In season 3 of PICARD, there are two major plot points that strongly echo plots from the two current animated series. The struggle between Data and Lore for control of Data’s body is very similar to Rutherford’s struggle with his former self in Lower Decks s3e5, and the takeover of Starfleet by the Borg’s virus is very similar to the takeover of Starfleet by the vengeful time-travelers’ virus in Prodigy.

There is nothing wrong with reusing plots – Star Trek has done it from time immemorial. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes they are redundant. They have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In these cases, I believe that PICARD cheapens the original plots.

First, on Lower Decks, we had gradually been introduced to hints that there was something amiss about Rutherford’s implants. Our curiosity naturally built over time, and the revelation that his memories had been overwritten to cover up his past self’s malfeasance was at once surprising and organic. The resolution of the plot, where Rutherford doesn’t want to let his past self disappear, shows us the best of the character we have come to love. Then the information we learn there serves the larger developing plot, culminating in the revelation of the automated fleet. The plot is well-paced and meaningful both to the individual character and the show’s overall arc.

None of this is true of the struggle between Data and Lore in PICARD. The continued existence of Data is sprung at us at random, arbitrarily contradicting the fact that he has been killed not once, but twice. The fact that he has been combined with Lore is equally arbitrary, serving little more than a desire to call back to a familiar character. The resolution of the conflict is clever, as Data uses Lore’s negative tendencies against him, but in the larger story arc it only serves to solve a problem that the combination of Data and Lore caused in the first place. Overall, the plot serves to put Brent Spiner back on screen in two familiar roles, seemingly for its own sake.

Turning now to Prodigy’s fleet takeover plot. Again, this idea was introduced very early on and gradually evolved into the key plot conflict in the show. When it was finally triggered, it spawned two attempted solutions, both of which embodied Star Trek ideals. In the first, non-Starfleet ships helped to disable the infected vessels, giving the lie to the Diviner’s vision of Starfleet as a malign influence. In the second, hologram Janeway sacrifices herself to save the fleet, providing a satisfying end to her character’s development as a fully sentient being while solving the problem of how to handle the awkward co-existence of real Janeway with her holodeck double. As with Lower Decks, everything seems to fit together well.

By contrast, the takeover of young Starfleet members by the Borg virus – based on DNA supposedly slipped into Picard decades ago and leveraging Jack’s telepathic mind control abilities – comes way out of left field only in the second to last episode. When it comes to the resolution, they seem to sidestep the possibility of using Seven’s Borg identity as part of a meaningful solution. Instead, the entire thing seems gerrymandered to make the use of an older generation of ship, namely the Enterprise-D, necessary to save the day. Where the tweens of Prodigy take their situation deadly seriously, Picard makes jokes about the carpet even as Starfleet self-destructs and Earth is on the brink of oblivion. The message, such as it is, seems to be that the TNG crew effectively is the “last generation” of the series finale’s title – the last generation that is able to achieve anything meaningful. All of Starfleet is threatened with extinction and an entire generation is traumatized by their participation in mass murder, all so we can get a glamor shot on the old bridge.

The fact that the undisputed best season of PICARD is so easily upstaged by animated cartoons in the execution of basically identical plot points seems to me to be a major lesson. I don’t begrudge anyone their moment of nostalgia, but to me this comparison shows that the franchise needs to get past the legacy characters in order to tell a coherent and satisfying story at this point. And given that Prodigy has been abruptly cancelled and removed, it doesn’t seem like it’s a lesson anyone in charge is likely to learn anytime soon.

But what do you think?

  • Eva!
    510 months ago

    Well said.

    One thing I noticed in my first watch through Lower Decks was just how much they use variants of the phrase “I’m Starfleet.” Just constantly touching on the optimism of the show, how despite all the nonsense these unimportant ensigns on unimportant ships have to put up with, they are still Starfleet. They are as much Starfleet as Pike, Picard, and Sarek’s lauded mutineer children. And Starfleet is awesome!

    There’s an excellent OrangeRiver video that showed up on my youtube feed a bit back about why D’vana Tendi is awesome and I think it really gets at the heart of why Lower Decks works as a Star Trek show and not just a Star Trek adjacent parody. Prodigy has a slightly different perspective on Starfleet but it works kinda the same in having characters (the Janeways, I will not elaborate) that represent just how awesome Starfleet can be.