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“Star Trek: Picard” leans on nostalgia, pulls its punches

The newest Star Trek series is less woke than its immediate predecessor, “Discovery,” but is disappointing nonetheless.

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in the new series "Star Trek: Picard."

Star Trek hasn’t been very good for decades, and it got much worse in 2017, when CBS made an attempt to go woke with the series Discovery. The show had all the strong female protagonists, persons of various colors, and gay love required to reassure liberals of the show’s progressivism and their own moral righteousness. The only Kirk-like, manly man was an evil monster from a parallel universe.

Compared with the worst Star Trek to date, the new series Star Trek: Picard is a breath of fresh air—well, it’s a show full of our nostalgia for Star Trek: The Next Generation, so “fresh” isn’t the right word. And everyone is old now—Picard, Riker and Troi, even Data—so it’s not reliving the past, either.

When the show begins, a catastrophe has turned the Federation away from optimistic liberalism. A deadly android rebellion, coupled with a foreign affairs catastrophe, led to Picard’s resignation from a Starfleet he came to loathe, and to mankind’s stagnation. But the old man is about to die, and he gets one last adventure.

The key to Picard’s appeal is how child-like the senescent Patrick Stewart looks, marveling at the many wonders of the universe and of the human heart in order to rekindle for Starfleet that flame of love, curiosity, and ambition that was its defining characteristic (and which defines American liberalism in the broad sense).

Picard gets a second chance to redeem the Federation from its back-story of failure and suffering. The show turns dangerously close to tragedy at times, making the men and women crewing his new ship almost seem human. But in the world of technological liberalism, there’s no tragedy. Picard’s rhetoric and generous heart eventually solve every problem, and only the equivalent of the original series’ “Red Shirts” die.

So maybe the future isn’t really in danger. Picard rescues liberalism by getting us robots so we can download our souls into machines. After all, you can’t break a machine’s heart. But this is Star Trek—technology is often more human than the human beings, so the androids at the core of the story turn out to be very human after all.

So far are we from tragedy, we’re actually toying with eternal life and power. There you begin to see the problem. In one mood, there is sadness at our faults and failures, a sense that maybe our moralism was too arrogant, not serious enough about the limits necessity and ultimately mortality impose on us. The universe is not simply the playground of our fantasies! But in the next mood, immortal powers solving the human problem are at the tip of our fingers, instantly resurrecting the dead and turning sacrifice into a cheap stunt.

Picard is also constantly apologizing, as though Boomers were all apologizing their Zoomer successors. The character’s nobility was sacrificed to advertising a fantasy. When Picard deals with his failures, choosing mortality, and accepting the limits of human nature, the show is quite impressive, not just affecting. You get glimpses of what mid-century liberalism was like when it was confident, generous, and ambitious. We were all going to go the stars—not suffering miserable epidemics, corrupt partisanship the media sells for advertising money, and endless Twitter hatred.

But the national mood has changed since the 90s. Replaying old fantasies won’t do. This is a pleasant, but disappointing show. Maybe hard knowledge about technology and our own nature is more important than good intentions and proclaiming hippie feelings.

I hope the next season—since there is always a next season—will be better. It should show more respect for the characters who have suffered so much for their liberal idealism—and try to spare us the tenets of liberal ideology. If they tell a good story about the wonders of technology, it might be less creepy than downloading your soul into a machine while preaching tolerance.


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About Titus Techera 25 Articles
Titus Techera is the executive director of the American Cinema Foundation and a contributor to National Review, The Federalist, Law & Liberty, and Modern Age.

6 Comments

  1. Less woke? Not at all, and the impact on the franchise is even worse as fans could ignore STD but they can’t ignore what has been done to Picard’s character in this attack on patriarchy and “toxic masculinity.”

  2. W.a.y. too many women in high places. Seriously all of Star Fleet’s Admirals and leaders are women. It was distracting.

  3. I suspect that the author is not all that familiar with Trek, nor has he watched season 2 of Discovery

    1) I’ll agree that season one of Disc. was weak, and the preponderance of gays was irritating. However, Season two was much better. The assertion of there being no strong Kirk-like character in the show is patently false, if one has seen the entire series. Pike was temporary captain of the Discovery in the second season – strong, idealistic. And part of the purpose of the season was to show the evolution of Spock from the version in The Cage into the version we’ve come to love.

    2) “After all, you can’t break a machine’s heart”? Obviously he’s never seen Requiem for Methuselah

    3) The swipe at downloading a mind into an android? Remember I, Mudd, where that was the promise made to Uhura? Or The Schizoid Man, where Ira Graves downloaded his mind into Data (“To know him is to love him, and to love him is to know him”)

    4) The reason Picard is dying is because of the brain abnormality first mentioned in the TNG series finale. So, it’s tying things up, but they want the series to continue. And, the new body is one that was made by Dr. Inigo Soong – son of Data’s creator, and played by Brent Spiner. The body is actually engineered so that Picard would just have the normal life span that he would’ve had without the brain abnormality. So, it’s not talking about immortality.

    Some objection to the foul language.
    I would remind people of
    1) In Wrath of Khan – McCoy’s “Who’s been holding up the d***ed elevator?”
    2) Picard’s occasional use of the French equivalent of “sh*t” in the TNG

    Now, there are some valid criticisms, but I don’t believe he touched on them beyond Season One of Discovery (which, as I’ve said, was much improved in Season Two).
    One is the implicit denial of an eternal soul – I wonder how they’d get around the Vulcan Katra? And, as always in Trek, the acceptance of sexual libertinism.

    • Excellent, knowledgable points, Mr. Pizzuti. As you note, the reviewer has little command of the (admittedly quite large) Trek background and episodes that were earlier, salient attempts to address the major issues in Picard. And yes, Discovery Season Two, largely on the talents of Anson Mount as Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock, was much better. Here’s hoping for a solid future.

  4. Ah yes, but the chance to watch Patrick Stewart, OBE, on the screen, be it Star Trek, Excalibur, X-Men, or as Charles Dicken’s Scrooge is certainly worth the price of admission.

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