As soon as I was exposed to it, I was a rabid fan of Star Trek. We share a birthday, September 8, and a value system that holds art and science as equals. Trek was more to me than a fandom. It was a vision of our shared future world that was achievable. Maybe not warp drive and phasers, but philosophically and materially achievable. While I loved the Original Series, it was The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine that seemed to realize R. Buckminster Fuller’s (one of my favorite thinkers) dream of universal equity.
So of course I was excited when it was announced that there would be a new Trek series that focused TNG’s Captain Jean Luc Picard, post-Starfleet service.
My thoughts that the Trek franchise should only be on television are pretty well known. So I’m not including the films in this, as the TNG-timeline set films are… ah… nah. Aside from the first episode of DS9, we haven’t seen Picard in 26 years.
That’s a long time and so many of us were ready for more Trek, and more Picard. It isn’t like we didn’t have any new Trek. Star Trek: Discovery landed, but I had profound mixed feelings. The cast was uniformly stellar, but the adult (borderline edge-lord) content of the series made it that I couldn’t watch it with my daughter — watching Trek with my grandfather was one of the highlights of my childhood.
The second season of Discovery felt more like the Trek I knew and loved (Christopher Pike was a helluva captain), but it was set in a timeline I wasn’t too interested in — one of the reasons (among others) that Enterprise never appealed to me. I wanted more 24th and post-24th century content. And this is what Picard delivers. But after three episodes, I’m done. It honestly feels as if a long-term friendship is ending. I should probably explain. It’s going to be a little roundabout, so bear with me.
In televised science-fiction’s attempt to broaden their diversity, they do it on the backs of Black men. My favorite sci-fi show of the past decade is The Expanse. Fred Johnson is the only Black man of note, and he only serves as a plot-mover. He has no interiority and no real agency. Before this, it was the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. There were some Black men as random guards, but none as secondary or tertiary characters. Even this iteration of Dr. Who. Ryan Sinclair runs scared and is infantilized to the point that he’s my least favorite character. Netflix’s Lost in Space. Of course there are exceptions, but being that we can point these out, there is a larger problem. I can go on and on.
Hell, according to writer Steven Barnes, when he pitched TNG and was shown the show bible, Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge was described as, ‘seeing people as energy so he has no sexual desires.’ Didn’t have to kill or omit him, just turn him into a cyber-eunuch. Then we have the trope of the double other: Geordi has a visor, Worf from TNG is an aggressive alien with a turtle shell on his head. Dr. Miles Hawkins from M.A.N.T.I.S. was a disabled black conservative who created a super exo-skeleton to seek justice. If they aren’t othered by appearance or disability (nothing is wrong with this, if the disability was in good faith), they are othered by their behaviors. Ambrose Spellman from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Geoff Allen from October Faction are hypersexualized.
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this except the trope of the wanton and hypersexualized Black man is hanging right there. There is legitimately too many to name. Shout out to Watchmen for making the effort, and for that effort paying off in incalculable ways. Yeah, I should probably get back to Picard.
As much as I want to love it — and it is good — I can’t. The show seems to hate Black men. Yes, we can all be elated that veteran television director, Hanelle Culpeper, directed the first three episodes. That is wonderful. But it doesn’t take away the fact that Picard has a severe problem with Black men — and lightweight with Black women. I’m not going to delve into any analysis. I’ll let Picard speak for itself.
Episode one: How fast did the Black man get killed? As soon as he kissed Dahj he was gone. And in a world with disruptors and phasers, why the knife? Why was the death so over-the-top violent? A blade is a very intimate weapon and these were Romulan aggressors, not Klingon. So the knife was out of character.
Episode two: Picard emphatically rejects the idea of both Geordi and Worf joining him on his new, self-selected stealth mission. When Riker, Troy, Seven of Nine, Data, and Hugh (the rogue and recovered Borg) are all making appearances, why couldn’t Worf and Geordi? There is a repurposed Borg cube (the Artifact) used by the Romulans where they perform experiments on, and attempt to rehab, species rescued from the Borg. There is a Black woman working there who, quite literally, needs to be dressed by Soji. This Black woman the proceeds to fearfully ask obvious questions.
Episode three: Picard attempts to recruit his former first officer during the Romulan evacuation (the genesis of the current storyline), Raffi Musiker. She’s struggling with substance abuse and is living in a trailer far out in the dessert. We never get a real reason for her behaviors, other than when Picard broke protocol, she went down with him. He retired to a chateau on his winery, she got high. Hugh, the aforementioned rogue and recovered Borg spends a not insignificant amount of screen time belittling Black guards. He pulls ranks and dresses one down, and then blames another for a reclaimed Romulan grabbing his phaser. How was it his fault? It wasn’t. But the sheer venom with which Hugh has him dismissed was the final straw for me.
Any of these, alone, would have irritated me but I would’ve kept watching. But several instances in just three episodes is entirely too much for me to handle. It feels like Picard is an apologia for the diversity of Disco: ‘welcome back angry white fanboys! We’re sorry we tried to show you how diverse the universe could and should be.’
But unlike these angry white fanboys, I will not say the Picard showrunners have ruined my childhood, or my fandom. I still have my DVDs, comics, and my books of a franchise that invited me to see a world that was inclusive and equitable as it was wondrous.
Maybe Patrick Stewart recognizes the above, and this is why he made such a huge show of inviting Whoopi Goldberg to reprise her TNG role as Guinan for Picard’s second season? Who knows?
I’m not sure if I will continue with Disco, but I wish them well. Having a Black woman lead in a Trek series is dope… But I think my Trek days are done.
All good things…