“Star Trek: Picard” Was the Best Show of 2020 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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“Star Trek: Picard” Was the Best Show of 2020

Trek has Become Prestige TV

Dec 18, 2020 By Steve King Web Exclusive
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Greetings. If you haven’t seen Star Trek: Picard or Star Trek: Discovery this year, now might be the time to beam out if you don’t want to read any spoilers. Or not. Let’s practice Absolute Candor.

All I’ve wanted to do since the begining of the year was write about the new age of Peak Trek and how good Picard and Disco are but I don’t have enough storage in my head for the FUCKING BEST FUCKING TREK EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and 2020 Politics, so this one had to wait. With apologies to Mrs. America, The New Pope, The Queen’s Gambit, and the amazing special episode of Euphoria (I would die for Rue), Picard was the best show of this very strange year of teevee…... 

The third season of Discovery has already begun, and won’t end until 2021, so they’re a little late to 2020. But that season premiere was a perfect display of pop art. Discovery is always pushing the edges of your imagination; Picard is a slow burn. The Shat may have been the first, but Picard and Michael Burnham are two of the greatest things to ever happen to Trek. It’s the best Trek has been in decades, maybe ever, and we still have the rest of Discovery Season 3, Brave New Worlds, Lower Decks, the Section 31 show, and Prodigy coming, which guarantees that next year will be better than what has already been the best for Trek. There are even rumors of a Deep Space Nine revival. The future is as bright as a warp core breach, so buckle in with your new Starfleet seatbelts. It’s going to be a ride. 

This isn’t meant to be a hot take or a joke. My takes have always been ice cold and I take Trek very seriously. The first season of Picard was beyond all debate, without any dispute, the greatest season of Star Trek that I have ever seen. It was powerful and poignant in a way that the franchise has never quite achieved before. It had 30 years of exposition going for it, so sliding back into Picard’s DMs was delightful and easy. And it was one of the most cohesive, impactful stories of 2020. 

I’m sorry to linger on the credit sequences, but damn. The whole thing is a transporter stream and synthetic life imagery. Yeah, it borrows a lot from Westworld. But my god, it’s the “Inner Light” music! I’m deceased. I am currently writing this from a complex simulation of the afterlife.  

I don’t even know where to begin with Picard. It was retro and nostalgic without being overly sentimental. They threaded the needle perfectly. The whole season is a work of art. From the performances, production design, to the wardrobe, the visual effects, the sound design, and the music, Picard is a heart-clencher. I mean, I bought that Dagh painting from the CBS Store. 

Picard, at times, seemed like a continuation of many things brought up in Nemesis, but also kind of like a long apology. From all the greens and blues used with the Romulans, to the snakehead pods that were similar to the Reman scorpion shuttles, the use of poison in puzzle boxes, Romulans carrying multiple knives, revisiting bottles of Chateau Picard not seen since Nemesis...this show had it from the jump.

This season does so much heavy lifting story-wise it’s hard to track it all. It begins (and ends) with the song Data performed at the Riker-Troi wedding, “Blue Skies,” in the dream that starts the season on the Enterprise D, in Ten Forward. The ship has never looked better, and there’s a Q and/or Borg Queen reference as Data and Picard are playing poker.

The show also goes out of its way to explain some age-old Trek questions, like how the Borg queen always lives when a cube is destroyed, or that Romulan forehead ridges are determined by whether they come from the north or south, or its commitment to the Beta Quadrant is. We’ve seen enough of the Alpha, Delta, and Gamma Quads. Show us some more Beta, bitches. Can we see the Breen? I want to know the truth about how hospitable their planet is. Are the Borg still a threat after Janeway rect their whole hit at the end of Voyager? And if they’re stopping by Deep Space 12, could they make a detour to DS9? They mentioned Quark. I assume Janeway might still be an admiral. Let’s get some cameos, y’all. Whoopi Goldberg and Levar Burton are already set to appear in Season 2, whenever that may be. Maybe Dr. Crusher (yawn) could show up and old JL Golem will get laid. And it’s hard to imagine a Picard story without Q. 

There is an Original Series era Warbird ship. La Sirena rode through a Transwarp conduit, the Romulan/Synth attack on Mars was on First Contact Day. Daj’s boyfriend was Zahyian. The Borg cube’s walls were moving and adapting. So much of the show was about tying up loose ends and taking care of unfinished business, with only a couple references to current events. It was cool to see Riker with his luscious beard, back in uniform and commanding a fleet of new badass Federation ships. But I want to see the Enterprise and its captain.  

I’m not sure Picard can say anything else that it didn’t already say in Season 1, but I’m curious about a second season and maybe a Discovery crossover with Control and the very scary Synthetic Alliance. Can you imagine Michael Burnham meeting Picard?! Disco has already kind of touched on this in the third season episode “Unification III.” And the Admonition definitely looked like the Control visions, right? Is Control a Borg origin story? Does it have anything to do with the Synthetic Alliance? With the recent focus on AI, digital consciousness, and the Synthetic Alliance being this age-old Lovecraftian, robotic, tentecaled, scary as fuck, cosmic horror tumbling out of a wormhole...I mean, holy shit! And since the beacon was detected by the Super Synths, we know they know about humans, so it’s only logical to assume that they will be back. 

With Discovery and Picard, we’re watching all of what we thought were the greatest Star Trek moments fall like dominoes as the new generation of the franchise constantly one-ups itself. And the show was such a fun exploration of Jean Luc Picard; let’s keep the good times rolling. Trek has always had an element of cheesiness to it; not so much anymore. Picard is serious business. Picard has turned Star Trek into Prestige Drama Television. Trek has the philosophy of always adding to itself. The things in the show aren’t callbacks or easter eggs. They fit into a decades-long line of world building. It’s not just a soap opera, it’s a space opera. Fuck Star Wars!

Nerds and haters who fundamentally misunderstand Trek, of course, had their complaints. And they may have made a few good points. It was … uh… dark. Like, real dark. And gory. They ripped Icheb’s eye out! (Not My Icheb, anyway!) And they said “fuck” a lot. Don’t that just give you the vapors? It’s scary. I mean, they’ve got Romulan spy witches reading apocalyptic tarots cards. There was a lot of suicide talk in the show. There were multiple mass shootings, one ending with a Synth suicide. Lots of phasers got unloaded into people’s heads; that was new for Trek. Complaints about the show have been noted, but let me tell you, there are some scruffy looking nerf herders out here spewing some menchara; nay, demon class bullshit. Just go with it, ya fucking nerds.

Yeah, there was some stuff that was weird, but shit, I’ll allow it. Romulan-hating Synths, Commodore Oh wearing sunglasses (why?), how Romulans developed cool new Warbirds a short time after their empire was destroyed by a supernova, that terrible (had to be Akiva Goldman) line about how the Synth ban was miraculously lifted. Showrunner Michael Chabon apparently talked shit about Voyager. That’s my biggest nerd complaint: this motherfucker insults Trek and then goes and makes the best season ever.

To be honest, I was scared they would make it off the wall gritty and real. Like Blunt Talk or Green Room. No one needs to see Jean Luc Picard drunk on Saurian brandy and blowing lines of blue Romulan coke off of Orion slave girls’ tits. No one wants that, sir. Patrick Stewart is an actor who clearly likes playing against type, as if he has embraced his inner Shatner, but my fear was unfounded, and Picard was even cooler and conscientious as ever. The Freecloud episode was the closest Stewart got to letting his freak flag fly, thankfully. 

The show explores how tricky being a starship captain can be. That for all their heroism, they can be extraordinarily arrogant, egotistical, manipulative and coldhearted when it comes to accomplishing their missions. It also shows Picard’s still very deep commitment to diplomacy, and that by being compassionate and honest we save each other, and that all sentient life has the same value.

Discovery always put a premium on Shakespeare quotes, so naturally Picard would too. But damn. If Disco is the new Next Generation, Picard may be the new DS9. Disco is woke and having fun. Picard is dark, dreamy, and dealing with some pretty heavy themes. 

It’s a smaller ensemble and stronger as a result. And the supporting cast...Woooo boy. Rios is the new Riker, with a ship that has lullaby command codes. His holograms that man the ship are amazing; Rios was a little underwritten but the holos make all the difference. And everyone’s hot, too. Raffi is so good. She’s complicated, beautiful, a genius... I just can’t. She’s vaping weed and bringing bottles of liquor onto the bridge of La Serena while wearing a robe. Soji is dead sexy and cool and makes finding out that she’s a Synth somehow relatable and sympathetic. Did I mention how sexy she is? I don’t know if you heard but Soji is very sexy. Her boyfriend (RIP) was Xahean! And she can sing! She was in Hamilton, for god’s sake. The rendition of “Blue Skies’’ that played over Data’s death was performed by her. Elnor is a beautiful Romulan Legolas-ninja. Dr. Jurati is DTF and a murderer… awkward. Zhaban and Laris have phasers stashed around the chateau. Laris is sexy as fuck too! Everyone on this show would get it. The show needs more F8, Number One, Admiral Clancy, and Index. I really don’t care for Narek. Narissa (RIP), I can’t get enough of, but I feel the same way about Narek that I do with Ash Tyler and Nhan. Just kill the characters, write them out, or give them better dialogue.

Speaking of the supporting cast, let’s have a word about Seven of Nine. Well, she’s an alcoholic vigilante now. She’s keeping it tight and she’s queer. And her ship was similar to the Delta Flyer!      

This is not for casual dumbasses. Yeah, it’s accessible. No question. Anyone can watch it. But it’s not inactive viewership. You have to participate. The story includes you. Yeah, you. You have a place in this. Pay attention. 

The show leans heavily on nostalgia, but with a modern sensibility and clear intention to move forward, and it does so without boring-ass Klingons. Picard still having an incurable neurological disease is a natural progression from “All Good Things.” And his conversation with Seven about never regaining all of his humanity after being assimilated by the Borg was killer. When we finally got to see Seven interact with Picard, they blew the damn doors off. They are both survivors of a violation. They’re victims of abuse. All of these things, coupled with the fact that Picard admits he doesn’t “get” science fiction, was High Trek. 

Raffi and Michael Burnham are two of the most compelling Trek characters in a long time. And for Raffi to be playing a kal-toh drinking game and holding hands with Seven at the end of the season was *chef’s kiss* lovely.

It’s a deep meditation on life, death, grief, mourning, and meaning. The whole season feels like it’s Picard saying goodbye. Trek is no stranger to captains having longer swan songs. Hell, every Original Series movie was about that to one degree or another. We get it, Kirk. You’re aging. It’s as subtle as jackhammer. Star Trek loves to give white captains the looooong goodbye, but Picard pulls it off better than all of them. If Discovery is like mainlining lightning, Picard is a slow-release, gently devastating meditation. 

With the incorporation of Picard’s illness that was already established at the end of The Next Generation, and Riker showing up just like in “All Good Things” to kick some ass and swing his dick around yet ending the whole situation with a diplomatic solution was inspired. For all the violence, Picard still practices “radical empathy.” 

The Picard finale, “Et In Acadia Ego Parts 1 & 2,” is a quiet compilation on morality and meaning. Picard’s final two episodes were as close to perfect as Trek has ever accomplished. That last “adieu” Picard says to Riker is a heartstopper. After Picard again saves all organic life in the universe and beats back the Synthetic Alliance incursion and the Romulan extermination fleet, he finally succumbs to his illness and dies surrounded by people who loved and believed in him. 

During the Picard finale, when Data and Picard are talking in the heavenly simulation of the afterlife, I cried like a baby. Like sustained, prolonged, Return of the King-style blubbering. Star Trek hasn’t made me genuinely cry since the end of Deep Space Nine. In DS9 we cried for the characters in the finale. With Picard, we cry for ourselves. That’s a hell of a thing to pull off, especially in Trek

Data wearing a turtleneck in the simulation as he was dying was a nice nod to “All Good Things.” The ghostly conversation offers the parent/child story proper resolution to the Data/Picard relationship. For all the cool AI tech, space orchids, and razzle dazzle, Trek has made a renewed and necessary focus on love. In Generations Picard put it pretty simply: “It’s our mortality that defines us, it’s part of the truth of our existence.” And damned if Picard didn’t live up to that. Anyone complaining about Picard being a Synth can go pound sand. Picard has been a lot of things. He was Borg, Kamin, all kinds of shit. He can be a Synth. Whatever. Of course! Why not?

It started with an implicit self-affirmation in Disco Season 2 when Captain Pike, facing the reality of his inevitable paralysis, said plainly, “You’re a Starfleet Captain. You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion, and ...love.” You don’t often hear a starship captain state that love is inherent to his service. Then again, in Picard, Data’s digital ghost says to Picard’s recently deceased, copied memory anagrams that “Peace, love, friendship—these things are precious because we know they cannot endure.” These sentiments, besides pulling at the heartstrings of the audience, make for a new mission statement that compassion and love are prerequisites for not just service in Starfleet, but simply for each other.   

Star Trek has always been a comfort watch that pushed you outside of your normal way of thinking, and during the turbulent times we live in it has been a cool balm on an otherwise burning hot psyche. I’m so pleased and thankful for what Robert Kurtzman has done with the franchise. Robert Penn Warren wrote, 

Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.

Star Trek has given us that story when we needed it most. 

-Peace and long life-

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