In Defense of Star Trek: Picard & Discovery
My response to disparaging comments made by several of my friends, including this one about how Starfleet and The Federation of Planets no longer represent what they did in Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation, I felt it necessary to say a few words in defense of the narrative turns taken by the recent series Picard and Discovery on Paramount+. Here are comments reproduced from a number of different social media threads on the subject.
(Note that these were made before the end of Picard Season 2.)
Picard is specifically about the instability of that post-historic vision and the ebbs and flows, the internal contradictions, the moral ambiguities that next generation preached it had transcended. People may not like losing the dream of an uncomplicated and ethically superior Federation but I found it to be a much more honest and believable if uncomfortable and unpleasant twist of the narrative knife. I wasn’t super happy about his new machine body either to be honest, that was my least favorite part of the entire season, and I agree that a lot of characters were basically used in an instrumental way that they’re going to spend this season trying to dig their way back out of probably, but I’m delighted to see them wrestling with the challenge of where the Borg fall in this Star Trek trope of every new series folding the enemy from the previous series into a unified moral order. They’re already making it very clear in Season 2 that this intertidal zone between friend and enemy is far more complicated than it ever was in The Next Generation, and that’s a good thing because you can’t have this perfect us without the violence of othering and so everyone who thinks next generation was some kind of civilizational goal post is just ignoring the fact that it was every bit as violent and horrible with the trash fence drawn in a different radius. The people who want a return to the ostensible moral clarity of TNG are modern secular humanists who never took the postmodern non-human turn, never saw how the order of society is built on violence against the living systems in which we are embedded, and have completely unrealistic expectations that society can ever reach equilibrium in spite of its definition as a non-equilibrium complex system. Star Trek has grown up and to its credit is unrepentant about making demands on its audience to do the same…
I feel like everyone critiquing the new series, particularly Discovery, with indignant retro-romanticism has entirely missed that Seasons 3 and 4 are about RECONSTRUCTION after collapse and are in their own way MORE Star Trek than ever before: they’re about the struggle to PRESERVE and RESTORE the modernist utopia of TNG. They haven’t lost the vision; they’re having plausible hardship in maintaining that vision against “shit happens”, which it invariably will. Picard takes place at a different phase of that cycle but is no less the story about trying to hold firm to Federation virtues even when the Federation itself is in disarray, when age and loss have taken their toll on our hero, when we’re no longer so willing to turn a blind eye to the character flaws he’s had THIS WHOLE TIME. I find people’s critique that “new Star Trek has lost its way” basically empty and translatable to “I am not being allowed to persist in my ignorance any more and I am mad about it.”
Relatedly: I started with Discovery and worked backward through the various Star Trek series, found The Original Series the hardest of them all to watch until I accepted what I’m saying now, which is that the show has pushed the envelope of ecumenical virtue further and further with every new series. Then it was super fun cultural anthropology and sci fi history research…
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