The penultimate episode of Star Trek: Picard came out today and, I have bad news for you Star Trek fans (I assume you are all Star Trek fans except for a few cranky dissidents and I have been taking notes), it finally flipped the switch from “ham-fisted nostalgia exercise that could probably benefit from better writing” to “oh my god, this is as bad as Rise of Skywalker”.
I’m going to break down precisely how. It’s going to spoil the BIG REVEALS of the MYSTERY BOX of the season, so if you care about such things, don’t read this. I’m also going to explain why you really shouldn’t care, because clearly the writers don’t.
“Somehow, the Borg returned!”
One of the clumsiest moments of Rise of Skywalker (a movie which was a chain of extremely clumsy moments) was, as pictured above, Mark Hamill stand-in Oscar Isaac trying gamely to explain that the movie you’re watching just took a giant crap on continuity, logic, and common sense by bringing back a villain that died 25 years ago. Look, somehow Palpatine returned. Just accept it, guys, let’s move on. It’s what we got to work with here.
“Picard” did that this episode, and with even less subtlety, if you can imagine it. After an entire season of carefully teasing out the antagonists as Changeling infiltrators who were subverting Starfleet Command for …some reason, it all got thrown out in literally the first 5 minutes of the episode. Changelings? Eh. That was last week. The Borg are back, baby! You loved the Borg 25 years ago, right? Weren’t they awesome? Well, enjoy!
I know “Picard”’s whole deal is nostalgia trafficking. I get it. I’m the target for that, I watched every episode of “The Next Generation” so eagerly I was very, very annoyed that the conclusion of the “Descent” cliffhanger in 1993 was pre-empted over something as banal as live news coverage of America bombing Iraq. But, and this is something we’ll come back to, proper nostalgia implies a respect for the source material. And Star Trek’s whole deal is a consistent narrative. Doing a last minute bait and switch on what the entire plot of the season is supposedly about doesn’t speak to a great deal of respect.
“Kids today, am I right? They ruin everything, man!”
Aside from the larger meta problems with copy/pasting the entire antagonist of a season in five minutes, literally everything about this episode is so badly written it almost seems as if the writers actively hate their audience. “They’ll accept this crap! They’ll accept anything!”
First - Picard’s son Jack Crusher, who the entire season was teased as having mystical powers and voices in his head? Yeah, Borg drone. Sorry. It makes no sense! And Jack yells at Picard about it making no sense (because it makes no sense) with weird phrasing like “I’ve always thought things would be better if we spoke with one voice, one mind, but is cybernetic authoritarianism really the answer?” which I’m sure sounded a lot better when someone asked that question in the Bernie Sanders Discord. And before you have enough time to marvel at a character in a prestige drama actually using the phrase “cybernetic authoritarianism” without any perceivable irony, Crusher becomes SUPERVILLAIN, possesses the mind of two security mooks, and storms off in a shuttle to go embrace his Borg destiny.
You might think I’m overdramatizing, exaggerating, or otherwise making this look worse than it is - but this is really just a transcript. That happened. And I didn’t even mention Picard threatening to send his kid to a Vulcan group home for wayward Borglings. That also happened.
Second - now that we’ve done away with Jack Crusher, who for the season was the entire point of the series as Picard’s lost and regained son, we see some plot exposition as Geordie LaForge manfully tries to explain that you see, Picard had BORG DNA and it was passed down to his son, and oh, the transporters picked up on that DNA and thanks to compression algorithms and NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP everyone who used a transporter now has Borg DNA also and can be droned at any moment. Before anyone could react to how utterly stupid this is or explain genetics does not work that way the Titan shows up for Frontier Day at Earth Central, where all of Starfleet conveniently is. Look! It’s the Enterprise-F! Isn’t it cool and shiny! Thanks, Star Trek Online artists!
And it’s commanded by another minor character from Next Generation, Commander Shelby! Give it up for now Fleet Admiral Shelby, explaining briefly how the entire fleet is networked together because no one in Starfleet ever watched “Battlestar Galactica”, or remembers “The Ultimate Computer” episode from the original series which had literally the same plot of networked starships running amuck, or even the recent season finale of “Star Trek: Lower Decks” which somehow is a much better series than this despite being pitched as “Star Trek: Rick and Morty”, and oh wait, the sudden inevitable Bad Thing is happening and Shelby’s dead.
What is that Bad Thing? Oh, let me explain. You see, the youths are bad.
No, really. That’s it. The Borg transporter DNA virus species changer thingamabob only affects people under 25, because no one remembers “Logan’s Run”, either. So all of a sudden all the youths become Borg drones thanks to an ear-splitting audio signal because that’s how it’s always worked in no Star Trek episode ever and they all become zombies and take over their starships by ex-ter-min-ating all the old people and god, this has no longer become just bad, the implications of all this given the target audience for this show being people MY AGE is literally toxic. THE KIDS ARE GONNA KILL US ALL. ONLY WE OLD FOLKS ARE IMMUNE TO THE WOKE MIND VIRUS MAKING THEM ALL SOCIALIST CYBERNETIC AUTHORITARIANS! TO THE LIFEBOATS, OLD PEOPLE!
God. Like I said, this is so insultingly bad, it’s not just banal (although it is very, very banal), it’s an ode, a very literal, very intentional callout to the worst of Trump-era Facebook rants about how the yoots of today have ruined our Star Treks with their diversity and crap. And realizing that is about when I wanted to throw my iPad into the trash.
It’s impossible to not address the fact that Terry Matalas, the “Picard” showrunner, has hobnobbed with and encouraged the worst of the Youtubers who complain about “Woke Star Trek”. I was willing to excuse this as, at worst, a failed attempt to appeal to all parts of Trek fandom. But this —- this is red meat to the most toxic of those fans. This tells them they’re right. That Star Trek, the show the phrase “fully automated luxury gay space communism” was literally invented for to describe, is somehow another victim of the endless culture wars the aggrieved right are fighting over insufficiently sexy M&Ms and awful beer brands giving shoutout to trans influencers and whatever else some guy with a goatee that looks disturbingly like mine is raving about on his latest four hour Youtube rant.
Words fail at describing how badly I am angered by this. You cretinous reactionary throwbacks, you ruined my Star Trek. Thanks a lot.
Anyway, the show’s not done, although at this point we and by that I mean me really should have stopped watching.
“Starfleet is Borg. I miss the carpet!”
Anyway, our heroes fight off all the kid zombies, calm Geordie down because for some reason he can’t get over his two daughters turning into literal Borg zombies, and fly off… back to Geordie’s museum workshop where he literally conjures the Enterprise-D back from the 1990s, the wreck of a poorly written attempt at a feature film, a forest of nostalgia memberberries, and his butt.
Meanwhile: the entirety of Starfleet, which remember, was assembled all in one place for reasons, is now under Borg control, a fact which is announced by the yoot Borg zombies declaiming “We are the Borg. Starfleet is Borg.” This could be bad, both in that it’s a hilariously clumsy line and that, you know, Earth is about to be completely destroyed.
So, for the last ten minutes of the episode, Picard and the gang work out an intricate plan to carefully infiltrate the Borg interphasic logic nexus, overwrite the mysterious DNA signaling, and return Starfleet to something approaching normalcy, once again saving the galaxy.
No, wait, they don’t do that. That would make sense. Instead, everyone walks around the bridge set talking about how much they miss the 1990s, and the carpet’s so swag, guys, and Worf is pouty because he wants more photon torpedoes, and everyone laughs, and then they head straight back to Earth without any sort of plan because it’s far more important for Jean-Luc Picard to intone “ENGAGE!” from that chair once again. And… that’s it.
Finally, we can stop watching. Because it’s over. I mean, there’s another episode next week. I don’t know if I can watch it. I don’t know if I can look away. It’s just all so very, very bad.
“Last week, on Star Trek: The Next Generation…”
The thing is, “Picard” wasn’t always hideous.
The second season was pretty bad, but it could be explained as a victim of, like much else of the time, the COVID-19 pandemic making literally everything a challenge. That, plus what was apparently a greatly reduced budget, forced the majority of the season to take place in present-day Los Angeles, which I’m sure made filming convenient but made it considerably less, well, Star Trek-y.
The first season also had its flaws - but here’s the irony! It also had the Borg! And it wasn’t just a shadow-monster-booga suddenly youth zombies but an attempt at a thoughtful portrayal of how the Federation of 2400 would deal with integrating the now “ex-Borg” liberated drones of their most fearsome enemy. It brought back Hugh, the first Borg individual, with the same actor, in a well-cast and well-scripted bit of actual nostalgia, as the leader of these “xBs” dealing with various factions treating them as either unspeakable castoffs or literal bioweapons.
In short, it was Star Trek. Not the best Star Trek ever, but it attempted a consistency with how Borg had been treated in the past, how the shared universe progressed as time marched on, and didn’t insult everyone’s intelligence in the process.
And under Terry Matalas’ stewardship, this season of “Picard” takes a very intentional huge crap on all of that. They literally have a character (Beverly Crusher) say “the Borg? They haven’t been seen in over ten years!”. (She wouldn’t know that, having been in hiding for longer than that, but expecting the writers to remember that tiny fact they wrote just a few episodes earlier is too much to ask for.)
Hello? The entire “xB”/Borg cube run by the Romulan remnants in season one? The literal deus ex machina of a Borg queen showing up in season two, merging with a main character who then saves the day at the last minute?
“Picard” not only wants to live in the halcyon days of the 1990s, it wants to actively forget its own recent history. Those were those OTHER guys who made those episodes! They sucked! They don’t count!
There have been some hints of this previously in the season (when Riker and Troi bond over how much they hated the crunchy-hippie forest hideaway they were shown to live in during season 1, for example) but this is more than just a throwaway line designed to get Reddit upvotes. This actively shits on its own canon.
And for Star Trek fans, that is one of the worst sins of all. The whole POINT of a multi-decade investment in Star Trek is an internally consistent universe, and Matalas and company basically responded with a big upraised middle finger.
In short, this series is without honor and must be destroyed, because everything in it is horrible. Thank you for listening to my TEDtalk.