TV Review – Star Trek: Picard Season One, Episode Four

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Season One, Episode Four – “Absolute Candor”
Written by Michael Chabon
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

At first, I have been annoyed with the lack of Next Generation characters in Picard. But after doing the math, he was captain of the Enterprise for twenty-one years, which is almost the same number of years he’s been retired. I expect he’d drifted apart from his original crew as they received promotions and new assignments. These new people are lower on the totem pole and thus have less to lose. They lack extended family and therefore, can hop on a ship and journey out into space, not knowing exactly where they are headed and what they are in for.

A massive plus for Picard is the depth with which it is developing Romulan culture. For a species that has been an ongoing antagonist for decades, they have never received the sort of development the Klingons have. Through this series, we are seeing the ethnic & cultural diversity that transforms them from cackling villains in exaggerated shoulder pads, not just “evil Vulcans.” The development of the Qowat Milat is interesting, a monastery of religious assassins, which seems very on-brand for the Romulans. Their vow of absolute candor makes them a potentially dissonant group for more etiquette driven humans to encounter.

Picard has an influence on Romulan orphan Elnor, who takes up the swashbuckling manner of The Three Musketeers after the captain gives him the book. I found their relationship interesting but not compelling. I hope they play up the surrogate father aspect in Picard. He has a history of regret about devoting his life to Starfleet while others had families. Now he has a second chance to have a son/grandson in Elnor. Picard has created a potential family here of people without anyone else. Where do they go after this story is resolved? What does Picard do now that he’s crossing the point of no return with the Federation?

I’m finding myself growing irritated with the style of storytelling in Picard, and I think this one season might be my only journey with the series. While things like profanity and sexuality are added to the series, it lacks maturity in the actual storytelling. This goes back to Alex Kurtzmann being the executive producer and his take on Star Trek being incredibly shallow and playing tropes. The romance between Soji and Narek is particularly cringey. This week’s sock sliding in the halls was frankly embarrassing and rang hollow, a forced relationship that doesn’t feel organic.

I was hoping we’d get a story with greater emotional depth, but I should have looked at Abrams-Trek and Discovery as the writing on the wall. It feels like the showrunners almost believe that appealing to what they perceive younger audiences want is the way to go. As I watched the best of TNG and am now watching Deep Space Nine, I’m inevitably comparing what I see. I know Rick Berman held back a lot of progressive culturally in the franchise, and the production values are less, but the stories feel more mature a lot of the time. DS9 primarily uses the episodic format to explore some really profound issues that are relevant even today.

I’m holding out some hope that as the pieces are put into place, we’ll get a more complex storyline that allows moments to breathe a little more while having momentum. I’m worried about the comment that there are more synthetics like Soji out there; we’re on our way to a show that cribs a lot from Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to steal ideas from, but it feels like Picard would be much less of the focus then. Maybe my problem with Picard is the title and feeling that the further we get into the story, the more it will become an ensemble piece, and that cast of characters just isn’t intriguing to me.

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