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Star Trek: Picard Season One Review @SIRPATSTEW @STARTREK @STARTREKCBS #STARTREK #STARTREKPICARD

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the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads … and then resolving them … in one scene or through exposition.

Star Trek: Picard promised much, returning as it would to some of the franchise’s most beloved characters, notably Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself. The eponymous series starts with Picard in semi-comatose retirement, whiling his time away on his vineyard, when, suddenly, his retirement-cum-autoeuthanasia is rudely disrupted by a gatecrashing stranger with an extraordinary story.

The excitement of spending time with Picard and co again was mildly tainted by the stench that this was just an easy paycheque for Patrick Stewart. Plus, his rants on Brexit and Trump, even if you agree, boded badly for this series executive produced by the man himself; would this merely be Stewart in soapbox mode? However, these fears were unfounded. Picard got off to a slow but steady start, before launching into warp nine in the season’s second act, before stumbling and tripping in act three. Did it come off the rails? Not at all. But the ending was unworthy of the journey. The old characters were of course nice, but it’s the new characters that were refreshing: all the hallmarks of classic Trek characters, without feeling derivative. A great new batch of characters for the Trek canon.

If Game of Thrones is the yardstick (bar season eight) for streaming series, then ST:P isn’t quite the full 36 inches. But it’s not bad, either. Far from it. There was no single episode that you could call “poor”, although some were distinctly weaker than others. The worst episode was solid and serviceable; the best: first rate exciting television. This show could go far. But the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads and backstories and then resolving them within the very same episode, worst of all, in one scene or through exposition. This show seems more accessible to non-Trekkies than any other Star Trek series, including Discovery, but still seems Trek enough for Trekkies; maybe it’s found that Goldilocks zone that much of the franchise has failed to find.

All’s well that ends well? Yes. And if the finale had been stronger, season one would have gained a four star rating. But the box-ticking logic-chucking way the first season ended somewhat soured the thing. All in all, I am cautiously optimistic for season two. A good show for Trekkies and a good show for newbs.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E10 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Boxes were ticked …

Star Trek: Picard‘s season one finale, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, sees our heroes hatch a daring plot to prevent the destruction of all biological life at the hands of an advanced god-like artificial lifeform whilst also preventing the destruction of the android planet whose denizens are the ones summoning the aforesaid god-like synths. Classic Trek quandry!

“Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” had a lot of action, fight scenes, starship battles, enemies temporarily allying, faces from the past, moral dilemmas, betrayal, a defence of the Federation’s sacred principles, and a whole lot more beside. Unlike some other episodes, such as episode one, this installment was packed with action and certainly had me engaged from beginning to end. On paper, it was an amazing season-ender. Unfortunately, the entire season’s main storyline was neatly resolved. A little too neatly. Boxes were ticked, and the whole season’s payoff felt flat and without effort. Everything was too easy in the end. For example, despite being a huge, long-time Trek fan, I just did not feel any emotion at the death of a key character which the show’s producers clearly felt was the “emotional” showpiece of this episode. It lacked weight because we already knew that this person wasn’t going to really be dead after all. Everything was too easy.

Forget logic, let’s just resolve away! Huge and absurd plotholes, such as the magical deus ex machina energy-to-matter device. Made no sense whatsoever and was used merely to set us up for an episode which just concluded everything — because it just had to!

The complexity of this season deserved a more complex and subtle set of resolutions. Furthermore, everything was wrapped up. Not even the hint of a cliff-hanger. I cannot imagine how Season Two will carry on the storyline, as there isn’t much of anything left to resolve or carry on. This gives the effect that season one was merely an extended single episode and that the universe is going to effectively reboot with season two. Instead of having an ongoing show arc, are we going to have merely one season arcs? Have the producers figured out a way to stretch the classic Trek double episode into a season-long fare? Will we end up with ten seasons, each compromised wholly of one over-extended and massively fleshed out single episode?

The weirdest thing about the episode is something whose full significance only hit me later when mentally sifting through this episode: the characters in the show have basically discovered a way for people to become immortal. The greatest discovery ever. Yet the significance of this seems to be not recognised by anyone. Truly baffling stuff.

All in all, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” was one of the more action-packed episodes, but it was also one of the weakest. Indeed, I think was bested in the weakness states only by Episode One which was an incomplete episode by necessity (as it sets everything up). All’s well that ends well. Sadly, although this season finale wasn’t bad, it was weaker than the show merited.

A frustrating and disappointing, albeit not bad, end to what has been a frustrating, if promising and exciting, first season. Not the final episode the season deserved.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E9 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

We arrive as aliens ourselves on … some kind of reverse Eden.

I hate plot spoilers. I try my best to avoid them. Unfortunately, when reviewing episodes of a series, it’s almost inevitable that you give certain things away. Even the very act of no longer mentioning a character in itself tells you something. This is unavoidable and acceptable plot spoilage. But what is not acceptable is to smack a massive plot spoiler in the credits sequence. Episode 9, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 1”, plants a massive spoiler flag in the opening credits by declaring “special guest star: so-and-so”. So now we know that that actor is in it and, of course, we know what character they play in the Star Trek universe, so… surprise ruined! Can you not have the cast list at the end of the episode, please?

Leaving meta-considerations aside, this was a disturbing episode which thoroughly upsets our moral compass. We finally arrive on Sojo’s homeworld, our crew making landfall in a less than conventional manner. We arrive as aliens ourselves on a brightly-coloured world with an almost Star Trek: The Original Series vibe about it. It’s full of life yet slightly off-kilter, a realistic and disturbing portrayal of some kind of reverse Eden: I was left unnerved and frightened by what appears to be coming up. Many new important characters are introduced, and it really feels as though the final episode will totally shatter the world we’ve come to know. The stakes have never felt higher.

Picard says in this ep that “it seems these days that all we do is say goodbye” and this episode indeed features two goodbyes. Sadly, they were robbed of some of their emotional value due to, once again, trying to cram everything into one episode. For the umpteenth time, the Game of Thrones Season 8 model doesn’t work; someone let the writers know.

“Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” was stronger and felt more complete than last week’s showing, and we are being propelled towards what promises to be a truly terrific finale. We are made to face the sickening possibility that we, and our heroes, might be on the wrong side of this battle. Consequently, the sadism and fanaticism on the part of the show’s supposed baddies, the Romulans, is beginning to feel less and less consequential next to the threat that the androids are convincingly portrayed as having the potential to pose. However, the rush to the end robbed many moments of a sufficient sense of gravity. None-the-less, this episode did just enough to nudge a four star review.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10073428/mediaviewer/rm3212230145

Star Trek: Picard S1E8 “Broken Pieces” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own …

Episode 8, “Broken Pieces”, thrillingly sets up the season finale two-parter. We are told a lot about a secret Romulan sect and why they are so hell-bent on destroying the androids. And the previously alluded to plot within the Federation dramatically shows up again. We are also tantalised by the prospect of visiting Soji’s homeworld, a prospect set-up in episode 7.

Our fellowship is crumbling before our eyes because our mole aboard La Sirena has been found out. But the most compelling aspect of this episode is that we are reminded that the baddies of the show, those fighting against our heroes, themselves do have very legitimate reasons for what they believe in — they don’t want to see the destruction of all life by synthetics, which is portrayed as a frighteningly realistic possibility. The viewer is suddenly, horribly aware that the heroes and synths we have been rooting for might well be on the wrong side. If only our baddies didn’t seem quite so sadistic, we would want to side with them. To facilitate this end, we see a weak, vulnerable side to Hot Sexy Space Elf, A.K.A., Narissa (Peyton List).

To save us from all this crushing bleakness, comedy relief was much appreciated. This week’s turn at playing the joker was Rios (Santiago Cabrera): all the different holograms who “man” ship look like Rios but all have different personalities, and accents. Honestly, goofy but funny.

Demons of the past rear their heads. Rios struggles with the traumatic moment that led to his leaving Starfleet, and Seven of Nine resists the seductive power of the one true ring, that is, the chance to be a Borg queen. Sadly, whilst Rios’ story convinced, enhanced by a powerful pep talk from Picard, Seven’s was played out with insufficient real peril and thus was robbed of any weight it should have had. Picard has returned to form: rushing the conclusion to plot threads and leaving us with no real emotional pay-off.

After the previous three excellent episodes, this felt like a return to inconsequentialism and exposition. However, it zips along so fast, and we’re so involved in the characters and central storyline, that we almost don’t care. This was tightly written, which is meant both as a compliment and as a criticism; “Broken Pieces” felt like a means to an end rather than also being an end in itself, like the second film in a trilogy. And thus, despite its strengths, it was notably weaker than our more recent outings.

Much intrigue and some fascinating plot developments, but in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own, this episode serving more to structurally set up the series ender. Only juicy action is left to paper over the cracks in the incomplete and fragmented plotting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420290/mediaviewer/rm365279489

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E7 “Nepenthe” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise …

No sooner than our two storylines had converged at the end of the last episode, the fellowship has now fragmented into what looks like three separate story threads. This episode, “Nepenthe”, sees Picard and Soji escape to a secluded Eden-like planet with rich, almost magically regenerative soil. Here they have a genuinely affecting reunion with two of Picard’s old colleagues from the Enterprise [names withheld to prevent spoilers!]. Their mission: to recover from a trauma of their own in this paradise. The performances from our two guest starts here was powerful and believable; surely the genuine affection and love between these two and Patrick Stewart, going back years, bled through into their performance. The tranquility allows all of our characters to reflect deeply on their lives, and gives Soji space to begin to grapple with her true nature, the nature of reality itself, and who she can trust (if anyone).

Meanwhile, Picard’s protégé/personal body guard, Elnor (or “Legolas in Space”, as I like to think of him), is struggling to stay alive and fight off the Romulans on the Borg Cube. We see a real deepening of his character to counteract the goofiness and moodiness we have seen so far. He’s becoming a great addition to the series.

Our mole onboard the fellowship’s spacecraft La Sirena is beginning to struggle with what they have done and, indeed, were commanded to do almost against their will. Surely not long become their demons consume them.

This was a very exciting episode with no serious flaws, lots happened, and there was no sign of the old problems: development and conclusion of entire backstories within one scene and heavy exposition. Additionally, it turns out that one of the characters creates invented languages, which is something of an area of interest for me (believe it or not: see Tolkien’s A Secret Vice). “Nepenthe” is characterised by deep reflections by our characters as they struggle to come to terms with the stories of their lives. A heart-wrenching, gut-churning episode; possibly the strongest so far, but it has stiff competition from the previous two instalments.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420288/mediaviewer/rm1170389249

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E6 “The Impossible Box” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies … the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture.

“The Impossible Box” (S1E6) zipped along at a terrific pace. Picard and Soji are face-slammed directly into moments from their past that they had deeply repressed. Soji’s world begins to unravel as she is confronted with the disturbing reality of her situation, although we end the episode with her still not having had time to fully understand or internalise the situation. There’s some great Borg-based body horror, disturbing scenes where Picard struggles with the memories of his time being assimilated by the Borg. The flashbacks seem to smash through his, and the viewer’s, skull. This episode reminded us why the sci-fi/horror baddies that are the Borg are one of the greatest in all pop culture. And we finally get to see the show’s two storylines merge together.

All of this horrifying action hurtles along while in the background the equally horrifying situation from the last episode, where one of our crew isn’t quite what they appear, gut-churningly, slowly, steadily, threatens to explode at any minute.

All of this darkness is counterbalanced with a bit of sassy Raffi comedy. Thankfully, the comedy has been dialled back to warp factor one and appropriately served to break up what was an action-packed and terrifyingly dark story.

The genius of this episode was not discovering what happens, as we have known what the characters haven’t since episode one, but watching how it unfolds. A truly thrilling episode, and definitely the best so far from a dramatic point of view, although from a general entertainment standpoint I slightly preferred last week’s episode. My only criticism is that Star Trek: Picard really needs to knock its tendencies for exposition and introducing and/or resolving storylines in one scene/episode on the head.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

 

Star Trek: Picard S1E5 “Stardust City Rag” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Jean Luc Picard [puts] on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast …

This week, on Star Trek: Picard.

In “Stardust City Rag” (S1E5), our fellowship sets up a meeting on a dodgy planet to take part in an exchange: one life for another. This place, Freecloud, could have been lifted straight from Star Wars‘ cantina scene, where all sorts of criminals and smugglers and crimelords and aliens mingle in an anarchic power-vacuum region of the galaxy. Fascinating, but I’m not sure it totally sits within the Star Trek universe.

We find out why Raffi, who I’m now very fond of, wanted to leave Picard’s crew and go her own way when the team reached Freecloud. Just like Picard in the previous episode, she has a very weighty personal matter to resolve, a matter that has been hanging over her for years. Unfortunately, whilst Michelle Hurd’s (Raffi) acting more-or-less convinced, that of her counterpart in this scene distinctly did not (Gabe, Mason Gooding). Very disappointing. A big moment with a character I’ve come to care about, and yet I did not care much. Once again, Picard rushes and resolves an issue within the space of a scene or two. The writers do realise that this model, let’s call it the “Game of Thrones Season 8 Model”, is not a fan favourite, right?

This episode was full of zany comedy, including Rios dressed as a kind of intergalactic pimp, Jean Luc Picard putting on the most unbelievable French accent since Ewan McGregor in Beauty and the Beast, and Picard’s manservant-cum-bodyguard-cum-protégé establishing himself as the series’ light relief rather than broody angst merchant (as he appeared in the last episode) — and he seems to be acquiring an increasingly strong Antipodean accent as time goes on (think: the reverse of Deanna Troy in Star Trek: TNG). The writers and actors really pushed the boundaries of tone and good sense here, and they just stayed onside. The result? Back of the net! I loved it. I just hope they don’t camp it up too much; Picard has established itself as tonally distinct from some of the other, campier entries in the Star Trek canon, and it would be a shame to backslide from that or, worse, become tonally confused.

There’s a huge moment towards the end where one of our fellowship unexpectedly acts horrifically. Big drama to follow from this in future episodes, undoubtedly. I’m also starting to notice a pattern more generally: those who have served Star Fleet either get burnt out, go mad, or become numb in order to maintain their commission. The campy, intergalactic comedy romp belied this much darker core.

A lot happened. Great moments. Wonderful developments of some characters through their actions rather than through talking, as has sometimes characterised this show so far. The lightest and, paradoxically, also the darkest episode, this was an excellent outing and without a doubt the most entertaining so far.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.dailydot.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/star-trek-picard-episode-5.jpg

Star Trek: Picard S1E4 “Absolute Candor” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept …

In Star Trek: Picard, “Absolute Candor” (S1E4), Jean-Luc Picard must face an unresolved personal issue from his past. It seems that Picard has apparently spent most of his life crashing around the cosmos, leaving his mark, and running away, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces, like some kind of intergalactic lothario. Our other storyline, set on the Borg cube, is also becoming compelling, marked by increasingly nuanced character interactions between Soji and Narek. This was very much an episode delving into the past and how it shapes the future.

An exciting episode, better than the previous ones. I really felt absorbed in the world, like I’d known our merry band of explorers for ages — yet they only came together at the very end of the last episode. Our fellowship even has two new members, with the addition of a face from Star Trek‘s past, and the other from Picard’s past. I like how our crew feels like it has grown almost organically, giving us a chance to spend a little time with all of them first, instead of just dumping them all on us in the pilot. There was also some compelling racial tension on a de facto apartheid world which Picard refused to accept.

“Absolute Candor” wasn’t flawless, though. The meant-to-be emotional scenes with Picard facing his past seemed a little contrived and poorly acted, which is a shame as the characters involved all seem very interesting in themselves. Furthermore, this seems to be becoming a pattern in Star Trek: Picard; deep backstories, with years of emotional weight and angst behind them, are introduced, developed, played out, and resolved within the course of one episode, thereby robbing them of their full emotional impact. Why not settle these things over the course of several episodes?

Was this episode perfect? No. But there was a good balance of all parts — talk, action, characters being developed through their deeds.

This episode just nudges four out of five, by a nose.

4/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420280/mediaviewer/rm1594395137

Star Trek: Picard S1E3 “The End Is The Beginning” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… Cristóbal Rios, a cynical old space dog who’s swallowed a fermented case of sour grapes …

Star Trek: Picard Episode 3, “The End Is The Beginning”, ups the stakes with a Romulan prophecy, plenty of juicy action sequences, and the forming of a kind of Fellowship of the Ring led by our Frodo-cum-Gandalf lead, Jean Luc.

In general, we warm to our motley collection of newly assembled ring-bearers. However, there were some slightly forced moments, such as Raffi (Picard’s former first officer) constantly calling Picard “JL”; we got the point that they’re close the first fifteen times she cracks out this cutesy name. It seems we’re often supposed to care about the characters for no good reasons other than such quirks and hints at history; sometimes it works, sometimes not.

The introduction of Cristóbal Rios, a cynical old space dog who’s swallowed a fermented case of sour grapes, is a great moment. I’ve been waiting for a big character to emerge in this show, and it might be him. Plus, his ship has an EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) and an ENH (Emergency Navigation Hologram) who are both, despite being identical in appearance to our Cris, completely different and hint at being great characters in themselves, recalling one of the few high points of Star Trek: Voyager: Robert Picardo’s great portrayal of the EMH.

A disturbing scene with an ex-Borg Romulan provides much suspense and tension going into the next episode. We really get the sense that things are now set up nicely and are about to kick off in episode 4.

“The End Is The Beginning” was solid, just like episodes one and two, and it was incrementally better than episode two, which itself was incrementally better than episode one. But despite much intrigue, Star Trek: Picard has yet to really explode. But the future looks bright; the fuse appears lit, the explosion imminent. I would like to give it three-and-a-half stars, but half-stars are for fence-sitting, “not sure” fudgists.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E2 “Maps and Legends” Review #100WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Jean-Luc Picard [must] tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation.

A Romulan plot appears to be afoot within the Federation which, if confirmed, would constitute an act of war. Duty and principle compel Jean-Luc Picard to tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation. Episode two, “Maps and Legends”, is compelling and involves much more show and far less tell than episode one, although it does kick off with a long Dan Brown-style expository scene. Such moments are missed opportunities to build suspense. None-the-less, “Maps and “Legends” was riveting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9420276/mediaviewer/rm2076017665