Star Trek: Picard – Season 3 Episode 6
Star Trek: Picard takes the Titan and her crew on the run with all of Starfleet trying to hunt them down as they try to figure out their next move.
One of the biggest issues with Picard as a show is its approach to fanservice. Often good storytelling is substituted with a callback to something the audience will recognise as if the reference itself is enough to be satisfying. For many, that will be the case but it’s something I find to be empty and frustrating. The previous episode brought back Ro Laren and delivered the long-awaited conversation following her abandoning Starfleet for the Maquis but the interaction was far more superficial than it needed to be. When stripping away the excellent acting by talented performers it was a surface-level repetitive argument that ignored the depth of their prior relationship. There are also several examples of random references peppered throughout the season that only exist to remind the audience of those events. Some of them are even inaccurate so it’s clear that triggering recognition takes precedence over story.
This episode is the clearest example of this problem. It contains many examples of backward referencing that have been robbed of all meaning. The most egregious example is the use of the holographic Moriarty (Daniel Davis). He makes a brief appearance as a tailored security measure on Daystrom station that is apparently activated to deal with Riker specifically. “Elementary, Dear Data” was an engaging episode of The Next Generation that introduced a compelling antagonist that reappeared in the even more interesting “Ship in a Bottle”. The latter offered a satisfying conclusion for the character and there was no need to ever revisit him.
His appearance in this episode is puzzling for a variety of reasons. One point of confusion is that he was activated as a way for Data -or a version of him- to reach out to them. Riker and Moriarty had no meaningful connection in either of his appearances but it’s explained as a clue as to the presence of an old friend guiding them to him. Baiting Riker with a musical puzzle makes sense when knowing that Data is behind it. The reveal of the android body is punctuated by a flashback to that moment as an indication of that familiarity and a means of communication in the absence of a direct one. It doesn’t make sense that he would activate Moriarty to make that point, particularly because Moriarty tried to kill them.
The reference to the song was far deployed far better in Nemesis when the characters raised a glass to Data following his death. Riker commented that he first met Data trying to whistle a tune on the holodeck and couldn’t get it right. He was unable to remember the song and failing to do so clearly upsets him. It’s a meaningful reference in Nemesis because it’s designed to showcase Riker’s grief. The loss is intensified by his failure to fully remember the moment he met his friend. In this episode, it’s a reference designed to remind the audience of something that happened and nothing more.
Moriarty is himself an empty reference as none of the substance associated with the character is present. He is introduced declaring “I think therefore I am” which is something he said when he tricked Picard into believing he had left the holodeck in “Ship in a Bottle” and disappears once Riker solves the musical puzzle. He’s effectively an obstacle people might face in a video game where the solution removes the obstacle and the player moves on. “Ship in a Bottle” ended with Moriarty’s program being transferred to a portable storage device where he could explore the entire universe created by the device. He was tricked into this trap that was set for him but he appears to get what he wants so the implication is that he is no longer a threat.
He is now no longer stored on the device so should be aware that he was a victim of deception and is likely to be rightfully upset about that. Being faced with some of the people responsible for doing that to him may prompt him to seek revenge which would add personal stakes to the confrontation between Moriarty and the away team. It would be better if Picard were present as Moriarty interacted more significantly with him but Riker and Worf are at least people he is familiar with so a personal connection exists even if it isn’t as strong as it would be if he was dealing with Picard. The missteps with this returning character are a clear example of prioritising fanservice over storytelling. It’s unfortunate that Moriarty’s appearance would upset what is otherwise an interesting idea. A version of Data’s consciousness being the sophisticated A.I. running the Daystrom Station that wants to reach out to his friends by giving them clues that he is around is a clever notion. Why he can’t appear to them as a hologram isn’t adequately explained but Riker sensing Data’s presence is an excellent display of how close their friendship was. If more had been done with the notion of Data reaching out using the experiences he shared with Riker and Worf then the early part of the Daystrom away mission may have been far more compelling viewing. It could have been substantial fanservice, instead, it was an idea that could have been so much more than was presented.
Empty fanservice doesn’t stop with Moriarty though the other examples aren’t quite as bad. The slideshow of hero ships docked at the fleet museum exists largely to excite fans who recognise the Defiant and the Enterprise-A. Jack gushes over them and makes sure to point out that he has no interest in Starfleet but still loves to look at a starship. He becomes the eyes of a fan for the purposes of this scene as he gushes over the noteworthy ships. There is one that has never been previously featured but it’s the same design as The Original Series Enterprise so the audience is encouraged to think of Kirk’s first ship. It’s a short scene that doesn’t slow the episode down significantly so it’s arguably forgivable to offer a brief glimpse at old ships but when added to the abundance of fanservice in the show it’s less palatable.
There was a potential built-in practical use of fanservice in showcasing the old ships. It’s mentioned in the episode that Starfleet ships talk to one another so the Titan is communicating its position and status to other ships. It seems that nobody onboard knows how to disable this so swapping to an older ship without that technology installed would have provided a practical reason for spending so much time at the Fleet Museum. If the Titan crew all transferred to an older ship such as the Enterprise-A or Picard’s original Stargazer then they could in theory evade detection much more easily. The drawback is that they are using an older ship but the Titan is outnumbered and outgunned at every turn anyway so using a ship that’s over a century out of date wouldn’t necessarily increase their disadvantage. If done well this could have been purposeful fanservice that would have further encouraged the characters to rely on their skills, experience and knowledge as any technological advantage has been removed.
The visit to the Fleet Museum does have a practical purpose as Jack and Sidney appropriate the cloaking device from the H.M.S. Bounty, the Bird of Prey instrumental in the events of The Voyage Home. This allows the Titan to move around undetected and makes the rescue of the away team possible. It’s a good example of weaving fanservice into the narrative as the Bounty is introduced as a celebrated relic of the past before being identified as something that can be useful to them. It’s a meaningful callback that works well, especially when it prompts some urgent problem-solving that involves several characters.
Another meaningful callback is Voyager being given attention. Seven talks about it being an important ship for her because it was once her home and the crew were her family. There’s a strong sense of longing in her voice as she recalls simpler times when she felt like she belonged to a relatively small group of people. A consistent struggle for Seven in this show has been finding a place to belong. She started off with the Fenris Rangers before joining Picard’s motley crew and now finds herself in Starfleet but it’s clear she hasn’t found a comfortable home or family in any of them. Jeri Ryan’s performance is excellent, it completely sells that she is chasing the feeling she enjoyed when in the Delta Quadrant on Voyager.
Jack picks up on this and clumsily states what is easy to interpret through context but the moment works as they connect over both being lonely people looking for a place to belong. Seven’s comments give weight to the visual of Voyager by highlighting that people can connect to ships in emotionally intense ways. It isn’t something that is backed up anywhere in this show as nobody seems to feel the same about the Titan. Perhaps if Riker expressed some kind of longing for the Titan as his old command then the idea of ships being more than the sum of their construction could be a continuing idea.
This episode is the first in the season to feature the entirety of the promised cast. This is Troi’s (Marina Sirtis) third appearance with the other two being on a screen and Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) makes his debut as the curator of the Fleet Museum. Coming with him is his other daughter, Alandra (real-life daughter Mica Burton) who works with Geordi at the Fleet Museum. Initially, Geordi is the contrarian looking to be kept out of the mess Picard and the others have got themselves into but circumstances force him to remain aboard the Titan thanks to a security protocol triggered by the removal of the cloaking device.
Geordi and Picard have an interesting conversation about legacy and lament their lack of control of what is passed onto their children. Flaws and weaknesses are as transferrable as strengths and virtues. The conversation is regretful as both would seem to prefer that the inheritors of their legacy are the best of them rather than continuing things they would rather be left to history.
It’s a loaded conversation for both as Picard is made aware that the brain abnormality that killed his previous body was passed onto Jack and is likely to be the source of his visions. Picard feels guilty that his son is condemned by the same thing that killed him. Geordi is having difficulty with Sidney’s insistence that she remain on the Titan. She tells him she believes that she’s standing up for what she believes in but Geordi feels that she is in over her head and has no idea what she is getting herself into.
As with many conflicts on this show, it is raised and quickly resolved with no real drama. By the end of the episode, Geordi declares her approval of Sidney’s choice and tells her how proud he is. It’s positioned as a powerful resolution that strengthens their bond but these characters interacted for the first time in this episode so there was barely any time to establish any strife between them let alone resolve it in a satisfying way. It’s another example of the perceived fear of meaningful conflict in this show.
It’s unfortunate that this be resolved so quickly as there’s a lot of potential here. Geordi comes from a position of failing to understand that Sidney is an adult capable of making her own choices and someone who needs to forge her own path through life. She has chosen a career in Starfleet as a pilot which is a similar yet different path to that of her father -though Geordi started out as a pilot and later transitioned to engineering, a fact that often seems to be overlooked- so she has a clear desire to become her own person and come out from under his shadow. There is evidence of this desire throughout the season that can be seen whenever someone mentions Geordi around her. She often reacts with resentment of a sort which strongly indicates that she hates it when people look at her and only see her surname.
That in itself is the basis of an interesting conflict as there is the suggestion that Sidney feels Geordi is disappointed in her for not going into engineering. Very little is known about Alandra as a person but she works with him and she has followed in his footsteps. That perception of disappointment is excellent fodder for an ongoing rift that can be developed the more they spend time together. Instead, it’s mentioned that both see the merit in the choices made by the other which allows them to come together to solve a problem. That is the expected resolution but it should come later after their conflict has had time to develop and come to a natural head.
Another possible avenue for exploration is that Geordi may have a point. Sidney could be caught up in the romanticism of being around legends like Picard and Riker and be inspired to go anywhere with them because of who they are while ignoring the obvious dangers. There has been a loose recurring idea of the “good old days” being looked at with rose-tinted glasses that are selective about the reality of these situations. There are counters to that such as Shaw taking every opportunity to mock the old adventures and Picard’s harrowing honest recounting of flying the shuttle blind but beyond that, the perspective on the old adventures is the same held by the viewer. They are timeless tales of heroism that will never be equalled so it would naturally be appealing to be part of one of those to a young officer who idolises those legendary figures. The episode doesn’t explore this in any way which is unfortunate as Geordi pointing this out to Sidney could have presented her with something compelling to wrestle with internally. All of these possibilities are lost when opting for a simple argument that resolved itself within minutes of being introduced.
Rounding out the returning cast is Brent Spiner as various characters. The one being taken forward is identified as a hybrid of various sources. Data, Lore, B-4, Lal and Alton Soong all combine to make up this new android out of a desire to mix all that came before to create something new that could be the best of all of them. Soong’s log also mentions that they are combined with the “wisdom and true human aesthetic of age” which requires more explanation. The real reason is to not have to de-age Brent Spiner in every scene but it’s unclear why an android looking older will make them better.
Soong’s log is intercut with Geordi and Picard’s conversation about parenthood which ties both to the theme of legacy. Picard and Geordi are discussing their legacies as Soong’s log outlines his failure to become his own. Picard’s current body was initially meant for Soong so that he could live beyond his years and become his own legacy in an android body. What he accomplished instead was a chimera of himself and all other known androids into the being that for simplicity will likely remain known as Data. The introduction of this version of Data is a lot of exposition to explain the mechanics of what they have found and it’s a lot to take in over a short period of time.
The abundance of exposition undercuts what could have been a strong emotional moment. LeVer Burton’s body language conveys the reaction Geordi has to being faced with the face of his old friend but the need to rapidly fire plot at the viewer prevents the feelings from being properly explored. Data’s activation is more focused on building up to the reveal that the item they stole that is more dangerous than a portal gun is Picard’s former body rather than taking a beat to process what it means to have a version of Data in their midst. As always, Brent Spiner excels at playing noticeably different characters as shown when he seamlessly between Data, Lore, B4 and Soong within the same scene. This sets him up as a loose canon that can’t be relied on. It’s clear the Lore personality will take over at the least convenient point and become a danger to them all.
It’s difficult to gauge how this will progress as the episode throws so much at the viewer at once. Data is so clumsily explained that the gravity of his addition to the cast is diminished. For now, he’s little more than a plot device because he appears to answer a lingering question. The reliance on exposition removes the urgency associated with the question and the episode loses a great deal of momentum because the ongoing threat feels so far in the distance. Making more of the Titan being forced to sneak around and evade Starfleet’s pursuit may have gone some of the way towards fixing this but this episode comes across as an inelegant way of putting certain elements in place that will become important later. With only four episodes left in the season, there seems to be a lot to cover and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the various plot threads will be dealt with properly.
This episode excels in some of its character work. Bringing Worf and Raffi on board the Titan changes the energy of those scenes in a positive way. Michael Dorn’s dry dialogue delivery around the actors he spent years sharing the screen with adds a pleasant familiarity to those scenes and makes for an engaging reunion. Geordi’s delight in seeing his old friends is equally infectious. Despite how contrived the circumstances of this reunion may be, it’s undeniably delightful to see this cast together again and bouncing off one another. Still missing from the group dynamic is Troi and now Riker who is captured by Vadic which is unfortunate as there is only a limited amount of time left in the season to see the entire crew reunited.
Vadic remains as underwhelming as ever. The focus on making the character mysterious severely limits any depth that could be associated with her. Her scenes amount to her rambling about looking for unity and peace but not before getting vengeance. Since the Changeling plan remains unclear it’s unclear what is meant by anything she says. Amanda Plummer’s performance is strong but the character is currently nothing more than an obstacle. Riker and Troi being her prisoners provides a natural opportunity for some much-needed answers but, as stated above, time in the season runs short and there probably isn’t enough time left to make Vadic much more than she currently is.
A frustrating episode that prioritises nostalgic referencing over storytelling that does manage to provide some meaningful character work in places.
- Jack and Seven connecting over being lonely people searching for a family
- the longing in Jeri Ryan’s performance as she talks about Voyager
- stealing the Bounty’s cloaking device making it an example of substantial fan service
- Data reaching out to his friends as a good idea on its own
- Brent Spiner’s excellent performance as he transitions between different characters in the same scene
- Picard and Geordi’s conversation about legacy
- the positive shift in energy by reuniting more of The Next Generation crew
- the abundance of backward referencing that has been robbed of all meaning
- stripping away all of Moriarty’s substance and making his appearance pointless
- the slideshow of hero ships adding to the list of empty fanservice
- raising and resolving the Sidney/Geordi conflict and sidestepping all that could be interesting about it
- too much exposition surrounding Data’s appearance undercutting the emotional potential
- Vadic remaining underwhelming as an antagonist
- a general loss of momentum in the ongoing plot
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