The Banality of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Demonstrates Social Collapse

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In the midst of a public health development unseen in generations, when almost all of humanity has decided to binge-watch absolutely everything they can get their hands upon thanks to a massive quarantine, it perhaps is worthwhile to point out the show that is certainly not worth your time, the latest iteration of the Star Trek franchise that revives almost-octogenarian Patrick Stewart’s Jean Luc Picard for one last jaunt across the cosmos.

The current schism extant within the fandom of the Roddenberry religion is presented by the entrance of one Alex Kurtzman, who revived the mothballed franchise in 2009 alongside director J.J. Abrams and writer Roberto Orci. After having been shelved unceremoniously by CBS and Paramount in 2005 following the failure of an altogether forgettable television series and an even more lugubrious motion picture, the trio rebooted things with a new cast playing the characters of the original series. But instead of just tempting the fates with players lacking memory of the Great Depression, this new papacy went much further, embracing the George Lucas whizz-bang blow-em-up mise en scene of contemporary action pictures while jettisoning the contemplative, hard sci-fi norms that had made the show a veritable Vatican of dweeb culture for over four decades at that point.

Not since the mutual excommunications of Rome and Constantinople in 1054 had we seen such a violent bloodletting! Legions were unleashed with a gnashing of teeth that filled many a mother’s basements with nasal whining so powerful we witnessed a stock market spike for pharmaceutical inhaler manufacturers! And nary a soul was concerned within this new hierarchy because they were actually making money at that point!

Eleven years later comes Picard, which had certain potential but squandered it on what boils down to cheap fan service combined with an asinine plot that could be cut-and-paste from any third-rate pulp fiction magazine. Jean Luc, rendered socially inconsequential in retirement, finds himself in the center of a plot involving androids, Romulans, and Borgs (oh my!) that could potentially redeem him after the inglorious end of his career. Screaming across the galaxy with a coterie of new crew mates that I could not be compelled to actually care about, he delivers an interstellar Grumpy Old Men sketch that is mostly embarrassing.

Kurtzman previously brought viewers another series, Discovery, starring a low-ranking African American woman with a gender-transgressive name, Michael Burnham, which I enjoyed tremendously despite the complaints of the Old Church fundamentalists. Part of this stemmed from the change of protagonist power position and the circumstances emanating from that. But part also stemmed from an intensifying violence and sexuality that has lost its novelty in this Picard serial. While Discovery’s project seemed to reflect upon increasing social chaos in the wake of the Trump phenomenon and the advent of the alt-right’s street hooliganism, by contrast here it feels gratuitous and hollow.

The plot of this show is not only boring and predictable, it furthermore steam-rolls over well-established pre-existing characterization in a fundamental fashion that would suggest the script writers never bothered actually familiarizing themselves with over three decades of material that made the protagonist so beloved! It would be as if Alex Kurtzman decided to make a sequel to one of Shakespeare’s tragedies by transforming Julius Caesar into a Roman street urchin without explanation or reason!

It is the propaganda of valorized private property, individual liberty, and free market trade norms. The fulcrum of this serial is the role played by a singular protagonist seeking redemption that eschews any formulation of collective social effort, a strange regressive development. Roddenberry’s project was constructed as a shrine to postwar liberal internationalism and the founding principles of the United Nations, including a not-too-subtle analogue repudiating the Cold War and colonialism, with the starship crew embodying a certain multiculturalism that, while heavy-handed in hindsight, was groundbreaking for its time.

This trend is representative of a much more foreboding development. Our entertainment media on all levels is becoming a homogeneous blob of hegemonic plot points and storytelling patterns that repeat the same arcs in service of a ham-handed technocratic idealism lacking any affinity for human solidarity. Frankly I am beginning to find myself writing the same reviews of media projects that seem to be repeating the same Missal every season.

The Church of Trek has survived far worse and I imagine it will still exist in another two decades, the sanctuary’s owners have sunk far too much capital into it and its communicants have paid too many tithes. Is it possible that this serial will significantly impact dogma? The broadcast platform, the CBS All Access streaming service, is incredibly opaque and it is impossible to discern what success it has reached, devoid of all metrics provided by the Nielsen television ratings system.

Regardless, one can wish that they will formulate a better storyline soon. This is a bore and nuisance that ranks with some of the greatest failures of the franchise.

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