A Picard viewing list

With the final episode of Star Trek: Picard now released, I thought I’d go over a list of related episodes from past iterations of Star Trek. The majority of these are the episodes (or films) I have recently rewatched and reviewed. There are a few that I have included that I intend to rewatch soon but haven’t yet. I’ve put those ones in square brackets. The season 2 episode “Q-Who” and the season 4 episode “Family” I have rewatched but I didn’t write about them specifically.

Do you need to watch all these to understand the plot of Picard? Absolutely not. In fact, aside from having a general idea about Picard and Data and Trek background like the Romulans and the Borg being baddies, Picard the show explains most of its own background. Even so, if you want a refresher but don’t want to watch every hour of Trek-related TV that is available, then I’ve marked out those episodes that I’d recommend for a shorter primer.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

It is the dubious attempt to re-boot a beloved TV show that after a shaky start became a beloved TV show in its own right.

  • [TNG Season 1: Encounter at Farpoint] Connection: This is the pilot episode of the rebooted TV series and introduces the main characters of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Will Riker, Deanna Troi and Data, all of whom turn up in Picard. Watch or not? Low priority. At best it will make some of the references in other episodes on this list.
  • TNG Season 2: The Measure of a Man. Connection: This episode introduces Maddox as an antagonist who is a key character in Picard. It is also a key Data-centric episode and sets up some of the ethical debates about synthetic people. Watch or not? There are much stronger episodes of TNG but this is one of the better ones of the early years of the show. Worth a watch.
  • TNG Season 2: Q-Who. Connection: Say hello to the Borg. Faceless and indefatigable and full of menace. A strong early episode for TNG. Watch or not? Fun but you can easily skip this one. Although it is the Borg debut, the episode is more about Q, the mischievous demi-god who likes to troll Picard.
  • TNG Season 3: The Offspring. Connection: Data creates his first daughter but his attempt at fatherhood ends in tragedy. Data is often played as a comical character but here he is given a more tragic element. Watch or not? Watch. It adds more pathos to the attempt at creating new descendants of Data. It is also an episode in which the relationship between Picard and Data shifts.
  • TNG Season 3/4: The Best of Both Worlds (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Picard is assimilated by the Borg to become Locotus-of-Borg. Arguably the most iconic episode of TNG. Watch or not? Watch. A strong double episode with some clever plot misdirection and a devastating enemy. Picard’s trauma from the encounter suffuses later episodes and is a core aspect of the Picard show.
  • TNG Season 4: Family. Connection: The episode introduces Picard’s family home (a vineyard in France) and his brother’s family. Watch or not? It is an OK episode but you can skip this unless you intend to watch the film Generations.
  • TNG Season 5: I, Borg. Connection: We meet Hugh the Borg for the first time and Picard has to deal with the conflict between his duty, his hatred of the Borg, his trauma and his sense of decency. Watch or not? Watch. There are better episodes of TNG but this is a thoughtful episode with a key character for the Picard show.
  • [TNG Season 5: Unification (Parts 1 & 2)] Connection: Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock in an episode that explores the background of the Vulcans and Romulans. Watch or not? I don’t know! Looking at my list I noticed that I’m short of anything Romulan related.
  • TNG Season 6/7: Descent (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Another Data-centric episode with not just Borg but Data’s brother and the return of Hugh-the-Borg. Watch or not? It’s OK to skip this one. It is entertaining but it meanders a fair bit.
  • TNG Season 7: All Good Things. Connection: An old Picard goes on one last mission to save the galaxy. Watch or not? The resolution of the story involves changing the timeline, so technically none of it happened. A fun way to close off TNG but you don’t need to see it for Picard.

Star Trek Movies

After a run of successful films featuring the original crew, the film series made the leap to the next generation of Starfleet officers.

  • Movie: Star Trek Generations. Connection: The first of the Star Trek movie series to feature the cast of The Next Generation. The final episode of Picard pick up some of the same themes off life and death. Watch or not? Data has his own character arc in the film and if you want to follow Data through as a character then this is relevant. Otherwise safe to skip.
  • [Movie: Star Trek First Contact]. Connection: The Borg are back and this time they have a queen. Watch or not? I’ll need to rewatch it but I suspect not.
  • Movie: Star Trek Nemesis. Connection: Romulans, Data, Picard and Nothing but Blue Skies. More than anything, Picard is a sequel to this final Star Trek movie prior to the reboot. Watch or not? Oh dear…that is very hard to say. In many ways it is a key text for Picard and in many other ways it really isn’t very good as a film and in places quite objectionable. Watch at your own risk.
  • [Movie: Star Trek (reboot)]. Connection: Establishes the destruction of Romulan home world (a cosmic accident that seems to keep happening to the Federation’s enemies…suspicious if you ask me). Watch or not? I’m mentioning it only for completeness. Skip it for these purposes but it is an entertaining re-imagining.

Star Trek Voyager

While Seven of Nine is important to Picard, Voyager the series really isn’t. That makes it tricky to find episodes of the show that give a sense of why people were excited by Terri Ryan reprising her role but which aren’t mainly about unrelated characters dealing with a completely different quadrant of the galaxy.

  • VOY Season 3/4: The Scorpion (Parts 1 & 2). Connection: Seven of Nine’s origin story starts here in a very Borg episode of Star Trek Voyager. Watch or not? You can skip this unless you are a Voyager fan. Seven of Nine is a central figure in the story but she isn’t really a character yet.
  • VOY Season 4: The Gift. Connection: This episode continues the introduction of Seven of Nine as a new crew member. By the end of the episode she has taken on the costume for which she becomes famous. Watch or not? Skip it unless you really care about the complete Seven of Nine origin story.
  • VOY Season 6: The Collective. Connection: Another Voyager Borg story – of which there are many. Icheb-the-Borg is introduced. Watch or not? Skip it.
  • VOY Season 6: Child’s Play. Connection: A story about being an ex-Borg that sees Seven of Nine struggle with Icheb finding his original family. Watch or not? Maybe watch. The episode helps develop Seven of Nine as a character. It also underlines the idea of ex-Borgs as tragic characters who are displaced from their own worlds.
  • VOY Season 7: Imperfection. Connection: Another Icheb and Seven of Nine episode. Watch or not? Watch. Voyager isn’t that relevant to Picard but this one episode packs a lot of punch for Seven of Nine as a character.

Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2

Spoilers obviously for the end of the show.

I shan’t hide that I’m disappointed that instead of plot twists and surprises we got an action movie followed by some thoughts on death. The lack of further twists leaves a whole heap of interesting ideas folding themselves back into plot holes.

In exchange we did get a good half hour of space-set action with intrigue, fist-fights and a visually stunning space battle. The space orchids fighting the Romulan fleet with La Sirena ducking and weaving through was both original and exciting even if we knew that Picard wasn’t going to get blasted to smithereens by Romulan disruptors.

However, it was the least imaginative resolution possible with the material to hand. The synths adopted the kill-all-humans, the Romulans decided to kill everything on the planet (instead of just blowing up the beacon), Starfleet sent to proverbial cavalry with a semi-retired Will Riker, the bad-sister evil Romulan got a supervillain’s death and the hot-brother evil Romulan got a minor redepmtion.

There were many fun moments from the throwaway revelation that the Romulans have at least five different ways of sterilising a planet, to the camp fire stories of the Romulan-Vulcan end-of-days.

However, it felt a bit rushed for once on Picard until the space battle was won, the beacon closed and the robot-tentacle-old-ones banished back to robot hell. From there the tone shifts to death and simulations.

Jean-Luc’s brain abnormality gets him in the end of course. A plot point undermined by the existence of an up-coming season 2 and the obvious way-out that had been introduced in the previous episode. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t touching and Picard has taken its time to establish each of the surrounding characters and their relationship with Jean-Luc.

It was an interesting choice to show Rios & Seven grieving in their way and then Raffi & Elnor grieving in their way given that otherwise each of those pairs haven’t interacted much but it worked. Picard has done a better job of establishing a set of characters than Discovery managed even though it has had fewer episodes. That’s part of the reason for some of the slower pacing of the show.

The gravity of the show, indeed hinted at in the opening credits, rested not on the big secret of the Romulans but on Jean-Luc himself becoming a synthetic. I should imagine that will create some legal issues for the Federation as to whether the organic robot Jean-Luc is the same person as the organic animal Jean-Luc…but this is a culture where destructive teleport is common place, so they’ll figure it out. It does imply a potential quasi-biomechanical immortality as a possibility for Federation culture (even if Jean-Luc’s body has been set up so it will age and die eventually) but given all the other technology the Federation already has (including said transporters) that could achieve that already, we can hand wave away those implications.

Data, not unlike Captain Kirk, gets a second death after a spell in a simulated Good Place. Touching and self-indulgent, it is was still the right way to close the arc of the Picard-Data story that the show had opened with.

Overall, I feel the story reached its plot conclusion two episodes ago and the finale was just resolving the matter with some space battles and moderate Trek-style Deus Ex-Machina. Even so, a strong cast and thoughtful direction kept me excited by this show through out.

Stray observations

  • The Federation fleet just zipping away once the Romulans had gone was a bit weak. Also Jean-Luc had apparently just died and Will Riker didn’t stay in orbit? Even just to make sure the synths didn’t start their Robot-Satan summoning ritual again?
  • I think I missed a spot of dialogue but I assume the XBs are now also going to make their home with the synths.
  • The closing scene on La Sirena implies that Seven and Raffi are now a couple.

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Currently Reading: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

This is proving to be every bit as good as people said it would be. An ambassador from a space habitat that controls access to a key navigation route is sent to the heart of a hegemonic empire. Mahit Dzmare has spent her life studying the literature of the not-so-benevolent Teixcalaanli Empire and is both enamoured and wary of the culture she has to navigate. The death of her predecessor is not her only problem, as she finds herself amid the courtly machinations of the Teixcalaanli elite. Luckily she has the aid of the former (and now dead) ambassador but unfortunately he is an out-of-date back up copy and the implant he is stored in maybe broken…

It’s great stuff. A bit of Iain M Banks and a bit of Ann Leckie and a lot of originality within a familiar frame. I’m currently listening to the audio book version on my socially-distant solitary bush walks.

Now this may sound odd but…it also sort of reminds me of the recent Detective Pickachu movie. The parallels aren’t exact but there are these odd echoes between the two.

Sorry that you cannot go to Wellington, so here is my impression of it

CoNZealand has announced that the 2020 Worldcon will be virtual:

A very understandable decision. I think this could be an exciting and maybe even a positive step forward. The big challenge will be keeping the essence of the event while making it virtual. I don’t know if that is possible but that’s one of the challenges that 2020 is bringing.

CoNZealand haven’t announced any details of what this virtual version will be. There will be a host of challenges from choices of software to bandwidth to pushing beyond just talking heads and chat rooms. Getting participants to feel that they part of a single entertaining group event is the essence of the challenge.

What people will definitely be missing though, is a chance to visit Wellington. There’s no way of avoiding that with New Zealand essentially closed to travel until the pandemic has peaked. That is sad because Wellington is one of my favourite cities. I don’t say that lightly. I have visited many cities in my life and while not a connoisseur of metropolitan areas, I think I’ve visited a sufficient variety around the world (except for Africa and North America) to have an informed but not exhaustive opinion.

So here is my impression of Wellington as best as I can manage as a substitute for visiting there. I’ve never lived in the city and I’m sure actual Kiwis can give a more inside picture. In particular, the city has a rich Maori heritage that dates back beyond Britain’s invasion of the area that I can’t do justice to. However, I can talk about what it is like to be a stranger visiting and wandering through it.

Photos after the fold

Trek Tuesday (but its Wednesday): Generations

I didn’t intend to pair Picard episodes with older Star Trek stories but the first episode had me watching Star Trek: Nemesis and from there the logic of which episodes to watch was fairly easy to discern. Data, Maddox, Hugh, Seven of Nine, Icheb and Picard himself have key episodes that inform the Picard series. I did watch but not review the TNG episode Family, where we meet Jean-Luc’s brother, sister-in-law and nephew while he is recovering from being assimilated by the Borg. It is a relevant episode but I missed the best spot for it and at this point in the Picard series his life in France seems very different.

The question of what happened to his brother was lingering and I was told that the Star Trek movie Generations revealed that he and his family had died in a fire. I had seen the movie when it was released but I didn’t recall that point at all. I was already considering a re-watch of Star Trek: First Contact, a film with a stronger reputation and a more overt Borg connection. However, that point about Picard’s family was bugging me and I realised I could recall very little about Generations other than being vaguely disappointed by it. It was clearly time for a re-watch.

It is a far better film than I remembered. It is far from flawless and what it really lacks is better dialogue for whenever Malcolm McDowell and Patrick Stewart are on screen together because the two of them have an energy that is already lifting the script.

The death of Jean-Luc’s family is far from a passing plot point. I’m surprised I’d forgotten it. It is forced and exists purely so that Jean-Luc will have regrets and an alternative life to imagine when he finally gets sucked into The Good Place, sorry, I mean The Nexus. Quite why a giant energy ribbon has a paradise simulation where you can re-write the regrets of your personal history is never explained and that is a wise choice. It’s just a thing the universe has and I’m glad that the story implies that it is a genuine good thing (i.e. there isn’t a reveal that it is psychic vampires or an illusion to hide some other kind of evil). It makes both Picard’s and Kirk’s rejection of an idyllic afterlife so as to save a planet stronger.

At the time, I suppose making a transitional film between the two versions of Star Trek whose main villain is somebody who cannot let go of the past, may have seemed like lecturing to fans. You love Kirk and his antics? Well you are like this crazy scientist guy! Now, the film’s melancholy tone seems quite novel. Kirk dies (twice), the TNG version of the Enterprise is destroyed.

The Two Death’s of James Tiberius Kirk are not ignominious but they are at a lower scale than the many times he has come close to death. Kirk dies a hero of course, once helping save refugees on a transport ship and then again in the physical fight with mad-scientist Soren. He doesn’t know it but in his second death he also saves the crew of the Enterprise-D who have crash landed the saucer section on a near-by planet. Shatner does what Shatner does but he and Patrick Stewart are very different kinds of actors and quite different kinds of characters as captains. The pairing of the two is the obvious marketing gimmick of the film and here is where the essence of the disappointment lies. They simply aren’t an interesting pairing of characters, they neither compliment nor contrast with each other.

I suppose we could imagine a different story in which Kirk has somehow been pulled into the future and takes on the Soren role of a man so determined to return to the Nexus that he will blow up the star of an inhabited system to do it. That would have meant Kirk being the villain, which would have made for stronger drama but very unhappy fans. As it is, Picard has to convince Kirk to help him win a fist fight with Soren and that’s about it.

It’s sufficient though and while Picard-Kirk isn’t interesting, the character arc for Kirk is better done that I remembered. Dragged on-board a newly commissioned Enterprise-B for a media event, Kirk starts the movie as a man whose glory days are already over. Fate then gives him two chances at a heroic death and he takes them willingly. Only in the second case and surrounded with an opportunity to undo a personal regret, does he hesitate. In the end he chooses to act, to live and die trying to make a difference for others…which does neatly take us back to Star Trek: Picard.

Kirk’s advice to Picard is to never give up the captain’s chair, to never stop making a difference. We know that Jean-Luc rejects Kirk’s first premise without rejecting the second. Instead, he tried to make a difference in other ways (e.g. the Romulan evacuation) and at a bigger scale. In doing so, the difference between Picard and Kirk becomes clearer. Both are moral men who act within but also outside of the formal structures of a military organisation. Picard thinks at a different scale than Kirk and also is more adept at persuasion. The logic of the situation within the Nexus has to be Picard persuading Kirk but it also the correct arrangement of character traits: Kirk does, Picard persuades.

What Generations also demonstrated was the difficulty of translating the Next Generation dynamic to film. Both film series of Star Trek have strong ensemble casts but with the TV shows, there was a greater sense of equality among the core characters. That is harder to maintain in a film where each member of the crew cannot have an opportunity for their own character arc. In Generations Riker, Troi, La Forge, Worf and Crusher all get screen time but only Data gets substantial character development.

In Data’s case it is a kind of literal Deus Ex Machina with his choice to embed the emotion chip he got from Lore (in Descent) in his brain. This gives a great deal of scope for Brent Spiner to act goofy on screen but it also presents a clearer character hierarchy for the Next Generation characters. Picard is the lead and Data is the second, matching the Kirk-Spock levels in the original cast. These posters for both First Contact and Nemesis echo that:

In order of size, Picard, Data and the antagonist.

I wonder how that has re-shaped how I perceive The Next Generation? Picard & Data aren’t Kirk & Spock in the TV show and if anything Geordie and Data where more likely to share screen time. That is still true in Generations as the plot results in very little interaction between Picard and Data but by the final film the two are more inter-linked as characters. That isn’t an inconsistency — after all friendships change over time — but it is an interesting shift.

Now all I’m left with is what final old Trek to watch to cap off the Picard finale on (my) Friday? I think that will depend on whether Q turns up or not…