STAR TREK PICARD, 1×01: Not Half-Bad!

So finally, after a long wait and rumors upon rumors that’ll make any sane man check themselves in, STAR TREK PICARD dropped on January 23rd, 2020 in the United States on CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime outside of that on the 24th in the country’s respective time zone. Before I get into the bulk of what I thought about this and what you could’ve expected, I just want to add that I wanted to go in uninfluenced by the Fandom Menace. I wanted to formulate my own opinion of what it was I was about to watch, keeping the words of Nerdrotic, Doomcock, MechaRandom42 and Midnight’s Edge from altering my point of view or opinion. The experience I wanted was that of someone who wanted to see this episode without looking for the tropes of identity politics or bad storytelling. Even though I saw the spoiler review from Nerdrotic before going into this, listening to someone recap the episode is vastly different than experiencing it for yourself. While Doomcock, for instance, clearly hated it, Anti-Trekker gave it a 7/10, which is where I’m putting this episode as well.

Okay, you can click away if you’d like, you know my opinion already. However, if you want to know how in all of sanity I got to this score, stick around. I’m about to spoil it and go through the nitty gritty right now.

As I just said, and I’ll say it one more time, from here there be spoilers. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to read my review, watch it first then come back. If you want to be spoiled and/or simply will never watch it but want to hear my take on it, sit back, relax and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.

Here we go.

I will warn you now, this is going to be a very long review. It’s not light reading so make an event of this. As such, I will be breaking down the episode by sequence. In each sequence, I will give an overview, then I will review it. At the end, I will give a final verdict. All of this in the name of organization and cleanliness. So, without further ado or BS, “Engage.”

Teaser: Reunited with an Old Friend, Like a Dream!

The first shots of the first post-Nemesis TV series opens up with some beautiful CG rendered space shots of nowhere in particular. It’s great eye candy, but doesn’t quite prepare us for the ultimate visual chocolate: the USS Enterprise. No bloody original, A, B, C, E, F, J or whatever… it’s the D, Galaxy class in all her glory. The finish on her hull gives the ship a modern sheen, which doesn’t quite seem right, but it doesn’t make her ugly by any stretch of the imagination.

Stolen from via Google Search. ©2020 ViacomCBS. Used without permission from either.

As the ship comes closer to the camera, we get an idea why the lights on the ship are only that particular shade of color, which is pretty interesting to see. Then, we get Data in his First Contact/DS9 uniform (I know he wasn’t ever on DS9, hold your horses), about 30 years older than he should be (odd for an android). Data and Picard are in ten-forward, playing five-card-draw. We know right away this isn’t a flashback or anything because of how Data and Picard appear, so it must be a dream sequence.

Right there, we should be able to dismiss every other small detail the producers got wrong here. I certainly did. Especially when the ship was destroyed after arriving at Mars when the synths attacked.

The dialog between Picard and Data was bittersweet. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, together again in a STAR TREK production was a real treat to see, and knowing we will have more of this wonderful interaction between these two long-time, real-life friends is something I am certainly looking forward to during the course of PICARD’s run.

After the Enterprise is destroyed, we find Picard waking up in his home at Chateau Picard. Fans will know the huge differences between what we saw in the 4th season of TNG’s “Family” and the Picard house we see here. I even made a 25% different quip about it in my review of the teaser trailer. However, in STAR TREK GENERATIONS, we learn that the house burned down, killing Picard’s brother and nephew, Robert and Renee (respectively). We met Robert and Renee in the aforementioned episode, and we get to see Picard have a chance to say goodbye to Renee in the nexus in GENERATIONS. So, Picard had the house rebuilt sometime between GENERATIONS and his retirement from Starfleet.

The inclusion of the background music, “Blue Skies,” is very telling. Right away, we know that, at its core, PICARD is a sequel to THE NEXT GENERATION: it’s the song Data sang at Riker’s wedding and that B4 tries to sing at the end of STAR TREK NEMESIS. It’s become Data’s theme song, apparently, but we know that this is picking up right where we last saw Picard in STAR TREK proper: walking the corridors of the Enterprise-E while the ship was in spacedock at the end of NEMESIS.

Kurtzman and Stewart trolled all of us. I’ll be exploring why during the course of this review.

Sometimes You Wanna Go… Where Everybody Knows Your Name…

So far in STAR TREK, we’ve seen San Francisco, small parts of New Orleans, Paris and London. We rarely get to see any other cities on Earth. This time, we get Boston. Apparently, the city must be so crooked that the Ferengi Alliance has a commerce center right in the middle of town…

“Greater Boston” – I suppose there’s a “Lesser Boston” as well? ©2020 ViacomCBS. Used without permission.

(I apologize for the Japanese subtitles in some of these grabs).

As I explored in my review of CHILDREN OF MARS, as opposed to many fans, I enjoy seeing the civilian side of Trek. Exploring Earth in the 24th century is something we don’t get to do very often and visiting a future version of Boston is quite cool, in my opinion.

To Boldly Go (Woke)…. Again

And here is where we get our first glimpse of the “wokeness” that is modern Hollywood entertainment.

We are now a fly-on-the-wall during an intimate moment between Daj, our obligatory Mary Sue(?), and her boyfriend – who is an alien of color. Now, I’m not about to put the alphabet community on blast for the stylistic choices here in this particular scene, but I have to be quite clear here: Hollywood is so woke that you can’t even have a heterosexual depiction without a homosexual on screen! How that makes sense is beyond me.

The reason why I say such a thing is that the actor who plays Daj’s boyfriend in this scene… let’s just say that if your gaydar doesn’t go off, there may be something wrong with you. Now, I’m not going to start to cry foul that the boyfriend wasn’t played by a straight, white guy. Far from it. But if you’re going to depict a straight couple, it might be best to have a straight guy play the role. The actor was way too effeminate to play the part, and clearly uncomfortable.

What I’m trying to say is: We now have “representation” where none was required.

We also get to note the fact that physical touching was kept to an absolute minimum in this scene as well. We got long cuts of their eyes, gazing into the camera. When we saw them both on screen, there wasn’t much physical contact and actual eye contact was also minimal. The script writing for this scene was decent, but when you really look at the performance, you can tell it’s forced.

I’m not personally attacking anyone in this scene – the actors did a decent job. The casting was piss poor and the boyfriend’s discomfort came through in more ways than one.

As quickly as you are confused as to why a gay man is playing a straight boyfriend to a girl and not hiding his gayness, he dies. He takes a precision-strike knife to the heart the moment a Romulan terrorist completes his transport sequence. It’s a party of three or four Romulans, and after they capture Daj, she kicks the living crap out of them, kills them all expertly, and has time to cry over her dead boyfriend.

Many in the Fandom Menace call Daj a Mary Sue for this exact reason. However, she does not fall into the Mary Sue category for a multitude of reasons that will be abundantly clear.

The Exploration of Daj

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Daj is one of two Soong-type variant androids created by the Daystrom Institute based off of paintings Data allegedly made in the 6th season of TNG. So, Daj and her sister Soji (which is a Japanese name by the way, and if you mispronounce it enough, it means “clean-up”) are part-android with positronic neural pathways giving them android-like abilities (which could also relate, somewhere down the road, to the Borg experiments from the Romulans).

Daj has the ability to super-jump, an expert in hand-to-hand combat, whose superior brain construction allows her to be an expert in science.

Let’s explore this simply: she was built! She does not meet the standard for a Mary Sue character. Yes, she is special and the reactions to her do meet the standard, but as a character herself, she’s not.

Rey PALAPATINE (I REFUSE to call her by the name she stole) was born, had no training whatsoever, and dumped on a planet to live the life of a slave. Suddenly, after about 10 minutes of exposure to space, she can fight, is an expert pilot, and is apparently the Highlander as she is everything and everyone. “A thousand generations are in you now.” I guess a thousand generations of Jedi each had a…. nevermind.

Michael Burnham is a human. As a human, we know from established canon that it is impossible for one to learn the Vulcan disciplines in a single lifetime. If a human were to learn from infancy, they would need to be reincarnated at least once, retain the knowledge learned in that first life, and learn from womb to grave again, and only in the third life would they be able to handle the basics of Vulcan logic.

Michael learns in 10 years.

She’s a master of science, can fight, and is also Gage Blackwood, Agent 5 of the Temporal Security Agency from THE JOURNEYMAN PROJECT. She’s also Naomi Nagata from THE EXPANSE. She’s also Ironman. She’s also Spock and Tuvok!

Need I go on?

Daj is Major Kusanagi (GHOST IN THE SHELL) and Armitage (ARMITAGE 3RD). Flesh and blood, hardwired to kick ass, but is ultimately human in the end. She’s also the female Steve Austin (THE SIX MILLION-DOLLAR MAN). For this, I have zero problem with. She and Soji may be the obligatory female SJW characters, but I say with confidence that they learned their lesson from the disaster that is Michael Burnham.

Isa Briones plays Daj, and she is brilliant. She emotes. She’s likable. These, alone, make her far superior to Burnham.

The Opening Credits / Theme Music

Personally, the theme work for STD is among some of the worst musical scores to date. I would even take the banjo folk-twist on “Faith of the Heart” from STAR TREK ENTERPRISE than the STD theme. The fanfare mixed in with that theme is one of the worst musical cues I’d ever heard. Jeff Russo really botched the music for STD. When Michael Giaccino did some of the music for the SHORT TREKS, I was actually relieved that Russo had nothing to do with it.

Then, to my chagrin, I learned that Russo was tapped to write the theme for Picard. I rolled my eyes, pissed myself and crapped my pants all at once because I was absolutely sure the musical score would suck.

Every time I watch this episode, I replay this theme six times at least before continuing on.

The theme for STAR TREK PICARD is the exact, polar opposite of STD’s in every way. Even though there are some cues from the STD theme in the PICARD soundtrack, the arrangement invokes an emotion that, even when my memory plays it back, brings tears to my eyes. At the very end, with a few measures from Jerry Goldsmith’s immortal fanfare, that’s when all of the emotion hits.

I nearly threw something at my monitor, but I did scream, “F— YOU, JEFF RUSSO!” I wanted to hate him so much for the crap job he did on STD, but he blasted the PICARD theme so far out of the park, it broke a car window in the next city!

I have more praise for Jeff Russo’s score a little further down the line. Holy hell, great job, Jeff!!

The Prologue Preface

When the writers got to the exposition / catch-up sequence with the Picard FNN interview, it was as though they were trolling themselves. We have a mainstream media personality attempting to play hardball with Picard.

We are introduced to Picard, for those viewers who never saw an episode of TNG. It’s beautiful to note that actual grabs from TNG were used here, and not recreations. Clearly the licensing issues were not a problem in the production of this show, even though it did go into production with zero merch licensing. From the look and feel of it so far, there’s nothing that warrants any merch to begin with.

Back on topic…

After we get caught up with Picard’s life up until now, we learn why Picard left Starfleet.

Apparently, Starfleet was preparing an armada of ships to go into Romulan space and bring back 900 million refugees from the Hobus System (the home of the Romulan Empire – a star given its name from the STAR TREK COUNTDOWN comics – only some of which was considered canon – I’ll get into that soon). This explains a great many things.

In CHILDREN OF MARS, when we entered into the Utopia Planitia drydocks for the opening shots, we got to see STD-era ships being built. I speculated that these could be civilian ships being serviced.

It turns out that Starfleet was building rescue ships to be given to the Romulans.

Starfleet was smart, here. Why would the drydocks build new, “hundred year-old design” ships? STD had nothing to do with it – these ferry ships were going to be gifted to the Romulans! We also learn that the Federation Council was reluctant to give into Picard’s request to send aid to the empire, but they did agree. This would lead into an effort to mass produce ships.

What would be more beneficial to help a society that was once your mortal enemy? You certainly would not build brand new Odyssey-class starships to up and give to the Romulans, right? No. You’d build STD-era ships with old and outdated tech to give to them.

This is why we saw STD era ships in CHILDREN OF MARS. It wasn’t a gaffe – it was common sense.

We got trolled.

Also, why only 900 million? Wouldn’t the number need to be in the billions?

Well, why would only 600 million be dead if most of the cities were destroyed in a nuclear holocaust during World War III as explained in STAR TREK FIRST CONTACT? That’s only a tiny fraction of the world population today, and wouldn’t even come close to knocking a dent in the populations of China, India and the Middle East.

That is, unless most of the population had already been wiped out due to disease and death during the war.

Let’s explore what has happened to the Romulan Empire from when we first saw them in TNG’s first season episode, “The Neutral Zone.”

At the point where we realize the Borg had been attacking the Romulans along the Neutral Zone, they had just now fully recovered from a devastating war with the Klingons after betraying them. They had to pull back and cower since the Klingons turned to the Federation after the Battle over Narendra III (which saw the loss of the Enterprise-C). During the course of TNG and 3/4 of DS9, the Romulans became a force to be reckoned with, both in the open and in secret.

Then, Captain Ben Sisko killed Romulan Senator Kretak during the middle of the Dominion War, framing the Dominion, and bringing the Romulans into the war on the side of the Alliance. In turn, the Dominion kicked the ever living crap out of the Romulans when they faced them in isolated combat. Their military was devastated during the Battle of Cardassia, and as the war came to a close in Alliance victory, the Romulans were brought back to pre-TNG strength and levels.

Then, Shinzon massacred most of the population during his overthrow of the central government. Only a remnant of loyalists were able to help Picard fight off Shinzon in the Baezon Rift.

By the time Spock brought the instability of Hobus to the Senate’s attention, there may have been just over only a billion Romulans left on Romulus. With their entire military devastated after the Dominion and Shinzon, the Romulans certainly had next to nothing available.

Taking their entire history into account, 900 million seems like a pretty healthy number of potential refugees.

It’s here that Nero’s wrath from STAR TREK (2009) comes full circle. He blamed Spock for the Federation giving up on the Romulan situation. The Federation had a lot more to deal with, such as the rise of Bruce Maddox’s Synth Revolutionaries that destroyed the rescue armada while it was still being constructed over Mars.

The Federation’s refusal to try again and help the Romulans is part of what led Picard to leave the service. If the Federation would abandon its ideals, that would drive Picard away. In fact, Picard has a pattern of going against Federation orders in the past.

During the attempted alien coups of Starfleet Command, Picard led a small resistance to defeat the worms that had taken over most of the command council. In STAR TREK INSURRECTION, Picard led a full-on resistance against the Federation Council’s attempt at a mass relocation effort. He stood against the Federation multiple times. Their unwillingness to help the Romulans, who Picard had started to form a relationship with since Spock’s Reunification Efforts (probably in conjunction with Spock in the first place), would drive Picard away for certain.

Picard would’ve left the service altogether if he had been in on Section 31’s plans to commit genocide against The Founders of the Dominion. The virus, created by S31, was a means to wipe out the shape shifters once and for all. If Picard knew about this, he wouldn’t have been there to stop Shinzon.

This was Jean-Luc Picard. He cared about lives and would never approve of genocide. That, he believed, is what the Federation was attempting to do to the Romulans by letting them burn with their home planet. The Romulans, need I remind, who were part of the Alliance against the Dominion.

Naturally, Picard ends the interview after the reporter corners him.

Enter: Daj and The Revealing Truth

After the interview scene, Daj finally meets Jean-Luc. She swears she knows him, feels safe with him, and insists she has a connection to Picard. Jean-Luc takes her in, has another dream about Data in his vineyard, and that’s when we see that Picard begins to suspect something.

We follow him to the Starfleet Archives at Starfleet Command, where he uncovers the painting I mentioned before – the one Data allegedly made and gave to Picard sometime off camera during TNG’s 6th season (2369). He painted two – one without a face and one with Daj’s. Data named it “Daughter,” and gave them both to Jean-Luc.

Picard, believing the stories Daj told of how she wiped the floor with the Romulan terrorists who murdered her boyfriend, puts two and two together and realizes that Daj is Data’s daughter. How its possible we don’t know. Picard wants to take Daj to the Daystrom Institute (which is in Okinawa) to find out the truth.

They don’t make it.

In a literary “we can’t kill the star” move, Picard gets knocked unconscious after Daj takes the equivalent of an acid attack and is blown up by an overloaded Romulan disruptor rifle explosion. In a move that the writers were sure that critics would go, “How is he not dead!” over, Picard complains that he’s still alive!

To his credit though, he complains that he stopped living in the first place, and goes off on his mission.

Exposition and Lead-In to the End

So Picard makes it to Japan and we meet Alison Pill’s character, Doctor Jurati. We learn that she and Bruce Maddox, who had been obsessed with Data from TNG’s “Measure of a Man,” created the synths who attacked Mars. This is probably the first time we see a woman in STEM who is evil in modern STAR TREK. This serves to give us the exposition we need for the final shots of the episode.

Jeff Russo Strikes Again

In the closing shots of the episode, we finally meet Soji who is completely unaware of anything that’s transpired during this first outing. We learn that she is working at a “Romulan Reclamation Site,” which is a Borg Cube somewhere in the Beta Quadrant.

This scene has some cool callbacks.

  1. In the STAR TREK VOYAGER episode, “Timeless,” Harry Kim and Chakotay managed to steal a temporal beacon from a Borg Cube in the Beta Quadrant. It’s highly possible and very probable that in both that timeline and this current one, this is the exact same Borg Cube.
  2. When we meet the Romulan Narek, we hear Fred Steiner‘s classic musical cues heard in TOS’s “Balance of Terror.” (Sample here).

The latter is thanks to the masterful work of Jeff Russo who recreated Steiner’s cues to be used as the Romulan themes for this episode. Hearing TOS music scores like this in modern Trek used in this way is brilliant and genius.

Of course, we see the beginnings of a love affair between Soji and Narek. Let’s see where this all leads to as PICARD continues on.

Final Verdict

There are some punches thrown in an attempt to make political commentary, but the punches miss. For example:

  1. Daj’s boyfriend played by a gay man
  2. The one Romulan told to “speak English” during the raid
  3. Picard insisting that the Federation help “lives” instead of “enemy” lives
  4. Daj
  5. Picard’s servants – as Anti-Trekker pointed out, 24th century slaves on the plantation

This episode wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike any of the episodes of Season 2 of STD, this one is repeatable, many times over. It excels way beyond STD. It’s still far superior to STAR TREK ENTERPRISE’s “These are the Voyages,” which is considered the second-worst TREK ever produced (season 2 STD being the absolute worst).

That being said, this first episode of STAR TREK PICARD kicks off the series and sticks the landing very well. If the rest of the season is like this, while it won’t be totally quality sci-fi nor will it be any “good,” it’ll be meh, and unfortunately, “meh” is the best we’re going to get.

I agree with Anti-Trekker: 7/10, solid.

Will it be enough?

I’ll keep watching so stay tuned to this website for all the reviews you can handle!

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