“Star Trek: Picard” Season 1 – Good Characters That Needed a Further Developed World

STAR TREK: PICARD - REMEMBRANCE - PhantaNews

      Season 1 of “Star Trek: Picard” is flawed but has more that works than doesn’t in the end. This is a series that is willing to explore quite a few different factions that are at odds and still focus on the characters who drive the story. It doesn’t all work, I would not call this series great but it is good and has the potential to be great in future seasons. This is a review that will include SPOILERS so warning you now, I’m exploring what works and doesn’t work about this season for me so I will be in the details. Continue reading at your own risk. In the end, more worked for me than didn’t and I really hope we see characters and the world developed further in Season 2.

This is a season reflection so will contain SPOILERS as it covers what I liked and hated in the narrative.

The Pros:

Premise – The premise of the show is really strong. You have a Federation that has retreated from the world and outlawed the building of synthetics after synthetics destroy the shipyards on Mars. This in turn leads to a refugee crisis as Mars was building ships to help get Romulans out of the blastzone of the Hobas Supernova. Picard resigns in protest against Starfleet, which brings us to the present and Dahj, an android made from Data’s postaron seeking out Picard’s protection after an attempt is made to kindap her.

Soundtrack – Jeff Russo’s soundtrack is beautiful and reflective and has a hint of melancholy about it. This worked really well as what drives the show is Picard facing is own mortality and what he wants to make of the rest of his life as he comes out of retirement. The theme song reflects this well as well as the underlying mystery as Dahj and Soji discover they are androids slowly and the soundtrack captures that.

Cinematography – Picard is a good looking show. The cinematography is movie quality and the use of sets and green screens are blended together really well.

Star Trek: Picard's Best New Characters Are Laris and Zhaban

Laris and Zhaban – Laris and Zhaban are former Tal Shiar and Picard’s carekeepers at the winery. Laris is one of my favorite characters on the show and both of these characters bring a human face to the conflict. They believe in Picard and helping the refugees and are the ones who tell Picard about the Zhat Vash. I wish we had gotten more time with both of them as we saw they have given up their old ways but still use their training to protect.

Zhat Vash – The Zhat Vash are a secret order that seeks to destroy all synthetic lifeforms as due to a beacon left on a planet they saw that advanced synths will destroy all life. The members of the order we meet are Oh, Narissa and Narek. Oh is half-Vulcan while Narissa and Narek are adoptive siblings. All of them are damaged in different ways and see their desire to protect the universe from the synths above all else. I’m really curious to see if we will learn more about them in Season 2 as they do not succeed in destroying Soji’s people and the new Synths made from Data.

Seven of Nine – Seven of Nine has changed since the last time we saw her, and I appreciate the direction it took. She is part of the Rangers who are a group fighting criminals in the area that was once the Neutral Zone. Seven finds her story tied to Picard as she gets revenge against the woman who killed Icheb. After she is pulled back to Picard when Elnor uses Hugh’s emergency beacon and she and Elnor fight the Romulans with Seven even taking control of the Cube as a Queen at one point. After she and Elnor are taking care of the Ex-Borgs until they rejoin Picard. I’m curious to see her relationship with the Ex-Borgs explored further and her relationship to whatever form the Borg are now. Jeri Ryan did an amazing job.

Ex-Borg Hugh's Character Arc in 'Picard' Embodies the Best of ...

Hugh – Hugh was my favorite character besides Laris and Jonathan Del Arco returned to this character beautifully. He is the Director on “The Artifact” and is helping Ex-Borg also called xBs heal from the trauma of assimilation. The fact that the Romulans are good with him until he tries to get to the Queen’s room says a lot for Federation influence and the impression he left. He reminds Picard of how all xBs were victims of the Borg Collective and Picard doesn’t have to ask twice for him to help. He is only killed when is scene as breaking the treaty by helping Elnor and the Zhat Vash agent “Narissa” kills him. I hated this death initially and but on further reflection, him dying fighting to help another is fitting as that was his final act in “Descent” Part 2 which was his final appearance on “The Next Generation” and lead to him leading the free Borg who had been under Lore’s control. I do hope they bring him back in some capacity, flashbacks of how he knew Seven of Nine would be very fitting or if Seven gets a show have it be during the time when he was alive.

The Crew – I liked the crew though it is hard for me to really choose one who I like more than the characters mentioned above. Soji brings a curiosity and presence as Data’s daughter, Raffi brings empathy and cynicism, Caption Rios is broken with hidden idealism and Agnes, Elnor is the young innocent and ruthless bodyguard and Agnes is the torn over honest doctor. Each of them bring something reveals a part of Picard as his relationship to them also reveals aspects of them. It is a good crew and if I had to choose favorites it’d probably be Elnor and Captain Rios.

Riker and Troi – Riker and Troi offer relief for Soji and Picard from the Zhat Vash and Riker arrives with the Federation fleet to protect the Synths from the Zhat Vash. Seeing how much all of them had grown and their relationship to one another was powerful. Sirtis and Frakes truly inhabit their roles and they brought much needed wisdom that Picard needed. I hope this isn’t the last of them we see on the show.

Picard – This main story on the show is that of Picard and him facing his regrets, trauma and mortality. He faces his regrets in his going into retirement rather than seeking to change Starfleet, he faces his trauma in once more facing his history with the Borg and what was done to him and his mortality in his illness and death. In the end he is granted a chance to live without the illness, though it involves finally saying good-bye to Data and granting his last wish for death.

Data and his Legacy – Data’s legacy lives on the synthetics and the society they created when Maddox and Alton Soong used his positrons to make them. In the end it is one of his “children” Soji who saves his people and lives his idealism over the fear that is felt towards him and his people. We also see that he has been living in a holographic world since his psyche was saved out of B-4 after “Nemesis.” In the end he wants to die to complete his quest to become human and like a human his life lives on in the society made from him. It is beautifully done and Spiner finally gave Data the sendoff he deserved.

Brent Spiner And Patrick Stewart: Saying Goodbye To Data On 'Star ...

Confronting Fear and Persecution of “The Other” – Another theme of the series was fear of the other and facing it. Hugh had become the Director on “The Artifact” to protect and take of the xBs as he told Picard, they had no home and everyone feared them. Those same rules applied to synthetic from their outlaw by the Federation and the Zhat Vash quest to exterminate them. We see Soji’s people and herself fear and experience first hand. I hope this thread isn’t dropped as it as all the more important today.

The Cons:

Dropped Plot Threads – There are quite a few dropped plot threads that hurt the narrative. We have the xBs and them forming a civilization with Seven of Nine and Elnor and it is just forgotten as we see Seven and Elnor as member’s of Picard’s new crew in the final shot. We never learn why Maddox left the Synthetic homeworld, which given he would have been protected there made no sense why he’d leave. These are just a few of the dropped plot threads that could have easily been wrapped up with more dialogue at the very least.

Lack of Starfleet Perspective – Everyone in the crew and even Picard are all former Starfleet. This I think is a disservice as Starfleet comes to save the day at the end but no one within Starfleet is picked up as a part of Picard’s crew. This was a missed oppurtunity and would have been a great oppurtunity to have someone who contrasted with the rest of the crew. They wouldn’t even have to be “Next Generation” cast, just someone who still believed in Federation but also felt they had to help Picard and his mission.

Actual Political State of the Romulans – We learn about the Zhat Vash, meet a Romulan Refugee planet and that the Romulan Free State was in control of “The Artifact” which was the Borg Cube. Is the Romulan Star Empire gone? Is the Romulan Free State the only organized faction or are there others? The Romulan Star Empire was huge but I had no idea if they even had an Empire anymore as we only have the Free State who the Zhat Vash seem to control. This would have been such an easy fix and could have been solved in showing us a map of the region.

The Synthetic Threat – The Reaper like Synethic threat are a faction we get a glimpse of but are never taken on directly. We learn that they exterminate organic life and apparently come from another dimension and not much more than that. We even see one coming through the portal but that threat is never addressed. They are put away when at the very least I wish we could have learned more about this threat that caused the Zhat Vash to destroy the Romulan rescue fleet when they hacked the synths on Mars.

This was a flawed show but in the end it was good. I liked the moments the show slowed down and we got to know where Riker and Troi were. When we got to know the villains they became compelling and the characters who returned had lives that took fascinating directions. The show was flawed and as a whole I would consider it good but not reach great. It had a great ending and I loved how it explored the characters and themes, but too many unexplained plot and world elements held it back. Regardless, I can’t wait to see where the story is explored from here.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5, Episode 15 and 16 – “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” – The Temptation of the Borg

   “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” is one of the best stories to come out of “Voyager.” This is a story that explores Janeway, Seven of Nine, the Borg and gives us consequences of Voyager and their need to get home. I’m reviewing “Part 1 and 2” as a single episode since Netflix had it as one single watch and even Memory Alpha lists both episodes together rather than as a “Part 1” and “Part 2.” I think this worked for the narrative and really strengthens the story. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Voyager” and is one of my favorites.

The episodes were directed by Cliff Bole and Terry Windell and written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky.

When Janeway discovers an injured Borg Sphere she sees an opportunity to get them home faster with the Sphere’s transwarp coil. Things are not as they seem as when she puts her plan in motion Seven begins to hear the voices of the Collective as she investigates her parent’s research into the Borg.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Threat of the Borg – The Borg feel like a constant threat in this story. We see this first in how the crew who are supposed to hijack the transwarp coil from the Sphere keep failing. It is this failure of the Borg adapting too quickly that really raise the stakes and lead to Seven delving into the research into the Borg that her parents did into the Borg. These flashbacks presented with her parents also establish this threat as it is in them remaining off sensors that keep the Borg from assimilating them for a long time. We also see the threat in how Seven willingly gives herself up to the Borg in order to protect the crew and during her time on the Cube, an assimilation of a species. This story is really what I wish “First Contact” could have been. There are stakes in the Borg tempting Seven to come back and the stakes remain focused and high.

Janeway’s Plan – Janeway’s plan makes sense. Her ultimate goal is to get her crew home and a transwarp coil would cut down there time in Borg Space and in the Delta Quadrant immensely. This being a high stakes heist kept me engaged and I could see why Janeway came up with the plan in the first place. It was risky, but feasible and the pros would outweigh the cons.

The Temptation of Seven of Nine – Temptation has spent more of her life in the Borg Collective. We see this in that she was assimilated as a child and her parents were assimilated too…so in that way their voices were still always with her. This twisted connection is what the Queen uses to tempt Seven back to them and from here she offers Seven more of what she’s always strived for on Voyager, to be more and to grow. The Queen is lets her keep her free will but connects her to the Collective as she attempts to re-indoctrinate her and train her….it is never said outright, but I think to become a future Queen.

The Borg Queen – The Borg Queen feels like a threat in this. This is the first time watching her where she has felt like one. This is done through us seeing the crew fail in their holographic runs to take the transwarp coil, the fact that the Queen knows about their plan and her ability to use Seven’s empathy against her. I wish we could have seen her do this with Picard and Data in “First Contact.” She is Seven’s evil mentor in this, opposite of Janeway and she makes a good argument for the Borg by demonstrating their power and the Collective knowledge that they are. For this reason I can see why she has so many scenes with Seven. If only “Voyager” could have kept her this smart and cunning after this. I’m not a fan of the Queen and like the Borg as Collective Mind that is otherworldy and “We,” but I salute this episode for making the Queen compelling and a threat.

Captain Janeway – Captain Janeway is both mentor and mother figure for Seven in this. In this we see her deal with the conflict of the need to protect the crew as a whole versus her overall connection to any single one member…like Seven. In the end she of course chooses Seven as it was her decision to go forward with plan and let Seven be a part of it that lead to Seven going back to the Borg in the first place. I thought this was handled well and Janeway never felt overpowered or smarter than everyone else. She was flawed and human while also being courageous and cunning. This is a great Janeway episode.

Seven of Nine – Seven’s arc is what drives the story as we see her face the temptation of the world of the Collective she knew before versus her desire for freedom and individuality she’s been exploring on Voyager. Jeri Ryan is fantastic as we see her tackle her inner conflict as well as her complicated relationship to her parents, who were assimilated like her and where the reason she was assimilated because of how obsessed and reckless they were in relationship to the Borg. It is because of them most of her life was spent in the Collective and it is this temptation that the Queen uses to bring Seven back to them. From here we see the Queen seeking to mentor as Janeway did, except it is mentoring in how to become a Queen. It is the immoral act of assimilation and destroying species that lead to them clashing and why Seven returns back to the crew when they come to rescue her. I loved this arc. Seven and The Doctor are my favorite characters on “Voyager” and this story is a big reason why.

Okay:

The Ensemble Cast – The rest of the cast has things to do for Janeway’s heist and the later rescue of Seven, but we don’t really learn anything new about them. I’m not putting it as a con though as I appreciated everyone was given something to do over the course of this story. If some minor characters had been explored a bit more, whether pushing against Janeway’s plan or providing an alternative plan it would have been a perfect episode.

This is “Voyager” at it’s best. We have an amazing threat in the Borg, Seven and Janeway get developed and the stakes remain high through the entire 2 episodes. The only thing it needed was a little more exploration of some of the ensemble cast and it would have been the perfect 2 parter. It is a shame the Borg Queen will never feel this threatening or smart after this, as this is the only episode that I really saw the potential of what that character brought to the Borg Collective. If you are a “Voyager” or “Star Trek” fan this story is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A near perfect “Voyager” story.

 

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Broken Pieces” – When the Past Returns

Image result for Broken Pieces Picard

      “Broken Pieces” is one of the best episodes in “Picard” thus far. We get information on what inspires are baddies, the crew of the La Sirena gets development and we get some of the best character development for Seven of Nine. This episode is full of a lot of moving character pieces and has to give us a fair amount of lore and it manages to achieve it amazingly. If you’ve been watching the show up to this point, chances are you will at the very least, enjoy this episode.

The episode was directed by Maja Vrvilo and written by Michael Chabon.

The story follows Soji’s arrival on the La Sirena, triggering memories in Captain Rios, leading to an investigation by Raffi into his past. Seven also arrives on “The Artifact” searching for Hugh.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Elnor – Elnor gives us one of the purest perspectives on “Star Trek.” Due to being raised in a culture where emotion is always shown and expressed fully his hugging Seven when she saves him at the beginning was perfection. He is also there to bring her back too when he asks her if she’ll assimilate him when she’s connected to the Collective and controlling them. It is well done and I like the dynamic he has with her.

Raffi – Raffi’s arc involves investigating Rios’s backstory and discovering why he reacted so painfully to seeing Soji. It is done really well as we see her talk to all the Holograms, that each have Rios’s face and puts together what happened on his ship. Michelle Hurd does a fantastic job and I liked seeing her and Rios together, she’s clearly the First Officer in this mission and helping Rios put the pieces of himself back together was handled beautifully.

Zhat Vash Inspiration – In this episode we see what inspires the Zhat Vash as “Narissa” meets with her Aunt, the Ex-Borg Ramdha who Soji talked to. It is here we see that an ancient civilization left a warning that creating synthetic life will eventually lead to the end of all organics. This is why the Zhat Vash are so driven in their quest. It gave dimension to “Narissa” seeing her with her aunt and her wishing that her ship had been assimilated instead. This was development that was badly needed. It was also in the flashback we see Oh is the leader or one of the leaders of the Zhat Vash and that the Romulans are responsible for hacking the synths and the attack on Mars.

Captain Rios’s Backstory – Captain Rios’s backstory is powerful. We learn that Starfleet security ordered his Captain to kill the Synth diplomats. He does all this and kills himself too. Captain Vandermeer was like Rios’s father and what his Captain did to innocents was too much for him to take. He buried this trauma and it is only in Raffi’s investigation and learning the truth for herself that leads to him opening up. Santiago Cabrera really shows how amazing of an actor he is in this…from playing the different Holographic versions of himself, and in his opening up about the trauma from his past.

Soji and the Synths – This episode gives us the issue fear versus trust and Soji is at the center of it. We see it in Raffi questioning Picard’s trust of her and also in Soji’s taking over of the ship until Captain Rios stops her. In this we see the potential danger that is posed but also the potential for peace that is there as Soji gives us a unique perspective. She’s been betrayed by organics but has also found allies and friends too. She represents the same potential in her people.

Seven of Nine and the Borg – This episode sees Seven of Nine take control of the Borg cube in order to fight the Romulans. In this we see her questioning even doing this as she questions she might enjoy being part of the Collective too much and not want to give up those she’s assimilated. When she does become “Queen” of the Cube it is powerful and we see her speak with one voice. In the end she comes out of it as either her individuality was too strong or the Borg on that Collective see her having a future role but that can only be achieved later. “Annika still has more to do” are the Collective’s parting words to her. It is chilling and I think sets up that their next evolution might be through some role Seven is to play later.

The Cons:

Starfleet Resistance – When Picard reveals to Admiral Clancy all he has figured out she says she will be sending a fleet to Deep Space 12. This help is still offered with so much resistance to Picard that it felt ungenuine. My thoughts hearing it were that Oh was going to use this opportunity to use Starfleet against the Synths as they had been used against them before when Rios’s Captain killed the Synth diplomats on his old ship. More scenes with Clancy could have solved this and seeing things from the Starfleet perspective as we did before with the Oh reveal in the early episodes.

Agnes’s explanation – Agnes killed Maddox because she saw hell coming and Oh apparently put up a mind block? I felt this was a cop out so that she wouldn’t have to take full responsibility for what happened. I’m still rooting for her character having some sort of redemption but getting away from having her take responsibility via Oh’s actions is not the way to do it.

This is my favorite episode besides “Absolute Candor” and the Pilot in “Picard.” We get amazing character development, the lore gets deeper and the action doesn’t stop moving. This story stands strong on it’s own and I can’t wait to see how the different plot threads payoff in the end. The Romulans are one of my favorite races in “Star Trek” and I’m a huge fan of Borg stories when they are handled with respect. This episode gave both of these groups the exploration I’d been wanting from “Star Trek” for a long time. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 7, Episode 1 – “Descent, Part 2” – Finding Freedom in Self

Brent Spiner in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

“Descent, Part 2” has many of the same problems as Part 1. There are many good ideas here that really aren’t explored to their full potential. The whole motivation beyond Lore and the Borg is base and isn’t well thought out. What it means to be Data isn’t even really fully explored either or the Borg concept of individuality. There are enough decent plots present though, that I did enjoy this as well as Part 1. I wouldn’t call either good, but there are enough interesting plots present to keep things enjoyable once more.

The episode was directed by Alexander Singer and written by René Echevarria.

The story picks up where we left off with the reveal of Lore leading this new Borg Faction. Dr. Crusher must face the Borg Ship above the planet as Riker and Worf seek Picard and the others. Picard, Geordi and Troi seek an escape as well as possible solutions to free Data from the control of Lore.

SPOILER warning

The Pros:

Captain Crusher – Dr. Crusher is in charge of the ship and successfully defeats Lore’s Borg ship after using shields from a prior episode that protect from radiation from the star and ends up destroying the ship. I really liked seeing her train up the recruits and get a working up dynamic going on between them, given Picard stupidly left her with a skeleton crew with so much at stake. I really liked her as Captain and wish she’d gotten more leadership opportunities like this in the series.

Escape from Lore – It was great seeing Picard and Troi work with an injured Geordi to free themselves and Data. I can’t think of a time we’ve had this specific team-up, but I liked their dynamic…even if they failed in the end. Geordi is always fighting on, Troi is trying to be supportive and Picard is always in problem solving mode. You can see how in many ways he is like Data. His problem solving place is where he is most comfortable.

Hugh’s Borg – Hugh’s Borg are refugees from Lore who leave after they see that his experiments are destroying them. The empathetic Hugh from “I, Borg” is still very much present and I appreciate that at the end of this episode he is leading the free Borg. That should have been more explored, he was with Riker and Worf who have both lead people and that leadership role was not discussed or explored at all.

Data’s Choice – Data gets back his morality core after Geordi, Troi and Picard tech some Borg tech causing Lore’s hack to stop working. After this it is only a matter of time before he switches sides. Given I was invested in Data and he drives both plots this was a plus. I wish it had been more of his free will, but I also get the writers were working with him still as a programmed machine. No matter how great his technology is, it can still be hacked.

The Cons:

Riker and Worf Wander – We have two interesting characters who wander until Hugh’s Borg capture them. After that they go to end up in the final battle and take part. There was no reason they couldn’t have been a more active part of the story. They do nothing to convince Hugh to join them. Did the writers just forget they had two awesome characters with Hugh to work with?

Lore and the Borg’s Goals – I guess they are going for conquest…but Lore is killing his own soldiers in experiments. The experiments like the point of them is pointless. They have one ship that doesn’t even survive the episode, so what was Lore and the Borg’s plan again?

Why is Geordi Always Tortured? – Why is Geordi always being tortured? This time it is his friend Data too. I get Data apologizes after, but given how many times this has happened to Geordi it exists as a trope. The writers should have stopped this. They do their best to show Data has an understanding of guilt after the fact and Data still says he should keep the emotion chip, but it would have meant more if this hadn’t been a go to trope on how to use Geordi in the plot so many times prior.

This episode was better than “Part 1.” I think this is largely due to Hugh’s faction and the B Plot with Dr. Crusher. Those had more inventiveness and weren’t dependent on Data plot device. This was also enjoyable but did not rise to good. I wish the writers of both episodes had got together to write a fully coherent story. You have Lore, you have the Borg, you have Hugh…how could you not make this great? If you want to see how these stories end in “The Next Generation” you should still watch both these episodes though.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10 This episode was potential and managed to do more at least than “Part 1.”

“Descent Part 1 and 2” Final Score: 7.2 / 10 Weighing it more against because it never reached good and missed so many opportunities to explore Soong’s sons and the Borg.

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

Image result for descent part 1 star trek

     “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

Image result for star trek first contact poster

“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.

 

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 6, Episode 16 – “Collective” – Finding Connection Beyond the Borg

Image result for Star trek voyager collective icheb

   “Collective” is a solidly good episode. The tension is real, we get some wonderful character development of the Voyager crew and the Borg we meet. Before I get into story details, if you are a fan of “Voyager” you should check this episode out. It brought back memories for me watching it as it was in Middle School I’d catch episodes on UPN when I got home from school. This is later in the show and is a great example of how “Voyager” could still put out quality episodes, even as they were winding down.

The episode was directed by Allison Liddi with teleplay by Michael Taylor and story by Andrew Shepard Price and Mark Gaberman.

The story follows Voyager as they seek to rescue Harry, Chakotay, Tom and Neelix when a Borg Cube run by assimilated children captures them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Captain Janeway – This is a good Captain Janeway episode. In this we see that she cares about the Borg children but also is doing all she can to save her captured crewmembers. She’s stern and powerful and works masterfully when she confronts the First, the leader of the Borg children. Her point freaks him out so much that he refuses to speak to her again. This episode shows why she was Captain of Voyager.

Harry Kim – Harry Kim is the only member of the crew who the Borg children haven’t captured initially. Thanks to Janeway he puts a plan in motion to shut down the Cube so that his crewmembers can be rescued. Sadly he is captured and experimented on by the Borg. I enjoyed seeing him take charge though and wish he’d gotten a win. Harry usually always has bad stuff happen to him, which is a shame as there is so much potential in the character.

The Drones – The Drones are fascinating as what drives them is the desire to be back with the Collective. It is only Seven showing them there is another away and Second (Icheb) taking charge that shows them that they can have another life free, on Voyager. The one thing I’ll say against them is I wish First had been explored more. He’s threatened by anyone who questions him but we don’t know his backstory, just that he wants to rejoin the Collective more than anything. The drama between him, Voyager and the other drones is compelling though.

Icheb and Seven – The strongest part of this story is the relationship between Icheb and Seven. Seven repairs him, as the First says he is not fit to lead because of how his tech. is acting up. This leads to trust between them and we see him come to realize his individuality and potential future in what Seven shares. She is his mentor and friend in the episode and I like that we’d see more of this relationship in future episodes. She was the first to show him a life outside of the Collective.

Connection Beyond the Borg – The main fear of the drones is that they will be alone if they do not rejoin the Collective. It is that leads to the botched assimilations they were trying on captured aliens and why they tried to bargain with the hostages for Voyager technology to fix the Cube. Seven is the one who shows them that there are other ways to make connections and that they shouldn’t care about the Collective as it abandoned them. Over time this reality seeks in and the surviving Borg children join the Voyager crew after First fails in keeping control.

The Cons:

Neelix – Neelix was on the Delta Flyer and I don’t see any reason why he should have been. He’s the cook and they are far beyond his area of space so him even selling himself as a diplomat feel cheap. He’s not as annoying as he can often be in this episode but he is still a con.

I really liked this episode. We get to learn more about the Borg, Seven has some great character development, we are introduced to Icheb and Janeway is a great captain in this episode. This episode sets up major stories in the last of the season as Icheb will play a bigger role and we will learn more about how he got assimilated in the first place. Icheb and Seven is one of the more intriguing relationships on “Voyager” as they are both former drones and Seven comes to be an awesome adoptive mother as she embraces the best aspects of the Borg and humanity.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5, Episode 23 – “I, Borg” – Discovering Individuality and Value

Image result for I, Borg

     “I, Borg” is such an amazing episode. We see a return of the Borg with Hugh and an exploration of the consequences of the Borg on members of the crew. This is also an episode that provides a moral conundrum too. What should be the ethics of war? This and the theme of PTSD are explored in the episode beautifully. This is easily one of my favorite episodes of “Star Trek” and I’m glad Hugh will be back in “Picard.” Suffice to say, I highly recommend this episode.

“I, Borg” was written by René Echevarria and directed by Robert Lederman.

When a Borg Drone is rescued, Picard must wrestle with what will become of it as he and other members of the crew face what the Borg Collective has done to them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Dr. Crusher – This is a surprisingly good Beverly Crusher episode. She is the first to advocate for saving the Borg drone. She demonstrates her oath of the sacredness of all life beautifully and her empathy is what made La Forge and Hugh’s friendship possible and Guinan and Picard’s eventually coming around to seeing Hugh’s humanity. I wish she got more episodes like this. She is the moral center of the episode and the episode is stronger for it.

Geordi La Forge – As Geordi is the one studying Hugh in order to weaponize him against the Borg he becomes friends with him. It is Geordi who gives Hugh his name and teaches him about consent and individuality. This friendship goes so far that Geordi advocates directly to Guinan and Picard that he thinks the plan is a mistake. In the end his advocacy for Hugh’s humanity wins out and Geordi is the one who says good-bye to his friend before the Borg take him back.

Guinan – Guinan’s people were destroyed by the Borg and she confronts Hugh about this. She is the one who is at first against Picard’s growing empathy, given the destruction of her people…but Geordi changes her mind. After talking to Hugh and hearing him speak of his loneliness and empathy for her she realizes Hugh is not her enemy. Hugh is just a scared lonely kid. After this she advocates for Picard to not use Hugh as biological weapon against the Borg.

Hugh – Hugh is the I in “I, Borg” as this episode is about him developing a sense of self. As far as we know he has always been a drone within the Collective and because of this never had the chance to learn empathy or self and this episode is where he learns all of this. In the end he sacrafices himself so the Borg won’t target the Enterprise and to protect his friend Geordi. Jonathan Del Arco does such an amazing job in this role. He is the drone becoming an individual and it is his performance and relationships Hugh builds in the episode that make it so great.

Captain Picard’s PTSD – Picard’s PTSD is a major theme of the episode. The Borg mutilated his body and mind and because of this he understandably does not see any humanity within them. We see how deep this is as he pretends to be Locutus to test Hugh and it is in this test when Hugh denies to assimilate the crew and the Geordi is his friend that he sees the plan to weaponize Hugh is immoral and wrong.

An Exploration of War and Morality – The main moral issue being wrestled with in the episode is whether to use Hugh as a biological weapon against the Borg. He would be used a virus to shut them down. When the show starts out Dr. Crusher is the only one against this but slowly as Geordi becomes friends with Hugh and Picard talks to Hugh they see the humanity of the drones and that in committing genocide they would be acting like the Borg. It is handled really well and they take time to explore this over the course of the entire episode.

The Cons:

Borg Indifference – Geordi is able to go down to the planet where Hugh was found to say good-bye to him as the Borg pick him up. The thing that bothered me with this is the Borg not recognizing his role in their destruction prior. The Borg are a threat to the episode but they have no tactical sensibilities it felt like. The reason that is given is that they don’t notice individuals (as seen by them being able to free Picard in “Best of Both Worlds”) but shouldn’t they have adapted to that by now? It was one of the reasons for their defeat.

This is one of my favorite episodes in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and shows just how strong the show could be when it focused on character and themes. This isn’t the last time we see Hugh and what is done in this episode has consequences for the Borg we see later. This episode is a great a example of structure working really well too. Dr. Crusher’s empathy leads to Geordi and Hugh becoming friends, which leads to Guinan getting to know Hugh and finally Picard giving Hugh a chance after Guinan admits her hate and rage against Hugh was wrong. This is powerfully done and creates an unforgettable story.

Final Score:

9.8 / 10 The strengths of this episode outweigh the flaws.

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Remembrance” – A Promising Return

Patrick Stewart and Isa Briones in Star Trek: Picard (2020)

   “Remembrance” is a promising start to “Star Trek: Picard.” This is an episode that gives us the major themes, introduces the characters and factions and is a wonderful character analysis of Jean-Luc Picard and who he is. Suffice to say, this is a show I’d highly recommend thus far. As part of what I’ll be doing with the episodic reviews is reviewing past “Star Trek” episodes that the “Picard” episode reminds me of. It has been wonderful going back and watching the shows I grew up with. I can’t wait to see how the things set up in this episode payoff overall. This is definitely a show that is going for the long arc where every episode is a part versus the “Star Trek” of the past that had many stand alone episodes or two-parters. We really didn’t see season long arcs until “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and until more recently, in “Discovery.” So I’ll be taking that into account in my scores for the episodes of this show.

The story follows Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) who went into retirement after Synthetics attacked Mars and the Federation pulled away from helping the Romulans evacuate from the Supernova that would be destroying their home system. Picard has been reclusive during this time, only appearing publicly for an interview. His retirement changes though when the mysterious Dahj (Isa Briones) comes to him for help.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

A Sense of Time – This episode is great at capturing how much time has passed. Part of this is due to it beginning with an epilogue and dream sequence where Picard and Data are on the Enterprise-D playing cards, that ends with the destruction of Mars. Picard is old and he is dealing with that.

Standing Against Fear for Life – The first big event for Picard in the present is his interview. It was originally supposed to be a chance for him to talk about the fallout of the Romulan Supernova. The interiewer doesn’t stand for it though and talks about how the Romulans are the Federations oldest enemy and that the Federation had to look inward after the Synthetics attacked Mars. She uses that incident to question his loyalty to Data. Picard stands up for his friend and for the Romulans, creating waves and showing the person he has always been. It was very much “The Measure of a Man” where he defends Data’s right to life and I loved it. Romulans are just as worthy of life as any human. It was beautifully expressed and was true to one of the core ethical values in “Star Trek.”

The Romulans – In this episode we learn how many of the Romulans became refugees after the Supernova destroyed their homeworld and the system it inhabited. 2 of them (Laris and Zhaban) live with Picard and we see their respect and admiration for him. I hear their backstory is explored in the comic so I might pick it out. They are two of my favorite characters on the show and I can’t wait to see more of them. We also have an enemy faction who destroys Dahj and arrives on a dead Borg Cube called the artifact, hunting her sister Soji. Romulans are my favorite species in “Star Trek” and I can’t wait to see more of them.

Jean-Luc Picard – Picard is a man full of regrets living in retirement who is once again given a reason to live. It is a powerful premise and the first episode handles this really well. We see his regrets in Starfleet refusing to help the Romulan Refugees and that he is still the moral man of old. It is in Dahj we see him care for others too, as her reminding him of Data and being connected to Data gives him purpose and reason to fight on. This is handled beautifully and Patrick Stewart truly owns this role. It is nice he isn’t action hero Picard either (from the films) as that was never realistic and how he feels once more like the ethical intellect and diplomat that made “The Next Generation” so good. I can’t wait to see where the story takes him next and to learn more about what happened to leave him the broken man we meet at the beginning of the show.

The Cons:

At Times Action Over Details – At one point Romulans in black attack Dahj. This happens twice. The first time they kill her boyfriend and she discovers she has abilities. The second time they take her out even though she is right in Starfleet Academy. All that is covered up as is her existence is covered up as well as the attack. It is simply called an explosion on a building. This is a great example of action over detail as we never learn the details of what the story was. What caused the explosion? What was the story on the news given Picard’s recent interview? All of that is left up to the imagination to push the story forward and that is the greatest weakness of the story so far.

This was a strong start to the series and I can’t wait to see where it goes. It is slower than “Discovery” even though the action sequences in this are longer than I would have liked. Give me more time with Picard, Laris and Zhaban. I love his relationship with those Romulans who work for him and are his only friends we really see. It is in the moments of history and Picard facing himself where the episode soars and if the showrunners can keep up this theme and storytelling than this series can be great.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10