been a “perfect” episode except for one not-so-small problem…

It was WAY too predictable.

Part of the problem is that I knew, before the episode began, the title: “Rubicon.” Now, technically, Discovery episodes don’t display their titles to viewers (unlike most of the other Trek series), so I’m not sure this is a completely valid criticism. But I’m still counting it. Titling the episode “Rubicon” would be like titling “The City on the Edge of Forever” instead “The Tragic Death of Edith Keeler.”

For anyone not familiar with the Rubicon River in Italy or the phrase “Crossing the Rubicon,” it comes from ancient Roman times. Before Julius Caesar conquered Rome, he was the governor of a neighboring province and the general of that province’s army. When his term ended, the Senate ordered him to disband his army and return to Rome. He returned to Rome, all right, but he didn’t disband his army. In fact, he took his soldiers with him, which was a HUGE no-no (like, treason and insurrection illegal), and once those soldiers crossed the Rubicon River, the die was cast. Caesar’s army had entered the Rome province, and civil war ensued.

For the past few episodes of Discovery, the decision facing the Federation (with Michael and Book on opposite sides of the issue) was whether to try to make peaceful first contact with Unknown Species 10-C or risk a war with them by striking first at their DMA generator and preemptively destroying it. With a title like “Rubicon,” I pretty much knew from the first moment that the episode would end with the action that would lead to war.

Of course, there were other “tells” in this episode (and the ones leading up to it) that also cemented that inevitability…

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STAR TREK: DISCOVERY meets OCEAN’S ELEVEN…but does it work? (editorial review)

I’LL SEE YOUR BET AND RAISE YOU SPOILERS!

“All In” won’t go down as the best STAR TREK: DISCOVERY ever made, but it succeeded on a number of levels. It also failed on a number of levels. Let’s take a look at both sides now, win and lose, and still, somehow

In many ways, “All In” was the “A Fistful of Datas“/”Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang“/”Bride of Chaotica” episode of Discovery. What each of these stories has in common is a sense of “fun and games” where the cast and production crew can just kinda let themselves go in an episode that’s lighthearted and funny, has a little pizzazz, and isn’t simply filled with melodrama, angst , tension, and gravitas. The first three of those episodes took place mainly on the holodeck/holosuite in settings far removed from the path that Star Trek usually treads. “All In” does essentially the same thing…just without the holoemitters.

For me, despite other obvious weaknesses of the episode, the humor and lightheartedness were the most welcome and refreshing aspect this time around. Admittedly, there’s still some serious shat going down in the galaxy, as billions, if not trillions, of lives are at risk. And worse than that, Michael and Book aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. But maybe that’s why we need a little vacation on a floating barge hidden behind a holographic sea serpent (hey, maybe this episode DOES have holoemitters!) to do some relaxing gambling and mixed martial arts ring-fighting.

But seriously, folks, let’s start with what, I believe, was the inherent strength of the episode…

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Is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY really “WOKE”? What does “WOKE” even mean??? (editorial, part 2)

Last time, we began by taking a brief look at the history of the word “woke.” (You can read the full history here.) Although “woke” began as a positive word connoting being aware of racial injustice, in the last half-decade, “woke” has been co-opted into a toxic, negative insult, implying (from conservatives) an overly liberal and progressive view of race relations and inequality and (from liberals) an overcompensation to try to mitigate implied social injustice.

Whatever the meaning, some detractors of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY have begun to deploy the word “woke” in criticizing the show. But what exactly are they talking about? Is it the diversity of characters of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities? Or is there something about the plots or the storytelling that is supposedly “woke”?

In order to get a better understanding of what the critics mean when they call Discovery “woke,” I reached out to fans on four different large-size Star Trek Facebook groups(this group, this group, this group, and this group) and asked for examples of what they consider “woke” beyond just the characters themselves.

Unfortunately, almost no one offered specific examples—only broad brush strokes which didn’t help define (for me, at least) what it was about Discovery (beyond the characters) that was “woke.” Indeed, the only specific complaints I received were a bit absurd: one person who thought there was way too much kissing and another who assumed, from watching the third season Discovery episode “People of Earth,” that “Africans took over Earth and do not welcome non-Africans home.” And among his proof was that Earth ships resembled elephants. (Seriously, I screen capped the comment!)

Yeah, they do kinda look like elephants…

Anyway, with nothing else that I could take seriously as an example of what made Discovery “woke,” I could only assume it was indeed some combination of the races/ethnicities of the actors and/or the sexual orientations/gender identities of the characters.

So I took a closer look at the actors themselves. There is a general perception out there among certain fans that Discovery portrays an overly diverse cast in terms of race and ethnicity. The bridge crew is certainly “colorful,” and the current main cast features two Blacks, one Hispanic, and one half-Asian. Of course, it also features four white actors (I still consider Tilly part of the main cast). That’s 50% white.

But I took it a step further and looked at the casting of ALL actors who’ve appeared with significant speaking roles in at least two episodes dating back to the start of the series. The results were staggeringly skewed toward white actors and actresses (35 total) versus Black actors (8 total) and those of Latino, Asian and other/unknown ethnicities (also 8 total).

So with 2/3 of the total actors on the show being white, why it is that so many viewers mistakenly believe that the Discovery cast is so much more diverse than it actually is…?

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Is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY really “WOKE”? What does “WOKE” even mean??? (editorial, part 1)

How many times have you seen someone on social media complaining that STAR TREK: DISCOVERY is too “woke”? People seem to use “woke” as though it were some kind of four-letter word!

But what does “woke” actually mean, and more importantly, is Discovery truly “woke”…or do certain people just think that it is?

The word “woke” first came to prominence within the Black community in the 1940s, an African-American slang term that initially meant being informed about systemic racism in America. It was a positive word, indicating awareness of things that tended to be “off the radar” for many Americans at the time.

By 2016, the newly-formed Black Lives Matter movement began to use the phrase and hashtag #StayWoke as a way calling attention to what they maintained was widespread mistreatment of Black suspects by law enforcement. By 2017, the word “woke” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, defined as “being ‘aware’ or ‘well-informed’ in a political or cultural sense.”

So far, so good. Nothing wrong with being “woke”…yet.

However, like other terms that started out as positive—such as “politically correct” and “social justice warrior”—the word “woke” was eventually corrupted and turned into something derogatory and toxic…specifically by the alt-right and other conservative groups. It became a crass insult directed primarily at liberals and progressives who were ridiculed for everything from “cancel culture” to “critical race theory” in their desire to stand up for what they believed were marginalized and persecuted groups and minorities both within America and beyond.

Gradually, those on the left stopped using “woke” as a positive. Today, even liberals and progressives employ “woke” to call out actions that are mocked for overcompensating in trying to provide fairness and equal representation beyond what seems reasonable and appropriate. One example is the recent trend by the left to introduce the plural word “Latinx” into common usage because because the plural “Latinos” leaves out women (even though Spanish speakers actually prefer the original plural since that’s the way the Spanish language works).

WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS “WOKE” ABOUT ST: DISCOVERY?

Back in May of 2018, as CBS was pushing for Emmy consideration for the premiere season of Star Trek: Discovery, Entertainment Weekly called the new prequel show the “…boldest and most woke series yet.” CBS quickly plastered that pull quote as a headline on Discovery‘s media press kit. Obviously, the word “woke” hadn’t yet fallen from grace.

That was then…

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