Wednesday 20 April 2022

TREK REVIEW: PIC 2-7 - "Monsters"

An interesting and powerful episode that delves into Picard's character in a way we've not seen before, showing clearer than any script beforehand the influence that Patrick Stewart has had on the direction of this series.

It's not secret that the Trek showrunners tempted Stewart back to his best known role by ensuring him he'd have some creative control over the character and series, and that the stories would be dealing with serious contemporary concerns. Stewart has long been outspoken on the subject of domestic abuse, not only on the suffering of the abused but also the need for understanding for the abusers. Growing up in an abusive home, he recognises that these behaviours rarely come from nowhere and that there's is often a cycle of abuse and mental illness that perpetuates.

Quite rightly, then, that Star Trek should turn to this issue and address it in its own, science-fictional way. I'm sure that Gene Roddenberry would be incensed by the idea that there would still be such abuse going ahead in the 24th century, but really, no matter how far we develop in the next few centuries, humanity isn't going to magically overcome its demons en masse. The only way we can move forward is by listening and understanding people's individual struggles.

The early hints at little Jean-Luc's brutal upbringing were hinted at earlier in the season, but we finally get some real exploration of his childhood. It's no shock when the mysterious Starfleet therapist who plagues his subconscious turns out to be a representation of his father. James Callis is excellent as Maurice Picard/the psychologist, channeling the best of his Gaius Baltar arrogance and sharing remarkable father/son chemistry with a man several decades his senior. Stewart, of course, gives an exceptional performance too, showing us an angrier, more raw side of Picard that we don't get to see often enough.

Madeline Wise is almost as good as his troubled maman, engendering tremendous sympathy even when we realise that she isn't entirely as she seems. The revelation that the abusive Maurice is actually not the monster Jean-Luc sees him as, but that the Admiral has spent decades burying the memory of his mother's own mental illness and potentially deadly behaviour moves this story beyond the tried-and-tested bastard dad route.

In the circumstances, the absence of Jean-Luc's older brother Robert is odd, given how much of a father stand-in he was portrayed as in his one appearance on The Next Generation (season four's remarkable “Family”). There would be little room for him, though, given that Tallinn was given the role of entering Picard's mind to help him battle his internal demons. Orla Brady is great in this role, convincing when fighting monsters, playing with impossible technology or reassuring Picard's inner child. (Are they still looking for the next Doctor Who? Because she's a candidate if ever I saw one.) The reveal that Tallinn's actually a Romulan is about the least surprising thing so far this season, what with the little clues at first and finally the massive giveaway of the pointy-ear attachments on the tech, but it's a fun moment. Whether she's really Laris's ancestor, are actually gets some kind of extended lifespan as part of her deal with the Supervisors and is therefore Laris herself, remains to be seen.

While Picard deals with his demons, the rest of the plot treads water. We barely got a glimpse of what Queen Jurati was doing, something I'm desperate to get back to. Rios gets an entertaining plot to himself, revealing that Picard has become a father figure to him while also proving that he's learned absolutely nothing about the rules of time travel from him. Dr. Teresa is gorgeous and amazing, yes, but he basically gives up all pretence and shows her everything so he doesn't have to risk upsetting her with more lies. I'm starting to think that, whenever the original divergence was, this lot have now completely preempted it and the timeline will never get back on track.

In the closing scene, Picard goes back to bother Guinan, in a strange meeting that makes huge revelations about the El-Aurians and the Q while also posing all sorts of new questions. It seems the Listeners are more powerful than we realised, having actually formed a treaty with the Continuum centuries ago. I can only assume that the magic bottle that can be used for Q-summoning isn't the actual one from centuries past, but that an El-Aurian can use anything like that to focus the ritual. Otherwise it'd be a bit hard to believe she was allowed to just keep it in her bar on some backward planet. Of course, we know Q won't show up because his powers have failed him, but shouldn't another Q appear? This suggests something is very wrong with reality altogether – more indications that the timeline has already diverged?

Finally, Jay Karnes turns up as a slimy FBI agent, who promptly arrests both Picard and Guinan for teleporting on camera. Karnes previously played Lt. Ducane of the Federation timeship Relativity (on the eponymous Voyager episode), and I half suspect/hope that he turns out to be the very same temporal policeman, which is rather more interesting than a cut-price Mulder.

Quote of the week: “I'm from Chile, I just work in outer space.” Rios channels Kirk at his best.

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