Star Trek: Picard – Season 3 Episode 8
Star Trek: Picard deals with Vadic being in control of the Titan as brothers fight for dominance.
Narrative momentum definitely isn’t one of this show’s strengths. Vadic’s backstory was finally brought to light in the previous episode but there are still so many questions to be asked and not a lot of time to deliver as well as explore those answers. Accusations of time being wasted are entirely valid as this show has spent seven episodes -now eight- telling the viewer almost nothing. Progressing plot isn’t the be-all and end-all of storytelling as episodes that don’t further the plot can be valuable in their own ways. Recently, The Last of Us delivered two episodes that don’t progress the story the season was telling but showed the value of focusing on character to broaden the scope of the show itself to add weight to that story. It was an expert command of storytelling as it gave the viewer more reason to be invested in the progression of that story.
That isn’t what Picard is doing. In actuality, there are endless delays to either disguise the fact that there isn’t enough story to actually fill the season or cover up the fact that the writers aren’t skilled enough to make the developments mean something. The “Mystery Box” has become prevalent in storytelling since Lost popularised keeping audiences hooked with an enduring mystery. There are earlier examples but Lost is widely considered to be a moment in pop culture and has been frequently imitated. Having not watched all of Lost, I can’t personally speak to whether that show delivered satisfying answers to what it spent a long time developing but I can speak to the same problem existing in a lot of other TV shows. The worst examples of “Mystery Box” storytelling operate on the basis that the details of what is being withheld are most important. This often means that answers don’t come until the end of the season when there isn’t enough time to explore them.
Vadic’s backstory is a clear example of that. Information about her was withheld until the previous episode and the reveal largely amounted to details and facts with light emotional underpinning. The answers weren’t worth waiting until the seventh episode of the season to learn which meant that the answer to the mystery was unsatisfying when compared to the time spent waiting for it. Saying that the season built up to the answer would be far too generous as all that happened was that there were reminders of what was already known rather than providing new information to entice the viewer to want to know more. Leaving the answer until such a late point in the season left very little time to explore the implications of her backstory. It isn’t that her backstory wasn’t interesting because it very much was but the reaction to it was superficial and buried among everything else in the episode. Revealing it earlier in the season would have provided much more opportunity for it to be meaningful.
More frustrating is that Vadic meets her end in this episode which makes the delay in revealing her backstory and motivation even more meaningless. It was established relatively early on that she answered to someone else so wasn’t the mastermind behind whatever the Federation-threatening plot is. Vadic having a boss isn’t a problem as she could still be an integral part of the season if the writers had put the work into developing the complexities of her hatred of Starfleet and the hero characters dealing with the knowledge of the atrocities committed by the organisation they swore an oath to. Those things are more interesting than the simple shock reveal of the backstory and would add actual weight by exploring it from multiple angles. Instead, it’s brought up in one episode and Vadic is killed in the next without even bringing it up again. It’s worth noting that the writers appear to have forgotten that Changelings can survive in space as has been repeatedly shown. In this show, they can also be killed with bladed weapons so there seems to be a lack of proper research into the lore that is so heavily referenced. The identity of her boss hasn’t even been revealed yet and only two episodes remain. How can this come to a satisfactory conclusion at this point when there’s almost nothing to work with after 80% of the season has been completed?
As stated above, other than being details that explain why Vadic is on a mission of revenge, her backstory proves meaningless. She resumes her status as the cackling monologuing maniac demanding Jack be turned over to her. Her dramatic promise to reveal the truth about him at the end of the previous episode turns out to be a manipulative tease with no payoff in this episode. She makes vague statements about Jack hearing voices with a strong indication that she hears them too but nothing more than that is delivered. The bulk of her contribution to the episode is spent threatening the hero characters over the comm system while holding the bridge crew hostage. She utilises some well-worn tactics from the villain playbook such as isolating the heroes and presenting them with ultimatums. She also shows she’s serious by killing one of the bridge crew, something that might have more impact if any effort was made to define these people beyond the bridge station they inhabit. In fairness, an attempt was made by establishing that one of them she doesn’t kill has a son and the loss is impactful because of Jack struggling with the lives his safety has cost. His possession ability offers more opportunity for him to be faced with that cost as he directly feels the pain of the crew dying to protect him. It doesn’t receive a lot of attention but it adds to his understanding.
Jack’s reaction to the current situation may seem to show his growth over the course of the season but it’s actually largely a reminder of traits he already has. He was introduced as being compassionate and with a strong desire to help others as evidenced by his previous role as an intergalactic good samaritan providing medical aid to those in need with his mother. The key difference between then and now is his willingness to be an active participant in events rather than trying to manipulate his way out of trouble. He’s willing to give himself up at first and later put himself in harm’s way in order to protect the crew. It’s a small development but an important one as it shows a recognition that he has to take direct responsibility rather than sneak around it.
Vadic’s death is made possible by Data but Jack’s intervention secured the survival of the rest of the bridge crew as Vadic is willing to spare them now that she has what she wants. There isn’t much to say about her death other than it is presented as a bombastic victorious moment with the swelling score as her frozen body shatters on impact with the Shrike’s hull followed by the destruction of the Shrike itself. It’s unquestionably a victory as Vadic, her crew and the Shrike have been plaguing them since the first episode and the score declares that it’s a major achievement. The reality is that it’s largely empty because the show has provided almost no reason to invest in the threat Vadic represents beyond her having a powerful ship and a relentless determination to achieve her objective. She was a shallow antagonist so her death and the destruction of the Shrike amount to nothing more than things that happen. It’s unlikely the idea of Starfleet being capable of the atrocities described when motivated by desperation will be brought up again. If that’s the case then what has her presence really accomplished other than killing time for most of the season? The crew ridding themselves of that threat is an anticlimax and destroying the Shrike comes across as a mistake as it could have been a useful resource considering how powerful it is.
This episode also delivers the rescue of Riker and Troi who were imprisoned on the Shrike. Being locked up together gives them the chance to discuss the recent issues in their relationship. The topic of conversation is still the emotional and physical distance Riker put between them. Troi accuses Riker of giving up after their son’s death and Riker tells her he didn’t like that she used her empathic abilities to dull the pain he felt after the loss. The issue is that of perspective and the fact that they didn’t take the time to discuss where they differed. Troi saw what she did as helping him carry his grief but he saw it as trying to erase the final connection he had with his son.
Their issues boil down to a lack of communication. Troi made an assumption that turned out to be wrong and instead of telling her not to do that, Riker closed himself off and eventually left. Their conversation changes what was previously said about the issues between them. Earlier in the season, Riker said that he left so that Troi and Kestra wouldn’t have to deal with sensing his lack of feelings but it turns out that Troi was responsible for him feeling nothing because she tried to remove his grief out of a desire to help him carry it.
All of this can be justified by grief being something that causes people to behave in extreme and uncharacteristic ways. Riker and Troi lost their son and their different reactions to that loss created a breakdown in communication that meant they isolated themselves from one another. Each of them made assumptions about the other and failed to actually talk about how they felt so all that happened is they drifted further apart. Now that they’ve both realised that they can actually talk and take productive steps forward. Troi recognises her mistake and explains that she not only felt her own grief but everyone else’s and forgot one of the fundamentals of therapy due to how overwhelmed she was. That fundamental was “you can’t skip to the end of healing”.
Pushing aside the running joke that Troi was frequently a terrible therapist in The Next Generation it makes sense that she would neglect the advice she has given to patients countless times when she’s the one experiencing it. Mileage will likely vary on whether this interaction works but the actors certainly sell the material well enough and there’s a comfortable chemistry between them that can only come from working together for so long. The emotional stakes aren’t as strong as the scenes need them to be because up until this point we’ve only had intermittent coverage of Riker’s perspective. Troi has been mostly absent prior to this episode so this wasn’t something that actually developed. It was introduced through Riker and resolved over the course of this episode. Once again, the writers fail to meaningfully develop something that could have been so much more than what was delivered.
Worf’s reunion with Troi was amusing but also clunky. His monologue about thinking about her and her empathic abilities as he worked on himself over the years was bizarre in the way that it was presented. If it had been part of a later conversation rather than the first words spoken after years apart then it may have been more natural but it stood out as being out of place. Despite that, Michael Dorn continues to be the true MVP of the show with consistently perfect line delivery that enhances any scene Worf appears in.
The Data/Lore conflict is resolved with the head trip as predicted. It is decided that the partition between the two personalities has to be lowered to give Data the chance to defeat Lore and assume full control of the body. As with the previous episode, no coverage is given of the notion of playing a part in the death of a sentient being in pursuit of their own ends. They are all complicit in enabling a fight between two warring personalities that will result in the destruction of one of them and they are hopeful that their friend will win. It’s understandable as Lore means them harm and will certainly try to kill them if he is the victor but Star Trek as a franchise is fundamentally about morality so not even paying lip service to the ethics of this situation is a major oversight on the part of the writers.
Data and Lore’s conflict isn’t especially interesting and plays out in expected ways. The clumsy dialogue from those watching colours change on a screen does nothing to inflate the tension. Data and Lore discuss their differing takes on the worth of a life. Lore thinks in terms of power and conquest whereas Data sees the collection of memories being the true measure of the worth of a life. This is something Lore uses against Data as he believes he can defeat him by taking away everything important to him. This supports his desire for power and conquest. Recognising that Data’s memories represented by totems linking to significant parts of his life are important to him means that taking them from him allows him to win.
Data appears to surrender those things to him and states that he does so because he has had everything while Lore has had nothing. At the root of this is the idea of nurture being responsible for nature. Data is a good person because he was nurtured and Lore is a bad person because he wasn’t. The suggestion is that Data wants to help Lore be a better person by giving him the benefits of that nurture in order to show him how his life could have been. That is actually a really interesting idea that could have resulted in a far more compelling conclusion than what was presented.
I wrote in the previous review about the potential for something completely new to emerge from the conflicting partitioned personalities. This new entity could be the best of Soong’s legacy with the possibility of certain traits creating compelling unpredictability. What actually happens is another example of the writers believing that they are being clearer than they actually are. Lore actually wins the conflict because Data surrenders all that he is to him in order to show him the worth of a life. It turns out that it wasn’t a true victory as Data tricked him into taking everything from him in order to become him. The idea is that Lore didn’t actually defeat Data because taking those things from him meant that he absorbed them before being overpowered by them. This means that Data emerges victorious because Lore’s hubris ended up being his undoing.
Even though Data emerges victorious with a few differences such as experiencing emotion, being able to use contractions and inhabiting a body capable of the full range of human sensations including accidentally cracking a bone when moving. Those things aside, he’s the Data everyone remembers and completed the bingo card of returning The Next Generation characters. This is counter to the declaration that Lore has become him as that suggests a new entity was about to emerge based on Lore but enhanced by all that Data had learned. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part but the idea of Lore joining the crew having come to understand what it means to be a good person and newly motivated to be better would have been a more compelling use of Brent Spiner in this season. The desire to get the band back together as audiences remember them is no doubt a powerful one but delivering something familiar yet different is often the best thing about legacy sequels.
It’s true that Data is technically different to what has come before but the show had an opportunity to do so much more built into what had been set up and chose to walk it back. Any existential considerations are dismissed by Data confirming that the prior version of himself Picard helped to die is “resting peacefully”. This counts as a signal that any uncertainty surrounding the ethics of what is going on here is resolved even though it hasn’t been addressed in any meaningful way. In essence, Data is saying “Don’t worry, I’m Data now and that’s all we’re going to say on the subject”. It’s constantly frustrating to see so much squandered potential.
In fairness, this is far from the first time Star Trek has done something like this. The Deep Space Nine episode “Visionary” ended with O’Brien being replaced by a duplicate from slightly in the future. The original O’Brien dies and is replaced with this near-exact duplicate with only a few extra memories. It is addressed in the episode only to dismiss it. Similarly, the Voyager episode “Deadlock” ended with a duplicate of Harry Kim and the newborn Naomi Wildman replacing their deceased counterparts on a duplicate Voyager. As with “Visionary”, the issue is addressed only to dismiss it so this is nothing new. It still remains frustrating that Picard is failing to take the opportunity to improve on these prior mistakes and have a compelling existential conversation about what this new android is both in comparison and in contrast to Data. As I’ve repeatedly said, a new character with a familiar face opens up possibilities but it seems this production team would rather play it safe.
With two episodes to go, the entire Next Generation crew are reunited and they celebrate that by sitting around a conference room table as they did in most episodes of The Next Generation. The chemistry pops which makes the scene entertaining by itself but it’s also painfully self-congratulatory. Their meeting is about how great it is to be back together with a segue into Troi being the missing piece of the jigsaw that will allow the show to finally answer the questions surrounding Jack. The episode ends with her starting to guide him through the ominous red door so this may finally progress.
At this point in the season, there’s more unknown than known. Vadic’s backstory and motivation were detailed but it’s meaningless as she and the other Changelings are likely nothing more than a means to an end being used by someone else with a different motivation. That someone else is currently unknown. The reason for stealing Picard’s body is also still a mystery but it definitely has nothing to do with security clearance and everything to do with the infected portions of his brain. The season is almost over and there is still so much to cover. Riker put it best when he said “We’ve got almost no answers”.
A weak episode filled with squandered potential that continues the trend of unnecessarily withholding information.
- the exploration of Riker and Troi’s perspective on grief
- Jack’s growth to putting himself in the thick of a situation rather than sneaking around it
- the chemistry popping in the briefing room scene
- Vadic’s death rendering the reveal of her backstory even more meaningless
- failing to even mention Vadic’s backstory
- more vague statements alluding to the truth about Jack
- the Data/Lore conflict touching on far more interesting elements than the episode explores
- flatly dismissing the existential debate around what this Data is in relation to the original
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