A few weeks ago I posted about the Star Trek: Picard series streaming on CBS All Access. I addressed the usual super fan complaints that accompany any new Star Trek venture, “Is this Star Trek?” and of course, “this sucks.” I concluded that yes indeed, this was a Star Trek show, and a good one. I was really enjoying it!
I was wrong. I apologize.
For me everything was going great until the two part season finale, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 & 2. So be warned, everything beyond this point is super spoiler territory.
Although I was not on board with every decision along the way to get to the season finale, such as the whitewashing of the murder of Bruce Maddox by Dr Jurati, I assumed that in the finale things would wrap up in a satisfactory way. Nope. Instead…
Doctor Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill): As a cold blooded murderer, I expected either a redemption arc or a justice one. Instead there was neither. Jurati killed Maddox, the person that got the crew together to find in the first place, and then after promising to turn herself in, everyone just sort of shrugged and forgot about it. She goes on to become a full-fledged member of Picard’s Scooby gang with no more mention that she’s a murderer and hey, maybe Maddox, a brilliant scientist, deserved some sort of justice.
Soji (Isa Briones): Soji started out as easily the most sympathetic character, a girl who didn’t understand what was happening to her, and then realizing that all of her memories were false and she wasn’t even human, but a sophisticated android. But then as her memories of her prior robot life return, the Soji that we’ve known through the series became effectively dead. Soji 2.0 goes from being worried about whether she was human or not, to deciding to initiate galaxy wide Armageddon on biological sentient life by contacting the mysterious synthetic race that wipes out biological species that discriminate against robots. That was a pretty quick turnaround from, “Am I human?” to “Destroy all humans!” Skynet would be proud. And now she’s part of Picard’s Scooby gang. I guess attempted genocide is an easily forgivable crime in the 24th Century.
The Romulans: Surprisingly the Romulans, in spite of being Romulans, come out looking pretty good. Having lost their homeworld in the Supernova, the scary Romulan Star Empire is a shadow of its former self. The “Romulan Free State” is a much weaker version, not even able to enforce the Neutral Zone any more. For all intents and purposes, there is no longer a Neutral Zone. And still, they are trying to save the universe from the utter stupidity of Picard and the Federation. Their super duper secret police, the Zhat Vash, has known about the advanced genocidal synthetics all along, and have worked to suppress advanced AI and robotics anywhere and everywhere to avoid attracting their attention. This explains the motivation of the Romulan spies Narek, Narissa, and Commodore Oh. They want to keep the galaxy safe from a far superior race which has exterminated entire biological races before and apparently seem willing to do it again.
And yet they are the “villains.”
The Star Trek Ending: I’ve complained before about the complete hand waving that seems to go along with closing out the conflicts of a Star Trek storyline by a Starfleet officer giving an impassioned speech, and suddenly the enemy lays down his arms and turns his swords into plowshares. The power of a self-righteous Starfleet speech is apparently not to be underestimated, as I noted about the Discovery season one finale in which Burnham gives the Klingon Chancellor one and the Chancellor calls off the attack on Earth, even though at this point the Klingons had all but won the war and their fleet was just outside the solar system, ready for orders. This highlights one of the major flaws of the Star Trek worldview, it loves diversity, but as I noted about the Discovery finale, ultimately doesn’t believe in it.
“…the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.”
So Picard gives an impassioned speech to Soji, and she changes her mind about eliminating every biological species in the galaxy, just like that.
I wonder how that would have played out throughout history…
Starfleet vs The American Revolution
Picard: As an opponent of Brexit, I implore you to lay down your arms and end this senseless conflict. Think about the lives lost…the waste.
General Washington: Your words have moved me Admiral. We started this struggle because we were moved by the writings of enlightenment thinkers, and the very real threat to our right to have representation, but eh, whatever, God Save the King!
Picard: Actually we’re replacing the monarchy with a Federation Council.
Starfleet vs Hitler
Picard: …and that is why, Herr Hitler, you must lay down your arms, cease this pointless conflict to conquer Europe, and stop killing people based on religion and ethnicity.
Hitler: You have enlightened me Admiral. I never realized that Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies shared the same hopes and dreams as Aryans. I could have saved so many bullets if I had known that! And yes, my dream of establishing a united Europe, a common market united under a single currency with open borders was a foolish hope.
Picard: Wait, what? Hold up a second…
Starfleet vs Osama bin Ladin
Picard: …and that’s why, in spite of 9/11, you’ll find that people are pretty forgiving if you pen a sincere apology for your actions and resolve to do better.
Bin Ladin: Admiral you truly bring wisdom surpassing all of our Mullahs. In fact, you’ve convinced me that not only are you wiser than our best religious thinkers, but that all religion is but primitive superstition and that mankind is ready to evolve into a more enlightened species, ready to achieve utopia on Earth via the mechanisms of advanced AI, automation, and universal basic income.
Data (Brent Spiner): Although the character has been dead since the end of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, his presence has loomed large on the show as Picard, even years later, still struggled dealing with the grief and guilt of Data sacrificing his “life” to save Picard’s. So in the finale, Picard meets Data again, or at least a copy of his memories, in a computer simulation. As a final chat, it’s rather touching, as Data requests that when Picard gets out of the simulation, he deletes the Data memory copy. As a character who struggled with being human, he wants an ending to his story; “a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.” It’s a nice speech in which Data makes a point that everything about life has value because it’s temporary, and it really seemed in tune with the entirety of the season, in which Picard is dealing with his own mortality.
Picard (Patrick Stewart): Getting back to Picard’s impassioned speechmaking, after making his final one to Soji, he collapses and dies, finally succumbing under the stress to his long battle with Irumodic Syndrome. His companions mourn him, and if the show had just ended there, all the other flaws could have been easily forgiven. Instead, they copy Picard’s mind, spin it up in a new robot body, and robot Picard lives. They even made one that looks like an 93 year old man that’s weak and will break down after a decade or two. How thoughtful.
Not being a series finale like the Lost ending, it’s probably not fair to compare the two. Also the ending of Lost was simply a result of the writers not being half as clever as they thought they were and they simply wrote themselves into a corner. With Picard, bringing him back to “life” as an android was a deliberate choice, a choice that made Picard’s character arc, as a man coming to terms with his mortality, and Data’s character arc, as a being who wanted to be human so much he was willing to die like one, essentially pointless. And pointless as it was, Robot Picard had no trouble deleting Data. Apparently the writers and showrunners saw not a bit of irony in that.
So the show ends with everyone on the bridge of the ship, Soji, the near genocidal monster, Doctor Jurati, a brutal murderer, and robot Picard, all ready to zoom off into the galaxy for more adventures. For a show and season that I had otherwise enjoyed, that was one of the most stunningly bad season finale’s I’d ever seen. It’s hard to fathom the deliberate choice of making a mockery of Data’s death (or murder at the hands of robot Picard) and the entire premise of the show by having robot Picard plead for more years of existence to his makers.
I wonder if actual human Picard got a funeral, or did they just dump his carcass in the landfill? With Picard dead, who gets his Chateau? It’s a cinch that his Romulan housekeepers, Laris and Zhaban, are not going to consider robot Picard as anything but an abomination, a hideous copy of their dear friend. There is no crying in Star Trek but I do have to mourn what started out as great show and turned into merely a synthetic copy of one.