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Some Blundering About Star Trek: Picard 3×04: No Win Scenario

Sorry this is late; provider has been up and down like a seventy-year-old captain and his fifty-year-old medical officer on a vacation.

It’s interesting to feel like I’m on the same page as the people who make this show so often. Because I’ll be damned if “No Win Scenario” doesn’t open up with Riker dropping in on Picard to confirm everything I’d been saying about him. He interrupts Picard’s apology to tell him that, yeah, he was right about attacking the Shrike, and more, that the reason he’s withdrawn from his family is to protect Deanna from his nihilistic grief over the death of his son.

Also I guess Vadic is a changeling? I’m not actually sure. There’s a scene where she cuts her own hand off and it morphs into a scary face that makes vague threats and orders her around. The whole scene really undermines what they set up with Vadic; she’s suddenly timid and fearful and Scary Face seems to have something on her, a threat to her entire race sounds like. If she’s a Changeling, why is she making herself look like Amanda Plummer anyway? Changelings don’t like going around as solids, and the whole point seemed to be that this renegade faction wasn’t coping well with the loss of the war. Yet Vadic was having the time of her life in a humanoid form, chain-smoking and chewing the scenery. Whether she is or isn’t the sudden shift to her being scared and timid and deferential to the scary face is really ruining what they had built up. Heck, I’m not even sure if she’s going to be The Big Bad going forward; we leave her sort of spinning helplessly in space after Riker whangs an asteroid at her in what should probably have felt like a solid reversal after she opened by throwing the Eleos at the Titan, but there was already enough going on in that scene.

Maybe it’s going to turn out that she’s not a changeling, but that she for some reason has a changeling hand? It would be way more interesting if she is something else and she’s been, like, saddled with a changeling keeper that lives on her wrist to keep her in line than if she’s just a changeling herself and part of this changeling terrorist group. Here’s hoping.

Also, Vadic ditches the portal gun because she can’t carry it into the gravity well. Is this the end of the portal gun? I know we established last week that it was a diversion from the main point of the heist, but I still hoped we’d see more of it since it was pretty cool. Maybe someone else could retrieve it later?

The main thrust of the plot of the episode is a very traditional TNG sort of plot: the Titan is crippled and falling into what turns out to be a space jellyfish vagina (Okay, that bit is pure NuTrek), and there’s no hope of escape, but then they think of a clever gambit which requires pornographic levels of competence and it’s tense but they pull it off and there’s a payoff where they all have a life-affirming moment of looking at baby space jellyfish (They do not appear to be the same kind as in “Encounter at Farpoint”, but they’re similar enough that if they want to tell us this is what those look like when they’re babies, I’ll accept it. They’re a bit more squid than jellyfish, but it’s space, what do you want?). It’s a good, solid plot that looks good on-screen and really only struggles a bit with the fact that it’s sufficiently obvious that it again makes the Titan crew look bad for the fact that three pensioners come up with it all on their own while everyone else is busy making peace with their respective gods (Except the Bajoran. He’s wearing his earring on the wrong ear, which I think means he is an atheist. Being an atheist is a weird prospect on a planet whose gods are a scientific fact, but whatever).

Really, the main thrust of the episode is the character work, and while Picard and Son do a lot of the lifting here, Shaw is the real breakout somehow. Shaw spends most of the episode convalescing; he’s in comparatively good shape aside from a limp, but he’s hopped up on pain pills and declines to retake command from Riker, even though he’s fit enough to help out with the escape. And I like the way all of this is handled. Shaw is unapologetic, but he isn’t oblivious; he repeatedly owns the fact that he’s an asshole, and you kind of get the sense that he may have actually endeared himself to his own crew for the first time when he walks in on Picard and Jack’s touching moment to swear Picard out over the battle of Wolf 359. Yeah, as I was expecting, Shaw is an asshole because of his Tragic Past and survivor’s guilt. In this case, that he survived Wolf 359 only by virtue of being randomly chosen for the last seat in an escape pod. It harkens back to the introduction we got to Ben Sisko – also a survivor of Wolf 359 with a grudge against Picard. But that was ’90s Trek with its stiff characters whose professionalism doesn’t crack and where “character conflict” was sort of bolted on for the sake of drama. This is more visceral. Shaw walks in and basically tells Picard that given that they’re about to die and he is high as a kite, he would very much like to tell him to go fuck himself (He does not actually drop an F-bomb, but Jean-Luc does a bit earlier while relating an anecdote about a time him and Jack’s namesake got lost in an asteroid field while trying to get laid. It is slightly awkward just because of where in the sentence he sticks it. Also, kudos to Jack for calling out that it’s kinda weird his mom named him after his dad’s best friend). I love the little detail here that Shaw mentions that the “real” Borg are still out there, distinguishing them from the Federation’s new Borg allies. And also that he describes Locutus as, “The Borg so deadly they gave him his own name,” which seems like the sort of thing that ties back into his refusal to use Seven’s name.

(Incidentally, there’s a fan theory I love that the reason people swear so much in Picard is that after Wolf 359, there were so many new PTSD cases that it sparked a boom in trauma research, which led to the rediscovery of the therapeutic value of profanity, early-twenty-first-century knowledge which presumably got lost in the wars.)

There’s bonding between Shaw and Seven even. I’m not at all sure how the Titan works. No one seems to know each other, the crew seems to be very green, Shaw’s had the ship for years and been on a bunch of missions as its captain, though, and the nacelles are twenty years old. They released some concept art this week of the original Titan being being disassembled and its parts moved over to the new one by way of explaining the “refit” thing, so is it that Shaw commanded both Titans? How long has this one been in service? Is the whole crew new? I don’t know. Shaw and Seven seem to get along okay. Shaw laments the lack of marijuana on the ship, which is kind of wild. He helps her track the changeling, who is meatier than ever. And Seven’s track record remains solid: the changeling assumes the form of Ensign Laforge, but deadnames Seven, so she shoots her. I also really like that when Shaw asks her about this and Seven says, “Yeah, the real Laforge calls me by my actual name out of respect,” Shaw owns it. He doesn’t argue the point, he doesn’t justify himself; he just openly admits that, yes, he is a dick to her about that.

I’m starting to like Shaw as a character. He’s so open about the fact that he is an asshole. He knows it’s wrong, and he knows it’s not making him any friends. And you know what? He knows Picard isn’t to blame for Wolf 359, that Picard is a victim of the Borg possibly even more than he was. But trauma doesn’t listen to logic. When he isn’t about to die and high on pain pills, he can control himself and be reasonable about it, but it doesn’t make the feelings go away. He recognizes Seven as a supremely competent officer who he’s lucky to have, but he can’t help the fact that calling her by a Borg name is traumatizing to him. I don’t know how you square that circle. It’s not right for him to hurt Seven, but it’s also not right for him to have to self-harm. I mean, I get it. I’m reluctant to develop friendships with men named Chris. Fool me six times, shame on me.

It’s good TV, but I do have a little reluctance here that two seasons in a row, we’ve had a major character with serious psychological issues who isn’t getting treatment. Three if you count Raffi, which you probably should. This tracks with the real world, but it hurts like hell that things aren’t better in the twenty-fifth century. This is, after all, the Generation that gave us “Ships have a therapist on the bridge.”

My other issue with the scene is that the tension is all on the part of Seven. The audience never has any doubt that Laforge is the changeling. We just saw her on the bridge a few seconds ago (The immediately preceding shot is framed to not show her, but the one before that is basically, “Riker tells Laforge to fly the ship”), and Seven just got off the phone with Riker and told him not to send anyone. Plus, she’s incredibly sus, to the point that she practically went, “Mua ha ha” after asking Shaw whether or not whacking him in the head at this point would allow them to save the ship from otherwise certain death but still leave them easy prey for the Shrike. I guess this was intentional, to put us in the position of fearing for Seven. But there isn’t a lot of tension even that way. Seven is already on her guard, and we kinda know exactly where this is going the whole time. In fact, it feels more like a setup than anything else. Seven and Shaw have been working together to catch the changeling, Shaw and Seven go off to fix the nacelles. Seven says, “Hey, this would be a great time for the changeling to ambush us. I will just step out of the room for a moment and leave you unprotected.” If the changeling hadn’t already done a bunch of murders, we might be inclined to be worried for it, waltzing into such an obvious trap.

I am also confused by the fact that the changeling does not liquefy when Seven shoots it. Is it dead? Stunned? Wouldn’t a changeling revert to liquid in either of those cases? Earlier, Seven had raised the point that by crippling the Titan to the point of doom, the changeling had presumably failed in its mission to help capture Jack. They come back to that a little when the changeling makes it clear that he does want them to save the ship, just not escape. But they don’t close the loop on what the changeling’s full agenda is. In particular, if there’s an explanation for why, while posing as the transporter chief, he didn’t just beam Jack straight to the Shrike and save everyone a step, we haven’t got it yet.

I’ve talked around the exchange between Jack and Jean-Luc because I don’t really have much to say. It’s fine. I like that everyone acts like adults here. Jack isn’t pointlessly obstructive. We learn his reasons for staying out of Picard’s life, but there’s no vindictiveness to it. Unlike Shaw, Jack seems to be at peace with the fact that Picard never meant to hurt him and would have tried to do right by him if he’d had the chance. His heart isn’t open to reconciliation yet, but he isn’t turning against it. I think it’s telling that after Picard accepts the dressing down from Shaw, he gives up on the conversation with Jack as well. Shaw makes Jean-Luc see what he was missing: that Jack, like Shaw, is hurt, deeply, by Jean-Luc’s actions, regardless of the fact that Jean-Luc didn’t have any choice in the matter, and that’s a real problem for reconciliation. Picard can not be the one to make reconciliation happen because to do so, he needs to take responsibility, and how does he do that? Picard has never apologized to any of the victims of Wolf 359, because he is one himself. He was violated, forced against his well to become Locutus, to have his memories raided for the knowledge the Borg used to wipe out the fleet. How can he turn around after that and accept responsibility for those deaths? What’s he supposed to say? “I should’ve fought harder”? “I shouldn’t have put myself in a position to be captured”? “I shouldn’t have worn that short skirt”?

The nebula being a giant space jellyfish uterus was one heck of a twist, and it feels a little bit awkward that Beverly figures this out as a metaphor apparently using Mom Powers rather than the Star Trek tradition of “Science the shit out of this” and then it turns out to be literally true that the nebula energy was contraction. But okay, this isn’t really a “Science the shit out of this” kind of show, and I’ll grant that the Titan crew is busy holding the ship together. Still, it would be nice if the Titan crew – who were greatly talked up in the pre-release materials – actually did something on their own occasionally. This absolutely does not feel like a backdoor pilot for a Titan series; the Titan characters are just sort of “there”.

It also felt like it was a bit late in the day for Riker to still be resistant to trying their plan – his weird death-drive moment where he wants them to wait for rescue, because even if they all die, at least their bodies (and the letter he’s writing to his wife) might be found someday. But he caves when Bev reminds him that one of the running themes in modern Trek is that it’s actually fairly easy to solve these problems once the gang stops fucking around and actually works together. Given that I’d figured out that the solution was going to be “Hook up a lightning rod and let the energy waves jump start the engines” about forty seconds into the episode, I think they could have done a better job at selling us on how hard it was to come up with the solution.

The bonding moment between Picard and Jack also leaves a little to be desired. They have to work together, Jack calling out the positions of the asteroids while Picard navigates around them, a parallel to the anecdote Picard had told earlier about Jack’s namesake. But Picard’s role here is to shout orders to Laforge, so that’s kind of weird. Why not put Picard in her seat for that scene, actually manually flying the ship as he had La Sirena in season one? Picard’s presence is not strictly necessary for this, his big scene. But absolute kudos for another great example of saying things with just a look, the moment Picard recognizes Jack from the years-earlier scene at Ten Forward and realizes how he’d inadvertently hurt him by dismissing the idea that he had any need for a family of his own in what, to the audience of young officers he thought he was addressing, was just your standard inspirational Picard speech. That was pretty cool.

Also, now that they’re out of immediate danger, can they turn the lights back on. When Riker orders them to turn off life support and the lights got dimmer? There was a dimmer?

This post first appeared on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging | Welcome To The WORL, please read the originial post: here

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Some Blundering About Star Trek: Picard 3×04: No Win Scenario


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