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, 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”.
It shares it’s name with a great R.E.M. song at least… Well, that was a whole lot of nothing. After a measured but compelling first episode Picard‘s second outing is a whole lot of place-setting and really not a lot more. All that exposition that was skilfully deployed in the first episode, teasing out interesting bits and pieces? All gone now as we get infodump after infodump after infodump in a slightly-desperate-seeming attempt to get us ready for the remaining eight episodes. I know we’re going to need more information than this, but surely there must have a more elegant way of deploying it (There was. And don’t call me Shirley etc).
Jean-Luc is back! But will the series live up the reputation of the titular Captain?
Episode One – “Remembrance“ The question is, really, what do we want from Picard? Or Picard? After a drought of Star Trek shows following Enterprise’s inelegant shuffling off the airwaves in 2005 we suddenly have a deluge – two shows starting up within a couple of years of each other (Discovery having launched in 2017) and more on the horizon, both live action and animated. Discovery’s two seasons have been comparatively well received but it’s a show that often looks more like Star Trek than it ever feels like Star Trek. All the symbols, chevrons, phasers and transporters are perfectly, erm, replicated but often not much else is. It’s competent, slick, and well-acted but there’s a certain something missing, an animating spark that the show only occasionally and tangentially brushes up against. Is this, then, what we want from Picard? That old flavour of Star Trek?
Spock’s dead! But don’t worry, it won’t last. Uh… spoilers?
What’s The Movie?Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Pre-Existing Prejudices: It’s the first of two films to be directed by Leonard Nimoy, who carved out a niche for himself as a director after this. It’s also the first time we have the chance to tackle “the curse of the odd numbered movies”, the true-in-popular-culture idea that when it comes to Star Trek films, the even-numbered ones are good, the odd-numbered ones are not (though if we follow numerical sequence, that would make Nemesis – the least beloved of just about any Trek movie – Star Trek X: Nemesis, where I suspect most fans might suggest this theory goes a bit wrong). I haven’t seen this is a good couple of decades, maybe longer, and my residual memories of it are very variable, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it.
Can Khan still captivate or is it time to can the Khan?
What’s The Movie?Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
Pre-Existing Prejudices: It’s a sequel to godawful TOS episode “Space Seed”, so it’s got that baggage to carry. It’s got Ricardo Montalban giving the kind of subtle, understated performances that Ricardo Montalban is known for (he’s still amazing). But, more than anything else, it’s The Wrath Of Khan, fanboy favourite and beloved franchise restorer after the misfire of The Motion Picture. I wonder if it will live up to its reputation? Mmm.
The slow-motion picture! But does the crew’s first outing deserve its slow and ponderous reputation?
What’s The Movie? Star Trek: The Motion Picture
So here we have the debut cinematic outing for the original crew of the Enterprise as the band get back together for their first venture onto the silver screen (plus a couple of session players, it seems). But does the movie live up to its slow, ponderous reputation?
Pre-Existing Prejudices: Well, there’s that ponderous reputation for starters. The film is often referred to as The Motionless Picture or The Slow-Motion Picture, and has a standing that suggests “good attempt, didn’t work out” is about as generous as one could be. Putting that aside I know the Riker/Troi relationship from TNG is basically a carbon copy of the Dekker/Ilea one from this movie. I doubt I’ve seen this in… twenty-five years though, so I am going in as open-minded as is possible.