Star Trek Picard

For me, the appeal of Star Trek was always its utopian vision of the future. Whilst the Expanse transfers current ethical and economical struggles into space, Star Trek puts some of these themes behind it. It’s about exploring space peacefully and searching for diplomatic resolutions of conflicts.

Star Trek and the Romulans

The latest Star Trek show continues the storyline from Star Trek (2009), which among other things included the destruction of Romulus, the home planet of the Romulans. It’s safe to say that they were one of the great powers in the Star Trek universe, amongst others like the Klingons or Cardassians. Its also implied throughout the different Star Trek shows, that they control bigger parts of the beta quadrant. Star Trek Picard also acknowledges that fact, when the show mentions relocating “900 million Romulan citizens”, which implies a very large civilization. The Romulans are also known as very militaristic, so let’s just assume that they have some space ships of their own.[1]

In the first episode, the Romulans are called “the Federation’s oldest enemy”, which is somewhat true. But observing only the main shows and movies its fair to say that the Romulans didn’t cause a lot of havoc, especially compared to the Borg or the Dominion. Looking back at DS9 the Romulans even lent Starfleet one of their most valued technologies, a cloaking device.

A different federation?

So, the Romulans need help, because their sun is going supernova. In a TV interview (let’s just call it that) with Picard, it’s pointed out, that “the federation choose to support the rescue effort”. Looking back at countless Star Trek episodes, where captains of ships go out of their way to save people, planets or even whole races, it’s rather baffling why there is any debate to help someone.
This overall weirdly constructed situation gets even worse when this decision gets revoked. After an attack of synthetics on the shipyard building evacuation ships for the Romulans, the United Federation of Planets just does not have enough ships left to help. It also leads to the ban of synthetic life.

The actual story of Star Trek Picard takes place years after these events, when a synthetic named Dahj comes to Picard for help but gets killed by Romulans (on earth, in broad daylight). She is not just the somewhat daughter of Data,[2] but she also has a sister called Soji. Now Picard spends the first half of the season assembling a crew and searching for her. At the same time, a secret Romulan organization called Zhat Vash tries to extract the location of the remaining synthetics from Soji. She is a researcher on a stranded Borg Cube.

When Picard finally gets to Soji she almost immediately trusts him, so they can escape to a nice fan service episode starring Will Riker and Deanna Troy. Aiding their escape are two former Borg members, Hugh and Seven of Nine. You may remember Hugh from TNG, but don’t worry if you don’t, he gets killed off one episode later. A less sad fate awaits Seven of Nine: After struggling for 4 seasons of Star Trek Voyager to regain her humanity, she gave up the life of a scientist and became a Ranger, avenging the death of another Star Trek Voyager character.

The big reveal

Nearing the end of the show we learn that the Zhat Vash was behind the synthetic attack on Mars. Some members of this organization saw a very convincing vision of the end of all organic life.[3] Given these high stakes it also makes total sense that the attack on Mars was not carried out by synthetics, but of course, staged by the Zhat Vash to make the federation ban all synthetics. I guess dooming their own empire was a lesser price to pay.

Speaking of resources, in the 10+ years since the fall of the Romulan empire they managed to save or at least built a nice fleet of ships that they are now sending to destroy the remaining synths. Luckily, in the last minute Starfleet also sents an equally big fleet to confront them. Because I guess unlike 12 years ago Starfleet now suddenly remembers to actually save lives. But yeah, of course, it’s Synthetics and not evil Romulans?
In the last episode, they also continue to toy around with the idea of Picard dying. Which would be way more exciting if they didn’t hint at that empty synthetic body lying around and Dr. Jurati working on a way to transfer a consciousness into it.

Just entertainment?

You could guess from my increasing sarcasm, that I didn’t enjoy Star Trek Picard. Which is not necessarily true, it is a somewhat entertaining show. But that’s also its biggest flaw because that’s all there is. I could point out numerous episodes of different Star Trek shows, raising weird but fascinating ethical or philosophical questions.
Something Picard fails to offer. On the contrary, many of the conflicts and problems in Star Trek Picard feel badly constructed. They are just there to reach a certain story endpoint. I actually started this article as a comparison between the 4th season of The Expanse and Star Trek Picard. The world of the expanse couldn’t be more different and it certainly has its flaws. But it manages something where Picard fails, it is believable.

I don’t need Star Trek to be like it was back in the 90ies, the Orville already does that (and I can’t wait for the next season). I also don’t need a darker Star Trek, The Expanse handles this way better. Weird and cheesy character development is covered by (the sadly canceled) Dark Matter. So maybe Star Trek should start remembering it’s utopian roots and how it was about exploring space and developing its characters.

Footnotes
[1] see. DS9 s03e021 or s05e15.
[2] No, not Lal, the one he built in TNG s03e16.
[3] Which is such a pity, since Discovery just prevented that in its last season.

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