PICARD Reminds Me Of That Time My Mom Made Me Get An Earring

When I was entering high school my mother took me to a mall on Long Island and got my ear pierced. It wasn’t really something I wanted – I’m a huge baby about needles, so the idea of having one shoved through my lobe was terrifying. Also, it seemed weird to me. It was 1987, and earrings on men were pretty edgy. I was 13. I was very concerned, as a fat little 13 year old nerd who once had Nair poured down his crotch by bullies, about the messages an earring would send about my masculinity. At the time we believed that the ear you got pierced had deep meaning, a modern day Hankie Code, and that if I got the wrong lobe pierced I would be loudly announcing that I was a homosexual. In 1987 this was very frightening to me as a kid who had been immersed in low-grade homophobia from birth.

Eventually I got more piercings; I had about six when it was all said and done. The first one I got I used to very weird effect – I ordered a severed finger earring out of the pages of an old Fangoria and wore that around, looking like the world’s dipshittiest try-hard. I had a lot of fuzz on my face at this age, and a lot of acne, and I was a rotund little thing, with a permanent scowl on my unibrow and a severed thumb hanging from my ear. Eventually I toned down the earring – I wore a lot of studs, a bunch of little hoops – but I was very susceptible to infections, I didn’t keep the holes clean and I always had some smelly crud accumulating behind my ears. Over time I just gave up on them; I suppose the holes are technically still there, but nothing has been inside of them since Layne Stanley was alive. 

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“Let Me Help”

I was at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention when the El Paso and Dayton shootings happened. Conventions and film festivals are strange bubbles, separated from the rest of the world, but when something like this happens, the bubble is penetrated. It can be disorienting to go from reading the news on your phone to walking through the dealer’s room and marveling at the cosplayers – there’s real emotional whiplash happening. 

But maybe there’s nowhere I’d rather be when two such overwhelming examples of reckless hate are unleashed on the world. There’s no fandom like Star Trek fandom; there’s a positivity and a kindness inherent in the most hardcore of these people. I know that in the year 2019 all fandoms are suspect, and there are certainly elements of Trek fandom who are not great, but the core of this group reminds me of Midwesterners – polite, friendly, deeply uncool. And I don’t say deeply uncool as some kind of a putdown; the lack of pose or ironic distance is part of the charm. No matter how hard CBS or JJ Abrams have tried, nobody has ever, ever been able to make Star Trek cool. 

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Resist The Algorithms

You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.

Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.

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Now On Patreon: Love Beyond Death: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

This blog (and my ability to pay rent) is supported by my Patreon, where subscribers get exclusive content. This is an excerpt of a much (much much) longer article that is available on the Patreon to subscribers at the $10 and above level. To read the whole thing, support Cinema Sangha at Patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Everybody knows that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best in the franchise. And everybody loves the fun and silly vibe of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, released 35 years ago this week, is stuck in this terrible underappreciated place, the movie that paved the way for the concept “the odd numbered ones are bad,” and is almost totally dismissed. But it shouldn’t be! Search for Spock is great, if flawed, and it works remarkably well as a reaction to the darkness that defines Khan

One part heist film, one part men-on-a-mission movie, one part sweeping epic romance, Search for Spock is the most intimate Star Trek movie ever made. The scale of these films kept reducing; Star Trek: The Motion Picture includes a 2001-riffing journey through psychedelic imagery, while Khan brings the story down to a beef between two old enemies centered around a planet-destroying superweapon. But Search for Spock goes even smaller, because there are only personal stakes here. In TMP V’ger threatened Earth, while in Khanthe Genesis Device was a threat to all life in the galaxy. But by the time we get to Spock, we learn the Genesis Device doesn’t really work. Yes, it’s a powerful destructive force, but in the world of Trek it’s not clear how important that is or isn’t (couldn’t the Klingons destroy a planet from orbit anyway if they wanted to?). No, what’s at stake in Spock is Spock himself, and he doesn’t hold some key to stopping a threat or the answer to a riddle that must be solved; he is being saved simply because he is Spock, and he is loved.

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Last Week’s DISCO Gave Us An All-Time Great STAR TREK Moment

There are great moments of heroism and personal sacrifice in the history of Star Trek, moments that illustrate the best of humanity in the worst of situations. From Kirk allowing Edith Keeler to die in order to save history, Picard holding firm that there are four lights, or Spock quietly getting out of his chair and heading to engineering at the end of Wrath of Khan, these moments are some of the most beloved in the almost 700 hours of Trek canon.

Not every Trek gets a moment as good as these, but last week Star Trek Discovery got its own – and it was a moment that I think ranks high in the pantheon of great Trek. If you’ve been watching the show this season it might come as no surprise that the moment centers around Christopher Pike, new captain of the Disco, who has been such a wonderful and invigorating addition to the show that fans have taken to Change.org to start petitions demanding actor Anson Mount get his own spinoff series.

See, Pike would need a spinoff, he can’t stay on the show, since he’s a character deeply embedded in Star Trek lore, and his future is well-known to fans. It’s a dark one.

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FaceTime Sucks, or, Beyond STAR TREK’s Controversial Holograms

I’m not writing about Star Trek Discovery week to week because I disapprove of approaching serialized shows that way, but something keeps bugging me. It’s about the hologram communication systems on the ship and whether or not they break canon, and how the show had Captain Pike handwave them away with one line this season. But more than that, it’s about how technology is used in science fiction.

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Review: SHORT TREKS: “Runaway”

There was this party at Comic-Con one year where I got absolutely hammered and I cornered JJ Abrams. This was when it had been announced that Star Trek Into Darkness was happening, but we knew nothing else about the movie. I had enjoyed the first Abrams Trek, although I thought it was a mess; one of my least favorite things about it was Nero. I thought the character was hollow and empty and violated one of the main tenets of good Trek.

Good Trek, I slurred to poor JJ that night, doesn’t have a villain. It may have an antagonist, but it doesn’t have a villain. This is hard to argue because everybody’s favorite Trek thing is Wrath of Khan, a movie featuring one of the great screen villains. But I would argue that movies like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, neither of which has a villain, are the most Trek-y movies of them all.

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Irresponsible Speculation About The New Picard STAR TREK TV Show

What a time to be a Star Trek nerd. Not since the 1990s has Trek been so alive, with multiple TV shows, movies and all sorts of ancillary merch being available all at once. While the reaction to Star Trek Discovery has been mixed (I love it, and I may threaten to write about it weekly on this site when it returns next year), the response to the latest Trek news has been almost universally positive: Sir Patrick Stewart is returning to Trek in one of his most defining roles, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Stewart last played Picard in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, hardly a fitting end for a beloved character. That was 17 years ago, and so that means there have been two decades of Picard adventures and life to which we have not been privy. The possibilities for what Picard could have been up to are endless, but I have some speculation about what we will see in this new show. This is just informed speculation, none of this comes from scoops, sources or insiders.

Here’s one guess that I haven’t seen other people making: Michael Chabon is listed as being on the creative team. He’s also doing a Trek short featuring an all-new character, Craft, in a short called Calypso. Could Craft be getting introduced in advance of his role as a main character in the Picard show? Could Calypso be a stealth prequel to this show? We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

Whether Craft is on it or not, the show will be personal. Don’t expect a series of galaxy-hopping adventures. The new Picard show is being conceived as a mini-series, so it’ll likely tell one story from beginning to end, and I bet it will be a highly personal one. Likely very small scale (I do know that Patrick Stewart’s quote is very high (as it should be), so a lot of the budget will be going to him) and likely related to Picard’s phase of life.

That could mean we will see Picard in his golden years at the family winery, or perhaps we will see him having retired into archeology. I will bet money that he will not be a starship captain or a Starfleet admiral. My guess is that he will be out of Starfleet altogether. If that is the case I hope the story isn’t Starfleet coming to recruit the old man for One Last Mission.

While Picard was involved in the attempts to negotiate historic peace with the Romulans I wouldn’t expect to hear much about them in the new show. Romulus was destroyed in the events of JJ Abrams’ first Star Trekand yes, that is canon in the Prime Universe. That said, the delineation between TV and movies is such that the TV folks may not want to touch anything that was established in the movies, or at least not make a major plot point out of it. It could be mentioned in passing, or obliquely, but I suspect the plot of the show will not hinge on the status of the Romulans in a universe where their homeworld blew up a few years ago.

Likewise I wouldn’t expect to see too many Klingons, including Worf. Discovery did a visual refresh of the Klingons (something that is not uncommon in Trek history, even if it is a little annoying to hypernerds like me) but I would guess that the powers that be don’t want to muddy the waters when it comes to TNG era Klingons, who are very visually defined. To have two shows on CBS All Access with very different looking Klingons would be confusing to the average viewer. And it’s not like Picard and Worf were besties.

Will other TNG characters show up? I wouldn’t bet on it. One of the things I liked about All Good Things, the TNG finale, was that it affirmed what I always thought: these people weren’t family. They were work friends, and when they didn’t work together anymore they drifted very far apart and didn’t keep in touch. I wouldn’t mind a cameo or a mention, but Picard and Riker didn’t have the relationship that Kirk and Spock did, or even that Kirk and McCoy did. I imagine they maybe send Christmas cards to one another.

There are a handful of characters from TNG who make perfect sense as guests. Beverly Crusher is one. Her relationship with Picard was complicated and largely unconsummated; while it’s sad to think that they’re still doing that dance well into their 70s it does seem quite likely. I could see her being remarried and Picard being a lonely, sad visitor to her life.

Wesley Crusher also makes a lot of sense. His relationship with Picard was complicated, and the series left him as a space-warping Traveler. There’s a deleted scene in Nemesis that establishes Wesley as returning to Starfleet and serving on Riker’s new ship (in the night shift in Engineering!), but deleted scenes are not canon. Perhaps Wesley shows up with his Traveler powers and goes on a journey with Picard, trying to understand this father figure who, frankly, treated him like garbage a lot. (But I think that was Picard trying to be loving. The character sometimes has emotional issues)

Data is a good choice for a cameo. He’s sort of dead/living inside the body of B-4. Dealing with Brent Spiner’s aging would make this challenging, but who knows. If there is a character on the show with whom Picard had the warmest relationship it was, for my money, the emotionless android. And he’s a beloved fan favorite to boot.

Then there are the TNG guest star possibilities. Q is a big possibility, although I’d like to see Q remain off the table for the rest of time. All Good Things felt like it finished Q nicely for us forever. If not Q perhaps Q’s occasional girlfriend, Vash. She was also Picard’s lover, and she shared his love of archeology. Vash was a wild child 20 years ago, but maybe now she has mellowed out enough that she and Picard travel around poking at ancient dig sites together.

I would kind of love to see Picard butting heads with a Deep Space Nine character or two. Maybe Jake Sisko, reporter and novelist, shows up to do a profile of the retired hero of the Federation. Perhaps Captain Nog is assigned to ferry the retired Picard to a dig site. Maybe Ezri Dax, psychotherapist, is doing regular sessions with a Picard who is still haunted by his time being assimilated by the Borg.

That said, I would not like to see the Borg – they’re too big a threat, and felt dealt with between First Contact and Star Trek: Voyager. Going back to that well directly would be too much, and maybe too fan service-y. Picard can certainly talk about them, perhaps even be monitoring the Collective’s attempts to rebuild itself after the finale of Voyager, but to have them show up would be too much (that said, what if the wild future of the Federation involved the Borg, changed forever by Janeway’s actions, petitioning for membership? And what if Picard’s deal was trying to block that petition?).

One subject I would like to see tackled is Picard’s Irumodic Syndrome. In All Good Things we see Picard 20 years after the show (ie, when the new series will likely be set) suffering from a degenerative brain disease that makes him erratic, swiss-cheeses his memory and causes him to be delusional. I’ll be honest, I don’t know whether Picard would still have that Syndrome after the events of the episode (and the old Picard of All Good Things looks nothing like PatStew of today), but I think it would make sense for Picard to be eternally watchful for its effects.

After Logan it’s unlikely that Patrick Stewart would want to take another of his characters into dementia, but I do suspect that PatStew, as a thoughtful and smart man, would be interested in exploring how Picard faces his final years. This is an important subject that we don’t discuss in our culture; everybody pretends that you live forever, or that your quality of life doesn’t have to be impacted by your age. It’s important to confront the realities of aging and death, even with someone as seemingly ageless as PatStew. I don’t want this mini-series to be The Death of Jean-Luc Picard, but I think it’s important that a 78 year old Picard be aware of his imminent end (even if Starfleets live much longer than we do. Realistically Picard could probably make it to like 130, which is how old Bones got, but Trek is about us today, and we don’t live that long). It would be cool if we got more Picard mini-series after this, but if not I would love for this to give Picard the kind of graceful exit he didn’t get in Nemesis.

Most of all I want this new Picard show to be modern. I don’t want the stiff beige world of TNG, an aesthetic I really hated. I hope the creators feel free to open things up and rethink the look of the universe. I would also love to see a show that exists almost totally outside of Starfleet, something we have barely explored in over 50 years of Star Trek. What is it like being a civilian in the Federation? What is the civilian’s relationship to Starfleet? That feels ripe for exploration, and a retired Picard is a perfect bridge to that.

One last thing: I hope the show doesn’t establish too much of the Trek status quo 20 years after TNG. I’d like a little wiggle room left for other shows/movies to explore, and I think it would be best if the Picard show didn’t act as some sort of info dump filling us in on two decades of politics, advances and adventures. But again, I think this is going to be a very small, very personal story, so there likely won’t be a lot of room for Picard to check in on the status of the Cardassians or how transwarp drive has or hasn’t changed space travel. What I hope the show explores is what it’s like to be this man, in his life, at this stage of his existence. That’s a good TV show, and that’s a valid part of the human adventure.

A Tale Of Two Fucks

In the trailer for Titansthe upcoming superhero show on the streaming DC Universe service, a frankly murderous 20something Robin, when asked where Batman is, growls “Fuck Batman.”

If you’ve ever wanted to hear the Boy Wonder drop the f-bomb, promises Titans, we got you covered. The moment has already stirred up some controversy and some fun on Twitter, which is saying something since the trailer also includes Dove – a character who represents peace and non-violence – inflicting gruesome violence on someone. And, as mentioned above, Robin the Boy Wonder going all Punisher on some street thugs.

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Deep Space Recovery

Spoilers for the latest episodes of Star Trek: Discovery ahead.

The back half of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season has been a mixed bag for me. The Mirror Universe stuff has been okay, but has also often been a bust. Making Lorca an MU doppelganger is too cheap and easy, in my opinion – the show was traveling down an interesting path in examining a man coping with trauma and possibly processing it poorly. Saying “he’s just from the goatee-verse!” cheapens what the show had been previously doing with the character, and makes him sort of lame in the process. I hold out hope that the season finale will find Prime Universe Lorca showing up.
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