‘Star Trek: Picard’ thinks the kids aren’t alright

There’s nobody around, and nobody worthy to pick up the torch.

Trae Patton/Paramount+

The following article discusses Star Trek: Picard, Season Three, Episode Six, “The Bounty.”

When the Original Series cast made their swansong, they left Star Trek in the rudest health it had ever been in. The Next Generation had reached its creative peak, Deep Space Nine was a year away from starting, and the movie series was making good money. The Undiscovered Country gave fans one last adventure with Kirk and co. that gently highlighted why it was time to move on. By comparison, Nemesis’ soft box office meant there would be no grand finale for the TNG crew. DS9 and Voyager were done, and it wouldn’t be long before pre-Kirk prequel-series Enterprise would leave our screens. There was quite literally nobody to pick up from where Picard and co. left off as “current day” Trek went into enforced stasis. Now, it feels like 2002 all over again, with the only “current” Trek series, Discovery, canceled and the only other live-action Trek show yet again being a pre-Kirk era prequel. They say that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This sense of unease about the future permeates “The Bounty,” as Star Trek: Picard hints that the next (next) generation aren’t up to scratch. Picard, Riker and LaForge are all fathers struggling to deal with the gifts and curses they handed down to their children. The show keeps implying that there’s less hope in these kids because they’ve spent so long in their parents’ shadow. Sidney LaForge isn’t speaking to her father, who grouses to Picard how hard it was to raise her. The show has already hamfistedly tried to cover Riker’s grief over Thaddeus, while Picard has given his son a terminal case of Irumodic Syndrome. When Jack gets the idea of stealing the Bounty’s cloaking device, he and Sydney can’t get it working without Geordi’s resentful help. Come on kids, get out of the way while dad, once again, picks up your mess and fixes the things you can’t cope with. The subtext is one of disappointment, of darn kids with their avocado lattes and oat milk toast who can’t do anything as well as their baby boomer forebears.

It’s an interesting perspective from a franchise that has always worried about its own coolness, fretting that it’s too thoughtful, too middle-aged. Chekov joined The Original Series cast because producers wanted to woo a younger crowd with a Davy Jones-type mop-topped pretty boy. This anxiety is most visible in the Next Generation movies, which are constantly battling each other in attitudes around age, aging and relevance. Generations leaves Picard at peace with his own age, but everything that follows repudiates that position, mostly as Patrick Stewart’s behind the scenes power grew, so did his desire to remake the character in his own image. The vest-clad man of action in First Contact, the romantic lead of Insurrection and the off-roading petrolhead in Nemesis all stem from this desire. Rather than a desire to become the wise, elder statesman of the Star Trek universe, Picard raged against the dying of his own light. And rather than lay the table for his successors, he judged them all and found them unworthy.

This mistrust of youth goes hand-in-hand with a fetishization of the past that goes beyond nostalgia and into paraphilia. “The Bounty” has not one, but two trips to space museums so that the fans can gawk at objects of desire, stripped of their context, there for nothing but fan service. Riker, Worf and Raffi beam onto Daystrom Station, home of Starfleet’s “most off the books tech, experimental weapons, alien contraband,” which when you think about it is really daft. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the US Navy stores secret chemical weapons at MIT, which is, or was, the best point of comparison for a civilian robotics research institute. Along the corridor, there’s the Genesis Device! (Why? The only one in existence was blown up when the Reliant combusted and turned into the Genesis Planet, and if the Marcuses had spares why did Khan only take one?) A Tribble! And James Kirk’s Corpse!... Wait, that seems weird, why do that? That seems weirdly perverse, why would you store a decorated officer’s dead body in a site for military weapons when there’s nothing special about his physiology in this timeline? Oh, that’s why, because our heroes don’t get to gracefully die in Star Trek any more, they just become objects of fetishization.

We get a brief cameo from Daniel Davis’ Moriarty as part of Daystrom’s not-quite security system before we hit the big reveal of the episode: Data!. Or, something else, a Soong-type android with the brains of Soong, Lore, B-4 and Data all mashed up in one body. (Why B-4 and Lore? Why would you put the unworkable prototype and the psychotic brains in there with the two functional ones? Because we’ll need an inevitable betrayal two or three episodes down the line, not because it makes sense.) And then we’re off to the fleet museum for a brief interlude of spaceship porn and, wouldn’t you know, the ships deemed worthy of preserving are almost all hero vessels from the Star Trek franchise. I mean, look, I’m a starship porn type of guy, and any loving shot of Andrew Probert and Richard Taylor’s Enterprise model will always have my heart soaring. But it just feels all so soulless, like the characters in Star Trek are now behaving like Star Trek fans.

The conclusion of the episode reveals the changelings stole Picard’s corpse from Daystrom Station for reasons as-yet unknown. Meanwhile, Riker has been captured by Vadic and taken to the Shrike, where he’s shown that the baddies have also captured Deanna. But not before the 70-year-old Riker is given a dose of good old 24-style face punching, to match the rest of the series’ Bush-era politics.

The biggest problem with this sort of all-the-characters-grew-up-watching-Star Trek nostalgia, of course, is that it collapses the size of your narrative universe. Star Trek is big and broad enough to sustain a massive trans-media ecosystem covering every corner of its fictional universe. But Star Trek: Picard makes out that Starfleet is made up of five ships not called Enterprise, none of which are worth remarking upon. The notion that the Enterprise is just one of hundreds, or thousands, of starships having wild and crazy adventures on the frontiers of space is beyond comprehension. In a way, I’m glad nobody in TV-land is familiar with Star Trek: New Frontier, lest it turned out that someone at Daystrom has collected Mackenzie Calhoun’s eyeballs on a shelf for the lolz.