Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” – New Societies and Potential

Image result for Sutra and Soji

   “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” is the weakest episode in “Picard thus far. We are introduced to some cool new characters and dilemmas, but not enough questions are answered. I still enjoyed the experience of this episode and the callbacks to classic Trek. If you have been watching thus far, you should watch this episode though. This episode is very much a “Part 1” of 2 and it needs the second part to complete the story.

The episode was Akiva Goldsman with teleplay by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman who wrote the story with Akiva Goldsman.

The story picks up with the crew arriving on Soji’s homeworld of Coppelius. From here they must make first contact as the Romulan fleet approaches.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Synth Society – The Synth society has designed giant plants that can defend their world, explores their different interests and is a planet of twins since that is how Soji and Dahj were created. The society feels like a culture out of “The Original Series” or “The Next Generation” and it works perfectly. They aren’t a big society and feel like an ancient Greek society in many ways. They are ruled by a council and because their culture is so young are easily influenced by others…which Sutra uses to her advantage.

Sutra – Sutra is are Lore type and Isa Briones does a fantastic job as her. She hates organics because of them killing her sister (Rios’s Captain specifically). The only thing I found strange is she learned how to mind meld? This was strange and struck me more as a plot reason to establish the overwordly big bad other dimensional synths. I hope she shows up more in the future as she is a great character and you can see the reasons she hates.

Altan Soong – Brent Spiner is playing Noonian Soong’s unknown son who has never been mentioned before. He is a fascinating character and was Maddox’s partner who created this Synthetic Civilization. He designed the bodies while Maddox designed the bodies. He is very much the mad scientist who goes along with whatever his children want to do, and it works as his father also cared far more about his creations than others.

Seven, Elnor and the Ex-Borg – Seven, Elnor and the xBs are the B-plot and honestly they really work for what time they have. We get more time with Elnor and Seven and their budding mother and son relationship and Picard drops by and we see them all connect, and Picard release Elnor given he knows he’s dying after the close call at the beginning of this episode.

Soji – Soji is conflicted in this episode and it works. She was nearly killed by Romulans, the humans she met don’t entirely trust her and if the episode delved deeper into it…Starfleet covered up the murder of her sister. All of this leads to someone Sutra can easily manipulate, much like the time Lore manipulated Data. This worked for me, Soji was easily one of the strongest parts of this episode.

The Cons:

The Romulans Were Right – I’m putting this as a con as Picard’s entire argument in this episode is that Starfleet will listen to him and protect them when we saw Starfleet kill their Ambassador they had sent years prior and no one in Starfleet is listening to Picard. For this reason the Synths are ready to bring about the end of the organics and it makes sense from their point of view, but it also proves the Romulans right. They bring back the “Reapers” from “Mass Effect” and the universe starts over. Also, given the experience with Synthetics in the “Trek” universe this is par for the course, which is why this is a con. I just hope there ends up being a good explanation why I’m wrong.

Pacing – This episode felt all over the place. We are introduced to many characters and not given much of an explanation as well as re-introduced to Picard dying, which hasn’t been touched upon for a long time. This episode needed more time to both develop the world and the new relationships. If they had done this it would have solved the pacing where at times it felt rushed or slow.

This episode was all over the board in pacing. We are re-introduced to the fact that Picard is dying, the xB’s are briefly touched upon and we are introduced to a new society and introduced to the ancient Synth threat that inspires the Zhat Vash to fight. This episode had to do a lot and I wish it had answered more questions. I wanted to know more about Altan Soong for one thing as he gave me immediate Lore vibes when he talked to Picard.

7 / 10. This episode is setup and needed to explain more. It should have been longer. I enjoyed it, but it is the weakest episode of this series.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 6, Episode 26 – “Descent, Part 1” – Anger is the Path to the Dark Side

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     “Descent” is our first time seeing the Borg since “I, Borg” and in this we see how they have changed. I wish this had been a bigger deal. This is a Data episode, as is “Part 2” of “Descent.” I’m doing that as separate episode reviews since one comes at the beginning of the season, while the other appears at the end of a season. Both episodes hold a lot of promise that could have been more fully realized, which I will get into further into the review.

“Descent Part 1” was directed by Alexander Singer with story by Jeri Taylor and Teleplay by Ronald Moore.

The story follows Data who feels anger after a Borg attack on an outpost. The Borg are acting out of character and the crew must face the consequence of this new threat, while Data begins exploring himself.

SPOILERS ahead

Pros:

The New Borg – We are introduced to new Borg in this who from all appearances are simply driven by the desire to kill. It is a strange twist given their desire to assimilate and gives us a good mystery to start everything off. We know how strong Borg technology is, so if they are simply a destructive force than how devastating could it get? This is a good idea, sadly the idea is not fully realized.

Consequences of “I, Borg” – Admiral Nechayev shows up and is not happy with Picard for letting Hugh go in “I, Borg” as these new Borg are a direct consequence of having individuality. I liked that Starfleet is not behind the Picard as it raises the stakes for the rest of the story going forward. We also see how unintended consequences play out in an interesting light.

Temptation of Data – The main arc of this episode is Data finally feeling something and not knowing what to think about it, given it clashes with his ethical programming. He felt anger and pleasure at killing a Borg and in the end when no one calls him out on this being bad fully goes down the path of “The Dark Side.” We have Data the Sith Lord by the end of this episode because no one told him feeling anger is wrong and tried to help him find other ways to explore his exploration to be human.

The Cons:

Purpose of the New Borg – They just kill and to no end. Crosis, who is the Borg who is captured is there to tempt Data, but we get nothing of his own motivations. What is the point of changing to Borg if you won’t explore what individuality even means? This idea is just sitting around the entire episode and is never delved deeper.

Not Enough Concern for Data – If anyone had told Data that killing in anger is wrong this whole episode would have been prevented. Sadly there isn’t enough concern for Data, even after he relieves himself of duty that a crazy Borg is able to corrupt him. This was the crew dropping the ball.

The fall of Data is interesting but not explored nearly as well as it could have been. Why does he want to be angry? He knows that to be human is to feel more than one emotion. Also, what motivates the Borg? We know who their leader by the end (Lore) but none of their motivations. All this is wasted in the episode given how much time we spend with Data and with one of the new Borg named Crosis. Crosis could have been a fully realized character too, but he has no agenda beyond tempting Data and has no will of his own as we discover in the end he is just a pawn of Lore. This episode was enjoyable but never rose to great. It was so many missed opportunities.

7 / 10 This episode was enjoyable but was largely unexplored potential of a few ideas.

Star Trek VIII: First Contact (1996) – Of Facing Trauma and the Quest for Betterment

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“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best of “The Next Generation” films. For me this isn’t initially doesn’t sound like much as I don’t think the others are good. They range from okay to awful for me where this was legitimately a great film. It isn’t perfect by any means, the ending kind of falls apart for one but this feels like an ensemble show. All the crew of Enterprise has a moment and many of them get the chance to grow and change over the course of the film. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review. As a kid this film freaked me out as this film presented how truly terrifying it would be to be assimilated by the Borg, and why they are one of the greatest threats in “Star Trek.”

The film was written by Brannon Bragga and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-E when the Borg attack Earth. In order stop the Borg from winning they must go back in time to stop them and make sure that “First Contact” between the Vulcans and Humans still happens at the right time.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Enterprise-E – The Enterprise-E is a beautiful ship. It has the torpedo look of Voyager while still having the curving appearance that most models of the Enterprise have. It is a powerful ship and you can see why it is the flagship as it barely takes any damage from the Borg Cube and does enough damage to the Cube that the Sphere has to be shot out and a time travel plan initiated. The bridge is much more military, reflecting a Dominion era ship, and the different rooms feel more mechanical and less like a lounge like on the Enterprise-D. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite ships to come out of Trek.

Guest Appearances – Robert Picardo, the Doctor on “Voyager” appears as the Enterprise-E to stall the Borg and Ethan Phillips who plays Neelix on “Voyager” appears as a hologram who greets Lily and Picard. It was pretty neat seeing them. Picardo’s Doctor is one of the best parts of Voyager and Ethan Phillips is a good actor.

Lily and Cochrane – Lily and Cochrane are the two people from the past who know about those who visited from the future and for both it is a different experience. Lily passes out after trying to kill Data and finds herself on the Enterprise-E, eventually meeting up with Picard and helping him find a way past his obsession to destroy the Borg for how they hurt him…and Cochrane is running from his destiny and being a major part of the future as Troi, Riker and Geordi eventually help him come to terms with the man he will become. Both offer a different view of time travel that I appreciated. I do wish we could have got more of Cochrane’s motivation beyond selfishness though. The Zefram Cochrane of this series is acted amazingly by James Cromwell, but he is a scummy dude who is only out for himself. This is a man who doesn’t see the big picture until first contact with the Vulcans. Lily, is someone who does get it and Alfre Woodard does a great job.

The Crew – The crew are given a lot of exploration in this film. The only one who really doesn’t have as many scenes is Dr. Crusher, but she is still active and protecting people when the Borg begin taking over the ship. She is also the only who saves Lily who ends up being the person who helps Picard come back to himself again. So I’m mentioning what she did here before I go into detail on the events surrounding the rest of the crew.

Troi – Troi is the one who first finds Zefram Cochrane. She ends up getting drunk with him before he finally admits who he is and has to sadly keep him away. Zefram is a scummy guy in this whose arc is really about becoming a better person. Troi is the one interacting among the people and who can see how much fear there is (this is Post World War 3). I wish we got to see more scenes like this as she is the one outside of Dr. Crusher who really sees the human element best.

Worf – Worf is fantastic in this film. We get to see him fight with The Defiant against the Borg and later face them on the Enterprise-E. It is the fact that the numbers of Borg seem to be endless that leads to Worf realizing they need to blow up the ship as the Borg are adapting more quickly than they can destroy them. Picard calls him a coward at this point before apologizing. I love that Worf isn’t played a joke as he is in the later films. He’s a Starfleet officer and one of their best.

Geordi – Geordi is the first to tell Zefram about the future and is in charge of repairing the Phoenix. It is Geordi’s admiration and descriptions of the future that end up freaking Cochrane out the most as he doesn’t see himself as a genius. In the end he comes through and Geordi and Riker get to make warp speed on the day it is supposed to happen in the timeline.

Riker – Riker is the one who hold Zefram accountable and makes it so he can’t run away from the future. He ends up stunning him, which finally helps him get his act together so they can get the Phoenix ready and first contact with the Vulcans be made. He’s in charge of the team on Earth and you once again see why he’s the First Officer as he pulls everything together and in the end, Zefram and Lily are the only ones who ever knew there were time travelers present.

Data – This film is really Data and Picard’s story and continues the theme of the show with Data’s quest for humanity. In this we have moments where his androidness comes in handy as when they he feels fear, he can just shut it off by turning off his emotion chip. In this the Borg, specifically the Queen offer Data a choice once he is captured. If he joins them he can have the organic and feel physical sensation as humans do. He goes along with it and ends up tricking the Queen and destroying their base. He does mention to Picard that for a near second he was tempted, which is long for an android. The Picard, Data dynamic is wonderful and you can see a friendship has grown between them over the years on the show and the loss of the Enterprise-D.

Picard – This film involves Picard facing what was done to him by the Borg when they made him Locutus. We see this at first when Starfleet doesn’t want him to face them because they don’t trust his judgement and later when after helping easily defeat the Borg we find they are around, and in his ship. This is powerful as Picard is trying to hold onto himself and his ego and in the process doesn’t notice when he loses people or how his obsession is consuming him. It isn’t until Data is captured and Lily calls him out that he calls for a retreat and realizes that losing another Enterprise is the only way to win. After this he goes to the Borg to save Data and comes open and ready to face himself and the memories of his trauma.

Ship Under Siege – What make the narrative work is that when the Borg beam onto the Enterprise it is a slow takeover, but by the time they’re discovered they are permanently entrenched. Our heroes are fighting to hold ground and to prevent more Borg being called so the stakes are high the entire time. This claustrophobia lends itself to the narrative and constant push of the Borg push into Picard’s obsession to destroy them and fight back.

The Trauma of the Borg – When Borg assimilate someone they are made part of the Collective. Their body is mutilated and machine is installed within them. This is what was done to Picard in “Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 and 2. Certain episodes explore how that hurt him, from killing Federation officers in the Battle of Wolf 359, to his loss of self and identity and being a part of the machine. This film explores this beautifully as it begins with Picard having a nightmare about his assimilation and his scene facing the Queen involves him facing that nightmare. It is a good narrative book-end.

The Quest for Betterment – Another major theme of the film is the quest for betterment. Whether it is how the Borg seek perfection through assimilation, Cochrane’s first contact and how it lead to humanity rising up to the Stars and the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets and Data’s quest to become human and more than his programming. All these elements run as the narrative through line and make the film great.

The Cons:

The Borg Queen and Ego in the Collective – The Borg are a Collective and to me that is what makes them the most terrifying. When the Queen is introduced she uses “I” and also is seeking a mate. My guess is they wanted to go for a bee hive for the Borg when they are much scarier as a one mind lovecraftian horror. The Queen’s ego, which a collective doesn’t have, is what leads to her losing as after Data sleeps with her, she fully trusts him and he betrays her and saves first contact and the Enterprise-E goes to waste. If she hadn’t had Data do be the one to fire the shot (which was just to rub in Picard’s face) she would have won. This issue of ego becomes an even bigger problem when she is back again in “Voyager.” The actress does a good job with what she’s given but the moment the Queen showed up, the threat of the Borg no longer felt as great, and the final act simply cemented that.

Picard Wasn’t Needed in the Final Act – Narratively I get Picard going to save Data, as Data saved him in “Best of Both Worlds.” The thing is, how the script was written the Queen would have lost whether he was there or not. She believed she had Data and Data knew what to destroy to stop her. He also isn’t killed or mortally injured after he does this. Picard showing up is just for the sake of narrative and to complete his emotional journey. I wish they’d re-written this whole act so that Data did need rescuing and wouldn’t have been able to stop the Queen on his own. Instead, Data stops the Queen, stops the Borg and makes first contact possible. If Picard wasn’t in the scene it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” than you will probably like “First Contact.” It isn’t as strong as some of “The Original Series” films but it is greater than most “Star Trek” films that are out there. Overall it works and even though the ending didn’t need Picard and the Queen, kind of ruins the threat of the Borg for me, it is still a very well told story. This was a film tacking big ideas and major themes and I think Bragga and Moore accomplished that. The Borg are Picard’s Khan and this is one of the best explorations of that trauma that currently exists in the stories of “The Next Generation.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This is a wonderfully great and flawed film.

 

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

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     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10