‘Star Trek: Picard’ embraces its nihilism

There’s no problem that can’t be solved at the business-end of a phaser.

Trae Patton/Paramount+

The following discusses Star Trek: Picard, Season Three, Episode 7, “The Dominion.”

I reckon there’s a couple of generations who were raised, in whole or part, by their televisions. With surrogate parents who showed us a better way of living was possible and that the easy solution isn’t always best. Jean-Luc Picard was a leader of principle, with backbone and a belief that humanism should always prevail. When given the chance to eradicate the Borg, who had tortured, dehumanized and used him as a meat puppet to murder thousands of his colleagues, he demurred. In his own version of the Trolley Problem, he was initially in favor of wiping them out until his colleagues, including an aghast Dr. Crusher, convinced him otherwise. Their objections helped reawaken his humanity and reminded him that there was a better way.

Star Trek: Picard doesn’t just feel its lead made the wrong decision back then, it abdicates any sort of debate to justify why the alternative is better. Holding an unarmed Vadic prisoner on the Titan, Picard and Crusher agree the only course of action is to execute her. This comes after Crusher has already conceived building a new anti-changeling virus, only giving a second’s thought to the notion that it would be genocidal. Crusher, so often Star Trek: The Next Generation’s most moral compass, even says that Picard’s trap has invited death upon the Titan. When Jack is threatened, there’s no contemplation of alternatives or smarter solutions beyond those found at the business-end of a phaser. Are we watching Star Trek or 24?

But, to be even-handed, it’s also possible to offer a weaker, but present, argument that Picard is wrestling with America’s position in a post-Iraq world. Since the Dominion War has been retrofitted (pretty perfectly) as a War on Terror analog, then the changeling virus must now be seen as equivalent to the invasion itself. Shaw has given voice to the idea more than once that the changeling virus has radicalized a generation of zealots looking for revenge. But if that’s the case, why is there not a greater examination of what any of that would mean in the real world? Maybe because it’s so hard to imagine what a peace would look like that there’s no point even trying.

I’d love nothing more than to see Star Trek convincingly argue for the opposite just to see what that would look like. And it’s clearly something that Trek of old engaged with, in “Descent,” Picard wrestles with the decision made in “I, Borg,” telling Riker “the moral thing to do was not the right thing to do.” A better venue for this, however, was in Deep Space Nine, a show much better suited to painting its canvas in shades of gray than The Next Generation’s beige-carpeted explorers. “In The Pale Moonlight,” arguably the best hour of Trek ever made, makes the case that killing two people will save billions more, and makes it well. But Avery Brooks and Andrew Robinson’s performances both show that while they can make that case intellectually, neither has anything close to a clean conscience.

As for the rest of the episode, Picard hatches a plan to trap the Shrike and lure Vadic on board by playing possum, which leads to some phaser-fu fights when Jack realizes that he’s telepathic, enough to pass his punch-fight knowledge onto LaForge. Meanwhile, we learn that Vadic is, or was, a sinister Section 31 scientist who merged with one of her changeling captors, and a changeling that she was torturing and experimenting on has vowed revenge on the Federation. At this point, my sympathies are almost lurching toward the changelings.