Picard Season 3's Daystrom Station Is Like Star Trek's Version Of The Raiders Of The Lost Ark Warehouse

Thursday, 23 March 2023 10:00

This post contains spoilers for "Star Trek: Picard" season 3, episode 6.As it crosses into the back half of its third and final season, "Star Trek: Picard" finally brings back Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton). It's good to see him again: let's acknowledge that. Episode 6, "The Bounty," also hints at the end that season 3 might finally give Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) something more to do than yelp about how her son "just vomited all over engineering" (as she did during her brief episode 3 appearance, while video-chatting in flashback with William Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes). Back then, all we had to worry about in "Picard" was one shaky subplot with Worf (Michael Dorn) and Raffi (Michelle Hurd).In episode 6, the subplot merges with the main plot. Dorn acquits himself admirably, but he continues to be saddled with dialogue like, "Breakups on my homeworld seldom end without bloodshed," as Worf and Raffi beam aboard the USS Titan and take us on a subsequent trip to Daystrom Station for an Easter egg hunt, or something very much like it.Speaking of sons and regurgitation, in the same way that Picard's boy, Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers), is "plagued with an overclogged brain," episode 6 is clogged with callbacks and references to earlier "Trek," like Jack's gentle reminder that Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) now has a synthetic body after his fake-out death in season 1 (which season 3 has mostly ignored in favor of a soft reboot with more legacy characters). The eggs are scattered all over the place in episode 6, and this won't be a simple laundry list. What it will be is an interrogation of "Picard" as the unlikely, space-faring hellspawn of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and its final warehouse scene.The Warehouse Of Old Ideas"Raiders of the Lost Ark," also produced by Paramount, famously ends with the Ark of the Covenant — the gold relic that holds the original Ten Commandments, inscribed by the finger of God himself — being wheeled into a warehouse full of crates, all of which are labeled "Top Secret Army Intel." The camera pulls back to reveal how this religious artifact is just one of many military prizes, as the warehouse stretches back endlessly. The implication is that army intelligence is sitting on a massive trove of X-Files.It's worth noting: the crates are also marked "Do Not Open," and they would perhaps be better left that way, though "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" would head back to the same warehouse again some 27 years later for its opening set piece. Only 21 years have elapsed since "Star Trek: Nemesis," the last movie with the cast of "The Next Generation," but "Picard" season 3 made it clear from the get-go that it aims to be nothing less than "the best Next Generation movie we never got," as our review calls it.In place of Indy's warehouse, episode 6 holds its Easter egg hunt in two separate locations. One is the "fleet museum," where Georgi La Forge presides over the "final resting place" of "every legendary starship," including the Defiant from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and the cloaking Klingon Bird of Prey from "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." However, it's Daystrom Station that most neatly aligns with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," since it holds all sorts of "experimental weapons" and "alien contraband" from Starfleet intelligence. That includes the life-giving Genesis Device from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," a watershed sequel that "Picard" has been channeling for weeks now.'Wonderful Dumb Fun'"The Wrath of Khan" hit theaters in 1982, the year after "Raiders of the Lost Ark." For anyone who was bored by "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (which is to say, not watching it correctly), "Khan" provided an antidote, with what film critic Pauline Kael called "wonderful dumb fun." That can be a two-edged sword when the fun part tips over too far into dumb, as the 2013 "Wrath of Khan" remix "Star Trek Into Darkness" did at times. That movie was co-written by "Picard" co-creator Alex Kurtzman, the current shepherd of "Star Trek" as we know it on Paramount+.In many ways, "Picard" season 3 feels like the third generation, twice removed, of "Wrath of Khan," meaning it's a more direct descendant of "Star Trek Into Darkness." Elsewhere, the season has drawn from the gnarly "Next Generation" episode "Conspiracy," which contains a face-melting scene right out of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." However, as episode 6 continues window-shopping for Easter eggs in Daystrom Station, the next stop is the body of the original Enterprise captain, James T. Kirk. We don't actually see the face of the character originated by /Film contributor William Shatner — just his name and X-ray — though it would be funny if they did stick him in there and have him pop his eyes open through the window real quick as Raffi passes by.Next, Worf peeps an "attack Tribble," which takes us back to the classic episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," from "Star Trek: The Original Series." From there, we move on to the biggest, most sentient egg of all: a gun-toting Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis). We'll have more to say about him in a minute, but let's take a step back here and look at the bigger picture of what this episode is doing.Trek Has Overtly Homaged Raiders Before"Picard" season 3 isn't the first time "Star Trek" has echoed "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In a 2013 Fast Company article ("How to Write and Produce a Summer Blockbuster"), Alex Kurtzman acknowledged that the opening sequence" in "Star Trek Into Darkness" "is an homage to 'Raiders.'" Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) absconds with a precious temple artifact on the planet Nibiru, leading an alien tribe to chase him and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) through a red jungle. It's as if we're right back in Peru with Indiana Jones, dodging arrows (just as "Star Trek Into Darkness" would have to run for cover from fan criticism, being voted the worst "Trek" movie).This is indicative of a larger issue with "Picard" season 3: namely, that it still shows "Trek" in blockbuster mode. It's the kind of thing where you could almost rewrite Picard's "Next Generation" mission statement like this:Paramount+: the final frontier. These are the expletives of the new "Star Trek" dialogue. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new writing. To seek out new lighting, or lack thereof. To boldly go where J.J. Abrams has gone before.With all the main cast members of "The Next Generation" returning this season, "Picard" is also now part of a newer breed of blockbuster, the legacy sequel, which is great until it's not. Since legacy sequels are often penned by screenwriters who grew up with the original movies, they can sometimes feel like fan fiction. In "Picard" season 3, that entails dialogue like:Beverly Crusher: Will, did you just throw an asteroid?Riker: You're g**damn right I did.And two minutes later:Beverly Crusher (gazing in wonder at space jellyfish): To seek out new life...Riker: I think we should boldly get the hell out of here.Raiders Of The Lost AdolescenceThe dialogue above speaks for itself. You can feel the heavy writing hand in moments like that, leading the viewer along, constantly winking, waxing nostalgic, and reassuring them "Trek" is hip to the new space lingo, if not entirely cerebral anymore. It's an instinct that belongs, not so much in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," as in its bastard blockbuster children, all the tentpoles living in the vast warehouse Steven Spielberg and George Lucas built. They're the kind of movies and shows that keep going back and raiding the warehouse — and with it, your lost adolescence — for Easter eggs and recyclable plots. Usually, they're driven by marketing impulses, as opposed to flying on impulse, like a true starship.So, about Moriarty. In its New York Comic Con trailer, "Picard" season 3 marketed his return from the annals of the "Next Generation" holodeck. It turns out he's the "astonishingly lethal A.I." security system guarding the vault aboard Daystrom. Worf first warns everyone about it/him during the heist-movie scene where they're all gathered around the table, going over their plan for breaking into the station (rather like a group of writers breaking the story for a TV episode)."This is not the same self-aware Moriarty we encountered on the Enterprise," Riker observes in the middle of a shoot-out with the "19th-century holo-villain." Moriarty calls him and Worf "pathetic old warriors," one of many instances where "Picard" season 3 uses its own words against itself. Whistling "Pop Goes the Weasel" makes Moriarty evaporate, and that's that. His return, which has been teased for months, winds up feeling like a cheat, just a glorified cameo. After his non-disclosure agreement lifted, Daniel Davis confirmed (via TrekMovie.com) that he only did a single day of shooting for this one "Picard" episode.Loose Lips Sink StarshipsIn "The Bounty," the dialogue in the heist-planning scene, which includes Riker saying things like, "Excellent use of the word 'burgle,'" is just a chain of exposition that hops from one character to another. They complete each other's sentences in such a way that it becomes obvious we're listening to a thinly plotted info dump, broken up across multiple mouthpieces.One thing you can say about Indiana Jones is that he knows how to keep his professional life separate from his personal life. Just look at the way his professor-self dresses, versus the way his adventurer-self dresses.In "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the Enterprise-D was as formal as any space office. True, while Jean-Luc Picard is bald, he and the other officers would sometimes let their hair down and play poker. Something you wouldn't often hear them doing, though, is using language that might be deemed "not suitable for work." This is one area where "Picard" could stand to remember what happened when Indiana Jones got a little too loose-lipped around his father at a motorcycle crossing.Dr. McCoy is well-known for grumbling, "Dammit, Jim," and in the youthful 2009 "Star Trek" reboot, Chris Pine famously called "bulls***" on the sight of an older Spock (which is still a perfectly delivered one-liner). There is a precedent, then, for some occasional NFSW language in "Star Trek," similar to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and its one "Holy s***" (spoken at the sight of an uninvited Nazi submarine). But if you missed "Star Trek: Discovery" and its whole exploration of the f-bomb frontier, it might be similarly unbelievable to hear "Trek" toss around words like "dips***," or hear Picard do what he does best and engage — in use of the f-word? — in the holodeck bar this season.Pop Goes The Legacy SequelLater in the episode, after he's whistled away Moriarty to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel," Riker gets captured, interrogated, and tortured. Defiant, he then gets in on the cussing action, too, asking one of his captors, "How much of that goo s*** did they pour into you?" He sounds less like himself here and more like Captain Shaw (Todd Stashwick), who treated us to some equally gooey dialogue earlier this season, calling Changelings "goo people" and "clay-dough" (and their residue, "resi-goo.")It's funny wordplay, but this sort of glib phraseology also serves as a dim reminder of "Star Trek Into Darkness," giving the beleaguered viewer a whiff of that movie's less-than-artful "super blood" line, whereby McCoy was able to simplify Kirk's magical resurrection and wave off any misgivings about it with a quip. "Picard" also magically resurrected its title character in its season 1 finale, and his human remains come back into play at the end of season 3, episode 6. The level of writing on this show is such that it wouldn't be surprising if they had two characters say in dialogue:"Wait, how did they bring Jean-Luc back to life?" "You know, that f***ing super blood.""Star Trek" once flirted with Quentin Tarantino, who's nothing if not a pastiche artist, but at what point did it become the type of science fiction where we're no longer to able to relay the dialogue in polite company without asterisks? (Our content management system literally won't allow me to type it without asterisks.) Shaw, the captain we love to hate, has a good line in episode 4 where he confesses, "At some point, a**hole became a substitute for charm." However, the cussing there comes right after an emotionally charged moment where it feels earned.The Hollow-DeckThe moment in question for Shaw follows a compelling confrontation where we realize that the reason he's been such a jerk to Picard and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) is that he had a traumatic encounter with the Borg under Locutus, which left him prejudiced. That kind of callback, rooted in good character drama, is aces. Yet this same Shaw turns blushing fanboy when he meets Geordi La Forge, and too much of "Picard" falls back on another, emptier kind of callback. As long as we're in the Tarantino room, you might describe it as one that appeals to the heart of every Trekkie with the lowest common denominator of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" finger-pointing.Jack Crusher does physically finger-point at the fleet museum as he identifies starships like "Kirk's Enterprise," with its "perfectly clean, retro lines." Alas, Seven has to educate him about the history of her own starship Voyager. "We all long for connection," Jack muses to her, and at this point, we can't be sure he's not talking about intertextual "Trek" connections.Both inside and outside Daystrom Station, this whole episode of "Picard" is dealing from the bottom of the deck: not the beloved "Lower Decks," mind you, but rather, something more like the Hollow-deck, a simulation of what "Star Trek" was once upon a time when it actually meant something. As Riker goes to meet Data/Lore/B-4 (Brent Spiner), "Picard" even throws in old archive footage from when the younger Riker met Data in the holodeck in "Encounter at Farpoint," the series premiere of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It's a play right from the legacy-sequel handbook. Speaking for the viewer, Raffi says, "I thought Data died. Twice!" Ah, but this is comic book "Star Trek," where no one ever really stays dead.Same Writers' Room As Season 2As much as the final season of "Picard" might try to differentiate itself from the much-derided first two seasons — setting itself apart as a "Next Generation" thing — it's still born of the same writers' room, led by Terry Matalas (now sole showrunner after serving as co-showrunner with Akiva Goldsman in season 2). Patrick Stewart revealed in a 2022 interview with The Hollywood Reporter that the pandemic forced the production team to shoot "both seasons two and three back-to-back," wrapping the second season at 7 p.m. and then immediately beginning work on the third season at 7 a.m. the following day. It's not like they had a long break in-between to internalize the creative failures of season 2 and learn the right lessons from them.Season 3 could still redeem itself, but right now, when the sugar rush of the reunion wears off outside Daystrom Station, it leaves a questionable aftertaste, one that smacks of empty calories. That's the same effect derivative blockbusters like "Star Trek Into Darkness" have.When you've been trained to swallow pabulum long enough, it can be hard to tell what's really good on TV or in the movies anymore. As Geordi La Forge greets Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) on Paramount+ this week, he says he "debated the virtues of a curt professional handshake or an uncomfortable but long overdue hug." The hug that "Picard" season 3 provides surely is uncomfortable at times, and maybe it wouldn't hurt "Star Trek" and its characters to show a bit more professionalism again.The franchise needn't be puritanical, but hearing Jack Crusher talk about getting laid does set off Salt-n-Pepa bells. Suddenly, "Trek" has become less stuffy, with the streaming frontier allowing it to abandon the buttoned-up formalism or classicism of itself on network TV.'You Built Amazing Things. I Just Wanted To Fly Them'In "Picard" season 3, episode 6, Sidney La Forge (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) tells Geordi, "I grew up listening to your adventures, all the times you and Picard stood up for what was right." Geordi insists that it was a different time, and Sidney, speaking in stilted dialogue without contractions, exclaims, "No! It is you and I that are different.""You built amazing things," she confesses. "I just wanted to fly them."Again, we hear the "Picard" season 3 writers own themselves in dialogue. They just want to fly the amazing things "Star Trek: The Next Generation" built. An even deeper self-own comes when they cut back to Riker, Raffi, and Worf on Daystrom Station.Riker: "So Starfleet installed an insane A.I. to defend its deepest secret?"Raffi: "They used him because he's a one-of-a-kind work of art, certainly more brilliant than anything else they can come up with.""Star Trek: The Next Generation" was a one-of-a-kind work art. As "Picard" continues flying into darkness, countervailing Gene Roddenberry's utopian ideals, it's just using that series the way "The Offer" (also available to stream on Paramount+) and its many Easter eggs used "The Godfather." That movie was about capitalism, the real not-so-creative force behind the current glut of legacy sequels. Sure, it brings a tear to the eye when we see fan-favorite characters reunited, but there also comes a point when you need more of that and less explaining of things in dialogue in the most asinine way.While "Star Trek Beyond" may have gone Mutt Williams and incorporated a motorcycle, this franchise is not Indiana Jones. At the end of the day, the deepest secret Daystrom Station may hold is that "Picard" and its warehouse of references are bereft of originality.Read this next: Celebrities You Didn't Know Were In Star TrekThe post Picard Season 3's Daystrom Station is Like Star Trek's Version of the Raiders of the Lost Ark Warehouse appeared first on /Film.


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