How to Fix Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: Picard is a recent series about an older retired Picard being sucked back into the life of adventure. It had a very mixed reception, perhaps being the most poorly received series by fans. While it had some highs here and there, it never really stuck the landing.

For me, Star Trek: Picard is the low point of Trek. Many people like Season 3, but to me it just felt like they threw a bunch of member berries at the screen in order to cover up a poorly made series. I feel like it could have been better made, if they had just changed one thing in their approach.

I’m not going to attempt a complete rewrite in this article. I’m not a professional writer, and I don’t think I personally could do better. What I am going to do is focus on one particular story point as an example. I’ll propose a small change that I think will highlight the basic flaw in the way this series is written.

By the way, in case you haven’t watched the series yet, and would like to avoid spoilers, I am going to spoil a major plot point in Season 2 of Picard. While I won’t be spoiling the entire story, one of the twists I will talk about isn’t revealed until the final episode of the season, so here is the point to stop reading if you want to watch it unspoiled.

The Borg Drone

In the final moments of the opening episode of Season 2, Admiral Picard is aboard Captain Rios’ ship, one of several Federation ships facing up against the Borg. An unusual looking Borg drone, it’s face covered by a black mask, teleports onto the bridge. The crew react with suspicion and panic, greeting the Borg with weapons drawn. It tells the crew, “we wish for peace. But first we require… power”.

Black tentacles shoot from the Borg and penetrate some of the consoles. The crew opens fire, but the Borg is protected by its personal shields. The Borg fires back taking out several of the crew. Panic ensues as Rios loses control of the situation. Seven of Nine realise the drone is only stunning the crew rather than killing them. Jurati realises the drone is assimilating not just the ship, but the entire fleet.

Realising they have lost control, they agree that they can’t give an armada to the Borg. Picard orders the ship to self-destruct. An old French song starts playing. The drone gives an ominous message to Picard. The ship blows up. Everybody dies.

Then we have a big plot involving Q saving their lives but doing a timey wimey wibbly wobbly that changes the past. Picard and his friends have to travel back in time to fix things. The details of this aren’t important here. What is important is that the crew has to form an uneasy alliance with the Borg Queen, and travel back in time with her.

Jurati ends up spending a lot of time with the Borg Queen, having mental battles and debates with the Queen. It eventually becomes obvious where all this is going, as Jurati’s mind becomes infected by the Borg Queen. But it turns out that works both ways.

The ragtag team fixes the past and are sent back to the future in the final episode. They once again face the Borg drone trying to assimilate the fleet, but this time Picard realises what’s going on. The French song the drone is playing is one Picard told Jurati about while they were in the past. He stops the countdown, orders the crew to stand down and announces that he knows who the drone is.

The tentacles recede, and the mask rolls back to reveal Jurati as the new Borg Queen. Then she explains what the actual plot was all along, they team up and blow up an explosion to save the galaxy, and then the Borg request to join the Federation. The end (sans a lot of details).

Why She Wearing a Mask?

There are issues with this particular plot point. If you start to think about it, it doesn’t make sense. Why did Jurati act so aggressively in episode one? Why not just talk to Picard and tell him what was happening from the get go? In fact, why was she wearing a mask at all?

To answer this, we need to travel back in time. A time when you would tune in to your TV to watch a show about a bunch of people trapped on an island after a plane crash. It was the most popular TV series at the time. Everyone was talking about Lost.

And it was a great show. A fantastic show. It had a great premise and it told great stories. I still remember episodes like The Long Con, or Locke screaming “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” vividly. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s well worth checking out.

But it had one problem. A problem so bad that it failed to stick the landing. It was obsessed with the Mystery Box. J. J. Abrams gave a TED talk about how he likes to use it in all of his writing, but you can see the problem with it as early as Lost. See, to him, the Mystery Box needs to stay completely closed until the final act. You cannot give any hints as to what the secret might be until the very end.

While this can work for film, it doesn’t work in a text that is longer. A book or a TV series needs to give the audience something so they know what the stakes are. Lost’s final episode ended up being an exposition dump of what the secret was all along, a Super Saiyan battle between two characters who had only just been introduced, and that was it.

It wasn’t well received.

But for some reason, the Mystery Box seemed to stick with writers. And I think the writers of Picard were also obsessed with this Mystery Box style of writing. All three seasons end with an exposition dump and conclusion in the last one or two episodes. It ends up being a frustrating watch, because as a viewer, you don’t know what the stakes are for most of the show.

Which brings us back to the question. Why was Jurati wearing a mask? Clearly hiding her face had no benefit to her goals. She’s playing a song to try and show Picard who she is, so she clearly wants him to know. So why? Why is she hiding her face? What purpose does the mask serve?

It’s because they don’t want the audience to know yet. Jurati being the Borg Queen is part of the Mystery and it needs to stay in the Box until the final act. So the writers create a convoluted mess of a scenario where Jurati’s actions make no sense in world because the Mystery Box cannot be opened yet.

Changing it Doesn’t Destroy the Mystery

So here’s the simple change I would have made. You’ve probably figured it out already by now.

Jurati shouldn’t be wearing a mask in episode one.

The writers could still have achieved their goals by not hiding the fact that the new Borg Queen is Jurati.

For starters, it being Jurati doesn’t make her trustworthy. The other characters could be confused, and as Jurati tries to explain herself, the crew still reacts with hostility because she is Borg. And the Federation has never had a good time with the Borg.

It also could have been used to create tension while the characters are in the past. The others could have been less trusting of Jurati, wary of what she might become. Later as events progressed they could have realised what Jurati has actually achieved, leading to them greeting her with more trust in the final encounter.

And finally, the most important point of all, it doesn’t actually destroy the mystery. In fact, I think it makes it even more so. Viewers of the show guessed pretty quickly that the drone was going to be Jurati. The biggest giveaways were that she was talking to the Borg Queen a lot, and that she was wearing a mask. By trying to hide who she was, they made it too obvious what the reveal would be.

The show plays with the idea that Jurati’s mind might get corrupted by the Borg Queen. If they had revealed that it was Jurati in the beginning, then the audience would know it’s her mind at stake. Will Jurati be corrupted by the Borg Queen, or will she win the battle of wits and save the future?

The question then changes from who is the Borg drone, to why is Jurati the Borg drone, and finally to who will win the battle for her mind? And I think that’s a more intriguing and engaging story, that leads to an ending that’s much harder to predict.

This isn’t a new idea. It’s a tried and true formula. As an example, every episode of Columbo opens with the killer committing the murder. Their identity isn’t hidden, the Mystery Box is wide open for us as the audience. The show isn’t a whodunit. It’s a howdunit. How will Columbo catch the killer out? The mystery, the intrigue, and the stakes come from the battle of wits and words between killer and detective.

So It’s Fixed Now?

Obviously this one change won’t fix the entire show. But I think it highlights the problem with the approach to the script. The writers were so obsessed with keeping everything in the Mystery Box that they were too scared to reveal even a small part of what was inside. Even if it meant they had to make the actions of their characters nonsensical to keep that Box closed.

Every season ends with the final episode explaining the plot of the previous 8-9 episodes. In my opinion, if they were willing to open the Box before the final act, even just a little, we could have had a much better series to enjoy.

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