The final frontier beckons at long last – retirement.
After Shatner’s wobby-but-easy-to-appreciate take on the franchise we’re back with “safer” hands as Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy return to helm the TOS crew’s final outing. But will “safe” be a synonym for “dull” or will The Undiscovered Country deserve its place in the pantheon of good Star Trek films?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: Alongside The Wrath Of Khan this is, I know, generally regarded as the strongest of the TOS outings. It’s one I’ve always had a lot of appreciation for, though as with most of the TOS films it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen it so I’ve no idea whether my warm fuzzy memories are in any way justified.
Does the movie with the worst reputation in the Star Trek canon deserve it’s fate? Surprisingly, no.
In some ways, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a perfect conclusion for the TOS crew. The story arc that’s run for three movies’ reached its conclusion, there’s some character growth, and a promise of the future with a new ship. But it wasn’t the conclusion – so can Star Trek V: The Final Frontier add anything to the saga?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: “What does God need with a starship?” It’s that one! Yes, arguably the most notorious movie in the whole of Star Trek, this has its fair share of critics. It’s co-written and directed by William Shatner, which means he’s bringing everything to the table, for both good and ill. Because I’m a nerdy fan, I’m aware that this is the first of several Star Trek appearances by the joyfully brilliant David Warner, if not perhaps his most noted. Marshmellons, El Captian, Spock’s half-brother… it’s a heady mix. Let’s find out if this movie deserves it’s dreadful reputation!
Is there any point in putting anything here other than “it’s the one with the whales!”?
Spock’s alive again! Well he was at the end of the last movie at any rate. After the surprisingly strong third entry into the series can The Voyage Home keep up the momentum?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: The One With The Whales. Come on, it’s the one with the whales! Everyone knows the one with the whales! I am, of course, aware of the pro-environmental message – though not how well it’s aged since the mid-80’s – and of course it’s “the funny one”. You know, “nuclear wessels”, “Computer!”, “double dumb ass on you!”, “I think he did a little too much LDS” and so on. As with the last entry though its been simply ages since I saw anything but the usual clip reel, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it.
What’s It All About, JG?
After three months on Vulcan, apparently unmolested by a Starfleet who might be rather cross at the destruction of one of their ships, Kirk and the crew head back to Earth in their euphemistically-acquired Klingon Bird Of Prey to finally face the music. Meanwhile, however, a mysterious probe (nothing like the mysterious probe from a couple of movies ago) knocks out ships and starbases on its way to Earth as it broadcasts a signal.
Episode Nine / Ten – “Et In Arcadia Ego” Pts 1 And 2
So Picard is a Cylon. Huh.
When, at the end of episode eight, I pleaded for the series to fix its basic ability to tell a story I didn’t actually expect that to happen. And lo and behold it didn’t. Episode Nine – which consists of the same old go-not-very-far-slowly that has become Picard‘s storytelling modus operandi – goes through the usual stop-start motions of delivering exposition a lot, followed by small bits of forward plot momentum, followed by more exposition. The small bits of forward plot momentum are often huge bits of forward plot momentum but rarely feel so, even when – to take a far-from-arbitrary example – a Borg cube crash-lands on a planet, our heroes do the same thing, and a vast Romulan fleet zips into orbit.
I couldn’t even be bothered to find an image for this episode
Episode Eight – Shrug
I mean, I did watch it but I’m not motivated to say a lot more than that, really. It was just a bunch of expoisition vomited on screen in the usual structureless way. The Grief World, though? Really? That’s the explanation for the Zhat Vash’s millenia-long problem with AI? And what happened on Mars? I mean, it’s an explanation but it’s really not an especially satisfying one. Though – and this is the real problem – there really wasn’t going to be a satisfying resolution to the “why the Zhat Vash hated AI for so long” question. Because, how can there be? It’s either going to be evilevilfromthedawnoftime, some bullshit Mystical Orbs thing that would be less well than the Orbs Of The Prophets, or Godlike aliens. Turns out it’s basically the first one. Shrug. There’s no sense of this even really functioning as a ta-da! reveal, it’s just another piece of information trotted out. And how many people did they let die just to stop the Federation’s AI development? Does this make even the slightest bit of fucking sense? No. Not it does not.
I really wanted to start this episode with a two-word review – “nothing happens”. But that’s not true. Plenty of things happen, though they’re mostly low-key, character stuff. That’s fine though at episode seven, whether “low-key” is really what Picard should be aiming for is certainly up for debate. But let’s be clear from the outset – this is an episode specifically designed to do one thing, and one thing alone – tickle all those TNG feels. In that it is an undeniable success. The whole raison d’etre of this episode is Picard meeting up with Riker and Troi, hanging out for a while, then getting back to the main plot. And of course it’s delightful to see those three characters on screen together again, because of course it fucking is. It’s Riker! He’s visibly drinking! I mean, what’s not to love?
What, exactly, do people want from Star Trek? There has been a legitimate line of questioning around this ever since Discovery brought Star Trek back from the televisual hinterland of syndication. One of Star Trek‘s strengths has always been its ability to appeal to people beyond a hardcore of fandom – that’s why it’s the biggest science fiction franchise in the world (putting Marvel to one side, of course – that’s a whole different conversation and I don’t want to get bogged down in genre definitions at this point). The movies appeal to people who like sci-fi but aren’t necessarily huge Trekkies. The original show has become part of the cultural landscape, one of science fiction’s defining texts, and watchable by just about anyone. Is there some difficult-to-define over-arching appeal that can embrace TNG and Enterprise? Into Darkness and Picard? And if so, what is it? Over on The AV Club, Zack Handelin wrote, “A friend on Twitter recently pointed out that saying something “isn’t Star Trek” isn’t really an effective criticism”. I strongly disagree with Zack’s friend – I think it cuts to the absolute heart of the issue that people have with both Discovery and Picard, and it is to this we turn our attention.
A lot of the successes of Picard so far have tended to feel a little abstract – a bit more in-theory good and a bit less in-practice good. Stewart is obviously great and we have a series of intriguing mysteries, but one of the frustrations of the show is being able to see a lot of the potential whilst also seeing that the show really isn’t capitalising on it. Complaints that the story has been slow up to this point are certainly valid, yet “slowness” is not in and of itself a problem – take a show like Better Call Saul which moves at a pace which makes continental drift seem snappy and impatient yet also manages to feel achingly tense and riveting. Picard as a show hasn’t managed to get this balance right yet, mistaking slowness for thoughtfulness and number of so-so plot and character beats that just aren’t finding any traction beyond “I intellectually understand why this these choices are being made but this has yet to become compelling television”. It would be too harsh to call Picard boring at this point, but it’s also something that’s been hovering on the horizon ever since the credits rolled on episode one.
This is a show which is absolutely split down the middle at the moment. Which is to say, to be blunt, the stuff with Picard – even if it doesn’t always make the most logical sense – broadly works at least in part because, well, Patrick Stewart is on screen, and nothing on the Borg cube really does. That’s disappointing in any number of ways, but the Borg cube material basically just exists for people to stand around either telling us things which we the audience already know – which is repetitive and boring, or they’re playing with characters that they don’t quite seem to know what to do with, which is frustrating. Take our Romulan brother and sister pairing, Narek and Narissa. They’re baaaad. And they were baaaad last week as well (and the week before). And now they’re baaaad but with weirdly incestuous undertones.
• OK fine, I’m being a bit facetious. But really, I don’t know what more to say about this episode, it’s just Episode 2 but more. Picard speech, Stuff On A Cube, you know.
• Um. I mean, it’s not that this is bad, but the episode could have been entitled “Furniture Movers!” Subtitle – “Does your furniture need moving around? Call us for low, low prices! Wait, not prices, no money in the future. Eh, you know what we mean”.