January 29, 2020

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 Ep 1, "Remembrance"

This is the second Star Trek series on CBS All Access, and for this one, the producers managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: lure Jean-Luc himself, Patrick Stewart, back into the saddle. Previously, Stewart had resisted all attempts to persuade him to revisit his iconic character after the last movie, the not-well-received Nemesis in 2002. It was only when he was given considerable input into the storyline (he's credited as an executive producer) that he agreed to come aboard.

(Oh yeah, SPOILERS. TONS of spoilers. EVERY LINE FROM HERE ON OUT is a spoiler. Proceed at your own risk.)

So now we have an aged and at least in this episode, a hermitlike and defeated Jean-Luc, having left Starfleet behind some ten years before, living out his final years at his family's vineyard in France. The opening scene sets the stakes: a dream sequence in which Picard is playing poker with the deceased Commander Data (who sacrificed himself to save Picard's life in Nemesis) on board the Enterprise-D. Data, seemingly convinced he holds a powerful hand, tells Picard to "call or fold," and Picard proceeds to sloooowwwwly make himself a cup of Earl Grey, offering Data first milk and then sugar and taking a deliberate sip from it. Data rightly notes that his Captain is stalling, and Picard sets the cup down, looks at his friend, and says, with that wonderful Patrick Stewart delivery which carries all sorts of nuances, "I don't want the game to end."

Then the table starts quivering and the coins begin to shake, and Data and Picard look out the viewports to see the face of Mars. Picard protests that he didn't know their course would take them past Mars, and he and Data look on in horror as the planet begins to blossom with--perhaps nuclear explosions (although I don't think it's ever specifically stated). The screen fills with white light, and Picard snaps out of his nightmare with the help of his dog, a pit bull fittingly named Number One.

So right away we see that Picard is haunted by two things: the death of Commander Data and the destruction of the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars (and apparently the planet as well, as it's stated that it's "still burning" ten years later, although with the lack of an atmosphere on Mars I don't know what there is to burn). As we find out, this is a future where Starfleet has retreated from its former ideals into a suspicious, isolationist society, and the story behind the second tragedy is what led Picard to resign from Starfleet. This is revealed via an interview done with Picard on its ten-year anniversary, where the interviewer ambushes him with the demand that he talk about what happened. Ten years before, the Romulan sun was going supernova, and Picard persuaded them to mount a humanitarian mission and personally led the armada of ten thousand ships to rescue nine hundred million refugees. But a rogue army of "synths" (androids seemingly made in the mold of Data, although later descriptions make them sound closer to Blade Runner's replicants--flesh and blood clones with a positronic brain--which is a really interesting bit, at least to me) took advantage of the understandable chaos of the rescue mission to stage the attack on Mars and take 92,000 lives. As a result Starfleet abandoned the rescue mission and banned synths altogether, and Picard, after fighting so valiantly during The Next Generation to establish Data's sentience and rights as a person, resigned in disgust.

I think this is the strongest scene in the entire episode, as the interviewer asks Picard: "Why should the Federation go out of its way to help its oldest enemy?"

"Because millions of lives were at stake."

"Romulan lives."

"No. Lives."

Oh my goodness, Patrick Stewart still has it. These two words, delivered softly and deliberately with just the right are-you-kidding-me tilt to the head, gave me goose bumps. A minute later, he explodes in fury as the interviewer confronts him with why he retired: "Because Starfleet was no longer Starfleet!" This was so raw one could easily see Picard's anguish, and what that decision cost him, ten years later.

The first new character introduced, a young Asian woman named Dahj, ties the two storylines together. We meet Dahj having a celebratory drink with her boyfriend, having just been accepted to study "quantum consciousness" at the Daystrom Institute. The young man gets up to get Dahj a smoothie from the replicator, and suddenly several black-clad assassin types beam into the apartment. One throws a knife into the young man's chest, and the others tackle Dahj, yelling "Where is it?" (They first speak an alien language before switching to English. At that point they are not identified as Romulans, something we find out later.) One of them says, "She's not activated yet," and they envelop Dahj's head in a black bag. This turns out to be a very foolish and prophetic decision, as Dahj promptly "activates" and kicks their asses, taking out all of them. Afterwards she goes to kneel over her boyfriend's body. In her understandable terror and hysteria, her head snaps up--and in her mind's eye, she sees Picard's face looking back at her.

She flees into the night and passes a storefront where Picard's interview is being broadcast, and now knows where to go to find him. (In fact, she does quite a bit of abrupt planet-hopping through this episode. One assumes there are ubiquitous planetary transporters in the Star Trek universe, but it would have been nice to see one in action.) The next morning, Picard is sitting in his yard with his dog, and Dahj, having tracked him down, approaches. She explains what happened, crying and shaking, and tells Picard she somehow knew to come to him, that she would be safe there. He takes her into his house and talks to her, and during the conversation points out her double-ringed necklace (which of course turns out to be important later). Then he asks his two Romulan employees, Laris and Zhaben (who apparently talked him into agreeing to the interview) to put her to bed.

There follows another dream sequence, and Picard sees Data again, standing amongst the grapes daubing at a canvas. He goes down to see what is going on, and lo and behold Data's canvas shows a white-clad young woman standing on a cliff overlooking the sea--a woman without a face. Picard approaches and Data holds out his brush, inviting his captain to finish the painting.

"I don't know how," Picard says, again with that wonderful Patrick Stewart delivery.

"That is not true, Captain," Data says, insisting Picard take the brush.

He does, and wakes up, now knowing exactly what Data was referring to. This same painting hangs above his mantle, painted by Data thirty years before--and showing Dahj's face.

At that point Laris and Zhaben rush into the room, saying that Dahj has disappeared, her bed empty. Picard, seized by the revelation of his dream, says there is something he has to take care of, and beams to Starfleet HQ in San Francisco. Here there is a huge building that is a "quantum archive," a nifty little place with all sorts of (fanservice) memorabilia, including the banner from "Captain Picard Day" aboard the Enterprise-D. Picard summons the object he stored here--the twin to the painting hanging on his wall, gifted to him by Data. He summons the "archivist," apparently an artificial projection on order of Voyager's Emergency Medical Technician, and asks her what the painting's name is. The answer: "Daughter."

Meanwhile, Dahj, afraid of endangering the people who have been kind to her, flees to Paris. She calls her mother (there aren't any cell phones in this future, but rather invisible holo-phones operated by waggling one's fingers in the air) and tells her what happened. Her mother, or the woman pretending to be Dahj's mother, gives the game away by mentioning Picard's name when Dahj has not said anything about it. Their conversation, and her mother's insistence that she return to Picard, apparently "activates" Dahj again; she wiggles her fingers and manipulates her phone project-a-screen, and tracks down Picard's location.

So when Picard comes out of the Quantum Archive, there Dahj is, waiting for him.

There follows another very good scene where Picard sits Dahj down and gently explains what he thinks she is: Data's daughter, a rather up-to-date, very human-looking android. This, admittedly, is quite a leap to make on somewhat scanty evidence, and the only point in the episode I felt was rushed because The Plot Said This Is How It Must Be. Having said that, Patrick Stewart was again marvelous, carefully bringing Dahj along to his conclusions and urging her to be like the man he thinks is her father, the friend who sacrificed his life for him. Isa Briones as Dahj, in this scene and the earlier scene in the vineyard, doesn't do a bad job at all showing her character's shock, confusion and fear, and yet Sir Patrick Stewart absolutely dwarfs her in terms of acting ability. I would have been intimidated as all hell to even be in a scene with him, and wonder what he had to do to talk his young co-stars through it.

But Dahj doesn't even have time to process this, as her "activation" clicks in once again, and she says her enemies have found them. There follows a wild chase up several flights of stairs, where the point is driven home that Picard (and Stewart) is no longer a spring chicken, as Dahj has to help him get to the roof. (I hope they keep up this theme of the aging hero on what is possibly their last ride. That seems to me to be a rich vein to explore, especially with this character.) She runs away to confront the intruders, the same black-helmeted assassins as before, and it is during this fight that she throws one down and his helmet rolls away, and Picard (and the audience) sees that they are Romulan. Dahj makes a good account of herself, but one of the Romulans spits some green gunky acid on her which eats into the artificial skin and causes her to explode, even as Picard runs up, screaming "No!"

He wakes up in his living room with a worried-looking Laris and Zhaben hovering over him, which is another rushed scene--wasn't he taken to a hospital, and didn't the police want to talk to him? Or maybe not, as it's stated that the Romulan assassins didn't show up on the security footage, leading Zhaben to comment that they must have been using cloaking devices.  In any event, Picard is overcome by guilt: Dahj came to him for protection, and he couldn't help her. But this also leads to a epiphany as to how he's spent the last ten years: "I haven't been living," he declares as he gets up from the couch. "I've been waiting to die."

Apparently he's going to do something about that, as we next see him striding down the hallways of the Daystrom Institute, where he meets with the director of said institution, hollowed out and nearly shut down after the synth ban: Dr. Agnes Jurati. (Aside: Agnes? Really? That name isn't even heard now anymore. I can't imagine it would still be around at the end of the 24th century.) This scene is where the most plot bombshells are dropped, including: the rogue synths came from this institution (and what were they making them for, pray tell? This carries an unfortunate, nasty whiff of mass production for possibly forced labor); the Daystrom Institute's former boss was Dr. Bruce Maddox, the scientist who Picard battled for Data's rights and freedom in the TNG episode "The Measure of a Man"; the pieces of B4, the prototype Data tried to download himself into in Nemesis, are displayed with the definitive establishment that he did not succeed; but on the other hand, Dr. Maddox was working on some Star Trek technobabble theory wherein he could recreate, if not the entirety of Commander Data, at least his essence, from a single positronic neuron. Then Picard shows Dr. Jurati Dahj's necklace (and this is a bit of a plot hole--where did he get that? Did the police give it to him from her smoldering remains? Wouldn't they have kept it as evidence, or something?) and the last bombshell is dropped. She remarks, "You could create them that way," and Picard immediately seizes on the plural. Turns out Maddox's theory posited creating flesh and blood sentient androids as twins. (Why? I hope that question gets answered somewhere down the line.)

So: Dahj has a sister out there somewhere, and presumably the Romulans are after her too.

At that point, we shift to the Romulan refugee facility, a huge starbase of some sort, as Romulan warbirds are shown cruising through force screens and into its interior. Dahj's sister is shown. A young, good-looking Romulan man strides down the walkway to greet her. They strike up a conversation and start flirting, and the camera pulls back on a long, gorgeous tracking shot to show just what the "refugee facility" is--the remains of an abandoned Borg cube.

Roll credits.

Whew. What an introduction. This episode's heavy lifting involves establishing the twin storylines the season will pursue--all the regulars haven't even shown their faces yet. Still, it was such a treat to see Patrick Stewart again, and know his Jean-Luc Picard is in a very different place as a character: disillusioned and beaten, retreating from life. I really appreciated the slower, more thoughtful pace of this episode--which, again, fits perfectly with Picard's character--and hope they keep it up. (From the previews, there are going to be some epic action sequences, but I would think they would let other people charge into the breach most of the time instead of their lead. Or at least I hope so, as it would look very silly to have a 79-year-old Patrick Stewart running around like an invincible action hero.)

The most notable thing about the episode, to me, was the fact that following the Mars attack, the Federation has--if not turned bad (at least not that we've seen, not yet), has started down a rather unsavory road. Actually, even before that, if they were mass-manufacturing "synths." Of course, if anyone could bring them back to the light, it is Jean-Luc Picard.

This has grabbed me from the get-go, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.

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