In season 3 of PICARD, there are two major plot points that strongly echo plots from the two current animated series. The struggle between Data and Lore for control of Data’s body is very similar to Rutherford’s struggle with his former self in Lower Decks s3e5, and the takeover of Starfleet by the Borg’s virus is very similar to the takeover of Starfleet by the vengeful time-travelers’ virus in Prodigy.

There is nothing wrong with reusing plots – Star Trek has done it from time immemorial. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes they are redundant. They have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In these cases, I believe that PICARD cheapens the original plots.

First, on Lower Decks, we had gradually been introduced to hints that there was something amiss about Rutherford’s implants. Our curiosity naturally built over time, and the revelation that his memories had been overwritten to cover up his past self’s malfeasance was at once surprising and organic. The resolution of the plot, where Rutherford doesn’t want to let his past self disappear, shows us the best of the character we have come to love. Then the information we learn there serves the larger developing plot, culminating in the revelation of the automated fleet. The plot is well-paced and meaningful both to the individual character and the show’s overall arc.

None of this is true of the struggle between Data and Lore in PICARD. The continued existence of Data is sprung at us at random, arbitrarily contradicting the fact that he has been killed not once, but twice. The fact that he has been combined with Lore is equally arbitrary, serving little more than a desire to call back to a familiar character. The resolution of the conflict is clever, as Data uses Lore’s negative tendencies against him, but in the larger story arc it only serves to solve a problem that the combination of Data and Lore caused in the first place. Overall, the plot serves to put Brent Spiner back on screen in two familiar roles, seemingly for its own sake.

Turning now to Prodigy’s fleet takeover plot. Again, this idea was introduced very early on and gradually evolved into the key plot conflict in the show. When it was finally triggered, it spawned two attempted solutions, both of which embodied Star Trek ideals. In the first, non-Starfleet ships helped to disable the infected vessels, giving the lie to the Diviner’s vision of Starfleet as a malign influence. In the second, hologram Janeway sacrifices herself to save the fleet, providing a satisfying end to her character’s development as a fully sentient being while solving the problem of how to handle the awkward co-existence of real Janeway with her holodeck double. As with Lower Decks, everything seems to fit together well.

By contrast, the takeover of young Starfleet members by the Borg virus – based on DNA supposedly slipped into Picard decades ago and leveraging Jack’s telepathic mind control abilities – comes way out of left field only in the second to last episode. When it comes to the resolution, they seem to sidestep the possibility of using Seven’s Borg identity as part of a meaningful solution. Instead, the entire thing seems gerrymandered to make the use of an older generation of ship, namely the Enterprise-D, necessary to save the day. Where the tweens of Prodigy take their situation deadly seriously, Picard makes jokes about the carpet even as Starfleet self-destructs and Earth is on the brink of oblivion. The message, such as it is, seems to be that the TNG crew effectively is the “last generation” of the series finale’s title – the last generation that is able to achieve anything meaningful. All of Starfleet is threatened with extinction and an entire generation is traumatized by their participation in mass murder, all so we can get a glamor shot on the old bridge.

The fact that the undisputed best season of PICARD is so easily upstaged by animated cartoons in the execution of basically identical plot points seems to me to be a major lesson. I don’t begrudge anyone their moment of nostalgia, but to me this comparison shows that the franchise needs to get past the legacy characters in order to tell a coherent and satisfying story at this point. And given that Prodigy has been abruptly cancelled and removed, it doesn’t seem like it’s a lesson anyone in charge is likely to learn anytime soon.

But what do you think?

  • @khaosworksM
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    1111 months ago

    I wouldn’t say it was the best series of PIC, but it was certainly the best received, largely because it was so fan service-y. But then again PIC was creeping that way, anyway. Season 1 revolved around Picard himself dealing with the ghosts of his past, but then they probably noticed people paying more attention when characters like Hugh, Seven and the Troi-Rikers showed up. So Season 2 features Q, and despite it being a bit of a mess and feeling like the writers and actors were using it as proxy therapy, again the best received bits were kisses to the past.

    So they went all out in Season 3 as a direct sequel to TNG. Old crew, Borg, the Changelings, etc. Give Picard a son, why not? Bring back the D, you got it! Season 3 was entertaining and nostalgic and gave us all these fanboy feels, but boy, was it emotionally manipulative and a lot doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    But to contrast the way PIC echoed plot lines from the animated shows is, perhaps, not entirely fair, because they were aiming for different things.

    In PIC the aim was to bring back Data and add a plot complication, so they chose Lore, just to get everyone excited. On reflection, it might have been more interesting just to have Lore on board and not Data (see how this is being handled in the current Star Trek: Defiant comic), but again then they wouldn’t have the TNG bridge crew reunion that fans all wanted to see. So damn the torpedoes, Data had to come back somehow.

    If we really want to criticize it, Rutherford’s past personality issues suffer from the same problem as the Lore complication: it isn’t necessary to the plot. It could easily have been Rutherford discovering that he was the victim of a mindwipe and it would have led to the same revelation about the Texas-class feet. It didn’t have to have his past self be a different personality, but that gave them a plot to hang an episode on. So in that sense both could be said to be a vehicle just to allow the actor to stretch himself. Also, given the episodic nature of LD, it was a one and done deal just to get the Texas-class revelation out, while the Lore complication was so to stretch out that part of the story for PIC’s one big ten-hour movie.

    The Borg virus seeming to come out of left field is typical of shows that want to have an overarching mystery (LOST is a particularly egregious example). To be fair, in PRO we also didn’t know how the Construct was supposed to destroy Starfleet until midway through the season. And again, the purposes were different. PRO was dead focused on having the kids develop themselves and learn lessons away from Starfleet and the Construct gave them the plot reason to do so. That was why they had to get it out in the open quickly, or make it obvious.

    However, in PIC Season 3, they wanted to maintain the mystery. They did kind of foreshadowed it by dropping hints about transporter incidents and the larger question of why Jack was sought after, but they just didn’t drop enough clues for us to put together what the overarching plot was, and decided to approach it by misleading us that it would be a Changeling takeover.

    So ultimately, did LD and PRO do the plots better? Maybe they held together better than PIC did, but they weren’t telling the same story. PIC was trafficking in nostalgia, trying to keep viewers excited and engaged and not so much plot cohesiveness. LD and PRO were telling their own stories as I mentioned above, so the emphases and approaches differ.

    • @adamkotskoOP
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      211 months ago

      I agree that the Construct was a bit of a kludge to make it so they couldn’t just go directly back to Starfleet. But I would defend the Rutherford plot as more organic – it’s not just that he’s the victim of a mindwipe, which we already kind of knew. We need to understand why he would cooperate with something evil, or even why the evil people would single him out. Making him become a different person with the mindwipe actually adds the the coherence (or provides them with a way out of the hole they had inadvertantly opened up with the mindwipe plot… that’s the nature of long-running storytelling).

      • @khaosworksM
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        311 months ago

        I agree that was what they were going for with Rutherford, but on reflection even that wasn’t necessary. It could have written along these lines: Rutherford was working on Badgey without realizing how psychotic he was (as he did on the Cerritos), and then when he realized this and wanted to pull out of the project, Buenamingo arranged for the accident and subsequent mindwipe. So no necessity in that scenario for a personality change.

        In fact, having Rutherford be the same (and possibly serving on the Cerritos at the same time) could have helped to clean up or prevent a little discontinuity between LD: “Second Contact” and LD: “Reflections” as to the precise date Rutherford was assigned to the Cerritos, but that’s another discussion.

        • @adamkotskoOP
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          411 months ago

          Even if they could have made it more organic than it is, it is still more organic than the Data/Lore thing is to Picard’s plot.