I wasn’t going to write about Star Trek: Picard again so soon until the season had completed but we’re only two episodes in and a few complaints I’ve spotted around the place (not just nitpicks but all out “this is the death of Star Trek” sort of fan nonsense) have compelled me to respond in the only way I know how: pointing out the obvious and how clearly wrong they are.
Not liking either Discovery or Picard is perfectly fine. They’re not going to please everyone and personal taste varies from person to person. As much as I enjoyed Discovery, I’ve admitted that first season was always going to be tough for any long-time fan to adjust to especially after such a long absence (the Kelvin timeline doesn’t count for reasons I’ve been through before). However, teething problems aside, personal taste is just that: personal.
A few of the complaints against Picard so far (which I’m loving by the way) I’ve already addressed in my treatise of Discovery’s first season. But I’ll go through some of them again as well as cover the new complaints.
Please be warned: this will contain SPOILERS for the first two episode of Star Trek: Picard.
Holographic displays and interfaces
Believe it or not there are some fans who have a real issue with the way holograms are depicted in the new series. Some see it as being “too Star Wars”, others see it as too impractical as a means of interface or display, or the way it’s being depicted and used goes against some sort of “canon”.
None of these things are the case, whether it be for Picard or even Discovery.
The major problem with Star Trek’s longevity is that the real world continually catches up with the fictional technology of the future. Star Trek is famous for predicting flip phones, desktop computers, stealth technology, and touch screen and tablets just to name a few. Many behind these real-world innovations were inspired by Star Trek growing up.
The thing is, we’ve spent the last decade using tablet computers and touchscreens, why would that still be the case in 300 years time?
If you go back to the old episodes of The Next Generation, seeing someone using a PADD, or working with multiples of them as a display of how busy and snowed under they are, is rather quaint but to depict that now in 2020 is not very convincing.
Again in a few of those old TNG episode you’ll find examples of holographic displays in use. It could be argued that they were displays instead of interfaces but their presence means they have a place in the Trek universe.
Also, technically speaking, every viewscreen in TNG era Star Trek has been a holographic display in order to create a sense of depth and perception.
Their use in Discovery doesn’t contradict anything either because technological development isn’t always a straight line. Back in my Discovery write-up I noted that holographic communicators were akin to how video calls were meant to be the next big thing in the real world nearly 20 years ago with the introduction of the 3G network but sadly didn’t catch on. And then morphed into Skype and Face Time and to an extent live streaming on the go.
So the use and depiction of such technology neither contradict canon or go against some imaginary tech aesthetic people supposedly have about Star Trek. If anything it shows that time has passed since we last saw life in the 24th century.
But realistically, the seldom use of holographic displays and interfaces in Trek was more about the restrictive television budgets. Now that it’s easier and cheaper to do then why the fuck not?
People really have a hard time with course language in Star Trek and I’m never certain as to why? I’m a swearer and I enjoy it. Even though I’m not as good as him, I subscribe to the Billy Connolly school of swearing.
There’s an elegance and a poetry to it in many instances and contrary to the idea that swearing means a lack of vocabulary (which probably then becomes associated with intelligence and enlightenment that people often associated with Trek’s hopeful future), swear words and expletives provide emphasis and immediacy in ways that regular formal language does not.
James Kirk pretty much made this argument when he explained the prevalence of “colourful metaphors” on 20th century Earth to Spock in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
But people often use this same scene as proof as to the lack of swearing in the future however it’s a very narrow-minded application of such a “proof”, which ignores a few things…
In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard swore under his breath in French. And after he received his emotion chip, Data even swore during the crash landing of the Enterprise-D’s saucer section in Star Trek Generations (which was allowed because the ratings standards for theatrical releases differ slightly to that of television).
Now those are just two examples that I can remember from the 24th century. While they may have be controversial to some, most people were amused by their presence. They also fit, whether you like it or not.
The future events of The Voyage Home were set in 2286. Generations is set in 2371. That is 85 years difference between the two crews. Language evolves not only from century to century but also decade to decade, which also covers Discovery dropping the F-bomb even though it’s set 20 years before The Original Series.
New words, new contractions, new uses for old worlds develop all the time. It doesn’t prevent the idea that words long out of use could come back (see similar in how Deep Space 9 saw a comeback for baseball for instance). Think of all the new words that people use now that weren’t even in use 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago (obnoxious as it is, “stan” is a good example). What about all the words you used in your youth that don’t really get a run anymore or are limited to those your age and older.
Also in regards to the evolving usage of words, “damn” used to be an expletive until it became so widely used that it was no longer the case. In fact its usage is associated with one of the most iconic series of phrases from a certain beloved country doctor on The Original Series… however Dr McCoy never said “damn” or “dammit” on the TV show because of television standards back in the 1960’s.
You also need to remember that isolation and distance can result in dialects differing from region to region. You can drive hours over the border from where I am and pints and schooners and kebabs are apparently different things. Multiply that by lightyears and factor in the various cultures that might be inhabiting that region and it would likely result in even more diverse language.
SO… for a Starfleet admiral in 2399 to exclaim that Picard’s request to be reinstated as “Sheer fucking hubris” isn’t out of step with Star Trek and in particular with what Star Trek: The Next Generation itself had set up over 25-30 years ago.
Realistically, and alternatively, by the end of the 24th century there might actually be a brand new word in place of “fuck” because by then it would be considered too soft or too commonplace.
One of the more amusing bad faith arguments regarding this popped up during Discovery’s first season f-bomb, with some claiming that Star Trek was no longer a family show because of it. Consider that for a moment, and now think back to all the heavy subjects and themes Trek has dealt with over the course of 50 years: ravages of war, PTSD, torture, human rights, sexual assault, body horror, slavery, persecution of LGBTQI+, gay conversion therapy, religion, euthanasia, the list goes on.
Now these aren’t exactly “family friendly” topics and while I’m not saying young viewers should not have the opportunity to learn about these things (Star Trek’s allegorical nature allows for these topics to be more palatable), but if you’re fine with this and yet lose your fucking mind crying “won’t somebody please think of the children” when someone says a “naughty word” then I clearly question your motives, priorities, and understanding of… well anything.
“It looks too much like the Kelvin Timeline”
I’m not sure why that is a problem that goes against the quality of the show?
Look, I’m not the biggest fan of JJ Abrams in terms of him as a storyteller but as a technical and visual director he’s pretty bloody good at what he does. Yeah sure we make fun of his overuse of lens flares but that’s because they seem to be compensating for the absence of a good story (COUGH*INTODARKNES*COUGH).
What’s fascinating about this complaint is that it says more about the stilted manner in which people latch onto the superficial than it does about the creation and production of the show.
Both Discovery and Picard are made 15 years after the last time we saw Star Trek on television and over 25 years since the end of the TNG series. In the last decade, television, especially high-budget prestige television has more and more resembled the production values of major motion pictures. This is partly to do with bigger budgets but also to do with the technology available.
So of course Picard is going to look vastly different to a television show from the 1990’s (I mean it even looks better than the Trek movies from that time too). So this idea that it looks wrong is not even a criticism with any practical basis. It’s on par with a child complaining that their raspberry cordial is red when they demand the “green raspberry cordial”.
For the record I didn’t outright “hate” the 2009 reboot but I did absolutely LOVE Star Trek Beyond but that was co-written by Simon Pegg and directed by Justin Lin.
Now those are actually pretty minor nitpicks that a few people have highlighted as examples of breaking canon but there are a few much more important things some fans overlook, misunderstand, or even refuse to acknoledge…
“It’s become too political/it’s pushing an agenda”
One of the weirdest fucking complaints about new Star Trek is that it’s pushing political ideas or an agenda or been taken over by “SJWs” and “bleeding heart lefties” and the first thing I have to say to that is “What fucking show were you watching all these years???”
These complaints popped up as criticisms to Discovery simply for having a woman of colour as the lead. They reared their ugly heads again when Patrick Stewart revealed in an interview that the new series was a response to Brexit and Trump (and the reason he was compelled to return to the beloved role).
From day dot, Star Trek has always been progressive and forward thinking and left-leaning in its ideas and depictions of Earth in the future. Sure most of it has been relative to the time it was produced (and I’ll come back to that another time) but it’s never really shied away from saying something important.
It’s done so in many of the most memorable episodes that fans keep regurgitating as to why Star Trek is so good or important as a television series. Some have tried to argue that Trek has indeed been political in the past but it’s “always been subtle about it”. Sometimes yes, almost always no…
Also, for anyone complaining that these ideas are being forced or are far too obvious and heavy-handed, think of it this way: There are people right now who are seemingly anti-science as evidenced by all the climate change denial, anti-vax campaigns, and theories about the Earth being flat. And no amount of evidence seems to want to convince them otherwise to the point where measles made a comeback. There are also “trekkies” who apparently spent their whole lives watching Star Trek but have a problem with diverse casting. Let that sink in.
Heavy-handed story telling is perhaps what is needed right now.
This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It’s baked into the DNA of Star Trek, from the stories it tells to the actors it casts, it’s the whole reason it’s lasted as long as it has, because fans keep holding it up as featuring important lessons that we can all learn from about our society.
This video goes into it better than I can…
It breaks “canon”/ “writers treat it like a blank slate”
At the time of writing this, so far nothing of great significance in two episodes of Star Trek: Picard has seemingly broken canon.
I use that qualifier “nothing of great significance” primarily because I have developed a fairly forgiving threshold in my later years when it comes to how tightly a story “needs” to follow canon for it to be good. I’d prefer a legitimately good story be told and if canon gets in the way of that then I’d side with the good story every time. Consistency is still important but that’s not the same thing as canon.
I never used to be like this. I used to quibble about canon and tie it in with quality too.
There is one minor thing that is different and that’s the depiction of the Romulans. In the TNG era they all had slightly more pronounced foreheads in order to make them easily distinct from Vulcans (whom they share a heritage with). But now it seems less so and it also varies from Romulan to Romulan and that helps create variation rather than the bowl haircut monoliths they were previously (also remember that in TOS and movie era the Romulans pretty much looked exactly like Vulcans). But minor aesthetic elements are hardly deal breakers.
I do find the fleshing out of the Romulans rather interesting, in particular the revelation in episode 2 of Picard that Romulans have a distrust of artificial intelligence. And in particular a secret sect known as the Zhat Vash hate synthetic lifeforms and may be behind the current goings on.
Now some have looked at this as a retconn. Honestly, I’m not sure it is because there’s little to nothing that disputes it (even Romulans interacting with Data in the past may not have been aware he was an android considering the diverse lifeforms in the galaxy). Even if it is a retconn I have zero issue with it (I mean, the Romulans were somewhat boring during most of the TNG era really).
Unfortunately, a few idiots have looked at this to mean that Romulans hate technology, which is obviously not the case. This distrust of A.I. is similar to how so many in the real world have paranoia (genuine or “internet ironic”) about robots achieving sentience and destroying humanity… anyone heard of The Terminator? 2001: A Space Odyssey? Westworld? I’m sure there’s a Black Mirror episode about this very thing.
So far in Picard, it’s followed canon as best as I can tell when it comes to important plot points as well as major events. Even the stuff I personally wish would be retconned out of existence (anything to do with Nemesis actually). It’s B4 inside of the drawer at the Daystrom Institute and not Data and they reference Bruce Maddox, the scientist that wanted to dismantle Data 30 years earlier in order to study him and recreate the technology.
There’s even mention of Picard having an abnormality in his parietal lobe that could lead to any number of degenerative syndromes and eventually be fatal. This alludes to the TNG finale “All Good Things…” (the future portions were set around the decade Picard is set) where future Picard is diagnosed with Irumodic Syndrome. So that’s a nice touch.
In fact I’m actually not sure what else people are referring to when they claim the writers aren’t respecting the past. There’s a fair bit of fan service going on at the moment and it’s not overt or jarring. It’s very Marvel Studios in how it handles it so far and when you think about it Star Trek was pretty much doing the connected universe franchise thing long before the MCU.
The closest thing I can see that even comes close to a criticism of breaking canon is actually incorrect and sort of (understandably to a point) misguided.
Earth is meant to be a Utopia
Look, I’ve been through this once before but it bears repeating and expanding upon. So many fans are adamant that Star Trek is about a better future and that Earth and the Federation are meant to be this ideal Utopia and that it has always been like that.
This is actually partially incorrect on many fronts.
Star Trek has never really been ABOUT a better future or a utopic vision of Earth, it simply DEPICTED such, and to varying degrees. Trek has been more about holding up a mirror to today’s problems and trying to get people to understand said issues. It would be more accurate to say that Star Trek GIVES people hope for a better future.
The idea that all of humanity were above petty squabbles and got along with one another was the basis for so many script writing problems in the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation. The lack of conflict among the main crew, or other humans, for a while there made for very dull and silly stories. There were only so many alien viruses to cure, anomalies to explore, and malfunctioning holodecks to escape from. The documentary Chaos on the Bridge, hosted by William Shatner, goes into this in great detail.
But if you analyse the nitty gritty of this idea within the entire franchise you begin to see how often that concept of an ideal future with an evolved humanity has been challenged over and over from different viewpoints. Even with Jean Luc himself.
In the first episode of Picard we learn about the Federation’s ban on the creation of Synthetic lifeforms as well as the revelation that the Federation decided not to help the Romulans in the lead up to their solar system going nova. Many see this as Picard breaking canon because the Federation are meant to be humanitarian and help others and isn’t xenophobic.
And yet, so much of Star Trek has set a precedent for how easy that can change.
In The Original Series episode “Balance of Terror” Spock faced bigotry from a fellow crew member (who had relatives die in the war with the Romulans), when it was revealed that Romulans looked exactly like Vulcans (no one had seen one during the entire conflict supposedly).
At its core, the story for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was about the dangers of refusing to change and embrace progress and it featured a secret cabal of Federation members plotting to sabotage the Kitomer Accords because of their distrust of Klingons (Kirk himself twice admitted his own hatred toward them for the death of his son, once in a log entry and the other time to Spock and was the basis for his character arc in this film).
It’s also important to remember moments like this… The late Brock Peters found it difficult to deliver his lines in ST6 because of Admiral Cartwright’s anti-Klingon sentiment requiring multiple takes. Yet he knew the importance of the message the movie was trying to convey and pushed through it to get it done.
The very idea of future humans with evolved sensibilities was challenged in another fan-favourite film Star Trek: First Contact when we saw Picard’s PTSD and need for revenge hide behind the arrogance of being a more “evolved” human.
Even the morality behind “the ends justify the means” was centre to various stories on Deep Space 9. What lines are people willing to cross in war? They dealt with this with the introduction of Section 31 (which I liked when it was hinted at. It’s full exploration in Discovery isn’t quite gelling with me) and they also used main characters to do this!
Did you know the racial slur for Cardassians is “spoon head“? This came about in an episode of Deep Space 9 and was used by both Bajorans (who suffered at the hands of the Cardassians under their occupation regime so maybe that’s understandable?) as well as Federation (read: human) veterans who fought the Cardassians. If humans were so “enlightened” would they have such a slur?
Not only that, why is there a cavalcade of admirals and other high-ranking officers who are just so fucking bad at upholding the ideals that Starfleet and the Federation claim to represent? One broke a treaty in order to illegally develop cloaking technology, another was an accessory in the forced relocation of a people in order to extract their resources, there was the admiral who conducted a witch hunt in order to feel important again, and then there was the guy who faked Earth being infiltrated in order to be able to declare martial law.
Speaking of enlightened society, would it not already have provisions for the rights of sentient artificial life forms? Even with Data being the only android of his kind in existence and with as distinguished service record as his, it still required a trial to determine that he was not property of Starfleet but an individual with rights and freedoms like any other living being. It took this same trial to bring up the possibility of creating a race of slaves, something you’d think an enlightened people would automatically be opposed to.
Now it’s understandable that most fans look at that episode as think that’s it. Case closed. Starfleet have learned their lesson, equality for androids but no (a little like the real world)… because a couple of years later when Data “builds” a daughter, Lal, the top brass are at it again.
And even with all his rights as a sentient being recognised by Starfleet, when given temporary command of a starship for a single mission, Data still is faced with casual bigotry by his first officer.
Now all of this is background and set up for a good portion of what’s happening in Star Trek Picard. In episode 2 we see that Starfleet have indeed created androids and utilised them as a labour force. They all eerily resemble Data, are identical (at least the group we see so far), and don’t quite have realistic human behaviour down pat. The crew on Mars that work with them are amused by them, and don’t think of them as living beings. Pretty consistent with past episodes of Trek.
Now instantly, there are fans who would look at this and cry fowl that Starfleet would NEVER do this… but they already did once before.
In the Voyager episode “Author, Author” it’s revealed that the first generation Emergency Medical Holograms throughout the Alpha Quadrant had been reassigned to menial and laborious tasks such as conduit scrubbing and dilithium mining instead of being deactivated when they were replaced. In that same episode, the EMH aboard the USS Voyager is fighting for his rights as a sentient being (much like Data did in previously cited TNG episode “The Measure of a Man”).
There’s actually quite a lot to unpack about this episode but as well-intentioned as it was, it’s rather flawed in the execution. However, it’s also canon that Starfleet did not extend the same rights and freedoms it awarded Data to any other artificial sentient life form and is not above re-purposing artificial life-forms for manual labour.
What’s fascinating though, in spite of what this episode set out to do, many fans argue that holograms really are just programs and tools and not sentient beings. Some of that has to do with the mentality of some fans, some of that has to do with their lack of understanding of the differences between a standard holographic character and one that has learned to grow and expand beyond their programming, and some of it is to do with the episode itself not making that delineation clear.
In any case, I say again, it’s canon.
So, the “synths” going rogue and being responsible for the destruction of the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars and the deaths of over 90,000 people resulted in the ban on synthetic lifeforms. Such a ban is not unprecedented in the Trek canon.
Although it’s fairly inconsistent throughout Star Trek, there were certain types of genetic engineering and modification that were deemed illegal in the wake of the Eugenics Wars on Earth during the 20th century. It was a ban meant to prevent the creation of other superhuman tyrants like Khan.
I say inconsistent because there have been episodes of Star Trek that involved genetic modification and experimentation as either part of medical procedures or as sanctioned studies. But for the most part no one seems to care (ie some may argue that these stories may have broken canon). In any case, knee-jerk bans based on fear and for the purposes of prevention have existed in the Federation for centuries.
There will be people that break the law to get what they want, there will be those who cross the line to do what they think is for the greater good, there will be backward steps a society loses its way or grows complacent, there will be blind spots due to arrogance. Understandable too considering how much death and devastation they had to go through over the centuries: war with the Romulans, the Klingons and subsequent “Cold War” with them, the Borg, border disputes with Cardassians, and of course the one we all saw unfold in multiple seasons of DS9 – the Dominion War.
Is it any wonder people in Starfleet are going to crack?
Earth of the future, Starfleet, the Federation, isn’t 100% as squeaky clean and perfect as fans pretend it is and they’ve never really had an issue before now.
What should be the focus here is that these challenges and flirtations with morality should be seen as mountains to conquer for our characters as they rise above it to become the beacons of hope and a better humanity.
There is one question I’ll offer up and tackle next time: By what definition is Earth considered a Utopia?
I must admit, about 85% of this is what I remember off the top of my head from 50+ years of Star Trek, the rest I had to look up and confirm. And yes, there is a lot to back up my counter-arguments to the complaints being levelled at this new era of Trek.
So why all the effort?
Well, apart from the fact that I like to be thorough, there is a delicious irony in all the “gate keeping” and claims of “real fans” versus the accusations of “fake fans” from all the naysayers and haters to the new series. I find it so amusing that alleged “long time fans” (as if that means anything) don’t know, let alone understand, the source material they claim to love. And all the complaints are so easy to dispute with simple to find examples.
In all honesty, not liking any of the new Star Treks isn’t a problem, you’re allowed to not like any of it. Again personal taste is different for everyone. But making up stupid reasons that have zero evidence to back it up and make little to no sense just sets you up for a bigger fall. Not knowing any of the stuff I just laid out does NOT make you a “bad fan” of less of a fan either, you like what you like. But conveniently ignoring it all because you don’t like the current iterations is poor form and does define the type of fan you are.
If it’s about holding onto the past and forsaking all new stuff because it “isn’t as good as the original” (and trust me as a vintage toy collector and a male fan who was once in his twenties) then that is very limiting and small-minded but you really have to be able to admit that. I mean can you believe that once upon a time people hated the idea of The Next Generation?
This was going to be a bit longer than it already is but the final part (which is more of an extended analysis about some of the scarier thoughts concerning Star Trek fandom will be saved for another time. Again, you don’t have to like new Star Trek, you just have to be honest with yourself about why.
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