HEAVY SPOILERS - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
It's been a long time coming. The last time we saw Jean-Luc Picard on screen was 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis, a movie that disappointed with its financials and critical response. Steven Barry and myself were surprised when re-watching Nemesis to find that it had aged very well, which - given that Star Trek: Picard was on the way and promised to pick up on a particular plot thread from the movie - only increased my anticipation for the series.
THE RETURN OF COMMANDER DATA
Remembrance picks up on that plot thread right away. We find ourselves floating through space, beautifully colourful nebulae all around, until we catch sight of something wonderful - the Enterprise-D from the Star Trek: The Next Generation era. We zoom in close, right through the window of the Ten Forward lounge, and find Jean-Luc Picard sitting with Commander Data, playing poker. This of course is a reference to TNG, in which the senior crew (absent Picard until the final episode) regularly sat down to play poker together. Now, Data had last been seen in Nemesis, where he met his end ridding the universe of a megalomaniac named Shinzon. Clearly his loss would have had quite the effect on his crew-mates, not least Picard - who he sacrificed himself to save. Picard, you see, had been aboard Shinzon's vessel - about to blow up the ship with himself on board - right before Data appeared and forced Picard to beam away to safety. Now we see Data once again in this dream sequence, in which Picard says to him, "I don't want the game to end", before a planet just outside the windows of Ten Forward (that looks very much like Mars) is blown to kingdom come - and Picard wakes with a start.
THE PASSAGE OF TIME
The passage of time is extremely palpable throughout this episode. We are reminded that Picard is no longer a young man - indeed, it is twenty years in-universe since the events of Nemesis. This serves to underline the importance of Picard dreaming about Data - the pain of his loss, and the memory of his friend is still very strongly present in Picard's subconscious. As for Picard's life - he is now resident at his family vineyard - Chateau Picard - in France. We last saw this location in the TNG episode Family, in which Picard returned to Earth to visit his brother at the vineyard to recover from his assimilation by the Borg in Best of Both Worlds. His brother, sister-in-law and nephew sadly died in a fire at the Chateau in Star Trek: Generations, so the location will clearly hold some haunting memories for Picard. In fact, this sense of melancholy permeates the episode - a feeling of loss. Loss of friends, family, and time. As notable Star Trek villain Tolian Soran once said to Picard in Generations, "Time is the fire in which we burn." It may well be that these words echo in Picard's mind as he lives his twilight years.
CHANGES, AND NOT ALL FOR THE BETTER
Picard isn't completely alone at the vineyard - he has a dog named Number One - a cheeky reference to his nickname for Commander Riker back on the Enterprise. And he has two Romulan helpers - Laris (Orla Brady) and Zhaban (Jamie McShane) - former members of the Romulan secret police (the Tal Shiar) who came to live with Picard after the destruction of Romulus (Star Trek (2009)). This is where we start to enter the land of exposition - a news crew come round to the vineyard to interview Picard, apparently to discuss his life and achievements. When the reporter begins to ask uncomfortable questions, we learn a number of key plot points: that Picard attempted to assist Romulan refugees in the aftermath of Romulus' destruction and was unsuccessful, that Mars was attacked by 'rogue synths' (beings like Commander Data), and that this attack led to synthetic life-forms being banned and Starfleet dipping out of helping the Romulans to deal with more pressing matters at home.
While all of this is going on, there's something else happening in Boston. A young woman named Dahj Asha, played by Isa Briones, and her boyfriend are canoodling on a couch in their apartment rather enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, as can all too often happen, a crack squad of assassins suddenly beam into the room to ruin everything. I tell you, if I had a pound for every time canoodling was wrecked by crack assassins I'd be a rich man. Anyway they unceremoniously and instantly murder Dahj's boyfriend before turning their attention to her. Unfortunately for them she - as they describe it - 'activates', murdering them all with apparent ease. It's no exaggeration to say she comes across in a Terminator-like fashion - she is terrifyingly efficient in her dispatching of the assassins. Once the dust has settled, Dahj has a sudden vision of - who else - Jean-Luc Picard.
AN UNINVITED GUEST
Dahj makes her way to see Picard at the Chateau. Of course, he is shocked when she wanders up to him out of nowhere among the vines and says, "Everything inside of me says that I'm safe with you." Despite this odd introduction, Picard does the right thing - takes someone vulnerable under his wing. Picard's Romulan helpers tend to Dahj's wounds and, later, Picard and Dahj have a chat over some Earl Grey tea about 'being a stranger to oneself'. It's quite interesting, but admittedly rather esoteric. While Picard would certainly want to help someone in need, the way the show pushes the relationship between them is quite clumsy. The show needs Dahj to matter and isn't shy about using every tool at its disposal to make this happen quickly. If only it were capable of moving the plot along faster in other areas - but we'll get to that later (over the coming episodes). The scene exists simply to bring the viewer's attention to Dahj's necklace, which is probably why it feels so peculiar. We'll find out more about this necklace later. Picard has another dream that night, with Data in attendance yet again. This time he's painting a picture. The picture has a blank space where a figure should be, a space that looks suspiciously like Dahj. I wonder what that could mean? Could it mean - sigh - that Dahj is important? Picard suddenly wakes in his study - where he had evidently fallen asleep - and turns around to look at a painting on the wall. The painting is the same one Data had been painting in the dream, but with a figure present - although facing away from the viewer. Laris turns up to inform Picard that Dahj is gone - and Picard tells her that he's away off somewhere, and to call him if Dahj reappears.
LAZY WRITING AND PLOT INSERTS
Anyone who's listened to the podcast knows how much I hate lazy writing. It permeates television these days, which is why shows like Breaking Bad are so precious - show-runners who know how to actually write a plot are few and far between. Unfortunately the show-running/TV writing world is populated by people who'd rather write themselves into mystery boxes they can't get out of, or use items and objects to justify things they could have actually explained with a decent plot, or, indeed, completely ignore 'show don't tell' as if it were the worst thing imaginable. In a visual medium, no less. But - I digress. Let's get on with this, shall we? Picard goes to a giant data archive and looks at his personal digital belongings, one of which is a painting by Data called Daughter (part of a pair of paintings, one of which was in Picard's study) that has - gasp - the figure looking at the viewer and - double gasp - the figure is, you guessed it! Dahj. So to recap, a stranger turns up at Picard's gaff, he takes her in, she says she knows she's safe with him, she boosts off in the night without explanation, Picard has a dream about Data's painting, he goes and finds the second of the two paintings in his archive and the woman in the painting looks just like Dahj. If that's not reaching, I don't know what is. And besides all that, it hardly makes any sense. Of course, some of this is cleared up later on, but it is CLUMSY and LAZY writing, Alex Kurtzman - but then, isn't that your forte?
And so, in another moment of laziness, the writers decided that rather than actually writing, they'd have another tea break. So, we get this highly unlikely and coincidental chain of events: Dahj is on the run and decides to go see Picard again, so she instigates some kind of technically vague digital location search using... something, and then immediately bumps into him as he's exiting the archives. He tells her that she's very, very special and should be taken to the Daystrom Institute immediately (heavily referenced in many a Trek movie/show, it's the Federation's top tier cybernetic research facility) and Dahj, in turn, tells Picard that she's received a fellowship there. But suddenly! Dahj flinches and dashes off, pulling Picard along for the ride. Poor Picard, who is in his 90s at this stage of his life, is dragged up goodness knows how many flights of stairs and looks about ready to keel over once they get to the top. Some more 'crack' assassins appear to fight Dahj, who deals with them in her customarily efficient manner - until one decides enough is enough and spits corrosive acid all over her. She in turn explodes, blowing herself into a billion pieces.
PRETTY FLY FOR A WHITE GUY
Picard, of course, is blown off his feet by this explosion. Inexplicably the (never seen) local police turn up, dust him down and send him home (unconscious!) to France. The police apparently found Picard there alone and didn't see anything suspicious on the security feeds - because Dahj can apparently turn herself invisible. But this doesn't make any sense, does it? What about Picard being dragged up the stairs? Did they watch him with one hand out in front of himself, being pulled along by nobody? Did they not wonder as to where the giant scorch marks and explosion damage had come from? Evidently not. He was alone, so they ignore the rest of the evidence. Ridiculous. In any case Picard has had enough of living in hiding. Like many people, he immediately wants to get back out into the world after almost being blown up. Gets rid of seclusive tendencies immediately, that does. So he decides to go to the Daystrom Institute to have a chat about Dahj, and see if he can figure out what's going on. He meets with a doctor there, by the name of Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill). She laughs incredulously when he asks if an android can be made of flesh and blood. We are shown, by Jurati, a drawer containing the deactivated B-4 (a less advanced version of Commander Data last seen in Nemesis) and are told that Data's attempts to recreate his own mind within B-4's was unsuccessful as the latter's positronic brain simply wasn't advanced enough. Jurati tells Picard that she was brought into the employ of the Daystrom Institute by one Bruce Maddox, a character last seen way back in 1987's The Measure of a Man, a TNG episode in which Maddox attempted to have Data disassembled for research purposes. Maddox, evidently still having sought the ability to create androids like Data, had continued his research. Picard shows Jurati the necklace that Dahj had been wearing, that she had left behind at the Chateau. Stunned, Jurati explains that the necklace is the symbol for an experimental and radical idea that Maddox had been working on - fractal neuronic cloning (catchy) - in which one positronic neuron from Data's brain could have been expanded into an entire android mind. Picard thus decides that Dahj was Data's 'daughter', sadly musing that Data 'always wanted a daughter'. Jurati comments that it would be entirely possible for Maddox to have created flesh and blood androids using his method, describing the product as 'they'. Because, apparently, despite being shocked by the entire Dahj story and thinking it would be impossible (and even laughing at it all), Jurati now suddenly knows that Maddox in fact carried his research to a successful conclusion, and that the process produces twin androids made from flesh and blood. So, we (and Picard) now know there's another Dahj out there. If you're like me, you were being pulled between confusion, irritation and the impulse to fall asleep throughout that entire explanation. I just want you to imagine for a second the pain I experienced having to write that out. The entire scene with Jurati is a clumsy mess of technobabble, nonsense and contradictions all wrapped up into one handy, tens-of-minutes long package. As Mike from Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul would say: honest to God. I just can't wrap my head around what must have been going on in the writers room. Was there not a better way? To be sure there was - because it's literally any other way. What utter, complete nonsense.
WE MUST CONTINUE BECAUSE THIS IS GETTING QUITE LONG
It's not my fault sub-heading guy, it's the people who wrote the bloody show. Anyway. For an ending we get to see a mysterious ship docking with another, far larger, mysterious ship. This smaller ship turns out to be Romulan. We then see a floppy haired young Romulan chap called Narek who introduces himself to Dahj's twin, Soji. He - of course - compliments her on her necklace, just to make sure that we saw it. And she says it was made by her father, to match the one her twin sister wears. Narek has some sob story about his brother dying. Narek, by the way, sounds like a student from Surrey. And then the camera zooms out to reveal that the larger ship was a Borg cube, apparently under the control of the Romulans. Admittedly, that's pretty cool.
Well, well, well. While it's absolutely wonderful to see Patrick Stewart back in the role of Picard, the episode certainly wasn't shooting into any top ten - or indeed top one hundred lists of the best TV episodes out there. The blame lies firmly with the writers, of course - the cast were great, without exception. Even Narek's student-like portrayal of a pigeon English speaking Romulan wasn't terrible. Every single person mentioned in my review performed excellently - or at least the best they could - with the material on offer and, of course, could only work with what they were given. It was nice to see some new, young faces. And, thankfully, the show ticks all the boxes - and will continue to tick them - when it comes to diverse casting. This, much to my relief, never comes across as pious or unnatural. The special effects were passable, with the exception of the wonderful shot of the Enterprise-D at the start which is admittedly up there with the very best space shots in Trek. Direction was good - the pacing was slow, but appropriately so, with some nice lingering shots and beautiful lighting. This, however, will begin to grate in upcoming episodes. Musically - some lovely moments, but the title theme is a bit drab and non-committal (something I've noticed with Star Trek: Discovery's theme as well). But, really, none of these things matter if the writers basically vomit in a bag and pop it in your face - because that's what it feels like, sometimes. These guys can write a decent scene - now and again - but they cannot, for the life of them, write a coherent story. I am amazed they have writing jobs. In fact I'm even more amazed that they've reached this station in life without the ability to plot properly. Is it a symptom of being surrounded by sycophants, 'yes-men' and the like? Could it be that storytelling is the first victim of people trying to make sure their pet issues are touched upon? To be fair, nothing political was overt, but I can't help suspecting that something other than the story was the true priority in the minds of the writers - which is a stupendous thing to wonder about the people who's sole job it is to write the story. Anyway. THREE STARS. DO BETTER KURTZMAN.