Picard is a Jumble of Star Trek Odds and Ends

I’m sure most of you already know from my recent batch of posts that I haven’t been particularly excited about the new Star Trek series, Picard. Sitting down to watch it felt very much like a job, not unlike going to see the final Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker. And in some ways the two have things in common, the biggest among them being an over abundance of plot based on old story lines.

Picard comes off less like a show than a collage of old plots and cannon pieced together with elements of Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. The first episode rushes us through a bunch of exposition disguised as a news interview where we learn the events of Nemesis and the 2009 Abrahams movie have interwoven together with a robot uprising to give us the gloomy Federation we have today. From there on we get a ton of name and concept drops, like Bruce Maddox, Lal, rogue “synths”, skinjobs, and dum, dum, dum, the Borg. We know in up coming episodes we’ll get Seven of Nine and Hugh. It’s all just a sort of Star Trek word jumble.

It also bothers me a lot that Picard is continuing the introversion of Star Trek. Nearly all the Star Trek films are guilty of this obsession with staying within the Federation’s orbit and keeping all politics local, but the series have been largely immune. However, Discovery’s first season was about a war between Klingons and the Federation. Its second season was more exploratory, but was ultimately about a rogue AI created by agents of the Federation that wants to destroy the Federation. Season three may well be about putting back together a future broken Federation. Picard, again, is a very local show, set in known space with known players dealing with very local Federation politics. In fact, the Federation itself, not just the plot, has turned in on itself.

It’s interesting to compare Star Trek: Picard to what we expected when the character first arrived in The Next Generation. Picard’s opening lines in “Encounter at Farpoint” promised us the “great unexplored mass of the galaxy”. When episode two rolled around fans were furious that it was a direct sequel to the Original Series episode, “The Naked Time”, instead of a new premise as we were promised. Taking a look at The Next Generation’s original first season story outlines (many of which you can read in this thread) we’re lucky that’s as bad as it got. Roddenberry had to be quite vigilant and insistent about making sure the new series stood on its own, because nearly every single episode referenced Kirk and his Enterprise in some way or another. 

Yet today we’re perfectly ok with getting what is essentially an exercise in nostalgia. When I heard Fred Steiner’s Romulan theme I couldn’t help but smile, but I knew I was being played like a fiddle. Especially because it was tracked over Romulans building a Borg cube with Data’s daughter. I don’t think that sentence could be any fan-wankier. I feel like when Picard chastises the Federation for no longer having the curiosity to look outside itself that he’s really talking about the franchise.

Also, it’s the 21st century and we’re still killing the black guy first? Sigh…


What Star Trek Is…


The rekindling of a theoretical fourth Star Trek film has brought a new voice into the argument of “what Star Trek is”. Director Noah Hawley has made some bold statements about what the franchise is all about:

“Star Trek is such a special story about exploration and empathy and diversity and humanity at its best and creative problem solving,” Hawley said. “It was never designed in its origins as an action series. It was always about humanity having to fit into the universe and solve problems through diplomacy and outsmarting their opponents. So I’m excited to get back to that.”

I agree with Hawley to a certain extent. Star Trek is utopian fiction about a brighter future where people of all species join together to explore the galaxy in peace. Where he loses me is the “action” part. The series’ original pitch document, interestingly titled “Star Trek is…”, said otherwise. Before a single character name was decided on and a word of dialogue was written, Roddenberry defined the show as an “Action Adventure”. Even though the show’s pilot, “The Cage”, was always pushed by Roddenberry as having been rejected for being too intellectual with not enough fist fights, the episode still contains a several minute scene of Pike being stalked by, fighting with, and killing a large beastman. Another has him violently subduing an ape creature. Weapons are fired on the surface twice, and Number One’s very rational solution to the whole affair is to blow themselves up. Star Trek, at its very core is an action series.

This idea of Star Trek not being action packed comes up a lot and has been used to put down the lastest film incarnations, of which Hawley would be adding to. There’s no doubt that Star Trek is more action packed than those complaining admit. I’m always fond of saying the same fans making this claim will also list “Doomsday Machine”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Wrath of Khan, and First Contact among their favorite stories. Guess what they all have in common?

I have no problem with action in Star Trek, even the occasional mindless kind. What I usually object to is protracted space battles, which often get boring in their length and franticness, especially with unlimited modern budgets and computer processing. Plus, they’re incredibly ridiculous considering they often follow a kind of World War II, close-range, fighter/capital ship scenario that is already obsolete today. But, what I really hate in Star Trek is war, and I think when we talk about action that’s the kind we should be the most cautious about indulging in.

Star Trek always skirted war when Roddenberry was at the helm. Certainly there were Cold Wars, but hot wars were made out of the question. In the first episode with the Klingons, “Errand of Mercy”, war was made impossible through a fairly effective deus ex machina. War is definitely not part of “Star Trek is…” nor any other Roddenberry approved writers guide created after that. War didn’t become a part of Star Trek until Deep Space Nine. I know a lot of vocal people really like that show, but it was, by the numbers, the decline of Star Trek’s popular appeal. It’s just not what people wanted to watch. It certainly wasn’t what I was interested in.

And yet war keeps rearing its head as a topic worth portraying in Star Trek even though it’s consistently not done well. In Deep Space Nine the battles always seemed very low stakes and small to me, even if there were a million ships pewing at each other on screen. Watching a bridge full of people shake in their seats while continually reporting the shield percentage is, frankly, a drag. Plus the show introduced a lot of dubious and silly concepts that still plague the franchise.

In Discovery war is also central to the plot of the first season, but the war itself was so boring it was never the focus of the actual show. In fact, that year’s best episodes were the ones completely devoid of Klingons. And now we have the new Picard series, which, if its double fisted phaser trailers and the latest Short Trek are to be believed, is about an all out flying saucer style attack on our home soil, however improbable that seems. Even fan films can’t shake the war plot, with Axanar‘s leaked script containing page after page after page of tactics, torpedoes, and tech failures and little else. And yet it badged itself as the indie alternative to the action hell of the official Paramount films. Why do producers keep reaching in that pot when it seems to not be that much fun for the audience or even for themselves? We’ll never know without asking them, and so far nobody has.

So, Mr. Hawley, Star Trek is designed for action… just not every kind of action. It’s lizard bazooka action. It’s Klingon fist fight action. It’s rocketing out of the galaxy, crew crushing, mind fire, salt sucking, acid squirting, robot tossing, crotch kicking, lirpa vs ahn woon action. Some times it’s even space laser action. But it’s never at its best when it’s endless, multi-ship, screaming soldier war action. Pick two or three of the other options you’ll do just fine. Most Star Trek movies suck anyway, no matter what you put in them.


The Enterprise-D’s Captain’s Chair was Useless

There’s no doubt that The Enterprise-D was a way more lax and laid back ship than her predecessor. Fans used to refer to it as a “luxury liner”. The bridge crew was way more chummy. There were men in skirts, women in transparent robes, and kids running around with teddy bears. I’m pretty sure everyone was schtupping. The ship even had it’s own bartender. So, with all this pull away from traditional militarism, why was there still something as old-fashionably authoritarian as a captain’s chair?

A lot readers wondered why there’s no captain’s chair beyond the one at the conference table on the Vikrant’s bridge. Again, I’d have to say, why would there be? Kirk’s center chair was definately a way of showing who’s boss. It’s in the middle of the control center of the ship, for heaven’s sake. But it also had a function. On that tiny bridge, Kirk could swing 360º in any direction and check out any monitor and address any station he wanted without getting up. It was more than symbolic. It made his job easier.

Picard’s chair, on the other hand, is nothing more than a glorified TV watching station. His only view is of the main screen. He can’t really see the helm or navigation, and he sure as rain can’t see any other vital part of the bridge. When he gives orders to tactical he has to bark at someone he can’t see without breaking his neck. A captain’s chair on the Enterprise D’s bridge is useless because the bridge is made for exploration on foot. It’s not a place that can be taken in at a glance. Even as a place for the captain to simply sit down and work, it sucks. There’s not even a table to set things on. All Picard can do is twiddle his thumbs and watch the stars go by.

The only reason why the captain’s chair exists on the Enterprise D is because of tradition. It doesn’t serve any other function than to show who’s in command, kind of like a throne. That just doesn’t mesh with The Next Generation‘s take on Starfleet. So, when the Vikrant’s bridge was enlarged to a two level affair the captain’s chair became even more useless. A center chair on the Vikrant would also undermined the idea that, in this new Starfleet, being captain is not the old fashioned, command barking institution Delos Reyes still wishes it was.


Thanksgiving Break Time

I just received my Thanksgiving flavored Pringles pack in the mail, so gluttony season is almost upon us. ‘The Word of God” will start wrapping up on December 3rd. Until then enjoy time with family and friends!


Designing Counselor Raynar


Sometimes the things you barely see have the most thought put into them. Raynar’s outfit spends most of its time hidden behind one table or another, but it contains a number of references and clues to his place on the ship. Being the Troi of the group, Raynar needed some sex appeal. The best source to inspire male objectification is Anime, which is one of the few places where pretty boys are designed to the tastes of straight women and gay men and not the power fantasies of heterosexual guys. The low-cut v-neck trench coat is taken from Final Fantasy VII‘s Sephiroth. The rolled up sleeves are pure 80’s fashion. The lavender and aqua color scheme are a reference to Troi’s two most notable outfits. The combadge is silver only, denoting that Raynar, unlike Troi, is a civilian.


In Case You Forgot…

That “What number am I thinking of?” bit goes back to when Afshar and Delos Reyes first met one year ago (in both real time and the comic’s timeline).


Data’s Cheeks Are the New Sonic’s Teeth

I know digital de-aging has been a thing for awhile, and Marvel has done a pretty bang up job at it since Brat Pack Robert Downey Jr. fought with mustached Roger Sterling in Captain America: Civil War. But this shot of Data from the new Picard show? Oy vey ist mir! He’s so bloated and puffy, like he’s holding in a comical amount of water in his cheeks. And his eyes… why are they so small? I get that a streaming TV show doesn’t have the budget of a billion dollar film, but that’s no excuse. If you can’t do it right then don’t. Use old Brent as is. Recast. Use a sock puppet. Anything other that whatever that is. Oh, god! It’s burned into my brain!


Starfleet Uniforms Ranked

I’ve drawn a ton of different uniforms over the life of the comic – many in this current storyline alone. I’ve gotten to know their ins and outs and the details that make them all unique. Here’s my take on which worked best and which should be burned, ranked from favorite to most hated.

The Good


Toss-up: The Motion Picture Flag officer Uniform and Captain’s Class B


This one is a shocker to even me because I generally favor William Ware Theiss’s work far above Robert Fletcher’s. 

The flag uniform is a streamlined, powerful, high contrast statement that makes Kirk stand out as a rank above everyone else around him. It’s dressy, but it’s not bulky. It says “brass” without saying “dangling swords and medals”. And, yes, I even like the biorhythm detector that divides the midsection

. The class B expertly walks a fine line between exploitively sexy and professional. The short, arm-squeezing sleeves, tight torso, and dipping v-neck (which evokes Kirk’s first season TOS wrap-around) are feminine, yet the same features along with the ribbed details contour and expose just how manly 1970’s Shatner was.


The Next Generation First Season Duty Uniform


Based heavily on the outfits Theiss created for Roddenberry’s failed pilot Planet Earth, the first season TNG uniforms are pure sex. The skin tight spandex unitard, stretched tight and wrinkle-free over (likely prosthetic) pecs, looks and acts like a comic book superhero outfit. The black shoulders even mimic a cape. Ever notice a lot of “Encounter at Farpoint” is shot from a worm’s eye view? It’s a classic superhero angle. The divide between the division colors and the black legs follows the shape of the Starfleet arrowhead. It’s a look that would define every uniform that would follow for the next twenty years (and more, judging from the upcoming Picard series). The shoulder and pant cuff piping is a nice detail lost in later iterations. While still militaristic, it tones those features down with boots mostly hidden under flared pant cuffs and pips replacing sleeve braids. It’s Star Trek’s most design-centric outfit.

 This goes for the skant as well. I love it, especially for its unisex quality. Dudes look as good in it as women. The sleeves are cute and the skirt is much more modest than its Original Series counterpart.

 A lot of fans like to repeat the nonsense that this uniform was impractical since the spandex demanded physical perfection from the actors. This concern seems to only apply to the men, since the women continued to wear spandex onesies throughout the series – even after pregnancies – while the men got loose two-piece outfits.


The Original Series Production Duty Uniform


This is the one that started it all (as far as viewers were concerned). It’s colorful, yet professional. Everything we expect from a naval uniform is present, including insignias, easily deciphered divisions, and rank. Their somewhat casual look is grounded in militarism by the sleeve braids and high-heeled boots. The short, untucked shirts over high-waisted pants should look goofy, but somehow don’t.

Yes, the women’s skant is sexist. The skirt is so short one can often see flashes of underwear that would make any anime director applaud. This is hardly a look suited for an office or military environment, and the fact that its mandatory only makes it worse. But, from a pure fashion standpoint, with its long sleeves, asymmetrical collar, and thigh-high boots, it’s fabulous.


The Original Series Captain’s Wrap-Around
This is a sexed up, chest bearing version of the standard male uniform because, let’s face it, Star Trek presented Shanter as a sex object. I prefer the version with the collar braids. It gives more shape to the v-neck and broadens the shoulders without ugly padding.


Deep Space Nine/Voyager Duty Uniform


I’m not a fan of either of these shows, but I have a grudging affection for this uniform. It’s the best variation on Theiss’s original TNG design. It gave a two-piece outfit to women and men alike. The all-black body looks great, and while it tones down the colorfulness, the lavender turtle-neck somehow makes up for it. It also looks good with the sleeves rolled up. Though, that begs the question as to why there wouldn’t just be a short sleeve variant.


The Original Series Pilot Duty Uniform


Historically, this one actually started it all. It definitely looks like a primordial version of the production duty uniform. The colors are muted, the rank braids are less functional, and the insignias are small and hard to read. But it has its charms. It’s mostly unisex, and I like the ribbed collar that doesn’t try to be a mock turtle-neck.


Toss up: Discovery Enterprise and Beyond Duty Uniforms
These are both a decent variation on the Original Series duty uniform. My only quibble would be the collars and shoulders, which on both are just too stuffy and stiff. They get rid of some of the comfort and laxness of the original design.Props to Discovery’s black skirt variant which isn’t too short to be ridiculous, but isn’t too long to be puritanical.


The Heinous


The Motion Picture Everything Else
There is something to be said about a uniform that is comfortable on a ship with perfect environmental control. That doesn’t mean they should look like pajamas. Most of the confusing myriad of TMP uniforms just don’t work. They’re often unflattering and their colors, especially the brown, are bland and uninspiring. The unitards have nothing to break them up but the biorhythm device that adds a mere dot to the midsection. The two-piece honestly looks like sleepwear. Spock’s odd collar looks too complex for something that has so little detail everywhere else. The one variation I do like is the kimono top. It reminds me of the work jumpsuits in TOS.


2009/Into Darkness Duty Uniform


Supreme Kudos for returning to the show’s roots as far as flashy color and comfort. But this variation on Theiss’s TOS design just doesn’t work for me. The material is too thin. It looks like silk, and silk is tacky. It just doesn’t conform to the body the way the old velour did leaving a lot of unsightly wrinkles. The collar is too wide and loose and the hem is too long. Plus those pants are really chunky and haphazardly stuffed into the boots, like a SWAT team’s. I’m also not a fan of the arrow head texture that covers the entirety of it. It looks like the netting on a football uniform top. The skirt variant is cut well, but with no sleeves comes no rank. How did they miss that for two films?


The Next Generation Third Season Duty Uniform
The folks slowly taking over TNG from Gene were sexist prudes, and the first thing that showed this was the change in the uniform. While Crusher and Troi had to keep on keeping on in skin tight spandex, the boys got these extremely paunchy looking two-piece muffin tops. What was supposed to be a more flattering option made everything on an aging man look worse. I mean, who wants love handles built into their shirts? And the mandarin collars just add to the stiff, no-fun-allowed theme. Were naked necks too sexy for Rick Berman? And please don’t tell me about how Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor warned him against the first season onsies. Chiropractors believe disease is caused by interruptions in life line energies.


The Next Generation Captain’s Jacket
I’ve got an idea. Let’s take a frumpy, ill-fitting mock turtle neck with ribbed shoulders and tuck it into frumpy, ill-fitting pants with no belt. Now, let’s put a frumpy, over large jacket made of velvet with a completely different style of ribbed shoulders on top of that. In the TNG style of covering the men as much as possible, this takes the cake. Kirk was all about ditching fabric when he put on a uniform variant. Picard just keeps adding pointless layers. At the very least the jacket doesn’t have shoulder pads.


Toss-Up: Discovery and Enterprise Duty Uniforms
Nothing is more boring and over used in modern science fiction than blue uniforms. Everyone looks alike. Nobody looks good. Enterprise’s coveralls make the crew look like janitors. Discovery’s blues are more form fitting, but still look like something a mechanic would wear. The boring blue clashes badly with the boring division-based metallics that line the sides. Rank is hard to see on both, with Enterprise’s as close set squares that blend together and Discovery’s as completely invisible pips hidden in the insignia.


First Contact Duty Uniform


The TNG movie uniforms enflame and exacerbate every problem with the previous incarnations from the third season on. They’re ill-fitting and poorly tailored. Even more color is drained out of them by making the shoulders a bleak grey. The ribbed shoulders are bulky and uncomfortable looking, and their padding is so thick it rides up when the actors lift their arms. Are they planning to play football in them? For something made for a big budget film they look cheap and uninspired.


The Wrath of Khan Duty Uniform


WT-ever-loving-F were they thinking? These outfits would look ridiculous as dress uniforms, but as duty uniforms? The jackets are so absurdly ornate their difficult to parse rank insignias are on them twice – shoulder and arm. There’s a thick braid on the sleeve to show how long you’ve been in the service as if that’s important at-a-glance information. The collar colors that denote division clash with the bright maroon more times than not, especially the international orange Saavik wears around her neck. The jacket’s front fly opens to reveal… more jacket. It’s just as preposterous that anyone would run around a ship doing work in these as it is for Batman to do acrobatics in any outfit he’s worn since the 80’s. That’s why when people are prepping for the battle sequences in TWOK they’re all in the slightly less ugly and way more practical cadet outfits. Plus they look like bell hop…ehem… imperial navy uniforms. If the Federation is supposed to be anything, it’s definitely not an empire. And they somehow survived five movies and supposedly were in service for 75 years!


Summer Break


Hate to leave you on yet another cliff hanger, but I’m taking a little summer break. See you in two weeks! Don’t let the gamma rays of Proxima Centauri give you too bad of a sunburn.


Spring Break!

Spring is sprung. The cherry trees are blooming. The kids are out of school. It’s Purim/Holi/that goyishe holiday with the rabbit. The comic is at a nice cliffhanger, so it’s a perfect time to take off for a week. We’ll be back on April 5th, 2019. Enjoy the warming weather!