Monday, 6 March 2023

TREK REVIEW; PIC 3-3 - "Seventeen Seconds"

 SPOILERS, naturally.

And suddenly, the season went from being good to bloody great.

Last week I quibbled about wanting to know what's going on, having seen the previous two seasons spend too long getting to the core of the plot and having serious pacing issues because of it. I needn't have worried. Although the events remain stuck in the same places as in the end of episode one - a mysterious, unusual nebula and the seedy streets of M'Talas Prime - they're pushing forward, and while the claustrophobic tension increases, we suddenly learn a lot more about what's going on behind the scenes in the galaxy.

On the Titan, Captain Shaw is incapacitated by Vadic's attack, with the absolute pummeling the ship takes this episode proving him completely right about the folly of getting involved here at the edge of space. Todd Stashwick's performance, combined with some solid writing, have made Shaw move from the nasty character who opposes our heroes to the one we all finding ourselves siding with. He's the only one, somehow, to realise that Vadic must be tracking the Titan somehow, as if the idea they're trailing something is so difficult for all these Starfleet geniuses to come up with. (I don't know, maybe they're all just overconfident.)

Sadly, this pushes Shaw out of the episode, but there's more than enough going on elsewhere. I love that he puts Riker in command, not Picard, in spite of the elder man being the ranking officer. It's clear that, while he doesn't much like the former Titan captain, he can't stand the legendary Jean-Luc Picard, and you can understand why. Last week I mentioned how Jack was very much Picard in his youth, reckless and irresponsible but well-meaning, while Shaw is rather like early-TNG, all duty and by-the-book, not friendly with his crew but garnering their respect. 

Contemporary Picard has come through the other side, being familiar, morally-bound and courageous, but he's come right back through to reckless again. Riker, who has a more recent and keenly felt loss, is more cautious and introspective than we once knew him. Their command roles are switched, just as their personas have changed with time. It's great to see them at each other's throats after so many years being on good terms. We barely got a cross word between them on TNG (thanks to Roddenberry's drama-killing "no human conflict" rule), and you can't help but feel that there's nearly forty years' pent-up resentment between these men, finally coming out.

On the other hand, we have the confrontation between Picard and Crusher, and here it's hard not to feel sympathetic to old JL. It's entirely understandable that Beverly would fear for son's safety as the child of the legendary Picard, especially given how his approach became more gung-ho in the movies and beyond. Plus, let's not forget the one time that he thought he did have a son, because the Ferengi Daimon Bok wanted revenge so badly that he faked a DNA test. If someone did find out that Jack was Picard Jr, he probably would be in danger from certain elements. On the other hand, Beverly has been living an even more dangerous life on the edge of the law with her son, breaking all manner of treaties and seeing him become a wanted man, all by the age of twenty (yes, Ed Speelers is about 34, but that's how the years add up, no two ways about it). Something doesn't quite ring true.

Elsewhere, Raffi and Worf become a wonderful new double-act, with Dorn in particular shining as the older, wryer Klingon. "Beheadings are on Wednesdays" - and they say this guy doesn't have a sense of humour. Dorn has, famously, appeared in more instalments of the Trek franchise than any other actor, all as Worf (except The Undiscovered Country, where he played Worf's grandfather... Worf). He's great, but his long-championed Worf series never sounded particularly appealing, until now. I'd watch these two snipe at each other on undercover missions for hours.

Both storylines finally come together with the revelations that, a) Vadic has the portal gun (obvs), and b) the Changelings are behind the plot. Now, that was a bit of a shock - not because they weren't a possibility (the changing faces line hinted at it), but because there were so many other possibilities, and DS9 so rarely gets any follow-up. We had that one episode of Lower Decks, and the odd little alien cameo or mention, and that was it for the legacy of the best series in Trek canon? (No, I will not take discussion on this.) An updated Changeling effect makes for a visually appealing, and not immediately obvious, reveal, and that it's a breakaway group, acting against the Founders, is intriguing. Of course the Changelings should hate the Federation after how they won the war.

Intriguing, though, is the clear implication that it isn't just the Changelings behind this. Is Vadic a Changeling? No reason why not, as such, but it somehow doesn't feel likely. As an aside, I loved the battle this week, with Amanda Plummer giving a much more subdued, more appealing performance, and the visual spectacle of the portal gun making for something new in space battles at last. (Riker has clearly never played Portal, and it shows.) It's very Wrath of Khan/Mutara Nebula, of course, but a newer, twistier version. Just as Khan couldn't quite grasp that he was in 3D space, not on the sea, Riker and Picard can't quite grasp that they're fighting something that can come from any angle, any time.

We learn, as well, that the portal gun isn't the prize at all, merely a handy bonus that can be used as a distraction. It's pretty clear that the actual aim of the heist was Lore and/or Moriarty, as we've already seen them in the trailers (perhaps keeping them a secret would have worked better?) Daystrom is, after all, known far more for AI than weapons development. I'm beginning to wonder if we're actually seeing a loose alliance of various beings with an axe to grind with the Federation (hey, maybe we will see the Conspiracy bugs after all).

Interestingly, we've seen that Lore and Moriarty will be visibly older, in spite of the de-ageing software used in the prologue for this episode. With Picard now 96 in-universe, it seems that being a synthetic life form doesn't protect one from the ravages of time. There's a definite theme of ageism in this episode, with Dr. Trill dismissing Crusher, then having to eat her words as Beverly effortlessly diagnoses Shaw. On the other hand, Picard and Riker seem to be genuinely out of their depth against this new threat. 

 All of this covered, and not once did we feel bogged down in exposition or that the pacing was lagging. Excellent work.

Random thoughts:

It's genuinely tricky watching this my partner Suzanne, who has an uncanny ability to guess left-field plot twists way ahead of the reveal. So if it turns out that Riker is actually Thomas Riker, and that's why he's so unconfident in command, she got there first.

Worf has taken to drinking chamomile tea. I hope he still drinks prune juice - it keeps you regular.

Thaddeus Troi-Riker, Will and Deanna's late son, was apparently born around 2381, the same year that Jack was conceived.

Thomas Dekker, who played the Changeling on M'Talas, also played young Thomas Picard on Star Trek Generations. He's about the same age as Ed Speelers. Makes me wonder if he auditioned for Jack Crusher.

Beverly agrees with my theory that Jack's accent is genetic... although it's really because he was schooled in London. We've given up any pretense that Picard is meant to sound French, then.

No comments:

Post a Comment