Star Trek Discovery: Unification III (S3E7)

A slow and thoughtful episode with a cheeky title and overt connections to both The Next Generation and Picard. The risk it runs is playing dangerously close to being dull and/or mawkish but I enjoyed it and the slower pace allows the strong cast to carry the emotional stakes. There are a few surprises, so I’ll put the spoilers after the fold.

Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: Unification III (S3E7)”

Star Trek Discovery: Scavengers (S3E6)

The core of this episode is a bit weak and cliched but it is surrounded with decent character work.

Book’s ship turns up at Star Fleet HQ with only Grudge the cat on board. With Saru keen to prove Discovery’s reliability to Star Fleet he forbids Michael from going on an impromptu rescue mission. Naturally Michael goes on an impromptu rescue mission.

The mission itself involves Michael and Georgiou visiting a junkyard planet that’s just some sort of rusty mineral processing factory but filmed with a yellow filter to look alien. The factory is run by the bad-guy organised crime gang and populated with slave-prisoners. The slaves can’t escape because they have devices on their necks that blow their heads off if they cross the perimeter. Book is one of the prisoners etc. It’s fine but you’ve seen it all before.

What is better here is that episode finally makes an attempt to deal with the question of Michael’s propensity for rogue missions in a way that is neither court-martial-life-imprisonment nor a pat-on-the-head and praise for what a cheeky scamp she is. The set-up for her disobedience is (more or less) a bit of a genuine dilemma for both Michael and Saru and the consequences for her insubordination are significant and have impact but aren’t absurd or unjust.

Trek has wobbled all over the place with these kinds of issues through every iteration. The problem is creating a dilemma for what are supposed to be military officers that doesn’t imply that at least one party is both an arsehole and shouldn’t be an officer with access to the weapons of a starship. The result adds to the wildly inconsistent portrait of Star Fleet as an institution and as a place where the chain-of-command is on one hand sacred and on the other hand a more of a vague custom rather than something enforced.

Meanwhile, the episode moves things along with whatever mysterious thing is going on with Georgiou and also moves things along with Adira and Stamets. The bridge crew also get new toys. None of which are big plot points (yet) but do demonstrate that the show continues to improve in giving a sense that everybody on the ship aren’t just holograms that wink off when Michael leaves the ship. A short scene with Tilly and Grudge likewise does a lot of this work. You don’t need big speeches or even a B-plot to ensure that a show about a crew of a spaceship feels populated.

ETA Cora makes the valid point that while the slave-worker story is a familiar one, it’s not one that is common in Star Trek http://corabuhlert.com/2020/11/21/star-trek-discovery-goes-on-an-unsanctioned-mission-in-scavengers/

Star Trek Discovery: Die Trying (S3E5)

I think this is the most self-confident episode of Discovery we have had. Ironically given that the plot involves the crew of the ship having to prove themselves to the remaining rump of Star Fleet, this is an episode that acts like it has nothing to prove. Stronger than last week’s episode but it shares that quality of not being a stand-out episode of Trek in general while being clever, engaging, entertaining and visually brilliant. Where it has the advantage over past episodes is that it uses small moments to make use of a large cast.

Discovery has finally found the hidden remains of Star Fleet and the Federation. Do you want starship porn? Well we get a big glowy show of ships (including a version of Voyager) that makes the secret Star Fleet base feel more like Iain Bank’s Culture than earlier versions. There’s even a USS Nog for DS9 fans. Here the Discovery runs into an excellent threat: a reasonable, measured and quite rightly suspicious Star Fleet whose last records of a “USS Discovery” is a ship that was destroyed centuries ago and which also has very strict laws against time travel (a nod to Enterprise). Hey! Lots of inter-show continuity going on here but all done in nods and without interrupting the plot.

The threat to the ship comes in the form of military bureaucracy and I really like this. Star Fleet has gained a new ship and traumatised crew and so (arguably sensibly) wants to split up the crew and repurpose the ship. Saru and Burnham have other ideas (arguably sensible ones) and we voila! We have a dramatic conflict in which reasonable people are in conflict for reasonable reasons! No secret conspiracies or mirror universe doppelgängers , just two sets of people with different agendas.

OK, I mean we DO have a mirror universe doppelgänger in the form of Emperor Georgiou who gets her own time to shine in a debrief interrogation scene with Michael from the Good Place. No, no not actually a Ted Danson cameo but a flippin’ David Cronenberg cameo, as the future-Federation’s resident mirror universe specialist. If that and the rest of the crew’s debrief scenes (some very funny plot summaries of seasons 1 & 2) aren’t enough, we also have a mysteriously-abandoned-ship/base story.

The episode crams a lot in! Yet, it keeps things together and sticks to a good pace. The weakest part is centring security officer Nahn and her people’s culture. Yet even here the sense of unearned emotions arise from flaws in previous episodes. Nahn has been a character in 13 episodes of Discovery but prior to this episode, I would have struggled to remember her name or how she joined the crew. So we get a bit of a “Hello, I’m Commander Nahn. Here is a quick backstory about my people who are very unique because we breathe funny air but our culture has a thing about death, no time to explain what it is and I was very attached to the nice robot lady who died. Goodbye!”

Security Officer of Discovery is a position with a bit of a curse attached to it.

Five episodes in and so far I haven’t felt disappointed by a single one of them! Aside from Nahn, the only annoying thing was Saru’s version of the Dark Ages versus the Renaissance and given the time period is forgivable. Future Alien guy has a very potted & distorted take on human history? Technically that’s realism.

Anyway, David Cronenberg.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/11/14/star-trek-discovery-is-determined-to-fulfill-its-mission-or-die-trying/

Star Trek Discovery: Forget Me Not (S3E4)

We have all been asking for an episode about the crew and I suppose this one is it. I’ve no complaints even though it feels like an episode with two B-plots. The show takes some time for healing and for the crew to work out some issues. It isn’t one of those episodes that is an instant classic but it is well paced and avoids the kind of clumsiness of past Discovery episodes.

Dr Culber frames the start of the episode as he carries out routine health checks on the crew. Not surprisingly they (unlike the ship) are structurally sound but, as he later reports, they are stressed out after everything they have been through. Saru must work out a way of raising morale and improving the mental health of the crew and sadly he has no ship’s counsellor to help him…or does he?

Meanwhile, new recruit Adira has a different problem. They have a Trill symbiont but they don’t have Trill memories and those memories contain the location of the remanent of the Federation. Discovery sends Adira and Michael to visit the Trill home world by shuttle (a nod to the original Trill TNG episode where the Trill eschew transporters). There, things do not go well as Trill society is not in good shape.

I don’t want to through out too many spoilers but we get the addition of another new character via flashback. Adira previously lived on a generation ship and had a Trill boyfriend Gray (played by Ian Alexander) around whom they have painful and traumatic memories that they must confront if they are to connect with the symbiont’s memories.

It is moving but it is also another LGBTQI relationship framed in tragedy. In Discovery’s defence, all romantic relationships so far have been framed in tragedy (or worse if we think about Ash Tyler’s relationships). This one goes in some interesting directions though.

Meanwhile, I really do appreciate how well Anthony Rapp plays Stamets as a well meaning arsehole. It is a very difficult type of character to get right. He is a good person and he’s not a ‘lovable rogue’ style of arsehole or badass-psycho-but-we-love-them arsehole like Georgiou.

Keyla Detmer’s mini-arc coping with the horror stress of piloting Discovery through the temporal wormhole comes to a head. Again, nicely done but as always with Discovery perhaps wrapped up too quickly.

I haven’t been doing rankings this season. Currently, I’d probably rank them in episode order but overall the show has been a lot more consistent. This is a good but not remarkable episode and that is remarkable because the show needs some of this character and aftermath-of-truama connective tissue to stop it being just a sequence of crazy-shit happening to Michael.

ETA: I’d intended to track what pronouns Adira’s character uses but didn’t. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s review (https://www.dailydot.com/upstream/shows/star-trek-discovery-adira-gray-trans-characters/ ) says the character uses she/her. I’m not going to change the pronouns above but shift to she/her next time.

Cora looks at the plot in more detail here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/11/07/star-trek-discovery-deals-with-trauma-and-recovery-in-forget-me-not/

Star Trek Discovery: People of Earth (S3E3)

[Some spoilers about a character]

As Discovery matured it got into a rhythm of its own kind of wacky space-opera versus (or complimentary with) more The Next Generation style episodes. I’m sure there are examples of each from various directors but the first category I associate with Olatunde Osunsanmi and who better to represent the second than Jonathan “Will Riker” Frakes.

True to form we get an episode that is so TNG that we get the return of the Trill and a new Wesley Crusher-like character. Yet this is Discovery, so this is still TNG but updated and with its own spin.

The twist is that the planet that gets the TNG treatment (where a whole planet of people gets boiled down to one character who basically makes planet wide policy on the spot having been shown the error of their ways by the stern wisdom of the charismatic Starfleet captain) is Earth. Yes, the episode has all the flaws of the standard Picard solution of getting two antagonistic space-groups to realise what they have in common and work together rather than fighting a war. It’s too quick, too simplistic and utterly unlike any actual real world dispute. However, making the snooty up-itself planet Earth…that is actually quite a neat twist. How intentional that was, I don’t know but it adds a spin to a corny scenario that has a nice subversive quality to it and acts as a mild critique of all those “why don’t you two just put aside your differences and get along” episodes from the original series onward.

Meanwhile, we get another new character: Adira, a hyper-intelligent teenager from future Earth who is part of the Earth defence boarding party. Played by Blu del Barrio they aren’t nearly as annoying as Wesley Crusher and their big secret [spoiler] is that they are actually a human with a Trill-symbiont [1]. del Barrio is non-binary and that is a neat casting choice for a class of Trek characters that have had an interesting play on questions of identity.

Still…I can’t help feeling that Discovery already has more characters than it is properly utilising. The under-used bridge crew do get some collective moments (greeting Michael, visiting a great big tree) but aside from a brief hesitation, we don’t get an update about whatever is going on with Detmer.

Even so, the episode uses the emotions of the crew well. Even though Michael has only been separated from them by two episodes, I found the initial reunion quite moving. I’m also really glad that Saru is now wholly and unambiguously the captain of the Discovery. It’s an ill fated role but it is an outcome that retrospectively makes the previous seasons better. The Discovery was a dysfunctional ship with a dysfunctional crew many of whom were individually capable. Events have changed them and the ship and Saru’s captaincy emphasises that as a story arc, even if some of that arc was unintentional.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/10/31/star-trek-discovery-pays-a-visit-to-the-people-of-the-earth/


[1] I assume that will engender some arguments about how the whole Trill thing was supposed to work but in a nod to continuity, Saru had to learn about the Trill’s symbiotic thing courtesy of the sphere data. Riker/Frakes of course was briefly a host for a Trill-symbiont in the TNG episode where the species was introduced.

Star Trek Discovery: Far From Home (S3E2)

Another solid and visually gorgeous episode jumps past last week’s episode to see the fate of the rest of crew of the Discovery and the ship itself.

Plummeting out of the time-travel wormhole, Discovery is out of control and heading directly towards a weird semi-exploded planet. Thanks to the skilful efforts of Keyla Detmer, they manage to crash land the ship on a glacier. Unfortunately the ship is now in a bad state of disrepair and the not everything is repairable.

The story flips here into two parts. On-board the Discovery we mainly follow Reno (Tig Notaro) and Stamet’s attempts to get the power back on despite being both injured. There’s not a lot of time spent with the rest of the crew but the episode still does a much better job of making the ship feel like it has a crew and that they are all an important part of the ship. There also appears to be something wrong with Detmer in the aftermath of her crash landing.

Meanwhile Saru and Tilly (and unbeknownst to them, Georgiou) attempt to make contact with a mining colony on the planet, so they can repair a vital component of the communications system. There they learn that the people are essentially being held hostage by the “courier” to the planet and his gang of heavies. Zaher controls supplies into the colony and is a brutal and sadistic man. Yet, at least one of the miners sets great store in his faith that the Federation will return one day to save them all…

The colony sections of the story are not shy about using the tropes of Westerns. Tilly and Saru’s first proper encounter with the colonist starts with them walking through the bat-wing style doors of a saloon only to be met with a bevy of hand guns. There is a new marshal in town and it’s the same as the old marshal except this time it is Saru.

Of course, the original series even had them Enterprise crew end up in a literal Western and fight the gun-fight at the OK Corral (Spectre of the Gun) and at the time Westerns where still a significant tv-show genre. The ‘frontier’ myths are baked into the shows opening dialogue and yet, despite this when I think of science-fiction shows that try to blend in tropes from Westerns, they tend to stand in contrast with the original Star Trek. I suspect, there are layers of cultural reflection in play. Just as the post-war heyday of the Western was a nostalgic re-imagining of 19th century America, modern audiences recognise not 1950s Westerns so much as the nostalgic and/or subversive takes on them since that point.[1]

We are only two episodes in but it certainly appears that the theme of season 3 is a galaxy of lawless bullies versus the lawful-good remnant of the Federation. For contrast though, we still has former Mirror-universe Emperor Georgiou to offer as a violent contrast. I’m reminded of the TNG episode ‘The Most Toys‘ where Data is confronted with a man who is both banal and irredeemably evil. The conflict is shorter and more underplayed here with Saru/Tilly & Zaher than Data versus Fajo. The arrival of Georgiou short circuits the dilemma but does allow Saru to more clearly contrast his approach with Georgiou’s methods.

This and the previous episode where directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi. He’s been an executive producer on Discovery from the beginning I think but when I look at the list of the episodes he has directed, it has a lot of the episodes I enjoyed:

They are also all episode that (a) I enjoyed but (b) were less-Trekky in style. There are plenty of examples were Discovery pulled off a good episode that was also good in a way that felt like previous iterations of the franchise (often with Jonathon Frakes directing). I think Osunsanmi maybe the person who is finding a place for Discovery to be that manages to be its own thing and neither the clumsy ‘our Klingons are different’ version nor the ‘tonight some classic Trek references to warm your cockles’ version.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/10/24/star-trek-discovery-arrives-far-from-home/ and as always is worth checking out.


[1] I say that but I see from Wikipedia that the venerable TV show Gunsmoke ran until 1974. Bonanza ran until 1973 — so there was only five years between Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright and Lorne Greene as Commander Adama. So I’m probably talking bollocks here. Maybe it is a Gen X thing to imagine vast gulfs of cultural time between the 1950s and the late 70s when it’s a no different numerical as the span from 2018 to 1998 (or, horror of horrors, 2000 and 2020 –where the hell did all the time go?)

[2] So when I originally looked up the title of last week’s episode it was ‘The Hope That is You: Part 1’ but now it is just ‘That Hope is You’ — or maybe I just imagined all that. Serves me right for skipping between universes.

Star Trek Discovery: That Hope Is You (S3E1)

Michael Burnham has flung herself a thousand years into the future to foil the plans of the evil AI Control that has taken over the black-ops wing of Star Fleet aka Section 31. Discovery has always been a show of contrasts which it would then confuse or muddy. In season 2 the bad aspects of Star Fleet and the federation were embodied by Section 31 and the ambiguities of both former mirror-universe emperor Philippa Georgiou and the Klingon-disguised-as-a-human Ash Tyler. Reflecting their position was the inclusion of the original Enterprise and the former-trivia-question original Captain Pike and crew.

Yet both plot and characters skated over these contrasts or confused them as character depth. Not unlike the Picard-series, the show set itself up to make a point and yet failed to do so other than “AI’s will eventually go rogue and kill all humans”. That’s not even a point, it’s just a lazy plot device.

Episode 1 of the new series shows a lot of the strengths of Picard and Discovery. It looks tremendous, it is visually imaginative and it is happy to draw upon other space-opera tropes and ideas that pushes it beyond the limits of the older versions of Star Trek. It also makes excellent use of good casting. Given how uneven Discovery has been the single best decision the show made was casting Sonequa Martin-Green who has had to carry multiple episode with the unenviable task of playing a character who isn’t a Vulcan but has to act like somebody who was brought up by Vulcans.

This episode places everything on her shoulders again. Rocketing out of a time-wormhole and colliding into a space battle, Michael ends up crashing into a planet. There she encounters Book (IMDB says ‘Cleveland Booker’ but I thought they just said ‘Book’), some kind of dodgy space courier who has an illicit cargo and a broken space ship. The only trustworthy aspect of the man is that he has a very large cat which means he is a rogue who will turn out to be good in the end OR it means he is a super-villain (which we can discount because he doesn’t have a monocle).

And so we are into a new season and a new premise. A grunge galaxy of lawlessness and Wild West justice. Well Trek always did say that space was the final frontier. Is there a new sheriff in town? No, there’s an old one. We learn that a 100+ years ago was the apocalyptic event that led to dilithium exploding across the Federation. Called “the burn”, this event led to the collapse of the Federation and Star Fleet with just a few outposts and true-believers hanging on.

Given that the kind of benevolent one-world (or rather multi-world) governmental ideal is thoroughly baked into Star Trek, there’s not a lot of point now in questioning this assumption of benevolence. In particular, the confusion between the Federation and its military wing of Star Fleet is not something any Trek series has managed to interrogate except in the most shallowest way. The set-up for Season 2 of Discovery and the set-up for Picard were tailor-made for this kind of questioning of some of the core assumptions of Star Trek but both series dodged their own questions. Season 3 of Discovery looks like it is going very much the other way. The galaxy without the Federation is a bad place and what it needs (according to what we are being shown) is the Federation back.

Overall, clever and entertaining if lacking some of the depth of the better episodes of previous seasons. Yet, depth has always been a failed promise with Discovery — it fumbles big themes. We’ll see how this goes. A season of episodes like this one will be entertaining but I’ll still be disappointed if the resolution is the Galaxy just gets the Federation and Star Fleet back as it was. It is very easy to be cynical about Roddenberry’s idealism, in fact I’m very cynical about Roddenberry’s very confused ideals. Yet, however poorly thought-through they were and however much they were based on idyllic view of US and British history, they were very much based on an idea of helping and protecting all people as the highest ideal. It would be nice to have a series that took that core but came up with a better answer.

ETA: Cora has a review here which covers more of the plot details and links to other reviews: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/10/17/star-trek-discovery-goes-back-to-the-future-in-that-hope-is-you-part-1/

Star Trek Discovery Next Week

I watched the finale of ST:Discovery Season 2 in a crowded departure lounge in Kathmandu. In cultural time that feels like an age and maybe a different lifetime ago. It was though, very exciting.

Where are we with this series? Season 1 was a very mixed bag, season 2 was better but flawed. Three seasons in and I don’t think the show has ever entirely found how to be as a series. Part of the issue was many of the ill conceived decisions made in setting up season 1. Cora Buhlert says it better in her review of the finale:

“In many ways, season 2 of Star Trek Discovery was a trasitional season that tried (and largely succeeded) in undoing the complete and utter mess that was season 1 before pressing the big red reset button and sending the Discovery off to new adventures in the far future, where no collisions with established Star Trek canon are possible. This is probably the best decision showrunner Alex Kurtzman could make, especially since the fact that Discovery was a prequel was always the biggest weakness of the show. But now the Discovery and her remaining crew can start over on a completely blank slate and hopefully have great and glorious adventures.”

http://corabuhlert.com/2019/04/20/star-trek-discovery-boldly-goes-where-none-has-gone-before-in-the-season-2-finale/

So season three is pregnant with opportunity. In general, the cast and characters is very likeable and it has been relatively easy to be invested in what happens to them. That is a huge advantage with any story telling.

Season 2 did a good(ish) job of extending the range of characters we interact with while retaining what is the most distinct aspect of Discovery as a Star Trek show. That aspect, which was present from the very first episode, was that it is the Michael Burnham saga. Although the show is named after the ship, the story arcs have each been ones that are closely tied to Burnham as a central character and key protagonist. Retaining that while allowing for more conventionally Trek-like episodes and letting other members of the crew have their own character arcs has not always worked. In particular, many of the recurring bridge crew characters are still largely cyphers.

We know from the ending of Season 2 that Season 3 has a new premise with Discovery flung into the far future, skipping over the time periods of other Trek Shows. The trailers all indicate that we are looking at stories set in a post-federation universe.

It would be really good but I’m 80% certain what we won’t see is a show that critically examines the Federation and Starfleet as entities. Discovery has dallied with this at times and then backed away. The Picard series got closer to the idea of the Federation as a flawed institution but the conspiratorial plot (evil fundamentalists Romulans conspiring to stop evil space robot tentacle monsters) undermined a lot of that work in a disappointing finale.

Discovery also had its own space robot tentacle monster as an explanation for its dark-side-of-starfleet plot line in Season 2. The sinister Section 31 turns out to have been manipulated by its own rogue software and that is sort of the way a SF-action story has to go if you want a big finale. You can’t really have an epic space battle designed to defeat systemic organisational flaws and fundamentally flawed assumptions that perpetuate a militaristic approach to what is supposed to be a quasi-utopian community of post-scarcity advance societies. It doesn’t even work if we try to make the evil AI known as Control as a metaphor for Starfleet’s/The Federation’s flaws, as the evil-AI tropes are all to strong. If anything we ended up with just a different Butlerian-Jihad ideology origin story for Starfleet to compliment Picard‘s premise for why the Trek-Galaxy isn’t as full as wise-cracking robots as the Star Wars-Galaxy.

I will definitely be reviewing Discovery Season 3. It has been a perfect series for episode-by-episode reviews precisely because it has such an awkward mix of promise and flaws. Likeable characters, good actors, some great visuals and special effects often thrown at inconsistent stories and under-cooked plots.

My Netflix account says “new episode Friday!” Practically, that usually means Friday evening in Australia and so I’m more likely to watch it Saturday morning. So expect episode reviews Saturday or Sunday.

Trek Tuesday: Unification Parts 1 & 2

The mid-season 5 two-parter marks something of an inflection point for Star Trek as a franchise. Although it was not the first episode to air after the death of Gene Roddenberry, it was the first to memorialise his passing with a title card (simply stating his name and “1921 – 1991”). Meanwhile, in cinemas the final Star Trek film featuring the main cast of the original series was due to be released and this two part story aimed to promote the film with an appearance by Leonard Nimoy as Spock. As such, it parallels the later Star Trek film Generations as a kind of passing-the-torch between the two versions of Star Trek.

For my purposes, I was keen to rewatch it as an addition to the background re-watch to compliment Star Trek: Picard. I was mindful that aside from the film Star Trek: Nemesis, I hadn’t included any stories that spent any time looking at the Romulans in depth. There are other choices but Unification is a rare story where we see ordinary Romulan civilians and aspect of Romulan culture other than over-wrought plots and Laurence Olivier impressions. In addition, it is an episode that uses Data and Picard as a dramatic pair, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Patrick Stewart naturally makes a great Romulan. Starfleet’s Romulan disguises are top-notch because, of course, Romulans are actually just humans in theatrical make-up but it is a look that really suits both Stewart and Spiner. He also has an additional advantage. The Romulans are Space Romans obviously but they are Space Hollywood Romans and years of Hollywood epics (and BBC historicals) have created the association of British classical actors with the Roman Empire. It is practically type-casting.

However, it is Picard’s affinity with Vulcans that provides the initial hook for the story. Ambassador Spock has gone missing and intelligence suggests he is on Romulus. Alarmed by the apparent defection, Starfleet despatches Picard to speak to Spock’s father, Sarek who is dying from a degenerative disease. Picard has not only met Sarek before but in an earlier episode had mind-melded with him.

In this initial phase of the story there are repeated shots that follow the dramatic-soap-opera scene convention of having two characters talk to each other with both facing the camera but with one person standing behind the other.

The framing of dialogue calms down once Sarek tragically dies but this odd choice adds to that sense of theatricality. Mark Lenard as Sarek gets to pull out all the stops as an ageing Vulcan whose mental decline causes him to be overwhelmed with emotion. Aside from a wonderful cameo, the scene between Picard and Sarek helps demonstrate the commonality between the Vulcans and Romulans. They are all, in truth, space Thespians with the Vulcans not just being logical/stoical but DRAMATICALLY and very pointedly so.

When finally Spock, Data and Picard do have scenes together we might expect the similarities between the trio to result in a somewhat dull dynamic. Instead, there is a sparkle between the three of them as if they are each unburdened from having to deal with Kirk/Bones/Riker/Crusher bullshit and can just get on with dealing with the problems at hand. Both Spock and Data are variations on the theme of the logical being who is actually emotional but Nimoy and Spiner play the trope quite differently.

Meanwhile, Riker and the Enterprise have to deal with the B-plot: investigating the remains of a Vulcan ship that has cropped up in mysterious circumstances. This gives Riker some opportunity to deal with the seedier side of Federation culture, including a space ship scrapyard and a bar with a four-armed piano player.

It is an genuinely very entertaining 80 minutes. There is humour (including an unrecognisable Stephen Root as a Klingon captain) and dry banter between Data and Picard (Picard trying to get some rest in his Klingon quarters while Data stands still doing nothing is a delight). Nimoy is wonderfully Spock and the meeting of Picard and Spock works much better than Picard and Kirk in Generations.

Both Unification and The Undiscovered Country echo real world events with rapid changes in progress in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, Unification’s twist is that the apparent détente is…a Romulan plot. In fact a Romulan plot by Denise Crosby aka Commander Sela aka complex backstory involving parallel timelines and the very dead Tasha Yar.

It is fair to say that Sela’s plot makes zero sense. It sort of doesn’t matter obviously: just moving parts to give everybody something to do. The Romulans have stolen three Vulcan ships and intend to trick, force or holographically simulate Spock into announcing they are a peace convoy from Romulus to start the re-unification of the sibling cultures. The ships are actually full of Romulan troops. I would assume if the plan had gone ahead without the Enterprise’s involvement the dialogue with Vulcan would have gone something like this.

Peace Convoy: Hello Vulcans. We are a peace convoy from Romulus.
Vulcan Traffic Control: Greetings Peace Convoy. Why are you in Vulcan ships if you are from Romulus?
Peace Convoy: Um…because…we thought you’d like how they looked?
Vulcan Traffic Control: That is not logical. Also, where did you get those three Vulcan ships?
Peace Convoy: We…found them…they were just sitting on this asteroid…and we thought you might have lost them and…um, we were just bringing them back.
Vulcan Traffic Control: Did you STEAL our ships, Romulan Peace Convoy?
Peace Convoy: Maybe. Just a little bit.
Vulcan Traffic Control: That’s not a very logical way to start a peace mission. What are you hiding?
Peace Convoy: Nothing! We are hiding nothing! How dare you accuse us, Noble Romulans, of DECEPTION! Why I have a good mind to tell the hundreds of Romulan soldiers on board to come over and shoot you for that insult.
Vulcan Traffic Control: ….
Peace Convoy: Crap. Forget I said that last bit
[Romulan war ship decloaks and blasts the peace convoy into smithereens out of embarrassment]

For the sake of keeping the Romulan reputation for craftiness intact, I’ll just assume that the plan was so secret that the different people involved didn’t know what the whole plan was. After all, stealing Vulcan ships to sneak Romulan troops onto Vulcan makes sense by itself, it only stops making sense if they claim to be Romulans and are seen crossing the neutral zone.

Dodgy plans aside, there is so much to enjoy here. A good addition to my re-watch.

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. [ETA A good point made by Mart in the comments is that this episode really shows the depth of Picard’s trauma.]
  • 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 Jeri 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.