Who is Jean-Luc Picard? That’s essentially the thesis of this show and each season has explored the question in a different way. In season 1, Michael Chabon saw him as a sick man, haunted by past mistakes, and regretting that he never told his dead friend that he loved them. The next year, Akiva Goldsman wanted to explore his childhood trauma and how his relationship with his mentally ill mother and cruel father shaped his life, career and attitudes. And now we have season 3 and Terry Matalas is asking questions about what his legacy is and how he relates to his old crew.
But who is Picard? Is he a man who doesn’t ‘need a legacy’ as stated in the first episode? Or is he someone who cares deeply about the family line: ‘The Picard who fought at Trafalgar. The Picard who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The Picards who settled the first Martian colonies.’ as he spoke about in Star Trek Generations.
Is he the aggressor who wants to take the fight to his enemies, even when outgunned, as he does in this episode? Or is he a great diplomat who would avoid shooting whenever possible, always rejecting Worf’s suggestion that they fire a photon torpedo as he did in countless episodes The Next Generation.
Is he the most famous man in the galaxy, as described by Beverly, always involved in alien plot to assassinate him? Or is he someone who can’t get a passage on a ship, or who can go undercover using only an eyepatch and an outrageous accent?
Is he someone who doesn’t have time to talk, even to his lovers and closest friends? Or is he a great listener? Perhaps someone who could be abandoned on a planet and decipher an alien language based on metaphors.
I guess we can conclude that he’s a man of many contradictions. Or at the very least, who definitely hasn’t been written consistently since the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
On this week’s show, he’s portrayed as a man who none of his old crew like any more. Beverly explains that she decided not to let him into her son’s life or even tell him that she was pregnant because he never had the time for her, because there was always some big plot happening. And there’s something quite fun about her describing the Enterprise-E’s adventures post-Nemesis, like a season we all missed.
Meanwhile, Riker has been made acting captain of the Titan with Shaw incapacitated (it would never have happened with carpets), and Picard acts as his default first officer. In a classic Star Trek move, ship is trying to avoid the chasing Shrike by hiding in a nebula where sensors don’t work… but somehow they’re being tracked.
Step in Jack Crusher to lead the procedural element of the show. After a strong scene where Riker basically tells him to give the crew a reason to like him, Jack, realises there’s blood in the water; a classic Star Trek metaphor for explaining science stuff in the simplest way possible. Teaming up with Seven for an episode of CSI: Starfleet, they work out that some technobabble gas is leaking from the ship, allowing them to be tracked. And worse still, there’s a saboteur on board… who could it be? You won’t believe this, it’s a changeling, the god-like shapeshifters from Deep Space Nine. It’s an interesting development and basically means no one can be trusted. Any character we’ve met could be a secret evil doppelganger. Looking forward to them doing The Thing in a couple of episodes.
Riker wants to hide and protect the crew while Picard thinks they should attack with everything they’ve god. Then it gets personal by Picard making it about Riker being more timid following the death of his son.
And hey, speaking of Riker and Troi’s son, the episode starts with a flashback to the day Thaddeus Troi-Riker was born, where we find out the 17 seconds of the title refers to the time Riker took to get from the bridge to sickbay when he was being born. And in that time, how he changed as a man; his hopes, fears and any practical knowledge flew out of the window as that reality struck. And we also get to see Marina Sirtis as Troi on the monitor, with Marina Sirtis having given up on the Betazoid accent somewhere around First Contact and a weird variations used ever since. But it’s nice to see the old crew together. There’s nothing quite like nostalgia.
Although it’s actually nothing like nostalgia. This is all conflict, Beverly angry at Picard for his failing as a human and Riker angry at him for his failings as an officer. It was never like this in the old days. TNG is often called competence porn; capable people just getting on with their jobs and following the chain of command. Roddenberry made it an edict that he didn’t want any conflict between his leads and that rule was followed throughout the seven-year run, while Deep Space Nine and Voyager writers came up with plausible reasons to try and inject a little more differences within their characters. Sometimes they’d throw in a new character like Shelby or Ro to generate a few sparks for an episode or two but for the most part, our leads were a loving family. Now everyone is just telling Jean-Luc he’s a dick and his son hates him. The closest moment to this kind of thing I can think of in the past was First Contact when Picard tells Worf he’s a coward, but even that was resolved in minutes.
Which conveniently brings us to the B-plot. After a brief appearance in last week’s show, Worf is back in a big way. Michael Dorn is great here. Worf can fight, deliver comedy lines and he’s evolved as a character. He’s no longer the warrior, but the wise old mentor, and it’s dramatically logical to pair him up with the show’s most broken character, Raffi, to showcase this, as they team up as a spy double act to find out who really stole the plot maguffin. But is it a bit weird that he’s a beheading space monk, a bit like Elnor was? Best not to think about it. They also find a changeling which is incredibly handy for exposition purposes to catch the audience up who haven’t seen Deep Space Nine and know nothing of the Dominion War. In a classy moment, there’s also a nice nod to Odo played by the late, great René Auberjonois.
It’s interesting all the legacy characters have evolved. Worf has all the power but the wisdom to know when to use it. Beverly has become a frontier medicine woman, moving beyond Starfleet to get things done. Riker has actually completed the arc set up during early seasons of The Next Generation, become a wise captain and surpassed his mentor.
Which all leaves Picard as the odd one out. All the others have become something more, while he’s far less than he was in the show. Not a hero, not a captain, not a diplomat and not a father. Who is Jean-Luc Picard? At this point in the narrative, he’s a man out of place, out of touch and out of friends. So where do we go from here?