Thursday, April 14, 2022

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Picard' - The Narrative Wallows in Depression Because It Only Knows How to Tell One Story in 'Monsters'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Picard - Episode 2.07 "Monsters"

Tallinn ventures inside Picard's subconscious mind to help wake him from a coma and face both his darkest secrets and deepest fears. Seven and Raffi go in search of Jurati whom they fear has succumbed to the monster inside. Rios struggles to hide the truth of who he really is from Teresa.

"Monsters" was written by Jane Maggs and directed by Joe Menendez

Something is seriously wrong. That's true both within Picard and in the timeline overall. That sentiment is told over and over again. It's not something to experience. It's something for a person to state to Picard. People project all this internal turmoil onto him. It never comes across as him receiving these immense realizations about his life. This entire test from Q is for Picard to truly know himself. He's been so focused on trying to restore the timeline that he has forgotten what the actually journey was meant to be. And yet, that's continuing to plan the game on Q's terms. He is the antagonist who believes he can coerce everyone into responding how he wants. Not everyone must enter the debate using the same methods. It simply needs to be clear to the audience why all of this is happening. The narrative certainly does escalate. That continues the trend of each episode ending with a cliffhanger meant to inform the story for the next episode. It's still mostly just empty teases. Picard and his crew can no longer keep their presence a secret. They are from the future. People have started to notice that. As such, they will have an impact on the timeline. They wanted to avoid any butterflies that could ripple through time. That may have always been inevitable. The same applies to Picard's journey inward. He had to embark on this mission to get unstuck. But again, the show never allows Picard to have agency in the situation. Instead, it's treated as something he must do. It's this monumental thing that has kept him back for his entire life. As an old man, he is just now realizing how he has been traumatized and carried that forward in all his actions after childhood. His relationship with his parents informs so much. He has wanted to run away from it. It has propelled his drive to always save people no matter what. It has prevented him from pursuing any genuine romantic relationships. Picard is wrong and ashamed. He is frustrating and stubborn. He holds onto the rigidity of life that has allowed him to thrive for so many years. He has never had to challenge the notion of his identity. It's a completely forced conversation now. Picard has to analyze the past in order to move forward. He just never comes across as central to that journey. Instead, it's the power of the shocking reveal. And so, he was wrong to always paint his father as the abuser who forced his mother to constantly be running away from monsters. Meanwhile, he continually deflects from addressing the fact that there is even more to this story he is hiding from. It's exhausting without introducing an original concept.

Picard has been successful as a captain. This show set out to explore more complications within his identity. The character that worked for so many seasons in a former show and in several films is somehow no longer good enough. He has to have an even more tragic backstory. He needs to deal with threats that are even more monumental. He must be failing because that's the only way the audience can accept a rousing victory eventually. All of these creative decisions were made in the early going and were colossal mistakes. The sense of character is incredibly weak. Nothing propelling the characters forward is genuine. Instead, it's an embrace of plot tropes that are all too common. Storytelling must be more complicated than it has ever been. Viewers seemingly demand that now. So much agency and nostalgia is robbed from this story because it's all focused on undermining the legacy that was already set. It was a big deal when Patrick Stewart wanted to reprise his role as Picard. All of this could work if the narrative decisions were executed in a bolder way. Instead, it's the crew continually being unable to prevent a threat from emerging and growing more powerful. They make these big pronouncements about how doomed the past will be. They will never succeed in their mission. All hope is lost because nothing works how it should be. Raffi and Seven can't find Jurati because the Borg Queen has locked them out of the ship. Rios can't lie to the friends he has made at the clinic. Tallinn has to reveal herself as Romulan to gain Picard's trust while he deflects from the secrets he still keeps buried. It's all a mess. Q must be doing all of this for a reason. Instead of receiving any enlightenment, law enforcement is brought in to immediately arrest Picard and Guinan. That becomes the new obstacle standing in the way of quick progress. Picard and crew can't succeed if so many figures continue standing in their way. That only makes the situation more dire and bleak. It's the lazy way of escalating the plot. Monsters lurk everywhere. The ones internally can be just as destructive as those externally. Of course, the show only knows how to handle threats when they are physical. The unseen horrors are elusive despite Picard wanting to lead with empathy towards those with mental illness. That too highlights the limitations of the narrative's ambitions. Picard is well-suited to talk about these issues when it comes to protecting Renee. And then, he is completely in the dark and baffled when it comes to his own past. The show has no internal sense of logic and can't even present that chaos in a way that is truly exciting while also ramping up the threat. It's too much without offering anything close to enough to be satisfying.