‘Star Trek: Picard’ can’t stop drawing attention to its own lapses in logic
Having characters point out rough plotting is no substitute for better writing.
The following episode discusses Star Trek: Picard, Season Three, Episode Five, “Imposters.”
Efficient storytelling is not a strength you can traditionally attribute to Star Trek: Picard, which has often felt padded. Each of its three seasons have felt like one or two made-for-TV-movies' worth of story stretched thin to ten near-hour long episodes. Nowhere is this more evident than in this season’s fifth episode, where five minutes of plot is expanded to a full episode. Here, Team Picard learns that Starfleet has been infiltrated by super-Changelings before teaming up with Team Worffi. Oh, and Beverley, who has been in relatively close contact with him for most of his life, has finally noticed that Something Is Up With Her Son. But even that fairly slender advance in the plot has to take a back seat to the main centerpiece of the episode: The moment when Picard stands face-to-face with [CHARACTER].
The power of [CHARACTER’S] return is all held in the moment that they step into camera focus, such is the extent of the surprise. After all, there are textual and meta-textual reasons why you wouldn’t expect to see them popping up in any Star Trek, let alone this one. For a start, their plot was done after they – for right or wrong reasons – betrayed the Enterprise crew in [TNG EPISODE]. And, of course, [ACTOR] had been expected to make the transition to Deep Space Nine, but turned the role down. In fact, esteemed Trek wiki Memory Alpha suggested they were even offered a role in Voyager, either as a regular or as a guest star, and similarly turned it down. If there’s any person who you’d think was never coming back to any Star Trek, it would be [ACTOR]. And not even I, much as you keep telling me I’m a cynical hater expressing these opinions to milk your hate-clicks, was immune to the initial flush of emotion seeing them in a Starfleet uniform again.
Unfortunately, the main confrontation between Picard and [CHARACTER] is dulled by both the needlessness of it all, and its execution. The pair talk about their “faith” in “institutions” or the lack of such, and why this is or is not a good thing, but I don’t feel any of this. Part of it is the streaming era-Trek problem of telling us things rather than showing, so we have these gestures toward a grander theme that are never properly explored on screen. But it’s also because many of these themes were already well-explored on Deep Space Nine, even if the execution there was always a little hamfisted. After all, while there was every sense that we should side with the Maquis – don't forget that they were the little people tossed aside by the grand machinations of empires with no care of the lives that were directly impacted. But this is Star Trek, and so whatever the problem, whatever the grand conundrum at hand, the answer is pretty much always Starfleet.
Picard’s obsession with continuity for the sake of itself does little more than remind us of older, better Treks. I might as well add, because it’s been on my mind for years at this point, that there’s a YouTube clip from the DS9 episode “For The Uniform” describing Sisko as a “badass.” Specifically because he carries through a threat to sterilize a planet to inflict petty revenge on Commander Eddington, who he felt betrayed Starfleet to go support the Maquis. This is the Star Trek problem in a nutshell: Sisko’s in the wrong here, but the show can never quite allow us to stop sympathizing with our hero because he’s our hero. Picard, this year, has behaved pretty illogically, and recklessly, and yet because he’s our hero too, the show can’t quite question his actions in anything more than a single line of sassy dialog from Riker.
I don’t consider myself pharisaical in my approach to continuity, and I do think that it can be a benefit to storytelling rather than a burden. But Picard’s use of golden-era Trek deep cuts often takes me out of the show as I wonder how this tracks in any way logically. Picard himself even says as much, asking how in the hell [CHARACTER] wound up back in a Starfleet uniform. She explains the “arduous” process taken to get back into the fleet, but I couldn’t help but interrogate this further. Imagine if a mid-level officer in the US Navy put a major aircraft carrier in any degree of jeopardy to cover their own defection to an (ostensibly) enemy terror group? Do you think any military organization worth its salt would allow that same person to serve in active, regular duty again? And if anyone says “but Tom Paris…” bear in mind that he was a) a Nepo Baby, b) Wasn’t with the Maquis for very long and c) Wasn’t expected to serve once he’d done his time assisting Voyager during its short trip into the badlands.
And then [Character] dies in a set-up to implicate the Titan, and you wonder if death will be doled out so cheaply in the rest of the series. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had whole seasons of Picard structured around saying farewell to long-running characters.
There’s not much to say about this week’s b and c-stories because they feel so derivative and shallow. Worf and Raffi’s plan to smoke out the villains with a fake-out sniper that’s instantly foiled feels pulled from an early-noughties thriller. The fact it was counter-foiled by a fake-out death on Worf’s part felt thin too, there’s no way you’d bring back Michael Dorn just to off him so cheaply. And on a similar theme, Jack is yet another streaming-era Trek character with the Jason Bourne disease; troubled by visions of a secret past that keeps going into a phaser-fu fugue state whenever placed in danger. A storyline so stale it was already covered with mold when this very series did it with Dahj and Soji in its first season. I haven’t seen any episode after the next one, so I genuinely don’t know how this particular plotline is going to resolve itself. But I’ve seen those threads on Reddit, and if it’s true, I’m really going to sigh myself in two if we’re doing this same stuff yet-a-bloody-gain.
Speaking as a parent, if my kid coughs more than twice in their sleep in quick succession, I’ll just stick my head into their bedroom door to check if they’re okay. If I was the chief medical officer on a starship that spent more than a decade at the far reaches of known space investigating weird stuff, I reckon I might have a tricorder or two at hand. And if my kid stopped being able to sleep, was troubled with dangerous visions and his eyes started to glow red in moments of emotional or physical turmoil, I reckon I wouldn’t keep it to myself until he reached adulthood. In fact, I might even have thought to take them to a hospital or biobed myself just, you know, to be on the safe side. Just a thought, Beverly.