Podcast

275 – Star Trek: Picard

The Mythcreant Podcast
What’s that, someone did a new Star Trek show and we don’t have an episode about it? This shall not stand! Today we’re talking about Picard, the whole Picard, and nothing but Picard. We discuss how this show measures up to previous Trek offerings, where it might go in the next season, and why this feels so much like Mass Effect. Also, we spend a lot of time going through a truly bizarre interview with the showrunner. Make it so.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Variety Interview with Michael Chabon 

Nicholas Meyer

Picard

Raffi

Rios

Jurati

Elnor

Soji

Dahj

Hugh

Icheb

Seven of Nine

Christopher Pike

Kira

Duet

Move Along Home

Kylo Ren

Reapers

Star Trek: Nemesis

Michael Piller

Martha Wells

Zhat Vash

Qowat Milat

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Transcript

Generously Transcribed by Ursula. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.

[Intro Music]

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren, with me today is Chris. It’s just the two of us today. Wes is off in copyedit land.

But I have a suggestion, a new suggestion that I think will be very helpful to anyone who wants to make a Star Trek show. And that is, only people who have never heard of Star Trek should be allowed to write it. [Chris laughs] And Chris, do you know why I think that?

Chris: Well, why, Oren?

Oren: The reason I think this is because every time they make a new Star Trek show, especially recently, whether it’s a movie or an actual TV show, they always talk about how the person they brought in to run it is such a Star Trek fan, and they love Star Trek so much, and I’ve now seen the results of that. And I think it’s a mistake.

Apparently Star Trek fans don’t know how to make Star Trek, so they should probably stop and give it to someone who doesn’t actually know about Star Trek. I have a sample size of one where that worked really, really well, back with Wrath of Khan and Nicholas Meyer. So I’m good to go as far as I’m concerned.

Chris: So we’re not counting Abrams, then.

Oren: Uh, no. He claims also to be a Star Trek fan.

Chris: Oh, he does? I thought he just likes Star Wars.

Oren: He also loves Star Wars, but he claims to love Star Trek. Every time they talk to Abrams about Star Trek, he always is like, “I love Star Trek so much”, and it’s just like, I don’t care. I know you’re doing this performatively. I don’t care what you feel in your heart.

Anyway, so this is because we’re talking about Star Trek: Picard today, the first season anyway. So if you haven’t seen it: Spoilers, maximum spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know what happens, then I guess go listen to some other podcast that isn’t talking about Star Trek: Picard.

Chris: Or go watch Star Trek: Picard. [laughs] Yeah, or maybe not. It’s very mixed. It is definitely not all bad. I do think that it is surprisingly similar in its strengths and weaknesses to Discovery.

Oren: Yeah. You can definitely tell that the two shows are made in the same mold, and neither of them are the worst Star Trek that’s ever been made. They’re both better than Enterprise. But I would say that neither of them are particularly better than, I dunno, Voyager or early Deep Space Nine, neither of which were particularly great.

But as I was thinking about this, I was like, all right, so why am I so annoyed if objectively I know that they aren’t that bad compared to previous Star Treks? Why am I so irritated with them? And I think I know the reason. It’s because both Discovery and Picard immediately set the dial up to 11 and were like, ah, the fate of the entire Federation is at stake in Discovery. The fate of the entire galaxy is at stake in Picard. And that’s just a weird thing to do for the first season of your show.

Chris: I do think that there’s a sense that they take themselves very seriously, that they’re a big budget effort, and that does set the standards a little higher. Whereas Enterprise, being a prequel… now, granted, if Enterprise was coming out right now, we might also be very angry.

Oren: Yes.

Chris: I mean, we’ve had time to get used to how bad Enterprise is. At the same time, being in the past didn’t ruin the future as much. Picard is a follow-up to TNG, with a lot of the characters that TNG had, whereas Enterprise wasn’t taking much in the way of characters from other stories and doing things with them that fans would dislike.

Oren: Also, for all of Enterprise’s faults, at least in its early seasons, it wasn’t super grimdark. That’s the other problem with both Discovery and Picard, they’re both very grimdark.

Chris: Yeah, I don’t necessarily think that grimdark is more anger-inducing than the good-old-boy sexism stuff that was happening on Enterprise.

Oren: That’s also true.

Chris: But in any case, the frustrating thing for me is the fact that I think a lot of fans have been very clear that part of what Star Trek means to them is this utopian setting. That it’s very hopeful, that it shows us a future that’s better, and that people don’t want dark Star Trek.

But it’s clear that for some reason CBS is just very determined to give people dark Star Trek anyway, and I find that personally very frustrating. Why? Why are we doing the grimdark thing? I don’t know, other than maybe that a few creatives at the top, who have a lot of clout, just personally really want to do it.There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a strategic reason. It’s just the fad nowadays and we have to force it on everything.

Oren: It was especially funny in Discovery, because you could tell from the advertisements in season two that they knew we wanted less grimdark, because they put a bunch of jokes in the trailer. They had Captain Pike say, “And we’ll have a little fun along the way”, which is a line that makes no sense in context when it actually happens. It’s like, that’s a really odd thing for you to say there, Chris. Chris Pike, I mean, not you, Chris. This is going to be confusing. But you could tell that they were clearly trying to make it seem lighter. They, of course, lied and it was even more grimdark than the first season, if that’s possible.

I do think that if a show is going to do dark Trek, I hold it to a higher standard than I do a show that’s being lighter. If Deep Space Nine had done the episode Duet, where Kira confronts a man who she thinks is responsible for horrible war crimes and atrocities, and it had been goofy and badly thought out, that would have been horrible. Right? That would have been way worse than the actual worst episode of that season, which is the one where they all get sucked into a board game and have to play and do jumping jacks or whatever it is they do to get across the room.

Chris: Honestly, one of the reasons I think that grimdark has gotten so overwhelmingly popular among studios now, is because special effects have gotten better over time. It’s easier to accept bad special effects when shows are lighter. It’s like now that we can do realistic special effects, we can have shows that take themselves seriously, that we couldn’t have before. And now we just have to turn that up to 11 because we can?

Oren: I also have a feeling – I have no data to prove this – I just know that from the fan groups that I hung out in when I was growing up in my formative years, all of us thought we were being really brilliant by proposing some kind of dark subversion. And I know I did this. I wrote a bunch of fan scripts when I was a freshman in college and they were extremely dark.

I’m glad no one ever made those into TV shows because they would have looked a lot like what we have now. We all were convinced that we were very smart and brilliant for doing this. And I feel like the current crop of Star Trek writers just never grew out of that phase. I don’t know for a fact that’s what’s happening, it’s just really what it feels like.

Chris: I’m also seeing a lot of comparisons from these new shows to Deep Space Nine. Deep Space Nine is a very good show, and so it’s easy for these creators to say, well, you know, people didn’t like Deep Space Nine either, but Deep Space Nine was was brilliant. And it’s like, well, okay, Deep Space Nine still wasn’t as dark as Discovery and Picard.

It certainly wasn’t gratuitously dark, where we’re just dark for the sake of being dark. Everything there definitely served a storytelling purpose. Also, even though it did have an overarching plot, it still was more episodic than Discovery and Picard are. So the whole, “well Deep Space Nine did it” – it’s like, yeah, but Deep Space Nine was good.

Oren: Yeah. That’s kind of what it comes down to, that Deep Space Nine was just a higher quality of writing than either of these shows have. They could get better. Star Trek has a tradition of starting off pretty rocky and then getting better. Of course, a lot of shows just get worse from when they start off bad.

But at the same time, again, Deep Space Nine for the most part didn’t go super dark in its first season, right? They gave themselves some time to learn what they were doing first, and then they were like, okay, now it’s time for the really dark war stories and the arc where we have Starfleet try to perform a coup to overthrow the Federation president and stuff like that.

Chris: Right. We’re going to establish the Federation and the setting so that we have something to subvert, as opposed to instant subversion when we haven’t even revisited the setting that’s supposed to be familiar.

Oren: It just takes a lot of care to do that properly. And I feel like the new Star Trek – and unfortunately Picard also falls into this category, it’s not just Discovery anymore – doesn’t have that care. The overarching plot of Picard is like, everything sucks, the Federation is super dark and terrible now, but it’s okay. It was all due to some Romulan infiltrators. And now we’re going to ride off into the sunset and I guess everything is fine, is the implication that I’m left with.

They could come back and address some of that stuff in season two I guess. But I don’t feel like they’re going to, because it’s not clear to me how much of this is supposed to have been an actual problem, and how much of this is just stuff they threw in there because they thought it would be fun, or because writing a utopia is hard.

Chris: I will say that they both have good characters, but a lot of trouble with plotting.

Oren: I agree that Discovery has good characters and trouble with plotting. I actually don’t think that’s necessarily true with Picard. Picard has, I think, two good characters. Three, if you count Seven of Nine, who is not a main cast member. But of the main cast, we’ve got Picard, who is just a good character by nature of being played by Patrick Stewart. They could tell him to do anything and it would look good. And Patrick Stewart does a great job. He makes Picard seem like Picard, even though he’s in very different circumstances than when we last saw him.

And then there’s Elnor, who is beautiful and wonderful and amazing. And for some reason they kind of forget about him in the last three episodes.

Chris: Talking about Elnor, I do think Elnor is a wonderful character. However, he would be a pretty difficult character to write. And I do wonder if one of the reasons that he’s being shunted off is because he is too difficult to handle. The radical honesty thing he does, where he is always honest no matter the circumstances, is very entertaining and makes him very endearing. But it does mean that there’s a whole variety of situations in which he could just ruin things right away just by not saying what he’s supposed to say.

Oren: Yeah. He can’t lie or be sneaky, although we’ve shown that he sort of can, as long as he doesn’t get asked direct questions. But yeah, no, that’s a possibility. Although I’m having a hard time imagining why that would justify shunting him off onto a side story in the last three episodes, because I don’t recall those being particularly subterfuge-heavy.

That was when they go to the android planet and he was off on the Borg cube with Seven and we kept waiting for the Borg cube to show up and it finally did, and then it didn’t do anything. And then he stayed on the Borg cube with Seven for some reason. And I was like, okay. I mean, those are the two best characters in the show, but that’s not where the story is.

Chris: I have to review all of the episodes, but at the same time, if you’re thinking about adding him to a scene, he’s not a social character who can achieve his goals, usually, by social means, because he’s just like a blunt force instrument. He can provide entertainment and some fun interactions, but he can’t use charm, generally, he’s useful by pulling out his sword and causing violence. So if they don’t want the very specific things that he does, it’s just going to be hard to include him.

Oren: But speaking about the other characters for a minute, this show does a similar thing to what Discovery did, but I think in this case it’s actually worse. Because Discovery was like, hey, here’s Captain Georgiou and Burnham, and they’re best friends, and then Georgiou dies immediately and it’s like, oh. I kind of miss Georgiou now.

This does the same thing, because it introduces Picard, and these are his two Romulan friends who are kind of his caretakers and they’re cool and have secret dark histories that I want to know more about, that seemed very relevant to the plot. And then it’s like, no, they’re not coming with Picard for some reason, because I guess we couldn’t afford the actors for that long. And then we have to meet the space weirdos.

Chris: So you don’t like the space weirdos?

Oren: I don’t. I mean, it’s not even that I don’t like them. It’s that I feel nothing.

Chris: Okay. See, I generally do like the space weirdos.

Oren: Okay, that’s fair. I’m not saying this has anything to do with the actors playing the space weirdos. They’re all perfectly fine. I like Elnor because he’s so weird, and he’s so present and doing stuff. But the other three – we’ve got Raffi, who I don’t feel like I know anything about, other than that she’s a conspiracy theorist and she’s mad at Picard for kind of contrived reasons.

Chris: I do think that Raffi is probably the weak link. She spends all of her time brooding and stewing and angsting. I like the scenes where she uses her skills from being in intelligence. And I think the issue is that we have the scene where she goes and meets her son, and it’s supposed to be really meaningful, you know, we see her vulnerable side. But because she’s constantly vulnerable and constantly upset, it doesn’t really mean anything. Whereas if she had been a badass for most of the season, then seeing her be vulnerable with her son would have actually meant something. I think she would just be a much better character if we just saw her stronger, less vulnerable side more of the time.

Oren: The other issue with Raffi is that the moments where she does do cool things, they all seem like things that Picard’s Romulan friend could have done. Also we already knew her and we didn’t have to spend another episode getting to know her, because they’d already done the work. But moving on from Raffi, we then have Rios, who is the man with the galaxy’s most contrived backstory.

Chris: It’s true. He happened to be the only person to encounter androids before.

Oren: Right. Of all the people in the Federation, they just happened to grab, by random chance, the one guy with a backstory that was connected to this android plot – also in a very contrived way that I didn’t like. We’ll get to that later. I did like his holograms, those were a neat touch. And I kind of liked that he seemed to be in more of a nurturing position towards the end of the season.

Chris: I did like seeing him in an emotional support role when he was doing it.

Oren: Right. But I still just feel nothing for him for the most part, because I don’t feel like he matters. I don’t know what his deal is. It just seemed like he showed up and was like, hey guys, I’m a space captain and I’m here.

And then finally we have Jurati, who I liked at first because she looked like she had the whole fish-out-of-water thing going, which I thought was kind of cute. And it was kind of cool to see her have to react to things that she wasn’t prepared for, and all that stuff. But then she has this super weird plot where she murders Maddox, and either was mind controlled to do it, in which case none of it matters, or wasn’t, in which case she’s a murderer and they all forgive her way too easily, and her reasons for doing it don’t make sense.

Chris: Right. I mean, I separate Jurati from what she did a little bit. I liked Jurati, but I do have to kind of forget the Maddox stuff, because that was definitely a mistake on the writer’s part. They took her over the moral event horizon by having her murder her former lover, and then they wanted her to be redeemable. And because they wanted to have their cake and eat it too, they brought up the possibility that maybe she was kind of mind controlled, but not actually, because then she couldn’t be sorry and go on a redemption arc.

It was just a mess. You know, you have to choose one way or another. Either she was being controlled and it wasn’t her fault – honestly, that route is probably better because she could still feel bad about it, even if it’s not her fault.

Oren: Right. Then it wouldn’t be a redemption arc, it would be an overcoming-guilt arc. We, the audience would know she didn’t do anything wrong, but good luck convinced her of that.

Chris: So no, that was not good. That was a big mess-up. Honestly, it feels similar to the Kylo Ren mess-up in The Force Awakens. It’s like, no, you want this person to be an antagonist who is redeemable. You can’t just have them kill somebody good right in front of the audience. That’s grimdark edgelord writers going too far there. But at the same time, she still has a lot of potential as a character. You know, sometimes we have to blank those parts out. But she’s very humble and sympathetic and kind of adorable. I want to like her.

I think going forward, in a best case scenario for season two, I think this crew could be quite an interesting and good crew. Again, honestly, my biggest issue with Rios is he just doesn’t feel particularly consistent. He hasn’t gelled. I think, as you pointed out, his motivation is probably one of his biggest problems. We never understand why he’s doing anything, especially since they won’t really clarify whether there’s money.

Oren [laughs]: Yeah, there is that.

Chris: I mean, Picard has hired Rios, but is he paying him money? What is Rios doing this for? And that’s hard, right, we don’t know what his motivation is. Of course, Seven is perfect. She’s actually a completely different character than she was in Voyager, but she’s still great.

Oren: It’s been years. I’m perfectly fine with Seven having changed. I have no problem with that. I love the new badass Fenris Ranger Seven. Six seasons and a movie about the Fenris Rangers please. They’re way more interesting than this weird Mass Effect plot you have going.

Chris: We haven’t talked about Soji yet.

Oren: Oh, right. Soji.

Chris: She’s really interesting because she is clearly designed to be like a blank main character. But she’s not really the main character, because Picard’s the main character.

Oren: Right. I also don’t feel anything for Soji. I actually liked Dahj, and then they were like, “No, we killed Dahj. But we replaced her with Soji. That’s basically the same as keeping Dahj, right?” And it’s like, no, it’s not. Because I liked Dahj. She seemed to have something going on, whereas Soji is just a completely different character depending on what scene we’re in.

That seems like it’s partially intentional, like she’s a weird, blank slate where she was programmed to think she was human for literally no reason. Then she discovers she’s a robot and that basically resets her character. And then she has a brief phase where she considers wiping out all life in the galaxy for no reason.

Chris: Speaking of which. So first Jurati is like, “Okay, I have to kill my former lover because androids are bad and they’re going to cause all the destruction.” Then she sees Soji and she’s like, “No, I would never kill you, random android I just met, because you’re a work of art.” And then they get to the colony of androids and she’s like, “No, I’m not the mother of you androids, screw all of you.”

And it’s just – what is happening? Character consistency has definitely been an issue in this season.

Oren: The whole thing where she is like, “I would kill my lover over this, but I won’t kill you, Soji” is definitely the show treating Jurati like she’s using audience logic, where Soji is a main character, so of course she’s not going to kill Soji. We’ve been watching Soji for the whole season, but we barely knew Maddox, so it’s fine for her to kill Maddox even though from her perspective it’s the opposite.

Chris: But Soji feels like she’s there to be a relatable wish fulfillment character, like she’s meant to be an audience insert a little bit. Because she has cool android powers. She doesn’t have a very strong personality, especially compared to all of these other characters which do generally have very strong personalities. They’re not all consistent, but they generally come across much stronger. So having Soji there without the distinctiveness of the rest of the cast, but she’s not technically a main character – ugh, I mean, that’s tough.

Oren: I feel like maybe part of the issue is actually that we spent so little time with Picard and Soji together, and then the big climax is supposed to be resonating off of their relationship. And I think maybe that’s part of the reason why I feel nothing, because I don’t really know what is supposed to be happening here.

Soji’s choices to nearly wipe out all of humanity, and not even all humanity, all organicness, they don’t make any sense. But then when Picard appeals to her to not do it, it’s like, okay, on the one hand, yeah you shouldn’t do it, because it’s a terrible idea. But on the other hand, I’m supposed to believe you’re committed to it. I don’t really see why Picard is changing your mind. I don’t see what it is about your relationship to him that makes you think that you’re now not going to do what you were really committed to like half a second ago.

Chris: Well, it’s very much like Discovery, where we have a really complicated plot that drives all of these contrivances and now we’re trying to make our characters do what we want the plot to do. If you just had a more streamlined, stronger, simpler plot, a lot of this character contortion wouldn’t be necessary.

Oren: Right, yeah. That is another issue with it, that it’s basically trying to do the Mass Effect plot, but Mass Effect had three very long video games and still couldn’t stick the landing.

Chris: It’s weird that they chose the Mass Effect plot, because as far as I remember, nobody liked that.

Oren: Well, people liked the idea of the Reapers. They didn’t like the ending, but they liked the concept. They were really into the concept. And it’s not like Mass Effect is the only scifi story to ever use this idea of an ancient alien race – in this case a race of robots, but you know, whatever – an ancient alien being that lives outside the galaxy that comes to wipe people out every once in a while. That’s not that uncommon a scifi trope, but it’s a very complicated one. It’s hard to set up and explain properly, and Mass Effect completely whiffed it for various reasons, but Mass Effect also had a lot of time.

And in Picard they were like, yeah, we’re going to do that in 10 episodes of TV. It’ll be great. And most of those episodes are spent not investigating the premise, but trying to find Soji. We have this incredibly complicated premise and we don’t even spend most of our time working on it. We shove that in at the very end, like somehow we’re going to have a satisfactory resolution to this idea. It’s like, no, you’re just not going to.

Chris: Maybe the dialing things up to 11 is one of the reasons that they’re rushing everything, because they don’t want to give things time to build. They want everything constant action, full intensity all the time.

Oren: Oddly, that is actually one of the reasons why I have hope for season two. Because I can’t believe that any writer would seriously look at season one of Picard and be like, yeah, we’re going to be able to top that. And so it’s dead. It seems like the natural course is to do some lower-stakes, episode-of-the-week stuff. I don’t necessarily prefer episode-of-the-week format to serialized stories, but these writers have pretty clearly proven that they cannot do serialized stories. But they seem to be okay at episode-of-the-week problems. So that’s my hope: That they’ll just do that because they’ve left themselves nowhere else to go.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, same with Discovery. I think Discovery’s best stuff usually was episode-of-the-week, and I think maybe when they make things season long, they just make everything too complicated for themselves and they might do much better if it was more episodic.

And it’s also hard – I mean, it’s not impossible to do something grimdark and episodic – but generally something more episodic tends to lend itself to a lighter show a little bit. So maybe that would get them to back off. Whereas in this show, man, the ending where we’re going to talk about how great death is?

Oren: Literally comes from nowhere and means nothing. And there was a YouTuber, I think it was CGP Grey, he made this video that at the time I thought was incredibly pretentious, about how death is bad. That was the point of the video. And I was like, yeah, I know death is bad.

Chris: Because you didn’t know what he was responding to.

Oren: I didn’t know he was responding to this episode five years in the past somehow.

Chris: But this is not the only time. Recently we went through The Good Place having its entire end being about how, “oh, but death is very necessary”. At least for The Good Place, they were exploring philosophy and so maybe they felt like they wanted to explore the philosophy around death, and so they need to actually have death in their show to do that.

I’m still not a big fan, but in Picard this was so random, like, “Hey, let’s reintroduce a favorite character, Data, just so that we can watch him die.” It’s like, what?

Oren: Right. And at least in The Good Place, even though I did roll my eyes a little bit, they at least had the premise of, yeah, okay, after you’ve been alive in heaven for 50,000 years, sure. Maybe you would feel like ending that existence. I’m not gonna say that no one would feel that way, and that in that very bizarre scenario the rules of how we operate wouldn’t change.

But in Picard it’s like, “Hey, it would be wrong for Picard to die at 90 of space Alzheimer’s, but it would also be wrong for him to live past 110”, which is his actual lifespan. We have very narrow definitions of what is an acceptable amount of life for a human.

Data is even worse, because there was no concept in the show that Data was somehow still alive. And then we find out that he’s not only still alive, he’s been basically trapped in a white room since the end of Nemesis, and it’s like, Jesus Christ, that might be one of the grimdarkest things the show has ever done. And it literally vivisected someone on screen. No wonder Data wants to die at that point. [Chris laughs] Here’s an idea. How about you download him into one of the millions of Android bodies you have. Then you don’t have to keep forcing Brent Spiner to try to look like he hasn’t aged.

Chris: Yeah, and of course I’m sure they also aren’t thinking very hard about the implications of, “Hey, every time somebody is dying, we can just make them an Android body.” That’s never going to come up again.

Oren: Yeah. No. Oh God. That part at the end where they’re like, “Oh, Picard is dying. He’s going to be dying, you should be sad”, and then, “Oh, hey, we brought him back into a robot body” and it’s like, yeah, no, of course you did. And then finding out that the writers think that’s a deep statement, when they went out of their way to make it very clear that this body is exactly identical to Picard’s normal body in every way…

Chris: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s pointless, it’s a difference that is no difference.

Oren: It’s exactly the same as if you had just cured his space Alzheimer’s. You didn’t do anything else. There’s no meaning here.

Chris: But now you’ve created another broken way that we can revive people in the setting that we’re just going to have to forget exists, despite the fact that the main character now basically represents this thing.

Oren: That’s just a Star Trek tradition at this point.

Chris: To be fair, the previous versions of the show certainly did that quite a bit.

Oren: Every Star Trek series has created a way of bringing people back from the dead, which it then hopes you forget about. It’s honestly not fair to not let Picard or Discovery have at least one of those.

Chris: So, can we talk about this interview that Variety did with Michael Chabon?

Oren: If we must.

Chris: So there’s a very interesting interview with the showrunner for season one, who is not going to be the show runner for season two. So hopefully that will create some good changes. But basically what it makes pretty clear after looking at Michael Chabon just a little bit, is that one of the reasons why this is so grimdark is because he’s a storyteller who thinks that being provocative and making people mad is deep. And pissing people off for the sake of pissing people off, not because he actually has anything meaningful to say, which is a pattern that is been happening a lot.

The things that he says he was surprised about are so unreal. Now, he was a novelist before he started working on the show. So he was surprised when people were mad that he killed characters off, when he killed Hugh, and Icheb. He had a statement about like, “Oh, we thought it would matter how we killed them, but I learned that, you know, if you kill a character, people are just mad regardless of how you killed them.” And it’s just like, how could you not know that as a storyteller? How could you not know that killing characters is upsetting to people?

Oren: Also, he clearly set up both deaths, but particularly Icheb’s death, to be as upsetting as possible.

Chris: Yes. We can get into the other unreal thing that he thought. Somehow he even said, “We thought it was okay because these deaths aren’t gratuitous.” And then he goes on to describe exactly how Icheb’s death is gratuitous, that it’s graphic, that Icheb is helpless, and it’s like – if Icheb’s death is not your definition of gratuitous, I don’t want to know what you think a gratuitous death is.

Oren: We have this character being graphically vivisected on screen. Even though in-universe there’s no reason for that to be happening, because if the people want his implants, they would sedate him so that he A, doesn’t die of shock first, and B, isn’t thrashing around when they’re trying to get his implants out.

Chris: But no, we have to watch him thrashing around in pain on screen. That has to be the thing.

Oren: And then Seven has to mercy kill him, despite miracle Star Trek medical tech. She doesn’t even try. She’s just like, no, I guess you’re gonna be mercy killed now, because we needed that. And this is all in service of an “arc” – I use quotes – that lasts for one episode and involves a villain we’ve never seen before and will never see again.

The idea that you needed that for that arc, I don’t know if they actually believed that, or if they’re saying that now because they’re in trouble and they’re trying to do damage control because it’s just so absurd. I can’t imagine they actually thought they needed that. I’m positive they did that because they thought it would provoke a reaction and be edgy, but I guess I don’t know. I’m not in their heads.

Chris: Well, they were writing to provoke a reaction. The other thing that’s very interesting about this interview is watching Chabon making excuses for why all of the queer relationships are kept in the plausibly deniable range, instead of being explicit. In particular, there was talk of this scene between Seven and this antagonist, and there was clearly some subtext about them being lovers, where I think the antagonist or somebody says, “We were incredibly close.”

And Chabon is saying “Well, no, the reason we don’t have any explicitly gay people and queer relationships in our show” – even though Discovery’s done it, so it’s not like we’re really groundbreaking here – “is because, you know, things have to be organic and it just didn’t come up. I mean, it just wouldn’t be natural for them to say that they were a couple, you know?” And it’s like, you know what would be natural is for them to say instead of, “We were incredibly close” is to say, “We were in love.”

Oren: Or, and here’s another thing to throw your way: That scene only works if you don’t think about the fact that they were probably lovers. Because if they were, that means they’re our first lesbian couple since Deep Space Nine, and we not only bury one of them immediately, we have the other one do it. Jesus. What is wrong with you?

Chris: We can also count the number of heterosexual couples that were explicitly shown. For some reason homosexual, queer relationships are the only ones where it just wasn’t organic to bring them up. For some reason it’s very organic to bring up all of the heterosexual couples on this show.

Oren: But he has a thing in there, where the heterosex scene that was very sexy and had lots of sex wasn’t about sex. So it’s fine. It basically doesn’t count. I don’t know why we couldn’t have had a bunch of queer sex that wasn’t about sex. Apparently that wouldn’t have been natural. I don’t know.

My favorite part of that interview, because he’s so elitist and blaming the audience for not liking his stuff, is when he talks about how TNG got good later because they realized what they had. And I’m like, no, you know why TNG got good? It’s because they fired the people in charge of it and brought in someone who knew what he was doing. And that guy’s name was Michael Piller and he’s great – and he’s dead now, so he can’t take over. But the fact that they’re bringing in a new show runner just makes that line particularly ironic.

Chris: Do you think we could give Michael Piller an android body?

Oren: Yeah, that might work actually.

Chris: He might be on a drive somewhere, trapped.

Oren: Yeah. Who knows? We should ask him. And before he tries to shut off the drive, we can be like, “Hey Michael, I know it kind of sucks in here, but we could bring you back outside and you could have real experiences. Would you prefer that?” Maybe just, you know, make sure that he knows that’s an option first.

Oh, I also have a message for CBS. As long as you guys are hiring novelists with no television experience to be your show runners: just hire Martha Wells instead. I’m not going to promise she’s going to do a good job, I just want to see what her version of Star Trek looks like. Because apparently being good at the job is not a prerequisite anymore. So yeah, just get Martha Wells in there, whatever. It’ll be fine.

Chris: And then Murderbot becomes a character in Star Trek. That’d be so good.

Oren: I mean, that’s not how I would choose to run a studio, but that’s how they’re already doing it. So I don’t see why not.

Chris: I did have to say though: I do have hope for season two. I loved the ending scene of all of these space weirdos and Seven on the bridge of the ship together. Now I just want them to go on episodic adventures. And maybe if we don’t have them, you know, randomly kill people and go on redemption arcs, they can actually hit their stride. I think they would actually be a really nice and interesting crew, potentially.

Oren: They even showed, towards the end, a very brief shot of Raffi and Seven holding hands in a way that seemed romantic. Now, I don’t know if we’re going to keep doing the whole “oh, well it’s subtext. It wouldn’t be natural”, but assuming that they pull their heads out of their asses on that one and actually give us a romance between those two, yeah, I’m into it. Make it happen. I will forgive all of Raffi’s weirdness in season one as long as Seven gets a cool romance arc.

Chris: Yeah. Is there any chance, do you know, of Seven just being a main cast member in season two?

Oren: I haven’t heard anything. It certainly looked like she was going to be.

Chris: I hope so. Fingers crossed.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know who’s in charge of Jeri Ryan’s schedule, but let’s try and make sure she has some time available.

Chris: Just give her an extra android body.

Oren: Can we talk just a little bit about the plot? Because we’re at 40 minutes and we still haven’t mentioned the plot

Chris: Other than the Mass Effect annihilation.

Oren: We mentioned that it was Mass Effect, but we didn’t really talk about what that means.

Chris: Go for it.

Oren: I’m just very curious what the thought process on this was. Where first they were like, okay, for some reason, Maddox went and made a whole colony of androids – and I don’t really know why he would do that, considering how unreliable the tech seems to be – and then he sent two of them, making them think they were human, so they would have no defense in case anyone ever spotted them. And now we’re going to say that the Romulans have an anti-android cult that they’ve been doing for a long time – and I just don’t get why.

Chris: My favorite part of that is that they just renamed the Tal Shiar. It’s like, okay, but don’t you understand, they’re not the Tal Shiar, they are the, what is it…

Oren: Zat Grat or whatever. The Zat Grass.

Chris: Zat Grass? [laughs]

Oren: Yeah, I don’t care.

Chris: I don’t care either. It’s like, but see, they’re even older organization. Okay. But – they’re still just the Tal Shiar. I mean, we can call them by a different name if you want, but it doesn’t really make them more impressive. They’re the same group. There’s nothing that’s changed about that.

Oren: I was just thinking that for a show that loves its deep-cut references as much as this one does, I don’t get why they would go out of their way to give the Romulans a thing that they’ve never had before. And it’s really obvious that they’ve never had this before. It feels like they really want to have their continuity cake and eat it too, again. They’re like, “Hey guys, look at all these continuity references you’ll only get if you’re a TNG super fan. Also, the Romulans are completely different and have this extra thing that we bolted on for no reason.”

Chris: I did like, though, that there was lots of Romulan characters and we got more diversity of Romulan culture.

Oren: That’s true.

Chris: We got the awesome badass truth nuns.

Oren: Yeah. Another thing that the story should have been about and wasn’t.

Chris: Yeah, of course they had to introduce a whole bunch of badass nuns only to be like, “Oh, but look, there’s the one guy that knows all of the women’s secrets, and he’s going to be the character.” This is such a wish fulfillment thing I’ve seen in many stories. It’s like every time we introduce an order of women who have secrets of some kind, we just have to have the dude learn all of their secrets.

Oren: Someone should tell whoever’s making that Dune movie that Picard already did it and he doesn’t have to anymore. Whatever the Chosen One’s name from Dune is, that’s just Elnor now. He’s the Cuisinart Chatterback or something. I forget how to say it. I always call it the Clambake Chowder Cake in my mind, because that’s what it sounds like.

But anyway, all I wanted to mention was how ridiculously complicated the plot is. And all of it is building towards this weird thing where they’re like, “We have to summon the Reapers to save us.” And the only way the Reapers know how to do that is by wiping out all life. And it’s like, couldn’t we just ask them to, I don’t know, move us or something? Do they understand language? What’s their motivation? Why are they doing what they’re doing? Why are they so devoted to this, but yet also immediately left when our emergency 911 call was suspiciously interrupted?

Chris: It does feel like the plotting is very similar to Discovery, where we have a base premise that is hard to support in the first place, but they like it. And then, I don’t know if it’s a matter of them just looking at the plaudits of individual episodes and optimizing locally, and not thinking about the big picture, or just trying to stuff too much in, or all of the above, but it’s just overly complicated. It comes with tons of contrivances and things that just don’t inherently fit together quite right. And it’s all very, very dramatic.

Oren: It’s definitely an example of, don’t over-promise. At the very beginning they started doing this whole like, “Oh, wow, when you find out what’s going on, it will be knowledge that humans were not meant to know, and it will drive you to murder people.”

And I’m like, I can’t possibly imagine what that reveal is going to be, that would make that make sense. And yeah, it turned out they couldn’t deliver because it was an impossible thing. I wish more storytellers would stop being like, we need maximum drama right now, so we’re going to promise so much that our later episodes just can’t live up to that promise.

Chris: Also, you know, it’s the first season. Give your story some room to build. As you said, how is Picard gonna top this in season two? Especially if you’re planning a show that’s going to last for a while, you don’t want to start at the top. You want to start small. But they are not doing that.

I don’t know, maybe there’s some worry that they won’t be able to keep people’s attention. Maybe that’s what this is about. They don’t realize that it doesn’t take everything up to 11 all the time to keep your audience engaged, that you can actually have a scene where Riker makes pizza and people will love that scene even though it’s a slower personal moment.

Oren: I mean, that episode is definitely the best part of the show, where it’s just Picard hanging out with Riker and Troi, swapping stories. It just makes me really wish they’d done something like Star Trek: West Wing or whatever, so all of the characters could have been around. I agree it would have been pretty silly for the entire aging cast of TNG to be on a space adventure, I would not have enjoyed that, but I would have loved for them to be in politics and you know, talking about Federation press reports and all that stuff. That’d be great. I want to see Beverly Crusher as the Federation Surgeon General.

Chris: Yeah, that would’ve been cool. It would have also been a premise where they could have easily popped in for an episode and left if they weren’t all the main cast, right. Because they’re usually all hanging out on earth all the time.

Oren: Star Trek: West Wing would have been the best concept for this, but instead they went with space adventures. So that’s where we are now. All right, well, I think that’s all the big strokes. I could nitpick the plots of various episodes…

Chris: I’m sure you could rant about this for longer.

Oren: Yeah. But I think I’m not gonna. I think we’re going to call this to a close now. If anyone’s still here after we ranted about Picard for like, I don’t know, five hours: Thank you everyone for listening. If anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at  Mythcreants.com.

Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. She may be about to disown us for this episode, we’re not sure. Next, we have Ayman Jaber, who is a Marvel connoisseur and urban fantasy writer. Finally, we have Danita Rambo and she [email protected] And we’ll talk to you next week.

[Outro Music]

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    I actually don’t think you have to go 100 % one way or the other with mind control plots. You can create scenarios where it’s just not obvious whether the murderer (say) “wasn’t herself” in a way literal enough for her to have no responsibility for what happened. Where it’s just ambiguous, people disagree… Maybe people around her decide to believe it wasn’t her fault at all, but partially for pragmatic reasons (although they might not admit to themselves they’re motivated by pragmatism). But the murderer herself can’t let go of the thought that maybe she bears at least some responsibility; she mulls over the question and it’s honesty complicated.

    However, I think this would probably be easier to do in writing, because you’d really have to convey the complexity of what happened. I agree that on Picard, it seemed more like the writers hadn’t made up their minds of what happened.

  2. Jeppsson

    Re characters going by audience logic, the worst example I’ve seen was H.R. on The Flash

    SPOILER AHEAD

    sacrificing his life to save Iris.

    H.R. didn’t act impulsively – he had planned this for a long time. It wasn’t because he was gonna die soon anyway – he wasn’t terminally ill, and looked around fourty years old. He was very much in love with his new girlfriend, and had a lot to live for.
    And it wasn’t because Iris was the love of his life, his sister, or best friend in the whole wide world either – she was just a buddy of his!

    It was just SO WEIRD for him to sacrifice his life to save hers… he hadn’t even been established as super altruistic and very self-sacrificing before this; if anything, he often came across as a little selfish.
    It’s like the writers thought “obviously the death of Iris would be a much greater loss than the death of H.R.; she’s one of the main characters, and he’s a smaller character who was only introduced last season” – and then expected H.R. himself to accept this kind of logic!

  3. Cay Reet

    Ah, the grimdark … bane of our times.

    There are definitely stories which need a grim and/or dark setting. Stories which only work when there’s a lot at stake and no life is sacred. However, most stories don’t need that kind of setting to work and there’s a lot to be said for more funny stories around as well. Or just lighter stories with lower stakes which might be more concentrated on the personalities of the characters than on the end of the universe as we know it…

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Interestingly, CBS is now promising a more exploration focused show with their new Pike series. I’m pretty skeptical, partly because we’re yet again pivoting to white characters, but I guess we’ll see.

      • Cay Reet

        I’d love more exploration … that’s what made Star Trek interesting to me when I got around to watching reruns of the original series (I was born in 1974, so I clearly never saw the original run, not even in Germany).

        Something a little lighter or at least a little more mixed. Deep Space Nine could get pretty dark, but they also had lighter episodes mixed in with it and that made it better.

  4. Alicia

    I really wanted to like Picard, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I agree that the Dr. Jurati storyline was a mess. She started off as interesting, but then her storyline ended up being my least favorite. Her romance with Rios was annoying because they didn’t do the groundwork for it, which made it seem implausible. And is she a murderer or isn’t she?

    I also had the same reaction as you all that I just didn’t care about many of the characters and the storylines, but I didn’t really know why I didn’t care. I think you hit the nail on the head though – many of the storylines felt contrived, and as a result the characters’ motivations for their actions were unclear.

    And don’t even get me started on the Romulans who go immediately insane upon learning about the future should androids be allowed to exist. Maybe we were never shown this future because the writers were worried about the audience’s sanity? Although I think it probably was because of the implausibility of such a future. I’ve seen lots of dark futures in apocalyptic stories, but none have ever been so awful as to make me pull my hair out, or make me kill myself with a rock.

    I also think that some well-intentioned, but not fully explained, writing advice might be responsible for some of the grimdark stuff. Writers are told that their writing must have stakes, the stakes must matter, and the stakes need to keep going up. Which is all true, but it’s easy to see that through following this advice without understanding it, by the end of the story the stakes might be raised to universe-ending or destruction-of-humanity levels.

    But your point about grimdark being the fad is also true. I don’t read literary novels because it seems like the novel can only be considered literary if the main character is in some really dark spot.

    The show also didn’t work well for people who weren’t Star Trek fans. My husband (not a Star Trek watcher) didn’t understand the borg cube, and was confused by Seven of Nine. The episode with Riker and Troi was meaningful for Star Trek fans, but I think less so for my husband.

    I’m a huge fan of Picard (the character) so I’ll keep watching season 2, but I’m hoping they fix some of the problems with the first season.

  5. SunlessNick

    Well, people liked the idea of the Reapers.

    I think in practice, people liked *Sovereign* – the other Reapers never lived up to the cold delivery of “Your civilisation is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your society develops along the paths we desire. We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we have allowed it, and you will end because we demand it.”

    I’m perfectly fine with Seven having changed. I have no problem with that.

    On Voyager, Seven was hampered by Janeway’s pipe-dream of how she should “become human,” when she’d been a borg drone since the age of six or something. For Voyager itself, it hampered writing and exploring her as a character, but it could just as easily be interpreted as an in-universe hampering of Seven’s own development – Tuvok was the only person who seemed to realise that she was essentially a species of one now. So I could see her growing very different – and very much more complete – when away from the Voyager.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Seven and Tuvok is the only friendship from Voyager I could get remotely interested in. I’m still sad they weren’t together more often.

  6. Adam Reynolds

    What really bothers me about so many franchises recently is that they seem obsessed with undoing the positive elements of earlier works. TNG era Star Trek was an inherently optimistic setting that implied that our future would be better than the present, but now they have Reapers and major societal problems. Star Wars likewise went from an optimistic story about overthrowing a corrupt Empire and building a better future, only for the Empire to come back with a new coat of paint and take over the galaxy again. Whether or not the worldbuilding makes sense, I don’t see why there is this obsession with undoing positive endings. While the show generally wasn’t perfect(unlike its predecessor), this is something I love about The Legend of Korra. At least Korra doesn’t face a resurgent Fire Nation, which makes it feel like the Gaang ultimately accomplished something even as Korra faces new challenges.

    Mass Effect’s ending failure is also interesting, because it failed in essentially the same way as Game of Thrones. The writers of both wanted to be clever and surprising, so they wound up with an ending that didn’t make sense and failed to follow through on the characters. Meanwhile Avengers Endgame succeeded by doing exactly what everyone assumed it would, keeping the focus on all of the characters that we’ve become attached to and just letting them win outright.

    I do have a bit more sympathy for bad Trek writing, because it is one of the hardest settings to write in. When the small away team runs into trouble we can either teleport them out of trouble or we can teleport down reinforcements from our crew of hundreds. If we start to run out of supplies we can simply replicate more. We can also use violence with limited consequences, because our weapons are also capable of firing stun blasts with roughly equal effectiveness to lethal shots. As long as someone doesn’t completely die, Starfleet doctors can almost certainly save them in some creative fashion.

    While the technology alone is a problem, the utopian nature of the setting means there is very little room for drama among crew mates or for a character to have personal problems. For characters to be out on the frontier they largely have to be members of Starfleet, which means they are well trained and capable in addition to being morally superior. The problem is that if you follow their ideas through to the logical conclusion they wind up creating a setting that makes it all but impossible to tell dramatic stories.

  7. Mike

    Was anyone else thinking Rios would be revealed as a hologram too? He never seemed to leave the ship. I was a little disappointed when his backstory came out and then he eventually did leave his ship.
    I also think TNG would have covered the story in a double episode, there was so much filler and slow build up. Alternatively coax us in with a more episodic approach but with a more subtle handling of the main arc until a “woah, wait a minute” realisation that something was afoot?
    Bring on season two!

  8. Mona

    I don’t really get why the Romulan warrior nun group would be only women in a world where like sexism and discrimination isn’t a thing and they don’t seem to be especially religious. Plus, Elnor obviously would fit in perfectly if they just weren’t saying ‘no boys allowed’. Idk it just seems kind of weird.

  9. Jenn H

    I swear, producers are like “hey, people like grimdark. Let’s make everything grimdark! Audiences don’t want diversity in their entertainment.”

  10. Nik

    The cycle of storytelling is turning back to the 90’s – grimdark, edgelord, EXXTREMEMME, crank up the body counts. Deadpool, Bloodshot, Venom, Carnage, and isn’t Spawn getting a remake? Writers that can’t get their audience to care, so they just make them puke. How many versions of “I don’t understand how superheroes can be good so I’m make them murderous psychopaths” are we going to have to see before it gets to be too much…again?

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