Star Trek: Picard’s First Season Is a Rough but Worthwhile Journey

I’ve had very mixed feelings on Star Trek: Picard’s first season, which wrapped up last night (spoilers ahead).

The official logo for Star Trek: Picard.Certainly, there’s a lot to like about it. Aesthetically, it’s masterful. The special effects, cinematography, art design, and soundtrack are second to none. The acting is also excellent throughout, and most of the characters are excellent.

Patrick Stewart’s Picard is of course flawless as ever. That goes without saying. I also deeply enjoyed the guest appearances by Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine. Jeri Ryan is a great actress, but Voyager’s writers never did her justice. Seven mostly just felt like a cheap Data knock-off with added fan service in the form of a ridiculous skin-tight catsuit.

Picard finally gives Seven of Nine the development she deserves (and reasonable clothes). She’s probably more fleshed out in a few episodes of this show than she was in all of Voyager, and it’s just a delight. I’m quite happy with the not-so-subtle implication that she will be promoted to main cast next season.

Many of the new characters impress, as well. My favourite by the end of the season was probably Romulan warrior-monk Elnor, who is as sensitive as he is deadly.

Can I just say how utterly I love the Qowat Milat? In my head canon, they are the “true” Romulans. I think their philosophy is the original Romulan culture that existed from the Time of the Awakening, when they were Vulcans marching Under the Raptor’s Wings. The Qowat Milat’s philosophy is the exact counterpoint to Surak’s teachings. Instead of repressing their emotions, they express them all, without reservation or hesitation. Instead of cold pragmatism, they live to fight for only the most hopeless of causes.

I love this because it makes the Romulans so much more than just the evil cousins of Vulcans. Clearly their culture was corrupted somewhere along the line, but the Qowat Milat shows it was built on something beautiful and unique.

Evan Evagora as Elnor on Star TreK: PicardAs a long-time Romulan fan, I’ve wanted to see them get this kind of development forever, and even if nothing else about Picard had been good, the whole thing may have been worth it just for this.

However, for all the positives this show has, I spent most of the season feeling more dissatisfied than anything. There’s much good, but also a lot of flaws.

I did say that a lot of the new cast is good, but not all of them. For me the biggest weak link was Raffi. She’s just a shambling mound of manufactured drama without any sincerity or believability.

What makes matters worse is she’s in the same show as Rios, who is basically the exact same character except better. They’re both Starfleet officers who had personal breakdowns following painful events.

But Rios suffered genuine, horrific trauma, and even after that he maintains obvious competence and nobility of spirit. Meanwhile Raffi abandoned her family, gave up on life, and became a junkie simply because she got fired. That might work as a story in a contemporary setting, but with the boundless opportunities and flawless social safety net of the Federation, it just doesn’t work.

That’s the trouble with writing in a utopian setting. You can’t just forget it’s a utopia when it becomes convenient to the plot.

I was also disappointed with the handling of Soji’s storyline. It pains me to say that because she’s a character with enormous potential. A representative of a new race of artificial life, the living legacy of Data himself. That’s a wonderful character concept.

Isa Briones as Soji Asha on Star Trek: PicardUnfortunately they never really use her for anything. She is, when you get down to it, the archetypical damsel in distress. She’s just there to be acted on by others and, ultimately, to be a goal for Picard to chase.

I hope this changes in future seasons, because honestly I love the actress and the character, and she deserves better.

But by far my biggest issue with season one of Picard was how bleak and grim it felt. In a world where cynicism rules the day and our media seems to be in a race to the bottom to see who can provide the most shocks and wallow most deeply in the worst aspects of humanity, a series about Jean-Luc Picard felt like the perfect opportunity to bring back the hope and inspiration that Star Trek has so long stood for. Discovery certainly hasn’t delivered on that front.

But for much of the series it seemed determined to continue wallowing in all that is awful. We saw a broken Picard and a broken Federation, and through it all there seemed little cause for anything resembling hope.

The series hit its nadir about halfway through the season with the episode “Stardust City Rag.” Despite a stellar performance from Jeri Ryan, this episode was so off-putting I almost gave up on Picard then and there.

Icheb’s brutal death was too much — it was just torture porn, pure and simple. I’m not opposed to Star Trek going to dark places — I think any effective drama should be prepared to do so — but there’s a difference between depicting bad things and sadistically reveling in the most gruesome, horrific events imaginable. Forget Star Trek; this scene wasn’t appropriate for any media save a slasher film.

Agnes in Star Trek: Picard.But what bothered me even more was the reveal that Dr. Jurati — up to that point the most lovable member of the cast — was a murderous traitor. With her innocent manner and boundless curiosity, Jurati had struck me as Picard’s representative of Star Trek’s spirit of optimism and exploration. Her turning out to be a villain felt like the writers communicating that Star Trek’s hopefulness was well and truly dead.

My interest in the series almost didn’t recover from that, but I clung on, with the slightest ghost of hope remaining. Picard is perhaps the most serialized TV series I’ve ever seen. It’s all one continuous story, making it almost impossible to judge each episode as an individual unit. Because of that, I held out hope that my faith would eventually be rewarded.

Against all odds, it was.

At the last moment — almost but not quite too late — Picard turns around and finally embraces the inspirational nature of what Star Trek should be at its best. The image of Jean-Luc Picard making a suicide run against hundreds of Romulan warbirds in a tiny passenger ship just to save a bunch of people who want to destroy him and everything he holds dear because he believes they are still worth saving is just about the most “Star Trek” thing ever, and it deserves to be remembered as one of the iconic moments of the entire long franchise.

Virtually everything about the season finale is damn near perfect. It doesn’t entirely erase all of my complaints, but it does counterbalance them enough to make the whole rough journey feel worth it.

I also have to say as much as I love a good cliff-hanger, I appreciate the courage of ending the season with a largely happy conclusion, with no new crisis to confront. It’s a daring choice in a world where the media is an arms race of ever bigger shocks and ever more endless drama.

Soji, Rios, and Picard on the bridge of La Sirena in Star Trek: PicardIn fact, the finale was so good it makes me wonder if we really need a second season. This is such a satisfying ending it could just as easily work as the conclusion to the series. Of course, presumably the Reapers are still out there (because Star Trek turned into Mass Effect somewhere along the line), so the potential for more is there, but I’m not sure the need is there.

All in all, it was a very imperfect season, but it does eventually pay off.

Updates: A New Gig, Stargate, Three Worlds, and More

I’m sorry for not posting more lately. I’ve been very busy. There are a lot of things going on at the moment I would have in the past done deep dive posts on, but I don’t have the time or energy these days. I didn’t want to leave this blog to rot, though, so I’ll do a quick rundown of all that’s new.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionFirstly, part of the reason I’m so busy is that I’ve picked up another new writing gig. I’m not sure how much I’m contractually allowed to say in public right now, but I can say that it’s writing Dungeons and Dragons adventures. It’s not for Wizards of the Coast; it’s a third party producing adventures under the Open Gaming License. It’s a fairly well-established company, though. I already knew them before I even applied for the job.

It’s also not clear to me if this is a short-term thing or something that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I think it depends on how happy they are with my work.

Professional game design is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m glad to have the opportunity, but the workload is more than I’m used to, so it’s taking a lot out of me. Someone without my disabilities would probably be fine, but for me it’s taking a lot of energy. To their credit, my new employers have been pretty patient and even made accommodations to work with my unpredictable schedule.

This has delayed work on my own tabletop game, Wyrd Street. I’m unsure if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I do plan to talk about it at some point. For now the short version for those who haven’t already been told about it is that it’s a D20-based RPG about ordinary heroes in a fantastical world. It draws a lot of inspiration from the earlier sections of Dragon Age II.

The idea at the heart of it is that anyone can be the hero, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of you or what struggles you might have in your life. You might not be a hero of legend, but you can be a hero to the people who depend on you. You might not save the world, but you can still save someone’s world.

That’s on the backburner while I focus on the new job, but I hope to get back to it at some point. Early play-tests were going well. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Several people have said they enjoy combat in Wyrd Street more than in 5E.

The Stormfall palace in Wolcen: Lords of MayhemOn the video game front, those who follow my column on Massively Overpowered may have noticed I got sucked into Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem. I just finished the campaign, and I definitely want to play more, but I also have a lot of other stuff in my backlog I want to get to, and while I think Wolcen’s polish issues have been exaggerated, waiting for a few more patches to smooth out some of the rougher edges doesn’t seem like the worst idea. We’ll see how I feel; the combat and the build system in that game are just so addictive.

I did finally break down and pick up Nier: Automata on a Steam flash sale recently, so I hope to get to that soon, as well. Still a lot left to do in Star Trek Online, too.

Speaking of sci-fi, now that I finally have a library card, I discovered they have the entire series of Stargate: SG-1 on DVD, so I’ve been binge watching through that.

Despite the fact I’ve seen every episode of Atlantis and Universe, I’d only seen bits and pieces of SG-1 prior to now. I got interested in it pretty late in the game, and it was never on TV at times that were convenient to me. Then I didn’t have a TV. DVDs are too expensive, and there’s never been a convenient way to stream it.

But now I’m finally getting to watch it all in order. I just started on season four, and the show finally seems to be find its footing.

I won’t lie; if I didn’t know for a fact the series gets better, I might have given up on SG-1 in the first few seasons. It’s not that it’s terrible or anything, but it’s not enormously compelling either, and some aspects of it really haven’t aged well. It does feel like it’s starting to find more of a voice now, though, and I know the best is yet to come.

I’m also binging Welcome to Night Vale pretty hard right now. I got tickets to a live show in my area for later this month, and while I know it isn’t strictly necessary, I want to be fully caught up before I go. I’ve “only” got about twenty episodes left now, though I also want to listen to the recordings of all the previous live shows, and I haven’t touched those yet.

Official art for the audio drama Welcome to Night ValeI also finally tried one of the other shows by that company, Alice Isn’t Dead. Only listened to a few episodes so far, but my first impression is it’s really damn good. A bit Secret World-esque, and I adore Jasika Nicole’s voice. Wish I could get her to narrate my life.

Finally, when it comes to books, I just got done reading a collection of short fiction set in Ian Irvine’s Three Worlds setting, A Wizard’s War and Other Stories. It was fine and all, but I definitely expected more. None of the stories really jumped out as being super memorable. Don’t regret reading it, but it’s definitely not essential, even if you’re a serious Three Worlds fan.