Why I loved…and hated…the finale of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS…SHINING ON ME—
NOTHING BUT SPOILERS…DO I SEE!

As usual, I’m probably going to piss off the folks who love STAR TREK: PICARD if I say anything negative about the season finale…and piss off the folks who hate the series if I gush about the last episode.

So let’s just piss off everyone this time, shall we?

To properly convey my reaction(s) to “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” I need to walk you though the following sequence of events that affected the way I thought about this episode…

It began last week when I was underwhelmed (for the first time this season) with the ninth episode, which I detailed in my previous editorial review. I realized that, being a part one, the penultimate episode was setting things up for the ultimate episode. But I wasn’t certain that I liked everything that was being set up. The tail was beginning to wag the dog as the writing was getting somewhat sloppy and lazy, trying to check boxes in order to move the pieces where they needed to be for the “big finish.”

Then, a day before the finale aired, I read this really great interview from Variety with Picard co-creator and show-runner MICHAEL CHABON (a MUST read, folks!). It provides some fascinating insight into what sculpted the writing of this series, but one passage stood out for me in particular:

I think a useful metaphor for thinking about it is an Etch A Sketch. If you remember, there are two dials on the Etch A Sketch, one is plot and one is character. What you’re trying to do, and it’s really hard, is to turn them exactly the same amount so that you’re getting a perfect 45 degree angle. But as soon as you commit to a plotted story, which we committed to from the opening scene of Episode 1, you’ve strapped yourself to a plot-driven engine that you’re going to have to push back against really hard to try to hold it into that 45 degree angle.

I realized as I read that part of the interview that the first eight episodes were much more front-loaded with character development. There might not always be enough time to develop every character as much as we (or the writers) might want, but what the show lacked in action and speed of storytelling was more than made up for in series after series of deep, character-defining scenes. And I was getting kinda used to that.

But eventually, you have to not only get on with the plot but you actually have to finish the darn story already. And that’s when I felt the show had finally delivered a mediocre episode. Would the trend continue into the finale? Would finally giving us some action “ruin” the last episode for me, as well?

And so Thursday came and a finally hit play

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FLOWER-POWER doesn’t energize this week’s weakest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD… (editorial review)

A FISTFUL OF SPOILERS!

By now, you guys know that I love the new STAR TREK: PICARD series. I’ve raved about every episode so far. And even things I didn’t like (such as the swearing or Narek’s inability to act convincingly or his incestuous sister Narissa or Commodore Oh’s unfortunate name choice) I was still able to overlook because I was enjoying everything else so much.

Not this time, folks.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t “hate” this episode or even really dislike it. I was simply rather underwhelmed. And I found myself annoyed by enough plot contrivances and missed opportunities that, this time, the bad outweighed the good.

Granted, my hat is completely off to ISA BRIONES, who plays her sister Sutra with a subtle, sinister sleekness signaling significant sophistication and a solid skillset. (Sorry, sometimes alliteration frantically flows through my fingers.) And of course, the rest of the cast does a solid job…but at least for this one episode, not a really great job.

And yes, I do blame director AKIVA GOLDSMAN for that. He’s just not a great director yet. Over the past ten years, he’s directed less than a dozen hours of television, and four of those were episodes of Fringe in the first two seasons. And for the next four years, he directed nothing. He directed two episodes of Discovery‘s lackluster first season (including the disappointing finale), and now he gets to direct both parts of the season finale of Picard…which is unfortunate and doesn’t bode well for next week. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Of course, if a director is given a weak script, that can also be a problem. And “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” wasn’t the best script of the season. Even though the excellent MICAEL CHABON had a hand in writing it, so too did AYELET WALDMAND and Akiva himself. Sometimes multiple writers on the same script is a boon. But sometimes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

So what went wrong this episode? Well, to be fair, it was a “part 1” episode, setting up the pins so that the conclusion next week can knock them all down with a strike. This means we can expect a lot of plot contrivances making sure characters are properly placed for the finale (Seven and Elnor on the Cube, Narek escaped, etc.). But there were also some “unforced errors,” as they say in baseball.

Let me tell you what bothered me the most…

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How will CORONAVIRUS affect STAR TREK FAN FILMS?

Last Friday night on AXANAR CONFIDENTIAL #52, ALEC PETERS announced that the fourth shoot for AXANAR, originally scheduled for April in Los Angeles, will need to be delayed at least until May and possibly longer because of the coronavirus pandemic. (The good news is that he now has a little longer to raise $30K in the fundraiser on Ares Digital.) The planned premiere of “The Gathering Storm”—the first of the two Axanar sequels—might no longer happen during San Diego Comic Con or even at Creation’s Las Vegas Star Trek convention because there’s a chance that one or both events will be postponed or canceled.

Whether or not you personally feel that the media is making too much out of all this, the fact remains that folks across the United States and the world are taking this new virus very seriously. Sporting events, concerts, offices, schools, theaters, restaurants, fitness clubs—all are being temporarily closed to prevent people from inadvertently sharing this very infectious new virus while congregating in close quarters. All of these measures are intended to slow the spread of the disease until such time (hopefully soon) when a vaccine can be developed, tested, and deployed to the general population.

And this also includes film production. CBS, ABC, Netflix, Apple, and Disney are all suspending shooting on series including Young Sheldon, Grey’s Anatomy, Supergirl, Batwoman, Claws, All Rise, Lucifer,  Stranger ThingsGrace and Frankie, The Morning Show, Foundation, For All Mankind, and NCIS…to name but a few! (Get the whole current list here.) Disney has halted production on nearly all pilots, including the new Falcon and the Winter Soldier planned for release on Disney+. So this is going to cost the studios some big bucks and major lost revenue in advertising and subscriptions.

But the logic is sound. Production crews can often number in the hundreds, and they work in very close quarters as make-up and costume people, lighting and camera people, actors, directors, sound engineers, and countless others are constantly near or touching each other and the same items to adjust mics, wardrobe, make-up, hold up light meters, etc. And production teams can’t afford for even small numbers of their crew to be out sick at the same time.

And of course, even though survival rates are in the 98%-plus range, the elderly are most susceptible…and most younger folks in sets have parents and grandparents (plus some of the actors themselves are older). It would be irresponsible on the part of the studios (and possibly trigger some legal liability) to put so many people at risk just to make a TV program, Indeed, I suspect even more shows will announce they are suspending production soon.

So what does all of this mean for Star Trek fan films? After all, Axanar‘s production and release might very well be delayed by months due to COVID-19—what about other productions? I decided to ask around…

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STAR TREK: PICARD’s “Broken Pieces” has a little something for EVERYONE…even the complainers! (editorial review)

HOUSTON, WE HAVE SPOILERS!

At this point, if you’re not liking (or loving) STAR TREK: PICARD, then I really just don’t get it. Not to say you’re not entitled to your opinion, but it’s just beyond my ken trying to figure out if we’re even watching the same show!

I enjoy this series as a Trek fan, as a sci-fi fan, and simply as a television viewer. I love the story, the characters, the acting, the writing, the VFX (just enough lens flare not to drive ya nuts!), the costumes, the make-up, the sets, and even (especially!) the music.

This eighth episode had a little something for everyone…even the complainers. So if you’ve been criticizing the show on social media, did you at least like any of the following…?

YOU WANTED ACTION? YOU GOT ACTION!

Okay, I’ll admit that a good portion of this eighth episode featured the crew members of the La Sirena just sitting around and talking to each other. The ship wasn’t getting shot at, Elnor wasn’t cutting off people’s heads, and no one was being murdered.

But meanwhile, back on the Borg Cube Artifact, it was Fast and Furious 7-of-9! (Let’s all pause a moment to appreciate that pun.) For those viewers complaining that episodes of Picard are “too” slow, these cutaways to Seven-of-Nine and Elnor must certainly have felt like a welcome pick-me-up! The stakes were high, the tension palpable, the urgency immediate, and the action thrilling. The bad guys were nefariously plotting and preparing, the good guys were struggling to come up with a workable defense, and our “hero” Seven was forced by circumstance into making an impossible choice.

And let’s hear it for the “head fake” of leading us to the edge of having Seven release the Borg hounds and then—SWOOSH!!!—having Narissa space them all in five seconds. So much for that idea! Granted, in retrospect, that “plot twist” saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in make-up and wardrobe costs that would have been required to turn the end of the episode into Borg War V (or whatever we’re up to…”Descent,” First Contact, “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero,” feel free to add any Borg-heavy episodes to that list). But even knowing that the decision was as much cost-savings as anything, the moment was still unexpected (for me, at least), and it definitely left Seven in a very scary place.

Let’s see what other goodies were on the menu this episode…

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For STAR TREK: PICARD, don’t allow the PERFECT to be the enemy of the REALLY REALLY GOOD! (editorial review)

THE SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN…SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN

I really don’t understand the folks out there who are trying so hard to convince others (or maybe just themselves) that STAR TREK: PICARD isn’t a good show. I mean, the critics certainly love it (and by those I mean the trusted sci-fi critics who provide reviews—rather than just recpas—at places like DenOfGeek, IndieWire, IGN, Space.com, TrekMovie, Escapist, and many others). And numerous fans on Facebook certainly love the show, too. Granted, not everyone is giving it perfect 10’s each time out, but the general consensus seems to be extremely positive as people are enjoying what they see.

And then there are the detractors. There always seem to be detractors.

I’ve personally written more than fifteen thousand words over the last month and a half very specifically explaining why the show is so good (minus the blog about the swearing). So that’s quite the wall to climb in trying to convince me that I, the critics, and an endless parade of fans on Facebook and elsewhere have been wrong all this time. But that doesn’t stop these negative nellies from making such keen and thought-provoking arguments as the following…

Deep thinkers, I know.

I also tried watching Nerdrotic’s latest video podcast bashing the show (as he always does). However, it’s hard for me to give a critic any real credence when he can’t even pronounce the name of the episode…despite living a few hours drive from a famous restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur with the same name. Nepenthe (neh-PEN-they) has been around since 1949 overlooking the cliffs of the majestic California coastline and serving the world’s best hamburger (the ambrosiaburger) along with other culinary delights. For a person who lives in San Francisco to not have heard of Nepenthe…well, that’s just wrong. Take a drive down the coast, dude; it’s lovely!

Anyway, as I watched Gary Buechler skewer the episode on his podcast, all I could think were 1) he’s using juvenile name-calling to make a lot of his points, and 2) he’s getting donations from people while doing the skewering. If people paid me money to bash a show each week, I’d probably find a way to do it. I’m just not sure I’d trust what I had to say as objective or fair-minded. But enough about that.

I’m really trying to understand the folks who don’t think this show is good. A teensy few have written thoughtful, reasonable comments that I’ve published on previous blogs. And while I don’t agree with them, I respect their efforts to convey their thoughts clearly and civilly. But by far, most people who criticize this show just seem to fall into the following five categories…

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Is there a “RIGHT” way to watch STAR TREK: PICARD? (more editorial than review)

100% CERTIFIED SPOILER FREE!

I was there at the dawn of the third age of TV science fiction…

I was actually there at the dawn of the second age, too, but I was still in diapers. The first age was completely before my time, and the fourth age…well, the fourth age is happening right now! And what the flying flark am I talking about????

I find it interesting to read the comments of the folks who don’t like STAR TREK: PICARD. A few anti-CBS fans out there, I believe, had convinced themselves to hate the show before the series ever started. Others, I suspect, saw how slowly the first few episodes were going and decided right then the show was “garbage.” Still others can’t forgive Picard for not being the second coming of The Next Generation the way The Orville has been. Some don’t like the “dystopian future” or the damaged characters or the swearing (I raise my hand for that one) or the mustache-twirling, sunglasses-wearing, way-too-over-sexual villains.

And as Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say on Saturday Night Live, “It’s always sumthin’. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” And I think that’s true of much of recent sci-fi—and especially Star Trek…and especially lately. But as we crossed the midpoint of the 10-episode run of the first season of Picard, I wondered something…

Are the fans who DON’T like the show—for whatever reason—are they just not watching Picard the “right” way? And for that matter, is there, in fact, a “right” way to watch Picard? I actually think there is!

But to truly appreciate what I’m going to tell you in this blog, we need to take a slight detour through the 70-plus year history of science fiction on television…

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I expected the WORST, but STAR TREK: PICARD’S fifth episode was its BEST yet! (editorial review)

OODLES AND OODLES AND OODLES OF SPOILERS!!!

Who remembers “The Naked Now”? Thirty-two and a half years ago (!!!), it was the second episode of the The Next Generation to air. While it wasn’t the worst episode ever (that would be “The Royale,” in my opinion), it definitely wasn’t the best. At a time when the main characters of TNG were just being introduced to audiences and still making first impressions, they were each reduced to comedic caricatures—Yar throwing herself at Data, Beverly and Picard throwing themselves at each other, Wesley taking over engineering…sheesh, even Data got goofy! Two episodes in, and they’re doing comedy???

That was the mental image I had before watching this past Thursday’s fifth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “Stardust City Rag.” The trailer showed what looked like a modern day version of TOS’s “A Piece of the Action” or DS9‘s “Badda Bing, Badda-Bang“—complete with characters dressing up for some kinda heist from dangerous-looking gangsters or something. Even the sneak-peek preview scene from the end of the previous week’s THE READY ROOM showed a comedic vignette of annoying holo-spam ads popping up all over the bridge, requiring the gallant crew to do something physical to get rid of each one.

I was NOT expecting to like this episode.

So imagine my ecstatic surprise when “Stardust City Rag” turned out to be the strongest and most enjoyable episode of Picard thus far…at least for me (and many other reviewers, as it turned out).

What happened to make this episode so good…?

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Why I lose my head every time I hear F*ING SWEAR WORDS in PICARD and DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

NO SPOILERS…BUT LOTS OF SWEARING!

I really liked the fourth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD. It wasn’t perfect (ahem, Narek and his sister Narissa), but it was close enough that I really loved the entire experience of watching it. And let’s face it, JONATHAN FRAKES knows how to direct Star Trek! Patrick Stewart and the entire cast (aside from the guy playing Narek) give consistently outstanding performances.

Show-runner MICHAEL CHABON was the lone writer credited this episode (all the other episodes have had multiple credited writers), and those 44 minutes flowed perfectly. With solid pacing, new and fascinating characters were introduced and developed. The episode filled in more of what happened to Picard over the last decade and a half, had amazing VFX (not too dark, too too fast, not too confusing), wonderful music, incredible make-up and costumes, gorgeous locations, and a thrilling surprise ending.

I truly have nothing to complain about…except one thing: the f*ing swearing!!!

So this time, because the episode itself was so enjoyable, my editorial review is going to be more editorial and less review. After all, this episode was titled “Absolute Candor,” so let me share my truth with you.

Let me start by saying that I am not a fucking prude. I know how to swear, and I’ll even indulge in “colorful metaphors” myself from time to time. I also know how NOT to swear. I don’t use profanities within earshot of my 9-year-old son or with my in-laws or in mixed company or with clients. I don’t use them during my audio interviews with fan filmmakers. Swear words are a choice…even if you accidentally drop a stack of dishes and they shatter all over the floor.

And I don’t mind hearing swear words on most shows on television. In fact, I welcome them! For me, not hearing swear words on network TV takes a little of the realism out of certain dramatic scenes.

So why the #$%@ do I have a problem with swearing on Star Trek, you ask? After all, if I want more realism on TV, then why shouldn’t Star Trek be as realistic as other shows?

Fair question. And I am going to explain why. But in order to do so, I need to take you all on a fast time wrap through the first 50 years of Star Trek

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Sunglasses on Vulcans and other nits to pick about PICARD…and why they don’t matter to me! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ABOUND!

As I read review after review of the third episode of STAR TREK: PICARD, “The End IS the Beginning,” the one common complaint I encountered over and over again is that the series seems to be moving TOO SLOW. It seems a fair number of people are really bothered by the fact that this third episode wasn’t any more action-packed than the first two (except the Zhat Vash attack on the Château Picard toward the end), and how after three full episodes, it was only in the last few seconds of the third episode that Picard finally says “Engage…” (hooray!) and we’re finally leaving Earth for deep space. The end really was the beginning.

Too slow, huh? Give me a break people! Let’s be honest: the real problem with this episode is that there was a Vulcan Commodore wearing sunglasses! I mean, really? Vulcan has a stronger sun than Earth, and Vulcans have that inner eyelid thingie (which we learned in the TOS first season finale “Operation: Annihilate” when Spock recovers from temporary blindness).

Oh, sure, there’s sunglasses in the 24th century. Barclay wore a pair on the beach in Voyager. But on a VULCAN??? Never! And just look at that commodore rank pin! It’s skewed! Would a Vulcan ever allow such a thing to happen? Would the Starfleet of the future even have rank pips that didn’t stay perfectly in place? This is is the FUTURE, people! Between the sunglasses and the rank pip, people might start to suspect that Commodore Oh isn’t really a Vulcan at all—despite her smooth forehead—and a Romulan agent would never be that sloppy…nor would an actual Vulcan!

And speaking of foreheads, we’re now told that the bumpy heads of Romulans are just a genetic variation of those from the north??? Really? Like blond hair or blue eyes here on Earth? Pshaw! Everyone knows that in the 4th season TNG episode “Data’s Day,” the faux-Vulcan Ambassador T’Pel returns to the Romulans and reveals herself to, in fact, be a Romulan…complete with a bumpy forehead!

“Vulcan” Ambassador T’pel’s forehead goes from smooth to bumpy when she reveals herself to be a Romulan spy in “Data’s Day.”

What? You can explain that? Maybe she was really a northern Romulan and just got smoothed over for the undercover espionage assignment? Suuuuuure she was. I don’t buy it for a second.

Actually, you guys shouldn’t buy anything I just wrote! I was totally kidding!!!

None of the above items really bothered me. Well, technically, I wasn’t thrilled about Commodore Oh’s rank pip. But when it comes right down to it, I really don’t have any desire to criticize this show right now. And that’s kind of weird because I’ll jump down the throat of any random goof or discontinuity in an episode of Discovery and bash any Star Wars movie made after 1983 for every stupid, illogical, incoherent plot hole I find.

I’m a sci-fi fan, and we live to complain. So why don’t I want to complain about Picard? It’s really weird! Let’s do some soul searching…

Continue reading “Sunglasses on Vulcans and other nits to pick about PICARD…and why they don’t matter to me! (editorial review)”

My sincere apologies to VANCE MAJOR

I know a lot of people in the fan film community—friends, comrades-in-arms, friendly acquaintances, long-distance buddies—but few of them do I feel closer to than VANCE MAJOR. You might have heard of him…’cause I mention him a lot on this blog!

Last month, I posted an audio interview with Vance when he released 51 new episodes of THE CONSTAR CHRONICLES and 18 special editions of the MINARD saga of fan films. Earlier this month, I posted a blog promoting his new GoFundMe campaign for CONSTAR CONTINUES…which I hope you’ll consider donating to.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring audio interviews with two guys named Greg—GREG TEFT and GREG MITCHELL—both of whom worked on Constar with Vance in significant production roles. Vance requested that I interview them separately to give each fan filmmaker a chance to shine. And I’m happy to do it!

The reason is that I love Vance…I love him like a brother. In fact, he frequently calls me “brother”—although I think that’s just his word for “dude”—but “brother” just shows what a truly warm and loving heart he has for people.

I’ve literally lost sleep because of Vance—not because I worry about him but because he works an overnight shift and our calls frequently start after midnight my time (2am for him in Kansas) and can usually last an hour or even two! We’ve chatted about everything from fan films and fan filmmakers to Star Trek, superhero movies, politics, weather, triumphs, frustrations, and my favorite subject: our boys. Vance is a dad like me—and a damn awesome one!—and since my son is half a decade older than his, I can give him some “heads up” advice and also look back at those days gone by and silently envy Vance getting to live those wonderful moments himself.

Yesterday, I hurt Vance.

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